Effective Boards

Board games, team players

It’s the stuff of Hollywood drama and CEO nightmares. Dysfunctional boards of directors – at least in movies and bad dreams – can be the source is interminable meetings, uninspired deliberation, corporate gridlock and even hostile power grabs.

In everyday business life, however, a board of directors doesn’t have to be anything like that. A great board should involve a group of engaged thought-leaders, diverse professionals and perhaps a few entrepreneurial superstars. This dynamic team will help tackle key challenges, explore growth opportunities, grapple with succession, and strategically advance the company. So, how do you create a highly talented and effective board for your company?

Map skills and needs

Begin by analyzing the strengths of current board members and identify skills gaps that should be filled by future members. A fully capable board of directors typically includes folks with industry and management expertise, plus specialists in finance, law, human resources, technology, risk, governance, innovation and markets—to name a few.

The board’s nominating committee should focus on candidates with proven qualifications, said Margaret Pederson, President and CEO of Amirexx LLC “Many people want to be considered for board positions when they are years away from being appropriate candidates. People have asked me, ‘Do I have to fully understand a P&L to sit on the board?’ They should have run a P&L before they join a board.”

Diversify, diversify

Many board meetings, unfortunately, still live up to the stereotype of being gatherings of older, white men. Improving diversity within boards is essential, Peterson said, “but I define it as diversity of thought, experience and expertise. The board needs to fully represent the world that the company serves, and be able to communicate with all company stakeholders, especially customers and employees. You want to have a diverse slate of candidates that understand markets across various income levels, geographies, cultures and other demographics.”

Value soft skills

Just as any new employee should fit well with the company’s culture, new board members need to blend well with the board’s culture. A board candidate’s communication style, priorities, personality and even emotional intelligence should be considered to determine how that person would interact with existing board members.

When creating or adding to a board, make the effort to craft an effective team that will collaborate well, challenge and inspire each other, and respect differing points of view. Ultimately, it will help your board achieve its goals of providing leadership oversight, making the best decisions, and advancing critical business strategies.

Bridging the Skills Gap

After years of debating whether the skills gap is real or simply a notion promoted by frustrated recruiters, evidence clearly highlights that American employers are facing a genuine, widespread and worsening gap between the skills they need and the skills the workforce possesses.

In a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, over half of small-business leaders said they faced a “very or fairly major challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees.” Among recent Inc. 5000 CEOs, 76 percent said they were experiencing major problems recruiting qualified people. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now predicts the number of unfilled jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields will climb to a historic high of 1.2 million by year-end.

Such numbers are leading many people to the same conclusion: Companies will need to become more deeply involved in workforce development in order to avoid critical skills gaps within their own talent pools.

Spot the ‘high potentials’

Studies warn that some employers are exacerbating their own skills-gap problems through their recruiting practices. Specifically, too many employers keep doggedly searching for experienced candidates rather than hiring individuals with the right education, core skills and potential—and then developing those people.

Companies need to identify those high-potential, but less-experienced people and create training sessions, mentorship programs, project-experience opportunities and other professional development offerings to accelerate their growth.

At the same time, companies need to provide existing and mid-career employees with increased professional development opportunities – an item that was cut in many budgets during the recession.

In both cases, professional development program should stretch beyond hard-skills training to develop “whole persons” with solid interpersonal and communication skills, business acumen and management competencies.

Partner with educators

Greater corporate participation in the educational community is also needed to help reduce the skills gap. By supporting STEM classes in middle schools, innovative courses in community colleges, apprenticeship programs, industry-university joint endeavors and educational efforts by professional associations, companies can help foster a more highly skilled workforce and establish themselves as progressive, desirable employers.

This may all sound like a lot of extra work to heap on top of the daily demands of operating your company. However, analysts increasingly argue that heightened training efforts by employers are not just desirable, but essential. Stressing that “education and workforce systems in the United States are failing to keep pace with the changing needs of the economy,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently called on employers to apply the same importance, rigor and skills used in supply-chain management to talent-pipeline management

Brand Advantage: Employer Branding Becomes Powerful Recruiting Tool

Brand Advantage:
Employer Branding Becomes Powerful Recruiting Tool

Evidence keeps piling up about the growing importance of employer branding in America.

An analysis by LinkedIn of priorities and practices among more than 3,000 talent-acquisition managers concluded that 83 percent believe employer branding has become a critical driver of their ability to hire top talent. Jobvite surveys have concluded that employers who engage in online employer branding fill open positions in less time and attract more talented applicants.

Yet the day-to-day challenges of running a company can make it difficult to execute this growing best practice in talent management.

Ben Goodman – founder of Ben Goodman Creative in Philadelphia – said he has seen practical challenges derail promising employer branding efforts in many companies. “The biggest surprise we find with a lot of clients is that some suggestions we are making – especially around brand and connecting the dots between leadership, culture, consumers and employees – are suggestions that were made internally years ago. But the branding campaign didn’t find a home within the company so it didn’t get implemented,” Goodman said.

The good news, he said, is that employers currently have access to abundant, low-cost opportunities to spread their employer brand, including the Internet, social media platforms and mobile devices. To use those tools successfully, however, employers need to engage in some critical thinking.

Question your message

Before launching new branding initiatives, employers need to critically re-evaluate corporate culture and talent needs, identify exactly who they need to reach with their branding efforts, and what message will capture the attention of those talented individuals.

Start with your website

Once you have formed a new employer brand message, start rolling it out through the most readily available tool—your company website. But stretch beyond the polished marketing language of recent decades and provide visitors to the site with genuine insights into your culture. Profiles of staff members, thought leadership pieces, and blog posts, videos or other content generated by employees can show your company’s knowledge, passion and eagerness to advance in your industry.

Limit your efforts

Although the opportunities to spread your employer brand are limitless, your company resources are not. Restrict your outreach efforts to tools that can deliver the most impact and that can be sustained by company staff. Convincing job seekers that your company is lively, engaged and accomplishing exciting things is tough to do with a blog, Twitter account or Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in weeks.

Hiring vampires and other missteps that hurt young companies

Hiring vampires and other missteps that hurt young companies

As vice president for talent at a technology startup, Steve Cadigan knew his company had enormous growth potential. But to realize it, he would have to win the war for talent against some industry giants.

“I was physically surrounded by Google buildings. I had Apple down the freeway, Facebook up the freeway and, in San Francisco, there were sexy, little technology darlings like Twitter and Zynga,” Cadigan said.

By comparison, his company at the time, LinkedIn, looked humdrum to many job seekers. Furthermore, it lacked the financial reserves to match the salaries and perks the coolest companies of Silicon Valley delivered.

Yet during his 3.5 years as VP of Talent, LinkedIn grew from 400 employees to 4,000, executed a successful IPO and grew annual revenues to nearly $1 billion. During a one-on-one talk, Cadigan shared some of the biggest talent lessons he learning while driving growth at LinkedIn and other companies.

Build an employer brand

Young companies need uniquely talented, highly motivated individuals to drive growth, but lack the resources and profile to attract top candidates.

At LinkedIn and elsewhere, Cadigan overcame that hurdle by developing a distinctive employer brand and offering a compelling value proposition to employees. LinkedIn’s brand, for example, included the opportunity to work alongside brilliant professionals and shape an emerging company while creating a product that would help other people find their dream jobs.

Don’t hire vampires

In the rush to place warm bodies in needed positions, managers sometimes hire imperfect fits. Taking the time to identify the traits you need in new hires and recruiting until you find them ultimately produces better results.

“Cutting corners and sacrificing quality standards for talent is a huge mistake,” Cadigan said. “You get some people who are wrong for the organization, and dealing with that becomes a huge distraction. It’s like having a vampire loose inside the organization. It sucks the life out of you.”

Beware of battlefield promotions

In a similar rush to fill managerial positions, executives sometimes give subject-matter experts “battlefield promotions” without assessing the individuals’ management skills and end up with under-performing managers.

The more effective practice is to take the time to provide leadership development within the company, create career advancement opportunities for skilled employees who wouldn’t make good managers, and search for highly skilled managers outside the company.

Driven to change: Pep Boys’ new talent strategy boosts profits

Sometimes the road ahead requires a different kind of driver.

Back when Pep Boys was approaching its 90th anniversary, the Philadelphia-founded automotive services company embarked on intensive efforts to craft a new strategic plan. Although Pep Boys had become a multi-billion-dollar operation with more than 800 stories across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, company leaders believed they needed a deeper understanding of their position in the market, the needs of their customers and the service strategies that would optimize Pep Boys’ profits.

“The Road Ahead” initiative convinced executives to make a strategic shift in corporate culture. Rather than focus on providing the lowest prices to customers, Pep Boys needed to provide customers with a higher level of knowledge and assistance. “We don’t sell, we solve” soon became a company mantra. To fulfill that promise, however, Pep Boys would have to adopt new approaches to recruiting and training.

The company identified the skills and traits employees would need to thrive in the new culture, then retooled the careers section of its website to succinctly describe and attract desirable candidates. Adorned with a photo of a slick, black car, the page asks “Are you built this way?” Pop-up boxes explain how certain skills and behaviors – such as perseverance, creativity, customer service, continuous learning, performing under pressure and being a team player – are as essential to Pep Boys operations as brakes, oil, tires and a smooth-running engine are to any automobile.

The company also rolled out a program of ongoing and tailored training for both new hires and existing employees. It expanded and updated in-house training programs to reflect its new culture. Through in-person and online lessons as well as on-the-job coaching, the program covers onboarding, product knowledge, automotive theory, technical skills, information technology, finance, and company-specific systems.

The training also encompasses, customer service, time and stress management, and leadership development. The results of embracing a new culture and developing a talent force to implement that culture have helped converted stores experience double-digit sales increases, despite the tough economy.

Culture Clash: Don’t let corporate culture issues derail your merger

Corporate culture may be a soft concept, but some days it packs a very big punch.

Consider the impact of corporate culture on mergers. In the rush to complete due diligence and seal the deal, few companies conduct a cultural survey of both legacy firms and develop plans to effectively blend the two cultures. Fewer still delay, alter or abort mergers based on findings that cultural differences could jeopardize the deal’s success.

Yet studies show roughly 75 percent of mergers fail to meet financial performance expectations. And, executives often point to incompatible cultures as a prime cause of those financial shortcomings.

Mike Monahan – who executed nine mergers and acquisitions as CFO of the private equity firm, PetroChoice Holdings and now serves as the CFO of NutriSystem, Inc. – offers some advice on how to prevent corporate culture from derailing your strategic growth plans.

Setting clear business goals for the merged company and quickly showing progress in achieving them is essential to creating an effective culture and a successful merger, Monahan says. That focus helps employees understand their role in the merged company and the reasoning behind its culture, and fosters confidence that the company is capable of achieving its goals.

Leaders of the merged company need to be dedicated communicators. During its acquisitions, PetroChoice implemented several communications practices – including weekly e-mails about company accomplishments, annual meetings and travel schedules that gave company leaders face time with employees in distant offices – in order to discuss merger benefits, address operational issues, and keep morale high.

Finally, leaders of merging companies need to be willing to adjust their expectations for the new corporate culture even after the merger is complete.

“You have to be willing to be flexible after the deal closes, and open to new ideas because it’s impossible for both companies to fully know each other and their strengths and weaknesses until you merge,” he said. “There are always surprises. We were most successful when we had the right leaders who were flexible, open-minded and respectful of the different partners. In those situations, you end up getting to the right place, even though it may not be exactly what you outlined at the outset of the merger talks.”

Corporate Social Responsibility Programs

Fostering “impact careers” to benefit your company – and the world!

As competition grows for top talent, companies are realizing that one of the most compelling things they can offer talented workers is the opportunity to create an “impact career.”

Beyond competitive compensation and professionally satisfying work, many workers want their jobs – and their employers – to have a beneficial impact on the world. In one a Stanford University study, MBA graduates expressed a clear preference for jobs at socially responsible companies—and reported they would sacrifice an average of $13,700 in salary to join such companies.

Many companies are working to satisfy that desire through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Many programs, however, aren’t thoughtfully implemented and, consequently, aren’t impacting the world as desired or delivering full recruitment and retention benefits.  A few practices could improve that situation.

Crowd source your CSR

The CSR programs which inspire the greatest employee engagement and generate the biggest impact don’t come from the desk of the CEO.  They come from the employees.

Whether you are starting or revamping a program, involve your employees in identifying key CSR goals that fit with your company’s products, operations, markets and corporate culture. Ask employees for ongoing suggestions about ways to achieve those goals and for their participation in putting ideas into action.

Combine training and CSR

Whether your CSR goals involve lowering your company’s carbon footprint or improving working conditions in a developing nation within your supply chain, CSR programs can generate opportunities for employees to tackle different challenges, develop new skills and foster leadership abilities.

Enable employees to step out of their comfort zone and lead a work crew on a Habitat for Humanity house, organize a charity golf tournament or drive efforts to eliminate work-site waste. You will end up with an employee who is more stimulated, more skilled and more committed to the company.

Communicate, communicate

Mentioning your CSR efforts on one page of your website or once in your annual report isn’t enough. Make CSR part of your employment branding and frequent in-house communications. Post updates on your Facebook or Twitter account, your intranet, bulletin boards or company newsletter. Frequent, short communications can sustain excitement and drive accomplishments in your CSR initiatives.

A few thoughtful measures could both improve your impact on the world and make you a more desirable employer in the process.

Employer Branding

Developing an Employer Brand

An accomplished HR professional with such industry giants at DuPont, ARAMARK Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals, Karen Piraino faced a formidable challenge when she became Global Director of Talent Acquisition for a newly formed company with aggressive growth plans.

Executives at DuPont had decided to spin off their performance coatings division – a thriving business with 120,000 customers worldwide and 2012 revenues of $4.3 billion. The Carlyle Group acquired the division, transformed it into Axalta Coating Systems, and launching the Philadelphia-based company onto an aggressive growth track.

Suddenly, Piraino was responsible for efforts to fill Axalta’s corporate offices, 35 manufacturing plants, seven R&D centers and 12,000-member workforce with smart, passionate, fast-moving, risk-taking professionals who could successfully drive growth across 130 countries.

To help achieve that objective, Piraino engaged in employment branding – a tool that is becoming increasingly important and potent in talent searches. Successful employment forges closer ties between a company’s marketing/communications and human resources departments in order to apply the best practices of corporate/product branding to attracting great employees. Together, those departments expand the company’s branding efforts to deliver a “employee value proposition” – a clear and compelling depiction of what employees could expect to get from the company and what they would be expected to deliver as staff members.

At Axalta, Piraino and other executives strengthened their employment brand by embedding it in the company’s overall branding and all corporate communications. To deliver the right message to employees and potential employees, they focused on the company’s core values and the key behaviors desired in its employees.

“Our culture is fast-paced, aggressive, results-oriented, highly accountable, risk-taking but with smart decisions about risk,” Piraino said.

Consequently, any communications related to employment at Axalta – including its corporate web site and product descriptions – began to convey that work culture both through words and visuals.

Developing an employment brand and making it a cohesive component of all corporate communications requires talent professionals to stretch beyond traditional recruiting activities. However, the effort also lets talent professionals tap powerful tools. After all, if branding can fuel enormous demand for Apple devices or other consumer products, it could also spur the best talent on the market to seek positions in your company.

Be Like Facebook

Be Like Facebook: Move Fast and Break Things

For Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, rapid, ambitious innovation was so crucial to his company’s success that he began encouraging employees to “move fast and break things.”

Innovation, however, is vital not only to Silicon Valley startups, but to all companies. Analyses suggest that companies that focus primarily on boosting innovation achieve revenues and profits 2-15 times larger than companies that focus on boosting productivity.

Some core practices could enhance innovation within your company.

Collaborate: At its core, effective creativity and business innovation is a team sport. Breakthrough products are not the result of one moment of blinding insight by a singular genius. Rather, innovations are time-honed products of a series of insights, critiques, missteps, revisions and progressively more inventive thinking by clusters of creative, intelligent and focused people.

Fuel that collaboration by forming temporary teams of employees to tackle specific challenges. Design work spaces to encourage impromptu discussions and brain-storming sessions by employees in different divisions. And build a corporate culture that rewards teamwork and collaborative solutions, rather than high productivity by individual employees.

Communicate: Experts urge business leaders to provide feedback on all new ideas floated by employees, recognizing promising concepts, analyzing an idea’s relevance to the corporate mission, and identifying potential problems. Such feedback can come from a designated supervisor, a project team or it can be crowd-sourced through a company’s intranet. Some companies have discovered that online discussion forums and survey tools trigger valuable contributions from individuals who don’t feel comfortable offering feedback during meetings.

Diversify: To be effective in the marketplace, a creative staff also needs to be diverse. Understandably, teams that include individuals of different sexes, races, socio-economic backgrounds, professions, interest groups and mindsets are more likely to recognize a broader range of market opportunities and challenges, and bring a richer spectrum of ideas to the table. A study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) concluded that companies with diverse leadership teams are 70 percent more likely to capture new markets and 45 percent more likely to improve their market share.

Building an innovative workforce requires effort and patience, but it could deliver better business returns than all of our conventional efforts to drive productivity.

Talent Development

A Talent For Growth

Many entrepreneurs insist that one of the most potent business growth strategies boils down to a simple rule: If your want to grow your company, grow your talent.

Building core competencies, problem-solving skills and leadership abilities among your existing staff can bolster the health and growth of your company in countless ways.

Main Line Health Care in Philadelphia has received numerous awards in recent years for its performance, including The Joint Commission’s “Top Performer” status at three of its hospitals. President and CEO John (Jack) Lynch III attributes many of the company’s successes to its rigorous talent development effort.

Leadership training programs have enabled the company to fill senior executive positions through internal promotions and create a pipeline of talent for future promotions. Training about the core competencies of each position and impact of each position on the company has produced performance improvements throughout the system from executives to medical staff to cleaning personnel.

“I am blown away by the impact,” Lynch said.

Some core processes can help any company create a powerful, talent development program.

Define “talent” – Critically survey the full range of skills needed within the firm, including subject-matter expertise, customer service skills, administrative skills, marketing savvy, leadership traits, and so on. That master list can provide the foundation for strategic planning, performance reviews and training programs.

Track performance – Diligently tracking the performance of employees in the core competencies of their jobs will identify weaknesses and training needs, foster accountability among your staff, and show which individuals should be given bigger challenges and opportunities.

Create career plans – Determine how your employees’ ambitions and aptitudes could mesh better with your company’s talent needs and strategic plans. Then work with each employee to map out a professional development plan that could provide the employee with a long, satisfying career within the company while providing you with a steadily more valuable staff member.

Seize teaching opportunities – Education comes in many forms, not just formal classes. Allow employees to sit in on meetings that are above their pay grade but focused on topics they will eventually need to master. Facilitate mentoring, job shadowing, inclusion in special projects or the occasional rotation of responsibilities within your team.

Finally, remember that continuous growth of your company’s talent requires continuous effort. Talent development needs to become ingrained in your company’s daily operations.