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Hallelujah! Learning takes an upturn in a downturn

Posted by Louise Barnfield on February 25, 2009

At last, they’ve seen the light!

Too often talent management, and in particular learning and development, has taken a backseat during financial downturns. Too many companies have shortsightedly used cutbacks in those areas as a quick economic fix, only to deal with the consequences later, when overtaken by more farsighted competitors who were ready to respond as soon as the economy picked up.

However, there’s evidence of a different approach this time.

From TM Magazine comes a press release from Chief Learning Officer announcing their annual 2009 Business Intelligence Industry Report, which indicates increased support from C-level execs, 83 per cent of whom “said they believe the learning organization will play a significant role in the response to the economic situation“.

Let’s hope the survey results are current enough to reflect this positive attitude accurately.

Posted in hr, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

A Sympathetic Nod to Dentists and White Rabbits

Posted by Louise Barnfield on November 17, 2008

I visited my dentist last week.

My appointment was at 7.30am. I always ask for that slot, because it’s the first one of the day! I can depend on it starting pretty much on time, and can plan the rest of my day accordingly … assuming my dentist’s alarm clock goes off, and that his commute from the east bay is kind to him.

After the 7.30am slot, it’s a crap-shoot as to how long one has to wait, depending on how many clients arrived late, and how many appointments run over their allotted time. Dentists, unfortunately, have limited control over both eventualities – it’s not good for repeat business to turn Mr Jones and his abscess out on the street because he’s 10 minutes late – neither is making a poor job of Ms Smith’s filling in order to save time … the latter might lead to ‘repeat’ business, but probably for a different surgery.

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!

I sympathize with my dentist!

Recently, I’ve been contemplating my daily schedule, its subtle changes over the past couple of years, and how much my day (and, more importantly, my stress levels) are influenced by meetings, meetings, meetings. My colleagues agree! I have far too many of them – meetings, that is, not colleagues!!

Meetings start late, meetings run late, and I often feel held hostage to seemingly uncontrollable circumstances: late host, late participants, technical difficulties, or, even worse, a completely unnecessary meeting in the first place.

I sympathize with Alice’s white rabbit!

I also realize I’ve become an offender myself…by hanging on to the end of a late-running meeting, I end up being late for the next one. I’m also an offender because so often in the past I’ve bust a gut to arrive at a meeting on time, only to wait until others have rolled up 5 or 10 minutes late, so that now I’m tempted to think: “Well, there’s no point me leaving the current meeting before it’s ended, because the next meeting won’t start on time anyway!” Understandable to many, I hope, but not excusable!

So, enough I cry! I might not be able directly to influence how many meetings are held, or how many of them I’m invited or expected to attend, but I can help myself and others by brushing up my meeting skills!

This is not a new problem. It’s a recurring issue that simply provides new challenges with the evolution of technology.

In an increasingly global workplace, where conference calls have replaced physical meetings as the norm, we live with a number of logistical challenges that are unique to remote meetings, including conflicting timezones, no visual cues, and the temptation (and sadly often the necessity) to multi-task. Worse, back-to-back meetings allow no ‘wiggle room’ – no allowance for comfort breaks, or caffeine refills, or simply to breathe and clear the mind between one topic and the next.

When meetings took place more often in a physical space, it was common to wrap up a few minutes early, to enable folks to pack up and get to their next meeting, and to allow the next incumbents to start on time. We’ve lost that habit.

So, at the risk of condemning myself to failure, I hereby promise:

  • to make an effort to join a meeting on time, or at least as near as damn it. Yes, of course, stuff happens, and sometimes I’ll have a jolly fine excuse for being diabolically late, but I promise not to make it a habit!
  • if I join a meeting late I won’t expect to have the last 15 minutes repeated just for my benefit. Similarly, as a host, I won’t feel obliged to recap every time a latecomer joins…the rest of you, who were there on time, don’t need to hear it again…and again…and…!
  • for meetings involving half-a-dozen or more, I’ll provide web conference details beforehand, in the meeting invite or recorded message on the conference line – another way to avoid unnecessary interruptions and repetition!
  • if the meeting is still going strong with only 5 minutes left, I’ll wrap up the meeting – can we conclude satisfactorily in just a few minutes, or should we plan another meeting to continue? Some colleagues are meticulous about this, and I’m striving to emulate them, though it’s still not easy, especially if some participants (like me!) are determined to get their say!

I’ve printed and pasted to my office wall 6 Tips to Avoid Being Late. Unfortunately, #4 won’t be easy, as I’m more often the ‘bookee’ than the ‘booker’, but they are excellent aims to have in mind!

Though focusing on the arrogance of CEO’s specifically, I’m Late I’m Late I’m Late (posted by Del Jones for USA Today way back in 2002!) is cautionary reading for all of us, suggesting: “chronic tardiness, no matter how innocent, can so gum up the gears of a corporate work ethic, create resentment and hurt a reputation that experts address the topic as if it were a mental disorder.”

Is basic meeting etiquette part of your company policy? Is it included in new hire training, and published as a reminder for old timers like me who need a kick up the proverbial from time to time?

How have you adapted to changing technology and meeting styles? What are your pet peeves?

Posted in hr, teams, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Absenteeism: excuses are an art form

Posted by Louise Barnfield on October 28, 2008

Gotta love surveys!

CareerBuilder.com’s annual survey on absenteeism is a testament to the creative juices of employees. One wonders to what extent productivity would have benefited had they expended as much thought and creativity in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the survey didn’t follow up with the obvious question: “why?” which could have provided some additional (though perhaps predictable) statistics on the relationship of absenteeism and fake excuses to employee engagement. Presumably, the degree of creativity is inversely proportional to the employee’s job satisfaction.

btw, to all my managers, past present and future, I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never and will never take a sick day in order to “catch up on housework”!

So, are there any employees out there willing to own up to a bizarre excuse (real or fake)?…and, more scarily, can any managers out there identify with the 17 percent [who] drove by the employee’s house or apartment?

Posted in engagement, hr, management | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Fostering Accountability: intimidation vs. encouragement

Posted by Louise Barnfield on August 11, 2008


I recently read an excellent article by Paul Glen in Aug 4’s ComputerWorld: Fostering Accountability.

He points out that you can’t impose accountability on your employees. Forget about threats and intimidation; that style won’t work. Instead: “…try to create an environment that encourages them to make that choice” through, among other things, communication, recognition and reward.

I particularly agree with his suggestions of structuring work “to give people control over their own success“, and “… in such a way that people owe things to one another rather [than] to the supervisor.”

Check it out! As is common with the most useful articles or advice, he takes time to spell out the wrong way as well as the right way.

Posted in leadership, management, teams | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Posted by Louise Barnfield on August 9, 2008

Many moons ago, in my youth (and I do mean many moons ago!), I belonged to a rowing club. On summer evenings, or early (and I do mean early) on a frosty winter morning, a group of us would set out from Putney, West London, for a training session on the Thames (usually with the annual Head of the River race in our sights). Depending on who showed up, we would often row as a ‘four’ or an ‘eight’, much more sociable than a single or double scull.

The ultimate was a group of eight competent, team-oriented rowers. The high that one gets from rowing in a well-balanced, sympathetic eight is utterly exhilarating – gliding through the water at more than 8-times the rate that one individual could achieve. OK, granted, the whole beautiful experience can be fouled up by one incompetent or thoughtless rower who’s not in perfect (or at least reasonable) harmony with the rest, but in terms of ‘bang for your buck’ there’s little to beat that feeling when you’re all pulling together in the same direction, at the same time.

Last week a team of colleagues, 20+ of us, helped out at a local shelter housing project…just a few hours…one short afternoon. I was blown away by what we were able to achieve in such a short time. As an individual, I played oh such a small part, but my sense of achievement was magnified 20+ times. We made a difference…I made a difference, but only as part of the We. The tasks we completed would not have been feasible if individuals had volunteered the same amount of time, but on different days. The whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts.

The personal satisfaction I gained from that project was similar to my memories of rowing, in that it was measured by what we achieved as a group, not just my contribution.

If I stop to think about it, I’m lucky enough to have frequent, similar experiences in my regular working day. I’m part of a well-balanced team (yes, Ken’s one for all, and all for one team), and although I may feel my individual achievements are not that spectacular on their own, they contribute to the whole. We all pull together. My job is so much easier because of the collaborative and selfless efforts of those around me – those who’ve tackled a problem, and taken time to share the solution to save the rest of us the effort, or those who go out of their way to help a team mate in any area outside of their own expected responsibilities. The team as a whole is far more productive when each individual benefits xxx-fold from those combined efforts.

Of course, the positive and productive effect of a ‘we team’ can be even more powerful when extended beyond team boundaries to an entire enterprise. As the buzz continues around the emerging technologies enabling business social networking, David Wilkins’ article From Human Resources to Human ‘We’-Sources (this week’s issue of Talent Management magazine) points out that there has been a lot less talked about “how to successfully use these technologies in the enterprise”, and that “the main risk factor is not technology, but rather culture and change management” (my italics not his). A related comment was made by Meg in her post on Integrated Talent Management, good strategy or fad: “Solution is great, but please tell me that you are clear on what problems you want to solve” (her bold not mine!).

David summarizes: “a Web 2.0 company is not about “you and me;” it’s about “we.” It’s a company in which management taps the collective wisdom of its people; where openness and transparency leads to greater success than risk; and where connections between people matter more than intellectual property.”

In a team meeting this week, Meg took time (in fact, pretty much the entire meeting) to acknowledge our achievements, not in the number of technical issues resolved, check boxes checked, or lines of code written, but in terms of team collaboration and support – the number of times someone gives thanks to another for help above-and-beyond, or kudos for a job well done that benefited others. It’s important to take time out to recognize how much our individual contributions affect others. In doing so, it encourages everyone to do their best, despite individual set-backs or frustrations…and, when we all do our best, we each reap additional benefits from the whole team doing their best together. In HR parlance, I and many of my colleagues are termed ‘individual contributors’. It’s easy to think sometimes that, as an individual contributor, one’s efforts pale into insignificance in the great scheme of things, but they sure can add up when you’re a team player.

Posted in hr transformation, management, social network, teams | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

8 Things about Louise

Posted by Louise Barnfield on July 2, 2008

Nobody warned me the penalty for making my debut as a TalentedApps member would be the immediate bombardment from other members to publish an 8-things-about-me-that-you-never-needed-to-know-and-don’t-need-to-remember post. I’m sure it’s just a case of “if I suffered, you must too”, and I blame Jake for submitting me indirectly to this peer-pressure-chain! However, having passed an entertaining few minutes learning 8 Things you hate about Meg (I still don’t hate her, so what does that say about that title?) and another 8 Things About Amy, I guess it’s my duty to oblige their curiosity, if nobody else’s:

1. I’m a Brit who relocated to California in 1997. I was initially loaned from Oracle UK to Oracle HQ for a three month project, and never returned!

2. I don’t miss the weather, and I can live without most British consumables (as long as friends occasionally visit with a suitcase full of Marmite!), but I still miss my favorite sport of Real Tennis (or Court Tennis as it’s known in US). The game was adapted from a French game, Jeu de Paume, and brought to England by Henry VIII who built a court that’s still in use today at Hampton Court Palace. The game has a small but fanatical following in US, UK, France and Australia (and Netherlands even though there’s no court in that country!). I used to participate in various national and world championships, which has blessed me with many special friendships around the world. Sadly, courts in US are limited to the Atlantic seaboard. Maybe that’s because the game was introduced by the pilgrims, in Boston and other settlements, and they were presumably too busy drinking tea and whisky to think of traveling further afield.

3. My first job out of college was working for the British Broadcasting Corporation in London, where I helped produce radio programs on tape, which were then shipped to subscribing countries to play on their local stations. I was rarely seen without a stopwatch dangling round my neck.

4. In my early 20’s, I lived in French-speaking West Africa for two years (first Senegal, then Mali). In Senegal, I probably stank of garlic 99% of the time, mainly courtesy of a Senegalese friend who ran a restaurant famed for its unparalleled bouillabaisse. Thanks to working with a local government rice agency in Mali, I know (correction, I knew) how to build a 10-ton hydraulic trailer (shipped in kit-form from a UK manufacturer)…I guess it’s much like building IKEA furniture, apart from the hydraulic complications.

5. After completing my B.Sc. in Computer Studies, my first go-live project as an Analyst/Programmer was a security application (car permits, theft reporting, etc.) for a British university. The University’s IT department was a beta adopter of Oracle DB and Tools on Prime Computers (RIP!) and the first British university to make the leap to a relational database. We developed Oracle Forms applications on character-mode terminals, using COBOL coding sheets to mock up our UI designs, as well as programming in a mix of SQL and COBOL. OK, so that really dates me!!!

6. My father rivals Amy’s father as a Golf Dad! Mine taught me to play when I was five, with a cut-down wooden-shafted 3 iron. He bribed me with sixpences (yup, that truly dates me too!) for every shot over a certain yardage. Each time he felt his hard-earned money running out too fast, he upped the distance by 10 yards.

7. My folks taught me to swim for money too! …I guess I was a mercenary little squirt!

8. …and, to further punish you for reading this far, here’s a truly soppy one to end on – I’ve been married for almost 18 months to the man who (eventually) turned out to be the love-of-my-life, though we first met 27 years ago. A happy story, but you’d have to ply me with alcohol for the details!

Next victims on the tag line: Ravi, Kathi, Ken, and Justin.

Posted in personal | 2 Comments »

The Corporate Death of the Synergistic Team?

Posted by Louise Barnfield on June 27, 2008

Row Henson, in her session at our Fusion Strategy Council, and in her keynote presentation at OHUG this week, presented various research and statistics that have been common knowledge in the talent management arena for some time. However, one in particular made me ponder the reasons why…“only 20% of employees do what they do best at work” (Buckingham).

Hmm, so companies are consumed by the hot topics of employee engagement and retention; they strive to tie employee goals and performance to corporate goals; they pre-screen to ensure they get the best-fit new hires with less likelihood of quick turnover; and yet, the vast majority of employees are not enabled to do what they are best at doing! What’s that all about?

I have my theories – Subjective? Admittedly! Biased? Maybe! Argumentative? Most definitely! Valid? You tell me!

Firstly, I admit I pondered this only from the perspective of individual contributors, and with a particular bias on large corporations as opposed to, say, start-ups. So, yes, it’s a subjective, biased opinion but, hey, this is a blog not a thesis.

As an enterprise grows and automates its processes, employees seem to be increasingly pigeon-holed into strictly defined roles and responsibilities, with little or no allowance for personal preferences or abilities.

Is that because it’s easier to hire to a formula? …because it’s easier to interpret measurements and analysis if you have a large pool of comparisons? …or simply that resources have been so severely stripped that this simplistic approach takes less thought and effort?

When employees are straight-jacketed into formulaic roles that don’t take sufficient advantage of individual strengths and weaknesses, or likes and dislikes, is it any surprise that their abilities are not used effectively? Some of their strengths may be under-utilized, while they struggle to perform other tasks for which a peer may be better suited.

What if managers have the freedom to build a team in which each member takes on a heavier percentage of tasks that are most suited to their individual characteristics? What if the combination of the individual roles and personalities together can fulfill the needs of the team? A synergistic team – a mutually advantageous conjunction where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!

On the flip-side, if job roles are too rigidly defined and applied to multiple individuals, each team member is forced to perform the same tasks in parallel with their peers. In this model, employees are silo’d vertically. Each may have their own subject area of responsibility but, to do their job, they all learn the same tools, attend the same meetings, follow the same processes, and even experience the same errors or problems (instead of benefiting from others’ experiences).

The cynic in me believes this is all about making life easier for senior execs, in a corporate environment where size precludes them having any personal knowledge of the individuals (or caring that they don’t!) – but at what hidden cost? Sure, it simplifies metrics, objective setting, and measuring performance at the highest level of the corporation – it’s so much easier to compare apples to apples – but how much untapped ability is being wasted, and how much effort is being duplicated?

In How to Build a High Engagement Workplace, Marcus Buckingham recommends that managers find ways for people to do what they do best. Of course, we have to be realistic about this, but at least this warrants serious consideration. As Buckingham acknowledges: “it may not be possible for everyone to be in a role which uses their strengths all the time“, although he continues “but managers can get better at identifying these talents, and providing opportunities for people to exercise these talents and to grow in them.” However, IMHO, I believe that in large corporations this responsibility goes beyond the managers, who are often hampered by corporate job descriptions and policies that effectively hand-cuff them from adopting a more flexible approach to their individual teams.

Am I an old cynic?…or are we witnessing the corporate death of the synergistic team?

…and what about the detrimental effect on employee engagement and employee retention? I throw those in because it’s always easier to get attention when you relate the issue back to a hot topic or two!

Posted in engagement, management, teams | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »