How executives can effectively integrate technology without going overboard

Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, Vice President Consulting Services, Executive Career Services

In today’s world, few things change as quickly as technology. Add to this the fact that technology change is usually toward greater complexity, and it becomes easy to see why some executives throw up their hands in exasperation when attempting to manage technology. Technology, however, is a key driver in execution and in maintaining your company’s competitive advantage — it can’t be ignored or delegated.

“One of the keys to managing technology is to not lose sight of the fact that it is a means to an end, not an end itself,” says Kirk O’Hara, vice president, consulting services at Executive Career Services.

“Executives need to understand the essential purpose of technology in their business, be able to incorporate it into their strategic plan and know how to easily and efficiently adapt new technology into business systems and operations,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with O’Hara about what executives need to know about integrating technology into their companies.

What should executives understand about technology and using it to execute business functions?

Leveraging technology starts with an understanding of how it can be used as a strategic resource. Every strategic plan should have a section devoted to technology and its role in driving the mission. This means that the IT department needs to be integrated into the company’s mission and not seen as an ad hoc department to go to when there are problems. In this respect, IT can be seen as going through the same sort of transformation that human resources did a couple of decades ago. Prior to that, HR was typically called ‘personnel’ and was seen as a necessary evil to avoid problems. Today, HR is viewed as a valuable strategic partner and talent management is a major concern of most executives. It is time for IT to be elevated to the same position.

Most executives do not need to get into the details of how technology works, but they should be familiar with the basic input, throughput, output cycle. For example, what data need to be collected for the input of business systems such as accounting, inventory control and customer relationship management? Remember the IT adage ‘GIGO’ — garbage in, garbage out. Collecting the data necessary to run a business is essential to maintaining a strategic advantage.

How involved should executives be with a company’s technology?

Executives should be intricately involved in the output. What reports are needed to properly manage cash flow, maintain optimal inventory levels and keep an eye on customer relationships? Part of the value of technology is that it can spew out a tremendous amount of information. In this regard, it is easy for executives to request too many reports and get lost in the information overload. The same can be said of business unit leaders and departmental managers. Monthly and quarterly reports accumulate over time and may never be used to make business decisions. Executives may want to try this simple technique. Occasionally discontinue a report and see if anyone notices it is missing. If no one complains, it is a safe bet that the report isn’t necessary.

Should a company make sure it has the latest hardware and software?

Throughput considerations will typically involve matters of technology, such as hardware and software upgrades. While it may seem wise to always have the latest and greatest technology, this isn’t always the case. Software updates often have bugs and new hardware may have higher failure rates. Unless your company is very technology dependent, it may be wise to put off updates until they have proven themselves in the business world, and only then when it is clear that the upgrades will have material benefit.

Leveraging technology isn’t all about systems. Executives also need to be sure that they are using personal technology efficiently and effectively. Smartphones and tablets are quickly replacing laptop PCs. Text messaging is replacing voicemail and email is a ubiquitous part of everyone’s work life. In addition to ensuring that technology is used as a strategic resource for the company, executives need to be sure that their personal use of technology is efficient.

How much should a company rely on technology to do business?

Above all, executives should ensure that in-person face-to-face communications aren’t lost in the crush of today’s workload. In-person meetings are essential when forming new teams, creating and nurturing new relationships and/or discussing areas that are emotionally laden or when intended messages can be easily misinterpreted. Email notes have their advantages, to be sure. They allow for a wide distribution where everyone receives the same message and they serve as historical records for documenting what was said.

Too many managers, however, try to manage through email, and this is poor technique. In particular, some executives will rely on an email note to convey a difficult message, for example, to address a conflict. A good executive will never opt to use email when a personal conversation is indicated.

Technology has pervaded — some will say invaded — virtually every aspect of our professional lives. We don’t need to get tangled up by it, however, if we keep the focus on how it can be used as a strategic advantage and never allow it to replace interpersonal interaction.

Still having trouble getting your head around technology? Find an IT liaison who speaks your language. After all, they are people, too.

Kirk O’Hara is a vice president of consulting services at Executive Career Services. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services

How planning and communication are the keys to handling a reduction in force

Jerry Miller, Vice President, Marketing, Executive Career Services

Over the past five years, layoffs have become an undeniable fact of life for millions of Americans, and even today as we slowly recover from the great recession, layoffs continue. For example, in June, there were 4.3 million total separations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And as painful as they may be, layoffs are sometimes necessary to allow a business to reorganize or restructure to remain viable. If they are not handled correctly, however, a reduction in force could be devastating to the future of a company. Research done after the economic downturn in the 1990s found layoff survivors had high levels of distrust and lower levels of motivation. In addition, absenteeism increased and productivity decreased.

“The keys to effectively managing a layoff are planning, communication and treating people with dignity,” says Jerry Miller, vice president, marketing, at Executive Career Services. “Your goals should be to preserve morale and the intellectual capital of the organization and to avoid litigation.”

Smart Business spoke with Miller about how employers can mitigate the negative effects of layoffs when they become necessary.

What role should planning play with managing layoffs?

Planning encompasses numerous areas, so you need to first understand the reasons for having the layoff in the first place. What do you hope to accomplish? You need to determine what the company will look like going forward — post-layoff.

Then you’ll need to decide which positions are going to be eliminated and why. Also, how much notice will be given and what type of severance packages and other benefits will be provided, including outplacement assistance? While you don’t want the legal department to drive the layoff, you need to know the relevant laws and understand all the legal ramifications. Some of the more important laws to be concerned with include The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) and laws dealing with age and other forms of discrimination.

Finally, and very importantly, you’ll want to formulate your communication strategy, both during and after the layoff. Once the planning process is complete, move swiftly. Don’t drag things out. Word travels fast in an organization and you want to stay ahead of rumors.

How does a good communication strategy look during a reduction in force?

Once the implementation phase begins, communication should be wide and frequent. A critical component of this phase is the notification meetings, which should be conducted by the immediate supervisor or department head, and if the meeting is expected to be especially sensitive, a representative from human resources. This is not a time to delegate. It is critical that these managers, particularly if they have never delivered a layoff notice, be coached in how to conduct the notification meetings. If you are using an outplacement firm, it will be able to provide this type of coaching.

What do managers and department heads need to keep in mind during a notification meeting?

Information packets should be prepared in advance with all the necessary information. Expect that impacted employees will likely be in a state of shock after learning of the job loss and much of what is said afterward will not be heard or understood. They need information to take with them to read when they are finally able to process the bad news. Notification meetings should be private and take place as early in the workday as possible on a day that is not immediately prior to a weekend, a holiday or a planned vacation.

The impacted employees must be treated with dignity and respect. They will share their experience with survivors, and if they are not treated appropriately, it could have a very negative impact on those remaining. Managers should imagine themselves on the other side of that table and treat their exiting employees as they themselves would like to be treated. Be brief and direct in the notification meeting. Anticipate emotional reactions and be prepared to deal with them. Don’t engage in small talk or allow your anxiety to cause you to say something to ease the immediate situation that can’t be lived up to. Explain that positions, not people, are being eliminated. You want to be sensitive to the employee’s situation but direct and firm, making sure he or she knows the decision is final and non-negotiable. Tell employees how much you appreciate their work and thank them for their contributions. Finally, direct them to the next step in the process.

How should an employer handle the remaining employees?

Oftentimes a company is so focused on the layoff itself that it loses sight of the impact on the survivors, but doing so can cause significant problems later. This is where leaders need to lead. Meet with the remaining employees to discuss the layoffs in an honest and forthright manner. Share the latest company news with them and commit to keeping them informed. Acknowledge their emotions and give them time to deal with them, but not too much time — don’t allow them to engage in endless carping or complaining. Work must go on. Managers should lead by example. Be positive but also realistic. Discuss the workload and how it will be distributed, perhaps even asking the team what they would recommend. Keep lines of communication open and check in regularly with individuals. Above all, be available to remaining employees. Don’t spend time in your office with the door closed.

Remember, how you treat people matters, to those impacted as well as to those who remain. If you plan effectively, communicate openly and often, and treat people with dignity and respect, a layoff can be done with minimal disruption and little or no negative impact on the organization going forward.

Jerry Miller is a vice president, marketing, at Executive Career Services. Reach him at (949) 251-5600 or [email protected]

Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services

How to win the economic future in the U.S.

Peter J. Munson, Managing partner, Executive Career Services

As the U.S. economy continues to limp along, unemployment is more of an influencing factor than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.
It is estimated that there are in excess of 25 million people currently unemployed. That means this represents 15 percent of the work force, not 8.2 percent, as government statistics suggest. While the average monthly paycheck is $3,500, the average monthly unemployment check is $1,000, which is costing the government a total of $36 billion a year in lost payroll taxes and unemployment benefits, says Peter J. Munson, managing partner at Executive Career Services.
“The question then becomes one of how the future look for jobseekers, employers and the economy alike,” says Munson. “In addition, how does the HR and talent management industry react to the constantly changing landscape during these uncertain times? This is very much a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, with no clear end in sight.”
Smart Business spoke with Munson about how the current economy is impacting the private sector and how human resource managers are changing their talent management practices to address the change.

How has the economy changed?

The bottom line is that many manufacturing jobs are gone forever, either as a result of outsourcing overseas or simply because certain sectors have become obsolete or uneconomical from a production perspective. Today, more than 50 percent of consumer goods are manufactured outside of the United States, and that trend continues to increase.
For example, the Big 3 auto companies now build more cars outside of the U.S. than they do here at home. Most technology and electronic products are manufactured in Asia. At the same time, most U.S. textile plants have closed down in favor of cheaper Asian imports.
Also, many companies are outsourcing their help desks and customer service activities to countries such as India. Looking to the future, the private sector of the U.S. economy is increasingly dependent on service industries, as heavy industries decline. This includes financial services, technology, energy, green and health care. As a result, human capital will have to be re-educated and retrained to meet the demands of these emerging and changing fields. The solution to this issue is to address the fact that our education system is broken.

How can the education system be addressed?

By any standard, unified school districts in major cities are failing to produce quality results.  Therefore, community colleges should put more emphasis on technical skills training in areas such as electrical, mechanical and IT.  The fact is that not all high school graduates are capable of completing a college degree, let alone paying the high cost of tuition.
Consequently, high schools, colleges and trade school admission requirements and curriculums should be designed to meet the needs of the changing landscape if we are to rebuild our skilled work force and the infrastructure to support a productive manufacturing base. This should represent the bulk of our production resources and career opportunities.

How are human resources manager changing the way they work?

Human resource managers are now looking at significant changes in their talent management practices in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Due to the uncertain economic outlook, companies are relying more on temporary staffing than on full-time employees. Fewer companies are outsourcing their search requirements and more are using job boards and social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook to identify talent, from CEOs to trainees.
Many companies have chosen not to provide outplacement services when they plan a reduction in force. Ancillary services such as executive coaching and leadership development programs have been put on hold by many employers, and this means that training for new skills and/or job opportunities is limited.

How has this impacted outplacement and talent management firms?

Outplacement and talent management firms have consequently had to essentially reinvent themselves to stay current. Outsourcing of consultants and virtual delivery has become the norm.  Today the industry is more advanced than ever in the development of online career centers, interactive webinars and virtual coaching using such tools as Skype. This allows candidates an option to manage their job search from home by accessing the selected service providers’ websites, as well as selecting online certified job training programs.
The old bricks-and-mortar model of outplacement career centers is fading from the landscape. This change has been slow in coming but is now more the rule than the exception. In addition, there has been a consolidation of the bigger career training firms in an effort to achieve economies of scale.
Most people in this country want to work and be successful. The U.S. work ethic and productivity exceeds most other nations. If we can combine this with a re-education program in which we have round pegs in round holes, we really can win the economic future. But unless fundamental change occurs at all levels, the prospect of a return to full employment will not happen any time soon. The end result of any changes should be to produce a more efficient, economic employment delivery system for all concerned.
We can’t all be lawyers, doctors, CEOs or millionaires. However, in this land of opportunity, there is room for everyone to succeed in their own way. That is what makes America great.

Peter J. Munson is managing partner at Executive Career Services. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services

How LinkedIn can help businesses cut costs and improve market intelligence

Jim Dodgen, Vice President, Candidate Services, Executive Career Services

You couldn’t avoid technology if you tried. It reaches into our everyday lives, and even undetected technology has embedded itself in such a way that it is impossible to ignore.
In fact, embracing technology has become a necessity for all segments of your business. And never before have technology and related social media platforms been so instrumental in your company’s ability to find, recruit and manage key talent, says Jim Dodgen, vice president, candidate services at Executive Career Services.
“One question you should be asking is whether your management team is leveraging the search for talent by using the latest tools?” says Dodgen. “And if they are not, how would you know that?”
Smart Business spoke with Dodgen about how to determine whether your company is using social media to recruit talent and how to maximize technology to reduce costs and improve market intelligence.

How can a company determine whether it is maximizing its resources in the hunt for talent?

One clue might be your HR professionals continued insistence on using and defending pricey internal online recruiting solutions when a site such as LinkedIn offers the ease and free access to thousands of qualified candidates. When you are looking to fill an executive position, one of your first calls might be to your recruiting firm, as you and your staff realistically may not have the time or expertise for the search process. And for high-level or difficult-to-fill positions, a retained recruiter is an obvious strategy.
However, outside of the people who are already in their queue, even those recruiters use LinkedIn as their No. 1 source to find candidates.
LinkedIn has become such an easy and effective way to find key talent, at all levels, that companies are increasingly using it as a resource. A quick key word search in the ‘People Search’ bar on the upper right hand corner of your home or profile page in your LinkedIn account will net a nice list of qualified candidates who are ‘advertising’ themselves via their LinkedIn profiles. There’s no better way to get up-to-date information about a candidate’s work history and the person’s value proposition, or branding statement.
LinkedIn is the place where candidates articulate their professional achievements and their industry savvy. You can tell a lot about candidate who is active on LinkedIn, which is why this resource has become so popular.

How important is it for a business and its HR department to be on LinkedIn?

If you and your HR department are not on LinkedIn, you’re missing out on streamlining your talent acquisition process and cutting your recruiting costs. If you want to use LinkedIn and still ensure that your privacy is protected, you can keep your LinkedIn profile to a minimum, set your profile searches to anonymous and still use the candidate search tools to identify potential employees.

How else can a business benefit from LinkedIn?

Not only can you use LinkedIn to find qualified candidates, but you can also engage in numerous professional/industry conversations in the Group section of your LinkedIn account. You can easily join as many as 50 industry or functional groups, where getting to know the players is only a click away. Go to the ‘Group Search’ bar in the upper right hand corner, making sure the ‘group’ pull down is selected. Then insert a key industry or functional word.
Immediately a list of related groups will come up. Select the ones that you want to join and click on ‘join this group.
Once you are ‘approved’ for a closed group, or automatically accepted in an open group not requiring approval, you can start looking over the member list to see with whom you might want to make a ‘first degree’ connection. You can also search the individual group member list by location to further refine your choices, as it makes sense to connect with those in your geographic area who share your professional and industry affinities.
The discussion streams are usually interesting and engaging, and if you have a subject matter expertise, you can easily and effectively gain acclaim among peers and leaders. As well, following group discussions can help you keep your finger on the pulse of new and developing trends.

How can someone get started?

If you’re new to LinkedIn, my best suggestion is to visit its ‘Learning Center,’ where you will find a dozen or so one-minute videos that explain the basics of the site. Technology can be daunting and downright intimidating, but a quick run through these videos will help you better understand the excellent resource that LinkedIn can be.
To find the LinkedIn Learning Center, you’ll first have to get your own account, which is an easy and free process. Once you are signed in, click on ‘Home’ and scroll to the bottom of the page. Then click on ‘Help Center’ and scroll again to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the link to the ‘Learning Center,’ where you can click away at the generous topics and FAQs.
With more than 120 million business professionals currently on LinkedIn, isn’t it time you got on board?

Jim Dodgen is vice president, candidate services at Executive Career Services. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services

How any executive can become a better mentor and coach to high potential employees

Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, Vice President Consulting Services, Executive Career Services

Business executives wear many hats. Just a few of their roles include strategist, financial manager, process improvement engineer and team leader. Many executives will agree that much of their time is devoted to people. The management guru, Peter Drucker, made the point that as one progresses up the organizational hierarchy, the more important people skills become and the less important specific functional skills are.

Executives need to be leaders and this requires articulating a vision and defining a strategy. One of the next roles, however, is to serve as a coach to help subordinates to fulfill objectives and to develop to take on bigger challenges and consequently to make more significant contributions to the company.

“The problem is that executives are educated in business functions and only acquire coaching skills on an experiential, trial-by-error basis,” says Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, vice president consulting services at Executive Career Services. “Knowing something of coaching skills, roles and procedures can provide the executive with the necessary framework for helping their subordinates develop.”

Smart Business spoke to O’Hara for more on how to improve coaching skills and empower your best employees in the process.

What is the benefit of becoming a better coach?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the benefits of coaching. In a recent study by The Work Foundation (a UK research group) the most common reason for coaching, given by 52 percent of respondents, was to motivate the employee. In a similar vein, respondents indicated that coaching was helpful in showing interest and investment in an employee and also fully leveraging a high potential’s skills and abilities. Interestingly, the study showed that coaching for poor performance was a relatively infrequent reason (garnering a ‘yes’ from only 24 percent). One of the lessons in this study is to keep in mind the two key elements of performance: motivation and skill. If motivation appears to be the issue, then coaching is in order. Skill deficiencies are better addressed through training and development initiatives.

What are the most important elements of being a good coach?

As previously mentioned, business executives typically have skills for management and leadership; they may need to complement this set with coaching skills. First and foremost is relationship building and, in particular, creating trust. Would anyone respond positively to a coach he or she doesn’t trust? Probably not. It is ill-advised to begin any sort of coaching initiative without first establishing a level of trust so that the person to be coached knows you have their best interest in mind.

A second important coaching skill is listening, which is unfortunately not often in the repertoire of many executives. Business leaders are typically verbally expressive and not often patient enough to listen to what others have to say. Unless the person being coached feels they have been heard, they are unlikely to put forth the effort to change. Remember the Covey Principle: seek first to understand before being understood. I encourage executives to actively listen — to what the underlying message is, what isn’t being said and what the person’s body language is conveying about the verbal message.

Another vital coaching skill is proper questioning. While one doesn’t need to be as artful as Socrates, questions can help the coachee to find solutions for themselves. Questions can help the individual explore options as well as understand the motivation and consequences of their behavior. Questioning can be used to put the behavior of concern ‘on the person’s radar screen,’ and as a result foster ownership and commitment to change.

Once the topic of concern has been explored, the coach/leader will want to shift into a goal setting mode. This is the positive and creative phase of coaching where both parties collaborate in identifying new behaviors to develop alternative problem-solving approaches, or enhanced communication techniques. Goal setting works when the goals are challenging, but not unrealistic.

Make your goals SMART. Smart is an acronym to help you remember that behavioral goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time bound. Make sure that you gain commitment, or recommitment as the case may be at the end of each coaching meeting.

How can executives help to ensure a successful coaching initiative?

A final, capstone skill for coaching is the ability to provide feedback and support. How hard is it to change? Very! Nothing will extinguish new behavior quicker than ignoring it. The leader/coach needs to be mindful of recognizing new behavior and providing encouragement. Be specific; vague feedback is not usually very helpful developmentally. Your feedback should also be non-judgmental. Remember, the adage to praise in public and criticize in private. Behavioral psychology has demonstrated that all of us respond to positive encouragement in making a change far better than we respond to punishment.

Also consider the behavior change from a system’s perspective. Who are the other coworkers and colleagues who interact with the individual? How is their behavior influencing the person? Conducting a stakeholder analysis to understand how the environment supports or interferes with the attempted behavior change should not be underestimated.

Business executives have a lot on their plate, so adding one more concern can be treacherous. On the other hand, watching for coaching opportunities, adopting mentees and developing high potentials are all ways to leverage your own skills and free up time for more strategic pursuits. Helping others to change — to eliminate counter-productive behaviors or better utilize skills — is not usually easy, but it isn’t rocket science either. It requires basic human understanding, a caring attitude and a willingness to invest yourself in helping someone else become a better employee and a better person.

Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, is vice president consulting services at Executive Career Services. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services

How a professional search firm can add value to your business’s talent management process

Jerry Miller, Vice President of Marketing, Executive Career Services

While the Internet has changed the face of business as we know it, there is one thing it can’t do: decisively and professionally narrow a talent search to discover the right candidate for your business’s needs.

“As a HR leader I thought some years ago that the onset of the Internet would put recruiting firms out of business,” says Jerry Miller, vice president of marketing at Executive Career Services, whose human resources background includes extensive recruiting experience as well as executive search and contingency recruiting. “One could surmise that my original premise was correct and, with the increased popularity of social networking sites like LinkedIn, this percentage has nowhere to go but down. One would be wrong.”

It’s true that, according to the CareerXroads 9th Annual Source of Hire Study conducted in February 2010, only 2.3 percent of 2009 new hires came through third-party recruiters. But for specific talent acquisition for a niche position, a highly valued role, or a position that needs to be filled quickly and precisely, having a gatekeeper for selection and screening is invaluable.

Smart Business spoke to Miller about what a professional search firm can provide and how to choose the right firm for your business’s requirements.

Where is the value in using search firms?

Recruiting firms still have a place in the world of talent acquisition. It may not be as prominent a place as it used to be, but it is a place. Third-party recruiters are at their best when a position is hard to find, requires a very narrow or specialized skill set, or when a search is being conducted confidentially. They can also save their clients a great deal of time and effort by sourcing, interviewing and qualifying candidates and doing background investigations and reference checks. And because they are proactive rather than reactive in their methods, they provide access to passive candidates that the client would not otherwise have.

Are all search firms the same?

There are essentially two types of search firms, retained and contingency. Retained firms have an exclusive arrangement with the client and get paid whether the search is successfully completed or not. Usually, they get one-third of the agreed upon fee at the time the engagement commences, another third at a pre-determined milestone in the search, and the remainder upon successful completion of the search. Normally these engagements carry a six- or twelve-month unconditional guarantee whereby the search firm will replace the new hire at no cost if they should terminate employment for any reason during the guarantee period.

Contingency firms on the other hand don’t receive any payment until a candidate is successfully placed. They also have a guarantee, though usually not as robust as that of a retained firm. And the relationship with the client is generally not exclusive.

Companies will often engage multiple contingency firms on a search in hopes of covering more ground and reducing the time to fill the position.

How can a business best determine the right kind of search firm for its needs?

The level of the position is a determining factor. Retained firms will usually not take any engagements where the base salary is under six figures. Also, if the search is to be confidential, a retained firm, because it is an exclusive arrangement and because of the way they recruit, would be the best way to go. Contingency firms can be effective for mid-management and below positions. They are also a good choice if you have multiple openings in the same or various disciplines. They are generally willing to negotiate their fee downward for a multi-position engagement.

Once a business has determined what type of firm will fit its needs how does it go about finding and selecting the right firm?

Ideally, you want to work with a firm that is familiar with your industry and/or the type(s) of position(s) you need to fill. The best way to source such firms is by asking colleagues in your industry or discipline. Like in anything else, a referral from a person you trust is a great way to start. Alternatively you can use reference lists such as The Directory of Executive & Professional Recruiters, known as the ‘Redbook,’, or simply do a Google search for recruiting firms using as key words your industry and/or discipline.

Once you have identified some relevant firms, then you proceed as if each firm were an employment candidate. You interview each one in detail and check references. You’ll want to find out specifically what searches they have done in your area of need, what is their success rate, whether they understand your industry or discipline, how they operate and their fee structure and guarantee. Once you’ve made your choice, get all of the parameters of the search down in a written agreement.

Search firms can be expensive, but they can also add tremendous value to your talent management process. The right firm will provide the expertise, experience and skill set required to design and deliver customized solutions that meet your needs, saving you valuable time.

Jerry Miller is vice president of marketing at Executive Career Services. Reach him at (949) 251-5600 or [email protected]