• 23 April

    The Bad Consequences Of Good Work

    A couple of years ago I was facilitating an employee engagement planning meeting for a business team in Johannesburg, South Africa. The session was designed to put actions in place to increase the engagement of the team based on the results of a Gallup Q12 employee survey they had taken. During the meeting, one question in particular came up for discussion: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” The team’s roll-up score for the question was a little over a 2 – with a 5 being “strongly agree” and a 1 being “strongly disagree”. A pretty poor showing of employee engagement.


    The manager was quite surprised. “I don’t understand how we could have gotten such a low score on this question,” he remarked. “Every time someone on the team does something good, I get them up in front of the whole team to celebrate it.”


    But when the team was asked to feedback about the mysteriously low score, they declared their collective modesty. Most were so uncomfortable with extra attention that they were doing everything in their power to avoid being “rewarded.” The manager thought he was recognizing them; they were afraid that good work would force them into an embarrassing situation. Had the manager simply asked his employees how they liked to be recognized he would have had a much happier and more productive team.


    Lou’s Take Away: Not everyone likes to be recognized in the same way. Effective recognition needs to be personalized. It means more that way. Ask your employees how they individually like to be recognized and follow suit.

  • 17 April

    Shoehorning Employees

    A friend of mine told me a story about a Nike employee that was laid off not too long ago. Over 14 years, he had designed innumerable shoes, t-shirts and other apparel – including outfits for US Olympians. With a deep resume like that you’d think he’d get another design job quickly, but instead he found himself going to a series of disparaging job interviews. At his third callback –with a company that had already requested over 200 images from his portfolio – an interviewer asked, “So, do you know your way around Photoshop?”


    He’s not alone. Over the past several years, millions of people around the globe have been left frustrated after an endless series of job interviews that went nowhere. In his book Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It, Peter Capelli offers a number of reasons, in part blaming businesses for chasing the perfect resume/CV instead of an actual person who has the core talent to do the job well.


    Too few businesses are willing to invest in employee training and development, rather expecting prospective employees to hit the ground running with not much more than a job offer in hand. Capelli suggests that, instead, more businesses should invest time and money into hiring people who have the raw talent and aptitude to eventually be very successful. Then they need to effectively train and grow them within the role and company. Like any investment, it carries risk – but also a huge upside.


    This was definitely my experience working for Stryker, a Fortune 300 medical device company. Stryker was willing to invest in raw talent with limited experience and, over my 12 years there, grew from about a billion dollar to an $8 billion company. This success was driven in large part by the company’s effective policy of identifying the strengths of their candidates and employees, placing them in jobs where they could use those strengths as much as possible, focusing on the development of strengths instead of weaknesses, and providing industry and role specific training.


    But Stryker is still in many ways an exception. Too many businesses refuse to hire talented people that need training and development. Instead, these organizations are opting to leave positions open – often for long periods of time – negatively impacting their business results and other employees trying to pick up the slack. Admittedly, from time to time you will get lucky enough to find the “perfect” resume/CV coupled with unmatched talent but, it will most likely not happen fast enough or often enough to meet the resource needs to grow your business.


    Lou’s Take Away: Steer clear of the “perfect” resume/CV syndrome when recruiting. Always err on the side of hiring employees that have more talent than experience, but who can be world class at what you are asking them to do with specific training and development. Establish a strong Learning and Development function and culture – coupled with leaders and managers adept at employee development – that can turn raw talent into super star performers.

  • 11 April

    The Matchstick Man’s Secret

    During the early 1920’s a Swedish engineer named Ivar Kreugar launched a plan to corner the matchstick market. He offered loans of millions of dollars to post-WWI rebuilding and cash-desperate European countries in exchange for the exclusive rights to sell matchsticks within their borders (remember, this was before electric stoves, disposable cigarette lighters or health concerns about smoking). Kreuger opened an American subsidiary to sell stock to investors, promising 20% returns and using that money to pay off his loans to European countries.


    The plan – while highly secretive – was tremendously successful. Kreuger’s company came to control nearly 75% of the matchstick market in Europe and the United States, he appeared on the cover of Time in 1929, and was commonly heralded as the “Savior of Europe.” Kreuger was living a dream.


    Eventually, however, financial reality caught up with him. Profitable as his company was, it wasn’t enough to cover his debts. His business soon deteriorated into a Ponzi scheme cover-up that collapsed in the early years of the Great Depression. Overwhelmed by the shocking evidence of his deceit and failure, Kreuger shot himself through the heart. Eventually his crime led Congress to pass US Securities Acts in 1933 and 1934.


    But though he ended up perpetrating an enormous fraud, Kreuger might reasonably have generally considered himself an honest, if ambitious, businessman for most of his life. He had been a stunning success and the countries of Western Europe benefitted from his business plan. Kreuger’s real weaknesses were his obsession with secrecy and his belief in the media’s lionization of him. When asked about his formula for success he would quote, “Silence, more silence, and still more silence” and would ask prospective employees, “Can you keep a secret?” His excessive concealment left him living in a world of his own and the magnificence of his success overwhelmed him. He lost track of reality.


    While most of us never imagine anything as massive as cornering the matchstick market (or any other market), we are still excited by the grand vision of it all. Likewise, though many of us never plan to join the CIA or MI6, we may still get giddy with necessary secrets that are occasionally shared with us at work. As leaders, we must always ensure that we and those following us remain grounded in reality despite successes that do occur. Losing track of reality opens the door for ethical transgressions that could destroy even the greatest of enterprises.


    Lou’s Take Away: Whilst every company needs to keep certain information secret or at least well-guarded – some more than others – as an owner, leader, or manager, pay attention to excessive secret off-site meetings, use of codenames, and general excitement about being more “in the know” than others. Even if such behavior doesn’t lead to corruption by ungrounded employees, it will create an unwelcome division within your workplace. Keep yourself and your employees grounded in reality by advocating openness, honesty, transparency, maintaining and promoting an ethics hotline, and leading by example.

  • 9 April

    Why International Companies No Longer Work

    In January of 2012, Azerbaijanis faced the real possibility of a future without Kit Kat bars, Nescafe, and Hot Pockets. After government officials demanded that they offer bribes to do business in the country, Nestlé pulled its products from the Azerbaijan’s shelves. Azerbaijan certainly isn’t a huge market, but the decision for a business to completely withdraw from any market isn’t easy. However, it’s sometimes the only alternative for organizations that operate globally.


    Several decades ago, it was easier to run an “international company” – a business with home offices in one country and divisions providing products and services in others. The profits flowed back to the parent company while, by and large, any negative publicity over unethical business practices didn’t.


    This scenario seems like a distant memory in today’s tightly connected global economy patrolled by 24-hour cable news networks and the Internet. For example, the 2012 alleged bribing of local officials by Wal-Mart México was front-page news that became a public relations disaster for the company. General Electric was brought to task in the Western media for allegations of bribing Iraqi officials between 2000-2003. The lesson is that any corruption, anywhere on Earth can cause and damage a company’s brand globally.


    In this era, management and owners need to stop imagining that they can continue successfully running international companies — and realize that they should be leading global organizations. What’s the difference? A global company recognizes that everything is interlinked, that there are no corporate firewalls, and that unethical business practices in one country will eventually lead to bad practices in others. When leaders are moved to different regions or units, they may bring their practices with them. Ethical transgressions are like global viruses, and often just as well publicized as epidemics.


    Although strong, creative companies can often find ways to succeed in ethically challenged countries and industries, when they find that there are no good options left, they should make the same decision as Nestlé. If your business can’t compete in a market without blowing out the ethical envelope, the business in that market is simply not worth it.


    Lou’s Take Away: As a global company, do not enter or stay in markets where you can’t compete ethically. The short-term regional profits could damage your global brand and ultimately devalue your entire company.


Louis represents the ‘best’ that HR has to offer! He clearly has command of what it means to add value to the business in concrete ways. In my opinion he is the epitome of the New HR professional. Adept, poised and very insightful leader!


-Toni Wilson, SPHR, Management Consultant