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Leveraging Talent

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In today’s increasingly complex business world, companies are seeking ways to make sure they have the talent they will need to compete now and in the future. Securing and retaining the right skills and competencies is fundamental to the growth and vitality of any organization.

Increasingly, companies are finding that the best way to prepare for the future is leveraging talent — capitalizing on and enhancing the skills of its own workforce. By discovering what talent lies within the company, and by allowing for creativity and innovation to expand these capabilities in-house, organizations are better able to have ready talent —- and a motivated and energized workforce.

It takes a special kind of manager to refine and unleash the talent that lies within an organization.
Getting the best out of workers and helping them to achieve their full potential is above all a product of the softer side of management — how individuals are treated, inspired, and challenged. Managers must also provide the necessary support, resources, and guidance to help employees cultivate and enhance their skills and competencies.

The Changing Role of Managers

To be effective, today’s managers must create supportive work environments that can influence desired behaviors and outcomes. This means applying an entirely new set of management practices – a set of practices that takes into account these new ways of doing business. Today’s managers need to be able to:

Energize. The best managers are masters of making things happen. They create far more energy than they consume and, instead of taking energy from an organization, they channel and amplify it back to the organization. Successful managers create compelling visions for their employees to strive for, and then they get out of the way.

Empower. Great managers allow their employees to do great work. They delegate responsibility and the authority necessary to get a job done. This is a vital function of management since even the world’s greatest managers can’t succeed all by themselves. To achieve their goals, managers depend on the skills that their employees offer them and their organizations.

Support. It used to be that the job of managers was to give orders and to make sure that their employees did as they were told. This is no longer the case. Increasingly, managers are becoming coaches, colleagues, and cheerleaders for the employees they support rather than prison wardens or executioners. The best managers allow their employees to make mistakes or to disagree with the status quo with no fear of retribution.

Communicate. Communication is the lifeblood of any organization – whether it’s a small business or large. We have seen firsthand the positive effects on businesses where workers and managers communicate frequently and honestly, and we have seen the negative effects on businesses where they don’t. Information is power and, as the speed of business accelerates with the coming of the Information Superhighway, information must be communicated throughout an organization quickly and efficiently.

Empower employees to see their full potential.

Empowerment — giving employees the responsibility and the authority to get things done their way — can unleash tremendous amounts of worker energy. Employees want to feel that they are trusted and valued members of the organization.

Nothing pumps up an employee’s energy more quickly or completely than when he or she is supported for showing personal initiative or calculated risk-taking. Smart business people know that it makes sense to empower their workers — even if they make a mistake or two. According to a Gallup survey of 1,200 US workers, 66 percent of respondents say their managers have asked them to get involved in decision making, but only 14 percent feel they have been empowered to make those decisions.

At Chaparral Steel in Midlothian, Texas, workers are entrusted with extraordinary freedom to use company money and resources to improve work processes as they see fit. Two maintenance workers bought their parts necessary to invent and build a machine for strapping steel rods together at a cost of $60,000 — almost $200,000 less than the cost of the old machines.

At Aerospace parts manufacturer United Technologies Corporation, headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, employees get involved in many ways. For example:

Employees from all areas of the corporation team up and serve together on problem-solving productivity task forces.
Production employees contact customers directly to identify and correct quality control problems.
Production employees chair meetings to address issues of quality control, productivity, capital equipment plans, and customer relations.
Customer letters and comments are shared with all employees immediately and regularly.
Employees “stop production” when quality is not up to standard.
Employees visit vendors’ facilities to learn more about their manufacturing processes, in order to improve incoming product quality.

Nurses at San Diego’s Mercy Hospital have been given the authority to perform numerous patient-related tasks, such as drawing blood and performing EKGs, formerly reserved for specialized technicians. This gain in autonomy has energized the nurses, improved patient care, and has allowed management to cut six or seven layers of supervision down to three or four, and collapse thirty-five separate jobs descriptions down to only four.

Communicate one-to-one.

The workplace is full of an abundance of opportunities. Ask people what they want to do, pair them with the right people and positions, and the results are amazing. Communication is the glue that holds an organization together. And, communication is a two-way street — with information flowing up and down the organization freely and quickly. “In the industrial age, the CEO sat on the top of the hierarchy and didn’t have to listen to anybody,” says John Scully, former CEO of Apple Computer Co. “In the information age, you have to listen to the ideas of people regardless of where they are in the organization.”

In his book, Post Capitalist Society, management expert Peter Drucker explains the importance of communication. He states that each employee must be asked: “What should we hold you accountable for? What information do you need? And, in turn, what information do you owe the rest of us? Each worker has to be a participant in decisions as to what equipment is needed; how the work should be scheduled; indeed what the basic policy of the entire company should be.” Communication truly is the key to unlocking employee potential and cultivating talent — both hidden an obvious.

Managers at the Ken Blanchard Company in Escondido, California, conduct regular “one-on-one” meeting with their employees — 15 to 30-minute meeting at least once every two weeks. The meetings set a minimum acceptable standard for “face” time with each employee and are a terrific way to make sure employees are getting the information they need and want — because the employee sets the agenda for each meeting. The company makes One-on-One forms available to all employees to help them prepare for the meetings. The agenda can range from questions about job assignments to discussion of strategic direction, resources and planned initiatives, to career and skill development.

Communication also means leadership communicating with employees — whether it be open book management or challenging employees through open dialogue. Communicating openly and aggressively reinforces an organization’s belief in its people. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric Co., is often called one of the greatest corporate leaders of our time. What made him the powerful leader he was? Communication. No one is better at communicating with his employees than Jack Welch was. He relished in his face-to-face sessions at GE’s training center at Croton-on-Hudson where he took the roles of coach, teacher, and mentor — listening, lecturing and above all, interacting with his managers. These roll-up-your-sleeves, interactive sessions reinforced the informality and atmosphere of trust and camaraderie Welch was trying to instill — and encouraged employees to open their minds and challenge themselves.

Encourage creativity.

In the words of Harold A. Poling, Former Chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company: “One of the stepping stones to a world-class organization is to tap into the creative and intellectual power of each and every employee.” Encouraging employees to be creative will motivate them to voluntarily seek out new ways to address and solve problems. Progressive organizations find ways to give their employees the time, support, and tools they need to stimulate creative thinking. Unfortunately, the harried pace at many organizations leave precious little time for employees to just think and create. In such workplaces, it is especially important to for employees to be given opportunities to take regular breaks from the relentless pace of business.

At 3M (Minnesota, Mining & Manufacturing) in St. Paul, employees are encouraged to develop and implement new products. Professional staff members whose ideas are given the nod by management build their own businesses within the company. Those who are successful in their efforts are given promotions and pay raises. There is not penalty for those who are not successful. Employees are energized by the opportunity to see their ideas come to fruition, and a large portion of the company’s sales now come from products introduced through this program.

Percy Barnevik, CEO 215,000-employee international conglomerate ABB Asea Brown Boveri Ltd, in Zurich, Switzerland, has taken bold steps to unleash energy, encourage creative thinking, and minimize the stifling effects of bureaucracy. He created 5,000 separate “profit centers,” each with it own profit sheet. At the same time, he shrank headquarters staff to 10 percent of its original size. Because the profit centers have, on average, no more than 50 employees, they achieve the benefits of working for a small business — increased responsibility, authority and recognition. But, they have the security of working for a very large and diversified organization.

Train and develop employees.

The best organization realize that providing employees with opportunities to learn pays dividends for both the organization and the employees. The organization gets better-skilled workers who are more versatile and flexible in their assignments, and employees get the opportunity to learn new skills, gain new ways of viewing the world, and meet and network with co-workers. As Adele DiGiorgio, Corporate Employee Relations Director at Apple Computer, “The message we give employees is that they’re responsible for their career development, but we’ll help them figure out which paths are best for them to take.”

Many organizations help employees better manage their careers by creating comprehensive training programs to ensure that their employees have the opportunity to improve their skills. At the same time, training employees helps organizations make sure they have the talent they need now — and into the future. While some programs are highly structured, others allow employees to identify their own training opportunities based on their own individuals career goals and aspirations. In a recent study of workplace practices, it was found that companies that invest in their employees reap the benefits. According to the study:

Organizations that invest in employee development have significantly higher market values than those that do not.
Firms that actively encourage employee development and offer opportunities for employee involvement made much larger gains in productivity that those that did not.

Training and development is especially critical for today’s younger workers — or Generation Xers has they are often called. Gen Xers constantly want to learn new skills, both to keep the job exciting and challenging as well as to increase their marketability. Says Robert Lukefahr, one of the founders of Third Millenium, a political group that represents Generation X, “Training is one of the best motivators. The opportunity to increase their portfolio of skills through training, either formal or informal, ranks high on their list of motivators.”

Roughly every quarter, Craig Weatherup, President of PepsiCo, based in Purchase, New York, gathers together his top managers to identify the area of the company most in need of immediate improvement. He then gives himself and his staff 90 days to do two things: (1) learn all they can about how to improve in that area, and (2) train their employees in that area. The newly trained middle managers are then given 90 days to learn all they can and to train their employees, and so on, throughout their worldwide operations. When the first 90-day cycle is complete, and all next level managers have been trained, Weatherup again gathers his top managers to decide on the next area in need of improvement.and the training cycle continues.

Instead of laying off employees when markets for certain products decline, Motorola in Schaumburg, Illinois, has a policy of retraining them. This commitment has led to the development of one of the most extensive and successful training efforts at any corporation. It’s Motorola’s policy that every worker has the right to retraining and, if the worker fails retraining, he still has a right to a job at Motorola. Eventually, a fit will be found.

In addition to facilitating employees’ career development, training and development efforts can also have a direct effect on a company’s bottom line. Jim Baka, president of CERAC, a specialty chemical maker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, cross-trains employees to ensure that they understand how their work fits into the overall operation. According to Baka, the results speak for themselves: “Thanks to cross-training, we’ve been able to push sales up 15 to 20 percent per year, while maintaining a high-quality product, delivering performance, and providing technical customer assistance.”

After taking a course in statistical process control, Wilma Porter, an employee at General Electric’s mobile communications plant in Lynchburg, Virginia, applied what she had learned to her job. Over the course of 12 weeks, she saved the company $100,000 by salvaging parts that were routinely thrown out. Not only did GE’s bottom line improve as a result of her efforts, but she was energized by having the freedom to apply what she had learned at school to her work.

Employers who are supportive of employee attempts to better themselves —- even if it means they lost good workers — energize their workforce by demonstrating that their first concern is the overall welfare of the employees. Management at Novartis (formerly Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corp.) in Basel, Switzerland, lets its employees know that it does not consider then disloyal for considering career paths that lead outside the company. Novartis believes that offering employees ways to enhance their future employability alleviates the anxiety connected with losing a job and demonstrates that the company truly cares about them as people.

Nurture talent to leverage it.

Management today is about what one does with employees, not to them. To leverage the talent you have — and to make sure you have the talent you will need in the future — today’s managers must create supportive work environments that foster employee creativity and innovation. Communicating, supporting, energizing, and training employees will give organizations the competitive edge they need to succeed.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com.

Leveraging Talent
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About Bob Nelson
Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob's FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com. WebProNews Writer
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