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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Research Shows Crucial Skills Are Low Training Priorities

When it comes to employee training programs, most organizations are focusing on teaching communication skills.

That’s the scoop from a recent American Management Association survey, which examined the training programs at more than 700 organizations. When asked to identify the training content provided to individual contributors at their companies, executives and managers taking the survey indicated the top three types of content are: communication (65%); skills and competencies specific to the individual’s role (60%); and leadership development (53%). Project management (49%) and interpersonal skills (48%) rounded out the top five responses.

Perhaps more interesting are the skill sets that didn’t make it to the survey results upper echelon. They include collaboration at 43%, decision making at 40%, and critical thinking at just 38%. Creativity and innovative thinking barely cracked 30%.

We’d never criticize any organization for the way it spends its training dollars. These decisions depend upon a number of complex and fluid factors. From a big-picture perspective, however, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that the skill sets appearing lower on the AMA’s list are the very same ones so many of us claim to need desperately, as they go right to the heart of our competitiveness, innovation, employee engagement and retention levels, and profitability.

The business press, professional blogs and conference keynotes have all been filled lately with calls for employers to drive collaboration, critical thinking and creativity deep into their organizations—not just nurture them among leaders and executives—and to hold everyone more accountable for utilizing these skills in their day-to-day work. Of course, that can’t happen if we’re not formally teaching them to our employees. (Rachel Burstein recently offered an interesting take on just how imperative critical thinking and creativity have become in her August opinion piece on, “Critical Thinking, creativity: the skills workers really need.”)

Again, it makes sense that we devote greater attention and dollars to teaching employees certain types of skill sets. After all, some skills are more universal and are in greater demand. But it seems fairly obvious that until we see some hefty spikes in the percentages next to skills such as collaboration, critical and innovative thinking and decision making, we’re not going to achieve the levels of productivity and profitability we so urgently desire.


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@AMAnet  (American Management Association)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Negotiating vs. Dictating Performance Goals

Modernizing performance reviews (and performance management at large) is the subject of a recent LinkedIn post by Robert Bacal, CEO at Bacal & Associates.

In his post, Bacal offers 10 ideas to update how organizations manage performance and appraisals, including: individualize expectations even for employees doing the same job; put to bed the myth of objectivity; and realize that the purpose of reviews is improvement. advice, for sure. But Bacal’s wisest counsel was his plea for managers to negotiate goals and objectives during reviews, not dictate them. “Employees know far more about their jobs than their supervisors,” he writes, “in addition to wanting to be more involved in steering the direction of their jobs. No longer does it make sense for goals and objectives to be dictated by the manager. When employees are active in determining what they need to do to contribute to the company, you'll find higher levels of employee engagement and commitment.”

Some managers might have trouble swallowing the idea of “negotiating” goals and objectives—especially those tied to departmental and organizational targets. However, Bacal correctly points out that employees have a better, more intimate understanding of their roles and responsibilities than their managers. Smart managers put this knowledge to use in the process of managing performance effectively. If the word “negotiate” isn’t quite palatable, ask your managers to “collaborate” more with their teams regarding performance goals and objectives.

One item we take exception to is Bacal’s dismissal of ratings forms, which he flatly calls “terrible and demoralizing.” While that’s true of some ratings tools, not all are categorically terrible. Many organizations have found that modern performance management tools actually help them take a more disciplined approach to holding reviews and extracting real value from them.

For instance, with easy-to-use software in place, both managers and employees are more engaged in the review process, reviewers are more aware and respectful of timing and deadlines, reviews are completed faster, and the communication between reviewers and employees is often greatly improved.

http://www.reviewsnap.comIn one of our latest case studies, Roseann Rush, Vice President of HR and Risk at PrimeSource, describes how modernizing her company’s review system improved results across the board, including raising its completion rate for reviews from 65% to 89% … slashing its annual review period by more than 50% … and making significant improvements to its documentation and communication processes. You can read about PrimeSource’s experience here.

Bottom line, for many employers, updating their tools and systems goes hand-in-hand with modernizing their approach to performance management. Doing both together can lead to long-lasting, meaningful change.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

For Feedback To Be Effective, Put First Things First things first.

This wise little maxim is the underlying theme of “Stop Teaching People How to Give Feedback,” a thought-provoking post written by Fistful of Talent guest blogger, Ben Olds. When Olds instructs us to nix the feedback lessons, he means temporarily of course. Just until we’ve put first things first.

The “first thing” in this case, according to Olds, is for us to recognize that simply teaching managers to give feedback “doesn’t work.” The reason? “Because this approach starts in the wrong spot! There are four traits that have to exist to have a strong feedback culture, and we typically need to foster each,” writes Olds. These four traits are: 1) the will to receive feedback; 2) the skill to receive feedback; 3) the skill to give feedback; and 4) the will to give feedback.

Olds’ position is that giving feedback is part of a larger continuum and we need to instill other necessary feedback proficiencies across our organizations before and after we train managers.

Olds’ points are eminently sensible but it’s not entirely true that teaching managers to give feedback effectively doesn’t work. Our employees want feedback and the vast majority say it improves their performance. Read the Harvard Business Review post, “Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give,” which makes a strong case for the value of both positive and negative feedback. And even if 100 percent of employees don’t put feedback to use, many do.

Undoubtedly, we would be better off if we took Olds’ advice and created workplace environments in which all four of his traits could take root in the proper order. These environments would be true “feedback cultures,” nurturing continuous learning and improvement, inspirational performance reviews, and universal accountability.

But even in our less-than-perfect workplaces, managers who know how to give feedback effectively do make a difference.


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Benjamin Olds (LinkedIn profile)


Friday, October 10, 2014

HR Tech Wrap Up

Getting ready to pack up and head back to the office after several great days here at the HRTechnology Conference and Expo.

As always, attendees were treated to some truly thought-provoking presentations including a lively panel discussion moderated by David Gergen about how data and analytics will shape the workplace. And, as always, I met some extremely dedicated HR professionals who were interested in discussing my favorite topic, the state of performance management.

Being that we’re here in Sin City, however, I also happened to see some pretty crazy behavior when the nightlife got underway, the kind of behavior that made me look the other way. Thankfully, none of these shenanigans took place at the event itself! But now I fully understand why they created the slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It struck me that I’m not usually in the business of looking the other way, and neither are the people I spoke with at the conference. We’re performance management and HR professionals. It’s our job to pay attention to behavior—to recognize and reward good behaviors in our employees … to offer counsel and feedback when we see the wrong behaviors … and to develop and instill the right behaviors throughout our workforces by modeling desired behavior ourselves.

Of course, I’m using the term “behavior” in a pretty large sense here and I’m mostly referring to performance-related behaviors, the kind that make individuals either effective or ineffective in their roles. Still, the whole behavior issue got me to thinking that this is one more reason performance reviews are more necessary and valuable than ever—provided they’re conducted well.

At one point during the conference, I was asked whether performance reviews are here to stay or whether they’re dying out. I said that performance reviews, in one form or another, will always be around for a whole host of good reasons. But I’ll add a caveat here. I certainly don’t want those traditional, once-a-year, paint-by-numbers reviews to stick around. As we’ve said in the past, they’re not much good to anybody.

The good news is … the performance review revolution has begun! I’ve seen firsthand how more and more employers are updating and improving their review process. (Read a few of our recent case studies to see for yourself.) When I think of the progress they’re making, I want to do backflips and jump for joy.

But that kind of behavior tends to draw attention—unless you’re in Vegas.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

From the Floor at HR Tech …

 The hustle and bustle of the HR Technology Conference and Expo are in full swing in Las Vegas! And despite the famous slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” I want to tell you about a subject that a surprising number of HR professionals here have raised with me.

That subject is … more frequent and streamlined performance reviews.

These conversations have been music to my ears! As you know if you read this blog with any regularity, we’ve been writing about the benefits of holding more frequent and informal reviews for quite some time. (If you’re interested, you can read “The Case for More Frequent Performance Reviews,”The Art of Effective Performance Reviews,” and “Heed These 5 Performance Management Realities—Before It’s Too Late!” for more about the topic.)

The type of review we’ve been advocating increasingly is conversational in nature, less geared toward “criticism” or “critique,” and intended to either supplement or replace the traditional annual review (we prefer supplement). We’ve been recommending that managers hold meetings with their reports at least quarterly, if not even more frequently. And we’ve been stressing that managers should focus on asking just a few very simple and direct questions during these meetings—questions such as:

·      What have you accomplished since the last time we spoke, and what do you intend to accomplish in the next two or three months?
·         What are the main challenges you face in doing your job?
·         How can I help you overcome these challenges and clear roadblocks you’re facing?

With so many HR pros actually seeking me out at this conference to discuss revamping their performance review process, I’m more certain than ever that our cloud-based technology can be a catalyst for real change. It not only helps companies streamline their review process but it also gives their managers the tools they need to guide and track these discussions more effectively.

Given the urgency I’m sensing in these conversations, there’s no way that what’s happening in Vegas is going to stay here! In fact, I’m sure these conversations are going to continue long after we all get home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s Not Just Millennials Who Desire Meaningful Work
Articles about “meaningful work”—and what that phrase means—are cropping up everywhere.

Here’s a small sampling:

·      “4 Tips To Help Millennials Find Meaningful Work,” from Fast Company, tells employers point blank that Millennials “aren’t motivated by money.” Instead, these younger workers are “driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable” through the work they do.

·      In “Millennials Want Meaningful Work,” Hoopla CEO, Michael Smalls, writes that Millennials “prefer to have meaningful jobs that provide opportunities to effect positive change in their communities and the world at large. … A study by The Intelligence Group reports that 64 percent of Millennials would rather earn $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they find unfulfilling.”

·      A Huffington Post infographic tells us “more Americans are pursuing meaning over money at work” and offers this trio of compelling statistics:

·      96% of working Americans agree that being able to apply personal interests in their career would make them happier in general.

·      68% would be willing to take a salary cut to work in jobs that better allowed them to apply personal interests.

·      And 79% are willing to take a pay cut at the start of their careers for jobs that allowed them to focus on meaningful work.

Again, there’s a virtual mountain of articles on this topic and the more of them you read the more one thing stands out: most are written about Millennials. But the fact is older employees want meaningful work as well.

In April, Forbes published an article titled, “What Older Workers Want, But Aren't Getting,” which cites a Sloan Center survey of employees age 50 and older at large companies. When asked about the most important elements for a quality job, the second item on their list was “opportunities for meaningful work.” In this case, older workers defined meaningful work as having their skills and experience valued and used well; making a difference in the world; and opportunities to engage in the things they value personally. Sounds a lot like the definition given by younger workers, doesn’t it?

The article also quotes Elizabeth Fideler, author of the books Men Still at Work and Women Still at Work, who said that the desire for meaningful work is a key reason many professionals over the age of 60 haven’t retired.

It’s pretty clear that most individuals, regardless of their age, want meaningful work. If we hope to reap the substantial rewards of having employees who are truly engaged in what they do, we not only need to come to terms with the power of assigning meaningful work—we need to master it.


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@mwsmalls (Hoopla CEO)

@cassandra_daily (The Intelligence Group)

@healthyliving (Huffington Post)


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reskilling and Upskilling Our Workforce Are Essential as Talent Gaps Expand

www.reviewsnap.comMore than a third of the world’s employers are struggling to find the right talent.

ManpowerGroup’s 2013 Talent Shortage Survey canvassed more than 38,000 employers worldwide, and 35% of them reported “difficulty filling jobs due to lack of available talent.” What’s more, their struggle has been worsening; the 2013 findings were the highest proportion of employers expressing concern about talent shortages since 2007.

Surprisingly, this news comes at a time when talent pools are virtually brimming with people, and when a recent Harris Interactive study shows that 74% of workers would consider taking a new job immediately. With all of this talent available, what’s causing our shortages? The debate around this question has been lively. An aging workforce, unexpected and rapid growth in specific sectors, the sudden need for entirely new types of jobs (in the technology and data niches, for example), poor training and knowledge sharing practices, and even inadequate compensation have all been blamed.

Whatever the cause, we all know the results of unfilled talent gaps: reduced productivity and innovation, greater burdens on the workers we have, lower satisfaction and engagement levels, increased turnover … the list goes on.

The obvious question is … how are employers responding to these talent shortages?

“Nearly eight out of 10 employers surveyed tell us they are taking steps to grow the talent pool and ensure access to the right skills that will help drive business results,” the ManpowerGroup report states. “Yet more than one out of five employers report that they are currently doing nothing to remedy the skills gaps indicating that they may not understand how the talent shortage is putting their business at risk or they simply don’t know how to effectively solve the issue.”

Doing nothing clearly isn’t a viable long-term strategy for most employers but growing talent pools certainly makes sense. However, it’s not the only option we have. We can also reskill and upskill the workers we currently have. But to do so, our vision of these individuals must be crystal clear. We need to know precisely the talents and skills they possess and those they lack—especially those we need to grow and remain competitive. Once we have this clear vision, we must put it to use and implement training and development programs that fill our gaps, disseminating the right knowledge in the right ways. For today’s workforces, this means more mobile and social learning, more interactive and independent learning technologies, more mentoring and peer-to-peer learning, and the like.

We also have to take steps to better understand the specific work our people are most interested in doing, where their natural capabilities and skills lie, and the types of projects they want to work on in the future. Frequent and effective performance reviews are an ideal tool for gathering all of this critical information.

If we want to fill our talent gaps and build workforces capable of successfully carrying us into the future, expanding our talent pools is a terrific idea. But it can’t be our only one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Performance or Engagement? And the Winner Is …

www.reviewsnap.comAs with just about every aspect of performance management, opinions are divided on the question of whether managers should focus on the performance or the engagement level of their people.

Those on the performance side of the debate say that performance-oriented managers drive bottom-line benefits such as profitability, market share and competitive dominance by helping their people achieve specific performance goals and remain closely aligned to the company’s/department’s objectives. Those on the engagement side of the debate say that engagement-focused managers help reduce costly turnover and increase employee productivity and loyalty by sustaining high levels of employee motivation and discretionary effort.

Both sides make sense. So what’s the right choice?

Well, a Gallup survey of more than 8,000 employees shows that we really shouldn’t make a choice at all. The best managers focus on both performance and engagement.

According to an article published just weeks ago in the Gallup Business Journal, the most successful managers are “strengths-based, engagement-focused, and performance-oriented. ... Managers who emphasize one approach while ignoring the other risk alienating their team members, lowering engagement, and damaging performance.”

The article goes on to tell managers how to enhance performance by focusing on employee engagement and how to enhance engagement by focusing on performance. “A team will never reach its full potential until it has a manager that is both performance-oriented and engagement-focused,” it states.

Focusing on both performance and engagement will require some managers to rethink their leadership strategies and tactics. For example, they might want to revisit how frequently they meet with employees. As we’ve written in the past, more frequent meetings help managers ensure their teams always perform at a high level by sharing specific, real-time feedback—what they’re doing well, what needs to be improved, and what they can do to advance their careers.

More frequent meetings also pay engagement dividends. As the Gallup article states, “On average, only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged; managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.” These managers always know what their employees enjoy doing, what they’d like to do more or less of, and what they hope to be doing in the future.

Bottom line, when managers focus on both performance and engagement, the winner is …

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Employee-to-Employee Learning: Should We Foster More of It?
Advances in technology and changes to the ways we access and share knowledge are reshaping workplace training and development.

Training magazine’s 2013 Training Industry Report shows how this reshaping is taking place:

·      44% of training hours at U.S.-based businesses were delivered last year by an instructor in a classroom setting—a small but telling decline from 45.2% in 2012.

·      28.3% of training hours were delivered with blended learning techniques in 2013, an increase from 27% in 2012.

·      25.9% of hours were delivered through online or computer-based technologies, up from 24.7% in 2012.

·      About 16% of hours were delivered through virtual classrooms and webcasts, a rise from 13% in 2012.

·      3.3% of hours were delivered via social learning, up from 1.1% in 2012.

·      1.9% of hours were delivered via mobile devices, which is nearly double the percentage from 2012.

While much of the learning occurring in the workplace is still being delivered the old-fashioned way—by instructors who are face-to-face with their pupils—the Training report shows that remote learning, virtual learning, social learning and mobile learning are all trending upward. One question the report doesn’t answer is this: how much of this learning is happening on an employee-to-employee basis?

We found no reliable statistics to answer this question. But a Fast Company article by Sara Kessler makes a pretty good case for why the answer should be “Not enough.”

The article describes a learning program at Google—fittingly called Googler to Googler—that puts employees into teaching roles, which the company believes is a “good business idea.” Kessler writes: “Telling your employees that you want them to learn is different than asking them to promote that culture themselves. Giving employees teaching roles, says Google's head of people operations, Karen May, makes learning part of the way employees work together rather than something HR is making them do.”

In short, employee-to-employee learning at Google is about instilling a culture of learning. And it happens to be an effective way to teach, the company avows. Google’s data (which it declined to share with Kessler) purportedly show that employee teachers perform as well as teachers “who facilitate employee education as their primary job.”

Obviously, employee-to-employee learning won’t suit every organization or fit every learning culture but it’s certainly worth a closer look by employers who want to bolster their learning and development strategies. While employers are exploring alternative forms of learning for a number of reasons, perhaps the primary reason is improved performance. Research from Bersin by Deloitte shows that organizations with strong learning cultures significantly outperform their peers: their employee productivity is 37% greater, they’re 35% more responsive to customers’ needs, and they’re 17% more likely to be leaders in market share.

It’s awfully hard to argue against numbers like those.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Inclusive Leaders Turn Performance Reviews into Gold Mines

www.reviewsnap.comAttention managers and team leaders! Here’s great advice from Great Place to Work (Gulf) CEO, Ron Thomas:

“Our workforces have the ability to be a percolator of ideas and solutions if we would just turn the spigots on. Letting our employees know that we are dependent upon their ideas and thoughts has the potential for any organization to break out of the pack and shift power to the people who are closest to the issues. It’s simple: Turn them loose, unleash their powers, and watch things happen.”

Thomas shared this wisdom in a July blog post on, “Leaders Get More Out of People When They Don’t Wear the Crown.” He cautions leaders against buying into the notion that they’re “the ones with all the gold-plated ideas” simply by virtue of the titles and senior roles they hold. Instead, he says, leaders should remember that they’re in a position to provide useful support, guidance, mentoring and coaching—but only by treating others as their equals.

This is inclusive leadership at its finest. (See Karen Higginbottom’s interesting Forbes article on inclusive leadership here.) Indeed, the vast majority (85%) of business executives agree that inclusive leadership is an effective way to improve performance, as reported by Ernst & Young.

One way to be an inclusive leader and unleash the power of your people is to turn performance reviews into gold-mining operations. Ask individuals to bring their “gold-plated ideas” to the table at review time, and don’t end a review without asking what you can do personally to support and ensure the success of your employees’ ideas. Again, this style of leadership is about embracing the notion that you, despite your title and role, don’t have to have all the ideas and answers all the time. Remember, great leaders are great facilitators. Help your people put their knowledge, experience and ideas to good use and they’ll love you for it.

Inclusive leaders also often practice behavior modeling (showing by personal example the actions and behaviors you want from employees). This isn’t done merely to set an example. Behavior modeling delivers actual business results. As we noted in a prior post, research from Catalyst illustrates that employees who observe selfless behavior in their managers are more likely to report feeling included and engaged in their work and their teams. They also report feeling more innovative, suggesting new product ideas, and going beyond the call of duty, among other benefits.

One of the greatest advantages of inclusive leadership is that it unleashes the intelligence and creativity of your entire team. This means you no longer have to be the sole source of great ideas 24/7. And when you’re no longer trying to shoulder that heavy burden alone, you just might find yourself becoming a happier, more effective

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Reviewsnap Headquarters Reviewsnap is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a division of Applied Training Systems Inc., founded in 1995.