Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gaining Competitive Edge through Learning

Organizations today are faced with an ever changing global business environment that requires a competitive edge. A major strategy many organizations have adopted is turning their organizations into “learning organizations.” This approach creates a major advantage for organizations that can learn and adopt to change faster than their competitors. Despite much research focused on the return on investment for learning organizations, some organizations are hesitant to adopt this structure. This is partly due to the fact that a strategy focused on learning within organizations changes the dynamics within every part of that organization.  However, this change is one that should be embraced and not feared.

Organizations create a competitive advantage by initiating a learning organization structure.  The benefits of the learning organization structure include the following:
  • Attracting and retaining quality employees with similar values, 
  • Enjoying higher revenue growth and employee performance, 
  • Providing better response to consumer needs, and thus retaining them, and 
  • Having a better chance at becoming or maintaining leader status in the industry.
Famous organizational theorist Peter Senge, who wrote The Fifth Discipline, defined learning organizations as "Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together." Organizations start the journey towards becoming a learning organization by understanding what this structure actually is.  Learning organizations are identified by the following characteristics:
  • A “pancake” organizational structure in which power is evenly distributed based on knowledge in employees,
  • Organizational purpose and goals reflect employee values,
  • Goals allow for voluntary cooperation in participating in organizational learning,
  • Employees share knowledge and make more decisions with minimum management supervision, and
  • A tight knit community of learners who control and conform to the organization because they hold the same views and goals as the organization.
Essentially a learning organization will support a competitive edge because employees:
  • Have the capacity for change,
  • Can work across boundaries with the free flow of information and values,
  • Have the ability to learn rapidly, and
  • Have the ability to engage in “systems thinking.”  Systems thinking includes diagnosis and fundamental culture change as part of the organization’s ongoing management process.
Developing and maintaining a competitive organization requires making changes that generate innovation and constant improvements. Learning is what produces this competitive edge. When an organization develops into a competitive learning organization, employees succeed by solving problems in an efficient, constructive manner. Although there is no set formula, organizations should know that they need to maintain a “forward thinking” perspective in which opportunities and potential vulnerabilities can be foreseen.

There will be times that an industry will be faced with changing goals such as creating more cost effective processes during a slow period, or increasing up customer service during busy times. In these cases, organizations must have a plan in place to change learning strategies to direct employees.  Employees must develop skills to make them well-rounded workers with the ability to understand and solve potential problems that exist in a world of change.  “Technology, equipment, and supplies can be duplicated,” comments Astron’s National Director Jennifer Loftus.  “People are the one organizational aspect that can’t be copied.  Structures and systems that allow organizations to tap into and enhance the power of those people are the keys to growth and success in the future.  HR is strategically poised with the requisite skills and expertise to bring learning structures into their organizations to make positive change for all.”

Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest Post: 5 Biggest Employee Complaints

According to many experts, workplace dissatisfaction is at an all time high, and that should be a concern for employers – and human resources professionals – everywhere.

Although the worst of the Great Recession is over, many are still feeling its effects, and though the economy is improving, its recovery is far from complete. With the job market still shaky in many sectors, many employees feel that they’re “stuck” at their current jobs, and many aren’t happy. This should be a matter of concern for employers, even if they feel they have a captive labor pool. It should definitely be a concern for employers in industries where the job market is improving, as those disgruntled workers will be more likely to jump ship.

What makes employees unhappy? Over the years there have been many workplace surveys and studies about this very subject. Here are five of the biggest complaints that emerge in survey after survey.

1.   Super stress. Toiling for one’s daily bread has always been stressful to some extent, but during the past few years, on-the-job stress has gone through the roof. In a trend that actually began years before the latest economic meltdown, increasing numbers of employees have been asked to do more; especially in industries racked with layoffs. Whether or not the extra duties include a raise in salary (and often they don’t), being asked to do the job of two people is a significant stressor for the average worker. In addition, many employees have family obligations, such as childcare or eldercare challenges, which are exacerbated if there’s no workplace support (e.g., company policies to accommodate caregivers, or at least an understanding boss). Office politics are also a frequent cause of unnecessary stress among employees.
2.   Sluggish salaries. Lack of timely raises and salary inequities (real or perceived) are major causes of employee dissatisfaction. Gender wage disparity still exists, and many companies are beset by budget crunches that preclude regular salary increases. Over time this can have a devastating effect on morale.
3.   Shrinking benefits. Due to market forces largely beyond their control, the trend over the past decade or so has been for employers to increasingly offer fewer benefits for staffers. Health insurance (or lack thereof) has been a big area of concern. In the US, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has attempted to address some of these problems, but it remains to be seen how this will work out. Many workers have also seen reductions in other benefits like stock or bonus programs and retirement plans. Not surprisingly, this has been a significant cause of employee dissatisfaction.
4.   Bad bosses.  Some of the top employee grievances concern bosses who are arrogant, incompetent, or – much worse – both.  Workers can't relate to bosses who don’t communicate to employees about what is expected of them, or treat employees disrespectfully (humiliating or bullying them, not sticking up for them, or disregarding the fact that they have private lives).  And morale suffers among employees working for bosses who over-manage good employees, as well as bosses who under-manage problem situation on the job.
5.   Jittery job security. Perhaps the worse stress for workers is knowing that their jobs might not be there tomorrow. Though the situation has stabilized in some workplaces, others are still in a state of flux, with many employees worried that they will be the next one to get the dreaded pink slip. And with good jobs in short supply, it’s a pretty scary situation for some.

While employers don’t have the power to control global forces or local factors that cause such turmoil in the job market, and while they may not always have the authority to shape or change policies that create employee frustration in the workplace; they are far from powerless. Bosses still have the power to influence the corporate culture and make it more pleasant and productive for staffers at all levels. HR departments can help to ensure that an efficient, confidential, and equitable system is in place to handle grievances. Bosses can set the tone for open communication and fairness, and they can work to minimize the negative influence of office politics. And sometimes, little things like a sympathetic ear and a little bit of respect can work wonders.

Author Byline:
This guest post is contributed by Rebecca Gray, who writes for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email: GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Rules of Engagement

According to an October 2013 Gallup study, one in eight, or 13% of employees, are engaged with their work.  However, the bulk of the employees in the study, 63%, are “not engaged.”  Employee engagement is important for organizational success. So how does an organization keep its employees engaged in their work and engaged with their organization? Astronology explores some areas to consider when creating an engaging workplace.

1. Start by engaging with potential candidates at the recruitment stage.
A strong, reliable, and smooth recruitment process is important for ongoing talent management. The UK mobile network “3” decided to move its recruitment measures to an online platform nearly 10 years ago with the hopes that employees would have a positive and consistent experience with the company starting at initial contact. Prompt contact with candidates gave 3 an edge in its highly competitive market. Part of their online recruitment process gave candidates the ability to track their application status at every stage of the process. Their online system also allowed 3 to record, keep on file, and identify potential candidates who may not match the jobs initially applied for, but could be potential matches for other positions that may become available at a later date.  The system opened communication between candidates and the organization...creating an engaging environment before the hiring process.

2. Provide regular and consistent performance management.
The annual performance review with the employee should not be viewed as an “administrative burden.” The employee should feel as though he / she is valued for his / her contributions to the organization. The performance review is a way for employers to demonstrate to employees that they are valued and recognized for their hard work. It also allows the employees to see that there is a communication channel they can use to share their concerns and ideas.

3. Get to know what your employees are thinking.
The use of employee opinion surveys is one way to get to know what the employees think of their current work environment.  Companies such as Recreational Equipment (REI) have become creative, designing an online social media platform called “company campfire” where employees can voice their concerns and opinions.  As our world becomes more technical, being inventive in opening communication channels may set in motion the motivation for employees to want to communicate and become more engaged.

4. Managers must be effective in engaging their employees.
How are managers to be effective in engaging their employees? Investors In People (IIP), a UK government owned company designed to assist British businesses, lists the following: 
o   It is imperative that managers are clear with individuals on what is expected of them:“Clarity is vitally important for employees, ensuring that they know their place within the organization, and what is expected of them in their role.  This will further incorporate development of team members, a key attribute in keeping them engaged and aligned with an organization’s objectives.” 
o   They must treat individuals as individuals, showing respect and fairness for all. “Every individual within a company expects to be treated fairly, so managers must ensure that their behavior towards them is consistent.  This must be consistent not only within the context of other team members, but also within that of other managers and the wider organization.” 

o   Managers must be able to build work relationships with team members, both on a one-on -one level and on a group level. “Breaking down barriers and working in a close capacity is one of the simplest methods for managers to build trust within their team.  In this sense, flattening the hierarchy, pitching in, and sitting with the team are all efficient ways of building up those relationships.  Furthermore, managers must also be willing and prepared to feedback on a team’s direction.  This can be done quite simply when a particular team member or team is performing well, but it is equally important to feedback when the reverse is true.  Research shows that employees particularly value feedback after completion of a successful, but complicated or difficult task.”
Do you see areas you can improve on to make your organization more employee-engaged? Has your organization made adjustments not mentioned in this article that has made a difference? Please share your thoughts with Astronology – we’d love to hear from you!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Employee Opinion Surveys: Make Them Work for You

One of the more common tools used by management in order to gain an understanding of employees is the employee opinion survey.  Such a survey can offer an employee the opportunity to freely comment on how he / she truly feels about his / her work and worth within the organization, and how management can improve the organization’s culture and increase employee engagement. While the upside potential of using surveys is high, there are naturally some concerns with employee opinion surveys, mainly focused on data interpretation and follow up.

Survey Advantages

A desired result from an employee survey is that senior management will be able to identify problems that can be assessed and addressed in a satisfactory manner. Depending on the type of opinion survey given, employees may feel comfortable speaking on serious concerns such as their working environment, failing work processes / procedures, department and organizational mood, and morale.

Conducting regular, yearly employee surveys also can give employees a sense of voice. Such open communication stimulates a collaborative work environment. When management initiates communication devices such as opinion surveys, employees feel as though their opinions matter, thus boosting employee morale and confidence. Management can also get a better understanding of the employees’ knowledge of their objectives and goals.

Survey Concerns

A major concern with using employee surveys is a negative response from management. Some managers may feel as though soliciting employee feedback is a sign of weakness, and thus dismiss anything negative in the survey results. This can occur especially with senior management, who has a ‘top down view’ versus the ‘bottom up view.’  When management reviews survey results without keeping an open mind, a “blame the messenger” attitude can occur if the results aren’t as positive as expected.

The most challenging concern with a survey process is inaction on the survey results. Employees may interpret this as a lack of concern, or even disrespect, if they do not see some form of management consideration of their feedback. In the employees’ eyes, management is responsible for responding to what has been said. To not address what was discovered in the survey can lead to lack of employee motivation, resulting in dismal output and decreased engagement.

Making Surveys Work for You

A key to making employee opinion surveys work is to take them seriously. This starts at the beginning when creating the survey. Ask your project team what type of information you want to gather from your employees. You want to design a survey that will accurately capture information you need to improve your organization’s culture.  In addition, explore how long the survey will be. Too long of a survey may result in insincere answers.  Too short, and you may miss key points that need to be explored. Furthermore, consider if you are encouraging your staff to provide their honest feedback.  Without guarantees of confidentiality and management responsiveness, employees will be hesitant to share anything less than positive.

Once you receive the survey results, whether positive or negative, accept the responses, create an action plan, and execute it. An old proverb that many hold sacred is “Action speaks louder than words.” So let your employees SEE that you are aware of their concerns and will be doing what can be done to address their concerns.

Employee opinion surveys are typically cost effective. Many organizations create their own, or outsource their surveys for confidentiality purposes. Using a third party administrator affords personal consultation on the survey results.  Astron Solutions offers such consulting services to assist organizations obtain the most from their employee opinion surveys.

Are you in tune with what concerns your employees?  When was the last time you asked them?  If it’s been more than a year, why not schedule to conduct one later this year? Astron Solutions can certainly assist!

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