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Handling The Impact of Recessions While Avoiding Severe Unemployment Costs

Given the very slow and gradual economic recovery that the US is experienced, it’s important not just that we discuss policy changes (which will probably fall on deaf ears as politicians are more focused on positioning for the 2014 election than taking any action), but to try to develop alternative systems that politicians can support

In a Wall Street Journal option, A Nimbler Approach to Wages and Workers, Peter A. Coclanis suggested we look at different wage structures to help us ride out the impact of recessions: companies downsizing forcing people to need unemployment insurance benefits. One option is the European “flexicurity” system, a model championed by Denmark for two decades that combines flexible hiring policies with a generous social safety net. It’s the latter that makes this unacceptable in the US.  Another option is the German job-share model Kurzarbeit, where the government encourages employers to reduce employee hours during troubled times rather than laying off workers, by providing income supplements to the affected employees. This keeps employees on the job and saves the government money by not adding to the long-term unemployed. However, a large new government “transfer” program also is a nonstarter in U.S. politics.

A third option is worth considering: the flexible-wage model, which gives employers flexibility as economic conditions change. Singapore and other countries in Asia (e.g, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) have experimented with techniques based on this model for decades, with considerable success.

Since 1986, Singapore has used a scheme that is two-tier in the sense that it divides wages into two broad components: fixed and variable. The fixed is the larger of the two, particularly for wage workers, and doesn’t change year-to-year. But the variable component is often broken down into several discrete parts, including an annual bonus and a monthly adjustment. This gives the employer a contractually negotiated amount of flexibility. Firms can adjust wages annually, biannually or even quarterly depending on market conditions, allowing companies to respond more nimbly to changes in the market, the firm’s profitability, or other concerns.

When a company endures a downturn, for instance, it can respond quickly by adjusting wages downward without cutting hours, laying off employees or calling in the government. Companies can also raise wages in good times of strong growth, higher profits or other favorable events.

This system isn’t perfect, and the devil is in the details. How much variability makes sense? Is 10% too little flexibility? Is 20% too much? How are recalibrations to be determined? What about monitoring? How will disagreements over recalibrations, should they occur, be arbitrated? Can such a scheme be implemented in a cost-effective manner? Singapore and other Asian countries have found reasonable answers over time. Singapore’s unemployment rate is a mere 1.8%, and averages at 2.5% over the past 25 years. That’s significantly lower than the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka (4.2%), Indonesia (6%) and New Zealand (6.3%), all of which do not use flexible wage systems. Other factors are at work, but wage-flexibility no doubt helps.

The U.S. is not Singapore. But a flexible wage-system is worth considering because it could keep people employed, and enhance the nimbleness of firms still struggling amid slow economic growth.

What do you think? Share your thoughts!

Encore Leadership

For years, I’ve spent most of my time addressing the leadership issues affecting (1) CEOs and other business executives currently growing their companies and their own skills and (2) young people – in high schools, colleges and graduates schools trying to make early career decisions. Recently, I’m also working with people looking past their main career to focus on the legacy they want to leave.  Dr. Jylla Moore Tearte refers to their challenge as Encore Leadership – and provides them with an action plan for transforming time, talent and treasure into the legacy that matters in a book of the same name, Encore Leadership.

It seems that if you’ve taken the time to master leadership challenges during you adult career, you may be better prepared to master the new leadership challenges of this transformation. Note the similarity of the process:

  • Re-examine your life goals – what is the new purpose; what behaviors, values and beliefs support them; are you passionate about it; finally, declare a clear vision.
  • Redefine your life plan – what strategies will be needed; what are your strengths and weaknesses; strengthen and build the network of support will you need.
  • Reinvest –  identify your new brand identify, and then execute the strategy.
  • Reimagine – evaluate how it’s working and use the feedback to innovate and reinvest.

There are many competencies that we may need in the encore period of our life, that as important during earlier stages of your life.  Dr. Tearte provides several tools to help you develop these competencies as you execute your legacy plan.  If you’re ready to focus on your legacy, you’ll find her book helpful and full of additional resources.

Let’s talk about legacies and encore leadership. Share with us your journey and the issues that are challenging you, so we can all contribute to your success!

  • Build on your strengths rather than focus on eliminating weaknesses
  • Get clear about your purpose and the goals that will help you achieve it.
  • Creative optimum balance – focus on giving yourself the time and money you need to stay fresh
  • Build excellent relationships with people who can serve as positive Mentors; eliminate toxic relationships
  • Develop your self-confidence; eliminate fear and worry
  • Ask for what you want, don’t expect it to fall in your lap. Identify your target and build a system to get it
  • Persistence (with integrity guiding it) is usually the key to success.
  • Take decisive action – identify support systems, mastermind groups, etc.,  and engage them
  • Focus on your life as a marathon of hope with the eventual goal of achieving your purpose

Share with us how you use these strategies to focus on achieving the life you want!

10 Steps to Build a Growth-Committed Culture

Over the past few years, I’ve been helping CEOs focus on corporate growth by creating effective strategies and developing strong cultures focused on the company’s mission. I’ve had the opportunity to use my organizational psychology training and insights from Vistage Inside (for executive team development) and ETW (Execute To Win) (for entire organizations). I thought I’d share 10 steps you can take to build a strong growth-committed culture.

  1. Articulate the company’s purpose (mission, vision and strategic goals).  Everyone needs to fully understand why they come to work every day and how their work fits into the bigger picture.
  2. Define the cultural elements. What values and behaviors do you expect from everyone (e.g., being honest, responsive or proactive, and customer-centric?  As David Friedman describes in Fundamentally Different, his company applied 30 core values (called Fundamentals) on a daily basis. The leadership team determined what they are for the company as a whole. Having the top leadership team determine the values is key to building a powerful culture.
  3. Develop specific criteria to measure them. Each manager then has to Identify the specific behaviors that exemplify the value for his/her staff members. For instance, customer-centric involves probing to identify relevant needs related to search for the right product/service; but a sales person and customer service operators probe for different information.
  4. Do the same for each person’s strategic performance activities. One strategy for getting repeat business may be to engage in follow-up. However, relevant criteria is needed, such as the need to contact the client within 2 working days to see that all is fine and turning the issue over to someone who can correct the problem and checking afterwards that it’s been taken care of properly.
  5. Hire people who already possess these cultural and strategic performance elements. Recruiting should be focused on identifying people whose values and behaviors indicate they will fit into the culture and execute the strategy. Unfortunately, too many people are hired without specific focus on these critical elements. (See Brad Smart’s Topgrading for more information here.)
  6. Implement an evaluation system. ETW formalizes a system to ensure that each employee focuses on practicing the desired behaviors as often as possible. Each supervisor sets expectations with each staff member concerning the behaviors that are They also agree on an objective measurement system (e.g., 0-10 ratings) by which the two can agree on success. Thus, a person who “follows-up” always gets a 10; people who don’t get lower ratings, based on the scoring system.
  7. Focus on Continuous Improvement. Supervisor-Employee discussions review current performance (e.g., 7 out of 10), and set expectations for the next meeting concerning what specific actions will lead to a higher score. Improvement often takes time.
  8. Get people the help they need. If the employee needs additional training, coaching etc. support, the supervisor needs to follow-through. Remember, the Supervisor’s boss will evaluate him/her on how well he responded to the employee’s needs to improve.
  9. Celebrate achievement. Using systems like ETW make it easy to identify progress by an employee. Celebrate the achievement to spur further growth by the person; also use it as a role model to insure others.
  10. Look at the big picture.  Using systems like ETW which collect data across divisions/plants of a company allows the company to identify those areas of the company of greatest need for clarification, criteria specificity and training in evaluating and giving feedback. Viewing how same cultural elements operate throughout the company provides greater perspective for what needs to be done at each level of the organization.

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What’s Your Negotiation Style

Everyone negotiates. If you don’t think you do, use G. Richard Shell’s definition and you’ll see that you do: negotiation is an interactive communication process that may take place whenever we want something from someone else or another person wants something from us.”

Since many of our clients’ successful presentations lead to a negotiated deal, years ago, I decided to master the area, so, as their trusted advisor, I could be helpful until the deal was made. After helping a client who was late on a critical delivery negotiate a deal with a strategic Fortune company which was threatening a lawsuit, I began teaching it as part of a CUNY MBA program and workshops and keynotes offered to conference attendees. To stay on top of the area, I often read material by experts in the area.

This weekend, I was enjoying Shell’s “Bargaining for Advantage” and noticed that in his second edition, he offered his own Bargaining Styles Assessment Tool.  Essentially, he concludes that we have five basic negotiating styles:    Competing; Collaborating; Compromising; Avoiding; and Accommodating.

His tool is identifies your strongest bargaining style inclination and your weakest. While we can use any style in a specific situation, our preferences guide how we act. Since two critical important steps in negotiating is to (1) know yourself and (2) know the opposite party, knowledge of each’s style is part of what you want to know.

There is no “optimal” style for negotiators. The key is to understand how your style will work in a specific context and adjust accordingly. For instance, Donald Trump is well known and takes pride in being competitive; Larry King is well known and takes pride in being empathetic and easy to get along with. If the two were to negotiate against one another, both would be wise to think about their own and their counterpart’s bargaining style before making a move.  Thus, Shell’s key advice is that you take a minute at the beginning of a bargaining session to size up your counterpart  – by negotiating some smaller items – before getting to the main event.

What’s your style? How did knowing yours and observing counterpart’s style affected your success in negotiating?  Share with us. If you’d like a copy of his Assessment tools, let me know and we’ll send you a copy.

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Deliver Powerful Virtual Presentations

As our workforce increasing becomes global and virtual, the need to master the art of virtual presentations has increased. Regardless of which provider you use (e.g., GoToMeeting and WebEx) the issue is clear: is your audience getting the message you intend, so they will take the desired action.

In the early days of PowerPoint, many people thought that they could simply transfer typing skills to produce effective presentations. The results produced overly text-based images, and the common experience of “Death by PowerPoint”.

Similarly, material designed for face-to-face presentations may not work using virtual media, and must be adapted. Remember that in virtual presentations: The audience is not captive, as they might be in a group setting where speaker and audience share eye-contact. At their desks, participants often are multi-tasking. Reduced attention makes it more difficult to “fill in the blanks” when things aren’t 100% clear. Therefore:

  • Greater attention needs to go into the structure
    • Outline the material so the audience sees the road map
    • Summarize long sections
    • Provide concrete conclusions and action steps
  • Be succinct – attention spans are brief. No section should go longer than the time between TV commercials (5-7 minutes)
  • Use text sparingly. No-one wants to read 1000 words. Use active and engaging text (e.g., sales skyrocketed (not increased) No-one wants to sit and read a slide full of text
  • Use powerful graphics to grab attention and describe complex ideas
  • Integrate logic and emotions into a compelling argument. In a close argument, people make decisions because of their emotional reaction – Do they trust the speaker? Will the benefits of action outweigh the risks? – and then they use the logic to rationalize the decision.
  • Involve the audience – pose questions, even rhetorical ones, thereby encouraging the person to stay curious
  • Enunciate and vary your tempo and pace. It’s your slides and your speech that are going to keep the audience glued to your presentation

In a face-to-face presentation, some people ask questions out of politeness. This norm doesn’t occur in virtual presentations; therefore, your presentation should raise “next step” issues that the audience may want to resolve before leaving. That leads to a great Q&A session, which allows you to truly demonstrate your expertise. Conclude with contact information, so the audience can follow-up with you.

Finally, control your setting so you are as comfortable as you can be. test the equipment and the provider’s platform; rehearse delivering the presentation. Keep water available. Sit upright (not too comfortable) or even stand a you present to generate them most energy. Remember, you’re selling the audience on an idea – so you need to transfer your enthusiasm!

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