Friday, August 28, 2009

Office Buzz, Buzz: All Talk and No Substance

During this recession period of bailouts, downsizing, pay freezes, and similar signs of doom and gloom, it’s important to circle back in the workplace and really reach out to leverage engagement among employees, and value-add whenever possible in creating cutting-edge, customer-centric solutions. It is what it is.

Does the previous paragraph sound familiar in that there are a lot of hot-topic terms and expressions used but not much is actually being communicated or clarified? All the italicized words turn out to be some of the most overused terms in the world of business jargon.

In an Accountemps telephone survey of 150 senior leaders from 1,000 of the world’s largest companies, executives were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?"

Some examples included:

• Viral: As in, "Our video has gone viral."

• Game changer: As in, "Transitioning from products to solutions was a game changer for our company."

• Disconnect: As in, "There is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what the product provides."

A similar survey that was conducted in 2004 had many repeated expressions and words from 2009 including “think outside the box”, “on the same page,” and “at the end of the day”, and also words such as “synergy” and “customer-centric.”

“When business or industry terms become overused, people stop paying attention to them," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. “The best communicators use clear and straightforward language that directly illustrates their points.”

At a time when organizations are doing more with less, perhaps budget cuts need to include office buzzwords.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Dynamics in Mentoring Women

Not long ago the thought of men being ideal mentors for women would have sounded absurd. How could a man possibly understand a woman’s experience in the workplace?

Not only has the workplace changed, but the debate has changed along with it. If the end goal is to promote more women into positions of power, who better to teach them than the men who are already there? Most women agree that women seeking to become executives should find a male mentor.

When building an internal mentoring program, common ingredients for success do exist. There needs to be an active facilitator who pairs a mentor with a protégé. Throughout the process the woman interested in being mentored must take the initiative. Observers agree that absent a real determination from a woman seeking to learn from colleagues, an informal program whereby the organization sets the table and then steps out of the picture is unlikely to work.

The most effective mentoring relationships should last for one year. Partners should meet monthly. If time constraints do not permit such frequency, they should meet for an extended period of three hours per quarter. No topic should be considered irrelevant.

There are plenty of issues to discuss such as how to prepare presentations, speak the language of the board or build rapport with male executives. Maybe a female protégé needs to work on strategic thinking or develop greater financial acumen. Whatever they choose to focus on, the protégé should select an area that is crucial for them to reach the next level.

What distinguishes men from women in terms of mentoring is men’s willingness to seek and be guided by a mentor. Too often, according to workplace analysts, women fear asking for advice on professional matters out of fear that they will be perceived as incompetent or under qualified. On the flipside women are still reluctant mentors to other women.

Why are women at the executive level often unwilling to take on a guiding role? Reasons vary from a shortage of women in power to the limited time and heightened spotlight that the few at the top operate under. Possibly they suffer from the same affliction as doctors who express little sympathy for the brutal hours required of residents. If they had to struggle through days of 12-hour shifts without sleep, then why shouldn’t the next generation suffer the same?

Structured mentoring programs are effective. What makes or breaks it is the willingness of the protégé to keep the process going. It is not up to the mentor to set a schedule or select topics to discuss. The protégé has to take charge of the process.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Downturn Spurs Proactive Ingenuity

One could argue that the recession has inspired many people to reinvent their careers and seek new possibilities. The Foundation for Job Creation is one of the phoenixes that has risen from the ashes of the current economy.

Founded by inventor and entrepreneur Mark Nejmeh, attorney Francis X. Taney Jr., and businessman James Flattery, the purpose of the non-profit corporation is to “support ideas, innovations, and concepts through development and into prototype.”

Says Nejmeh, “We can no longer ignore ideas that are born in unexpected places…This new Foundation must mine the brilliance of the ‘can do, will do’ modern American scientists, creative minds, and entrepreneurs in garages, basements, and elsewhere.”

The industries of focus for the Foundation are entertainment, biotechnology, renewable energy, and any type of high- or low-tech industry. All development projects must create jobs and profit, as well as be strong candidates for export outside the U.S.

The foundation is open for various forms of membership, ranging from volunteer status (at no cost) to lifetime membership at $25,000. General annual membership amounts to $175 with significant discounts for those who are retired, serving in the military, students, or educators. A key benefit of being a member includes the right to vote on development of technology and the allocation of funds.

Some of the organization’s plans include creating three to five think tank-like facilities across the U.S. as well as one laboratory and prototyping facility, all open for member use by mid-2010. Anyone is allowed to apply for assistance with intellectual property protection, engineering software, business plan software, website development, branding, engineering services for assisting in concept and prototype design, and professional business mentoring and prototype production at these service centers.

The first fundraiser for the Foundation, Lift America Up, is slated for November 2009, and is a national bench press contest that is open to all individuals as well as schools, gyms, and military bases. A $5000 prize will go to the gym, school, or military base that cumulatively lifts the most weight among all the registered participants. Individual prizes of $1500 are also available.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Learning in Tough Economic Times

This economic recession has brought many challenges in the corporate world. From the market fluctuations to reductions in staff, all companies and all employees are feeling the effects of this downturn in the economy.

ASTD recently partnered with i4cp to produce a research report on how the learning function can partner with organizational leaders to help organizations increase employee productivity. Thirty-eight percent of survey participants reported that this recession is much more challenging than past downturns, and 70 percent of learning executives are looking for ways to become more efficient at delivering learning.

Explore the specific methods that organizations are using to cope with deep financial uncertainty and read about the best practices that learning organizations are using to survive this economic recession.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Measuring What Really Matters

Training is an investment. If your organization is investing money in workplace training, then training and development should be treated like any other investment—goals need to be aligned with business strategies, and accountability needs to be measured.

The recession has magnified the need for accountability. Learning professionals need to show how learning affects corporate performance by speaking the language of business when communicating the value of learning to executives, and by identifying ways in which the learning function supports the organization’s goals.

It is critical that professionals know what to measure, how to measure it, and how to present the results to the rest of the business. This includes understanding the business, the needs of employees, and how the training strategy links to business results.

To help learning maintain credibility, learning executives must think about results, measures, metrics, and analytics when designing and delivering workplace training programs. It is time to start delivering the data that executives demand, because if you fail to prove value, learning programs may be perceived as a waste of time and money.

Read Jack and Patty Phillips' article in this month's T+D.