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What can we learn from learning professionals?

Posted By Laurie A. Pehar Borsh, Friday, April 29, 2016

By Karen Rodriguez - Exec|Comm

Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

Our recent discussion with a dynamic group of learning and development professionals, from various industries, focused on how to sustain adult learning in business. Some of the key areas of the conversation centered on practicing skills, modeling to change behavior, and getting buy-in from leadership. All of which are important aspects of sustaining learning.

We asked.
They answered!

What can you do to ingrain skills and encourage a culture of practice?

Time your training with implementation.
Business professionals are more successful when they have real-life application shortly after learning a new skill.  We recommend you learn, practice, reflect and implement within two weeks.

Create a regular time to practice.
Whether you offer it weekly or bi-weekly, set up a room where people can practice their skills and hear peer feedback. This is most beneficial for soft skills like presentation skills.

End training programs with goal-setting. 
Have the attendees set at least one S.M.A.R.T. goal and discuss it with their manager. Add the goal to their performance review to create accountability.

Create peer groups or buddies.
Everyone is more successful with an accountability buddy. Schedule social engagements for the groups to meet and build a true support system.

How can you use role models to change the behavior of others?

Create a mentoring program.
Have the c-suite and senior leaders mentor newer associates for at least a year.  The mentor will impart job knowledge, but they will also support professional growth. 

Interview top level executives.

The interviews should focus on why the training is important. The leaders can share best practices, case studies, and challenges. Show the interviews during leadership training to put the skills in real world business scenarios.

Train your leaders to be trainers. 
Have the business leaders in your organization participate in the training and deliver key sections. By modeling the behavior and tying the content back to the business they will increase participant engagement and create accountability.

How do you get leadership to buy in to and commit to learning and sustaining skills?

Clear the employee’s calendar.
When an employee is scheduled to attend training, encourage their manager to treat the training time with the same level of importance as any other business meeting. Create a policy if you can.

Run a session for managers.
Prior to the employee’s training, run a session with his or her manager to outline what the employee will learn and explain how the manager can be supportive. This will help create buy-in.

Tie training to competencies.
Offer training courses linked to areas for development.  As you approach yearly performance reviews, give managers a listing of courses tied to competencies. This will help them get involved in the employee’s professional development.

Link training to company goals.
Offer workshops that support the focus of the organization. This helps you gain support from leadership.

What advice do you have to sustain learning in adults?


About the Author

Karen Rodriguez is a passionate marketer, designer, and communicator. With over 15 years of experience, Karen manages Exec|Comm’s global brand including their online presence, web-based learning center, advertising, PR, classroom materials, and live special events. She manages the firm’s blog, The Chat, and lunch & learn series, The Learning Exchange as well as the delivery and expansion of Exec|Comm’s open-enrollment seminars in Chicago, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, and San Jose. Karen holds a BFA from Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City.  She lives in Aberdeen, NJ, with her husband and three sons.


Tags:  Employee Training  Exec-Comm  HR  HR Management  Human Resources  Karen Rodriguez  Learning Professionals 

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Winning The Talent War Demands Creative Hiring Strategies

Posted By Laurie A. Pehar Borsh, Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Your company may be suffering from a genuine talent shortage. It may be suffering from a flawed hiring process. It may be one or the other or even both, but the end result will be the same: Companies that can’t find creative ways to find the employees they need can’t grow. Business leaders who can win the talent war (and it is a war) will be able to say yes to new business opportunities while their talent-strapped competition will have to walk away.

One of the most competitive U.S. talent markets is the San Francisco metropolitan region, where unemployment has fallen to a 15-year low of 3.5%, down from 4.8% a year ago, according to preliminary March unemployment data. This is the lowest level since 2000, when unemployment stood at 3.3%. But many other U.S. regions run close behind, with 128 of 387 US metropolitan areas having unemployment rates of 5% or lower as of March 2015, making hiring strategy a critical issue for businesses.

One $400 million San Francisco Bay Area real estate related services company that has had record growth knows it needs seasoned client engagement managers with five to 10 years’ experience to keep growing. Yet the company has lost 20 managers in the past year to mega-customers and local technology giants that can offer higher salaries. And the service company’s HR department can’t find enough qualified candidates to replace the people who’ve left. Right now, the firm is preparing to turn down jobs to ensure it can continue to deliver high-quality work and avoid burning out its remaining workforce.

What’s the answer for a midsized company like this? Throwing money at the problem trashes the bottom line, and big companies have deeper pockets. Big companies can devote resources to brand and community building, shift talent between global locations, and even acquire companies to acquire their talent (as is often the case with Silicon Valley software startup acquisitions). Compared to a startup, a midsized company can’t offer the same lifestyle, perks, or equity opportunities.

You can and should focus on using well-known best practices in recruiting and retention. But as everyone gets smarter about talent, these tactics have a diminishing return. Social media tools such as LinkedIn provide great help with recruiting, but also make your in-demand employees highly visible to competitors. Midsized companies also frequently lose top employees to their own customers, who learn first-hand how valuable those people are.

The talent war is brutal.

Finding New Faces In New Places
These hiring challenges will not ease anytime soon. It’s time to stop complaining about how you can’t find the right people and start expanding the profile of your workforce.  Rethink traditional ideas about your employees’ ages, histories and locations. You also should tweak work roles and processes as needed, create a differentiated workplace, and update the mix of non-monetary benefits you provide.

For example, you could start building relationships with potential employees right now – even with youngsters. Consider the experience of Dublin High School, located in a bedroom community outside San Francisco. It started an Engineering Academy and is actively seeking mentors from local businesses. There is plenty of room for companies to connect with tomorrow’s recruits, says Coordinator Eugene Chou.

“Every student in our program knows who the big companies are — Google, Facebook, Twitter, Chevron, IBM, HP — but most students only know them because they are widely advertised with little idea of how their career interests would really align to that company,” Chou says. “Students need to be exposed to more possibilities and understand that other companies can potentially provide them greater experiences for growth.”

Of course, your company also needs to look at age groups that are in or ready to join the workforce. Companies that struggle to find new grads may be able to find success building relationships with slightly older job seekers, offering stability for those who know that the prestige of working for big companies has its downsides, or flexibility for those who seek to avoid a “face time” culture.

Some companies target populations not destined for four-year colleges, such as trade school students. Others recruit post-high school graduates not in college, veterans, and people with learning disabilities. Microsoft launched a 2015 pilot program to hire people with autism who may want to do software development work.

On another front, maybe the way your company structures jobs is making it needlessly difficult to fill those roles. Could you dis-aggregate complex jobs, breaking them apart into several roles that allow for faster learning curves? For example, one manager, unable to recruit an employee with 10 years’ experience, instead hired a recent high school graduate and trained him to do simple tasks for three veteran employees, freeing them up to tackle the work of the unfilled position.

Finally, if you can’t offer the cool factor or equity rewards of a startup, consider the life experiences you can deliver – such as relocation, travel and accelerated career paths.

There are different ways to skin the talent acquisition cat.

Genesys, an $850 million developer of omnichannel customer experience (CX) and contact center solutions, headquartered in Daly City, Calif., and subject to the fierce San Francisco talent wars, was seeing it’s time to hire stretch beyond desired limits. The company’s traditional hiring approach was to recruit senior candidates for most roles and search within the competitive talent pool. Well, that wasn’t working well enough. It proved costly, and the lengthening time-to-hire hampered the company’s ability to move into new sectors.

So Merijn te Booij, Executive Vice President of Product and Solution Strategy at Genesys, worked with his HR partner to take a different approach. “Given the shortage of talent, our expectation that the shortage will persist, and considering our growth trajectory, we’ve invested in a long-term, sustainable solution,” said te Booij. “Now, we are networking to create pools of potential employees who have a connection and relationship with us.“

In the new strategy, Merijn and his team use a proactive approach and generated and maintains a large talent pool with which they stay connected. That allows the recruiting team to quickly fill open positions. Recently, Merijn had an opening for a senior role that required a rare skill and, after looking at candidates he already had a relationship with, he was able to recruit an ideal candidate within one month.

Genesys also created an associate program hiring recent college graduates. The company recruits from many colleges in the U.S. and abroad, selecting for motivation, drive and creativity. It’s a broader definition of talent than GPA alone. While the company prefers students with an engineering or technical focus, it also considers other educational backgrounds that help create a diverse and multi-talented workforce. In addition to recent graduates, Genesys also hires more experienced candidates looking to reboot their career and start fresh in new roles.

Since 2014, nearly 70 associates have emerged across the globe from this relatively untapped talent pool. Each associate works at headquarters for a rigorous three-week training program, followed by an extended period with a mentor. To date, four classes of associates have graduated, including most recently a global group drawn from Africa, Korea, Malaysia, South America and the U.S.  In conjunction with this program the company has also welcomed 138 interns globally across various departments that include marketing, R&D, finance, and sales operations.

Knowing that hiring challenges will persist, Genesys also kicked off a high school program in early 2015 to introduce students to the company as a way to provide continued support to young students. During a two-hour event designed as an entertaining experience, students engaged with their customer experience software and provided valuable feedback. Ideally the company’s approach is to connect with participating high school students throughout college, maintaining close relationships, bringing them on as interns and potentially hiring them when they graduate.

In 2014, during a competitive employment market, Genesys was able to substantially fill more positions while significantly cutting the time to hire. Company-wide, the average time to hire has fallen to 50 days in 2014, from 100 days in 2013. On top of a sustainable proactive recruiting process, the company is more successful in hiring simply because they are a great place to work. Genesys won a “Top 50 Best Places to Work in 2015” award by Glassdoor.

Creative Solutions
If these approaches sound like more work, you’re right. They also involve new costs. But compared to unbridled wage inflation, programs like these are less expensive, sustainable and scalable.

If your company needs to reshape job roles, that will also take elbow grease and smart planning. Find a progressive team in the organization and let them test some new roles and showcase their success. Remember: If a slot for an experienced manager sits empty too long, you risk burning out and losing the remaining managers on that team. That’s double trouble.

Your HR team can’t lead this level of hiring change alone. HR must partner with business unit leaders. You may also need to bring in a more strategic HR leader.

Smart companies know there is no quick win in the talent war.  But when a company’s growth slows, it’s like handing cash to the competition. Start building creative mechanisms today to acquire the talent you will need to grow tomorrow.

About the Author

Tags:  CEO to CEO  HR  human resources innovation  management fundamentals  NCHRA  recruiting  Robert Sher  talent acquisition 

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Ready to Manage Up & Improve Your Executive Presence?

Posted By Laurie A. Pehar Borsh, Thursday, April 14, 2016

By Patrick Reilly, 

Patrick Reilly will present Demonstrating Executive Presence and Managing Up, on Tuesday, April 19th, 9:30-3:30, in the NCHRA Training Room (San Francisco). Register today.

Today’s world of work is not the same as yesterday’s. Due primarily to the speed of change and the abundance of information managers often need to successfully manage their own boss and other leaders higher in the organization. Just yesterday, I was with a client who needed to influence her boss, the new COO, to make some changes. She has superior domain expertise and organizational knowledge and needed to influence him to take the right action. This happens every day in all organizations.

Aside from her knowledge and subject matter expertise she needed to access her executive presence to succeed and influence her boss. What is executive presence? We all talk about the need to have it, but very few can seem to define it. We can.

In order to build your executive presence it helps to know what it is. Executive presence is comprised of three core elements: how you act (gravitas), how you speak (communication) and how you look (appearance). It can also be described as consisting of the skillful application of emotional intelligence and the effective presentation of your professional skills.

At the higher level of organizations and especially with Boards, executive presence is an essential success factor. Our model provides a concrete set of criteria so that leaders can clearly identify areas of focus and potential action. What we’ve discovered, through research and experience, is that we are evaluating the executive presence of others and ourselves in the following ways: 

1. Confidence – Can I share my point of view well?

2. Competence – Am I competent in my domain of technical expertise and able to communicate it effectively, especially to those who are not as expert in this area?

3. Courage  – Do I have the courage to take a stand for the things I believe in? Take well informed risks and drive change?

4. Calmness under Pressure – Can I project a sense of calm and poise regardless of the circumstances?

5. Credibility (Balance) – Do I have a balanced approach that includes being both assertive and results oriented while being compassionate and having empathy for others?

6. Reliably deliver results  – Do I provide quality results in a timely fashion?

7.  Clarity and Crispness – Is my communication in speaking and writing clear, crisp and succinct? Do I have the tone and timbre in my voice that makes others want to listen?

8.  Connection – Do I have strong relationships with people at all levels of the organization.? Do others see me as an effective listener, authentic, and approachable?

9.  Appearance – Do I fit in with peers and those one level up.? Do I dress professionally for my company and in line with today’s standards? Do I exhibit good manners, use appropriate language and employ good grammar?

Where are your executive presence strengths? Where are your challenges? Is it time for you to find out more?

About the Author
Patrick Reilly is President of Resources In Action, Inc. He has worked extensively with international leaders in the health care, financial services, technology, and utility sectors for more than 25 years. His passion is getting leaders into action for success and satisfaction. Patrick has a BA in Psychology from Tufts University and an MA in Organizational Development from the JFK School of Management. He is a Certified Master Business Coach through Leadership University. He previously served on the Board of the Professional Coaches and Mentors Organization. He currently is the marketing leader for Alexcel, a group of senior executive coaches. 

Join Patrick's seminar, Demonstrating Executive Presence and Managing Up Tuesday April 19, 2016, NCHRA training room, 9:30a.m. Sign up

Tags:  business coaching  executive coach  executive communication  executive presence  hr  human resources  NCHRA  Patrick Reilly  personal reputation  public relations 

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Top 5 Ways for Organizations to Handle Negative Employee Feedback

Posted By Laurie A. Pehar Borsh, Thursday, April 7, 2016

97% believe that negative feedback from employees can be useful.

Waggl, a digital platform that offers companies a simple way to surface and distill real-time actionable feedback, recently designed an ongoing research project called The Voice of the Workplace. Waggl goes beyond the traditional survey by offering an extremely easy way to listen to many voices at once within an organization for the purpose of making it better. Its real-time listening platform creates a transparent, authentic two-way dialogue that gives people a voice, distills insights, and unites organizations through purpose.

This latest Voice of the Workplace survey was sent out through the Northern California Human Resources Association (NCHRA), InsiderHub, and Executive Networks over a two-week period (March 8 to 23, 2016). The three organizations helped comprise an external audience of some 500 business leaders, HR leaders and consultants. The survey participants were first asked whether or not they agreed with the following two key statements: 

1) “Providing an open forum for employees to offer candid feedback is essential for organizational improvement,” and

2) “Negative feedback from employees can be useful to help an organization improve.” 

An overwhelming 96% responded positively to the first statement, and 97% to the second.  The responses were fairly consistent across various sizes of organization, job titles, and geographic regions.

There was a unanimous agreement that negative feedback from employees can be useful. Over the years, Waggl has seen many instances of companies that have either ignored or attempted to eradicate negative feedback, usually with less than optimal results. 

The data from this also poll indicates that attitudes are shifting, with business and HR leaders alike becoming more open to candid feedback, and more receptive about how to work with it to make their organizations stronger.

The Voice of the Workplace also included a second, open-ended, question in this particular survey: “What is the most constructive way for organizations to handle negative feedback from employees?” 

Here are the top five answers that were crowdsourced with over 3,000 votes on Waggl:

1.  “Provide a response to those giving feedback to indicate that it was heard and understood; then describe action to be taken -- this may include no action, but providing feedback indicates that the input was carefully considered. Further information may clarify the situation about which negative feedback occurred. Responses must be respectful, and not defensive.

2.  “Listen, understand the real issue, probe into further information if needed to fully understand, and then address the feedback directly, honestly, and in a timely manner. Then ask if that helps or if there is further negative feedback.

3.  “Acknowledge and address openly and honestly - be transparent whenever possible - communicate, communicate, communicate.”

4.  “Ask employees to elaborate. Individual or small group. Be honest and transparent. Assume your employees are intelligent and honest people. The dialogue may be uncomfortable, but necessary to fill understandings of issues.

5.  “Acknowledge receipt of the feedback and try to understand its root cause. Be transparent about what the feedback was and what if anything can be done to address/ respond to it.

In the open-ended responses, a clear pattern emerged in which the participants advocated acknowledging the feedback in a transparent way---rather than hiding from it. They also sought to clarify and better understand the root cause, as well as take timely action to address the issues. 


Strong organizations “ACT” on feedback (A.C.T. Acknowledge, Clarify, and Take action).  They understand that to be the best possible version of their organization, they need to look to the wisdom in their own system, their own people. In some cases, the action taken might be explaining to employees why the decisions were made, which can be very powerful in building trust and alignment within an organization.


Waggl is typically used within organizations to collect and distill anonymous, real-time feedback from employees.  The platform provides a variety of templates for users to cultivate feedback, in only a few clicks.  Results are available immediately to administrators and participants in the form of easily digestible infographics.  Unlike traditional survey and polling platforms, Waggl creates a virtual dialogue with participants by asking open-ended questions where favorite responses can be ‘voted up.’  It’s fast and easy to share through multiple channels, and adds a fun, gamified aspect to the process of collecting feedback as shown below.

Tags:  employee  employee engagement  employee relations  employee wellness  HR  human resources  human resources management  NCHRA  stress management  Waggl  workplace 

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5 millennial-retention tips to win hearts, engage minds

Posted By Laurie A. Pehar Borsh, Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Contributed by Nicole Smartt
Reprinted with permission from North Bay Business Journal, where it appeared Feb. 12.

By 2020, about half of the U.S. workforce will be part of the generation that values helping people in need over a huge salary; that actually do care about a company’s mission; that praise and deeply appreciate flexibility.

At first blush, this seemingly major shift in how an individual’s values are expressed at work, it can feel daunting to connect with this generation. Here are five things to think about that can help you attract, and actually retain, these incredibly powerful people.


More than many generations before them, millennials have high expectations when it comes to doing what you say you’re going to do, and won’t take it well if you don’t walk your talk. Though it seemed a few years back that millennials might be known in posterity as lazy, disengaged non-workers, it’s clearer now more than ever that this major workforce constituent is hard-working, intelligent, creative and informed. Use this to your advantage by clearly stating your vision, and allowing millennial employees to help you get there.


I think one of the most unique things about the millennial generation is the sudden absence of reliance on an existing value structure. Sure, many of these individuals grew up in homes with strong moral compasses, varied spiritual or religious structures, and the benefit of their parents’ experiences.

But this generation is the first to have total unfettered access to the world’s information. They are more empowered than any modern generation before them to become informed on their own terms, to go find what makes sense to them in the world, and to pursue whatever meaningful acts that call to them. If they are going to be willing to show up to an interview, or keep showing up to work, you’d best be ready to let them see the impact they make.


Creative, flexible, and often multi-talented, millennials (and many other young people before them) are powerhouses of innovation, fresh ideas, and elegant solutions. Cultivate a workspace that invites collaboration that visibly values contributions of both ideas and work. Put a strong, solid mission in place, but listen to their input.


Let’s face it: lots of bureaucracy is pretty suspicious looking from the outside. It doesn’t foster fealty, it doesn’t improve productivity, and it’s unnecessarily confusing. It’s a cargo carrier in a world of speed boats.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon structure of all kinds, and ban regular work hours or encourage your employees to come in their pajamas. But does that form really need to be hand-filled in triplicate?

If you run into bureaucratic structures you just can’t get rid of, take the time to explain why the structure exists, what value it brings or what problems it helps to avoid. Trim all of the unnecessary form filling and eye-crossing procedures you’re able to. Bonus: doing this will likely increase overall productivity, save costs, and contribute to an overall mood lift for your company.


It’s not just about personal growth. Some experts claim that it’s very important to millennials to feel they are progressing in their careers, and though I find that kind of generalization a little arbitrary, I do think that it’s important for individuals in any company to feel like they aren’t stuck.

Find out what matters to each employee. If they want to be vice president of a company one day, give them opportunities to learn valuable skills that make them more prepared for that position. Consider promoting in smaller steps than traditional company structures, but don’t make those distinctions arbitrary and functionally meaningless. Make each transition mean something: give them a bit more responsibility; charge them with learning a new skill that also adds value to your company’s bottom line.


Be careful with words like “potential” when you’re talking about young professionals. Remember that American millennials have had essentially the world’s knowledge at their fingertips their whole lives.

Here’s an example: They may not have had two years of trade school to learn how to refinish furniture, but they had YouTube. Though sometimes this learning on the go model leads to holes in knowledge, where they know that they need to perform a task a certain way, but not why, in the bulk of potential situations their skills are real. Their experiences are valuable. They might not have any sales experience, but if they’re passionate, well researched, approachable and dauntless, their age shouldn’t be the thing that keeps them out.

When you consider attracting and keeping millennials, there’s one sure-fire way you will retain them: ask them. A little bit of collaboration will go a long way.

 About the Author
Nicole Smartt is co-owner of Petaluma-based Star Staffing, ranked as one of the fastest-growing companies in America by Inc. magazine. As a business and career advice expert, Smartt has been featured in Forbes, The Washington Post, Fox Business and Wall Street Journal. Her new book, From Receptionist to Boss, is coming soon (in 2016).


Tags:  hr  HR management  human resources  leadership  millennial-retention  recruiting  u.s. workforce 

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