Monday, April 11, 2011

Strategy & Leadership Snips

Issue 5, Mar /Apr 2011

Welcome to the fifth issue. What you will find in this issue are (1) General principles that leaders in organizations’ operating in competitive and dynamic environments need to work towards (2) A reference table outlining the high level roles of corporate centers, business units & shared service functions (3) People management practice section deals with Stress management and Effective employee Background checks. 

 Strategy & Leadership Snips

Organization power is generated when people work in alignment, focused on the business and the customer, not on internal organizational demands. Leaders need to understand the drivers of their business and spend time putting the right people and processes in place.  Fundamentals of superior performance in a dynamic environment require organizations to:-
  1. Progressively work towards decentralized structures with talented leaders assigned with direct lines of responsibility.
  2. Build the capabilities of the sales team to be both hunters and harvesters.
  3. Design and deploy operating metrics that get people to focus on areas critical to business strategy effectiveness and efficiency.
  4. Reward people for results that link to the overall business performance and goals and not the achievement of functional goals that while good to have do not add value to the business.
  5. Avoid having tall structures that spend a lot of time trying to educate people so far away from the day to day business that timely decision making is sacrificed.  Leaders need to be enabled and provided resources to act.
  6. Spend time where the action is and talk to people that are able to shed light on what is going well and what is getting in their way.
  7. Identify which processes and functions are best kept at a global level and which should be left at the local level.
  8. Develop systems that help the organization get closer to customers, collect customer intelligence and develop competitive value-creating insight.
  9. Establish effective co-ordination mechanisms that promote team-working across functions and locations, promote open information and knowledge sharing.
Strategy, Leadership, People, Processes and Customers need to establish strong links & alignment for success.
The table below provides a quick high level summary of the typical role of corporate centers, individual business units and shared service functions.

Roles of Corporate, Business Units and Shared Services

Corporate Center
Business Units
Shared Services
·  Set overall strategy
·  Decide business / revenue stream portfolio mix
·  Define global performance measures
·  Define ethical business standards
·  Approve business unit strategy
·  Strategic financial planning

· Develop annual and 3 year business unit strategies
· Manage business to deliver short and medium financial performance commitments
· Understand the drivers of the specific business and establish the next level performance measures for focus and alignment
· Provide client driven and scale relevant expert service support
· Run it like a business so that internal customers will be willing to pay
· Seek to understand the client needs and not aim to apply blanket solutions
· Seeks opportunities to leverage volume to get superior cost benefits.

People Management Practice
Workplace Stress Management – The number of articles on stress management at the work place have increased in recent years. This could be linked with the general directions of organizations that aim to do more with less. Managing stress at the workplace needs to be approached using a 3 step process of:
  1. Identify the chief workplace stressors in employee’s lives
  2. Evaluate the current stress levels
  3. Develop strategies that reduce or eliminate work-related stress
  4. Monitor progress and adapt 
The first step is to assess potential areas of work that create stress. A lot of stress at the work place relates to employees feelings that they have little control over their work. This is where organizations need to start attacking the causes of stress.

Not all stress is bad however because stress is very much an individual experience stress management efforts will only work when they involve a combination of employee + employer initiated strategies. Also not all sources of stress can be resolved by organizational programs. For example stress related to employees private lives are areas where the organization can do little to change.

Strategies to reduce stress can be broken down into two categories, employee take charge actions and employer support initiatives. Examples of approaches used to help employees take charge of their stressors include:

  • Getting employees to write down what stresses them out to do a self diagnosis
  • Arrange brown bag lunches seminars on stress management where they can learn about stress management techniques
  • Provide training to help employees boost efficiency and performance
  • Provide on-job-coaches that can help them through new experiences and situations.
Examples of approaches used by employers to provide a less stressful work environment include:

  • Restructuring work to provide better work / life balance allowing for time-off, flexible working schedules, work from home arrangements, etc. 
  • Using  teams to cover each person’s work so that people are able to take compulsory time off, vacations and long weekends
  • Provide employee access to assistance programs such as counseling, elder care, childcare, legal assistance, serenity rooms, massage therapy, food, wellness initiatives, etc.
  • Arrange stress management training to help employees understand the root causes of their stress, how they react to stress and individual strategies to manage the stress.
Organizations need to develop programs that are suited their specific needs and are perceived as culturally relevant. Whatever strategies are deployed they need to be monitored for their effectiveness.

Employee Background Checks….guidelines to consider:

Background checks are a common component of the recruitment process. Their importance is increasingly recognized as a means to get to know the real person and comparing that to what is said during interviews. The extent of inquiry depends on the type of business, the size of the organization and the job responsibilities. Common inaccuracies uncovered during reference checks include dates of previous employment, degrees awarded, past salaries, former job responsibilities and titles and disciplinary actions. Reasons cited by organizations for checking references include efforts to:
  • Reducing legal liability resulting from the employment of an individual that causes harm to the company or their co-workers
  • Determine credentials and qualifications for specific roles
  • Understand past performance as an indicator for future performance
  • Comply with industrial standards and applicable laws
  • Assess overall trustworthiness and credibility of a candidate.
In some countries there are professional firms that specialize in providing reference check services to organization. But what about firms that want to do it independently? Are there guidelines that practitioners should keep in mind when performing background checks?

Good Practices
  • Develop questions that do not ask for information that violates any local laws.
  • Provide training for those people responsible to do background checks
  • Get the potential employee’s written consent to do the background check.
  • Get the employee to provide a list of professional references specifically those that he /she has worked with or reported to.
  • Contact them by mail, phone call or both and keep a record of when you tried to contact them
  • Document the responses provided by references
  • Consider leveraging on modern technology such online surveys, checking up on the person’s public social media site
  • Define a clear policy on who is authorized to do background checks together with procedural steps to be followed
  • Ensure privacy of reference checking contacts
  • Ask for information that is factual and can be referenced back to. For example:
    • Questions about: Last position held, Dates of employment, Last salary drawn, Reason for departure, Last performance grades, etc.  
  • Design questions and depth of background check to suit the position being applied for.
  • When developing the background check tool, clarify the purpose of the check. For example is the check to support: Productive work environment, Safe work environment, Meet legal requirements, etc.
  • Get the individual responding to complete the document and sign it rather than make some blanket comments.
  • Where a person is only willing to respond over the phone ask very specific questions and probe for specific examples to support descriptions or evaluations provided.
  • Seek to get a reference from a person that has actually worked with the individual in a similar work setting.
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