Archive for May, 2010

11 Ways HR Can Jumpstart Work+Life Flex Strategy

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Thank you for tuning into HR Happy Hour and talking about the important topic of “Making Work/Life Work.”  As promised, here is a list of ways HR professionals can get started today advancing strategic work+life flexibility in their organizations.  Please add others you think are important and didn’t get a chance to share during the show.  I look forward to continuing this important conversation with you!

Define what you believe work+life flexibility is. The answer will determine HR’s role and response.  Is it a business strategy?  Is it a “perk” reserved for good times?  Or is it an annoying regulation to be tolerated and mitigated?  Assuming you decide, yes, work+life flexibility is a strategic lever that we want to help integrate into the day-to-day operating model of the business, then…

Start to change the way you talk and think about flexibility because according to our the WLF/BDO study of top CFOs, only 13 out of 100 felt their senior leadership saw flexibility as a strategy (the rest saw it as a perk), and had the process in place to target flexibility toward a problem or opportunity.

At FSG, we talk about work+life flexibility, as opposed to workplace flexibility, because flexibility in how, when and where work is done won’t succeed if there isn’t corresponding flexibility in the way life is managed, and vice versa.  So for example, a compressed workweek is only going to succeed for a parent that can flexibly move the pickup time at child care back.  Or telecommuting only works if there’s the appropriate equipment and space to work remotely.

We also use the term work+life fit, not balance as one of the outcomes of strategic flexibility.  By work+life fit, we mean actively and flexibly optimizing the way work fits into your life day-to-day and at major life and career transitions given your unique realities.   Everyone has a work+life fit they need to manage, from the CEO to the temp worker.  This normalize it throughout the culture.

Learn about what is already working and start to capture it. Success doesn’t require a complete overhaul of the way you do business.  No, in fact, there’s often a great deal of flexibility already happening that you can start to capture and leverage.   And chances are HR doesn’t know about most of these pockets of flex innovation because it’s usually just organically happening and might not even be called “flexibility.”  The intuitively flexible manager and team probably think of it simply as “getting the job” done.

Gather internal and external data to support the need for flexibility.  And to reinforce the business impact of the success stories you’ve identified internally.  Here are links to some of my favorites (others below):

Find a senior line leader who will be the champion and public face of the flexibility strategy. As much as possible from the beginning, position the strategy as business led and sponsored effort with HR as a partner.

Link impacts of flexibility to the business as directly and broadly as possible. Keep pulling all of those links together and building buy-in and awareness.  Find the “pain” points of opportunity or challenge within the business where being more flexible in how, when and where work is done and life is managed would make a big difference.  Start to share and build the business case.  Listen and join the conversation.  For example,

  • Is the administration group trying to figure out how to seed new markets without taking on office space until a presence is established?  Telecommuting.
  • Have revenue and earnings not rebounded as quickly as expected?  Are conversations starting about more reductions?  Furloughs, sabbaticals, reduced schedules.
  • Are more and more of the company’s clients oversees requiring coverage outside of normal office hours?  Flexible scheduling.
  • Are levels of stress and overwork causing a spike in health care costs?  Day-to-day flexibility to get to gym, leave early to see kids’ games etc.
  • Are the investor and government relations groups struggling to complete the Corporate Social Responsibility/Environment and Social Governance Report for the SEC? Telecommuting.
  • Can implementing a flexibility strategy in partnership with the technology group help improve utilization of what’s already being offered and identify gaps in tech resources that need to be filled?

Understand the common characteristics of successful work+life flexibility.  Fifteen years of work with companies, leaders, and employees have shown us, time and again, that the best strategies have the following characteristics:

  • They are NOT one-size-fits-all. They are tailored to the unique realities of the business and the people who work there.  Those (sometimes tough) business realities must be acknowledged for the solutions proposed to have credibility and staying power.
  • They are process, not policy-based which makes them flexible enough to adapt and evolve with the changing realities of the business and the people who work there.
  • They are built on a strong employee-employer partnership, not from the top-down. The employer/manager creates the space within which innovative work+life solutions are crafted as part of the day-to-day operating model.  And employees are prepared and know what they need to do to meet the company halfway. Most companies skip this important step.
  • They achieve both business and individual personal objectives. The employer understands how to apply the same flexibility that helps individual employees manage their work+life fit to achieve other business objectives such as resource cost management (eg. labor, real estate, technology, and health care), global client service, sustainability, disaster preparedness, working better and smarter, etc.

Move beyond the five standard types formal flexible work arrangements.  Again, it’s process, not policies. Include in the process the ability to officially change how, when and/or where you work for a period of time.  Some people and the business will need a formal change, at some point in time.  But, build the strategy primarily around day-to-day flexibility or small, periodic, none recurring shifts in work and life.  Consider including in the flexibility toolkit any PTO and Leaves you offer.  You are providing a whole continuum of flexible tools in one package.

Any job and any industry can embrace some form of flexibility but not every type of flexibility. A process-based approach lets you adapt the flexibility to the business, whereas “check the box,” one size fits all formal flexible work arrangements don’t.  Flexibility is going to look different even within different businesses within the same company.  Important: The consistency comes in the access to the same process not in the promise of the same type of flexibility.

Measure at all points. Adapt what you measure to where you are in the process and what you want to learn.  An example is the case study of key metrics from our BDO Flex project. In the discovery phase we used quantitative and qualitative data to begin to identify what’s working and make links to the business.  In the visioning phase, we tested how well people understood this shared vision.  Then when we were building readiness of a key leadership group, we tested their buy-in.  And finally in the orientation and review phases we measured the following buckets of outcomes at set intervals:

  • Personal Work+Life Fit and Understanding of Flexibility
  • Employee Engagement
  • Work Effectiveness
  • Business Impact

Nothing is EVER going to be perfect, and you are always going to have to continually tweak and improve your flexibility strategy. Some employees will not live up to their end of the bargain.  If they don’t, then they don’t get flexibility.  As a very wise executive once said to us, “Chances are it’s not the flex, it’s the employee and maybe they should be gone.”  You will always have managers who won’t support it.  They need to be coached and penalized in the reward system.  But, at the end of the day, avoid the temptation to build a flexibility strategy geared toward the few who will abuse.   Build it for the many who will thrive…they will.

Great Resources (No particular order):

SHRM, I’m Confused, Again…Do You See Flex as Strategic, Legislative or Both?

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(More info below: Join me on Blog Talk Radio’s  “HR Happy Hour” with host Steve Boese 5/20 at 8 p.m. ET to discuss “Making Work/Life Work)

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), I’m confused…again.  Do you see work+life flexibility as strategic, legislative or both?

Does it matter that I’m confused?  Actually, it doesn’t.  But what does matter is that I’m beginning to understand why many HR professionals in the day-to-day trenches are confused about work+life flexibility. What it is?  Strategy, “perk,” or a regulation to be risk managed and mitigated?  What is their role? How do they advocate and execute work+life flexibility in their organizations?

These are important questions to help HR professionals answer, because, from my vantage point they are getting mixed, confusing messages from their primary industry association.  And, in the process, HR is missing a tremendous opportunity.

In this new economic reality, HR has access to a powerful, important lever for managing people and the business. It lets them pull up a chair to the table with line leadership to help solve many of the organization’s most pressing problems.  That strategic lever is work+life flexibility, or flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed.

If developed and implemented into the day-to-day operating model it can contain costs, manage resources (e.g. talent, real estate, technology), manage global clients with less burnout, reduce employee stress, increase innovation, prepare for disasters, improve the way work is done…and more. But first it needs to be seen and understood as a business strategy, not just an annoying legislative mandate to be tolerated, or “perk” reserved for good times.

My confusion over SHRM’s position began last December when I wrote a post sharing my surprise that flexibility was all but missing from the agenda of the its 2010 national conference.   Even though the conference description said they were going to focus on issues directly addressed by strategic work+life flexibility:

“This year’s conference is programmed to provide the most comprehensive line-up  of thought-leaders, practitioners, and executives to interact with you on some of the most critical issues facing HR professionals today, with topics covering such key issues are:

  • Talent Management and Staffing
  • Employee Engagement and Morale
  • Legislative Compliance
  • Communication Strategies
  • Layoffs, Downsizing and RIFs
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Business Competencies
  • Leadership/Career Development
  • Healthcare Strategy and Reform
  • Continuity Planning
  • Global HR”

Then in March,  I read the agenda for SHRM’s 2010 Employment Law & Legislative Conference.  Work+life issues were showcased prominently.  I thought I had my explanation.   SHRM believes work+life issues are addressed through mandate and public policy, not strategic change and integrating flexibility into the day-to-day operating model of a business.  That’s why it wasn’t on the national conference agenda.

But then, today, I read an article about SHRM’s recent efforts to “encourage, not mandate, workplace flexibility.” In three high profile work+life related events, the White House Flexibility Forum, its own co-sponsored panel on “The State of the Workforce in the New Economy,” and The New American Foundation’s panel on “The Future of Work-Life Balance and Workplace Flexibility,” SHRM representatives reinforced its position that:

Workplace flexibility is an issue that has gained importance with employers and employees…(Critically important to the discussion) is not to see it as just an issue for women or individuals with young children. It’s an issue that works its way through an individual’s life cycle…The employer needs flexibility to adapt its work/life options to its community and organization…Not every [workplace] environment always lends itself to the same type of approach. What may work in a manufacturing environment may not work in a hospital. What works in a union environment may not work in a nonunion environment.”

What?  So, here’s my question:  Does SHRM now believe that workplace flexibility is a process-based strategy, not a one-size-fits-all legislative mandate?

Can you see why if I’m confused, how the line HR professional might be unsure about what to think or how to proceed?   Are they to take a programmatic risk management and mitigation approach or partner with the business to initiate business-based change management process?  Or both?

Let’s continue this important conversation. Join me on Thursday, May 20 at 8:00 pm on Blog Talk Radio’s “HR Happy Hour” where I will talk with host Steve Boese about these questions and other issues related to “Making Work/Life Work.”  The show description and links are below.  Hope you will listen and contribute to this important subject.

“Making Work/Life Work” on HR Happy Hour with Steve Boese.

It is one thing to talk about workplace flexibility, and quite another to design and implement flexible working strategies in organizations, and to measure their effectiveness and impact on the bottom line.

Sure, most employees might prefer to work at home in their jammies, but does it make sense for the organization?

While most of us would agree that more flexibility in the design of jobs is desirable or ‘better’, often HR professionals have difficulty understanding how to design more flexible workplaces, to develop flexibility strategies that will work for the organization, and to even understand their important role in this area. Joining us will be Cali Yost, of the FlexStrategy Group and WorkLife Fit, Inc., writer at Fast Company, and an expert on workplace flexibility, to talk about how to move Work/Life from discussion to action, and how HR professionals can be better equipped to lead and support these important initiatives in their organizations.

I hope you can join us for what should be an interesting and informative show where we try and take the Work/Life discussion beyond ‘should’ and get closer to ‘how‘.

Fast Company: Why I’m (Starting) to Trust the Government’s Work+Life Bully Pulpit

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Periodically, I contextualize my opinions with “Maybe it’s my background as a banker and an MBA but…” because as much as I’m open-minded to and appreciate different perspectives, I’m still a businessperson at heart.  It’s important for me to acknowledge that fact, because it’s from this perspective that I’ve historically maintained a wary, arm’s length relationship with public policy solutions to work+life challenges.

My wariness stems from the 15 years I’ve worked with real companies, managers and employees developing and implementing work+life strategies.  I’ve learned that flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed is the flagship solution that everyone needs.  It’s part of and enabled by a package of other direct supports such as paid time off, leaves, dependent care, etc .  This experience has shown me, time and again, that the best work+life strategies have the following characteristics:

  • They are NOT one-size-fits-all. They are tailored to the unique realities of the business and the people who work there.  Those (sometimes tough) business realities must be acknowledged for the solutions proposed to have credibility and staying power.
  • They are process, not policy-based which makes them flexible enough to adapt and evolve with the changing realities of the business and the people who work there.
  • They are built on a strong employee-employer partnership, not from the top-down. The employer/manager creates the space within which innovative work+life solutions are crafted as part of the day-to-day operating model.  And employees are prepared and know what they need to do to meet the company halfway.
  • They achieve both business and personal work+life fit objectives. The employer understands how to apply the same flexibility that helps individual employees manage their work+life fit to achieve other business objectives such as resource cost management (eg. labor, real estate, technology, and health care), global client service, sustainability, disaster preparedness, working better and smarter, etc.

For quite some time, these characteristics of success struck me as antithetical to mandate-based approach of public policy. Therefore, I tended not to look to the public sector for the leadership to promote and advance truly effective work+life strategies.  That is until the Obama candidacy and then presidency.

Listening to the administration’s statements and watching its actions, I began to think maybe the public sector could provide that extra “oomph” of support to move the work+life agenda forward.  They seemed interested in building upon the success within the private sector, while creating a legislative environment that reflects the reality of a 21st Century global economy.

To date, my new found faith has been consistently rewarded…(Click here for more)

Fast Company: Don’t Let “Flex Just Doesn’t Work for Me”= “I Don’t Care If You Leave” Because It Will

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Three times in the past couple of weeks I’ve heard a variation of the same story that should serve as a cautionary tale for all managers:

  • You have a highly valued, competent current or prospective employee who has used flexibility in the past to manage his or her work+life fit in a way that considers their needs as well as the needs of their job. They have a track record of success.
  • Said employee presents a well-thought out proposal for flexibility. They’ve covered all angles. Of the three scenarios mentioned above, one person wanted to reduce his schedule to deal with an ongoing health challenge more aggressively, with the goal of going back to full-time after he recovers.  Another individual had been promoted, and returned to a full-time role; however, she wanted the flexibility to work from home periodically.  And finally, the third person was being considered by a venture capital firm to be CEO of a company.  He wanted to telecommute two days a week as he was doing with his current job.
  • In all three cases, the response was, “No.” The initial reason given was, “I need you here.”  Then each employee respectfully asked if there were any business concerns that made the plan unworkable.  None of the decision-makers could cite a business-based rationale for their answer.  All they said was, “It just doesn’t work for me.”

Okay, let’s stop here for a minute. I have seen this same scenario play out over the years more times than I can count.  To these managers, their logic makes complete sense (at least at the moment):  If I just say, “it doesn’t work for me,” then everything will go back to the way it was.  Everyone will forget about any flexibility.  I don’t want change.  I like things exactly the way they are right now.  It works for me as it is.

In fact, in an alternate universe, these managers are often giving a compliment.  They are essentially telling the employee that he or she is too valuable, therefore, they  want them around and available.  They think saying “No,” will make their preferred status quo a reality.

Unfortunately, that’s usually not what happens.  Note to managers: just because you will it, doesn’t make it so.  Fair warning, you will lose.
What should managers and individual employees do? (Click here for more)

Check It Out! Virtual Negotiations Workshop for Women…I’ll be there.

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I wanted to share the following information about a virtual negotiations workshop for women that I’m participating in…join me if you need a refresher on how to negotiate what you want and what you are worth!  Scroll down and comment for some free stuff…

Did you know?…that women’s failure to negotiate working conditions, salary or other compensation—along with their hesitancy to seek what they’re worth when they do negotiate—is one of the major reasons for the persistent wage gap for women in all work-related activities?

Did you know?...statistics show that women stand to lose up to $1.2 million over the course of their career by failing to negotiate their first job out of college?

Did you know?…that women simply don’t ask?

Are you ready for a breakthrough in asking for what you want and getting what you’re worth?

She Negotiates is a 4-week virtual learning and journaling course that examines the way you value yourself, your services, your salary, your bonuses and your products, and gives you the tools necessary to recalibrate your market value. The course takes place in the Craving Balance Learning Community (it’s free to join) where you will learn the basics of both distributive and interest-based negotiation strategies, and explore the primary tactics used to negotiate the best deals for yourselves, your clients and your family.

You’ll be coached by attorney-mediator and negotiation trainer Victoria Pynchon and life-balance specialist Lisa Gates. Both Victoria and Lisa will comment and coach you on your homework and journal entries to help you perfect the negotiation techniques taught during the course.

The course also includes one live practicum teleconference per week to role play, answer questions and model the most efficient negotiation and persuasion techniques now being used by the best business schools in the country.

SHE NEGOTIATES GIVEAWAY:

  1. The first woman to write a comment on this post starting with the words, “I negotiate…” will get the course, She Negotiates, for free. ($375 value.)
  2. The second woman to write a comment on this post starting with the words, “I negotiate…” will get the course, She Negotiates, for 1/2 price. ($187.50 value).
  3. The third, fourth and fifth women write a comment on this post starting with the words, “I negotiate…” will receive a copy of Victoria Pynchon’s book, A is for !@#hole: The Grownup’s ABCs of Conflict Resolution, which is scheduled for release in July. Please be sure to include your email address. (Priceless value!)

Course Dates:

June 1 through June 30.

Do the work on your own time and schedule.

Practicum calls: June 8, 15, 22, 29 at 5 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. EST

All calls recorded so if you have to miss a call, you won’t miss a call!

My Love Letter to SOBCon–Thank You

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This past weekend, I attended the SOBCon, Virtual Meets Concrete, social media conference.  It was my first social media gathering.  I was intimidated, because what I’ve done with my blog, twitter, etc. over the last four years has been amateur-intuitive, at best, and not driven by any informed strategy.

But I knew I wanted to take social media to the next level, and SOBCon seemed to fit the bill.   I had no preconceived notions of what to expect other than show up, see what happens and learn.  What happened?  I fell in love.  Literally.

Love hits when you least expect it…

As was the case when I met my husband 25 years ago, love usually hits when you least expect it.  You stumble along knowing something’s missing but you don’t know what.  You date.  You meet new people, but nothing seems quite right.  And then a friend says, “Hey, I know someone.”  You think, “What the heck, why not.”  Next thing you know, love.  The pieces fit together.   That’s what happened to me at SOBCon.

I know I’m verging on the corny and dramatic.  But as was the case the last time I unexpectedly fell in love more than two decades ago, it’s very hard to accurately describe the experience in words because it’s overwhelming.  In fact, I’m glad my computer stopped working the first day of the conference or there would have been an endless stream of tweets in my Twitter stream that were variations of, “awesome,” and “amazing.”

So what made SOBCon such a transformative love match?

“You never walk alone” Other people get the link between social media and change in business & non-profit

When Terry Starbucker launched the day by singing the song, “You will never walk alone” I almost lost it.  For the past 15 years, I’ve simultaneously lived in two worlds that, in the beginning, few people would see as relevant or linked to one another.  And it can get lonely.

In business school in the mid-90’s, I was the only person in our class (and perhaps in the school’s history) who wanted to go into work+life strategy consulting.  I got lots of “what?”  Time has proven me right, but it was lonely then.   Same thing happened in the late 90’s when I was the first person in my field who thought it was important to have a “how to” to help individuals manage their work+life fit in partnership with their employers.  Again, time and a published book closed the gap, but it was lonely for awhile.

Four years ago, I started the first blog in my industry, and got lots of “Why are you giving information away for free?”  Now there are many voices in the blogosphere around the subject of work, life and flexibility, but I still find myself day-in and day-out explaining why social media matters to advancing the cause.  Only to get blank stares.

You keep doing it because you have a vision of the potential to make change happen.  But, I can’t describe the feeling of being in a room full of people who just “get it.”  You move immediately to “what can we do with this amazing thing called social media?”  The answer is an unbelievable amount.

Experiencing the power of community to solve problems—fast!

This meeting of 150 unique individuals from social media, business, non-profit, entertainment, and mainstream media ended up providing solutions to a number of business challenges with which I’d been grappling for awhile.  And it was unexpected and happened by chance—the topic, the speaker, the panels, the table mates, and the conversations all happened to lead to the answers that I, in some cases, didn’t even know I needed.
Here are just a few examples:

  • Better business planning: Ann Michael, of Delta Think, and Susan Radojevic, of The Peregrine Agency, who both have businesses structured the same way as mine, gave excellent advice on how to improve my planning process.
  • Sharing  proprietary, yet helpful, information: Jonathan Fields, of Career Renegade, and Michael Martine, of Remarkablogger, resolved a content distribution question by pointing out the benefits of giving it away for free.
  • Event partnership development: Amy Pietsch, Director of the Venter Center in Appleton, WI, Judy Martin of WorkLifeNation.com and Jeffrey Shuey of Kodak, offered “how to” tips on building sponsorship and support for an event.
  • Reaching dads to optimize their work+life fit: Two technology experts who spoke and are also fathers, David Taylor and Jeremy Wright, gave me important insights into my long-running struggle to engage more dads in the work+life fit conversation.
  • Creating online training without a huge $ investment: Sheila Scarborough and Becky McCray of Tourism Currents walked step-by-step through the “how to” process of creating and hosting a web-based training.
  • Amp-up the tone of my blog posts: Erika Napoletano of RedHeadWriting urged me to get in touch with my inner “Snark-Shark”.

Participating in the power of social media and community to tackle global problems

Again, uncharacteristically, words are going to elude me as I try to describe this part of SOBCon.   The last day of the conference that was awe-inspiring.

The best way to describe it is that the group, under the capable guidance of Geoff Livingston of Zoetica Media, “crowd-sourced” online and offline social media-based solutions for four incredible non-profits that included invisiblepeople.tv, Anixter.org, Ashoka.org, and VitaminAngels.org.   Become part of the community supporting these terrific groups.  Expect much more to come as they roll out the powerful ideas the group generated to help them expand the impact and reach.

Fear is normal, but just “launch the effer!”

These are uncertain and scary times, but also a once in a lifetime moment of opportunity…so, find the courage to DO IT! (Whatever your ‘it” may be)  All I will say is sit in a room and listen to SOBCon’s Liz Strauss (“Raise a Barn, not a Coliseum”) Jonathan Fields, of Career Renegade, Hank Wasiak of Asset-Based Thinking, Steve Farber of Extreme Leadership and Chris Brogan of New Marketing Labs and you realize that you just have to “launch the effer.” Or as Terry Starbucker said, “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.” Amen.

“Thank you”

When you fall in love, you can find yourself…acting like an idiot.  Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker, SOBCon’s truly visionary organizers, must think the only words I know are “Thank you.”  I wanted to say more, but every time I saw them all I could muster was “Thank you.” And then the awe-inspiring Liz Strauss hugged me.  I became so overwhelmed I almost started to CRY!!  Yes, cry. (Jeez.)  And then I couldn’t talk…at all!

One of many reasons to go back next year is to be able to have a coherent conversation with this brilliant duo.  In the mean time, this is my love letter to them and everyone from SOBCon 2010…Thank you.  Sometimes that just sums it up.

In addition to following the #SOBCon Twitter stream, here are related posts from other SOBCon-ers:

Liz Strauss–“How to Raise a Barn in a Weekend”

Terry Starbucker–“Reflections on SOBCon 2010: The Power of the Do Tank (or, When You Get to the Fork in the Road Take It)

Barry Moltz–“The 20 Best Things I Heard at SOBCon 2010″

Danielle Smith–Extraordinary Mommy-“SOBCon 2010-What I Know for Sure”

Loren Feldman--“SOBCon Thoughts”