Archive for October, 2011

The Strategic Use of Flexibility (NEW Article in Talent Management Magazine)

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(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine and was co-authored with one of my Flex+Strategy Group partners, Donna Miller)

As the dust settles from the Great Recession and a new economic reality emerges, businesses are beginning to take a hard look at how they can manage their talent for maximum business impact. The urgency to review and rethink is driven by leaner headcounts, larger workloads and greater stress as technology and globalization.  These trends erased the traditional lines between work and life. The result is a shift in expectations about how to manage responsibilities on and off the job. Businesses are moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all model of work and career and taking a more strategic, flexible approach.

Since 2007, Work+Life Fit Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. have conducted a biennial national study to track the state of work-life flexibility from the employees’ perspective. The results of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study confirm that new, flexible ways of working have gained traction since 2007. However, organizations need to do more. Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives and organizations’ profits and growth plans in a transformed economy will require making flexibility — informal and formal telework, flexible hours, reduced schedules and compressed work weeks — an integral part of the operating business model and culture.

Traditionally, that meant writing a policy or training managers. But strategic flexibility requires dedicating people, time and money to a coordinated culture change process — one that clearly defines a business’ unique rationale for greater flexibility, establishes a shared vision of how managers and employees will use it and executes with relentless communication.

(Click here for more)

Work-Life’s Missing Ingredient — Clear Definitions and Good Implementation

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As I contemplated what to write about in my post for National Work and Family Month, an interesting piece of research crossed my desk entitled, “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices a Valuable Firm Resource?

What caught my attention was the ironic disconnect between what the study intended to conclude and what the findings actually proved (and the authors missed):

  • Intended Conclusion: “Family-Friendly” work practices (FFWPs) are not valuable to organizations;
  • Actual Unintended Conclusion: “Family-Friendly” workplace practices are very valuable to businesses and people…as long as they’re implemented well and you know what you are talking about.  Unfortunately, too often that’s not the case.

How does a gap like this happen?  The researchers made the same mistakes that many stumble over, and these common oversights are what suck the value out of “Family Friendly” work practices.

The authors didn’t consider the importance of effective implementation and what that looks like in action.  And they didn’t position and talk about the practices in a broad, strategic, business-oriented way.  When FFWPs are effectively implemented and strategically positioned, the value that they provide to the business in terms of financial performance is proven and measureable.

So, how do you reconcile these two radically different conclusions?

Let’s start with a real-world example of how strategic flexibility helps a business run better, smarter and save money

We’ve been working with a multi-national company that wants flexibility in the way work is done to become a more visible and consistent part of their day-to-day business (the authors of the study consider all forms of flexibility “Family-Friendly” work practices).  As we interviewed leaders and employees, they shared numerous examples of how flexibility in the way work is done has allowed the business to run smarter and better:

  • Because people were able to work from home, the company was able to stay open and operational on a number of days when snowstorms would have, otherwise, halted business.
  • By shifting and staggering the times people on the team started and stopped working, the business was able to expand customer service hours without paying overtime to the non-exempt staff.
  • Because their job requires absorbing and analyzing large amounts of complex information, people will often work remotely either from home or another quiet location to get more done efficiently and productively.
  • As the company has grown, office space is a premium.  By coordinating days worked at home, and in the office, it limited the need for additional office space.
  • Because many of the employees at the company have long commutes through heavy traffic, by shifting hours to avoid the worst traffic or working from home periodically the level of employee stress has been reduced.

And when asked, “What do you think the role of flexibility will be in the organization five years from now?”  Every person, no matter what level, said, “There will only be more of it” for all of the reasons listed above and more, because they know that flexibility, informal and formal, helps the business run more productively and saves money.

“Family-Friendly Work Practices…do not affect firm performance directly or indirectly” Say What?!

This client came to mind as I read the “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices a Valuable Firm Resource? study by Nick Bloom from Stanford University, Tobias Kretschmer from University of Munich and John Van Reenen published in the Strategic Management Journal  (June, 2010).

Normally, I give research a quick review and move on.   But, in this case, I’m felt compelled to respond to the study’s conclusions for two reasons.

First, Freek Vermeulen, an Associate Professor at the London School of Business, wrote about the results in an article on entitled, “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices Worth Their Money? New Evidence.”  This means that the results have entered the mainstream press, and are potentially influencing the decisions of business leaders who may be considering whether or not to support a work+life initiative.

Second, the study’s rather emphatic conclusion that Family-Friendly workplace practices don’t positively affect the financial performance of a business is, in fact, wrong.

Here are the study’s official conclusions in more detail:

“In this paper, we studied the impact of Family-Friendly Workplace Practices (FFWP) on firm performance, and found that increased provision of FFWP is only (weakly) positively correlated with better firm performance if we omit management quality.  Once we control for general management quality, there is not significant association between FFWP and performance measured in different ways.”

And it goes on:

“Our results support the conclusion that FFWP are neither a value-creating bundle of activities nor a lever for existing resources they do not affect firm performance directly or indirectly.”

“FFWP have implications different from other SHRM practices, as they affect employee well-being rather than firm financial performance.”

“Therefore, FFWP should be treated as policies that improve firm performance in terms of satisfaction of a particular stakeholder group—the firm’s employees—but that financial performance should not be the primary goal of implementing FFWP.”

“This calls for recasting FFWP as a non-market strategy affecting other outcomes than financial performance.”

Wow!  Can’t get much clearer than that. Now, let’s look at how they are wrong… (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in the

Embrace Uncertainty, and Ride the Butterflies

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In the early 90’s, I turned my back on a successful banking career to go to business school and become a work+life strategy consultant.  This was before most people had even heard of telework or flexible hours.  Yet I walked the halls of Columbia Business School in 1993 confidently stating this seemingly crazy goal.

Many, many people thought (and said) I was nuts.  Armed with incomplete information, intuition and support from key people, I did achieve my goal…and more!   But it would have been much easier if someone had charted the course for me.  Now someone has.

In his new book, Uncertainty, creation, marketing and innovation expert, Jonathan Fields, lays out the path that everyone can follow, and not a moment too soon.  The level of ambiguity that pervades our lives and work seems to increase daily.  Uncertainty breaks down the steps of how not only to survive but thrive, personally and professionally, in a world where the unknown is the new normal.

Recently, I spoke with Fields about his important, timely new book Uncertainty.  It’s the guide that I wish I had when I jumped, feet first, into the abyss of ambiguity.

Cali Yost:  Jonathan, let’s get started with why it’s so important to embrace uncertainty today?

Jonathan Fields: We live in a world where uncertainty is now the rule.  It’s all around us.  Either we learn to live with it or we suffer.

Nothing unique is created if you wait to have perfect information.  Great art, new and innovative ideas all happen in the face of uncertainty.  If you wait to get all of the information before moving forward then you aren’t creating.  You are just repeating because someone else has done it before.

Cali Yost: According to the research throughout the book, we avoid uncertainty even at our own expense.  I loved how you reframed the two aspects of uncertainty that trip us up most often—Fear and Butterflies.  Can you talk about Alchemy of Fear and Riding the Butterflies?

Jonathan Fields: Research shows that when we experience uncertainty the parts of our brain related to fear and anxiety light up.  Often we experience it as the sensation of having butterflies.  But butterflies are not comfortable.  In fact, we want to hunt and kill the butterflies!  We back away from where we’re trying to go and shut down.  But instead, as I discuss in the book, we need to harness and ride those butterflies toward our goal.

In terms of fear, you need to train your mindset to succeed in the face of that fear in the same way you would pursue mastery in a particular field.  It’s what I call the Alchemy of Fear.  You do this by focusing on four key areas that I describe in the book:

  1. Workflow optimization, through single tasking, etc.
  2. Personal practice, like exercise and Attentional Training
  3. Environmental and culture change, by creating “hives” and judgment leveling opportunities
  4. Outlook optimization or behavior, by reframing and growth.

(Click here to learn more about how to get one of Marty Whitmore’s limited edition Ride the Butterflies or Alchemy of Fear illustrations commissioned by Jonathan Fields for FREE)

Cali Yost:  I’m glad you mentioned judgment leveling opportunities.  I realized as I read your book, that you gave me the gift of a judgment leveling opportunity a few months ago when we had lunch.  You patiently answered all of my most basic, potentially embarrassing questions about marketing.   By allowing me to test ideas and clarify my base knowledge, you gave me a foundation from which to take what I learned to the next level, and then the next.  How can others create judgment leveling opportunities for themselves?

Jonathan Fields: Judgment is important because you want and need the data to guide your mission.  What you don’t want is the emotion that too often goes along with the data.  That’s what causes people to stop experimenting.

You can either join an existing group or create the environment yourself that gives feedback without the shutting people down.  The good news is that today you can even do this online.  There a many stories and examples in the book but here are a few things to look for:  (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in

How to Create a “Big Enough Company” That Fits Your Unique Work and Life Goals

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When I work with the employees inside of a company, I’m often asked, “So, Cali, what’s your work+life fit?”  I’m more than happy to explain that, “I’m a mother of two, a wife and I work full-time for myself primarily out of my home office unless I’m at a client site like today.”  Someone in the crowd will inevitability shout out, “What do you know about conflict between your work and life?  You have the perfect situation.”  I respectfully reply with a smile, “It may look perfect to you, but working for yourself isn’t always the work+life fit nirvana you might imagine.”

I’m an accidental entrepreneur.  I never imagined that I would work for myself.  I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, but I made the decision to strike out on my own in 1998 and start my consulting firm because I wanted to:

  • Develop and implement corporate work+life flexibility strategies in the way I wanted to.
  • Have the ability to write my first book, and
  • Have control over my schedule to also take care of my new daughter (who is now 13 years old, yikes!).

I did achieve all three goals but I also learned a hard lesson.  As an entrepreneur, I had to be even more vigilant and rigorous about when, how and where I worked or I wouldn’t have time and energy left over for the other important parts of my life.  Work could easily consume me because there are no boundaries unless you set them.

While I fumbled and stumbled my way to creating a business that “fit” my unique professional and personal goals, the good news is that you don’t have to follow a path of trial and error.   Now there’s a roadmap, The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business That Works for You (Portfolio, 2011) by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams (Disclosure:  I received a copy of the book from the authors because I’d given it a blurb—see the back cover–that’s how much I like it!)

Lancaster and Abrams are the founders of In Good Company, a community business learning center, and workspace for women in New York City.  They also consult and advise entrepreneurs who want to create and succeed in a business that is just right for their goals—from the sole proprietor to the venture-funded start-up.

Their message is clear: One size does not fit all. (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in