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Open the Door to Change

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

Change has a funny way of catching up to you at times. My children recently started their first years of college and high school respectively.  Summer gave way to fall and the elections are just around the corner. I know I’m not alone in  thinking that sometimes we just want to hit the pause button and slow things down.

In the workforce, change can equally be as powerful and impactful as in our personal lives. As HR professionals, it is our duty to help our colleagues navigate change.

There are plenty of examples that create temporary or permanent changes in an organization’s cultural environment. For example, the desire to hire new employees, assess or adjust department structures, develop leadership teams, or institute new programs can all require employees to adjust the way they work, and impacts the culture.

As HR professionals, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that any change, both large and small, is executed, well received, successful, and long lasting within your organization. A few considerations:

Assess and Determine the Organizational Culture: As HR professionals, daily interactions can provide a glimpse of the cultural dynamics within an organization.  However, it is important to proactively and more directly explore the organizational culture at all levels.  It’s helpful to conduct regular employee surveys or focus groups to identify employee concerns, values, priorities, norms and issues. Focus groups can also provide you with a venue to test new ideas or initiatives before they become formal.

Having this first hand, real time knowledge pertaining to your organizational culture provides leadership with tools and information needed to align change management approaches that specifically address employee needs, concerns and expectations.

Leadership Development:  It is critical for any organization to have an enlightened leadership team who understands the nuances that come with large or small-scale change initiatives. As HR professionals, our role is to evaluate, develop and implement leadership training programs that focus on tangible, business and management skills as well as emotional intelligence including, but not limited to, empathy, decision making, and stress management. Robust leadership education and development is critical to the success of implementing a workforce culture that embraces change, rather than runs from it.

Align HR Programs and Practices to Support a Fluid Organizational Culture:  Help hold your organizational leadership accountable for creating a culture that embraces new ideas and change. Evaluate current HR programs and practices, such as compensation and employee benefits to determine if they reinforce, support or encourage change.  If they don’t – adapt them; if they don’t exist – create them!

Self-Reflection:  Do you know how you personally react to change? This understanding is crucial for someone who is typically tasked at spearheading workforce change initiatives through your organization.  Take time to reflect on how you respond to requests and ideas.  Do you immediately rush to judgment or do you take time to evaluate and reflect on all facets of the request before you provide guidance?  Spending more time listening, asking for feedback, or taking assessment tools such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator can all be extremely useful to determine how you react to change and can make you a better facilitator of change.

While there’s nothing we can do about our kids growing up and moving on with their lives, there are so many things we can do to ensure we’re ready for organizational change.  Take control by being prepared!  Consider these steps to help you meet change head on and not be caught off guard.


What Do You See Through Your Generational Lens?

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

Consider these multi-generational facts: In my home, we have three different generations – two Generation Xers (to which I belong), a Millennial and a member of the newly defined “Cloud Generation.” This means we have three generational groups represented, each expecting to coexist, contribute, administer and follow the house rules and receive recognition as part of our total family unit. While we have the same goals, each of us has formative values that were influenced by a different baseline of social, environmental, political and technological factors – – all of which are “normal,” but, different from each other.

Some believe these challenges stem simply from Millennials (those born generally between 1981-2000) who are upsetting the apple cart with their “new” ideas, expectations and/or ways of doing things. So I decided it was time to further explore the driving factors that influence generational issues in the workplace and expand my own understanding.

My research and participation in workshops reinforced what I am hearing from clients. Changing employee demographics will continue to powerfully impact the way we conduct business and interact with each other in the workplace. Consider the fact that by 2020 (a short four years from now), Millennials will make up 50% of the US workforce. These current and future employees were shaped by world events/socio-economic climate; technology and cultural values that are very different from prior generations.   It’s these personal development factors and events that change the expectations of each group and what they expect of and from the others.

Developing this greater contextual understanding of these workplace demographics is only the first step of building an efficient multi-generational workforce. It’s important to incorporate this expanded generational knowledge, sensitivity and awareness and look at your employee and leadership training and development through this new generational lens. Doing so will help eliminate misunderstandings of generational issues and provide clarity on why different generational groups approach work differently.

Some examples of looking at key training areas through a generational lens:

  • Leadership Development: To know your workforce and their values allows you to work more effectively and consider the unique motivators, perspectives and strengths of each generation.
  • Mentoring & Succession Planning: Both are perceived differently by different generations. What works for one won’t necessarily work for the other.
  • Employee Development and Career Progression: The way in which different generations regard career movement and promotion within an organization is one of the biggest gaps that exist in the workplace today.
  • Communication Literacy: Different generations have different comfort levels and expectations with communication tools and approaches.
  • Conflict Management and Stress Alleviation: Clarifying generational perspectives, expectations, motivators and values helps to eliminate workplace conflict and reduce stress.

Helping your organizational leaders and employees to better understand the different factors that influence the way they live and approach work as well as those that influence other generations will help to eliminate generational barriers that stand in the way of creating a culture of trust and acceptance. As with generations before them, Millennials and those that follow bring new ideas to the workplace that drive change and innovation. The quicker we help to eliminate generational misunderstandings, the quicker we can all enjoy the success!


Move Over, You’re in My Personal Space!

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

Last week I was confined to my home with my children and husband during the blizzard that pounded the east coast for over a week. I work from my home, which meant there were constant interruptions, requests for activity ideas and more!

Over time and through much self-reflection and personal analysis, I’ve come to realize the importance of having personal space and time alone. As a young adult, I assumed that staying busy with multiple social and networking engagements meant that I was excelling in life. Now I find that when I have a schedule packed with business and social activities I crave my alone time.

Great thinkers such as Jeff Bezos, Leonardo da Vinci and Katherine Graham valued and embraced time alone with great reward. However, in our busy lives, with the added distraction of social media, it is becoming much more difficult to find that quiet time and space to reflect.

In the US, many organizations encourage collaboration and shared workspaces.  Open floor plans and eliminating private offices, as Citigroup’s headquarters recently adopted, are becoming the norm.

While there are significant benefits to these open spaces such as greater social interaction to stimulate energy and enthusiasm, many still believe that it is in quiet reflection that optimal operations, creative ideas, and plans are formulated and clarified.

More and more research supports evidence that allowing your brain time to free think and be “quiet” adds great value to your role as a leader and individual contributor. In the recent Harvard Business Review blog, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire advocated that solitary reflection feeds the creative mind.

Think of times when you’ve come up with a plan while jogging; had an “ah-ha” moment in the shower; or identified presentation topics when stuck in traffic. Kaufman and Gregoire offer that these are times when we are “letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions — the brain’s default mode network is activated” and thus presenting creative, original ideas.

As my colleague Barbara Irwin recently wrote, employees should spend more time reflecting, meditating and allowing their minds to think freely. These strategies can all have a big impact on identifying strategies, clarifying problems, solidifying solutions.

As you personally explore the gift of silence and stillness consider the following:

Within your organization

  • Identify a quiet place in your organization such as a conference room or office space where employees can go to work and think without interruptions
  • Establish ground rules for quiet places and communicate them to employees so that they will understand, respect and value the gift of silence
  • Identify social gathering places for employees such as lunch rooms to encourage team building and idea sharing
  • Encourage telecommuting and/or flexible works schedules
  • Establish a culture, procedures and practices that values individual time for reflection in order to produce the best strategies and creative ideas
  • Incorporate wellness programs that include yoga, mediation and breathing techniques

As a leader

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Encourage team members to use their vacation time to refresh and rejuvenate themselves
  • Prior to a presentation, meeting or negotiation, spend time alone in order to crystalize your thoughts and purpose
  • When asking your team for creative ideas, ask for them in writing; or send the details of your request ahead of a brainstorming session to allow team members to reflect and strategize
  • Practice mindfulness by:
    • Scheduling time to sit and think without a purpose or agenda – – see where your mind takes you
    • Establishing a routine that incorporates a walk or time alone without a colleague, book, activity or agenda
    • Making an effort to put down or turn off your electronic devices to eliminate distractions
    • Giving yourself permission to say no once in a while

I realize the impact and value that spending time alone has had on both my personal and professional life and make sure to find time for myself. Most importantly, I don’t feel guilty for giving myself a time out in this hustle and bustle work life we live, and neither should you!


Your Organizational Culture – Naughty or Nice?

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

This fall I attended the MBTI Users Conference and the Influence Factor where Josh Bersin, a principal at Deloitte, spoke about the company’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends Survey.  I left his presentation thinking about many issues that HR stakeholders should be contemplating as they begin planning for next year, most importantly, organizational culture.

Earlier this year, Bersin wrote an article where he shared that “culture” was the most popular word in 2014. This year, it continued to grow in popularity in leadership circles and boardrooms.  This actually didn’t surprise me because when created, sustained and communicated properly, the culture of an organization actually drives employee engagement.  What did strike me was that if culture is confusing, miscommunicated, or even toxic, it can prevent organizations from hiring and keeping the best talent.

In today’s professional world, nothing is secret. You can find all you need to know about an organization’s culture and leadership strengths at the tip of your fingers with a Glassdoor search. You can determine how employees feel about the organization, whether or not they would recommend employment to a friend, if it offers something unique and/or if you would be happy working there.

This transparency into an organization’s culture can either be used as a competitive advantage, or a competitive hindrance. So, with it being such an important thing to an organization, who creates the culture, where does the responsibility lie?

In my opinion, cultural identity must start at the top. The way your leaders conduct business, acknowledge and communicate with employees, and reward success helps to define organizational culture.  Last month, I attended the Northern Virginia Family Services 23rd annual Care Awards where thirteen companies received recognition for taking a stand and offering programs that help to positively shape their organizational cultures. Programs and best practices that were recognized included:

  • Unlimited PTO for sales employees who met their numbers
  • Encouraging employees to telecommute one day per week
  • Free healthy snacks at the office, but employees have to pay for soft drinks and candy
  • A “Kudos Bulletin” sent out by the CEO highlighting successes and client feedback or specific employees
  • Managers who are empowered to show their thanks in ways like Starbucks drinks, a free afternoon off, or lunch for the entire team.

Decisions to offer programs like these happen at the top, and smart managers know how to carry them out. Some of these programs don’t cost money, some are small investments, but all of these programs are taking positive steps toward creating a special bond within the workforce which solicits employee engagement and commitment. Because of their cultures, employees at these organizations want to work there.

So the question should be, as HR professionals, what can we do to help our organization’s leaders to develop and promote a culture to attract and retain top performers?   Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your culture successfully used to promote your organization?
  • How is your culture being used to develop future leaders and support the success of employees?
  • Are you promoting your culture to prospective talent?
  • Are you hiring employees that match the culture?
  • Are new employees properly educated on the organizational history and culture?
  • Are you introducing HR practices, ideas and programs to senior leadership that support and enhance the organizational culture?

If you’re not doing these things, you’re at risk of falling behind and of losing and/or missing out on some of the best, most talented people.

So, as you begin to decorate your office, plan your holiday parties and look forward to the coming year, take some time to reflect on how you intend to enhance and promote your organizational culture next year before you dive into the holidays!

Take Your Seat at Your Organization’s Table

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

As I look at HR trainings being offered this fall, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern emerging. Many programs being offered by my local SHRM chapter and other organizations are centered on opportunities for HR professionals to become more involved and aligned with the businesses they support.

Further promoting this concept is a series of articles I recently read in the July-August 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review under the cover title, “It’s Time to Blow Up HR.” Peter Cappelli’s article, “Why We Love to Hate HR… and What HR Can Do About It” walks through historical challenges in the U.S. that shaped the HR profession along the way.

According to Cappelli, the HR field is bombarded with criticism for focusing too much on administrative requirements, being the enforcer of rules and typically lacking organizational vision and insight.

These criticisms aren’t new. As someone who’s worked in the HR industry for the past several decades, I’ve heard complaints from managers and employees inside and outside of HR.

Cappelli’s article encourages HR professionals to rethink their approach to leading their departments. He urges them to use their human capital expertise to help their organization’s get ahead of market shifts they see coming down the road. Rather than reacting to the quickly changing marketplace, they should be proactive. Taking these steps will go a long way in aligning the HR department with the organizations’ business goals and objectives, and reset the perception as being a strategic asset. Below are a few basic yet powerful recommendations offered by Cappelli that HR leaders should consider:

Set the agenda. Many CEOs and other operating executives are not experts on workplace issues. HR leaders must show why the issues they address matter to the business and that they have a sensible way to manage them, including providing supporting evidence. It’s an opportunity for HR leaders to show these executives why they should care about these issues by articulating a point of view on every people-related topic relevant to the business (i.e., layoffs, recruiting, flexible work arrangements, performance management, etc.).

Focus on issues that matter in the here and now. HR should craft company-specific (and industry-specific) policies and initiatives that respond to today’s organizational challenges, employee interests and changing business demands. It’s important to understand “what works when and where” and that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Look more closely at the environment in which the organization operates, and continually identify new challenges and design tools to meet them.

Acquire business knowledge. Be analytical. Look at things from many perspectives. Help make sense of all the employee data in order to get the most from your human capital (i.e., predict good hires, create project teams, minimize healthcare costs, and identify top performers).

Highlight financial benefits. Many HR leaders do not calculate Return-On-Investment (ROI), which feeds into business leaders’ view of HR as a cost center.  Use the internal systems to review data on turnover, productivity, and other factors that suggest which talent development programs merit investment.

Walk away from time wasters. Do your research and spend time on efforts that HR can measure and enforce. Don’t hesitate to change the way HR business is done if it doesn’t meet your organizational business needs.

By taking many of these steps, HR can become a strategic advisor to your organization and re-imagine human capital much more broadly. I encourage you to continue to ask the questions “why,” “what,” and “how,” allowing your department to stay actively involved in your organizational business. By making evidence-based recommendations for what matters and adjust (and eliminate) practices to meet ever-changing business needs, you will ensure that you add value to your organization, and always have a place at the proverbial table!

Inspiring Your Next Generation of Leaders

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

I recently read an article by George Bradt about the Academy Award winning movie Whiplash, where, JK Simmons plays a music instructor who crushes his students’ confidence by demanding impossible musical perfection while opposing one student against the other.   Brandt directs the reader to correlate Simmons’ teaching with pushing an employee beyond the bounds of reason to develop their leadership skills.   The “best” performers respond to the challenge, while the others “go away.” I found his analysis interesting, but at the same time a bit unsettling.

Brandt goes on to identify a flaw in this argument and clarifies that, rather than be motivated by others to achieve their potential – one can be inspired towards achievement with the help of an enlightened leader who is able to leverage his or her strengths and remove barriers that stand in the way of success.

This article got me thinking about how companies are identifying and developing their future leaders to inspire employees.  Unfortunately, due to many reasons, I find leadership development is not always at a priority for organizations.

With so many resources, options and metaphors at our fingertips it’s no wonder the question of how and when to transform managers into leaders leaves many organizational and HR executives with a hallow pit in their stomach. In addition, current employee leadership development expectations have changed and can be confusing to sort out.  In some cases, leadership training initiatives or programs are outdated and/or have never existed, and the thought of updating them or implementing can be overwhelming.

Regardless of your physiological response to the question, teaching your future leaders “how to lead and inspire” is not a choice – it’s a competitive business requirement that will allow you to attract and retain top talent and maintain employee commitment, interest and engagement.

Recent studies on Millennials in the workplace conducted by Virtuali explored, among other things, their leadership values as well as the quality and type of leadership training they received from employers.  The Viruali reports found that Millennials (who make up the largest generation in the workforce) believe employee development, including leadership development programs, is an essential element in their careers.   Explored further, when asked to identify critical development areas, Millennials responded that training should be adaptive and incorporate skills development in relationship management, networking and development.

Interestingly, the Virtuali report found 64 percent of current Millennial leaders felt unprepared when assuming their leadership role.  Yes – they are already in leadership positions!  In fact, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte, 50 percent of Millennials already occupy leadership positions.  Meanwhile, they continue to report lack of experiences (something they greatly value) makes it challenging to manage difficult people and resolve conflict.  This knowledge alone should inspire an organization to develop a leadership strategy.

So, what steps can you take to begin to distinguish or overhaul your organizational leadership development strategy?  Below are a few considerations:

  • Identify current AND potential leaders that can benefit from leadership development
  • Survey your emerging leadership group and current senior leadership team to determine and align how your organization defines success
  • Identify essential competencies your emerging leaders should posses in order to guide the future of your organizations
  • Audit your current organizational learning programs
  • Invest in an emerging leadership training program and begin to develop essential leadership skills and knowledge
  • Ensure that your emerging leadership program aligns with your organizational expectations, relevant workplace trends/issues and incorporates experiential learning opportunities
  • Provide on-going development coaching and/or mentorship opportunities

Organizations taking the lead in developing their current and future leaders ensure business longevity.  They look through the eyes of current and future leaders to explore the leadership gaps and strengths of their workforce and improve and reinforce them along side business strategies and goals.  Pairing dynamic, relevant and intentional leadership strategies with business initiatives will transform your organizational destiny!