Tag Archives: organisational design

Preparing for longer working lives: time for a revolution in the way we work?

Every few weeks I write a blog posting for Discuss HR.  The posting below will be published today:

Recently Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, who have both served alongside Sir Alan Sugar in the BBC’s Apprentice, explored what it might take for people to continue working into their 70s in The Town That Never Retired.  I found myself wondering to what extent the HR profession is at the vanguard of shaping a way of working in the future which reflects the life expectancy of modern British men and women.

I confess that, for purely personal reasons, I have long been interested in the question of what happens as people get older.  Not surprisingly, my interest starts at home:  I was just 18 when my parents retired, my father aged 70 and my mother aged 51.  My mother, who had always managed home and family as well as working alongside my father on the farm, continued to thrive whilst my father struggled to adapt.  Years later, when he was well into his 80s or maybe even 90s, my father continued to make references to his contribution to the family as a farmer, as if his sense of identity was still vested in his bygone work.  My mother, on the other hand, continued to bring up her children, looked after her parents in their old age and then my father in his.  She has been a church warden for many years, organised an annual concert for 25 years, still organises the bookstall in the monthly village market and even – now aged 81 – continues to cook for the “old folk” at the village lunch club.

As an amateur singer I have also had cause to be aware of just how well some people thrive well into their old age.  I sang under the baton of Leonard Bernstein until he died in 1990, aged 72.  In 1997, I was deprived of the opportunity to sing under the baton of Sir Georg Solti when he died shortly before a concert, aged 85.  I am pleased to say that Sir Colin Davis continues to delight in his 85th year.

But what about corporate Britain?  Some employers have long since cottoned on to the value of older employees.  As early as 2001 The Grocer ran an article entitled Asda and Sainsbury take a positive view of older workers.  The article highlights how, in response to the then government’s Age Positive Campaign, Sainsbury “now offers arrangements which allow older staff to reduce the hours they spend at work gradually, and a new pension plan which allows staff to contribute until they are aged 75”.  In my own local Sainsbury it was Norma, who must be about 70 years old, who served me a few months back on the day that snow had caused travel chaos and staff were still struggling to get in.  I value the older staff in my local supermarket because they have an ease in interacting with people of all ages and experience of using the products they sell – which is sometimes obviously lacking amongst the “youngsters”.

As I sit and muse I realise I do have a vision, albeit barely considered, of a way of working which takes far greater account of the needs of workers and the natural rhythms of life.  For young people there might be opportunities to work longer hours to earn that elusive mortgage deposit.  For parents there might be opportunities to work less and spend more time with children.  For older people there might be opportunities to work shorter hours whilst still making a valuable and valued contribution in the workplace (and, yes, earning a living).  Perhaps, in time, there will be a degree of choice throughout our careers which supports employees in contributing to their place of work and to their family.  To put it another way, the more we need people to work well into their 60s, 70s and 80s, the more we need to design ways of working throughout people’s careers that support health, fulfilment and longevity.  We also need to do our research – one interesting fact from The Town That Never Retired is that research shows, in a way that may be counter-intuitive, that employment prospects for young people are better when older people work longer.

As you’ve no doubt already discovered, I don’t have all the answers, but rather want to ask the questions.  My main question to you is this:  as an HR professional, how far ahead are you looking and how do you envisage the future for the older people of this country?

Making the successful senior hire

This posting appears today as a guest posting on http://scrivrec.blogspot.com and is written for all clients who want to get it right when hiring at senior levels.
Recently I had a feedback session with someone (let’s call him John) I assessed for a senior role in a client organisation.  I had highlighted to my client organisation that John showed long-term development needs in areas key to success so he didn’t get the job.  What I didn’t know ahead of our feedback meeting was that, prior to our interview, my clients had pretty much told him the job was in the bag.  It didn’t make for an easy start to our discussion.
The impact of making – or failing to make – a successful senior hire can readily be counted in pounds, shillings and pence.  The man or woman who is well-suited to their new job brings a fresh eye, seeking to understand where their part of an organisation needs to go and how to get there given where they’re starting from.  The early results include double-figure percentage improvements in key areas – such things as employee engagement, sales, profits or customer satisfaction.
Contrast this with the costs of getting it wrong.  These can include the slow demise of key areas of the business as chaos sets in and staff slowly bed into a new and ineffective approach – or leave.  They can include the gradual seepage of poor results from the area under a leader’s control to connected areas, as sales start to reduce in response to poor delivery times, for example.  They can include major opportunities that are simply overlooked by the man or woman in charge.  They include the costs of managing an individual and even of managing him or her out of the business and recruiting again.
In short, when you make a senior hire, you need to get it right.  My aim in this posting is to give you some clear and simple tips for doing just that.
Clarify your aims
The more you know what you want from your new hire, the more likely you are to get it.  Before you dust off the job description of your departing leader, take a long, hard look at your organisation today.  What are the challenges currently faced by your organisation, for example?  And to what extent is your organisation designed to meet today’s challenges?  (Is it time to re-shape the job, to re-grade it, or even to get rid of it altogether?)  What other factors do you need to take into account?  (These might include the need to create a diverse team at senior level or your organisation’s real appetite for change – it’s surprisingly common to see organisations invest an agenda for change in just one job and to wonder why a talented new hire flounders in the face of so much resistance).  Only when you’ve explored these – and other – questions is it time to move to the next step.
The next step includes shaping a clear job description, person description and critical success factors for the new hire.  If you’ve thought carefully about the job, writing the job description should be easy and effective, identifying the over-arching purpose of the job and five to eight key areas of accountability.  Just one page should do it – clarity reduces as length increases.  Understanding the competencies needed for the job requires a sound grasp of what it takes to succeed.  Defining critical success factors serves to highlight the particular aspirations of the hiring manager.
Take care not to over-egg what’s needed.  I remember being tasked with assessing candidates for one organisation’s first HR Director role.  Their aspirations for someone at the leading edge of HR thinking seemed way beyond what was needed in an organisation that needed initially to get the basics right.  It also seemed unlikely that they would attract the person they described.  They didn’t, with the effect that their new incumbent started his new job with an uneasy sense that he wasn’t what they wanted, even though he was perfectly well-suited to the job that needed to be done.
Get the right (wo)man on board
There’s an area of competence that just isn’t mine when it comes to getting the right (wo)man on board.  This is the area of generating a number of likely candidates for the job.  Often, my clients use head-hunters for this purpose and, at times, I’m horrified by poor quality of the results – it surprises me that so few head-hunters have skills in assessing the capability of the candidates they put forward.  The bottom line is this:  whatever your process for generating candidates, you need to know you have a sound approach in place to test their suitability for the job.
One way of thinking about this is to ask yourself what steps you have in place and what purpose they serve as you seek to assess the suitability of each candidate.  An interview with the hiring manager is essential, for example, to test the chemistry between candidates and their potential future boss, though it’s unlikely to be sufficient to test the competency of your candidates.  Equally, as well as having a way to assess the capability of key candidates for the role for which they have applied, you need to think about how to assess their fit to your organisation.  As you map out your recruitment process, you need to identify what outcomes you need from each stage in the process and how you will design the process to deliver.  Key outcomes include assessing capability for the job, assessing fit to your organisation, securing a good match to key colleagues (including complementary skills and good “chemistry”) and identifying strengths and areas in which development is needed.
One challenge that I often encounter at this stage is this:  assessing capability for the role requires specialist skills which few HR departments possess.  At the same time, hiring in external help is expensive so that organisations choose to use it quite late in the process.  This can lead to the kind of miscommunication I described right at the beginning of my posting.
Creating the conditions for success
If you think that making the successful hire finishes when your preferred candidate accepts the job, you are missing any number of opportunities to support a successful on-boarding.
A robust assessment process, for example, will generate insights into the strengths and areas for development of your chosen candidate and these can be used to increase the chances of success.  When it comes to strengths, for example, you may want to allocate key tasks in order to leverage the strengths of your new incumbent from an early stage and position him or her as a successful new hire.  Equally, you need to think ahead of time about how to plug gaps in your new hire’s capability.  This might be a matter of coaching or some other form of development – in any case, coaching at a time of on-boarding can pay high dividends.  Equally, a realistic appraisal of your new hire may guide you to reshape the role to allocate responsibilities elsewhere to which s/he’s just not well-suited.
You may want to ask what other support your candidate needs in the early stages.  This can range from a clear job description to moral support:  you need to judge ahead of time how likely it is that your chosen candidate will feel nervous and need reassurance on the job.  Equally, you can give the most confident new hire support by managing the messages that accompany their arrival in a new organisation – letting people know, for example, precisely what their role is as well as what makes them equipped to carry out their role.
And what of the unsuccessful candidate?  Sponsoring feedback is just one way in which you can let them know how much you appreciate their (albeit unsuccessful) application and wish them well for the future.  For John, this is what turned disappointment around and opened up opportunities for new levels of success in future – building goodwill and helping him to let go of the idea he had done a “bad job” at interview and to identify key areas he needs to work on if he is to secure – and succeed in – the job of his dreams.
I wonder, what have been your successes – and mistakes – in making the successful senior hire?

When it’s time to look again at your organisation design

Sometimes, it’s hard to improve on what comes my way so I offer here a brief posting from Seth Godin with a link to some organisation charts of well-known organisations by cartoonist Manu.  Which one rings true for you?

Manu’s funny brilliance aside, this collection of org charts might help you think hard about why your organization is structured the way it is.
Is it because it was built when geography mattered more than it does now? Is it an artificact of a business that had a factory at its center? Does the org chart you live with every day leverage your best people or does it get in their way?