Category Archives: Workplace practises

Indra Nooyi

Is there a place for parents in the workplace?

Indra Nooyi is one of the world’s most successful CEOs heading up PepsiCo and comes in at number 10 on the Forbes Power Women list. She has recently astounded me (and some others) by sharing her involvement with the parents of some of her employees, admitting to writing  to them about the success of their children. At the same time she has also indicated  that when she was trying to make an offer to a hard-to-attract candidate, she called the individual’s mother to persuade her to secure his/her buy-in. Apparently she succeeded. I’m not sure how I feel about the place of parents in the workplace.

Now, I am a parent, and I would be less than honest if I told you that I didn’t feel that special glow of pride when I get positive feedback on my kids even as adults. I do. It’s like going to a parent-teacher conference. Good reports are always welcome. Indra Nooyi is a very successful business woman and at a time when employee engagement in corporate life is reported to be at an all time low, I feel I should listen to her sage advice.

Yet there is something that holds me back

I can’t help but feel that the parent offspring relationship is not for the workplace, unless it is done at the behest of said offspring. No CEO, no matter how empathetic can ever understand a parent child relationship. It also begs a couple of other questions. At what age or level do you stop or start? What do you do with under performers or employees who don’t make the “writing -to- parents” cut? It’s a bit like not being asked to the class party. Should the whole class be invited? What about the employees who lost their parents or are estranged from them?

Surely the best way to let employee parents know how well their child is valued, is to tell the employee him or herself and allow them to share that news if they feel they want to.  Any employee would be more than delighted to tell their mother ” Hey Mum guess who wrote to me today to tell me how great I am?”

When does persuasion become subtle coercion?

As for calling the mother of a candidate as part of the  executive search attraction process, I am not sure if that is almost intrusive. When does persuasion become coercion?  Once again the subtleties and dynamics of any family relationship can never be fully known or understood by an outsider. Some, even quite senior executives, as any psychologist will tell you, carry deep-seated psychological wounds from negative childhood experiences and relationships, from which they have never fully recovered. I have known a number of successful, grounded  executives  be reduced to passive, gibbering wrecks in the presence of an authoritarian father or critical mother.

Just as the helicopter parent  should best stay at home, so  perhaps it’s best to let Junior, at whatever level decide for him or herself,if Mum and Dad are brought into the loop.

What do you think?

Company control of social media rises

Employee social media usage restricted by contract

If one summer poolside conversation is anything to go by, there seems to be growing evidence of companies trying to ring-fence their organisations against the social media activity of their employees. It’s no longer simply just the odd high-profile, headline cases or instances of individuals being disciplined for posting sensitive content about their bosses, jobs or inferior cafeteria food. Nor is it about the use of company time for social networking. This is a wider spread, behind the scenes movement to restrict or clarify  employee social media activity (depending on your view-point)  via changes to employment contracts and the issuing of new conditions of service.

Mainstream

Sophie, an associate in a London-based consulting firm told me that she had recently been asked not to tweet on issues in the organisation’s geographic reach. As an international market leader, the activities of this company span many countries, so this was a significant restriction on what she considered to be her freedom of speech. An Account Manager who has been using LinkedIn for identifying prospects for business development purposes, has received a request from his manager to disconnect from these members. He was informed that the only information on the prospect should be on the company data base. An employee has also been asked to uncheck the options contact for career opportunities and job inquiries on his LinkedIn profile and to post a restricted career history.

Do you need help creating a strong online professional presence?

Catch up

The corporate world has always lagged behind the wider culture with regard to social media usage and as I predicted some time ago,  some sort of ” catch-up”  attempt was therefore inevitable Employees can realistically expect to have the following conditions imposed on them in the forseeable future:

  • Prohibition of the use of employer-related information in any kind of employee postings
  • Restrictions on usage of social media sites during office hours using company hardware and systems
  • Prohibition on the disclosure/use of any sensitive, proprietary, confidential or financial information about the business or its clients
  • Prohibition of employee endorsement, direct or implicitly of the  organisation’s business in any statement or posting
  • Prevention of engagement in conduct that would violate the employer’s other workplace policies, such as anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies
  • Information relating to any disciplinary policies up to and including termination of employment for infractions or violations of company policy

Employees should:

  • Never release the passwords of their social media accounts to third parties
  • Always use a private email address rather than a business one for all social media contact if in any doubt about  how their social media activities will be perceived by their organisations
  • Never block a connection on LinkedIn on the instructions of a superior. This action is irreversible and the connection may be needed later
  • Discuss openly with any manager who requests a restriction on contact possibilities on a LinkedIn profile. Career opportunities, job inquiries, new ventures and business deals can also afford opportunities for the organisation, not just the individual.  It is also a personal profile so individuals should be able to present their career history in any way that doesn’t damage the business interests of their employer.

The rub of course lies in this final point and where the overlap of personal and corporate interests become hazy. Overall, the social media revolution represents a fundamental shift in the way we communicate and the value of the opportunities  is significant to all. What should be in place are measures that protect organisations and employees alike.

Have you been formally asked to restrict your social media activities via new conditions of service and employment? Please share your experience.

Children: A corporate inconvenience?

In a recent post I suggested that parenting and childcare  seems to have been relegated to the level of  ‘corporate inconvenience’  in many of our current business models, which elicited some comment.

Negative fallout is being reported for both men and women who take or wish to assume responsibility for parenting and childcare .   My thoughts were further compounded after reading that women of child-bearing age are considered to be employment risks  and still further with a recent proposal to investigate the extension of the provision of childcare  services in UK schools by lengthening the school day until 8.00pm

12 hour day care
Now it could be that outsourcing child care for what could be 12 hours a day for many, is a viable sustainable solution in societies and economies that have declining populations, aging work forces and skill shortages. I await the research with eager anticipation. But for the future of global economies, it does strike me that governments and businesses need to examine possibilities to create effective workforces, while allowing children to be raised in healthy environments, physically and emotionally.

Historically, for self-evident biological reasons, this has been a role assigned to women. As such a high percentage of educated and qualified personnel are now women, it seems crazy to sit back and allow their skills to be under utilised when they leave the workforce or choose to work below their capabilities so that they can raise their families.

But today in changing times what happens when men and women alike want (or need) both professional and child-care responsibilities?

To me it seems nothing short of a confused mess.

In 1977 only 50% of married men were part of dual-career households, which has increased today to  75%.   To achieve work life balance/integration whatever you want to call it, women in the 21st century are  being constantly urged to re-negotiate  the responsibility for household tasks within their own relationships.  This is a key benchmark in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report and partly accounts for why France  for example despite its progressive employment conditions for women, comes in at the lowly position of 48.

But for balance at home to become a reality men have to then negotiate their own roles with their employers.  An increasing number of men are now citing work/life balance as a major factor in career choice, an element which is strongly endorsed by Gen Y starting out on their careers.

Fatherhood  has been perceived by potential employers as a guarantee of corporate drive and career commitment.   On a longer term basis a wish for workplace flexibility for family reasons is considered to be  the “mummy track” to career suicide,  where men are  frequently advised not to pursue those options even becoming “supernumerary” following such requests. Single parent fathers with custody obligations and sole responsibility for their children at specific times are also on the increase,  adding to the  numbers  for whom flexibility is a need,  not a desire.

Skewed odds
So the odds of men achieving  parity in both the home and the workplace are equally skewed. This not just a case of stereotypical macho slothfulness and a desire to watch the World Cup with a beer, or their partners being unwilling to relinquish domestic supremacy, although they can both play a part,  but by  outdated business models and corporate cultures  which mitigate against all.

Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March 2010 showed, , that a mother’s future earnings increases on average 7% for every month the father takes leave, with penalties and loss of benefits imposed for men who don’t take this leave. Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly. There has apparently been a commensurate reduction in the divorce rate.

I can’t help but wonder if the very same “think tanks”, with their notable lack of women,  when yobs in hoodies go on the rampage and youth crime soars,  will be the very same ones wringing their hands in horror asking ” where are the parents?”

What do you think?

Extreme commuting! Why more of us are becoming Super Commuters

Limited local opportunities, expanded job markets and better value housing further from city centres are prompting more and more people to undertake longer commutes. Factoring in the career of a spouse or partner, slumps in housing markets making it difficult to sell or rent property,  as well as issues impacting kid’s educations, commuting rapidly becomes the most viable option in a range of other poorer choices. Extreme commuting is growing.

Typical commutes 
Whether by plane, car, train or any other form of transport commuting is consistently listed as one of the bug bears of modern life.  Recent research in Sweden from Erica Sandhow at Umeå University,  on the impact of commuting,  suggests that 45 minutes could be considered a long commute. However, in the US a typical commute would be 50 minutes  while the British commuter spends 200 hours a year getting to work. Although there are a number of benefits from an increased number of career opportunities,  there are also significant downsides, with Sandhow suggesting that couples engaged in commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to get divorced.

International commuting
Just the mildest of enquiries in my social circle produced the feeling that long distance commuting is more commonplace than these stats would suggest. In fact most believed that average commutes are taking increasingly longer as congestion is most towns is rising and 45 minutes elapsed time door to desk  was actually on the light side.

Yet many choose to commute not into their local city,  but internationally.

During a recent trip out of Malpensa airport I found myself in conversation with an Italian gentleman, Fabio, who was negotiating the security line with all the frequent flier finesse of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”. He works in international business development for an Italian conglomerate and was headed, not the 25 minutes typical Italian commute down the road, but 700 kms back home to Brussels.  Fabio was quick to let me know why he has decided to live apart from his family Monday to Friday.

Tough decisions
When I was offered a senior role back in Italy 3 years ago, it was a tough decision. On the one hand I had a great promotion but on the other I also had to factor in my wife’s career. She is British and an E.U. lobbyist, so needs to be Brussels based, as well as my children’s education. They are 16, 14 and 10 – so not great for the older ones to move. We speak English at home and the kids go to Belgian schools so they only have conversational Italian. So as I travelled 80% of my week  at that time anyway – the logical solution was to find a pied à terre Monday to Thursday in Milan and commute between Belgium and Italy“.

I have been in that situation myself twice when my ex-husband commuted internationally, in the days before cheap flights and speedy boarding. It’s not easy. Fabio continued ” When I’m not on the road I can work from home but obviously I need to be in Milan a couple of days a week at least. Technology helps and I’m lucky that my General Manager is a results orientated rather than presence orientated manager, but when you run a team being visible and available is important.”

Downsides
So what are the downsides as if I didn’t know already. “When flights are delayed or cancelled – that’s a hassle. My wife struggles sometimes dealing with my 16 year old son on her own and feels isolated. It means if she needs to travel for her own work we have complex childcare arrangements as we don’t have family in Belgium. Hikes in fares means that it’s high cost too. But overall it’s the best decision for our family

 Women super commuters
Erica Sandhow’s findings show that extended commutes primarily benefit the careers of men and also contribute to polarised gender stereotyping with women assuming a  greater share of domestic responsibilities in the absence of the men, while their partners become the defacto more significant salary earner. I can certainly testify to that.

If a high number of super commuters are men, what about women?

 I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for. 

I spoke to Hannah who commutes between Paris and Amsterdam, leaving 2 children on Sunday evening or Monday morning,  with her husband Markus until Friday night.  “Yes it’s stressful but you get used to it. I find that I have to separate my work and personal life, but as the main salary earner in the family, I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I am 16 years younger than my husband and will have to work for another 18 years at least.  I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for.  My husband wishes I had more time, especially if I ever have to work at the weekend” 

At the same time, it is reported that those fewer women who do commute long distances gain new career opportunities and higher salaries – so there are some benefits.

But are they worth it?

So how long would you commute to work?

Helicopter parents crash into the workplace

Helicopter parents

I have  been somewhat bemused by the spate of articles over the last weeks advising managers and recruiters how to treat helicopter parents in the workplace.  I do have to confess however, to quashing a particularly strong maternal urge last year to hop on the Eurostar to give my son’s boss a piece of my mind. At best he was a truly lousy manager, at worst a bully. You will be pleased to hear common sense prevailed.

Interfering or intervening?
Yesterday, I was quite taken aback by a call from a well spoken woman who introduced herself as Nina. After some solicitous enquiries about disturbing me (she wasn’t), my health (I was fine) expanding, she announced she was the mother of Christian,  a candidate I seemingly had the temerity to cut from an interview process at the end of last week. Apparently, according to Mme. Nina, I had overlooked many of petit Christian’s superlative qualities. She  politely wondered if I had the depth of insight, or indeed the very qualifications required to make such a judgement call. I was kindly therefore prevailed upon, in the nicest possible way, to reinstate him “tout de suite” .

Time wasting
It took me a good 30 seconds to  process the implications of this dialogue. I should tell you that Christian is 26 years old, probably stands at 1m 85 in his socks and had grossly exaggerated his accomplishments, to the point where fact and fiction are completely blurred  in his petit head. He and the CV writer, possibly Mama Nina,  had wasted a number of people’s time, including mine.

I have also observed a recent trend of moving away from being exasperated with this reluctance to cut the umbilical cord,  to one of understanding and even in some cases to accommodating  this new parenting style.  Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters said as far back as 2008 HR teams should turn this trend to their advantage by striking up a relationship with the families of new recruits and accepting that winning the backing of parents can considerably smooth the path,” 

He continued “While I wouldn’t expect to see quite so much involvement by parents once the young person gets to his second or third job, it’s best not to be too rigid about these things. It is quite acceptable for people in their mid-20s to still want loads of backing from home.”

There are valid cases for parental intervention at this age but I am firmly in the exasperated camp

Men and women
There are indeed very valid cases where young adults need more parental support than would be expected at their age: learning difficulties, health issues or disabilities come to mind. But for fully functioning, above average IQ men and women (because this is what they are) I realise that I am clearly out of step with the zeitgeist. I still remain firmly in the “exasperated” camp  and see this accommodation of a co-dependent trend, not just as a worrying infantilisation of the work place, but also damaging to the candidates themselves.  So I urge:

Parents please:

  • Don’t write your child’s CV for him/her. They will not own their own message and fall at the first hurdle
  • Don’t send your child’s resume to prospective employers on his or her behalf. They should do that themselves.
  • Don’t call employees advocating for your offspring whether for the position itself or compensation package.  It will generally lead straight to the reject heap. You are depriving them of learning valuable skills.
  • Don’t accompany junior to an interview, job fair or any other meeting in the process. This will in many cases be the kiss of death for him/her.

In the words of Pink Floyd  “leave them kids alone

GenY please:

  • Do take responsibility for your own career strategy. Be clear about your boundaries with Mum and Dad.
  • If you need mentoring or help and your parents are too invasive, look for a neutral professional. If you struggle financially,  maybe your parents can step in – but as a loan. Make a formal loan  agreement and make sure you pay it back.
  • Do not be afraid to fail or change your mind. Make your own decisions and accept  (and pay for) the consequences.
  • If you feel afraid to make a decision without the deep involvement of Mum and Dad – perhaps there is a need talk to someone outside your family. Can friends or even a professional support you?

The parents of most Millennials are generally out of touch with the job search skills required in today’s market place and in many cases are mis-advising their kids in a number of areas. Intervening (interfering?) is not doing their children any service, but depriving them of vital life lessons which contribute to their maturity and workplace value.  They are: independence,  sense of achievement,  self-reliance, the ability to work autonomously,  the ability to self advocate, the ability to plan for themselves and to think strategically,  a willingness to learn from failure and the capacity to successfully move on.

Like babies who  need to crawl before they can walk, these early career knocks are key developmental experiences. Culturally we are in danger of creating a generation which will struggle to be self-reliant.

What do you think?

The downside of presenteeism

Presenteeism has crept into modern-day business vocabulary and is now listed as a new word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as “presenteeism (noun): working when sick especially to avoid the stigma of being absent. ”  Research about the negative impact of this trend is significant,  with an estimated impact on workplace effectiveness and productivity amounting to billions.

Missed point
The focus has hitherto been on the health aspect of the definition,  which is of course completely understandable.

But perhaps a little brazenly I think we’re missing the main point.

For me, the key part of the definition is “to avoid the stigma of being absent“. This extends the insidious and more extensive reach of presenteeism beyond macho, masters of the universe,   boiler room cultures,  into business practises, which many of us encounter every day, as organisations become  “lean, mean and keen”.

  • Not taking vacations  – despite all the occupational health information about the value of annual holidays, even in countries with statutory entitlement provisions - many still don’t take their full quotas.
  • Staying late when there is no work to be done  – I have much first hand anecdotal evidence to suggest that this practise is rife and that employees who work only their contracted hours are viewed negatively, even if there is no specific deadline to meet.
  • Working to unnecessarily tight deadlines set by disorganised management or power playing superiors.
  • Working late and at weekends to avoid seeming uncommitted.  Technology has created a culture of 24/7 availability and those who don’t respond to messages on their iPhones within nano seconds are perceived to be “slackers”.  I have one contact who stores his emails and sends them out at what would be post business hours in various global time zones,  to give an impression of super  diligence.
  • Skipping lunch  -   the “lunch is for wimps” mentality is prevalent in many organisations, with one connection fainting with hypoglycemia after working for 9 hours without eating.  Many eat unhealthy snacks at their desk which drains energy and reduces output.

“Lean, mean and keen business practises contribute to a false notion of efficiency

Fallout
The fallout from this culture reaches and impacts entire workforces and in particular those who can’t subscribe to this charade and for any number of reasons have to work their contracted hours.  Working mothers are one category to feel the judgement heat.  Anyone who knows any working mum  (or who has been one)  understands all too well,  that even if they work part-time,  this phrase generally refers to compensation,  rather than the hours worked, while the workload managed almost certainly hovers around 100%.

Victoria Pynchon  highlights this in her Forbes  piece where she boldly talks about the amount of  “face-time” wasted in her career,  suggesting that having a family  might have forced her  “  … to work in a more focused manner, to organize myself and my working teams better”  But truthfully having  children isn’t a prerequisite for being focused, although it is certainly necessary .

But on a general workplace level isn’t it time to over turn this outdated culture , which  all research suggests leads to a  dramatic decrease in individual and therefore organisational productivity.  Or as Brendan S  maintains  that  as offices are inherently inefficient places   we should be measuring productivity by the results obtained and not the hours spent at a desk.

The irony is that “presenteeism ” does eventually lead to “absenteeism”,  with stress from heavy workloads and job insecurity fears,  being the highest causes of  sickness absence.

Or will we reach a situation such as we see with the Apple manufacturers in China where shamefully,  a new spin on workplace Health and Safety  is to install safety nets  around their buildings to reduce the suicide rate.

Being present isn’t a barometer of value.

What do you think?  

Unfair dismissal: 7 ways to create a workplace safety net

7 ways to create a workplace safety net 
We are all walking the corporate tight rope. There have never many guarantees in life as a corporate employee. But now, despite employment protection legislation, there seem to be even fewer. We live in turbulent and changing times and no one is immune.  Unfair dismissal is commonplace.  So it’s not just necessary to be strategic about career advancement, but to always have a safety net in place in case of an unexpected fall. Even minor changes which at one time might have produced a little stumble, might send you crashing to your knees. These could be anything from a promotion disappointment, a take over, a new boss coming in,  or even an economic blip that might  unexpectedly impact results and performance.  No one is indispensable. And sometimes our faces, from one day to another, simply don’t fit. It’s not only high-profile CEOs who get fired over the phone.

Fired
In the last few weeks I have had  two clients, who have been basically, summarily dismissed and they believed had cases of unfair dismissal. For some reason, out of the blue, their contributions were deemed to be below par. Within an hour they have been placed on notice, told to clear their desks and instructed not to return to their place of employment. Access to their company email accounts and records had been immediately blocked.  Had they committed some grave offence or were guilty of gross misconduct: hit the boss, lost a few  billion, or sworn in front of a client? No they hadn’t. There seemed to be no obvious reason to either of them, nor was there any traceable record of any “sackable” offence, or even communicated under-performance. They both had contracts of employment. For some reason they were both surplus to requirements at one given moment in time and were  “let go”, to use that hateful euphemism. Neither were senior enough to negotiate a golden parachute.

Regretfully, they have both found themselves in a void: hurt, angry, confused and wondering what their next steps could be.

Commonalities
The take away lessons to both these clients were signficant and there were some commonalities. They realised with that great gift of 20/20 hindsight that when the going was good, they had taken it for granted and had not taken even basic precautions.  Under- performance had been cited in both cases as reason for termination  and in reviewing their next steps,  the only way both individuals could support their own version of events was verbally and anecdotally.  If considering legal action, this can be problematic.  With future employers it might also be useful to have support documentation to hand.

Do you have your safety net in place? Check out the career transition programmes if you are in difficulty.

 7 Precautions

  • Always store personal professional information outside the office. Both used their office computers for personal use and had not stored key information privately, or as hard copy.  They had no access to vital correspondence on other hard drives,  once access had been denied.
  •  Always ask for annual goals and targets against which your performance will be assessed in writing. Keep a record of that document or correspondence.  Neither had done this.
  •  Save copies ( in either a personal email account or as hard copy)  of the good stuff! Any positive  feedback or success stories. Once outside the swinging doors, neither had any record of their achievements or access to them, even previous performance assessment documentation where they had received strong ratings.
  • Keep copies of requests for support and document any tricky problems as well, especially the methods you used to overcome them. Neither had hard or soft copies of ignored  requests for support and advice,  or  any conflicting instructions they had received.
  •  Ask for recommendations from peers and superiors within your company to support your success stories. These can be posted on an online professional profile for the whole world to see.
  • Look for a mentor or sponsor within the organisation you can turn to for advice. Both felt isolated.
  • Carry on building an external network.  You never know when you will be unexpectedly on the job market.

This may all seem very cynical, but change doesn’t have to be cataclysmic to produce a massive personal downside in today’s cyclic job market.  Organisations will be equally vigilant in maintaining their records.  Unless you have negotiated a golden parachute as part of your contract of employment, having a net under the corporate tight rope is simply a basic and very necessary safety measure.

You’ve heard of driving defensively -  well  regrettably, although far from ideal,  we now we have to work defensively too.

What other precautions would you suggest?   

A great divide: planned parenthood and corporate planning

Corporate plans in place for a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but not maternity leave

Stereotypical thinking
I have just taken a flight across Europe. For 2 hours and 20 minutes straight, a new-born baby screamed without taking a breath the entire trip. The parent (male) and steward (male) did their level best to soothe the poor mite – but to no avail. It was a totally natural scene and possibly apart from being thankful it wasn’t their child, no one on that aeroplane gave the matter a second thought and especially not the gender of the 2 care givers

Perpetuating stereotypes
Which made me think of the Forbes Power Women List which came out last week. I’m not a fan and generally believe it leans towards bull rather than buzz, although I will admit this year’s list is an improvement on 2010, despite Christine Lagarde only coming in at #9. I also think perhaps somewhat contentiously that it promotes stereotypical thinking, just as much and perhaps more so, as it tries to debunk it.

A vital statistic that stood out for me in this year’s promotional roll call, in that slightly breathless, condescending, incredulous, ” didn’t they do well” tone, is that 88% of the women on the list have children. They are mothers. What’s particularly interesting about this information, is that it is even mentioned. I assume most of the Forbes powerful men list are fathers. Does anyone ever comment about that? Exactly!

Planned parenthood
One of the greatest historical changes to impact the lives of couples and women in particular in recent times (perhaps ever) in the developed world, is the wide availability of sophisticated birth control and contraception.The Economist (December 31, 1999) called oral contraceptives ” the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century

This has given both women and men (let’s not forget these are not immaculate conceptions) in developed economies, the opportunity to plan with the military precision of a space mission, not just the number of children they have, but also the timing of each pregnancy. Diets are adjusted, alcohol intake modified, exercise increased, temperatures taken, ovulation cycles monitored, sperm counts checked, baby rooms prepared, ante natal classes attended, showers held, mother and baby classes subscribed to. Books are bought, family are alerted, dad-to-be helps with all the heavy breathing, romper suits arrive by the dozen. Buggies, bouncers and baby chairs are ordered. Names are chosen, christenings or similar naming ceremonies are planned. Plan Bs hover in the background , with frozen eggs and sperm on hand just in case mother nature doesn’t oblige.

Strategic planning
So it would seem, notwithstanding the odd surprise, that having a baby has to be one of the most orderly and thought out processes that many men and women undertake in their lives. So I ask myself (and you too!) why does the planning seem to stop there? If employees are planning their families, why can organisations not plan to the same degree? Instead the careers of women in their 30s becomes a major elephant in the sitting room, that people hope will amble away on its own. And women do – in their droves.

Female workforce
Janine is a Client Services Director for a well-known financial services company based near Brighton, UK. She manages a team of 120, of which 90 are women. 80% of that number are between the ages 18 and 40. “ If all my team became pregnant at the same time, I’d have a problem!” she told me smiling. “As their manager I’m not allowed to ask my employees what their plans or intentions are with regard to having a family. Their supervisors are close to their staff in an informal way and have ideas about who we would move where and to cover which gaps and skill sets. But there is no official succession planning policy to cover maternity leave, although we do have an emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or other natural disaster! ”

Terrorist threat
Now I’m sure there could well be any number of subversive, underground, terrorist cells plotting to target financial organisations near Brighton, but I wonder how these threats, including a meteorological catastrophe, would stack up against the likelihood of any of those female staff becoming pregnant. There is a plan to cope with both of the former, but not the latter. Does that strike anyone as a little incongruous? I also find it frustrating than women are not expected to plan beyond the start of their maternity leave and although having a baby is discombobulating on many levels, it doesn’t close down brain functionality completely. They are having a baby, not a lobotomy.

The father factor
A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “ According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

In fact the study also suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Economies need to counteract a declining birth rate and stimulate economic growth. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Both men and women are looking for better work/life balance, not just women, and the business model for corporate culture, which creates a gender divide needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

Lists such as the Forbes list with messages which portray women with successful careers as mothers are actually perpetuating stereotypical thinking rather than knocking it on the head.

Men get married and are fathers too.

The Guru Factor: Where are the women?

The Guru Factor

Something’s got to give
Earlier this year, somewhat bewildered by our leaders and their actions (or lack thereof) over the previous few years, I wrote a post “Playing without the Queens“. In it I expressed surprise at the notable lack of public reaction as bankers and financial service leaders decimatad our global economies, while the populace merely “whimpered ” from the sidelines. Our medieval forebears would certainly have revolted and literally broken the “banca” in protest. However, only a few months later in the Middle East and North Africa populations took to their streets and now in the U.K. certain sections of the community are doing the same. Unfortunately, I am still just as bewildered.

Change required
In London there is currently a period of crisis management, but I feel sure that before the door has closed on the broom cupboards, the blame game will undoubtedly start. For me there is one overriding message. Tony Robbins words echo loudly

” If you do what you always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. Something has to change.

We have seen in recent years “Masters of the Universe ” bankers such as Fabulous Fabrice Tourre in their designer suits, caught, through negligence/ dishonesty/ incompetence or a combination of all three, vandalising global economies to the tune of …billions, getting off pretty much free and easy, with barely a dent to their 7 figure bonuses. According to Sky News the bank bail out will cost the average British tax payer £3500. This week, yobs in hoodies from Hackney, will almost certainly receive custodial sentences for vandalising shops, nicking trainers and mobile phones to the tune of… hundreds. Political figures will take the moral high ground and preach to us, while many, only last year, were even tacitly, part of massive expense scams. Organisations are struggling to keep up with, and adapt, to changes outside the workplace. Unemployment amongst young people is reaching all time highs in many developed economies. Whole countries are bankrupt.

Lost in thought?
Courtesy of Lee Carey I came across this organisation  The Thinkers 50. The 2011 Thinkers 50 will be unveiled on November 14 in London at the first ever Thinkers 50 Summit. Now as you know I’m not crazy about the composition of think tanks in general, but in 2009 there were only 3 women on the list and one of those was part of an INSEAD duo.

There is a reason we say “lost in thought”

This ” definitive global ranking of management thinkers is published every two years. The 2009 winner was CK Prahalad. The ranking is based on voting at the Thinkers 50 website and input from a team of advisers led by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove. The Thinkers 50 has ten established criteria by which thinkers are evaluated – originality of ideas; practicality of ideas; presentation style; written communication; loyalty of followers; business sense; international outlook; rigor of research; impact of ideas and the elusive guru factor

No women
The words elusive guru factor caught my eye and surreal images of Simon Cowell type “guru factor judges” and ” guru factor auditions” came into my mind. However, I also wonder if this is the time to stop thinking and start doing. There is a reason for the phrase ” lost in thought”. But mainly we need to do both differently. People clearly want change. Women are not only visibly absent from the financial services leadership group that caused many of the underlying problems, but also from the “thinking” list that was issued when it was all going on. Draw your own conclusions, but it’s not rocket science!

If as one definition of guru is a ” recognised leader in a field”, perhaps we need look no further than a modern-day leader such as the courageous, elderly woman in Hackney who confronted London looters, maybe not in the language of the board room ( be warned, very strong if you do watch) but at least there is a badly needed underlying morality.

Are we seeing a resurgence of candidate power?

Candidate power

Top candidates making greater demands
As the worst of the recession seems to have bottomed out and economies are hopefully experiencing an upward turn, I have noticed a slight, but perceptible shift in the executive search process. Organisations had their pick of top talent for probably 3 years, the challenge during that period was being able to sift through the sheer numbers of applications to identify the best candidates. Hiring managers who could during this period, choose their terms of engagement, are currently meeting candidates who are more demanding. Top candidates are now involved in multiple processes, very often with their existing companies being prepared to enter a bidding game and making counter offers to retain key employees.

Normal candidates
I’m not talking about corporate prima donnas, who are playing one company off against another, or leveraging their current employer with empty threats to move. These are genuinely top class individuals who have probably been held back by the lack of opportunities, caused by the economic downturn. In the intervening years we have been exhorting candidates to research and prepare to create good impressions with potential employers. But now is it organisations which are found wanting and not making the correct impression on candidates?

Internal audit
Perhaps now is the time for hiring companies to carry out internal audits to check that they are operating to best practises: They should be satisfied that:

All stages of the recruitment process from sourcing, interviewing, offer and onboarding, especially candidate communication and management, is efficient and timely. Any hiccoughs or delays in any part of these processes will result in losing the preferred candidate. Lost candidates = lost revenue, as positions remain open for even longer.

Salary and benefit levels are in line with the market. If hiring managers don’t know what market rates are – now is the time to find out.

Development and training programmes are in place to guarantee employee engagement in terms of future career opportunities.

Tomos, a recently graduating MBA suggests ” After a period of stagnation candidates need to know that companies are offering career development opportunities. For me this is as important as the salary package.”

Employer branding and reputation are strong. Just as employers can research candidates on-line, the reverse is also true. It is becoming increasingly easy for candidates to establish the corporate culture of any company by asking well placed connections, a few carefully constructed sentences about hours worked, vacation times, bonus systems, management style and so on. Glowing references from existing employees are a huge boost to the recruitment process. However, even a well-intentioned comment can send the wrong signals. One contact decided not to apply for a position when an internal connection within the company mentioned that he had a closer relationship with his Blackberry than his girlfriend.

First impressions count
Organisations which are complacent about any aspect of their hiring systems might be in for a wake up call. As Matteo, a Business Development Manager actively looking for a new opportunity confirmed, the recruitment process is the first encounter with the overall corporate image. If that isn’t strong, other areas of the company can be brought into question. “I was involved in 3 different search processes. All opportunities were attractive in different ways. The offer I accepted came from the company with the most professional hiring procedure. I felt it was one indication of how the company was managed from the top down

First impressions cut both ways.