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Competency, Enablers, HR Strategy

The Future Challenges for the HR Practitioner

Before considering what the key skills for HR practitioners in the future will be, it is essential to identify the future challenges for the HR service.

The role of HR is changing as a result of many influences. These include: globalisation resulting in increased competition; a change to service- and consultative-approach; demographic trends evidenced by falling birth rates and extended life expectancy. These trends affect the labour market and have resulted in skill shortages in specific areas. The HR practitioner needs to understand the impact of these factors on his/her organisation.

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Competency, Enablers, Staff Development

Manager as Coach

Coaching is a powerful style of leadership for developing people and enhancing business performance. Especially, with the rapid changes at workplaces, keeping employees’ committed and motivated during tough economic times seems like a tall task, especially after downsizing or programme cutbacks. Hence, it is evident that the very survival and success of any organisation depends on the human capital: people are highly knowledgeable, versatile, innovative and mobile. And, their skills and talents are the currency of competitiveness, and companies who hope to retain their services need to recognise that these individuals expect greater personal choice, autonomy and an active voice in the management of their workplace. A good coach knows that.

Career Development, Enablers, Staff Development

Take Care of Your Talent – Or Someone Else Will

Recently, I had coffee with Edward, an old friend – or better: one of my mentors. He is approaching seventy and yet is in the pink of health. So I asked whether he plays golf 24/7. His response came a bit as a surprise.

“My company still needs me – so I am re-employed. Full time. This means there is not much time for golf,” he said with a sour smile.

I know he loves his job and it certainly tickles his ego knowing that he is still needed. But, I would have expected him to slow down a bit and enjoy what he has been working for all those years.

Edward explained “Well, I guess we did not really think hard enough about my succession. The guy we had in mind left to join a competitor and all the others are not ready yet. And, I am not the only one from the old guard who is facing this predicament. We would be in a much better position if we would have had a talent management program in place instead of just talking about it from time to time. Not only would we have my designated successor still on board, we would also have made better hiring decisions. The people we hired are good in what they do. However, they don’t seem to have the potential to move up. We have hired for today without having tomorrow in mind.”

Career Development, Enablers, Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Difficult Conversations – Keeping Mentoring Relationships on Track

The Quality of a Relationship relies on the Quality of the Conversation.

At some point in a mentoring relationship, the need for a difficult conversation will arise. Whereas every conflict is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice, there tend to be patterns to what goes wrong, and what helps. Every difficult conversation has three different dialogues that occur simultaneously. The What-Happened dialogue, the Feelings dialogue and the Identity dialogue. As you prepare for a meeting with your mentor/mentee, consider asking yourself some simple questions in order to navigate through these three dialogues.

1. Difficult Conversation – The “What Happened?” Dialogue

The first part of the conversation is about the context and content. Who said what, who did what? Who intended what? What did you each contribute to the problem? This question focuses on three main areas:

Understanding Each Other’s Story

A Difficult Conversation Keeps a Mentoring Relationship on Track

Difficult Conversations Keep Mentoring Relationships on Track

Cultivate the attitude of discovery and curiosity. We often get stuck thinking that our story is “right” and their story is “wrong,” when in fact there is almost always some reasonable basis for both sides’ stories. Explore each other’s stories, instead of attacking his/hers and defending yours. Your goal is to tell the story in such a way that the third party might say, “Wow, that view makes a lot of sense.” Note: As you try to do this, you’ll notice yourself thinking things like, “Yeah, but they’re wrong,” or “That’s their view, but it’s not justified.” This kind of thoughts are natural. But remember, they don’t think they’re wrong. Your goal is to understand their view as they understand it. Understanding their view does not mean you agree with it, or that you have to give up your view.

Sorting out Contributions

Just as it takes two to tango, most problems stem from things both sides said or did. With a few important exceptions, it is rarely helpful to assign blame for what went wrong. What is more helpful is to explore what each side contributed to the problem at hand. The purpose of exploring what each person has contributed is to better understand the past, and plan ways to change interactions in the future.

Disentangling Intent and Impact

We are in the habit of demonising others’ intentions and sanitizing our own: “If he did something that hurt me, it is because he meant to. If I did something that hurt him, it was an unintended consequence – I had good intentions!”

As a rule for life we should always assume that there is no one waking up in the morning with the intention of hurting someone else.

2. Difficult Conversation – The Feelings Dialogue

This part involves the feelings each person in the conversation is grappling with. What should you do with these feelings? Should you tell them how you feel? And what about their feelings? What if they become angry, or start to cry? What will you do then?

My Feelings

Make a list of some of your feelings regarding what has happened. Common feelings include anger, frustration, hurt, shame, confusion, fear, anxiety, and loneliness. Many conversations also involve feelings that are considered positive, but which are nonetheless difficult to manage or express. These include joy, pride, and love. Which feelings are hardest for you to express, and why?

Their Feelings

Make a list of what you imagine the other person might be feeling. Which of these feelings are hardest for you to hear, and why?

Note: Being aware of your feelings does not mean you have to express your feelings. Simply being aware of them is helpful to recognise how you think about the situation and the conversation. If you do choose to share your feelings, be careful to express feelings and not your judgments about the other person. For example, if you feel that you are rejected by the team, say “I feel that I am not accepted by the team,” instead of “Why are you rejecting me?” The difference between the two is crucial: the first invites conversation, the second invites an argument.

3. Difficult Conversation – The Identity Dialogue

This is the conversation you have with yourself, about yourself. It is the conversation that asks, “What does this all say about me? Am I a good person? Loveable? Competent?”

My Self-Image

Conversations are difficult because they often threaten some part of our identity. We see ourselves as competent, generous, or fair, so anything that challenges that notion of ourselves knocks us off balance. Recognise what is at stake for you, but also “complexify” your image of yourself so that all does not hang in the balance of this one conversation (i.e. even if in this situation you have in fact behaved irresponsibly, it does not necessarily make you an irresponsible person. Think of other times when you have acted responsibly).

Their Self-Image

What identity issues might you be triggering for them in the conversation? Are they reacting because they hear you calling them an incompetent professional, insensitive manager?

Choosing My Purpose

Too often, we enter a difficult conversation without a clear purpose, or we adopt purposes we cannot control – like changing them or persuading them. Only they can decide to change or be persuaded, so this sets us up for frustration.

My purposes for having a conversation. Make a list of those things you would like to get out of the conversation. In doing so, consider three purposes that are helpful for almost any difficult conversation:

  • Learning: Listen first to understand, then to be understood. You almost never know everything you need to know about the situation. Seek out the pieces of the puzzle you do not have.
  • Expression: You are an unparalleled expert on you. So, speak for yourself and how you are experiencing the problem and what impact it has on you. Consider sharing your perspective, interests, feelings, and requests.
  • Problem-Solving: You take the lead. Once you have listened to their views and expressed your own, then you should proceed to problem solving. Ask: “Can we find a way to move forward that works for both of us?”

Prepare an Opening Line

Think in advance about how you might begin the conversation. One useful way to go is to set forth your purposes, so you might say: “I would like to hear your thoughts on this problem and express my own. Then I think we should take some time to problem solve. Does that make sense to you as a way to spend the conversation?”

Conclusion

A difficult conversation will always be part of the relationship with your mentee/mentor – as they are part of life. Even if your difficult conversation does not go well, you can review the tips above and ask yourself what you might try differently next time. Many difficult conversations are held over a period of time. While there will be ups and downs, eventually – with some thought and preparation – mutual understanding often increases and some learning takes place. This gives you the best chance for relationships to deepen and for problems to be solved.

 

Douglas Stone: Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, 2000.

Career Development, Enablers, OD, Staff Development

Being a Mentee – How to Benefit from a Mentoring Relationship

Congratulations, mentee. Someone has decided to be your Mentor.

When Odysseus gave the task of protecting, guiding and educating his son Telemachus to his old friend Mentor, he did this knowing that Mentor would be the best person possible to care for his only son during his absence from Greece. Since then, Mentor is synonymous for someone who is willing and able to provide guidance and support to bring out the very best in his mentee – without any other personal agenda.

The success of your mentoring relationship does not only depend on your mentor, it is significantly more dependent on you to help your mentor in helping you. Your ability to develop a relationship of mutual respect and trust with your mentor defines what you receive in return.

1. Be Serious

If you have been invited to go through the mentoring programme by your organisation, share with your mentor your fears or concerns. This is to avoid you (mentee) feeling “victimised” or “forced” to undergo the programme. If this were truly the case, your mentor would be feeling equally as lousy.

Siew, one of my mentees, was nominated for the High Potential Mentorship Programme. He was very quiet for 2 meetings, he did not show much interest but showed up for both meetings. On the 3rd session, I decided to share with him how I feel and I told him that we can cancel this relationship since it may be wasting both parties’ time. Finally, he spoke up and told me that he is very sceptical about such programme as he did not have a good experience with his previous company. He shared with me what he would really wish to get out from this programme. I heard him and much later, he turned out to be one of the best mentees I ever had.

2. Be Prepared

Spend some time to prepare yourself before entering into the mentoring relationship; do some planning and self-assessment. This includes setting your own goals and what you expect from your mentor.

  • What’s important to you now? (e.g. leadership capability, personal effectiveness, career, professional development)
  • What do you expect to gain from your mentor?

Jot it down and share with your mentor on the first meeting. Ask your mentor what his/her expectations are of you. A discussion to align expectations at the beginning of the relationship can prevent misunderstandings that can damage the partnership. Clarify this topic and let it serve as a guide for your relationship. You will be surprised by the new things you would have learned when you reflect back on this a few months down the line.

Here is a template for you to do a self-assessment, i.e. self-reflection activity for you, the mentee, on your own with the purpose of identifying what you wish to gain from a mentoring relationship.

Mentee Readiness Self-Assessment Form

Mentee Readiness Self-Assessment Form

3. Be Mature to Manage Up

Managing up is one way of cultivating the mentoring relationship. Managing up means you (mentee) takes ownership of the relationship, letting the mentor know what you need and organise information in the form the mentor prefers.

Finding a successful mentoring relationship is like dating: one cannot expect a perfect fit every time, and a good relationship requires work from both parties. Dissatisfaction may occur from a mismatch of goals, commitments, expectations, or from a reluctance to own and pursue your own development; a reluctance to ask for personal help. There can be power issues, generation tensions (over differences in work schedule expectations) or personality clashes (over differences in communication or work style).

As a mentee, you must express your needs in a direct manner and take responsibility for setting and sticking to a goal schedule. Managing up makes it easier for mentors to help you, and it makes the relationship more satisfying and more successful for both parties because the mentor can target help and you get exactly what you need most.

4. Be Receptive to Feedback

Feedback, although difficult to hear at times, is critical to your personal and professional growth. Demonstrate that you are open to suggestions to bring out your best and overcome any of your blind spots. Take initiative to ask your mentor for feedback. Get feedback on specific issues, for example, how you come across to others. Ask for specific details to ensure you understand the specific behaviours. Use SBI (Situation-Behaviour-Impact) method to ask for feedback.

5. Be Reflective and Make Every Moment Count

Unless we reflect on our experiences, we often miss out the gems in moments we spend with each other, including our mentor. Keeping a mentoring journal is one suggestion for capturing and remembering the lessons learned through this important relationship. After each meeting, ask yourself what you learned from the meeting and how you can apply the learning. Summarise your responses to these questions and share them with your mentor. Let your mentor give you feedback and ask him or her – as well as yourself – if there’s anything else you have learned through the meeting.

Conclusion

As a mentee, you are the ‘gauge’ to measure the success of a mentoring relationship. This success depends mostly on you. Make use of this opportunity and you will gain more than you ever expected. Enjoy your learning journey!

About the Author

Amy BC Tan is a Partner with Centre for Organisational Effectiveness (COE). She has more than 20 years of experience in Human Resource. Her expertise has been in Organisational Development, HR Strategy & Planning, Competency Modelling, Change Leadership Development, Talent Management, Succession Planning, Performance Management, Mentoring and Coaching. Amy’s career experiences were with companies such as AT&T, Nokia, Aon, Ministry of Manpower and Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee. Amy is also a Six Sigma Black Belt. She can be reached at Amy.Tan@COE-Partners.com

BPR, Enablers, Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Increasing Productivity by Living our Values

On a recent trip to Japan, I took a Shinkansen high- speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo. The train was scheduled to arrive at Tokyo Station at 9.03pm. Since I had made an appointment to meet a good friend after arrival, I asked the train conductor whether we would be on time.

Increasing Productivity by Being on Time.

Punctuality reveals one’s attitude towards the most basic values of integrity, professionalism and respect.

The conductor looked at me, not understanding my question, and said: “We will arrive at 9.03pm.” I thought to myself, yes, I know the schedule. But will we be on time?

He must then have somehow guessed my real meaning. He said: “There is no reason for a delay. We have not had an earthquake or tsunami today. So, we will be on time.”

I had not heard this kind of answer for a while.

 

My professor at a German university where I studied – let’s call him Hofmann – was very strict in many aspects. His style displayed a deeply ingrained set of values. One of them was punctuality. Unless there was a very, very good reason for being late, we had to be on time – always.

Once, I was quite late for a meeting. However, I thought I had a good reason: “My train was late by 40 minutes.”

His reply was, “Okay, you take this train every day, right?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

“Was it ever late before?”

“Yes, this happens from time to time,” I answered, thinking that I was off the hook.

His answer: “Then you should have taken this into account and been prepared. Don’t use this excuse again!”

With this management style, we were able to deliver outstanding results. No project was ever late.

Despite this tough regime, Professor Hofmann was known as one of the professors everyone wanted to work with. He was not only able to develop one’s IQ (intelligence quotient) but also took strong care of our EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) as well.

As a result, punctuality is one form of behaviour that I hold very dear to my heart, because it reveals one’s attitude towards the most basic values of integrity, professionalism and respect.

 

Every human relationship starts with basic courtesy.

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings” is a saying coined by King Louis XVIII of France. He was making the point that educated people, and people who aspire to have and try to show a certain status, will fail if they don’t master the most basic of all manners: punctuality. Without punctuality they are just “small men”.

In Singapore, I have had to get familiar with the phrase, “Sorry, I’m late”, uttered by members of all levels of society without hesitation or shame. Often, it comes without any excuse. Only sometimes is it paired with statements such as “heavy traffic on PIE”.

No one is really surprised about the fact that some people are late, or the fact that there is heavy traffic on the Pan-Island Expressway, although both facts really have nothing to do with each other.

It is very likely that there is some heavy traffic on the PIE at certain times. This happens daily.

But heavy traffic is as good an explanation for being late as something like “There are many birds in Changi Village”.

 

So what is the real reason for being late? I think that this is, because we are good in talking about values. But we have forgotten that these values should also form part of daily courtesy and kindness, and not only be put on display on National Day. A good example of the huge gap between theory and practice is when meetings regarding value development or competency deployment cannot start on time because of the late arrival of key players.

Their entrance with a “Sorry, I’m late” can be directly translated into “Sorry, I don’t respect you”. Would you want to say this to your colleagues or friends? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to show the correct behaviour ourselves before we try to plant this seed in others? This would be good for our credibility as well.

In Singapore, we should live every day the way we deliver great projects: excellent quality, on time.

How much time gets wasted and how much productivity gets squandered every day due to our inability to walk the talk? How about increasing productivity by living our own values?

There are always excuses for not doing things. Can we instead try to find reasons for doing things such as being on time? Our co-workers would thank us for it.

Remember, behaviour is contagious. Is yours worth catching?

 

 

Published on 15 Jul 2013, on AsiaOne, 18 Jul 2013, on Training Buzz, Jul 2015

Career Development, Competency, Enablers, Leadership, OD, Staff Development

The Power of Your Career Vision

“Uwe, what is your career vision?” was Steve’s first question during my job interview many years ago. As a German I was not really prepared for this kind of question. In the German language the word for career is “Karriere”, which is reserved for someone with outstanding professional accomplishments like Franz Beckenbauer, Robert Bosch or Angela Merkel. This kind of people “machen Karriere”, i.e. have a career. Therefore, I had not spent any minute to think about my career vision, let alone having a career dialogue. I was puzzled by his question, mumbled something but could not answer for a while.

Career Vision - How Career Dialogue Changed my Life

Where to? Is your Career Vision clear?

Career Vision?

However, Steve’s question got me thinking. My thoughts went beyond the usual culprits when it comes to career like ensuring a good life for my family, getting my kids on the right track and – from time to time (Germans don’t want to be caught doing this too often) – enjoying life. Steve was nice enough to help me with some very simple yet powerful questions like ‘What is your passion?’ or ‘How do you think you can contribute best?’ or ‘From all the jobs you have done so far, in which one did you find most satisfaction?’

Be Careful, what you wish for

“I would like to work in Asia” I said with a smile after considering our conversation and my responses. And, I had no doubt that Steve must have found my answer and the explanation I gave him highly amusing. Furthermore, I was absolutely sure that this was the last time we had spoken about this topic. Yet, I found his question a nice new touch during my job interview. I was especially intrigued by the fact that this was my first job interview that did not really evolve around his company but much more on me as a person. Much later he revealed that he knew that my knowledge and skills are exactly what he needed. He just wanted to find out whether I would “fit in” and could grow with the company.

Some years later I was sitting together with Steve going through my appraisal. As usual this was serious yet always a very nice chat in a totally relaxed atmosphere. We almost never held this kind of discussion in the office. We usually met in a restaurant or hotel. At the end he asked me “Uwe, are you ready for Asia?” and explained that our company had decided to go East with management consulting and they wanted me to start this journey if I still had this career vision. A few months later, I arrived at my new home in Singapore.

Conclusion

There are numerous articles showing survey data and research results about one very important driver for employee retention: career planning and development. As a result, more and more organisations make career planning part of their performance appraisal cycle. However, for some it does not go far beyond the template with fields for short-term and long-term career aspiration. Out of all the supervisors I have experienced myself, only one was up to the task.

Having a fruitful career dialogue needs preparation and skills, especially on the side of the supervisor. A Career Exploration Studio for both, supervisors and staff, is a powerful enabler for a quality career dialogue. Knowing someone’s Career Anchor or Personality Profile will help guiding him in the right direction. Supporting this person with adequate development options beyond training such as mentoring, project work, job rotation etc. ensures that his career vision becomes reality over time.

A side effect will be that you have a much better visibility of your staff’s next move.

Competency, Enablers, HR Strategy, OD, Staff Development

Navigating Your Career Aspirations

“I would like everyone in our organisation to have his personal career plan in his hands shortly after joining us” was the message we received from Jason, the leader of a social sector organisation. As he explained, it was not easy to attract people to join his team of around 600. The lack of attraction of the jobs in his organisation in the eye of the youth, especially fresh graduates, was the driver for his request. Giving a clear career track with attractive opportunities was to help addressing this issue.

Competency, Enablers, Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Finding The Right Star

We are working on a very tight project schedule. Most of our staff members work late almost every day. Are you prepared to work long hours?

What is cost control? Are you good at it?

We often hear these leading questions during job interviews – a common mistake hiring mangers make. As a result we end up having a wrong person on the job. We getting frustrated, and worst, we have wasted money and time on recruitment.

Figure 1: Chinese Character for "Human"

Figure 1: Chinese Character for “Human”

Most recruiting managers find it relatively easy to identify the characteristics that a candidate will need to possess to make them eligible for a job. Typically, Eligibility has to do with professional or academic qualifications, relevant experience or specific job-related skills and knowledge. These can be verified by reference to certificates. This includes diplomas and records in the case of qualifications. Or, it is done fairly straightforward by tests in the case of technical skills.

In many situations, however, an excellent performer is someone who has not only technical skills but is also suitable for the job. Suitability is much more about the way people will go about doing the job once they are on it. Suitability tends to be about people’s attitudes and behavioural tendencies. They are the factors defined as Value-Based Competencies. It is typically much more difficult to get a clear idea of how suitable people will be before they are appointed.

Hence, suitability is one aspect we often overlook. As depicted by the Chinese word “Ren” illustrated in the Figure, where the two strokes supporting each other signify that “knowledge and skills” have to be complemented by “Attitudes”, a person with relevant knowledge and skills but inappropriate attitude will not be able to contribute as much to his corporate and the community. Moreover, the higher the skills and knowledge of a person, the greater damage he can do to the organisation if his attitude is flawed.

The art of finding the right person (Star) is to use a structured approach. Therefore, we identify the relevant past behaviour to allow forming a judgement on likely future behaviour. Such approach is known as Competency-Based Interview (CBI). Using this approach helps to:

  • Eliminate misunderstandings about an individual’s experience,
  • Prevent personal impressions from affecting evaluation and
  • Reduce an individual’s opportunity to mislead or exaggerate their capability
Figure 2: Star Approach for Developing Competency-Based Interview Questions

Figure 2: Star Approach for Developing Competency-Based Interview Questions

A skilful interviewer is a detective who tries to find examples that are evidence of desired behaviour from a person’s past experiences. To achieve this, some preparation is needed:

  • Define job requirements that are essential for a successful job holder – purpose of the role, line of reporting, responsibilities and competencies.
  • Decide on the competencies you are looking for
  • Develop competency based interview questions using STAR approach Figure 2.

Focus on the three key competencies that the role requires. In order to allow a sufficient conversation you should plan for 10 to 15 minutes per competency.

Hence, through using CBI, the candidate’s fitness, his suitability for the job is measured by projecting his past behaviour on the required competencies. This usually gives the candidate the benefit of talking about real experience – if he has. And it gives the interviewer the advantage of getting into a much more fruitful discussion using an important measuring scale, the required competencies and their necessary behaviours.

Conclusion

In conclusion, identifying knowledge and skill set of a candidate is rather easy. However, finding the right mind-set is a more difficult task. Using a set of value and competency-based interview questions enables managers to spot the STAR, the person who does not only bring the required aptitude but also “fits” in the organisation.

 

Enablers, Innovation, Lean Six Sigma, Operations

Lean Six Sigma and Innovation

Over the last decade, companies and organisations in nearly every industry all over the world have introduced Lean Six Sigma to increase customer satisfaction and to deliver impressive results. An outstanding example is General Electric, the company who has made Six Sigma as popular as it is today.

Another term that has drawn tremendous attention in the business world is Innovation. On the one hand, Lean Six Sigma works towards very low variation in processes with high efficiency. Innovation, on the other hand, seeks to find undiscovered, uncertain territory. Such efforts are rather inefficient. Innovation requires risk-taking, making mistakes and learning from failures.

Can a corporate culture be developed on both key thinking patterns in order to get the best out of Lean Six Sigma Efficiency and Innovative Solutions? Does it make sense to think Innovation Six Sigma?

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