Executive Performance Assessments

BusinessmanFor all those performance management specialists out there, what is the most effective prescription to assess, manage and drive the performance of senior company executives?

Like all experts, we start off by saying “it depends”.

Performance assessment systems are usually built around achieving predetermined deliverables ranging from financial to non-financial and also including some discussion and feedback around behavioral competencies. We often overlay this system with various weightings that reflect our company values.

What are your thoughts on a system that only uses a financial concept to determine value add by an Executive without any consideration of behavioral competencies? There seems to be a trend in this direction, but let me qualify that, as it’s a trend only based on observation within my own environment. I am not quite sure if this is a Caribbean thing, or a Capitalistic thing, or if we just following the “God given instructions by a Board of Directors in their infinite wisdom”.

Should this myopic construct gain traction, we will be making a number of assumptions about senior executives and leadership on the whole. One such assumption is that once someone is in a position of executive leadership, there is little or no need to meaningfully or substantively review behaviours that may or may not reflect the company’s core values.

We assume at senior levels, behaviours like shouting at staff among an audience filled space, or asking a direct report to compromise data or not fully disclose data or fudging numbers, or passing the buck, or using confidential information in a reckless manner are not existent or not relevant. There is a plethora of behaviours that can mushroom without some level of applied scrutiny.

We have a generation that is growing at warp speed; they have access to more information in one week than someone had in their whole lifetime back in the 1800’s. Technical competencies are increasingly being conquered at a younger and younger age, but the warp speed growth does not seem to mirror itself as far as the behaviours are concerned. What do we end up with? We have very smart or intelligent individuals without true wisdom or humanity leading our companies, nations and by extension the world.

As our executives quickly rise through the ranks, they may not be humble, mature, and may not play fair and because there is no redress, they do what is necessary to achieve the financial objective and in the eyes of all, they are celebrated as a success. I venture to say that this modus operandi is certainly not sustainable for the organisation or for the individual; as my mother says “the longest rope has an end”.

It is sad but true that people who find themselves in situations like this where negative behaviours seem to bring success, need a failure to re-set reality, and they need to take two steps back to really make one step forward.  They require executive coaching to help them along the leadership path where they can gain and or develop the wisdom, learn the true value of people and the priceless notion of respect and discretionary effort by an engaged workforce.

Ken Blanchard and Marc Muchnick’s book called the “Leadership Pill” talks about integrity, partnership, affirmation and about the perfecting the blend where the highest achievement as a leader is “Winning the Respect and Trust of your Team”. We are all familiar with the sayings “What gets measured gets done” and “what gets rewarded gets done”.

If we are only measuring and rewarding financial or economic value, we actually impede our long term growth. What will we end up with some years from now with a reward and performance assessment system that is not aligned with our core values?

Denise Ali

Employee Engagement and Financial Success

trinidad-rotiWhich comes first employee engagement or financial success?

Those of us who have spent many man-hours in understanding employee engagement, developing and implementing engagement programmes and measuring the results may be tempted to render the above statement a rhetorical one. It could be argued that financially successful companies have more money to spend on their employees, and also employees are more engaged because they work for an already winning team. It may be considered a virtuous cycle.

Among a few of our local CFOs, the question is completely valid and would even go so far to comment that all research that shows that engagement is a lead indicator to financial success was conducted outside of Trinidad and Tobago and hence does not apply to the local environment. What behooves me is when qualified financial professionals make comments like “Trinis are a simple people, just give them rum and roti”. I am not sure if they were present for the Human Capital module as part of their post graduate training. I am positive this myopia is among the special few of the profession and in no way reflects their perceived preoccupation with only counting the shrinking beans.

Regardless of the research on the correlation between people and share price, most companies are not yet full believers that there is a link between the two. It is easy for the CFO to approve an investment into a piece of equipment that they can see, feel, touch and they can also observe the outputs. When one spends money on employee engagement programmes, you cannot see the return in a tangible way; hence we classify that money as expenditure and not investment. Even if we “invest” in these programmes, we cannot vouch with absolute certainty the cause and effect relationship because there are so many variables in the equation.

Engaged employees are the company’s best advocates, they have a clear line of sight, they are motivated and driven to contribute their discretionary effort into their work beyond what is the norm. In a study of 50 multinational companies, Towers Perrin documented that over twelve months, the companies with high levels of engagement outperformed the companies with less engaged staff in three financial measures, operating income, net income growth and earnings per share. The high employee engagement companies posted a 19 percent increase in operating income and 28 percent rise in earnings per share.

Towers Perrin’s research also shows that as engagement levels increase so do customer satisfaction levels. A case study was done on a company called Motability Operations in the UK, where they invested in their people strategy and reaped benchmarked results in customer satisfaction.

Towers Perrin developed a linkage framework between people and performance and essentially it starts with reward investments, HR service delivery, workforce deployment and its impact on employee behaviour in terms of engagement, turnover and productivity which in turn impacts customer behaviour as evidenced by loyalty, repeat business, company advocacy and ultimately it impacts revenue growth and stock performance. World at Work association has a Total Reward Philosophy which also links HR strategies to engagement and to company performance.

WorkUSA® 2006/2007 research suggests that employee engagement has a strong impact on the bottom line. The research has noted that the frequency with which senior leadership communicates with staff is a key driver to employee engagement. Also to ensure the improved productivity, the staff must be provided with targeted training, tools and resources to contribute effectively without the red tape of bureaucracy.

We have even seen where investors review the companies on the “best companies to work for list” as a source of potential high investment earners to invest in, and the result has shown that the companies on those lists earned average annual returns of 14 per cent which was more than double the average market return according to Alex Edmans at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Craig Donaldson quotes an Accenture study where the book value of companies is now including their intangible assets as well as the tangible ones. This is indicative of the market slowly recognizing the value of a company’s people, knowledge, skills and abilities.

Craig Donaldson also reports that Alan Bardwell, the Finance Chief of ASX Limited is of the view that CFOs need to support appropriate investments in developing human capital. The widespread practice of setting short term earnings targets forces managers to forsake long term investments and this hinders the people development. Mr. Bardwell is of the view that CFOs must take the time to understand the drivers of employee engagement with a long term view.

Watson Wyatt maintains that engagement is a leading indicator of financial performance. The link between past engagement and current financial performance is stronger than the link between past financial performance and current engagement. Engagement comes first.

Denise Ali

Workplace Civility

Female Business Team Shake HandsThe term “Workplace Civility” came up at one of our subsidiaries operational meetings and it sparked my interest.

We may argue that humans have evolved or progressed but from a conceptual perspective it seems we have come full circle in a kind of pseudo-progression. The insurance company Geico says “even a cave man could do it” in some of their advertisements, but we may be underestimating the caveman and overestimating the civil man.

The civil man may look the part but when you see the careless driving on the nation’s roads, the disrespect among our people, one really questions if we as a people have really progressed. We drive on the shoulder, we resist queuing, and we extend no courtesies if when paid to do so as Customer Service representatives. On the rare occasion, one receives exemplary service or care. We at Guardian are working on transitioning the rarity of a pleasant customer care experience to be the norm.

Workplace incivility refers to rude, hurtful and disrespectful behaviour. The vicious circle starts with a perception of inequity, unfairness which breeds negative feelings; this may fuel some desire for reciprocation and may manifest itself in uncivil behaviour. If we return to an eye for an eye, we will all be blind.

In the workplace, there are several contributors to workplace incivility. When one combines all the work factors of long hours, workplace stress, change in employment status, job insecurity, demanding bosses, “short” temperaments, intolerance of diversity, financial problems, with social and domestic challenges, traffic, rising cost of living, etc, people may be driven to act out. We recall years ago the term “Going Postal” where a post office worker in the Edmond, Oklahoma killed fourteen co-workers and then killed himself. When the incident was investigated, they found that he believed he was about to lose his job, he had work-related stress with a smaller workforce and decreased wages all contributed to the violence.

Your organization may not experience incidents as drastic as quoted above, but the subtler instances affect productivity, increased turnover, decreased teamwork, work avoidance, decreased motivation, increased health-care due to stress and or psychosomatic disorders, legal costs due to litigation and an impact to customer retention and growth.

Humans communicate and interact with each other based on their individual needs (conscious or unconscious), be it for power, approval, validation, inclusion, justice, acceptance, to mask insecurities etc. These needs colour our communication. If we review the underlying causes of conflict (let’s call it the conflict iceberg) since what everyone sees is the issue that is above water. We don’t see all the personality characteristics, the emotions, the interests, needs, desires, self perceptions and self esteem issues, hidden expectations and or unresolved issues from the past. We need to ask key questions that will help us see below the surface and if these answers are forthcoming they should enhance our understanding.

When communicating, it is important to be aware of one’s tone, voice volume, be open minded, try not to interrupt, remember pleasantries, say what you mean respectfully and don’t argue for arguing sake. One should address conflicts in private, be aware of one’s own defensiveness, practice active listening and avoid making accusations rather ask questions first. Sometimes, it is even possible that you can be wrong, imagine that?.

We should have healthy boundaries, avoid escalation and vent if necessary to cool off. Bullies are everywhere, in schools, and at work. The organization must deal with bullying swiftly. We must not let people take advantage of our good nature.

In conclusion, we should not be keeping score or waiting for someone to be nice first. We should consider letting things slide that may not be intentional.  According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the Change You want to see in the World”.

Denise Ali

Job Evaluation, Not People Evaluation

istock_000002093248xsmallJob evaluation is about weighing the general importance or relative worth of jobs in comparison to other jobs in an organization.

There are four basic job evaluation methods: Whole Job Ranking, Job Classification, Point Method and the Factor Comparison method. At Guardian, we have adopted the Hay Job Evaluation method which is based on a combination of the point and factor comparison methods. It is based on input (knowledge/know-how), throughput (problem solving) and output (accountability).

Our job evaluation committee comprises employees from a variety of functional areas across the organization. This makes for hearty dialogue and on some rare occasions it may even be entertaining considering that job evaluation is not the most exciting task. I thought I would share some experiences on common misconceptions on the topic.

More often than not, our committee receives job content questionnaires completed with the incumbent in mind, and it is often tailored to suit the incumbent.

Job evaluation focuses on the job not on people. The job evaluation does not determine the worth of the incumbent doing the job.

We also think if someone is doing more work, their job needs to re-evaluated.  When they are just doing more of the same type or level of work, a re-evaluation is not the answer. Maybe the department needs to review the processes, streamline, improve efficiencies, or increase manpower.

Job evaluation does not produce pay rates.  It may be a contributing factor to the process of determining pay grades, but it does not directly determine pay. Job evaluation determines the relative worth of jobs, which are then plotted to create job grades. We go to the market for compensation data on the benchmarked jobs. We decide on our pay philosophy which must be aligned to our business and then this informs our pay bands linked to our job grades.

Job evaluation does not account for scarcity of labour or skills, since demand and supply of labour shifts with the tide. Y2K was a great time for IT professionals.  Our oil boom days were great times for Geologists.

These professionals earned top dollar when compared to the earning potential for other professionals in jobs with similar hay points. As soon as the demand for a skill is satisfied with the supply, any excess supply starts diluting the earning potential. A job ideally should not be evaluated on the high end to overcome supply and demand pay challenges in the labour market.

We should not conduct job evaluations to justify the status quo, never start an evaluation, thinking we know the result before we start. We should not concentrate on the reporting relationship. For example, the executive assistant to the CEO may have the same hay points as the executive assistant to the VP of marketing, not because one may report to the CEO makes the job more important.

Another common error is evaluating the tools of the job. Secretaries in the past used typewriters, now they use computers, is the job worth more or less now?  I know, for example, that typewriters have no spell check function.

The Hay methodology is intended to benchmark jobs internationally using the same criteria; however it is the application of this methodology that poses challenges when it is fraught with some common blunders as discussed above.  What have been your experiences?

Denise Ali

Trust – A.W.O.L

istock_000000797943xsmallAs we develop and grow as a civilized society, one would think our humanity and respect for humanity would also progress. When we review all the positives and negatives, the net effect (according to media reports) may lead one to believe that there is a lot of efforts being exerted to serve our ego and greed, resulting in high crime rates and a general lack of respect for life.

In our work life, we have also managed to replicate this general social disposition where trust is being eroded and in its place tons and tons of documentation stored on hard-copy or in high priced data centers.

For trust to be evident in our organizations, we should have some commonly held ethical beliefs, mutual shared obligations, goals and objectives with internalized values and norms. How often do we hear words like “I can rely on Tom”, I can depend on Mary”? Reliability and dependability are the results of trust. How often do you hear, “Send me an email first”?  Our personal experiences with our colleagues help build our relationships and these increases our sense of trust. What does our trust assessment show when we test our own organizations?

Trust building is an intangible concept that does result in tangible outcomes. A significant amount of activity is undertaken by groups rather than individuals. Growth and wealth creation comes from diverse groups of people working together, sharing resources and developing the capacity to create the kind of associations they mutually desire. The ability of people to work together for a mutual benefit with a high quality of social interaction and trust is a business asset.

In high-trust work communities, because actions and expectations are based on shared common values and principles, the cost of doing business is lower. We would not need a long paper trail, and would not delay actions waiting for written sign off because a verbal indication is not good enough.

In the July-August 2009 Harvard Business Review, Beinhocker, Davis and Mendonca in an article entitled “The 10 trends you have to watch” noted that loss of trust for a individual company “leads to higher transaction costs, lower brand value and greater difficulty in attracting, retaining and managing talent”. At the extreme end, it means “boycotts, negative publicity and unwanted regulation”.

In our own backyard, the Trinidad Guardian reported on the 13th May 2009 that CLICO (Colonial Life Insurance Company) received one billion dollars out of an expected total of five billion from the Trinidad and Tobago Central Bank to meet its financial commitments on maturing products. I suppose this may at least qualify as a concern to the trust relationship between CLICO and its policy holders and this may even spill over to the rest of the insurance industry.

Compliance and regulations move to the spot light in cases where the state must spend money to set up and run complex rules-based systems to monitor these organizations. There may be an inverse relationship with internalization of norms and values and the need for rules. The less we hold common norms and values, the more we need rules to govern us.

Trust has been absent without leave for some time now and the current economic situation does not seem to signal its return at least not in the near future. I am seeing more documentation, more rules, more archived email folders and more time is being spent on covering one’s derriere.

What happened?

Denise Ali

Engaging Employees in a Downturn

Downturn or upturn, an engaged workforce is always a critical lead indicator to productivity and the bottom line. In a downturn however, it’s critical for the continued viability, productivity and success of the organization.
A downturn is a time of focusing on reviewing costs, improving efficiencies, product and service innovation and finding new ways of generating income.  Staff retention is critical and should not be taken for granted. Employees should want to stay with their company not because of the absence of a “pull factor” but because of the absence of a “push factor” and the existence of the happy “stay factor.”

The pull factor refers to the softening of the labour market within certain staff categories and industries with redundancies, resulting in less demand for staffing by other companies. The push factor refers to the times when employers are pushing their employees out the door for all the reasons employees cite for resigning.

Janice Andrews from the Nevada Business reported on the 10th February 2009 that Watson Wyatt, a leading consulting firm in their 2008/2009 WorkUSA Report found that companies benefit from a 26% higher employee productivity, lower turnover risk, and are more likely to attract top talent when their employees are engaged. The survey found that highly engaged employees are twice as likely to be top performers with 20% less absent days when compared to the less engaged employee population.

The term “engageable moments” was noted from the report recommendations and I absolutely love it. How do we identify an “engageable moment”? I often see many of these moments but line managers are sometimes so caught up in day to day operations, that these high return moments are not identified much less capitalized on. It is about seeing beyond our nose, fighting myopia and seeing the next couple of chess moves that may take place if we make a certain decision.

The survey data shows that engagement starts off high with new employees but often decreases by over 9% within the first year of employment. Hence, there are numerous opportunities in the first year to counteract that decline. It is important to note as well that at the interviewing stage, the interviewer should not paint an unrealistic picture of the job or the company, since this image may soon be thwarted based on the new recruit’s real experience. Honesty is the best policy?.

The organization is encouraged to have a comprehensive on boarding and orientation programme with specific on the job training and not rely on training by osmosis. The new recruit should be fully aware of their scorecards or deliverables and be given frequent feedback on their progress. Apart from the policies, procedures, work deliverables, the new recruit also needs to get a feel for the company’s cultures with the norms and values. This may include simple bits of advice like where to park, where to eat lunch, always say “good morning or good afternoon”, or always acknowledge someone when passing them in the corridor or in the washroom etc. These bits of advice are necessary when working with multiple generations. A buddy system might be a good idea to assist in the cultural immersion that comes from passing ideas on to new employees.

Employees always appreciate involvement and meaningful communication. It is advisable in a downturn, to explain the company’s plan, direction and to seek ideas from the staff using a bottom up approach. Crises provide the leadership with unique opportunities to assert themselves and further build their brand equity thereby increasing the commitment from the workforce.

The company may also seek to provide un-intimidating ways to solicit feedback from staff on burning issues, questions, assumptions and or complaints with the intention of responding and dispelling conspiracy theories and setting records straight.

If an organization experienced redundancies, there might be a great deal of survivor’s guilt to address. In the absence of redundancies, some companies would have implemented a recruitment freeze; this may increase the workloads of the existing staff. An idea maybe to offer time off during non-peak periods to those employees who have increased work loads. Companies should explore leveraging workplace flexibility options as a non-cash way to illustrate staff appreciation.

As minimal as it may be, reserve funds to serve as bonuses and or incentives or personalized gifts for innovative type rewards. A programme may also be developed to solicit ides on cost savings and or income generating from staff and reward them for implemented ideas. This is a time where business maybe a bit slow so organizations should use the down time to re-group, re-tool and or re-train.

When implementing programmes aimed at building employee engagement, we should focus our efforts on the tier of employees below the fully engaged tier. The fully engaged ones are already working to their maximum capacity, we need to concentrate on gently nudging the fence sitters. Partially engaged and disengaged employees are always a threat to the fully engaged ones in terms of limiting top performance. An organization works as a team, with interdependencies built into it, hence poor or mediocre performance flows through the channels.

Janice Andrews from the Nevada Business Magazine quoted Ilene Gochman at Watson Wyatt as saying: “Improving employee engagement will help drive business results in the long run by improving commitment to corporate goals and generating exceptional individual performance and productivity”.

Employee engagement is such a compound concept and the prescription to achieve it is different for different companies, but I contend that the bones of an engagement strategy are built on common values / ideas of equity, honesty, openness, transparency, integrity, growth, development, respect, recognition, appreciation, involvement and communication. The company can then dissect their organization into various relevant demographics to help craft the prescription that will yield positive engagement results.

Denise Ali

Intrapreneurship – A Path to Innovation

The term “intrapreneurship” was coined by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot, although the concept existed in different forms prior to Pinchot’s book.

This term has gained in popularity over the years. In 1990, Rosabeth Moss Kanter discussed the need for intrapreneurial development as a key factor in ensuring company survival in her book, “When Giants Learn to Dance”.  In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary included the term to its dictionary, defining it as “a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”.

Intrapreneurship is a strategy for stimulating innovation by leveraging off corporate entrepreneurial talent. As Human Resource Professionals, what can we do to support this strategy, should it be adopted by our respective businesses?

This strategy requires empowered employees who are comfortable with being change agents, suggesting new ideas and promoting their execution. The environment must be encouraging with a degree of freedom to innovate.

A key element of intrapreneurship is the ability of the company to support, with financial and technical resources with expedited decision-making processes. The company should be comfortable to break with tradition to re-invent itself if necessary. The leadership must also demonstrate an appreciation for this strategy and really actively listen to the various ideas that surface. Constructive failure and big victories should both be embraced. The company should cut the red tape and bureaucracy and hasten the process from idea to execution. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. talked about this in his book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance”, which described an IBM that can also be agile and reactive to change even though it was large company.

These tough economic times force us to be inventive. We must create a culture that supports innovation and takes calculated risks.  We must listen, allow failures, reward successes, share credit, be willing to break tradition and precedents and be ready for a renaissance if necessary.

According to Gifford Pinchot’s out-of-print book “Intrapreneuring, Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become and Entrepreneur:”
1.    Do any job to make your project work regardless of job description
2.    Share credit wisely
3.    It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission
4.    Come to work each day willing to be fired
5.    Ask for advice before asking for resources
6.    Follow intuition, build a team with best people
7.    Build quiet support for the idea
8.    Never bet on a race unless you are running in it
9.    Be true to your goals but realistic about ways to achieve them
10.    Honour your sponsors.

Some of the above may have you wondering about this concept. “Come to work each day willing to be fired”, not sure if my heart can take this emotional roller coaster of highs and lows?.

If this intrapreneurship concept is successful in your company, how do you compensate the person or people behind it and then how to retain them? Depending on the success of this, the employee/s may just form their own company and then transition to being entrepreneurs.

This requires a sound, transparent incentive system.

EVA™ maybe a consideration as a way to reward employees. EVA™ is a measure of a company’s financial performance based on residual wealth calculated by deducting the cost of capital from its operating profit.

Steve Jobs, C.E.O of Apple has described the development of the Macintosh computer as an intrapreneurial venture within Apple.

3M has reaped the rewards of intrapreneurism. They have a standard policy that allows all employees to work on developing their own business ideas at least 15% of the time they are at work. 3M’s post it notes and its entry into the health care industry are results of pursuing intrapreneurism.

It is most often the case, only when we are faced with adversity, then we are forced into greatness.  This applies to companies and to individuals. Successful entrepreneurs have said that the day they got fired was the main turning point in their lives, but they probably would have still been in the “rat race” if they were not forced to seek alternative sources of income.

Denise Ali

Innovation is a Must in This Guava Season

guavaIn this Guava season (a local Trinidad saying for hard economic times); we really need to be innovative and creative in our approaches to income or revenue replacement, operational efficiencies and smart cost reduction.

Let us be real… there is only so much cost reduction a company can engage in, as after a break even point, it starts to eat into the revenue generation line. Operational efficiencies, as well, have a point where the service or product maybe compromised due to pre-occupation with cutting corners, maybe even resulting in more cost down the road.

We should be encouraged to look at the revenue generating line in the income statement and work backwards. What we need is to see the opportunities in our current reality and assess our resources and capabilities to determine how, and to what extent we can take advantage of these opportunities. This resource based view maybe most practical even when resources are scarce.

The beautiful thing about innovation is that it may not be bounded by current constraints, resources or otherwise. In that case, the sky is the limit, so let the dreamers dream big, and let the practical folk shape, cut and mold the idea into reality.

Does this contradict my “work backwards” approach?

Innovation is an important avenue for companies to explore as a possible source of competitive advantage. The link between innovation and competitive advantage depends on a number of things. The harder it is for competitors to imitate the innovation, the more likely it is to lead to a sustainable competitive advantage.

Innovations that also reflect our current market realities are also more likely to be successful. Innovations that leverage off readily available capabilities or technologies may be more successful in a shorter time frame. One runs the risk of spending so much money on research and design before a “Johnny come lately”  improves on what was done by an iota of effort, cashing in “big time.”

Consistent with the balanced scorecard methodology, the top line is the positive financial results we all want, followed by the customer perspective. We achieve positive results when we satisfy our customers or exceed their expectations. We are able to deliver on that because we may have superior internal processes and systems, some of which maybe a result of the ideas that result from the foundation people perspective.

As a HR professional, what does this mean for us? Innovation and creativity are a function of the range of people diversity that exists in our companies. Do we embrace diversity, harness it and leverage it? Or are our systems, procedures and performance management systems so structured that we force fit our diverse Caribbean people into our own image and likeness?

Maybe we do it and we are not even aware that we do it.

When we examine our orientation systems, our performance management and training and development systems, these would inform the degree to which we embrace variety and reward conformity. This may be a time when we need to tap into our human capital diversity as a foundation source of competitive advantage. Ideas come from people, so if want more and better ideas, we need to nurture our people.

Diversity provides the potential for greater innovation and creativity. Diversity refers to age, colour, race, disability, education, ethnicity, nationality, family status, gender, sexual orientation, generation, language, life experiences, lifestyle, religion, physical characteristics and so much more.

Inclusion is what enables organisations to realise the business benefits of this potential. According to the Society of Human Resource Management in the U.S “ Inclusion describes the extent to which each person in an organisation feels welcomed, respected, supported and valued as a team member. Inclusion is a two-way accountability; each person must grant inclusion to others and accept inclusion from others. In such an environment, every member will tend to feel more engaged and more enabled to full contribute toward the organisation’s business results. This requires people from diverse backgrounds to communicate and work together and understand each others’ needs and perspectives.”

First off, we should understand and assess the range of diversity that exists in our respective companies and then prepare a business case for diversity ensuring there is a constant alignment to key business objectives. The assessment will influence the design of the intervention. What percentage of women do you have in leadership positions? What generations are in leadership roles?

We received complaints in my own company that the new employees don’t say “good morning” or have basic manners and no respect for tenured people. These comments came from the Baby Boomers and the Generation Xers about the millenials.

What percentage of your workforce is above fifty years old? These are a few questions / comments to look at for the assessment activity.

We must also cite examples of where companies have benefited from their diversity networks. Communication is a simple element that is heavily impacted by similarities and or differences among the various stakeholders. Frito Lay (PepsiCo) has an extensive diversity and inclusion programme with an active employee communication network. They introduced the successful guacamole chip; this was influenced by their Mexican employees’ feedback.

The support from the top for inclusion must be unwavering and he or she must be the chief communication officer. The communication plan should use a stakeholder approach to ensure the communication is specific and pointed to the audience, the message, the messenger, the mode of communication and the frequency of communication.

The diversity initiative design process should address metrics and diversity training. The metrics must be linked to the changes wanted which is linked to the assessment results. Accountability for progress, results, and its link to business objectives must be built into the intervention. The training must be designed to close the gaps that are subsequently recognised. The training should also include the on boarding process for new employees. The intervention should be simple and meaningful. For creativity and innovation to flourish, people must be allowed to fail within parameters and not be daunted by adversity.

Our policies must all be in alignment and not contradict each other. For example, we can’t say we want to attract the millennial generation and then have no support for work life programmes. Or our sexual discrimination policy only speaks to women being sexually discriminated against, when men are also in scope of this happening. All the HR elements must work together in unison to yield quality outcomes.

Another option we can explore during this guava season is the idea of “Intrapreneurship”.  I will write about this in my next article!

Denise Ali

Maintaining Organisation Wellness in Uncertain Economic Times

As the global economy slows, persons at leadership levels will be tested to create stability and demonstrate unwavering strength above the uncertain business undercurrents. Uncertainty surrounds not only the downturn’s depth and duration, though these are decidedly big unknowns, but also the very future of the global economic order which, until recently was characterized by free-flowing capital and trade and by our ever-deepening economic ties. 

The issues facing Trinidad and Tobago organisations are quite similar to those issues identified in the international arena with maybe a twist of weighting and emphasis. 

The Plymouth Jazz Festival has been cancelled where the loss of sponsors, the poor economy and lack of interest among travellers from the U.S. and Canada were cited as main reasons. Our local carnival mas bands noted the decrease in masqueraders this year compared to last year. 

Our Government had to render assistance to a major financial organisation that experienced cash flow challenges. Trinidad has been experiencing lay offs in finance, construction, engineering firms and maybe soon in Government. Unions have been getting involved to ensure terminated employees receive adequate severance packages. 

Organisations have reduced their budgets significantly for 2009 resulting in hiring freezes, minimal to zero salary increases and or bonuses.

At Guardian Holdings Ltd. (GHL), we have had to curb our spending as well, we applied a scalpel approach to determining which items would get reduced funding. Penny wise and pound foolish decisions will mark the spot for the inexperienced leaders who are too short sighted without considering the long term impact. We used a highly collaborative approach to scale back our budgets for 2009 ensuring our relevant stakeholders were consulted prior to budget approvals for 2009. This time consuming process ensures adequate understanding and buy-in. 

GHL maintains its goal to become the regional wealth management and protection champion. This is driven more than ever before by our belief that the quality of our people and systems are excellent lead indicators to future business performance and results. In any financial crisis, an effective, efficient, engaged workforce is our single greatest competitive advantage. 

Our 2009 plan is built around innovatively driving employee engagement as a means of delivering on our strategic plan within budgetary restrictions in the context of an uncertain economic climate.  A myopic mentality can be self-defeating. We must refrain from making knee-jerk decisions and instead carefully consider a strategic human capital framework. 

We will touch on our plans for communication, training and development, performance management, reward, recognition and innovation, recruitment, values, ethics and culture, employee assistance support and cost-effective work life programmes. 


This downturn is an opportunity for many leaders to build brand, trust and credibility among their team and their employees. During this financial crisis, strong leadership is critical to keep the people focused and motivated against all odds. Now is not the time to crumble under the pressure of a falling share price, employees need a steady hand with a clear focus. Communication must be a key ingredient in this main course and be actively managed as a matter of urgency. 

We prepared a stakeholder analysis and devised a comprehensive communication plan that tailored key messages to relevant stakeholders specifying the frequency, mode of communication and who is responsible for delivering the messages. Early, honest, on time and concise messages will serve to dispel rumours. 

The messages are about how the financial crisis developed and its impact on Guardian Holdings, our prudent spending plan for 2009, appreciation and thanks for hard work and commitment. Proactive communication and feedback will continue alongside all the initiatives for 2009. We must engage the staff and hear their concerns, fears and comments and respond quickly and honestly. 

We maintain that going back to basics of treating people fairly with respect go a long way in gaining understanding, buy-in and commitment to weather the financial storm. 

We have our Guardian In Touch programme which is a tool for employees to forward their comments, questions and or concerns to the leadership. We also have a blog set up on our intranet where employees can post questions directly to our CEO. 

Leaders must demonstrate a strong concern for their people through open sincere communication, inexpensive tokens of appreciation, recognition of hard work, increased flexibility and other such non cash ways. 


Our reduced training budget has forced us to devise innovative ways to close training gaps at minimal cost but still maintain quality outcomes.

We have substituted online training for expensive off site or class room training. 

We have tapped into our ELM database to identify potential trainers based on their skills inventory so they can populate our new internal faculty of trainers. 

We must spend precious dollars on mandatory training like fraud, anti money laundering and Health and Safety training to remain compliant. 

We have also launched a coaching programme using internal coaches to help improve the performance of selected employees. We are about to launch our Guardian Angel programme that pairs a new employee with a Guardian Angel. It is specifically aimed at reducing the new employee turnover (1-5 years) by having an all encompassing orientation programme and decreasing the learning curve. 

We are capitalising on free training from institutions like National Insurance Board, Board of Inland Revenue and Central Bank. 

We suggest that if one should need an external trainer, they can seek to partner with other organisations that may also benefit from the external resource and thus share the cost among them. 

We will maintain our process of analysing appraisals, developing proper training needs assessments with targeted training plans linked to performance outcomes, all aimed at decreasing leakage of training dollars and improving performance outcomes. 


We are committed to bolstering our Performance Management system (balanced scorecard) by clearly linking pay to performance.

We have a pilot programme where we are paying monthly incentives in place of the annual bonus for one division. We are working on a forced ranking system by which to easily identify better performers and employees in need of assistance or poor performers. The top 5% performers, middle 65% and the bottom 30% will be identified within each business unit. We have placed a vigorous emphasis on identifying future leaders, high potential employees and key human resources and in the segmentation of the workforce into these pools. This process would ensure that the right people are being rewarded and recognized for the value they add and trained and developed for a variety of organizational opportunities.

The poor performers, depending on the performance issue, will be provided with any necessary remedial training, employee assistance counselling, and performance improvement plans etc. and should these interventions over a specified period of time not result in improved performance will be subject to our progressive disciplinary policy, finding a right fit position or exit. These statistics will also inform our succession planning initiatives. 

We are also committed to selecting the right or valid performance measures that would track performance outcomes but we are careful not to be inflexible where innovation can be hindered. We focus more on outcomes as opposed to activities, hence allowing for empowerment, game-changing or disruptive advancement. Focusing on outcomes allows the employee to think about their role, the why and the how when making their contribution to the organisation. These measures and targets span both individual and team objectives. All objectives are cascaded from our overall strategy map which helps employees have a direct line of sight of how their results feed into the whole. Objectives should have stretch targets, be aligned across divisions and be clear and actionable. 

We encourage healthy dialogue and comprehensive documentation as they are key contributors to a robust performance management system. We are committed to training all users on the performance management system. Any rewards paid out for top performance will be well worth it, hence decreasing any bonus money leakage.


Under the rewards umbrella, we will not awarding our normal range of increases and bonuses this year. This message will be accompanied by a comprehensive communication plan. Our bonus pool is smaller than last year and hence there needs to be much stronger differentiation in compensation schemes among key employees. We are already working on the increased rigor of our performance management system. 

We plan to ensure all our employees understand all their benefits provided by the company as well as those benefits offered by National Insurance. They can maximise usage of all the benefits available to them. We are also reviewing the demographics of the employee population to re-affirm our mix of rewards.

We plan to have our CEO issue personalised letters of congratulations, company tokens to star performers in the absence of funds to purchase gifts. At the end of the day, a pat on the back, comment on the great job, a simple thank you and the careful use of positive feedback may also serve to provide intrinsic rewards. Specific, timely verbal approval may help energise individuals. A manager may be able to shape behaviour into successively closer approximations to the ideal thereby resulting in a stream of successful activities and ultimately a positive outcome. Praise is sometimes under-rated. 

All our employees across the hierarchy are forced to be innovative to do more with less. We will definitely reward such creativity where better and improved ways of doing things are developed. We plan to conduct internal conflict management training that will allow for healthy discourse, win-win solutions which may unearth innovative solutions. 


As people get laid off, the job market maybe softening in some industries and in certain staff categories, this may work in our favour when we are recruiting key talent. 

However, we have instituted a soft recruitment freeze where only our income generating positions or mission critical positions are being replaced as opposed to the support positions. This is a precautionary measure since there is so much uncertainty about the depth and duration of this financial crisis and retrenching employees is not an option for us. 

Should we source a star candidate for one of our hard to fill positions, we will recruit. The downside to this freeze is that employees maybe asked to do more work when there are no replacements, although we pay a flexible allowance this does not compensate for time away from family. The additional accountability, expanded roles and multiple roles may lead to work overload and work stress and this is certainly not a sustainable position.  We are monitoring these instances quite closely. 

We are also tapping into our retired workforce to lend some assistance on a contract basis as an alternative option to hiring a permanent employee during this time. 


Our relationship with our Employee Assistance Provider allows us great flexibility. We are thankful for their support thus far and we are continuing with this relationship into 2009. Our employees may be experiencing uncertainty about their jobs; spousal incomes are uncertain, increased cost of living and fear of the unknown.  We have a mobile human resource representative who visits all the locations to address any employee concerns with their relevant team leaders and or managers. 

We are committed to providing cost effective flexible work options where possible to improve the quality of the employees’ life. Examples include flexitime, telework and 9-80 options. These may serve to differentiate the employee experience and enhance our value proposition as an employer especially within an environment marked by highly congested traffic on the roadways. 

We are reviewing our claims loss ratio, our absenteeism rates and performance ratings to further inform our wellness initiatives that may not require significant funds to implement but provide ample gain.


Our culture, ethics and values will guide and direct the manner in which we will achieve all of the above. We must hold strong to our core values of integrity, growth, serving people and quality. We must be humble, honest, and fair and treat people with respect.

Core values are the behavioral bedrock of any society and or organization. It offers the basics that are so simple, enduring and the source of all accomplishment. We have developed some guiding principles under the banner of, uncompromising integrity, commitment to performance and a thirst for leading and driving change.  The guiding principles are designed to bring about greater clarity as to the kinds of behavior that we expect of every Guardian person and exemplify the true Guardian spirit. 

Denise Ali


Leadership – Lost Along the Way

All those leadership books I ever read speak about the negative effects of having a strong ego while in a leadership position and the importance of building a strong capable team for succession. I often wonder if actual leaders have ever read these books, because so many of them focus on the “I”, “me”, “self” and “my”. Leaders feed their egos with accomplishments, achievements and the failure of others. When the failure falls squarely in our yard, we are without words.

An effective leader should start with being a genuinely good person with sincere goals and aspirations and all else will fall into place. I think in the business world, they call this quality having good business ethics? As soon as we start to think we can short circuit the process to achieve quick success, the success is usually not sustainable and will come crashing down.

There are a number of factors that impact a newly appointed company President or CEO. They have to serve a range of stakeholders from staff, to suppliers, shareholders, customers to board members. Their challenge is balancing all these interests but at the same time ensuring the core values are being practised.

Sometimes, the pressure to deliver maximum profits with minimal resources is too much and knees start shaking and values start getting compromised one at a time. You think you no longer have the luxury of time to work with an Executive on achieving deliverables; instead you use shame and embarrassment to propel action with the risk of eroding the relationship. Bit by bit, no one Executive wants to be the weekly shame recipient so a blame game, and a passing the buck game develop. Not long after, a highly collaborative culture marked by mutual respect has turned to petty blame passing culture where everyone keeps every piece of documentation since trust no longer exists.

One of our local Trinidadian politicians once said “Politics has a morality of its own”. I sometimes wonder if this holds true for company leaders as well.

During this financial crisis, strong leadership is critical to keep the people focused and motivated against all odds. Now is not the time to crumble under the pressure of a falling share price, as employees need a steady hand with a clear focus. Now is not the time to deny employees from attending free training saying that attendance means time lost productivity and money wasted. Penny wise and pound foolish decisions will mark the spot for the inexperienced leaders who want to be everything to the wrong people.

Leaders must demonstrate a strong concern for their people during this time not by showering gifts, but through open sincere communication, inexpensive tokens of appreciation, recognition of hard work using the intranet, increased flexibility and other such non cash ways. People should not be taken advantage of by their employers during this time of recruitment and salary freezes.

Too often, a lack of humility, hasty decision making, a dismissive attitude and an intimidating manner serve to define new leaders. These leaders must find themselves back to themselves and re-start the game by revisiting their core values.

Leaders must be confident in who they are, be confident in what they know and in what they don’t know and be willing to learn and develop others and let the technocrats do what they do best, which is their own jobs.

Denise Ali