The Office Blend Blog

Leadership Development is All About Layering

joel-jasmin-forestbird-506732-unsplash
Photo by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird on Unsplash

The challenge of developing leaders can loom as a daunting prospect.

Contributors aren’t prepared to lead others when the opportunity arises, and the cascading effects quickly compound. One reason that might explain the predicament, is an underlying belief that early career experiences and leadership roles are completely distinct entities. In reality, many of the skills required for success at various career levels, overlap and remain critical over time. If we could approach development as a “layered” phenomenon — building core strengths over a longer period of time — we could take a fresh approach to development.

Leadership readiness doesn’t materialize as the result of completing an inflexible, structured development program. Becoming a capable leader is an evolution — a co-mingling of training, coaching, and exposure to the types of challenge that offer the opportunity for both insight and growth.

As discussed in the research of Zenger/Folkman, we have made a habit of unwisely delaying when developing leaders. While we often begin managing others in our 30’s — focused leadership development may not begin in earnest until much later. This creates a precarious skill gap, which can leave an organization both under-powered and unprepared. In fact, we should begin nurturing future leaders much sooner, reinforcing key skills acquired along the way. This would address the “layering” of skills necessary to build a strong potential leader bench. Identifying potential leaders in this manner, has a number of key strategic advantages; the first of which is improved succession planning.

Additional research discussed at HBR, illustrates this layered dynamic quite clearly. Some of the skills required to progress through levels of management, may be more stable than previously considered. While specific skill emphasis may change with level — certain skill sets remain front and center for the long-haul. Thinking strategically, for example, is a perfect case in point as it is often associated with high level leaders. But, as discussed by the researchers, “…there are a set of skills that are critical to you throughout your career. And if you wait until you’re a top manager to develop strategic perspective, it will be too late.”

Testing developing capabilities with techniques such as stretch assignments (aligned with organizational initiatives and coupled with their current role) should also serve as an integral part in development. This offers opportunities test skills on the “open road”. However, within modern organizations, retaining talent longer-term, becomes a critical obstacle. Here, transparency and a mutual exchange agreement become crucial. We should consider making a commitment to those with considerable promise openly (such as “Tours of duty” discussed in Reid Hoffman’s, The Alliance) — offering the stability they need to hunker down and become emotionally invested.

Here are few other early development topics we could consider:

  • Delegating. Often a sticky subject, delegating confidently demands that we strike a delicate balance between time and control. If we don’t allow others the opportunity to handle the tasks at hand, we risk squelching motivation and our own potential to lead.
  • Persuasive Communication. Becoming an effective communicator remains a core skill set throughout our work lives. This becomes especially critical as we move toward leadership positions.
  • Conflict Management. The capability of facing difficult or uncomfortable challenges, head on — is critical. Developing this skill often takes time and mentored practice to master.
  • Awareness of Functional Links. Organizations are comprised of many moving parts. Becoming keenly aware of the inter-dependencies is a critical skill as we move toward a leadership roles.
  • Alliance Building. Leading is essentially knowing how to collaborate and build positive, lasting bonds with those that around you. If you cannot inspire energy toward a meaningful goal, your leadership “quotient” is limited, at best.
  • Global Awareness. In this day and age, leaders need to consider global reach. Developing a honed industry-wide perspective, is vital to move forward.
  • Idea Management and Intrapreneurship. Team contributors desire opportunities to explore their ideas and spread their wings. Having the ability to identify, evaluate, champion and execute the ideas of the team, is critical.

What are the challenges your organization faces with leader development?

Please note: This post previously appeared at LinkedIn. It was time to share this content here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Your Network Should Be a Community

simon-shim-759674-unsplash

If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house. – Henry Minztberg

I have spent the last ten years working remotely. I have been fortunate. My interest in writing about work life, has provided the opportunity to connect with a set of contributors that I only dreamed of. On the surface of things, you might think this solves every network-related issue that I would ever encounter. Yet, that would be a false assumption. When it comes time to hash out an idea, I often find myself in a quandary. Who might be willing to offer feedback? Who has the time? Sadly, my living-large network, was showing signs of distress.

We’ve all heard the advice that a network is vital to work and career. Yet for most of us, the potential members of that network — and what they should bring is unclear. We all seem to have at the bare minimum, a loosely connected group of we might label as a “network”. That network may alert you to important developments in your line of work, events or even job opportunities relevant to your path. But, what if that network isn’t supplying what you need to grow and evolve as a contributor?

I believe the difference lies in the notion of a network vs. a community.

In the opening pages of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a small town in Pennsylvania which on the face of things, had defied all medical odds. The presence of heart disease was nearly absent in its population under the age of 65 — something quite unusual — and no one was able to explain this peculiarity. Examining diet, exercise and genetics of Rosetans offered no clues. They smoked heavily and ingested a fat laden diet. Family members living in other areas did not enjoy the same health outcomes. What was going on?

The identified explanation was surprising, even shocking. However, in retrospect it is an element that should have been in the forefront all along. It was the protective environment — which influenced health and well being. It was the very culture of Roseto itself. The built community that supported its residents, that made all the difference.

Huh.

In light of this, you may need to re-evaluate that network, disassemble portions and include needed aspects of a community that will help you thrive.

You see a network — is not a community.

There are conditions that might alert you that your network is falling short.
Here are a just few:

  • Ideas are no longer central. There should be opportunities to not only learn new things, but the opportunity to present and evaluate your own ideas. If the latter element is missing, you are essentially standing still.
  • A lack of sensed commitment to your well-being. Social media might facilitate large career-focused networks. However, large networks do not guarantee a group of individuals that support you. While networks should be mutually beneficial, if the focus is exclusively “transactional”, an important quality is lost.
  • A safety net. Communities should offer a sense of psychologically safety. If safety isn’t present, it isn’t likely you’ll share the problems or challenges that make or break a career path.
  • A lack of honest feedback. None of us would find it easy to grow, without feedback or advice. Functioning in an echo chamber — with only our own thoughts and opinions — isn’t won’t suffice.
  • The belief criterion. It is imperative that you surround yourself with those that you feel truly feel believe in you. If you sense this is missing, consider altering your line-up. If not, you may hear their lack of confidence reflected in your own thoughts.

Look to your network to also serve as a community of advocates.

As human beings we need this.

It is not an unreasonable request.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Fuel for Your Work Life: The Top Ten of 2018

nicate-lee-588514-unsplash
Photo by Nicate Lee on Unsplash

I’m more than a little obsessed with identifying reading (and listening) material, that can strengthen your work life. I also realize there is a lot out there. So, I thought you might find a curated list helpful.

Here are 10 of my absolute favorites from 2018:

  1. The 10X Lesson, Seth Godin.
  2. How to Identify and Tell Your Most Powerful Stories, Nancy Duarte.
  3. Belief is Your Next Wicked Leadership Problem. Here’s How to Solve It, Neil Bedwell.
  4. How to Find the Person to Help You Get Ahead at Work, Carla Harris, TED Talks.
  5. The Business Case for Engagement That All CEOs Must Read, Benjamin Schneider.
  6. Vacation is a Poor Substitute for Leisure, Paul Millerd.
  7. The Disrupt Yourself Podcast, Whitney Johnson.
  8. A Blinding Flash of the Obvious, Tom Peters, Insights by Stanford School of Business.
  9. How Winning Organizations Last 100 Years, Alex Hill, Liz Mellon & Jules Goddard.
  10. Resilience is About How We Recharge: Not How We Endure, Shaun Achor & Michelle Gielan.

Recommended book* pick of the month. Why this pick? You might think that marketing isn’t applicable to your work life, but you would be absolutely wrong! Seth Godin explains why — in no uncertain terms.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

You Should Answer These Work Life Questions Before 2019

georgia-de-lotz-508737-unsplash

There are as many work life journeys — as there are contributors. All paths can be fulfilling for the right person. However, feeling comfortable with our work lives essentially boils down to one enduring dynamic: what we invest (time, stress, emotional investment) vs. the outcomes (pay, recognition, joy, feelings of accomplishment, sense of community) that emerge.

It is the exchange that is vital. If there isn’t balance, we might begin to feel exhausted. Drained of motivation. Frustrated. Fast forward and become completely disengaged. The beginning of the end.

So, I’ll pose the following questions:

Is the exchange agreement of your work life working for you?

If not, what needs to shift to bring some measure of balance?

What would you like to see more of in your work life in 2019?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Managing a Team? Turn the Small Changes Into Small Wins

annie-spratt-294450-unsplash

I’m a huge fan of small wins when it comes to organizational change. (I believe Kotter is as well. Read his iconic article here). I’ve watched small wins reignite hope and forge forward progress.

I’m also a fan of Seth Godin. (If you know me well, this isn’t a much of a secret.) Not a professor of organization theory, or a psychologist — he has an uncanny ability to distill a semester’s worth of readings concerning organizational topics into a few profound paragraphs. I suspect he has an innate sense that allows him to fully understand human beings.

Here is an except from a recent blog post:

Chronic
The worst kind of problem is precisely the kind of problem we’re not spending time worrying about. It’s not the cataclysmic disaster, the urgent emergency or the five-alarm fire. No, the worst kinds of problems are chronic. They grow slowly over time and are more and more difficult to solve if we wait…Seth Godin

You see it is the small things — those micro-events that repeat over and over again — that define an organization. It is the small things that speak volumes about a brand, to clients, customers and employees. Conversely, it is the small things that can become chronic points of contention. They are the overlooked bad habits of your team or organization. The less than stellar experiences that leave your organization weakened.

It is also the small things that offer us a tremendous opportunity to build trust and devotion among our customers & clients. These seemingly small events, can offer the possibility of growth and connection. They allow an organization to build a more worthy foundation. A stronger future.

My opinion concerning the smalls things isn’t random. It developed after years of observing the repeated ineffectiveness of top-down organizational change efforts. There are clear reasons that 70% of transformation efforts fail. Deeply connecting people to change is one looming abyss that we must consider. Why should they invest — if they feel they aren’t a part of the solution?

The small things are not a detached, heavily engineered project that must be monitored, poked and prodded, to affect change. They are simple. They are owned by your team. Those that know the work.

These small things are a gift.

These small things — can become the small wins that matter.

The wins that drive positive change.

I challenge you (your team, your department) to identify 5 “small things” that would make a huge difference to your customers, your employees, your patients. Find a way to transact these opportunities into a re-imagined reality.

Build that new habit, which changes the entire game.

You see, the small things — really aren’t small at all.

Have you applied this technique? Share your experience with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Your Job is a Poor Fit: What to Do While You Wait For a Better Opportunity

hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplash
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

It is not uncommon to find ourselves in a role — or an organization — not adequately aligned with our  work life goals. Indeed, no role is perfect. However, what if it has become crystal clear that the fit just doesn’t seem to be there? (More about 6 signs of a poor fit here.) We can’t simply pick up and leave — and in most cases no one would advise this. So, the looming question then becomes: What should you do while you wait for your next (and hopefully improved) opportunity?

Consider Jamie, an experienced professional who has re-entered the workforce after a few years on the sidelines. The organization she recently joined is not aligned with the experience amassed in her core sector and she is feels incredibly challenged to keep up with the daunting learning curve. She realized that this first step back into full-time work wasn’t going to be perfect a fit. However, the on-going daily stress is challenging her resolve to stick things out for the longer haul. She knows this step is crucial, but feels she is quickly fading.

Of course, a poor fit isn’t reserved for seasoned professionals.

Jessica, a recent university graduate, entered the world of work with high expectations concerning what she might accomplish in her first year on the job. Active in clubs and organizations related to both her training and intended path, she enjoyed a high level of both autonomy and respect. However, in the real world of work — she is faced with the challenge of proving herself once again. Her manager clearly isn’t open to new ideas from a less established employee and she is struggling to even gain meeting invites. Frustrated and dejected, she toys with the idea of moving on to greener pastures.

Both situations are common — and potentially devastating. Having a heart-to-heart with yourself is often number one on the agenda. Often you must embrace the fact that this happens to many and does eventually resolve. Learning from the situation can offer strategies going forward.

Jill Katz Founder & CHRO at Assemble HR Consulting, shares this advice: “You would be surprised how often people feel stuck in their own role”. Jill who has led HR for several brands, including Macy’s and Calvin Klein continues, ” As we move into a world where personal and professional goals are blending — it is more important to get in touch with what we want — how to get it and how to manage the interim. One critical strategy is to be highly candid with a direct supervisor during the interview process and every week thereafter, to ensure the communication is fluid and open. More than not, these frustrations correlate with this process not occurring.”

In most cases, a combination of strategies can help us move forward effectively.
Here are a few to consider:

  • Get real. Expectations can be a real bear to deal with, especially when you’ve over-extended an idealized vision of the near future. If you’ve realized that you miscalculated a role’s potential or there were promises made that couldn’t possibly be met, you may find that a “come to reality” discussion with yourself may be in order. Clarify what you can — and cannot — accomplish career-wise in this role and emphasize the positives. Look for “smalls wins” that will feed your workplace soul.
  • Chill & give it time. Being impetuous is not a great virtue within the broader context of a career plan. If you are new to a role or organization, for example, give things at least 3-4 months to establish. This allows time to gain an understanding about the ways things work and for your manager and colleagues to learn your strengths. A career is not like microwaveable popcorn — things take time. If you’ve been with an organization for a time, you know how things can change and things can resolve for the better.
  • Look for an inspiring project. Organization work on many fronts. Seek a project with an inspiring mission, that might help build your connection to the organization and those within it. Staying 100% engrossed in work you do not connect with, is a miserable experience.
  • Glean what you can. If you can’t move into the right role, make a commitment to learn something valuable. You could seek inspiring individuals that might contribute to your development. For example, there could be a colleague well-versed in a skill of knowledge realm, that would be advantageous to your career.
  • Take the time to focus on people. Jill point out that, “Regardless of the subject matter, building relationships will always help to drive a career forward. In moments of stand-still, maximize relationships, get to know others on a more human level by offering time and assistance. This will pay off in the end when new teams are formed and new opportunities become open in the future.” These formed bonds could carry you through a difficult impasse.
  • If all else fails, consider short-term “survival” goals. If you find yourself barely hanging on, setting shorter-term goals can help. If overwhelmed or have lost your patience, focus on getting through the week. Then the next week. Thinking longer-term may be counter-productive.

Being in a less than perfect role, doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot continue to move forward. It simply means that you must change the lens — and utilize the time in front of you in ways that you may have not previously expected.

Of course, I hope that a better fit is right ahead of you.

Do you have a “poor fit” strategy? Share it with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

How Letting Go (of Goals) Can Help Your Work Life

quotes-about-moving-on-inspirational-quotes-about-moving-on

Most of us are challenged to let go of expectations within our our work lives.

We might bemoan the collaborations that didn’t prove fertile — or the client that got away. We are taught in no uncertain terms, to “stick with things” and to not “give up”. But, I’ve also seen this strategy backfire and cause a great deal of stress.

As a coach, I’ve see this affect many types of contributors, from those new to the workforce, to seasoned CEOs and business owners. On some level the unfulfilled expectations that we set for ourselves concerning goals and even people, can get in the way of a more fulfilling work life.

Inevitably, the elements that we value the most — cause us the most trouble and heartache.

Big, audacious goals are often touted as a cornerstone of our work lives, on literally every social media channel you may encounter. (Some advice here, on how to set them wisely for your team.) We are encouraged not only to set goals, but to live them with each and every breath we draw. I’m good with goals and we all need them. However, just like the battery that feeds our favorite tech device — goals have a “life span”. They reach a state, where they may no longer be viable or serve as a meaningful motivator. How this affects our state of mind is something we should pause and note.

People also cycle into our work lives and then leave us, in many cases for good reason. There are expectations attached, as well — and not all of these might be fulfilled. We (or they) might have changed somehow or circumstances influenced that outcome. However, this can also cause us distress. Sometimes our time with them may be drawing to a close and it is difficult to accept. We may simply not be ready to move on, or what we wanted from the relationship has not come to pass.

This all requires energy and “headspace”. Yet, our attention cannot be infinitely divided. Research has shown that our minds burns through 20% of our energy requirements — though it represents only 2% of body mass. Even at rest our brains remain quite active, and the quest for coveted energy is endless. Our minds are continually working. In a sense, wasting that precious energy, is squandering our own potential. Especially when it is in part, of our own making. Most of us have experienced an impasse where we must consider leaving something behind. We may feel that the rewards for a time investment will not be realized, or that we somehow we feel drained.

Sometimes we simply must move on — and let go.

How you would describe your own history in this regard? Do you find it easy to let go? Or are you challenged to do so? If you lean toward the stubborn and notably inflexible end of the continuum, the process can be arduous. Although tenacity can come in quite handy at times, problems emerge when we fail to revise an inflexible stance. However, all of this hanging on doesn’t always serve us well. It can bring a fog that clouds new opportunities and can fuel bitterness. Nevertheless, turning away and leaving these things behind can be challenging. (For some, this can even bring a certain sadness.)

Letting go of people and things that define yesterday, can be quite good thing. This process requires reflection and practice. On a very basic level, we must change our mindset about letting go.

Here are a few thoughts (IMHO) concerning what letting go is and isn’t:

  • Letting go isn’t a defeat.
  • It does not signal failure on your part.
  • It may mean you have committed your best effort — and the outcomes/rewards weren’t there.
  • It is closure.
  • It is about shifting your energies to fertile ground.
  • It is about becoming more agile.
  • It can foster resilience.
  • It can build a sense of adventure; restore a certain hope and confidence in the future.
  • It can mark the moment of a new beginning.

In many cases letting go, creates room for pursuits that are far more rewarding — and carve out a place for the goals and people that will help move us forward.

I would say that could soften the blow.

Is letting go challenging for you? Have you mastered the art? Share your experiences with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

The Story of Sham: Competition, Failure and Greatness in Second Place

Secretariat & Sham

My younger sibling had a rival throughout school. They stood toe to toe in their subjects, perched at the top of their class — while jockeying to earn the respect and attention of their teachers. In the end, it appeared that my sister was deemed a very close second to her academic rival. The long-standing competition was clearly intense (not entirely sure it was healthy) and I’ve never asked my sister about how she viewed the experience. Things worked out in the end, as both attended a prestigious university. But, I’m confident that losing via a close competition was not be comfortable. Second place — can be a very challenging place. (Learn about the new research center at Columbia University examining failure here.)

Most of us would like to believe that with time and practice we might excel and possibly land at the top of the heap. However, both life and work are laden with disappointment, rejection and failure. We might think of the role or promotion that we didn’t quite earn — or the accolade in an area meaningful to us, that went to another. In many situations, a winner emerges and it is not us.

However, the key issue remains: How do we process the vital moments of work and career in which we were not that clear winner?

In that moment, how do we re-group and move forward?

Disappointments such as these, can certainly feel like failure.

Somehow, I can’t help but be reminded of the story of Sham — the incredible horse that had the untimely honor of being born the same year as Secretariat. (His fight to earn even a single leg of the Triple crown in 1973, was incredible). Sham was remarkable in his own right, identified early on as a potential champion. However, that was not meant to be. The reason for that outcome is both heartbreaking — and glorious — at the very same time. This excerpt from the LA Times story by Art Wilson in September of 1993, tells the story beautifully:

A son of Pretense might only naturally be called Sham. Still, it wasn’t a fitting name for this dark, leggy, elegant bay who rode alongside history instead of into it. By the clock, Sham would have won every other Kentucky Derby contested at a mile and a quarter. Through 118 Derbies, Secretariat and Sham remain the only entrants who ever came in under two minutes.

I’m often asked about what to do in the midst of disappointment or failure. My advice always remains the same: Give things time. These situations create a muddled fog concerning our own abilities and potential. When we suffer a setback, we cannot see the possibilities of another path that may lead to another valued, yet to be identified goal — that may prove equally as fulfilling. In my own life, this pops up frequently (in races of consequence and of lesser consequence). It is never easy.

As human beings, we have to deal with the aftermath of that lost race, as only human beings can do — with time, kindness and reflection. We are forced to repair our resolve and lift our spirits. We must rest and dust ourselves off, so to speak. To move along. To build resilience.

However, I must still think of Sham, the horse with heart, that gave it his all and will forever remain #2 — in a year of horse racing that was like none other. I am grateful in some way, that he wasn’t entirely aware of his predicament and what he might have accomplished in another year.

However, no matter the day, he was fierce and true to his own gifts. He came in second to Secretariat with a lasting message about his character. (We should offer that to ourselves.)

In any other given year, he would have been the champion. Yet, he always ran like one — because in his bones he knew, what he had to do.

I love him for that.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

We Don’t Always Respect Our Own Strengths. We Need to Change That.

james-pond-191266-unsplash
Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

 

Strengths have endured as a focal point of career growth. Whitney Johnson speaks of our unsung “super-powers”, that can drive both career disruption and growth. Massive training organizations, have arisen to discuss how we might find our strengths. Psychologists speak of how we can augment organizational agility by matching contributor strengths with the needs of a specific role.

We all agree that strengths matter — and that their identification is vital.

However, no amount of press, research, training or persuasion, can help us avoid the wasted energy and missed opportunities that occur because of one simple fact: As individuals, we may not always respect those strengths. The idea deeply resonates with us — however, truly adopting a strength mindset may not follow. (I would venture to say that our behaviors reflect this discrepancy.)

We tend to treat strength alignment, as if it were a luxury item — when in fact it essentially functions like water. A fundamental. A basic. A necessity.

We should attempt to normalize the notion of strengths and strength alignment. We might explore methods to bring them front and center, in our everyday work lives. Few things could sustain us career-wise, with as much power, as the opportunity to identify and apply our strengths. But, inevitably “noise” that presents while seeking to apply that “strength signal”. (For example, consider how we naturally give more weight to a failure or setback, than a success. This dynamic often distracts us from forming meaningful connections about our own performance.)

The bottom line is this: if we do not truly value strengths — we won’t begin the process of advocating for their use.

Weaving the notion of strengths into our conversations about work and work life, should become much more natural. There are opportunities that we often overlook. When have you freely shared with a team member: “You know, you have an incredible ability to do this — let’s be sure you have the opportunity to develop and apply this skill going forward.” Similarly, when is the last time you asked: “What do you see as my strengths? What am I missing that others might see in me? What do I complete decidedly well?” (Need a method to guide this process within your organization? Explore the Reflected Best Self Exercise — the RBS — here and here.)

Now, what happened next? What was done with that information? Did anything change going forward? After we gather the information, that knowledge needs to serve as a guiding force, helping us (and others) through our own career journey. A campaign — so to speak.

Aligning strengths with career won’t happen without a nudge in the right direction. We have to act as though we truly believe in its importance.

On some deep, foundational level, it is up to us to champion the mindset and lead that charge.

Do you utilize a technique that helps others follow their strengths and incorporate them into their work lives? Share it here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

HR Tech Founder Series: How Zugata is Addressing the Heart of the Performance Management Revolution

zugata-founder

This interview is part of a series of conversations with HR Tech Founders who are solving key people-centered issues within today’s organizations. This interview is with Srinivas Krishnamurti, Founder of Zugata.

The revolution has come to performance management — and feedback is central to that dynamic.

To be quite plain, it is performance management with the goal of actually improving performance — not simply measuring performance. While many platforms will help you collect feedback, Zugata takes it further with a twist. By utilizing algorithms to build a personalized social graph, the platform helps individual contributors gather feedback from those who have a clear view of an their performance.

The twist? No one else has access. It’s designed for the individual. Organizations that utilize Zugata are committed to this philosophy.

Ultimately, the platform helps employees collect feedback, interpret it — and put them on their paths to development through personalized resources based on that feedback data. Creating a culture of growth & development, leads to higher engagement and retention.

Feedback is the natural place to begin.

What is the backstory behind Zugata? What led you and your team to develop the platform?

The idea for Zugata came about through our own frustrating experiences using HR software at previous companies. Honestly, I would only log in to our HR system once a year around annual reviews, but other than that —  never.

“Broadly speaking, most of the HR software is built and optimized for HR teams and not for individuals like you or me.”

The focus wasn’t on helping me be a better employee or a better manager. We wanted to address the needs of employees (vs. HR) and set out to build a platform that helps employees develop and reach their potential. Additionally, we wanted to help companies collect and use data to help them make better decisions about their people and organization.

We noticed that organizations have a wealth of data about their customers, competitors, market trends and even their data centers, to optimize their operations. However, it’s surprising how little data they have on what’s so often referred to as their most valuable asset, their people.

What key features does Zugata bring that have been previously missing in other platforms focused on feedback/performance management?

Firstly, our overall philosophy about performance management is different. Our belief is that performance management must drive an improvement in performance, rather than just measure it. Everything we do percolates from that core mission.

While we do believe that companies need to measure performance to make compensation decisions, we separate this out from all other activities that focus upon performance development. We believe that development is continuous — and not a once or twice a year discussion.

Continuous feedback is critical to guide employees in terms of areas of strength and growth.

“Our AI algorithms automatically identify who you work with — and solicit feedback from the right people on your behalf. We’ve developed a best-practices based approach to offer feedback that is specific, actionable and objective.”

Each employee has his or her own performance dashboard, providing clear visibility into strengths and areas to improve. Another differentiator is that we don’t stop with feedback; we then deliver personalized development resources to each employee based on this data. We’re constantly building out these resources and have partnerships with Lynda.com, Skillshare and The Muse to offer classes and coaches.

Second, Zugata is designed for the modern world of work. For example, as Bersin often discusses, today’s organizations are moving away from the hierarchical organizational charts and moving toward a network of teams. Your manager isn’t always the person you work most closely with. However, most systems depend on the manager to provide developmental feedback to an employee.

Instead, Zugata integrates with the platforms people use to get work done, like your Gmail, Calendar, Exchange, Outlook 365, Slack, Jira, and so on.  We are able to build a personal social graph for each employee based on the metadata in these systems. This means that feedback requests are automatically triggered based on who people are actually working with. We also have an agile goals module and have recently designed team-based goals to support this new organizational model as well.

Third, Zugata also offers intelligent insights concerning organizational performance. In order to create a culture of high-performance, you not only need to help employees improve — you also need to optimize the environment in which they work.

Earlier this year, we launched Zugata Insights, which enables HR leaders to understand their organization in unprecedented ways. We run text-based feedback through a machine learning algorithm, then categorize attributes and phrases being used to describe people within an organization. We can filter these attributes by gender. Companies can start to measure and manage unconscious bias by seeing if men and women are being described differently across the organization. We can also help companies see the top attributes of their top performers, helping them to clearly understand the attributes they reward at their organization and assess how well they line up to their published cultural values

What are the most vital benefits?

Our customers use Zugata to create a culture in which employees have constant and fair opportunities for development. Today’s employees are self-advocates; if you’re not providing them with ongoing skills development and growth opportunities, they will leave. Research shows that by providing better career opportunities for employees, organizations can decrease turnover by 33 percent, saving an organization with 10,000 employees $7.5 million dollars per year. In addition, using Zugata is a step toward creating an inclusive culture. We help companies ensure that all employees are receiving quality feedback and receiving personalized development resources, that evaluations are designed for objectivity, and that and they have the data to measure and manage unconscious bias.

Zugata allows HR leaders to be strategic partners to the business. Historically, HR Tech reporting looks more like activity metrics. Knowing how many managers have submitted evaluations or how many goals are entered into a system does not help HR make strategic decisions.

“We provide data that allows HR leaders to actually understand the organization so that they can use data to make and measure their impact.”

For example, a clear understanding of skills and skills gaps — can inform hiring and training decisions. A list of the attributes you reward can help you evolve your culture. Or, finally, a way to measure unconscious bias can help you get ahead of unconscious bias before the promotion cycle.

What is your long-term vision for the platform? What comes next?

Zugata will continue to invest in adding value through the use of data. For employees, we will help with not only getting better in their current role but also with achieving their career goals and aspirations. For people leaders, we are very much in the first innings of what we could achieve with our Zugata Insights initiative where we leverage NLP, machine learning to help leaders better measure the biases that hold their organizations back. Look for us to invest a lot there in the future.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.