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The View from the Ground Floor

Guest Blog submitted by: Greg Scott, Jennifer Earls, Kelley Kossakoski

Hello, everyone!  We are excited to introduce you to a unique miniseries at the Workforce Institute, a series of blog posts that will follow the early stages of professional development of three recent entrants into the working world. We’ll tackle issues that affect how generations interact in the workplace: technology, communications, perspectives and anything else that we, or you, feel is relevant.  Welcome to the Ground Floor.

So, who are we?  All of us just recently joined the workforce, and are members of a Marketing Employee Development program at Kronos, Inc.  More importantly, we’re all from Generation Y (which includes anyone born after 1980).  We may have our obsessions with iPods, text messages and the Internet, but we’re also beginning to enter the workforce – in HUGE numbers.  At 75 million strong, Gen Y is the largest generation to come along since the baby boomers.

Let’s face it.  The workforce is now more diverse than ever, especially with regard to age.  In fact, 64 million people will be leaving the workforce by 2010.  Conveniently, the largest generation since the baby boomers, Gen Y, is stepping in to fill their shoes.

We’re here to share our thoughts and insights on how generations can work together, and more importantly, establish a dialogue on these cross-generational issues.  We want your comments, ideas, and experiences!

Recession Surfing – How to Ride the Waves

When the economic outlook dims, people start wondering about their job security.   Having just had my 30th Middlebury College Reunion, and with close to 28 years of high tech experience under my belt, I’ve seen this movie before.  For those of you wondering whether you should hunker down in your current job or get out of Dodge, I offer the following perspective as a survivor of 30 years of business cycles.

Don’t jump too soon:

  • All industries and the companies within them are prone to ups and downs.  If your company provides a viable product or service and is one of the top providers in your industry, then it will probably recover from cyclical economic downturns.  If your product/service is not well established or well differentiated in your industry, then that’s a different story
  • Layoffs aren’t necessarily the tip off to a long downward spiral.  Healthy companies will eliminate jobs in parts of the business that aren’t growing or profitable in order to invest in those that are.  This is cold consolation for those affected,  but doesn’t automatically mean that you’re next.
  • Likewise, space consolidation may be a natural outcome of the trend toward telecommuting. 
  • Ask management about business conditions if you’re worried.  You may not always get a completely transparent answer, but it’s better than relying on the gossip of the semi-informed.
  • Economic downturns can provide unique opportunities for employees to acquire new responsibilities as the company may take a chance on you vs. going to the outside to hire.  Look for those opportunities.  One of the best learning and growth experiences of my career was during my last 2 years at Wang Laboratories.  As the workforce reduced from 35,000 to 6,000, there was a never ending stream of work to be done that allowed me to keep raising my hand and acquiring new skills.

Recession proof yourself:

Long before it’s time to jump ship, you need to optimize your chances that there’ll be someplace to jump to:

  • Network – inside and outside of the company.  Make sure people know who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing.  Keep your profile current on  LinkedIn, Facebook, ZoomInfo, and other sources that recruiters use to scout for talent.
  • Establish your reputation as a “keeper” by making commitments and delivering on them.  Unfortunately, effort isn’t what gets rewarded, results are.  Remove “I tried” or “such and such was out of my control” from your vocabulary.  When it’s time to make cuts, management will seek to keep those who were able to drive results under the most trying circumstances.
  • Your mother was right.  As long as you are employed, put aside part of that paycheck for a rainy day.  No matter how hard you work and how effective you are, stuff happens.

 When should you make the move to go?

  • If yours is an unprofitable part of the business, and has been for a while, you should evaluate other options within and outside of the company.  The exception is in start up operations where a period of unprofitability is part of the plan.
  • If there are drastic changes in expense approval authority.  This can be a  sign that management is doing more than the normal belt tightening.
  • If voluntary severance is offered, keep in mind that prudent companies don’t tend to offer voluntary severance to people they want to retain.  Severance packages will inevitably become less generous as time goes on. 
  • If you have stock options that will only have value if there is a liquidity event, try to evaluate the likelihood that such an event might be imminent before you leave.  If your company’s asking price is down, then buyers may move in.  Depending on the strike price of your options, it may be worth toughing it out.  On the other hand, information about such transactions is held very close to the vest until the deal is done.  Don’t pass on real current opportunities when you don’t know what the future holds.
  • If a gloomy climate at work is making you miserable to the point that you can’t get out of bed in the morning; i.e. trust your gut.  If it’s not a temporary boss or project issue, then there may be something to those gut feelings.

Guest Blog: The Frustration of Turnover

A Guest Post from our Board Member David Creelman –

 I remember that I used to make a point of learning the names of new interns, but after a few years it seemed that they came and went so quickly that it was hardly worth the effort.  I imagine that managers of high turnover hourly workers may feel the same way.  People come, people go and it all seems a bit beyond one’s control.  If we feel this way, how can we do a good job of people management?

 The first thing is to remind yourself of the numbers.  It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that if you reduce the annual turnover from 100% to 80% then that will save a substantial amount on hiring and training costs.  The tough thing is that 80% still feels high even if it is a great result for your industry.  So my advice is to not just go by feel, but to judge your success by looking at turnover or retention numbers versus industry or company norms.  You don’t need highly accurate data, just something to keep yourself motivated.  Your company may not give rewards for retention but you can certainly take yourself out to a nice lunch if you hit your own retention targets.

 Another thing is to remind yourself that while it may not always feel like this, your success is being driven by your staff.  It really has to be something of a mantra: “if my staff succeeds, I succeed.”  This will lead you to spend time directing and motivating staff, even if it feels like you are spending time motivating people who are gone three or four months later.

 It’s just a matter of finding that head space where unavoidably rapid turnover doesn’t feel like a downer.  It’s having that personal goal of keeping retention substantially better in your unit than it is in the industry.  It’s a matter of that generosity of spending time getting the best out of your staff even if they won’t be repaying the favour with long service.  If you think “I want every employee who passes under my care to leave a little bit better than when they walked in the door” then that can keep you upbeat about the time you are investing.

 Of course, it’s not just about generosity.  The manager who can find that optimistic head space even in a high turnover industry will have a more productive team-not to mention a happier life for themselves.

 For more thoughts on this topic, check out the paper that David and Steve Hunt wrote earlier this year on the role of the frontline manager in managing hourly retention.