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19 July 2013

Retaining Generation Y? Help Build their CV.

Leaders are struggling to retain talented younger employees. Many leaders are quick to decry what they see as Generation Y’s lack of loyalty and commitment. As I’ve noted elsewhere though, generational differences are often overstated and don’t necessarily help in predicting or explaining individual preferences. However it’s easy to see how the corporate downsizing that has impacted family and friends has taught this generation that employee loyalty may not be reciprocated by employers. Add to this Generation Y's high levels of education and mobility, and you have a recipe for high turnover.

So is it all about bean bags, bright colours and free food? Well, making offices more ‘cool’ only goes so far. Some organisations try to take these surface elements (from organisations that are known for their ability to attract and retain Gen Y’s) and inject them into their own offices. Like all transplants though, they’re often rejected. Cool offices are an outworking of the culture of organisations – they’re not the driver of the culture. Likewise pay doesn't guarantee longer tenure – you can read more about why here.

There is a practical way to help retain Generation Y employees. While it sounds counterintuitive, helping workers to grow and build their CV can make them more likely to stay with your organisation. 'Mastery', or developing additional skills and experience, is a major source of workplace motivation (see more here). As a manager, you can consciously help your people to develop skills and experience that matter to them. In addition, you can help employees to recognise the development and progress that they are making.

During your regular meetings with your people, make sure you set aside some time to identify what further development is of interest. Also spend time looking back at the previous month or quarter to identify the new skills and experience that they have gained. Help them to summarise this experience in a way that will fit into a CV or LinkedIn profile.

By highlighting and increasing their employability, you will be able to demonstrate the value staying with the organisation will have on their development. And the approach also works across all employees. For example, as people approach retirement, providing them with skills that will help them to pick up part time roles (if that's what they want) will also be attractive.

Achieving this at an organisational level requires managers who can have skilled discussions with employees. This is likely to involve some investment in skill development for managers as well. But, as we’ve seen, this development may also help to retain your managers.

12 February 2013

Best Practice? Here's a Brochure...

So you're thinking about 'best practice' for your organisation, and start looking around. It won't be long before you stumble across brochures from all sorts of consulting firms highlighting their version of 'best practice' and what it could deliver. When thinking about implementing 'best practice' in your organisation (and indeed whether it will be 'best practice' for you), it's helpful to explore the different roles of consultants and academics. It also helps to appreciate that 'best practice' for your organisation is unlikely to be found in a brochure.

Consultants, and the firms they work for, are primarily driven by the pursuit of 'practical benefit' (oh - and money). They therefore invest in developing approaches that help organisations to produce better results - and that's a good thing. Without this investment, a lot of what we know about organisations and how they operate wouldn't exist. These approaches provide practical guidance to leaders in how to achieve results. In order to protect the advantage their approaches provide, consulting firms hide them from competitors and from organisations who aren't willing to pay to use the approach. And, because of the significant investment it takes to come up with a new approach and all the supporting materials, they will only change their approach if they really have to - even maintaining an approach in the face of contrary evidence. And they're also unable to build on the good work that a competitor may have produced.

Academics are driven by pursuit of 'the truth' (oh - and being published, which leads to money). They want to know what best 'explains' or 'predicts' things we can observe in organisations. This approach means that what they develop must be open to scrutiny and to be built on by others. It also means they tend to focus on quite specific issues or questions - something where there can be a clear 'answer'. Academic ideas about 'best practice' will change over time - that's an important part of explaining and predicting. Academics also tend to only tell you when something 'works', but it is possible for others to demonstrate that it doesn't work, or that the idea can be improved. The researchers themselves are inclined to improve their ideas to make sure they're 'correct'. The problem with this level of detail and focus is that it's, well, boring. You can read an article and think 'so what' due to the lack of immediate practical application. The research is still important though, as it may be building towards something that does actually matter in practice, or perhaps it contributes to part of a bigger picture.

So that's great - you want your organisation to improve, and one way to do that is to apply the best thinking to your organisation and its leaders. How can you practically do that without buying into 'fads' and without scaring people off with 'theory'?

Armstrong and Miller give us an insight into this dilemma of explaining and applying scientific theory in this comedy sketch:

Here are some tips for applying 'theory' to your organisation:
  • Start with business priorities first - Is this theory relevant to our business priorities?
  • Ensure there's a demonstrable practical benefit - Will applying this approach actually help?
  • Ensure there's relevance to your people and their work - Will this help address the needs of the 'end users'?
  • Examine other perspectives - What do others think?
  • Create, or build on, a common language - Does this help us to understand and communicate with each other more effectively?
  • Balance 'ours' versus 'best practice' - Are we better to customise this to our organisation, or keep the approach unchanged?
  • Involve leaders early - How can we ensure implementing the change is 'done with' instead of 'done to' leaders?
  • Have the approach 'sold' by leaders who have experienced it - How can our leaders champion the new approach?
So what are the main priorities for leaders in your organisation? What have you read, seen or heard recently that you could apply to help leaders meet this priority?

20 December 2012

Why You'll Never Retire...

What if you never retired? No really... forget about retirement for a moment - let's just assume that you'll never retire. What would you do differently? How would you spend your life right now if retirement wasn't guaranteed?

People seem obsessed with working towards retirement, despite it being a relatively recent invention (1880's in Germany in case you were interested, and they set the initial retirement age at 70 years old). And life being a predictably unpredictable thing means that making it to retirement isn't guaranteed. In fact, most retirement ages around the world were set to be a close match to the life expectancy of the time. As life expectancy has dramatically increased, the retirement age has remained largely unchanged.

The concept of retirement comes with some drawbacks. For a start it is expensive. People need to save to fund retirement, so will compromise their current life to provide some 'security' for the future. While this makes sense to a degree from an economic perspective, many end up leading an overly compromised 45 year work life, in the hope of 10-15 years of retirement while they're physically fit enough to enjoy it. 

What about if you worked for 55-60 years instead and didn't retire, but tried to make the most of each year instead? Well, that only makes sense if you enjoy what you're doing. In fact, you wouldn't settle for a job that you didn't find rewarding in a true sense - instead you would seek out (or even create) a career that was truly rewarding. You would find ways to extend your career beyond the typical retirement age. You would identify options for work that would allow for changes in your health and mobility. You would keep on learning and staying up to date to ensure you could continue to be of value to others. You would make a greater effort to stay fit. And I suspect you would be less 'old' in your outlook and ability. In fact, you may not end up being that 'old' at all!

We have three sons aged 9 and under, and so made a conscious decision to have 'outdoor' holidays as much as possible (those with young kids might relate!).  We bought a caravan a few years back because it suited our needs as a young family, and have travelled all over Australia. The other demographic group that enjoys travelling in caravans is retired people. As a result, I've had plenty of opportunities to chat with retired people about their views on life. A regular comment from the retired people I've met is "I wish we had done this when we were your age - I wish we had taken the time to travel and enjoy life more with the kids when we were younger". These conversations have helped shape the way I run my business, the way I work, how I spend my time, and ultimately my desire to never retire (check in with me in 30 years or so!). Instead I've been planned, fortunate and disciplined enough to live a life that I genuinely enjoy, and that I feel I could sustain for a number of decades to come. Sure - that has meant some compromises. I don't have a regular pay cheque (or 'check' for US readers) that turns up each month. But I have quantity time with the ones I love (I don't buy the 'quality time' concept either), and I spend my time doing things that I enjoy and that I find rewarding. That kind of sounds like retirement, eh? And surely where you spend your time is a measure of what's most important to you. 

So maybe that's fine for a 40 year old, but is it really reasonable for those joining the work force to find a job they love? Well, maybe not - at least not straight away. I've had some pretty diverse jobs that weren't always fantastic. But I have learnt a lot through each job. My passion has unfolded over time and with hard work. So don't expect that first job to be perfect (or the second, or the third). Work hard, keep learning and be flexible, and you might just find that perfect job and wonderful career emerges from the most unexpected places. 

So, you might read this and want to examine your priorities and how you spend your time. If so, please email me ( and I will send you a worksheet that will help you to examine your purpose and values. Working through this may assist in clarifying where you want to head. 

In conclusion, a healthy and happy retirement isn't guaranteed, so why live your life as if it is?

3 December 2012

Top Six Tips to Improve Any Employee Survey...

It's very easy to run an employee survey. In my opinion, it's far too easy to run an employee survey! Something that used to require a fair degree of technical understanding, planning and investment can now be done on Survey Monkey (or a similar online survey system) in a matter of minutes at almost no direct cost. While this has made surveying far easier, more reliable and more cost effective, many organisations have become overrun by employee surveys ranging from 'great' through to 'destructive' (in fact - that would make a brilliant rating scale - please rate your manager on a scale from 'great' through to 'destructive'). Here are six reminders of ways in which you can improve any employee survey. 

1. Survey what really matters... really.
Employee surveys work best when there's a sponsor who can establish a clear purpose for the survey. Once people hear that you're conducting an employee survey, they will start making requests such as "can you just add a question or two about this" or "great - we can roll in the other survey that we conduct on this". The risk is that the survey blows out and lacks a consistent theme or purpose. Having a clear purpose and defined sponsor enables you to make decisions about what (and what not) to include in the survey. Surveys need to be short and focused. If the survey takes more than 10 minutes to complete, you'll start losing people. And it's always better to have more people complete fewer questions than vice versa.

2. Communicate communicate communicate. And when you're done with that, why not communicate again?
Now you have established a clear purpose for the survey, it's time to start letting people know about it. During the weeks leading up to the survey, it's important to communicate the purpose of the survey (i.e. why I should complete this), the level of commitment to action (i.e. what will be done with the results), and the confidentiality of responses and how this will be assured (i.e. who will see the results, how much detail they will see, and the independence or otherwise of the person conducting the survey). 

3. Survey what you're prepared and able to change.
It's important to only survey about areas that you are genuinely willing and able to change. Once you ask about an area, whether it be as important as the relationship with a manager or as pedestrian as the brand of coffee provided in the staff room, you have raised an expectation that something will change. People naturally equate 'having my say' with 'getting my way'. You need to manage this natural reaction through communication, and by only asking about areas you're willing to address and change.

4. Open ended opportunities.
Open ended or free text questions provide opportunities for people to add any other areas of interest or importance to them. You can never fully anticipate every possible area of interest to employees. Open ended questions can be used to provide helpful suggestions (e.g. What one change would have the most significant impact on your satisfaction?), or allow you to clarify your employee brand (e.g. What's the best part of working for this organisation?).  They also help ensure that people feel they've had every opportunity to express their opinion or bring their perspective. 

5. Start with the final report first.
Survey design typically starts with the proposed survey questions. It's actually better to start with the final report first. What exactly is it that we want to explore? What's the best way of presenting this data?  Starting with the final report helps you to confirm what really matters, and also confirms that your questions will give you the kind of information that you're after.

6. Do something with the results.
When you're conducting an employee survey it's critical that you intend to take action. Link initiatives back to the survey whenever you have the opportunity. Let people know how their opinions are shaping the direction of the organisation and how results are achieved. But most importantly, do something! Even if you don't have all the answers, let people know how you will be exploring potential options or gathering further data. 

Employee surveys can be a powerful vehicle for change in an organisation. Hopefully these tips will help improve your survey. Oh, and as a final point, don't forget that sometimes you just need to go and speak to people! Don't ever let a survey get in the way of genuine communication.