5 things to consider before launching your own surveys


It is easy to think “I will just create a quick survey for that” and then go off and email a link out to a group of people to collect responses. Looking at the big picture perspective, firstly be clear on your overall survey objectives and how you will use the input you receive.

Once you have defined that, take a few more minutes to think through 5 key aspects of launching a survey before you proceed:

  1. What exactly is the message?
  2. The platform you plan to use
  3. CHECK the text
  4. The intro matters
  5. The thank you

The message

Launching a survey is a message too

(It says: I want to know, I value your opinion, I am listening, Tell me what you think)

Take the time to write down all the messages about the survey that intended participants need to know. What do other stakeholders need to know – think of managers who may need to help you communicate to their groups about the survey. What do you need to make sure they know about it before your launch date?

People need to know what the survey is for and why it is important. What is this survey linked to and how do you hope to use the input to drive decision-making?

When can they expect the survey to be open and how will they access it? Link via email or QR codes around the building/email or will it be an app on their mobile devices?

Will you be emailing out the announcement of the survey or is there a communication plan that is much broader than the survey? Perhaps some messages will be on social media or notice boards? If you need to make a communication plan, this template can help:

Be sure to share this information with intended survey participants when you map out your communication messages:

  • This survey is coming on (date)
  • The reason we do this is (….)
  • What we hope to review/change/update/introduce as a result of this survey is (…)
  • Why we are asking for your input is (…..)
  • It will only take (…..) minutes of your time to complete
  • We will let you know about the results (time) and (how/where)
  • How will you protect their privacy and if the survey contains sensitive information – who will see it and how long will you maintain the data before destroying it?
  • Can they participate anonymously?

The platform

There are various survey platforms available these days – some are free, and others are not. In general, those with paying options come with additional features such as help to analyse your data, automatic graphic creations for communicating your survey results, text analysis options etc.

Whichever platform you choose to use, test it first. Create a quick survey and send out the link to some trusted colleagues or to yourself to see how it displays. Can you access the survey using the link without any firewalls or other error screens interfering with ease of access? Is it easy to complete the survey online? Is there a phone app for it? How well does the phone app work?

Also look at the reports you can get from the platform. To what degree does the platform offer you some level of analysis as a download? Can you download a spreadsheet which you then need to analyse yourself to create a presentation or a report? Knowing what remains for you to do is an important consideration in choosing the right platform for the survey.

Check the text

Make sure you have read each sentence out aloud. Missing words or repeated words can be overlooked when you just glance through your survey. Reading it out loud – word for word – often highlights areas that may need to be reworded or corrected. Answer these questions about your survey wording:

  • Do the instructions make sense? If I ask other people how they would interpret the instructions you plan to use, would they know what to do next?
  • Is each question or statement to be rated constructed in a simple way to avoid confused answers? i.e. do not ask about more than one thing at the same time such as “do you think it was easy to do and did you like the fun tests we handed out at cafeteria last week?” In this case your results could be hard to interpret. If the final scores are low, was it because people thought it was NOT easy or was it because they did NOT like it? Or was it both?
  • If the platform has a spell check function, use it. If it does not, copy and paste the text into a document where you are able to check spelling before you proceed to launch the survey

The intro matters

Even if you did a great job at communicating about the survey in your communication plan activities and presentation messages, people may not have seen or heard all of your early messages. Tell them the highlights in the introduction section of the survey: (after the survey title and before you start with your questions or statements to rate etc).

Intro points:

  • What it is FOR?
  • Why are THEY asked for input?
  • What will you DO with the information obtained?
  • Is it anonymous or will you be telling others what they said in the survey?
  • By WHEN do you expect their response to have been completed after which you will close the survey?
  • HOW LONG is it likely to take participants to complete the survey?

Say thank you

When people answer your surveys, they are prioritizing your request given other tasks that lie before them. They are making time out of often busy days to provide you with feedback. A simple thank you message can go a long way to ensure people are open to respond to future survey participation requests.

And while you are saying thank you, it may be an idea to provide a link to a website to visit if they want to find out more, volunteer or whatever other actions you would like them to take after completing the survey.

Surveys are so easy to create these days and the need to collect recent data and employee feedback is becoming more mainstream in companies than in previous decades. The annual employee survey is no longer the only way that change managers and management obtain feedback. Surveys can be a powerful feedback tool and yet, they can also create confusion and frustration if they are not communicated and launched with some forethought and planning.

Avoid Leader Derailment


The Center for Creative leadership’s (CCL) research on executive success and failure identified the significance of “derailers”, and how they differ from just mere weaknesses. They studied leaders who made it to at least the General Manager level, but then their careers had involuntarily stalled, or they had been demoted, dismissed, or asked to take early retirement.

A derailer is not just a weakness. We all have many weaknesses that we may never choose to improve, and some weaknesses do not impact our career success in a major way. A derailer is a weakness that requires improvement if employees wish to realize their full potential in their careers and especially as leaders.

Why do leaders fail?

Leaders most often fail due to unaddressed weaknesses, derailers, and if left unaddressed for long enough these become habits that start to shape a leader’s style of interacting with others. The steady number of reported incidents involving significant leadership behavior issues in companies of all sizes and across industries is a strong reminder not to think that it cannot happen in your company.

Most leadership derailers will not cause the fall of an entire organization. But they can certainly lead to a failed career. The question you need to ask yourself is: “What type of derailers would cause a leader in my organization to fail?” Or, as a leader, “Which derailers am I prone to and how can I address them?”

How do successful leaders avoid derailment?

  1. They seek feedback throughout their careers from people at various leadership levels and from various functions both within the organization and external to the organization (as appropriate).
  2. He or she seeks developmental opportunities that can help overcome flaws and ask for developmental advice from other trusted leaders, coaches, or confidants.
  3. They seek extra support and coaching during transitions and especially when a possible “trigger” event occurs, which they do not cope well with.
  4. They remain aware that new jobs require new approaches and behaviors and successful leaders not only recognize this but reach out to ensure they have the right support and advice to successfully navigate through a transition into a new role.

How can the organization help to avoid a leader from derailing?

Organizations can take actions to ensure that leaders are aware of weaknesses which could derail them in the future and the following cautions can help with that:

  • Consider career paths that include time spent in various different groups, business units, or functions instead of a career path that simply moves in a straight vertical line within the organization.
  • Encourage and promote feedback to employees that focuses on “how you did it” instead of “what you did” only.
  • Beware to not consider one failure by a leader as a sign that he or she is completely “off the track” and using it as a critical development need to address instead.
  • Avoid moving managers to new roles too fast and instead allow them to remain in a role long enough to experience the consequence of business decisions and learn from it. A strong culture of learning and “failing forward” is a great environment for leaders to address high-risk weaknesses at an early stage of their careers.

Identify possible derailers – Self Assessment for leaders

This self assessment can be done between a leader and his or her coach to open up conversations about “what can stop me from reaching my leadership goals and ambitions?”

An honest look at the listed factors can help a leader identify perhaps the one or two behavioral traits that could possibly derail him or her in the future. Working with a coach, a leader can explore different ways to handle some of the situations which they had not handled well in the past.

Both organizations and leaders within the organization need to take responsibility for identifying signs of weaknesses that could derail a leader in future and then commit to addressing the issue before it becomes a derailer. The costs of failure in this area is not only public humiliation for the leader and a public relations challenge for companies, but also has tangible costs when one considers for example costs associated with a high staff turnover, which often accompanies groups where the derailed leader has worked over the years.  

Developmental Assignment Template


Developing leaders by placing them on specific assignments is a great way to broaden their perspective while ensuring their highest development needs are being addressed in a structured way. The template (download link below) ensures transparency regarding developmental focus and management expectations of the outcomes of an assignment.

An assignment may require a change in location, but not always. An assignment could also be a temporary changed reporting relationship or being part of a different group or business unit. A different group of colleagues and managers to work with provides an assignee with the opportunity to broaden his or her internal network and learn to build relationships fast. International assignments can add additional learning objectives such as developing more cultural awareness and skills involving collaboration and communicating across cultures.

The example shown, helps to illustrate how one would go about using the developmental assignment template I am sharing above (see download link).

What should he/she learn?

The areas to develop (called Leadership Aspects in the example) would depend on the competencies that have been selected for leadership development and the latest ratings from the performance management process can be used to provide you with the ratings for each leader. This helps you to focus on the development needs with the highest priorities at that time. A conversation with the leader’s direct manager could be very useful in selecting the highest priorities. If the employee had been included in a recent talent review, there may be additional information available to complete the template and select the focus areas for his or her leadership development.

How will he/she learn?

Selecting the development activities, it is important to first understand specifically which aspect of that development priority the employee needs to learn more about.

  • Theoretical (mainly improving awareness)? Then an online self-paced course could be the answer. Or even sending the employee to attend an external class or read a book (or selection of books).
  • Learning new behaviors? Coaching and feedback based on actual examples encountered could be a good approach. You could also do a pre-test and post-test with some experiential workshop or learning intervention taking place between the tests. Workshops which include options to practice new behaviors can be great solutions.

A combination of learning interventions is the best way to address development needs. Look at each high priority learning need and look for ways to combine class-room training, self-paced learning, short On The Job (OTJ) assignments or tasks and perhaps coaching too. Each of the interventions would then strengthen learning and reinforce principles introduced.

Be sure to document who will mentor or coach the employee. He or she needs to understand the support you are making available to him/her on the journey of learning new skills.

What is the definition of Done?

Spend some time considering how you will close out the assignment with the specific learning needs. Will you want a written report detailing the learning that took place over the assignment period? Or will you want a report and also a presentation? Or perhaps just assign a presentation to be developed whereby the assignee is asked to share his or her key learning achievements with a panel of senior-level stakeholders? Assign the completion activity early so the assignee can prepare for it from the moment he or she starts the new assignment.

Include stakeholders early

Share rating templates with the intended evaluation panel and the assignee before the final event or evaluation of a written report. The transparency helps all concerned to anticipate the level of detail required and where the focus areas will be. This helps the employee prepare from early-on in the assignment to provide the required final product or presentation.

Documenting the learning objectives of an assignment helps to orient and align all stakeholders on how to positively impact the development of that leader – the leader himself/herself, his/her direct manager or supervisor, his/her coach and HR or L&D staff supporting the assignment.

Assigning Roles for Meetings


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Have meetings felt unproductive and have not been building your confidence in the value they may have added? Was there insufficient time to consider all the options available or making the best decisions following an open discussion? Perhaps it is time to consider assigning roles to those who attend your meetings.

Productive Meetings

The reason why assigned roles work is that meeting participants are often not fully engaged in asking questions, stimulating discussions, summarizing agreements reached, critically review suggestions or ideas, or ensuring that everyone there has a chance to contribute. Having a specific role to play at a meeting helps participants to focus on helping the team fully explore options, evaluate the options, and make high-quality decisions following the discussion.

The roles are specific and defined and it would require specific individuals to act accordingly for the duration of the meeting. Roles vary from being the one to bring up a lot of questions about the issues on the agenda to being someone who plays devils advocate or being the critical one when it comes to suggestions tabled for consideration. Of course, all meeting participants continue to bring their own skills, opinions, and knowledge to the meeting and are expected to contribute those to the discussions too.

How to assign roles

Roles can be assigned before a meeting, the chairperson can ask meeting participants to volunteer for the various roles before the meeting starts or the chairperson can randomly assign roles at the start of the meeting (often done by means of handout out cards which explain the task of each role on a 2×4 inch card).

Task roles to assign

Initiator/Contributor

Contributes ideas and suggestions or proposes solutions and decisions. Proposes new ideas or reframes existing ideas in a different way.

Information Seeker

Asks for clarification related to comments – are they based on verified data? Asks for information or facts relevant to the problem. Suggests when more information may be needed before making decisions.

Opinion Seeker

Asks for clarification related to comments made by meeting participants.  Find out how people feel about ideas on the table.  Include those who have not yet been able to contribute an opinion during the discussion.

Critic

In a constructive manner, verbalizes ways in which a suggestion or idea could have unforeseen negative consequences for other (internal or external) stakeholders in the implementation of such suggestion/idea.

Process guard

Indicates decision-making errors and biases which may be skewing support towards a particular outcome. Points out departures from agreed-on agenda and discussion goals. Tries to bring the group back to the central issues and raises questions about the direction in which the group is heading

Summarizer

Summarizes what has taken place and what decisions have been made to date. Reminds the group of assumptions made along the way during discussions.

Note-taker and timekeeper

Keeps notes of decisions made, and actions agreed to. Reminds the group of an approaching break/end of the meeting.

Dysfunctional roles at meetings

Sometimes meetings are unproductive because one or more meeting participant is engaging in playing a dysfunctional role during the meeting which stifles discussion, shuts down conversations, and focuses the attention in unhelpful ways. Discussing these before the meeting starts could be another way to create awareness of unproductive meeting behaviors in order to avoid them. Sometimes it can be interesting to review a meeting in hindsight to identify if anyone engaged in any of these dysfunctional roles. This would be useful to help meeting participants develop self-awareness related to their meeting participant behaviors.

dysfunctional roles

It can be an taxing task to keep track of progress, keep an eye on the clock while also making sure that actions and decisions are captured while ensuring that discussions make optimal use of the skills and experience in the meeting room. Assigning task roles to meeting participants can give you a much-improved chance of having a productive meeting which ensures full engagement of all those present.

Competence – getting to the top level


According to competence development, there are four levels that a learner goes through on their journey to being consciously competent at a skill they wish to be good at. Knowing which level you are at for the new skill or competency that you are trying to learn is important, but it is also true that until someone gains awareness almost nobody knows when they are at level 1.

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Level 4 is the goal that any learner wants to achieve, and it is that state of skillfulness that does not require effort to execute. Think for example of how you tie your shoelaces or drive your car. If you have been doing it for a few years you can probably have many other thoughts in your head and while you are doing it. This is possible because you have reached Level 4 in the skills required to tie your shoelaces or drive your car.

Going from Level 1 to Level 4

Level 1 means you are not skilled at something specific, but you do not know it. Until someone provides you with feedback in this area or until you are somehow confronted with the fact that you have no or limited skills in a specific area. We do not even think about that area as something we need to work on and we are often blissfully unaware of the potential development need in an area. The main way to move out of level 1 is to ask for feedback and to look for ways to understand how your behavior, actions, communications and way of working impact others.

From Level 1 to Level 2 – Get input. When was the last time you asked a friend, a co-worker or a family member “Tell me one thing that I would have to get better at if I would be a better friend/co-worker/member of this family or better at my job?”

Going from Level 2 to Level 3 – Learn and practice using new ways of doing or thinking. This is where the heavy-lifting comes into play. To make this transition of learning a new skill takes focus, dedicating time in your busy schedule to actively acquire a new skill. This requires a lot of discipline and you will not only need to schedule the time for this, but you will need to practice what you are learning on a regular basis and keep track of your own progress. It is important also in this stage to get input from others so that you can gauge the progress you are making towards acquiring and demonstrating skilfulness in new areas.

Going from Level 3 to Level 4 – It just happens. There comes a day when someone mentions that you have been demonstrating your skills in a new area without you being aware of making the effort. At that time, you will have acquired an unconsciously skilled state whereby you no longer need to focus or concentrate very hard in order to demonstrate your skill in a particular area.

What is the value of using this model?

If you are a trainer, it is important to know at which stage your training participants are because it would drive the kinds of information you make available, the kinds of practice sessions you build into your training class and the kinds of tests you provide for them to measure their progress. A pre-test or exercise can often help determine the level of awareness and knowledge that training participants have in the skills area(s) that you will be focusing on during the class. For example, a trainer may use more assessments to increase awareness if the class is at level 1 or the trainer may use more practical exercises and instructional sessions if the person is at level 2 or 3.

As a mentor, it is important to understand not only the goals and development needs that a mentee would like to work on but also what his or her current level of competence is in that particular area. This knowledge helps you to provide helpful guidance to help him or her reach the next level of competence.

As a leader of a department or a function, you will likely have people within your group or team that are at different levels of competence. Situational Leadership will be required from you as you assign tasks, delegate or provide feedback to each person focusing on the level of competence that he or she is at for that particular skill set that is needed.

Having a framework and process for moving from unconscious incompetence to being consciously competent helps mentors and learners. It is easier to select the right developmental tool or resource for development when it is clear which level of being skilled the learner is at. And the starting point is most often the results from 360 reports for leaders or communication and collaboration style feedback tools and exercises.


Note 1:
In February 1969, management trainer Martin M. Broadwell called the model “the four levels of teaching”. Paul R. Curtiss and Phillip W. Warren mentioned this model in their 1973 book The Dynamics of Life Skills Coaching. In the late 1970s, this model was used at Gordon Training International by its employee Noel Burch. He called it the “four stages for learning any new skill”. Later the model was frequently (but incorrectly) attributed to Abraham Maslow, although the model does not appear in his major works.

Leadership Behavior Scorecard


The behavior of leaders is a very powerful indicator of how a company truly operates from a people perspective. Which aspects of the business are mostly focused on by leaders? How are decisions made and communicated? Most change initiatives include specific behaviors which leaders need to role model in order to ensure a successful outcome for the initiative.

The typical approach to measure how leaders are behaving is to obtain input from those around each leader – those who interact with the leader on a regular basis.  The groups of people asked to provide ratings for each leader could be:

  1. People who report to the leader
  2. People who are colleagues of the leader
  3. People who are more senior than the leader
  4. If appropriate – external parties who interact with the leader on a regular basis.

Process of assessing leaders

The process of assessing leadership behavior typically follows these basic steps: Collecting ratings, consolidating the ratings, providing feedback to leaders and using the results to plan further actions as needed.

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The mechanism needed for this exercise needs to be developed, reviewed and agreed and then introduced before the process starts. Once the key behavioral elements are defined, create a way to capture feedback from others about leadership behaviors.

The resource above can be downloaded. It is a set of behavioral statements which can be shared with those who need to provide ratings and comments. The scores or ratings relate to actual behavior observed against desired behaviors for each leader that they interact with on a regular basis. Some people automate their chosen feedback gathering using a free tool like http://www.surveymonkey.com

Process notes:

  • Behaviors used for ratings have to be very well defined so that they can be observed and does not require someone to guess at the intentions or motivations of the leader. A behavior must be observable or produce visible results.
  • Ask raters to add comments to help you interpret the scores. This understanding enables the creation of realistic follow-up actions after the results are available.
  • Ratings should not be requested too often – raters get “survey-fatigue” and your results become less meaningful.
  • The objective is for the tool to support the leaders by providing helpful and actionable feedback. The tool also helps to understand how the change initiative is progressing towards desired milestones.

You will notice in the shared resource (tool) example that leadership behaviors were defined in 4 categories: Commitment Behaviors, Communication Behaviors,  Teamwork/Collaboration Behaviors, and Safety Behaviors. Your categories will be determined by your own change initiative and you will need to also define the specific behaviors that are desirable for leaders given your project. Simply use the downloaded excel sheet and type over the category names and behavior definitions to create your own Leadership Behavior Scorecard.

Important watch-outs:

  • Be careful when you consolidate the results from various raters. If you had agreed to keep rater identities confidential, summarize the results by subgroup. Provide an average per subgroup for each of the behavioral elements. Do not provide a subgroup score if there were less than 3 raters.
  • Follow-up actions should also include recognition/appreciation for those leaders who are role modeling the desired behaviors in the organization.
  • Consider using some examples from the higher ratings to create case studies to the organization. It is easier for leaders and employees to understand how to apply desired behaviors when they receive actual examples that illustrate how decisions were made or implemented using the desired behaviors. An example makes it easier for others to follow.

The tool is relatively simple to use, but it is vital that it is designed well and introduced correctly into the organization. Assessment tools can be seen as a negative element if the objectives and the way results will be used are not communicated appropriately.

Preparing to facilitate a Team Session


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The success of team events or sessions can be more predictable when facilitators gather information from invited participants and stakeholders before planning the agenda, activities, and presentations.  Knowing more about the current issues and expectations can greatly enhance your chances of ensuring the team faces what they need to focus on and deal with that in a constructive way.

The source I am sharing, is a list of pre-session interview questions which could help you get a good foundation about the team: what is working, what could be better and how each of the interviewees sees the situations faced by the team.

Some important notes about pre-session interviews:

Starting right
  • If the team members do not know you (the facilitator) yet, be sure to introduce yourself to each interviewee and mention your role in the upcoming planned session. They may have additional questions about your background and experience in this area and why you are working on the planned session. Be prepared to summarize these points before you get into the interview.
  • Make sure you can explain to what degree the responses will be confidential. You would typically want to share a summary of responses with the session attendees to help set the scene on the day and perhaps use that to initiate a discussion or lead into an activity to address something that was mentioned by several participants during the interview. Will you be word-smithing the responses to protect the identity of interviewees? Or will you share the raw data? You need to be transparent about that.
  • Why are you asking? Be sure to explain how the answers and responses will be used to plan the session and help the team move forward and past any obstacles that may be holding them back.
  • Let them know upfront that their questions about the session will be answered during their time with you (the interview).
Planning your approach
  • Will you interview individuals or groups of individuals that work in a specific department or functional group? Think this through carefully with regards to the advantages and disadvantages of this choice before you make that decision.  I usually recommend that the number of session participants is no more than about 20 – 25 people and I prefer to know each individual’s responses before I finalize my planning for the session. This means I interview each person separately. But I can also imagine that the team/project culture and approach could make it useful to interview small sub-groups within the team.
  • In person or online? I prefer to do the interviews in person to allow me the opportunity to ask follow-up questions on the spot. Sitting with someone and talking through the questions gives you the opportunity to also watch their reactions or pauses after each question. This can indicate whether some topics may be sensitive to the interviewee and again you could choose to ask more questions to better understand the issues at hand.
  • The right number of questions. It is important that the interviews do not become exhausting. Accept that you will not be able to ask every single question that you may have for the planned participants before the session. Some questions are best worked out by the group at the session. Be very selective and critical – ask only questions which will help you prepare for the session. The interviews are not intended to replace the planned group/team session.

The questions in the (download available above) resource range from understanding expectations to identifying possible issues that the team needs to address. It includes some questions which may help with understanding possible issues that could pose an obstacle to team success.  Some of the questions are also specifically there to help team session participants envisage themselves being a positive contributor to the success of the session.

I do not suggest that all of the questions would be relevant to every session that you would plan, as the facilitator. Instead, I suggest that you use the ones that make the most sense for the session you are working on and feel free to add additional questions as needed in order to improve your understanding in the relevant areas that the session needs to cover.

Finally, it is important to realize that just the fact that you are asking questions and providing interviewees an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and impressions is in itself already a change management intervention. You are setting the scene for the session and helping to shape participation before the session. This could greatly enhance group dynamics and ensure the success of the planned session.

4 Questions to ask about HR metrics


Understand first, then act

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Without the right level of scrutiny, it can be easy to misinterpret a metric (key measurement, KPI) and waste valuable time and resources debating and taking actions to “fix” things that may not be “broken.”

Let’s take an example to illustrate: Employee turnover. Let’s say I show you this number and tell you that this represents Employee turnover at a company:

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I would imagine you would have some questions for me? Let’s go through some questions I expect you to ask me as we clarify what that number means. (Answers in blue from an HR representative at a fictitious company)

  1. How do you define turnover and how did you calculate that?

Answer: The company defined employee turnover as the number of employees who left the company. And they calculate that number this way:

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If you think this number is high or low, hold your horses, we have a few more questions to ask before we can come to a conclusion.

  1. Over what time period was this number calculated?

Answer: It represents the employee turnover over one quarter. 

An unusually high or low number can be an anomaly if it represents, for example, one day or one week out of a year. And that could be for many reasons including possible entry errors or calculation errors. If it is an average over an entire year, an unusually high number may indicate an alarming trend.

  1. What is this metric about?  

Here you would like to understand the reason why they are tracking the metric and how they are using this metric for decision-making.

Answer: “We want to make sure that we retain employees and do not have too many people leaving thereby causing us to have to retrain people on a regular basis. We also want to avoid constantly having to hire and onboard people to replace those who left. We think it is disruptive to the business. We have set a limit of 7% as a reasonable employee turnover maximum.”

Knowing that this is about retention helps to understand the metric more. For example, you could now start to form an idea in your head about the employees that a company would like to retain. To ensure you lose no more than 7% of your employees through resignations, you would want to ensure that internal communication is going well, that employees feel appreciated and that there are development opportunities for them etc. (These would be all the efforts you could make to increase employee engagement and satisfaction).  But it is also immediately obvious that 21.6% is much higher than 7%! So we need to ask more questions.

  1. What is the context of this metric? 

With this question, you are trying to understand if there were any events or special circumstances that may have contributed to this metric being unusually high or low.  It may also highlight how this metric compares to other periods – is it higher or lower than in the past?

Answer: “The metric is much higher than in previous quarters. During this quarter, we had to lay off some people due to losing a large customer. We also let some temporary workers go. And some people have chosen to take early retirement with the incentives that we offered around the reduction in workforce.”

Going back to how they calculated the 21.6% you may now wonder if they did the calculation correctly. If the metric is about making sure that they retain employees then it would be logical to ensure they do not include those who leave involuntarily – due to a lay-off for example. And there was also mention of temporary workers. Workforce planning often includes having a pool of temporary/agency workers who can more easily be let go of in the event of an organizational downturn. From that perspective, it would also not be useful to include those workers in an employee retention metric. It is time to question the number of people who left the company – the 108.  Having obtained more information about the 108 employees, we see that this number represents various groups including retirees, agency workers, redundancies, and resignations.

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In this case, the only unplanned people that the company “lost” = 32

In that case, the metric calculation would result in 6.4% which is below the 7% limit that was set as a goal.  It is important that the definition of the metric is clear about which groups of people who left should be included or excluded in the calculation.

In summary, we can make some suggestions for this  HR team:
  • Clear name and definition. Perhaps the metric should be redefined and possibly renamed if their intention is to capture how many employees (not temporary workers) resign from the company and to keep that % below 7%.
  • Share definition with stakeholders. Just looking at 21.6% employee turnover can be alarming so it would also be very important that the metric is well understood by the team and its key stakeholders outside of the team.
  • Accuracy. To avoid any possible calculation errors, it could help if somebody audits the metrics before the dashboard is finalized and distributed. The credibility of the HR team can be impacted if an executive team regularly sees errors or inconsistencies on the HR dashboard.

Keeping track of key metrics to monitor the success of specific processes or initiatives is important. That way you would be able to easily identify if a project or an objective is in danger of failing to achieve desired outcomes at the end of a year. Early identification also enables you to take the appropriate actions to correct an alarming trend. The key is to ensure that metrics on a dashboard are accurate and easy to interpret by those who view it. Be intentional and critical when you choose the metrics to track and when you define them to stakeholders.

When reviewing metrics, ensure that you truly understand what they represent before drawing premature conclusions. Planning actions to rectify premature conclusions could be a waste of your valuable time and resources when they are based on erroneous assumptions.

Checklists for Stretch Assignments


Stretch assignments are useful for learning and personal growth and development, because they purposefully contain elements that are challenging in areas where the assignee needs to develop. Designed correctly, a stretch assignment confronts one with the necessity  to get out of your comfort zone in order to succeed.

The starting point for designing such an assignment can be multiple data sources:

  • the person’s own development needs compared to established leadership competencies,
  • key proven areas of mastery that a company requires from their leaders to advance to the next level,
  • a mindset or  mindset shift that is required to move the company and its leaders into a new way of operating; or
  • to build competency in specific important areas that are or will be important to the future of the company.

A stretch is not defined in a general way, but rather it is very specific to a person. While a stretch could mean that one requirement is for the person (plus family, if appropriate) to move to an international location, it inevitably would also include other job-related challenges. Examples include supervising more people, having financial performance targets (for someone who has only had functional roles in the past) or having more complexity such as multiple geographical areas to manage. The key balance to maintain when designing stretch assignments is to ensure that the assignee is put under a certain amount of pressure to learn and grow, but not so much pressure that he or she fails.

Mitigating failure risks

There are a few things you can implement to help monitor how things are going with each assignee and to provide a “safety net” for an assignee to get support from.

  1. Assign subject-matter experts as coaches – depending on the scope of the assignment.
  2. Assign a leadership development coach to help the assignee reflect on experiences, frame up challenges and cognitively choose best solutions and explore new ways of operating to be more successful in the assigned areas of responsibility.
  3. Set up internal-company networking events for the assignees to meet, have opportunities to mingle and share experiences and also include a pre-determined learning event tied to overall leadership development objectives within the company.
  4. Set up a structure of communication moments with the “home” organization supervisor and colleagues – this is especially important if you plan to return the assignee to the same organization at the end of the assignment. Maintaining ties would greatly improve a successful return and reintegration after an assignment. Communication moments like these can also greatly help colleagues NOT on assignment to learn from the experiences and best-in-class solutions their colleague on assignment is mastering.

New and challenging assignments often cause assignees to experience some stress. Supporting assignees to successfully navigate through the new challenges means you should pay attention to a change in behavior or performance which could indicate that he or she is stuck on the learning curve. Signs that things are going wrong are important to notice early-on to maximize chances of turning things around and avoiding an assignment disappointment and/or incurring an assignee retention risk. Pre-departure training should be provided to both assignees and their coaches to understand and recognize signs that things may not be going well and to understand ways to become unstuck in every situation.

Some warning signals:

stretch-assignments-signs-of-failure

Expectations for goal achievement by assignees must be specifically captured in a plan and communicated to an assignee along with available rewards for over-achievement of goals. The specific strategic importance of the assignment should also be highlighted as well as the developmental needs to be addressed during the assignment.

Tips for stretch-assignment coordinators:

  1. Ensure that there is a structure that enables assignees to succeed and always follow-through with the check-in points and feedback activities to ensure all is well.
  2. Ensure that all those involved in assignments are clear on the role of management, role and responsibilities of supporting coaches, the role and responsibilities of assignees and the role and responsibilities of assignment supervisors and “home office” supervisors.
  3. Adequately prepare assignees for their assignments: cultural awareness training (for international assignments), language skills (where needed) and if accompanied by family members – consider a session to discuss the practicalities of moving to a new location with those family members present.
  4. Ensure that the assignees get interim feedback on how their assignments are going -at least 3 times per year, but more often if this can be managed. This provides opportunities to refocus and apply new approaches as needed to ensure the assignment is successful.
  5. Provide assignees and stakeholders in assignments ample notification about the end date of an assignment. This assures minimum surprises and helps everyone to plan actions leading to a well-organized return upon assignment completion.

When assignments are successful in achieving or exceeding on all the objectives, assignees should return from their experiences with increased confidence, leadership skills, and maturity. The personal growth and development they experienced should enhance their ability to make better decisions and build stronger interpersonal relationships with those they lead and follow. Being mindful of how to setup and manage stretch assignments can make all of that a reality.

Structured Knowledge Sharing


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Very few companies are planning ahead when it comes to knowledgeable people leaving the company and retiring. The knowledge that is lost to the company when Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) leave can have direct impacts to the top and bottom-line and yet, there appears to be room for improvement in this process.

The need for implementing a structured process for knowledge transfer or sharing can naturally come from any of the following process and review discussions involving HR representatives and Managers:

  • Succession Planning
  • Workforce planning
  • Recognition and Reward reviews
  • Training needs assessment
  • Organizational capability discussions (now and future)

The question is: how are you ensuring that those with recognized expertise in a specific area contribute to the learning of others?

In many cases such a recognized SME needs to be assigned to mentor a more junior employee delivering promising results early in his/her career with the company. However, the time commitment associated with mentoring one to three people individually plus ensuring that the interactions meet content coverage expectations can soon become a concern.  So how do you optimize the knowledge transfer or sharing process, while not taking up too much of the SMEs time doing so?

The solution is to structure the knowledge transfer or knowledge sharing process and to include multiple participants. Ideally participants with an SME should range between 3 and a maximum of 8 people. Structuring sessions where those present interact improves learning as it facilitates discussions leading to deeper understanding and the ability to get into more detail on some topics.

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Preparing the managers

It is helpful to ensure managers (of those attending knowledge-transfer sessions) are prepared and understand the process. When they know the topics that would be covered, they can plan post-session assignments for employees to benefit from the new knowledge and help them retain what they have learned. New knowledge is much easier remembered when it can be applied on-the-job soon after the learning session. This greatly improves the amount of newly acquired knowledge integrated in decision-making and execution of daily work activities at the company.

Measuring learning

  • Adding a pre- and post- survey with questions related to the topic can help you measure the increase in employee knowledge from sessions.
  • You can also use a 360 feedback survey and get feedback from those working with, for and managing the employees before they start attending sessions. It would give you a snapshot of their current strengths and improvement points. Structure the 360 feedback survey to include competencies in the areas that will be covered by the series of sessions to come.

Preparing the Subject Matter Expert

Structuring the discussions that will take place between an SME and assigned participants can be a daunting task for an SME. They often do not realize how much they know about various topics.

The first task would be to unpack the area of knowledge the person has – look at processes, clients, products, technology, developments outside your company, projects that the SMEs are particularly proud of. You can also survey the intended participants to find out what they would like to learn more about. That is the first task – focusing on the highest priority topics over a 6 months trajectory of sessions. As a starting point that would give you a good start and the opportunity to do a process check 6-months later to see what can be better.

Once you have the topics settled for each session, the SME would need some helpful structure to disseminate his or her knowledge in a helpful way as opposed to telling several war stories from the past which leaves session participants confused.

The questions below can be used by the SME to prepare for each session and it could be helpful for him or her to even present the information to the group in this structured way.

discussion-topics-for-smes

Capturing knowledge in a database would be one approach to knowledge sharing, but helping adults learn and know how to apply new knowledge requires that you build in room for questions and discussions in the process. This can be accomplished using face-to-face meetings, video conferencing, and webinars.

The best way to ensure that knowledge is retained and expanding within the company is to apply discipline and structure to knowledge sharing and transfer. This is especially important to do when you consider those who plan to retire in the next two to three years. Involving recognized experts (SMEs) within your company to share their knowledge with others is important for the sustainability of your competitive advantage in the market place. Its is about the things you know about your marketplace, the things you know how to do better and faster than your competition etc. Using the process and approach shared above will help you plan ahead and improve organizational capability over time.