Mental Health, Virtual Integration & Remote Compensation are key topics at HR Roundtable

Posted on March 18, 2021 by Chris Swan
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After enjoying the comfort and cost savings of working from home, would you rule out a potential job if remote wasn’t an option? Ever struggle logging into a video meeting and then face “technology bias”? How about your employees’ mental health – are you seeing resilience or deepening depression?

These compelling questions and issues, impacting workforces the world over right now, were explored recently during TRANSEARCH USA’s Executive Human Resources Virtual Roundtable.

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Five Tips to Boost Productivity in the Virtual World

Posted on December 3, 2020 by Chris Swan
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How can your business bolster productivity in these extraordinary times?  

I recently had the unique opportunity to explore this critical question with top C-suite leaders as part of an executive leadership conference hosted by the Environmental Financial Consulting Group (EFCG).

Moderated by EFCG VP Daniel Sosnay, the conference session, entitled Redefining Workforce Productivity in a New Virtual Worldincluded myself as a keynote speaker, along with Gayle Packer, President and CEO at Terracon and Leo Argiris, COO for the Americas Region of Arup.

Here are some of the important answers, creative ideas and practical solutions we discussed:

       1.  Create Small Teams 

Arup has 90 offices across the world.  Leo Argiris, COO of the Americas, said the pandemic prompted the company to, “mobilize more distributed teams on more projects than ever before.” In fact, with the benefit of video collaboration technology and a global workforce, Argiris noted Arup “provided funding in the form of hours to create more than 200 small teams, where these smaller groups of people bounced new ideas off each other …which has ultimately led to breakthroughs, innovation and more productivity.”  Argiris said the organization is now establishing plans to make these teams a more formalized and sustained business practice to continue gaining incredible value from the initiative.

       2.  Communicate and Listen with Intention & Empathy

Gayle Packer, President and CEO at Terracon, explained that frequent, intentional and empathic communication is imperative to productivity. “You need to give your employees a place to be heard,” Packer revealed. “Engaging employees at all levels, multiple times and in multiple ways, such as zoom check-ins and weekly team huddles to support them are all useful. You must be intentional about building a better relationship with every conversation you have.”

Packer emphasized more frequent communication with clients has also become particularly important during the pandemic. “Our Geotechnical Engineers are not usually involved at the early stages of a project,” Packer noted. “But during Covid, we started a new approach of hosting client kickoff meetings, which has enabled us to deliver better results, faster and seamlessly, which our clients really appreciate.”

       3.  Prioritize Mental Health

The disruption in our professional lives from the pandemic is accompanied by massive disruption in our personal lives. In addition to the social isolation of remote work, people are grappling with multiple stressors, such as the overlap school age children being home while you are working and the lines of work life balance being erased. “Mental health is a precursor to anybody being productive,” Packer said. “We, as leaders, have to take the first step and make it acceptable and appropriate for people to ask for help, to ask employees what they need and figure out ways to support that.”

To address these issues and keep employees happy and productive, Packer said Terracon has an internal web site for parents that provides a forum to discuss their issues and share ideas. Argiris noted Arup has been using communication tools such as surveys as an avenue for employees to express their feelings, and for leaders to get an accurate pulse of how well employees are doing.

       4.  Develop Talent Virtually

Talent development and productivity go hand in hand. Digital training tools is one way companies have been able to ensure their workforce continues to develop new skills, knowledge and competencies. The same applies for new talent. To that end, Arup was able to run a summer internship program entirely virtually. “Even without ever meeting each other or setting foot in an office, we brought on board 90 interns who joined us for two-month summer internships which we think were quite successful,” Argiris related. “We gave them assignments, they worked in our small teams and we were very happy with the program we delivered.”

       5.  Ensure Your Leaders have STRAGILITY (Strength + Agility) 

The leadership talent you need to thrive under unrelenting uncertainty are people with what I call ‘stragility’ –  the combination of strength and agility.  To elaborate, these are leaders who:

  • Constantly think about and deliver innovation
  • Leverage video-collaboration and other technology to work better, faster and smarter
  • Maximize employee diversity by focusing on cross-cultural strengths
  • Leverage high EI (Emotional Intelligence) to foster connections and communication

There are many changes and challenges in the workforce as a result of Covid. But companies across the globe are using this unprecedented time to create new opportunities to be successful. The virtual world has taken the barriers of geography and the walls of hierarchy and knocked them down. More intentional engagement, increased collaboration, remarkable digital innovation that enables greater efficiency, diversity and smoother work processes, have collectively been the building blocks for productivity.  

Let’s keep learning from these successes so that when the pandemic is behind us, we continue to move forward. To discuss more productivity tips, feel free to schedule a virtual meeting with me.

Location, Location – not anymore: Remote work brings talent, profits, collaboration & much more

Posted on November 26, 2020 by Chris Swan
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Remote work has proven to work well across the world. Now, how can you fully maximize the opportunities of the virtual economy?

The following article explores practical ways your business can optimize virtualization:

Global Pool Talent Means Greater Productivity & Profitability

How many times has a talented executive said ‘no’ to a job because of its location, or you missed finding the best candidates because they lived out of state or country? Remote work has completely shifted this paradigm. As HR thought-leader John Sullivan noted, “the vast majority of talent remains dispersed around the world.” Today and into the future, the global talent pool you and executive recruiters like myself can access is unprecedented.

Indeed, by hiring the best people wherever they live, companies stand to gain substantial increases in productivity, skills, and compensation rates. Organizations that capitalize on the full value of a world-wide talent pool have the opportunity for exponential growth in creativity, diversity, and efficiencies, which will translate into expansion and increased profits.

Closing Offices = Cost Savings & Collaboration

As global futurist Jack Uldrich remarked, “the future does not belong to ‘a place.'” Even before Covid, surveys repeatedly showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Today, over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option, according to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics.

Some companies are already eliminating their headquarters, realizing they no longer need a physical location. Enhanced video collaboration tools are making this possible, and as these technologies accelerate, the trend will expand. Likewise, the 9-5 workday seems old-fashioned and unrealistically restrictive. Remarkably, all this change represents just the first generation of remote work. It will continue to evolve, and less rooted in geography as ‘place’ ceases to matter as much. The new model is lean, flexible, and decentralized.

I already see my clients in the professional services industry, increasing their profits, reducing their real estate costs, and widely adopting virtual meetings as a standard business practice. As companies get more sophisticated in evaluating workforce productivity, they will continue to find virtual collaboration more effective and efficient than in-person interactions.

Virtual-Savvy Leaders Must be Agile, Engaged, and Empathic

What kind of leaders will thrive in the emerging virtual world? The fundamental key for these leaders is seamless integration with their virtual teams. At my firm, TRANSEARCH, we focus on finding culture-builders who are comfortable managing remote professionals. Innovators who find ways to link people and create certainty in uncertain times. The winning leaders of the future will be empathic, engaged with their teams, and skilled at delivering impact on challenging problems. These dynamic leaders will set themselves apart with greater agility, emotional intelligence, and authentic communication.

More Benefits for Businesses and Beyond

Without commuting to an office every day, people and businesses will reduce their collective carbon footprint, which, in addition to being advantageous to the environment, will also make people happier. Communities can focus on healthy lifestyles, safe and nurturing environments, and positive spaces where citizens build stronger relationships.

The pandemic has been terrible, but it has accelerated the virtual economy at lightning speed as nothing else could. We can’t go back to the way things were before. All that means is that fascinating possibilities abound. Let’s seize the day!

Place the Right Employees in the Right Job Positions to Increase Retention: “Why do my best people stay?”

Posted on December 14, 2017 by Chris Swan
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What is your strategy for human capital? At some point the conversation always comes back to people. Do you have the right people? Are they in the right roles? Are they energized to be efficient and profitable? Of course, many people will agree and in the next breath say that people are essential; but too simplistic. There are other factors to running and growing a business. For example, one of my executive candidates out of a top global engineering firm said to my client during an interview, “There is nothing worse than a business without enough backlog.” Even a dysfunctional team might work together well if there is plenty of work and everyone is busy.

The question that top executives should be asking is, “Why do my best people stay?” What does it take to keep the best employees engaged, enthused about the work, their individual status in the organization, and the positive WHY of the organization? We may all have our personal opinions and guesses about why people stay, but the best source of that information is the employees themselves.

Clarity in deciding who are the best employees is essential. This is a key part of the human capital strategy. Large companies may be particularly challenged with this question, because there are so many potential decision variables in the equation. In small companies it may be just one person.  Jack Welch used a matrix of people; those who always delivered, or didn’t, and those that lived the values of the organization, or didn’t. Those who always delivered and lived the values rose the fastest, and the rest were encouraged or separated.

Many large companies in architecture, engineering, and construction are going through extraordinary change and consolidation. Challenged by outside forces such as – the shrinking in oil, gas and mining revenues, technological innovation, struggling international markets and a rising dollar – have put these companies on a turbulent path. Rapid change means that talented individuals are forced to seek greener pastures, often for the first time in many years. Evaluating talent that fits your business today means providing clarity about what it means to be a top performer. By asking your top performers “Why Do You Stay?” is a terrific first step in understanding the human capital value proposition.

Granted, priority one is a strong value proposition that is effective in the market. Attracting customers and delivering services to the satisfaction of your clients. Generating enough profit to sustain the investment of the shareholders. However, all of these tasks require talent. Some businesses that are the most challenged over the long run are ones that are led by technocrats who believe that everyone of importance needs to be an architect, an engineer or come-up from the field. Having the right people means understanding the tasks that need to be accomplished and having the best people to accomplish those tasks. Nearly always, the best people are the ones who love the work, are capable of doing the work, and are emotionally and mentally suited for the challenges. Clarity and decisiveness about what needs to be accomplished and the individual to best accomplish those tasks is critical.

Every contractor will tell you that if you don’t have the right controls, systems, and procedures in place, it is only a matter of time before the business will spiral out of control. The same is true for people. Without enough highly competent people that work well as a team, the business will not survive. Most businesses live on the edge of the talent gulf. Too much high priced talent and the firm isn’t commercially competitive, and too little, the risk of catastrophe is near. With commercial construction booming in many parts of the country and infrastructure spending slowly rising, craft labor is scarce and professional unemployment is near 2%. Employers are learning that they need to increase compensation to maintain the level of talent in their organizations, and to compensate they are focused narrowly on precise selection to increase value.

The most critical problems occur when the best people leave a firm. Institutional knowledge, positive culture norms, and practical know-how all walk out the door, rarely with effective systems to capture what was lost. Therefore, from an organizational perspective, the following questions are very important. What are the roles, responsibilities, competencies that are essential to success? For example, is a project executive spending 75% of his or her time directly with the project managers, going over project details and surfacing problems and solutions? Is that what we want and need, and why? Is there a better way? So few businesses are clear about expectations and the markers of success. Even fewer are focused on successful soft skills, such as collaboration, inspiration, or humor in the face of adversity.

Are the best people choosing your firm? Do you have enough work? Is your delivery world class? If the answers to these questions are not what you want to hear, then ask your people. If you do it in the right way, then you will have a road map for the future.


This article was originally published in Construction Executive.

Executive Integration: What does it mean?

Posted on October 17, 2017 by Chris Swan
Article image: Executive Integration - What does it mean

What new executives often miss is how exceedingly high the expectations can be for success. When starting in a new position, particularly at a new company, there is tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to an entirely new group of people just how talented you are and prepared. These people will either be thrilled or less than thrilled, and your reputation hangs in in the balance. The risks are just as high for your company, and the organization wants you to succeed just as much as you do. However, the challenge is truly up to you.

One stumble in front of the wrong person and your tenure at the new company, where you have placed all your hopes and dreams, may be in jeopardy. Obviously, it is important to deliver results from the very first day. Yes, the first day is the day when you meet people for the first time and set the tone for the rest of your relationship with them.

Keep these five points in mind:

Share your story. The first thing you need to have ready is your story. Not your entire life’s story, but the salient factors that will be most relevant and compelling to the people you will meet. Practice your story and make it your own. Ensure that it delivers a positive, professional, and prepared message. One that reinforces that brilliant decision to hire you.

Communicate with your stakeholders. The first step of communicating is listening; so listen intently. When you ask great questions, listening will be easy. Set time aside to get to know the people you work with on both a professional and personal level. Find something in your background that is a mutual interest, and try to share a specific memory or feeling. It doesn’t matter what it is, but make sure you share it in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Exceed expectations. Companies and roles are all very different, so keep in mind stakeholders which include; your boss, the owners of the business, peers, subordinates, and possibly customers… everyone with whom you come in contact. Determine what their expectations are and reach beyond the position description or the initial problems you discussed in your interview. Set a proactive tone for your new company and hit the ground running.

Focus on the future. Assume good things have happened in the past and that your predecessor made the best decisions they could with the information available. Many of your ideas may have been considered by someone else before, regardless of what you have been told. Believe in your ability to execute and find a proper solution. The point is to move forward. What happened in the past is data for you and history for the employees that were present then. Remember to take a keen interest in what has taken place in the past to help propel you forward.

Leverage the talents of others and focus on execution.  It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out the strong skill-sets of others. Make their talents part of your initial communication. Listen to the answers, ask for examples and consider the context. Most of the time companies are looking for leaders to execute, and failures in execution often result from leaders not leveraging all their resources properly. Bring fresh eyes and a desire to leverage the talents that exist. Everything and anything that can help you achieve where others have failed is worth considering.

Remember that the clock is ticking from Day One and you only have a short period of time to integrate into your new organization, and set a standard for the future.