Human resources leaders are at the heart of the next generation of economic development.
Don't believe me? Look around. Thriving businesses are putting employees at the center of everything. Successful restaurants are rethinking their talent attraction and recruiting strategies. Cutting-edge corporations are developing their best and brightest workers through holistic learning strategies. And all of this is possible because HR professionals like you know that reopening your organization means rethinking everything from the ground up.
COVID taught us that everything is on the table, from benefits to remote work scenarios. But unfortunately, it's easy to fall back into old patterns and habits as employers. Executive leadership teams are full of confident people who can easily make assumptions about workers and economic trends. Historically, they've been right about their organizations. However, the pandemic taught us that nobody is infallible.
That's why I'd like to teach you a technique called the premortem to help you avoid risk, make fewer mistakes and deliver right-first-time employee experiences in a post-COVID landscape.
What is a premortem?
In my new book, Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career, I share the story of the premortem that I learned from my mentor, Chris Ostoich. He's the co-founder and head of innovation at LISNR, which created a new way to transmit data using sound. Chris and his team have raised millions of dollars in venture capital and serve customers like Ticketmaster, Jaguar Land Rover, Visa and Lenovo.
One day, Chris and I were chatting about risk, failure and betting on ourselves. He mentioned the Space Shuttle Challenger flight. If you weren't alive, let me fill you in. In January 1986, seven astronauts died when the shuttle exploded right after liftoff. NASA retooled its entire approach to preflight communication after the accident. It turns out an engineer named Bob Ebeling predicted the space shuttle would explode. He tried to prevent it, but his bosses didn't listen. So for years, Bob blamed himself. It was only later in life that he could finally forgive himself for the mistakes of others at work.
Chris asked, "Have you ever heard of the premortem?"
I had not, and I'm guessing neither have you.
The premortem is a simple exercise. Before you do anything — paint your kitchen, create a hybrid work program, or implement new learning management software — pause and reflect. Think about how you can fail before you start. Then work backward to create solutions for this hypothetical failure and put those action points into your project plan.
If you can see the failure now, you can beat it. Develop a plan that sees imminent obstacles and avoids them. That's the premortem. And in 2021, the premortem offers HR teams an opportunity to learn from the pandemic and avoid worker downtime, the risk of lost productivity and continued employee disengagement.
Ready to learn something new?
How to do a premortem
Variations of the premortem have been around forever. Still, its popularity did not take off in earnest until Dr. Gary Klein introduced the methodology to readers of Harvard Business Review in the early 2000s. Today, it’s used by Fortune 100 companies, small-to-medium-size businesses and consultants around the world. According to research, your chances of success improve by over 30 percent if you attempt to predict failure before starting and change your behaviors and actions to avoid it.
How to use a premortem to help your organization reopen?
- Choose a task you’ve recently assigned to your human resources department, such as creating a hybrid return-to-work program.
- Set a timer for two minutes and start imagining the ways your team failed at achieving their goal.
- List all the rational, irrational, silly, or ridiculous, ways that your team could fail.
- When the timer goes off, stop writing and review your list.
What you have before you is a gift. It's a pathway to success. Address those hiccups and you have the beginning of a road map to achieving your goals. Fix those glitches as part of your project plan, and you'll improve your chance of success exponentially.
How the premortem can help you reopen
The premortem is a fantastic method for helping you think through anything:
- Returning to work
- Keeping employees safe
- Rethinking your corporate learning strategy
- Even remodeling your home
That's right. You can use the premortem in your personal life for career development, more effective communication or even home improvement.
For example, my husband and I were thinking about renovating our kitchen during the pandemic, but the premortem quickly showed that I have trouble sticking to a budget. So, we still have the same kitchen. But, now that the economy is opening up, we go out to eat and don't worry about the remodeling costs.
The premortem can work for you and your team, too.
When creating a plan in human resources, we often present our best ideas to leadership teams only to be disappointed. Our presentations and strategy documents come back with notes, red lines, or messages of rejection. So let's flip the script and anticipate those criticisms.
The premortem is about highlighting failure and beating it.
So, if you want to propose a different production schedule for your workforce, think like a CEO and identify what will go wrong. Or if you're interested in reallocating dollars to invest in training, identify your leadership team's concerns and answer those questions proactively.
You don't need a coach, a consultant or an author like me to get your HR team ready to reopen your business. You’ve done a great job this far. It’s important not to lose momentum. So, be brave. Be bold. Be courageous. Make a case for change, and be on the right side of history after COVID.
But also be smart and do the premortem beforehand.
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock