Engaging Challenge

Engaging ChallengeWhile the last few years have found baby-boomer retirement issues holding top priority, the latest human resource surveys are showing that employee engagement is now taking over the primary lead. In fact, one survey reports that 94 percent of survey participants indicated that employee engagement was the most important workforce challenge they were currently facing (see source at end of post).

Yet, what is employee engagement and why are HR managers so concerned? Employee engagement refers to whether or not employees have a positive or negative approach to their work as well as to whether or not employees are willing and/or not willing to perform at their best in ways that further benefit their employer.

The reason HR managers are concerned about employee engagement is that engaged employees are known to make a strong impact on business success from a profitability point of view and also contribute to a positive workplace culture.

A fully engaged workforce feels rewarded and excited to take part in their jobs.At the same time, HR professionals know that a focus on employee engagement has a spillover effect in that other HR functions such as performance management, employee recognition, and employee retention seem to improve. Also, those organizations that track employee engagement scores are discovering that their managers are much more effective in developing, providing feedback, recognizing, and rewarding their employees.

This is good news from two points of view. First, it confirms that leadership styles have transitioned from an autocratic, authoritarian style to one of collaboration, coaching, and mentoring of employees. Secondly, it is finally giving credence to the fact that employee reward and recognition programs are not simply that annual warm and fuzzy “must have” event, but do indeed have real return on investment for a business.

If you really think about it, a fully engaged workforce that outperforms other work groups will essentially become your competitive advantage. If employee reward and recognition programs have proven to be a big part of successful employee engagement, then it makes sense to strategically implement a reward and recognition program. This program will become a set of guiding principles that will ensure all forms of your rewards and recognition are in alignment with your business strategy. The following steps to implementation will ensure an effective contribution to your employee engagement.

Secure Leadership Commitment

A reward and recognition program must be supported not only by a CEO/president, but also by all the executives and managers in a company. Appoint a program champion to oversee the design, development and implementation.

Link Rewards to Business Strategy

Your program must be connected to the needs and expectations of your workforce as well as to your organizational goals and objectives. Incorporate your company values and goals into the program so that your messages are consistent and employees understand what behaviours are important.

Make the Program Fair and Inclusive

A reward and recognition program must be able to impact and motivate all of your employees, not just a set of top performers. This now includes consideration for the interests and needs of the various generations of workers in your organization. Establish your selection criteria so that “justice for all” is perceived by your employees, which in turn will help to develop trust in your program.

Design for Meaning

Consider conducting an employee survey to identify personal interests and suggestions for what would be appreciated in a reward or recognition program. Employees value meaningful rewards that they can get excited about and that motivates them to excel. Work with your employees to help create a personal mission that links with the corporate mission. Form an employee committee to assist management in designing the program. Value all suggestions you are given, and discount no other point of view simply because it is not your own.

Design for Choice

With so many different interests and needs in today’s workforce, the best strategy is to allow for choice in the selection of a reward gift. Rewards typically range from an item with the company logo to making a charitable donation in the name of your employees. This will enable you to meet the needs of an intergenerational workforce and one with significant cultural diversity.

Simplify the Nomination Process

Ensure the nomination process is not too complicated or time intensive so that people will be encouraged rather than discouraged from participating. Keep your forms simple. Be sure to be consistent and make the overall selection process transparent.

Link Rewards with Actions

It’s well known that when recognition quickly follows action, you’ll get a lot more “bang for the buck” in terms of employee motivation and engagement. Timeliness helps the employee to know why he or she is being acknowledged and why their contribution or behavior was valuable. Your timely recognition will be better remembered and the employee behavior reinforced through this linkage as well.

Train Your Managers

Managers are typically the people handling the reward and recognition program as well as leading employees toward greater engagement. Train your managers to understand the goals and objectives of your program as well as how to effectively implement it on an ongoing basis.

Promote Your Program

Help employees understand the “what, where, why, and how” of your rewards and recognition program. Use multiple communication strategies and media. Be sure that employees understand what’s in it for them. Plan to promote employee success and recognition through your company newsletter or email/twitter messages. Make them a star.

Make it a Celebration

In addition to making daily acknowledgements, annual performance reviews, or sporadic special events, celebrate employee achievements by holding an annual event. Incorporate all kinds of rewards and recognition ranging from retirement to special achievements. Make it a celebration.

Measure Your Results

Measuring success through tracking employee satisfaction and employee engagement against your program objectives will give you an indication of success. When management is aware of this annual measurement, you’ll see an increase in accountability and leadership behaviors as well as an increase in the application of other human resource functions.

Meaningful employee reward and recognition programs are a powerful tool for engaging your employees and increasing retention. However, a program must be well thought out, fair, transparent, as well as based on corporate goals and objectives that are linked to the recognition and rewards that an employee values. Consider the impact this type of program could have in your own organization and what wonders it could do for your employees’ engagement with their work.

Survey Source: Employee Recognition Survey, Winter 2012 Report, SHRM/Globoforce; Creating an Effective Reward and Recognition Program, Leadership council, March 2006


Barbara is President of Career Partners International – Winnipeg and is a leading and most respected authority on human Resources and executive search. She is a Certified Human Resource Management Professional (CHRP – Fellow), a Certified Management Consultant, (CMC), a Certified Coach Practitioner and holds a Master of Administration in Education. Barbara is also certified in a number of human resource and proprietary operational strategies.


Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something Big

This blog was originally published to the Working Transitions/Career Partners International – Northampton. The original post can be viewed here.


Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something Big

Much has been written about transferable skills in recent years.  This coverage has tended to focus on high profile individuals who have left one industry to do something seemingly completely different.  One current example all over the media has been Frank Leboeuf.  Since retiring as a footballer he has taken up acting (recently popping up in the film The Theory of Everything) following in the footsteps of Eric Cantona and Vinny Jones.  Even David Beckham is having a go at acting, among other things.

Leboeuf comments about the transferable skills of footballers who go into acting  - “We know the cameras, we’re not afraid of showing off. We also have to be careful what we say in front of the camera; sometimes we don’t want to tell the truth because the journalist wants to make us admit something we don’t want to. You have to be an actor when you’re a footballer.”   While he has studied and perfected his craft diligently, the core skills that he possesses have been transferable between two very different careers.

Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something BigPeople usually think about their transferable skills when applying for a job or when considering a career change.  However, while many people can see and understand industry-specific experience (i.e. an accountant within a fast-moving consumer goods organizations moving to become an accountant in the professional services sector), it is harder to comprehend how skills transfer when it comes to a complete career change.

According to Gerwyn Davies, Labour Market Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) “Skills shortages and utilization is still a major problem in many businesses. If we are to improve overall UK productivity, we must lift up the bonnet on British businesses and take a look at what they are doing to develop and use their people’s skills. Until this issue is tackled, performance and pay will continue to suffer.”

The UK economy is therefore sitting on the cusp of realizing a competitive advantage over those of other countries (especially in Europe). If, as a country, the UK can get better at identifying – and get used to the idea of – transferable skills more quickly, skills gaps can be addressed, career options enhanced, and business profitability improved.

To achieve this, candidates must get better at identifying and articulating their own transferable skills.  At the same time, employers need to gain a better understanding of the nature of portability as well as at seeing the opportunity and potential in each candidate.

For example, an accountant who wanted to become a marketer would arguably struggle with their transition.  Why should they?  The accountant brings commercial acumen, analytical rigidity, and an ability to be creative within set rules.  These are all skills a marketing manager needs.

It’s not about the skill set per se; it is about the abilities and qualities that can be recognized in individuals.

Psychometric TestingOrganizations often use some form of psychometric testing in the interview and/or selection process.  Such tests are designed to assess a candidate’s personality type, skills, talent, and ability, as well as to measure their potential beyond listed work experience.  However, even with this in place, people have become rigid in their thinking when it comes to transferability.  When competition is tough, the default position is to hire the candidate with the most relevant experience. Employers who fall into this trap don’t just have vacancies unfilled for long periods but often lose a candidate who could, with a little support in the early stages, be a star performer.

Penny Tamkin, Associate Director at the Institute for Employment Studies, highlights the pitfalls of classifying people in a way that restricts their future effectiveness. “Using competencies to drive key HR processes has some clear disadvantages.  Competency-based recruitment tends to strongly favour those who can show they have done the job before rather than giving a chance to someone who might make the most contribution.”

There have been several movements to combat these issues.  In late 2008 the BBC reported that UK government department, the Training and Development Agency was planning recruitment drives later that year in Canary Wharf to target those in the financial services sector for career changes into teaching.  These initiatives are too few and far between to be effective at creating measurable and meaningful change, however.

Similarly, during the recession, transferable skills analysis was essential.  Lynne Hardman, CEO of Working Transitions/Career Partners International – Northampton comments that “There is always a strong focus on identifying transferable skills when people are undergoing outplacement support.  For many this can be a revelation and often leads to new careers in sectors that they never would have imagined they could work in.  In fact, a high proportion of those made redundant find themselves in a different role in a new industry sector and are often much happier as a result.”

The key to unlocking this lies with the HR profession.  HR professionals need to develop new skills to tackle change as it is “even more complex than we might traditionally acknowledge,” a report from the Institute for Employment Studies has claimed.  Tamkin concludes that “There is a lot that is attractive here. As futures become more uncertain, preparing people for specific roles and tasks is too limiting. We need innovation, competitiveness, and productivity improvements, and in a more complex world, these would seem to cry out for holistic rather than atomized conceptions of abilities.”

If our economy is to succeed, we’ve got to promote, encourage, and support people in making the sideways moves into different careers that we have gotten used to seeing from the celebrity circuit.  We’ve got to transfer it like Beckham!


Lynne has enjoyed a successful business career of over 25 years, with experience in a range of sectors working with business start-ups, turnarounds, acquisitions, and corporate organisations. For the last 15 years, she has worked in the recruitment sector where she held board positions in two global organisations, leading teams to build high growth specialist businesses in new and established markets. Her varied experience has given her extensive insight into how careers are impacted by change. She is the CEO of Career Partners International – Northampton.


Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

Why Listening Matters – At Work and At Home

Why Listening Matters – At Work and At HomeRecently, I had the privilege of hearing Colum McCann, author of “Let the Great World Spin” and “TransAtlantic,” speak at the Books for Lunch program, sponsored by The Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, OH. What was intended to be a simple outing with my colleagues became a surprising reminder of the power of listening, and its ability to transform every area of our lives.

I can’t think of anything kinder than to share these three inspiring lessons with you:

“The capacity for otherness is vital to our human endeavor.”

McCann began his talk by acknowledging the painful current events of hatred and violence, and of the closed mindedness that breeds these acts. “In order to address closed-mindedness with open-mindedness,” he said, “we need to first understand what makes a closed mind closed.” The only way to do this is through listening and empathy, the ability for which separates us from virtually all other species.

Yet, we frequently ignore these precious abilities in lieu of talking, defending or controlling a conversation. McCann recalled a visit to Sandy Hook, following the tragedy, where he was surprised at how the school children didn’t need him to say anything, but simply to listen. “I allowed them the space to tell their story – and to talk it out of themselves,” he recalled.

Pause here to take that in.

To talk it out of themselves. What a gift…to be deeply listened to. And not just to our words, but to the spirit behind them. I am reminded of the wisdom of “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who advised his friend to listen with the heart because, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

  • Ask yourself, who in my life today, could benefit from my listening, without interruption, to their story?

“I want optimism to become a muscular thing.”

How I love this visual image of optimism! Not as a cotton candy attitude, but as something strong and purposeful. McCann is unashamed of his idealism, which he defines as optimism plus hope. He challenges us to “put muscular hope into our daily lives by embracing otherness: putting optimism into closed minds not by forcing our own attitudes on others but by ‘getting under the skin of their experience.’”

He told the story of former Senator George Mitchell, who at age 64 traveled to Ireland to negotiate a seemingly un-brokerable peace treaty. It took him 3 years. And for the entirety of the first year, all he did was listen, which, according to McCann, is no easy task in Ireland. Reference popular regional humor:

Q: “What is Irish Alzheimer’s?”

A: “Forgetting everything but a grudge.”

For the past 16 years, Ireland has been enjoying relative peace thanks to the efforts of this man who dared to begin a daunting task with listening.

I feel strangled and small when I think of grand stories like these, yet I don’t think transformation needs to be viewed on only a global scale.

  • Think of a team or a team member with whom you are having some difficulty. How might the situation shift – even slightly – if you only listened today, without judgment or direction?

“The life of an adult is so UNFINISHED.”

McCann remembered his eagerness as a youngster to become a grown-up. And now, having arrived at that elusive place, his greatest surprise is that an adult’s life isn’t as tidy and figured out as he had once imagined.

This could be depressing. Or, it could be freeing. The concepts of closure, control, knowing, and getting ground under our feet are all illusions.

McCann referenced a brain study, one of those experiments where live people’s brains are wired with electrodes and monitors. “If you tell your own story,” he explained, “your brain is like a circus.” Lots of colorful neural activity and blinking lights. “But, when you listen to someone else’s story and tell it back to them, your brain is like a CARNIVAL!”

As one of my longtime mentors said to me recently, “Listening is the most intimate gift we can give another human being.”

  • How might my quality of life improve today by allowing someone with whom I’m in a relationship the space to “tell their story out of themselves?”

I look forward to hearing how your life – at work or at home — is changed by this.


Linda Tefend, CMF, Career and Image Coach, is one of Career Partners International – Cincinnati’s most sought-after speakers on topics related to career, image and transition. She is passionate about helping and empowering others to navigate life transitions. Linda’s fun and engaging style makes intimidating or uncomfortable topics more easily digestible to audiences. Some of her favorite presentations are ‘What to do When You’re Not in Kansas Anymore,’ ‘Cashing In on Dressing Up,’ and ‘LinkedIn and Your Job Search.’


Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!