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People skills

The Business Benefits of Bilingual Employees

Language – written and spoken — is the primary tool people use to communicate. While babies are not born speaking, they begin to acquire language skills relatively shortly after birth. By about one year old, babies are babbling and saying some words, and by two years of age most toddlers are learning new words daily and starting to form sentences. Based on the results of over 2 million people testing their vocabulary on www.testyourvocab.com, by age 9, the average American test-taker already has a vocabulary of 10,000 words and most American adult test-takers have vocabularies ranging from 20,000-35,000 words. That is for Americans learning one language: English.
It is generally believed that a person with a large vocabulary is better able to communicate with others, and that is usually a sign of intellect. If language is tied to intelligence, then it stands to reason that someone with the ability to speak more than one language would thus have an even larger overall vocabulary and would be even better able to communicate with others. Yet, there has been a great deal of debate in the U.S. over the years regarding teaching and speaking “English only”. Indeed, only 19.7% of Americans speak more than one language, versus 56% of Europeans. Looking at this issue strictly from a business standpoint, it appears that having bilingual or multilingual employees is good for business. Recent research shows that being able to speak more than one language is not only useful to businesses in places with a lot of diversity, it also makes for better – as in more talented – employees even in places where everyone speaks English. Continue reading

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Business Etiquette: Agreeing to Disagree

The political scene that unfolded in the U.S. in 2016 brought into the spotlight how deeply people disagreed on key issues. Disagreements became confrontational, aggressive and uncivil. Private discussions and social media posts spilled into open public forums, rallies and protests. It was particularly divisive and distasteful.
Disagreement can happen in any setting, from the political arena to the business environment. But in a professional setting, there are rules and boundaries for how to share diverging viewpoints. That is because impertinent, disrespectful and aggressive communication is counterproductive to teamwork and can undermine the creativity and efficiency of any organization. When handled correctly, intelligent people can share ideas, disagree totally and still be able to work together effectively. Here are some tips on how to handle disagreements. Continue reading

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Capricious or Cutting-Edge: When Should a Business Make Changes?

It’s been said that “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” The point is that sometimes you have to break routines and try new processes, products, systems or strategies to find better ways of doing things. Innovation usually leads to improvement, and refusing to ever try new things is futile and foolish. Consider the Luddites. The Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers and weavers who, fearing the end of their trade, protested against newly developed labor-saving technologies between 1811 and 1816. New inventions such as the stocking frames, spinning frames and power of the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace Luddites with less-skilled, low-wage laborers, leaving them unemployed and obsolete. The Luddite movement culminated in a region-wide rebellion in Northwestern England that required a massive deployment of military force to suppress. So famous was their rebellion that today the term Luddite has become synonymous with anyone opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technology, in general.

Of course, there is also an argument to be made that a business that is always changing processes, products and strategies may find itself wasting both time and talent. It can be expensive to constantly be shifting gears and updating systems. Learning new software or revamping procedures takes time and can be confusing – and even frustrating — for employees. So change for the sake of change can also be counterproductive and costly. It is important for businesses to evolve, but it should be done carefully and thoughtfully to ensure it causes the least amount of disturbance, distraction and distress internally and externally. Continue reading

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Top 10 Reasons Employees Stay with their Employer, Part 2

It is well-established that employee turnover is both costly and wasteful. High employee turnover is, in fact, one of the biggest impediments to positive business growth, no matter the industry. In the majority of instances, the cost to recruit, hire and train new employees and the additional workload that the process puts on management and existing employees adds no value to the business. When good employees leave a company by choice, it is just a loss. So employee turnover has a huge effect on profitability. For that reason alone, companies with high church should work hard to reduce the employee turnover rate.
However, if the sheer cost of employee turnover is not reason enough, managers should consider that cohesive teams are much more productive and creative than workplaces where the people are learning to work together and don’t really know or trust one another. A department in which employees come and go – like a revolving door — will have more confusion, communication breakdowns and mistakes than one in which all of the people have been working well together for a long time. It is human nature that people get to know and understand how others on the team work and are able to work more harmoniously and intuitively. Turnover also causes loss of memory of vital information. Learning from both mistakes and successes helps employees find better solutions to challenges. Reports or other people’s recollection only offer a snapshot of that information. Workers have to actively experience and remember losses and gains in order to be influenced by them. And, business contacts and deeper networks of connection are lost if new department heads or salespeople are lost, NOT because of promotions from within, but because the company is hemorrhaging workers.
Another good reason for companies to focus on reducing employee turnover is reputation. Companies with high employee turnover get a reputation for churn. In every industry, there are companies that everyone knows have a “high churn and burn rate.” These are firms where management is quick to both hire and fire. Those firms are unlikely to attract top talent, unless that talent is specifically being brought in to fix the “churn and burn” problem. Companies that cannot attract top talent are unlikely to disrupt a market, revolutionize a field or become industry leaders. All of these reasons should motivate companies with high employee turnover to tackle the issue? Thankfully, there are ways to improve employee loyalty and reduce turnover and many of them don’t cost a cent. Last week, we looked at five reasons employees stay with their employer: compensation, mentoring, challenges, promotions and involvement. Here five more reasons. Continue reading

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Recruitment 2.0 – Acquiring Companies to Get Top Talent

Once upon a time, in the age-old, gritty world of business mergers and acquisitions, the focus was on acquiring companies in order to get its patents, property, products, processes, power or prestige. Think of AT&T acquiring Bell South in 2006 for $83 Billion and Exxon acquiring Mobile in 1998 for $80.3 Billion. The advertising industry used serial mergers to achieve a global presence, attain substantial influence over media, and offer a full range of marketing services to international clientele. In some cases, corporate acquisitions have been used to keep patents out of the hands of those who might be tempted to assert them against a mega corporation. But, while companies still want to acquire innovative institutions and inventive ideas, corporate acquisition efforts have taken an odd and interesting turn in the 21st century. Instead of buying the competition’s better widgets or customer base, today’s mega corporations are acquiring companies just to get its employees.
Big business has begun acquiring companies – sometimes lackluster startups — just to get the staff who work there. The world of corporate acquisitions has expanded into the realm of recruiting and HR. It is perhaps the ultimate confirmation that a company’s greatest assets are its people. But this approach is now becoming a common – if not a common sense — approach for tech giants fighting to hire the most brilliant leaders, engineers and programmers in the world. The real question is whether this approach to talent acquisition is effective and can it work for other industries too? Does it make sense to spend money – sometimes big money — buying a company in the hopes that the talent will stay long-term? And does that mean, in essence, that companies are selling “human talent”? Continue reading

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Building a Woman-Friendly Workplace – Part 2

The idea that there is still gender disparity in compensation and opportunities in 21st century American business may seem ludicrous to some. After all, there are some very powerful women leading some of the world’s biggest companies. Mary Barra is CEO of General Motors. Ginni Rometty is CEO of IBM. Indra Nooyi is CEO at Pepsico. Marilyn Hewson is CEO of Lockheed Martin. Safra Catz is CEO of Oracle. And beyond Fortune 500 companies, there are female trailblazers such as Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Jill Abramson, Executive Editor of the New York Times and Oprah Winfrey, creator of O Network. These women are not just successful, but the companies they lead represent a cross-section of business sectors from aviation to automotive to technology and beyond. But the real story is in the numbers. While the 2016 Fortune 500 list shows that 21 companies have women CEOs, those are fewer than the 24 female Fortune 500 CEOs in 2014 and 2015. More importantly, of the 29 companies that were added to the Fortune 500 list this year, only one had a female at the helm. The decline in female CEOs in the Fortune 500 this year is due to retirements, mergers and other factors that had nothing to do with gender or the quality of their leadership. But, with so few females to begin with (just 4-5% in all), any loss of female representation at the top is more noticeable.
The real problem is that while some women have moved to the top of their fields, they are few and far between and there aren’t many other females following in their footsteps. This lack of female leadership is found not just in business, but also in government, sports, judiciary, higher education/universities, and beyond. And this imbalance can be found at every level and bleeds into compensation practices and workplace policies that are unfair or unfriendly to women. There are steps businesses can take to rectify these issues and create workplaces that are fair and equitable to both genders.
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Building a Woman-Friendly Workplace – Part 1

As of July 2014, women comprised over 50.8% (162 million) of the total U.S. population and 47.4% of the total U.S. labor force. Of the 123 million women who can work (ages 16 years and over), 75.6 million or 57%, are labor force participants—either working or looking for work. (Comparatively speaking, 69.2% of men 16 years old and older are labor force participants.) More importantly, women are projected to account for 51% of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018. And yet women in the U.S. still earn only .79 per dollar that a man makes doing the same job. They also make up less than 25% of all state and nationally-elected government leadership positions and less than 5% of all CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. Economists and leaders see this disparity in female earnings and female representation in government as a problem if the nation wants to stay competitive in the global marketplace. But what can be done to make things more equitable?
Businesses can play a part in solving these problems. For business, it starts by making the workplace more “women-friendly”. Some big companies have already made big strides. But there are still many business leaders who think that their company is already woman-friendly enough, and that any further accommodations will only hurt and interfere with the company’s productivity and efficiency. Given that nearly half of labor force’s growth will be comprised of women, it could be argued that it just makes sense for companies to made workplaces more female-friendly. The first step it to identify and understand the barriers.
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Bosses’ Top 10 Pet Peeves about Employees

There are all kinds of bosses in the world. Management styles vary as widely as people’s personalities. There is the “do it the way I tell you” directive boss, and the “firm but fair” authoritative manager whose goal is to provide long-term direction and vision. Then there is the affiliative supervisor who seeks to create harmony amongst employees and management, as well as the “everyone has input” democratic director who is focused on building commitment and encouraging teamwork. There is also the pacesetting exec who is all about setting high standards and accomplishing tasks and the coaching boss, whose focus is on providing opportunities for professional development.
But while there are as many management styles are there are colors in the rainbow, most bosses seem to have one thing in common. They share many of the same pet peeves about their employees. According to LinkedIn survey conducted in 16 countries with data from 17,653 professionals, including 1,953 people in the U.S., bosses worldwide all seemed to have the same bêtes noires about staff. Here are the top 10 complaints bosses had about staff. Continue reading

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Living “In the Moment”

Michael drives to work. He passes hundreds of other drivers, obeys all the signs and heeds traffic lights, avoids pedestrians, merges lanes, adjusts the speed of his vehicle and ultimately parks. He does all this and later has practically no recollection of it at all. He got from point A to point B on “mental auto-pilot”, where his brain drew on habits to navigate, while his thinking mind was elsewhere. He might have been planning the day ahead. Or he might have agonizing about a cacophony of demands in his life. Or worrying about a problem. But for the 45 minutes it took him to drive to work, his mind was elsewhere. The real question is: how many tasks are performed in a day with little or no thought at all? Brushing teeth. Getting dressed for work. Drinking a cup of coffee. Eating lunch. Working out at the gym. Carpooling. Cooking dinner. Each day blends in with the next, and suddenly the year is half over.
While everyone does some tasks “mindlessly” at least once in a while, there are folks who are on “auto-pilot” a lot. Absent smiles. Perfunctory greetings. Blank stares. For them, life is zooming by while they are disengaged. The problem is that time – the scarcest commodity – is passing and it will never come again. Time spent on auto-pilot is basically time missed. After all, when Michael drove to work but can’t recall the drive, was he really present? Given how precious time is, can anyone afford to be “absentee” from even a single minute of life? How much more productive and happy would a person be if he were fully engaged and savoring every moment of every day? And, at the end of his life, how much might he give to be able to get back all those “auto-pilot” moments? Now there’s something to dwell on! So is there a way to stop zoning out and live more “in the moment”? Continue reading

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10 Invaluable Qualities in Employees that require Zero Talent – Part 2

When looking to hire employees, managers often confuse talents, skills, knowledge and strengths. A talent is an innate ability, while a skill is an ability that is learned and nurtured over time. A person might be a naturally-gifted writer even while never having taken any kind of writing class. That is a talent. That same person might also take a course in online advertising and attain the Google Adwords Certification. That is a skill. If that person attends a college and takes a host of classes in business, sales and marketing, that person attains knowledge – and perhaps a degree – in business administration. If that person then gets a job in which she is using her writing talents, online marketing skills, and sales and marketing knowledge, over time this will become her strength. A strength is the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through superior performance of specific tasks. When a company recruits and hires staff, it looks for people who have particular talents, skills and knowledge.
However, there are certain qualities that are very important for employees to have which are not innate talents, nurtured skills or learned knowledge. These are often traits that are simply a part of who the person is. Over time, some of these traits can be honed, but they are generally not “learnable”. Last week, we considered five of these innate qualities: being on time every day; having a strong work ethic; putting forth maximum effort; having affirmative body language; and having a passion for work. While these might seem like things that can be learned, the truth is that people don’t generally change their work ethic, effort, passion, or body language. They can try to improve those things for a short time, but they usually revert back to their normal level of energy, their true degree of passion, their ingrained body language and their usual work ethic in time. The same is true of their attendance and punctuality. A person might do better for a while, but eventually a person who has a problem with punctuality or attendance will revert back to those bad habits. That is why screening for these qualities in new hires is so important.
Here are five more invaluable qualities that an employee should have and employer should want that requires absolutely zero talent. Continue reading

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