News & Insight
April 2004

Q & A with Bill Morin, Management Outlook for 2004

Bill Morin<br />Chairman & CEO<br />WJM Associates

As chairman and chief executive officer of WJM Associates, Bill Morin leads a team of senior-level executive coaches and psychologists who consult with some of the top corporate leaders around the world. He is an observer as well as an advisor who keeps an eye on management trends that are developing among organizations and their people.

There has been a lot of commentary lately about management trends among large, multinational corporations -- ranging from more stringent controls over corporate governance to the effect of outsourcing white-collar U.S. jobs to lower-paid professionals in other countries. What issue do you see having the greatest impact on corporate management in 2004?

From where I sit, and based upon conversations I have had with senior executives here and abroad, the most widespread trend this year will be a flattening of organizations to accelerate the pace of business decision-making.

Advances in information technology and the Internet have increased the speed of change so much that large organizations can't afford to make decisions through a "command and control" hierarchy. The traditional project-management model is out the window. Companies today are paying more attention than ever to the marketplace and making decisions closer to their customers. This is not new, but it is accelerating faster than we can comprehend.

What does this trend mean from a talent-management standpoint?

It means that organizations are going to have to hire decision makers, rather than process strategists, and create a framework that recognizes the risks that people have to take to make better decisions on behalf of the corporation. We say we want risk takers on our management teams--now it will be a survival factor.

In addition, more companies are creating environments where people manage and motivate themselves. The paradigm is not new, but it is becoming more widely utilized. Mass training programs are a thing of the past, because one size does not fit all and the benefits of training programs are hard to track. People had a good time in those old programs, learning about supervision and management, but nobody could measure the results well.

Today there's more of a focus on individual development, with progress measured by 360-degree evaluations and other tools. And it has become incumbent upon individuals themselves to seek out training. People need to approach their boss or their human resources representative and to request assistance in terms of their personal development.

Some companies are ahead of this curve. They're giving people the resources to manage their own careers, with the company's support, so that they can take advantage of opportunities in the larger organization. They're providing individual counseling, coaching and training to prepare "high potentials" for future assignments.

How are these trends affecting the role of human resources management in the corporation?

More than ever before, human resources professionals have to view themselves as strategic business leaders within the organization.

Just as finance may manage millions of dollars worth of assets, and production and marketing may generate billions of dollars worth of goods and services, human resources is responsible for an even larger and more valuable asset--an organization's people. HR executives must recruit, develop and retain the best people they can find. Nothing is more critical to the well-being of an organization.

Years ago, IBM human resource managers made sales calls with the sales team and would ask customers, "Are our people matching up with your needs?" "Do we have the right people in place to help you accomplish what you need to do with our products and services?" That was a revolutionary concept at the time -- and it's still a valid perspective today.

We're all concerned with profits, so thinking that HR is soft or merely overhead is ridiculous. It's actually the hardest part of the business. Finding the right people, keeping them, developing them, and making sure the right talent is ready at the right time, in the right place, with the right skills. If that's not a critical business function, tell me what is.

The production line doesn't go out the door at night, but people do. If they're good, you want them to come back next morning. Do companies still compete for top talent?

Yes, talent wars are returning, but with a new twist -- retaining top talent is going to be harder than in the past. High-potential managers are scarce and must be nurtured like never before.

Most executives we talk to want to have impact. Dollars have to be in some fair range, but it's not what it was 20 years ago. People really are looking for an environment where they feel like they are making contributions. They want more than money to stay with a company today.

Management is starting to realize you have to turn employees on if you want them to stay. You have to flip the switch. We have downsized, realigned and restructured the day-to-day motivation out of our employees. Everybody is worried about his or her jobs. People spend more time lamenting at the water cooler -- or online. "We don't care about the company because we don't think the company cares about us." And the people who are left behind after a downsizing have even more to do. They're feeling more stress and they know they could be next.

Are businesses doing anything different when they downsize?

They're replacing outplacement services with a service called transitional counseling, which provides training where people think about what they can do differently with their career. Outplacement is an antiquated service that takes people into a process and tries to help them find another job in the same industry. The problem is, if the entire industry is contracting, there aren't many opportunities. Transitional counseling helps people develop career life skills that transcend SIC codes so they can find opportunities in other industries.

People have to manage their careers differently today. Career management used to be an event -- something you did every few years when you wanted to find a new job. Today it's a lifetime process, a daily activity. Due to the uncertainties of today's work environment, people need to keep their skills and networks up to date. Call it personal continuous improvement or fitness.

Forward-looking businesses will help their people stay current by offering career fitness benefits much in the way they offer health-club memberships. This will help people prepare for the next step in their career, whether it's with the company or not. And in the event people and employer have to part ways, the separation can be much less painful.

What other changes are you noticing in the marketplace?

The whole idea of recruiting people who don't perform up to expectations or leave within a year or so is expensive, not only in financial cost, but also in morale and corporate performance. The higher in the organization an executive is, the greater the impact of his or her departure.

I think executive search firms should stay with their candidates and counsel them for a good period of time--six months or more--and coach them on how to function in their new organizations.

Perhaps it's time for some bold clients to demand that their recruiters invest more in the success of their candidates. Clients could pay a third of the fee during recruitment, a third six months after the candidate has joined the organization, and the final third on the candidate's successful first anniversary.

Most search firms agree to replace candidates if they don't work out in the first six months to a year, but replacement is not the issue. The issue is success.

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