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Our 10 most popular blog posts of 2013

January 9th, 2014 by Abby Smith

Top 10 Blog Posts of final

‘Tis the season!  For looking back on the year that has just ended, that is. This past year we published more than 60 blog posts on leadership, workplace learning, sales performance and employee development. So we’re revisiting some of our most popular posts, videos and infographics from 2013 in case you missed any of them. We look forward to bringing you more useful posts in the coming year. Let us know in the comments what types of posts you would like to see more of in 2014. Happy New Year!

  1. The Introvert… A Sales Manager’s Dream? Introverts are introspective, great listeners and critical thinkers, or in other words, potentially great sales people.
  2. [Infographic] Brother, Can You Spare Some Time?  First-line managers and sales managers are facing more challenges than ever. This infographic breaks down some of the biggest issues facing them today.
  3. Do Kids Today Learn Differently? (And Why Should Corporations Care). Kids today are going to have very different ‘good old days’ than the current workforce.  What does this mean for corporations preparing for the next generation?
  4. Giving the Best Development to Your High Potentials? Think Again. Only providing training and development to the high performers in your organization could be holding back your organization.  In this post, Wendy Axelrod shares applicable tips to develop all employees.
  5. Workplace Bullying: Channel NewsAsia interview. In this video interview, Forum Asia Pacific Managing Director, Cynthia Stuckey, speaks on the prevalence of workplace bullying and how managers can end it.
  6. Five Ways to Ensure Your Feedback is not Misunderstood. Feedback is one of the most powerful tools at a manager’s disposal. However, it is often misunderstood and poorly applied. This post covers 5 ways that leaders can make sure that their feedback is making the right impact.
  7. The Three Golden Rules of Employee Engagement. In the first of a 3 part series, Joe Espana shares the 3 golden rules of keeping employees engaged including the importance of trust and making a connection with employees.
  8. What Makes a Good 21st Century Leader? Forum EMEA Managing Director, Graham Scrivener, shares with TrainingZone what makes a good 21st Century leader in this 2-part videio series.
  9. Leadership is a Choice. Inspired by a commencement address given by Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, Kate Venier explores how leadership is a choice not a chore.
  10. Your Boss Did WHAT?! We asked respondents of our global leadership pulse survey to share some examples of how their bosses had eroded trust in the workplace. Some of the answers were shocking.
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Design Learning Processes Not Just Content

December 18th, 2013 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D

It’s no secret that designing training programs can be an arduous process if you take on the responsibility for designing all the content yourself. You can lighten your load and also achieve a better learning outcome by designing learning processes rather than learning content. In my work, I’ve discovered 3 ways to design learning processes.

1. Use real work. Learners prefer to accomplish real work while they are in the learning process. So rather than create a contrived situation or a case study scenario that is “representative” of real life, instead have the learners work on real work tasks.

For instance, a financial services firm wanted to teach its sales people to read financial statements in order to find cross-selling opportunities in their current client-base. Rather than teach the sales people how to read “generic” financial statements and then leave them to transfer that knowledge and skill to their own client’s financial statements, the learning session required them to bring the annual report from two of their current clients. Thus, the learners were working and reviewing the actual financial statements of their own clients while learning to read financial . This not only resulted in a better understanding of the learning but it also resulted in the learners being able to have actionable findings by the end of the training.

2. Create the learning in real time. Rather than teach your learners a new concept or skill in a large block of time, instead break the training up into smaller, actionable learning objectives and on-the-job tasks. That will allow them to implement their new knowledge and skills in smaller chunks and result in more successful implementation on the job.

For example, a sales organization was training their sales people to listen for cues from prospects to better gauge if they could ask for an appointment or not. After a period of time in the classroom, in which the sales people/learners learned the 5 types of responses which would either open a door for them or not, they were then given an hour to return to their desks and make up to 10 phone calls from their personal prospect list; making notes about types of conversations they had and whether they were able to secure an appointment or not. This approach allowed the salespeople to accomplish some real work during the training process, and created a rich discussion upon returning to the training room.

3. Have the learners contribute the content. A third sales organization wanted to teach overcoming objections in relation to a very complex product that their sales people sold. Rather than try to anticipate all the objections and give the sales people pat answers in reply, the training was designed to first solicit the “5 toughest objection you’ve encountered when attempting to sell xyz” and then a game was created, dividing the larger group into 3 teams and giving each team the opportunity to craft an appropriate rebuttal to the objection. The learning process went like this:

  • Team A stated an objection to Team B
  • Team B had a period of time to craft an appropriate response
  • Team C had the opportunity to challenge Team B’s response
  • Team A chose what they thought to be the best response and awarded a point to either Team B or Team C accordingly.

This learning process continued in a round-robin style, , until all of the 15 toughest objections in regard to selling that product had been addressed.

This process allowed the learners to share their real world problems and to get the best and the brightest to assist them with being better prepared the next time they heard that objection.

The next time you are attempting to design learning content take a step back and see if instead you are able to design a learning process that better assists the learners in working with and assimilating that content. Learning processes can often lead to greater learning outcomes because the learners are more engaged with the content, identify with it more clearly, and have less trouble transferring what they learned in the classroom to what they do on the job. Plus, from a logistical standpoint, is that designing a learning process requires much less updating in the future should the content itself change.

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Your boss did WHAT?

December 9th, 2013 by Abby Smith

In our recent leadership pulse survey, we asked people what their bosses did that had eroded their trust in the past. Of the 200 responses we got to this question, inconsistency accounted for over 30 percent of all responses, while another 50 percent fell under these 6 mistakes:

  • Lying/lack of transparency
  • Lacking leadership skills
  • Taking undue credit/passing blame
  • Talking behind employees backs
  • Not “walking the talk”
  • Poor communication

However, some answers were unique, rather entertaining and downright shocking. Here are just a few that caught our attention as we looked over the responses.

“Paying his wife a salary and she did not work for the company”
This one was the most unique response we received. Nothing like a little payroll fraud to make you lose faith in your leader. Good rule to live by, if they don’t work for your company, don’t give them a salary.

“Spend a late night out, arrive late to a meeting as a result, and blame someone else for the delay.”
There is nothing wrong with a boss having some fun; after all they are people, too. However just like the rest of us, letting it interfere with your job is a big no-no. Blaming someone else for it is even worse.

“Delivering services that are less than promised, without acknowledging the disservice to the customer, hiding or making excuses for ineffective or poor services”
While we got many responses about dishonesty with employees, surprisingly, this is the only response we got about dishonesty towards customers.

“Became irate with us about not having any coffee, tea or food on our desks but ate in her office.”
Having different sets of rules for yourself and your employees doesn’t exactly inspire trust.

So how do these employees recommend that their boss regain their trust? Well, not surprisingly since 30 percent said their biggest problem with their boss was inconsistency, consistency came in at number one. Transparency and walk the talk were also pretty common responses. Some recommendations were short, sweet and to the point:

“a simple ‘thank you’”
“Be human”
“Keep promises. ALWAYS.”

Others had quite a few ideas:
“Be open, be authentic, speak in language everyone understands, treat all staff equally and with respect, know people’s names and a little about them, praise them, give the responsibility and new challenges, good coaching.”

“Develop a set of values (with the team) for the way that the team ( including the leader ) work together.. Consult with the team whenever possible in things that involve the team.”

“Love them really. Try to understand every thought whether it is good or bad for the company. Keep the private conversations.”

“Collaborations, less emails and more personal contact. More root cause analysis, real problem solving rather than dealing with how things appear. Ability to see through the smokescreens. Be prepared for challenge. Don’t just appoint ‘yes people’.”

However, we think this gal or guy said it best, “Take a few leadership classes.”

Sorry, couldn’t let the opportunity for a shameless plug slip by.

For a full report of the results of the leadership pulse survey, download Driving Business Results by Building Trust. What are some examples of bad boss behavior you’ve experienced? Share in the comments below.

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How to Align your Team Behind Change

December 4th, 2013 by Michael Frisbie

In conversations with our oil and energy clients, we’ve been noticing a repeating theme: a strategic shift from an emphasis on top-line growth towards an emphasis on profitability.  So how are these companies effectively and efficiently making this shift?

Executive leaders in Fortune 1000 oil and energy companies are scratching their heads on how to execute this simple transition. After all, companies are still providing the same goods and services and serving the same clients. The critical transformation that needs to be made relates to an organization’s employee base and its understanding of two important questions:

  • What does profitability mean in my job?
  • What changes must I make accordingly?

One of our clients, a provider of oilfield services & products, realized that in order to see this through, a fundamental disruption in their workflow processes would have to occur. As we poured over their organizational chart, which had become flatter over time, it became apparent than mid-level leaders were serving as the bridge that could influence up to upper-level management and manage down as something akin to a union rep for lower level employees.  They could translate organizational changes into language that individual contributors could understand.

This would have been one of the more straightforward projects to execute had our client not also been facing the challenge of motivating and retaining young talent within their organization, a common problem in the oil and energy sector.

When we analyzed this client’s organizational chart and workflow, we realized that fewer than 25% of their employees had access to mentoring or coaching. If a company wishes to implement a major disruption in its workforce and change the thinking that drives its culture, then this lack of mentorship won’t work.

So Forum partnered with this client to implement a mentoring program throughout its ranks. We also focused on the core tenets of clarity, unity, and agility as driving principles behind our client’s growth and successes.

Clarity in vision across all tiers of the organization. Employees need to be clear on what their job means to the organization, and how they can most productively contribute to a greater vision.

Unity in collective action. As tiers and divisions are aligned, the workforce becomes ‘greater than the sum of its parts’, and operational synergies are established where dissonance once existed.

Agility in reaction and response. As an organization shifts its fundamental focus (such as shifting from top-line growth to a targeted strategy), it is imperative that teams are able to collaborate across divisions, that employees are equipped with the skills to respond to dynamic market conditions, and that units are able to shift direction smoothly to minimize opportunity cost.

For this client in the oil and energy sector, a combination of clarity, unity and agility, and the appropriate skill sets and competencies in leadership, enabled a smooth transition that is translatable to any company going through a transition.

For another story of how one company successfully made a strategic shift, check out our recent webinar, Fostering Behavior Change to Create a Lasting Business Impact.

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The Best Way to be an Engaging Manager

November 18th, 2013 by Joe Espana

This post is the third in a series of three posts by Joe España, an Executive Consultant in Forum’s Resource Network and Managing Director of Performance Equations.

In my first two posts, I took a look at the golden rules of employee engagement and shared some tips for keeping employees engaged. In my final post, I’m going to share what I consider to be the best way for a first-line manager to keep employees engaged: getting to know them.

Employee engagement is far more micro than typical macro approaches (total reward and benefits, recognition programmes, internal communications, community involvement programmes, etc) make it seem. The team is considered the most fundamental operating unit of employee engagement, but the personal relationships between a manager and his or her direct reports are the most influential.

It sounds really simple, too simple in fact, but it pays dividends for first-line managers to get to know their direct reports as individuals, recognising their foibles as human beings and the variability of their engagement levels. An employee wants to feel that their immediate manager is interested in him or her as a person and cares about his or her life outside work and its effects on job performance. Research has shown that employees aged 40-49 often become less engaged as they face external family pressures. Supervisors who get to know their employees on a personal level and care about their private lives can counteract this disengagement.

These caring activities are one of the four most important factors in employees’ perceptions of manager credibility and trustworthiness. Training the immediate managers to care about employees and to have the skills to manage their teams’ engagement levels can have a major and direct impact on business performance and productivity.

Unfortunately according to research by Performance Equations, only one-third of employees believe their manager cares about them on a  personal level. Of those who did believe their manager cared about them, 54% of reported themselves as being fully engaged. Among the two-thirds who do not believe this, only 17% are engaged. There is a dramatic opportunity to boost engagement at a micro level within organisations by managers demonstrating an authentic caring attitude to staff and by managing the personal drivers of engagement.

Do you agree that the personal relationships matter when it comes to employee engagement? Start the conversation in the comments below.

For more on employee engagement, check out Forum’s latest research report: Driving Business Results by Building Trust.

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Is the leadership trust gap hurting employee engagement?

November 11th, 2013 by Abby Smith

There can be no doubt that trust in leadership has a massive impact on workplace culture and business results.  Employees that trust their leadership team are more loyal and efficient in their jobs.  In fact, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce report, a solid foundation of trust can lead to increased productivity, profitability and lower turnover. But are leaders today really inspiring trust?

The results of our 2013 Global Leadership Pulse Survey say no.

We conducted an online survey of over 1000 business leaders and employees to get their views on trust and engagement in the workplace.  Of the nearly 250 employees who responded, only 23 percent said that they trust their leaders more now than they did in the past, but nearly 70 percent of employees and 74 percent of leaders said that trust is more important now than in the past.  So while all parties involved agree that trust is vital, trust is actually eroding.  How are leaders eroding this trust and what suggestions to employees have for them to repair it? Check out our brand new research report and infographic to find out.

What are some ways that a boss has either gained or lost your trust? As a leader, how have you built trust on your team? Leave your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+, and be sure to use the hashtag #trustgap.

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Practical Tips for Managers to Improve Employee Engagement

November 4th, 2013 by Joe Espana

This post is the second in a series of three posts by Joe España, an Executive Consultant in Forum’s Resource Network and Managing Director of Performance Equations.

In my last post, I outlined the three golden rules of employee engagement. In this piece, I’m going to take a look at practical ways that managers can get full engagement from their team.

Too often managers get caught up in the day-to-day business of managing and prioritising their tasks, but to achieve full engagement from team members, the first-line manager needs to be proactive, exhibiting strong leadership and fostering a positive working environment. 38% of employees who express confidence in their immediate manager’s credibility are satisfied with him or her. Over half of these employees are engaged.

Highly effective line managers also know the importance of the type of support and challenge they create for their direct reports. As competence and commitment levels for different tasks may differ from team member to team member, so effective line managers deploy a range of approaches from instructing, coaching and delegating appropriately to the individual and the circumstances. 53% of fully engaged employees say they learned a lot from their immediate manager compared to 19% of people who are not fully engaged.

Additionally, a remarkable 62% of engaged employees say their manager sets a good example, compared to only 25% among those not fully engaged. In our research, 40% of employees who reported themselves as enabled and trusted to do a good job also reported themselves as highly engaged.

We also found that a climate of open and honest communication between employee and immediate manager allows for greater understanding of both expectations and job performance. Employees who trust and feel respected by their manager will be confident that they can speak freely without fear of repercussions. Conversely, a manager who fails to communicate openly, even about difficult messages, tends to lose the confidence of direct reports and cause them to doubt their ability.  Managers who consistently promote open communication generate the highest levels of engagement.

These consistent, positive interactions with employees promote a spirit of teamwork and cooperation, but highly effective managers realise that they can’t take identical approaches with everyone. Employees perceive their value as an individual through the lens of the immediate manager. Recognition of their contribution, along with feedback and encouragement on their performance from their manager, leads to increased confidence, commitment and achievement. Failure to recognize and reward good work can negatively impact employee morale and productivity. Many respondents say that their manager respects them, but fewer mentioned that their manager provides regular, high quality feedback or encouragement to improve.

In my final post, I’ll take a look at surefire ways to be an engaging manager. For more information on engagement, preregister to receive Forum’s latest research report that will be coming out next week. This report outlines the results of our Leadership Pulse Survey which looked at how trust impacts engagement and business results. Preregister here.

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The cost of not investing in your first-line managers

October 31st, 2013 by Holly Gage

It was announced this week that a UK parliamentary commission is being set up to look into the issue of ineffective managers.

Too many business fail because of bad management and this has an impact on the competitiveness of the country, in this case Britain.  Research conducted by the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills found that British managers are underperforming compared to their counterparts in Germany, the US and Japan. It is hardly surprising that the UK government is concerned.

There is a correlation between the performance of an organisation and levels of management effectiveness, as The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed in its research last year: 80% of managers in high performing organisations reported their line manager was effective compared to 39% in low performing ones.

We know that ineffective leadership is not unique to the UK.  A CareerBuilder survey in the US found that 58% of people were moved into a people leadership role without any relevant skill development.  Our own global research found that most first-line managers waste their time on technical tasks that add little value to the business.


In today’s Financial Times Forum’s Managing Director in EMEA, Graham Scrivener imagines himself back in the role of a new manager and offers his opinion on what he would do…with the benefit of hindsight.

Forum advocates that first-line managers need to develop skills in four areas of people leadership to be successful.  To hear more about these skills, join us for an upcoming webinar: The 4 Keys to Effective First-Line Leadership on November 13 at 1pm EST.

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What makes a good 21st century leader?

October 13th, 2013 by Holly Gage

Forum EMEA’s MD, Graham Scrivener recently spoke to TrainingZone about the traits of a great leader and why we’re all expected to be able to lead.

In part two of this interview with Training Zone Forum MD Graham Scrivener shares his thoughts on how leadership can improve employee engagement and what’s next for modern leadership

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5 Steps to Create an Innovation-Focused Culture

October 8th, 2013 by Abby Smith

7K0A0223Creating a culture of innovation doesn’t happen naturally. In fact, it can take quite a bit of work to create and sustain a culture that seems effortlessly innovative from the outside. Often times, creating that culture requires a strategic shift by an organization, and that requires everyone from CEO to employee to change their behavior. Each year, companies invest significant time and money on programs aimed at changing behavior, but research shows that fewer than 50 percent of all behavior change initiatives actually stick.

In this piece originally published in Training Magazine, Forum’s President and CEO Andrew Graham shares five tips for helping your organization to create a culture that fuels innovation and sales. The first step, he explains, is to define who owns the change.

Has your organization benefited from a successful change initiative? What methods do you employ to improve the uptake of new behaviors? We welcome you to share your comments below, or to join the discussion via Twitter and Facebook.

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