Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘executive leadership

How BMW is Dealing with an Aging Workforce

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It’s no secret that the population—and therefore the workforce—in many countries is aging, and that companies are struggling to adapt to some of the changes that reality necessitates. And those changes are likely to have a particular effect on companies that have traditionally relied on being able to replace aging workers with younger models.

One such company is German auto giant BMW, which is facing a particularly acute age-related crisis in its home country in the coming years.

BMW responded to this by experimenting with one of its production lines—typically places that require more youthful workers who can withstand the rigors of the workplace. The experiment: the firm raised the average age of one line to 47, and then asked the workers what the company could do to tailor the working environment to better suit their needs.

Based on that feedback, the company made around 70 improvements, including improving some of its tools and processes, installing extra furniture—particularly chairs and stretching areas—and even provided an industrial-sized magnifying glass.

While it’s not surprising that the experiment produced results–what employees can’t suggest ways to improve their workplace?)—there were still a couple of eye-opening findings. Attendance and sickness rates improved—likely a result of the increase in comfort—while productivity rose and the rate of defects “dropped to zero” (emphasis added). That’s right: it turns out that by considering the employee experience in the workplace, the company improved the performance of its employees. Even more surprising: the cost of the experiment was the relatively small sum of $50,000—a drop in the bucket for a firm the size of BMW, especially if it results in increased productivity and cost savings through defect reduction.

Watch the full video on BMW, courtesy CBS’ Sunday Morning.

–Phil Stott, Vault.com

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Is Hiring Overqualified Workers a Good Idea?

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With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent (at least until Friday), and 12 million or so Americans out of work, there are still a lot of things related to the economy worth fretting about. Hiring, however, is not one of them; as this New York Times article makes clear, there’s never been a better time to get talented, experienced workers through the door—with many businesses reaping the benefits of hiring people who are plainly overqualified for the positions they’re applying for. The question, however, is whether that’s something you’d want to do.

On the face of it, there are plenty of very good reasons why you’d want to hire someone who was taking a step down in terms of their career: they’re much more likely to be able to do the job you’re hiring them for well, while in many cases also contributing extra just to stay interested. And, overqualified or not, they’re just as likely to be grateful to land whatever they can as anyone else.

As the Times piece makes abundantly clear, there are also plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to hire from the “overqualified” pool—the number one reason being that you’re much more likely to experience turnover as soon as that person finds something that’s more in line with their experience levels and salary expectations.

Indeed, the final sentence of the Times article sums up the greatest problem employers will have with hiring overqualified workers: the employee they profiled “wonder how long simply having a job will be enough.”

If you take all that into account and decide that you’re going to take your chances on someone who’s overqualified, here are a couple of ideas to bear in mind.

Hire with an eye on the future

Sure, unemployment might be high right now, and not projected to dip significantly for several years, but that alone isn’t going to keep top talent in positions that just aren’t enough for them. If you’re going to take the risk of giving a job to someone who’s overqualified for it, try to identify areas where their skills might be of use in months and years to come, even if they’re not crucial to the role you’re currently hiring for. That’s especially true if you’re thinking of expanding, or if you know you’ll have other employees leaving in the short to medium term.

Find ways to keep them engaged

If “simply having a job” isn’t likely to be enough for a candidate, find out what would be closer to “enough” for them: maybe they’d be interested in leading professional development initiatives based on their past experience. Or maybe they’re more the mentoring types, and would be willing to take on a younger or less experienced colleague. Additionally, highly accomplished careerists have usually mastered the ability of multi-tasking, and may be able to pitch in in entirely unrelated areas of the business, and develop new skills and experiences of their own into the bargain.

Accept that they’re going to leave

Some things in life aren’t meant to last. If you can bring in someone with an abundance of talent and experience to give your company a temporary lift—and possibly raise the game of everyone around them into the bargain—then it may well be worth doing even though you know it’ll only be until something better comes along. While hiring can be a drawn-out, expensive affair, companies in this environment won’t struggle to find people either at or seeking to step up to the level of hire you’re looking for. So why not take a chance on hiring someone above that level and find out what someone in the position could be capable of. There’ll still be plenty of “good enough” candidates to fall back on when it’s absolutely necessary.

Google out of China: Responsible Leadership in Action

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Google China HQ

AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Whatever you might think about Google, it’s difficult to find fault with the company’s decision to stop censoring search engine results in China. In doing so, the company has given the country—and the rest of the world—a clear signal that it considers some things more important than building its business. That’s a message that’s all too rare in this day and age, and the company’s leadership deserves to be commended for it.

At this stage in the news cycle, the saga likely requires very little retelling: trouble first began brewing when Google discovered evidence that Chinese authorities had been hacking the Gmail accounts of human rights activists, and responded with a threat to end censorship of search results in China. Relations with the country’s officials deteriorated from there, and the company finally acted on its threat yesterday.

An article in PC World points out that the situation is more than just a spat: by walking away from the most populous nation on Earth, Google is flying “in the face of common wisdom,” which “holds that no company can afford to ignore, let alone walk away from, China.” Common wisdom also holds, however, that increasing the amount of business done in the country will increase the freedoms of its citizens—a concept that Google’s experience there flatly contradicts.

Whether or not your business has dealings with China, there’s a key message for other leaders and executives: there are more important things than common wisdom and the quest for profits. Whether it’s personal ideals or part of a corporate ethos, there will be times where your beliefs clash with the people you need to keep happy to get the deal done. In each case, it’s up to the individual to decide how much—if any—of their beliefs they are willing to compromise for the sake of a business opportunity. That’s an idea that Google CEO Eric Schmidt regularly espouses, and has clearly taken to heart.

Of course, not every business is Google-sized, and the majority of leaders don’t have the kind of revenue cushion that Google’s do to steel their nerve when making decisions that may hurt their business.  That, however, is part of the test—and something that separates great leaders from the rest of the pack.

In a nutshell, the difference between the two is that average leaders see opportunities and capitalize on them. For most companies, most of the time, that’s enough. In a situation where a company’s ethos clashes with its business direction, however, an average leader caves to the demands of the marketplace in return for greater market share or better profits. While that may work in the short term—or on a one-off basis—it sets a precedent where company culture is always up for grabs, and malleable depending on the situation. One way in which great leaders differ is in being prepared to walk away from potential growth and riches if the means to acquiring those threatens the core values of the organization.

It’s quite clear—to this observer at least—which side of the equation the Google decision falls on. While it may turn out to have no effect whatsoever on the freedom of information in China, it does live up to the company’s oft-maligned motto of “don’t be evil”.  As over the top as that may be, it’s certainly a handy mantra for any current or aspiring exec to bear in mind—especially when the time comes for difficult decisions in your own career.

Written by Phil Stott

March 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

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