Though the American economy is experiencing the lowest unemployment rates since the Korean War, employee engagement has steadily declined over the past 15 years. Margaret Graziano, founder and CEO of KeenAlignment, discusses how her management consulting team can assist organizations in developing the best culture for human capital to thrive to its full potential by “unlocking the wealth of talent in your organization.”
By Daniel Coats, California Business Journal
How important is a hiring decision? Talent management expert Margaret Graziano says the impact of a new hire on a company or organization can be much larger than most believe. She cites studies showing that a mis-hire costs a firm three to seven times that person’s salary, plus an incalculable impact on other team members. The ramifications are even greater when a poor hire is selected for a managerial position.
Graziano knows firsthand how important it is to have the right people in the right positions. Years ago, she was planning a software program and sold the property to a software-building company. The new leadership fired many of Graziano’s team members, changed the core ethic of the product and resulted in an overall disastrous conclusion that cost her more than $1 million.
“What went wrong was there was no alignment, no shared values, no end game that we were all committed to sharing together,” Graziano says. “I determined that I would never start another business unless it was based on core values such as integrity, workability, alignment, and growth and development.”
Fast forward to today and such a dream organization is what Graziano has created in KeenAlignment, which not only puts positive principles into practice, but exists to assist other companies in achieving similar outcomes through their human capital.
The Employee Engagement Challenge
While business leaders a decade ago fretted about double-digit unemployment, today’s economy faces the challenge of full employment but low workforce engagement, which manifests itself in high turnover, low participation, lack of cooperation, and, ultimately, a shortage of what may be the most precious commodity in today’s information economy – innovation.
“People are showing up to work with their body, but their heart and their head aren’t fully in the game,” Graziano says. “If a company is spending so much capital on their people, and it is ineffective or managers aren’t getting people to perform at the level that they can perform, it is a massive problem. When there is poor engagement, there is poor productivity and in-fighting. That costs companies a minimum of 4% of their top-line revenue. We also see the impact in unworkable human capital or ineffective human systems by recognizing that at least 40% of most organizations’ expenses are people. In the service industry, it can be as much as 60%.”
Recognizing that hiring effectiveness is vitally important but challenging to quantify, Graziano provides metrics that can measure this invaluable commodity. These include the ramp-up time, how quickly the new person assimilates into the organization and fulfills the intentions and objectives of the role hired for; engagement of not only the person hired but the people the new hire works around and serves; bottom-line performance; and financial impact.
In many cases, the employee engagement shortfall begins even before a prospective team member interviews for a role. Citing statistics that 80% to 90% of position descriptions do not accurately reflect the responsibilities and opportunities of the role at hand, Graziano suggests what she calls comprehensive position requirements to call attention to all that a role entails.
“Most job descriptions are old, outdated, ineffective and often borrowed by another company or online resource. So the job description is not reflective or resonant with what the company and the role is all about. Most job descriptions are super generic,” she says.
Graziano can recalibrate an organization by performing a cultural alignment program known as Strategic Advance, in which the company codifies its core operating values, mission and vision. The Role Analysis process then attaches every single role in the company to the objectives and performance indicators of the company’s overall mission. Her team then meets with people who most depend on that role and guides them in developing the purpose and how performance will be measured and what behaviors, values, attitudes and beliefs the role needs to have to fulfill the intention and purpose of the position. They then work backwards to look at the people in those responsibilities and where they need development for optimal fulfillment.
Turning Organizations Around
With three decades of experience in recruiting, Graziano has seamlessly assembled a top-notch team of executive coaches, strategic business advisors and executive consultants to lead in the transformation of client organizations.
“I know 5,000 people on a first-name basis and another 10,000 people through my networks. When I started KeenAlignment, I called people from my network who I knew were excellent at what they did,” she says. “Everyone who works with us has common values and we consciously hire them so they share a passion for achievement, integrity, performance and transformation.”
At the heart of KeenAlignment is Talent Strategy University, which provides a two- to three-week live training program, followed by weekly or bi-weekly implementation coaching and augmented online learning modules with more than 55 programs to support members of an organization in applying what they have learned to specific situations.
Graziano herself also serves as a keynote speaker to organizational gatherings, with past appearances at a Volkswagen national sales meeting and the Society for Human Resource Management annual conference. Themes of her keynote addresses have included HR effectiveness, seven behaviors highly effective people possess, the building blocks of a high-performance culture, conscious hiring, workforce optimization, leadership and neuroscience, communication IQ, and talent management strategies.
Looking to the future, Graziano foresees a future in which KeenAlignment will expand geographically and offer an accredited optimization program.
As baby boomers retire and younger generations come to the fore, Graziano anticipates increased demand for the type of managerial consulting that KeenAlignment provides. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come is the increasing popularity of Graziano’s Level Set programs, which are designed for companies going through major transitions such as changes in senior management or mergers and acquisitions.
“We do retreats that aid the HR team to analyze who they are as leaders and what got them to the place they are today and that it may be insufficient to get them to where the company needs to go as they recalibrate for the future,” she says.
For Graziano, partnering with organizations and employees to reach their full potential isn’t a job. It is a passion and a calling. Inspired by such visionaries as author Jack Canfield of The Success Principles fame and Oprah Winfrey, she is more than willing to devote her weekends and evenings to empowering others to succeed. And she has the results to prove it. “We catalyze change,” she says. “People leapfrog from where they are to where they need to be in a short period of time.”
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