Barbara Bowes

  • On the straight and narrow

    As you've likely noticed, infamous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can't stay out of the news, but at least the latest message was he had been "cleared" of allegedly smoking crack cocaine. However, with another ongoing police investigation and the mayoralty campaign heating up, the story of Rob Ford is far from over. In fact, while Ford may be taking comfort from this latest announcement, I would suggest he still has a lot to do to clean up his image. That's because his personal and professional behaviour over the past year has once more brought to light the importance of ethics in the workplace.
  • Teach your workers well

    Canadian employers have been sounding the alarm about skills shortages for some time. The gaps span across industry sectors and affect every province. A recent report estimated one in 10 jobs will go unfilled by 2020. The other challenge is that 10 per cent of the worker supply is predicted to consist of "low-skilled" workers who are not ready for the jobs that will be created. Governments, both provincial and federal, continue to scramble to create programs and put new investments in place to help alleviate the situation. At the same time, the situation is being studied across the world and creative alternatives such as a global mobility strategy are being proposed. With respect to mobility, a recent guest commentator in a national human resource journal commented that steps should be taken to improve the mobility of all Canadians so they can work and practise their profession wherever they wish to.
  • Cultural differences

    Yes, you've seen them; those job ads that say, "Your search is over!" Did you read any further? If you did, you might find statements such as, "the city of Toronto strives to be a model of public service excellence. We are looking for people who share our values, our stewardship and our commitment." Or, in the private sector, you might see statements espousing their corporate values, such as trust, integrity, respect, thought leadership, innovation, inspiration and/or adaptability. The purpose of these descriptions is to attract potential candidates to the organization. It is an attempt to describe what the organization believes to be its values, shared attitudes, customs and behaviour as well as the expectations and the philosophy that directs people how to act within the organization. In other words, these statements are describing the organizational culture.
  • Coach 'em up

    If you're an organizational leader looking out beyond the immediate horizon, what do you see? Do you see a strong pipeline of employees ready to take over key positions in your organization? Are you ready to carry on if one of your key employees becomes ill or dies? Or are you ready to expand and grow with new ideas and innovation?
  • Managing change

    As a reader, you often see news articles directed to newly appointed leaders on how to survive and thrive the first 90 days after their appointment. And, with a high percentage of leadership failures within the first 18 months, new managers need all the success strategies they can get. Typically, the first piece of advice for a new manager is to quickly gain the trust of employees and key stakeholders. This is accomplished by paying close attention to the organizational culture and learning what current practices and behavioural norms exist.
  • Equality doesn't compute

    Today is International Women's Day, a day when we celebrate women's role in society and celebrate the economic, political and social achievements women have gained over the past 100-plus years. The initial push for recognition of women's contribution to the world of work started at the turn of the century when industrialization created a booming economy. At this time, the role of women in the world of work was discounted and grossly undervalued. Men, on the other hand, ruled both government and business and there was nary a woman in sight. So, where do we stand today?
  • The old switcheroo

    How many jobs have you had? How many careers? If you're like me, you may have had eight to 10 jobs and/or three to four careers in your lifetime. Yet, as I progressed in my career and deliberately moved from one job to another after a tenure of approximately three to four years, I remember my father saying, "Why can't you keep a job?" I also remember reeling in shock and annoyance because, for the most part, all of my job and career changes were planned and deliberate. I knew I wanted to try different experiences and build up my skills repertoire. What surprised me was my father labelled my moving from one job to another as "job hopping" and felt it would be detrimental to my career. And then just the other day, a gentleman put the same question to me: "Why did you move around so much in your career?"
  • Online profile your personal brand

    It wasn't all that long ago that most of our interpersonal communication was face to face, by telephone or by letter. In these circumstances, the most common disrespectful behaviour was yelling at someone, uttering a swear word or sending a disparaging note. At the same time, the results of this behaviour were typically more private versus public. My, how the world has changed! Today, in addition to face-to-face encounters, we communicate and interact with one another through text messaging, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, instant messaging, Instagram and the many other electronic communication mechanisms that seem to be springing up every day. These changes in communication mechanisms have revolutionized the way we live, work and play. Just think about the number of emails you receive every day? Just think about the number of people you now see walking down the street staring at their hand-held device.
  • Warm & fuzzy the workplace?

    February is Valentine month, the time when we traditionally celebrate romance and intimate spousal/partnership relationships. As well, February has become the time when the issue of workplace romance becomes the annual topic of hot debate. "Should you or shouldn't you" is always the question. Yet we all know that since people are spending most of their time at work, the opportunity for romance is naturally there. However, from an organizational perspective, so is the threat of potential repercussions.
  • On-the-job jargon

    If you're like me, you've experienced occasions when an unusual thought jumps into your mind, yet you don't know where it came from. Sometimes the thought is related to a forgotten task, while others are memories of times gone by. That's what's happened to me. For some reason, a thought popped into my mind that reminded me of some of the communication challenges I experienced early in my professional consulting career. For instance, one of my first newly won assignments caused a huge personal shock. That's because just as I concluded my meeting with the client, he slapped his hand on the coffee table and said, "Well, now we can go to bed together!" No kidding! Frankly, I don't recall what I said in return but I do remember blushing to the brightest of red colours. Fearing an undesired future fate, I then quickly called a male colleague asking for help. Of course, my colleague belted out a hearty laugh and told me the client was simply confirming we could do business together. Yet, how was I supposed to have known that?
  • No need to go under cover

    Most readers are familiar with the highly popular TV show, Undercover Boss, now seen in Canada, England and the United States. Each episode features either a senior executive and/or business owner of a large corporation who goes undercover as a front-line employee in their own company. The executive wears a disguise, adopts an alias and background and then spends one week working various jobs. In most episodes, the executive also changes locations. During the week, the executive experiences all the trials and tribulations of front-line workers and really gets to see first-hand what is working well and what is not. In most of the episodes I've personally watched, the executives appear quite shocked at the many little process challenges a front-line worker is confronted with. As well, the experience seems to be a real "eye opener" as the executive learns how some of their corporate policies negatively impacted the front-line workers. At the same time, the undercover executive gets to meet both excellent as well as poorly disciplined employees and learns a great deal about the corporate leadership style and front-line working conditions.
  • DIY blues

    While the cold, numbing temperatures have been a hot topic in the news lately, another most talked about item is the recent CIBC survey on the financial priorities of Canadians. According to the poll conducted by Harris/Decima, 16 per cent of survey respondents planned to focus on paying down their debt while 11 per cent were planning to focus on building up their savings. However, as CIBC executive vice-president Christina Kramer acknowledged, many people struggle to make progress with their financial goals. This might well be caused by the fact fewer than 47 per cent of survey participants had met with a financial adviser over the past year. In other words, most people seem to be using a "do-it-yourself" approach to personal financial management. Yet, I can suggest most people also take the "do-it-yourself" approach to career management, and in many cases, neglect their career altogether. Sure, people develop a plan to get a university or college degree, a professional designation and/or move into the technical trades, however once this first key goal is met, it seems the concept of career management rarely enters their minds again. Instead, I believe most individuals settle into their first job and then sit and wait for life and career to happen.
  • Professional know-it-alls

    During the Christmas/Boxing Day sales period as well as over the New Year's shopping sprint, the Free Press and other news outlets reported that people were lined up as early as 2 a.m. in the morning in anticipation of finding a deep discount on their most desired product. These excited shoppers (crazy people in my opinion) were participating in the annual ritual of what's now called the "shop till you drop" syndrome.
  • Resolutions for success

    It's only a few weeks into 2014 and the afterglow of those new year's resolutions is already starting to fade. So, for those whose persistence is slipping, I suggest you step back and reflect on the sage advice given by Queen Elizabeth in her annual Christmas message. She stated that "we all need to get the balance right, between action and reflection and that hopefully everyone will have the chance to contemplate the future." Contemplating the future means we need to look at where we've been and where we're going. With this in mind, I would like to present some of the human resource trends I believe will impact both employees and employers, not only in the coming year, but for the near future. Take time to reflect on these trends and then develop some strategies that will reinforce your 2014 new year's resolutions and ensure your personal success.
  • Anchoring your resolutions

    As the year 2014 approaches, tradition directs us to start thinking about New Year's resolutions. Similar to Christmas carols and folk songs, the practice of making New Year's resolutions has a long history, starting with ancient Babylonians, who made promises to their gods at the start of each year. Typically, people focus on goals to improve their physical well-being such as engaging in a stop-smoking plan, starting a regular exercise routine and/or losing weight. Some people realize their credit card spending has gotten away on them, so they focus on getting their finances in order, while others set goals toward upgrading their education. No matter what, most goals are related to personal self-improvement.
  • Holidays for the soul

    For many Canadians and Americans alike, one of the traditional folk songs during this festive season is the Twelve Days of Christmas. Believe it or not, this song has English/French origins and was first published in 1780. It's known as a cumulative song, which means each verse builds on another. The song describes a gift to be given by "my true love" on each of the 12 days during the Christmas season.
  • Tis the season to be NETWORKING

    December is typically a crazy month filled with holiday preparations, work and family Christmas and Hanukkah parties, and of course, gift shopping. At the same time, most job applicants would suggest December is not a good month for job seeking. I beg to differ. With December being a month of celebration, organizational leaders are often more open to meeting with individuals for networking purposes. As well, there may well be a rush to fill various positions prior to the arrival of the new year, so keep up with your marketing calls. In my view, December is decidedly one of the best months for networking and making valuable connections that will, at a minimum, create new relationships and could well lead to a new job. The challenge for any candidate is to get invited to as many special events as possible.
  • Breaking bad

    It's been a wild month of unflattering and unbecoming behavioural antics by the now internationally famous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. He's finally admitted to drinking in the mayor's office, drinking and driving, and smoking crack. I'm sure that's not exactly the kind of role model Toronto was looking for. However, let's face it, in spite of everything, Ford was elected by the people, and although shaky, he continues to stand in the role. In fact, legislation prevents fellow councillors from rectifying the situation and so the only thing they can do is sanction him.
  • Promoting healthy minds

    Let's face it, most people like consistency in their daily work life. That's because consistency of policies and procedures create guidelines for behaviour that helps employees address any of the issues that arise in their daily duties. From an organizational perspective, adopting specific industry-related standards of quality, safety and best practice help to ensure reliability, consistency and trustworthiness in their services and/or products. In fact, standards form the building block for everything that is accomplished in an organization. On the other hand, standards also have both a marketing and public relations function. For instance, customers use their knowledge of standards to compare and contrast the various products and services.
  • Get the right one in

    Let's be honest: if a company makes a bad hiring decision, especially at the senior executive level, you can expect plenty of fallout throughout the entire organization. In other words, the implications of a bad hiring decision go far beyond the poor performance of this one individual. For instance, the individual may have taken a strategic direction that can significantly hurt the organization. This is in addition to the impact of all those poor decisions in the area of general day-to-day operational management. In the several cases I've observed, the signs of poor leadership arise quite quickly. The most common sign of trouble occurs when a new leader reorganizes and restructures without sufficient analysis of the current situation and without effective communication strategies.
  • The true cost of a bad hire

    It's no secret there have recently been some very high profile and very public management departures from local and national organizations as well as suspensions for perceived unethical expense claims by a group of senators recruited by their preferred political party. To be honest, if readers had the opportunity to examine any of these situations carefully, they would more than likely find that many of these departures can be traced back to poor recruitment and hiring decisions. In other words, the wrong people in the wrong job. And not only do situations such as these cause public relations nightmares, they cost dollars and cents. For instance, as we have recently seen, the departure of a senior civic official can cost the organization upwards of $400,000. Yet, that doesn't include any behind the scenes financial fallout from earlier internal staffing shuffles, a decline in morale and productivity, resignations and departures from disgruntled staff that wouldn't be calculated in any final payout for a departing leader. And, it wouldn't include costs such as continued pension and/or health care benefits sometimes awarded to the departing individual for a period of time.
  • Walking the talk

    There have certainly been a few eye-catching newspaper headlines lately that have served to fuel our feelings of cynicism about leadership integrity, especially on the political scene. On both the local and national scene, we've been exposed to a perception of self-serving power and influence arising from deep-rooted friendships as well as back-room political manipulations used in an attempt to discard individuals who are perceived as a risk. Yet, situations involving the loss of integrity are not only found in the political arena, they also occur in our business environments, perhaps more frequently than we would like to admit.
  • In the meantime

    One of my career highlights followed the completion of an organizational review and presentation of my recommendations for improving the operations of an organization. To my surprise, the board chair requested I act as the interim chief executive officer (CEO) with the specific goal of implementing my recommendations in order to "steady the ship," and at the same time manage change and conduct an executive search for a new CEO.
  • Humour helps

    When I started to think about laughter and humour in the workplace, I was immediately reminded of the now famous Dilbert cartoons. This American comic strip arrived on the scene a little over 25 years ago and has become a wildly popular source of satirical office humour. Cartoonist Scott Adams seems to have an innate ability to find humour in every element of work, ranging from technology to corporate culture, interpersonal issues and employee-boss relationships. His characters are always commenting on office politics and the many ridiculous decisions that often arise from poor leadership.
  • How is the boss performing?

    Most small-business leaders know and acknowledge that performance management is the worst-managed of all human-resources management areas. Some defend the lack of performance reviews with the old excuse of "no time, no resources." Others are stymied by personal insecurity because they don't feel comfortable judging someone else or engaging in those "difficult" conversations.


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