Reflections – and a Look Ahead

With 2015 drawing to a close, we’re looking back and pausing to be thankful for our clients and colleagues. It is our good fortune to work with business people who are both smart and good.  They work to help their organizations operate in what we at McBassi think of as “the sweet spot” – the intersection of profitable and enlightened management of employees.  This, in turn, builds the foundation for creating sustainably profitable relationships with customers – thereby generating win-win-win outcomes.

As we look forward to 2016, we expect that our clients’ commitment to finding and creating these all-win solutions will become even more profitable in the future than it already has been in recent years.

The challenges we face – as individuals, families, communities, and societies – are daunting and well-known to all of us.  More and more, savvy business people across the globe realize that business must increasingly become a part of the solution (while simultaneously being a source of the problem less frequently) – and that doing so can actually be quite profitable.

So as we wrap up the year, we’d like to leave you with a thought we hope you can use to make 2016 both a good and profitable year.  In these times of extraordinary uncertainty, there is money to be made by creating more certainty and less risk.  In thinking about your business, are there changes that could be made at little or no cost to reduce uncertainty for your employees?  How might you tweak your hiring, onboarding, development, scheduling, performance review, or compensation/benefits policies to reduce unnecessary uncertainty for employees (or prospective employees)?

The mere act of asking questions like this can be powerful.  And finding the answers?  That can set the stage for what we hope will be a satisfying and profitable new year for you!

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Thinking like an Investor


Ask yourself these questions.  Start with “If I were a long-term investor considering making an investment in the company where I currently work…”

1.  In what areas would I want the company to invest more (time, money, and leadership focus)?

2.  What would I want the company to stop doing?

3.  What aspects of the company’s culture would I consider most important to preserve?

4.  What aspects of the company’s culture would I consider most important to change?

5.  Would I want more (or fewer) employees to spend their time doing what I do?

Since the vast majority of wealth is now created through intangible assets – all of which ultimately emanate from human capital – these questions are particularly important for professionals working in HR, organizational development, and learning.

Can you answer all of those?  Our hats are off to you if have the evidence necessary to confidently answer each of them.  On the other hand, if you’re worried you don’t have a strong evidence base for answering these questions, that’s cause for concern.  It reflects a likely lack of clarity and effectiveness in your company’s HR strategy – and could also mean you should think hard about your own career prospects in an organization like that.

One of our key themes this year is the tremendous power in simply asking better questions (and, of course, being able to answer them).  Asking the questions that investors would ask of you if they were given the chance is a very powerful strategy for guiding HR investments.

At its heart, this is what advances in HR analytics can help you accomplish – asking and answering better, more insightful, more important questions.  And remember – since the time and energy you spend working means that you ARE an investor in whatever company you choose to be your employer, these questions can also help guide you in major career decisions.


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12 Questions to Enhance Your Career, Part 2


As noted in last month’s newsletter, among our clients, the “better question folks” enjoy disproportionate success.  A key to career success often involves taking a step back and assessing things from a different perspective than many of your colleagues.

The first of the eight questions we proposed last month was the following: “If I were offered the opportunity, would I invest any of my personal assets in my organization?”  If your answer to this question ranged somewhere between “Not so sure” and “You’ve got to be kidding me,” here’s a set of questions for your consideration:

1.  What is it about your organization that makes it a poor choice for investors?

2.  What would it take to turn this situation around?

3.  What role can your department (or function, location, etc.) play in improving the attractiveness of your company to investors?

4.  What does this suggest about the measures and analysis you should be providing to your CEO, Board of Directors, and investors, that would help move your organization in the right direction?

And consider this bonus question: Given your answers to all 12 proposed questions, what role can you play in improving the attractiveness of your company to investors?  Consider possible options for how you might take that path in the days and weeks ahead.  (And if your answer is “none” then you are either working in a hopeless situation, or you have become complacent.  In either case, a change of scenery may be in order.)

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12 Questions to Enhance Your Career, Part 1


In our work with clients, we’re always struck by the power of asking the right questions – and the benefits that accrue to those who ask them.  These “better question folks” tend to be up-and-comers who are well-positioned (regardless of job title) to garner important influence in their organizations.

If you’d like to be one of these people – able to guide organizational conversations with better questions – here are three initial questions for you to consider:

1.  If I were offered the opportunity, would I invest any of my available personal assets in my organization?  (If yes, then continue to the following questions.  If no, then you’ll definitely want to read Part 2, which will appear in our October newsletter.)

2.  What are the primary strengths of my organization that would lead me to invest?

3.  What are the risks I would be most concerned about as an investor?

Then, what do your specific answers to questions 2 and 3 suggest to you about the following:

4.   The key strategic directions your organization should be pursuing?

5.   How you should be spending your time as an employee?

6.   Your career trajectory?

7.   What your department should be doing differently?

8.   The measures and analysis you should be providing to your CEO, Board of Directors and investors?

Why think along these lines?  Truth be told, whether or not you actually invest personal financial assets, you’re already making a huge investment: the scarce resource of your time.  Thinking like the investor that you are can lead to asking more powerful questions.  The answers to those questions will help guide your organization – and enhance your career.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion.


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Never too early to start developing human capital


When this blog discusses human capital, we tend to do so from the perspective of human capital in the workplace.  Today we’ll look a little earlier.  In his weekly column today, David Leonhardt of the New York Times highlights a new academic study on the effects of kindergarten on future outcomes.

The research, by Raj Chetty and colleagues, examined what’s happened to almost 12,000 children who were included in a large educational experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s.  They find that students who learned more in kindergarten went on to earn more money and were less likely to become teenage parents (as well as a variety of other positive outcomes).

Extensive research has been done on the positive economic effects of education, but almost none of it has reached all the way back to kindergarten.  As Leonhardt notes, this new research suggests that early education may be an example of a long-term investment that has benefits that don’t fade away.  We should always be on the lookout for how to take advantage of those sorts of opportunities.

Are US companies eating the seed corn?


Today’s New York Times features an article entitled “Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts.” The article notes that:

Among the S.& P. 500 companies that have reported second-quarter results, more than one in 10 had higher profits on lower sales, nearly twice the number in a typical quarter before the recession … Even at corporations where both the top and bottom lines are expanding, the focus remains on keeping profits high, not rebuilding work forces decimated by the recession. 

One possible interpretation of this ongoing “right-sizing” is that large, U.S.-based firms are adjusting to the “new normal” by finding ways to remain sustainably profitable in the face of permanently lower demand. 

Alternatively, it may be that many of the companies exhibiting this behavior are engaging in the corporate equivalent of eating “the seed corn” (the seed saved from one year’s harvest to use for planting in the following year) by grabbing whatever short-run profits they can get their hands on, despite the negative long-term consequences.

In either case, the implications for investors are the same.  While firms that are exhibiting this behavior will generate tidy returns in the short-run, they are a much riskier bet in the long-run.  Eating the seed corn is never a smart strategy – unless your existence is in peril.