<![CDATA[MLBennett Consulting LLC Offers Comprehensive Strategy and Execution: Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership Development, Performance Management, Gender Diversity in Leadership, Executive Coaching - MLBC Best Practices Blog]]>Thu, 08 Mar 2018 11:11:50 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Equity or Equality?]]>Thu, 08 Mar 2018 17:03:37 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/equity-or-equalityWe often come across two concepts: ‘gender equality' and ‘gender equity'.  What is the difference?  Is there any difference? These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are interrelated but do not refer to the same thing.     (Concepts taken from UN definitions.)

 "Gender equality requires equal access by women and men to socially-valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards.

Gender equality refers to equal access to resources and equal opportunities in all spheres of life for both men and women. When there is gender inequality, it is women that are more likely to be disadvantaged and marginalized; but we should not ignore the negative impact that gender inequality can have on men as well. Historically men who have wanted to spend more time in parenting roles may have been stereotyped into primary breadwinner roles or viewed as less committed to their careers. Therefore gender equality is the concern of all and changes must be brought about for both men and women.  It remains true that women have the greater share of disadvantages based on global government, business, societal and other measures. 

However, gender equality, as defined above, does not often result in equal outcomes for men and women. It also does not result in the best outcomes for the organization, society or government.  Being given the same chances in life is not sufficient to bring about true equality. Women and men have different needs and experiences and attention should be directed to these differences and how current norms may not take these into account.  There is still the unfortunate tendency to consider male norms as a measure for women's contributions. Providing women and men with the same opportunities is the first step; but for true gender equality to be achieved there is a need for gender equity.

"Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men."

Women and men should not only be given equal access to resources and equal opportunities, but they should also be given the means of benefiting from this equality. This is where the concept of ‘gender equity' comes into play.  It is important to note that fairness does not mean treating everyone the same way. The different life experiences and needs and contributions of men and women must be taken into consideration. Often invisible to some, women's societal organizational and environmental disadvantages are identified and mitigated in a gender equitable environment. If we find that men are experiencing cultural disadvantages these must be taken into account as well, such as might happen in traditionally female dominated career paths. These factors are also critical if we are to benefit from diversity of thought that is the result of men and women equitably building processes, organizations, government and society together.   The lower status of women, in many parts of society, government and other organizations, often constitutes a systemic handicap and provisions should be made to mitigate this inequality before they can take advantage of the opportunities provided, or even access them.  Gender equity thus serves to level the playing field and empower women to mitigate environmental and societal barriers. Equity is essential to achieve true equality.

Gender Equality: Women and Men are welcome to participate in organizations, society, and government predominantly structured and led by men.  Processes to access these entities remains the same, resulting in continued lack of female representation, impact or influence.  " Anyone should feel free to be a part of our organization, government or society, however we intend for the cultural norms to stay the same."

Gender Equity: Women and Men are welcome to participate in organizations, society and government.  The distinct experiences and contributions of women and men are recognized.  Access is critically examined for barriers based on culture or historical disadvantage of women and privilege of men such as affinity, locked networks, masculine norms in profiling new members, etc. " Anyone should feel free to participate, we shall work to recognize the similarities and differences we all bring. In light of these differences, we may interact with people differently to achieve fairness and maximize our outcomes. We pledge to identify this diversity, respect it and leverage it for the good of this organization, government and society."

<![CDATA[The Flexibility Culture Blueprint for Firms- Your Flexibility Philosophy and Policy]]>Tue, 20 Feb 2018 19:48:31 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/the-flexibility-culture-blueprint-for-firms-your-flexibility-philosophy-and-policy
​This is not a blog about flexible work arrangements.  Simply stated there is a talent war.  Forces have come together in a way we have never seen before.  Baby Boomers may believe this is similar to all the other talent wars they have seen, but research shows otherwise.  Millions of Baby Boomers are retiring with significantly less in the pipeline to take their place. An estimated 30% gap. The Gen Y coming up behind our Gen X emerging leaders will provide some relief however we have to keep them in the profession in order to create sustainable firms of the future.  Women and Generation X have been saying for quite a long time that the business models created by the Boomers need to change in order to attract and retain the best and brightest future leaders.  Now the Gen Y and Z  have added their unrelenting voice to this message: change or we will go elsewhere.   The profession is faced with losing even more top talent then we have already driven from our ranks, and many are not just leaving public accounting but the entire profession.  We have a greater need than ever before for talent with more people retiring from the profession than in the history of the profession combined.  At the same time we offer cultures that are unattractive to the very talent we need to survive and thrive.

The number one cultural attribute required by the emerging leaders is flexibility.  Men and women report this in their top three requirements for long term career satisfaction.  Many Boomers still seem to believe this is about offering “part-time” work arrangements.  This is the old school mentality.  Offering flexibility in schedules and the possibility of reduced hours has been a requirement to retain top talent for over 25 years. This alone will no longer create retention, and many firms may not have even mastered implementation of these policies.  Firms of the future have moved to flexibility philosophies that definitely include policies for reduced hour flexibility but also include much more.  The first rule of an effective flexibility philosophy is that it must be a reflection of a strong flexibility culture.  Culture shift takes time and the sooner you start the better.  Here are some important steps and elements to include in creating your firm’s flexibility culture and philosophy:

Career-Life Integration Introduction Communicate the importance of career-life integration in the firm culture.  Why is the firm supporting this, what is the business case for flexibility in this organization.  Clearly stated business reasons for the support of Career-Life Integration is the foundation for effective forward movement. (For more information on business case reference: AICPA Business Case for Flexibility

Flexible Culture Include a brief statement of the firm’s philosophy on flexibility.  This is a broad statement that reinforces the ways in which flexibility must work for the organization and the individual.  Elements that are central to the firms business such as quality client service, respect of co-workers, and personal responsibility are key.  Clarity on the accountability of the firm and individual to honor commitments both personal and professional and other core concepts are also noted.  This statement is critical as it is the foundation of the firm’s approach to flexibility.

Flexibility Options It is critical to create education and awareness on flexibility options.  There are many perceived barriers, urban legends and myths about what is possible or “allowed” and what is not.  Most employees get their information from their peers and misperceptions are widespread. Firms that are very clear on the differences between day to day informal flexibility and formal flexibility arrangements will have the most success.   Informal flexibility utilized by all, such as core hours concepts or simple flexibility to cover personal needs such as doctor appointments or family conflicts should be described and scenarios given as examples.  Core hours are set by some firms to allow for day to day flexibility- these include hours in the middle of the day, commonly 10-3 where everyone must be in the office.  Some may choose to start work at 6 or 7am and work 8-10 hours, others may choose to start later and work those same hours but finish in the evening.  This is the essence of core hours.  Working hours and productivity are not reduced and expectations remain the same.  Choices are given and details clarified on how the hours may be accomplished.  However, it is important to note that Core Hours are quickly becoming old school as well.  Guidelines regarding personal responsibility for communication and maintaining access to ensure continued workflow are key to building a flexibility culture that will not rely on the core hours concept. 

Examples of "formal flexibility" should be noted with specifics on full time such as condensed week hours or telecommute (4-10 hour days, or some portion of the week via work from a home office) and specifics on reduced hour’s arrangements which include typical 80% or 90% of full time hours type schedules.  Any details on impact to compensation, benefits, career progression, etc. are all outlined in detail.  Firms that have mastered the flexibility culture are very clear on career progression in particular.  Firms must identify the progression impact of various flexibility choices.  The majority of firms are determining appropriate levels of flexibility up to and including the partner level and are able to communicate and document these philosophies.  There are often not hard written policies because each individual situation is unique.   
Making a Personal Flexibility Plan
It is critical to ensure employees know how to take advantage of both informal and formal flexibility.  Formal flexibility is only effective with a process that includes the employee creating a business case and request for the arrangement and an approval process which sometimes includes negotiation with practice leaders to ensure the arrangement will work for the business needs as well as individual needs.  Employees sometimes need the opportunity to counsel with someone knowledgeable in the firm regarding options and how to meet business and personal needs. Formal check in processes are essential to avoid the failures many firms experience with these arrangements.  Simply put, a process that requires the firm and individual to acknowledge what is- and is not- working about the arrangements and forces adjustments can put an effective stop to the many things that typically derail effective flexibility.  These check-ins must occur annually at a minimum.   All employees should take the time to estimate how they will utilize their billable and non billable hours and meet or exceed expectations for their level. This is essential for professional management of your performance regardless of the type of flexibility benefits you may take advantage of.
Leaders, managers and employees are oriented to the flexibility philosophy in education and awareness sessions.  This step must not be skipped.  Those leading and supervising others must be trained on how to effectively manage and hold people accountable with less face time.  We currently tend to shortcut quality management techniques which is the result of expecting our workforce to be outside our office door 24/7 waiting for us to delegate or follow up with them. Effective management techniques have always included skills such as setting expectations, clarity in communication, adjusting style for the current developmental level of the individual, setting and adjusting accountability approaches, and getting to know the motivations of the people who work for you. 

Employees also must understand that with privilege comes responsibility and they have a role to play that includes understanding business needs and a mature communication approach. Understanding their responsibilities in the above management skills interaction is key regardless of whether they are taking advantage of a flexible culture or working 24/7.
These are simple steps to move down the path to a more flexible culture.  Remember this statement of caution.  Simply going through the motions and following these steps without the buy in of leaders will not be effective.  Governance bodies, owners, managers must engage with a willingness to shift culture around what we believe it means to demonstrate commitment to the organization.  The requirement of more flexible cultures will not go away.  The firms that do not embrace this will find their clients suffer and their future is not sustainable because talent will choose to go elsewhere. 

<![CDATA[Career-Life Integration Skill Building is the Missing Link]]>Wed, 25 Mar 2015 14:43:27 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/career-life-integration-skill-building-is-the-missing-linkUnlikely Source of Career Life Integration

Jayne is a team player. She is very passionate about her work and life. She has many things she wants to be involved in. She can be relied on to take things and run with them.  Unfortunately at this stage in her career, as a director, she is seriously considering leaving the organization. She is continuously torn between personal and professional priorities and is feeling exhausted from the pace. Just last night as she was on her way out to make it to her son’s basketball game, she was sidelined by a colleague who had a technical issue to discuss. She knew it was important and therefore did not interrupt him to let him know she had a personal commitment. She missed the first half of the game.  She had set a goal for herself to make all of these games is disappointed and concerned about how often this is happening now. She feels she cannot continue to meet her own standards for the kind of parent AND the kind of professional she wants to be.

Jack is a go getter and will assertively push for committee assignments and new clients. He has always felt this was the road to success. Lately, however, he feels he is not meeting many commitments well. He missed a few days of his family vacation this year and his daughter’s birthday celebration. The professional reasons were solid and he does not want to be considered unreliable or uncommitted. He does feel his family is starting to see him as unavailable which causes him to feel sad.  He is beginning to worry him about future relationships with his wife and daughter. 

Do these scenarios sound familiar either personally or in regard to the top talent on your team? Is there a commonality in these scenarios? If you want to help your employees with career life integration strategies, where do you start? Do you want better alignment between work and your own personal commitments?

Improving skills in “personal boundary setting” is a much overlooked strategy relative to effective integration of career and personal life. Many organizations believe they need “work life balance” programs when in fact these programs will not make a difference if individuals are unable to make aligned decisions and set personal boundaries. Understanding professional priorities and how to meet those while also effectively setting personal boundaries is a gap that can be addressed by individuals and organizations.  Below are seven steps to building skills in this area:

1-Understand what you really want personally and professionally-engage in guided self-reflection using an influential sponsor or personal executive coach.  Do this at least annually if not more often.

2-Understand what adds the most value in your organization-this is not based on conjecture- but on input from reliable and knowledgeable sponsors within the organization (if you have not formed relationships with influential sponsors, these are crucial to successful career navigation)

3-Set a goal and strive to spend your time on what adds the most value, practice communicating this to the leaders you work with most.

4-Train a strong team to continuously take on challenges once you have mastered them. 

5-Teach yourself and hold yourself accountable for letting go of what does not add value or what someone else on your team is now more challenged by then you.  Pass the work down, delegate and leverage yourself over your team. 

6-Learn (and practice) communicating effectively what your priorities are and why you are making the choices you are making.  Practice saying no.  Every time you say no to something that is not aligned you are saying yes to something that is aligned with your personal and professional goals. The reverse is also true- every time you say yes to something because you feel guilty or because you did not think about the impact it would have on other commitments, you are in effect saying no to the things you already determined were most important. Communicating the personal and professional reasons for your decisions with those closest to your work can make a difference

7-Make intentional and conscious choices about how you spend every part of every day and be willing to hand over personal duties as well as professional duties to your support teams at work and at home.  The goal is to maximize your time spent moving toward your vision of the person you want to be both professionally and personally. There will still be conflicts.  However decisions are easier to make. When torn between two choices, you will have increased clarity and peace of mind in making your decision.

<![CDATA[Black and Blue or White and Gold]]>Mon, 02 Mar 2015 19:21:43 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/black-and-blue-or-white-and-goldPeriodically the type of things that "go viral" on social media can tell us a lot about ourselves.  In the last week a simple posting about the color of a dress has involved over 29 million people on line alone. In addition, popular media has picked up this story on television. What happened here?  

 A picture of a dress was posted and a debate began about the dress and whether it was black and blue or gold and white.  How so many people see the same thing so differently is one of the mysteries of the human condition.  Of course there is a lot of interesting science behind the debate.  Maybe more interesting is the way in which people have placed themselves in tribes over the color perceptions, white and gold camps defending their position against the blue and black tribe.

 In this post on the science, Bevil Conway a neuroscientist who studies color, noted  " when context varies so will visual perception"   Http://www.wired.com/2015/02/science-one-agrees-color-dress

Quite literally when people looked at the color samples in a different light, from a different angle, from a tighter or more distant view.... their perception of the color changed.  

Everyday we see things or experience aspects of life along with our fellow human beings. Everyday we assume other people see what we see or experience what we experience.  The phenomenon of the black and blue/ white and gold dress is a simple reminder that we in fact do not experience the world in the same way.  It also reminds us how intensely we will defend our own view of the world or dismiss someone else's without understanding how their view has been formed. 

Taking the time to understand the way in which the people around you see and experience the world can be interesting in the very least and sometimes life changing.  Most of our experiences are our reality and only ours. What can happen if we take time to explore the reality of the people around us? 
<![CDATA[Organizational Strategies to Improve Diversity and Inclusion]]>Thu, 12 Feb 2015 21:47:17 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/organizational-strategies-to-improve-diversity-and-inclusionOrganizational Strategies for Improving Diversity and Inclusion 
Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

By: Mary L Bennett, CEC, CIA, MBA

The accounting profession, and other financial services organizations, have  been working on diversity and inclusion (D&I) challenges and opportunities for decades.  Many organizations led the way beginning with a focus on improving gender diversity. Increasingly organizations have moved or are moving to a broader definition of diversity and inclusion defined by gender, ethnicity, age, generation, religion, sexual orientation and many more aspects of our differences and similarities as human beings.  The business focus on inclusion is driven by the perfect storm of increased demand for professionals which is outpacing the supply. Some reasons for the perfect storm gap in the supply of accountants and other professionals:

1-Unprecedented retirement numbers of baby boomers
2-Changing demographics in the US not mirrored in the profession ( for example increasingly minority and women owned businesses are dominating the new business ranks but not keeping pace in the accounting profession)
3-Unsustainable turnover rates (among accountants over 25%)
4-Ambiguity or outright lack of attractiveness of traditional long term career paths in the profession 

What are the firms of the future doing to prepare for this storm through their diversity and inclusion strategies?

1- Effective firms deeply understand, document and communicate their firm's customized business case for investing resources in the attraction, retention and advancement of those who bring elements of diversity to the firm. All levels of the firm should be considered especially the leadership ranks. A more inclusive culture includes diversity of thought at the leadership level in order to accomplish an effective return on investment. in D&I 

2-Successful firms use their customized business case as a starting point to accurately diagnose their firm and its evolution toward building a more diverse and inclusive organization. Diversity is a reflection of the actual ranks of the organization along the dimensions of diversity such as gender, ethnicity, age, etc. Inclusiveness is the degree to which the organization successfully maximizes the benefits of the diversity.  Understanding where the organization is in terms of maturity, and therefore readiness for strategy implementation, is essential to avoid common pitfalls.  A common example of such a pitfall is implementation of programming before the business case and strategic context is solidly in place.  In this situation it is very difficult to obtain buy in from the leadership level and down through the entire organization.

3-Firms effective in building greater diversity and inclusion have a defined and targeted set of strategies that align with the evolutionary readiness of their organization.   These always begin with effective business case formation, communication plans and tangible diagnostic preparedness.  

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article series to learn more about specific strategies organizations use 

<![CDATA[Attracting and Retaining Diverse Talent]]>Thu, 16 May 2013 16:43:18 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/attracting-and-retaining-diverse-talentJill is an African American woman with ten years of experience in
public accounting. She is certified and versatile in the areas of practice in
which she might contribute now and in the future.  She has deep community roots in the major metropolitan area in which she works and she has shown great promise in promoting the Firm in the market.  She has demonstrated ability to target in on very valid and significant business development opportunities. 
She is liked by her peers and develops the people on her teams.  She also plans to leave the Firm and possibly public accounting altogether. 
What is wrong with this picture?

Jill feels as if she works tirelessly to stay connected in the
Firm and to expand her network. She has been successful in this regard and is
networked and capable of tapping into opportunities.  She feels she has to prove herself every day when she walks through the door and again if she is working toward a significant opportunity in the Firm or the market. She feels when she speaks she must work much harder to be heard and to be taken seriously.   She feels that her superiors are not connected to her and that she is not on their radar screen.  She has observed the favoritism or advocacy circles that drive the
assignment of opportunities, promotions and pay increases.  She has managed to tap into these organizational circles from time to time, but also notes that she has to assimilate in order to stay connected. She is uncomfortable with the degree of assimilation required.  She understands that this assimilation also limits the value she may bring to the Firm. She has come to the conclusion that the energy she is pouring into trying to fit into the organization could be better applied to her work if she was in a more inclusive environment.  Her
exploration of the Public Accounting marketplace has turned up few options upon
deep research.  She knows she has many career options.  She cannot
envision herself on the outside trying to gain access daily for the undefined
and long term future.   This is a very difficult career path without taking into account the need to break into circles of influence that others do not have to work at to gain access.
The sustainability of our Firms is dependent upon attracting,
retaining and developing the best talent. 
A significant portion of this talent is represented by individuals who
represent something different then our current partner ranks. 
Our ability to develop and bring new solutions to new markets is
dependent on our success in creating an inclusive culture that supports a very broad level of diversity.  Diversity in thought, lifestyle, ethnicity, gender, education, socioeconomic experience and much more. 
Creating an inclusive culture can be accomplished with targeted
effort.  How do we attract, retain
and develop the individuals who represent the change we need for the future
while we continue to work on our culture?  

What can an organization do now to retain and develop top talent
like Jill?  One of the most important strategies that an organization can employ is targeted advocacy.  In our profession advocacy
relationships drive talent development and career navigation. 
These relationships are a natural part of our organizations and have been
so for decades.  Advocates not only understand how to navigate through an organization to access key opportunities and networks at the most appropriate junctures of a career but they also use political capital to facilitate these moves for their protégés.  Advocates also help the protégés to become visible in ways that individuals cannot do for themselves.  These relationships exist and drive our
  profession.  These relationships are essential for election to owner which is one of the ultimate career destinations in our profession.   

It is critical to note that for individuals who represent
  something different from the norm, the advocacy relationships do not form as
  naturally as they do for the majority group. Human beings are drawn to individuals who remind us of ourselves, those we can identify with. 
This is especially true of advocacy relationships that may form naturally
in public accounting Firms.  This is significant and an important element in Jill’s story.  How can a person like Jill reach the conclusion that the price to pay for
success in public accounting is too high?   As an experienced partner in a public
accounting Firm, I would be the first person to acknowledge the road is long and
challenging.  We expect to work hard to attain this goal. What is
lost on those of us who may represent the majority is that the path is not the
same for those who are diverse, those who may represent our future. 
The path is much harder every day. 
When we hear that these individuals do not want to do what it takes to
succeed we must understand that in significant ways we are asking them to do
more then we have had to do.  This is true in many Firms for women, minorities, those with different educational or socioeconomic experiences, those with different lifestyles, or those that represent any significant difference that currently requires the individual to suppress in order to assimilate and be accepted. If you are a member of the majority and dominant group, the need to suppress fundamental elements of who you are to succeed may sound like fiction. Those who represent diversity in the ranks of your Firm would assure you that the energy it takes to try to be a fully accepted and engaged member of the Firm is

Advocacy relationships must be in place for all of our top talent.  If left to chance, the relationships will most likely not be in place for the individuals who
represent a critical part of our future because they represent something
different.  Targeted Advocacy Programs are not difficult to implement. 
The ripple effect benefit of these programs is immense. 
One method of shifting culture is to work closely with those individuals
who represent the future.  Bias is generally unconscious.  Bias begins
to break down as we gain personal experience interacting with individuals. Both the advocate and the protégé learn from these relationships.   

<![CDATA[Why do we avoid succession planning?]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2012 23:34:47 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/why-do-we-avoid-succession-planningGiven the unavoidable retirement of the baby boomers -why is there such a resistance to effective succession planning? Because it touches us as human beings in ways we prefer not to think about.
Fear of the unknown
Fear of becoming irrelevant
Fear of retirement and beyond
Fear that someone will actually replace us

That our current role and responsibility must change
That we need to give emerging leaders the opportunity to lead
That we have neglected building a plan for the next phase of our lives

Significant amounts of compassion, counseling and coaching are essential in effective succession planning programs.  Beginning the process with validation and gratitude for the contributions of the current leaders is a good place to start. Dealing with the human element of succession is not a side element of the planning process but the central element that will speed and improve the entire endeavor.  The commitment, passion and engagement that have contributed to the organization's success will also hold it back if we do not actively and compassionately recognize it and deal with it creating dignity and appreciation.
<![CDATA[Flexibility -Not Just About Part Time Schedules]]>Wed, 25 Apr 2012 00:29:38 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/flexibility-not-just-about-part-time-schedulesFlexibility??  ...Been there done that?  or  That wont work here...our customers and clients are too demanding?  Do these comments sound familiar?  Read on to learn how flexibility may not be what you think.

Building flexibility into a work culture impacts so much more then your employees intention to stay and contribute their very best to the organization.  While it does do that,  it also has the power to enhance your business.  Flexibility has the power to contribute to:  
-Employee Attraction and Retention
-Improved Productivity
-Improved Customer Service and Satisfaction
-Effective Operational Management

For detailed information on each of these potential benefits from flexibility  read the whitepaper published on the AICPA website.  Link below.
(Flexibility Business Case- How Flexibility Can Actually Improve Your Business http://www.aicpa.org/career/womenintheprofession/downloadabledocuments/2010%20mary%20bennett%20flexibility-the%20business%20case.pdf )

In addition to the above benefits, flexibility is not just about changing work schedules.  Frequently there is an assumption made that if an employee wants to take advantage of flexibility it means that they want to reduce their total hours .In your organization does this also mean they are consciously or unconsciously labeled as "less committed", "less worthy of investment, attention, promotion"? Does this also sound familiar?
Flexibility is actually about treating your employees as professionals for the benefit of the firm as much as for the benefit of the individual.  Most of us arel aware of the flexibility required to deliver the value propostion expected of a professional in industries such as accounting and law.  The success of the firm depends on talented individuals being flexible and adaptable to anticipate and meet client needs.  This flexibility is similar to the adaptability required by the organization to allow individuals some freedom to meet their personal needs.  Consider Chris.

Chris is at the mid management level and is currently struggling to build a successful career and a successul family life simultaneously. The firm offers a flexible work arrangement program that allows one to cut back their hours and travel schedule to meet family needs.  It is common knowledge that this program will limit advancement even if the individual works full time plus hours during the most intense deadline periods of the year.  Chris feels compelled to take this option even though it is not exactly what is needed.  What Chris really needs is just a little bit more control over the schedule and approach to meeting firm and client needs. If less judgement and more acceptance were displayed by senior leaders when Chris departed from traditional face time expectations, there might be a chance to stay with this firm.  Chris actually has less desire to reduce hours and more desire to meet his responsibilities with some flexibility.  Chris feels that if this were possible, long term career options would most definitely include staying at this firm.  As it stands now, with part time as the only option to get some control weighed against the loss of income and advancement potential- a long term path here is not in the plan.

Flexibility is not just about part time.  Whether it does or does not include changes in total hours the core of building a flexible culture is clarity in expectations.  If a professional is clear on the expectations, accountabilities and how to create value at each level , flexibility becomes much easier.  Our top talent will exceed expectations if they understand what these expectations are.  Top talent will have the motivation, energy, enthusiasm to bring greater value if they feel they are treated as a professional- which includes allowing them to determine when, where and how to best meet their responsibilities. Like any developmental skill, meeting priorities is something that requires coaching. This is true regardless of the flexibility of the culture.  With targeted efforts to clarify expectations, there is less ambiguity for all.

The above discussion is not theory. After ten years experience leading a unit with a flexible culture, I have seen the theory in action.  Leading 50 people who were  all taking advantage of some type of " formal flexibility" - which included part time and full time schedules- I have seen first hand how flexibility can directly support the business goals of an organization.   Looking for employee engagement, commitment, retention and answers to work-life challenges that will  impact clients- building a flexible culture is your answer.  It comes with many side benefits.

<![CDATA[Building Inclusive Cultures:The Role of Sponsors-Advocates ]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2012 19:23:51 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/building-inclusive-culturesthe-role-of-sponsorsadvocatesThe power of sponsor-advocacy relationships is not very well understood in many organizations even though these relationships have been the electricity of career progress as long as there have been careers.  Intentional sponsorship and advocacy is frequently the missing element in building inclusive environments where all top talent can thrive.

The issue of sponsorship and advocacy is often subtle and requires a close look at how individuals move through the organization. How do they advance? How do they become visible? What is considered an increase in value delivered that puts someone on "the radar screen"?  Many of the subtle but essential rules about how an individual advances in an organization are real but unwritten. As a result , it is critical that all top talent have access to sponsor-advocates in their career journey.

Sponsor- advocacy in the development and career advancement process is often missing for emerging leaders, especially those who represent diversity from the current and past leadership teams. This is not because those in positions of influence are deliberately or even consciously excluding anyone but because  human beings regularly exhibit something called "affinity bias". This is simply a pattern of identifying with those who remind us of ourselves , with those on a path similar to the one we have taken.  We reach out to those who we feel an affinity with and "take them under our wing".  As a result of these human patterns the natural formation of traditional sponsor-advocate relationships can unevenly provide critical "survive and thrive" training.  

In most organizations there remains a lack of broadly defined diversity in the majority of positions of influence and power.  The positions that represent deep knowledge of the unwritten rules are still today not held by individuals who represent a broad definition of diversity. In many cases, senior leaders naturally reach out to younger leaders who remind them of themselves as protoges. When asked, senior leaders are often not aware that an uneven execution of sponsor- advocacy is happening and they are a party to it. When the question of why more emerging leaders who represent broader diversity are not in their circle the leaders often indicate that they do not feel they can be a mentor to women, minorities, GLBT, or the disabled. They acknowledge, when asked to reflect, that they have reached out naturally to people they feel they can help because they have walked the same road. These influential leaders sometimes feel they do not have as much to offer the individuals who they perceive to be walking a different road.  This is in fact not the case, there is much they have to offer and it is possibly even more important they offer it to those who represent diversity because these individuals have less access to critical information about the majority culture. In addition, these individuals may represent unique perspectives, networks, and experiences that will make the organization stronger.
These factors are a catalyst behind the lack of an even playing field for all top talent. Without the same access to senior leadership, critical learning and developmental experiences,all  individuals do not have the same opportunities. 

Moving through an organization seeking advancement is a very
real journey. This journey is one that requires a map that comes from a sponsor- advocate.  All individuals should be thinking about gaps in experiences needed to increase our skill level and our balance sheet of talent. It is important to first understand what the organization is looking for in its emerging  leaders. This is not always , in fact not often , written. A sponsor-advocate provides critical information that helps the individual understand where they are on track and where they are missing the mark. While understanding high value activities is the first step in efficient career navigation, an individual is not always in a position to acquire access to these opportunities and experiences without someone in the inner circle acting as an advocate. In some cases, it is nearly impossible to broker opportunities such as committee assignments, over seas promotions, strategic client relationships, profit and loss responsibility without assistance. Advocacy from those in positions of influence is required. 

Many emerging female and minority leaders do not have deep sponsor-advocate relationships. This fact slows the career progress of these diverse leaders. It creates real difference , not only in the opportunities that this talent has access to but also meaningful differences in learning and skill development. While it may be heresy to post this next comment- it is true. When we hear that there were no female or diverse candidates for promotion that were qualified...it is sometimes true because these candidates have not had the experiences needed to qualify them for the new opportunity largely because of a lack of sponsor-advocate intervention.

What can we do as individuals and organizations? Individuals must work to form relationships with senior leaders in order to access critical career navigation  information and support.  If you represent diversity from the current leadership team it is important that you work even more proactively to develop these relationships as they may not form naturally without you acting as a catalyst.  The good news is that talented individuals  can get what is needed  from multiple relationships and sources, and in fact should not expect to get everything from one sponsor-advocate.  Putting all of your efforts into one relationship is not a good strategy because there will always be change within organizations. How hard a talented individual works and the quality of their work is not the only thing that matters... it is the merely price of entry.  Talented individuals  need to know if they are doing the right things at the right time in their career.  In addition, the right people must know they are doing the right things. The "right things" are those things recognized as having top value to the organization.

 Organizations that understand all of the above take a hard look
at their assignment, promotion and sponsor-advocacy processes. Uneven access to senior leadership can be addressed through awareness raising, sponsor-advocacy programming and an enhanced talent development culture.

<![CDATA[Mentors vs Advocates/Sponsors-What is the Difference?]]>Tue, 13 Mar 2012 18:03:10 GMThttp://mlbennettconsulting.com/mlbc-best-practices-blog/mentors-vs-advocatessponsors-what-is-the-differenceThere is a lot of buzz about the need for advocacy or sponsorship relationships as opposed to mentor relationships.  What is the difference?

The most significant difference between mentors and advocates is the level of active involvement in the career of the protoge. Sponsors and advocates are in a position of influence in the organziation.  Sponsor/advocates are also close enough to the protoges career trajectory AND personal goals to clearly see in detail where the protoge should be focusing their efforts in the near future to accomplish THEIR professional (and sometimes life) goals.   In addition the sponsor/advocate is  in position to be able to influence the opportunities the protoge has access to and is willing to actively "advocate" or "sponsor" this individual by placing personal reputation and political capital on the line in support of the protoge.  Lets face it, if we recommend someone for an assigment, promotion, raise, committee, opportunity of any kind- we put a portion of our reputation on the line. This is the primary difference between mentors and sponsor/advocates.  Many people have mentors who in fact have been playing the sponsor/advocate role -many times without the knowledge of the protoge.  Until we are insiders of the leadership team we often are unaware of how prevalent the sponsor/advocacy system is.

The sponsor/advocate also plays the role of education, awareness raising and skill building which may be common to mentor relationships.  One of the most challenging things about career progression is understanding exactly what you should be doing when , how to procure these assignments for yourself and how to ensure the right people know you are doing the right things.  These steps cannot be accomplished independently in most organizations.  Hence the need for sponsor/advocates.