Never a cross word

Training and personnel are prone to buzzwords and linguistic tangles. Add
the pressure to be global and the potential for confusion is immense, say Elaine
Essery and Katie Fell

In the US, summer comes before the fall; in the UK, ‘pride comes before a
fall’, and summer precedes autumn. Brits put rubbish in a bin; while Americans
put their garbage in the trash can… and we share the same language!

Imagine the problems a non-English speaker faces in grappling with
international variances within the same language, says Elaine Essery. The same
goes for HR terminology, where differences occur not only from country to
country but from organisation to organisation, depending on national and
corporate culture. "It’s all very well to talk about national culture, but
sometimes corporate cultures can outweigh national ones," comments Bob
Stilliard from Ashridge Management College. So what might pass as ‘manpower talent
review’ in one organisation is ‘succession planning’ in another.

Even common terms like ‘blended learning’ can be open to different
interpretation. "Many companies describe blended learning as giving
students theory online and then repeating it in a traditional lecture or by
giving out books in a classroom, but that is not complementary," says Per
Ingar, marketing manager of Smart Learning in Norway. "Learning isn’t
truly blended until technology-supported activities and instructor-led activities
are blended and adapted.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if things were standardised? But standardisation just
is not possible. It is a lesson that many distance- and e-learning providers
have learnt when called upon to localise material for different markets. Some
US e-learning provision has failed even to cross the pond successfully because
American terminology could not be accepted. "US management styles don’t
work in Scandinavian countries, which are more collectivistic and more
democratic," says Ingar.

Simply translating a term from one language to another won’t solve things
either because people will interpret words differently within the constructs of
their own culture. "Language is very often an inadequate descriptor of
experience. You need other things – like the context in terms of non-verbal
behaviour – to make sense of it and understand what the person may mean by that
word," says Tony Dunk, principal of CDA Performance Programmes.

What do you think? See below as we unravel the latest jargon from the UK and
across the pond.

Employee Value

What’s special about this place? Why would someone want to work here?

The Employee Value Proposition is the latest of a series of statements that
are in serious danger of becoming consultancy casualties – where the labelling
of the meaning leads to cynicism with the notion, writes Katie Fell. Others
include ‘values’, ’employer brand’, ‘internal brand’ or ‘recruitment
proposition’. But at the heart of the expression is a serious need.

Even in bad times, businesses need to get value from their bright people.
That means the bright people choose to be there. The EVP is the articulation of
what is compelling about the organisation for these people, and is made up of
tangible factors [pay, benefits, location] and intangibles [such as sociability
and quality of leadership]. Once defined, it should be used internally to make
sure it can be real, consistently; and externally as a way of presenting what
is unique about the company as a place to work.

Talent management

With expressions such as ‘talent management’, jargon starts to spread into
the dangerous world of organisational politics and accusations of elitism.
Either that, or the interpretation is so bland and politically correct,
‘talent’ means everyone. The words used to describe talent management vary
considerably, but the current favourite is the suitably ambiguous and
double-meaning ‘top totty’.

However, in every organisation there will be a group of people who will be
the ones able and expected to turn great ideas into sales, solid systems into
cost cutting, and mind-bending research into a saleable commodity. Let’s call
these ‘talent’ [and emphasise that this does not mean that others are not

Talent management is about understanding the needs and wants of these people
and providing a working environment in which they can flourish. It is about
making sure there is an adequate supply of ‘talent’ – and knowing where they
can be sourced in the future. The bedrock of talent management is understanding
the EVP and ensuring that it is manifested in the right way for these people.

Blended learning

Ingredients: A series of online tutorials, one management development
workshop, a pinch of brainstorming, a dash of role-playing and a helping of
case studies.

Method: Mix all the ingredients together. Add additional modules according
to skill and experience, and leave to develop over several months. This new
training cocktail can be accessed via a company intranet, a desktop PC or
through traditional paper-based training manual formats.

Blended learning is a recent trend in the training industry. The aim is to
look at the overall objectives of a learning programme, and break it down into
appropriate modules. The training designer will then select the best method of
delivering each module to the learner, and make it available through a number
of different media ranging from CD-Rom, facilitated workshops, online tutorials
through to web-enabled e-learning suites. Blended learning aims to incorporate
a range of training methods to deliver training messages in the most
appropriate way, and to vary the content to appeal to different learning

360 degrees feedback

Contrary to what you might think, this is not another name for everyone you
have ever known telling you what they think of you all at once. Instead, this
is an attempt to take into consideration the views of a range of people with
whom you work. The idea is that traditionally you only get feedback from your
line manager, someone with whom you will probably act relatively formally and
who may not ‘really know you’. By adding the feedback of people who work
alongside you, and who report in to you, a more realistic picture is created of
how you operate in a range of circumstances.

This is not as bad as it sounds, as the overall feedback shows trends of
behaviour across all of these groups and, therefore, provides a realistic basis
for identifying strengths and development needs.

Emotional intelligence

The interest in this subject, and particularly in the work of Daniel
Goleman, has ensured that irrespective of some commentators’ suspicion that
this is ‘old wine in new bottles’, the attention of senior managers and CEOs
has been gained.

Put simply EI [and EQ, which is the ability to apply it] is about self
awareness and being able to understand others’ perspectives and feelings, using
this knowledge to generate motivation. The premise is that basic intelligence,
and even experience, is not the key to success; this just gets you ‘in the
game’. The theory is that the individual’s EI which is the crucial ‘competence’
that differentiates good managers from great leaders.

Psychological contract

The psychological contract is an elusive thing. It is not explicitly written
down, and often not even discussed. However, it is a fundamental element
driving motivation and satisfaction at work. So what is it?

The psychological contract is the set of expectations that individuals and
employers have of each other. As our work environments change, we are
increasingly redefining these expectations. It used to be that an employer
could expect a job for life. Nowadays, we are almost conditioned to expect
redundancy at least once in our careers; or at least expect to change employers
several times. In return for a less stable work environment, we now expect
employers to provide us with training and development that will not only help
us in our current role, but also provide us with a passport to new
opportunities when we leave our current employer.


Most of our work environments have been full of bad news in the last 18
months. Consequently, job losses have been a frequent occurrence.

Downsizing has been the activity that many organisations have gone through
to cut out loss-making departments, reduce the number overheads, and generally
reduce the size of the business to be better able to survive. To try and soften
the blow, it seems organisations are trying to use more positive vocabulary to
announce that jobs will be lost. Downsizing is thought to be perceived as a more
proactive business activity than ‘redundancy’ or ‘job cuts’. Business Week
magazine defines downsizing as "the making smaller of a company or a
subsidiary therein; motivated by a perceived need to restore life to the ailing
and non competitive entity".

Katie Fell is an information specialist at Penna Consulting

Learning to speak Aerican

Jim Hess, of Penna Consulting, translates the latest HR buzz
words from across the Atlantic

Competency Frameworks

Competency frameworks look at the skills and knowledge
employees need to have, or gain, to effectively undertake their job. In
essence, they are used to show employees what is expected of them and to enable
employers to make sound hiring decisions. Many companies use competencies to
identify training and development needs of individuals but increasingly, they
are used for recruitment and selection, appraisals and career progression and
setting personal objectives. They can be divided into core and technical

Talent acquisition

Talent acquisition is a term that is often used in the US. It
has been adopted to enable comp-anies to view their employees differently.
Organisations which view their employees as ‘talent’ tend to take a far more
pro-active approach to the care and development of their staff. In essence,
this signifies treating employees as customers that contribute to the growth
and development of a company as opposed to companies that view their employees
as a cost. One development common in the US includes companies creating a
pipeline of talent 12 to18 months prior to a vacancy arising, gaining a
competitive advantage.

New employee assimilation and

You have just hired a fantastic new employee but you know they
will take a while to make an impact. But, in today’s climate, no organisation
can afford to leave that process to chance. Well-planned assimilation of
Information can reduce a new employee’s anxiety and focus their motivation. It
also helps employees acclimatise to the culture of the organisation, understand
what success looks like and how they fit into the larger picture. The design
and implementation of an employee assimilation and intergration programme will increase
overall new employee productivity by providing the appropriate information,
tools and support needed for a fast start.

Manpower talent review

Organisations spend a tremendous amount of time, effort and
money recruiting and retaining staff. Yet to many, it is a surprise when a
valued employee leaves the company. For example, what happens when a CEO
announces he is leaving a company or planning to retire? As Jack Welch, CEO of
General Electric, famously said in 1991: "From now on, choosing my successor
is the most important decision I will make. It occupies a considerable amount
of thought almost every day." This was 10 years before he departed!

A person leaving can cause a chain reaction throughout an
organisation. The more senior the person, the bigger the need for a plan in
place to minimise disruption. Sound succession planning is vital to success in
rapidly changing environments.

Jim Hess is responsible for
managing Penna’s recruitment offices in Dublin, Stockholm, Oslo, Paris and
Milan. Prior to this, Hess was managing director of Diversified Search in the
US for nearly 20 years. He has worked inter-nationally with clients in
health-care, financial services, business consulting, and manufacturing.

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