I don’t know about you, but all of this warm weather has me thinking about what’s coming up this summer: a wedding or two, a few days at the beach, and myriad summer festivals.
Well, as an organization, we are anticipating a number of exciting happenings at JOIN , all kicking off. . .you guessed it, this summer. Here is a little preview:
Labor Market Report: A while back, JOIN and the CEO Council for Growth commissioned a report from Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy. This Labor Market report contains the kind of region-specific data that is highly relevant to area businesses and to folks working on economic and workforce development. We are looking forward to the report release this summer.
Update on JOIN Investments: As you know, JOIN has invested in 6 innovative workforce development projects. Starting in the late summer or early fall, we are going to offer formal updates on 4 of these projects—best practices, outcomes, lessons learned, and all of that good stuff. It’s all part of our effort to innovate and then spread the ideas that work.
Innovations Forum: JOIN would like to make a habit of convening a meeting with organizations that are, in some way or other, addressing the human capital challenge in the Greater Philadelphia region. Our inaugural meeting is happening this fall! In the meantime, we are busy drafting up invitations and agendas and thinking about how to facilitate a meaningful, productive discussion.
So, stay tuned. We have lots to share.
You have probably noticed by now that we like to use JOIN’s blog not only to talk about our work, but also to highlight new and interesting things that are happening in the Greater Philadelphia region. We will try to foster the same kind of dialogue at JOIN’s first annual in-person Innovation Forum, which is coming up in few months (Fall 2013!). Today, we’d like to give a quick shout out to our friends over at the GreenLight Fund Philadelphia.
The GreenLight Fund’s mission is to “address the critical needs of our cities’ low-income children, youth and families by identifying high-performing, innovative nonprofits in other communities and supporting them to expand to the city when they show the results needed to have a significant impact on local needs.” As you can probably infer from that statement, the GreenLight Fund and JOIN have some things in common. We both work hard to be responsive to regional needs. We are both determined to make small, but strategic investments in social innovations that work. And we are both interested in scaling up or spreading those innovations.
In JOIN’s case, we want to identify what works on a small scale and then expand that model within our region. For the GreenLight Fund, however, they work to import successful social innovations from elsewhere to Philadelphia in a way that is sensitive to the unique local context. JOIN, of course, is focused pretty exclusively on workforce development, while the GreenLight Fund’s portfolio is a bit broader.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, the GreenLight Fund announced its first two investments in Philadelphia: Year Up and Single Stop USA. With these new funds, the two non-profits are going to set up shop in Philadelphia to help educate and equip young people for careers with good wages and good prospects. We are excited that both programs are focused on tackling Philadelphia’s human capital challenges. (Full disclosure: the Director of JOIN serves on the GreenLight Fund’s Selection Advisory Council.)
We encourage you to check out two recent blog posts from the GreenLight Fund. They offer smart, pithy descriptions of Year Up and Single Stop USA, and include some of the thinking behind the selections. We are grateful for the work of organizations like GreenLight Philadelphia and are looking forward to see what happens next.
Capacity-building is one of those jargon-y terms that we sometimes use around JOIN. If some group is performing well, how do we identify the characteristics most responsible for its success, build on those, and then share the lessons with others? Capacity-building, as formal and important and august as that sounds, can start at the level of having a simple conversation.
If you think about it, in our interpersonal exchanges, we are always building capacity of some kind or another. Perhaps it is the capacity to intelligently purchase a used car or navigate public transportation at a certain hour of the day. Maybe it is the capacity to have a sensitive conversation with your boss or to influence your co-workers. In new or ambiguous situations, you want to talk with someone who has been there before and has some low-cost strategies to consider. Not only that, these kinds of conversations build social capital, which can offer benefits to us as individuals.
This morning at the JOIN office we led a conversation that, yes, can safely be described as capacity-building. (There were muffins! There was coffee!) Around the table and on the phone, we hosted leaders from a number of industry partnerships that are doing great work in the southeastern Pennsylvania region. The group was wildly diverse. There were folks working with mushroom farmers, advanced manufacturers, the storm water management industry, and hospitals, among others. A few attendees have been active in workforce development for some time, while others are very new to the work. For all of that diversity, however, it was remarkable how many similar concerns and interests the group shared.
Without wading into all of the gory details, we will tell you that attendees shared insights about data collection, software systems, advocacy and relationship-building strategies, and funding. Having the conversation felt a little like creating an economy of scale out of economies of scale: individual businesses work together in the industry partnership to share resources and best practicesà the industry partnerships, representing hundreds of businesses collectively, have a conversation about mutual needs and interests.
Anyway, it all made for an exciting and encouraging morning for us. Convening conversations like the Industry Partnerships meeting is the kind of space where JOIN can bring real value and leadership. We are looking forward to next steps and optimistic about the new capacities that collaborative conversations of this kind can bring about.
How do you build capacity in your organization or within informal/formal collaborations? Have any thoughts about industry partnerships? We’d love to hear from you. Comment on our blog or tweet us at @joincollab
I asked several of my colleagues the other day if they had ever deliberately practiced a skill related to athletics or music. Most of them said yes, they had. When I asked if they had ever deliberately practiced a skill at their job, well. . .hmmm. . .not so many.
Every body says that practice and just plain ol’ tenacity will help you go the distance if you want to learn a new skill or continue improving one that you already possess. They are right. You run through your jazz scales on the piano. You shoot 50 lay-ups. You dribble a soccer ball around orange traffic cones. If you don’t perform well, your coach or teacher will give you a few pointers. But how often do we break down work-related tasks into more discrete skills at our day jobs? Moreover, how often do we get good feedback from people observing our performance?
In thinking about using feedback to develop new skills in yourself or others, here are two tips:
1. First, feedback should be regular and soon after the attempt. At an old job, I used to get calls on occasion from my manager 2-3 minutes after I had sent an important e-mail. He would say, “I really liked how you captured the issue in this sentence.” Or, “I would have made the ask in a different way.” Or, “I’m curious about why you did not copy these two people [insert names here.]” Believe me, whether the comments were good or bad, I was careful to apply them next time I put together a sensitive missive.
Unlike athletes and musicians, students, trainees, and employees do not receive regular feedback, and when they do, usually the opportunity to learn has been long gone. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University, has written extensively about the benefits of deliberate practice. Continuous feedback is one of its cornerstones.
2. Secondly, do not play the “balance the positive with the negative” game. How many of us have ever been in one of those awkward meetings in which your boss throws in a couple of compliments to make up for the meaningful critique he or she really cares about? According to a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, the “Sandwich Approach” to feedback is not good practice. It increases anxiety for both parties, and makes the receiver feel that the positive feedback may be dishonest.
Instead of using positive feedback as some kind of buffer, it is a better idea to be honest and then work together on strategies to improve the next time around. Roger Schwarz, the HBR blogger, writes, “Giving negative feedback transparently means respecting your direct reports, not controlling or alienating them; makes both your negative and positive feedback more genuine to your direct reports; and lowers your discomfort and their anxiety.”
That is not all there is to say about feedback, of course. But hopefully it generates some thought as you reflect on your own work life or business. For our part, the need for career coaching is one of the things that the JOIN is seeking to mediate through its investment in The Career Support Network. And we just like thinking about best practices like this anyway.
Ever gotten feedback that was spectacularly helpful? Are there feedback strategies you use as a manager to reinforce or develop new skills in your employees? Comment here or tweet us @joincollab
Some pretty smart folks just across the way in New Jersey have spent the last 14 years talking with American workers about jobs, opportunities, or the lack thereof. Carl Van Horn, PhD, and his team at Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development spoke with lots of American workers: nearly 25,000, in fact. The collective wisdom of those conversations is captured in Dr. Van Horn’s new book, Working Scared (Or Not At All): The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream.
What Working Scared (Or Not At All) uncovers about the state of affairs for workers of all socioeconomic levels and ages is disheartening and grim, to say the least. After the wave of globalization, the steady march towards a knowledge economy, the recent recession, and convergence of other factors, workers are struggling to pick up the pieces. The title of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s article about this book?: “Told in many voices, American workers’ story is bleak.”
But Dr. Van Horn does not leave it there, fortunately. He offers a way up and out: strategic effort and investment in retraining and educating jobless or underemployed workers. Dr. Van Horn argues that workers already understand just how critical ongoing training and education are. (Though, as we discussed in our blog post the other week, workers also know that not all training programs are created equal.) He writes,
“Over eight in ten low-income workers said more education is essential for improving their job prospects, according to Heldrich Center Work Trends research. . .Workers at the lower end of the income scale are especially eager to acquire the skills necessary to improve their opportunities and earnings in the workplace, but they are the last likely group to receive them.”
Investments and education infrastructure have to catch up to worker’s lived reality. That is what we are working hard on here at JOIN along with many of you—our partners and investors. We strive to be frank about the pressing employment needs in our region, but equally determined to find and replicate workforce development efforts that work. We look forward to hearing the response to Dr. Van Horn’s recommendations . . . and here is to better stories from workers in our region.
Reference: Van Horn, C. (2013). Working Scared (or Not at All): The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream. (1 ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.