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August 28, 2017 - No Comments!

SBC August Newsletter – Meet Gayle Karen Young, Culture Builder & Catalyst

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Today leadership is about visibility and being authentic. Earlier this year, I attended a session with my favorite living poet, David Whyte, who inspires us to be vulnerable in being ourselves. I have followed his writing and enjoyed his workshops for many years. This session included a most intriguing organizational expert, Gayle Karen Young, who I was totally taken by. I found her perspective on leaders finding their way in this messy organizational life quite mind shifting.

Gayle brings wisdom and warmth to the conversation about how we develop as leaders within complex and changing systems.  She calls herself a “rogue provocateur.” Join me in our fascinating conversation about how we thrive in this unpredictable place called leadership.

Sherry Benjamins: Tell us about your perspective on leadership today.

Gayle Young: Its been fascinating to watch my own thoughts on leadership and culture evolve as I’ve moved from being an external consultant to taking on a role as Chief Talent and Culture Officer (essentially the CHRO) at the Wikimedia Foundation, and then going out on my own again.

For background, the Wikimedia Foundation is a fascinating organization for being one of the top five visited websites in the world. It’s the only top 50 website that is a non-profit. The actual organizational size is small, but a huge number of volunteers help run it and essentially create the product. Each language has their own Wikipedia and governing bodies. The volunteer base influences a lot of the dynamics. We worked in more of a network or influence-based structure.

Any dynamic that impacts the geopolitical news landscape, shows up on Wikipedia. Whether it was a downed flight in Ukraine or conflicts in South America, you can see ideological differences pop up across different wikis. It taught me a lot about complexity, permeability, culture, and of course, the day-to-day of business management like performance, quarterly goals, large implementations, etc.. I grew to have an appreciation for the intersection of complexity and organizational development and culture.

Being a leader in these contexts for me means having a capacity to work both the mythic and the mundane. It requires working on the mission, the values, the intangibles, and the day-to-day experiences that become tangible components that nudge a complex system in a particular way, like the way that decisions are made or that meetings are run. I say “nudge” because I believe that we don’t get to manage culture. We do small things that ripple through a system in profound ways.

SB: You’re now collaborating with fascinating leaders and companies.  What made you decide to go out on your own? 

GY: I was at the Wikimedia Foundation for four years and I loved it. It was a great place to practice leadership and my own mission. I was working with one of the executive directors, Sue Gardner, who I would follow anywhere. There was a leadership transition where the organization didn’t need me in the same way and I had personal needs that led me to take a year off. At that time, I was at a retreat at the Burren Executive Leadership Program, which aimed to foster a leader’s action by way of reflection. That’s when I first met David Whyte, who was an artist in residence. It changed the course of my life.

SB: Tell us about what you do to help a leader with running their company? 

GY: I do have one-on-one coaching with clients where we reflect on their own practices of leadership. I also work with executive teams. Sometimes I go in and support a new team as it’s coming together. We explore how do they lead together? What does collective leadership look like? A team that’s high-performing doesn’t just do their own thing and then come together. They practice what they want to do.

I also have my passion projects. I work with an organization called Hidden Leaf that offers grants for personal development for social justice leaders, or I work with organizations like Uncharted, that supports social entrepreneurs.

SB: What would you say to a CHRO today about their leaders and the organization  of the future? 

GY:  I think it starts with understanding the evolving nature of the workforce and it’s an interesting one. There’s an upsurge of people looking for meaning. A lot of Millennials tend to be part of the compulsive-awesome generation. In terms of designing work and roles, people are asking, “what is their evolving portfolio of their skill set?”

An organization’s culture is a nested set of environments. If you’re going to understand the culture of Wikimedia, for example, you have to understand the values of the Enlightenment and the spirit of the Gutenberg Press, as well as seeing that it is rooted in the ethos of the free knowledge movement and in the open nature of the internet itself. Those streams of values, norms, and beliefs are part of the operating ecosystem. A CHRO can understand and track the streams that are influencing an organization’s culture.

SB: How do we start to see the often subtle influences at play when understanding what influences us? 

GY: If you’re going to try to understand yourself, try to understand the contexts you emerge from as a beginning. I’m an immigrant with a Chinese family, raised in California.  Each of these things gives a window into what makes me up. In that way Toms Shoes would be influenced by philanthropy, the shoe industry, manufacturing, and its location in Silicon Beach. It’s like mapping out what all the elements are of being you, but at an organizational level.

SB: As we reflect on who we want to be as leaders, are you seeing more partnership between CEO’s and HR?

GY: If you're CEO doesn’t get you and has a traditional view of HR, in other words, a compliant-based version of HR instead of a development-based version, that makes for a very difficult relationship and forward thinking partnership. Particularly if the CEO doesn’t appreciate and value and support that function, it is almost a non-starter.

SB: I attended the workshop that you and David did together and I’ve followed David’s work for over 20 years.  He facilitates new conversations that guide  personal development. . Do you see executives investing in this way?   

GY: If you want people to follow you with a kind of whole-hearted engagement, then personal development and professional development are inextricable. One metaphor is the difference between a hollow core and a robust one, and that IS visible in the world whether you know it or not. As a leader, by the very of nature of leadersihp, you must have a willingness to really be seen. What you’re seen as standing for, since every movement you make is watched and noted on, as an active, conscious choice, makes all the difference in the world. That’s where the self-knowledge comes in. With the work David does, he helps get us to be grounded in our own robust vulernability. But we have our own work to do to understand how we want to be seen in the world, what we stand for, and what we live out. It’s this notion of when you’re unaware of what you put into the world, Jung said, “that which remains in the unconscious comes back to us as fate.” Unless you work with your own interior landscape, then you don’t have a hope of influencing what it is that you invite.

In closing...We are in a time when doing the “internal work” of a leader is seen as high value, yet many find it challenging to accomplish. Gayle’s refreshing and honest perspective encourages us all to dive in to move forward. Clearly, the benefits of finding a friend or coach to help you in your leadership journey are invaluable.

April 11, 2017 - No Comments!

Corey’s Story

thumbnail_OneOc Event-1thumbnail_Sherry and Alison2thumbnail_Stand and Deliver March 11th

What I have always admired/loved about SBC is the authenticity of relationships that are created with clients/candidates/community members. Although the majority of our work is done virtually, there is still a very personal connection we make with those we interact with. Whether it’s the pro-bono work we do for non-profits or the recruiting work we do with Fortune 500 companies, our hearts are focused on the people side of business. I find that you can most prominently see the results of these personal relationships at our learning events – there are endless hugs, personal conversations and cutting edge thoughts being exchanged. It’s rare to find an organization that puts such an emphasis on long-term connections!

November 21, 2015 - No Comments!

The Road Not Taken – Seeking Engagement

There has been a lot of talk about engagement lately. I found many new books on the topic from Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi, to What you Really Need to Lead, by Robert Kaplan and then, On Fire at Work by Eric Chester to name a few. We know that motivating and inspiring our workers produces better results and this is a hot topic today. Here is the challenge; it takes time and intention to learn why people work and what motivates them individually to do great work. There is clearly a shortage of time.

I have experienced some of our clients (more than a few), who are top HR executives going from meetings, to 30 minute conversations and this past week, I had two great clients say that they plan 15 minutes conversations. The demands and pace of work has truly shifted. Technology, transparency and remaining competitive while growing business puts incredible pressure on HR and our people. However, how do we take the road less traveled or not taken yet? Achieving a high performing and individualized plan to engage your workers will not be left to chance any longer. The road on this journey is entirely new. It takes time to figure it out - get the voice of your leaders, colleagues, workers and strategic partners and then determine the fit with culture and belief systems.  If we don't figure this out, great talent will head off to new opportunities and as a search firm, we see career options growing.

We were in Vermont this past Fall hiking in a beautiful remote area and came across a sign with a Robert Frost poem prominently displayed.  It reminds me that you may feel you are in the woods sometimes yet new roads are essential.  But we have not traveled them before.  And in Robert Frost words; "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.....I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."   Well, you have to read the whole poem - it is wonderful and I hope it calls to you as you think about adapting in the new year.

Road less traveled

February 28, 2015 - No Comments!

A Job or Higher Calling?

The Wall Street Journal published an article this week, "I don't have a Job: I have a Higher Calling."  It was in the February 25th Business & Tech section (love their provocative stories) and it is about employers stepping up to talk about how their company is changing the world.  This is the quest for engaging and attracting talent. Frankly, it is about time we are asking the question "what matters to our employees and what matters to us?"

I understand the perspective this writer takes which is skeptical.  Maybe not everyone is looking for a social cause to align with and that making a decent income can be more important, however, there are other views to consider.  As a recruiter and talking with new grads, entry level employees all the way up to managers and executives, most want to commit to companies that believe good work and doing good pays off.   It can be as simple as that and yes, they need a pay check too.

Meaning and purpose is totally dependent upon what we care about.  It does not mean that everyone who works for that company derives meaning from their work.  I see that workers will commit to a culture that values doing the right thing and that is enough for some.  Others want to make sure they understand there is social capitalism at  play and not just bottom line reactive thinking.

I must commend companies like Juniper Networks and Harley-Davidson Motor who are making the connections between what they do and how it serves us.  Everyone comes with their own set of values and helping to build the bridge and differentiate as an employer should be applauded.  How many times do you read job postings for really cool companies and it sounds like something out of a research text.  Maybe we over-reach for awhile and find the story for each organization that can spark interest and passion while also offering just a great way to work and also pay the bills.

Thank you Wall Street Journal and all those companies out there for offering provocative ideas that in fact, will change the world!

December 24, 2013 - No Comments!

December 2013 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Connecting Through Celebration

There isn’t a better time to introduce you to our client and friend Esther Newman and the delightfully unique firm she works for. Esther leads the HR and People Development function for SusieCakes, a growing, premier, All-American homestyle bakery with locations in Northern and Southern California.   Their company lives a "connecting through celebration" philosophy.

We met SusieCakes two years ago, when Susan Sarich, founder and CEO saw the right time to invest even further in their team by asking us to help them find Esther! We decided to catch up with her this month, knowing it had been two years. We wanted to know more about this “celebration” culture

As soon as you walk into a SusieCakes bakery, you see bakers, celebration specialists (people who help you customize and delight your loved ones), and smiling team members that artfully describe the ingredients of these beautiful baked goods. There are delicious smells of fresh bakery. It was immediate nostalgia for me, as I recalled a neighborhood bakery like this when I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio; yes I am a mid-western gal. I wanted to ask Esther how this culture was formed and what she has learned so far.

Sherry Benjamins: Can you tell us about the unique culture of SusieCakes?

Esther Newman: We are an organization that is deeply rooted and committed to our culture. Before Susan opened the doors of our first bakery in Brentwood, California she created a set of values that would become the foundation of her company. Seven and a half years later, those values remain our guiding principles. What makes our culture unique is Susan’s involvement as an owner/operator. She models the values by being open, honest, involved and approachable.

SB: How does “celebration” play out for you and the employees?

EN: We celebrate everything! Internally, we have designed reward and recognition programs to promote a culture of celebration. For example:

  •   Each bakery celebrates a team member of the quarter. This peer nominated award is given to the team member who best demonstrates living our values.
  •    We reward our team members “in the moment” when they exceed our expectations of delivering superior products and service. A gift card is our way of saying thank you.
  •    Susan personally calls our managers to congratulate them for great work, and we send them hand-written cards for birthdays and anniversaries. We have semi-annual training for future leaders and workshops focus on personal and professional skill development. We recently hired a Professor of Celebration (Sr. Manager of Training) to focus solely on education and development.
  •    Best of all was our manager retreat recognizing leaders with a day at Disneyland. Talk about the value of Having Fun!

SB: What originally led Susan to the bakery business?

EN: Baking rituals were part of her growing up in Chicago and enjoying time with her grandmothers’ over a glass of milk and a fresh baked treat. Following 15 years of hospitality experience, Susan wanted to create an organization that empowered women and made it possible for them to build careers in hospitality.

SB: As the first HR leader, what are you most proud of accomplishing these past two years?

EN: Personally, it would be the connections that I have made with our team members. I have the opportunity to mentor and serve as a resource to some of the brightest talent in our industry. I get to help these young men and women design their careers.

Professionally, it has been the opportunity to build the HR capability for this growing company so we can stay true to who we are. We are designing our talent acquisition and retention strategy as we seek to find the best and brightest hospitality and culinary professionals. This year, we launched a formal campus recruiting program and have been fortunate to partner with universities including Michigan State, Cal Poly Pomona, Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institutes, at Hyde Park and Greystone. Graduates from culinary and hospitality schools are ideal in our company.

SB: What have you learned about yourself in this new role?

EN: I have learned that being true to myself and my career has given me the greatest satisfaction. I could have stayed in the corporate world but now I have the opportunity to assert my entrepreneurial side in a growing company doing what I love.

SB: Okay, this is the most important question of all – what is your favorite cake?

EN: It’s a toss up between Marble & Celebration and I am fanatic about our Whoopie Pie.

SB:This was enough to tempt me, so the next day I visited the Newport Beach SusieCakes and here I am ready for the taste test! Too tough to chose! We at SBCo wish you all wonderful December celebrations and thank you Esther for inspiring us to celebrate every day in 2014.

Susy Cakes

June 20, 2009 - No Comments!

SBCo Newsletter- July 2009

Getting Along with “Them:” Simple Things To Do Right Now Jim Finkelstein, CEO FutureSense

Jim Finkelstein’s new book, FUSE: Igniting the Full Power of the Creative Economy, has just been released. The book is a 21st century primer for Boomers and Newsletter Image 2007Millennials in the workplace. He collaborated with his co-author, Mary Gavin, a gifted communicator, writer and consultant on this project.

FUSE is a roadmap to the major attractions and hidden talents of both generations; a training book for beleaguered Boomers and frustrated Millennials; and an instruction manual for anyone wanting to attract, motivate and retain employees, or to contribute the full range of their talents to their organizations.

Jim’s goal in writing the book was to show how a mashup of the generations – not a gap – but a fusion of their unique and specific perspectives and abilities can lead to innovation and speed products, services and people into the creative economy of the future. He believes that these are people practical solutions based on common sense. Jim believes common sense is about taking action, but he recognizes that you need to know what to be doing.  According to Jim, “We’re missing the point if we just focus on the attributes of each generation. Let’s talk about specific actions.”

We had a chance to catch Jim between his many presentations and consulting projects to ask him about things we can start doing right away.

If you’re thinking, “I really want to relate to them, but I don’t know how to do it. How do I change my spots?” here is some of Jim’s common sense advice.

Two things that Boomers can start doing right away:

• Seek to understand rather than be understood. Try being a collaborator or teacher/mentor rather than the manager. Boomer management style is to make statements about the way we do things. Jim’s recommendation:  turn those statements into questions that will invite collaboration.

Rather than tell a group, for example, how you want to structure the meeting, gve a group a pre-set agenda and ask for input: “How can we make this a more productive meeting? Should we turn cell phones off – or how often should we take telecom breaks?” etc. Make an open space for collaboration, “Here’s what we need to get done. How do we get this done?” Jim notes, “Millennials are more psychological than other generations. They need to be engaged more on the emotive than the cognitive scale. They are forcing managers to manage people, not jobs and not tasks.”

• Recognize they see things differently. Before you feel offended because people are texting while you’re talking, remember this is the generation of multi-tasking at its most complex. They don’t see dual activity as rude—it’s just how they function. If they are paying attention to you as well as the texting, try to roll with it.

Bonus suggestion:
For years structured meetings, etc., have been in 50 minute segments with 10 minute breaks. To get the most involvement from Millennials, make some kind of break after 20 minute segments. It may seem like more work, but you’ll get more attention from your employees if you recognize they need shorter segments to hold their attention. Again, this is how they function. {Editor’s note: some of us Boomers will appreciate shorter segments as well!}

Two things that Millennials can start doing right away:

• Respect and honor the wisdom and experience of people who came before you. Learn from their trials, mistakes, successes. Be in a learning mode to learn from everyone around you. Be a student and take the approach that you can learn from each other

• Be patient and firm: don’t give up your point of view but realize it may not happen at warp speed. You may need to learn how to play the game differently. Be patient and helpful; be a teacher. Be willing to teach the old dogs, but in sound bites, and teach by example. This is a much better approach than moaning and whining if you don’t get your way right away.

Bonus Suggestion:
Give them the answer and then show them how you got there. Boomers want the answer first. If your boss gave you an assignment that you know can be done in a more efficient way, find the solution to get it done. Get them the answer they need first. Then let them know: "There is actually an interesting and intriguing way to get this done. Can I show you what I did?”

June 20, 2008 - No Comments!

SBCo Newsletter- November 2008

Employee Engagement is Critical and It’s OK to Start Small

The very first person to speak at the S. Benjamins Great Starts Breakfast, Leigh Branham, author of the successful and insightful book, The 7 Newsletter Image 2007Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, is currently finishing his latest book (working title: Lucky to Work Here). He shares some of his thoughts with us in the hope that they could make a difference to you in these challenging times.

In asking (and re-asking) his core question “What makes employees engaged and satisfied?” Leigh has come to the conclusion that the things that cause people to be satisfied and engaged probably don’t differ much across the generations. At the same time, his research has uncovered three sources of tension in the workplace that are inhibiting good communication and teamwork, and interestingly, those seem to reflect generational differences.

Three Sources of Tension:

  1. Loyalty: Millennials display what most Boomers and Gen X’ers consider a lack of loyalty. It’s relatively unique to the Millennial Gen Y’ers to look at jobs as short term consulting projects. This group tends to focus on lifetime employability versus wanting lifetime employment. And ias long as they are learning they are willing to stay.
  2. Feedback: Seven of ten Millennials say they need daily feedback, which is often viewed as absurd to Boomers and Gen X’ers.
  3. Work-life Balance: Millennials expect to be able to have work-life balance, and believe having a life is a right. They have no interest in “paying their dues.”

Start Small
It’s hard to know what to do first to deal with all the employment and employee issues and advice we’re reading. How can we begin to create an employee engagement culture that will make a difference—at a time when we are all distracted by day-to-day numbers and not paying as  much attention as we should to the "softer" things. It can be uncomfortable to think about, and it clearly takes work. The only problem is that the workforce today is too diverse to continue to ignore these issues.

Leigh suggests starting with the following principles that will allow you to "break the code" and create employee engagement:

  1. Engagement practices need to be tailored to the individual level, and the deal you make with one employee may be different than the ones you make for others. Throw out the outdated and unreasonable policies.. It’s nearly impossible and not productive to try to treat everyone the same--treat them fairly but treating everyone the same is a recipe for disengagement.
  2. Then start small. Pick one group/department/team and introduce engagement practices to make that small section of your company an “employer of choice”. This way, you can focus on creating an engaged employee culture in your accounting department or IT or marketing, and learn as you go. Small wins here can demonstrate to the rest of the organization that making a commitment works to increase productivity and customer retention.  When other department heads see evidence of that success, they will want to emulate it.
  3. Listen to your workforce (do an engagement survey, third-party post-exit interviews, a series of focus groups, or all the above). If you really want  to start small, you can ask just a few question instead of a full-scale engagement survey. Keep it small so you can keep your commitment to follow up.
  4. Recognize that a major driver of employee engagement is the organization's leadership--how honest, consistent, competent, and caring your employees perceive your efforts as a leader to be. Another reality, created by Enron, Wall Street, and others, which we cannot ignore is that all employees are much more cynical today, and that seems to hold true across generations.

Is it worth it to try to make any portion of your organization an employer of choice with a strategy to create and sustain a more engaged work force? Leigh’s research overwhelmingly demonstrates that you can gain a terrific competitive advantage by leveraging each individual to optimum levels of engagement.
Each person’s engagement level can be raised if you know the code to unlocking and unleashing each person's potential.

June 20, 2007 - No Comments!

SBCo Newsletter- August 2007

  Catching up with David Finegold, Dean of School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Newsletter Image 2007David Finegold is a friend and accomplished academic leader with in-depth experiences with some of the most prestigious institutions in the country. He agreed to speak with me about his transition from Southern California, where he worked at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations and the newest of the Claremont Colleges, the Keck Graduate Institute to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is now Dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations working with prominent thought leaders in the Strategic Human Resources arena.

David recently led a team of education and industry leaders that secured a $5 million “WIRED” (Workforce Innovation and Regional Economic Development) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to create a high-skill bioscience ecosystem in Central New Jersey. David led the creation of the consortia that will use these new resources to transform existing training, education and economic development initiatives into an organized platform for new capabilities for the bioscience industry in the region. This is the catalyst that has multiple constituents talking about workforce and training needs in the community.

This fascinating and successful grant demonstrates how innovative David’s role is within Rutgers. He is bringing together industry leaders, government decision makers, and organizations to look at new ways to train talent and grow jobs in the New Jersey region. This will also enhance the university’s ability to have first hand knowledge of what corporations need in talent and how best to prepare for those needs. There is a particular focus on working with CEO’s and HR leaders in the bioscience sector (stay tuned for updates on this innovative model in upcoming newsletters).

David what made you decide to leave Southern California and your role at Claremont and the Keck Graduate School?

“I had not been looking to make a change when I was at Keck. My initial thought, when presented this opportunity at Rutgers, was to remain in California to continue pursuing the teaching, research and consulting that I thoroughly enjoyed. However, once I learned more, it was hard to pass this up as an exploration. Rutgers has a world-class concentration of talent in the Strategic Human Resource and Labor Relations arenas. “

How is Rutgers addressing the challenge of developing future HR Strategic leader capability?

“There are several ways we are dealing with this in response to a changing global community. First, we have created the “Executive Masters Program” to grow strategic leaders. It is a full Masters program with a significant global experience (i.e., two weeks in Prague, two weeks in Mumbai, two weeks in Shanghai and a final two weeks in New York). Each week is devoted to a strategic HR leadership capability within a global context, which we see as critically important. Our target is Senior HR leaders or high potential business leaders who are dealing with international and complex human issues.

Secondly, we are exploring distance learning options and coordinated partnerships with other prestigious academic institutions. Alone, we only touch and mentor a few Ph.D.’s as an example. If we combine resources through partnership, a new “suite of learning opportunities” emerges in order to leverage the expertise of thought leaders and develop new HR leaders across the globe.”

We know there is still a shortage of business minded and strategic HR leadership – probably the most troubling gap given our focus on this over the past 15 – 20 years. What is your thought on the “NEXT generation” of HR strategic talent?

“I believe the traditional ways of developing HR talent are fundamentally changing and we must alter how we assess and grow this leadership going forward. With all the changes in how we deliver HR services today in corporations, the traditional career path or stepping stones for growing this capability are not available any longer. Many of the more transactional and different functional roles through which people acquired their HR expertise do not exist today given the automating and outsourcing of more routine HR work.

People will learn through various assignments. We see more individuals leaving companies to go to consulting or outsourced partner relationships, acquiring master’s degrees, and then returning to companies with broader skills. The next generation of HR talent will be developed in entirely new ways, and individuals will need to be equipped to manage the development of their own HR careers.”

David, I know from our recent discussions that one area of keen interest for you was researching companies who “do well by doing good” or in other words corporate social consciousness. Is this something you are pursuing at this time?

“The trigger for my interest in this area was observing what happened after Katrina, as the US struggled to take care of its own. I began to look for alternatives to the prevailing model of global capitalism, identifying different models of for-profit companies that were taking on roles traditionally associated with government or non-profit organizations, while at the same time, non-profits are more using social venture capital models focusing on innovative approaches in an entrepreneurial manner. We see a lot of entrepreneurs embracing, what I coined several years ago as, “Compassionate Capitalism.” Many midstream organizations have not figured out how to address this yet. However, there is pressure for us all to act on these initiatives if we want to engage and retain the young, second or third career Baby Boomers. It already is seen as a critical element to socially responsible consumers, employees and investors. Now, it will be important to track results in this area and recognize who is taking this seriously and how ‘doing well is also doing good’ for financially successful companies with engaged employees.”

Prior to joining Rutgers, Dr. Finegold was a professor at the Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont, CA and at USC’s Marshall School of Business. He is the author of more than 90 articles, book chapters and policy reports, and has written or edited six books, including Corporate Boards: Adding Value at the Top (with Jay Conger and Ed Lawler) and BioIndustry Ethics (Elsevier Academic Press, 2005).   He consults and provides executive education and coaching to public and private sector organizations on issues about talent management and employee development, corporate governance, integrating ethics into strategic decision-making, and designing effective organizations.