Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Teams do not seek consensus; they seek the best answer."  
Jon R. Katzenbach & Douglas K. Smith, from The Wisdom of Teams

The Beginnings of Teamwork 

In our industry, the workforce and the workplace are continually changing and adapting to new trends in technology and business.  Recently, at NextGen, we have experienced our own new set of challenges and opportunities as we have moved our headquarters from our city home for the past 19 years to the suburbs of St. Louis.

 The move was designed to provide our mobile workforce with a central location and greater access to an expanded network in both the city and county. We are happy to report that we will maintain our downtown representation with our newly added office located at the T-REX building on Washington Avenue in our fair city too.  Our NextGen’s county location will be our center for operations, while our T-Rex location is home to NextGen’s team dedicated to innovation and our international initiatives. 

With this move and expansion, we are better positioned to serve both our clients and our consultants, as well as help, meet the geographic needs of our staff.  We know we must make adjustments to our business practices so that we can retain our corporate culture and team spirit, with more and more remote workers and various satellite locations these adjustments became a necessity.

How do you cultivate team spirit, unity, and keep people connected without everyone under one roof? 

For numerous businesses, the challenge is the same, and the perplexity will continue to grow as more and more companies find themselves with a virtual workplace.  We have come up with a few ideas to aid us in maintaining the NextGen mission dedicated to sound and ethical business practice, our spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation and our interest in the community.

·        Make sure to have stronger, smarter and better telecommunications and technology systems.  If you have to upgrade and make changes in your systems, it is worth the investment in helping to keep your teams connected.

·        While skyping in meetings takes a few minutes before each one to talk about personal matters and what is happening with that person, it’s like taking a break and talking with someone at their cube…without the cube.  Coffee break chatter is important.

·        Include in your budget a once a year team meeting or retreat for all including remote workers with at least one outing away from the office.

·        Jump on board with your own company/personal messaging system or app for personal communications…companies whose employees maintain personal/professional relationships are more likely to retain their talent…so include a virtual proverbial water cooler.

·        Create a team mission which means exactly that… with every team member involved, develop a mission statement apart from your corporate mission about what you hope to achieve as a team.

·        Develop a monthly aspiration or goal outside of the financial/sales/new business/numbers game and aspire to support one idea, throughout the month.  Perhaps choose a charity or a cause an employee feels strongly about and support it.

Perhaps, most importantly, in my own experience, it is important to cultivate a foundation with employees who love the work that they do, who choose a career over a job, who have a passion for getting things done and who love the process too in achieving just that.  I have always believed that it remains important to recognize and applaud individual achievement.  I also believe that building a dynamic team is critical to business success.

Lori Eaton

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation.
(Bob Iger)

Creativity coupled with innovation accelerates change.   At NextGen we are celebrating our nineteenth year in business, and what began as a small startup is now a multimillion enterprise focused on international initiatives.  In that spirit, we have expanded our capabilities and services with an additional office at the T-REX building located in downtown St. Louis, a venue supporting the startup community and contributing to the economic development of St. Louis.  It is our new home base for our NextGen team dedicated to our firm’s global presence and interests. 

The T-REX community is emblematic of St. Louis’s growing reputation as a surprising new hub for tech.  Such an environment mirrors our own spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation and is ideal for us as a center to accelerate our CHAMBA project.  CHAMBA, a division of NextGen Information Services, offers integrated solutions which connect business, technology, and talent.  The CHAMBA team proactively recruits the best and brightest STEM talent from Mexico, uniting them with companies who are looking for innovators, entrepreneurs, visionaries and true technologists.  With CHAMBA we are bringing highly skilled talent to the United States for short and long term talent engagements.  The program also provides nearshore business outsourcing, which enables companies to optimize their business and development needs in a budget friendly manner.  CHAMBA is not designed to replace US talent, but rather to augment the talent pool while reducing the gap between current demographics and minority groups’ representation in the workforce.   With our CHAMBA initiative, Mexico is serving as our innovation center for emerging talent and business opportunity, plus, it is an attractive nearshore option due to geographic location, time zone, communication skills and cultural affinity.    As one of the country’s largest Hispanic-owned businesses we are also well suited at NextGen to support the Hispanic community in St. Louis and abroad. 
We are excited about this outreach program because CHAMBA is designed to leverage an international talent community which strengthens global communication between businesses and helps to create global citizens who will work to change the future--- today.  It’s all about making connections and integrating talent with business opportunities that will help other companies build their multicultural business partnerships and innovation platform.    
We have always had a strong diversity program, and today we are taking it to the next level as we launch new services that support our multicultural business partnerships.     

With CHAMBA we aspire to infuse the workforce with innovation, ideas, and energy.  Our hope is that by removing the borders, we merge the Americas, thus creating a world-class workforce.

Lori Eaton

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Work-Life Integration

In various seminars and networking events, the topic of work-life balance inevitably emerges.  As successful business leaders share their ideas on how to achieve this phenomenon, it has become clear to me that work-life integration rather than work-life balance has become the workplace norm.  In a recent article in the New York Times Magazine[1], author Susan Dominus highlights innovative companies who are looking to make significant changes in the day-to-day office operations, searching for a genuinely flexible workplace. The article quotes Marcee Harris Schwartz, in charge of flexibility at the national accounting firm BDO U.S.A: ‘‘…when you think of balance, there’s work on one end of the fulcrum and life on the other, and when one is up the other is down — so it’s like a zero-sum game.”

Thus, what surfaces is the integration alternative. Yet, how do you achieve it?

At NextGen, I have learned many things from our millennial staffers. One is that they have no problem with taking calls at home, working from home or texting throughout the day to check on family responsibilities. Our industry is one where people and technology must not only co-exist but are tethered together, almost on life support. This cultural shift that has taken place over the last decade in the workplace demands more flexibility and adaptability. 

It takes more than just policies to make a workplace truly flexible. The
whole office culture has to change.[2]

As a talent engagement firm specializing in IT and Professional Services, we see highly skilled talent who are actively seeking assignments with more flexibility. It has become a highly sought-after incentive because it allows this generation of workers the opportunity to merge their professional lives with their personal interests.

According to an article in Forbes magazine[3], “working from home is also a benefit that millennials, and other workers, are prioritizing over higher salaries because of their desire to integrate their work and life.”  By removing geographic restrictions, companies can benefit from retaining top talent even if their office is seaside and thousands of miles away.

At NextGen, we are expanding and decentralizing our headquarters in order to accommodate our changing workforce and business demands.  We will have staffers who will be working both in the heart of the city and in the county in order to help meet their commuting challenges, as well as accommodate team members who routinely work from home.  It is a concerted effort to meet the changing needs of our individual staff for the betterment of the entire office.  
Today’s business world never stops.  In our global communication network, we have removed many of the restrictions of time and place through the use of constant communications occurring at fractions of a second.  So, in spite of blizzards or heat waves, business goes on and successful companies with engaged employees can relax in knowing that deadlines and goals will still be met with improved and invested communication. 
Our office is a mix of millennials and baby boomers, with people from all walks of life and location working side by side. Flexibility extends to our young families and team members looking for a family-friendly environment, but also to those caring for elderly parents and looking toward retirement. While millennial staffers may need support with professional development, baby boomers may need additional training to keep up with current, cutting- edge trends.  Every company has employees going through major life changes and transitions, but those in pursuit of a successful legacy must be accommodating to retain their talent.
At NextGen, we know that our greatest asset is our people and thus our primary investment.  We know that we must embrace a stronger culture of work-life integration to adapt to the changing business world.  Companies on this track are better positioned to meet the changing workplace climate and to build a more sustainable future. 

Lori Eaton

[1] “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation,” Susan Dominus, New York Times Magazine
[2]  New York times Magazine, February 2016
[3] “Work Life Integration: The New Norm,” Dan Schawbel, Forbes Magazine

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paths to success...

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.  (David Brinkley)

I smiled when I read this quote because it so reminded me of my own path, strewn with the rubble of past mistakes and successes, and yes a few tossed bricks along the way.  I am often asked to speak at various events and while reluctant, (I have a natural fear of public speaking) I do it anyway, because it challenges me.  Challenging oneself is perhaps one of my most favorite things to talk about and one of the most important strategies to becoming successful in business. 

At age 19, I postponed my college education and embarked on an nontraditional career path by answering phones and doing administrative work for a small IT recruiting firm and then making cold calls on my own in the evening.  Without much help, guidance, support or degree, I took a risk and jumped out of my comfort zone and became a student of business in the real world.  I accepted any work that was offered to me and took on as much as I could do on my own.  The risk paid off.  Later when I joined NextGen in 2000, I was a recruiter full time and loved it.  In 2010, I became Vice President and I have enjoyed every challenge and opportunity that the company has provided.   

Recently, I was named President of our firm and I accept this charge as both an honor and a privilege.  In addition, with every step forward in one’s career, there comes more responsibility and this too, I take very seriously. 

In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg  makes the analogy that a career is more like a jungle gym, rather than a ladder and she also asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid”?  I have taken this to heart in my own career and pass along this same advice to some of my junior staffers.  And, in support of David Brinkley, I too believe that the bricks others throw, the obstacles that impede, are all part of the learning process and path to success.  As a person in a leadership role, I recognize that helping pave the way for others to advance in their professional careers is equally important.  

I genuinely believe that to be successful in business; one must continually take on new challenges, look to mentors, create a support network and be an ambassador to change.  Always strive to learn new things, maintain a strong work ethic and be willing to take risks.  If you envision your career as a jungle gym, think in terms of competing with yourself.  It strikes a balance if you are your own worst critic and your most vocal cheerleader.  Most importantly… find your passion 

Lori Eaton