ORC Sightlines

June 2006

Survey Shows Serious HR Planning for Pandemic; Some Cracks

Last week, ORC Worldwide released the results of its Survey of HR Preparedness for a Flu Pandemic. One hundred sixteen employers around the world responded to questions regarding the preparations they are making to protect, equip, deploy, and replace workers affected by a pandemic.

Most of the respondents are working hard at employee communications, setting up centralized communications teams and putting together basic information for employees about the possibility of a pandemic, what the company is doing to prepare, and what individuals should be doing to protect themselves and their families. Fewer than half are setting up local communications teams or distributing emergency procedures and policies to employees.

Protection and prevention is another area receiving a lot of attention, as employers develop protocols for safe behaviors and business procedures that minimize personal contact (e.g., instant messaging, virtual meetings). Many are seeking out sources of health supplies but only a minority are stockpiling supplies against possible shortages or distribution interruptions.

One area of concern indicated by the survey results is how companies will cope if key employees are incapacitated. Those making replacement plans are in the minority.

Replacement Planning Activities Percent of Respondents
Created backup plans to temporarily replace incapacitated leaders 42
Developed sources for contingent employees with needed skills 37
Reviewed existing succession plans to ensure leadership is identified 37
Created replacement plans for critical positions below the level covered by succession plans 35

The survey results suggest that certain other areas may also deserve more attention than has so far been paid, in particular:

The full Summary of Results is available on this site. ORC can help your company with its pandemic flu planning; call Ann Brockhaus at 202-293-2980.

Open Innovation Presents New HR Challenges for Research & Technology Organizations

The appetite for new products and processes is so ravenous in global companies that few can satisfy it anymore just with the products of their own R&D efforts. More and more, agreed participants in last month’s meeting of the Human Resources in R&D Network (HRRD), their companies are seeking out promising technologies and partners in academia, in garage laboratories, among vendors, customers, and competitors, on the shelves of supermarkets and hardware stores around the world—wherever good ideas might surface. For many companies, such an “open innovation” strategy, as it is sometimes called, requires a huge shift in the collective mindset of the R&D function and raises a number of organizational questions.

Traditionally, many companies have deliberately nurtured an insular attitude towards R&D. Competitive advantage has often been built on having exclusive rights to and maintaining rigid secrecy about the firm’s technical assets. Overcoming the distrust that has developed for any invention “not invented here” can be the biggest challenge to implementing an innovation strategy based on partnership and networking. HRRD member companies are addressing the issue through a variety of culture change media, for example, clear communication of strategic goals and rationale from top management, revising competencies and performance standards, and redefining the bases for rewards and recognition.

Open innovation companies also must decide how to organize for technological networking. For example, will responsibility for hunting down partnering opportunities be a full-time job or will it become a part of existing jobs or both? If there are people filling the role full-time, does the job constitute a new type of career path or do scientists and engineers rotate in and out of it? What are the skills required in such a role and how will they be developed? Where are the points of contact between the folks scanning the landscape for potential partnership opportunities and the marketing, R&D, manufacturing, and other functions that will need to weigh in on the feasibility of the technology? While many companies start out doing this sort of technology exploration in an informal way, eventually, in order to set up an effective and efficient process, all of these HR-related questions will need to be addressed along with the technical and knowledge management issues involved.

The Human Resources in R&D Network brings together HR leaders from R&D organizations in 26 major companies. Members meet twice a year in person and network via conference call, e-mail, bulletin board, and phone throughout the year to share best practices and experiences related to managing a highly skilled technical workforce. For more information, contact Michal Fineman, 212-852-0354.

ORC Opens Asia-Pacific HSE Service

Responding to the rapid expansion of business and industry in the Asia-Pacific (AP) region, ORC Worldwide has opened a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) service to meet the growing needs of companies located there. The new service is headed by Mr. Norman Tan, a highly experienced HSE expert headquartered in ORC’s Singapore office. Mr. Tan will build a network of HSE professionals that will interact through regular meetings, a members-only Web site with interactive bulletin boards and technical resources, and Web casts. He will be available by phone and e-mail for consulting on wide-ranging HSE issues.

Companies in the Asia-Pacific region face a host of issues specific to that locale, such as sorting through the various standards and regulations, keeping up with regional compliance/enforcement developments, benchmarking and best practices, implementing safety and health metrics, making the business case for HSE, management of chemicals, Six Sigma and HSE, and social responsibility/sustainability. The new service will help companies grapple with these challenges in the context of the Asian-Pacific business environment and culture.

The initial meeting of the group will take place in Singapore on September 7 and 8, 2006. The agenda will cover regulatory issues in Singapore and China, analyses of the likely impacts of EU developments on Asian-Pacific countries and businesses, and best-practice examples of HSE programs. For more information, contact Dee Woodhull, dee.woodhull@orcww.com, 202-293-2980.

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