Trend, Drill, Slice

I love talking about and manipulating data.  One of my favorite moments of the month is when I get together with one of the premier data people in HR and we just talk data for 30 minutes just for kicks.  It’s fun talking data with someone who gets data, but often, we’re not really doing that.  The number of really high quality data people in HR seems to be rather low.  In fact, it’s really quite problematic that we can’t find enough people to fun our analytics engines that have a great depth in HR functionality and an understanding of how analytics works.  I was working with a Fortune 100 company very recently where their top HR analytics person globally did not have any real idea how a data warehouse worked.  Unfortunately, we seem to have started pulling in the best we have, which means a functionally good person, but not technically.  I have seen some organizations start pulling in great data people from outside of HR, but they are obviously hampered by their lack of functional understanding.

When we talk about analytics and a super-user, it’s nice if we can assume there is a good grounding in HR.  If we also think about how a data warehouse works, I think we can simplify analytics core capabilities in 3 easy concepts that I’ll call  trending, drilling and slicing.  These are all based on a data mart or what is also called a star schema.  I won’t go into the technical details, but it enables the trending, drilling and slicing that sets OLAP analytics apart from operational reporting.  Here’s a quick and simple primer of how the technology can be used in functional terms.

  1. Trending:  Time is pretty much a standard dimension in the fact/dimension schema in a data mart.  Trending is the simplest concept and it simply allows the ability to easily look backwards in time whether it’s in daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual chunks.  Theoretically, you should even be able to take a graph report that is has an annualized trend and click on any year to see the representative quarters or months within that year.  But that’s part of the next concept, drilling.
  2. Drilling: Drilling can really be done for any dimension represented in the schema.  You can take the example above where we drill into smaller and smaller chunks of time, but the most commonly used form of drilling is through the organizational model.  Let’s say you’re looking at a simple turnover report by division – you should be able to click on any division and see the layer below (say regions), and then click any of those and see the next layer of departments.  You could even drill based on the people manager hierarchy if that works better.  Either way, drilling means the ability to simply reveal a lower (or higher) level of detail.
  3. Slicing: The ability to cut data based on ad hoc parameters is also one of the wonderful things about OLPA analytics.  Let’s say you’re looking at that same turnover report and you find that one particular division has a particularly high turnover rate.  In order to diagnose what is going on, you decide to run several slices of turnover within that division.  The first is turnover by job, second by average hours of training by employee, third by compa-ratio, and lastly by engagement scores.  Being able to easily view your data by slicing data with alternative data views is what allows us to be smart – it lets us diagnose, but you can also see the applications for decision support.  In a similar vein, lets say you wanted to know what the contributors of low turnover are, you could simply run the same analysis backwards.

You can see the problem with analytics.  The number of HR people that can translate data from a technical standpoint and understand HR functionally are actually pretty few.  However, we are getting to the point where vendors are automatically bundling in great analytics tools with their applications or where our enterprises are getting around to implementing data warehouse solutions for HR (now that they are done with finance and operations).  The problem is that we’ve always been functional and we have not necessarily invested in creating the capability we will need to be powerful decision support contributors.  If you don’t have the tools now, you’re going to have them very soon – don’t assume the tools will do it all for you – you still need the right people.

Next Gen Workforce Planning

We’ve been doing a pretty good job with Talent Management in my opinion.  We have pretty much deployed our systems or are in the midst of doing so.  We have reengineered our core talent processes from talent acquisition to performance to succession to learning and compensation.  We have started to grow our talent thinking past these core processes to workforce planning and internal mobility, partly spurred by the news that our demographics are changing so significantly with soon-to-be retirees and a generation of workers coming at us that needs transitions at a much more rapid pace than ever before.

What we have not necessarily figured out is not about acquiring, developing and upgrading employees.  It’s about preparing the workforce and taking a very broad view of the workforce as an organism rather than as a large set of employees.  As we went though the last series of layoffs and reorganization in 2009, we realized that our layoffs created gaps that still remain unfilled as we continue into better economic times in 2010.

We know (ok – we probably don’t, but it’s a goal maybe) exactly how much of every competency we need to have in the organization.  In order to be able to make a particular organizational sales goal, we can probably measure the total amount of sales competency and the aggregate achievement level in each of those sales competencies – using this, we should be able to predict annual sales achievement in a variety of economic conditions.  It’s basically a type of multiplier – more sales competency * average economic times yields better sales results than a lower level of competency within the organization.

So we have done a pretty good job acquiring and developing talent – at least we’re focused on it if we are not doing it in a formulaically structured way as I have illustrated.  We’re also focused on workforce planning.  We know that we have a retirement cliff coming.  5 years ago we said it was going to be in 5 to 15 years.  Well, we’re there now, and if we didn’t already prepare – we are in the middle of it.  We were training our people so they could fill the leadership and senior contributor positions that were going to be vacated.  Along side the cliff of retirees, we didn’t necessarily see the layoffs of 2009 coming.  We ended up with an environment where we were letting go of some pretty good people, offering early retirements, and cutting competencies from the organization as a whole.  We did all of this without really measuring what the aggregate competency gap was going to be.

I’m a total believer that we should be doing individual talent management.  We should absolutely be positioning individuals to achieve success through their career and succession plans.  We should have performance processes that actually motivate people to achieve goals.  Along side this, if we are not tying these individual programs to a broader organizational talent objective, we have missed the boat.  Talent happens at 2 levels.  We need to keep people as individuals, but our workforce plans need to be actionable at the individual level – not theoretical plans that help us prepare our organizations and fill senior seats, but aggregate competency levels.


HR Leadership Selection

I’ve been talking lately about how individual contributors are not always the best leadersHere, Jeff Hunter talks about why sometimes the individual contributor can become a great executive, and some of the problems they must overcome to get there.

A Vice President of HR may be expected to have a great eye for talent, the capability to negotiate complex contracts, the analytical ability to assemble complex compensation structures and the knack for coaching CEOs to greatness. Everyone takes for granted that as one climbs the ladder that they have demonstrated proficiencies in an ever greater number of areas. HR writes job descriptions, selects talent, manages performance and compensates people based on this deeply held assumption.

Imagine an HR leader who has just one competency: coaching. Whenever a search firm is looking for talent, they always land on this person, because they have been a long-time leaders at a very successful company. And yet, as the firm digs into the individual’s back story, they hear a long string of complaints: doesn’t understand compensation, bad manager, doesn’t understand technology, etc. We know where this story ends: the search firm passes the individual over and heads to the vertically integrated example of “executiveness.”

HR’s obsession should be creative productivity: increasing the creative commercialization opportunity of their talent investments.  ((Hunter, Jeff, October 17, 2009.  “John Lennon’s, The Future Of HR and Talent Camp.”  Retrieved from on December 28, 2009.))

I think Jeff is absolutely right.  We often think that we have to groom people and give them lots of experiences to be ready for leadership positions.  We’re adding to the idea of competencies and saying that additional strategic talent attributes are how many divisions someone has worked in, and if a person has and 2+ international assignments.

One of my first consulting gigs was with an organization where the EVP of HR didn’t really have an active hand in HR.  He had his group of 3 VP’s of HR who managed the day to day business.  Instead, this EVP was the executive coach to the CEO who wanted to turn this midsized company (7k employees) into a large company, and wanted to be the type of CEO who could grow and scale with it.  I’ve also seen EVP’s of HR where the core competency has nothing to do with compensation or talent, but is all about their ability to sit at the integration table during acquisition planning.

However, when we go out and look for senior HR executives, we stand by the old tried and true methods of someone who gets total compensation and talent.  Succession plans still go out and make people well rounded and provide lots of broad experience.  We don’t look at what the needs of the business really are, and decide if there are very focused areas of competency that need to be enhanced for the specific role in the organization.

The problem I think is simple.  Our senior HR positions are not written at a job description level in a way that reflects the reality of what the C-suite wants and expects from the person.  There is a job role that the incumbent will never execute upon because those jobs are really farmed out to the next level of HR management.  Instead, the C-suite wants an active participant.  Not somebody who can sit around and talk about HR, but someone who can talk about the business.  This does not always come from broad HR experience in multiple HR functions, in multiple corporate divisions, from several international assignments.  If you need an acquisition specialist, then you need someone who has gone through the acquisitions.  If you need a coach, then perhaps you need to go outside and find someone who has been through a high growth cycle with another organization.  Whatever it is, your senior roles need to reflect reality, not the standard job description that is in a random salary survey.

Defining Mobility

Talent is actually pretty tricky.  We seem not only to have problems defining talent and talent application components, but we seem to not know what some of those components even are.  I’m no making sense yet?  As anyone what are the components of a talent suite and you’ll get different answers – even though we’ve been buying and selling talent applications for years now.  Performance, compensation, succession, talent acquisition…   All of these are wonderful, tactical, and transactional processes.  But talent strategies were supposed to bring us to a “seat at the table” but all of these components that people naturally associate with talent are just the core activities behind the strategy.

I think that most people are not actually getting to understanding and executing on the realities of the strategy yet, but hopefully we’ll be there in the next few years.  Certainly there is an increasing surge of corporate thinking around this, and one of the first things that HR is talking about is mobility.  Unfortunately, we don’t really know what all this is yet – and many people erroneously think it’s just around moving people around.  Well, actually, it kind of is about moving people around.

When I think about mobility, I start thinking about employee career plans, and performance plans, and succession plans.  These are all just components of data on the employee record, but they are all linked to employee development and learning.  They identify where employees want to go, but conversely where corporations what their employees to go.  Not only are employees planning for themselves in career paths, but we are also planning for them in succession plans.  Everyone in contributing in multiple directions to identify possible growth scenarios for each individual employee.

At some point, there is an actual event.  Some business unit needs a new GM, or a new organization/store/plant is opening somewhere and we need to fill it with leaders.  This is where mobility comes to the front of the talent process.  Where the transactional processes that occur within the traditional talent application modules stop, talent mobility takes over as an execution arm to actually move people into the previously theoretical development opportunities.  Talent mobility is where the rubber meets the road.  If you don’t have a mobility strategy and process, all of your development plans, succession processes and performance transactions are for naught.  In the end, if you didn’t do anything but post a requisition and hire someone from outside because you didn’t have the visibility in talent to run cross functional queries around internal needs and fit skills to requirements, you completely failed in your talent practice.

HR talent applications are great.  But as with core HR applications, they help us store data and execute transactions on data.  They don’t replace the inner workings of making strategy come to life.  Operational staffing plans and projections don’t always link up to HR’s position management or talent acquisition’s forecasts.  We need our own tools to integrate with talent suites and keep us on the path to realizing the practice of talent’s full potential.

Employee Selection and Workforce Diversity: Are Current Tools Up To The Task?

Guest Author:  Stephen B. Jeong, Ph.D.

Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans now constitute more than one-third of the U.S. population. By 2042, they are projected to make up nearly one-half of all Americans.  Given these rapidly changing demographics—and consequently, the rapidly changing U.S. marketplace—many organizations are recognizing that workplace diversity is a business necessity. Creating and promoting a diverse workforce is particularly essential for industries where a significant number of employees deal face-to-face with prospective customers, because the latter are more likely to buy from people like themselves. So retail, financial, legal, insurance, hospitality and consumer goods businesses may want and need staff diversity. Yet existing selection tools may not be up to the task. Here’s why:

1. Job tests based on outdated material

In the context of legal defensibility and employee selection tools, the concept of “validation” simply refers to accumulated “evidence” showing that a given selection is, indeed, a good (or valid) predictor of job performance.  Selection specialists (or those who design selection tests) typically gather validation evidence by correlating job applicants’ scores on a given selection test (e.g., on intelligence, job knowledge, values, personality) with their future job performance (predictive validation) or using incumbents (concurrent validation).  If the resulting correlation is relatively high, the test is considered to be a valid predictor of job performance.  Employment tests and other employee selection tools are judged on their “validation” strength, or the degree to which they can accurately predict future job performance. If there is a high correlation between an applicant’s score on a given selection test (e.g., testing intelligence, job knowledge, values or personality) and his/her future performance, the test is considered to be a good predictor.

One critical issue with the above approach is that the majority of the tests used in the U.S. today were validated primarily on a Caucasian pool. This means that while a given test may work well in predicting job performance for Caucasian job applicants, it may be biased, at a minimum, and in the worst case, invalid, when used with non-Caucasian applicants.  There are proven differences between Caucasians and non-Caucasians in terms of values, management and leadership styles, and general work-related preferences, and selection tests that fail to recognize them may be unhelpful for predicting job performance, retention, and engagement of non-Caucasians.

2. Differences between Western and non-Western cultures

Intercultural academics have been able to label what many of us have already known; that there are cultural variations that can differentially impact one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in the workplace.  In addition to the more commonly known “individualistic” and “collectivistic” cultural differences, employees in Western countries (e.g., U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand) generally prefer a more equal power distribution in the workplace, while employees from Asian countries (e.g., South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan) tend to be more accustomed to autocratic or paternalistic power relationships – or top-down authority.  They also differ in assertiveness, preferred levels of uncertainty and short-term vs. long-term orientations, all of which may impact one’s job performance, satisfaction, and promotion opportunities. For example, while assertiveness is generally a desired trait in Western societies, it is much less so and even frowned upon in countries such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. If a selection test assumes assertiveness as a desirable trait, a Taiwan-born applicant, who may have been a top salesman in his country, may be knocked out of the selection process here.

3. Difference Among Non-Caucasians And Acculturation

In addition to the Western vs. non-Western distinction, selection tools should further take into account differences among non-Western cultures – e.g., Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans, differences between foreign- and US-born, and differences among nationalities within a racial or ethnic group – which include customs, values, work ethics, body language, and communication styles. Ethiopians are very different from South Africans; Costa Ricans from Bolivians; Japanese from Koreans. The point here is that these sub-groups vary greatly with respect to normative values that guide their behavior in the workplace.

People also vary with respect to their degree of acculturation and assimilation to the mainstream. Naturally, attitudes and values of those individuals who have resided in the U.S. for longer periods of time are likely to be more similar to the general American population. However, more recent immigrants are less likely to be so. Hence, if an organization’s business and diversity strategy dictates the inclusion of more recent immigrants, it is critical to understand that current selection tools used in the U.S. would be least applicable to recent immigrants from non-Western countries.

It is important to make one thing clear:  I’m not suggesting that all selection tests must identify and include all unique cultural attributes in order to be useful – that would be impractical. Rather, one should simply consider the fact that the majority of the selection tests in use today are likely to hold less value when used on non-Western and non-Caucasian applicants.

So, what’s the answer?  There is no one simple solution. It depends on an organization’s industry, strategy, mission and priorities as well as its customer demographics.  If the goal is to sell to new immigrants, one should select applicants whose views closely mirror that of one’s prospective customers. If the future American market place—in which the current minorities add up to almost a majority—is at all a consideration, our current employment selection tools need to be revised to reflect both the common as well as those unique cultural attributes that can play out in the work setting.  For current and future generations of immigrant workers—whose primary identification is with a non-Western culture—a new measurement approach should lead to a more meaningful (and valid) performance prediction—one that addresses those attributes valued by their culture.

Stephen B. Jeong, is currently the Managing Director of Waypoint People Solutions –, a human capital consulting firm that focuses on high precision employee diagnostic surveys using cutting-edge measurement technology and methodologies. He holds Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational psychology from the Ohio State University and has been advising private, public, and government organizations since 2000.  He can be reached at

Workforce Talent Retention

I recently talked to an organization who is moving their organization from one end of the city to the opposite far end of the same area. The commuting time between the cities is about 40 minutes, and some employees would benefit and have reduced commute, others would certainly pick up longer train or car rides. I asked about turnover rates and received an answer I was not quite expecting. People who normally would have left the organization were deciding to stay and make the long commutes. For a wholesale organizational relocation, their turnover was in the low single digits. Well, I suppose this is to be expected in this economy, if you leave a job now, there is no telling when you’re going to find the next one.

This got me to thinking, not about corporate relocations, but about the state of turnover and talent in the next couple of years. Sure enough, nobody is leaving their jobs willingly. But whatever the situation is, whether it’s a long commute, someone angry over a missed promotion, or a bad manager situation, there is a large amount of talent that is unhappy and not moving. Let’s say that the average turnover rate in the U.S. is 15% per year and that it sits at 5% today (totally made up numbers – I don’t feel like doing the research). That means a full 10% of the workforce is fairly disgruntled and is in your employee population right this minute. That is a pretty big number, and it’s a lot of unhappiness.

The number is probably a lot bigger than 10%. While this is a global economic problem and most companies are proportionally impacted, negative economies tend to decrease employee engagement. The real problem is that this year you have 10% of the population that is not leaving. That does not exempt you from the additional 10% that is going to get pissed off next year and want to leave. While you might be basking in a disengaged workforce with low turnover this year, next year’s situation might change drastically.

Employees may not be leaving now, but the top talent is already scouting strong companies, identifying which are weak, and determining possible landing spots. You might be the recipient of many applicants when the economy clears, but you might be on the negative end as well. What’s going to happen next year when the economy does turn and the floodgates of people ready to leave open up? Are you ready for the mass exodus or influx? Do you even know where your company is positioned against your competition?

Don’t fool yourself – next year is going to be different for talent and talent acquisition and I don’t know if any of us have really talked about how to prepare for it.

Internal Succession Plans

In the recent explosive growth of talent management, performance and recruiting always seemed to be the drivers, but compensation administration and succession planning always seemed close behind.  I’ve always thought that recruiting and performance would level off as most organizations purchased and implemented modules and moved onto comp and succession.  Unfortunately, it seems I’ve been wrong.  Certainly performance sales don’t seem to have stagnated, and while compensation is increasing in adoption, people don’t really implement succession or workforce planning.  Succession plans are all the talk, but it looks like succession is still gathering momentum.

I’m a bit surprised that HBR says 60% of HR directors don’t think their CEO’s have planned successors.  I wonder if asking HR Directors is simply the wrong level to be asking… after all, HR directors should know about division succession, but CEO succession would more likely be handled at the VP or corporate level.  I don’t doubt thought that there is a gap in leadership succession, which might mean that there is a larger problem in weak leadership development in these same organizations.  If you don’t have a succession plan, does that mean you also don’t have a CEO development plan or your top candidates?  The answer to this should be an obvious “no” since if you don’t have a succession plan, you obviously don’t have top candidates that you are applying targeted development to.

I was appalled to learn recently that 60% of the respondents to a poll of 1,380 HR directors of large U.S. companies said their firms have no CEO succession plans in place. As this finding suggests, too many companies have over the past two decades ignored the hard work of building future leaders while senior executives have focused increasingly on meeting the next quarter’s earnings target. When the time comes to name a new CEO, more firms look outside. Yet strong evidence supports the notion that a well-groomed insider is a key to sustained company performance. In my analysis of 1,800 successions, for instance, I found that company performance was significantly better when insiders succeeded to the job of CEO. Other researchers, including Jim Collins in Good to Great, have come to similar conclusions working from different data sets.  ((

HR Metrics: Turnover Rate

Honestly, I could really care less about turnover rate the way most organizations calculate it.  Sure, it informs me a little bit regarding the employer brand, and perhaps about the organization’s competitiveness against the market, but overall, turnover can be used much more effectively.  Most turnover reports consist of organizational and departmental turnover with terminations and sometimes losses due to internal transfers.  There are other nuances, but all in all, turnover is relatively boring.

What I personally like to see with turnover requires multi-dimensional analytics and a data warehouse.  I’d like to see turnover by top producers, senior talent and leadership.  I’d also like to see turnover among “protected classes” like gender and race.  Once I have turnover for these (and more) populations, I want to be able to rend across and 3 to 5 year time horizon, and drill through by my divisions and departments.  Basically what I’m saying is that turnover at the enterprise level is not helpful.  To really understand turnover and the impact at your organization, you need to drill down into the detail of specific populations that are mission critical.

HR Metrics: Contractor fill rates

So you probably have a specific number of independent contractors, consultants and agency employees within your organization.  You also probably have not really given much thought around what percentage of your total population these contractors represent.  The reason this is important is because this percentage actually impacts the organization’s ability to scale and respond to economic fluctuations and M&A activity.

Lower percentages of contractors means that in an economic downturn, the organization’s ability to quickly cut costs is hampered.  Alternatively, in high growth scenarios, employers which utilize more contractors have an ability to scale upwards more quickly.

This obviously comes at a cost – the more contractors you have, the more it costs as these are usually higher cost workers (due to fees paid).  There is probably an optimal contractor fill rate somewhere between 5-25% depending on how susceptible your organization is to growth fluctuations.

Rethinking the Career Ladder

Most career ladders go something like this
•    Associate 1 –> Associate 2 –> Professional 1 –> Professional 2 –> Senior Pro Ladder
•    Associate 1 –> Associate 2 –> Professional 1 –> Management Ladder

It’s all really quite predictable.  Either you stay on a professional track and perhaps manage projects, but never a P&L and certainly not people.  Or you can get on that management track and move up the ranks.  These ladders do a decent job of showing internal talent and external candidates what the possibilities are, and that your organization actually does have a focus on learning and development.  However, it may not actually be the reality of how people move and advance in an organization.  While the ladder may be true for a couple of levels, the chances of someone actually getting through the entire ladder without exiting are rather slim.

I was at Taleo recently and they have some interesting models for some soon to be released career progression functionality.  At first I thought it was at odds with my own point of view around how ladders should be managed, but in retrospect, it’s probably much closer than I initially gave them credit for.  Their functionality takes the approach that the career ladder should not be based on a rigid form that assumes a person will stay in their function.  Instead, by looking at actually transitions between organizations and jobs, you can see how people actually progressed within the organization and find trends.  For example, it’s possible that in a sales organization, marketing people often exit the traditional marketing ladder for sales.  Or that senior practitioners more often find peer roles in other divisions than going for management jobs.

My point of view on this is that the career ladder should be neither based on the rigid structures we see today, nor are looking at jobs perfect either.  Rather, we should see what competencies any given job demands and match those to competencies in jobs throughout the organization.  This might make a rather complex network of possibilities rather than a simple linear job, but it’s much more realistic and allows for greater movement and organizational agility.  Taleo’s take on this was not to disagree, but to point out that most organizations don’t have the type of infrastructure to do what I’d like them to do.  However, every organization tracks job and organizational transitions, so it’s very implementable this way.

We don’t seem to look at jobs and careers in any sort of linear way anymore.  Instead, we look for opportunities that fit with our competencies and our interests, wherever they may be.

Head nod to Taleo for the discussion.

Gaming and Collaboration

Gen Y.  They sit at their PC’s, play their games, and avoid all real social contact.  As they enter the workforce, their lack of social skills will be a mismatch to that of the broader workforce who value direct, one to one communications.  Their poor verbal and presentation skills will make them less persuasive.  So says the current establishment.  Of course there are some drawbacks to the current generation’s personal habits.  However, I’d suggest that not all is ruinous.

Let’s take a popular game as an example.  World of Warcraft (WoW) is a popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game – I think I got that right).  Within this game, the player enters an online world and interacts with other (real) people.  The first action taken is to create the character.  The goal of the character would be to increase their proficiency in their chosen profession.  For example, if someone is a priest (don’t know if this is a real character in WoW) then they will need to perform the tasks that will make them a better priest.  They will get types of points related to experience that allow them to allocate new resources to bettering themselves at their chosen position.  Think of these as competencies.  So already, the player is immersed in an understanding of competencies and improving only the ones that will be valuable to them.

The next step is then to battle against other players.  This may be done in guild settings or teams.  The level of coordination here is amazing.  Not only are players battling against other real live people, but against other teams who have developed team tactics specifically to defeat them.  Within this setting, our fabled player along with her team will not only develop an approach and strategy for battle, but they are also in constant communication.  Many games have both the capability for voice and written real time chat.  So while in the midst of a battle, voice and written collaboration is happening real time.  All of this collaboration is happening with people they may never have met, and in different countries.

I’d theorize that while some of these games are not developing skills we developed when we were younger, the games are also doing a better job ad developing other skills.  Competency management and self evaluation, collaboration, and teamwork.  So it’s different, but let’s hold judgement until we see how it all plays out.

The Value Proposition in a Multi-Dimensional Workforce

Karen Beaman states that the workforce is changing:

  • Multi-Generational – we are are now seeing up to four generations of workers working simultaneously in the workplace — Veterans, Boomers, X’ers, and New Mils — each with differing world views, work/life needs, and job expectations of their employers.
  • Multi-Cultural – we are experiencing increasing cultural differences as organizations continue to go global; pervasive globalization, continued immigration, and increased mobility is bringing greater global diversity to the workplace and creating considerable opportunities for cultural conflict.
  • Multi-Contractual – we are living in challenging economic times which is spawning the rise of the contingent workforce and a plurality in worker contract types from full-time employees to part-timers, contractors, consultants, freelancers, outsourcers, partners, and other third-parties.
  • Multi-Environmental – the ubiquity of the Internet and the evolution of Web 2.0 are enabling the digital, virtual, mobile, remote world in which workers can work anywhere, anytime, anyhow, reducing our perceptions about space and time and blurring the distinction between work and play.  ((Beaman, Karen, May 5, 2008.  “The Evolving Multi-Dimensional Talentforce.”  Retrieved from on May 5, 2008.))

The question that arises in my mind is with such a diverse workforce, how does one create a singular employer value proposition?  It’s easy(er) when your target is young Gen Y innovators, or recruiting for a call center in Des Moines, Iowa.  But when you have a truly global workforce that is operating in may disparate locations/countries, has multiple modes of work (remote, contract, in a truck all day, on the phone all day….) then the EVP gets rather unwieldy.

It would be simple to say that your EVP can change for each operating unit or for each population, but the truth is that there still needs to be an underlying culture that ties back to the organizational strategy.  But simply saying that “we value highly experienced senior talent and reward them accordingly” is very different in Japan where the employment relationship is still thought of as very long term versus the U.S. where employment is becoming transient to India where the talent market continues to evolve daily.

Ms. Beaman is certainly right – the workforce is changing both because skill levels are increasing sharply globally, but also because of technology making everyone more accessible.  The answer to the EVP is something each organization will need to grapple with as there may not be a single simple answer.  It’s hard enough to translate text in a database let alone strategy and culture.

Your thoughts?

How Do You Identify High Potential Employees?

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (is there an institute for everything?) recently conducted a study on high potential employees and the practices of organizations around them.

If you want to be groomed for a leadership position, then it pays to be viewed as a “high-potential” employee, or “HiPo,” for short, according to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). The study found that 69% of the 469 responding organizations have a high-potential assessment process in place, and most of those organizations (70%) say that a development plan is part of that process.

“Employees who want new development opportunities would do well to try to convince their organizations that they’re packed with potential,” says i4cp Senior VP of Research Jay Jamrog. “That’s where companies focus a lot of their attention and resources.”

The survey also found, however, that organizations are much less diligent about measuring the effectiveness of their HiPo assessment programs. A little fewer than half (47%) of those with such programs said they track the effectiveness of their assessment process.

I’m frankly not surprised by the finding that 70% of organizations have a way to assess their high potential employees.  I’m also certain that the vast majority of this is an e-mail that goes out to managers telling them to identify the HiPo’s so they can be placed in a development program, which may be a set of lunches over the year.  Obviously, my opinion is pretty negative here.  Real employee development plans are as few and far between as real performance review programs.  They are put in place for the sake of appearances, and not measured or invested in.

The identification if HiPo’s is not just gathering the best performance scores in the organization and collecting those people together.  Often, quantitative performance metrics are not enough because subjective factors such as the ability to network, the art of persuasion, engagement, innovating thinking and leadership capacity should also be part of the mix.  You just don’t get all of these from a performance review.

My opinion also includes a guess as to how most employee development happens.  In the same way, a manager identifies a HiPo employee, but rather than HR providing a structure around how to formulate a development plan, the manager becomes a mentor.  Once you have found out what all the components of a HiPo is, and you’ve identified your candidates, you need to realize that the mentorship relationship is one of the strongest vehicles you have.  Developing not only a mentorship network, but also coaching mentors has got to be part of the HiPo program.  This is of course hit and miss because some managers have no desire to groom their replacement, and other managers have no business trying to be mentors.  However, my point is that on the few occasions that employee development works, its’ not because of the development program, but instead because of the informal mentoring relationships, and the key is to figure out how to formalize them.

Knowledge Infusion’s Talent Survey

KI’s newest survey around talent presents some salient findings that we should all find quite obvious, but we all seem to ignore anyway.  In the first paragraph below, Jason Corsello states that HR people still don’t know how to present a business case.  Perhaps it is that HR people don’t know how to speak “Finance” but I actually think that HR people (generically) don’t understand the world of ROI, TCO, and simply tying in our projects with financials.  Without a business case, you fail to start or complete your project.  Even worse, if you do get the go-ahead to do your project, the lack of concrete metrics will bring you down after go-live as it will be impossible to measure success.

“The fact that lack of funding or a business case is the biggest barrier to talent management shows evidence that HR does not yet know how to articulate the business value of technology investments,”  said Jason Corsello, Vice President of the Knowledge Infusion Center of Excellence. “They understand the end goal-employee engagement and retention-but most companies are still have a dire need to create an overarching strategy that ties together their talent management initiatives with business goals and objectives to gain executive buy-in.”

Other findings from survey include:

  • 40 percent consider usability/ease of use the most important factor when selecting a talent management suite.
  • 34 percent of companies prefer Software-as-a-Services as the delivery model of choice (SaaS)
  • 40 percent cite lack of integration between modules as the biggest concern.
  • 40 percent cite performance, development and succession planning as the most important areas of integrated talent management.  ((Knowledge Infusion press release.  October 11, 2007.  Retrieved from on November 13, 2007.))

I like the first bullet about ease of use.  Is functionality more important, or is usability?  I’d argue that the survey population is actually right this time.  I’ll go for higher rates of adoption and engaged managers who are using the app any day over that 2% improvement in functionality.

What strikes me a funny is that 34% of companies are now preferring software as a service (SaaS).  Perhaps the technology and configurability of applications has improved so much that this is more palatable than a decade ago (this is true).  But the fact is that just 5 years ago, if you told HRIS that they would be hosed, could not customize the application, and were held hostage by the vendor’s data center, your HRIS team would have quit and never come back.  Then again, perhaps the real statistic is that 66% do not prefer SaaS.  Times have changed, but the technology is better.

40% don’t have sufficient integration.  It’s your own fault if you are purchasing modules from 3 different vendors.  But it’s more of a travesty if you have a single vendor and their own stuff is not integrated.  I’ll forgive not having recruiting and performance integrated.  But performance and compensation or succession?  These need to be a seamless process.  Back to my question though:  unless you bought the thing 5 years ago when talent systems were in their infancy, how did you get yourself in this situation?

Most of what is in the survey is obvious to me.  But then I talk to people managing HR systems and I see the same mistakes over and over again.  Give this thing a read, put it aside, and read again.  Everyone who has these systems is clearly telling everyone else what mistakes not to make.

(apologies to KI for being so late writing about this)

Will Millennials Be Able to Manage?

HBS had a question posted asking how well millennials would manage. The core of the discussion follows:

In short, they are high maintenance, high risk, and often high output employees… There seems to a fixation these days on millennials as employees. But what kind of managers will they make? Given the earlier reflections, one might conclude that they will never make it into the ranks of management. Of course many will… Will they be as sensitive to the needs of those in their employ as they want their managers to be with them? Will they open up their organizations more widely to global opportunities? Will they create work environments in which jobs fit into personal life styles rather than vice-versa? Will they encourage mobility in their employees? Or will they express the same concerns as those for whom they currently work? ((Heskett, Jim. August 2, 2007. “How Will Milennials Manage?” Retrieved from on September 10, 2007.))

Some of the responses were rather poor, but some were excellent. Here are some of the better ones:

Well, I am in management, and I do try to be as sensitive to the needs of my direct reports as I would want any manager to be with me. I try to anticipate potential conflicts by knowing them as individuals, and searching for compromises before conflict arises. Would I open up my organization more widely to global opportuntities? Definitely. I am not scared of other cultures or languages, and am not unwilling to compromise in order to foster mutually beneficial situations. I am not lost in political correctness to the point where I can’t see cultural differences for what they are and find ways to change processes to suit those differences and still maintain continuity. (anon) ((Ibid))

We’ve made a point of discussing how millennials will be more global in perspective, and how they are more community based, seeking to network in different ways that prior generations. But just because this doesn’t fit the current thinking, perhaps we haven’t given these generational traits the credit they are due. As the responder above points out, these traits can manifest themselves as incredible strengths, not weaknesses. And while there is a pro/con for just about anything, those millennials who can lever these traits into strengths will rise into the management ranks.

But to be managers, they have to learn to go through good and bad times. The Millennials are more motivated at the hard times but view the “all’s well” time as dull. They fail to see the less challenging times as a waiting and planning phase. In the so-called dull times, Millennials gets demotivated and impatient and hop jobs because they feel that taking challenges head on, and succeeding is the only way to success at the pace that they want to reach the top. ((Ibid))

The job hopping trait seems to be well documented and statistically accurate. While the root cause of hopping is in the desire to pursue interesting and challenging work, the commenter above is also correct in stating that assuming there will always be a difficult challenge to fix is not necessarily healthy for the organization or the employee/manager. Sometimes success is made through the careful and meticulous grooming of a business, not the rapid turnaround so many executives are paid for. While most publicized, those rapid turnarounds are probably the small minority of actual business cycles.

The millennial topic is always interesting. While there really isn’t much more to do than take a wait and see approach, I’d still theorize that the millennials are much like any prior generation. Each had their own defining characteristics, and in the end, each generation ended up developing and maturing much like the generations before it.

Gen X: The Bridge to Gen Y

There’s much speculation and conversation these days about Gen Y (or the millennial generation). Who understands them, how do they work, what makes them tick, and how do managers manage them? Much of the conversation is centered around the basic idea that this generation is fundamentally different and that “we” don’t get them yet. While I’d argue that Gen Y’ers are not fundamentally different, there is an argument to be made that each new generation causes the prior generations some distress. Each generation seems to go through the same growing pains, has different learnings to use, different technology at their hands, but these factors probably have existed since the dawn of work. The effect may simply be increasing over time as changes accelerate, causing us more visible angst than deserved to be noticed before.

I’d hypothesize that the figuring out should not be left to those senior leaders that belong to the exiting generation of workers. Instead, those closest to Gen Y, and indeed Gen Y itself is really the most capable of understanding how to create meaning and generating effectiveness from them. It’s not simply age that matters here, but that the immediately prior generation was socialized and has gone through the same world experiences with similar vantage points. Their role models had large amounts of overlap, their education and utilization of new technologies was “close enough” as was their ability to assimilate those new technologies.

Gen X has the luxury of being slightly more experienced in the work arena. As such, Gen X seems to be the logical bridge. In Gen Y’s search for meaning in their lives and in the workplace, and in their search for a place to fit into this “old” world of work and incorporation, Gen X has the ability and the capacity to be their guide. This is one of those places where the Gen X’ers can step up to the place and show their leadership potential. However, it’s also an area where HR must get involved deeply.

HR’s ability to provide programming to formally or informally assist Gen X’ers with getting involved with Gen Y, and HR’s ability to ensure that senior talent transfers their competencies to Gen X are critical here. Not only is this a mentorship and learning program between Gen X and Gen Y, but also the same for senior leaders and Gen X.

We can stop asking how we get Gen Y engaged. Leave that up to Gen X. At the same time we can stop asking if Gen X is ready. Asking is not action. It’s our jobs in HR to make sure they are ready. Let’s do our job.

MIT Sloan’s 5 Steps to Filling the Talent Gap

Sloan’s take of the talent gap is a bit different that the one we usually talk about.  Instead of the impending crisis in the U.S. from all the retiring baby boomer’s Sloan instead identifies the troubles that global companies face from not being able to develop leaders abroad, or not having the leaders domestically ready to take on international assignments.

Within the article, they identify several tactics that could be applied to any talent shortage whether it’s a domestic or international one.

1. Make Your Talent Plan Match Your Business Plan Successful companies understand and exploit the capabilities that let them provide unique value to their customers. Your talent-management initiatives should focus on building those capabilities among your employees.  ((Ready, Douglass and Conger, Jay.  September 14, 2007.  “How to Fill the Talent Gap.” Retrieved from on October 1, 2007.))

This should be a no-brainer.  However, too many of our recruiting organizations are still reactionary to hiring managers, and our performance processes targeted towards generic goals rather than organization specific competencies.  Ready and Conger are right, this area needs more attention.

2. Talent Management is Everyone’s Job Human resources has an important role to play in recruiting and retaining employees. But the commitment should extend through the entire company. The best-in-class firms that we examined had talent processes that were marked by deep commitment, high levels of engagement and widespread accountability among senior leaders, line managers, human resources and the talent prospects themselves.  ((Ibid))

Perhaps some of the new Web 2.0 talent applications we’ve been talking about like Taleo and Workstream will help here.  It’s really about change management and adoption here, but the overall user experience plays heavily into this.  With a great user experience, the entire process and the ability to see results becomes much easier.  In effect, behavioral change is one step closer throughout the organization.

3. Global Excellence Needs Local Effectiveness If a company wants a rich and diverse flow of talent in its core operation, it must begin with well-crafted and efficient hiring and development practices in its local branches. In other words, if your company can effectively recruit and nurture employees at the local level, and then feed them into the core operation, diversity will happen naturally — without the need for special outreach efforts.  ((Ibid))

4. Support Matters Forget the “cream rises to the top” theory of leadership development. Even a company’s highest-potential employees need help in taking on the challenges they will face with new assignments. Provide them with frequent coaching and feedback, connect them with one another so they can share concerns and best practices, and offer executive-education opportunities that will supplement their skills and perspectives.  ((Ibid))

5. Measure What Matters Establish a set of metrics for talent development, linking them to your company’s strategic objectives whenever possible. For instance, measure how well the company retains key employees and high-potential ones, and frequently assess those who are in line to fill crucial assignments. And when you notice things are off course or simply not working, don’t be afraid to change them. Don’t make your talent-management processes a series of bureaucratic routines.    ((Ibid))

Consultants and talent vendors have been saying this for a good while now.  By identifying the specific competencies that matter and figuring out a way to measure them, you create a meaningful talent process.  There are a lot of critical ingredients to talent, and this is one of them.  If you’re measuring carelessly, then you’re just wasting your time.

Your Workforce Bench Strength

Jason Corsello has one of the most effective illustrations of workforce depth that I’ve seen.

Every NFL team has a depth chart.  Most are listed on their team’s website including the New England Patriots here.

Every position on the team is critical and has a depth chart of at least three players plus a pool of reserve players in case of injury.

I’d argue however, that this illustration only works for succession positions, which is how I think Jason meant it.  In our succession plans, we fully expect to have a full understanding of skills, experience and competencies for all of our succession candidates, and an ability to evaluate each of these candidates against a role if that role were to become vacant.

However, for non-succession positions, this idea of bench strength is a bit different.  Rather than filling a role, I think we’re actually looking for an aggregated total of a given competency across an organization or project.  For example, we’re not looking for people to sit around with unused competencies waiting for a vacancy.  Rather, we’re looking for all of those competencies to be utilized all at the same time, and channeled through to the same effort.

We’ve become pretty good at identifying competencies for the workforce in general, and even better at it when we’re going through the succession process.  Unfortunately, we’re not actually all that good at valuations of competency levels across the entire organization in order to apply it on an org or project basis.  All too often we plug in holes with “filler” that might only help in a minor way, or even be a detriment to the overall project.  Much of this is because we think competencies exist where they don’t, or the competency has been incorrectly valued for an individual employee.

Bench strength is critical and as our talent organizations evolve, bench strength will have the ability to better advise the business on how to staff projects and how to target future talent acquisitions.  I’m looking forward to reading Jason’s future posts on this topic.

Closing the Floodgates: Retaining Senior Talent When the CEO Leaves

We’ve all seen it.  A CEO leaves the organization and takes half of the senior management with him/her to their next gig.  Then the new CEO comes in and brings in his/her team, and lets go of the rest of senior management that stuck around.  You now have little or no organizational knowledge and perspective in the company, and the old saying (something like “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”) rears it’s ugly face.  ((Coyne, Kevin P. and Coyn, Edward J. Sr.  May 2007.  “Surviving Your Next CEO.”  HBR May 2007, Pg 62))

HBR again points out a few considerations you should have in HR as you look into finding a new CEO:

  • When it’s time to find a new CEO, do you consider your succession plan?  Or do you simply go out and find the first available external candidate?
  • If you hire an external candidate, how do you influence what the new CEO thinks about your best leadership talent?  ((Ibid))

Research seems to indicate that in low and medium performing organizations, CEO’s are generally hired from outside the company.  This makes sense.  If you are not performing well, why would you want to replace the CEO with a person who operates from the incumbent’s organization?  On the other hand, if you are a high performing organization, chances are you have senior leaders that are in a good position to take the reigns of the company.  This is when it makes the most sense to hire from within because you don’t necessarily want radical change – you want to keep momentum going and maintain the sense of team that already exists.

There should also be another question looming in our minds as HR people.  How do you survive the new CEO as the top HR executive?  HBR states that while you may want to wait it out and see what the CEO wants of you, the better plan is to go to the CEO with ideas and initiatives.  New CEO’s are looking for people who want to help with a transformation and be part of a team.  Sitting idly while the CEO bypasses you is not the way to go.  ((Ibid))

The Truth Behind Asia’s Talent Markets

You’ll never hear me contesting the idea that Asian talent markets are ripe to be the major force in the world economy.  After all, when you have half the world’s population, it’s just logical to think you should eventually command half the world’s senior talent.  However, decades of cultural and infrastructure problems plague them as they struggle to catch up and create market conditions that allow them to produce the volume of talent they are capable of.

Demography will also play a big role, especially as labour forces in both China and Japan shrink over the next two decades. This means, for instance, that the already difficult job of finding creative software-engineers will become ever harder in northern Asia, which in turn will increase demand for staff in India and other markets where demographic problems do not exist.

But that only points to an even bigger threat which may take a generation to fix: education. In much of South-East Asia most people are educated only to the age of 12. More than half of the women in India are illiterate. Nearly two-thirds of the children in government primary schools in India cannot read a simple story. Half cannot solve simple numerical problems.

China’s educational difficulties are different—and often linked to the country’s history. Universities were closed during the Cultural Revolution and few well-educated people entered the workforce for over a decade. This has resulted in a lost generation of business people between the ages of 50 and 60, exactly the age group from where many of China’s corporate leaders should be drawn today.   ((  August 16, 2007.  “Capturing Talent.”  Retrieved from on September 10, 2007.))

I go back to an old argument of mine that India is the best positioned Asian economy, far ahead of China.  Japan’s culture and their investments have made them a global economic power, but India’s English language capabilities and their better educational infrastructure is a major advantage.  Add that they seem to have a major head start in developing knowledge industries in technology and services (call centers) and it looks quite promising.

China seems to have all of the cultural, infrastructure and now QA issues that India did not.  The tip of the iceberg is a lacking in educational infrastructure, the unseen portions of the iceberg is in the culture.

  • China is even suffering from something of a brain drain. In recent years the Chinese have been able to travel abroad more freely to study and acquire skills. But many do not return.
  • Factories in southern China now plan for a 4% loss of staff just in the week immediately after Chinese New Year, because people seem to like to start the new year with a new job.
  • As well as excessive wage inflation there is also “title inflation” and “responsibility inflation”. Relatively inexperienced local managers are sometimes given ever-grander titles—much to the chagrin of their counterparts from Europe and America, who can find themselves sitting beside much less able and more junior colleagues described as “Senior Executive Vice President” or “Regional Chairman”. But these honours are handed out for a reason: many employers in Asia have found that awarding new titles to employees every 18 months or so can be a good way to keep them.  ((Ibid))

I’d also suggest without any proof that there is a cultural component to the quality assurance issues coming out of China.  There is such a large emphasis of profits and a careless disregard for quality in comparison that their current export troubles will continue for some time.

Asian economies will get there, I have no doubt.  However, they may have years and in some cases decades of infrastructure development and cultural change to manage before they really threaten western economies for leadership in innovation.  Obviously Japan has been there for a long time, and I think India is next, but China and the rest are a long ways off.