The Permanent Record

Perhaps it was because I’m Chinese American and my Chinese parents were rather crazed about education.  I did graduate high school with a 4.2 GPA and considered myself an academic failure (still do in fact).  My parents used to threaten us that our grades and other bad things we did would go on our permanent records.  I’m sure some of the bad grades I got (B’s?) are stored somewhere, but the permanence of them is questionable.  If I tried hard enough, I could probably find a transcript, but who really cares?  The permanent record is only meaningful so long as anyone cares to look.

This changes once you get into the workforce.  You get a bad performance review and it’s going to follow you around in that company for a very long time.  One wrong comment in a meeting with the CIO and you are not living that puppy down for years.  But one can always move on, and most things don’t truly last forever, especially if you switch divisions or companies.  Pretty much, when someone calls your old company for a reference, there is about 10% chance that job and last date worked are the only tidbits of information anyone will get.  There are things that seem to last longer now…

Ok, admit it, sometime this year, you have Googled yourself to find out if your name is on the first page of hits.  I’m happy to admit it.  I probably search myself once a quarter, but it’s not some narcissistic thinking in the back of my mind that is driving me to do it.  I could care less that on a random friend’s web browser I’m 8 of the top 10 hits.  (yeah, don’t search for yourself on your own PC – Google and others have figured this out and move hits about yourself up apparently).  What I really care about is my reputation.  My Facebook, Linkedin, systematicHR, published articles are all out there.  I’ve had conversations and arguments on the web, all recorded on some server I have no control over.

That picture of me on Yammer pretending to be Vanna White at some client change management thing (there was a whole spin wheel for prizes and everything).  I’m horrified, but it is out there forever.  (Damn you Erin!!!)  I might do silly things that I regret later, but I manage myself pretty well that I don’t do stupid things.  Somewhere along the line, a recruiter will undoubtedly look at a candidate profile of me on Taleo or Brassring, or whatever, and see all the web tidbits that link back to me.  They owe it to their companies to get a complete picture of who I am and how I’ll fit into the organization.  I owe it to myself to make sure that it’s a realistic picture, and not one tainted by one or two events that will stain the rest of the image.  If the worst thing anyone ever finds is that I helped with some change management, I can live with that.


I Can Finally Buy My Dad a Smart Phone

Just a couple years ago, my parents came back to the US after years of being overseas missionaries.  They have been in Siberia, on a random island in the Pacific, etc… and they came back to a world where cell phones were ubiquitous and information was accessible everywhere.  My father is now over 70 years old, and he loves gadgets and toys of the electronic variety.  However, simple things like programming a new DVD player can elude him – not because he could not do it 15 years ago (I guess that would have been a VCR), but because it really is a bit different.

A couple years ago I bought my parents cell phones and put them on my plan.  This way they would have something in the case of an emergency, and of course a way to call me for free without paying long distance.  I’ve held off of buying my dad a smart phone though since I wasn’t sure if the whole thing would be a bit daunting.  Sure enough he’d love it, but I didn’t think he’d use it to 20% of its capabilities.  However, the time has come that I think I can do it.  No – it’s not going to be the iPhone, and certainly not an Android (my OS of coice).  I think I’m going to get him a WP8 phone.  Yep – Microsoft has finally created something that I can give my dad and not even worry about having to teach him how to use it.  The thing is marvelous – it works the way it should, it’s totally intuitive, notifications happen in the live tile rather than in some random notification area, etc…  This is a phone that my dad will understand, and I don’t even have to give him mor than 30 minutes of training.

I’m reminded about heading to India a few weeks ago where I was coordinating some UAT for a new core HRMS I was helping to implement.  I’d stand in front of a group of managers, give them the 5 minute pitch about why we were changing and who the vendor was.  Then I’d give them the 3 minute orientation to the product.  “Here’s where your ESS is, MSS, reports, and search” basically, and then let them loose with their scenarios and see what happened.  Unbelievably (to me) the managers unanimously walked out having figured out the product on their own, and all had great experiences.  Of course there was a feedback comment here and there, but all in all, these untrained managers just did their thing and got it right.

All UX should be this easy.  Throughout the ERP era, we were so used to overloading the managers with complexity and data that we assumed they wanted.  At the end of the day, they really needed something they could understand immediately upon login (the 3 times a year that they actually logged in).  And really, they didn’t want data – they wanted insightful information about their workers.  The data just turned out to be overload.

I’m pretty pleased about this decision to get my father a smart phone.  Not only am I going to get him more connected, but I know he will be really engaged with the tool – the man is going to have fun with it.  He’ll have a phone, but now I can text him and know he’ll get it, he will also have easy email, an easy way to send photos to me from his phone, etc.  In other words, I’ll have given him a tool that will make him more productive because he can use it.  Less really is more.



Every now and then I think I have a thought that is pure genius. This is not one of them. Instead, every now and then I have a thought that simply entertains me for longer than it should. This is definitely one of those.

I have not yet figured out the appropriate pronunciation for this. It might either be HR-ass, or harass. Either way, the thought popped up in my head while pondering the wonders of HR outsourcing. I mean, if we think about HRO, all we are really talking about is HR as a service, right? You subscribe to a service whether it is payroll or benefits outsourcing, or technology and call centers. You expect that the vendor will keep up with best practices, update their technologies as needed, have the right staffing ratios as your organization grows (or not), and maintain all the service levels you have negotiated. It really does sound like HR as a Service to me. It is unfortunate that HRO organizations have not adopted the acronym however.

We talk about it as HR service delivery after all, so why do we call the relationship HR outsourcing? Sure we have outsourced the delivery of parts of the service chain to someone else, but at the end of the day, it really does not matter if the service is internally or externally delivered. It’s simply a component of HR services that our employees and managers expect to get from us. What matters most to us is that the employees get the best experience possible in a scalable and cost effective solutions. (ok, so they really don’t care about the last 2). I mean, let’s think about the value proposition that HRO gives us. They can scale better, they can add technology with more agility, and and they are supposed to be rurally good at executing their core.

So next time you have a HR transformation project that includes HRO, I dare you. No, I double dare you. Brand your project HRaaS. (come on, I at least got a chuckle out of you, right? I really prefer not to laugh alone.)

HR Technology Conference Reactions: Predictive Analytics

I’ve always thought I was pretty good at analytics.Not being a practitioner who is sitting in the middle of data all the time, I get more time to just think about the type of analytics that it takes to really run the business.  It’s been a really long time since I discounted the usefulness of things like time to hire preferring things like quality of hire (efficiencies versus effectiveness measures).  But I’ve always fought with predictive analytics.  In my opinion, they don’t really exist in HR yet.  We can trend our data and draw a trend line, but that does not predict our future – it simply tells us that directionally, something is going to happen if we don’t change course.  I’ll admit that I walked into this session with a great deal of skepticism, I walked out with some great insights.

The panel was made up of some great speakers.   Moderator: Jac Fitz-enz, Ph.D., (CEO, Human Capital Source), Laurie Bassi, Ph.D., (CEO, McBassi & Company), John R. Mattox II, Ph.D., (Director of Research, KnowledgeAdvisors), Eugene Burke, (Chief Science & Analytics Officer, SHL), Natalie Tarnopolsky, (SVP, Analytics and Insights, Wells Fargo Bank).

Theme #1:  Descriptive, Predictive, Prescriptive. Let’s start with some definitions as the panel did, but I’ll use a tennis example.  I don’t know if anyone has been watching the last few grand slams, but they have been using a good mix of all these types of analytics.  Descriptive is simple.  Roger Federer has one 16 tennis grand slams.  (I’m guessing as I’m on a plane typing this).  Predictive is next and basically tells us what our destiny is going to be.  Roger’s record against Nadal in grand slam finals has not been particularly good.  If Rafa is on his game, hitting his ground strokes with the huge topspin he has, Roger is going to have to figure something out or lose again.  Here is where the last few opens has been interesting.  The broadcasters will sit there with the stats and say things like, “If Roger can get 67% of his first servers in, he has a 73% chance of winning” or “Roger needs to win 55% of Rafa’s second serves to have a 59% chance of winning.”  Now we have prescriptive – the specifics of what to do in order to change our destiny.

Theme #2:  Engagement. We probably focus in on this a bit too much.  It’s not because it’s not important, but it’s not specific or defined enough.  I mean, we all have a definition in our heads, but for 99% of us, it’s fluff.  My definition of engagement is the intangible quality that makes an employee want to provide that extra hour of discretionary work when other non-work opportunities exist.  Total fluff, right?  We can provide some correlations around engagement.  If engagement increases by 1%, then turnover decreases X% and so on.  What it provides is a great predictive measure, high level as it may be.  We know we need to increase engagement, and it is indeed important.  But it’s not the key measurement we have all been lead to believe will solve all our problems.

Theme #3:  Predict winning. OK, so if engagement is not the key metric, then what is?  Well, I have no idea.  I’m not being snide, I’m just saying that it will change for every single organization.  If you are (mall) retail organization, then having really good salespeople might be what hits the bottom line.  You could run the numbers and find out that if you rehire sales that worked for you the summer/holiday season last year, those salespeople are 20% more productive, whereas engagement reduces turnover by 1.3%.  Which metric are you going to focus on?  Right, how do you get those experienced salespeople back?  Instead of spending $1 on engagement, you could get 5 times the ROI on that same dollar elsewhere.  What we want to do is not predict outcomes.  We want to predict winning and understand what our highest contributors to winning will be.

Let’s take another example, this one from the panel.   Let’s say 5% of your workforce are high performers, but you can only give 3% of them promotions this year.  You also know that the 2% of top performers who don’t get promotions will likely leave the organization.  Now you have a problem.  You can’t afford to promote these people, but the cost of replacing top performers is extraordinary.  Analysis like this quickly leads you to decisions which are actionable.  At the end of the day, we need to compare our top drivers against our weaknesses to really figure out our greatest opportunities to invest in.

Theme #4:  HR can’t do it. This part sucks.  Towards the end of the session, we walked through a statistical model.  Yeah, we can end this post right here, but I’ll continue.  The rather brilliant by HR terms model was presented by Wells Fargo.  Go figure an ex-finance person working at a bank would have this all put together.  The point being, this was an ex-finance person, and the bak part is ot wholly irrelevant.  All the stuff I said above really makes great sense.  But when it comes down to executing it, HR in most organizations does not have the skillset to execute on it.  We don’t have very many statisticians in our HR staffs, and even if we did, HR executives would have a hard time seeing the vision and have the willingness to implement these technologies and models.  All is not lost however.  Finance has been doing this stuff forever.  I mean, I’ll bet you anything that if the interest rates drop by 1 basis point, Wells Fargo knows within seconds what the impact on profits are for savings, mortgages, etc.  Can’t we have/borrow/hire just a few of these guys?


Rules of the Road

Every time I go to another country, I’m amazed at how tame driving in the US actually is.  People here obey lane laws, there is a fairly strict code of right of way (even if half the drivers don’t truly understand it), and for the most part people are patient.  For those of you unbelievers, think about it this way: even though most of us roll through stops signs, if there is a 4 way stop, we’ll wait our turn.  Compare this to driving in other countries, whether in Thailand, India, Mexico, ah hell, let’s throw Rome in there for kicks.  Compared to the good ‘ol US of A, it’s utter mayhem out there.

Take for example the simple act of staying in your own lane.  In many countries, if you have 2 motorcycles or scooters hanging about, they are going to squeeze into the tightest spot possible.  There is a good chance they are not going to stop at signs and lights, but just roll through if there is any opportunity at all.  What ends up happening is the minor road anarchy that occurs means everyone is on the lookout, weaving, and dodging everyone else.

I’m absolutely convinced that a disciplined approach to driving actually yields not only more speed, but also less effort and increases in safety.  If you stay in your lane, perhaps you can’t squeeze 50 motor vehicles into a space the size of a dime, but you can be far less worried about what is going on around you.  Therefore, the elimination of risking killing those around you means significantly less stress (effort), far fewer accidents that will cause a full stoppage, and of course, the overall speed of the road increases from 30 miles per hour to 60.

The same goes for business process (y’all knew this as coming).  Mayhem causes stress, more risk for full stoppages, and actually slows things down.  Many of you will react with, “But we don’t have mayhem in our organization, we’re just not as disciplined.”  I’m here to deliver the bad news – that’s mayhem folks.

My first ever manager after college used to tell me the same 2 things over and over again:

  1. There is right and there is wrong, and there is a lot less grey than we thing there is.
  2. If it’s really right, it’s actually right 100% of the time without deviations.  Stick to your guns.

Ok, I might not be as sold on the idea that there is very little grey, but I certainly think we make exceptions far too often.  We allow our business partners to sway our processes, to have one-off reports, to feel like we have to be at their full service, beck and call.  We forget that the COE half seriously states that people are the most important asset in the organization.  We allow for “The Business” to make us feel that maximizing our processes around people and talent will get us that one huge sale.  But we forget that enforcing the discipline of our HR practices will yield larger long term results than just that one sale.

Mayhem is bad.  It one of those truths that is fundamental to our universe unless you are a physicist (when chaos is a cool thing).  But being disciplined is hard – to do what we know to be right, not deviate, and grow our HR practices takes true leadership and purpose.


Apple Versus Samsung


One of my favorite Star Trek scenes is from Star Trek 4, where Scottie tries talking to the computer.   In this classic scene, one of the basic Star Trek futurisms is on display as he tries to get the computer to respond to him verbally.  Who actually knew that IBM was going to come up with Watson super-computer that could answer questions and win Jeopardy a couple years ago?

All I’m saying is that patents on feature functionality were all thought of by either Star Wars or Star Trek in the 60’s and 70’s.  I’m quite dissatisfied with the current number of lawsuits happening in the mobile phone space.  Let’s face it, I don’t think Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Google, etc. should be able to patent some of the things they have.  If Apple didn’t buy Siri, someone else was going to have a device that verbally responded to verbal questions within the next 2 years anyway.  I mean, it was in Star Trek, right.  This is not a new thought – it’s 50 years old.  In general, I also don’t think you should be able to patent some sorts of design.  Innovation is one thing, design is another, so unless it’s outright “plagiarism,” it’s a no-go for me.  The idea that part of what Samsung is paying Apple for is a set of application icons with rounded corners is a small bit stupid to me.

At the end of the day, what I’m really fearful of is that patent wars could escalate from mobile devices over to HR software.  Think about it if someone decided to patent the next great performance review.  This is something that we’ve all been complaining about for years, but nobody in the industry can figure out how to make performance evaluations more effective.  Here’s how I see a Performance Review patent playing out:

  • Software company A patents Performance Review innovation
  • Other software companies B & C try to copy the innovation
  • Software company A shuts down B & C
  • Market adoption for the great innovation is minimized since it’s centered on one vendor
  • 5 years later, we’re all doing performance the same old way again, no innovation picked up

I’m all for giving some company a head start, I generally think they will get that head start anyway since it takes a year+ for other companies to figure out what is going on, make any coding change in the application, and roll it out.  What I ultimately want though, is widespread and mass adoption if there are any great innovations.    If major innovations are locked on one vendor for 7 years, the market is basically screwed in my opinion.  I’m not talking about one vendor having a competitive, that happens for the first few years anyway.  I’m saying that if the next great thing happens, the only way the market picks it up is if that innovation can diaspora out to all vendors.


Managing Thinking, Managing Knowledge

On March 2, 2011, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.  Like others before him (including Benazir Bhutto), he was killed for standing up for the right of Pakistanian citizens to believe in whatever they wanted to believe.  In this case, Bhatti was a Christian, and (to his detriment) was outspoken about it.  There are leading Muslim clerics who will say that the Koran is precise about the consequences of “blasphemy” which I suppose being Christian is.  Whether or not this is true is not for me to decide as I have no basis in Islam, the Koran, or as a religious scholar of any sort.  However, I do this to simply point out that people the world over feel a compelling need to manage what other people think and believe.  We can take another example of China and the shutting down of Google months ago.  (Google actually pulled out I think – but at any rate, the internet is government regulated)

There are some organizations that are quite liberal with knowledge management.  Many technology companies deploy blogs and wikis and actively encourage employees to write and participate.  Many brick and mortar companies won’t deploy enterprise social platforms because they are afraid of what might come out.  Rather than encouraging the discourse (ALL of which will happen anyway), many of us have suppressed it based on a fear of “bad behavior.”

The problem about this is not about trust.  It’s about generations.  Unfortunately, many of us (I’ll just draw a line at 35 years old and up), realize that large corporations have not been democratic societies.  We work in states that are oligarchical at best.  Even in companies where the corporate center does not have much power over divisions, the individual divisions can command the employees at will.  Those in the workforce in their 20’s have no acceptance of such a model.  We’ve always talked about them as being insistent on having access to decision-making, being vocal and contributory, and demanding the be part of the conversation in general.  They have grown up in a world where technology has democratized the world, and it’s their expectation that data and information is part of their realm.

Evidence supports that actual instances of “bad behavior” are so low that it’s really not worth being afraid of – and the community will generally self police itself.  People realize for the most part that the conversations that happen in the workplace are different than the conversations that happen without – and the 5 horror stories you hear each year are insignificant compared to the potential for collaboration you have.  We can’t control the thinking.  Nor can we control the content.


Between everything that has been going on in the Middle East and of course the earthquake in Japan, I think April will be a current events month.  My thoughts and best wishes go out to all those throughout the world as they struggle in their various ordeals.  (written a while back obviously – sorry)

Merge, Outsource, Re-merge

Imagine this. You’re fixing your house, and you take down a few walls to reconfigure how the place looks – it’s a bit more open, you can see more, put more people in it when you entertain. While you’re at it, you decide to put new walls up – perhaps a new powder room where there wasn’t one before, or a new bar area. But the bar area never got used, and you didn’t install water to go to in so you could have a sink and forgot the wine rack, so you take it back out since it wasn’t what you really needed. At the end of the day, you’ve spent a whole lot of money trying to get what you wanted, and then didn’t get what you wanted.

The trend has been going on in business for decades now. Organizations acquire or merge, and then merge common business units and functions. What follows is counter intuitive: after the merge comes the re-piece mealing of the business unit or function. Basically we merge things together and then break them apart again.

We’ve really done the same thing in HR. Over the last decade and more, we’ve tried to figure out what can go into HR shared services. We’ve dropped payroll and benefits in there, then we added HRIS and call centers. The first steps were easy, we gave payroll to the ADP’s and Ceridian’s of the world, and benefits to the Mercer’s and Hewitt’s of the world. Then we went a step further and gave away our call centers to HRO, going ultimately to a state of letting someone else do the transaction processing for us.

We thought this was smart, and in many of the cases, it was. We reduced our costs, created scalability through our providers, and theoretically instilled better quality. But a couple of years ago, we had one of those “uh-oh” moments – we realized that we did it wrong, perhaps went too far, or just didn’t prepare the right way. It’s not to say that outsourcing was bad, or even that we outsourced too much. But it did make us realize that simply outsourcing doesn’t get you to the end state without a lot of work.

What we’ve done in the last couple of years is pull back some of the outsourcing and reintegrate the processes back into our shared service centers. We realized that there is lots of stuff in HR that can’t be simple handed over to an outsourcer and scripted. After all, we’re not talking about accounts payable and cutting checks – much of what we do is nuanced and no matter how many process flows or scripts you write, there is always another unique problem heading towards you just over the horizon.

The problem with HR outsourcing is not that they can’t do what they do effectively. It’s that we haven’t figured out where to draw the lines. We give away the core employee indicative transactions like personal data or job changes. Yep – those are pretty easy. But along with that, we group the complex international movements in with the job changes. Often these are high potential or succession candidates that are getting moved around because we’re actively investing in their development. Rather than simple job changes, we’ve moved people between countries and business units, and both they and their managers are senior people in the organization that expect a high quality transaction. Outsourcers seldom bungle the regular transactions, but given the complexities of other types of movement, dissatisfaction rates can be pretty high. So we bring the transactions back in, but it was not the outsourcers fault – they were probably good at the basic stuff, and we were supposed to be smart enough not to give away the complex processes that were important to us.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to go through another round of this pretty soon. Everyone seems to be thinking about service delivery models, but we’re still thinking about efficiency and cost rather than effectiveness and services. Sure, we can save $100M on paper, but in most cases it didn’t work the first time around. Are we going to make the same mistake again?

Lack of Use

It’s been a while since I was on a bike.  All for good reasons, I haven’t actually been home in about 3 weeks.  I mean, you do need to have a bike available to you and decent roads to go for a ride.  I’m not sure that 3 weeks in NYC qualify.  First, I’m afraid of the incredible dust in the city – while I’m not afraid of traffic, I am extraordinarily afraid of dust and allergies that stay with me for days.  Back to the point though.  This morning, I went on my first bike ride since May 15 when I rode a meager 52 miles.  (yes, I have a diary of all this stuff, and yes, it’s fully GPS’d)  Just 3 months ago, I was riding about 80-90 miles without really suffering too much.  But this morning, I rode an easy 48 miles, and I swear my legs were about to fall off.  In what amounts to about 3 weeks, I have gone from barely competent to completely incompetent.  What is worse, in about 3 months, I have gone from decent to my current state.  There is good news though.  With hard work and training, I can get it all back.

The problem with HR competencies is not that most of us don’t have them, it’s that we’ve consciously decided to let some of it go.  Back in the day (all of 7 years ago), during the first major wave of HR outsourcing, organizations decided to outsource functions and thought that they didn’t need to retain the competency and roles.  After all, we were giving up these activities and people to someone who was going to take care of us.  These HRO organizations were going to be more efficient, save us money AND provide better service all at the same time.

Somewhere down the road, we realized that maybe it wasn’t all true.  As HRO organizations’ matured for the second wave of HR outsourcing, they realized that mentioning a retained organization might be a good idea.  The problem is that we didn’t really understand what the retained organization was all about yet, and there really weren’t leading practices around it.  So we kept a few people around in strategic capacities, and didn’t assume that the vendor was going to be the “be all, end all” for each of the outsourced functions.

Problem is that it took us a pretty long time to figure out what we were missing.  For example, it was often when we had a major PeopleSoft or SAP upgrade that we realized nobody was looking after HRIT in quite the same way we did ourselves.  We realized that as much as a vendor’s vanilla processes for performance management were nice starting points, real process design by people who knew the organization just wasn’t available.  We realized that we had gotten rid of a few too many people and the HRO didn’t pick up the slack they way we thought they might.

Not only did it take us a while to figure out what was missing, but after 3 or 5 or 7 years, we often didn’t really know how to fill the void that we felt within our organizations.  Writing job descriptions was hit and miss.  After all, these roles may have existed prior to outsourcing, but more often than not, they existed within multiple people, and figuring out what pieces of which people was getting pretty challenging.

We’re still struggling with this problem, but I think we’re struggling in the wrong way.  We’re writing job descriptions in the traditional way.  We are writing roles, tasks, responsibilities, etc.  But these roles are really more about competencies than tasks and responsibilities.  These roles used to be filled by a few people, and so many times they are cross functional, don’t require huge depth in subject matter expertise, and break down communication barriers between vendor/client, HR/technology, or functional areas.  Retained counterparts to outsourced organizations become communicators and translators, but it will take time to create these new roles and for us to understand and mold how they fit with our organizations and our vendors.  Luckily, we are finally at the point where we probably do get what we need, and how to fill that void, but it might take some time before we get it just right.

For me, I just need to get back on the bike…

Training Innovation

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether you can teach people how to be innovators.  As North America and EMEA slowly loses production and manufacturing work to countries like India and China, what is left behind is the design and innovation work that is the starting point before production can shift to those other countries.  Problem is that countries like India and China are turning out highly qualified engineers at a faster rate than the U.S. turns out graduates in any area.  However, what countries like the U.S. have as an advantage is that we’ve been at the forefront of innovation for much longer.  Somehow, I believe that innovation can to some degree be taught.

I start with a comparison between competencies required for consulting and innovation.  As a consultant, I consider the amount of actual intelligence and knowledge a good consultant has to have to be about 20% of the equation – not much.  The other 80% is all about the consultant’s approach to looking at and working through a problem.  You’ll notice that all consultants have the same basic approach – current state analysis, future state analysis, business case.  But how the details of those basic steps is applied can be very creative.  The next degree of success for a consultant is how they are able to apply the 20% of knowledge and intelligence and 80% of approach to a flexible offering that works for their client.  In essence, the successful mix is mostly about approach, but the higher volume you have for each part of that mix, the better off you’ll be.

In contrast, I believe the exact opposite for innovation.  The mix is approximately 20% approach and 80% intelligence and knowledge.  You see, for someone who is innovating, it’s about how their brains are wired.  When they see something that is wrong, the fact that it is wrong has to “bother” them.  They have to have a deep desire to fix what is wrong.  On top of that, they have to be able to see multiple (often many) objects at a time and understand the connection points between them.  Innovators can see many things, put them together in different ways to solve complex problems.  Unfortunately, I don’t think you can teach 80% of this equation – the smarts and how the brain is wired side.  The last 20% is approach, and I think you can teach this part.  You can put people in a place where they have a higher chance of success by teaching them a structured way to look at problems and analyze possibilities.  However, if the innate ability is lower, then you can only make someone a proficient innovator, not a great one.

I think that there are lots of learning organizations out there who are training people for knowledge, and of course we have talent mobility programs out there that are moving people around to give them the right experiences.  But I don’t think we’re thinking enough about making people into innovators, yet this is where the future of countries in N.A. and EMEA lie.  I’m not against some competition, but I am against getting utterly squashed by India and China.  Let’s start teaching innovation principles within our learning programs.

Blending Food Flavors and Cross Functional Collaboration

I usually write about cycling here, but I generally make it no secret that I’m a wannabe foodie.  ((My other blog is a food blog))  Great food is sometimes about simplicity, and other times it’s about depth and flavor combinations.  I was recently at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles (( Osteria Mozza is a partnership with celebrity chef Mario Batali)) where I had a squid ink pasta with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, jalapenos, all bathed in great olive oil and sea salt.  This is not something I would have put together at home, but it was absolutely splendid.

Sometimes you get something so wholly unexpected that there is really no way it should be good, but it turns out wonderful.  At Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco, you have Sam’s Sunday, a chocolate ice cream with bergamot olive oil, maldon sea salt and whipped cream.  Not sure who thought of the idea of putting olive oil on chocolate ice cream, but it’s about the best thing I’ve had in San Francisco (the sea salt over chocolate might be obvious though).

Here’s the point.  Sometimes one dimensional, single flavor, simple items are delightful.  But sometimes you just have to put things together that nobody really wants and expects to create delightful experiences.  HR is a silo, and within HR, we have silos.  Payroll hates HR (rightfully so), the comp guys think they are so much more analytical than the rest of us (they are), the talent guys are naturally cross functional but somehow still don’t collaborate well.

At the end of the day, we don’t get good product if we don’t collaborate cross functionally.  We are no longer in a world of functional HR.  We are in a world of end user, employee and manager delivery.  They don’t see us as functional, they see us as HR.  They don’t care if we talk to each other or not, because they don’t even know we have silo’d separations.  All they care about is that things work seamlessly.  Process flows from one to the next.  Portals represent all the information they need to know.  And call centers and HR business partners are a one stop shop.

It does not matter that we have our own little internal conflicts, but that’s not usually the barrier.  The barrier is just that we’re not used to working with each other.  We don’t get in the same room often enough, and when we do it’s the directors, not the practitioners (Directors seem to feel the need to be gatekeepers – this is counter-productive).   Enough with the projects that I can’t reach broadly because of political expectations, or can’t talk to someone because they don’t like someone else.  You’re leading yourselves to failure, even as you tell me you want to be collaborative and cross functional.

(This post was written in 2009 with nobody in particular in mind.)

Leading Practices versus Best Practices

Lexy Martin tweeted a link a few months back around using the term “leading practices” and banishing the term “best practices” from our vocabularies.  I’ve been trying to use the words leading practices for about 4 years now, although I admit I comply irregularly.  I first learned it from a consulting partner whose name I no longer remember.  However, this reminder is served up in an issue of the IHRIM.Link and is currently attributed to Yvette Cameron from Saba.  ((No formal attribution and footnote as I don’t actually have the article.))

In trying to identify the fundamental differences and nuances between a best and leading practice, I decided to look up “Best Practice” on Wikipedia:

Best Practice:  A best practice is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive, or reward that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. when applied to a particular condition or circumstance. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.  ((Wikipedia on December 24, 2009))

Unfortunately, there is no entry for “Leading Practice” on Wikipedia, so I’ll have to make up my own:

Leading Practice:  a leading practice is a practice that is more efficient and effective for delivering a particular outcome, based upon the constraints of the organization it is being applied to.  Leading practices are leading only in a particular point in time, and are acknowledged to be continuously developing.  A leading practice will generally only be leading for period of time, after which other practices may become leading.

I think the core differences between leading and best practices is that there is no assumption that a leading practice is actually the best and can be applied to all organizations and situations.  There is no presumption of fit, only the presumption that a leading practice holds some advantage in a large number or even majority of possible situations.  The second major difference is that there is no assumption of permanence.  “Best” is rather eternal, where leading really insinuates constant development and change over time.

I think in general we would agree that any of today’s best practices will not be tomorrow’s best practices.  So let’s take the cue from Lexy, Yvette and many other’s and call them what they are:  leading practices.

The Shift to Engagement

I was reading a post on 2010 (originally attributed to Joyce Gioia, but without a link).  ((Quick note to my fellow bloggers, Even though I don’t always link, I do almost always footnote.  It’s a pain, but we live in an age where viral communications threaten the attribution of thought generation and innovative thinking.  People always deserve credit and appropriate attribution, and a link if possible.  Turns out I could not find this one, so I’m guessing it was in print or a newsletter somewhere.  Thanks!!))  I write this on the plane, so I can’t look it up.)  In it, there are a few 2010 predictions that keep the momentum of driving HR organizations to realize that it’s about engagement, not about retention.

6. Focus on Engagement will replace the Focus on Retention Recognizing that with engagement comes not only retention, but greater productivity and profitability, too, employers will change their focus. We will see Directors of Retention morph into Directors of Employee Engagement. The next step (coming much later than 2010) will be to recognize the importance of the total “Internal and External Customer Experience”.
10. Burned out Employees will begin Leaving Employers Over 80 percent of today’s employees feel overworked and under-appreciated. Too many organizations have survived and maintained some level of profitability by over-loading their long-term employees. Once we begin to see positive job growth in the second half of 2010, some employees will feel confident enough to leave their companies.

If I may write it mathematically (ok, I’m a geek), f(x)=(Employee Engagement)*(Compensation)*(Employer Brand)

If you want to drive employee retention, you really have to be looking at how your organization presents itself to your employees and the public market of candidates.  I have to throw compensation in there as part of the equation because even if you don’t have a philosophy of leading in the comp area, you still need to have a solid philosophy and execute it so that you have the right mix for your employees.  Lastly, employee engagement is the leading contributor to retention.  If employees are engaged to their work, managers and their environment, they will usually stay no matter what.  Leaving an employer for the sake of higher compensation is a great risk if you like your work, manager and peers.  There is probably an 80% or greater chance that you won’t love your job in your next employer if you already love your job in the current.

At the end of the day, if you can engage employees and make then love working for you, you have won the battle.  Having someone figure out how to improve retention does not address the issue because the reality is that in order to address retention, they need to address employee engagement.  All too often, people addressing retention end up having the wrong focus.  You go out with a survey and you’ll find out all the wrong things.  People want more pay, or they want to work from home, or they want more growth opportunities.  The truth of the matter is simple – they just don’t love their jobs, and when you increase their pay or whatever else, they are still going to leave anyway.

Salary and Benefits are NOT Engagement Tools

So you’re thinking about getting married.  You go out and buy a ring with a diamond in it, you figure out a romantic place to ask, and then you get down on one knee and pop the question.  Somehow, she says “yes.”  They key is that there are probably a large number of reasons she is willing to get married to you, but one of them is not the fact that you presented her with a ring.  The ring is one of those compulsory things that you just kind of have to have, but it was not the deal clincher.

Similarly, salary and benefits are not engagement tools.  The reason for this is that they are not differentiators.  Everyone offers competitive salaries, and anywhere you go, the salaries will be within 10% of each other for similar geographies, similar skills and similar work.  The same goes for benefits.  The 401(k) and the health benefits can be better or worse, but probably are not factors for employees sticking around.  Every employer is going to offer some form of benefits, and while the cost of benefits can vary greatly here, the value of these benefits is relatively lower now that most families have 2 income earners and so long as one of the partners has good benefits, the other can go wherever they want.

I write this as I read FoT’s post on the “anchors” that cause people to stay at your organization.  It focuses primarily on salary and benefits.  While I don’t argue that these are contributors, I think we have all know for years that salary and benefits are really just a commodity in the engagement equation.  So long as they are competitive with the rest of the employer market, salary and benefits don’t differentiate your organization at all.

From a talent management perspective, I now ask a similar question – “What would happen if the government eliminated the anchors that ‘most’ employees perceive as the reason they work for a firm?”

Those anchors in my mind are – health insurance, retirement, income and stability.  After those basic needs come the more esoteric, but important, elements of feeling recognized, feeling in control, feeling connected, etc.  I say importance – but the right word might be “fear” – employees do some things for survival and fear before they worry about engagement.  ((Herbert, Paul, December 22, 2009.  “Answering Why Should People Want to Work at Your Company. Anchors Aweigh!”  Retrieved from on December 24, 2009.))

Employee’s decide what company to join based on opportunity, salary, and benefits.  However, they stay for how much they love their jobs, if they are doing good work, if they like their peers, and appreciate their direct managers.  Salary and benefits has not been part of the employee engagement equation for ages.  IMHO.

Market Salary Rates

The HR Capitalist had a post the other day about pricing candidate salaries.  But as usual, I have my own opinions.

Say it with me – the market rate for any candidate is the $$ amount they will accept.  They’ve got info about what they are worth, you’ve got info about what they are worth.  When it all comes down to it, ranges give guidance, but you can’t rely on the extremes in the offer process.  You use the range to close business.  ((Dunn, Kris, December 8, 2009.  “Say It With Me: The Market Rate for any Candidate is the $$ Amount They Will Accept with Mimimal Counters…”  Retrieved from

I’m not totally sure I agree.  Chances are, the hiring organization does not really know what the prior salary of the candidate was.  We know that many candidates lie on resumes, and since their prior salary is not usually written, salaries probably also tend to get inflated.  We also have a pretty reasonable range of salaries that our compensation departments are doing.  These global surveys are pretty standardized across a number of consultancies, and are fairly predictable.  Candidates generally know the range of pricing they are looking at, as do the hiring organization.  It’s no secret what the typical ranges are for a candidate who is experienced and has been in the market.

However, rather than the market rate being how little a candidate will accept, I think that this idea is a recession strategy.  Since we have lots of people sitting on the bench right now either having been laid off or whatever, this strategy might work in the short term.  But in the long term, I’d like to think that we’re looking at recruiting and pricing more strategically.  If we are running a successful recruiting program, we are going to be recruiting people who are already employed, and perhaps are not even looking for jobs.  These are the best candidates as we all know (even if we all know it in theory but not in practice – they are the hardest candidates to get).  When we talk about positions that are highly collaborative or require a degree of innovation capacity, then the stakes go up significantly.  It’s not the lowest price a candidate will take, but based on the idea of a growth economy and the strategy of the position being filled, I believe it’s more about what the position is worth to the organization.

I’ve had it all ways, early in my career with a WAY lowball offer (which I took since I was rather inexperienced and it was still a good offer for where I was at – I later learned that all my peers were earning at least $10k more).  I’ve had the generous offer based on my skills and experience and the fact that I was not really interested in moving jobs, and I’ve had the fair offer (when I was actually on the bench myself).

At the end of the day, we need to make sure that we are hiring people in a cost effective way.  But if we decide that low salary pricing is the only way, then we deal a bad hand if we’re looking to fill strategic positions with high caliber employees.  The best people out there know they are the best and don’t take to this strategy well – they walk away instead.  Even the average people out there know where it’s at, and lowball salaries don’t make for long term engaged employees.  Decide for yourself if that $5k is worth disengagement or missing out on the best candidates.

HRO is not Dead

HRO has seemed dead for at least a couple of years now.  A couple years ago it was almost all I was writing about, and there were mega deals to be had every other month.  All consultants were talking about to their clients was deciding if they should outsource or not.  At the time, HRO was really the domain of the Fortune 100, maybe the Fortune 250, those who had the financial ability to spend that type of money on mega HRO.  Unfortunately for the HRO industry, outsourcing HR was not necessarily as easy as ITO or FAO.  The people factor sitting in the background was actually a factor that should have been sitting in the foreground, and large outsourcers who were used to technology or financial transactions were not as able to translate their business into HR.

We’ve lost track of HRO, but it’s really not that dead.  The fact is that while the mega HRO deals were going on, we figured out what works and what doesn’t.  What works are the things that always did.  Outsourcing technology, payroll and benefits.  But we’ve always outsourced that stuff.  I think the one new area that is starting to get outsourced is RPO.  We’re seeing more outsourcing in the sourcing area of recruiting.  As usual though, we’ve learned that it’s the transactional areas that are perhaps less strategic.   For payroll, wage and hour policy is still usually held internally, although the outsourcers are really the experts on compliance.  Benefits design is pretty much in-house, and the transactions are easily outsourced, and for recruiting, sourcing can be removed but the decision making is left for the hiring managers.

In the last wave of HRO, we started to see organizations start to outsource stuff like talent.  I’m not quite sure how this worked beyond technology, but apparently people were doing it.  As the economy comes back in 2010, I think I’m expecting transaction outsourcing to come back in a major way.  Organizations will be coming out of cost containment and looking to spend on implementations that allow them to capture more cost savings that they could not spend the money implementing in 2009.

For more on BPO and a couple comments reflecting my own here, see Phil Fersht’s blog here.

Keeping Managers Accountable for Turnover

— You must have a manager training program
— You must have education on employee engagement
— Metric on first year employee turnover, how much of hires were an employee brand mismatch versus manager skill?

Are your managers accountable for turnover? Do you chalk that 20% turnover to the state of your business, company or industry? Often organizations sit around and talk about their turnover rate and their efforts to increase engagement to decrease turnover. We talk about our rewards packages and wonder how competitive they are with the local market and national competitors. We talk about training and talent opportunities internal to our companies and wonder how we can use them to force employees to see the opportunities within the organization.

Ultimately however, there are a couple of things that we need to realize. Most employees that leave the organization actually leave for a single reason – their direct manager. Sure, some leave or greater opportunities for growth positions elsewhere. But we’re talking about most, as in over 50%, not some, or another large “chunk” of the turnover statistic. At some point, we realize that all the other things we focus on like rewards, development opportunities, and anything else are just not at the core of the real turnover problem. At the core is the manager and only the manager.

First of all, have you correlated employee engagement to individual manager turnover rate? Most of you will actually provide your employee engagement survey vendor with the organizational hierarchy so that they can provide cuts of engagement by business, division and even department. Most of your employee engagement surveys have questions around how much your employees like or trust their manager. Simply running a report and putting this engagement list right next to the turnover statistic organizationally would give you a quick correlation of turnover to management skill.

I once had a VP (2nd level manager for me) who consistently outperformed business results. This was of course in a bull market when everything was wonderful all around anyway, but it was widely known that this person was rather hated. He was a micro manager who also kept tabs on his people to make sure they were actually at work (for example) at 4:50pm on Friday afternoon. I’m pretty sure that almost the entire population that reported up to him turned over more than once in the 2-3 years he was in the position. It’s nice that he outperformed business results, but at what cost? The severe exit of talent (it took me longer, but I’d say that I was one of them) that this person caused, and the cost of recruiting that must have been incurred would probably have offset much of the positive business results.

That brings me to the second point. Are you even educating managers on what engagement means and how they create an atmosphere of engagement? How are managers trained? How are they measured? And can they see those measurements on their dashboard?

Top Chef on Management Styles

I’ve been watching “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo TV.  It takes some very well known chefs in the U.S. culinary scene and pits them against each other in a set of challenges.  This week’s challenge (I am writing this on August 18) takes the last 4 chefs and pairs them with 3 souse chefs each.  As I watched this show, what became evident was that this was not only about the quality of the food they would prepare, but also about their ability to manage their team of chefs.  The lineup of styles was quite clear and very entertaining:

The mentor: was really into teaching his group of chefs, but also very willing to accept collaboration and give up some responsibilities to the team.  Each of his team members saw the event as a learning experience.

The collaborator: wanted to see what each member could bring to the table.  Ultimately the dishes presented were still very much within his culinary comfort zone, but this chef managed his team making sure they all had adequate input to the menu and sought out ideas.

The micro-manager: didn’t try to get the point of view of his team.  From the start he was authoritarian and didn’t get the respect from his team members who are all respected (although more junior in the profession) chefs.  They got the job done, but did not seem to enjoy it.

The un-visionary:
was disorganized.  She didn’t seem to have her team in control, nor did she have a vision for the menu as situations changed.  The team also felt the disorganization and lack of direction.

As I watched the show, I became more interested in how the results of flavor in the dishes would come out based on the management styles of the chefs.  Indeed, the results came out as listed above, with the mentor and collaborator taking the top 2 spots.

While this is in no way scientific, it is certainly interesting that even in this small of a test, the results turn out pretty much the way we expect them to.  We live in a business world where we are surrounded by professionals.  Management who don’t have vision, or don’t allow individual contributors to shine will ultimately fail.

Engagement Overkill?

No pun intended. But I’m troubled and I don’t get it.

This morning the acting CFO over at Freddie Mac committed suicide.  He was brought in after the bailout, so theoretically he should not have a ton of direct responsibility over the causes of the current economic crisis.  People seem to be committing suicide at an alarming rate.  Just over the Golden Gate Bridge from me in Marin, a bond trader with a good life and a great family jumped from the bridge last month.  I suppose I (kinda) understand when you embezzle money, get caught, and are going to spend the rest of your life in jail.  But these are smart people with good lives facing a period of hard work.  Maybe you can’t feed yourself and your life really sucks.  But neither of these cases is true for many people bailing out on life right now.

I don’t have any false ideas that the cultur and environment at most financial institutions are deeply negative right now, and yes, I too preach that you want very highly engaged employees.  But when employees are literally killing themselves over their responisbilities at work, possibly because the work and work environment are so bad, this is quite a terrible thing.

I know, I know, people commit suicide for many reasons and being overly engaged with the workplace is probably not that high on the list, but it troubles me that people are dying because their work life sucks.  Companies go around and freeze pay hikes, do RIF’s, cut back budgets and stop impotant projects.  Employees feel undervalued, threatened, and are always on the edge.  We have become reactionary and tactical.  As soon as something bad in the economy happens, we forget about the positive strategic things we’ve been talking about for years.  We forget that productivity lies in a pool of happy, positive, encouraged and engaged employees.  Not people fearful of their jobs, and fearful that their company sucks (yeah – I’ll keep using that word).  Sure, the company has a duty to protray reality to the employees – they can deal with it.  But a company at the same time has the duty to make sure that the employees also feel some value instead of a culture of mass depression.

There has got to be something we can do about this…

Problems with Wellness?

I’ve listened to radio shows where the host clearly knows she is on the wrong side of mass opinion.  In fact, they are probably not on the wrong side of mass opinion, but instead just trying to get conversation and debate going.  Sometimes on the radio, they are actually just trying to piss off an audience.  While I can’t say for sure, I think occasionally the guy over at Punk Rock HR is doing the same thing.  In this post, she espouses why HR should not be involved in wellness programs.  While I do firmly believe in well executed wellness programs, that’s not what I’m here to argue today.

The best way to stop the financial hemorrhaging of our health care system? Invest in a nationalized approach to health care, remove the burden from employers, and make health care a human right and a personal responsibility.

I’d simply like to say that nationalized health care is not the way to stop the financial hemorrhaging of our health care system.  Instead, it’s about the population and our generally unhealthy ways.  Health of a population has less to do with who pays for it, and more about how people act.  So on that, I’ll go back on my word and talk about employer roles.

The employer is indeed the best place to have wellness programs.  Nationalized health care is simply too far removed.  The closer the contact and the more consistent and frequent it is, the greater chance that wellness will actually take hold.  I give PRHR that if we do get nationalized health care, employers will care less about employee wellness.  After all, if they don’t bear the brunt of the cost (at least if there aren’t actuarial services that calculate the cost of claims over a year) then wellness communications may decrease over time.  For now however, wellness for the time being is indeed best placed with the employer.
Successful wellness programs with a clear ROI  do not exist.

Does anything with a clear ROI exist in HR?  Perhaps in a few places, but honestly, if we needed clear RIO in HR, 90% of our function would not exist.  Is there clear ROI in talent management?  I think not.  We do what we do because we serve the employees as our customers, and somehow we tend to look out for their best interests.  In this case, we realized that their best interests also happen to be in ours if benefit costs can be decreased over time.