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.


Infographics Suck

I was riding my bike around Marin (north of San Francisco) this fall, it was a bit cloudy, grey and not as bright as usual.  Just the week before, I had purchased a new pair of lenses for my sunglasses, just for this occasion, and I was absolutely stunned at the difference it made to my ride.  I felt like I was seeing the road and the vistas for the first time.  Indeed, it was simply the first time I was seeing the views with a Yellow #20 lens.  The reality is that I’d done this exact ride dozens of times before.  I commented my amazement to my riding buddies, how different everything was, brighter, more cheerful, and happy.  But alas, it was just the Yellow #20 versus my usual middle grey.

The current world seems to be in love with the infographic.  Hell, I’m in love with the infographic.  They are pretty, colorful, easy to understand, present only the key pieces of information that you need.  In 45 seconds, every one of us can be conversant in a topic with a very defined point of view.  Well, actually, this is exactly the problem.  You see, while the infographic is a very valuable tool, we should all realize that it’s there as a precision marketing tool.  It is there just to provide a point of view, not a complete conversation.  Here are a couple of things you can do to combat “infographic conventional wisdom.”

  • Take infographics with a grain of salt – statistics are useful, but remember that there is a whole book called “how to lie with statistics.”
  • Question everything – we don’t always look at the source, nor do we ponder the alternative points of view when looking at these things.
  • Evaluate the publisher – if the infographic comes from a vendor, just remember it’s a marketing tool.
  • Rely on research – infographics will continue to be a good source for quick summaries, but research with full commentaries still outvalue the quick infographic by far.

So why am I writing this in an HR blog?  As buyers of HR technology and services, if we are not already flooded with infographics, we will be quite soon.  We love these things for good reason – they are so easy to use, and marketers know it.  Hell, I’ve been known to produce an infographic when I’m presenting a business case to a steering committee.  The problem is it’s too easy to take them without full context and conversation.  90% of the time they are a single point of view only, and an alternative vendor may have statistics proving why their own software is better in exactly the opposite direction.

This great infographic from











Dysfunctional Self Service

So I’ve been away for a year and I’ve let this website go a little bit.  (I just started back up in September) I mean, if you click on any number of links, you’ll find error pages, pages that don’t load, or just pages that don’t display correctly.  Basically, letting go for a year while and applying little to no system maintenance has killed the site.  The content mostly works, but there are actually posts that will also no longer appear due to some coding that is old and out of date.  I used to be incredibly diligent when I updated the site – there is an enormous amount of custom code in this thing just because I liked playing around.  But updating the core engine (WordPress) usually meant updating the various plugins I had and then checking a couple of areas where I had customized some code and CSS.  Now, updates are rather haphazard, and I barely do any QA when I apply updates.

Imagine if this happened in HR systems.  Indeed you all know that it does.  Pretty much every client I have ever talked to has a complete mess when it comes to HR content on their intranets.  Everything and anything goes from stale-dated content, to multiple versions, to bad links.  How many of us have changed a business process and forgotten to update the documentation for it online and remove the old documentation?

For the most part, we are all really diligent about applying upgrades and patches, but horrible when it comes to the non-technology stuff.  I’d say we’re getting more aware that our supporting content sucks, but we also are doing very little about it.  Even when we implement cool technology, that does not mitigate the fact that we still need people managing and versioning our stuff in the background.

Let’s also not forget about all of our document management systems and knowledge base applications.  Far be it for me to guess, so I won’t – way more than half of my clients have employe intranet sites that have multiple versions of the same documents out there, documents that apply to policies that no longer exist, documents from vendors that are long gone, etc.  This isn’t just a systems issue – it’s pervasive in HR anywhere a process exists.

What happens is that people end up being satisfied with the process within the technology, but very dissatisfied with the process overall.  It really does not matter how much they loved <insert vendor name here> because their overall impression was that it was frustrating.  No matter how easy the technology actually was, they end up hating <insert vendor name here> because of all the stuff we didn’t do around it.  We have to be better not only about the technology, but making sure all the wraparounds and loose ends are tied up.


Social Trust, Authority and Contributorship

There are three people who are pretty commonly in my car.  They will go unnamed.  One of them is pretty similar to me.  She always knows where she is, which way is north, and can get around pretty well.  The second has an idea, but has a tendency to say “left” when she really means “right.”  The last, has no idea where she is at any point in time, and when her opinion is offered, everyone else chuckles and goes in the exact opposite direction.  Basically, with passenger 1, you follow directions, passenger 2 you’d still be in the same state of doubt before and after the direction, and passenger 3 you know exactly where to go because that person is wrong 100% of the time.  (She really is that bad by the way.)

When we’re interacting with social enterprise tools at work, it’s quite impossible to decide who to trust.  In general, we’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of people that may be posting content to a particular group, and many of those are people we’ve never met.  There are a couple of things we have to count on.  The first is simply people we do know and have a degree of confidence in.  The second is what I’ll call “authority.”

In most social enterprise tools, we can follow, buddy or otherwise mark certain people.  The hope is that when these people interact with the social tool, we’ll automatically see the content they are creating.  However, if we counted on this alone, we’d miss an awful lot of content that might be genuinely helpful to us.  After all, if there are 300 people in a social group about Talent Management Process and you only know 25 people personally, then you’d be missing out on 90% of the content unless you go read everything daily.

So we get into authority.  Let’s say that everyone in that group of 300 people post on an equal basis (same number of posts and post frequency over time).  We’d have to have some way of measuring which contributors have the most useful things to say.  The way we measure this is by “likes” and comments back.  Basically if all 300 people each have 100 posts or comments, but only 10 people have 1000 “likes” or more, those 10 people should have a higher authority than the other 990.  Let’s also say that a different 10 people had over 1000 comments on their content.  Those 10 authors should also have more authority than the others.

If people’s content is “liked” then we assume some amount of value to that post.  Similarly, if someone’s content is highly commented, then we assume there was a value to the discussion it generated.  While the following rule is always true, we could think that likes infer that the person creates insight while comments infer a person who might be a data hub (or other similar hypothesis).  Either way, the combination of these and other factors gives us an overall authority rating.

At the end of the day, trust, authority and who is contributing to the knowledge of the business is all about employee talent management.  What we are actually identifying is who are the network hubs that allow people to find other people with information, and evaluating the information that is provided.  What we are also doing is incentivising the sharing of information so that nobody is a knowledge “hoarder.”  The reason social intelligence is so important to HR is it is one of the best ways of identifying the actual amounts of knowledge each person has.  Thus, the equation adds a quantification of knowledge to their skills capabilities.

Unlike in my car where I know everyone, this gives me an idea in social tools who I should trust and who not to.  At the end of the day, what it means is that the pure volume of content generated is not enough.  You really have to prove the value of your content through the interaction with your peers in the community.  Hopefully you don’t have people who chuckle at you and do the opposite.

Please Don’t Do It

I have to admit that I spend more time in airports than I would like to admit.  This means that I spend some time in airport bathrooms where a very disturbing event happens with unbelievable frequency.  I’d say that about every other trip to the bathroom, someone is in there talking on the phone.  I don’t mean listening to a conference call while on mute.  I mean ON THE PHONE TALKING!  I’ve heard people talking on the phone while in a stall!  (seriously guys, GROSS!!)  Perhaps it’s rather mean of me, but whenever I see this, my immediate reaction is to flush the closest toilet three times in immediate succession.  ((I’m also the guy who walks down the aisle on the plane and feels perfectly comfortable exclaiming, “whoever that is, you gotta stop farting!”))

Here’s my “please don’t” list based on preventable stuff I’ve seen in the past year:

  • Don’t outsource and think that everything will be handled.  Retain some key people.  You outsourced transactions, not strategy, so keep a retained strategic organization at the very least.
  • Don’t implement without doing some high level process design first.  If you feel like being a taker of any and all process flows your vendor is going to give you, then so be it.  But chances are you do have a legitimate business requirement that will drive better adoption if you implement it, and chances are also that your vendor can handle it.  If you wait to look at processes until implementation, it’s probably too late.
  • Don’t think that automation and self service is the same as usability.  They are not.  We are often so pleased with ourselves that we moved another transaction to the web that we have completely forgotten that the overall organizational impact is negative.  If we didn’t craft the transaction the right way, we may have decreased data quality, and we probably increased the overall organizational burden to complete the transaction.
  • Don’t think you’re special.  Every organization thinks they are unique.  Let me tell you, you really are not.  If all of you were unique, Software as a Service would not exist.  ERP would be king and every organization in the world would be driving major customization to make things work.
  • Don’t give up on the culture.  I remember an agricultural company that employed migrant farmworkers and needed to automate benefits enrollments to the web (about 8 years ago).  HR was determined that these workers could not possibly have computers let alone internet connections.  In the end, they got a 60% on-line enrollment rate, seriously modifying their expectations.  Remember, these are migrant farm workers.  When we think culture or politics is too much of an obstacle, realize that it is not.
  • Don’t forget that the technology is the smallest part of the implementation.  It takes all our time and costs a whole lot of money, but the end of the story is not about the technology, but the processes you built around it and how you deployed it.  The technology does not solve anything – it allows HR to solve whatever issues are out there with new tools.

I could probably go on and on, but this plane is about to land.  If I’m ever on the phone with you and I hear 3 flushes in quick succession, I’m hanging up on you.

Behavioral Non-Interviews

Remembering back to college admissions days (which many of you might have kids going through that right now), one of the best parts of the whole process is doing the college tour thing and doing interviews at the various prospective schools. For 4 year degrees, the risk of not performing well on the interview is probably minimal, but it’s a stressful time anyway. There’s a very well known medical school in the U.S. that requires an interview for all of its candidates, and the interviews routinely take about 10 to 15 minutes to conduct. Never has an interview been known to take more than 30 minutes, God forbid we actually find out that much about our candidates. In truth, you get the tour of the campus, then you are seated with a number of other prospective students while you wait your turn to be called in for the interview. You could be sitting in there for minutes, or hours waiting, after which you go in for your freakishly fast 10 minutes where you cover topics as mundane as, “How was your summer?” and “What kind of food do you like?”

These are obviously quite difficult screening questions, akin to the tense corporate lunch interview when you are forced to pick between coffee and tea after the meal. After the short 10 minutes, you are thanked and ushered out on your way with, “You’re all done for the day.” Most of us would be crushed. We would walk out, find a little hole to crawl into, and weep. After all, our hopes and dreams of attending one of the top medical schools in the world has just been dashed. What we didn’t know, was that was not the interview. Indeed, behind a glass window (think police headquarters) is the entire admissions committee watching if/how you interact with your fellow candidates. What type of a person are you? What do you talk about? Who do you talk to? After, “You’re all done for the day” there is a choice to be made. Are you the type who picks up and leaves? Do you sit around on your iPhone waiting for your ride to come pick you up? Do you start conversations with some of the other prospective students? In this case, the reality is to be literal – you are not supposed to stand apart and set yourself as better than the rest. Most organizations like to consider themselves “collegial” and excellent places to work where people trade information freely and willingly.

Unfortunately, since we don’t usually do panel interviews where we have multiple candidates being pitted against each other at the same time, it’s tough to observe whether or not a person is really  going to be collaborative once we hire them. And I don’t really feel like submitting my Director-level candidates to a 2 hour personality assessment test. Our only real feedback at current is the candidate’s interaction with the receptionist and other people who might be sitting in the lobby while they wait. However, we almost never ask the receptionist what they think, and they aren’t really trained to give an expert opinion anyway. What is important to us when we recruit is a combination of what a person knows, and who a person is. We are quite adept at figuring out what a person knows, but less skilled at knowing who a person is over the course of four 1-hour interviews.

Managers and recruiters alike are supposed to be semi-skilled at reading candidates, but unless we have a full-on behavioral psychologist interviewing, I’m not sure our read of candidates is anywhere near perfect. We all know that when we are in front of a hiring manager or presenting to a client or whatever, that we are on stage. Reading the candidate when they are “on stage” is not meaningful. It’s about how they act when they are not acting.

Enterprise Web 2.0 and Personal Brands

I started systematicHR something like 5 years ago as a true weblog – a place where I could record my thoughts as I went through my daily reading and research.  More than 5 years after my first blog post that I never thought anyone would read but myself, systematicHR has really become my own personal brand.  It reflects a lot of who I am, what I’m interested in, but more importantly, it reflects what is in my head and how I think.  I have continued to contribute to the HR blogosphere since I think I have a unique point of view that is not widely represented in a space filled with analysts, vendors, recruiters, but not too many strategists connecting dots between all of that thinking.  Hopefully, you all have not decided that I’m delusional.

The thing about Web 2.0 and what I’ve decided to call Enterprise Digital Interactions (rather than “enterprise social media”) is that we’re assuming our employee populations are willingly going to participate and lend time to contributing content.  Certainly, we’ll have a hard enough time getting a large and diverse cross section of our workforce just to subscribe the the appropriate blogs let alone writing them.  Employees are used to the networks and connecting with other people by now, and some people are getting used to pulling data from the web and consuming what they want rather than what they are given.

The key to all of this is the personal brand.  Just like for myself, some (or hopefully many) people will take some pride at being able to share knowledge.  People like the fact that they came up with an original thought or a best organizational practice.  They like the community recognition that they are in some way, a leader.  And it just so turns out that people who contribute also tend to subscribe to more in the environment as well.  All of that leads to more comments, conversations and more interactions.

I know there are at least dozens of ways to help spur participation in the corporate communities, but personal brands seems to be a good, long term way to view employee motivation.  You can always get people to post a blog because it was on their list of goals, but you won’t get them to continue to do so unless they see the personal value to it.

Screen Flicker and End User Annoyances

There has been so much publicity around e-readers and the Apple iPad lately. In truth, I’m totally captivated by both of these technologies, but have not jumped in the market yet. The iPad seems wonderful since it is basically the next evolution of the net book, or mini-laptop. It has a great user interface, is generally lighter than a net book, but combines some of the functions from the iPhone device, letting you take emails, calendaring, video, applications, and yes – an e-reader with you. The problem with the Apple device is that the e-reader is in full color, not in what is called “e-ink.” E-ink is attractive because it allows you to read a page virtually anywhere. It’s visible in full sunlight. Unfortunately with the e-readers that use e-ink, the technology seems to “flicker” every time you turn a page. I’m not sure what the nuance is behind the technology, but a 1 second screen flicker on page turns is rather annoying. Considering that you would turn a page an average of 400 times a book, and every 30 seconds, this can be quite upsetting.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that bother us, because while they are little things, if they happen all the time, the accumulated disturbance is rather large in scale. As we go to SaaS software environments, but even in our legacy on-premise systems, almost all end users have become accustomed to waiting for screen refreshes. I actually remember back to the late 1990’s when one application hosting provider actually issued a SLA that the screen refresh would be no more than 3 seconds. Imagine the downtime accrued over the course of a year if a hands-on application user lost 3 seconds every time she changed a screen!

Even in today’s speedy technology environments, we are often subjected to screen refreshes that take a few seconds. Sometimes it’s our own internal corporate networks, sometimes it’s the internet, but sometimes it’s the servers as wel. In HR, we tend to pull large amounts of data – employees have multiple roes of data on multiple data elements. There’s a lot of data chugging gowing on in that back end.

Imagine if or Google acted the same way. We would probably never use those systems, and they would have died a fast death in their infancy rather than becoming the behemoths they are now. Amazon literally pulls together a page on the spot – that page does not exist before you request it, rather it’s just a set of disparate components that come together at the point of the user request. Same thing goes for google, it takes your search request and pushes it through an algorythm, then searches the entire internet to return results. On systematicHR (admittedly a slow running site, I don’t pay for a fast host), when you request a page the server responds to 88 queries and returns results in 0.57 seconds on average. And that’s slow in internet speed.

Since converting most or all of our HR applications to we based apps or services, why is it that we still accept much of our technology running on legacy speed instead of internet speed? If we were end users with a choice, we would have made other choices and abandoned anything that delayed us from doing our work. Most of us hate waiting, and certainly the best performers hate it. When it comes to employee and manager self service, employees might be more willing to wait, but they are probably also waiting for dinner to finish baking in the oven while they wait for the screen to confirm their phone number change. As an employee though, I myself have been known to abandon at the first 404 error screen. Managers on the other hand, certainly have better things to be doing than waiting for slow screens, and the accumulation of individually insignificant annoyances leads to large amounts of displeasure with HR.

Similar to the iPad or e-readers that provide great functionality and targetted types of usability, little things that go wrong (not being able to read the iPad in sunlight, or having e-ing screen flicker) can be pretty annoying. As users, we can usually manage small annoyances, but we’re not good with problems that happen all the time and don’t get fixed. Our image of HR is often through the user experience of our applications that we roll out. As we increase our footprint of HR technologies in SaaS, speeds should gradually increase, and we should also be looking at SLA’s to ensure that our end users are getting optimal experiences.

Employee Blogging for Recruiting

I’m not sure how many of you noticed the NYT article a few months ago on MIT student bloggers.

M.I.T.’s bloggers, who are paid $10 an hour for up to four hours a week, offer thoughts on anything that might interest a prospective student. Some offer advice on the application process and the institute’s intense workload; others write about quirkier topics, like warm apple pie topped with bacon and hot caramel sauce, falling down the stairs or trying to set a world record in the game of Mattress Dominos.

Posting untouched student writing — and comments reacting to that writing — does carry some risks. Boring, sloppily written posts do nothing to burnish an institutional image, college admissions officials say, and there is always the possibility of an inflammatory or wildly negative posting.  ((Lewin, Tamar, October 1, 2009.  “M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree.”  Retrived from

Certainly we have our recruiters on the blogs (look how many recruiting and HR blogs there are nowdays).  And we’re all over linked in and facebook, especially facebook where we can characterize ourselves and our organization with some personality.  But I’m not really sure how many of us have looked into employee blogging.  Employee blogging are not those snippets of quotes that you see on recruiting pages.  They are not the rehearsed lines of “I love my company so much” branding with precision.  Instead, they are the raw, uncensored words of employees and their lives at your organization.

I think that employee blogging holds less risk than student blogging.  Students are expected to say whatever they want, but employees are still bound by the employment contract, and while we may tell people to write whatever they want, at the end of the day, employees still want to keep their jobs.  If you use employee blogs, you’re probably also selecting some of your smartest, most productive performers (and hopefully well compensated engaged employees too).  If this is the case, you have little to worry about.  What you will have is a blogging forum that tells potential employees what a day in the life at your organization really might be like.  Candidates get to hear from the mouths of real practitioners what to expect and what the culture holds, and even what some of the pitfalls are.  If you’re lucky, you not only attract the right people, but you might even weed out those who are not a good fit for the organizational culture.

In a few months, I’ll be hitting year number 5 of blogging at systematicHR.  Come on everyone, it’s time to get in the blogging game already.  🙂

Users First, Company Second

I feel like I always talk about change management and adoption.  When implementing a new system, I can definitely say that over the last few years I’ve seen a marked improvement in the diligence of internal implementation project managers in stressing the importance of behavioral change and end user adoption.  It is honestly so easy once you get into implementations to forget about the strategic components of the implementation and simply sit around doing functional requirements and config.  Unfortunately this is the tactical behind the project, and often minimizes the strategic.  I was pleased to see the 2.0 Adoption Community and Jacob Morgan stress this as well.

To really see successful adoption companies need to focus on the benefits of the user first and the benefits of the company second.  You can’t approach a user and ask them to change behaviors because it benefits the company.  Companies need to approach the user and tell them how it will benefit them.  This is a bit of psychological approach but it’s important.  Employees put their needs first and company needs second so if you show them how Enterprise 2.0 can help them make their job easier then they are much more likely to listen.

You also need to focus on use cases  before deploying a platform and strategy.  So for example how is someone in the marketing department going to benefit  from Enterprise 2.0 vs someone from the product development team.  You need to develop use cases for the various departments and understand what the risks, challenges, and opportunities are for each department.  Finally, you need to understand how each department is going to measure success/failure.  I’ll go into this a bit more in a future post but the point here is that everyone is going to have different needs and you must understand what those needs are.  ((Morgan, Jacob, December 21, 2009.  “Strategic Principles for Enterprise 2.0 Implementation.”))

I like the simply phrased “user first and company second.”  While I understand that the user never gets the opportunity to change behaviors if the product does not get configured, that does not change that the primary stress is to ensure end user adoption and behavioral change.  In terms of behavioral change, Jacob Morgan is absolutely correct.  You’ve heard me talk about behavioral change and the “personal win” before.  Employee’s don’t really care about the benefit to the company.  Sometimes they don’t even care about the efficiency gains they get from a process and work perspective.  It’s about some intangible personal win that they derive – sometimes it’s the participation in the implementation that they gain advantage from, or the experience in the software that is much sought after.  Either way, you have to determine what will make an employee excited and figure out how to message so that you are deploying the right messages to the right audiences.

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.

David Zinger 3 Words Follow-up

3 Words Follow-up to yesterday’s post written by David Zinger.

I am so pleased you took so much away from 3 little words. It makes me feel stronger than the 3 little pigs and I know some wolf can blow my 3 word structure down.

The words are all important to me and my work. I thought about the words quite a bit and waited until I found 3 that “fit.” When I looked at those three, they expressed me.

Authentic: I can only be who I am. I am getting to be more of who I am. I work at ensuring that I voice my authentic perspective as opposed to what I think someone might want to hear to what I “should” say. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t become Tom Peter and sound like I am shouting at you but I will be my caring, gentle, self. Of course, this is fused with gentle tenacity and I don’t confront, I “carefront.” I also never knew my voice in 2009 would start to express workplace poetry but I write a poem every week on Wednesday’s to express my view of work.

Connections: I believe engagement is connections not only to people but results, strategies, etc. This played a big role in developing the Zinger Model of Engagement that looks at the 14 elements that are all connected. I have also reached out around the globe to connect to people on engagement. We now have over 1800 members at the Employee Engagement Network. I have personally connected to everyone of them with a personalized welcome.

Engage. To me, it is all about engaging. My youngest son plays rugby and he is in the scrum and I love hearing “crouch, touch, pause, engage.” I especially like the engage part. I am 55 now and I think a lot of my life to date has been more about crouching, touching, and pausing. I am ready, willing, and able to engage. I think employee engagement is not an extra in working but the way we will work and lead and manage in this new decade. I often finish my writing with the line, “engage along with me, the best is yet to be.”

Just looked at the three words again and they spell ACE. I like that.

You got the 3 words in my mind for 2010.
They will be:

  1. Engage
  2. Mobilize
  3. Produce

I want to foster and enhance my engagement and the engagement of others. This will be focus #1. Mobilize is my focus to start to transform the network into a community and into a movement. I have so many wonderful connections (theme last year) I want to help mobilize these connections. Produce is to engage and mobilize myself and others to produce richer and more helpful resources. We have done e-books and I would like to add print books, webinars, and a conference. I am indebted to you for bringing the 3 words into focus for 2010. Thanks.


Branding and the 3-word Theme

I was checking out David Zinger’s twitter page and noticed his 2009 3-word theme.  They are “Authentic, Connections, Engage.”  A part of me wants a 5 page manifesto on his choice of these words and why they are important to him this year.  (he probably wrote a blog post on this, but I missed it).

I got to thinking about the very topic that he is an expert on, employee engagement and all its relationships with deploying brand to the employee audience.  I’ve done many branding exercises but perhaps this is the right way to address it.  Certainly when trying to brand and engage, we think about our mission, values, elevator pitches, etc… but when it can be boiled down to just 3 words, how much more powerful is that?  With Zinger’s 3 words, I was actually intrigued enough that I have sat around thinking about what those words mean to him, and to me, perhaps engaging the creative and curious part of my own brain even more towards his message than a 5 page manifesto would have.

I don’t know that this is a tool for all, and in reality it might just be a personal tool to help Keep Zinger sharp and focused.  For the masses, the impact is a broad range from brilliant to confusing depending on where you lie in the spectrum of already knowing David and what he does.  I’m sure this is not the only thing he deployed to reflect his 2009 goals, but at the heart of it, I think it’s quite well executed.  I don’t think this was the starting point, I think this was boiled down from an analysis of his key goals for 2009, in what was probably an excruciatingly time intensive process.  Once you understand your core values, then you can go ahead with the details of the media plan and how you’re going to execute.

If I remember, I’ll ask him to post a reply to today and get some of his thinking.

Thanks David!!

HR Metrics: Offer Accept Rate

Last time I looked for a job, I had three offers.  Each of these offers were with very similar organizations, with very similar offer packages, and with exactly the same type of work.  What actually made the difference?  It was all about the value proposition.  In retrospect, whether I made the right decision will never be known.  However, my acceptance was based on the idea that the average quality of each associate was higher in the firm that I ultimately chose.  Whatever determined that choice, it all boils down to two things:  your employer value proposition, and your ability to convey that EVP.

Offer accept rate does boil down to your EVP.  Somehow, if your EVP is not as strong as your competitors, your offer accept rate will suffer.  Your EVP does not have to be about a more competitive compensation package, but is usually about the work you do and how that work gets one.  Often, your EVP is based on your talent programs – what caliber employee do you have, and how do you advance them.


Up through the Beijing Olympics, I’d been reading stories almost on a daily basis about how China was trying to present a public image of itself that was not necessarily the truth.

  • ­Limited access for journalists (to protect the athletes?):  Really there was concern that the political environment that surrounds the country would be exposed.
  • ­Shutting down the factories (to limit pollution output):  In the weeks leading up to the games, surveys showed that air quality was as bad as ever.
  • ­Making workers drive only every other day (to limit pollution output):  Wonderful effect on the economy I’m sure when half of the population on any given day can’t get to work
  • ­Building brick walls around slums (god forbid people see poor people):  Literally, instead of helping the poor, or giving them money to make their places look better, the government decided to build brick walls around homes, force people to put tarps over their homes, and otherwise hide the poor

Every city tries to put themselves in the best light when the Olympics come to town.  They highlight the best about their city, and pour money into refurbishments for areas that might need a bit of touch-up.  China’s model seemed to be a cover-up, not a highlight of what was good about the city.  I look at what was done there and I can’t help but to think that what ultimately got focused on was the negative which was destined to come out anyway.

(Yes, there is a tie-in).  Unfortunately for HR, our own value propositions are often not close to the truth of what employees really experience.  The disconnect between employee reality and the portrayed EVP is a gap between what the organization thinks they want to be.  However, there is always a positive spin to the real employee culture, and always some reality to some of the negatives as well.  The trick is to figure out what the cultural positives are, and also then to figure out what you want to augment that culture with.  It is at that point that HR must begin their strategic campaign to shape the culture in the direction that it needs to go, rather than simply putting on duct tape and pretending the vision is reality.

The point is that if your EVP to applicants does not reflect reality, the truth will come out.  Employees will see the lie, and applicants will certainly know what the actual culture is.  No matter what you, recruiters and interviewers say, everyone will know.  Truth simply can’t be hidden… for long.  Ultimately HR needs to acknowledge truth, or transform it.

The CEO and Company Culture

The other systematic asks:

In a recent interview with one of our analysts, a Fortune 500 company’s HR director said (not verbatim) “It’s not HR’s job to define our culture. It’s the CEO’s job. It’s our job to communicate that culture.”

While I understand the position I have to say it doesn’t sit fully well with me. What do you say?  Should HR have more of a voice in defining a company’s culture?

I’m going to say that while both HR and the CEO (or shall we just say the executive leadership) have a role to play in defining company culture, the lead responsibility really goes to the executive leadership.  This is really based on a couple assumptions though – we first need to define “define.”

It’s really up to the executive leadership to set the strategy of an organization (obviously).  Company culture is strictly and often directly tied to the organizational strategy.  If it’s a sales driven organization, high touch customer service, or if innovation is the key that will drive short and long term profits, then there are certain cultural traits that will maximize those strategy drivers.  So for example, if you’re an innovative organization, I’d guess that you’re looking for a team oriented culture that is non-competitive and highly collaborative.  You want people who are not afraid to ask questions, offer up what could be really dumb (on ingenious) ideas.  By setting the organizational strategy, the executive leadership by default sets the company culture.

While I don’t particularly agree that HR’s only responsibility is to communicate that culture, there is certainly some truth to the idea that HR’s role is downstream to the executive leadership.  I’ll say however that it is much more important and much broader than simple communications.  Instead, understanding what the corporate strategy is from the leadership team is, it’s the HR teams role to further define and detail what those specific characteristics of company culture are – the executive leadership team will never get enough into details that HR would have a coherent direction to go in.  What does that culture mean? How is it implemented?  How does HR shape it so that the long term actually results in a workforce with the appropriate values?  All of these are questions that need to be defined with greater detail.

I hate “middle ground” answers, but I’ll have to go with one here.  The CEO absolutely defines culture whether they intend to or not.  HR then further defines what that strategy will look like.

“Talent” as Marketing?

Seth Godin’s recent post on Talent and marketing HR hit home on may fronts. 

What if you started acting like the VP of Talent? Understanding that talent is hard to find and not obvious to manage. The VP of Talent would have to reorganize the department and do things differently all day long (small example: talent shouldn’t have to fill out reams of forms and argue with the insurance company… talent is too busy for that… talent has people to help with that.)

Seth’s point that perhaps we should just rename and market ourselves from HR to Talent seems to be a decent idea.  As he points out, simply renaming is not an option.  We have to throw ourselves into the endeavor with additional focus and understanding.

I however, don’t believe we should rename ourselves to talent.  Talent to me is simply the latest way that HR has derived to provide ourselves with direction.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we are focused on talent, I personally love it and think it’s great.  However, in 5 or 10 years, there will probably be a new way to reinvent ourselves that may be more relevant for the next decade.  “Talent” will be relevant for a very long time, but it may not be what is leading in the minds of business executives.  I think the brand “Human Resources” is as generic as anything else and while it may not be the perfect brand, it may be more timeless.

Rejected Applicants and External Brand

Say you are Google.  You have a few hundred thousand people sending you applications and resumes on a weekly basis.  Therefore, you have to reject a few hundred thousand people on a weekly basis.  Even is this is the nice postcard that says “thanks, we’ll keep you on file for 6 months” everyone realizes this is as good as “no.”  Here’s the problem.  You have a hundred thousand people a week that are probably customers (convert this to 5 million people a year – but my numbers are made up), and you’d like them to continue to be happy customers.  How do you keep them happy customers when you’ve told them they are not good enough to work for you?

Perhaps the only thing is to reject kindly.”  Bringing back the Google example, there has been more than one applicant who came away from interviews at Google with the distinct impression that Google thought they were simply not “smart” enough.  Indeed, people who have accepted positions there have verified that “smart” is a very important and leading quality for any candidate.  This sense from rejected applicants that they don’t make the cut could really harm Google in the long run.  At some point, they won’t be the trendy company to work for (think Microsoft), and public opinion and how they have treated large masses of people will matter.

For once, I don’t have an opinion on the answer – so I’m asking the readership.  Is anyone out there thinking about this problem?  What are some of the tactics people have tried?

The Top Role of Brand in Recruitment

A recent Tom Peters entry criticizes the characterization of the “war for talent” as a competitive endeavor as opposed to an internal problem.  He’s right, but this is nothing new.  The HR world including systematicHR has long been talking about the importance of the EVP or employer brand in attracting and retaining employees.  It’s true that for top experienced talent the environment probably matters more than compensation and that people will give up cash for what they consider to be good working conditions, cool work, and collaborative associates.  This also means that when seeking to recruit top talent, you must be able to put on display these very features of your organization.  Your organization is no longer just a job, but a place where top talent will execute their own form of artistry.

I contend that the bedrock of finding and keeping and co-creating with great folks is not about clever tools to induce prospective “thems” to “shop [live] with us,” but a 99% internal effort to create such an exciting, spirited, entrepreneurial, diverse, humane “professional home” that people will be lining up by the gazillions (physically or electronically) to try and get a chance to come and live in our house and become what they’d never imagined they could become!

I.e., it’s not an externally directed “war to snatch talent from the other guy” by “being more aggressive than the competition”—but an internally directed competition against ourselves (and our outrageously strong beliefs about people) in which we aim to create an unimaginably attractive workplace.   ((Peters, Tom, September 16, 2007.  “Competing To Achieve Excellence: You Are Your Only Competitor!”  Retrieved from on October 13, 2007.))

It’s probably a bit far reaching to say that a good brand will play that large a role in recruitment and have candidates lining up at your door.  Certainly if you are Google in the last couple of years or Microsoft in the past, this may have been possible.  However for the large majority of us, this is an unattainable dream.  The great brand probably can never replace a great sourcing effort, but the sourcing effort can be completely dismantled by the lack of a brand or by a negative one.

Tom’s argument however is a sound one.  When recruiting, you’re not competing against other organizations.  Instead, you have every tool you need to hire top talent if you focus on the brand.  Trying to compete only forces you to focus on the wrong things instead of presenting the best about yourself.

Building the Employer Brand

When we think about the employer brand, we often think about it from the recruiting perspective. A healthy employer brand does indeed make it much easier to attract potential employees, and it saves a business significant dollars in other ways as well. Great brands allow you to hire employees at a lower cost premium than poorer brands because there is a value that is placed with working for a great company versus a not so great one.

However, building a brand means that it must be first generated from the inside, rather than simply being propaganda that is issued to the general public. At the same time, the brand, once built, must be maintained or the organization risks losing the brand image it worked hard to create.

ISR’s research and experience reveal that brand building is as much about external image as it is about its internal cultural elements. Companies that do well financially are able to align their external image with internal cultural elements that this company needs to address in order to better support, through its culture, its brand strategy. ((ISR, 2005. “Inside-Out Approach to Brand Building.” Retrieved from

“Values and Pride” and “Belief in Product” reflected employees’ sense of attachment to the company’s public face. Critical to a strong image, employees must feel proud to work for the company and believe in the product produced. Feeling they could better serve the customer would also be a great motivator for employees. Failure to serve customers would have the opposite effect. Not surprising then, “belief in product” had a polarizing influence, acting to inspire the strongest regard for company image, as well as the highest disregard.

The other key drivers, “Integrity” and “Leadership” reflect views of internal processes – integrity in dealing with employees and the need for effective and competent leadership at all levels in the company. ((Ibid))

Most of us realize what a great employer brand does for us. The brand delivers an employee base more easily than otherwise. However, delivering on the brand is what gets us to achieve more through productivity, quality, and innovation. The brand is a great tool not to be forgotten.