The Endless Immensity of the Sea

“If you want to build a ship, don’t gather people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Saint-Exupery

Ok – so I don’t get out on the water that often, and I’m a cyclist so I tend to write about that.  As a cyclist, there are a variety of things I’m always thinking about.  I’m thinking about my weight a bit too often, I think about how my bike is working, I think about my form on the bike, and of course, how fit I am.  These are all things that I work on constantly.  Each component makes me a better rider if I can have small improvements in any area.  There is a joy to riding well, but that’s not really why I ride.  Climbing up Mt Tam in the bay area north of San Francisco, there is a descent off the back side that goes towards Stinson beach (Panoramic if any of you are in the Bay Area).  You start the descent in the trees, and it’s one of those nice, curvy, fast descents.  There is a point however that only lasts for 2 seconds when you break through the trees, and a scene of 180 degree views of Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you.  You have Stinson Beach below, blue sky above, and one of the most breathtaking views in the world.  Without all the little components of fitness, great bikes, etc, you can’t really do this ride.  But the ride is not about the component parts – it’s about that 2 seconds of pure joy.  We build things in order to increase our achievement and experience.  If all I did was work on my bike to get fit, I’d have been out of cycling years ago.  I spend hundreds of hours on the bike just for those 2 seconds.

When we deploy anything in HR (or really anywhere in our businesses), we do a fantastic job of crafting communications and training programs.  We are amazing at making sure people know what is going on and what to do.  We last think we are great about behavioral change – getting people to not only know what is going on and what to do, but actually wanting do it repetitively over time.  This is where we are wrong.  I’m not sure we are at all any good at behavioral change.  Changing behaviors has nothing to do with pounding people over the head with information, and forcing them to do new activities because the old way of doing things has been completely removed.  Yeah, we can get people to do a task or process by edict, but 100% compliance to the change does not actually mean you had 100% adoption or engagement.

What we often forget is the importance of audience analysis.  “What’s in it for me” changes not only with every population type, but with every person.  I’m not advocating that you go through and figure out what every manager in your organization wants when you deploy a new manager self service application, but it’s probably worth the time to spend extra time here segmenting the population to gain greater understanding.  Let’s face it, we are always rolling out processes and technologies saying that there will be a dramatic improvement of efficiency or effectiveness for our business.  We know intuitively that these outcomes only happen if our audience adopts and engages.

4 things you can do differently to improve your audience analysis:

  • Don’t wait until you have a major process or technology implementation to figure out your people: Chances are that you will roll out processes and technologies to your populations repetitively over the year(s).  What drives a population really is not going to change that much over the short and mid term.  Why not do the work up front and use the basic drivers every project?  Then all you have to do is connect those drivers to the specific project you’re deploying.  The first part of budget to get cut is the strategic change management stuff, so why not do that up front so it’s not part of any specific project’s budget?
  • Increase the segmentation of your populations: I hope you don’t think that managers are managers the world over.  There may be significant differences in wants and needs based on countries, business units, age, and any other number of dimensions.  Figure out dimensions drive difference in your organization and focus on those areas for each population.
  • Don’t forget to tie into the business strategy: How often do we connect the projects to the benefits, but we then forget to connect those benefits to the department, unit or business strategy?  Assuming that your employees are engaged to the business goal, this is easy low hanging fruit to exploit.  “It will make the transaction faster for you to process” is all good, but if you don’t point out how/why the manager is driving business outcomes, you’ve failed to maximize the change impact.
  • Figure out who your evangelists are: We’re pretty good at putting together focus groups of managers who can help us spread the word.  We use these people as advisors and they help us test.  But we don’t really have that much success with having them evangelize for us.  We’re afraid they won’t have time to get on a training webinar to talk about their experience (they can record a video and only do it once, you know) or we simply don’t plan far enough in advance to lever them during the deployment.  The truth is, employees and managers don’t really care what we in HR have to say – the 5 minutes one of their peers takes to talk to them is 100 times more valuable.
  • Nope – I really don’t expect that any of our change management activities will convert any business process into 2 seconds of joy, but we’re not even close to that.  For many of us, our change management activities are the pre-ride check of putting air in the tires and making sure the gear shifters work.  We’re not actually even riding the bike yet.  There’s a lot of improvement to be made.

 

Thinking Like A Leader

On my recent Taiwan trip with my family, one of my uncles tagged along for much of the tour.  I really like this uncle as he is often quite interesting to talk to, and is an extremely smart guy.  He’s been retired for a while from his last job as the COE of a major electronics manufacturer, and now sits on the boards of several companies.  To say he’s smart is a but lame actually.  Chances are that the touchscreen you use on your phone or tablet were created by him – literally he is the patent holder.  So as usual when I see him, I’d try to engage him in any number of conversations from Taiwanese politics, the economy, history, the future of personal devices, etc.  Ultimately it occurred to me that these conversations seemed to be extremely short lived.  The extension of the conversations were quite long however, but always seemed to end up being about LCD touch panel displays.  At some point, I finally realized that it was all he either wanted to talk about, or could talk about.

Imagine this: you ask me a question about benefit plan strategy, and all I can talk about is benefit enrollment technology. (I do have my CEBS by the way, even though I never talk benefits).  Or if what you really want to know is best practices around transforming HR business partners into internal management consultants and I give you the pitch about how manager self service will free up time for you to work on that project.  It’s all good and sort of related, but really it’s not.  The problem is larger than random bloggers who have a one track mind though.  It’s not even a problem with HR technologists who do tend to be a bit “focused.”

I’ve spent years doing strategy projects from comp, HRIT, and service delivery organizations and they pretty much all have one guiding principle in common: the need to bring better value to the business.  We’re excellent at thinking about it, but we’re not so good at implementing it.  When we go to the business leaders we’ve promised ourselves to serve and communicate with better, inevitably, we fall back to the same conversations, “Here’s how we are restructuring HR to provide better service to you, our customer.”  It’s as if we think they care about our Talent Management project, or that we will be implementing new job codes.  These are just headache projects to them that mean more work they will need to bear in the short term.  At the end of the day, we’re trying to have the right conversations, but we’re are approaching them in the wrong way.  The end result is we just talk about the stuff we know, instead of the stuff they care about.

Here are some tips:

  • Approach every leader conversation not as an update, but as a change management conversation.  If you do this, you are less likely to talk about the details and dynamics of the project, and much more likely to talk about why the project is important for the business and how the decisions you will be making right now will positively impact the leader.  You’ll also be better positioned to ask the leader to make decisions if they understand the context of how it fits into her business.
  • Bring your guiding principles and strategy documents to every meeting.  Unless you meet with the leader every week, it won’t get redundant to spend 3 minutes at the start of each meeting revalidating the strategy and guiding principles.  It might be the best time you spend, drilling your leader with your core outcomes.  Without it, you risk a disconnect at the end of the project.  With it, you have a leader who will actively sponsor you if she continues to stay on board, and you’ll know this if you stay in front of it.
  • End every meeting by making your leader agree that they get it and you are on track.  If they don’t get it or think you are off track, make them verbalize this and why they think so.  Most leaders who verbally tell you good news consistently and repeatedly either believe it to be true, or will convince themselves out of sheer repetition over time. (that’s not cynical, it’s psychology)
  • Leave the project plan in at your desk.  Leaders only care about budget and timeframes if you’re totally off track and there is business impact.  Otherwise, just bring up the decisions that will be made in the context of pros and cons.

It’s totally human nature to talk about what we know best, and that is what we do every day.  But we risk sounding like a broken record that nobody was interested in in the first place.  What business leaders want to hear about is not our stuff in HR, it’s their stuff.  So long as we can figure out how to talk about their stuff, we’ll be in good shape.  I’m not so sure most of us are in good shape right now.

HR Technology Conference Reactions: Social Media Panel

I’ll admit.  I’m devastated.  Lexy Martin and Thomas Otter were both presenting at the same time as this session.  Had I the option, I would have pulled a Hermione Granger Time Turner thing.  You know where she goes back in time to take more classes?  I’d do that for these 3 sessions, but instead, I’m just a muggle.  (OK, enough of that nonsense.)

The panel consisted of Moderator: Kris Dunn (VP, HR, Kinetix ), Todd Chandler (VP, Learning and Performance, Helzberg Diamonds) , Ben Brooks (SVP & Global Director, Enterprise Communications & Colleague Engagement, Marsh Inc.),  Phoebe Venkat (Director, Digital and Social Media Communications, ADT).  As with my prior post, I’ll go with the same format:

Theme #1: File Centric versus People Centric. Perhaps this first theme is a bit obvious.  It really comes down to a definitional aspect of social versus where we have come from/are today.  There is nothing wrong with being file based, it’s here for a long time to come.  We operate in files today because that is how we store information and value.  Add to that we can easily search and tuck things away in a folder system, and we have a mediocre way to maintain information.  Thus, the next phase of evolution, if we are going to go social, we have to understand that the storage of prior information is not where it all is.  Instead, the generation of new information is paramount, and that comes from the exchange of ideas that social enterprise presents.  Thus, I call this a theme, but it’s really the starting point of the conversation – a definition of change.

Theme #2:  Email versus Social. If Theme #1 was a definition, perhaps Theme #2 is the problem statement.  Indeed, email is much more of a communication tool than a file storage tool as we all know when our corporate IT tells us we have gone over our 2 gig storage capacity.  The problem is that emails are so far from a real time production of value that it’s actually a barrier to the speedy creation of new insights.  Add that most of us also use emails for CYA and self preservation, and we quickly realize the major inhibitor that emails can be.  If we’re looking to protect ourselves and cover our tracks rather than provide new meaning to our jobs, this is a major directional problem for email.  So while social gives us productivity at the speed of conversation, emails are just too much of a security blanket for most workers to overcome in the very short term.

Theme #3:  Search and data mining. There are probably a couple aspects here.  The first one is about how we go about naturally doing our business today.  We’re organized in offices and cubes, or we go to meetings and sit at tables.  The interactions we have are largely based on who we see every day.  What is great about social is not that it allows us to reach past our normal daily interactions, but that it can help search for new contacts and encourage those interactions.  Sure we have emails, phone calls, instant messenger today, but with social we get to group ourselves logically based on something else other than location/job/department.  But we have to go beyond simple conversations.  The reason Facebook is not useful as an enterprise social tool is because you really can’t search the conversations.  Mining conversations for who is connected to who, what people are talking about, and how that impacts actual work and innovation is the key to creating value.

Theme #4:  Bad behavior. I remember 5 years ago when HR was just starting to enter the conversations about having social networks in the workplace.  Fully half of the conversations revolved around “bad behavior” or people just going crazy and doing/saying things they should not.  While you do have to set aside some rules of the road, you really can’t stop people from posting things.  Trying to moderate every comment would be absurd, and the consensus is that very little bad behavior actually happens.  The thing is, we should not have to create new social policies.  We already have them in place.  People also know how to behave already, and if they don’t, your managers should already be having these conversations.  This discussion presented one of the crowning moments of the conference for me (and I wish I could remember who said it).  “If you have a jerk, let them rise to the top so you can fire them.”  Another lovely quote, “HR… get over it.”

Theme #5: Creating change. Social for social sake is a bad idea.  You will get low adoption, and unless you are targeting your deployment to solving a real business problem, your audience will never really understand “why?”  Some of the suggestions revolved around polling the internal community for how your workers want to interact with each other, and then deploying solutions with the ability to say, “this is the tool you guys requested.”  A great example:  being one of the first at a dinner and not knowing anyone sucks.  But if you have a great host who is actively introducing people to each other, and contextually matching people’s interests, then you have really quick engagement.  The other interesting note that caught me off guard because it’s so basic, is not discounting the impact of faces and names.  If you think about Facebook, actually seeing faces is a pretty big part of how you interact with the tool.  There is a possibility that you see the face before you read the name, and that’s often how you engage with conversations.

 

Fooling Ourselves

I’ve been watching with fascination over the last couple years as countires have rebelled against their governments (Arab Spring in 2011), and American citizens have condemned corruption, and congratulated the populous for rising up and forcing change.  It’s fascinating to me because we are so unaware of what has been going on around us for so long.  After all, we (as a country) have been supporters of Egypt for decades.  The United States has supplied and trained their military, given them aid in various forms, and we have very publicly acknowledged them as strategic allies in the region.  Apparently, The United States has never actually cared that a particular leader was corrupt.  I mean really, do a Google search for the now famous photo of Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein.  Uhh, yeah, Saddam was an ally too.  Oh, the guy we took out of Panama, Noriega, him too.  Actually, we were the ones who put him in power ((I think, but I’m on a plane and can’t actually do the quick research to verify this)).  I mean, come on, we’re all blind to the other side of the coin that we hold in our own hands?

I’m often surprised at the level of myth that is present in large corporate organizations as well.  “Oh, no, we can’t possibly expect to have most of our employee transactions go through the portal.”  Really, in 2011, you can expect it, and you can even demand it.  “Oh, no, we can’t outsource payroll, the displacement of control would be devastating to us.”  Guys, you still control the rules in the gross to net.  You really want to run printers and update your own taxes in the payroll system forever?  “Our CEO has demanded that we implement talent management in the next 3 months.”  Seriously, this is just the flip side, and you didn’t tell him or her that it’s a bad idea to slam a strategic system in?

I love myth.  Myth tells us about ourselves, our beliefs, and our culture.  In every myth, there is a grain of truth, a particle of reason that is steeped in the reality of our companies.  But often times, myths get blown out of proportion.  Deeply held beliefs that are there for so long that they only are a reality in the minds of the 10 and 20 year company veterans.  Unfortunately, those 20 year employees are usually not that current with the as is culture.

We as HR have indeed started to change.  Talent Management was honestly one of the biggest catalysts we have had, in conjunction with an ever improving ability to manipulate data through systems.  But I often think that the biggest obstacle of change are ourselves.  Talent was supposed to be a revolution, but 5 years or so later, all we have is a bunch of automated processes and new theories.  We need to be the HR leaders that force the issue, realize the former state was crap (even if we put it there and supported it), and the future state is where the game will be played.

The Pain Threshold

Lance Armstrong was a US National Champion and a World Champion long before he ever won seven (eight?) Tours de France.  The man was always known in cycling circles as the next big gun in US cycling.  In one race (San Diego I think), we were riding a horrifically fast pace, many of us in the pack heckling Lance often simply because he was a captive audience, when he just decided to ride away from us for a while to get a workout in.  Severely humbling.  He was known as a big, strong guy.  The guy who won that world championship was a guy who could sprint, a guy who had incredible short term bursts of power.  But he was never going to win the Tour de France.  That was, until, he got cancer.  Cancer did a couple things to him.  First, he lost a crapload (technical term) of weight and it transformed him into a leaner version of himself, but tapping into the same level of power that could now get him of 5 mountain passes in the Alps instead of just the last 500 meters of a race at 50mph.  Secondly, it taught him to experience pain in a way that he would never experience again.

I’ll be honest, these days when I’m on the bike, the barrier for me is not usually my legs or my lungs.  If I have a few rides under my belt, I’m really pretty good.  The problem is all mental.  I’m not in college anymore and I really don’t like pain.  There are times I’ll be doing an extended climb and one of my riding buddies will “attack” and while I often could follow, something in the back of my head says, “nah.”  I could follow the lead, but I know it will be painful.

Transforming HR is really, really hard work.  For much of the readership, it’s not just hard work for us, it’s even harder work for the employees we would deploy to the effort.  When our execs chose to switch out the payroll system, guess who gets to work long hours in December prior to a January 1 go-live?  We deal with a lot of pain to implement systems, both in effort as well as cash, and the ROI is not always financially obvious, but to get to the top of that hill, it’s something we have to commit to, and something our staffs need to commit to.

In understanding the work behind HR transformation, there are a few things to remember:

  • People actually don’t like change.  When you change their processes, they will resist doing something different than what they have done from years.  It’s not that they don’t want to support better processes, but a certain amount of fear arises when they are unsure how well they will perform in the new environment.
  • People resist making others change.  HR transformation is just that – we are changing ourselves.  But teams often protect people internally realizing that friends will lose jobs, or be forced to make unwanted shifts and compromises.
  • We get to do multiple jobs for a significant amount of time.  Not only are we going to have real jobs to do, but there will be project roles as well.  I don’t care if you bring an army from one of the large consulting firms, the internal team is going to be burdened with more work.
  • Outsourcing done right is hard.  Organizations don’t remember the depth of retained organizations that are needed, SLA’s need to be formulated to be specific and measurable, and internal staff are resistant to seeing their jobs performed differently than how they did them themselves.

Often when we deploy and new system that has the opportunity to be transformational, we focus too much on the external.  We train managers, communicate to employees, figure out who the main audiences are that we need to convert.  We assume that our own people are already bought in.  All I’m saying, is we can spend some time to look internally.  Give them some love and attention.  Encourage and motivate them.  Otherwise you’ve got a Justin at the top of the hill looking down, wondering where the hell I am and why I didn’t make it up there with you.  It was just too much pain.

Deception and Selling Your Data

US President Obama is a Muslim, right?  Raised in Kenya, he’s a Mau Mau sympathizer, and actually not even a US citizen (masterfully covered up I must add).

Apparently in a new poll, fully 50% of the US population registered with the Republican party believe this ((Joe Klein, “Huckabucking.”  Time Magazine, March 11, 2011.  Page 15.))  I mean, COME ON!!!! Seriously?  I remember having an argument with my uncle back in early 2002.  Before the US “shocked and awed” Iraq, there was a pretty large part of the US population that was quite sure we would never find WMD’s there.  The evidence that Saddam didn’t have WMD’s was actually stronger than the evidence that he did.  And listen, I’m sure the other side does it too.  I just can’t give you examples because I’m sure I’ve bought into all of the left’s version of crap as a left leaning Democrat.  (Please don’t stop reading because of that)  At least I’ll admit it.

We lie.  Does not matter what side we’re on.  We lie to get what we want.  No, don’t call it manipulating the truth.  There is no truth in the tools that many politicians use to coerce their voting populace to give them money and votes.

How many of our organizations do we describe as “political”?  We politic to get ahead, to get funding, to get systems, to get employees, to get what we want.  Even though we all decry how much we hate it, we all play the game to some degree. In some cases (Mau Mau sympathizer??) we’re just making up crap.  In other cases, (WMD’s) we might actually believe we have the right information, or have manipulated the data to say what we want it to say.  ROI studies are probably the best example.  We’re big believers in ROI not just so we can get funding, but so we can get executive sponsorship.

There is an art to presentation and telling a story.  Crafting an effective story is truly the difference between getting change and not getting it, whether it’s a sale, executive sponsorship, funding, etc.  At the end of the day, the story is about conveying emotion, not data.  We use data as a tool, but we realize that the data can skew the emotion of what we’re trying to change by many degrees.  Knowing this, we sometimes  manipulate the data.

I’ll be honest in saying that every now and then the data surprises me.  I’ll go back to colleagues saying, “is this really telling me what I think it’s telling me?”  The result is going back and re-cutting the data several more ways to validate the results, and then, instead of crafting new results and “spinning the message,” going back to the client and admitting, “this is not what we expected.”

I recently did a survey with one of my clients which was supposed to tell me what their functional and system weaknesses were.  Instead, the data I got back was crap (self described).  It took me a couple days and many conversations to realize that the result I wanted (knowing what areas they needed to target to improve service delivery) was never going to materialize.  Instead, a completely new and unexpected story started to unfold in front of me.  Upon reanalysis and looking at the data in a completely different way, the client had deeper issues than functionality and technology.

Sometimes we know what we want, we get some data, and it’s just not corroborating our story.  But we end up telling our story anyway.  But you know what? Somewhere in the data lies a truth which is waiting to be uncovered, and that truth is stronger than any fictional story we want to tell.  It’s hard work, and it isn’t always the direction we want to go, but get to the bottom of it.  There’s no point being 3 years down the road later and wondering why anyone thought the Mau Mau thing was anywhere close to real.

I Should Have Been A Rice Farmer

OK, I’m Taiwanese, and I recently went back to Taiwan to visit family and see the “home country” that I’ve never been to. As I stayed in the apartment my family had rented, surrounded by rice paddies on all sides, i realized how close I was to having been a rice farmer of some type. Perhaps i would have been growing green onions instead, but either way it was a close thing. One twist of fate 50 years ago would be all that stood between the Dubs you know (me), and the Dubs blogging about the best way to maximize a rice crop.

In another nice example, we are all hopefully familiar with those famous words from Ronald Reagan, “Mr Gorbachev, TAKE DOWN IS WALL!!” (ok, maybe I’m not that familiar, this is close though). Realize that the fall of communism actually came after the Reagan presidency, during the George HW Bush presidency. Also realize that one of the initial predecessor events was Gerald Ford signing the Helsinki act in 1975 that sowed the roots for internal uprising in the Soviet Union by those like the poet Vaclav Havel.

To stay with the rice analogy, a small seed sown ages ago, that nobody now remembers, I the root of all to come later.

We don’t always get this right in HR. Regardless of what we are implementing, we wait too long to consider change management. Its always in our approach and in our project plans, but as soon as we get into configuration, the best laid plans fall away and we end up with a change management program that involved a cool flyer and some training that goes out just before launch.

I’m not saying that these are not important. What I’m saying is that the best implementations and he best adoption rates come from planing a small seed early on and watching the organic growth of change spread through the organization (I would say “like wildfire” but hat seems counter productive to this particular analogy). the best changes occur when you can find an executive sponsor who really wants the stuff you are planning to implement, and you can get her excited about it. Before you know it, her entire organization is clamoring for your product, and its months before you are going to roll it out. Anticipation and continued communication and statusing is a good thing here. You can then use them as a pilot, collect heir recommendations and feedback, make them part of the implementation, and in turn, make them your organizational disciples to the rest of the organization.

The point is that you have to start early, and you have to start with the right population. The most effective transitions occur early. For me, I’m actually pretty happy I’m not a rice farmer.

Nucleating agents for change

Interesting thing about water.  You can pretty significantly influence the temperature at which water freezes  simply by introducing an agent to it.  But there are other times when water actually should freeze, when it is pure and below the freezing temperature, but that water can be held in a liquid state at just below the normal freezing temperature until a nucleating agent is introduced.   We’ve seen in it a variety of environments whether it’s in movies or what not.  I remember a recent mythbusters show (for those of you who watch discovery channel in the U.S.) where they were able to keep a liquid in the liquid state, but once the first ice crystal was introduced, a rapid chain reaction occurred and the rest of the liquid formed into ice in seconds.

HR is much the same.  Any time you are introducing change to the organization, there are times where change happens naturally, and other times when change has to be strongly influenced.  Unfortunately for us, we need those nucleating agents more often than not.  The problem is that we don’t always realize until it’s too late that we needed an agent, or we didn’t know which agent to choose.

I completely realize that we are all sick and tired of the concept of change management, but all too often as I visit my clients, change is treated in the same fashion that it was 10 years ago.  We push out training programs, and we attempt to do the same type of communications.  Let’s be the first to admit to ourselves: HR has no flair for marketing.  We’re in HR partly because we are not salespeople – often times we don’t even understand salespeople.  But sell we must, and when we realize that we don’t have those abilities/competencies, it’s time to find the nucleating agents that will sell for us, and spread the word – forming ice crystals in seconds instead of… well, never.

The best nucleating agents are those who are not only already on our side, but those who are obviously influential.  There are those who have broad networks, and others who simply have the right connections to other important people.  One would think that in Human Resources, we would know who these people are – but we don’t.  In the organizations that do understand that they are not the most effective marketing arm for new rollouts, HR solicits the help of VP’s to communicate the message and brand.  In effect, we have managed to enhance our training and communications materials with and additional layer: change management by edict.  This is not to say that VP level communications are not necessary – in fact their level of sponsorship is very necessary.  But when rolling out new manager portal tools (for example), the people who are going to sell are not the VP’s, but other managers who buy into the product, decide that it is more effective than the prior state, and will selflessly market it for you.  These, indeed, are the true nucleating agents in the organization.

As sick and tired as you all are of hearing people talk about change management, it is still under-budgeted and improperly deployed.  As sick as you are of it, I’m equally sick of most of us not getting it right.  I totally understand that when we are in the throes of implementation, we’re all heads down and grinding away at table configuration and testing, but that is no forgiveness and excuse for messing up the end user rollout.  Better to get the audience right and miss a bit on the config.  So here’s me, asking yet again, find your nucleating agent.  Deploy them well.  Get buy-in and adoption in the seconds it takes to crystalize liquid when the right conditions are met.

Dulling the Noise

So I admit that I use multiple methods to dull the noise when I’m on a plane.  The first are the industrial grade ear plugs from Home Depot.  I love these things, but by themselves, it’s not enough.  Second in the line of defense are the Bose noise reduction headsets.  Combined with the ear plugs, this method eliminates most of the unwanted external noise.  However, it’s really not until the music of choice is on that I’m surrounded by what I want to hear, and not all the random conversations and buzz that I want to filter out.  The point is that on the plane, I’m usually trying to focus.  I don’t read or watch the movies, I almost always work the entire time.  The random conversations and hiss from the plane is distracting.

We deal with the same thing in HR.  We get distracted by the little things that seem like big things.  All too often, we focus on the details of why we can’t get a person transferred from one department to another, or the fact that the payroll taxes seem to not balance.  Don’t get me wrong, these are urgent matters in many cases, and sometimes they border on the severe.  We sit around in vendor selections and debate the relative functionality of one core HR system versus another, or our technologists scramble to add a field to some integration somewhere in the HR ecosystem.  Again, don’t get me wrong, we have to do these things.

The problem is that fabled 80/20 rule.  We spend 80% of our time chasing the fires, battling the tactical.  We get so driven by the tactical that we forget to take a breath and focus.  Everything we do, from transferring employees, to filing taxes, to selecting vendors and creating integration is about delivering a service that is so seamless, managers and employees don’t know it exists.  We need to fix the fires, but if that’s all we do, we never fix the root causes.

It’s a hard balance to make.  When I do activity analysis around HR service delivery, I inevitably find out that organizations are actually spending more than 80% of their time being tactical.  The other 20% is mostly internal consulting, which is actually a good thing.  The bad thing is that the best of companies will spend 2-5% of their time being strategic.  What is more of a wonder, is that often, that tactical time is often spent in department meetings – not solving anything, not discussing problems and solutions.  Just meeting.  It’s like we all know we’re supposed to say we’re getting more strategic, but none of us really have enough guts to actually make it happen.  Fact of the matter is, we like the tactical – we like the noise.  When we say we’re going to outsource something, people scream.  Even when all we do is outsource the administrative crap that supposedly nobody likes, we can’t get buy-in from our HR practitioners until some VP signs a piece of paper and makes our complaint a moot point.

We need to focus – and we need to realize it’s not that we can’t focus, it’s that we don’t want to.  Sometimes the change management is within, not without.

HR Technology Deployments

I love it when consultants come in and talk to you about all the things you need to do around an implementation.  Obviously your implementer is going to do all the normal things around table configuration and testing, but they often miss some of the bigger items.  When consultants come in to talk about the other stuff, they are usually not particularly comprehensive – they like to talk about change management.  Change management is a wonderful thing, but it still does not mean you’re going to have a successful deployment, no matter how good the change program is.  There are so many things that go into swapping your HR technologies out that missing any of them could spell disaster.

  • Foundation.  I don’t know why so little time is spent on the foundation of any HR system.  Whether it’s core HR or talent management, there are some pretty big foundation issues that you should be looking at before you even think about starting an implementation.  Whether you like it or not, half of your problem with your prior system was not the system.  Half of your problem was that you screwed up the foundation, and had you gotten it right, you’d never be moving to a new system anyway.  Either you messed up the organizational structure and after that it was all downhill, or your jobs never made sense, or your security was horrible and ultimately your own poor security decisions ended up in horrific data quality.  Perhaps you didn’t really think through competencies or goals well enough when you did your first talent management implementation because the talent market was so young that nobody really knew what they were doing.  Either way, fix it now before you configure tables, because your implementer really just wants to get values in the table and stay on time – not help you figure out what the right org structure is for the next 10 years.
  • Decommissioning.  Ok, there are easy parts and hard parts.  The easy parts are reports, interfaces and data conversion.  Heck, that’s just part of any old implementation.  Of course we’re going to convert those.  But wait, did you say we’re not converting history?  How long are we going to have to access the old system for?  Does that mean we’re running reports out of 2 systems?  Wait, have we done analysis around the downstream systems and not just creating interfaces?  Listen, if you’re changing the org structure (see #1 above), you had better prepare every singe downstream system (and downstream from the downstream system) to get ready for new values or structures.  It’s not just about an interface or a report.  What you are doing is going to have far reaching impact – especially if it’s core HR.  Last thing you need to do is mess up some random headcount report that goes to the board of directors just because it comes out of a system 2 interfaces removed from core HR.
  • Implementation.  This is obviously one of the things that will get covered.  Your chosen implementer is going to be all over table configuration, and they are motivated to be on time and under budget.  That’s really where the problems comes in – you want them to be on time and under budget, but you’d also like to think that they are going to be strategically minded and help you out with other things above.  90% of the time they are not.  The cost model that your purchasing people drove them to simply won’t allow them to help you out, and even if thoy could, do you really want a group of people operating in the weeds of table configuration to also operate at the highest strategy levels?  Usually not.
  • Change Management.  Can we please get away from thinking that training and communication is all there is to change management?  Realistically, the estimate you should be using for change management should be about 20% of the implementation budget.  That’s right, if you are spending $1M on implementation, you should have a $200k budget.  When things start to get tight, the first things to go are any real hopes for change management.  If you don’t get your audience analysis and change strategy right, all you’re going to have are vendor provided training and generic communications.  Listen people, the new technology is 80% adoption and 20% everything else in the equation of success.  If you want to be successful, don’t cut the 20% of change management budgets, cut $200k out of your implementation and live without a piece of functionality.

Sorry – am I ranting?  It’s not just implementation, table configuration and change management.  You can get all of those perfect and still have a bad outcome.  In order to get it right, you have to do all of the activities, including the ones that are not totally obvious at first, and including the ones that your consultants are not trying to sell to you.

The Butterfly Effect

In 1972, Edward Lorenz wrote a paper called “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”  In this paper, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, a minute, very low mass, and quite insignificant action, represents a small initial and remote condition that can lead to major downstream impacts.  Chaos theory is actually the study of initial conditions that lead to large divergences in outcomes.  ((I know you guys don’t like when I talk science, it shows in the hit rates for this site.  But here goes anyway.))

I’m always complaining about meteorologists (I actually long since stopped watching TV news, so now I complain about weather.com).  But considering the numerous possibilities and dynamics of how weather can change, it’s no wonder they can’t quite get the formula right.  I mean, how many butterflies are there in the Amazon in Brazil anyway?  The possibilities are so staggering that any predictability is pretty good – so while they can’t take into account every possible variance, it is possible to look at large inputs that are happening fairly close to the near future and impending events.

HR is quite similar – we have so many individual contributors (pun intended) that watching every employee in the organization, every conversation, IM and email is rather impossible.  But we do know that our ability to engage our workforce happens through communications, whether it’s manager to employee, from project managers giving cool work to people, vendors making good or bad promises, executives steering the company direction with the board of directors or communicating to employees.  It might be the random water cooler conversation that spins out of control and becomes an avalanche of employee sentiment (good or bad).

So while we can’t monitor every single interaction in our workforce, we can indeed monitor major trends that are going on.  We know that wind direction is blowing east at 10 miles an hour in a particular region, and that atmospheric pressure is dropping somewhere else.  We understand that as these two conditions might hit each other, certain predictable events happen.

I’m talking as much about tragedy, a change in benefits providers that leads to major losses in employee engagement, as I am talking about those huge gains, increases in a specific competency that drive the next major innovation.  Our jobs in HR are so incredibly complex as we as we create service delivery, technology and processes that foster growth while at the same time combing through predictive analytics that avert disaster at every turn.  It’s our job to understand those trends in current and fan them so they become stronger or weaker.

The breadth of currents that we look out for is also amazing – from all things rewards which is already extraordinarily broad, to talent which is also extraordinarily broad, to core HR, ER, PR, and whatever else R.  We constantly adapt, to new legislation to new processes, technology and theories.  There is so much “why we hate HR” out there, but we accomplish so much it’s often staggering.

So here, on my 1,000th post, I wanted to offer my congratulations to all of you out there – my readers – for all you do, all you are, all we create, and all we contribute.  We control the chaos.  And while you do it, thank you for reading.

HR Web 2.0 Supply Chain

In most businesses, if the supply chain stops, everything stops.  Ford can’t make cars if they don’t have wheels, hospitals get pretty jammed up if all the CT machines are down, and most organizations wither away if the sales pipeline goes away.  You can view almost any portion of any business from a supply chain point of view.  In HR, we usually think of workforce planning and recruiting as the supply chain, and since we manage the “human resource” that makes perfect sense.  However, we also manage HR from the perspective of talent and competencies, and aside from headcount, the development of competencies through a systematic and technological approach is also a supply chain we should be thinking of.

Shifting gears, we use Web 2.0 to connect our employees, write and read blogs and wikis, and hopefully encourage internal knowledge sharing at the end of the day.  To do this, we assume that people are actually producing content that can be consumed by the masses.  This is the only way that Web 2.0 actually works as a talent building tool – people have to connect first, and then they have to share.  Unfortunately, outside of technology companies, many Web 2.0 initiatives fail not because people don’t connect, but people don’t share.

So back to the point.  If the resultant product is an increase in total talent within the organization as measured by competency and knowledge growth, which is created through an increase in volume of interactions in the Web 2.0 platform, it is reasonable to think of blog posts, wikis, or just questions people generate into the environment, as the supply chain.  The problem is that you don’t just “order up” blog posts and keep doing that into the indefinite future.  This supply chain has to be self sustaining.

If you are a technology company filled with computer engineers, this is easy.  You probably already have a culture of people who have some form of expectation that business is transacted in this way.  If you have a very young population, you are also lucky since Gen Y and most of Gen X thinks about their lives in a Web 2.0 way.  But if you’re a more traditional company, you probably have significant change management hurdles to go through.

Web 2.0 is not a set of training and communications material you send out, it’s really a whole new way of thinking about how work gets done and how you collaborate.  What might start as a simple goal for employees to make blog posts or a competition for the post that generates the most hits or comments is not actually a productive enterprise unless it actually creates a collaboration loop that addresses a problem.  Otherwise people are just writing for the sake of writing.  When it comes to change management, I take a phrase from the Herman Miller (sp?) Strategic Selling course called the “personal win.”  Employees will only participate if they are either receiving great value or if they are perceived as a person to go to when great value is needed.

The question is not how you get people to post, but how do you get people to be aware of the available value, or how you make people perceive themselves as leaders.  If you can’t do this, then you wind up with a pretty dismal looking supply chain.  No Web 2.0 activity means no sharing which means no talent growth through the Web 2.0 tool. 

(Follow-on question is if you guys even think that this type of collaboration is part of talent management the way that I do?)

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.

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.

Support versus Change, Evolution versus Revolution

Jacob Morgan wrote a piece about adoption a while back, and he had a pretty interesting concept around supporting business process as opposed to change management.  This is really quite new to me, as we’ve always talked about change management and behavioral change as opposed to a softer concept of “support.”

You need to speak in terms of “supporting” rather than “changing”.  “Change” implies that people are doing things wrong.  “Support” however, implies that you recognize value of their efforts and you want to help further those efforts.  You can’t walk into a company and say “you guys are idiots, everything you’re doing is wrong,” because that’s not going to accomplish anything.  ((Morgan, Jacob, December 21, 2009.  “Strategic Principles for Enterprise 2.0 Implementation.”))

There are a couple problems with this.  Often, when you’re implementing a new system rather than upgrading, you really are looking for opportunities to change the current business process.  While we often implement on top of old process because we didn’t do the proper amount of future state visioning prior to kicking off the implementation, the purpose of the implementation is usually to fix the old system or process.  Seldom is it that we are spending millions on the implementation of a new product to simply support, enhance and bolster the existing.

I’m not sure you can’t walk into a company and say “you guys are idiots.”  We’ll, that’s not how I do it, and rarely do I think anyone is an idiot.  But it’s pretty common that I know their process has room for fundamental change and in most cases, they are hiring me because they know it too.  Same goes for implementing software, they usually know they need the help.

I’ll admit that the same does not go for the end user.  The end user does not see business process at the same level that corporate sponsors of these projects do, and often do think that all is ok.  But they also don’t necessarily see the opportunities that lie in leading practices around the HR industry either.  This is where adoption really occurs, is the end user and helping them get to a point of understanding that not only is this better for the organization, but also where the enhancements that will help them grow also.

I don’t think we are usually “supporting” or “evolving” their current business state.  I think usually we are trying to change things up.