Back to Basics

It seems to me that there has been a renewed focus on core HR.  Now I need to tell the truth, I really thought core HR was dead.  I mean, it will always be around, but with the whole industry moving on to cooler things like analytics and talent management, who cares about core HR anyway?  Seriously, core HR is core HR, how many ways can you present an employee transfer or termination process?  How many different vendors can effectively pitch OSHA functionality and expect to win?  Within reason, all the core HR vendors are pretty much on an equal playing field, for one reason or another that I won’t bother going into.

So the industry if focused on talent and analytics.  The problem is that nothing seems to work if you messed up core HR.  People deployed a nice, automated performance process 3 years ago, and they got themselves away from paper.  But at the same time, the industry told them that they didn’t get where they needed to go, and a number of reasons went into this.  First, deploying a talent process just wasn’t enough, and the vendors are madly working on the next level of functionality that will actually help us manage talent as opposed to automating a process.  Secondly however, talent management did not work the first time because we implemented it assuming our core HR systems were already healthy, and they were not.

First, Job.  There seems to be a renewed effort around job these days.  I think we’ve realized that even with all the focus on competencies as a foundational building block of talent, job is still the foundational building block of HR.  Without job, nothing else seems to work.  The problem was that we’ve been neglecting job for eons.  Ok, so that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly not uncommon for many of our organizations to have 5 times as many jobs as we need.  They are not standardized, they are redundant, and they have mismatched naming conventions.  They appear differently from country to country and business unit to business unit.  At the end of the day, a corporate organization can’t make any sense our of our jobs.  So we’ve gone back over the last few years and tried to start tightening up our job tables, which will in turn enable tighter competencies, performance, recruiting, succession, etc…  Not to mention that your analytics are worthless if you can’t use Job as one of your core dimensions in your datamarts.

Second, Organization.  We don’t often think about how we think about org.  Is it a financial hierarchy? Operational? HR? People manager?  When we first implemented organization in core HR years ago, we may have tied it tightly to the payroll engine, and cost centers were the priority at the sacrifice of supervisor chains.  Or we decided that an operaitonal structure made better sense and we sacrificed how HR generalists needed to interact with employees in the structure.  Whatever the tradeoff we made, we didn’t realize that a couple years later, this thing called talent management was going to assume that core HR could provide a clean structure to talent.  I’ve been to organizations where the performance, compensation, succession, and hiring managers were all different.  Who the hell was going to think of that 5 years ago?  huh?  The point is, that we’ve needed to go back to core HR and make some sense of our initial implementations.  And oh yeah, if you’re org is not clean enough to be a dimension in your datamarts – worthless again.

So the moral of the story is this:  if you’re late the the game and just getting to talent now, learn from those before you – fix core HR.  If you are not late to the game, but have not fixed core HR, go do it now.

Talent Particles in Action

Until tonight, I’ve never seen a lightning storm from above the clouds.  I’m not sure what percentage of lightning strikes actually are visible below the clouds, but this storm over Texas that I’m watching has a few lightning bolts per second all localized in a small area over the course of the last 5 minutes that we’ve been flying by it.  It’s pretty amazing to see this many lightning bolts for such a continuous period of time, and thinking about the total amount of electricity being generated is mind boggling.

Nobody really knows how lightning is formed, but the current theory is that as water molecules evaporate and float upwards into the sky, these miniscule water particles sometimes “rub up” against each other and trade electrons, thus forming electrical charges.  As this happens millions upon millions of times, and these water particles all make their way up into the clouds, eventually some event happens where the energy is released and a lightning bold is formed.

It’s pretty crazy to think that a couple of water molecules rubbing up against each other on their way up to forming a cloud is what triggers the release of a several million volt lightning strike, but it’s possible that is the root cause.  It does not take much, but the same thing is true with talent management.  HR spends a lot of time these days managing talent, producing knowledge, skills and competencies, and ensuring growth in our employees. 

Every employee gets a set of goals every year, so there are thousands of these.  We measure all sorts of leadership, behavioral and technical competencies on our employees.  There may be separate performance guidelines like MBO’s.  Incentive compensation may have their own set of requirements that employees are measured against.  I’m hoping your environment is not this complex, but suffice to say that we track a lot of seemingly insignificant attributes against a lot of employees.

At the same time, employees are interacting with each other, hopefully connecting in our enterprise social networks, and collaborating and learning through content they are generating.  All of this just creates thousands more small particulate interactions that we don’t even see or measure.  We have no idea which one of those advances is going to be the one that triggers the next major innovation or the next big sale.  What we do know is that we work on individual transactions that on a singular level, we can’t quite trace to these huge events.

At an aggregate level, we know that these particles create clouds and rain, so we can measure the cause and effect.  However, every once in a while, a lightning bolt hits, and when it does, we should not only celebrate the organization and it’s achievements, but we should also know that somehow, the root cause was the effort we put into managing our talent.

Salary and Benefits are NOT Engagement Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market Salary Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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