I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the customization of, well, everything. I think it’s fascinating that so much can be customized to your very specific, individual tastes. Personalization is in virtually everything we do.

Movies/television? Give Netflix a go.

Music? Check out Pandora.

Hungry? Get a NatureBox with your own favorite snacks.

Sports? Yes, even sports. ESPN’s 22 million (and growing) website visitors are going to see a customized display based on their own location, interests, etc.

This incredible shift is hitting us in all of these areas, but a story I heard a few years ago about a school in New York could be the next advance in learning.

Let me introduce you to the School of One from iZone. Here’s a bit about them:

iZone is a catalyst for 21st Century learning across the New York City Department of Education, (NYCDOE) the largest school district in the country, serving 1.1 million students in more than 1,700 schools. We work with schools, the edtech marketplace and policy makers to design and scale promising learning models that prepare all students for college and careers.

So what is the School of one? In a nutshell it is an individualized education plan that adapts to a child’s learning style. Not just a program that we set based on a child’s preferences, but an actual adaptive program that can change over time to deliver the highest-impact learning experiences possible.

This is blended learning at its best. Children are taught in traditional group classroom lectures, small group work with peers, and online tutoring sessions. Then teachers can review the data on performance before and after the types of sessions, and an algorithm helps to select the following day’s exercises based on which ones the student learned from best. Over time this happens continuously to fit the program to the individual student—hence the name “School of One.”

But What about the Workplace?

We know that our training and development efforts are not going to reach all employees in the same way. And each employee has different needs from the training programs we offer.

What if instead of using a blanket program we could tailor it over time to deliver the best possible learning experience for the lowest possible price? Here’s an example of how this could play out in the workplace.

The Custom Learning Training Method

Let’s say Mary scores highly on a post-test after she sits through a live instruction class, but Bob scores higher after he completes a learning game. Tomorrow we swap them to compare the results. If both of them have the biggest improvement from the learning game, maybe we start lean more heavily on the gaming aspect.

Then we introduce another element: social learning. At this point they diverge. Mary does poorly when it comes to social interaction, but Bob does even better than with the game. So in terms of the learning programs Mary’s preferences are built this way:

  1. Game
  2. Live instruction
  3. Social

But Bob’s are different:

  1. Social
  2. Game
  3. Live instruction

And over time the algorithm will continuously tailor the training to best meet their needs and return the best results for the time invested.

How is this different?

Some would say that companies already offer these types of training options, but the difference here is the system learns what works best for you and redirects time and resources into training you via that medium. It’s not just based on preference–I might like video training but it doesn’t necessarily improve my results as much as a learning game.

My first thought is that this sounds incredibly costly to develop. But Pandora offers an even deeper level of customization completely for free for most users (and still managed to net $230 million in 2015 revenue). And Netflix is just a few dollars a month for a matching algorithm that measures your TV and movie preferences to deliver recommendations that you would enjoy. As more attention moves to this concept of the custom learning experience, we will see more opportunities to scale these types of programs. I’m excited to see what is next.

What are your thoughts on custom learning experiences? What other ways can customization and personalization weave into our training methods and HR practices? 

Today I have the pleasure of introducing my brother, Brandon, to the HR community. Brandon is an auditor for the federal government and has worked in the world of accounting for more than ten years. We’ve been talking about some of the needs that we have in the HR profession for being more number savvy, and that led to this interview. I hope you enjoy! If you have questions or want to know more about how HR can use accounting/finance principles to establish credibility and lead within the organization, just shoot me a note. Thanks!

brandon eubanksAccounting for HR – An Interview with Brandon Eubanks

Ben: Let’s establish that you’re a credible source (despite being my brother, which should disqualify you immediately). :-) So, tell me a bit about your background (degree, certification, work experience to date, etc.)

Brandon: I have a BS in Accounting from UAH as well as a Master’s of Accountancy from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I currently have an active Alabama CPA license, and I also have an active Certified Fraud Examiner credential. I started my work in the accounting field at a small company just before I graduated with my undergraduate degree, and I landed a job at that same company upon completion of my degree. I worked at this company for a total of two years before I landed a job with my current employer (DCAA).

I became an auditor with the Defense Contract Audit Agency in 2005, and I performed in that job category for 5 years. I was promoted to an instructor at our agency training institute, and I served in that position for two years. Upon completion of those two years, I came back “to the field” as a supervisory auditor in Huntsville. In addition to my full time job as supervisory auditor, I also teach accounting courses on an adjunct basis for Athens State University.

Ben: It sounds like you’re in neck deep! But for some of the audience out there, imagining someone that enjoys accounting can be a bit “out there.” What drove you to choose accounting as your profession?

Brandon: I took an accounting course in high school, and I loved it! I actually started college going for a Mathematics major, but in the end, my true passion for accounting won out. When I changed my major from Mathematics to Accounting, I truly felt like I was where I belonged. Everything made so much sense to me in the accounting realm, and the majority of it came easy.

Ben: Okay, great. So let’s shift the perspective a bit. We’ve talked before about HR and what I do in some capacity, though I know it’s not your focus area specifically. What do you think HR pros need to know about accounting/finance to be successful in their role as a business leader?

Brandon: I think one of the most important things to understand regarding accounting/finance is budgeting. For most companies, the budget is king. Many hours are spent poring over the budget, and then many more hours are spent deciding how the company is doing compared to the budget. In my opinion, knowing what role the HR functions play in the budget would help HR pros to see the big picture. HR work is not completed in a vaccuum, even if it seems that way some times. Recruiting employees, changing benefits, and employee training all have a part in the company budget, and typically people can perform their jobs in a more precise way when they know how what they do fits into the company’s big picture.

Another important accounting/finance topic for HR pros is financial statements. If someone who isn’t in accounting/finance looks at a set of financial statements, other than noticing a profit or loss, he or she probably won’t know much about what those statements are portraying about the company. Is the company doing well financially? It takes more than a good year of income for a company to be thriving. Continuing from my earlier comments, knowing what role HR pros play in the company can help them to see what impact on the financial statements they are having.

Ben: Those are some excellent suggestions. But let’s say hypothetically that I come to you today and only have 30 minutes to learn some basics of accounting and/or finance to help me do my job better. What topics would you recommend to get the best return on my learning time?

Brandon: I would start with an income statement to help you get a picture of what decisions HR pros make and how they affect the company. Obviously, all decisions you make affect a company in some way (whether small or large), but really seeing numbers that relate to those decisions can help get a bigger idea of context. To me it all boils down to understanding where your role fits into the workings of the company, rather than simply focusing on the next task on your “to do” list.

Ben: I would completely agree. It’s easy to get bogged down and take the time to get a broader view of what’s going on. So let’s get philosophical. You’ve said a few times that HR needs to figure out how it fits into the organization. Why do you think human resources as a profession has a more difficult time of getting “attention” or “clout” in the organization when it seems like accounting/finance has it as a natural byproduct of the function it carries out?

Brandon: It is my perception that HR is seen as something necessary but only value-added some of the time. As a supervisor of five employees, I appreciate my HR specialists that I have to work with. However, I typically contact them only when I’m having trouble with an employee. It is my perception in these types of circumstances that HR is “holding back on the reins” while managers and supervisors are wanting to go full-speed ahead with disciplinary actions. So, in this way, HR is seen as necessary, but a roadblock overall in the process of an organization running more smoothly (in the eyes of the manager).

On the other hand, accounting/finance seemingly hold power over the entire company because the numbers they report can make or break a company. To me, that is why there is such disparity in the treatment of the two departments. One is seen as holding up the process, one is seen as completely necessary and somewhat powerful.

Ben: Thanks for your time! Any closing thoughts, wit, or wisdom to share?

Brandon: If I had any advice to HR pros, it would be to learn how you and your department fit into your company. Furthermore, if there is a way to educate employees (from the bottom to the top) on what HR does and can do for them, it could go a long way in battling that perception bias for managers and staff.

I hope you enjoyed the interview with Brandon! You can find him on LinkedIn here. Let me know in the comments what you think of this interview.

What are your thoughts on the topic? What can we learn from our accounting/finance brethren? Is this an area of strength for you or an area of weakness? 

As I looked at my wonderful wife this week and think about our upcoming anniversary (8 years in June), I wondered about the spouses of other HR professionals around the world.

Me and the love of my life--Diet Dew. Oh, and Melanie is there, too. Heh.

Me and the love of my life–Diet Dew. Oh, and Melanie is there, too.

Do all of them realize how lucky they are to have married someone working in human resources? :-) With that in mind, here are seven reasons to marry an HR pro. I’d love for you to add your own to the list!

Reasons to Marry Someone Working in HR

  1. You’ll never have to worry about your work benefits again. We know what questions to ask and how everything works. Just turn over the paperwork and we’ll let you know where to sign.
  2. You’re going to get the insider tutorial on compensation. I almost feel sorry for your manager at your next salary negotiation…
  3. We’re all about wellness, so you know you’re going to get some sweet gym membership in the package.
  4. We bring home the big bucks… Okay, we bring home some bucks (hey, it’s about doing what you love, right?) :-)
  5. You will learn 36 ways to get around that crappy policy your company just implemented. Policy workarounds are our thing.
  6. We’ll tell you the secret to surviving with annoying coworkers. (Hint: there’s at least one at every company)
  7. Want to cheer up? We have the funniest, weirdest, and best stories you’ll ever hear about the workplace. Did I ever tell you the time I almost was hit by a voodoo curse in the office…

So, let’s keep it going! What other great benefits come from marrying one the proud HR professionals of the world?

I have been thinking a lot lately as I cross the six year threshold of blogging about human resources management. I started this as a tool for the entry level HR pros, but now I also teach about some fairly advanced concepts. One of the things I don’t do enough of is sharing about the community. There are more than 20,000 monthly readers on this site and about 5,000 email subscribers (the numbers still boggle my mind!). Who are these people? What do they do?

Let’s find out.

Today will start off a series where I talk with some of the HR pros in the audience to find out what they do and what they enjoy about HR. I hope you like the series, and as always, I’d appreciate your feedback. Want to be profiled yourself? Click here.

A Day in the Life of a Human Resources Manager

Anne

  • Company/Industry: Holding Company
  • Years with Current Company: 4
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Cert: MBA-HR, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
  • Average Day: My average day is a standard Director role. I spend time counseling my team of 26 on how to interact with their companies. I also manage our benefits program.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Expect each day to be different. I’ve seen too many young, promising, talented professionals burn out too quickly because they couldn’t adapt to the constant changing chaos that is Human Resources.

Juanita

  • Company/Industry: Banking (Credit Union)
  • Years with Current Company: 5
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Cert: Master’s in HR and Organizational Management
  • Average Day: A typical day in the life of … well me, would be one that involves A LOT of talking and interacting with my peers. I feel that when you build a bond with employees, they will come to you with anything and also help you connect with the person your looking. A quarter of my day is spent in meetings brainstorming the next best thing and finally, the rest of my day is spent finding new ways to energize our organization through our new amazing wellness program (that I control … mwahahaha).
  • HR wit/wisdom: I have two!  “I don’t fire you, you fire you.” and “Yes. Doing your job is part of your job.”

Bobbi

  • Company/Industry: Government Contractor
  • Years with Current Company: 5
  • Years in HR: 7
  • Degree/Cert: BS in HR, SPHR and SHRM-SCP
  • Average Day: No two days are the same. I spend part of each day working in benefits, compliance, HRIS implementation and employee management.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Network often, so when the auditor knocks on the door, the manager wants across the board terminations, or the employee decides to tell everyone about his weekend exorcism you have a group of people on speed dial to ask questions to and to share with – we can’t do it alone!

Ryan

  • Company/Industry: WebLinc
  • Years with Current Company: ~2
  • Years in HR: 5
  • Degree/Cert: B.S. Industrial/Organizational Psychology, PHR
  • Average Day: I largely spend my time recruiting, or actives related to our recruiting efforts. Next would be employee relations, internal resourcing, and org management. Beyond that it gets chopped up quite a bit day to day, I am a one man army in HR here :)
  • HR wit/wisdom: As an HR professional, my advice to anyone is to never forget how much rules suck.

Leeanne

  • Company/Industry: Freight Forwarding
  • Years with Current Company: 2
  • Years in HR: 6
  • Degree/Cert: Graduate Diploma in HR
  • Average Day: I am the only person in HR in my organisation, which has 370 staff, therefore a majority of what I do is reactive simply due to the volume of work. I recruit without agencies whenever possible so can end up spending a lot of time reading CV’s when I have multiple roles to fill. I interact with our company directors and managers on a daily basis, although it’s usually the same 4-5 managers due to the size and nature of their teams. I am involved in all performance and disciplinary meetings along with the manager. At least once a week I am told by someone that they don’t envy me in my role, but I honestly love it, and can’t see myself doing anything else for a long time to come yet!
  • HR wit/wisdom: Be the reason people want to get into HR, not the reason they hate it.

Coming up soon we’ll have other HR roles and responsibilities, but I appreciate the participants for sharing! Let me know in the comments below what you think about this.

Running is a passion of mine. So is HR. So why not marry my love for the two in written form?

Well, that problem is solved. :-)

I recently put together this collection of stories about running, business, and life. More than half of the content is brand new and not published anywhere else, and the book runs about 35 pages in length (which means virtually nothing in the world of Kindle/eBooks, as I’ve learned!)

It’s on sale for $3.99 right now. Here’s who should read it:

  • If you work in HR, are looking for some inspiration for running, and you like to run, then this will give you some of my stories (mostly humorous) to help you with that.
  • If you’re in HR and you don’t care about running, you can still get some great lessons here. You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this. In fact, you might laugh even more at some of the silly things I do to try to compete in this sport…
  • If you’re just getting into HR, you will learn some timeless truths about this profession (many of which I’ve learned the hard way).
  • If you’re an expert HR pro, this will expose you to some of the deep passion in this field, whether in my story or in the profiles of other running/HR pros, and will help you revisit that spark that made you choose HR in the first place.

A special thanks goes out to those that responded to my recent survey and allowed me to highlight them in the book. They all share their own inspirational stories about how running makes them better at this human resources thing.

Thanks again for your support and I look forward to checking out the reviews. You can get a copy of What Running Taught Me about HR: Essays about running, work and life right here.

Recently I had the pleasure of joining Trish McFarlane for an HCMx Radio podcast episode where we talked about how to use simulations in your recruiting and training initiatives.

We start with a bit of my background–if you’re new here that might be interesting for you. Then we leap into some of the work we’re doing at Brandon Hall Group. Finally we get into the meat of the conversation–using simulations to really drive home better recruiting/selection practices and better training/development practices. It was fun and I think you’ll enjoy listening!

Click here to listen to the podcast.

HCMx Radio on BlogTalkRadio

One of the things we talked about was having exercises for different types of jobs. I found this excellent set of examples below (this is partial, click through below for the full listing) to illustrate the point that virtually every job can include some element of this type of tool.

Job Simulation Exercises

PositionMust-haveSample Exercise
COOCritical thinking, writingObserve the organization in action (delivering a training session, staging a rally, holding a hearing, etc.) and propose recommendations for improvement in a 2-3 page memo
Manager of programsStrategic thinkingRead and analyze a set of goals and objectives and come up with recommendations to pursue
Director of communicationsPublic speaking, judgmentRehearse a press conference or a call with a reporter about a controversial program we support
Manager of a small- or medium-sized departmentGeneral management, staff supervisionSimulate giving positive and corrective feedback to a supervisee

Courtesy of the Management Center

 So, what did you think of the topic? Do you like the podcast format? Would you like to see more of those? 

rehiring boomerang employeeA while back I was reading a story about a CEO being asked to return to his company after stepping down from the role years before. As usual, I started tying the thoughts back to HR and how that sort of “boomerang” employee, at any level of the company, might approach the decision to return.

For instance, what would change? What would stay the same? If you had a fresh start, how would you do things differently? Or maybe it wouldn’t be a fresh start at all–people would expect you to do the same things the same way, even if it wasn’t good for you or the business long-term. Well, today you’re going to get some excellent insights into this idea of boomerang employees.

I decided to ask Mary Faulkner, Talent Strategist & Business Leader, for her opinion on the topic. Mary is a writer, speaker, and HR leader whose opinion I respect. After you read some of her thoughts, you’ll understand why!

Ben: Tell me a bit about your experience. What’s the background story?

Mary: I was at a Fortune 200 company for about 6.5 years and it had a reputation as a tough (most would say ‘toxic’) culture. No lie…it really, really was.  But it was also a place where I worked with amazing, smart, driven people who were doing their best to bring leadership development to a culture that didn’t really embrace it.

When I left, I did so on good terms – but I was also burned out and bitter. Fellow ‘survivors’ often joke that you almost need a rebound job to detox from the day-to-day craziness you endured.

A few years after I left, I was approached to potentially go back to the old team.  I listened and met with past stakeholders and coworkers – good people who continued to fight the good fight while I left.  This process helped me think through the idea of being a “boomerang” employee.

Ben: What if you left and came back as an HR leader? 

Mary: I was already a “leader” in that I had a team, owned a good chuck of the leadership dev process, and also had clout with key stakeholders. If I went back, it would have been 1 level up…which would have afforded some additional influence…but not as much as you’d think.  The same players were still above me – with one key difference, which is why I was even considering the return.

Ben: So when I think about starting a job, I know I can get some “quick wins” to help establish some credibility. Would you still be able to have a whole new set of “wins” or would it be challenging to do that all over again?

Mary: Truthfully, this was a real concern for me.  I knew I had burn out, and while distance lends perspective, it’s possible I would have run into the same roadblocks – not necessarily because of the organization, but because the same people with the same dynamics were still there.  I was not naive to the fact that we all had history…and a new person wouldn’t have the baggage we all had in the role.

Ben: Okay, so what would you do differently the second time around? 

Mary: I would be more direct with key stakeholders (meaning, I would go to them directly), not relying on my VP to do my talking for me. (Don’t get me wrong – great guy.  We just have very different styles.)  I think I’ve learned more about how to sell ideas based on business needs and results since I left, and that would help inform my pitch to get programs funded and supported.

Ben: What innovation would you bring to the table?

Mary: The innovation would come from fresh perspective, experience in other organizations, which I could apply to my knowledge of that organization.  I’m surprised at how many things we had set up the “right” way – much of our performance management, talent review, and other programs had best in class infrastructure. It’s how we implemented it that lead to issues.  I could have used my exposure to other systems to build the case that we are almost there… and here’s what we need to do to get the outcomes we’re looking for.

Ben: Another piece that seems to be a gray area that we don’t hear about much is the “people” element. How do people treat “boomerang” employees/leaders differently the second time around? 

Mary: This org actually had quite a few boomerang employees.  One the one hand, it was accepted – people knew that sometimes you just needed a break and that you’d come back rejuvenated.  I think there was still a backlash – maybe not stated, but certainly there was a feeling that, “Um…we stuck it out and kept this place running while you pursued your bliss.  What makes you so darn special?”

What struck me is how little people seemed to have changed.  I felt like I had grown quite a bit professionally because I’d done other work and been in other companies, and those who had stayed were still using the same methods to get work done…because the environment was the same. This “sameness” was a reason I was a bit relieved when they opted to go internal with the role.  I loved what I did there, but I’m not sure it would have been growth.

Ben: Thanks for your time, Mary! This has been great and I think the information is very helpful.

——

mary faulknerI hope you enjoyed the interview with Mary Faulkner! You can follow her on Twitter or find her on LinkedIn. Thank you again, Mary, for sharing your insights and ideas.

So, what are your thoughts? How does your organization handle “boomerang” employees? Have you ever faced a decision like that yourself? I’d love to hear some other stories on the topic.

Also, if you like the interview format, I’d be glad to do some more of them. Hit me in the comments or via email if you’d like to see other interviews of HR leaders.