I was talking with a friend last week about technology–specifically the kind we use in the HR, payroll, and recruiting space. His organization is using an awful tool that costs quite a bit of money. It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t make data easily accessible. And it’s become a running joke that any basic business need will require yet another $20k+ module just to meet that single need. It sounds like they are in the perfect place to be considering other technology, right?

And yet he and I both know that they are not going to make a change any time soon. Despite the availability of various “HR modules” within the system, he uses a point solution to handle recruiting needs and an Excel spreadsheet manage employee data. At some point he’s going to have to move to something else, but he and his organization are just part-way into the HR technology maturity curve. Here’s a look at the curve (in my opinion) and how technology is normally put into place.

The first steps

Diving into HR technology doesn't have to be scary

Diving into HR technology doesn’t have to be scary

One of the first steps most companies take in terms of HR technology typically comes with recruiting. Adding an applicant tracking system to eliminate manual job posting, tracking of candidates, and collaboration with the hiring team. Using a piece of recruiting software (like Recruiterbox, for example), can drastically change HR’s role in the hiring process from administrative to strategic.

I can still remember the before and after look at my recruiting practices when it came to technology implementation. When it was all manual, I was just trying to keep the mass of information organized enough to pick anyone competent and qualified. When we transitioned to using an applicant tracking system, I was able to then spend more time coaching hiring managers, screening candidates more thoroughly, and onboarding new employees.

Another common first step is in payroll. Again, it can be an opportunity to change from very administrative (did we get that person’s dependents right?) to a more strategic focus on compensation, variable pay, and other important elements that fall through the cracks when you’re spending several hours a week reviewing pay stubs.

Next up: performance/learning

Depending on the organization, as they grow there is usually a focus on automating performance management, learning, or both. For instance, when I worked for an organization with heavy regulations around training and staff certifications, our primary system (even before having a good HRIS) was a learning management system (LMS). In another organization, I campaigned regularly for a performance management solution to help alleviate the burden of continuously growing performance management paperwork. This is often seen as less strategic and important than recruiting or payroll, which is why it’s not at the top of the list in terms of implementation priority.

One area I’ve seen grow of late is the set of companies offering performance feedback/employee engagement solutions based on simple surveys and quick “pulse” feedback gathering. These are very easy to implement and don’t require all the trouble of the typical performance management solution.

The later stages

The deeper into this maturity process the company goes, the more likely it will select a suite to consolidate vendors and ensure a uniform data set across the various platforms (learning, performance, compensation, etc.)

One area I’ve been very interested in of late involves the difference between companies that pursue point solutions to solve various problems and those that snag the suite to combine each area. A few questions that have bounced around in my mind:

  • Which type of organization has better performance?
  • What factors play into that overall technology selection choice?
  • Are organizations using data better if the systems are integrated than if not?
  • What about the specific benefits highly targeted point solutions offer that the big suites do not?

What are your thoughts? Where are you in this HR technology maturity curve? 

ask a manager logoOne of the sites I follow regularly is Ask a Manager, where Alison Green shares her thoughts and wisdom on management, job hunting, and the workplace. With a wildly popular site like hers, she gets all kinds of questions from readers about different situations. I wanted to take the opportunity to get her thoughts on our (HR) side of the fence, so I pitched her a few questions. She was gracious enough to answer in detail, so check out the great Q&A below!

Ben: So, Alison, I see that one of your more typical answers to questions from job seekers and workers is, “No, don’t go to HR” when responding to letters you receive. Working in HR, there are times I would like to see some of the requests that these people raise. I understand that HR can be backward and bumbling at times, and for some organizations it can even be an evil arm of management dedicated to squeezing the life out of employees. So, what sorts of instances would you recommend someone actually contact HR for help, assuming no evil intent?

Alison: I’d say there are four main categories of times when I suggest people talk to HR instead of their manager: (1) to report harassment, (2) to report discrimination based on a protected class like race, sex, religion, disability, etc., (3) when they want to take advantage of a protection guaranteed by the government, such as FMLA leave, and (4) with questions about or issues with benefits.

In very limited circumstances, I might also suggest going to HR about an issue with your boss — but not as a general rule. If your boss is yelling or being abusive, then yes. Or if your boss is doing something that clearly your company would be horrified to know about (like dating a subordinate or directing people to violate a safety rule or never permitting anyone to use sick leave).

But if you just don’t like your boss or have relatively mild issues with her, that’s not a matter for HR. In some companies, it can be helpful to go to HR to get ADVICE on how to navigate a tricky relationship with a boss — advice, not intervention. But you have to know your HR department to know if that makes sense; some are great at giving advice in those situations and others will turn around and share the conversation with your boss, and not in a helpful way.

Ben: That’s excellent advice, and I’d agree that those are the times HR actually wants to hear from people. So, what qualifies a company as having “good” HR in your opinion, both as a manager and employee?

Alison: I’d say that a good HR department one that’s highly aligned with the organization’s culture and goals and does excellent work in areas like ensuring that managers are well-trained, benefits are strong and well-administered, salaries are benchmarked to industry norms, and that they help rather than hinder a company’s managers (for instance, by finding nuanced, flexible solutions rather than requiring everyone to operate the same across the board, which is a hallmark of a bad HR department). A good HR department can help managers get more done, more effectively.

Ben: I love that explanation, especially around flexibility. I always thought that was an incredible power (for good or evil) that companies often used poorly. As a former manager who now coaches managers frequently, what relationship do you advise for managers to have with the HR team?

Alison: If you have a good HR department, they can be a great resource to managers — a source of advice on all sorts of tricky issues, from delivering tough feedback to navigating hiring dilemmas to helping retain your best people. If you have a bad HR department, I recommend an avoidance strategy.

Ben: Give me a couple of the most common reasons people say they plan to reach out to HR that cause you to just shake your head at them.

Alison: I think sometimes people think of HR as being neutral referees who they can go to when they have a problem with a coworker or are upset with their manager; they think HR will mediate for them, which of course isn’t exactly how it works. I hear a lot of things like “should I talk to HR about my coworker who won’t stop playing her music too loudly” or “can HR help me if my boss is nitpicking my work?”

Ben: Referencing the last question, I often see this when people are having petty squabbles with managers or peers. Do you think decision to “go to HR” is just an inability to emotionally distance themselves from the situation, a lack of understanding of what HR actually does, a last ditch effort when all else seems to fail, or something else entirely?

Alison: I think it’s a lack of understanding of what HR actually does. It’s the idea I mentioned above that they’ll be a neutral referee. I also think people often think HR is there to be their advocate and don’t understand that HR is there to serve the needs of the business. Of course, in some cases that means advocating for employees against bad managers, because it’s in the best interests of employers to retain great employees, spot and address bad management, and nip legal problems in the bud. But lots of other times, what’s best for the employer might not be what’s best for the employee, and the best interests of the employer will always win out. Employees don’t always get that that’s how it’s supposed to work.

I also think people often go to HR for things they should be trying to solve themselves. It’s why so often when HR reps ask people, “Have you talked about this directly with the person you’re complaining about?” the answer is no. And that’s not surprising — I mean, my mail is full of letters from people who are looking for ways to avoid having a direct, semi-awkward conversation with a coworker or a manager; everyone hopes there might be a solution that will get them out of having a tough conversation that they’d rather avoid.

Ben: That’s entirely true, and I’ve seen it in pretty much every company I’ve ever worked for. Let’s shift a bit on this last question, because I know you have a big chunk of your audience in the form of job seekers looking for advice. On the recruiting side, I completely agree with you about candidates not “reaching out to HR to follow up.” We hate that and it just slows things down (hint: we often have other things besides recruiting going on, and while recruiting is a big deal for you it might be a relatively small priority in the bigger scheme of things). So, is there a time or two that makes sense for a candidate to reach out to HR?

Alison: If you’ve been interviewed, and they told you they’d get back to you in X amount of time, and it’s a week past X. At that point, it’s reasonable to reach out and see if there’s an update on the timeline.

Or if you’ve been interviewed and you have another offer that you need to respond to, so that the company has a chance to expedite things if they’re interested in you.

Otherwise, I know it’s tempting to follow up and ask for updates, but really, if the company wants to hire you, they’re not going to forget about you. People do know that on some level, but it’s so normal to feel anxious and want closure and everything else that makes job searching so emotionally difficult.

Thanks again to Alison for spending some time with us! Please follow her on Twitter and check out her site if you haven’t already. Here are a few good stories that you don’t want to miss:

What did you think of Alison’s honest opinions about HR from a manager’s point of view? Do you agree or disagree?

We’re closing in on HRevolution 2015 in beautiful Saint Louis, and we are happy to announce the location for this year’s event. We will be at the Morgan Street Brewery Lodge, a stylish setup and an all-around fun place to visit.

morgan street breweryWhy this place?

Well, I’ll have to take you back 2010 to explain. That year we held HRev in Chicago, and we had an amazingly creative location picked out. The entire building seemed geared toward creative thinking, and it has remained a perpetual favorite of HRevolution attendees for years. So we decided to try and one-up that location with this phenomenal find.

But why Saint Louis, of all places? One key reason is because my cofounder, Trish McFarlane, lives there! We have hosted this amazing event at various locations since 2009, and this is the first time we’ve held it in her hometown. We have a great group of long-time HRev fans living in and around the STL area, so we know that it will be a great experience for those looking for a unique HR event.

Thinking about it? On the fence? Wondering if it’s worth your while?

Come. It’s worth the drive. You won’t get a legal update. You will get excited and passionate about HR. If you’re not excited about working in HR and the potential impact you can have, then this probably isn’t the event for you. If you consistently hear “you’re not like any HR/recruiting person I’ve ever met,” then this is what you have been waiting for. Plus we’ve created a first-timer’s discount! Just use “firsttime” when you register and you’ll get 20% off the ticket price.

Previous attendees have told me HRevolution is the single most important event they look forward to all year long. And while other events cost $500-1000+ to attend, HRev is just Why not see if the same is true for you?

Today’s post is a personal one about my recent experience quitting caffeine and all of the associated side effects. Not so much about HR, but definitely an interesting look at the experience!

One month ago I quit caffeine. My main delivery method was diet cokes (that’s soda for those of you outside the Southeastern United States). I quit for multiple reasons, and the experience was what I expected in some ways and very much different in others. The thing that hit me since I quit (more on that experience below) was that those of us in the workforce don’t put much of a stigma on drinking caffeine. This experience has helped me to truly see the grip it had on me and the withdrawals were quite… um, intense. I don’t know that I’ll sway you to try quitting yourself, but stick around for the story!

The Background

Those people that know me know that my poison of choice is Diet Mountain Dew. Well, it was, anyway. I haven’t decided if I’ll ever go back to a more moderate intake, but for now I’m trying to live a decaffeinated life. I realized this summer that I was drinking about a two liter a day, and I knew it couldn’t go on forever. I am pretty healthy, eat well, and exercise regularly. But the mental slumps and anguish without caffeine combined with bouts of insomnia helped spur my decision to move away from the green juice.

Like many people, I started drinking caffeine heavily when I was in college. I worked all day, trained for 50-kilometer races in the afternoons, and attended classes at night. I needed something to keep me awake when my mind went fuzzy after a full day. Then I rationalized drinking even more when my kids came along. My joke was that I was short on sleep, and the best bridge for that gap was caffeine. :-)

Now that our third is nearing a year old, I was already going pretty heavy when he was born, so that wasn’t an excuse any more. In addition to that, I had a lingering foot injury from a previous race and poor sleep quality, so I knew I needed to make a decision.

Making the Call

My wife and I were at a funeral for a family member one afternoon and I overheard someone say, “Look at her sister! She’s 92 years old and still fit as can be. If the others had avoided smoking they would still be around too.” In addition, we attended yet another funeral the week prior for a friend of the family with three small children left behind. The death was a result of health complications and I realized how quickly something awful could happen to any of us. It’s amazing how often life events such as these cause us to stop and think about the bigger picture, right?

I decided on a Sunday that I was going to start my taper. I figured cold turkey would probably kill me, so I wanted to ease off and slowly get through the withdrawals with as little pain as possible. I did enough research to know that there were headaches and mental fog to be expected no matter the method used. I wanted to lessen the impact to my work and family, so I planned to taper by a few ounces a day over the course of two weeks.

Thus began my journey.

The first day felt so good that I restricted more than planned. Day two also felt pretty good, so I drank much less than planned (and about a third of my usual intake). I thought, “If this is as bad as it gets, I should have done this a long time ago.”

Then came day three. And boy did it ever. I’m not sure if I’ll always remember the day, because our brain has a setting deep inside that blocks out painful memories to protect our fragile sanity. Suffice to say it was rough.

And why break the cycle? Day four felt terrible. Day five I had back pains and insomnia—seriously. Back pain. That’s what clued me in to the thought that this is more than just something to keep me alert in the early morning hours. It’s affecting my system in ways I can’t even imagine.

One thing that helped was recording the experience. I kept a journal throughout the withdrawal process, noting each day and what I felt.

The most amazing thing is that I can now sit for thirty or forty five minutes at a time without fuzzing out or my thoughts getting hazy. I’ve always had a hard time sitting and focusing for long periods of time, and I attributed that to my naturally high energy. Apparently some of that was due to caffeine! In addition, I can actually recall what people say during those time periods. I’m still a high-energy person and always have been. I just realize now that the caffeine was masking my true energy in a hyper state of random thoughts with no ability to focus. I’m amazed that I have been able to work as a writer and researcher in the past year with this monkey on my back, and I’m glad to say that each day feels better and better in terms of focus.

My sleep is better than ever, and I am falling to sleep at more natural times and waking up feeling more refreshed than any time I can remember.

The Business Take

We freely offer this drug. Heck, we usually pay for employees to consume it. The rationale for many is that caffeinated employees are more productive. Some studies have shown the opposite to be true: when the caffeine “high” and the resulting “low” are balanced out, there isn’t much impact. (Note, I found some of that data while I was quitting as a way to encourage myself, but I can’t for the life of me find the study now that I’m writing this post!).

Anyway, whether it’s a call for wellness or an opportunity to reset your own caffeine clock, I encourage you to try living without it for a month and see how it affects you. It amazed me at the changes I felt weeks later.

Love to hear from some of you! Are you junkies like I was? Are you caffeine free? Why? How do you feel? 

When it comes to leadership, we hear the word on a fairly consistent basis. But what does it really mean, and how do people “get” it? Awhile back I reviewed the book Talent Leadership by John Mattone and really liked it. I was able to get a copy of the author’s latest book, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential, and enjoyed it as well. Here are a few of the key points that stuck out to me.

  • leadership bookWe all have mentors of varying shapes and sizes, and yet when we think about them, they are often people outside the business world that we claim as mentors: friends, family, clergy, etc. There is a definite need for more mentoring within our organizations, and we need to be growing leaders to take those roles. When you think about your managers, you can usually bring to mind a bad boss fairly quickly. What if the mentors we immediately thought of were those people closest to us in our working lives instead?
  • Speaking of growing, Mattone uses a phrase early in the book that sticks out to me. Here’s the quote: “I have come to believe that organizations that do not compulsively develop leaders and future leaders… unknowingly grow and multiply leadership with a high probability of derailment and failure.” Think about it–we’re all being developed and shaped on a daily basis. The question is whether it’s in a positive way or a negative one.
  • The 3 C’s of foundational leadership are capability, commitment, and connectedness. Capability is the set of skills and competencies available for development and enhancement. Commitment is the set of motivational factors that drive people to higher levels of achievement (passion, zeal, etc.) Connectedness involves the alignment with personal values and organizational goals.

The bottom line

As I’ve said before, I really like reading leadership books, because every one is different and I always pick up some new insights. This one was no exception. Mattone brings some great stories and data together to paint a picture of organizations that truly need a strong crop of leaders while demonstrating how you can make strides toward becoming one of those individuals. Get your copy here.

Like this? Check out other book reviews here.

innovation judo book reviewI’ve been reading like crazy lately and have had trouble keeping up with my reviews. Usually it’s even worse: I have no time to read all the books and they just pile up around me. This time around I picked up Innovation Judo: Disarming Roadblocks and Blockheads on the Path to Creativity by Neal Thornberry, PhD (Amazon). I’m a sucker for innovation-focused stuff, and this was definitely a great read on that front. A few good pieces I pulled from the book:

  • Incentives: Want to encourage innovation? Make sure your incentive pay aligns with what you’re trying to promote. Rewarding someone with a movie ticket when they saved the company $10,000 isn’t going to promote additional innovations (or it better be the most awesome movie ever).
  • NIH is poisonous: The “not invented here” mentality that many organizations espouse is a dangerous one. It ultimately leads to more silos and less innovation. Procter & Gamble used to be very closed off, and the book talks about how the business was losing millions of dollars annually due to that sentiment. Now it requires 50% of new ideas to come from outside the company, and it wants to increase it to 80%. That’s a powerful shift and a reason why the company still stands strong year after year.
  • Wackiness: We run into this all the time. People make decisions that make no rational sense and ultimately end up breaking something or causing more work. That can even be the CEO in some cases. Thornberry talks about how nobody wants to tell CEO they are making bad decisions. The good thing is that in the end it usually falls to HR, which can be an opportunity to improve the value of the CEO-HR relationship.

Bottom line

Innovation is about more than sitting in a room “brainstorming” ideas like “we should use less paper in our new hire applications” or “maybe we could print front and back to save money on costs.” It can be a serious differentiator between you and the competition. If you are looking to improve the quality and quantity of innovation your organization is producing, I’d encourage you to check out Innovation Judo by Neal Thornberry, PhD. Get your copy here.

See other book reviews about HR, leadership, and more.

One of the things that we don’t do so well in the HR wold is measuring performance. And by that I mean our OWN performance. Having metrics in place to see how effective our various efforts are is a must, especially when you’re trying to demonstrate an ROI. One of the easiest ways to start is in recruiting.

When it comes to recruiting, organizations have a wide variety of methods to measure effectiveness. Does it come down to time to fill? Is quality of hire the most critical? There are two important things to remember when it comes to measuring talent acquisition. First, each company is going to have a slightly different way of measuring based on unique structure, industry, and goals. Second, these are bigger than recruiting challenges—they can often impact the business at a deeper level.

I’m hosting a webinar tomorrow (Tuesday, September 1st) sponsored by Jobvite if you’d like to listen in. Even if you can’t attend, we’ll send you the slides and a recording if you sign up. This will be the first look at some new data from Brandon Hall Group’s latest talent acquisition survey, so if you’re interested, we’d love to have you join in.

Click here to register.