One of the most common terms around recruiting these days is candidate experience. If you’re late to the game, it’s basically a look at how candidates are treated as they enter your recruiting funnel all the way to getting an offer, if they move that far. It’s comparable to the customer experience: how they are treated, how they feel about the organization, etc. I’ve long held that candidate experience is seen as unimportant not because it doesn’t matter, but because companies just don’t know how to make it stick.

Think about it. If I told you starting today that you had to treat every candidate with the same reverence you offered your customers, you would have a hard time making it work among your other job duties. In addition, you’d probably be unsure just how to make that a reality. I recently wrote about how to revolutionize candidate experience (here). The gist:

  1. Measure it continuously
  2. Make it automatic
  3. Make it part of recruiting performance
  4. Make it more important than something else
  5. Make it a business priority, not an HR one

Those are good, helpful pieces of information, but I’ll do you one better. My friend Jane, the HR leader for a startup technology company in Boston, left me a comment that was worth sharing. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she has authored a few previous guest posts here (How to Select a Third Party RecruiterThe Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density. and Applying Marketing Principles to HR). Here’s Jane’s take on practical ways to impact candidate experience:

It didn’t seem to push through, but figured I’d share on your candidate experience article:

Ben, great article. My experience is that the candidate (and employee) experience becomes acutely important when in a highly-competitive market where you want to hire people better than the job criteria … but so does everyone else.

I’ll give you an example – in one of my positions, we posted on craigslist, got a bunch of applicants, handled them the average HR way, and hired people who met our criteria – most of whom were fine. In retrospect, many (but not all – I worked with some really great people) were looking for a less-bad job than their last.

In another position, we wanted the cream of the crop (without being able to pay Google money). To win those candidates, it became much more important to give them access to our CEO, mission and strategy. To woo them by meeting members of the team. And to actively court them. Unless we were in love with a candidate, we weren’t extending an offer. And if we extended that offer, we really wanted a yes.

Ultimately, you need buy in from the top-down because hiring (and the way candidates are treated) needs to become more important than everything else on people’s plates. The pay-off? Spectacular talent. A competitive advantage in the market. Awesome referrals. And people who leave for greener pastures, but want to return.

What I like in particular about their approach is the clear delineation between “what we did” and “what we do now” with regard to how candidates are treated. This is the same approach I took when I was leading the HR function at Pinnacle Solutions. Things like access to the CEO, the opportunity to bring a spouse/SO to the office to meet people before accepting an offer, or even just a private meeting with peers to ask questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking me or the hiring manager are all incredibly powerful tools in these circumstances.

How does your organization make the overall experience for candidates a priority? Has it worked for you? 

As I look back on the past five years and all of the people I’ve met, I have made some interesting conclusions about career choices. My background as an HR pro has helped to expose me to a wide variety of experiences, people, and career options. I was talking with a friend a few days ago about some of the HR positions I have had over the years. Some of them were at dysfunctional companies with dysfunctional teams. Others were made up of great people vigorously pursuing excellence at all levels. However, I don’t know that I would have appreciated the good ones as much if I didn’t have some bad ones sprinkled in there for comparison.

Think about it. If you are feeling pretty sore from a workout or from a long, stressful week, you appreciate a massage more. If it’s hot out, that cold drink seems especially soothing.

So while we’re all working hard to offer great work environments and engaging opportunities for employees, they might not realize how nice they have it without a really awful place to compare it to.

So, what’s the answer? I really don’t know. We won’t make it unappealing simply to make a point, but there has to be some way to make this work. While you’re pondering that, let’s talk about something else: coaching.

One of my favorite HR activities is providing coaching to managers and employees at critical moments. For whatever reason it’s just something that I really enjoy. Recently I spoke with a friend about some of these career coaching moments, and we discussed how to approach some particularly tricky options his employees are facing.

Here are two scenarios that are probably all-too-common. If you have seen employees with these sorts of challenges, I’d love to hear how you helped them to resolve the issues.

The Overpaid Employee With an Entitlement Mentality

Let’s call her Carla. Carla has worked for this company for years and has tons of experience in her field. She’s the most technically competent employee that works for this company–and she knows it. She has been poking her manager about a pay raise because she thinks she is worth more money. The truth is she’s probably already overpaid for the level of responsibility she holds and overall value she brings to customers.

So, like it usually happens in this situation, the manager sends her to HR to talk.

My recommendation was to turn it around. This is not HR’s job to discuss this–it’s between the manager and employee. I suggested my friend get the employee to set up a meeting (after all, she is the one pushing this so hard) between her, her manager, and HR. The employee needs to lay out what she wants and expects, and the manager needs to be upfront and honest about her career aspirations, the value she brings, and what possibilities lie ahead.

Every time I do this the manager initially balks at the concept. However, after the fact they appreciate having the clarity between them and the employee, and HR was able to observe/facilitate and offer support without having to be the one driving the discussion.

Honestly, the employee forgot that less than five years ago she worked for an absolutely terrible organization that treated her poorly. She’s become a bit aggressive and entitled at the same time, and this is the first step to rectifying that.

The Humble Employee with Limited Experience

Another employee faces a career decision as well, but of a different type. This guy has a great attitude and has grown in responsibility over time. He also has about five years of experience with this company, but he realizes that he doesn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to move to the next level. He doesn’t want to leave, but at the same time, he knows that something will have to change for his skills to be up to the task of managing his function in the coming years.

So my friend talked with him about possibly leaving for a year or two to work at another organization, learn their processes, strategies, etc. and then return in time to step up to the next role when it is time. Obviously this carries some risk:

  • what if the job doesn’t materialize
  • what if the things he learns are not enhancing his skill set
  • what if the company can’t hire him back when they originally said they would
  • who will run his function in his absence

You get the idea. It’s scary.

And yet it’s innovative. It’s a solution to the problem. And without anyone internally to mentor him and help him grow, this might be the only chance to gain the needed experience to ultimately help this company succeed.

If you think you might identify with this guy and need to make a change for your own career development, then scout out some local opportunities to see what might be available. And if you’re looking for a resume template to help you with that search, check out this resource.

So, those are just two of the most recent conversations I’ve had about HR being involved in career discussions with employees.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which of these types of employees is working in your organization right now? How can you help them? 

This weekend was a whirlwind of activity as HRevolution swept through Saint Louis. It was one of the best yet (I’ve heard from some that this one was the most impressive), and as I head back to work I want to keep a few of the great conversations and topics in mind. Here’s what you missed:

  • Nearly 50 practitioners and leaders in the space got together to crowdsource problems, build stronger networks, and get a new outlook on the future of this great profession. On the drive home my good friend Allen told me that he was pumped up and excited about putting some of the ideas into action.
  • The Morgan Street Brewery Lodge was amazing, and the food was incredible. I’m going to be running off the ten pounds I gained over the weekend. :-)
  • Mary Faulkner got us all talking about whether or not HR is ready for feedback, how we might be perceived in the organization, and how to respond to data showing dismal approval ratings. Most of us would be afraid to ask for feedback internally, but it’s a great way to ensure you’re meeting the needs of internal customers.
  • Franny Oxford and Paul Hebert helped to dig into positive HR, how we can help our organizations be more positive, and how to specifically bring our own happiness into the workplace every day. To be honest I thought the topic was simplistic, but it received more comments from the audience than pretty much every other session.
  • We had a new game during lunch based on the Jimmy Fallon Box of Lies bit. It was pretty darn hilarious and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. Bottom line: we are terrible at being able to tell if people are lying to us. Or maybe HR people are great liars. Hmmm…
  • Jane Jaxon led a discussion around curating the organizational culture as the company grows. How do you scale some of the high-touch activities and experiences when you triple in size?
  • Tim Gardner brought the big company discussion with his experiences at Kimberly-Clark. It was a great look at how large organizations manage people and a realization for me that even big companies have people issues, just of a different scope and hue.
  • Katrina Collier helped to frame a discussion around increasing candidate engagement in a noisy social atmosphere. I think the corporate recruiters in the audience picked up some helpful tips and hints from the conversation.
  • Finally, Steve Boese led us on a hunt for revolutionary HR technology, and each group had to design its own solution and explore the market need, functionality, etc. Most of us think we could design better stuff than some vendors, but it’s not quite as simple as it sounds!
  • Finally, we had a sizable portion of attendees as first timers. It was great to meet Teresa, Angie, Katrina, Rob, Bernie, and so many other great folks. I love my long-time friends from the HR/recruiting space, but it is always great to expand that circle as well.

Thanks for our great sponsors, attendees, and my fellow planning crew for another great event. Mark your calendar for early June next year, because you don’t want to miss this experience.

Please. For goodness sake, please stop measuring HR data.

See, I know why you’re doing it. You heard this “big data” thing it was a good idea, and you started gathering information. Then you realized how easy it was, so you started pulling together even more from a variety of sources. You’re hitting up your applicant tracking system, payroll system, and other data feeds to get what you want. I know, it’s hard to stop.

But then you did what many others do–nothing. You took all that information and you sat on it.


Because you didn’t slow down and start with a plan. You need to know ahead of time (or at least have a general idea) about how the information can help you. If you’re gathering data for the sake of gathering data, then you are wasting time and resources, and you’re probably harming your credibility as well.

On the other hand, if you started with a plan to associate the data with business outcomes to actually prove a point, then carry on. I hope you make better decisions and deliver more value to the business based on what information you’re pulling together.

A quick test

Here’s a quick test to help you figure out what data is valuable and which is not.

  • Learning: what is more valuable in business terms, measuring training completions or measuring changed behaviors based on the training?
  • Payroll: what is more valuable to the organization, calculating how many zip codes employees live in or calculating how many have benefits and how that number trends over time?
  • Employee relations: how about this? Should you measure the number of sexual harassment complaints or how many disagreements you mediate between supervisors and staff?

Here’s the twist. I could easily make the case that any of these could be valuable in specific circumstances. But if you are truly looking at how your training is changing the organization and making people work smarter, then completion information just isn’t enough to do that.

The thing is, many people just gather data without any idea of how to use it. Your needs are different from those of every other organization, so something others might ignore could be incredibly valuable in helping your employer meet its goals and vice versa.

Think about the information you gather and report. Is it truly impacting the business, or is it just a “we’ve always done it” kind of activity? When I think back to the data I reported on at my last job, some of it was valuable, and some of it was a complete waste of time. And it was rarely used for decision-making, which made it doubly painful.

For instance, I had to regularly report on turnover numbers, but we never took the time to review them by team or functional role, which might have given us some insight into what was driving turnover for those specific positions.

We need to be thinking about what we gather and report on more critically. Stop gathering data just for the sake of it. Start with a purpose in mind before you piece together the first bits of information, or “begin with the end in mind,” as Mr. Covey would say.

Hope that helps. Lessons learned from someone who did it the wrong way the first time around. :-)

I’ve been reading a slew of books lately focused on neuroscience. One line in the latest hit me, and I thought it would be interesting to pull together some of the thoughts from a few to share. Here’s the tidbit (emphasis mine):

What do [scientific] studies show, viewed as a whole? Mostly this: if you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a cubicle. Source: Brain Rules

Wow. We have known for a while that classroom training was losing its luster compared to social, video, mobile, and other informal delivery methods. However, this is a stern indictment of the most commonly used method of training, with 40% of companies using classroom-based instructor led training (ILT) more than half the time.

Attention, Focus, and Work

Another book that quickly hooked me was Two Awesome Hours. The basic premise is that we were not meant to sit at a computer for eight plus hours a day working at a single repetitive task without breaks. That’s what robots are for. Josh Davis, PhD, says some people can get as much done in two good, productive hours as others can in an entire day. The concept has to do with a few different elements of work, but the part that has been most interesting for me is working on focused activities when I’m most “on.”

Making decisions isn’t a limitless activity. We have a finite amount of willpower and every small decision we make chips away at that reserve. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors examine the metaphor of the elephant and rider. The elephant (our subconscious) makes many small underlying decisions in our daily work and life. The rider (our conscious brain) makes larger, more complex decisions, but it has a limited amount of power to guide the elephant when tired, overtaxed, etc. That applies in the context of our work, where we make hundreds of decisions every day.

In other words, when you have that golden hour of focus and intensity in your workday, use it for critical thinking and other thought-heavy tasks, not for responding to emails, making phone calls, or chatting with coworkers. Then fit in those more routine/mundane tasks when needed. All too often we waste that precious time doing things that require little brainpower but ultimately leave us unprepared to handle strenuous mental work.

I recently read that more workers are opting to work from home as a way to avoid distractions and focus more intently on projects. Always seen as a nuisance, we now realize that interruptions of any kind have a more profound impact on work than previously believed. This experiment shows that it’s not just time that is affected by distractions, but overall work quality as well.

 The Learning Impact

What does this have to do with learning? Pretty much everything.

Brandon Hall Group’s principal learning analyst, David Wentworth, recently shared some amazing insights into how companies are transforming the classroom environment to be less traditional and more interactive. The way we structure our classes, for the most part, hasn’t changed over the years. But there are now phenomenal examples of companies pursuing more interactive methods of training, whether blended with the classroom approach or entirely separate. Like it or not, the most effective method for training, according to those organizations we surveyed, is still classroom-based ILT. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay the same as it was 10 years ago.

These principles that apply to work in general apply to the world of learning and development. Here are a few examples of how neuroscience can help us make better training decisions:

  • Don’t put people in a lecture for three hours and expect them to be attentive, alert, and engaged. Break up the session with discussions, opportunities for application, peer interactions, etc. This helps to ensure the content not only sticks, but has some real-world examples to make it more concrete.
  • What we see is more powerful than any other sense. Expecting people to multitask and read your slides while you talk is going to limit the effectiveness by forcing learners to split attention among your words and your text. In fact, John Medina, author of Brain Rules, suggests tossing your text-laden PowerPoint slides in favor of image-based ones that support your topics without overshadowing them. Studies show that we have an amazing capability to remember imagery, but only a mediocre recall rate for text.

I’m not sure that I will be ready to throw away my beloved slides anytime soon, but these ideas have given me something to consider next time I’m putting together a deck for a presentation. What are your thoughts on how our brains are wired for learning? Is the classroom giving us the results we need, or is something more needed to improve the retention and value of existing training.

This originally appeared on the Brandon Hall Group blog

keep fighting

Last week I spent several days with leaders at nonprofits from around the world at the LINGOS Global Learning Forum. It was a humbling experience, and I had some of my preconceived notions turned upside down.

In the past I would have imagined (based on my own experiences working in and with nonprofit organizations) that many nonprofits and NGOs are backward at worst and behind the times at best due to limited resources. That may be the case for some, but certainly not for the ones I talked with in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were groups focused on feeding the hungry, teaching people out of poverty, educating women and children in third world countries, providing clean water in Africa, and dozens of other amazing examples of world-changing ideals. What truly surprised me was the level of sophistication of the attendee population.

There were discussions on leading-edge technology, best practices for training and development, and global strategy implementations to reach millions of people. That doesn’t sound like the slate of topics for a group that is whining about how to get a “seat at the table.”

But how? Aren’t they dealing with tough budgets and limited resources? Yes, but because they know they have limits, they use it as fuel for innovation and creative thinking instead of a convenient excuse.

Honestly, I’m not here to beat you up. I’m guilty of using those same excuses. I don’t have time. I don’t have the budget. I don’t have… whatever. But when it comes down to it, there’s usually a way to get it done.

If they can face those same challenges and still feed a family in Peru, then those of us in the private sector need to toughen up just a bit. And remember when you’re supporting charitable organizations that they employ people like us to help them run smoothly and effectively.

Just a few thoughts to start your week of on the right tone.

What charitable organizations do you support? Why?

This summer at SHRM I was looking through the sessions in the app in an attempt to figure out which I wanted to attend, and I saw this one right up front.

SOLD OUT – #707: HR Metrics that Matter: The Process of Developing a Business Scorecard

It made me stop and think, especially in light of some of the conversations I had with others at the event about what sort of content was being offered. For instance, one session at the event was focused on the usual “top ten ways to avoid legal trouble this year,” and it had packed out the entire room and the overflow area as well. I’ve always had trouble with those types of training on the supervisory side of things. Why? Because it makes us focus on the negative aspects of our work, how to avoid getting “in trouble,” and makes us seem more like a nanny in the workplace than a trusted resource for managers/employees and a key business leader.

Policies vs. Actual Contributions

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship (mostly hate) with policies. I think we should take more time to coach and support than regulate and demand. Yes, there are times that come when we must make a rule, be the bad guy, etc. but it shouldn’t come on a daily basis. I recently shared Alison Green’s comments on how managers can have a good relationship with HR. The comments on that blog post when she linked from her site are pretty standard, and yet they still hurt those of us who see ourselves as good and helpful business leaders (instead of merely being the “no, you can’t do that” department).

Going back to the original intent of this post, I was glad to see the metrics session being sold out. Why? Because it’s something that we can do that is not just about being sued, covering our company’s butt, or some other litigation-related idea. Even small companies have the ability to gather and use data in a meaningful way.

In my opinion HR pros who make decisions solely on laws and what the handbook/policies allow aren’t making much of a contribution to the organization. It’s those that take the initiative to find ways that they can contribute in a more meaningful way, offer advice and flexibility that pushes the boundaries, and don’t say, “No” to every request that comes in (even if they are a little bit scary).

A Shift to PositiveHR?

It gives me hope that our philosophy as a profession is changing. SHRM and other organizations will continue to offer these “how not to get sued by your employees” sessions, because there is significant demand for them. But over time, I hope to see us focusing more on the other end of the spectrum. There’s even a group of my friends that started this #PositiveHR movement on Twitter, because they believe that we have the opportunity to do great things if we are truly positive and not self-defeating at every turn.

I do understand that there is a natural maturity curve as well. Smaller organizations or those with inexperienced HR pros will drift toward the legalistic side of things, while organizations with more radical HR pros will seize opportunities to focus on engagement and other positive things we bring to the table. It just seems that many organizations (and HR pros) are reluctant to move beyond the legal side of things. Is it because it offers them more power inside the organization? Is it because they need to feel more intelligent/informed than their peers? I’m not sure…

What are your thoughts? Are we still mired in this world of legal issues or is there a chance we can more into more strategic areas of impact?