evidence based approach to hr

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop based on metrics, evidence-based HR, and change management. The session was a lot of fun, because we were able to tie the three topics together in a variety of ways to help reiterate not only why each of them matters, but how each of them can really build value when used in conjunction with one another. HR is often using anecdotal information (if any at all), conjecture, and pure hope to make decisions, but we can do better. Today I want to go a little deeper than my post last week on “keeping up with the Joneses,” focusing more heavily on the evidence-based HR piece.

If you’re not familiar with evidence-based HR, here’s a primer:

Evidence-based human resources is the practice of identifying solutions and approaches that have a strong empirical basis.

In other words, we don’t just use gut instinct, an interesting anecdote, or anyone’s opinion to make our point. We use data and other solid evidence to support our decisions at every possible turn. But where does that evidence come from?

Sources for Evidence-Based Decisions

Here is a list of sources I offered the audience as credible options for finding research materials:

  • Management journals (scholar.google.com)
  • HBR
  • SHRM Foundation
  • Deloitte/Bersin
  • i4cp
  • CEB
  • ATD
  • CIPD

If you just do a quick Google search for one of these organizations and the topic you need to research, you’ll more often than not find something to help make your case. I actually had participants do this during the session, focusing on areas like recognition’s impact on productivity (definite linkage), using talent pools for faster hiring (no data we could find), and other relevant HR activities.

Be careful not to just grab a story of a company that is doing neat things and grabbing headlines, because that’s not enough to warrant good evidence. You want to find information from a study or some other data-backed approach that helps to lend credibility to your eventual decision. If it’s just a neat anecdote, then you’re really not improving the process any more than just making a decision based on gut instinct.

Making an Evidence-Based HR Decision

There are six key steps to making an evidence-based decision in the workplace.

  1. Asking: translating a practical issue or problem into an answerable question
  2. Acquiring: systematically searching for and retrieving the evidence
  3. Appraising: critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence
  4. Aggregating: weighing and pulling together the evidence
  5. Applying: incorporating the evidence into the decision-making process
  6. Assessing: evaluating the outcome of the decision taken

Using this approach can help you to not only leverage evidence, but think critically about how valuable the evidence might be relative to other sources of data and information about your problem. Instead of going with the normal approach of “Bob said this worked at his last company,” we can use more credible sources of information to frame and resolve the issue.

Examples of Evidence-Based HR

Seeing this practice in action is the most powerful way to really “get” the value it can offer. I originally was turned off by the idea of having to research everything HR does on a daily basis, but in reality we make relatively few key decisions like those an evidence-based approach to HR would help with. For instance, New York spent more than $75 million on teachers to help increase student performance and teacher satisfaction. The result? No improvement. There is already data available that could have shown that this kind of approach has not yet been proven to deliver strong results (this examination of multiple studies still came away inconclusive, or “cautiously optimistic,” calling for additional research). Despite the lack of evidence, someone went ahead with the program anyway.

Here are a few examples of how it works in practice.

  • Selection Techniques-Your hiring managers are often used to creating high pressure interview situations to “see how candidates will respond.” They also like using tools like application data and GPA to filter out candidates. You find research that demonstrates the validity of their methods is in some cases no better than performing a coin flip to make a hiring decision, helping to sway them into using more structured methods and assessments for hiring decisions.
  • Employee Recognition-One of your managers is resistant to using recognition because “everyone can’t get a trophy” and she doesn’t want to “coddle” her workers. You find some existing research that points to the value of recognition not just in increasing worker satisfaction, but in increasing productivity as well, helping the manager to see the benefit to her and the team by improving her recognition skills and practices.
  • Performance Management-One of the trends in the US is “disposing” of the traditional approach and taking a different avenue for rating and assessing performance. You want to make this move with your company because you feel like your existing process is not adding organizational value. There isn’t much data, if any, available to support the different approach, but there is some data showing that collaborative environments support better teamwork and cultures than those focused on forced ranking and distribution of employees.

Leveraging research can drive immense value across the board, even for organizations outside the private sector. For instance, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, which repairs military aircraft for the US Air Force, used new research methods to speed repair processes for C-5 aircraft, allowing reductions in working capital of approximately $50 million (source: Deloitte).

While many of us aren’t working hands-on with aircraft, we still have the company’s largest budget item, its people, under our purview. Isn’t it time we started treating them like the valuable assets they are, managing them to the best of our abilities with the most relevant research and information available?

If you’re from outside the US and unfamiliar with the term, “keeping up with the Joneses” is a term that focuses on everyone’s desire to compare themselves with their peers, even when it’s emotionally unhealthy. Instead of focusing on our own strengths, we look at what others have or can do, and we want that instead. There’s a business version of this, and we’ve all been guilty of it at one point or another. For example:

  • We hear success stories and try to mimic what other companies do. For the last ten years I’ve heard more “we want a culture like Zappos” stories than anything else, even if that request has taken a dip in recent years. The problem is people aren’t willing to put their money on the line to make it happen.
  • We find a cool trend and jump on it, hoping for some mythical results. This always reminds me of the goofy “Google interview questions” like how many manhole covers in a city or how many elephants fit in an refrigerator. The questions didn’t predict success on the job, and Google ultimately moved away from them as a selection tool (thank goodness).
  • We get word about some new “best practice” through the news, and everyone wants to try it out. This is where I put unlimited paid time off. It’s a hot topic, but there isn’t anything to show how it really helps to improve the workplace other than anecdotal evidence here or there.

Getting Serious about Talent Practices

A few years ago, someone presented locally on HR metrics. The speaker prescribed specific metrics to everyone in the room, telling them that they needed to be capturing data because these were the “most important” measures. The problem? Some attendees were from staffing firms, others were in manufacturing, and still others were in professional services organizations. The truth is there is no “right” number of metrics, especially for such a diverse group. I haven’t forgotten that kind of peanut-butter-spread approach to advice on measurement, and that’s one reason I am going to be working to fix that this year with some of my speaking opportunities.

This week I’m delivering a workshop to an audience of HR leaders around two key topics: measurement and change. As I’ve been creating the slides and activities, one of the messages I’m striving to get across is that we need to be more of an evidence-based practice. That term goes back to roots in the healthcare community, as evidence-based medicine. The purpose is finding a course of action that is based not on gut instinct or hopeful results, but on some sound and proven science.

Imagine going to the doctor with an illness and getting five different recommendations for cures. You’d be a bit annoyed and unsure about how to proceed, right? But this is what we see daily in the HR profession. If you bring up a problem for discussion, you’ll get those same five different cure ideas from your peers, often based on a personal experience, a story of a friend, or something similar. Don’t worry, I’ve been guilty of this as well.

But this year I’m really focusing on being more intentional about my recommendations. I’m going to be focusing more on finding and uncovering evidence to support my approach. I’m actually going to be interviewing an author soon for the podcast on science-based principles of selling as a way to explore how to influence others. The two topics are connected, because he went through the same thing within the selling profession, taking advice of numerous “gurus” or basing practices on personal experience instead of an approach proven by science.

Best Practices? Maybe

I’ll leave you with this: by the time something becomes a “best practice,” the companies that used it often have moved to something else. The Google interview questions I mentioned above are just one example. One of the challenges of being an early adopter is that I see all of the newest and “best” talent and learning practices. I hear about what’s hot and what’s not. But the thing that never goes out of style is gathering data, making a decision based on that information, and then collecting feedback on results to adjust your direction or stay the course in the future.

Create your own book of best practices that fit your organization and its people. That’s the only set of practices that really matter.

Lee, JarrettAbout the Author: Jarrett Lee is a Research Associate Intern working with me at Lighthouse Research. His research focuses on case studies of companies that successfully deliver results on their talent and learning transformation projects. He is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Communication Arts as well as a Master’s of Science in Human Resource Management from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. 

Goal setting is one of the most popular and talked about HR topics. Goal setting is unique in that it is directly involved in all aspects of life. Goals can be career-based, family-oriented, or even personal. Larger goals such as career goals may take years or even your lifetime to accomplish, while smaller goals may only take weeks or days. Regardless of whether it is professional or personal, all successful people set goals.

So what is goal setting? Goal setting is the process of identifying something you want to achieve and an end result you will reach. How do you go about setting your goal? One commonly used tool for setting goals is the mnemonic SMART.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

The Six W’s of Goal Setting

Specific goal setting refers to the six “W” questions: who, what, when, where and why. Setting specific goals can increase your chance of accomplishment and help the make the goal real to you. Your goal must also be measureable in some way to determine accomplishment. It is also best to track your progress continuously. This will help keep you focused on accomplishing your goal and show how much you have already accomplished.

When setting your goal, make sure it is attainable. Goals will only be accomplished if they are realistically possible. Setting unrealistic goals is setting yourself up for failure. Goals should also be relevant to your situation. Inconsistent or irrelevant goals will not provide any real benefit, even if you accomplish them. Lastly, your goals should be time-bound; setting a time specific deadline will create a sense of urgency and help keep you motivated to accomplishing to your goals.

Take Action on Your Goals

Using these five components of goal setting help you specify a goal, determine if it’s attainable and realistic, measure your progress and set a deadline for achievement. It is also important to remember while SMART goals can help you set your goal, it takes determination to accomplish your objectives. Goal setting is an ongoing process, and while your end goal may not change your steps to accomplishment just might.

The new year brings new challenges and opportunities as we attempt to whip our HR and recruiting functions into shape. One of the new projects we’re working on at Lighthouse is our Global Talent Acquisition Sentiment Study. With more than 400 votes, we are helping to narrow down the most pressing priorities and topics across the talent acquisition function. The infographic below offers some insight into what those priorities are, and my forthcoming report on the topic will delve into how the data shows differences in US and non-US populations, what trends are driving the relative importance of each of these issues, and what to expect in the coming months.

I’m also delivering a presentation on this topic in March and would be glad to share these insights with your group in a lecture, workshop, or webinar. Just reach out via my speaker page and we can discuss. 

Below are some of the noteworthy findings.

Key Priorities are Not Function-Related

Some of the key priorities in the study that came out on top were focused not on specific practices in recruiting, but on more broad aspects, such as process improvement and business alignment. This is a positive finding, because all too often when I’m working with clients I see that they have a great onboarding or branding program, only to find out that it’s working in opposition to their goals and business strategies.

Onboarding, Sourcing, Candidate Experience Top the List

It consistently surprises me when I see a group of talent leaders prioritize onboarding. Not because it is unimportant, but because it seems like so little effort is placed on it in reality. It’s possible that 2017 is the year we turn that around, making this a strategic differentiator for growth.

Next up is sourcing. I see a great divide between the highly capable digital sourcing professionals and the rest of the HR and talent leader community. This is so pronounced that it almost seems like a different profession, akin to marketing or customer acquisition more so than HR.

Finally, candidate experience was barely edged out for third place. In our recent research on the candidate experience, we pointed out some not-so-obvious ways to improve this practice with assessments, video interviews, and more. This discipline is steadily becoming more of a concrete science for talent leaders, which means we can find what works, make specific process improvements, and deliver higher value to our future employees.

One final note: you’ll notice that not much room separates any of these in the infographic below. This is good in that companies have their priorities in order, but it is also challenging, because when we have competing priorities it means we’re going to be less effective. It is critical to find the specific talent practice your team needs to work on and make it happen before attempting to move to other opportunities in the list.

Lighthouse 2017 TA Sentiment Study Graphic

After looking deeply at the research on generations in the workplace, I have come up with some findings that will help everyone to perform their jobs better. It seems like a new study comes out every day attempting to explain how to approach each generation of workers, what matters to them, etc. This blog is a synopsis of everything I’ve read on the topic. Note: Please read this entire post for context. Thanks!

Generations-at-Work

Boomers

This group of workers has been in the workforce the longest and often holds senior level roles. There is a significant amount of institutional and tribal knowledge locked away in the minds of these workers. It’s up to companies to help find a way to get that knowledge out to the rest of the workforce while they are still around.

Actually, who cares what they said? They’re all going to retire soon anyway. Let’s just wait them out and we won’t have to listen to them anymore.

Gen X

Simultaneously voted most likely to be annoyed at Millennials because they have it so easy and equally annoyed at Boomers because they are still holding the senior leadership slots in a death grip. Gen X is really just full of people that look for ways to use generational research as a lever to get what they want.

Need to mollify them when pursuing a change initiative? Just turn on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or another inane 80’s movie and they will subconsciously zone out.

Millennials

Voted most likely to text during a performance review, chew with their mouths open, kick your puppy, or whatever else we can say about them to make them seem like the most uncivilized humans on the planet.

In fact, why are we even allowing these monsters to stay in the workplace at all? Let’s fire them all and look for a way to survive until a better generation comes along.

Gen Z/Whatever

Let’s just give up before they even get here. Life as we know it in the business world is going to cease to exist. Good luck.

 

Note, this is completely and totally fake. I’m trying to bring some attention to the ridiculous things that people say about generations in the workplace and how divisive they can be. If you agree, share this with a coworker or friend in the industry. Bonus points if you get a photo of their reaction!

My real take on this topic? We can find ways to work with anyone, and their “generation” has less to do with it than their career or life stage. Instead of looking for things that divide us, let’s spend more time looking for common ground!

7 lessons employee experience

I just finished reading a brand new book called The Employee Experience. It’s a great look at the relatively new concept of creating an experience for employees, not just trying to engage them or do some other one-off program that doesn’t deliver long-term results.

7 Powerful Lessons on the Employee Experience

1) Congruent customer and employee experiences

I’ve long said that the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience. Well, what I’ve actually said is, “Employees will never treat customers better than their management treats them,” but it’s one and the same. The experiences will be congruent, or similar. That means companies that live and die by customer satisfaction scores need to start not with customer bonuses or other gimmicks but with a positive employee experience.

2) The Employee Experience is not the Employee Life Cycle

One of the issues with someone’s initial attempt to grasp the concept of the employee experience is to put it in the context of the employee life cycle. The experience, or how someone feels, is part of the life cycle, but it’s not quite the same thing. Don’t think that understanding the mechanics of onboarding and performance management means that you have a great employee experience. Instead look at the candidate or employee-centric nature of your processes and see to what extent they support, encourage, and engage your workforce. That’s your hint.

3) Tell me about your employees first

If I walked up to you right now and asked about your company, what would you start with? Your products? Your mission? Your customers? What about your employees–would they even make it into the discussion? It’s so common to think about this in the context of customers when in reality it’s our employees that make us successful. Start with employees and go from there. It will change the perspective of those around you.

4) Expectations rule the day

A big part of why employees have bad experiences in the workplace is because of expectations. Have you ever had high expectations for a raise, performance discussion, or meeting, only to walk away feeling disappointed? The theory of expectancy plays into motivations and how we feel about choices we make. If you want to deliver a poor experience, make sure you give people a warning ahead of time so their expectation gap (what they expect and what you deliver) isn’t as large.

5) Companies don’t really exist–people do

The trouble with leaders in many organizations is that they view the company as “The Company,” an automonous entity that doesn’t need to be understood or afforded respect. In this worldview, employees are replacement parts, and we don’t have to worry about the feelings of replaceable parts.

People get stuff done, not “the company.” People are the face of the firm, not a logo, billboard, or slogan. Remember that.

6) Design thinking for the win

The concept of design thinking centers on this: efforts are spent not just on solving problems, but on creating solutions with the end result in mind. In this case, how can we create ideas that focus not on the organization or on the customer, but on the employee experience. Instead of thinking about how to fix a problem specifically, the focus is on becoming something radically different. For many of us, that’s the direction we need to go to rectify design flaws in our processes and policies that can actually hamper our efforts to engage our workers.

7) Scrap the fancy job titles and get to work

I’ve heard in the last few years about new job titles popping up in the HR space. Chief Culture Officer, Chief Employee Experience Officer, etc. This was also mentioned in the book.

At first I was excited about the idea, but the more I thought about it, I realized that in some cases it was an abdication of responsibility. Think about it–when a task is assigned to someone specifically, everyone else can forget about helping with it and it falls off their list of priorities. That’s where I see the challenge in hiring these types of roles or even trying to create that kind of organization. Guiding and shepherding corporate culture isn’t one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job. Creating a powerful employee experience isn’t just HR’s or the C-suite’s job, it’s everyone’s job.

What are your thoughts on the employee experience? After reading some of these ideas, are you creating a great one, or does yours need some work

The HR profession is mostly women (look around you at any event and you’ll see). Yet when we look at the representation of females in the C-suite, whether in HR or in general, the blend is more evenly mixed or even weighted towards men. Why?

were-only-human-logoThe 2016 HR Technology Conference had a new feature: the Women in HR Tech Summit. The event was a success by all measures, but one person heard about the summit and started to wonder, what do female executives in HR technology do differently? What makes them successful? What lessons can we translate to the HR community at large, helping women to achieve greater success in their roles as executives, HR leaders, and business professionals?

In episode 6 of We’re Only Human, I interviewed Lynn Miller, a researcher exploring the interesting world of female founders and CEOs in HR Technology. She talks about what separates this group from their male counterparts and also explains the value they can bring in terms of customer satisfaction and more. (Subscribers, click through to listen to the embedded show below.)

For more information about Lynn’s research, check out her LinkedIn series .

To check out other episodes of We’re Only Human or learn more about what I’m up to, check out the Podcast page.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Why do you think this mix of females diminishes at higher levels of responsibility? What can we do to fix it, if it should be fixed? What would you want to know from these CEOs and high achievers if you had a chance to talk with them one-on-one?