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Differentiation is Critical for Long Term Success

Today we’re talking about the importance of differentiating your HR practices to increase your value and the satisfaction of your customers, both internal and external. Check out the video (subscribers click through to view):

The bottom line? You should explore the possibility of differentiating your offerings where you can. I’ve long said that as technology and globalization make the world smaller, the gap between competing companies shrinks. The best way, therefore, to stand out from the crowd is through excellence in HR service delivery. World class HR helps organizations deliver world class service.

Differentiate your HR practices from other organizations. Customize your offerings to the degree you can.

But beware the trap of trying to be all things to all people. below you’ll see some excellent advice on how to know when to accept or reject an opportunity to customize your HR service delivery.

The argument for and against customization

Here’s a snippet from my friend Kris Dunn on how customization can be used to improve your HR service delivery based on lessons learned in a software development environment.

The bottom line is that customization causes complexity. The same logic holds true for your HR shop.  If you’re good, you’ve got a set way of doing things, and if you do it the same way often enough, it’s going to work pretty well.  But you’ll have requests from your client group often to do it different ways.  It’s hard to say no, but you should say no when you can.  Complexity eats away at your ability to deliver in an efficient way.

You know when customization for your HR client group really makes sense?  The same time that it makes sense for a software company.  When the work that you’ll do to customize creates features that can be rolled out to more than one person/client.

Say yes to custom work that results in your HR practice being deeper and capable of delivering more.  Make sure you approach it like a product manager, to make it replicable.

Run away from other custom work if you can.  But the take above means that if you run away every time custom work is requested, you’re probably transactional – not strategic. Source: The HR Capitalist

I’d love to hear from some of you about what you do to differentiate/customize your HR practices to increase the value you’re offering to your candidates, employees, managers, and customers. 

The Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density

Today we’re honored to have a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Building a caring work environment and increasing talent density: compatible or mutually exclusive?

If you’re reading this entry for an answer, skip ahead to the comments section, because you definitely won’t find it here. The question is of critical importance to where we are as a company and I’m actively debating it in my quieter moments. People – their collective personality and their performance – are our differentiator in a tough tech market.

caring work environment

Is building a supportive environment a goal of your organization?

A little background: our company culture is built on integrity, ownership, simplicity, service and balance. We’ve strictly held to our core values in hiring decisions, resulting in a place that people enjoy working because they get to work with intelligent, driven and truly amazing people they care about. Our people also know that HR, the Leadership team and our co-founders care about them on a personal level, which is both a key to retention and to recruitment.

But to build a successful company that scales, we need the most talented team possible. Talent attracts and retains talent and builds a better product. There’s the idea that winning teams succeed because they have the best players on their team. Successful sports teams cut fan favorites to upgrade their roster and aren’t slow to trade away players when underperforming. It’s all understood as part of the business of winning. But it also feels very impersonal and at odds with the familial culture we’ve built.

Is there a happy medium? Can a company truly care about its employees while remaining committed to increasing the level of “A-players” on the team? How does one handle the model employee that just isn’t up to the task at hand?

As I shared, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it’s possible for a company to toe the line by investing in “coaching up” struggling employees, being clear about expectations and where the gaps are, and making a genuine effort to get people to where they need to be. To be sure, this requires a genuine commitment from the top of the organization and far more effort than any alternative, but I think it can and should be done.

There will always be cases where things just don’t work out. Treat departing employees with dignity, respect and honesty. Ask yourself, “Does this feel right?” Others in the organization will know if you gave the departing team member a fair shake to keep their job, and will take note of how you treated them on the way out. If you can navigate this maze, I think you can have both talent density and a caring corporate culture. Who knows what success awaits from that point forward?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

Show Me the Money: What CMOs can Teach CHROs

I got a pitch the other day for some new research from the CMO Council. At first glance I started to trash it (I’m into marketing, but I’m willing to bet most of you aren’t!).

Then I took another look. I think the principles in the summary can shed some light on how HR pros can improve their position, make more money, and be seen as more competent overall. Got your attention? Read on!

CMO compensation is directly related to reporting structure. Those making more… are more likely to report directly to the CEO.

driving results

You have to be more innovative if you want more reward.

This one makes sense, but it’s a good reminder. Want to earn more? Work your way up until you’re reporting to the CEO. Or be good enough to become the CEO, but that’s another post for another day.

The highest paid CMOs have developed strong alliances with CIOs and CFOs.

Success in business is driven in part by the key relationships you develop. This applies to the HR function as well. Learn to connect with CFOs and other executives. Speak their language, earn some credibility, and put that network to use.

CMOs earning the highest levels of base compensation tend to be focused on driving business performance (e.g., top-line growth, market share, efficiencies, etc.).

Want to be successful long term in your role? Focus on driving business performance. The rest will take care of itself.

CMO base compensation is correlated with firm size. The larger the company, the more likely that the CMO will make more in base compensation and the more likely they will have bonus compensation.

Want to earn more money? Work for a larger company (and referring back to the first example, work for a larger company in the top tiers of management).

Digital marketing skills are important. CMO salary tends to increase as their firm’s digital marketing performance improves.

This is an easy one. The more value you can prove your function is bringing to the organization, the more you can command in terms of compensation. Have an HR mission statement that describes your aims and then make them happen.

Marketing titles (i.e., CMO, VP of Marketing, SVP of Marketing, etc.) don’t significantly correlate with base compensation.

Titles matter less than what you do. Your value is not in a title–it’s in your performance and the performance of your team.

Key accomplishments of the top earners… are centered on restructuring marketing to drive results, improving the yield/accountability of marketing, and building digital capabilities.

The top earners focus on results, not “the way things have always been done.” Improving capabilities, driving results in areas that are traditionally not seen as value add, and making tough choices are the activities that are rewarded. Keeping up the status quo not only isn’t rewarded–in many of these types of organizations I’d say it is probably weeded out.

So, what are your thoughts? Anything here that particularly rang true for you? Any action items that stepped on your toes to drive you to action? 

Source: http://www.cmocouncil.org/press-detail.php?id=4882

The Affordable Care Act: Something to Appreciate

If you’re an in-the-trenches HR pro, the Affordable Care Act has brought multiple emotions to bear: frustration, worry, and more. I know exactly how it feels, but I have also come to appreciate a particular side effect of the law.

The “good old days”

The creepiest thing I could find referencing the ACA online.

The creepiest thing I could find referencing the ACA online.

Five or ten years ago, the benefits administrator for a fully insured organization would receive a rate renewal notification from the insurance company with the new premiums for the coming plan year. In most cases, that rate was set in stone and the organization had to grin and bear it. We’ve been over the ACA health insurance premium increases before, but that’s not what we’re focusing on today.

I was speaking with a friend earlier this week about some changes his organization’s leadership team is debating related to health insurance for employees. There was a time in the past where this type of internal discussion would have made me a little uncomfortable; however, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it would be crazy not to spend some time talking about how the market is changing, what trends are evident, and how to develop a strategy for moving forward.

The single most important result of the ACA is this: perspectives are finally changing.

Click here to continue reading about the best change as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The Best College Degrees are Ones You Don’t Have to Explain

I received a press release recently titled “Corporate Recruiters Suggest Most Marketable College Degrees.” Okay, I’ll bite.

Tell me this revelation.

Enlighten me as to what degrees are the most marketable.

Who knows, maybe they know something I don’t? Here’s the list:

  • Computer Science
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Business and Marketing
  • Communications with a writing focus

college degreeWell, I can’t say I’m surprised in the least. Despite colleges offering degrees in puppetry, pop culture, or the Beatles (yes, really), the list above is not very surprising.

When students come to me asking what they should major in, I tell them to find something they are interested in that others in the marketplace will value. Note that I don’t encourage them to pursue German music or art history. Just because it interests you doesn’t mean it will help you to find a job, earn a living, and all that jazz. It needs to also satisfy a need in the marketplace. Hello, economics 101.

The title of this post says it all. If I have a degree in computer science, you know (generally) what I have learned and what I should be capable of. Same goes with accounting, marketing, business, etc.

If you have to spend ten minutes explaining what your degree is in or how you’ll use it, then it might be time to reconsider.

Then again, maybe you should just skip the degree and get to work. In this rant I talk about the myth of “giving back” and how it’s critical to teach students how to become productive citizens primarily. College isn’t a requirement, and many believe we have too many college graduates as it is.

According to the BLS, only 27 percent of us need college degrees for our jobs. Yet, 47 percent of the workforce currently has a college degree. This 14.9 percentage point difference equates to 21 million overqualified degreed workers in a workforce of 140 million; or the size of the 2013 fall postsecondary enrollment.

If these data are taken at face value, given an expected class of 2.1 million new first-year college students each year in the nation’s colleges and universities — at least from an economic point of view — we should consider shutting the nation’s two and four-year colleges down for the next 10 years to absorb the existing surplus of graduates. Source: PBS

In addition, there’s the crazy ongoing issue of these kids graduating with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt. Some really good insights on that topic (and how to avoid it for your own kids) are found here.

Food for thought.

Now let me get back to my studies. I’m trying to wrap up a course in shipwreck archaeology…

How High Will You Climb (Book Review)

For some, attitude presents a difficulty in every opportunity; for others, it presents an opportunity in every difficulty. -John Maxwell

Recently I received a copy of How High Will You Climb: Determine Your Success by Cultivating the Right Attitude by John Maxwell to review, and I had to stop for a second. I’ve heard many great things about John Maxwell, but I have never really read one of his books cover to cover. I’m a big believer in attitude determining results, so this seemed like the right book to jump into. Below you’ll find some of my notes and highlights as well as a recommendation on whether or not you should invest in your own copy.

Notes from How High Will You Climb

how high will you climb book coverThe premise of the book is that your attitude determines your altitude. If your attitude is excellent, your altitude (results) will be as well. If your attitude stinks, you can expect similar results.

  • Testing… Testing… Not sure where you stand right now? Here’s how you do a quick attitude check: do you feel the world is treating you well? How you perceive the rest of the world will affect the ultimate results you receive. Note: this is very similar to the locus of control theory post I did previously. Good stuff.
  • 88% of success is… The Stanford Research Institute says that the money you make in any endeavor (which I translate as a measure of success) is determined only 12.5% by knowledge and 87.5% by your ability to deal with people. Those interactions with people aren’t a “nice to have” addition to the deal–they are the deal. Make them worthwhile and it will pay off for you in the long run. In a word: serve. Be willing to serve others with no expectation that it will come back around. And then if/when it does, you’ll appreciate it that much more.
  • Stop hugging the trunk and get out there where the fruit is. There was a great analogy about risk aversion and a lack of success. If you want to have/be/do something worthwhile, you’ll have to inject some risk into your life. Try that class you’ve been considering. Take up that hobby you left behind. Try something new and exciting. Get away from the trunk and get to the fruit. It’s waiting for you.
  • Proclaimer… (Hint: it’s like a disclaimer, but I’m proud enough to make it a proclaimer instead. Yeah, I’m nerdy.) This book is faith-based, but that faith is what makes people like us (the author, me, and millions of others) tick. Some people are motivated purely by relationships, others by money, fame, etc. I’m motivated to do my best because it’s what I’m supposed to do. And that service thing I mentioned earlier in the post? That’s a big part of it. I’m not a great guy. I’m just a guy. But because of my faith, I have the opportunities to do great things to make the world a better place. ‘Nuf said.

Closing Thoughts

So, if any of the thoughts, notes, and ideas above appeal to you on some level, this is probably a book you’d enjoy. It’s quite short. Not quite enough to finish in one sitting, but within a day or two you can walk away with your own key takeaways.

Anyone else read it? What are your thoughts? Any thoughts on John Maxwell in general? 

Analytics Driven by Business Accountability

Analytics in the business world serve many purposes, and a survey by the American Management Association uncovered the top five reasons business leaders say analytical skills are necessary today.

Which of the following create the greatest need for analytical skills in your organization?

  1. Accountability for results 67.0%
  2. Competitive environment 61.6%
  3. Complexity of business environment 52.6%
  4. Increase in customer data 51.3%
  5. Risk management 50.7%

business analytical skillsI found the results intriguing, because while we say we need accountability first and foremost within our organizations, many leaders often do a poor job of actually communicating that need. Oh, they’ll tell people they need to be accountable, but when it comes down to time to measure performance, they’ll think about things that don’t really tie into accountability for results. Having analytics to drive those sorts of decisions will be a positive overall; however, it will also mean that leaders and managers can no longer rely on other unimportant “measures” of performance.

  • Bob has been in the office for fifty or sixty hours a week for the past few months. He must be doing a good job. [Is it possible that he's just horrible at managing his time/workload?]
  • I know she doesn’t write well, but Mary responds to emails 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She’s really dedicated. [If she's not sending out the right message, maybe "number of emails sent" isn't a good measure of her performance?]

In some positions, it’s relatively easy to measure outcomes (sales, for example); however, in others it’s more difficult. For instance, how do you tell your administrative assistant to be “nicer?” Can you quantify that? How do you get an engineer to work “harder?” Those subjective measures are a pain for managers to enforce and a pain for employees to have to ascertain. You need to give them some actual targets to strive for that they understand.

ROWE me, baby

I had a discussion recently with some friends about the ROWE (results only work environment) movement, and it was quite an interesting conversation. A ROWE is a workplace where you work when, where, and how you want, as long as you meet your business objectives/goals. It sounds nice, and I love the idea, but it’s not necessarily easy. The key to making this work is holding each person accountable not for how many hours they log in the office, how long their butt is in the chair, or how long they are logged into their work computer; it’s about the results they accomplish. Again, it sounds like an excellent idea, but managers quickly become anxious at the thought of removing some of the traditional barriers and measurements for employees, even though in the long run the focus is to get employees to focus on the one thing that actually matters: results! This conversation keeps leading me back to accountability, and I’d like to share a few resources with you on that front in case you, like those who answered this survey, are interested in moving toward a culture of accountability.

4 accountability examples, ideas, and suggestions

  1. How many times have you heard a leader in real life or fiction demand: “I don’t care how you do it. Just get it done!” Many times, organization charts and job descriptions push people to perform a set of tasks. This mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, whether or not the result was achieved. Effective leaders operate on the premise that their people must focus on achieving results. They lead and inspire them to pursue results by creating an environment that motivates them to ask, “What else can I do?” over and over until the results are achieved. They manage their people so that their “job” is to achieve results. Each person’s daily activities must be in alignment with the targeted results.
  2. In the book Turn the Ship Around, we learn about David Marquet and his attempt to remove the leader/follower model from the operation of the submarine he commanded. When he first took command of the ship, nobody was held accountable for anything, which correlated with the ship’s poor performance record. He began taking steps to give people accountability and oversight of their own areas, freeing him up to be a commanding officer instead of a 24/7 manager of minute details. It’s a great book if you are interested in seeing how other leadership/management approaches work.
  3. Several years ago I wrote about asking better questions to get better results. It’s still one of the most popular pieces, and for good reason. People are hungry for ways to help drive accountability within their organizations, and simply asking different questions is an easy way to start moving into that sort of mindset. More here: Asking Questions at Work.
  4. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton often talk about the data that drives great companies and great teams. After researching extensively, they developed a model that described how the best managers led their teams. The key elements? Goal setting, trust, communication, recognition, and accountability. So not only is it something that helps on a personal level, it also helps managers to get the most out of their teams! More of this found in The Orange Revolution.

 Wrapping up

Back to the study, I would be interested to hear your feedback on some of these items. Do you see any of these five areas playing a part in a need for analytical skills within your organization? Why or why not? What drives accountability in your organization? Is that driver toward an accountable workforce actually getting results?

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