One of the main functions of public health officials is to notify the general public if there are any products that have been contaminated, pandemics that are spreading quickly or actually any risks or potential health risks which they may be facing. Because they are tasked with informing the public if there are any risks whatsoever, it is their duty to make sure the word gets out timely and to the right people who ‘need to know.’ This is where technology comes into the picture and based on today’s culture, mobile technology is probably the best platform to use.
Over the last week I’ve received more than half a dozen emails from people looking for their first foray back into the HR realm after making a move to a new city, taking time off for childcare/maternity leave, and other similar stories. It’s a challenge, but this is easier than breaking into HR in the first place if you have some sort of track record to point to. Often, those early experiences (whether in HR or outside) can help us by illuminating the activities we don’t want to do just as much as highlighting those thing we do want to do. Today I’m going to offer some practical tips and strategies to help those of you that are on the outside trying to get back into HR.
The Local HR Group/Chapter
Let’s talk about networking. What? You’ve heard of it? Well, good. It’s a primary component of my advice for those people trying to break into HR. But I realized this week that I have a more radical view of networking than others. And no, not in the “annoy everyone around you all day every day” kind of radical view. I’m talking about the kinds of ideas and opportunities I create around me to find and connect with other smart people. Note: I hate talking about myself, but this is a good story that illustrates the point. If you have a good story, please leave a comment on this post so others can learn from your example as well!
When I was getting into HR back in 2009, I was much more shy than I am today. I didn’t have anything of value to offer the HR community. I was just one of many recent grads with a degree and a job that didn’t fit my long-term goals. So I went to my local SHRM chapter (CIPD for those of you across the pond).
Yes, this is a common step for many people. But what happened next is not.
Instead of going to events and trying to meet people, I decided to make people want to try to talk to me (remember, super shy here). I emailed the webmaster for the local chapter and asked if there was a way to help with the website and other duties. He readily agreed, and I started attending board meetings with a small group of smart, connected individuals in the local community.
Because I was a board member, the others quickly got to know me and my credibility grew. And I started connecting with others in the chapter over time.
About a year after I started volunteering one of the board members had a job opening. It was a stretch opportunity for me, but because she got to know me through my volunteer work, she knew I would be a good fit.
And then I stopped, gave up the whole networking thing, and forgot about it forever.
Heh, not really.
The next year, I decided to do something that nobody had done before in the local chapter. I started an HR book club as a way to connect to like minded individuals, learn some lessons, share some expertise, and read plenty of books.
Through the book club, I forged stronger relationships with some of the people I already knew, and I also extended my reach to others in the chapter that were interested in developing themselves through books. That year-long experience was a lot of fun, and I still talk regularly with one of my friends that I made in the group.
There have been other initiatives within the chapter I have participated in, but those are some of the ones that stick out as particularly innovative.
Find an HR Technology Vendor
This is another option that is completely different from pretty much anything you’ve ever been told, but it’s worth a shot (especially if you’re in or near a large city). HR vendors sell technology to companies, but their primary audience is HR leaders. I think approaching a vendor with an HR degree, certification, or background would make you more valuable than someone just coming off the street with no knowledge of HR, recruiting, and those aspects of the business.
The caveat here is that you’re probably going to have some level of technology savvy to pull it off. I’m not saying you need to be a code jockey, just that you can use technology and find your way around without a lot of fumbling and help.
There are providers across the world that offer these solutions, but if you’re in areas like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, etc. there are probably quite a few companies to pick from. If you want a list of company names to give you a head start, check out my How to Learn HR for Free post.
The Bottom Line
The one thing I want you to take away from this conversation is this: applying online, submitting resumes, etc. should only be 10-20% of your job search efforts, not 80-90% as is the norm. It will require you to get quite uncomfortable in many cases, but it’s also the key to creating the career path that serves you best.
What other questions do you have around the topic? Anyone else have a great story of how you’ve made it happen?
There is a perception of HR that is so outdated that in many cases it is almost laughable. Most people see HR as simply that department that does the hiring, firing and training. After all, there is the accounting department to see to payroll so what is it that is so important about HR and is it really that important? Actually, if the average person knew all the tasks that HR does on a daily basis they would wonder why anyone would ever want to work in that department. Could it be that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Here is a look at the many faceted roles of HR within an organization.
Key Areas Where HR Interacts with Any Business
When I am teaching a class to prepare students for the PHR/SPHR exams, one of the things I repeatedly highlight is the need to tie HR practices back to business objectives. If we only see ourselves and our actions within the “bubble” of HR, then we severely limit the impact and value we can deliver to the business.
One method for bringing the value to the business is by evaluating the financial cost and determining the return or value of a specific program. I know, I know, this involves people, which makes it notoriously difficult to measure. But you don’t have to get crazy about it. There are ways to pull it off.
I have a friend that works for a company that does satellite mapping. One of the company’s ongoing projects involves supporting large retailers. The satellites take periodic photos of the retailers’ parking lots, and the extent to which the lots are filled with vehicles is used to predict sales for the quarter.
I don’t expect any of us to go to that level to measure the impact of HR programs. :-)
However, the ability to determine a full ROI requires thinking outside the box a bit. We need to be able to take a big picture view so that we can truly evaluate the impacts on the business. In talking with HR leaders at organizations both large and small, the best way to explain this is through a good use case. I read about the example below from Patagonia and knew I needed to share it here.
Patagonia Case Study: On-Site Child Care
Check out the data below, emphasis mine on the key data point.
Because child care benefits are an important recruitment and retention driver for working parents, one-quarter of organizations (26%) allowed employees to bring their children to work in a child care emergency. Although this benefit has remained consistent since 2013, it decreased significantly from 32% in 2012. On the other hand, there has been an increase over the past year in the percentage of organizations offering a child care referral service, from 9% to 16%, and 2% allowed parents to bring their babies under the age of 1 to work on a regular basis.
The above-mentioned benefits, which help the employee at a minimal cost to the organization, were more commonly offered than costlier benefits such as access to backup child care services (3%), subsidized child care program (4%) and nonsubsidized child care center (3%). The least common child care benefits are becoming even scarcer. The prevalence of subsidized child care centers (2%) decreased from 4% in 2012 and 9% in 1996, and consortium child care centers went from 1% in 2012 to just a fraction of a percent.
Source: 2016 SHRM Benefits Study
The use of company child care centers is dropping. I believe this is due in part to the difficulty of showing an ROI on these programs. In many cases, HR leaders are not trained or equipped to prove the value of certain benefits, like these, and they go on the chopping block any time there are budgetary constraints that affect the offerings companies can deliver.
Bucking the trend, Patagonia is not only providing on-site child care, but it plans to expand the coverage to even more employees in the coming year.
To support our families, Patagonia provides company-paid health care and sick time for all employees; paid maternity and paternity leave; access to on-site child care for employees at our headquarters in Ventura, California, and at our Reno, Nevada, distribution center; and financial support to those who need it, among other benefits. In particular, offering on-site child care, we believe, is the right thing to do for employees, working parents, and the life of the workplace.
However, a reasonable businessperson might ask, “What does it cost?” It’s expensive if you offer high-quality care and subsidize your employees’ tuition—but not as expensive as you’d think.
Source: Fast Company
This is where the conversation gets interesting. In the article, the CEO of Patagonia explains the wide variety of ways the program’s costs are recouped for providing child care support:
- Tax benefits: 50%
- Employee retention: 30%
- Employee engagement: 11%
- Total recouped cost: 91%
But that just takes hard costs into consideration, not even bothering with any other elements that might be possible to tie in. And it might be undershooting the mark in terms of overall returns.
We’re not alone. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., has estimated returns of 115% for its child-care program; global business consultant KPMG found that its clients earned a return on investment (ROI) of 125%.
There were two statistics from the conversation that I particularly liked, because they help to illustrate the true value of this kind of program.
1. For the past five years, Patagonia has seen 100% of moms return to work after maternity leave.
This is incredibly rare. I don’t have any stats to back it up, but I’d say a sizable portion of the “new mom” segment is still choosing to stay home with the baby instead of going back to work. Companies lose a lot of great talent by not having policies and philosophies that support this critical segment of the population.
2. For the past five years, turnover among Patagonia employees who use its child care program is 25% lower than in its overall workforce.
This was wrapped into the “retention” calculations above, but it’s still a great reminder. When HR pros look at turnover data, it’s often cut by tenure, job, manager, and other similar factors. What about looking at it by benefits, as Patagonia has done? By seeing the impact of this kind of program on the bottom line in terms of employee retention, it becomes an even more valuable asset to the company for recruiting and ongoing engagement.
Statistically only two of you reading this out of every hundred people are actually going to be working at a company with on-site childcare, so that’s a narrow conversation. But I want you to think about how Patagonia is able to tie the value of its program back to various pieces of the business–you can do this with your own leave programs, benefits, perks, etc.
Break out the spreadsheet. Dig into the data. Prove the value.
Does your company have a benefit that is special to the employees? Do you know what impact, if any, it has on the employee population or the bottom line?
I’m just a little bit excited today. I am part of a set of new hosts joining the HR Happy Hour Podcast Network with a new show, We’re Only Human. It’s a play on words and gives multiple meanings, because for starters, despite the pressure on us as HR leaders, we’re still only human. It also gives me a chance to talk about how, despite automation and other factors, we need to be looking at our people as human beings with needs and desires, not simply data points or engagement scores.
I start off the show by telling a story of how I inadvertently insulted my wonderful wife while she was in labor with our son a few years ago. Yes, and I’m still alive today to tell about it. Definitely check out the show and have a laugh at my expense!
*Note, since this was the introductory episode I included pretty much the entire transcript below. For future episodes the show notes will be a condensed version with highlights, links, etc. Thanks!
Gallup data from summer 2016 says that just under a third of employees are engaged. I’m seeing an increasing focus on this concept of the employee experience. Candidate experience. Customer experience. The natural extension of those elements is the employee experience. This isn’t just about employee engagement or the employer value proposition. It’s a broader look at the collective experiences people have in the workplace. From how their manager coaches them (or not) to how people interact with technology in the workplace, the employee experience is something that is becoming more of an issue for many employers.
Experiences are what separate good employers from great ones. For instance:
- When new hires start at the company they sit down and listen to an hour of policy edicts and rules telling them everything they can’t do. OR when new hires start they join with the other newbies to act out policy requirements to help cement the ideas while building social connections with their peers.
- Learning time! The employee clicks into the LMS only to click again, and again, and again. 47 clicks later she is able to access the training she was looking for. OR the employee opens up the LMS and it knows what she is looking for based on previous training, search activity, and other factors, bringing the content directly to her so she can skip searching and start learning.
- Whee! Open enrollment is here. The employee waits to receive a boatload of documentation from HR about what options are available and how much they are going to cost before hiring a translator to help them understand what everything means. OR the employee receives a video before open enrollment begins offering insights into new choices and options for coverage including high level overviews of costs. When it’s time for open enrollment, the employee already knows what he wants to elect and can take care of it within his own self service dashboard.
- Performance management month drives managers and employees crazy. Managers save up their “ammunition” for the one true performance conversation they have each year and employees save emails and prepare contingencies and excuses to avoid any nasty surprises. OR managers meet with employees on a regular basis, offering feedback around good and bad performance. At the end of the year, a summary of the recurring conversations is prepared and each party signs off on the summarized version of the entire year’s performance discussions. No surprises.
These are simple, experience-driven changes that can help to retain employees and demonstrate to them that they are valued. And, just in case you didn’t notice, two of these options are tied to technology and two are not. I know that there are plenty of companies that just don’t have the technology on hand or the budget to acquire it. At the same time, there are many technology options across the spectrum, from companies looking for low-cost support that can give them increased capabilities without the major budget line item to those with money to spend who are ready to find the right tool or technology to give them the edge over the competition.
With that in mind, I want to talk a bit about the new show and what you can expect.
The broad focus of the show will be on the changing nature of work and how technology impacts that. Over my working life I have seen an incredible number of changes in how we work, and I think that is an incredible trend that HR leaders need to be plugged into. Not only are we more flexible than ever, we also have a bigger focus on mobile, social, and collaborative work. We have technology that knows us almost as well as we know ourselves. We have this dynamic pull between a technology-enabled workplace and a desire to be more targeted toward a personalized, individual approach. I think that’s fascinating and want to focus on it more. In the coming months there will be interviews with practitioners, discussions with vendors, and other episodes to bring you the information you need to be at the top of your HR game.
If you have listened to the HR Happy Hour show for a while you probably caught me with my nerdiness in full swing. I do a lot of reading and book reviews and Steve occasionally would have a review on the show. I’ve known Steve and Trish for a long time and still remember the first ever episode of HR Happy Hour way back when. With the new shows on the network from Madeline, Mollie, and George, this is an exciting time for all of us at HR Happy Hour HQ.
Other episodes will feature interviews with practitioners, discussions with vendors and other content, but I know that this first episode is the obligatory “about me” conversation to introduce me to the world. Hopefully this helps to show you where I’m coming from and what you can expect from the show.
I live and work in Huntsville, Alabama. My career so far: lighthouse, BHG, practitioner. upstartHR, Part time consulting locally to stay plugged into the HR practitioner point of view. HRevolution.. Volunteer on my local SHRM board, which I think is important for helping to connect with and drive grassroots change within the profession. I’m certified and have my SPHR and SHRM-SCP. I love reading, writing, running, and spending time with my kids. Baby on the way.
As you can see, when I’m not making dumb comments to my wife, I’m doing a wide variety of things that I think make me a better HR pro and analyst. I wrote a piece recently called “why we need to break HR.” You can find it at upstartHR.com In it I explored one of my earliest interactions in the HR space with someone that told me that I would soon be another dead-eyed zombie shuffling HR paperwork. I vowed never to follow that path, and to this day I have never given in to the dark side. Chances are if you’re listening to this, you are one of those people that still holds out hope that this HR thing can bring value to our organizations and help people.
To get an idea of what I believe in, you need to check out the last few things I’ve published. They have titles like How to Analyze Source of Hire Data to Validate Recruiting Efforts, It’s Time to Break HR, How to Win Friends and Influence People: HR Edition
I think we have more of a chance than ever to bring some true value with the work we do within the HR field, especially with the increasingly fluid nature of work and how things get done. So, with that out of the way, I hope you join me for further discussion in future episodes and also check out the other shows on the network to get a better overall picture of this industry and how it is evolving. Thanks for listening and I’ll catch you next time.
We’ve probably all heard the axiom that 10,000 hours of practice is what it takes to be world-class at something (speaking, skiing, dancing, etc.) But what if that has been misquoted all these years?
A new book called Peak is out, and it’s a look at what it takes to get to a world-class performance level. The author was the originator of the study years ago that confirmed the 10,000 hour mark, but he is very careful to point out that it doesn’t simply mean doing the thing for that long. It requires uncomfortable, deliberate practice to get to the level of performance that leaves others in awe.
Maybe you have aspirations to be truly great at something. It doesn’t come without some level of discomfort. You have to practice instead of watching TV or doing other mindless activity. You need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to grow and develop.
Think of it like weightlifting. If you keep doing the same weight at every session, you never improve your strength or endurance. You have to vary the weight, reps, and intensity to continuously push your threshold.
Some of the world’s best speakers use speaking coaches to help them hone their craft.
The world’s best athletes often have coaches supporting their continued development.
Within organizations, HR leaders are acting as performance coaches for leaders to help them see blind spots, grow their capabilities, and have a greater impact on the organization.
On a professional level, how are you working to improve what you know and what you can do?
Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect
The premise of the title comes from the book Peak. The authors found that practice doesn’t make you better. In fact, practice could make you worse or at least keep you at the same level of performance indefinitely. Think about that for a second. It’s counterintuitive to everything that we’ve been told all our lives. You’ve been told to just keep practicing and you can be great. But that’s not necessarily the case. If you’ve been following a set path or pattern over the years, it might be time to shake some things up.
I see this in an employment context when I talk with someone during the interview process. The person claims, “I have ten years of experience in HR/finance/operations/whatever.” Then I ask them what they have done, and often it doesn’t sound like ten years of experience–it sounds like the candidate is repeating their first year over and over again.
Crazy thought: what if we were forced to be honest about how much experience we have with specific skills? Instead of being able to say you have five years of recruiting experience, we knock that down to just one year because you never did anything different or grew in any way during years two through five. I think that would be an incentive for people to not just take their roles for granted, but to truly attempt to innovate and grow in what they do every day.
So what would five or ten years of experience look like? I see it in a few ways.
- Growth of position responsibilities. You’re not doing the same stuff you started out doing.
- Growth of knowledge. You are now advising others and supporting additional areas because you have increased your knowledge base.
- Growth by promotion. You’ve proven your worth and have been given additional duties and recognition.
Remember, practice doesn’t make you better. It’s this concept of deliberate, uncomfortable practice that truly makes you better. Is it always fun to view webinars, read books, and seek out articles that support what you’re working on? Not really. But it is necessary.
In HR it seems like we forget about the idea that we’re competing with other businesses. If their HR practices are better than yours, they will have the advantage. While HR is often in charge of heading up training and development efforts, how often do we model the right behaviors by taking training (free or paid) ourselves?
What if I just want to be competent in a new skill?
Okay, so maybe I’ve sold you on the idea of pursuing your own development. But who has 10,000 hours to spend? And what if you don’t need to be world-class, just competent, in a specific skill (like writing a report, calculating metrics, or delivering a speech)?
Another compelling idea I’ve discovered in the past few years is the concept that just 20 hours of practice is enough to get you to a viable level of performance. In a book called The First 20 Hours, Josh Kaufman explores how we learn new skills and puts it to the test. This includes a live demonstration of a new skill he acquired during his TEDx video (I won’t spoil it for you. Email subscribers, click through to view the video below).
Some of us have ambitions to be great at one thing or another, whether it’s related to work (sourcing candidates, coaching managers, delivering presentations) or not (crocheting, playing a musical instrument, running). I think it’s bigger than that. I would argue that purposeful growth, even if on a personal level, makes you more valuable as an employee. Think about the people you know. Those that are always trying something new and exploring new concepts are more exciting than those who quit trying to learn anything new years ago and are stuck in their rut of sameness day after day. In addition, though it’s anecdotal, I have seen amazing connections come from participating in outside activities that actually improve my work.
In a non-work example, I have a friend I coached years ago in a couch to 5k training plan for a local race. Many of her peers in the group have quit running and walking and are back to their old ways. However, she is always telling me about these crazy mud runs and other obstacle course races she is doing. The fun part? She’s over fifty years old and still going strong.
That is incredibly motivating for me, and I think about that within a work context. The more I can grow and help others, the more the other employees will be inspired. And their development not only increases their engagement–it helps the business to grow and improve as well.
So take a few minutes today and think about what you might like to get better at. Maybe you want to study for your SPHR or just brush up on your presenting skills. Maybe you want to grow and become a specialist in compensation or a top-tier recruiter. Whatever the case, start identifying some resources to move you in that direction.
What skill, work-related or not, have you always wanted to improve?
The winter testing window is coming up with HRCI (the Human Resources Certification Institute, for you newbies), and you might be wondering what the difference is between the PHR and SPHR exams. With both of the exam pass rates hovering around 50% (54% PHR, 53% SPHR), it’s critical to make sure you understand the requirements of each and develop a proper plan for preparing. Today I want to explore some of the variations I have seen as well as from some of the feedback from previous students I helped with the certification exams.
The most obvious difference is the one that HRCI tells you about. The exam content for each has a slightly different focus. This is because for lower level HR roles, it’s more important to have a grasp of the laws and other legal requirements. For SPHR test takers, they are typically in higher level roles that require more planning and strategy, hence the big bump in the Business Management and Strategy content area. Here’s the breakdown:
PHR Exam Content Outline
- Business Management and Strategy (11%)
- Workforce Planning and Employment (24%)
- Human Resource Development (18%)
- Compensation and Benefits (19%)
- Employee and Labor Relations (20%)
- Risk Management (8%)
SPHR Exam Content Outline
- Business Management and Strategy (30%)
- Workforce Planning and Employment (17%)
- Human Resource Development (19%)
- Compensation and Benefits (13%)
- Employee and Labor Relations (14%)
- Risk Management (7%)
Specialized Knowledge Requirements
The content for the exams can run across a variety of topic areas. The guide supplied by HRCI is just a starting point, but it helps us to see some of the key differences in PHR and SPHR exam topics. Below is a sampling of the SPHR-only topics that PHR test taker should not have to worry about. That’s not to say they aren’t important, but when you’re prioritizing PHR study time and might not have enough to focus on every topic, skip these. If you’re going for the SPHR, prioritize these.
- Participate as a contributing partner in the organization’s strategic planning process (for example: provide and lead workforce planning discussion with management, develop and present long-term forecast of human capital needs at the organizational level).
- Develop and utilize business metrics to measure achievement of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives (for example: key performance indicators, balanced scorecard).
- Perform cost/benefit analyses on proposed projects.
- Develop policies and procedures to support corporate governance initiatives (for example: whistle-blower protection, code of ethics).
- Identify and evaluate alternatives and recommend strategies for vendor selection and/or outsourcing.
- Oversee or lead the transition and/or implementation of new systems, service centers, and outsourcing.
- Determine the strategic application of integrated technical tools and systems (for example: new enterprise software, performance management tools, self-service technologies).
- Develop, implement and evaluate the succession planning process.
- Evaluate effectiveness of employee training programs through the use of metrics (for example: participant surveys, pre- and post-testing).
Again, this is just a selection of the SPHR-specific content that shows up on the exam, but it is critical to make sure you understand these not only in theory, but in application as well. Just looking at this list, it’s easy to see how “Knowledge of FMLA requirements” is a little different than “evaluate effectiveness of training programs with metrics.” One of them requires a broader knowledge base, skill set, and point of view. That’s not to say the PHR is easy or simple, but there’s a reason there are two separate exams.
Application vs Synthesis Thinking
I alluded to this, but it’s one of the most critical pieces that I always try to explain when people come to me for advice. The way you approach the exam preparation, and the way you develop your mindset/framework for evaluating test questions and answers, is going to depend on the exam. I’ve tried to lay it out below in terms that reflect my own experience as well as the dozens of students I have supported over the years.
The PHR is more about learning terms, concepts, and ideas and then remembering them for the exam. Simple memorization might not work, because you still need to know the “best answer” in some cases, and that requires some critical thinking. However, getting a good set of testing materials and studying well will go a long way towards success on the PHR.
The SPHR is more about blending knowledge from a variety of areas into a cohesive strategy. In fact, “strategy” is the number one way I explain to students that the SPHR is different when they are preparing for the exam. Not only is the first module around strategy and business the largest piece of the exam content–it is also woven throughout the entire question set, forcing test takers to evaluate multiple courses and select the best one. As I wrote in my previous piece on how to pass the SPHR exam:
Seriously, though, there is a strategy to answering questions on the exam. This is critical if you are trying to figure out how to pass the SPHR exam. Here are five keys I used:
This is strategic in nature, meaning that it’s about how HR ties in, and drives, business activities and measures. Write that on your scratch paper when you sit down and every time you read a question glance at that little phrase.
Know how HR activities tie into the business objectives, and look for opportunities to highlight that in an answer everywhere possible
“Strategy,” “company objectives,” and “business needs” are usually the answers when they are options.
It is important to measure, assess, analyze, etc. before actually taking action.
Imagine that you’re not in HR, but that you’re the CEO, especially when the question is focusing on marketing, operations, or another aspect of the business. Answering from that mindset will help to ensure that you’re giving the broad, strategic perspective the test warrants.
As you can see, the exams vary in multiple ways. The most important thing to do is pick the one that is a right fit for you and then develop a study plan that prepares you adequately for the test. Your preparation isn’t meant to come simply from a book–your experiences and interactions with other HR professionals both help to drive your certification preparation.
For those of you that have taken both, what differences have you noticed with the PHR and SPHR exams? If you’ve taken just one, did what I shared above line up with your experience?