Back in college I wrote a ton of papers for various classes. Without fail, my writing process would look like this.

  • Read some of the research available and form an opinion.
  • Write an essay based on that opinion.
  • Go back and find data to back up my essay’s key points.
  • Get about 95% finished and realize that the paper didn’t turn out like I wanted it to originally.
  • Rewrite the entire thing from scratch (usually with just a day or two left until the deadline)

analysisThis was a painful process, but it usually yielded fairly good results. I think that many of us try to do the same with this big data/analytics concept. We immediately go out and start gathering HR data, hoping to make some incredible discovery that will revolutionize the way we do business. Continue reading

One of the things that I have grown to appreciate over the past few years is marketing. One of the first things I wrote on the topic was actually around what Chief Marketing Officers can teach Chief HR Officers. There is quite a bit of activity that goes on in the marketing department that we should all appreciate. From tailoring your approach to your audience to relentlessly testing your campaigns, there are some great insights in how they operate. Today we’re going to specifically talk about split testing.

The easiest way to explain split testing is this:

split testingLet’s say I walk up to you and hold out a piece of cake wordlessly. When the next person comes by, I hold out the same type of cake in the same way, but I smile and say, “Hello!” cheerfully.

That’s a split test, or A/B test. The point is to make every element of the scenario the same except for a single item that you’re explicitly testing—in this case, the greeting. Over the course of multiple tests (dozens or more, not just two or three apiece) you learn how that item affects the outcome of the experiment. Then you do it again but with another element being the item tested. Continue reading

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends was tapping away at his phone, and I asked him what he was up to. He told me that he was playing this “Clash of Clans” game online.

During my college days, I played games regularly. I enjoyed it, and it was a great way to pass the time. Now that I have kids I don’t have much time for games anymore, so I started to dismiss it. Then he said something that struck me. He was playing on a team with some of his peers from work.

After digging deeper into the story, I knew I wanted to share about it. Not just because I still have a fondness for games, but because this has some interesting impacts on the workplace as well.

Growing Up

One of my best memories growing up is playing games with my family: board games, word games, and all kinds of others. One of my absolute favorites is still Scattergories, in case you were curious. And when I think about those games I don’t think about which ones I won or lost. I think about the way I felt playing together and feeling like I was part of something special. Continue reading

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.

Why?

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. :-)