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.

grow or dieRemember, 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.

phr sphr exams differencesExam Content

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.

sphr study courseThe 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.

Wrapping Up

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? 

The restaurant industry is competitive and costs are high. With the sheer amount of factors that go into making a restaurant venture successful, a huge amount of capital is put out before any profit can be made. If you’re looking for ways to make your restaurant costs less financially straining with higher rewards, take a look at these strategies.

  1. Minimize Your Menu

There are many benefits to be gained from decreasing menu size and limiting the options available. It helps customers to understand what you’re best at, and decreases the amount of time they spend scouring the menu. Remember, every moment a customer sits at a table without ordering, you’re losing out on space for new customers to come in. Take a look at your most popular menu items, and cut out the strays that don’t tend to be requested. This may help you spend less on food inventory, as a bigger menu usually requires a larger number of ingredients. Continue reading

If you’re interested in additional insights on measuring talent acquisition success, be sure to sign up here to get a free copy of the upcoming report I’m working on. 

What if you had a way to not only see what sources your candidates were coming from, but which ones delivered you the best people that you ended up hiring? This isn’t just possible–it should be a regular activity you perform as an HR/recruiting leader so that you can validate your hiring efforts and expenditures. For instance, what if that job ad you post with every opening sends you a lot of traffic, but nobody actually applies? Or what if your job ads net you a lot of low quality applicants but never anyone that you actually hire?

Recently I was talking with a client about their recruiting practices. While they have things like salary negotiation and first year retention down as far as recruiting goes, they are having some challenges on the technology side. They currently spend a healthy chunk of money every month sponsoring job ads to reach candidates. I am working with them to put a new applicant tracking system in place to allow candidates to apply online and be reviewed by hiring managers. Best of all, there are EEO reports and applicant flow logs they can run to be compliant with the OFCCP regulations. Win, win, win, right?

The challenge comes with their limited budget. If they are spending the money on a recruiting system, then there is less to spend on the sponsored job posts. The problem immediately arose that there were fewer candidates flowing into the system than were found previously with the sponsored advertisements. Hiring managers were a bit unsettled, and the HR team felt like it had to continue spending on ads even though they were also committed to paying for a new applicant tracking system.

My recommendation to them? Look at your source of hire data to see where your best candidates are coming from.

Analyzing Source of Hire

The process for determining source of hire is not challenging if you’re not hiring many people. If you are hiring a lot of people on a regular basis, then hopefully you have a system in place to at least track where they are coming from.

Here is the simple process for determining source of hire.

  • Create a spreadsheet
  • Put in the names and jobs for your last 20-30 hires
  • Add a column to track the source of the candidates (employee referral, sponsored ads, career site, job board, etc.)

Once you have this data, it’s time to do a bit of analysis. Where are you finding your best candidates most often? What source is driving the most hires?

Validating Your Approach

At this point you should be able to see where I’m going with this. By looking at where the candidates are coming from before they ultimately become hires, you are ensuring that your spending is in line with your results.

source of hire data

This ensures you aren’t spending money on resources and advertising channels that aren’t actually performing. Consider this example of a marketing professional trying to gain exposure for her business. She puts $2000 into radio advertising, $2000 into online ads, and $2000 into TV ads.

  • The TV ads bring her 100 leads and 10 of them become customers.
  • The online ads bring her 1000 leads and 90 of them become customers.
  • The radio ads bring her 50 leads and 2 become customers.

Which source was the most effective? If we look purely at conversion rates, the TV ads converted 10% and the other two channels were lower. However, the online ads brought a higher volume and still had a pretty good conversion rate. The radio option was the weakest performing in terms of quantity and quality. Going forward, the marketing pro would use a mix of online and TV ads to continue bringing customers to her business. We can also use the dollars spent to show an ROI. On average, the TV ad customers cost $200 to acquire. That’s valuable information to have, because it tells you how much you have to make on a customer to achieve a breakeven point and start making a profit.

The same concept applies for recruiting. Let’s say you have spent $1000 on sponsored job ads, $1000 on job board posts, and $1000 on your employee referral program. In this example:

  • The sponsored job ads brought you 500 candidates and 10 of them were hired.
  • The job board posts brought you 600 candidates and 5 of them were hired.
  • The employee referral program brought you 10 candidates and 7 of them were hired.

So, what should you continue spending money on, and what should you scale back? Let’s break it down.

  • Sponsored ad conversion rate: 2%
  • Job board conversion rate: 0.83%
  • Employee referral conversion rate: 70%

Clearly the employee referrals were the winner, but as with life, this isn’t a clear cut answer. While it might make sense to spend more money on employee referrals to drive more leads, it also is a somewhat finite resource, which makes it important to evaluate other sources and continuously try to see what is bringing you the best return. Maybe you tweak your job ads with some split testing and find out that you’re able to triple your conversion rate by linking to some employee testimonials or your salary/hiring data on employee review sites.

One final reminder: this might not be the same for all of your jobs or job classes. You may find that for technical/engineering jobs, the best source is a third party recruiter or LinkedIn sponsored content. You may see that admin roles are best filled by job board postings or referrals. That’s why in the first step I had you break down the last set of jobs filled because it’s a good chance that there is a cross section there representative of your organization’s overall hiring efforts.

Once you have your top sources of hire identified, you can move on to things like the candidate experience and recruiting like a marketer to improve your overall results. I recommend a regularly scheduled analysis of your recruiting performance from a source of hire perspective as a way to determine the best sources for finding the right candidates for your organization.

Reminder: be sure to sign up here to get a free copy of the upcoming report I’m working on around measuring recruiting efforts.

What sources consistently bring you the best candidates and hires? How do you know? 

Once you get into HR you’ll see. It sucks the life out of you and before long you’ll be like everyone else in HR–just hating your life and making it miserable for everyone else.

That conversation with a friend prior to me taking my first HR job has been forever burned into my brain. On that day I promised myself that I would never follow that path, instead charting a direction that brought a positive approach and results to the people I worked with (both inside and outside HR).

I think we know this, but it needs to be said. HR has a PR problem. Often times people see HR as a last resort when things are bad and all else has failed.

I see that as a failure on our part.

See, if we want the business to succeed, then we need to be an enabler of performance for the organization. Not in spite of the people, but through the people.

Ask your friends or your family that are outside the human resources world what they think of HR. This is a typical set of responses:

  • The police.
  • The “no” people.
  • The gatekeepers.
  • The people that fire everyone.

Do we have to police the organization at times? Yes. Do we have to say “no” sometimes? Yes. But those shouldn’t be the default responses so often that it characterizes who we are to the people we’re supposed to serve.

I have this crazy notion that HR is about service. Serving the business. Serving the employees. Just like you get great service at your favorite restaurant, I want to bring that same level of attention to HR. We might not be bringing you a fork or a glass of water, but we’re bringing you an employee experience that is inspiring, engaging, and enriching.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

How HR Can Ruin an Organization

Recently a friend told me about her experience with her boss. My friend is a forward-thinking HR pro with great ideas on how to drive innovation and serve the employees and hiring managers in her organization. Her boss, on the other hand, was much more interested in amassing power and creating artificial barriers for employees so that she remained in control of everything related to HR.

These are the people that give HR a bad name. How is that organization supposed to succeed when its top-level HR leader is putting things in place to prevent employee success?

My Approach

I knew these types of people were working in HR, and I have always taken it upon myself to break the stereotype whenever possible. I always present myself as approachable for employees and managers, and I always take a coaching or consultative approach–not a critical one.

I can remember multiple times over my career where employees would tell me that I wasn’t what they expected from the HR person, and I wear each of those statements with pride.

Maybe you can join me? I think we can break this stereotype of HR once and for all. The more each of us individually chip away at it, the more organizations and leadership teams will expect from their own HR talent, ultimately avoiding the “no” approach for something more engaging.

Think about your HR brand and what you want it to be. Then get about the business of making it a reality. If you need help, just reach out. I’ve been there and can definitely relate.

What is your philosophy/approach? Do you believe in this concept of HR service delivery? 

Want to be a true HR leader within your business? Learn to influence others. When you think about it, there are few decisions that HR makes with ultimate authority. A significant portion of what we accomplish comes through the influence, coaching, and guidance of our peers, executives, and staff.

I’d even go so far as saying that the majority of what we are proud of as HR leaders comes from what we accomplish without making the final decision ourselves. I can think of dozens of instances throughout my career where I was able to encourage and shape decisions that were good for the company and employees–but they otherwise wouldn’t have occurred without some outside influence. This can include anything from coaching an employee on how to communicate with his boss to helping the CEO understand the need to support a culture initiative.

One of the books I’ve long appreciated is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The concepts in the book can help anyone in any role, but I’ve always felt they are particularly appealing to HR because of our need to drive performance and action through those around us. Check out this list of tactics, characteristics, and methods for winning friends and influencing people: While some of them are simple (smile, make the other person feel important, etc.), they also have the power to change your approach and your results.

The book was published in 1936. Do you think these tenets still hold true today? 

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six ways to make people like you

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Win people to your way of thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

A leader’s job often includes changing your people’s attitudes and behavior. Some suggestions to accomplish this:

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Which of these pieces of advice has been most valuable for you during your career journey? Do you have anything to add? 

I’ve had this question pop up from a few people I have met in recent weeks, so excuse the commercial if you’re not looking for a speaker for your event or to train your HR team… :-)

I know from interacting with many of the readers of this blog that you guys are tied in to various regional, state, and local organizations that require speakers. Just recently I attended the 2016 Annual SHRM Conference in DC where I spoke at the SHRM Smart Stage about choosing the right HR technology for your company, but I also speak about a wide variety of HR, recruiting, and leadership topics.

Today I added the “Speaker” tab at the top of the homepage to help you guys reach me specifically about speaking/training opportunities. One of my favorite activities is writing, but right behind that I really enjoy getting out and spending time with you, the HR leaders in the trenches that make your organizations great. That’s funny considering the fact that I’m an introvert by nature–I just think I like the practice and process of teaching enough to overcome those natural tendencies.

Over the past few years I have spoken with local SHRM chapters across several states for 20-100 people. I’ve been to larger events, like the SHRM Conference, that attract more than 15,000 participants. I have done seminars, workshops, conferences and vendor events as well.

If you are seeking speakers for an upcoming event, I would love to talk with you about joining the roster. I will be doing some local workshops in the coming months (several of the workshops receive up to three hours of strategic/business credits), but there is definitely room for more.

In addition, if you currently lead an HR team and need someone to come and talk with your team about some of the topics I have listed on my Speaking page, I would love to chat with you about the opportunity. My email is ben@upstarthr.com

Thanks! We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.