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. :-)

I’ve been reading a slew of books lately focused on neuroscience. One line in the latest hit me, and I thought it would be interesting to pull together some of the thoughts from a few to share. Here’s the tidbit (emphasis mine):

What do [scientific] studies show, viewed as a whole? Mostly this: if you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a cubicle. Source: Brain Rules

Wow. We have known for a while that classroom training was losing its luster compared to social, video, mobile, and other informal delivery methods. However, this is a stern indictment of the most commonly used method of training, with 40% of companies using classroom-based instructor led training (ILT) more than half the time.

Attention, Focus, and Work

Another book that quickly hooked me was Two Awesome Hours. The basic premise is that we were not meant to sit at a computer for eight plus hours a day working at a single repetitive task without breaks. That’s what robots are for. Josh Davis, PhD, says some people can get as much done in two good, productive hours as others can in an entire day. The concept has to do with a few different elements of work, but the part that has been most interesting for me is working on focused activities when I’m most “on.”

Making decisions isn’t a limitless activity. We have a finite amount of willpower and every small decision we make chips away at that reserve. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors examine the metaphor of the elephant and rider. The elephant (our subconscious) makes many small underlying decisions in our daily work and life. The rider (our conscious brain) makes larger, more complex decisions, but it has a limited amount of power to guide the elephant when tired, overtaxed, etc. That applies in the context of our work, where we make hundreds of decisions every day.

In other words, when you have that golden hour of focus and intensity in your workday, use it for critical thinking and other thought-heavy tasks, not for responding to emails, making phone calls, or chatting with coworkers. Then fit in those more routine/mundane tasks when needed. All too often we waste that precious time doing things that require little brainpower but ultimately leave us unprepared to handle strenuous mental work.

I recently read that more workers are opting to work from home as a way to avoid distractions and focus more intently on projects. Always seen as a nuisance, we now realize that interruptions of any kind have a more profound impact on work than previously believed. This experiment shows that it’s not just time that is affected by distractions, but overall work quality as well.

 The Learning Impact

What does this have to do with learning? Pretty much everything.

Brandon Hall Group’s principal learning analyst, David Wentworth, recently shared some amazing insights into how companies are transforming the classroom environment to be less traditional and more interactive. The way we structure our classes, for the most part, hasn’t changed over the years. But there are now phenomenal examples of companies pursuing more interactive methods of training, whether blended with the classroom approach or entirely separate. Like it or not, the most effective method for training, according to those organizations we surveyed, is still classroom-based ILT. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay the same as it was 10 years ago.

These principles that apply to work in general apply to the world of learning and development. Here are a few examples of how neuroscience can help us make better training decisions:

  • Don’t put people in a lecture for three hours and expect them to be attentive, alert, and engaged. Break up the session with discussions, opportunities for application, peer interactions, etc. This helps to ensure the content not only sticks, but has some real-world examples to make it more concrete.
  • What we see is more powerful than any other sense. Expecting people to multitask and read your slides while you talk is going to limit the effectiveness by forcing learners to split attention among your words and your text. In fact, John Medina, author of Brain Rules, suggests tossing your text-laden PowerPoint slides in favor of image-based ones that support your topics without overshadowing them. Studies show that we have an amazing capability to remember imagery, but only a mediocre recall rate for text.

I’m not sure that I will be ready to throw away my beloved slides anytime soon, but these ideas have given me something to consider next time I’m putting together a deck for a presentation. What are your thoughts on how our brains are wired for learning? Is the classroom giving us the results we need, or is something more needed to improve the retention and value of existing training.

This originally appeared on the Brandon Hall Group blog

keep fighting

Last week I spent several days with leaders at nonprofits from around the world at the LINGOS Global Learning Forum. It was a humbling experience, and I had some of my preconceived notions turned upside down.

In the past I would have imagined (based on my own experiences working in and with nonprofit organizations) that many nonprofits and NGOs are backward at worst and behind the times at best due to limited resources. That may be the case for some, but certainly not for the ones I talked with in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were groups focused on feeding the hungry, teaching people out of poverty, educating women and children in third world countries, providing clean water in Africa, and dozens of other amazing examples of world-changing ideals. What truly surprised me was the level of sophistication of the attendee population.

There were discussions on leading-edge technology, best practices for training and development, and global strategy implementations to reach millions of people. That doesn’t sound like the slate of topics for a group that is whining about how to get a “seat at the table.”

But how? Aren’t they dealing with tough budgets and limited resources? Yes, but because they know they have limits, they use it as fuel for innovation and creative thinking instead of a convenient excuse.

Honestly, I’m not here to beat you up. I’m guilty of using those same excuses. I don’t have time. I don’t have the budget. I don’t have… whatever. But when it comes down to it, there’s usually a way to get it done.

If they can face those same challenges and still feed a family in Peru, then those of us in the private sector need to toughen up just a bit. And remember when you’re supporting charitable organizations that they employ people like us to help them run smoothly and effectively.

Just a few thoughts to start your week of on the right tone.

What charitable organizations do you support? Why?

This summer at SHRM I was looking through the sessions in the app in an attempt to figure out which I wanted to attend, and I saw this one right up front.

SOLD OUT – #707: HR Metrics that Matter: The Process of Developing a Business Scorecard

It made me stop and think, especially in light of some of the conversations I had with others at the event about what sort of content was being offered. For instance, one session at the event was focused on the usual “top ten ways to avoid legal trouble this year,” and it had packed out the entire room and the overflow area as well. I’ve always had trouble with those types of training on the supervisory side of things. Why? Because it makes us focus on the negative aspects of our work, how to avoid getting “in trouble,” and makes us seem more like a nanny in the workplace than a trusted resource for managers/employees and a key business leader.

Policies vs. Actual Contributions

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship (mostly hate) with policies. I think we should take more time to coach and support than regulate and demand. Yes, there are times that come when we must make a rule, be the bad guy, etc. but it shouldn’t come on a daily basis. I recently shared Alison Green’s comments on how managers can have a good relationship with HR. The comments on that blog post when she linked from her site are pretty standard, and yet they still hurt those of us who see ourselves as good and helpful business leaders (instead of merely being the “no, you can’t do that” department).

Going back to the original intent of this post, I was glad to see the metrics session being sold out. Why? Because it’s something that we can do that is not just about being sued, covering our company’s butt, or some other litigation-related idea. Even small companies have the ability to gather and use data in a meaningful way.

In my opinion HR pros who make decisions solely on laws and what the handbook/policies allow aren’t making much of a contribution to the organization. It’s those that take the initiative to find ways that they can contribute in a more meaningful way, offer advice and flexibility that pushes the boundaries, and don’t say, “No” to every request that comes in (even if they are a little bit scary).

A Shift to PositiveHR?

It gives me hope that our philosophy as a profession is changing. SHRM and other organizations will continue to offer these “how not to get sued by your employees” sessions, because there is significant demand for them. But over time, I hope to see us focusing more on the other end of the spectrum. There’s even a group of my friends that started this #PositiveHR movement on Twitter, because they believe that we have the opportunity to do great things if we are truly positive and not self-defeating at every turn.

I do understand that there is a natural maturity curve as well. Smaller organizations or those with inexperienced HR pros will drift toward the legalistic side of things, while organizations with more radical HR pros will seize opportunities to focus on engagement and other positive things we bring to the table. It just seems that many organizations (and HR pros) are reluctant to move beyond the legal side of things. Is it because it offers them more power inside the organization? Is it because they need to feel more intelligent/informed than their peers? I’m not sure…

What are your thoughts? Are we still mired in this world of legal issues or is there a chance we can more into more strategic areas of impact? 

Last week I had a chance to jump on the DriveThruHR podcast and speak with Mike Vandervort, a good friend and host of the show. I was a last minute stand in, so the title of the show has someone else’s name on it. Don’t be confused, because in the 30-minute interview I talk about what life is like as an analyst, what my favorite thing to do is in my daily work at Brandon Hall Group, and how the transition has been over the past 12-18 months.

I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think. The show is posted here or you can listen in the embedded player below.

I was talking with a friend last week about technology–specifically the kind we use in the HR, payroll, and recruiting space. His organization is using an awful tool that costs quite a bit of money. It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t make data easily accessible. And it’s become a running joke that any basic business need will require yet another $20k+ module just to meet that single need. It sounds like they are in the perfect place to be considering other technology, right?

And yet he and I both know that they are not going to make a change any time soon. Despite the availability of various “HR modules” within the system, he uses a point solution to handle recruiting needs and an Excel spreadsheet manage employee data. At some point he’s going to have to move to something else, but he and his organization are just part-way into the HR technology maturity curve. Here’s a look at the curve (in my opinion) and how technology is normally put into place.

The first steps

Diving into HR technology doesn't have to be scary

Diving into HR technology doesn’t have to be scary

One of the first steps most companies take in terms of HR technology typically comes with recruiting. Adding an applicant tracking system to eliminate manual job posting, tracking of candidates, and collaboration with the hiring team. Using a piece of recruiting software (like Recruiterbox, for example), can drastically change HR’s role in the hiring process from administrative to strategic.

I can still remember the before and after look at my recruiting practices when it came to technology implementation. When it was all manual, I was just trying to keep the mass of information organized enough to pick anyone competent and qualified. When we transitioned to using an applicant tracking system, I was able to then spend more time coaching hiring managers, screening candidates more thoroughly, and onboarding new employees.

Another common first step is in payroll. Again, it can be an opportunity to change from very administrative (did we get that person’s dependents right?) to a more strategic focus on compensation, variable pay, and other important elements that fall through the cracks when you’re spending several hours a week reviewing pay stubs.

Next up: performance/learning

Depending on the organization, as they grow there is usually a focus on automating performance management, learning, or both. For instance, when I worked for an organization with heavy regulations around training and staff certifications, our primary system (even before having a good HRIS) was a learning management system (LMS). In another organization, I campaigned regularly for a performance management solution to help alleviate the burden of continuously growing performance management paperwork. This is often seen as less strategic and important than recruiting or payroll, which is why it’s not at the top of the list in terms of implementation priority.

One area I’ve seen grow of late is the set of companies offering performance feedback/employee engagement solutions based on simple surveys and quick “pulse” feedback gathering. These are very easy to implement and don’t require all the trouble of the typical performance management solution.

The later stages

The deeper into this maturity process the company goes, the more likely it will select a suite to consolidate vendors and ensure a uniform data set across the various platforms (learning, performance, compensation, etc.)

One area I’ve been very interested in of late involves the difference between companies that pursue point solutions to solve various problems and those that snag the suite to combine each area. A few questions that have bounced around in my mind:

  • Which type of organization has better performance?
  • What factors play into that overall technology selection choice?
  • Are organizations using data better if the systems are integrated than if not?
  • What about the specific benefits highly targeted point solutions offer that the big suites do not?

What are your thoughts? Where are you in this HR technology maturity curve?