Every year I republish my “state of the HR union” article from previous years with new additions and edits as a challenge to each of you. Am I on target, or did I miss anything pertinent? 

Early every year, the President of the United States makes an address to the nation. The purpose of the annual “State of the Union” address is to give an account of the year’s events and discuss the priorities of the coming months. If communicated properly, this is an opportunity to reach a larger audience, share major goals, and get buy-in from the constituency.

So, why don’t we give it a shot?

hr-state-union-address

I think every HR pro needs to have their own State of the Union address within their own company, department, or team (depending on the level of responsibility). This is strategic HR communication at its best, and it could become a valuable tool to allow leaders to peer into the inner workings of the HR strategy while allowing HR leaders to share key results areas as well. In fact, even compliance can be strategic, if communicated properly.

When I think about this, I remember the best boss I ever had. She did an annual HR “touch base” meeting to get us on the right track, get everyone on the same page, and help to lay out key themes and strategies for the year. In reality it was a team of two of us, but she brought in additional stakeholders and interested parties to hear the session, giving them a peek into our priorities. It also allowed them to see how we might be able to help them and enable their success, a primary part of how I define successful HR.

She was always good at pointing out the need to be agile, knowing that business needs could dictate changes in our approach. Knowing that the HR strategy could change rapidly helped to give me some sense of control, despite the complete lack of it! That’s one reason I put together the following video a while back, because I know that the HR strategy sometimes changes, shifts, or even fails. We need to be prepared for some of those eventualities.

Featured Video: What to Do if Your HR Strategy Fails

HR Needs to Step Up

Are you ready for me to step on your toes? Here’s a quote from one study I found:

“Only 20 percent of [the largest publicly traded] companies discuss HR in their reports to shareholders. About one-quarter provides only limited references to the workforce, and some don’t mention their employees at all.”

Can you imagine how our stakeholders would react if we spent 30-50% of our budget on a resource and then never followed up about how it was being utilized? In effect, this is what’s happening with regard to our human capital investments. People are quick to say that payroll is the largest line item in a company’s budget, but then when it comes to proving how we’re doing in terms of diversity, development, direction, etc. we fall down on the job.

I did a little digging and found a few examples of HR annual reports that organizations have created. You’ll see some interesting insights in them, from hard statistics proving the value of the HR function to strategic plans for the coming year ahead.

  • Deutsche Bank-Lays out progress toward long-term “Strategy 2020” goals that belong to the business, not HR. This example also provides the most comprehensive data around specific performance of the various HR practices–for example, 1 in 3 employees were hired from internal candidates and 10,000+ internal staff changed roles during the year, providing ongoing talent and development opportunities for workers.
  • John Carroll University-Gives a one-page executive summary followed by monthly highlights of programs and contributions to the organization.
  • UCF-Demonstrated specific metrics around HR performance, from increased screening measures to specific training points and diversity improvements.

Nobody said you have to create a full-color, 25-page report to show what you’re doing. But a one-page executive summary with key insights into the core HR areas? That’s totally doable. At a minimum, it should cover:

  • Recruiting–what has your performance been like? Common metrics? Best success story as a case in point?
  • Training and development–how much, what kind, and most importantly, what has it enabled the business to achieve?
  • Safety and health–what is the progress/status? What’s the well-being of your staff? Are they performing and productive?
  • Strategy–is your HR team aligned with the business in terms of overarching strategy? Can you demonstrate that alignment with a few examples of how HR projects and accomplishments translated into the business strategy or impacted business outcomes?

How big is your “union?”

As I stated above, depending on where you are in your organization’s hierarchy, you might only be addressing your HR teammates. Or maybe you have the ability to snag an audience with your senior leadership team, and you’re willing to put together a short presentation for that group.

Whatever the case, the size and target audience will be different for everyone, but the tips below will still help you in defining what to discuss.

What to say

Okay, so I’ve sold you on the idea of delivering your own “state of HR” address, but what do you actually say? Here are a few ideas

  • Talent retention—Discuss retention initiatives and any cost savings associated with reduced turnover
  • Learning and development—Give examples of new human capital capabilities brought about by learning and development investments
  • Performance management—Talk about increased performance or reduced turnover expenses associated with improved employee performance
  • Leadership strategy—Provide insights into the role the leadership strategy has played in supporting business growth
  • Sales strategy and planning—Offer data to demonstrate how HR supported the needs of the sales staff and leadership

These certainly aren’t the only topics you can cover, but this is a good starting point based on what organizational leaders want/need to hear. Remember, your goal is to demonstrate that HR isn’t just a cost center, but that you’re bringing value to the organization and its people on a regular basis.

The bottom line? This is your chance to get in front of a key audience (whether it’s the rest of your team or another influential group) and share your message about how HR’s priorities align with those of the business.

What are you waiting for?

Closing Question to Ponder

  • Which stakeholders would benefit most from hearing this address from you or your HR leaders?
  • What are the key issues your leaders are facing that you can include in your address?
  • What is the best format for your culture, geography, and leadership preferences that makes sense to deliver this? Internal webinar/teleconference? In-person with slides? Handouts and a conference room? Hint: think about how finance or marketing would present something like this and do something similar, assuming those functions are respected within the organization.

I haven’t always been a last minute shopper, but some years it sneaks up on me. If you’re looking for that gift for the special HR someone in your life, or if you are looking for an idea for yourself, here are three ideas that will delight the HR pro you’re buying a gift for. :-)

Fun HR Ninja Gear

hr_quirky_offspring_yellow_tshirtMost of you probably don’t know, but for more than five years I have been selling HR ninja gear on Cafepress. I actually forget about it sometimes, because I just threw it up there years ago and haven’t really put any effort into it since then.

I have virtually no markup on any of the products, because I love the idea of them being used far and wide, so grab what you like, such as this shirt that highlights HR as the offspring of a lawyer and a psychologist. I just had someone purchase 25 HR ninja mugs for their local SHRM chapter giveaways, so there are lots of ways to use this to give your HR friends a smile! Have fun with it.

HR Certification

Yes, it’s work-related, but you can give the timeless gift of certification to anyone, or yourself. This week I have a 10% discount on both the PHR and the SPHR self study courses. No discount code required, and the discount expires on December 26th, so get it while it’s hot! You can even buy now and use the course any time in the future. I have had several students taking the course this fall after purchasing during last summer’s sale.

For the Out of the Closet Nerds

If you are an admitted nerd, then one of the things you’re hoping for this year is a stack of books. If you know someone who is a reader, here are some great suggestions for books I’ve enjoyed that could not just entertain, but improve someone’s life/career.

  • The Front Line Leader: How to act like a CEO, what leadership looks like, and how to run a large, successful healthcare organization.
  • Innovation Judo: how to innovate despite structural and “people” roadblocks, including great stories of successful innovation.
  • All In: building a culture of belief, research-based stories of success, and the coolest profile of Bruce Lee I’ve ever read.
  • The Pursuit of Something Better: the first book I ever read and reviewed on upstartHR. Still one of my favorites, it explores the turnaround of U.S. Cellular and the readoption of basic tenets like culture, leadership, and service.
  • What about my book, What Running Taught Me about HR? :-) It’s a collection of stories and insights from my years in HR and also includes several profiles of other running HR pros and what makes them tick.

As always, you can find a ton of other book reviews here.

Whatever you end up picking up, I hope you have an incredibly merry Christmas!

I originally wrote this for a friend over at Horizon Point Consulting. I think it’s going to be interesting for you guys as we head into the end of the year and start thinking about our careers, accomplishments, and the path ahead. Enjoy!

I couldn’t sleep. It was 4:17am and I had stared at the clock for half an hour. Might as well get up and get started. I rolled out of bed with a big smile. It was my first day as the new owner of Lighthouse Research, and I felt like it was what I had always been preparing for all throughout my career.

This scene played out a few months ago when I took over an HR technology research and advisory services firm, but I’ve been an entrepreneur for quite some time now. I started the journey back in 2009, and I have continued my “side hustle” over the years. Looking back, it has been an incredible joy. I’ve taught myself many new skills, had the opportunity to work with and meet some very interesting people, and grown by leaps and bounds professionally.

I completed some research in October 2016, and the number one thing that my audience was curious about was how to get into contracting/freelancing either as a part time or a full time opportunity, so I know this is top of mind for many people. Maybe you’re one of those people as well? If so, I’ll give you some helpful advice and insights that I have picked up along the way.

Handling a Second Job/Gig/Activity

As I mentioned, I’ve been doing something outside my “day job” ever since 2009. For most of that time, it has been this blog/business. However, I’ve also done speaking, training, HR certification study instruction for one test prep company, freelance writing, HR consulting, etc. Up until a few weeks ago I was working part time as an HR consultant to help stay plugged into the HR community, because I left my practitioner position back in 2014 to become a technology analyst/researcher.

Handling that second position is not always easy, but it’s doable. I have four kids. I go to church. I volunteer. I have other responsibilities, and I make sure they all get taken care of. Here are a few things to consider if you want to start your own side hustle:

  • Does your day job take up more than 60 hours of your week? If so, you probably can’t fit in additional work. It’s time to back that down, find another job, or put your side hustle dream on hold. Be willing to talk with your boss or explore other opportunities if it means you get to pursue the dream you’ve been holding back on.
  • Do you enjoy working on projects, connecting with new people, and wearing the “business” hat? I know that accounting, billing, etc. is one of the least favorite activities for many independent workers, but it is a part of life. Today there are many tools to help make this easier, from apps for tracking business mileage to online banking for keeping your business expenses/revenues separate from your personal funds.
  • Are you self-motivated? This is touched on below in the “passions” discussion, but it’s important that you can make something happen when it’s time to get to work. Some people don’t have the discipline to focus when nobody is standing behind them, and if that’s you, then you will have trouble making the transition to self-employment.

How to Monetize Your Passions

The first part is obviously to know your passions, right? Yet I see so many people that start off with the thought, “How can I make some money? What’s hot right now?” That’s a torturous path, because you can only work so hard at something that you don’t truly care about.

In my case, I started with something that was top of mind for me, but it also tied to an activity I love. Back in 2009 I earned my HR certification. During my preparation, I started writing my thoughts and study schedule online as a way to hold myself accountable. One week, I got off schedule due to a personal issue, and I received several emails from people asking where that week’s blog was! It was then that I realized that this was bigger than a project to keep myself on track—others were interested as well.

After I received my certification, I took my study notes, added some lessons learned, and started selling it from my website as a $19 eBook. I’ve sold hundreds of those since 2009, and I actually took it down a few years ago when I started selling a higher priced course that expanded upon the eBook content. I’m passionate about teaching and helping others, and I’ve received dozens of great testimonials and comments from students over the years that found value in the work I created.

That’s just one example, but hopefully you start to understand how this kind of business works. Questions? Feel free to hit me up at ben@upstarthr.com and I would be happy to help however I can.

Want More Information?

Do you want more information about a specific area of interest for you personally? Maybe you’re interested in learning more about the opportunities ahead? Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • I’m an entry level professional trying to find out how to make your mark on the world
  • I’m a mid level professional ready to advance to a leadership role
  • I’m a senior level professional wanting to do some speaking and consulting

Whatever your current position, I want to help give you actionable ideas and insights for how to move to the next step in your career journey from a series of experts who have already demonstrated success in your area of interest. Just enter your email below and I’ll be in touch soon.

 

were-only-human-logoIn the latest episode of We’re Only Human, I explore talent mobility and its applications in the workplace. Talent mobility is the practice of using internal talent to fill temporary or permanent roles.

Unlike succession, which is typically a top-down approach, talent mobility takes into account the interests and aspirations of employees.  As a talent practice, the idea of talent mobility isn’t necessarily new. However, there is renewed interest in the topic due to some interesting trends covered in the podcast, including changes in career longevity, employee ownership over career paths and work tasks, the gig economy, and challenges with sourcing high performers.

In addition, I examine some case studies and examples of companies that are doing interesting work with talent mobility, including World Bank Group, Chipotle, and Hootsuite.

Listen to the show on the show page HERE or using the widget player below, (Email and RSS subscribers click through)

For more information about Talent Mobility you can check out my presentation on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/beneubanks/talent-mobility-the-key-to-engagement-retention-and-performance

As a reminder, you can subscribe to We’re Only Human and all the HR Happy Hour Podcast shows on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and all the major podcast player apps – just search for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to subscribe and never miss a show!

Thanks to my wonderful wife for the idea for this one. 

jelly-month-club-christmas-vacationOne of our traditions every year is to watch Christmas Vacation (no, not with the kids!) While it’s not my favorite (that spot is held by It’s a Wonderful Life), it always gives me a laugh and reminds me to focus on the important things during the Christmas season.

One of the memorable scenes in the movie is when Clark opens up what he expects to be a holiday bonus only to find a “jelly of the month” membership card. After all kinds of crazy experiences, that bonus was his last opportunity to bring some sense of closure to the season by giving an amazing gift to his family (a pool). When he finds out that it’s basically a certificate for twelve free jars of jelly, he snaps, ranting and raving about his boss, the company, and more.

I’ve been a key part of many compensation and bonus reviews over the years, and there are some excellent lessons we can all learn from this story.

Expectations Matter

During the movie, Clark talks with a friend about his big plan to put in a pool. He even carries around a brochure to look at and share when necessary, demonstrating how excited he is about the coming bonus. The reason he ultimately flips out at the end of the movie is because his expectations did not match reality.

The parallel is obvious. If we are going to provide some sort of bonus, whether holiday-related or not, we should ensure that expectations match reality. You can do some prep work, laying the foundation and expectations beforehand to ensure nobody is disappointed (or at least a minumum of disappointment occurs, because it’s hard to please everyone).

At a previous employer, my colleagues and I worked on an annual conference that required dozens of hours of preparation and delivery work. The first year we each got a very small gift card as a reward, and the second year we got nothing at all, despite the event making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. How long do you think a company like that will have an engaged, productive workforce? Hmmm…

Value Should Mirror Contributions

In Christmas Vacation, Clark is particularly excited because his work performance was recently recognized as above average. He created a valuable product for his employer, and he expected his bonus to mirror that level of contributions.

When it comes to offering rewards, recognition, and bonuses for performance and results, be sure the result is related to the level of the employee’s contribution. Someone saved the company $2 million by reducing waste? Don’t give them a $25 gift card and call it a day. An employee creates a new process that reduces customer churn by 10%? They expect more than a pat on the back and a template “thank you” note.

This isn’t an invitation to be overly extravagant, but think about it this way: do you want those people to continue innovating and creating new value for the company? If so, reward them well, and create a virtuous cycle of value for everyone involved.

Discriminate. Heavily.

We’ve been drilled that discrimination is a bad thing. In reality, discrimination is wonderful–it’s illegal discrimination that needs to be eliminated. Some of your employees are going to do their jobs and go home, never adding more value or creating unique opportunities for growth. While those people need some sort of recognition for getting the job done, the ones that create more value need to be treated differently. As I mentioned in my post about how to hire and manage creative people:

Whatever label we stick on them, we need to treat them differently from the rest of the employees. Yes, this scares the pants off most HR pros, because we’ve been taught to treat everyone the same. But it’s madness when you think about it. Equal treatment for unequal performance/productivity/contributions is a surefire path to mediocrity.

When I managed compensation reviews, it always drove me crazy to see our highest performers getting a 4-5% raise and our lowest performers getting a 2-3% raise. That ~2% split wasn’t enough to truly reward our great people and create an incentive for continued stellar performance. My only consolation was the bonus pool that I was able to help work with managers to direct more toward those individuals that offered more than their “fair share” of value to the company.

Public or Private Praise?

The examples we’ve been discussing don’t have to include a moment of public praise, but they certainly could. Here’s a story I’ve told before about two very different methods for showing appreciation for the contributions of an employee or team.

Presenting work awards is one part of the employee recognition process. If you are going through the trouble to nominate someone, process the paperwork, and get them an award, wouldn’t you like people to know about it? Apparently not everyone believes that. Here’s an example of the wrong way to value the contributions of your people:

I was talking to a friend recently and heard this sad story. A handful of employees received awards for superior performance. It was the first time the work group had received awards, so it was a special occasion for the staff members who earned the kudos. However, the manager quickly stepped in and made it known that the awards were not to be communicated internally. Nobody could know that the employees had been rewarded for their efforts.

My take on that situation is multifaceted. First, the manager is missing out on a great opportunity to share about their people. Point out how well they did and encourage others to do the same (or better). And the people who received the awards? You could have given them half as much money and public praise would have made up the difference. Praise has significant value when people don’t receive it often (not that you should withhold it just to make them appreciate it more!)

So, what’s a better way to wrap in public praise without making it awkward? Here is how I liked to do it when I managed a corporate HR function.

One year we had a major corporate office relocation, and it was quite an ordeal. After the dust had settled, the team who made the move possible all received financial awards as a “thank you” for all the hard work, but we wanted to make sure it was more meaningful. Check out the email below that went out as the public praise for the team.

—–

We’ve talked about it before, but recently the corporate office moved to a new location. On the outside, it was a fairly simple affair; however, from the inside there was an astounding amount of work that had to be completed. Not to be dissuaded, a few people really stepped in to make that transition as easy as possible. They picked up extra duties, worked long hours, and fought the good fight with vendors and builders to make sure this space was everything we needed it to be.

For their efforts, each of the employees mentioned below received an award as a token of appreciation; we wanted to offer this bit of public praise as well. To those of you who made it all possible, we all appreciate you very much.

(Employee names removed for this post)

Thank you for your support! You truly embody our core value of Unequivocal Excellence in your work.

—–

At the end of the day, it’s critical to believe that your employees want to do great work. And in your role as an HR/talent leader, it’s crucial for you to coach managers, offer tools and guidance, and help create opportunities for people to be recognized for what they do. I can guarantee that they won’t be disappointed like our dear friend Clark.

How do you make sure your people feel appreciated and rewarded for their work? Do you have a unique way of making it personal and appealing for the recipient? 

hiring and managing creatives

Today we’re going to explore the intersection of creativity, innovation, and intrapreneurship (entrepreneurial activities occurring within an organization) and how these activities bring value to the business world. I hope you enjoy!

Innovation is a curious thing. In a research report published by the International Board of Innovation Science, Dennis Stauffer explored what separates wildly successful companies from the rest. Here’s a quote from the article that sheds light on the extent to which innovation drives value:

The research with entrepreneurs is especially noteworthy because it revealed the dramatic impact that this measure of innovativeness has on value creation. When those founders who scored highest on the Innovativeness Index were compared to those who scored lowest, the ventures of the high scorers averaged 34 times as much profit, 70 times as much revenue and employed 10 times as many people. They were also dramatically more likely to be one of the exceptionally high performers that investors call a “home run” (defined in this study as having achieved at least a million dollars in annual profits).

Companies everywhere are trying to create more innovative atmospheres for employees. But what if the answer isn’t open office space or an office beer cooler, but a higher engagement score?

Research by Gallup found that 61% of engaged employees feed off the creativity of their colleagues, compared to a mere 9% of disengaged employees. In addition, it found that 59% of engaged employees believe their job brings out their most creative ideas, compared to only 3% of disengaged employees.

Finally, are you familiar with the intrapreneur? This conversation will also touch on this type of person/personality and I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project, and they are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal.

You can imagine the value of someone that takes ownership, manages a project like it was their own business, and seeks acceptable risks. But it requires a foundation of trust to make it work, and we can easily measure the value of that aspect: a recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!

All of these data points just go to show that creativity and innovation are incredibly valuable. The problem is that many companies are not at all prepared to manage people that fit the creative profile. Even those that say they want a workforce full of ideas and innovation usually back away once they realize the effort it takes. At the same time, you saw some of the research that shows the value of innovation in the workplace. While it might take some work, hiring these kinds of people can also provide amazing benefits for companies that are willing to commit.

Throughout this article we’re going to explore seven opportunities to help with hiring and managing creative people.

  1. Prepare for creative tension
  2. Seek wanderers
  3. Test their big picture thinking
  4. Encourage some nonconformity
  5. Let people share and vote on ideas
  6. Don’t hire “idea” people if you don’t plan to use their ideas
  7. Don’t treat creatives just like everyone else

Creative Tension is a Reality

People that are creative have a different way of seeing the world, and companies are often not set up to accept and embrace that kind of thinking. On the flip side, some companies seek out these types of people because they understand the value they can bring. A Boulder, Colorado-based marketing firm, Kapost, does just that. Here’s a snippet about their approach:

Recruiting, engaging, and retaining entrepreneurial employees depends in large part on a manager’s ability to discuss and facilitate career development. However, recruiters, managers, and executives are often poorly-equipped to lead these conversations. Toby Murdock, the founder and CEO of Boulder-based content marketing company Kapost, set out to fix that. His goal: to make his company the best place in Colorado to launch and accelerate a career in high tech.  Thanks to a compelling employee value proposition around career transformation, Toby has successfully recruited entrepreneurial employees into the company who might have otherwise been out of reach.

Consider that. Instead of being afraid of the turnover of losing those entrepreneurial employees a few years down the road, the CEO of Kapost decided to embrace it and reap the benefits of having those people working under his direction.

Research shows that 70% of entrepreneurs left the corporate world because they were too confined. I know that’s the case for me. Creative tension can either be painful and stressful on both parties, or it can be harnessed to develop innovative solutions to problems both small and large. Innovation matters.

An Accenture study of 500 US, UK, and French companies showed that 70% of executives considered innovation to be among the top five strategic priorities, and 67% said they are highly dependent on innovation for long-term success. However, less than one in five said they had realized a competitive advantage from their innovation strategies because they were too risk averse to take advantage of the potential opportunities. Hint: this is a problem, and it doesn’t exist solely in enterprise organizations. 

Seek Wanderers

I’m currently reading IGNITE: Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation by Moss and Neff. It’s really good and full of stats and stories about how the authors have used and seen innovation in practice. One of the sections talks about how to hire intrapreneurial employees, and the authors encourage seeking “wanderers,” or people that are more likely to be curious, in the hiring process. The example the authors give is asking about a recent conference a candidate attended. Was it an assignment, or did the person request to attend? What session was their favorite? What takeaways or pieces of information did they collect? How have they implemented it at work?

In another book (yes, you know I’m a book nerd) about the history of Chick-Fil-A, the founder Truett Cathy talks about the company’s approach to hiring store Operators. He says that the company would rather restrain mustangs than kick mules, or he’d rather have to pull back on the reins of someone that is going too fast than try to push someone that is going too slow.

Back in 2009 when I helped to start the HRevolution movement, this “wandering” mentality is what drove us to do so. The event appeals to people that want something more than a “sit in the back of the room and play on your phone” type of conference. People come expecting to contribute, share, and explore ideas collaboratively. And for those that take advantage of it, the value is immense.

 

Test Big Picture Thinking

One of the other hallmarks of an entrepreneurial employee is being able to see the big picture. Instead of being aware only of the minute fraction of the business that the person touches day to day, the mindset of one of these individuals can see how the job affects people both up and down the line.

In the interview, the authors of IGNITE recommended offering someone a whiteboard to explain an idea or explore a complex process. They posit that the more creative individuals will be able to accomplish the task.

What I would also encourage focusing on is a bit of QBQ-like interactivity. If you’re unfamiliar, QBQ stands for the Question Behind the Question. QBQ is one of the required books new employees working at my favorite radio host’s company must read. The QBQ process is used to help get beyond the normal questions we see in the workplace:

  • Whose fault is this?
  • Why wasn’t this done correctly?
  • How long until things get better?

We want to get beyond those poisonous questions to some that are more engaging and solution-focused, like these:

  • What can I do to help?
  • How can I make sure this is done correctly?
  • What can I do to make things better?

In the interview, ask the person some questions around the QBQ mindset. Present them with a problem and then ask for some QBQ-like questions that show that they are able to see the big picture and can understand how to impact results positively.

Encourage Nonconforming Behaviors

I’ve been reading a lot about conformity and finding the right ways to encourage some creative rebellion among employees. One recent piece from Harvard Business Review lays out an interesting picture of the state of conformity at work:

Of course, not all conformity is bad. But to be successful and evolve, organizations need to strike a balance between adherence to the formal and informal rules that provide necessary structure and the freedom that helps employees do their best work. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of conformity.

In another recent survey I conducted, involving more than 1,000 employees in a variety of industries, less than 10% said they worked in companies that regularly encourage nonconformity. That’s not surprising: For decades the principles of scientific management have prevailed. Leaders have been overly focused on designing efficient processes and getting employees to follow them.

Now they need to think about when conformity hurts their business and allow — even promote — what I call constructive nonconformity: behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.

To illustrate a behavior or choice that falls outside common expectations, let’s examine a story from Southwest Airlines. A few years ago a very junior employee was working as a gate agent when a flight was rerouted due to weather, stranding the passengers who were almost to their final destination. The common response was to apologize and hold out until the next day, hoping for better weather. Instead, she chartered three buses to take the people home, getting them to their destination in just a few hours.

Herb Kelleher, then-CEO of Southwest, brought her to the headquarters to meet with him. Instead of chastising her for not following protocol, Kelleher praised her quick thinking and dedication to doing the right thing by the customers. That kind of praise not only rewards the employee, but demonstrates to others what kinds of behaviors are expected as well.

Offer Idea Sharing/Voting

One of the simple ways to take advantage of what these employees have to offer is to let them contribute, share, and vote on ideas. I’ve talked in the past about the “Big Ideas Database” that we used at a former employer to allow employee-generated contributions to challenge the status quo and offer opportunities for innovation. We used a simple Sharepoint site to facilitate the process, approvals, and workflow, but there are also tools in the HR technology marketplace that can help to make this sort of process a reality. If you want to check one out, why not start with Tembostatus or Waggl. Anyone can contribute ideas, share, vote, comment, etc.

Whatever the method, the value is in leveraging employee ideas for innovation. Check out this video for an example of how this kind of employee-driven innovation can benefit an organization’s revenue, customer satisfaction, and more.

Plan to Use the Ideas You Get

While not every idea that comes in will be valuable, you need to truly make an effort to accept some of them. I’ve been faced with this at several of my previous employers. I was born with an eye for problem solving–I can’t turn that off. And I can think specifically of instances at two previous employers where I had heard a “no” one too many times and that facilitated my change of employment. The crazy part is that during the recruiting process, those companies recognized and appreciated those kinds of thoughts. They told me that they wanted suggestions, ideas, and contributions.

However, once I was “inside the fence” and employed with them, it was a different story. When I speak I often tell about the employer that failed just a few months after I left. One of the last conversations with my manager was a list of ideas about how we could fix the 40+% turnover problem that was draining our budget faster than we could survive, and the response was “get back to work processing those new hires and terminations.” Ouch.

As far as how many ideas you need to implement, that’s where it can be a bit fuzzy. I saw an article recently about a large telecommunications company that received more than 10,000 employee ideas and had implemented less than 100. I don’t have a benchmark to know if that’s good or bad, but for those other 9,900 ideas, you need to be sure that those people feel like their contribution mattered.

Treat Creatives Differently

We use a few terms to describe different types of employees under our charge:

  • High performers
  • High potentials
  • What about high innovators or high creatives? 

Whatever label we stick on them, we need to treat them differently from the rest of the employees. Yes, this scares the pants off most HR pros, because we’ve been taught to treat everyone the same. But it’s madness when you think about it. Equal treatment for unequal performance/productivity/contributions is a surefire path to mediocrity.

Consider this analogy of tire pressure equalization. A tire works because it captures air and builds pressure, allowing it to hold its shape and move a vehicle around (a high value activity).

Those creative people in your organization are the high pressure air inside that make the value possible. Treating all employees the same is like putting a hole in the tire. Eventually all the high pressure air leaks out (employee turnover), and low pressure leaks in (hiring for conformity, not creativity), until you have something that doesn’t offer value.

That’s how companies achieve mediocrity every day. If you’re interested in being a mediocre HR leader at a mediocre company with a mediocre track record, make sure you treat all employees the same, regardless of their contributions. Back to those companies that I worked for previously, that was why both of them will never be truly exceptional. All employees were treated the same by the company’s owners, which led the creative, valuable people to leave. Those that didn’t do extra work, look for ways to contribute beyond their job titles, and seek opportunities to grow the business? They stuck around. Ouch.

Take Baby Steps

As you begin this journey, take small steps and always stay just a bit uncomfortable. Knowing how to hire creative people is one thing. Knowing how to manage creative people is something else entirely. Look for ways to encourage creative, nonconforming ideas from your people at regular intervals. And don’t forget the seven strategies that can make it work for you:

  1. Prepare for creative tension
  2. Seek wanderers
  3. Test their big picture thinking
  4. Encourage some nonconformity
  5. Let people share and vote on ideas
  6. Don’t hire “idea” people if you don’t plan to use their ideas
  7. Don’t treat creatives just like everyone else

How does your organization encourage and support creative employees? What value do you see this population bringing to your business? 

A few weeks ago you probably caught my letter to my unborn child. This last week has been a wild ride as we added Berklee to the family, surprising about 95% of the people we know because she was NOT a boy. Melanie and the baby are doing great, and the other kids are overjoyed at having the baby at home.

Enjoy the picture below, and expect more HR content next week. For now I need to go get a little (or a lot of) sleep…

berklee-rose