I recently finished up a new book and have been looking forward to writing this review. There are three key things I picked up from the book that I want to share. No wasting time–I’m diving right in. :-) By the way, if the name sound familiar, this is the third book I’ve reviewed for John. He knows what he’s talking about.

Key Lessons from Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention by John Mattone and Nick Vaidya

cultural transformations book reviewFirst up, stories are powerful. I think we all know that (and I’ve talked about it both lately and in the past), but it bears repeating. The bulk of this book is made up of interviews with CEOs from companies across the globe. One of the biggest challenges for HR is understanding what the business needs and how to solve those problems. In this book you get to peek into the heads of executives that make the top-level decisions every day, and it’s powerful stuff.

Secondly, Mattone points out early in the book the power of innovation, but he doesn’t do it like everyone else. Instead of focusing on what we typically think of as product innovation, he points out the need for innovation throughout the organization. Here’s the snippet:

When executives change their leadership culture, they are rewarded with significant, sustainable outcomes, including… genuine organizational innovation for not only products but also the organizational systems required to sustain innovation.

Do you know what those organizational systems are that he alludes to? Hint: it includes HR! He’s talking about the infrastructure that enables the organization to create value for customers. From marketing and HR to finance and more, there are so many opportunities to truly innovate within the processes and systems we use to drive the organization on a daily basis. This is refreshing, because it departs from the typical look at innovation from the product side–for example, creating the next iPhone. If my internal systems are better, I don’t necessarily have to create the best thing since sliced bread–I can outpace other companies simply due to the effectiveness and efficiency of our systems. That’s a powerful thought.

Finally, the book makes mention of this concept of a “culture value proposition.” If it sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of its cousin, the employer value proposition, which is the sum of the things you have to offer to candidates/employees to make them join/stay with your organization. What I like is that this looks at culture, a topic I’m pretty fanatic about, at a deeper, more systematic level. From the book:

A strong CVP foundation leads to: capability… commitment… and alignment.

Think about the employees within your company. Are they capable, committed, and aligned with your strategy and goals? If not, it might be time to rethink your culture value proposition, or what your culture can offer to them.

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in checking out what CEOs have to say about culture and business reinvention, or if you’re looking to hone your own organization’s culture value proposition, then I encourage you to check out Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention by John Mattone and Nick Vaidya (find it on Amazon here). You can also check out the other books John has written: Intelligent Leadership and Talent Leadership.

Find other book reviews here.

Recruiting has been changing for some time. It’s no longer about simply tracking candidates–not if you’re trying to beat the competition, anyway. Sourcing, or seeking out candidates, is a powerful part of a recruiting strategy, but there are also elements of recruiting that have changed in recent years as the recruitment marketing field has grown into its own discipline. From custom landing pages and search engine optimization to candidate engagement and social/mobile, there are so many ways to reach employees that weren’t even in existence when most of us started recruiting.

Side note: I haven’t done a video in quite a while, so I wanted to plug one in here that I did recently that ties in nicely with the topic. I love video blogs but my camera has been on the fritz, so I used the somewhat-grainy webcam. Looking forward to having my camera back in action!

In this video I explain three of the ways that recruiting could learn a lesson from marketing, including:

  • How to seeing the hiring process as a type of sales funnel
  • The importance of using personas to find the right talent
  • Why we need to be using data and measurement to prove value

Free eBook on Recruitment Marketing

The recruitment marketing superstars over at SmashFly put together this free eBook with the help of some of those who have been keeping tabs on this trend. You can get your copy here:

http://bit.ly/1X0x1Zm

What are your thoughts on this relatively new, and growing, topic? How are you changing your recruiting approach so that you’re pulling in candidates who are a fit for your company and culture? 

Investigations are one of the toughest parts of working in HR, because you have to work between very fine boundaries and there is always going to be someone upset with the result, no matter how gently you tread. In the various investigations I’ve been a part of, I have picked up some tips and tricks that help to make the process more smooth. No matter the result, if you know you’ve done your best and have given the most definitive answer possible, then that’s pretty much the only way you’ll have a satisfied feeling after you close the books.

I still vividly remember one of the first serious investigations I was a part of. Does this scenario sound familiar?

Employee comes to you claiming she is being harassed by a supervisor. The only witness is the best friend and coworker of the employee. The employee has been having consistent performance issues for some time and was on the verge of a performance improvement plan at the time of report.

So, how do you proceed? It’s a tricky road, especially since the employee is also a military reservist and the manager has voiced complaints about her service in the past…

The Benefits of Investigations

I do want to say this. While it’s not all roses and candy canes, there are some positive benefits of investigations worth noting:

  • Doing it properly and impartially helps to defend the company against litigation
  • Doing it fairly and quickly helps employees to see that the process and people involved are trustworthy

Again, not pleasant, but definitely worthwhile.

The Top Five Investigation Mistakes

I’ve seen many investigations go wrong, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s walk through the top five mistakes I see and how to counteract them.

  1. Delayed action
  2. Poor planning
  3. Retaliation
  4. Lack of follow up
  5. Losing objectivity

Delaying is a problem, because unlike your favorite pair of yoga pants this doesn’t get better with time. Whatever your reason for delay, get over it and get to work. Too busy you say? How would you like to explain a $95 million judgment to your boss? Yeah, I thought so. Move this to the top of your list, get to work, and get it done.

Planning is an issue. Most inexperienced HR pros freeze when the investigation hits their desk. But the pros know that following the plan/process is the fastest and most painless way to get through. Taking a little time to put together a simple plan will not only help to improve the results and reduce your stress–it will also help to make sure you are consistent across a variety of investigations, topics, etc.

Retaliation is a huge problem. The EEOC is trying to determine new guidelines regarding this issue. I always start every investigation with a clear message to everyone involved: retaliation will not be tolerated by anyone throughout the entire process, whatever the result turns out to be.

Lack of follow up can be another hangup. It’s tough to make sure you touch base with everyone after the fact, because you know that as soon as you file that report with the right people you have to get back to the work that has been stacking up on your desk since you started the investigation. Even if you can’t share results with the people involved, at least let them know when you wrap it up. And you do create and file a written report for each investigation, right?

Finally, losing objectivity is my Achilles heel. There are two sides to this that get to me. The first is trying to remain objective despite obvious and outrageous evidence presented at the outset. It’s hard to assume that someone is innocent until proven guilty, but you need to ingrain that into your thought process. Secondly, if someone becomes emotional it’s very easy to want to comfort and share your own opinions, but that doesn’t help anyone. Keep a lid on it.

Bottom line: we all have issues. Still, it’s up to you to help make sure your organization isn’t blindsided by something that could have been addressed in its early stages.

What interesting, weird, or crazy investigations have you carried out? Any tips to share? 

This week I was approached to complete some HR informational interview questions by a young lady heading back to college for a master’s degree in HR. I’ve answered similar questions before, and I have always had a heart for students looking to break into HR, so I obliged. As I responded, I wondered how others would answer and what advice they would share with someone preparing to enter this amazing profession of ours.

Would you pick a question and give your own answer in the comments section below? I used these informational interviews years ago before I got started in HR, and the responses helped me to hit the ground running when my entry level HR career took off.

HR Informational Interview

  1. What are the main duties of someone in HR? It depends on the position, but an HR generalist typically touches a variety of areas, such as recruiting, compensation, benefits, employee relations, training and development, and safety.
  2. What kinds of problems or difficulties occur in performing these duties? I’ve found that in general, companies and leaders that do not value HR are the biggest stumbling block to success. If they don’t believe that what you’re doing is value-add and benefiting the organization, then no matter what you do there will always be a limit on the positive impact you can have.
  3. What kind of rewards or enjoyments does this work provide? I would say that HR pays fairly well, if you are competent and willing to work hard. Beyond that, the satisfaction of helping families with their benefits, working with an employee to develop themselves for a promotion, or helping to coach managers through challenging times are some of my favorites.
  4. What characteristics do you believe are needed to be successful in Human Resources? Usually this question is met with answers like “confidentiality” or “multitasking.” I’ll take a different approach: you need to have a sense of humor. This job can be draining if you don’t have an outlet. Imagine having to terminate someone through no fault of their own simply because the money isn’t there to support the position. Do that often enough without a release and you start to lose your mind. For me, a sense of humor is one way I can get through those tough days and stay fresh.
  5. What kinds of knowledge and skills must someone have to be successful in HR? The basics of HR include recruiting and staffing, managing employees, labor relations, risk management, benefits and compensation, etc. The more nuanced things include this list of the top five senior HR leader competencies.
  6. What else should someone thinking of getting into the HR field know? It will be nothing like you expect from the textbooks. You will learn about 10% of what you need to know to be successful with a degree in HR. The other 90% comes from doing HR every day.
  7. As I said I have a B.S. in Family and Human Services. Do you think that my background will influence me, positively or negatively, in the field of HR? I think you’re probably going to be very caring and considerate of the differences people have and what that enables them to bring to the table. The only concern is a lack of business-mindedness that is a critical part of HR today. If you can’t speak the language of the business leaders and only talk about morale and such, you won’t have any credibility.
  8. Why did you decide on a degree in HR specifically and not another Business-type degree? I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be in HR–I just didn’t know it was called HR. My parents owned a small business and had constant challenges with hiring, benefits, retention, etc. I always thought I would get a degree in management to figure out how to solve those kinds of problems. When I got to college I realized that this “HR thing” was exactly what I had always wanted to do!
  9. What exactly is your current position and what does it entail? Currently I’m not in a traditional HR role. I am working as a research analyst helping some of the largest companies in the world by creating research, publishing case studies, etc. I spend much of my time writing and creating research from primary survey data.
  10. Why haven’t you made a switch in career fields? If you have, why did you return to HR? Some would say that I did by stepping out of the traditional HR role, but I like to think that now I can help employees at a hundred companies instead of just those at the one company I was at previously.
  11. What general advice do you wish people told you about HR before you started? I did many interviews just like this one, so I had most of my questions answered early on. The only thing that would have helped more would have been more general in nature. I would have liked to know that companies often don’t change, even when they are on the wrong path. My first HR job was for a company that ended up going over the financial cliff because our leadership was unwilling to make the changes necessary to improve the business.
  12. Any specific advice for me? Especially concerning pursuing a Master’s Degree and what to do before and during the program. I’d spend as much time shadowing and talking with in-the-trenches HR folks as possible. Sign up for Twitter if you’re not already there and follow conversations like #NextChat. This will help you find other HR leaders that are worth following. Look for other HR blogs that will help you see through the eyes of accomplished professionals, such as HR Capitalist, HR Ringleader, and HR Schoolhouse. Good luck!

What do you think? Did I steer her in the right direction with the informational interview questions? Did I miss anything critical? 

You know I’m a big fan of Freakonomics. I talk about them fairly often. This is due in part to the nature of the content–it’s not explicitly about HR, recruiting, or business. It just ties in nicely with what we do, as you’ll see in this post.

During a recent episode, the host talked with a professional economic forecaster about what it takes to be great at forecasting. The gentleman talked through several points, but the one that was most pertinent to today’s discussion was the ability to make judgment calls with some measure of certainty attached.

Most of us have had to terminate someone at some point, and there is always that sense, no matter how airtight the decision, that something could come back to bite us. Consider the following two examples and think about which one would make you seem like you have a good handle on the situation.

  • The guy seems really angry about the possible termination. I think he could sue us if we’re not careful. What do you want to do?

I don’t want to point any fingers, but that is a fairly common response. You might have said that very statement yourself (I know I probably have!) But I think we can do better. What about this?

  • The guy seems really angry about the possible termination. However, I think there’s just a ten percent chance that he would take legal action, based on the specifics of his case. How do you want to proceed?

That second statement is pretty good, right? It gives some measure of probability that helps to assess the situation appropriately. Without it, the statement is vague and could really go either way. It could be 10% or it could be 70%.

Now, if you’re like me, you would probably hear that second response and wonder “Where did the 10% figure come from?” It can’t be arbitrary. It needs to be grounded in some sort of facts and experience. It can emerge from historical data, judgment, and other factors specific to the situation (disability, minority, supervisor, etc.)

The bottom line is this–we need to get better at using probability and other more concrete statements to evaluate effectiveness. When someone asks marketing about its latest campaign, they don’t say “We think it’s working.” Instead, they pull out data, share information, and give concrete examples of how the initiative is driving results. We need to do the same. Just like HR leaders can specifically learn some lessons from marketing leaders, we all can pick up a few ideas on how to measure and communicate effectiveness.

Do you make a common practice of measuring and communicating the probability of high-risk actions occurring? What has been the result? 

I have been on a parallel track to HR for the last year and a half or so, and there are a few things that I miss about my beloved profession. There are other things, as mentioned below, that I certainly appreciate about my current role. For those of you contemplating a step into a consulting or other position outside the “mainstream human resources” function, here are some things you might run across.

What I Miss

  1. Having insight into the business operations, funds, etc. The bird’s eye view of things. You never realize how much you appreciate it until it’s gone.
  2. Having a say in who receives recognition/rewards for their efforts. I miss being able to “go to bat” for someone that earned it.
  3. Knowing the value that everyone brings to the organization.
  4. Being able to talk with the CEO and other leaders as a trusted friend and swaying them when they are on the wrong path.
  5. The satisfaction of bringing on the perfect recruit, solving a manager coaching issue, or helping an employee with a career milestone.

What I Don’t Miss

  1. I no longer have to deal with employees that don’t deliver results and managers too awful to do anything about it.
  2. I don’t have to spend hours on the phone trying to investigate sexual harassment or other claims.
  3. I don’t have to put some of my favorite skills to the side and keep them unused for most of the time.
  4. I (sometimes) miss having an office with people around me.
  5. Probably some other stuff that my mind is glossing over right now like a faded memory–picking out the good parts and whitewashing the bad.

What I Love Now

This list isn’t complete without talking about what I love about my current role. It’s not too shabby!

  1. I get to write. Pretty much as often as I want. And I like to write quite a bit, so that’s saying something.
  2. I talk with technology companies all the time, but I’m not being sold–I’m asking the questions and digging into capabilities. That’s much more fun.
  3. I get to peek into some of the HR, learning, and talent practices at world-class organizations and share those insights with the world.
  4. I have the opportunity to impact many more companies, employees, and leaders than I did in my previous positions.
  5. I have the ability to work from home, which lets me work how and when I am most productive.

This is a great exercise! Think about your current role–what do you like best? What would you gladly give up? 

Last week I was sitting in a board meeting for my local SHRM Chapter (NASHRM). I’ve been on the board for about five years now in various roles, and it’s a great way to get connected and serve others within the profession. But volunteering in that capacity is not what we’re discussing today. There was a point in the conversation where we were talking about our upcoming Mentor University program, and someone asked what the minimum threshold should be for mentors in the program. Someone threw out ten years as a baseline, and there was an immediate reaction from some of my friends on the board.

“What? Just ten years? We have ten years of experience and still feel like we don’t have much to offer.”

I had to laugh. First, because one of these self-professed not-quite-mentors is a good friend that speaks often in front of large crowds. She is a subject matter expert on recruiting, staffing, and managing candidate relationships. I have plenty of hands-on recruiting experience, but when she talks, I listen. So that seems funny to think that she can teach groups of senior level HR pros and recruiters about strategy and tactics but doesn’t have the capability (supposedly) to work in an informal one-on-one relationship with someone less experienced.

Secondly, everyone has something to offer. You do. Yes, you.

  • If you have twenty years of experience, that HR generalist with ten years under his belt can learn something from you.
  • If you have ten years of experience as a specialist in some area, the junior HR pro with a few years on the front lines can pick up a few tips and tricks you’ve learned.
  • If you have a week of experience as an HR pro of any sort, you have insights to offer someone who is just making steps to pursue an HR career.

See? You do, really.

I think in the end we dropped the ten year experience requirement on the mentors because it is artificial, and it doesn’t tell us what we want to know. When I am speaking on retention and the link to professional development, I often throw out the example of having ten years of experience. There are two ways to get to the ten year mark:

  1. Do the same basic tasks over and over again all year long, and then do it for ten years, never learning and growing beyond those basic functions.
  2. Master your basic tasks and then begin adding complexity and depth to your responsibilities, growing year after year progressively until you have a solid block of ten years behind you.

I want to be the second one here, and I want to find more of them in my daily work, because those are the people you can learn and grow from.

This week I’ll be in Florida for the Brandon Hall Group Excellence Conference. Wednesday I’ll be copresenting a workshop on the changing learning environment and how to integrate informal/experiential learning into your formal training programs. Friday I will be working in two sessions–the first on the changes we’re seeing in learning and development technology and the second focuses on the research linking human capital management technology and bottom-line business results. It’s going to be busy and fun. Am I the world’s foremost expert in these topics? No, but I do have something to offer. Insights from dozens of vendor briefings and discussions, data from our research, and practical experience from the trenches are all rolled together into one delivery that will help the audience learn and grow.

Think about yourself this week. Whether you’re volunteering through a local chapter or just finding a way to help someone else that needs it, you do have something to offer. Don’t let your own thoughts or anyone else tell you differently.