This weekend I was doing some spring cleaning. Well, summer cleaning, since I missed the spring season. Anyway, one of the things I found was a box of items I used to keep on my whiteboard next to my desk as reminders of important aspects of HR. These shaped the way I practiced HR and ran my department on a daily basis. I thought it would be fun to share the notes here to help give you an idea of what kind of HR I practiced.

running great hr department

1: Your Company Values

Your values statement should be the most tattered piece of paper in your organization.

Most companies pick out a few values as part of a management exercise or checklist and then forget about them. Want to hire great people that align with your mission? Use your values statement every day to keep measuring your candidates and employees to make sure they are on target.

2: Communication Breakdown

The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, dribble, and misrepresentation.

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I attended the WorkHuman conference a few weeks ago in Arizona and connected with many friends and colleagues that I hadn’t seen in a while, and each of them asked how my work was going. This week marks my one year anniversary of running Lighthouse Research & Advisory, and it has been such a joy. Here is the link to my announcement last year, in case you’re a new reader.

I’m able to do the work that I love, whether it be writing, speaking/teaching, or research. I also have the flexibility to support clients in a way that other, larger analyst firms just can’t, and I keep hearing over and over how unique that is.

For those of you that are curious, my day to day is spent creating or uncovering research on a variety of topics. In the last month alone I’ve explored informal learning practices, global payroll and compliance for growth companies, and the impact of employee engagement on business performance. I then use that research to host webinars, write white papers, or create other research assets for my clients. At the end of the day, I’m creating things for you, the practitioners, that offer value and help you to get your work done more effectively. It’s just that the vendor community pays to have those resources developed for you.

Obviously I also run the We’re Only Human podcast, which kind of straddles both the work I do here at upstartHR as well as my work at Lighthouse. It has surprised me in the ten months that I’ve been running the podcast, but I get so much interaction and feedback from that medium and am constantly surprised by the positive reception. I’d be curious to know what you think about it and/or what you’d like to see me cover on the show.

At the same time, part of my research always has been (and will continue to be) in large part due to connectivity to the practitioner community. Each of you has a unique, valuable story to tell about your own business and HR practice. I am always interested in hearing those stories and learning from them. I’ve found that pretty much all practitioners think their stories are not that interesting or important, yet in every case I can find something unique or noteworthy about the situation in just a few short moments! Bottom line: your story IS important and interesting, and don’t ever think otherwise.

If you’d like to help, I occasionally send out research requests to gather information for new studies. Having responses from people like you is incredibly important to me. Additionally, don’t ever hesitate to ask questions about what I can cover here or to suggest topics that might be beneficial. I’m always open to ideas, and the truth is if you are thinking about it, there’s a good chance that a hundred others are that need the information as well!

So, with eight years of upstartHR and one year of Lighthouse Research behind me, I’m still going strong and feeling just as creative as the day I first started (if not more so). I can’t wait to bring you more insights, ideas, and information in the coming months. And you? Yeah, keep up the good work. :-) Thanks as always for being a part of this great community!

My good friend Alison Green over at Ask a Manager passed me this question she received because it’s HR-centric. I think many of you will get value from what could have been just another private email conversation, so I’m sharing the question and response here. If anyone else has comments PLEASE add them below, because we’re all better when we help each other, right?
Dear Alison,
I’m currently in my final year of high school and strongly considering pursuing an HR designation in post-secondary. Reading through your blog, I am very often reminded that HR exists primarily for the company (preventing lawsuits, attracting and retaining talent, etc.) and issues that employees have are resolved with the company’s best interests in mind. As such, I can understand why HR can sometimes gain a reputation for being useless (even if I do find it somewhat discouraging).
That being said, I would like to ask you for your input on what an effective HR manager should be like in terms of going above and beyond to support employees when the job description may not ask for it.
I’m thinking especially on how you would advise someone on the HR side to handle a situation where, for example, a department manager is out of control (but not doing anything illegal) and because of nepotism, is safe from consequences or intervention? If HR’s hands are tied, how could HR still go on to assist the employee even though the root cause isn’t solved?
How can HR still be supportive to employees in situations where the company calls for neutrality (or even to side with the company when it is ethically at fault)? And vice-versa?
I think overall I am just experiencing a sense of helplessness when I read stories with negative experiences with HR. On one hand, I can understand that there may be certain legal and logical restrictions to what an HR rep can do that sometimes the employee can’t see. On the other hand, I don’t want to be someone who just throws her hands up and says, “There is nothing I can do for you.” and adheres to the bare minimum requirements.
Is this something that will get better once I have more experience? Am I just being too emotional or naive about my job expectations? If so, any input on helping me recalibrate?
-J

Thank you for being very clear about your questions and concerns, J.

HR does exist to protect the company, and this is still prevalent thinking in many organizations. However, it’s also true that many forward-thinking firms are offloading these compliance-related functions to legal and are focusing more on how to improve employee performance, create better working environments, drive worker engagement, etc.

5 characteristics of a great HR manager Continue reading

Note: If you’re looking for a good app to access We’re Only Human and other podcasts, I personally use Stitcher on my Android device. 

Did you know that your employees aren’t innovative or creative enough?

That’s the latest from a research study performed by University of Phoenix on workplace innovation. In an interesting mix of data, the organization asked employees to identify whether their employers were innovative or not, and hiring managers were asked to identify the level of innovation exhibited by employees. The results were intriguing, and I covered some of the key topics of the research in a recent podcast interview with Ruth Veloria, Executive Dean of the School of Business at University of Phoenix.  Continue reading

According to Deloitte, more than 80% of learning is informal in nature, yet many companies are still unsure how to harness this critical mass of activities to improve performance, minimize risk and deliver organizational value.

Consider this: if you have a toddler, that child can probably pick up your phone, unlock it and open their favorite app. But it’s likely that you haven’t formally created content or delivered a course to the child on how to accomplish this task. It is one of the many learned behaviors that are picked up informally. While simplistic, this example highlights the fact that not much has changed about how people learn new concepts. The difference is that we now have technologies in place to help track, curate and analyze the impact of those learning activities.

Value and Risk: It’s All About Perspective

Discussions around informal learning typically branch off in a few directions. The conversation either turns to the incredible risk associated with “handing over the keys” to the employees to curate and manage their own content or focuses on the supposed anarchy that will reign if learning resources aren’t governed by a single, cohesive L&D team. But there’s another story–one that tempers some of the fear by pointing out the value and opportunities presented by adopting a more informal approach to learning.

Consider the concept of investments: if you put money in a savings account, it is safe, but it doesn’t really grow or offer value. If you put money into a mutual fund, it has higher risk, but there’s also greater opportunity for growth in value. The same concept of risk/reward applies in the learning world.

In this case, we’d see traditional, formal training as the low-risk option, but it has opportunity costs associated with tying up resources, longer lead times due to content development, and requires that L&D either become experts in a variety of fields or source that expertise. Embracing informal learning may have some risk, but also unlocks incredible value at the same time by turning every single employee into a potential source for creating or curating content and resources to help others learn.

Key Questions About Informal Learning

When I’m speaking with learning leaders, there are some fairly common questions that come up, ranging from measurement and analytics to practical application and success stories. Here’s a sampling of questions and their requisite answers:

How Do We Measure It?

Informal learning is like any other learning activity, and it can be measured. Informal doesn’t mean immeasurable. While we can rely on the common Kirkpatrick questions around satisfaction, knowledge transfer and behavior implementations, we can also leverage more aggressive methods, such as focusing on skills acquisition or performance improvement. In this manner, we can not only measure learning, but also tie learning practices to a variety of outcomes.

When we consider that learning is already happening, regardless of measurement, it takes some of the stress away. Now all we need to do is look for ties between learning activities and observable outcomes to start determining the impact of informal learning on business objectives. By putting some effort into tracking what people are already doing, we can take advantage of what has historically been a missed opportunity…

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What does engagement mean to you and your company?

That’s a question I’m trying to answer with a new research study. I’m partnering with my friend Jason Lauritsen to examine the ins and outs of engagement in a very hands-on manner. Instead of just looking at the theory, we’re digging into the specific practices that YOU think drive the highest engagement in your workplace.

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete, and I’ll be randomly selecting two participants to receive Amazon Gift cards from the people who take the survey through this URL in the next 72 hours. You must enter your email address at the end of the survey in order to be eligible to win. Ready, set, go!

Click here to begin the survey.

In case you’re curious, yes, I’ll be writing on these results in the coming weeks to help you understand how and why they matter. I’m also presenting at a few conferences in the next few months and will be weaving the results into those events as well. Your responses do matter!

Employee referrals are not a new topic in the HR and recruiting space. But the truth is that many companies phone it in when it comes to referrals, often leaving them with lackluster results. It takes a little time, effort, and intention to get a referral program into good shape, and the benefits are far-reaching.

Hiring A Players with Referrals

Data from one study shows that referrals are the best source for finding quality hires. Another expert says that referrals should be one of the top metrics that talent acquisition leaders focus on. And our own data at Lighthouse Research says that more than 80% of companies believe that referrals are important for measuring sourcing performance. Yet more than four out of ten employers are measuring nothing or only anecdotal information when it comes to referrals as a source of hire.

Referrals as a Talent Channel

You don’t create a great place to work. You defend it. -CEO of a firm with multiple “Best Places to Work” credits

Let’s face it. Many employees have not had the opportunity to work at a company with a great culture. But when they find one they inevitably become protective of the culture. This is a great tool for ensuring a strong referral program without having to constantly weed out poor performers and poor fits. It’s been said that A players hire A players, but B players hire C players, and companies of all sizes, industries, and geographies are trying to find those critical A players to remain competitive.

The right referral program needs to not only prioritize referrals as a source of hire, but it also needs strong technological underpinnings to help manage the volume and variety of referrals. Systems like MintMesh and others provide that functionality and help companies to get a grasp on what is typically operated as a “shoot from the hip” type of program. From an analytics perspective, being able to track quality of hire, time to fill, and other metrics and tie them back to the referral source is an incredibly valuable practice. Gathering the right data to support your referral practices is going to generate higher quality hires, ensuring those A players end up at your organization, not at the competition.

Using Referrals to Improve Diversity

Diversity has become an HR buzzword, thrown around in meetings and leveraged for positive PR, but what does diversity really mean?

Legally, diversity refers to the age, socioeconomic background, gender, race and ethnicity differences in your workforce. However, the concept of a diverse workforce encompasses more than that, capturing more nuanced elements such as religious and political views, social status, personality, communication styles, and cultural values.

Diversity sourcing, by extension, is a dedicated effort to attract, engage, and hire a diverse slate of candidates. An interesting twist on the diversity sourcing discussion is in referral practices. Anecdotally, it’s often believed that referral hiring will diminish diversity, encouraging people to refer their friends and colleagues that are just like them. In reality, diversity sourcing can be vastly improved with solid, intentional referral practices.

While virtually all companies say they encourage diversity, and the evidence for diversity as a business performance enhancement is clear, the question remains – how can we source and recruit a diverse workforce? There are three keys to success:

  1. Building a Diversity-Driven Culture-Having the best diversity programs possible won’t matter if your culture doesn’t support it. Diversity begins and ends with your company culture. It should be part of who you are as a company.
  2. Expanding Your Diversity Definition: In a conversation last month with the head of human resources for a U.S.-based construction firm, the leader said that the biggest challenge was filling a key technical role with diverse candidates, because the company had come to see the value in not just diversity of gender or skin color, but in diversity of thought. Candidates that entered the role from diverse backgrounds performed better, connected more thoroughly with their customers and peers, and lasted longer than more traditional candidates.
  3. Employee Referrals: Current employees are living, breathing advertisers for your company. Their testimonies about your organization provide an authentic initiative for potential hires. Missing out on their referrals could be the difference in being a market leader or a laggard. And as mentioned above, this allows your company to target more diverse hires in a way that traditional job postings and advertising just can’t.

Referral Benefits for SMBs

While referrals can help any company, I see the benefits to small and mid-sized businesses as being some of the most valuable.

Referrals are the most powerful tool in recruiting. A provocative statement, sure, but also proven to be true. Recruitment is the lifeline of all organizations and referral programs can deliver top talent to your door at a fraction of the cost of traditional recruiting. According to Dr. John Sullivan, if 50% of your company’s hires aren’t coming from referrals, then you need to get proactive with your referral program.

This is even more true for small and mid-size businesses. With tight recruiting budgets, limited organizational agility, and a need for highly engaged workers from day one, the SMB market can benefit from referrals by reducing costs, lowering time to fill, and ensuring long-term retention and engagement.

Cost

Costs for traditional recruiting sources far exceed those of referrals.Traditional recruiting can cost anywhere from $4,000 to well over $18,000 per hire, but recruiting with a referral program costs closer to $1,000.

Even offering financial incentives to employees for referrals is still a small price to pay for creating an army of talent scouts. Offering a $1000 bonus would still keep the referral hire cost far below that of other methods.

Other cost savings associated with hiring referrals include lower spending on advertising, job boards, and agency fees. Meritage Talent Solutions founder Kara Yarnot found that the typical agency charges a fee of 20 percent of a hire’s first-year salary, equaling $20,000 for a single $100,000 hire. If we’re comparing that to the referral program cost per hire data above, your organization could have hired 20 people for the same cost of one hire through an agency.

Referrals save costs and benefit the bottom line.

Speed

In today’s fast paced workplace, speed is crucial. Referrals can significantly increase hiring speed over traditional recruiting methods. Referrals are the fastest method to hire with an average of 29 days for referrals. Compare that with 39 days for job boards, and 45 days for career sites, on average.

This is due in part to the fact that you have a broader network when you’re prioritizing referrals. Your employees know the company better than anyone and with the rise of social media, employees have networks of contacts at their fingertips ready to tell their peers and friends about openings at your organization.

To get a sense of the size of this potential network, consider this: Pew Research estimates the average person has more than 600 social connections. If your business has just 100 employees, that’s a potential 60,000 people that can learn about your openings with a good referral program.

Not only do referrals start faster–they also onboard faster. A key part of onboarding, beyond understanding the workplace policies and requirements, is assimilating into the social fabric of the organization. By having a social connection already in the firm, the referral can onboard faster. This equates to higher productivity and performance from day one, which is critical for SMBs that don’t have extensive resources to train and develop competencies in new hires.

Referrals are faster to hire, start working quicker and out perform non-referrals.

Retention and Engagement

One third of new hires quit their job after about six months and 32 percent of employers say they expect employees to be job hoppers. This demonstrates the “revolving door” attitude employees have towards companies, but referral programs can increase job loyalty.

Referral programs are proven to decrease turnover and increase retention. 46% of referral hires are retained after one year as opposed to 33% for non-referrals. With referrals producing 25% more profit than their peers, this is doubly valuable for employers.

As mentioned in a recent blog, great companies are made up of great people, and referrals are the best source for bringing those great people to your front door.