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? 

One of the things that I have grown to appreciate over the past few years is marketing. One of the first things I wrote on the topic was actually around what Chief Marketing Officers can teach Chief HR Officers. There is quite a bit of activity that goes on in the marketing department that we should all appreciate. From tailoring your approach to your audience to relentlessly testing your campaigns, there are some great insights in how they operate. Today we’re going to specifically talk about split testing.

The easiest way to explain split testing is this:

split testingLet’s say I walk up to you and hold out a piece of cake wordlessly. When the next person comes by, I hold out the same type of cake in the same way, but I smile and say, “Hello!” cheerfully.

That’s a split test, or A/B test. The point is to make every element of the scenario the same except for a single item that you’re explicitly testing—in this case, the greeting. Over the course of multiple tests (dozens or more, not just two or three apiece) you learn how that item affects the outcome of the experiment. Then you do it again but with another element being the item tested. Continue reading

credibility integrityRecently someone asked this question on Quora, a site that I sometimes drop by to help shed some light on the world of HR:

If I lie about a past felony on job applications, will the California FCRA keep background checks from finding out?

The first two responses to the question were focused on what the law covers and how the person might hide their information–interestingly enough I don’t see their answers on the site anymore, so I’m not sure what to think on that. However, here’s what I offered as advice:

Since the others didn’t address it in their answer, I’ll go ahead and say it: you don’t want to start your career off with a lie. There are studies that show the number one predictor of long term success is integrity–if you’re willing to sacrifice yours now, well…

If I was the HR director at the organization and found out later that you had lied about something like that, we would terminate. If you lie to me once there’s a good chance you’ll do it again.

This isn’t a dig at you or your history–this is a plea to maintain your honesty, especially when it gets hard. There are careers that don’t require you to pass background checks (small employers and startups rarely use them).

Continue reading

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a nerd of many facets. Recently I listened to an episode of Freakonomics on behavioral science and really enjoyed it, so I listened to it all over again, took notes, and created lessons for you guys from them since it was just that good. Enjoy!

  1. We need to make it safe to have conversations others won’t naturally have. That’s how you make innovation an integral part of what you do, not an after the fact, bolt-on, clunky process. The more comfortable people are in making innovative comments, the more innovation you’ll have. The more “danger” people face in making innovative comments, the less you’ll have.
  2. Economics focuses on a perfect world. Behavioral economics focuses on real behaviors from real people in an imperfect world. Don’t assume all else will remain the same when you make a change in the workplace. There will be some unintended consequence, either for good or ill.
  3. Don’t assume cash is the answer to motivating people. They highlight a newspaper losing customers that brought in an agency to help them use non-cash incentives to retain subscribers, and they were incredibly effective (see #6).
  4. Use role playing to demonstrate new techniques. Don’t rely on PowerPoint or even something as interactive as employee video communicatins just to get the point across, especially when the interaction requires dialogue. Role playing might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it’s better than facing a new situation unprepared.
  5. Behavior trick #1 to get what you want: get some background on the “why” when you get a question/complaint. Use that in your counter. For example, “I want to cancel this subscription because I’m busy, have a full time job, and my kids are growing up so they need my attention” would warrant a response such as “Oh! Did you realize you could get reduced price movie tickets for you and your children with this subscription?”
  6. Behavior trick #2 to get what you want: using social norming (peer pressure) to help drive behaviors. “Many people in similar situations do xyz.” That pressures us to follow the norm and not take our own path, even if the norm seems to be against our own best interests at the time. “Most people choose x, but you can choose y or z” led to triple the conversion rate.
  7. Behavior trick #3 to get what you want: loss aversion is powerful. Basically, this means that it hurts us more to lose something than the pleasure of gaining something of equal value, even if we don’t particularly like what we have! Script: “I’d hate to see you miss out on that…”
  8. Reframe statements to be positive. Calls using positivity and the techniques above were 3x more successful with an 80% save customer/avert loss metric. Wow!
  9. More on social norming: we feel a sense of comfort doing what others do and mild anxiety of doing what others don’t. It’s the “herd mentality” at work.
  10. Human beings survive on inference (guessing about a situation based on known facts), so copying others is a fairly safe bet. people pay for big brands because they think there’s less chance of it being catastrophically awful.
  11. If you can play these emotions in other people you can get them to do what you want. In a position with a lot of influence opportunity but little hierarchical position power, this is a big deal. We are extremely irrational creatures, even though we like to think we are good at rationalizing things. Newsflash: we’re not. (click to tweet)
  12. The funny part is that these ideas aren’t new, they’re just being rediscovered and proven with empirical data. Shakespeare, Solomon, and others throughout history have used ideas like these to get their points across.
  13. Plus, advertising firms have been using these techniques for years–now they are gaining exposure elsewhere and for other types of situations.
  14. Moment of joy! They turn to HR/employment and bring on the Chief Analytics Officer from Cornerstone OnDemand, Michael Houseman. He talks about his mission to help companies hire and keep the best employees by analyzing all the potential factors of employment:  prehire assessment results, when the person was hired (or left), supervisor, shift, wages, overtime, etc.
  15. There is some correlation of pay vs longevity: pay enables people to stay longer. Data shows that a 10% increase in pay delivers a 5% decrease in quitting behavior.
  16. You know that “warm fuzzy” feeling someone gets from a raise? Research shows that feeling only lasts 1-4 weeks. (click to tweet)
  17. Wages are a lever you can use to drive behaviors, but other things keep your turnover low, and are less costly. For instance, finding better supervisor fit is a great opportunity.
  18. But seriously, how important is a supervisor in the employment relationship? The supervisor accounts for about as much reason someone will stay as all other factors (culture, job, wages, etc.) combined. Huge.
  19. Research shows that raw talent only predicts about 10-15% of success. This is the myth of “A players.”
  20. Measuring honesty in employment–people claiming honest were 33% more likely to be fired for policy violations. (click to tweet)
  21. The issue is in asking people if they are honest. Dishonest people are likely to answer falsely, and honest people are more likely to admit when they have faults here, skewing the numbers.
  22. The real way to measure honesty: applicants were asked about computer skills and level of tech savvy, then a couple screens later they were tested. Researchers compared the results of both data sets. In the end two groups emerged: one was honest and one was “creative” in their responses (cheating/lying, in other words).
  23. Honest employees tested better on virtually every performance metric, except for one: sales.
  24. And my personal favorite: employee web browser choice can indicate job proficiency. In their studies Chrome/Firefox users are better employees on every metric. They can’t speak to why that is or what the cause is, but the simple answer is they suspect users that are informed about technology and concerned with productivity will actively choose another browser and not rely on the built in (and poor overall choice) of Internet Explorer.

 So, what was most interesting for you? Anything truly surprising? 

employee communicationsEmployee communications are dominated by email

According to a recent survey, up to 28% of our time is spent creating, reading, and replying to emails at work. In the average workweek that’s about 11 hours of time that you won’t get back, and we do that every single week.

There’s something else I’d like you to consider trying this week: video.

I am a firm believer in the power of video for learning and for communication purposes.

  • It’s personal.
  • It’s easy to create.
  • It conveys emotion and meaning.
  • It helps to explore complex topics.
  • And so much more!

While I know we can’t completely get away from sending emails to our employees, I think we could do a better job of incorporating video into the overall communications we use to increase opens, clicks, and overall understanding. And no, you don’t have to be a 10,000-employee organization with a dedicated video team on staff. This is incredibly simple.

And if you happen to be one of those people who think video isn’t going to “catch on,” you should take a second and recall those individuals that printed emails because they knew that that whole “email thing” was just a fad.

So, why use video for employee communications?

In the comment above, you can easily swap out “marketers” and put your own name in there. People are used to seeing and interacting with video content online. Some studies show that up to 75% of executives watch business-related videos online each week. This isn’t just for your front line employees–it can be a valuable tool for your C-suite as well.

I shared a case study of how ADP used video for their open enrollment communications (not only to share information, but to actually drive specific behaviors). Check out How to Increase Benefits at No Cost for more info.

Try it for just 30 seconds

One of my friends used to walk around with a small handheld camera (and now we all have phones that can do this just as well). He would grab a manager and ask them to talk for 30 seconds about how they help to manage career development for their employees, and then he would post those on the internal network so that employees could see and learn from those little clips. What was the impact?

  • The managers weren’t out more than one or two minutes of time.
  • He could get them talking on things they might not normally bring up with employees.
  • And he (HR) was seen as bringing value to the employee/employer relationship through facilitating these discussions.

Explainer videos

As far as the type of video that we’d use, the “explainer” type is probably most common. Here’s a simple way to start: think about the top three questions you receive from employees that you have a hard time responding to via email due to the complexity or sensitivity. Here are a few examples:

  • How does our FSA work?
  • What will our tuition reimbursement plan cover?
  • What are the career development options available for my position?

Then, take 30-60 seconds to create a short video explaining how that works in plain language your employees can understand.

Seriously, it’s as simple as that!

If you’d like some more research and ideas on video and how it can be used, check out the infographic below. Continue reading

runningIf you’ve followed for a while you know I enjoy running (I’m on MapMyRun, if you’d like to connect!) I’m also a bit of a nutrition nut due to a high school stint in wrestling, several years of running marathon distances and longer, and generally being a nerd. One thing that I have learned over time, and studies have backed up this observation, is that all of us consistently overestimate the calories we burn and underestimate our intake. Let’s repeat for clarity’s sake:

We consistently overestimate the calories we burn and underestimate what we consume.

It’s a part of being human to want to maximize our successes and minimize things that detract from our performance. As I thought through this idea (on a run, of course) I considered the parallel in the workplace when it comes to communication.

Managers overestimate the amount of communication provided and underestimate the amount of desired feedback.

Put simply, managers think they are communicating plenty. They think they are rockstars at communication and have it completely taken care of. At the same time their employees feel clueless and out of the loop. They are not getting sufficient information to do their jobs well and wish the manager would share more often.

Same principle: we want to maximize the activities we do (Wow! I communicated that well. I rock!) and minimize things that detract from that (Well, if the employees listened more then they would know what’s going on.)

One thing I do now for sure–in all of the thousands of employees I have met over the years, I have yet to come into contact with one that told me, “My manager communicates too much.”

When in doubt, share information. The best leaders know that sharing information is more powerful than holding onto it in the long run, even when you have to communicate with difficult team members.

What are your thoughts on manager feedback and communication?