autumn speharIn today’s episode of We’re Only Human, I talk with Autumn Spehar, HR Director at Stout Advisory, about how her company made a radical change in its approach to performance management. We also talk about how it’s working out one year later and the key lessons learned.

Check out the show below:

Show Notes

Performance management is one of the most hated HR systems in existence. Yet virtually every employer has a need to measure performance, set goals, and give feedback. So, what’s the right balance between a system that meets the needs of business leaders and one that meets the needs of the employees?

In today’s discussion with Autumn Spehar of Stout Advisory, Ben delves deep into this question by asking Autumn to describe her company’s transition from annual, paper-based performance management to a technology-enabled approach utilizing continuous feedback, real-time recognition, frequent check-ins, and more. This conversation is more than theory–it’s based on a year of practice in using the system, including the ups and downs that any company might face in this kind of transition.

Listeners to this episode will not only get to hear about Stout’s new outlook on performance, but they will be treated to some insightful commentary about the connections between culture, behavior change, and other elements that some of the “headlines” on performance management seem to miss. If you’re in charge of performance management at your company or you think your system could use a refresh, this is the episode for you!

I recently learned a great strategy that I can’t wait to share with you.

Employee: Hey Bob. I know you are busy. I just have a few quick questions. A few of us came up with this really great idea for the party.

HR: No.

Employee: Um, well, okay. So, Jim needs me to help him with this thing…

HR: No.

Employee: All right, then, just one more question…

HR: No.

Employee: Come on, you didn’t even give me a chance!

HR: (Smiles gleefully)

———

Let me tell you the secret to human resources: always say no. Whatever people want, just flat out turn them down. The great thing is that pretty soon, you can train them to stop asking for anything and settle for whatever you want to leave them with. They’ll stop bothering you and just get to work.

Clever, huh? Now you, too, can implement this kind of approach to human resources and make your stand for what you believe in.

News flash: if this sounds even remotely appealing to you, you suck and need to get out of HR.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with an HR leader that was trying to help an employee with a major insurance crisis to cover his critically ill child. The response from one of her peers in HR? “It’s not our job to take care of them.” Ugh. Yes, we’re business leaders, but we’re also people too, darn it. Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you. Disregard, dismiss, or demean them and you will lose the best chance you have at being competitive in the marketplace.

Why is that so hard for some people to grasp?

7 lessons employee experience

I just finished reading a brand new book called The Employee Experience. It’s a great look at the relatively new concept of creating an experience for employees, not just trying to engage them or do some other one-off program that doesn’t deliver long-term results.

7 Powerful Lessons on the Employee Experience

1) Congruent customer and employee experiences

I’ve long said that the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience. Well, what I’ve actually said is, “Employees will never treat customers better than their management treats them,” but it’s one and the same. The experiences will be congruent, or similar. That means companies that live and die by customer satisfaction scores need to start not with customer bonuses or other gimmicks but with a positive employee experience.

2) The Employee Experience is not the Employee Life Cycle

One of the issues with someone’s initial attempt to grasp the concept of the employee experience is to put it in the context of the employee life cycle. The experience, or how someone feels, is part of the life cycle, but it’s not quite the same thing. Don’t think that understanding the mechanics of onboarding and performance management means that you have a great employee experience. Instead look at the candidate or employee-centric nature of your processes and see to what extent they support, encourage, and engage your workforce. That’s your hint.

3) Tell me about your employees first

If I walked up to you right now and asked about your company, what would you start with? Your products? Your mission? Your customers? What about your employees–would they even make it into the discussion? It’s so common to think about this in the context of customers when in reality it’s our employees that make us successful. Start with employees and go from there. It will change the perspective of those around you.

4) Expectations rule the day

A big part of why employees have bad experiences in the workplace is because of expectations. Have you ever had high expectations for a raise, performance discussion, or meeting, only to walk away feeling disappointed? The theory of expectancy plays into motivations and how we feel about choices we make. If you want to deliver a poor experience, make sure you give people a warning ahead of time so their expectation gap (what they expect and what you deliver) isn’t as large.

5) Companies don’t really exist–people do

The trouble with leaders in many organizations is that they view the company as “The Company,” an automonous entity that doesn’t need to be understood or afforded respect. In this worldview, employees are replacement parts, and we don’t have to worry about the feelings of replaceable parts.

People get stuff done, not “the company.” People are the face of the firm, not a logo, billboard, or slogan. Remember that.

6) Design thinking for the win

The concept of design thinking centers on this: efforts are spent not just on solving problems, but on creating solutions with the end result in mind. In this case, how can we create ideas that focus not on the organization or on the customer, but on the employee experience. Instead of thinking about how to fix a problem specifically, the focus is on becoming something radically different. For many of us, that’s the direction we need to go to rectify design flaws in our processes and policies that can actually hamper our efforts to engage our workers.

7) Scrap the fancy job titles and get to work

I’ve heard in the last few years about new job titles popping up in the HR space. Chief Culture Officer, Chief Employee Experience Officer, etc. This was also mentioned in the book.

At first I was excited about the idea, but the more I thought about it, I realized that in some cases it was an abdication of responsibility. Think about it–when a task is assigned to someone specifically, everyone else can forget about helping with it and it falls off their list of priorities. That’s where I see the challenge in hiring these types of roles or even trying to create that kind of organization. Guiding and shepherding corporate culture isn’t one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job. Creating a powerful employee experience isn’t just HR’s or the C-suite’s job, it’s everyone’s job.

What are your thoughts on the employee experience? After reading some of these ideas, are you creating a great one, or does yours need some work

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? 

It seems that we can’t turn around today without having a conversation that touches on employee engagement. Yet despite all the attention, it hasn’t really moved the needle. In one graphic (click through the link below to explore), pulled from Google Trends, you can see the level of interest in employee engagement for over ten years.

The interest level peaked in 2016, and if the trend continues, it will expand beyond its current levels by the end of the year. But to what end? Gallup’s regular research into engagement points out a fairly dismal picture, and companies are trying to improve this measure to no avail.

I’m going to offer two answers to this problem that not only illuminate the issue, but give you some options to consider as you try to combat the pervasive issue of disengaged employees.

  1. Engagement is not a program. It’s a long-term, intentional set of practices.
  2. Engagement is not an outcome. It may lead to outcomes, but it shouldn’t be the end goal in itself.

Click here to read the rest of the article on the PeopleStrategy blog

Last week I had the chance to speak with a local HR leader. She was lamenting her company’s hideously awful HR module that was an add-on to the company accounting software. The firm paid plenty of money for the module, but it is ineffective, inefficient, and virtually useless. It looks like it was coded/developed in 1993, if that tells you anything. There are no reporting, searching, or other core capabilities that would make the system a valuable tool to help improve the HR team’s service delivery. So I told her to stick with Excel for a while longer until they can convince the CEO that they need real technology. A while back I wrote about a very similar topic: how consumer demands for technology are shaping what we and our employees want in our workplace technology.

Consumer Trends and HR Technology

When we asked global participants in our recent Employment Value Proposition survey whether their HR technology makes life easier by providing access to relevant information to help employees manage their career, the response was a dismal 13%. About one in 10 companies believes HR technology is truly making life easier for employees, and that is a problem, because employees have high expectations for the technology they use.

hcm technologyWhen it comes down to technology selection, there are a wide variety of inputs that help to drive the decision. Some of them are very specific, revolving around cultural or business-oriented requirements. Others are larger in scope, affecting virtually every company that is evaluating technology. The two global trends that are having the greatest impact on technology selection today are consumer-driven demands and personalized recommendations.

Consumer-Driven Technology Demands

The release of the first iPhone in 2007 was a leap forward in delivering a delightful user experience. Since then we’ve seen an increased number of companies focusing on usability as a key driver of selection decisions. The apps, video content, and social capabilities of the smartphone era have enabled users to be more productive. These tools enable users to achieve more in less time, helping them to fully realize the value of technology like never before.

And now those expectations extend to workplace technology as well. Your employees are accustomed to personal computing experiences that are intuitive, engaging, and user-friendly. They now expect their work environment to provide technology of the same quality and fidelity, whether mobile or desktop.

Personalized Recommendations

Users have become ac­customed to visiting Amazon and other online retailers for their shopping needs, and one thing these stores do very well is offering personalized recommendations based on browsing history, previous purchases, and other online activity. Bought a purse? They will offer you a similar one, or a complemen­tary item. Purchased a food item? The site can help give you recommendations based on what other similar us­ers liked.

This concept applies to talent technology in the form of guided experiences. Employees appreciate hav­ing a personalized experience with technology without it feeling too scripted or forced. The benefit here for business leaders is less time spent walking users through the software or tailoring it to each individual’s needs. It’s a win-win for both parties and helps to keep users engaged.

The Technology Outlook

When we look at satisfaction ratings for technology, whether learning, talent, or HR, we see a definite trend. Companies are not particularly happy with their existing technology. Just 19% of organizations say they are very satisfied with the quality of their overall technology environment, according to the 2015 Brandon Hall Group EVP study.

It’s time to look at your technology options not just as a means to an end, but as a method for engaging your workforce through multiple touchpoints on a regular basis. From the applicant tracking system, onboarding tools, and performance management platform to something as mundane as an address change, you have the opportunity to create a great experience for your employees with your technology.

Consider your existing HCM technology. Would you say it provides an engaging experience for employees? Why or why not?

As HR is increasing its presence as a strategic part of the business, key performance indicators, or KPIs, are becoming a key part of the language for discussing how it is actually performing. Recruiting, in some ways, is actually easier to measure because it is very similar to sales: you either have results or you don’t. Today I want to talk about first year retention, a measure that I believe is going to continue to grow as a recruiting metric, even though many companies wouldn’t consider it even remotely linked to recruiting as of today.

recruiting kpiWhen I realized the link from retention to recruiting

Several years ago I ran into the wall. Figuratively, that is. I was spending about 50% of my time processing termination paperwork and 49% processing new hires. The other 1% was spent wondering just how we were going to sustain this churn. We were turning over about 50% of employees in positions that made up 90% of our workforce. In a company with more than 600 employees, you start to get the picture for just how bad things were. Like I said, my entire job was dedicated to moving the people into and out of the organization.

So I decided to try something. I gathered information. I pulled five years of archived files and noted termination reasons along with tenure and manager information. I looked into our Stone Age HRIS and pulled the same items for more recent terms. Once I had amassed the data, I started analyzing. I quickly identified a few key trends and highlighted them in the report I developed.

A few days later I presented my findings to the VP of HR, demonstrating through the data that approximately half of those terms not only happened within the first year, but within the first 90 days on the job. We were spending hours recruiting, training (each employee received over a dozen hours of training before starting work), and coaching these people, only to have all of that effort wasted. The data showed that if an employee made it past the 90-day mark, they were significantly likely to stay for a year or longer.

This is when I realized that recruiting has a very strong link to retention, especially first year retention.

[Check out: What it’s like to be a recruiter]

First year retention, examined

When we think about retaining employees, a more senior staff member might come to mind. We automatically assume that if someone took the job just a few weeks ago that they are going to be excited and engaged for months to come (hint: the honeymoon period). Well, that depends on several things, including the recruiting process. Here are the ways the two are linked:

  • Realistic job preview-during the recruiting process, an accurate picture of the job must be depicted at every stage (job ad, phone screen, interview, etc.) If not, the candidate might get a more rosy picture of the position than is actually accurate, which leads to frustrations on day one. People are quick to skim over areas that might be bothersome for them in the leap to a new company–it’s critical to show the good, the bad, AND the ugly to provide a full understanding of the job and what it entails.
  • Manager engagement in the hiring process-having managers who not only join in the selection process, but actually lead it, is key. Managers who develop questions to probe candidate abilities and fit ultimately pick better people than those who use a stock list of “what is your greatest strength” type questions.
  • Team engagement in the hiring process-a great way to help people feel like they have friends on day one? Let their team interview them. When I have done this I request that they ask some technical questions, but that they also focus heavily on fit: does the candidate gel with the existing workers? Are they similar in terms of values and passion? How have they felt about coworkers in the past? If a person feels like they have friends at work, they’re more engaged and less likely to bolt a few weeks later.

[Check out: How one of the best managers I’ve ever seen engages new hires from day one]

The future of recruiting metrics

In the past and still today, recruiting has been focused on some very surface level items: mainly time to fill and quality of hire. If we’re solely looking at those numbers, I could have phenomenal time to fill and quality numbers, only to have them dropping out of the workforce a few weeks or months later. Using a metric like first year retention as a recruiting metric provides a more well-rounded picture of just how well it is actually being performed. And it also brings a long-term, holistic view to recruiting.

What recruiting KPI’s does your company use? Are they working? What do you think of first year retention as a metric?