The most engaged… are first in line.

mailchimpRecently I read a blog post about email marketing and delivery, and that line struck me. Stick with me, because I think there’s an intriguing question it brings up.

People that run companies and blogs often use delivery services to communicate with customers and readers. I use a tool called MailChimp and have for several years. I have a little bit (okay, a lot!) of a geeky side, so I follow their blog to stay up to date on best practices for email marketing, product updates, etc. A short while back they posted an interesting piece describing how they send emails to large groups quickly. Here’s a snippet:

Our sending infrastructure is designed to turn large campaigns into smaller “payloads” to get them out the door much faster. When you click Send in the Campaign Builder, you’re actually telling MailChimp to start biting off parts of your campaign. As each payload is created, it’s immediately routed to our Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs) and queued for delivery. We organize this based on subscriber member ratings, so the most engaged subscribers in your campaign are first in line.

In email marketing speak, engaged subscribers are those that open, read, and click through the emails. Over time they are ranked based on how often they complete those tasks from highly engaged to not-so-much.

That made me wonder–what would happen if we could tweak our HR service delivery to prioritize those who are most engaged? For instance, if two requests come in for support and both will take an hour to complete, we would determine which employee was most engaged and handle their request first.

What if…?

On one hand, it seems like that approach could have a detrimental effect on those already on the cusp of disengagement. But should we be focusing our efforts on those individuals? I mean, engaged staff are pretty valuable to the organization…

Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research explained what engaged employees do differently in an email interview: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

Harter, who has co-authored over 1,000 articles on the topic as well as two bestsellers, also says engaged employees “continuously recreate jobs so that each person has a chance to do what they do best.” Engaged employees “listen to the opinions of people close to the action (close to actual safety issues and quality or defect issues), and help people see the connection between their everyday work and the larger purpose or mission of the organization.” When engaged employee do this they create a virtuous circle where communication and collaboration nurture engagement and vice versa.

Considering the benefits, why do companies still struggle to foster engagement? Harter writes, “Many organizations measure either the wrong things, or too many things, or don’t make the data intuitively actionable. Many don’t make engagement a part of their overall strategy, or clarify why employee engagement is important, or provide quality education to help managers know what to do with the results, and in what order.” Source

On the other hand, just like we’ve learned over time that focusing on strengths can deliver more value than focusing on weaknesses, maybe we should be focusing on making sure those engaged employees get the best service that the HR team has to offer. If we consider it logically:

  1. It helps to maintain or improve engagement levels
  2. It helps to prevent a slide toward disengagement
  3. It might help to drive additional results from those individuals

Another similar example of this is handling support requests from free and paid users of a product. Often times when companies use the “freemium” model and have a free version of their tools, the paid users have priority when it comes to getting support/help from the provider.

What are your thoughts? Would it make sense to handle our requests from employees based on the individual’s engagement level? What would be potential benefits or pitfalls? 

I talked previously about my jump to Republic Wireless. I love the phone and the service, but I also love following the company’s blog and learning more about who’s behind all of that greatness. Recently they shared a very unique idea that I wanted to explore today.

At Republic, we aren’t actually corporate robots stored in closets at the end of the work day (although I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords). We’re people with talents, hobbies, and interests outside of our work providing value for our members through our phones and service. If you happen to wander the halls of Republic HQ in Raleigh, North Carolina, you’ll see dozens of framed photos of employees that answer the question: What Do You Love? (Source)

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love your employeesLast week I was listening to a business owner talk about how he leads his company. He talked through several areas he thought were pertinent, but one statement he made really stuck out.

You have to love your people.
-Zack Penney

As I think back over my time as an HR professional, the times that I felt like I was making the most difference in the lives of my staff was when I held a very similar mindset. We have to care for these people, because if you don’t someone else will. It’s no different than marriage, kids, friends, etc. We all want someone to value and care about us. If we don’t get it from our immediate surroundings then we tend to look elsewhere for it.

Not only that, but when it’s time to make decisions that affect the people that work with you, it’s going to help you to frame those decisions. I know that just because you care that can’t drive everything you do, but doing something negative with care, respect, and concern for the person on the other end of the transaction will soften the experience and make it easier to digest.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “There’s no way I could really care for these people I’m working with,” then it might be time to find somewhere else where that is a possibility.

As you go through your day today, ask yourself:

  • Do I really care for these people?
  • Do they know it?
  • If I have to deliver bad news, how does that care and concern factor into the discussion/decision?

What say you? Is this a worthwhile aspiration or a silly waste of time? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Intuition, awareness, or whatever you want to call it–it’s a critical skill if you want to be a successful HR pro. I’m a fan of examples to prove my point, so let’s dive in!

Seeing the needs of new employees

Recently I was helping to onboard a new group of employees. We had won a new contract and needed to pull the new folks into the fold ASAP with no downtime or issues.

The “standard” HR practice would be to gather all of the employees in a single place, give them a speech, hand out paperwork, and wait for it to roll in. However, that’s not how I handled it.

Instead, we sat down with each individual employee. That meant the entire exercise took approximately 10 times as long; however, there were some conditions that I had examined that told me the one-on-one would be more beneficial across the board. Here’s where that intuition/awareness/whatever comes into play.

  • They were coming from a “big company” employer that didn’t treat them as individuals or as highly valuable.
  • In my one previous meeting with the group, there were a few people who felt their concerns were not addressed for one reason or another.
  • Our history had always been that of a high-touch HR function, and this was the first chance to prove it.
  • I knew that with contracts like these, the people were going to speak freely more often if it was a private conversation than if it was in a group.

In the end, that was definitely the right answer. Each person got to spend some individual quality time talking about their hopes, concerns, and other thoughts.

Developing your intuition muscle

This is one of those skills that is more difficult to develop. Some of us are just more aware of our surroundings, the considerations of others, etc. However, I believe it’s possible to learn to be more intuitive and aware of the things going on around you. Here are a few tips for making that a new focus:

  • Especially in situations like the one depicted above where there will be many “first impressions” all at once, take some time to consider what impression you’re giving. How you interact is how they will expect the rest of the company to interact as well.
  • In your day to day, think about how others will perceive and process what you have to say. Even if it doesn’t change what you say or how you say it, understanding how to predict the responses of others is critical for someone in this role.
  • Once you have started honing your intuition skills, start sharing the insights with other managers and staff. For example, when I learn about a new policy rolling out affecting specific employees, I let the manager know generally what to expect from some of the people who might not respond well to the changes. That helps them to prepare for the response as well as making them more likely to rely on that advice again in the future, especially if it prevents an employee relations headache!

What are your thoughts on this? I think intuition is a highly valued, yet relatively unknown, skill for HR pros to develop and maintain. Have you seen others value you for your intuition and insights? How did that play out? I’d love to hear your story. 

I like data. I like reviewing it, pulling out trends, and sharing insights. I also like when I get the opportunity to ask others what they like and get some anonymous feedback, because I believe that anonymity helps to improve the quality and quantity of responses.

Recently I was listening to a podcast, and the speaker mentioned offering a confidential survey, which he felt was more valuable than an anonymous one. I had to stop and consider the differences, and I realized there certainly may be times when offering confidential surveys can beat offering anonymous ones.

Types of surveys

  • Anonymous-Anonymous surveys collect information and aggregate it without leaving a “trail” to find the specific participant
  • Confidential-Confidential surveys collect information but tie the response back to a unique identifier for each participant. This allows a third party to follow up if need be on specific answers.

How they work and why they matter

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I talk about corporate culture often. Very often, in fact. You can tell what people value by what they talk about most often, so it’s no surprise that I believe a solid culture is one of the key ways to differentiate your organization.

But there’s a problem with that. See, you have to know what it means when you talk about this “culture” thing. If a new hire comes in, how do you explain it to them? If someone is not fitting the culture and needs to move on, how do you explain the invisible requirements they are not satisfying?

 

It’s time to take a few moments to articulate your culture. Define, in concrete terms, what it really looks like. Whether it’s through legends, core values, or something else. I was recently hiring for an opening, and I wanted to put together my “service philosophy,” but it’s also a good peek at what the culture is like and what we expect from our people. Here are a few of those key pieces:

  • Find ways to say “yes” as often as possible
  • No job is too small or insignificant
  • The better we treat our staff, the better they treat our customers
  • Talk about the “why” of what you do as often as the “what”
  • Everyone should know what winning looks like

Those are just a few of the concepts, but it gives you an idea of what I mean. If more people took the time to explain these sorts of things, there would be fewer poor hires and thus fewer unhappy/disengaged staff.

Have you ever taken the time to articulate your culture in real terms? What sort of information did you share? What would your bullet points look like?

Recently one of our departments initiated an anonymous review to determine how the staff perceived its performance. There were questions on processes and people, and it generally revolved around the employees’ satisfaction with the performance of the department. It made me wonder a few things:

  • Would HR be bold enough to initiate an anonymous review?
  • What would the results be?
  • How would HR respond to the results?

Initiating the review

When the department lead came to me asking for help in developing the short survey, I asked what their goal was. Simply put, it was to find out from the user’s point of view what gaps they had in their products/services and fill those needs as quickly and effectively as possible.

Think about it–for many people, they are not interested in learning their weaknesses and don’t really want to hear from anyone about what they could do better. It takes an open mind and sincere dedication to getting the job done properly to step out and ask for that criticism.

As far as the anonymous element, they understood that when you attribute responses to individual people, you sometimes get skewed results. Allowing respondents to be free and unfettered in their responses will provide a better picture of the situation and the needs of the user base.

Finding the pulse

Think for a moment. If I walked around with a stack of survey forms and a pen and interviewed the staff at your company, how would they respond to these questions?

  1. How important does the HR Department at our company make you feel?
  2. How well do you think the HR Department understands what you need to be successful in your position or project?
  3. Overall, how responsive has the HR Department been to your questions or concerns?
  4. How clear was the information provided to you regarding benefits, policies, and processes.?
  5. How user friendly are the HR Processes?
  6. Overall, are you satisfied with the HR Department at our company?
  7. What do you like most about the HR Department?
  8. What would you like the Procurement Department to do better?

Are you confident in how they would respond? Are you a little shaky in some areas? Surely you’re not a 100% “extremely satisfied” across the board…

Following up

The hard part about surveys is not delivering them. It’s analyzing the data and determining what follow up (if any) is required. So let’s just assume that you’re normal and you get a negative response on one question. It’s probably not a complete surprise, but now the pressure is on to actually work to solve the problem. When someone has the opportunity to respond to a survey with their concerns, they expect those concerns to be addressed now that they are a known factor.

For instance, if #5 didn’t get great responses, then you need to do some research on what specifically in the processes are bothering people. Are they too cumbersome? Too slow? Too process-oriented when it needs to have more of a personal touch? First determine the exact problem, and then work to resolve it.

One final note on the solution side–don’t be afraid to use employees as guinea pigs. One of my friends always used to say, “Treat your employees like guinea pigs.” It meant that you should test new ideas, try pilot programs, and evaluate big changes against a small sample size before rolling out to the entire organization. Feel free to do that here. It’s less risky for you, it allows employees to have some say in the final direction, and generally everyone is happier than if you had thrown out yet another blanket policy that didn’t address the needs of the staff properly.

What are your thoughts? Any chance of you doing an anonymous survey of your department/team any time soon?