In every company, there comes a time when someone makes an offer to a candidate to come and work for them. What is interesting is the wide variety of advice in the marketplace that advises candidates on how to handle that critical negotiation.

Years ago I got my start in blogging by sharing career advice with job seekers looking for an edge in the hiring process. My peers constantly told people that for the strongest negotiating position, they should hold out as long as possible. In other words, it followed the old adage “the first one to speak in the negotiation loses.”

But that’s not necessarily true.

salary negotiationWhen I was recruiting, I wanted to find out from the candidate early on, whether through a job application question or through an informal conversation, what sort of salary range they were looking for. If it wasn’t offered, I would share the range of the opening early in the process. Was I showing my cards? Yes. But I was also attempting to conserve a valuable resource: time. Continue reading

I was talking with a friend last week about technology–specifically the kind we use in the HR, payroll, and recruiting space. His organization is using an awful tool that costs quite a bit of money. It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t make data easily accessible. And it’s become a running joke that any basic business need will require yet another $20k+ module just to meet that single need. It sounds like they are in the perfect place to be considering other technology, right?

And yet he and I both know that they are not going to make a change any time soon. Despite the availability of various “HR modules” within the system, he uses a point solution to handle recruiting needs and an Excel spreadsheet manage employee data. At some point he’s going to have to move to something else, but he and his organization are just part-way into the HR technology maturity curve. Here’s a look at the curve (in my opinion) and how technology is normally put into place.

The first steps

Diving into HR technology doesn't have to be scary

Diving into HR technology doesn’t have to be scary

One of the first steps most companies take in terms of HR technology typically comes with recruiting. Adding an applicant tracking system to eliminate manual job posting, tracking of candidates, and collaboration with the hiring team. Using a piece of recruiting software (like Recruiterbox, for example), can drastically change HR’s role in the hiring process from administrative to strategic.

I can still remember the before and after look at my recruiting practices when it came to technology implementation. When it was all manual, I was just trying to keep the mass of information organized enough to pick anyone competent and qualified. When we transitioned to using an applicant tracking system, I was able to then spend more time coaching hiring managers, screening candidates more thoroughly, and onboarding new employees.

Another common first step is in payroll. Again, it can be an opportunity to change from very administrative (did we get that person’s dependents right?) to a more strategic focus on compensation, variable pay, and other important elements that fall through the cracks when you’re spending several hours a week reviewing pay stubs.

Next up: performance/learning

Depending on the organization, as they grow there is usually a focus on automating performance management, learning, or both. For instance, when I worked for an organization with heavy regulations around training and staff certifications, our primary system (even before having a good HRIS) was a learning management system (LMS). In another organization, I campaigned regularly for a performance management solution to help alleviate the burden of continuously growing performance management paperwork. This is often seen as less strategic and important than recruiting or payroll, which is why it’s not at the top of the list in terms of implementation priority.

One area I’ve seen grow of late is the set of companies offering performance feedback/employee engagement solutions based on simple surveys and quick “pulse” feedback gathering. These are very easy to implement and don’t require all the trouble of the typical performance management solution.

The later stages

The deeper into this maturity process the company goes, the more likely it will select a suite to consolidate vendors and ensure a uniform data set across the various platforms (learning, performance, compensation, etc.)

One area I’ve been very interested in of late involves the difference between companies that pursue point solutions to solve various problems and those that snag the suite to combine each area. A few questions that have bounced around in my mind:

  • Which type of organization has better performance?
  • What factors play into that overall technology selection choice?
  • Are organizations using data better if the systems are integrated than if not?
  • What about the specific benefits highly targeted point solutions offer that the big suites do not?

What are your thoughts? Where are you in this HR technology maturity curve? 

HR Project Management Skills are Powerful Tools–Do You Have Them?

When you look at a list of key HR competencies, one thing that often is lacking is a good set of project management skills. While it’s easy to try and segment the human resources profession away from the project manager role, I see it as a core part of what we have to do. Today we’ll go over some of the key aspects of HR project management, what it is, where it fits into your career, and how to use it.

What is HR Project Management?

hr project management diagram

It is very much what it sounds like–the use of project management skills for HR projects/purposes. Think about some of the key skills a project manager has that we value from an employer standpoint:

  • Managing a budget
  • Managing a timeline
  • Managing people/resources
  • Ensuring stakeholders are in the communication loop
  • Developing change management plans

It’s difficult for some people to do one of those well, and a good project manager can handle all of that and more. So it’s easy to see how we can use those types of skills to our advantage in a human resources role. The various projects we have to carry out (some examples of those are listed below) need good project management principles to guide them and ensure their success.

HR Project Management Examples

The easiest way for me to understand a concept is through examples of seeing it in action, so I thought we could go through a few to explore the aspects of this competency. These are just a surface glance and not in depth, detailed project plans, but it’s still a good look at how the disciplines work together.

Benefits Change

Scenario: Benefit costs with current providers have become untenable. Management has requested evaluation of other providers to reduce costs, even if it means reducing the level of quality.

HR Project management role:

  1. Work with management to establish specific objectives (how much cost reduction? how much quality deterioration is acceptable? what is the timeline? etc.)
  2. Develop a set of requirements from those objectives. That set of requirements will be the foundation for your RFP (request for proposal) that you use when talking to vendors.
  3. Contact vendors with the RFP, collect bids, and make a selection based on key factors (price is key in this example).
  4. Complete transition to new provider, terminate relationship with previous vendor, and continue post-implementation activities.

HR Project Management RFP Process

HRIS Implementation

Scenario: Your company has been growing and is ready for a new HRIS to help maintain employee records and facilitate some of the HR processes that occur. You have gone through the selection process and are now in the final stages leading up to implementation of the system. You know that it’s critical to get this last step correct in order to hit the ground running. The program will mainly be used for HR purposes (you and one other team member), but there is a manager self service portion as well that you expect to use to reduce time spent answering questions from managerial staff.

HR Project management role:

  1. Work with the provider as soon as you have a working version to learn the ins and outs of the system. If you are doing the training for other staff instead of the provider, make sure you go through the process of using the tool like one of the other staff. For instance, log in as a manager and use the self service portion so you fully understand the capabilities.
  2. Develop a training plan for educating all pertinent staff on the operation of the system, including the need for security and compliance with data.
  3. Work with provider on a launch plan. This could include dedicated support from the provider, especially in the early days when many new users need assistance.
  4. Develop a feedback system so that users can funnel questions, requests, etc. back to you.

Transitioning to Shared HR Services

Scenario:

Your company has had embedded HR generalists in business units for the past several years. Over that time it has become more costly, more difficult to maintain standards, and is a frustration for business units to have that budget “hit.” The leadership has decided to move to a more centralized model of delivering HR services and has asked you to evaluate that proposition.

HR Project management role:

  1. Begin researching the level of staff needed to meet current requirements via a shared model and compare that with existing HR headcount to determine how many will have to be reassigned/terminated. Create a draft budget that will cover running the new HR delivery model.
  2. Lay out a plan for what sort of service will be delivered best by a shared model and which might be more difficult to administer (employee relations, for example).
  3. Determine what other below-the-surface areas will be affected by this. While it will help ensure a specific standard of service, it could also make managers unhappy because they no longer have dedicated resources. These types of items will need to be incorporated into the change management communication plan to ensure they are addressed at some point of the implementation phase.
  4. Prepare a presentation with your findings and recommendations for the leadership team.

As you can see, there are a variety of projects that can use these types of skills. These examples were written with you as the head of the HR team having to carry this out, but in some organizations there are actually dedicated HR project management professionals in place to handle these sorts of tasks. Let’s look at how that works.

HR Project Management Job Description

Let’s qualify the role the same way we start developing our jobs in the workplace–with a description. Now, as I said, we usually don’t see a significant number of dedicated HR project management jobs, but it’s instead part of a larger HR role. The bigger the organization the more likely there is a dedicated position just for managing the human resources projects. Here’s a sample description:

The HR Project Manager is responsible for the management of HR projects to include managing project budgets, resources (internal and/or external), timelines, risks and third party vendors. Responsible for overall direction, coordination, implementation, execution, control and completion of specific projects ensuring consistency with company strategy, commitments and goals.

Responsibilities

Project-Based Customer Relationship Management
• Establish and maintain relationships with the business units and key partner groups to understand their business needs, ensure alignment on objectives, and ensure ongoing buy-in across all project activities.

Strategic Planning and Project Initiation
• Translate business objectives into projects with clearly defined scope, timing, deliverables, resources, and key measures of success.
• Formulate and continually re-assess the appropriate project management approach and project management skill set / resourcing mix across internal and external partners to ensure all project tasks are successfully completed.
• Create project plans, including timelines and milestones.
• Negotiate sufficient resources from HR sub-teams, IT, Corporate Communications, business units, and other groups as appropriate.
• Effectively set and communicate project expectations to team members and stakeholders.
• Define project success criteria and communicate to team throughout project life cycle.
• Manage and coordinate HR-related project activity resulting from business unit acquisitions.

Project Execution
• Manage ongoing project plans, budgets, resources, and vendors.
• Facilitate meetings and drive project issues through to resolution.
• Develop and deliver progress reports, proposals, requirements documentation and presentations.
• Proactively manage and communicate ongoing changes in project scope, identify potential crises and devise contingency plans.
• Coach, mentor, motivate and lead project team members. Influence project team to take positive action and accountability for their assigned work.
• Manage Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) with vendors relating to HR projects.

Change Management
• Identify all stakeholders, both direct and indirect, and determine level of involvement needed for project success.
• Work closely with Change Management Manager and Corporate Communications to ensure appropriate change management activities are defined and included in all project plans.

Post-Implementation Transition and Evaluation
• Support the ongoing development of best practices and tools for HR project management and execution.
• Conduct project post mortems and create recommendations in order to identify successful and unsuccessful project elements.
• Ensure comprehensive and seamless project post-implementation transition.

Qualifications

Degrees/Designations:
Bachelor’s degree preferred with a specialization in management or related field

System Knowledge/Experience:
Minimum 5 years working knowledge of HR systems, processes, trends, and best practices
Previous HR project management experience required, including demonstrated ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously with different stakeholder sets
Advanced experience with HR project management tools and methods to include risk management, strategic planning and change management
Strong interpersonal, organizational, analytical, presentation and critical thinking skills
Demonstrates ability to build mutually-productive relationships and interact with senior management and key partner groups (e.g., IT, Corporate Communications, HR, business units)
HR Project planning and strategy concepts
HR project management skills

HR Project Management Plan

failing to plan planning to failSuccessful projects start with a plan. We’ve all heard the old adage:

Failing to plan is like planning to fail.

So how do we start? Here are the 5 key steps in the management process:

  1. Project conception
  2. Project planning
  3. Project launch/execution
  4. Project control
  5. Project close

While it looks like a short list, it covers a broad and deep set of requirements, responsibilities, and more. Each of the pieces of the sample job description above fit into a piece of this five step process.

Developing a project management plan means that you have taken the time to think through the steps and what resources, time, people, etc. will be necessary to accomplish each. In addition, you’ll need to think about risks to the project and what you can do to mitigate that risk.

Speaking of risk, one interesting idea that my friend Alison Green has discussed in the past is the value of conducting a “pre-mortem” on a project. We are pretty much all doing “post-mortem” reviews of projects (you are, right?!?) to determine what went well, what went poorly, etc. They are great tools for helping to refine our processes over time. However, the downside is that the project is already finished, and any lessons learned can’t help to improve the results.

Enter the pre-mortem.

This is basically a meeting that is held in the middle of the project where stakeholders gather to discuss what kinds of things could hamper implementation or reduce the impact of the intended results. In other words, what could go wrong? This information is then used to improve the project in real time instead of waiting until it’s over to make any sort of adjustments.

Human Resources Issues in Project Management

Let’s take a step back for a second and look at the broader picture of the organization and what sorts of challenges that might present themselves. A specific one that I have observed in the past is the responsibility of a project manager for the results without the accompanying authority over the employees to enforce deadlines.

For example, an engineer reports to the Director of Engineering, but his Project Manager needs him to focus on a specific task. Without that position power of being “the boss,” it could introduce challenges for the project lead to get things done. This could be due to performance issues on the part of the engineer, or it could be due to competing priorities from the project lead and the supervisor.

This is a big reason why I am such a fan of influence and leadership skills (check out the leadership reading list if you haven’t already for more on this topic). A friend of mine is a superstar project manager. I kid him that his life is dictated by spreadsheets. However, that attention to detail allows him to run multimillion dollar projects seemingly with ease. In addition, his demeanor makes him instantly likable, which contributes to the long-term success of his projects because he can easily get along with employees, leadership, customers, and other stakeholders.

I’m describing this because I know that while you won’t find “be nice” on any list of key project manager skills, I know from experience–it’s one that pays significant dividends.

HR Project Management Jobs

While I touched on the availability of these positions earlier, I think it’s important to note the career implications of this specific skill set. For starters, it’s something that HR pros need to understand, especially as they advance up the career ladder (no matter what HR job title they have).

Being able to pull off successful projects is a significant career booster and can help to lead to new opportunities of increasing responsibility. I know that might be understood, but I wanted to be sure and highlight the importance of this specific career skill.

Wrapping Up

Today we looked at a fairly broad slice of the HR project management world. Without extending this to the length of a book, I do want to mention that we didn’t even talk about software or systems that can help with this type of planning. Why? Because laying software over a broken planning process doesn’t solve the problem, and in some cases it can make it even worse.

It’s important to define and understand the key principles of project management and how that ties into HR. Once you have done that you can begin exploring tools to help you accomplish your goals. I’d love to hear from some of you on these questions:

  • What sort of HR projects have you completed in the past?
  • Any specific HR applications of lessons learned that might be valuable to share?
  • What are your thoughts on specific applications of HR project management?

Analytics in the business world serve many purposes, and a survey by the American Management Association uncovered the top five reasons business leaders say analytical skills are necessary today.

Which of the following create the greatest need for analytical skills in your organization?

  1. Accountability for results 67.0%
  2. Competitive environment 61.6%
  3. Complexity of business environment 52.6%
  4. Increase in customer data 51.3%
  5. Risk management 50.7%

business analytical skillsI found the results intriguing, because while we say we need accountability first and foremost within our organizations, many leaders often do a poor job of actually communicating that need. Oh, they’ll tell people they need to be accountable, but when it comes down to time to measure performance, they’ll think about things that don’t really tie into accountability for results. Having analytics to drive those sorts of decisions will be a positive overall; however, it will also mean that leaders and managers can no longer rely on other unimportant “measures” of performance.

  • Bob has been in the office for fifty or sixty hours a week for the past few months. He must be doing a good job. [Is it possible that he’s just horrible at managing his time/workload?]
  • I know she doesn’t write well, but Mary responds to emails 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She’s really dedicated. [If she’s not sending out the right message, maybe “number of emails sent” isn’t a good measure of her performance?]

In some positions, it’s relatively easy to measure outcomes (sales, for example); however, in others it’s more difficult. For instance, how do you tell your administrative assistant to be “nicer?” Can you quantify that? How do you get an engineer to work “harder?” Those subjective measures are a pain for managers to enforce and a pain for employees to have to ascertain. You need to give them some actual targets to strive for that they understand.

ROWE me, baby

I had a discussion recently with some friends about the ROWE (results only work environment) movement, and it was quite an interesting conversation. A ROWE is a workplace where you work when, where, and how you want, as long as you meet your business objectives/goals. It sounds nice, and I love the idea, but it’s not necessarily easy. The key to making this work is holding each person accountable not for how many hours they log in the office, how long their butt is in the chair, or how long they are logged into their work computer; it’s about the results they accomplish. Again, it sounds like an excellent idea, but managers quickly become anxious at the thought of removing some of the traditional barriers and measurements for employees, even though in the long run the focus is to get employees to focus on the one thing that actually matters: results! This conversation keeps leading me back to accountability, and I’d like to share a few resources with you on that front in case you, like those who answered this survey, are interested in moving toward a culture of accountability.

4 accountability examples, ideas, and suggestions

  1. How many times have you heard a leader in real life or fiction demand: “I don’t care how you do it. Just get it done!” Many times, organization charts and job descriptions push people to perform a set of tasks. This mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, whether or not the result was achieved. Effective leaders operate on the premise that their people must focus on achieving results. They lead and inspire them to pursue results by creating an environment that motivates them to ask, “What else can I do?” over and over until the results are achieved. They manage their people so that their “job” is to achieve results. Each person’s daily activities must be in alignment with the targeted results.
  2. In the book Turn the Ship Around, we learn about David Marquet and his attempt to remove the leader/follower model from the operation of the submarine he commanded. When he first took command of the ship, nobody was held accountable for anything, which correlated with the ship’s poor performance record. He began taking steps to give people accountability and oversight of their own areas, freeing him up to be a commanding officer instead of a 24/7 manager of minute details. It’s a great book if you are interested in seeing how other leadership/management approaches work.
  3. Several years ago I wrote about asking better questions to get better results. It’s still one of the most popular pieces, and for good reason. People are hungry for ways to help drive accountability within their organizations, and simply asking different questions is an easy way to start moving into that sort of mindset. More here: Asking Questions at Work.
  4. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton often talk about the data that drives great companies and great teams. After researching extensively, they developed a model that described how the best managers led their teams. The key elements? Goal setting, trust, communication, recognition, and accountability. So not only is it something that helps on a personal level, it also helps managers to get the most out of their teams! More of this found in The Orange Revolution.

 Wrapping up

Back to the study, I would be interested to hear your feedback on some of these items. Do you see any of these five areas playing a part in a need for analytical skills within your organization? Why or why not? What drives accountability in your organization? Is that driver toward an accountable workforce actually getting results?

This just in: group feedback isn’t the best tool in your performance management toolbox…

I was running through some old emails the other day and found an example I had to share. Several years ago I was working as a high school wrestling referee. It was definitely a tough job, but I learned some good stuff from the experiences (not getting overwhelmed when someone’s screaming in your face is an amazing skill).

One of the quirks of the job was that you’d get an anonymous/random evaluation on your performance once or twice a year. I never once received any specific, personal feedback on how I was doing other than informally from my peers. However, occasionally, the reviewer would send out group feedback notes like the ones below…

Overall the officiating has been good. Your hustle and positioning has been generally good. There are some opportunities for improvement. Stalling is still a problem. We need to get more aggressive in calling stalling to eliminate that from the sport. With tournaments coming up at several places, remember that it is your responsibility to ensure the restricted areas of the mat are clearly marked. Also remember that only two people are allowed in the corner and they are supposed to be seated in the chairs. Over the next three weeks, I will be looking closely at how you have responded to my comments from previous evaluation and in determining who should be recommended for the post season. We have several candidates in you Association. This is your time to convince me that you are the one who deserves to be selected.

Let’s imagine for a moment that this was a performance evaluation provided to you and your team on your collective performance. How motivated and engaged would you feel if someone sent you this group feedback in an email along with twenty of your coworkers?

Yeah, I had that same reaction.

I just wanted to share as a little reminder that despite all we know about leadership and effective talent management, there are still managers that need help doing the job of managing people. Wow.

I was reading through this piece by Kris Dunn and it made me start thinking about something we all face at work. Here’s the quote:

So anyway, you’ve got a merit matrix in play at your company for one of those reasons.  With that in mind, your managers deliver an above average review to multiple employees, at which point they are forced to have to tell the employees that equates into a 3.2% raise.

The employee appears unimpressed, and the smart as #### ones get vocal.

At which point your manager utters the words, “I’d like to give you more, but I can’t.  This is all they’ll let me give you.”

“They” means “You” – the HR pro or the company.  It’s called the “manager pass-through”, and it erodes trust and confidence from the employees towards all parties involved.  The manager.  The company. The HR pro.

Those conversations are happening every day.  Find another way soon – because it’s killing you, whether you know it or not.

Most of the time I’d like to think my managers would have my back and take ownership of the process. That’s one thing I tell all of our supervisors: you have leeway in pay, performance, etc. of your people. That’s what we pay you for!

Get managers to take ownership!

There are two basic ways to respond to the top performers mentioned in the quote above:

  • Right: We get x% to spread around, and you’re worth about y% of that. Here’s how you get to be worth more than that…
  • Wrong: Well, HR only gave me this much so I can’t give you any more. If you have a problem, talk with them.

When employees come to me, I almost always go back to their manager to circle back on the issue, check for a satisfactory conclusion, etc. I partner with the managers to ensure that together we are serving our staff well.

However, I know there are probably some out there that are of the mindset that Kris mentions in his article (statistically, it’s bound to show up sooner or later). They are eager to throw the “blame” back on HR, management, the owners, or whoever else happens to be an easy target–as long as it’s not them. Why? Because the manager has to see and work with that employee on a daily basis, and if the employee realized the actual level of involvement and discretion on the part of the manager, that buddy-buddy thing would be out the window.

Anyone have ideas for how to resolve this? I know how I handle it internally, but I’m always open to ideas that might help with these recurring issues…