angry childLast weekend my wife forwarded me an article that hit her right between the eyes. And to be honest, it did for me as well. It was a parenting piece that focused on one of the rampant problems we deal with in our house: toys. The gist of the piece is that our kids have enough toys and that buying them more just makes them more bored and more hungry for the next thing. It doesn’t satisfy them and provide lasting joy that one would expect from all the advertisement (and the whining that may occur prior to the purchase). The author’s alternative recommendation? Continue reading

evidence based approach to hr

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop based on metrics, evidence-based HR, and change management. The session was a lot of fun, because we were able to tie the three topics together in a variety of ways to help reiterate not only why each of them matters, but how each of them can really build value when used in conjunction with one another. HR is often using anecdotal information (if any at all), conjecture, and pure hope to make decisions, but we can do better. Today I want to go a little deeper than my post last week on “keeping up with the Joneses,” focusing more heavily on the evidence-based HR piece.

If you’re not familiar with evidence-based HR, here’s a primer:

Evidence-based human resources is the practice of identifying solutions and approaches that have a strong empirical basis.

In other words, we don’t just use gut instinct, an interesting anecdote, or anyone’s opinion to make our point. We use data and other solid evidence to support our decisions at every possible turn. But where does that evidence come from?

Sources for Evidence-Based Decisions

Here is a list of sources I offered the audience as credible options for finding research materials:

  • Management journals (scholar.google.com)
  • HBR
  • SHRM Foundation
  • Deloitte/Bersin
  • i4cp
  • CEB
  • ATD
  • CIPD

If you just do a quick Google search for one of these organizations and the topic you need to research, you’ll more often than not find something to help make your case. I actually had participants do this during the session, focusing on areas like recognition’s impact on productivity (definite linkage), using talent pools for faster hiring (no data we could find), and other relevant HR activities.

Be careful not to just grab a story of a company that is doing neat things and grabbing headlines, because that’s not enough to warrant good evidence. You want to find information from a study or some other data-backed approach that helps to lend credibility to your eventual decision. If it’s just a neat anecdote, then you’re really not improving the process any more than just making a decision based on gut instinct.

Making an Evidence-Based HR Decision

There are six key steps to making an evidence-based decision in the workplace.

  1. Asking: translating a practical issue or problem into an answerable question
  2. Acquiring: systematically searching for and retrieving the evidence
  3. Appraising: critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence
  4. Aggregating: weighing and pulling together the evidence
  5. Applying: incorporating the evidence into the decision-making process
  6. Assessing: evaluating the outcome of the decision taken

Using this approach can help you to not only leverage evidence, but think critically about how valuable the evidence might be relative to other sources of data and information about your problem. Instead of going with the normal approach of “Bob said this worked at his last company,” we can use more credible sources of information to frame and resolve the issue.

Examples of Evidence-Based HR

Seeing this practice in action is the most powerful way to really “get” the value it can offer. I originally was turned off by the idea of having to research everything HR does on a daily basis, but in reality we make relatively few key decisions like those an evidence-based approach to HR would help with. For instance, New York spent more than $75 million on teachers to help increase student performance and teacher satisfaction. The result? No improvement. There is already data available that could have shown that this kind of approach has not yet been proven to deliver strong results (this examination of multiple studies still came away inconclusive, or “cautiously optimistic,” calling for additional research). Despite the lack of evidence, someone went ahead with the program anyway.

Here are a few examples of how it works in practice.

  • Selection Techniques-Your hiring managers are often used to creating high pressure interview situations to “see how candidates will respond.” They also like using tools like application data and GPA to filter out candidates. You find research that demonstrates the validity of their methods is in some cases no better than performing a coin flip to make a hiring decision, helping to sway them into using more structured methods and assessments for hiring decisions.
  • Employee Recognition-One of your managers is resistant to using recognition because “everyone can’t get a trophy” and she doesn’t want to “coddle” her workers. You find some existing research that points to the value of recognition not just in increasing worker satisfaction, but in increasing productivity as well, helping the manager to see the benefit to her and the team by improving her recognition skills and practices.
  • Performance Management-One of the trends in the US is “disposing” of the traditional approach and taking a different avenue for rating and assessing performance. You want to make this move with your company because you feel like your existing process is not adding organizational value. There isn’t much data, if any, available to support the different approach, but there is some data showing that collaborative environments support better teamwork and cultures than those focused on forced ranking and distribution of employees.

Leveraging research can drive immense value across the board, even for organizations outside the private sector. For instance, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, which repairs military aircraft for the US Air Force, used new research methods to speed repair processes for C-5 aircraft, allowing reductions in working capital of approximately $50 million (source: Deloitte).

While many of us aren’t working hands-on with aircraft, we still have the company’s largest budget item, its people, under our purview. Isn’t it time we started treating them like the valuable assets they are, managing them to the best of our abilities with the most relevant research and information available?

Thanks to my wonderful wife for the idea for this one. 

jelly-month-club-christmas-vacationOne of our traditions every year is to watch Christmas Vacation (no, not with the kids!) While it’s not my favorite (that spot is held by It’s a Wonderful Life), it always gives me a laugh and reminds me to focus on the important things during the Christmas season.

One of the memorable scenes in the movie is when Clark opens up what he expects to be a holiday bonus only to find a “jelly of the month” membership card. After all kinds of crazy experiences, that bonus was his last opportunity to bring some sense of closure to the season by giving an amazing gift to his family (a pool). When he finds out that it’s basically a certificate for twelve free jars of jelly, he snaps, ranting and raving about his boss, the company, and more.

I’ve been a key part of many compensation and bonus reviews over the years, and there are some excellent lessons we can all learn from this story.

Expectations Matter

During the movie, Clark talks with a friend about his big plan to put in a pool. He even carries around a brochure to look at and share when necessary, demonstrating how excited he is about the coming bonus. The reason he ultimately flips out at the end of the movie is because his expectations did not match reality.

The parallel is obvious. If we are going to provide some sort of bonus, whether holiday-related or not, we should ensure that expectations match reality. You can do some prep work, laying the foundation and expectations beforehand to ensure nobody is disappointed (or at least a minumum of disappointment occurs, because it’s hard to please everyone).

At a previous employer, my colleagues and I worked on an annual conference that required dozens of hours of preparation and delivery work. The first year we each got a very small gift card as a reward, and the second year we got nothing at all, despite the event making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. How long do you think a company like that will have an engaged, productive workforce? Hmmm…

Value Should Mirror Contributions

In Christmas Vacation, Clark is particularly excited because his work performance was recently recognized as above average. He created a valuable product for his employer, and he expected his bonus to mirror that level of contributions.

When it comes to offering rewards, recognition, and bonuses for performance and results, be sure the result is related to the level of the employee’s contribution. Someone saved the company $2 million by reducing waste? Don’t give them a $25 gift card and call it a day. An employee creates a new process that reduces customer churn by 10%? They expect more than a pat on the back and a template “thank you” note.

This isn’t an invitation to be overly extravagant, but think about it this way: do you want those people to continue innovating and creating new value for the company? If so, reward them well, and create a virtuous cycle of value for everyone involved.

Discriminate. Heavily.

We’ve been drilled that discrimination is a bad thing. In reality, discrimination is wonderful–it’s illegal discrimination that needs to be eliminated. Some of your employees are going to do their jobs and go home, never adding more value or creating unique opportunities for growth. While those people need some sort of recognition for getting the job done, the ones that create more value need to be treated differently. As I mentioned in my post about how to hire and manage creative people:

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.

When I managed compensation reviews, it always drove me crazy to see our highest performers getting a 4-5% raise and our lowest performers getting a 2-3% raise. That ~2% split wasn’t enough to truly reward our great people and create an incentive for continued stellar performance. My only consolation was the bonus pool that I was able to help work with managers to direct more toward those individuals that offered more than their “fair share” of value to the company.

Public or Private Praise?

The examples we’ve been discussing don’t have to include a moment of public praise, but they certainly could. Here’s a story I’ve told before about two very different methods for showing appreciation for the contributions of an employee or team.

Presenting work awards is one part of the employee recognition process. If you are going through the trouble to nominate someone, process the paperwork, and get them an award, wouldn’t you like people to know about it? Apparently not everyone believes that. Here’s an example of the wrong way to value the contributions of your people:

I was talking to a friend recently and heard this sad story. A handful of employees received awards for superior performance. It was the first time the work group had received awards, so it was a special occasion for the staff members who earned the kudos. However, the manager quickly stepped in and made it known that the awards were not to be communicated internally. Nobody could know that the employees had been rewarded for their efforts.

My take on that situation is multifaceted. First, the manager is missing out on a great opportunity to share about their people. Point out how well they did and encourage others to do the same (or better). And the people who received the awards? You could have given them half as much money and public praise would have made up the difference. Praise has significant value when people don’t receive it often (not that you should withhold it just to make them appreciate it more!)

So, what’s a better way to wrap in public praise without making it awkward? Here is how I liked to do it when I managed a corporate HR function.

One year we had a major corporate office relocation, and it was quite an ordeal. After the dust had settled, the team who made the move possible all received financial awards as a “thank you” for all the hard work, but we wanted to make sure it was more meaningful. Check out the email below that went out as the public praise for the team.

—–

We’ve talked about it before, but recently the corporate office moved to a new location. On the outside, it was a fairly simple affair; however, from the inside there was an astounding amount of work that had to be completed. Not to be dissuaded, a few people really stepped in to make that transition as easy as possible. They picked up extra duties, worked long hours, and fought the good fight with vendors and builders to make sure this space was everything we needed it to be.

For their efforts, each of the employees mentioned below received an award as a token of appreciation; we wanted to offer this bit of public praise as well. To those of you who made it all possible, we all appreciate you very much.

(Employee names removed for this post)

Thank you for your support! You truly embody our core value of Unequivocal Excellence in your work.

—–

At the end of the day, it’s critical to believe that your employees want to do great work. And in your role as an HR/talent leader, it’s crucial for you to coach managers, offer tools and guidance, and help create opportunities for people to be recognized for what they do. I can guarantee that they won’t be disappointed like our dear friend Clark.

How do you make sure your people feel appreciated and rewarded for their work? Do you have a unique way of making it personal and appealing for the recipient? 

employee appreciation day signEmployee Appreciation Day is upon us (March 6th, for those who are dying to know). While you all know that I am a firm believer in the power of employee recognition (whether it’s formal, peer to peer, or anything else in between), I am also a fan of making it part of your culture, not an annual event. The simple analogy is this: would you wait until a specific day of the year to tell your family, significant other, or children that you love and appreciate them? Probably not!

Thanks to my good friend Trish McFarlane sharing the top 3 things leaders shouldn’t do on March 6th, I wanted to kick in 3 more tips for managers that want to skip this whole Employee Appreciation Day nonsense. Enjoy!

  1. Don’t make it complicated. The process for thanking someone is simple. You approach them, thank them for something specific they have done, and go on with your day. This is appreciation at its most fundamental level, and despite the simplicity it has been shown to have an incredible effect on employee happiness and engagement.
  2. Don’t be lame. “Thanks for doing a good job” isn’t really that motivating, and it isn’t likely to reinforce behaviors you want to see repeated. How about “Thanks for providing clarity on that project meeting–it really helped me to understand what’s going on and be prepared for what’s coming in the next phase.” See the difference?
  3. Don’t be generic. If you want to include something monetary, be personal. A good example: I used to work with a young lady who had a goal to visit each baseball stadium around the US in her lifetime. When it came time for a project reward, her manager purchased a nice ticket stub scrapbook for her to track where she had been complete with photos of her and friends enjoying the games. That $20 purchase meant more to her than a $100 generic gift card because it was something deeply personal for her. Another fun example: a local HR Director buys a bag of dollar store goodies for birthday celebrations and each employee gets something. The other employees vote on what to give each other and why, and it gives everyone a chance to join in the fun and makes each “treasure” a personal experience.

What ideas do you have for avoiding Employee Appreciation Day in favor of a continuous culture of employee recognition? Do you have any managers that do this well? 

Learning how to praise an employee isn’t hard, but if you spend time around some managers, you would think it was akin to climbing Everest or swimming across the ocean. It doesn’t have to be a such an ordeal. Here’s the short and sweet version:

  1. Walk up to the employee who deserves the praise.
  2. Tell the employee specifically what they did well that you sincerely appreciate.
  3. Walk away.

Any questions?

My first concurrent session at HR Florida was titled “Developing an Effective, No Cost Recognition Program.” Truthfully, it was my second choice because the other one I wanted to attend was unavailable, but it was a suitable replacement. The speaker, Todd Efird, gave us some great information on using recognition at work. While the examples focused around construction safety, there were still some solid takeaways for someone working in a corporate environment.

Incentives: doing it wrong and doing it right

It’s the classic problem with workplace safety incentive programs, really. When you base someone’s incentive on not reporting accidents and injuries, you have unintended consequences like suppressed reporting, a negative view of the program, etc.

Instead of following the old mentality, a better, more effective way of operating the program is to incorporate positive recognition that is timely, relevant, sincere, and tied to individual performance.

Praise vs. Recognition

One of the best comments during the session was when the speaker differentiated between praise and recognition at work.

  • Praise is basically a quick, simple “attaboy” or “attagirl” for a job well done. For example, telling someone “Great job on that presentation” is praise.
  • Recognition is a two-way communication that requires a confirmation from the employee. For example, telling someone “I thought that presentation was killer, what about you?” is a way of making sure they understand the feedback and it opens the dialog for further interaction/engagement.

Leaving that response open ended is the key, really. Allowing someone to respond with a “yes” or “no” will not necessarily get the results you’re looking for. Conversely, if you leave the conversation hanging and allow them to respond, you not only get potentially valuable information, but you also continue the conversation and make it memorable in their mind.

Open ended questions also help supervisors to lead people to the right answer. That flies in the face of the old school “catch them doing it wrong” type thinking.

Key quotes/takeaways

  1. Most employees know what you don’t want already. Share with them what you do want. Then recognize them when they do it.
  2. If you’re wanting to recognize people, keep looking for the right they’re doing, not the wrong. More people are doing it right than wrong at any given moment.
  3. Start meetings with “here’s how we did well” instead of “here’s where you screwed up.” That approach opens people up to feedback.
  4. Find out if employees want to get recognition in front of peers or not. Some studies show hourly workers want it privately so they aren’t seen as “sucking up” to the boss.
  5. Every organization has people who are impervious to positive recognition/feedback efforts. They’re called CAVEmen: Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

All in all it was a fantastic session and I’m glad I attended. We have some recognition tools we’re using currently, but these free, relatively simple concepts can have a major impact on the people nonetheless.

Stay tuned for more posts coming to you live from HR Florida 2011!

informal peer recognition toolMy friend Cori at Baudville sent me this cool tool for peer to peer recognition the other day. I’m itching to try it out. When I head to our off site location later this week I’ll be delivering it and offering some encouragement/guidance to our on site HR person to get it rolling.

Peer recognition in a nutshell

The basic idea is that much of the stuff that gets done isn’t obvious to managers, so having peers recognize each other covers those “unseen yet praise-worthy” actions.

There’s also the fun element which shouldn’t be underestimated. I love telling others how awesome they are for doing something extra special. The only way to make that even more fun is to do it when others can see and hear about their accomplishment. That not only earns them some extra kudos, but it also increases the likelihood that they will make that type of action a habit.

Do you have some sort of peer recognition program at your company? It can be as informal as a bulletin board for notes or as formal as a reward program where you get recognized in some sort of ceremony. Love to hear how others do this!