I am testing out something new this week and have been publishing short, 1-2 minute videos on YouTube daily as a way to get some quick thoughts out there on a variety of topics. I’m rounding up this week’s content here. Let me know what you think about the topics, format, etc.

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HR: it’s not about finding a seat at the table, it’s about finding the food truck

Today we’re looking at how HR isn’t necessarily about finding a “seat at the table,” but it’s more like “finding the food truck.” It’s often a moving target and to be strategically relevant we need to put some effort into the process to make it work.
Credit to Chris Powell, CEO of BlackbookHR for the great quote!

Innovation, HR Conferences, and HRevolution

Talking about how to drive innovation and innovative thinking when the traditional training and conference events are created to help us continue doing things as they have always been done. In addition, events like HRevolution (http://thehrevolution.org) DO create those types of thinking.

Making the workplace better: micro and macro views

How can we make the workplace better? Some people look at a massive innovation across the board, while others seek out how to make one-on-one relationships better and build out from there. Good discussion.

Have something you’d like to see me discuss? Let me know!

Today we’re honored to have a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Building a caring work environment and increasing talent density: compatible or mutually exclusive?

If you’re reading this entry for an answer, skip ahead to the comments section, because you definitely won’t find it here. The question is of critical importance to where we are as a company and I’m actively debating it in my quieter moments. People – their collective personality and their performance – are our differentiator in a tough tech market.

caring work environment

Is building a supportive environment a goal of your organization?

A little background: our company culture is built on integrity, ownership, simplicity, service and balance. We’ve strictly held to our core values in hiring decisions, resulting in a place that people enjoy working because they get to work with intelligent, driven and truly amazing people they care about. Our people also know that HR, the Leadership team and our co-founders care about them on a personal level, which is both a key to retention and to recruitment.

But to build a successful company that scales, we need the most talented team possible. Talent attracts and retains talent and builds a better product. There’s the idea that winning teams succeed because they have the best players on their team. Successful sports teams cut fan favorites to upgrade their roster and aren’t slow to trade away players when underperforming. It’s all understood as part of the business of winning. But it also feels very impersonal and at odds with the familial culture we’ve built.

Is there a happy medium? Can a company truly care about its employees while remaining committed to increasing the level of “A-players” on the team? How does one handle the model employee that just isn’t up to the task at hand?

As I shared, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it’s possible for a company to toe the line by investing in “coaching up” struggling employees, being clear about expectations and where the gaps are, and making a genuine effort to get people to where they need to be. To be sure, this requires a genuine commitment from the top of the organization and far more effort than any alternative, but I think it can and should be done.

There will always be cases where things just don’t work out. Treat departing employees with dignity, respect and honesty. Ask yourself, “Does this feel right?” Others in the organization will know if you gave the departing team member a fair shake to keep their job, and will take note of how you treated them on the way out. If you can navigate this maze, I think you can have both talent density and a caring corporate culture. Who knows what success awaits from that point forward?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

It’s day two of the 2014 SHRM Talent Management conference, and I attended a great session on Quality of Attrition: Management’s Favorite Human Capital Metric. The bottom line is that we know that every person that leaves the business is not the same. Why they left, how valuable they were, and what the organization could have done to change the results are all elements of attrition quality that can (and should, arguably) be measured.

So who’s doing it?

According to data from i4cp, high-performing companies are more likely than low-performing companies to measure various factors relating to employee attrition. In fact, 85% of high performing companies measure factors such as voluntary/involuntary attrition, whereas low performers only measure that data approximately 70% of the time. Continue reading

Next week I’ll be attending the SHRM Talent Management Conference in Nashville. It’s an event focusing on recruiting and talent, and I’m excited about attending and sharing some of the sessions I’ll be viewing.

If you’re going to be there and want to connect, hit me up via email and we can try to make it work.

As a preview, here are the sessions I’m planning to check out during the event.

Big Data: Your Best Bet In The War For Talent

Why: As our organization has grown it has become harder to source from some of the same pools that we’ve used repeatedly over the years. I’m hoping to learn more about using data to help find the next person I hire.

Quality of Attrition: Management’s Favorite Human Capital Metric

Why: We have a long-standing discussion at work about the difference between retention and turnover. For our purposes, retention is preventable, turnover is not. I’m hoping to learn more about attrition, what the market averages are, and how we can leverage that for better organizational metrics.

Beyond Performance Reviews: Influencing Performance Improvement

Why: Thanks to my buddy Chris Ponder, I’ve been getting more interested in the field of performance improvement lately. I’d like to look at ways we can take our paper (shudder) performance reviews to another level with more impact to the business.

Effectively Managing a Remote Workforce

Why: We have more people outside our local office and we’re adding new work sites regularly. It becomes difficult to make sure everyone feels included and engaged when they are not physically in the same workplace. I’m looking for ideas on how managers can lead those people as well as how to make sure we’re taking care of the remote staff adequately.

Strategic Talent Acquisition: The “Talent Advisor” Approach

Basically, how valuable would your leadership say your recruiting function is? Do they think it enhances the overall business by finding the right people at the right time? I think we do this pretty well, but I am always looking for ways to improve our service delivery on the recruiting side.

Well? Anything in there look interesting to you? What would you like me to share about?

If asked, many HR professionals would say that preventing conflict in the workplace is one of their key job duties. However, I’d like to step back from that well-known requirement and re-examine the need for civility at all costs. Let’s kick off with a quote:

It means caring a lot about not offending someone. Let’s be clear, to be civil is good. Civil behavior is a useful part of a healthy team. However, it can’t be the defining characteristic of the team. Great performance means tough conversations, which is why candor should always trump civility. Candor refers to interactions defined by honest, frank and, forthright exchanges. No sugar-coating, just professional and somewhat blunt conversation. Credit: Lynda.com

Recently I was evaluating some training for some of our supervisors, and I ran across this comment. I think within the realm of human resources management, this type of thinking is more critical than almost any other area of the business. Think about it: we’re supposed to facilitate civility in the workplace. We’re supposed to help eliminate friction, prevent hurt feelings, and ensure a sense of “peace in the family.”

Preventing conflict in the workplace? That’s our job

In fact, if you’re an in-the-trenches HR kind of person, you probably thought of an ongoing situation where you’re trying to facilitate civility as you read that last paragraph. It’s just what we do, right?

But maybe we shouldn’t?

Recently I wrote about the relationship between the Chief Executive Officer of an organization and the key HR leader. The thing that CEOs want most out of HR? Candor.

[Related: Here’s what 76% of CEOs appreciate about HR]

Not only do CEOs want to share candidly with HR without fear of the information being used against them; they also want HR to speak candidly with them about problems and opportunities. The relationship is too critical to allow it to be hampered by the desire to pursue civility at all costs.

The next time you’re looking at a situation that requires you to choose between being open and honest (and possibly causing conflict at work) or trying to smooth things over to prevent any negative response, make sure you are not diminishing the message so much that it loses all value.

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.

The Talent Mandate: Why Smart Companies Put People First by Andrew Benett

I have learned that based on my own interests and daily work, I am eager to consume just about anything I can find related to talent management. When I got this review copy, I dove in and while it’s been a while coming, I finally had time to put together a review of this excellent resource.

Things I liked

  • Show, don’t just tell. the talent mandate andrew benetStop saying, “People are our greatest asset!” and actually demonstrate how it’s true. Actions speak louder than words.
  • Make culture a priority. “There is something strangely intangible about culture, something that can be felt but not always articulated.” In other words, culture is what happens when you are not looking. So how do you embed that into your organization? Codify what is important. Form a “Culture Corps” to define why people like working for the organization, what the organization and people aspire to be/achieve over time, and reinforce both.
  • Always be asking three critical questions: is the culture grounded in values, does the culture promote cohesion, does the CEO make culture a top priority? If the answer to any of those is “no,” then you’re going to face difficulties in maintaining the best culture for the organization.
  • Consider a “manager detox.” New managers at Rackspace are required to undergo a three day training to “un-learn” outside thinking to avoid polluting the new environment. We’ve all run into “that’s how we did it at my last job” situations, and many of those with questionable results. This process helps to overcome those potential conflicts.
  • “Be comfortable with what you don’t know.” The best ideas come from a team, not just from a single executive. Every employee wants to make an impact, so give them a chance!
  • Hiring for agility as a competency. This means looking for strong thinkers who can apply their knowledge to different types of business problems. Agile leaders focus first on big picture and then on how their piece will contribute to that. Dave Ulrich provides a model describing four types of agility: learning (curious, finds simplicity in complexity), people (self-aware, makes other succeed), change (likes to experiment), results (flexible in ideas, works well in teams). The bottom line: find someone with those traits and you’ll have an excellent example of an agile leader on your hands.

Final thoughts

If you’re also looking for ideas and tips on talent management, then I encourage you to check this book out. I think you’ll learn a few things, see some old concepts in a new light, and challenge yourself and your organization to be better at managing talent overall. The Talent Mandate is a great book. Click here if you would like your own copy.