Archives for August 2012

The Downside of a Seat at the Table: You’re Fired, HR

When HR people say they want a seat at the table, they should understand that comes with some potentially uncomfortable side issues. Example: Marissa Mayer, the new CEO at Yahoo, just fired the SVP of HR at Yahoo. Why? Because that’s what you do when you’re the new CEO and everyone says the culture is messed up.

Let’s go through the culture change stuff going on at Yahoo:

–Free meals for people at HQ and NYC. Check.
–Hire a bunch of people from your previous gig at Google. Check.
–Overhaul the HR shop that’s been on watch through countless reorgs and layoffs that didn’t work. Started it last week. Check.

More from All Things Digital, the publication on the West Coast:

“As I reported earlier today, new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is shaking up the human resources unit at the company. Consider it shook and definitely not stirred: Leaving the company, by mutual agreement, is its longtime head David Windley, several sources said. Also out is his No. 2 exec, several sources said, talent acquisition head Grant Bassett.

“Windley’s tenure has included a huge brain drain at the Silicon Valley Internet giant and a series of layoffs at Yahoo, as well as an ongoing musical-chair series of top leaders. Windley’s leaving comes as exactly no surprise, since Mayer has arrived and taken control of its culture and recruiting, which have basically boiled down to making a Yahoo version of the search giant. Before taking the top job at Yahoo, Mayer worked at Google for her entire career.”

Another leading indicator of a change – Mayer is now reviewing all new hires personally before offers are made. The company has 12,000 employees. Does that sound like a vote of confidence in the HR function to you? Its’ a morality play as old as time itself. It’s doesn’t matter how good Windley is, he had to go.

The Yahoo situation is

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a big, hard-to-untangle mess and while Windley is probably as sharp as Mayer on the people front, the truth remains as advertised – he was there for the downward slide before Mayer showed up. The winners write the history books. The new boss gets to bring in his her own team.

The Downside of a Seat

Want a seat at the table? This is the downside of what it means – you get your HR head handed to you when it doesn’t work out. No glossing over that your previous CEO wasn’t nice to work for, etc. You couldn’t overcome the bad karma. Great HR people transcend the bad karma and protect the culture. Is that even right? I’m not sure – but I know that what just happened at Yahoo, and it what it means in that industry.

HR and talent is as important as any other

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function, maybe more so. And that means even good people get fired when things don’t go well. You want the proverbial seat at the table, right HR pros? Get ready to get fired when the company’s on a downward slide, regardless if you had any control over that.

What about you, HR managers with client group responsibilities in the field? Ready for that? In some ways, news of an HR firing in a Valley journal like All Things Digital is a complement to the profession. Now if we could just see more of this in the local business journals in your city, we’d know that the HR function has truly arrived. But it comes at a cost.

About the Author:

Kris Dunn is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Kinetix, the RPO firm for growth companies. Prior to joining Kinetix he was a VP of People for DAXKO and a VP of HR for SourceMedical. Reprinted from Workforce Management

Give Me That Scalpel, Doc

Most of us wouldn’t tell our doctor that we can run a CAT scan or interpret lab results. This is because we readily respect the esoteric nature of the medical profession. But it’s likely that, at some point in your career, you’ve heard someone say something like, “I conducted training a few times in my last job, so I know how to train.”

Possibly the most egregious of these types of statements I’ve heard is from a manager who, in my first week on the job as a Training manager, quipped, “Let’s face facts, training isn’t difficult; anyone can do it.”

It isn’t statements from, say, a technical support engineer that they’ve done training and, therefore, presumably, are training experts that are themselves the problem—the problem lies in the underlying perceptions those who make these statements have about the training profession. Such perceptions undermine both the credibility and effectiveness of the profession.

When you see a doctor for the first time and she tells you should cut back on salty foods, you don’t question the veracity of the advice. You respect the commitment the medical professional made to years of focused study, and the likely many years of experience she has practically applying knowledge and theory in the real world to, one would assume, good result.

The trusting relationship built on an automatic respect for the background and skills a doctor brings makes working with him or her as a partner committed to your betterment all the easier and more efficient, since you need not fight through many rounds of “Prove You’re Worthy” to work together effectively to solve your health problems.

So, too, should the relationship be between learning professionals and their clients.

How Dismissive Attitudes Affect Us

A typical training job description might ask for a number of years of experience successfully applying Adult Learning Theory, advanced proficiency in the use of applications such as Captivate and PhotoShop, and the ability to design and deliver curriculum in various modalities to audiences large and small.

So the dichotomy between being hired as a competent professional and having your experience and skills dismissed as commonplace is all the more perplexing and vexing.

The problem here is this: How can you convince stakeholders that you can design innovative training programs specifically targeted at solving organizational problems, and that push the company closer to achieving its mission and vision, if it’s perceived that your next door cube neighbor or Sally in Accounts Receivable who once, last year, trained her department on how to use the new invoicing system, could easily step into the role and achieve the same results?

Solving the Problem

Let’s work on nipping this problem in the bud. This will save you and your clients time and heartburn since you can start off your relationship from a consultative partner standpoint, and right away do what you

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do best: resolve key organizational problems with innovative and effective training solutions.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Become a Training Cartographer: Whether you’re a training manager, instructional developer, or training coordinator, use the creativity inherently required in your role to formulate a clear vision that will inform the programs and initiatives you will roll out or contribute to, to meet the needs of your clients and forward specific business goals.

Training a sales team? Your approach in this case might be to provide short, punchy training “sessionlets” that cover three key points per session, say, and, thereby, maximize learner benefit in the shortest period of time. In this way, eager sales professionals can take the chunks of information learned and head back to the field to do their job even better than before.

I’m willing to bet a bottom-line-focused sales executive could easily see the wisdom in this approach and would be more apt to sign off on initiatives aligned with it. And therein lies the underlying benefit of having at least a sketched plan of attack: When your stakeholders buy into stratagems that, of course, align with their goals, your job is made easier because it is presumed you know well the lay of the land and are guiding them down the path rather than the other way around.

2. Take a Programmatic and Systems Approach: Often, training requesters ask that you create a training module or session aimed at solving a particular hot-button issue. When you throw training at problem ad hoc, you risk being perceived as a factory line worker, assembling one training widget after another, rather than as a visionary business partner—using your expertise to devise solutions for the long-term.

To accomplish the latter, view training needs from a long-range and holistic standpoint. Answer these questions: Does this new training align with the selected strategy and, when looking at the overall training program, into which specific initiative does this new training fit? If you or your stakeholders can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, then rethink what type of training truly is needed.

3. Push Back: Don’t be afraid to clarify when there are misconceptions about what you do. For instance, if you find yourself regularly being asked to type up a form or create a PowerPoint presentation, if it’s not germane to the training materials you’re developing or you are not working in an administrative assistant capacity, you can explain that the requester can be better served working with someone more suited to the task—someone who can provide the specific skills needed to execute that task efficiently.

Now it isn’t that administrivia is beneath you; it’s that your Microsoft Word and PowerPoint expertise should be applied toward the advancement of your program and its initiatives (see points 1 and 2 above).

This advice is not meant to encourage pomposity or posturing — quite the contrary. It’s meant to put you in the best position to hit the ground running as an effective business solutions partner—encountering the least productivity-killing resistance on your path to forwarding your client-focused training agenda.

About the Author:

Giselle Springer Douglas is a training professional with more than a decade of experience developing training programs, curricula, and content for organizations such as UCLA, Microsoft, and Viacom. Presently, she is the senior manager of Sales Enablement and Development at Parallels, Inc., a Seattle-based software company.

Reprinted from Training Magazine Network

Companies Struggle to Retain Their Stars

Most companies can identify their top performers and are able to woo stars away from other firms. But keeping them from leaving remains a vexing problem.

Those are key conclusions of an informal survey of 91 human resources professionals by Sibson Consulting, an HR advisory firm based in New York. The survey was taken in July during  Sibson’s participation in a recent conference on awards and recognition.

Eighty-six percent of companies report being able to identify star performers and nearly all companies express concern about losing their best employees. Conversely, just 58 percent are interested in retaining everyone in their workforce, suggesting companies have become more discriminating in their retention efforts.

Yet there is a disconnection between desire and reality: Just 76 percent of organizations surveyed say they are successful at retaining star talent yet stubbornly high unemployment has lulled companies into believing they no longer need to be aggressive in recruiting and retention, says Jim Kochanski, a senior vice president at Sibson.

Star performers are always in high demand, even during an economic downturn, Kochanski says. “There isn’t a general shortage of talent, but there are critical shortages of high performers and those people with scarce skills.”

Those who are deemed to be among a company’s best also present a great risk should they be lured away by competitors.

“High performers are always able to find another job. And replacing one star with another isn’t as easy as it sounds,” Kochanski says.

Sibson’s research on skills-specific talent shortages is backed by other data, including a 2011 report by staffing company Manpower Inc. Despite an abundant labor pool, Manpower says 52 percent of U.S.employers were struggling to find highly qualified applicants, up from 38 percent in 2010.

Not all companies are as sanguine as those in Sibson’s informal survey. Most organizations use performance levels, assessment scores and feedback from managers and senior leaders to distinguish high, average and low performers, according to a forthcoming study in September by the Corporate Executive Board, an Arlington, Virginia-based advisory firm. Despite those efforts, only 31 percent say they are effectively identifying their best employees.

Even so, companies may be waking up to the increased post-recessionary importance of providing career growth to their best people. “In general, one of the things that keep high performers around is giving them a sense that they have a future with your company,” Kochanski says.

Sibson found that 77 percent of companies are “careful to make sure promotions go more to star talent than to average talent.” Should they learn a star has been offered another job, 84 percent of companies say they would make a counter-offer in an effort to keep the employee.

In an interesting twist, Sibson says 59 percent of respondents agree that their organization provides “extraordinary rewards” to stars. Ironically, nearly the same percentage (60 percent) use extraordinary rewards to entice would-be recruits to join their firm.

Reprinted from Workforce Management

How to Refresh Your Engagement Surveys

As the third quarter moves along and the end of 2012 doesn’t seem too far off, many HR departments are planning budgets, preparing for performance reviews and, of course, gearing up to administer the all-important employee engagement survey.

While many organizations have firm engagement measurement practices in place, some could use a refresh on the design

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and nature of the engagement survey, according to Joan Dasher, employee engagement practice vice president at BlessingWhite Inc., an employee engagement consultancy.

Here are four ways to thin out and refocus engagement surveys to produce more actionable results.

1) Put less focus on external benchmarks. While many engagement firms specialize in offering industry-wide external benchmarks, Dasher said these often draw the focus away from a firm’s own engagement practices. “[They] get stuck looking at analysis and paralysis [of industry-wide data], and they’ve lost focus on their data and what they’re doing to drive their scores up,” she said.

Still, Kevin Kruse, author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, said while firms shouldn’t spend too much time comparing against external benchmarks, there is value in it. “I think clearly one of the benefits of choosing one of the large survey companies out there is you are now entering into their vast research pools so you can get comparable [survey scores] to your industry,” Kruse said.

2) Design surveys with fewer questions. Some engagement surveys can include up to 90 or 100 questions. This is too much, Dasher said. When employees are faced with having to spend a half hour to an hour going through an engagement survey — and fatigue begins to set in — participants may tend to blow off answering questions honestly.

Instead, consider scaling back the survey to 20 to 30 questions. Pick the most actionable and important questions. Kruse said firms might also consider breaking down these surveys into different segments and giving them more than once or twice a year.

3) Give surveys more often. Fresh data is vital to get real-time results to provide actionable initiatives, Dasher said. Further, annual surveys have questions pertaining to issues that are no longer relevant to a firm’s current engagement challenges, Kruse added.

Providing surveys more than once a year — maybe even twice or three times — enables HR departments to

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measure engagement in a real-time environment. This makes the value of the results and consequent actions more meaningful. “If you’re getting more actionable data, you’re able to tailor it more to the business imperatives,” Dasher said.

“The more frequent[ly] you do them, the more often you can track trends” and take action, often on items that maybe weren’t as relevant a year or even six months ago, Kruse added.

4) Make sure surveys are tied to business strategy. Lastly, ensure that questions are truly directed toward actionable, valuable data that has a direct link to strategy. Some firms may have gotten lost in the complex analysis of external benchmarking and long, lethargic surveys of old, Dasher said. The easiest way for HR departments to avoid falling into such a trap is to make sure a proper definition of engagement is established from the start, since definitions may vary by company, Dasher said.

“Many organization talk about engagement, but they never define it in a way that everyone understands it,” she said. “We believe engagement is achieved when employees are at maximum contribution and when they’re getting maximum satisfaction. It’s a combination of the two.”

For Kruse, the important thing is that front-line managers take an active role in managing engagement on an individual level beyond the survey period.

“The real magic in engagement surveys is to get the results down to an individual level, and to make sure that managers are doing their action planning with their direct reports,” he said.

In the end, any engagement measurement is ineffective unless there is accountability on the part of front-line managers. Without HR departments doing more to provoke such front-line accountability when it comes to engagement, “managers won’t care,” Kruse said. “They will go back to being managers of tasks instead of being leaders of people.”

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine.

10 Steps to Capture Learning ROI

Learning programs unable to prove their worth are unlikely to survive in today’s complex business environment. Learning is almost always funded on the expectation that its benefits will outweigh its costs, which makes it ever more vital that return on investment (ROI) be measured.

In the past, those holding the purse strings were often willing to take a leap of faith on learning. But faith is in short supply these days due to an anemic economic recovery, which has led to tightened budgets for all corporate departments, learning included.

Here are 10 helpful tips for incorporating measuring ROI into a learning program.

1. Don’t go overboard. Calculating true ROI for learning can be difficult; learning isn’t always easily quantifiable. Showing ROI does not need to be perfect — it simply needs to provide a reasonable and credible indication of value. If it is too difficult and costly to calculate, it’s probably not the right approach.

2. Shift thinking from a quality mindset to an impact and results mindset. ROI is more than a calculation. It’s a way of thinking. Learning professionals must be aware that a conscious effort to focus on the impact of learning — not just the quality of training — is a critical step.

3. Calculate ROI continuously. Calculating ROI once every couple of years is certainly better than not calculating at it all, but a snapshot approach does not allow for real-time changes to the program. It’s also not always helpful to calculate ROI after the fact — the program may be in the red with little to no room for prevention. Build ROI into the course evaluation process to provide continuous feedback and allow for mid-program changes.

4. Build the case for ROI step-by-step. Producing a single ROI number addresses the question, “How much value?” However, that alone does not provide a credible indication of actual business value. It’s key to demonstrate exactly how and where the learning brings value to the business by calculating data such as percentage of learners who reported that they impacted the business result and total percentage improvement on business result since training.

5. The more data points, the better. Most senior executives — COOs and CFOs — are analytical, and they will likely want an explanation behind the ROI conclusion. Validate findings with as much data as possible, from as many perspectives as possible. That means capturing learner responses immediately after training as well as a couple of months later after they have had the opportunity to apply it. Also, managers’ input should be collected to round out the feedback.

6. ROI isn’t just about dollars. It is equally important to quantify value in training quality and effectiveness, job impact and business results. Determine indicators that tell the story of the program and provide credibility to the ROI number.

7. Be as conservative as possible in deriving ROI calculations. Any self-reported scores that are used for ROI calculations should be factored down — typically by one-third — to compensate for bias that often occurs due to learner enthusiasm. A follow-up survey 60 to 90 days after the course tends to yield a more accurate result.

8. Know the investment outlay. Since ROI by definition is a return on investment, the investment must be determined. Some factors to consider include cost of training development and delivery, student travel and lodging, and student salary (time away from work).

9. Communicate the story behind the numbers. When presenting ROI to stakeholders, don’t just throw out numbers. State program goals as first envisioned, the challenges in delivering the program, and how these challenges were overcome to yield positive results.

10. Don’t be discouraged by low ROI numbers. Low ROI can be improved by taking a proactive stance and a comprehensive view of job support and other adoption practices for learning programs.

Generally, people understand that learning programs bring value to the organization. But the issue is usually how much, exactly? ROI is the best weapon to ensure that valued learning programs remain a critical priority for organizations.

About the Author:

Mark Bashrum is vice president of corporate marketing and strategic intelligence for ESI International, a global training company. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

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