Archives for October 2013

Workforce Analytics: Disney’s Real-Life Fairy Tale

It was a numbers game at the HR Tech conference this year in Las Vegas.

I do mean numbers like lucky 7s, hard 8s and terrible 12s (more on my introduction to craps in a later post). But also a numbers game in terms of the growing exploration and adoption of workforce analytics.

A highlight at the industry trade show Oct. 8 was

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a session titled “Analytics Help Draw

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a Clear Talent Picture at Disney Animation Studios.”

Presenters Ann Le Cam, vice president of human resources and production management at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Al Adamsen, president of consulting firm The Talent Strategy Institute, spoke about the way Disney has become data-conscious in the way it manages its creative workforce.

It’s a true-life fairy tale of sorts. The studio, with a rich history of producing the likes of “Snow White” among other treasured classics, hit hard times in the 2000s. Disney animators and managers struggled to make the shift from two-dimensional animated films to 3-D pictures. Films including “Treasure Planet” flopped. Management tended not to be grounded in hard facts.

“We were very emotional” in decision-making, Le Cam said.

Things changed when Disney bought computer-animated studio Pixar in 2006. Pixar executive Ed Catmull is a computer scientist and expected a more rigorous approach to operations, Le Cam said. That sparked an effort to focus more on metrics.

To aid the project, Le Cam brought in Adamsen, who had been an HR analytics practice leader at software firm Kenexa, which is now part of IBM.

Disney’s analytics push began in part with basic definitions. It created a “data dictionary” spelling out how different metrics would be calculated. Terms like “capacity planning” and “workforce planning” had different meanings to different people. “A data dictionary is square one,” Adamsen said.

And rather than focus too much on technology tools, Le Cam and her team emphasized working with colleagues to get agreement on the goals of the effort and how it would be carried out.

Film production has an inherent element of volatility. Le Cam noted that studio head John Lasseter or other members of Disney’s “brain trust” can come in part way through production and declare that a movie isn’t good enough. Films sent back to the drawing board in this way can trigger talent shake-ups, such as the need to hire more people pronto.

Still, Disney is working to be more systematic with its planning. It now creates a chart demonstrating the expected talent needs for multiple films over time. Another step is surveying those involved with a movie about the likelihood that it will be done on time. If answers are consistent, that’s a predictor of success. If they vary widely, trouble is probably brewing.

Adamsen said efforts like Disney’s should focus on business goals like better performance, a better work experience for employees and reduced risk rather than simply being able to produce numbers. The term “workforce analytics” isn’t going to mean much to executives, he said.

Indeed, the language around analytics proved to be important to Disney. The term “data-driven decisions” didn’t sit well with everyone. There was concern the “human” was getting lost in human resources. So Le Cam and her team altered the phrasing to “data-informed” decision-making.

Disney has a ways to go with respect to workforce analytics, Le Cam said. Nevertheless, her work to date has a happy ending apropos of a Disney movie classic. Attention to metrics, data and planning around talent has shifted the culture of Disney animated films and contributed to recent successes such as “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” she said: “We transformed the studio.”

Reprinted from

When Hiring, Know More and Guess Less

Organizations’ most important decision is who they hire, and this is particularly true today as they need higher-quality talent to achieve often loftier growth goals.

Talent management consultancy DDI, where the author works, surveyed more than 250 staffing directors and 2,000 new hires from 28 countries to provide perspectives on their organization’s selection processes. Staffing directors offered insights into what selection systems look like today, and new hires provided their view of how those systems are perceived. Organizations of all sizes are represented in the research, with a majority from multinational, for-profit organizations spanning 33 industries.

The research indicated that despite the thousands of dollars each new hire costs — according to Bersin & Associates, the average cost of hire in the U.S. is $3,479 — and the fact that organizations have had years of experience making these decisions, most still have trouble hiring the right person.

With every hire there is an inherent risk — that it won’t work out, that the new hire will fail, not fit in or wreak havoc. But the question talent leaders should be asking is: How can I minimize this risk? The key to making better hiring decisions is to know more and guess less about candidates.

To do this:

Make a list. Fewer than half of the staffing directors DDI surveyed rate their hiring practices as effective, and the top reason they cite for hiring mistakes is an overreliance on the hiring manager’s evaluation. To combat this, organizations need to have a clear and specific understanding of evaluation criteria.

Talent leaders should first identify what they’re looking for — job-relevant factors that can predict success on the job. Consider combining existing

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requirements such as job descriptions, and stakeholder feedback such as manager and incumbent interviews or focus groups, to create a holistic profile of an effective candidate.

Survey results indicate 3 out of every 5 organizations thoroughly determine what knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences their future employees should have.

Consider an insider for the job. Before talent managers open the doors to the hordes of people looking for work, they should determine if there is someone already inside the organization to consider. A 2011 study, “Paying More to Get Less: The Effects of External Hiring Versus Internal Mobility” from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School demonstrated that external hires cost 18 to 20 percent more than internal ones and performed worse on the job.

Particularly for leadership positions, internal candidates tend to be more successful (Figure 1). Their organizational knowledge likely helps them to navigate more ambiguous waters.

Hiring from within also means lower recruitment costs and faster ramp-up time, and it sends a message that the organization believes in development. This could translate into more engaged employees who are willing to stay for growth opportunities.

Do the necessary homework. Gathering data about people is complicated because people are complicated. One method for information gathering won’t do the trick; a variety of methods — interviews, tests, simulations — are necessary to gather the information talent managers need to know about how candidates will perform.

Pre-employment tests and assessments are designed to screen job candidates, measure their capabilities and gather insight on how they will perform if placed in a role. For today’s hiring decisions, three tools — resume screening, a screening interview and a behavioral interview — were more widely used than others (Figure 2).

Further, organizations that use more than three tools are often more effective at hiring.

Let candidates behind the curtain. Some 51 percent of newly hired employees are confident they made the right decision to come work for the company that hired them. For the other 49 percent, this means their productivity is suffering once they enter the job, and so is the company’s.

It also means these employees are more likely to be looking for another job. That means the company’s hiring managers will have to go through the hiring process again.

The main complaint from new hires is that the hiring process failed to paint an accurate picture of the job. When asked what they wanted to know, new hires said they wanted broader, strategic information, such as the company’s anticipated future challenges. But they also craved basic information they were not getting, such as the position’s expectations and requirements and how their job relates to the bigger picture.

The study found the more talent leaders can share about the day-to-day job — projects candidates may work on, people they will need to influence, how much time they may spend in meetings — the more likely it is candidates will make the right decision when evaluating whether the job they’re being offered is a job they will enjoy and stay in for a long time (Figure 3).

Make use of the information advantage. When a new hire comes on board, it’s natural for all involved to breathe a collective sigh of relief. But it’s important to remember, to make this a win-win for organizations and new hires alike, new employees need to be coached to be successful.

Provide new hires with information about what will help them be successful and what could be a barrier to success. This information doesn’t belong in an HR file folder; it is best leveraged in the hands of hiring managers and their new hires during onboarding.

Organizations that use hiring information to facilitate new-hire development have significantly more new hires who are confident in their decision to accept the job. For those new hires who are not confident in their decisions, only 1 percent of the organizations they worked for leveraged hiring data during development. For new hires who were very confident, 66 percent of their organizations leveraged hiring information.

On a broader scale, organizations with the time, resources and motivation to better understand and utilize talent intelligence have an advantage in today’s big data marketplace. Selection data in aggregate form can give the organization a look into its own strengths and weaknesses.

But only 34 percent of staffing directors reported that their organization uses analytics to determine the success of talent acquisition strategies. This is a missed opportunity because analytics is a big differentiator for improved measures of overall talent such as the diversity, quality, engagement and turnover of employees hired in the past year.

These keys to success not only will ensure talent leaders have the right people in place to do their business, but they also will impact their businesses (Figure 4). Organizations that made better hiring decisions last year performed better than those that didn’t.

As the future will bring new challenges, it’s important for talent leaders to remember the secret of human capital. When it comes to the person who greets employees at the door all the way up to the CEO, the same basic rule applies: Know more, guess less.

About the Author:

Jazmine Boatman manages DDI’s Center for Applied Behavioral Research. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

6 Crucial 401(k) Employee Education Tips

When I present employee education sessions, employees often ask me what they should be doing in their 401(k) plan. I tell them:

Make sure you are contributing enough to receive the maximum match. You would be surprised how many employees don’t do this. I estimate that in most plans at least 1/3 of all employees do not contribute enough. Employees who do not receive the maximum match are leaving free money on the table. The return on those extra contributions? At least 100%!

Don’t trade your account. Employees get scared at market bottoms and overly confident at tops. They need to resist the urge to sell all of their equities when they are scared. Conversely, when equity markets are making new highs, they should not transfer everything into equities.

I advise them not to open their account statements during these time periods if they believe that will help them manage their emotions.

Diversify. We all have heard this over and over again from financial planning experts. Many employees like to concentrate their account balances in one or a few funds they feel will perform well or are very safe. Having all their eggs in one basket is not a strategy for success because they are essentially betting on only one economic scenario.

Keep your money in the plan. Employees work hard to save. They scrimp, deny themselves fun, delay purchases, etc. I ask them not to take loans, withdrawals or cash their 401(k) balances out when they change jobs. Taxes and penalties can reduce what they receive from these distributions by almost 50%.

In addition, they are making it impossible to ever retire by spending their retirement savings now.

Keep saving – always. Employees stop saving for a number of reasons: their spouse loses a job, they want to save outside the plan for a home, car, boat, marriage, etc. Many employees, when the equity markets fall, stop saving because they believe it is a bad time to invest in the market.

I suggest that they lower their contribution rates if they have to, but never go to 0%. Remember, we all need to average 15% in savings over our entire careers to retire at our current standard of living.

The most important factor is… I am always asked, “What is the most important thing I need to do to build the 401(k) account balance I need?” I ask employees to guess what the answer might be. No one ever gets it. It’s not how you allocate your balance, what funds you invest in, whether you market time appropriately, the cost of your investments or how they perform. None of these are the correct answer (although they are all important).

It is how much you save.

That is such an obvious answer that I always get a number of groans. But it is true. Nothing matters more than the amount that someone saves.

Make sure your next employee education sessions address these topics. Your employees will be grateful for the encouragement and support.

About the Author:

Robert C. Lawton is president of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC a Registered Investment Advisory firm helping retirement plan sponsors with their investment, fiduciary, employee education and compliance responsibilities.

Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

On-Demand Personalized Learning: Strategic and Agile

Training content is moving beyond large courses to semantically rich nuggets of information. Developers have created a whole host of specialized, next-generation performance-support apps that deliver personalized, bite-sized learning to employees at the moment-of-need on the device of their choice.

But getting there is not easy.

Adjusting our Expectations: Amazon and Yelp

People often ask what personalized learning looks like. My answer: it’s right in front of you. That’s because we are used to, and even expect, personalization in our lives. Think about when you shop at Amazon. With every visit, Amazon collects data about you. Amazon is building a comprehensive profile in order to serve you recommendations based on:

  • Items that you’ve bought in the past,
  • Items you browsed, and
  • What others who have browsed the same items ultimately purchased.

Amazon also helps potential buyers by allowing users to rate a review as helpful or unhelpful. It then aggregates these ratings, scores them, and presents a list of the most helpful comments, providing an instant filter for the most relevant of what are often several hundred reviews.

The application to learning is unmistakable:

  • How satisfying would it be if the training materials offered to an individual learner were based on the types of materials and content they have found most valuable in the past?
  • How helpful would it be if learners could see what training assets people in a role similar to theirs are using to reach the same or related objective?
  • How much more quickly could learners perform if they could instantly zero in on the most helpful content based on peer reviews and ratings?

What’s most striking about personalization though is that location and context are very important. An example of an application that does an excellent job of leveraging these two attributes is Yelp!

Yelp! is not only great about giving you information about places near where you are, but also making sure that the content is relevant and fresh at the moment you need it. It will tell you if a place is open at the time you are searching for it. It will let you know if it is within walking distance. It often displays messages corresponding to your search terms (e.g. “Vegetarians love this place!”).

Like Amazon, the application to on-demand learning or performance support is unmistakable.

When someone is performing a task, they require only the information that is relevant to the specific circumstance in which they find themselves. Imagine an airplane mechanic trying to fix a sudden system problem on a plane scheduled to depart in a few hours; it is imperative that the procedure delivered to the mechanic is for the specific issue at hand, the specific plane, and the exact airport where the plane is located. Without context, this is impossible.

But how do we get there? How do we leverage our content across the enterprise and deliver this information on-demand for a particular role, a particular time, a specific skill, etc. And, more importantly, how do we make this informational delivery as powerful and as personal as the applications we use every day?

Strategic and Agile Content Development

The answer is that content development needs to finally become a strategic initiative within the Learning and Development organization. As an industry we need to move past the mentality of delivering monolithic content in 9-12 month cycles and move towards agile content development that includes the elements in Figure 1, below.


Figure 1: The agile content development system

The key elements, however, are bite-size content nuggets, user profiles, and social feedback.

Bite-Sized Content Nuggets

Building content as small nuggets and tagging it with semantically rich information makes it possible to reuse and deliver that content in any way, shape, or form. For example, a designer can elect to deliver a single nugget such as a procedural video:

  • Through a mobile app;
  • Through a granular search application; or
  • As part of an assemblage with other lesson and topic nuggets as a course.

User Profiles

The more you know about your audience, the more capable you are of matching them up to the right content. The chart in Figure 2 shows the results of a survey of HR and Learning executives. The survey asked them to rate how much they know about the employees of their organization. As you can see, we still have limited knowledge of our workforce.

Figure 2: Summary of responses by HR and Learning executives: knowledge about their companies’ employees.

Collecting data about employees is a critical capability for personalization. Having rich user-profile information gives us the ability to marry these profiles with tagged nuggets of content to create truly individualized learning experiences.

Social Feedback

With the advent of social and mobile technologies, subject matter experts are now only half the equation. Successful content developers, the ones who will be seen as strategic to the business, are the ones who will embrace the trend to agile content development.

This means exposing content to the community of learners, allowing them to rate and provide feedback on how to improve the content, and then immediately updating nuggets of content for continuous and ongoing improvement—a far cry from yearly course updates.

Analytics: The Key to Better Performance

When we use analytics to understand how individual nuggets of content are performing—for example, which nuggets learners are accessing, how they are accessing them, where they are using them, who is using them, and what the ratings are —what we end up with is the ability to make frequent adjustments to the content to better meet learner needs.

The more of these adjustments that we make, the more customized and personalized the content becomes. This in turn gives designers instant performance connection data. We know immediately what type of impact each nugget of content is having on our learners.

This moves us closer to the holy grail of personalization—where analytics drive the right content to the learner, rather than the learner finding the content all by themselves. Sounds a lot like Amazon and Yelp! doesn’t it? That’s the point.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

12 Ways to Promote Informal Learning in Your Company

Learning management systems and learning content management systems are the centerpiece for many learning departments, but most organizations are unaware that these systems have capabilities to support informal learning.

Learning leaders can support informal learning within systems, but all solutions are not rooted in technology. Some tactics require only that managers and employees revisit lessons when and where appropriate and provide adequate learning support or access to developmental resources.

What follows are 12 ways to engage a workforce in informal learning tactics.

1. Encourage learners to continue learning after formal courses.

Most enterprise learning systems provide a variety of communication capabilities that not only share administrative information about course materials but also facilitate informal learning after the course finishes.

These communication capabilities may include pre-set notes, which can prompt workers to apply skills taught in training at times when instructors anticipate workers might need reminders. Or, the system may enable distribution of resource materials, such as supplementary readings, references, job aids and similar materials that workers could consult in a performance support context.

Ongoing discussions among participants in which they can share challenges and strategies to transfer learning to the job are another possibility.

2. Provide a space for communities.

Because they let learning professionals distribute information and promote conversation among participants in a course, most enterprise learning systems allow users to set up groups with the same capabilities. Within these groups, learning professionals can promote conversations among:

• Occupational communities that find online communities helpful when they do not have an opportunity to work together in-person. These communities could include decentralized communication professionals or occupational safety teams in organizations with several work locations. For instance, IBM has had communities like these for many years.

• Demographic communities that find that online communities let them connect with people who share similar characteristics, such as gender, race or sexual orientation, but who might be uncomfortable meeting in public. For example, many large organizations have women’s, African-American, Latino and LGBT networks.

• Interest-based communities that find online communities provide them with an opportunity to discuss particular subject areas, such as agile programming or management.

3. Provide self-assessments to assess workers’ interests and skills; apply that self-awareness.

The self-assessments can be written internally or acquired through third-party sources. For example, the website for prospective students of the Masters of Technical Communication program at Southern Polytechnic State University near Atlanta lets prospects assess whether a master’s degree even meets their needs.

4. Maintain skills profiles for key job categories.

Enterprise learning systems provide a number of capabilities for skills management. The first of these are tools to maintain profiles for the skills or competencies needed in particular jobs. These skill profiles play a key role in performance and career management.

One key challenge with skills profiles is developing them. Someone in the organization needs to identify the competencies needed in each major job family, as well as distinguish among junior, intermediate and advanced skills. That’s easier said than done since doing so involves many people, starting with workers who hold those jobs and their managers.

Devising the list also may seem daunting because organizations have two strategies: go for a limited number of broad competencies, which may be too general to be useful, or collect a larger number of specific competencies, which can feel restrictive and likely should contain competencies unique to a position rather than general ones for all positions. Further, a system cannot resolve these philosophical issues or develop the lists.

Because their primary service is skills, most large professional services organizations invest heavily in skills management, as do many larger, more established government agencies and high-technology companies. However, the benefits associated with skills profiles can effect any organization looking to optimize hiring, facilitate retention and create targeted developmental interventions to build the workforce.

5. Assess skills workers possess.

In addition to developing skills profiles for particular jobs, some enterprise learning systems let managers assess workers’ skills against profiles. Managers and workers can use this analysis to determine individual training and development needs.

Essentially, while working with a manager, learning leader or other third party, workers review a list of competencies needed in their jobs and, for each, indicate their skill level. The system matches the skills and employees’ levels with a generalized profile of workers in that job and generates a list of skills gaps where the worker’s skill level falls below that of a competent person in the position.

At that point, a manager can step in to direct any development needed, or if the organization has self-paced development options available, employees could take advantage of existing resources to improve their skills and close gaps.

Skills assessment processes pose challenges. One, the longer the list of skills, the more burdensome an assessment can be. Imagine assessing dozens of skills. Two, a values-based assessment — “satisfactory, good and excellent” — can lead to more poor assessments than a performance-based assessment — “can perform independently,” “can perform with moderate assistance,” “can only perform with substantial assistance.”

6. Track skills development.

If organizations can link competencies developed through training to the competencies in one or more skills profiles, the system can automatically update workers’ skills profiles to reflect the new skills acquired when learners complete programs. This can be an asset when leaders are considering what candidates are available for internal promotions, development options like projects or succession planning.

Most systems also let people manually update skills profiles to reflect competencies developed through informal learning. Ideally, a system should require that workers actually demonstrate they can perform a skill to a manager before updating the profile. Otherwise, workers could receive recognition for skills they might not really have.

7. Match skills available with those needed.

As part of hiring, talent management systems which link learning to other talent processes such as selection can generate a list of workers in an organization who already possess skills a hiring manager wants.

Doing so lets organizations manage their inventory of skills as well as provide tangible recognition to workers who have developed in-demand skills, including those developed informally. For example, skills tracking capabilities in LinkedIn help track skills, and fee-based services let recruiters use them to identify candidates.

8. Assist with career planning.

Provide self-assessments to help workers determine what types of work suit them. Also provide career road maps to identify skills needed in a particular career. Let workers assess their current qualifications, and link those skills to developmental opportunities to fill gaps, including informational interviews, training, developmental assignments and professional organizations.

This connection to talent strategy boosts learning strategy effectiveness and can help to boost retention. Employees not only see opportunities for advancement, but they also see learning as a tool to facilitate career growth.

9. Tailor information to each workers’ needs.

Provide workers with the information they are likely to need based on their particular work contexts. Learning and talent systems maintain profiles for each worker and match worker characteristics with labels on content that authors included when they stored the content. Emerging systems hope to offer additional levels of tailoring, much like and e-commerce systems that pinpoint content based on previous use.

10. Record informal learning activities.

Because most informal learning happens outside of an internal development event or some similarly measurable activity, it often requires some manual effort to track it. Managers and workers might add participation in conferences, completion of university and other third-party courses, books read, leadership roles in nonprofit organizations and similar activities. Doing so increases the likelihood that others will recognize the worker for skills acquired informally.

11. Track progress toward a particular goal.

Just as enterprise learning systems can track informal learning activities, they also can track activities focused on a larger goal.

For example, a company that makes custom hearing devices can certify new workers who custom fit the devices through a combination of classes and supervised field work. The system automatically records course completions. Later, managers manually record completion of each supervised field activity in the system. When workers complete all of the required activities, they receive certification.

12. Track informal learners, which informal learning resources they use and which ones they don’t.

The analytics and reporting capabilities of most enterprise systems report the number of times that workers visited particular resources used in informal learning and the number of unique users who did so. For instance, if a particular user visits the same resource four times, that would count as one user but four visits. Therefore, distinguishing among visits and visitors can help leaders assess the general usefulness of a particular page.

Some systems also let designers request satisfaction data from users on each page. For example, some systems let learning professionals include a two-question survey asking users whether the information on the page answered their question and include a space to explain why or why not.

For learning leaders looking to increase the availability of and participation in informal learning in an organization, these capabilities can help. In many cases, the company is already paying for them. Find out what existing systems offer, then choose one on which to pilot informal learning efforts. When the organization embraces it, add another.

About the Author:

Saul Carliner is an associate professor and university e-learning fellow at Concordia University in Montreal, as well as author of eight books, including “Informal Learning Basics.”

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

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