Archives for October 2015

The Trends (and Anti-Trends) at the HR Tech Conference

It’s been a busy few days at the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, and everybody is placing their bets on analytics. It’s been talked about plenty before, but both solution providers and companies finally appear ready to start putting it into practice.

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about recruiting, performance, learning, or anything else related to Human Capital Management, the conversation inevitably turns to analytics. Companies are desperate for solutions that will give them insight into their talent and how they are impacting the business.

Analytics is not the only hot topic, however. As the event closes, we offer a snapshot of some of the developments and trends that the Brandon Hall Group analyst team of Mike Cooke, Michael Rochelle, Laci Loew, Daria Friedman, Cliff Stevenson and David Wentworth has seen and been discussing with solution providers, clients, members and other attendees:

Predictive analytics: Solutions are popping up everywhere. Whether an organization is interested in modeling hiring data, understanding how talent is developed, forecasting pipeline health, or anticipating the business value of internal job mobility, analytics solutions and tools are becoming plentiful.  Mercer’s Internal Labor Market Analysis and Business Impact Modeling tools are two examples.

By wrapping consulting services around a comprehensive set of people modeling tools, Mercer helps organizations establish measurable links between their people solutions and business results. Mercer is not alone in this space. Thomson’s Darwin Analytics Centre was unveiled this week and IBM showcased their solution as well.

Companies are using both client-centric data (key performance indicators, recruiter/hiring manager data, etc.), external publicly available data, and their own internal learnings based on their client data to help companies identify candidates in terms of likelihood of being a good fit, likelihood of being able to go through the hiring process, likelihood to make a move in the market, and tenure likelihood. Examples of providers using a variety of these techniques to varying degrees are: Gild, PeopleFluent, and Entelo.

Measuring the effectiveness of sourcing is changing in several ways. Smashfly’s recruiting analytics not only tracks the last source of hire (last brand touch point), it also tracks all the sources of influence. This will begin to give HR professionals an understanding of the impact of their brand marketing throughout the job search process. SmartRecruiters’ platform dynamically suggests the best job boards, sites, and tracks sourcing effectiveness back to type of job, recruiter, and geographical market. It also compares spend on a per-applicant, per-hire basis.

As for learning and analytics, Watershed LRS has officially spun off from Rustici Software and is showcasing the power of the xAPI to gather and analyze data. Companies will soon be able to see correlations between multiple data points and sources without needing PhD level data analysts on staff. Learning technology companies, from content providers to LMS platforms, are all looking at their solutions with an eye on analytics. How do we give companies the relevant data they need and help them make sense of it all?

User experience: Another common thread across all the HCM solutions is a focus on the user experience. Interfaces have been smoothed out and modernized. Many solutions have distilled the majority of user interactions down to one or two clicks, which is essentially the Nirvana of user experience.  Search for most solutions is also getting better, faster and smarter. Since search is probably the most commonly used function for a platform after a user scans the landing page, providers have been working diligently to make sure search results are targeted, relevant and easy to understand.

Video interviewing: HireVue has released video interviewing and video-based coaching to build high performance teams. Montage boasts of new partnerships with SuccessFactors and IQNavigator joining its already impressive partner ecosystem to offer video and voice interviewing purpose-built to transform talent acquisition. And then there is WePow, which offers yet another video interviewing solution that accommodates employer branding messages and personalized interview questions.

With Millennials and digital natives in mind, all solutions are mobile ready and friendly. These digital interviewing solutions enable organizations to hire better talent, more quickly and effectively. Using scenario-based questions based on organizational competencies, hiring managers are asking candidates to respond to real work situations, thus improving the quality of hire. Digital interviews allow a rapid – often 2 days or less – cycle between interview date and next steps and eliminating process inefficiency with which HR teams have struggled for years.

Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst for Workforce Management at Brandon Hall Group, noticed an interesting trend – the anti-trend:

“After talking to over 30 companies (and probably close to 100 people) at HR Tech, I think what strikes me more than the similarities and general trends (analytics, social, user experience, real-time updating, integration etc.) are the companies that differentiate themselves by flying directly in the face of those trends. It is one thing to see competitive advantage in specialization of either your product or the market you serve, it is quite another to find advantage by deliberately offering the opposite of your competitors.

“I might meet 10 companies that talk about integrating HR data with other data in the organization or external data sources, and then one that is determined to keep their data siloed and intentionally segregated. Or the time I met a company that didn’t have account managers or customization, specifically so customers could handle their own problems. Of course, this isn’t how they would word it, and they do make strong cases for creating products that seem counter to the trend line, but it does make me wonder how many people that don’t have a chance to meet so many different companies might believe that these outlier approaches are actually the norm.”

Reprinted from the Brandon Hall Group blog series

Be Hands-On With Your Handbooks

As we approach the end of the calendar year, I start to think about all of the things I’ve accomplished, or, more to the point, have not yet accomplished. It allows me take stock of where I am, both professionally and personally, and set goals for the upcoming year.

The same holds true for businesses. One area often in need of improvement for many organizations is the employee handbook. Walk over to whichever file you keep your handbook, look for the date it was last updated, and if it is anything earlier than 2014, it’s time for a deep review.

A handbook should be a set of guidelines for the company to follow. It should not be intended to account for every situation that could arise, nor should it be written in stone. Companies should write handbooks to leave enough flexibility to change policies when the situation dictates. Here are some thoughts about reviewing and updating your company’s handbook.

1. Illegal overtime policies: For example, “All overtime must be authorized by a manager or supervisor and the company will only pay authorized overtime.” Such a policy is illegal if it is applied as written. All overtime, whether its authorized or not, should be paid. A better rule to control unauthorized overtime is to prohibit unauthorized overtime and discipline those who violate the rule.

2. Vague Family and Medical Leave Act language: The FMLA is rife with traps for employers who do not specify certain eligibility requirements. Otherwise, a company leaves itself open to be sued by otherwise ineligible employees. A handbook should also be clear on the interplay between FMLA leave and other paid-leave policies and to make sure that employees cannot double-dip by first exhausting paid leave before turning to unpaid FMLA leave.

3. Missing harassment policy: An anti-harassment policy is necessary to take advantage of the certain affirmative defenses to harassment claims. It is one of the most important policies a handbook should contain, and no handbook is complete without having such a policy. Also, don’t forget strong anti-retaliation assurances.

4. Bans on salary and other work-related discussions: The National Labor Relations Act makes it unlawful for any employer, whether union or nonunion, to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees exercising their right to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. One such protected activity is discussing terms and conditions of employment, such as wages. A policy that could be construed to prohibit discussions of wages or other terms and conditions of employment would violate the NLRA. A safer rule would limit confidentiality to information about corporate information and customers, and would not interfere with disclosure of information about employees’ terms and conditions of employment.

5. Unnecessary probationary periods: Probationary periods are typical in union contracts, but have no place in a nonunion setting. Such a policy is counterintuitive to the at-will nature of the employment, and could set an unreasonable expectation of continued employment after the 90 days expire. A better policy would simply reaffirm that employees are at-will and can be terminated at any time for any reason, and that all new employees’ performance will be evaluated after 90 days.

6. Missing no-solicitation policies: These policies are necessary to try to limit union solicitations in the workplace, but cannot be specifically directed at union activities. Instead, companies can draw any reasonable line, so long as the line drawn is not specifically tied to union solicitations. Moreover, the rule should include the use of bulletin boards and corporate computer systems (email, intranets, etc.). Be warned, however, that the NLRB just mandated that if corporate email systems are open to employees, they must be open to those employees using those systems to communicate about labor unions during nonworking time.

7. Lack of an at-will disclaimer and signed receipt:In litigation, a handbook is only as good as being able to prove that an employee received it on a certain date. The best proof is a signed, dated receipt in all employees’ personnel files, with enough information in the receipt itself to link it to the handbook. Also, handbooks should clearly state that employees are at-will, that the handbook is not a contract and that employees should not rely on any statements in the handbook.

An employee-handbook review is the low-hanging fruit of the HR world. Dust it off, give it a read or two, take a stab at revisions, and pass it off to your employment lawyer for his or her blessing.

The Dangers of Perfectionism

Perfection does not exist.

It’s one of those phrases you hear when someone’s trying to self-motivate yet remain realistic in a personal context, but the words have significant meaning for those in the workplace as well.

Some might say, “Oh, I want perfectionists on my team. They’re great with details, won’t miss deadlines, and the quality of their work will be excellent.”

But that may actually be far from the truth for one simple reason: Perfectionism, when taken to the extreme, can inhibit all of those things because it distracts from the work at hand.

Jane Bluestein, president and CEO of Instructional Support Services Inc. and author of “The Perfection Deception,” said a perfectionist is more likely not to admit mistakes or to ask for help, neither of which is conducive to learning or to high performance. Further, perfectionism can manifest in a tendency to procrastinate or in a sharp focus on details with a limited view of the major pieces or big picture in a project or task.

“They tend to miss deadlines, or they never finish things because they’re always improving it,” she said. “Something may look really nice — they spend hours formatting it — but the content is really weak because they’re focused on the wrong thing.”

At the top of the house, perfectionist leaders tend to overextend themselves, taking on more than is realistically possible to achieve because they’re afraid to say no. They fear a loss of credibility, status as ‘can do’ person, or even a bonus or some other reward.

Someone with these tendencies in a development scenario might be easily distracted by the wrong things, depending on how the material is presented. Bluestein said when learning content is too hard and participants feel they don’t have the necessary ability to absorb the information, they’ll panic. “When we’re in panic mode, we don’t do well in learning anything,” she said.

If there are time constraints and the learner is pushed to learn something faster than they can digest the information, if the material is under challenging or if there is pressure to perform without making a mistake, all of these scenarios trigger stress that inhibit a perfectionist’s ability to learn.

Bluestein also pointed out the perils in working for a manager or leader with perfectionist tendencies. It’s often extremely difficult to please such people, and senior leaders may notice a high level of turnover in the employees under them. They may issue one set of instructions, and when the task is completed, they express dissatisfaction or disappointment because now they want something completely different. Or “there’s one typo, and that’s all I hear about,” Bluestein said. “That puts a lot of stress and anxiety on me, the employee, and when I’m under stress, my cerebral capacity is diminished.”

This can result in absenteeism, quitting and wasted training investments when talented employees opt to take their skills elsewhere because the work environment under a perfectionist regime is not supportive.

Good leaders want employees who cross the T’s and dot the I’s, and they don’t want to stress out or drain away discretionary effort and engagement via a crappy work environment. To get that, Bluestein said managers have to be clear about their expectations for work projects. “A lot of times, we have these unexpressed expectations or the idea that ‘they should know.’ And even though you may be correct, maybe they should know. Tell them anyhow. We need to let people know up front what is important to us. Otherwise we work in a vacuum.”

It’s also important to provide the kind of work climate where it’s OK for someone to do something wrong and ask for help without fear of reprisal. “A lot of it is about how we communicate what we need and what we want,” Bluestein said.

Essentially, curtailing the downsides of perfectionism is about examining behaviors closely, appreciating what people are doing right and helping to steer them appropriately when they go wrong.  Also, Bluestein said to never, ever underestimate the power of encouragement. A lot of perfectionist behavior is related to an individuals’ belief system. For example, someone may believe their self-worth is attached to their ability to make top sales or to execute some other work task. If they fall short, without the right support, problems will be magnified and productivity and confidence may suffer.

That said, Bluestein said sometimes problems with perfectionism may be rooted in behaviors and systems that are outside the leaders’ scope of responsibility or ability to handle. Extreme perfectionism is actually a mental health issue  If someone is wrapped up in a self-worth equals achievement equals self-worth kind of equation and suffering from high levels of stress and anxiety on the job, it might be best to refer the individual to an organization’s employee assistance program.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

The Problem with Learning Management Systems

First I hated instructional objectives, and then I hated ADDIE. Now I hate learning management systems.

Full disclosure, I had a teeny, tiny part in hastening their creation. Twenty years ago, I worked for VBG (Very Big Company). Our immense course registration call center cost a small fortune to run. So, in the mid-1990s, I put together a team to build one of the first LMSs from scratch. Rudimentary as it was, it cut our call center usage by 70 percent. Initially, it focused on classroom-training management, but as we got into eLearning, the problems started.

A Little Background

The nascent eLearning companies at the time would sell us courses and “throw in” their so-called LMS. Problem was, their LMS only worked with their courses. We had to run different courses from different companies on different platforms. It was the razor and razor blades scenario.

We wanted interoperability, consistency, and enterprise reporting across all eLearning products. Early vendors wanted exclusivity, locked-in contracts, and control. We got angry, as the legendary and fictional Howard Beale would say, “We were mad as hell and we weren’t going to take it anymore.”

Along with other large companies, we pushed hard for an integrated, single-platform approach that would run all eLearning programs. Fortunately, the advent of eLearning standards, first, most notably AICC and then SCORM, as well as the scrappiness of interoperable upstarts, changed the LMS industry.

Modern-day LMSs were born out of the new transactional capabilities of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They are as much eCommerce as eLearning. Like the then new online retail giants such as eBay and Amazon, LMSs could offer many products, process thousands of transactions, handle payments and delivery, and keep track of it all. This is a great value of LMSs then, and now. Without a good LMS, there would be an awful lot of chaos in the training and eLearning world.

So Why Do I Hate the LMS?

Actually, I don’t hate LMSs; they do what they were designed to do quite well. But I am not so sure we fully understand their limitations, or what we are getting ourselves into with them. Here are nine key concerns:

  1. They can stifle creativity. There are many great examples of innovation in the eLearning world, but too often, despite the best of intentions, the limitations of the LMS and the underlying SCORM construct, can be inhibiting. When a new idea comes up against a system and software that can’t handle it, more often than not it’s the idea that gets tossed rather than the system that gets upgraded.
  2. They can force a path to the least common denominator. Whether it’s the testing tool on the LMS or the authoring tool on a companion LCMS, designers are usually stuck with the options and capabilities provided. To deviate runs the risk that you will not be able to track or easily update the resulting courseware elements.
  3. They generate a multitude of reports that can yield important insights, but the organization needs to know what to do with those insights. Making the best use of LMS data in a timely manner requires analysts who know what they are doing, what to look for, and how to make sense of it all, as well as leaders who know how to use the information to improve the system.
  4. They can be very expensive. Loaded with bells and whistles, some LMSs are so costly that getting one consumes the entire L&D development budget (and a pile of IT money as well); nothing else gets done. And sometimes, companies end up with more than they need, or less than they need, and a year or two later, they’re back at it, starting over. More cost.
  5. No LMS can meet all organizational needs exactly. Some compromise is likely. But there is always a temptation to customize the LMS or build workarounds to make the system perform precisely as envisioned. As the LMS drifts from the standard solution offered by the vendor, keeping up with new versions becomes difficult and pricey.
  6. They can be a pain to implement. Buying the LMS is just the beginning. Now you have to implement it. This can take months or years and lots of consulting help (another cost). More built-in configurability is a good thing. Still, setting it up can be quite an endeavor.
  7. They can be too focused on just managing training assets and systems. Classroom, virtual classroom, and eLearning deliverables … no problem. But as the field gets more into information, collaboration, social, and performance support-based solutions—more of a learning and performance ecosystem—most current LMSs are limited in what they can do.
  8. They can be used for the wrong purposes. Want to put out a memo to everyone in the company and track if they’ve read (I mean “opened”) it? Just give it a course number and put it into the LMS. Want to use LMS attendance reports as the main measure of compliance? No problem, but remember, attendance does not equal competence. Trying to force-fit LMSs into tasks they were not really designed to do is fraught with unintended consequences.
  9. They can be seen as a substitute for instructional design. Technology will just as easily distribute and track bad training as it will good training. There are, undoubtedly, tons of lousy courses being built and delivered very efficiency by LMSs (and LCMSs). This is not a technology problem; it is a design problem.

Many of you will say that these concerns are a result of our inappropriate use of a well-designed LMS, and there’s a lot of truth to that. But like the tail wagging the dog, despite our best intentions, we often succumb to the limits of the technology—any technology—and the enticements of easy, if ill-advised solutions.

Bright Spots

Don’t get me wrong; I’d prefer these concerns be addressed rather than for LMSs to go away. Here are four signs that that’s happening:

  1. Configurability and upgradability is on the rise. As more LMSs become more flexible, the need to get a new one every few years will hopefully diminish because you’ll be able to more easily integrate new product capabilities into existing systems. Furthermore, a more configurable LMS will have a longer life expectancy than one that has to be customized every time a new feature is needed.
  2. More cloud-based solutions and more flexible pricing options. With cloud-based solutions, implementation becomes easier. Users take only the features they want and turn the others off, and the LMS company takes on more of the operational responsibilities. This results in pricing plans that more closely match what each customer actually needs and can afford.
  3. Instructional designers are getting better at designing effective learning programs in spite of any LMS or SCORM limitations. Increasingly, designers do not have to rely just on the features and tools that come with the LMS. For example, for those who want a more robust testing environment, there are now better tools they can use that are compatible with many LMSs and SCORM.
  4. LMSs are starting to get into the informal side of learning. The impetus for this comes from two main sources. First, LMS customers are getting smarter about what LMSs can and can’t do, and are more articulate in what they want from next-generation products. Customer-driven enhancements can be far more impactful than vendor-driven enhancements. Second, and even more important, is the rise of xAPI, which gives LMSs that adopt it the capability to engage workers in the context of job performance and track other forms of learning that are not courses. This can be a game-changer. Another specification that is soon to be released is cmi5. Working on top of xAPI, the new cmi5 standard is designed to support course packaging, installation, tracking, and LMS interoperability into the future.

A colleague of mine sometimes refers to working with an LMS as an “LM-mess.” But it doesn’t have to be. An LMS is not the center of the training universe. It is not a strategy or the answer to a poor-performing learning program. It’s a tool, plain and simple. Now, what are we going to do with it?

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

7 Tips for Conducting SME Interviews

As the summer draws to a close, I’m coaching my daughter on language comprehension skills. She does great on the topics that interest her, but when it comes to the dry, scientific topics, she is not interested and gets lower scores.

I tell her: “If you want to do well on this test, don’t switch off—open your mind to learning new things.”

Of course, we all need to do the same with our own work, especially when gathering information from SMEs to create targeted, customized learning solutions. There are times when your topic is pretty dry or basic. There are also times when you may be embarrassed to ask an obvious question.

Overcoming Those Mean Old Lack- of-Curiosity Blues

These situations may result in the lack-of-curiosity blues, when you are less curious and less likely to ask questions.

To overcome your lack of keen interest, take a “step back” and look at the topic from all angles. Boundless curiosity is one of the top skills every interviewer needs.

Before you start an interview, keep these tips in mind:

  • Even though you have done your homework, adopt a “know nothing” attitude so you remain open-minded.
  • Adopt a child-like curiosity to open your mind to new knowledge, ideas, and different perspectives.
  • Remember everyone has his or her own perspective on a topic, so don’t pay attention to the “right” answers and ignore the ones you think are “wrong.”

During the interview:

  • Ask open-ended, non-judgmental questions to give the SME a chance to explain in depth.
  • Keep asking, “What else?” to cover all angles and get to the core of the topic.
  • Take notes to listen actively and be engaged in the interview.
  • Use “The Five Whys” methodology, developed by Toyota, to get to the root of a problem. With this method, you ask “why?” no fewer than five times. The answer to each question then forms the basis of the next question.

Boundless curiosity will help you get all the information you need to meet the goals of your interview. When you overcome the “lack of curiosity” blues, you can establish rapport with your sponsors and SMEs—they are more likely to share deep, detailed and valuable nuggets with a passionate interviewer than with someone who is just doing their job.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

How HR Technology Can Boost Learning

When human resources software started to emerge, it was created simply to capture who was in the organization, when they joined, the role they played and how much they needed to get paid.

In essence, the software automated historically paper-based processes. The paper produced from such processes were placed in employees’ files and kept in drawers. Retrieving and looking at the contents of a file often felt as if it took an act of God or the removal of a sword from a stone.

Other information, like performance history, learning history and personality assessments were added, making the insight into an individual more valuable, as well as potentially more misleading. Incomplete information with imperfect data without much context often led to misinterpretation.

Even so, organizations are still compiling data on people without a clear approach to what they want and why they want it.

Right now, I will focus on a trend that’s very positive, exciting and that will certainly endure. Why? Because it’s focused on the employee’s self interest as well as that of the organization — something that has been grossly missing in the history of HR software.

HR software has been built in most cases to benefit the organization. After all, they’re the one purchasing it and using it to their advantage. Software is needed to make money or reduce costs by elevating productivity, quality, customer satisfaction or some other measurable benefit. While this still holds true, what’s now emerging also has a real and lasting benefit to the employee.

What I’m referring to is how software providers are now creating, publishing and recording learning activity over time. Historically, in-person training and online training required a lot of time. Content retention was frequently low, if not very low, and the immediate application by the employee in their day-to-day job even lower.

This has changed radically. It’s changed because millennials demand it, leading software providers provide the platform for it, and leaders understand the benefits.

What’s new is that information is now being sewn together into short video segments, with most under five minutes. The body of content is searchable. Employees can choose the learning modules that’ll help them do what they’re being asked to do.

They can also choose modules that will help them develop in ways they feel appropriate. In most cases, there is little incremental cost to the organization for the employees’ proactivity.

Employees can grow according to their own goals and ambitions, and on a timeline that suits them. This also provides a platform for ongoing tracking, which then provides a searchable database of what people within an organization have learned.

As important as anything, much of the learning happens in real time. The lessons are learned when they’re needed. It’s analogous to searching for a YouTube video to find out how to use your GoPro Camera or to tie a necktie.

Who has time to read a physical manual or even a website when a short video is faster and more visually appealing? This is what people have grown used to.

These videos can also be used by supervisors to help facilitate the development of direct reports. Hiring managers and recruiters, too, can search internally for staff with appropriate skills and behaviors — or at least those developing on a certain path.

Now a few points of caution, some you’ve likely already thought about: Who creates the content? Should it be done internally, externally or both? Is there such thing as too much content and choice? Shouldn’t employees be focused on their work as opposed to watching videos? What about performance measures when ascertaining who’s fit for a certain role?

A host of other questions could arise. Even so, the essence of the trend and its staying power is certain. It’s how curriculum is now being organized and supported from grade school through college. The employees of tomorrow, like the young professionals of today, will likely use this mode of learning.

Will there still be room for books, longer-term focus and collaborative projects? Absolutely. This doesn’t diminish the fact that the appetite for this mode of learning needs to be fed by employers, as it has now long been fed by the academic institutions that supply the talent.

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