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Pretty much every HR professional I know has read, and likely has on a target with a dozen darts in it, the infamous Fast Company magazine issue with the cover story, Why We Hate HR. Published five years ago, the cover image alone is still vividly burned into my head. Pink skin tone cartoon gal with black hair and a red dress, angry as can be and holding an innocent little rabbit upside-down by one leg… hazy, bluish backdrop… I just can’t forget it.
Fast forward five years after the article was written… John Sumser revisited the issue a few weeks back. And me? I’m still angry about the original piece although I’m no longer stewing over it. My mantra has become to forget about the haters and to do a better job of promoting the good in HR – through the execution of my own work, and through my blogging and public speaking. Do good, then promote it. And certainly there will continue to be a lot of mediocrity within HR, there may always be, but rather than get frustrated by it, I have also become more selective about my HR roles and deliberate in surrounding myself with high caliber HR colleagues.
Five years later for the author of the article? He actually took a look back at what he wrote recently. In revisiting the issue, he writes –
“The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?”
Now I’m not one to deny that there are reasons to hate HR – there are reasons why even I hate HR and HR pros. That original article struck a nerve with me and many others because there was so much that was true. (And isn’t the truth so very ugly?) But when you dig deeper and get at the root of the problem, it’s actually an issue of how serious an organization’s leadership is about their people. Brilliant.
So just how do you know if a company takes the people side of their organizations seriously? And how do you know if they treat their HR function seriously?
When I think back to being on the market as an HR pro a few years back, I deliberately set out to find not only a good role for me career wise, but a team and organization that took the people side of their organization seriously. It’s no wonder that I ended up at a professional services firm where the focus of course is strongly on its people. I only got to know this however by endlessly asking questions in my interviews – which in some ways, might be a good roadmap for HR pros feeling their way into an organization that truly gets it. So what to ask?
- How is the HR team perceived? What makes them credible?
- Tell me about the HR and recruiting budget.
- Tell me about the HR team and its size. Who does the chief HR person report to?
- What’s the background of the head of HR for the organization?
- Tell me about the relationships the HR team has with managers. Line staff? The leadership team.
And then of course part of the equation was who was involved in the hiring process for a new HR team members. In order to pass muster and get hired into the role I have today, I had to meet with four senior executives outside of the HR team who now are my internal clients. I needed their buy in because the HR function in my organization is that vital.
You can learn a lot by asking a lot of questions. And great HR pros can take a stand by being choosier about where they go and who they surround themselves by. Bad HR and organizations who don’t take HR seriously will always exist – but you don’t have to make the situation worse by settling for an organization like that. The execution of great HR is what makes all the difference – so why not find a place where you can do just that?
Four years into the process, Yves Lemursi is a smooth spokesman for his gift to reference checking, Checkster. After graduating from Taleo (where he was on the ground floor and built much of their research business), Lemursi starting fermenting the idea that was to become Checkster. After 18 months in product development and 30 months of trench level selling , it looks like Yves just might have changed the way that things get done.
Mill Valley, CA, where Yves houses Checkster’s Global Headquarters is an interesting place. Home to aging rock stars, famous writers and middle aged trust fund babies, the town has been a an artist’s colony for many years. It’s often the case that a newly minted rock star will buy a house in Mill Valley as a platform from which to build a second hit album. That’s why the streets of town are full of one hit wonders.
One hit wonders are those hi-pos with an astonishing initial track record who fail to live up to their supposed potential. It’s the norm. The number of musicians who create real legacies are few and far between Talent gets you a paying gig. The big time involves talent, luck and a sense of timing. Predicating the next big hit has it’s safest bet in the one hit wonders. There’s always a record company that will bet on lightning striking twice.
That’s the basic theory of reference checking – if they did well in their last job, they’ll do well in the next one. If they had one hit, they’re most likely good for another. Our fundamental understanding of the relationship between a person and a job is so primitive that that’s the best we can do.
It’s possible, I suppose, to do a thorough enough background check to minimize the risk of hiring someone. Until the advent of Checkster, it just seemed too hard. Generally, people don’t want to ‘rat out’ their friends; there is a ton of misinformation about the legal consequences of a frank reference; it’s generally scary; it takes a ton of time; the results are good for screening people out but less impressive for screening them in.
Certainly you don’t want a pedophile running the local day care center. Convicted embezzlers make bad CFOs. Really cranky political extremists probably don’t belong in liaison jobs. Sociopaths shouldn’t be CEOs (well, maybe not so much on that one).
Unfortunately, raw criminal checks don’t turn up everything you’d like to know. Somewhere, between the bet that history repeats itself and the fact that birds of a feather flock together lies the information you need for hiring decisions. Checkster mines the information by appealing to crowdsourcing as a basic model of intelligence.
Checkster radically reduces the cost of reference checking while dramatically improving its effectiveness. Rather than spending a perfunctory 90 minutes chasing down dead ends, the recruiter asks the prospective employee to invite a dozen or so people to give brief Checkster references. The results are collected, annotated and delivered in a substantive, easy to understand report.
From awful, time consuming chore to easy to execute value added service is an extreme transformation. As an added bonus, the references become part of your passive candidate pipeline. (That’s what the big league search firms do).
Checkster merits your attention. Crowdsourced reference checking will be the way that things get done four or five years from now. Easier, faster better, cheaper, smarter.
Top 100 Influencers in HR v1.66: Kevin Martin
We’re taking a deep look at the world of the industry analyst. Straddling, as they do, the gap between vendors and practitioners, these pathfinders are always at risk of being perceived as biased. Much of the rhetoric you see and hear about the various analysts is designed to counteract the perception of bias.
Industry analysts occupy a unique position of trust. They work closely with vendors in order to establish opinions and insight about the companies and their offerings. Rather than deploy a full time team to wade through everything in the technology arena, most companies outsource their research (whether or not they think of it this way) to Industry Analysts. Analysts parse information about features, functionality, trends and products that would overwhelm an individual HR practitioner.
Over the year or so that we’ve been looking at influence, we’ve covered 9 people who fall into the analyst group. Wielding disproportionate influence, this eclectic group drives the HR Industry from a financial perspective. The right word from the right analyst can seed acres of contracts. At the same time, some very high profile awards (like the HR Tech shootouts) generate a good deal of smoke and very little fire.
Before we’re done with the project, about 20% of the top 100 will be analysts.
One could be forgiven for thinking that these players are really at the heart of industry influence. With real decision making input in the affairs of thousands of vendors and practitioners, industry analysts shape the trends, technologies and innovations that populate HR Departments. Here are the analysts we’ve covered so far.
- Josh Bersin‘s organization delivers massive volumes of research to its 500 subscribing companies.
- Gartner, by far the best known industry analyst firm, serves the HR Departments about 400 companies in the group led by Jim Holincheck.
- Brian Hackett runs one of the dozens of micro-firms offering insight through peer to peer collaboration, solving the same problem.
- Steve Boese, one of the emerging class of new media rooted analysts, does his work in the courses he teaches.
- Bruce Steinberg roots his industry analysis in labor market trends.
- Wes Wu, currently employed by Knowledge Infusion, is the longest running observer of technology trends at enterprise scale.
- Bill Kutik is one of the leading analysts of HR Technology and the father of the HR Tech show.
- Elaine Orler, founder of Talent Function, integrates technology analysis into her practice in a singularly hands-on way.
- The reigning queen of the HR Technology analysts is Naomi Bloom whose fingerprints are all over the structure of enterprise offerings.
That’s an awfully long introduction to Kevin Martin. Martin runs a group of Aberdeen’s practices that focus on customer and employee-centric research. He is the principal analyst in Aberdeen’s HCM practice.
Analyst firms have a variety of operating models. They all take funding from both sides of the aisle, so to speak. Many of them bill users and claim to have little or no revenue from vendors. The truth or falsity of this claim merits close inspection.
It is really common to find analysts speaking at vendor conferences. Even if no money is exchanged, the value of the exposure is enormous. The cozy relationships between vendors and analysts bears your attention.
When Martin arrived at Aberdeen, the firm was more or less known as a ‘pay for play’ operation. That is to say that Aberdeen had the reputation for being a place where you could purchase a positive review. Though there is some reason to see this as the pots calling the kettle black, the reputation is long lived.
That was the first question I asked Martin in our interview. He was quick to thank me for getting the tough question out of the way. “That reputation”, he said, “forces us to be ridiculously scrupulous. Everything we publish is based on hard data.. We poll our group of 450 HR leaders every month and spend our energy understanding what they do.”
According to Martin, “HCM is the science of linking human performance to business performance.” He says, “there is a huge disconnect between HR and the rest of the organization. A well run HCM approach can close that gap and give the enterprise a massive competitive edge.” We joked that he should be writing ad copy for Success Factors as they single handedly revise the industry’s self-concept.
Martin measures Aberdeen’s success. The most important piece is end user satisfaction. Martin wants his research to be read and understood (unlike some of the other firms whose data is a way of building a consulting business). Since the research is financed by vendors, he wants to be sure that they are recognized while making it clear that they can not influence the outcome. “We offer branding opportunities, not influence.”
We discussed the future of HR. Martin sees a rapidly growing trend to move Talent Management out of HR and into the rest of the organization. “If you ask the folks in HR ‘who is the most important part of the TM function’, they’ll all say ‘HR’. Everyone else in the organization says ‘it’s the CEO.”
Managing an employee’s experience from cradle to grave is the next major trend Martin sees. “Recruiting may stop but talent acquisition never does.” He imagines a world in which all of HR is CRM-centric. “It’s the relationships over time that energize the workforce.”
Finally, Martin sees agility as the dominant buzzword in the next generation of HR. “HR that works enables the firm to turn on a dime. That is what emerges when you get the data fully integrated and kick the foot draggers out of the process.”
The analysts worlds are cyclical. One year, one of them is the most influential, the next, it’s someone else. Kevin Martin’s star is shining currently because he’s had to work off a tough reputation. Expect to see his fingerprints in a lot of places.
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In The Know v 1.23: Stuff You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know Edition
A quick look at five important links.
This report from Razorfish describes the media ecosystem and the role of content in the system. It’s worth reading for several reasons. If you’re building web content as a publisher, employment website owner or vendor, the Nimble Report is a good guide for thinking about next generation content. The report itself is a delicious example of what can be done with web content. And, if you’ve been paying attention to the street action (blogging, social media and so on), it’s a good way to catch up on the continuing evolution of delivery systems and tools.
- The Wrong Stuff: On Air and Error
An interview with Ira Glass from NPR. The pull quote;
“at the Onion. Every Monday they have to come up with like 17 or 18 headlines, and to do that, they generate 600 headlines per week. I feel like that’s why it’s good: because they are willing to be wrong 583 times to be right 17.”
Ira talks about the importance of being wrong as a key to learning and innovation.
- The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is
This New York Times piece (long but worth the investment) looks at the work of David Dunning, a Cornell professor who wrestles with the problems of accurately seeing yourself and/or others. His insight? People have a hard time seeing some things and, if they can’t see it, you probably can’t tell them about it. Here’s one takeaway:
“People will often make the case, “We can’t be that stupid, or we would have been evolutionarily wiped out as a species a long time ago.” I don’t agree. I find myself saying, “Well, no. Gee, all you need to do is be far enough along to be able to get three square meals or to solve the calorie problem long enough so that you can reproduce. And then, that’s it. You don’t need a lot of smarts. You don’t have to do tensor calculus. You don’t have to do quantum physics to be able to survive to the point where you can reproduce.” One could argue that evolution suggests we’re not idiots, but I would say, “Well, no. Evolution just makes sure we’re not blithering idiots. But, we could be idiots in a lot of different ways and still make it through the day.””
- Google Voice: Your Guide to Getting Started
Google Voice is now available to everyone. The service gives you a single phone number that rings on all your phones, sends you text messages with transcripts of your voice mail. It’s worth getting and this guide will hurry you up the adoption curve.
- What is Data Science?
We’re at the front end of a data tsunami that will grow exponentially in the coming decades. Data Science is the process of absorbing all of that data and converting it into intelligence. Each of us will be come data scientists and this is a good introductory article.
Bruce Steinberg is my favorite analyst of employment numbers and data. Here’s his current view of economic conditions:
Recently a staffing company executive asked us to predict the change in GDP (gross domestic product, which is an accepted proxy for the entire economy) for the next few years. Well, trying to predict the strength of the overall economy can be a fool’s errand since so many variables are involved. And since many of those variables (just one being the overhang in the housing market and how well the banks and the federal budget can handle it) are in uncharted territory, making a prediction out to 2013, or even 2012, is really only a guessing game. Further, it’s very difficult, no matter what anyone says, to separate aspirations from expectations.
With that said, it would be safe to say that 2010 will likely see GDP growth something in the lower-mid 3 range, say around 3.2. Although the recession is likely over, it remains that if the 5.6 percent growth seen in Q409 is the best we’ll see for the ‘traditional’ rapid GDP growth after a recession is over. And there is a growing view that with such weak economic growth, we could easily slip back into a recession. There are too many unknowns out there and not a lot of confidence in Washington about having the ability to know what the right thing to do is. Without sounding redundant, we don’t think anyone really knows what the right thing is at this time since this economic cycle is fundamentally different.
So the question remains — will the following years will be stronger or weaker than 2010? Certainly a significant portion of growth in the second half of 2009 and thus far in 2010 is by ‘artificial means,’ meaning government programs (credits for first-time home buyers, the cash-for-clunkers programs, etc.) with limited time frames. And who knows what else Washington will bring to the table if the most recent growth proves not to be self-sustaining and ‘organic.’ More importantly, the longer term ramifications of what they have done and any new programs they come up with in the future is a big unknown. Obviously, future growth has three options — about the same, lower than 2010 or higher than 2010.
Quite frankly, we think the expected pent-up demand and associated inventory build-up may fail to materialize and create any great movement of the needle for both sociological as well as financial reasons.
First, people may have learned to do without, similar to my parent’s generation who grew up in the Depression. (It should be pointed out that was indeed a different time since it was fairly soon after the first World War nor did it follow 50 years of relatively stable economic prosperity.) Although consumer spending recently stalled, it generally has picked up again, and if one subscribes to the notion that the economic cycle’s trough was last summer, that means we are already a year into the recovery. Some — it remains to be seen how much — of that pent-up demand may already have been met.
We tend to think that the employment economy has a long way to go before it ends up back at the point that this whole mess began. Therefore, the immediate future, 2011, will likely see either the same or slightly less growth for GDP. As for 2012, it depends how well and fast the employment economy recovers … with many of the jobs lost from the recession not coming back. Because of the fundamental, structural changes in the overall economy, it takes time to retrain workers for jobs in the ‘new’ economy. Certainly, some parts of the economy — and associated job growth — are doing fine now and will continue while others will languish and perhaps wither away. We depart from the consensus here and think 2012 could be better than 2011, especially if 2011 growth is relatively weak. And let’s not forget that 2012 is an election year — the economy is not independent of politics — and there may be a new president in January 2013. And, of course, in today’s interconnected global economy, the health of the world’s other economies also affect our own GDP.
One of the challenges of predicting the future is that something could come along to completely upset the trend. So, for example, just before the turn of the century as people were moving into urban areas and before the automobile, government statisticians empirically predicted — based on the rate of growth — that the cities would literally be buried in horse manure since the dominant form of transportation was via equine. But then the automobile came along and changed that trend line completely. There’s a joke somewhere in that pile of horse manure and government predictions, but we’ll leave it to you to dig it out for yourself.
What is behind the IT-staffing acquisition binge?
Another staffing executive asked us our thoughts regarding what could be behind the recent increase in IT-staffing acquisition activity. Beyond values being down since business has been down, the “big fellas” see an opportunity to buy market share in a sector they obviously like on a go-forward basis. We all realize that IT is a sector where job growth is occurring and is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. Acquisitions are simply a reflection of the confidence in this niche — and it bodes well for the future since that confidence is being expressed by the leaders in the employment services industry. A lot has been said how the jobs that were lost during this recession won’t be coming back — but new, different jobs are being created and IT jobs are certainly part of the new generation of jobs for the future.
A very experienced staffing executive agreed with us and added he “suspect[s] since companies see huge cost savings and information gains from ERP, the sector is flying. Our company is constrained by lack of contractors, not orders. Second, the move to Social networking is driving marketing like crazy so there is huge activity there.”
It’s amazing how simplistically things can be described when they are devoid of operational experience and limited to the perspective of recruiting. I’ve come across a view of the Human Capital Marketplace that describes the “Talent Lifecycle” as Attract-Recruit-Hire-Retain. It’s as if candidates didn’t exist in advance of requirements and didn’t have a variety of roles and relationships after hiring occurs. It’s as if downsizing, layoffs and the end of a business weren’t perfectly predictable parts of an employment relationship. It’s as if the only thing that matters was the tiny details of the Recruiting process.
Much of the real value extracted from Human Capital comes from the internal machinations involved in assignment, reassignment, utilization, assessment and development. While Recruiting is an extraordinary gateway function, its utility as a key component of strategy is variable: stronger in up times, weaker in down times. When cost savings is the issue, Recruiting is not the answer.
Any fully featured, business cycle responsive Human Capital Management system must have cost savings and personnel optimization strategies embedded in the product.
Ask most Recruiting professionals what the complement of Recruiting is and they’ll mumble something about outplacement. Internal and external alike, Recruiters sort of wash their hands the moment a new hire has begun to be absorbed by the organization. (There’s some interesting research on the impact of newcomers on culture which might shed light on expanded downstream roles for Recruiters.)
I’ve asked a variety of industry leaders what they think the result of Recruitment Automation will be. I ask in a variety of ways, but the gist of the question is “If new systems reduce the drudge work of the recruiter, how will that newfound time be filled?” The most common answer is that Recruiters will do more recruiting.
I’m beginning to realize that recruiting is in deep need of expanded variability. Rather than simply being a gateway between the outside world and the company, Recruiting skills can be usefully applied to the internal processes that actually make a company great. Shouldn’t every recruiter be held accountable for the transition of a new hire to successful integration? Why aren’t recruiters held accountable for the performance of the entire network of people that they hire? Why isn’t recruiting accountable for its impact on productivity?
These are the tough questions that follow the implementation of a real Recruiting system. The answers won’t be simple and formulaic. Rather, they’ll be culturally biased and context sensitive.