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Please welcome Kris Dunn as the newest member of the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. By day, Kris is an HR practitioner, currently VP of People at DAXKO, a progressive software firm dedicated to providing solutions to the best membership-driven organizations in America. At night, he morphs into a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger… but also a dad and hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Full Bio…
I’ve said it a million times, so I’ll say it again. Complexity is the enemy of actually getting people to use things.
Look around and you’ll see that it’s true. To chase the claim of having the best widget, companies over-engineer products as a standard business practice. Whether you’re talking about your life as a consumer or a HR pro, you’ve been impacted by an over-engineered solution.
First, let’s talk consumer products, and we’ll get to talent management later. You don’t need a HD video camera with 30 features and a 400-page user manual, you need a point and click camera that delivers good enough quality to share with others via the web. You’re not going to edit the 15 hours of high-end HD footage you have now, so why would you want more?
The Good Enough Ideology
Enter the Flip video camera. A snippet from a 2009 Wired article will get you warmed up to the concept of a “good enough” solutions:
“”The Flip’s [Flip Mino, small pocket video camera, which is how we tape FOTv over at Fistful of Talent] success stunned the industry, but it shouldn’t have. It’s just the latest triumph of what might be called Good Enough tech. Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere. We get our breaking news from blogs, we make spotty long-distance calls on Skype, we watch video on small computer screens rather than TVs, and more and more of us are carrying around dinky, low-power netbook computers that are just good enough to meet our surfing and emailing needs. The low end has never been riding higher.
So what happened? Well, in short, technology happened. The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as “high-quality.”
So what about your life as an HR pro? Are you using products that are hopelessly complex? Are the talent processes that you’ve developed to define your HR practice so complex that they actually discourage line managers and your employee population both from using them?
My guess is yes. Enter Mark Effron and Miriam Ort.
Simplifying Talent Management
Effron and Ort recently published a book, “One Page Talent Management” (OPTM). I recently picked up a copy, and I couldn’t help but think of The Flip and the concept of “good enough” as I read OPTM.
In the book, Effron and Ort (accomplished Talent Management Pros with strong careers) argue that many companies add complexity to their talent practices without evaluating whether those components add any value to the overall process. More importantly, they rightfully point out that the added complexity adds headache-inducing time-wasters to core talent items like Performance Management, which turn managers off to the whole process and fail to improve results.
When Effron and Ort say “one page talent management”, they’re dead serious – and committed. They’re proposing you strip down your current practices to contain only the elements that truly add value. The good news is that they’ve taken a very scientific approach, basing every process recommendation on loads of proven scientific research that’s openly cited in the back of the book.
As a result, it’s clear they’re not guessing or just throwing opinions around. They know more than most people about areas like Performance Management, 360-Degree Feedback, Talent Reviews and Succession Planning, Engagement and Competencies. That’s what they do. What makes OPTM so different is that even though they have all that knowledge, they’ve opted to dramatically simplify the approach to each of the cited areas of Talent Management. Most experts with the same knowledge would chose to add features.
Instead, they’re seeking to build the Flip video of Talent Management. It’s just crazy enough to work.
If we stick with Performance Management as our target for simplification, Effron and Ort run through the research and recommend the following:
- No more than three goals total per employee.
- One page total for the whole system.
- No stretch goals.
- No goal weighting.
- No self assessments.
- No labels or numerical weightings.
Many of you look at that list and ask, “What’s left?” Great question. What’s left is a one page format with three goals, a couple of behaviors you want the employee to focus on, the metric each is to be measured by and space to list the results. That’s it. No more.
One Page Talent Management is a great read, and Effron and Ort’s work should be on everyone’s reading list. It’s rare that experts in the field attempt to downsell you on what you really need. And when you hear an expert attempting to downsell you – whether it’s your local auto mechanic, the kid at Best Buy or a Talent Management expert – you probably need to listen closely.
Once you move through OPTM, the only remaining question is the toughest issue you’ll face – are you brave enough to strip down your current practices (which you probably built) and tell your company they need less, not more?
Good luck with that.
Working Yourself Out of a Job vs Being Worked Out of One
My good friend Jeff Hunter occasionally writes parables at Talentism. Jeff, if you don’t know him, is one of the great practitioners in our little corner of the world. Currently responsible for recruiting, analytics, operations and technology in HR at Dolby, Jeff is one of the few folks in the business who have played all of the positions. From technology entrepreneur to Recruiting czar, Hunter offers one of the deepest sets of perspectives of anyone in the game.
Recently, Jeff read Putting HR Out of Business in these very pages.
His response, worth considering for its wonderful tribute to the people of HR who deliver excellence, compares the HR profession to automotive mechanics. He tells the story of his mechanic Steve. Jeff has a complex relationship with the mechanic who knows the intricacies of automobiles in ways that are hard to imagine.
Jeff points out that the jargon and affectations of a profession are important markers for specialized knowledge. He notes drivers do one set of things whle mechanics do another. He wonders whether or not the ‘experts’ have created a big mess by focusing on the broken-ness of things.
Using drivers and mechanics as a proxy for line supervisors and HR folks, he asks:
“What if being a good driver doesn’t mean what I think it does? What if the experts have just created a big mess because they are so focused on how broken mechanics are that they don’t ever really ask what “being a good driver” means. What if a good driver is someone who focuses on core driving mechanics, handles stressful situations well and achieves their goal of delivering passengers safely to their destinations? My gosh, what if the experts, in their kind-hearted efforts to get me to be good at just about everything associated with cars, are actually making me a worse driver? What if there are people who have a real talent for fixing and building and designing cars, just like I have a real talent for driving them? Wouldn’t it be better to find people who are the best at all of those things, so I could focus on being a better driver?”
This is one of those fantastic cases where multiple points of view are accurate and important.
I remember when there was a mechanic on every street corner. In those days, they did all sorts of things. Pumping gas, changing tires, fixing flats, overhauling engines, calming children and smoking cigarettes. It always seemed to me that mechanics smoked a lot of cigarettes. You could almost always buy a pack (particularly if you were under 12) from one of the guys at the gas station. Thinking back on it, I’m surprised that more mechanics didn’t die from cigarette ashes falling into gas tanks.
In those days, cars didn’t work very well. There was an unspoken conspiracy between the replacement parts brokers (the mechanics) and the automotive companies. Gobs and gobs of money was made because the entire system was broken.
Today, that type of mechanic is long gone. Factory mechanics are now the norm. You take your car to one of those places (either a dealer or a specialty shop). The specialists specialize because the tools required to do the job are so horribly expensive.
My car, a teensy little convertible, has a special spare tire that is deflated and comes with its own pump. Once you use the spare, it has to be reinstalled with a special piece of equipment. The same is true with brand specific computer testing and so on.
The old mechanics (who sound a lot like Jeff’s do-it-all kind of fellow) are lost with buggies and buggy whips. Outsourcing, at a consumer level has taken their place. The various functions, once performed at the gas station are now performed by people in clean uniforms who do repeated procedures.
Where did all of the mechanics go? They didn’t work themselves out of a job, they were disintermediated. That is, some of their work was automated; some of it evaporated (car quality kept getting better); some went to outsourcing, some was reabsorbed by the automobile companies in their quest for revenue.
The same thing has happened in medicine. All complex repeatable functions are performed by specialty units. The trend seems to be “if it’s repeatable, outsource it.”
It makes sense to have specialists do what specialists do, just as Jeff suggests. In fact, that’s one of the best ways to work yourself out of a job in HR. Find smart specialists who do the task routinely for other customers. Hire them.
From here, that looks like a view of HR as gateway. That’s certainly one of the important models for the future of HR. HR could become the place you turn to for excellence across the board, the keeper of the contracts. It’s small and hypereffective.
Another future looks like the gas station future. Take a good close look at the next gas station you visit, remebering all the while that this used to be the pivot point in the automobile service and parts supply chain. Today, the $100/hr mechanic (like Jeff’s mechanic, Steve) has been replaced by a $15/hr Twinkie and chips salesperson. You can still get the cigarettes.
Still another future moves HR into powerful, analytics driven value delivering gatekeeper role.
The point of working yourself out of a job is not to belittle the extraordinary work done by excellent mechanics. Rather it is to face up to the reality that the march of progress against inefficiency is relentless. All the happy customers in the world go away when a better car arrives.
On a final note, mechanics and drivers exist within an overall system. Their roles are shaped more by the system than by the details of their expertise. Neither side has to do anything for the roles to change. Progress takes care of that. Working oneself out of a job is the way that you become a part of the steam roller and not a part of the road.
Recruiting is hard work. Typically, the recruiting professional is given requirements without adequate time or preparation. She is then expected to deliver a seamless and enthusiastic presentation to a series of prospects with the goal that each of them hopes they get the job. The mindset shift from reactive participant in internal goings-on to smooth salesperson is the most obvious emotional challenge of the job.
Working from ill defined job descriptions in areas beyond her expertise, the recruiter is expected to simultaneously wear generalist and specialist hats. Often armed with no more than a set of loosely defined questions and just enough time to get a cup of coffee, she wades through a sea of faces trying to keep notes on the differences between the choices. While the hiring managers who use her services a periodic entrants into the game, she faces an onslaught of identical problems from the managers she serves.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the rest of the company (at least the parts that produce real revenue) went through a massive house cleaning process that redesigned processes and focused on the measurement of quality. The Recruiter, sadly, is usually mired in the business mindset of the 1950s. Firefighting is the norm and the consistent lack of planning creates massive amounts of rework. Maintaining a positive keel in this primitive environment requires a deep personal commitment. Since Recruiting is a dead-end career path, there is no way to tag aspirations to rewards inside the company. This drives the perception that external competitors, who are usually compensated for performance, are somehow a bunch of thieves and bandits.
While the external players work in the same sad pile of reactive pressure, compensation solves some of the embedded morale problem.
We believe that there is hope on the horizon. Increasingly, CEOs are being queried about the management of critical teams, their development and their relationship to the overall performance of the company. We’ve seen large company executives taken to task in shareholder meetings for the methods they’ve used to reduce headcount. Most of the current offerings in our industry, however, don’t seem to support either team development or the real tasks of the working recruiter.
Recruiters need timely information that helps them make better decisions in situations of high pressure and mission criticality. This doesn’t exclude the automation of routine administrative tasks, that’s a start. The decision support required to make precious hiring decisions, however, is all but absent from the current playing field.
Who is this person? How well do they get along with others? How do they respond under stress? Are they passion players or just looking for a job? What is the day to day work environment going to be like?
Imagine being put on the spot, over and over again and then ask yourself what information you’d want to have at your hands. Most of the tools in use today don’t even have the means to store and present the stuff, let alone gather collect and analyze it. Recruiters, more than most professionals need rapid access to the knowledge of the organization and a means to have it at their fingertips.
Great recruiters know the personalities, needs and desires of their hiring managers. Have you ever seen a recruiting system that provided a framework for managing and understanding this insight? Somehow, hiring managers, from the systems perspective, are not as important as customers are in a CRM system even though they drive the entire process….Lots of tools to manage applicant data and no structure for managing hiring authorities. What aren’t there simple assessment tools that a recruiter can use to create the match that matters…between boss and new employee?
Part of the problem is that few of the developers and executives in our industry have any meaningful experience as Recruiters. We’d love to hear stories of CEOs who spend time in Recruiting desks so that they can constantly improve their grasp of the hard work involved in recruiting.