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Neil McCormick returns this week to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board from Australia. Neil has worked in human resources and consulting services for the past 16 years building a repertoire covering human resource management, recruitment consulting, management consulting, talent management, general management and learning and development. He currently serves as General Manager for Talent2, Asia-Pac’s largest HR consultancy. Full Bio
The Output’s Connected to the Outcome
In my last article What’s the
Objective, we discussed Workforce Strategy and the importance of rigor in assessing how human resource activity serves the objectives of the organization. We looked at programs that offer evidentiary process, repeatability, and defensibility for the review of human resource activity. We discussed human resource Standards and the framework of Input, Process, Output and Outcome.
Since then, I’ve had numerous questions about the differences between Output and Outcome. I’ve also had some interesting discussions how Output and Outcome disconnect, and how a lack of linkage is why some human resource initiatives stall or even fail. So, I have revisited Outputs and Outcome to explain how and why projects never reach their objective.
To recap, Outputs are the deliverables, goods and services used to achieve the Outcome, which are the intended results or consequences of those deliverables.
Human resource activity has a majority focus on Output instead of Outcome. To business leaders, indicators such as average performance ratings, course completions, head count increases, which measure the Outputs, don’t mean much in terms of improved bottom line results such as profitability or increased sales –the Outcome. While these Output measurements and reports are meaningful, they also need to be tied to the goals of both human resources and the organization as a whole.
Think of a typical talent management initiative.
Say an organization decides to implement an on-going training program to improve profit. The required Outcome was an increase in both new sales and repeat sales. To do this, the project team focused on a sales training program that included annual refresher courses. Every person involved in the sales process was included in the project initiative. The project team initially focused on deciding what the appropriate course was and then proceeded to draft a project plan to get everyone through the course in the most efficient and effective way.
When the program was first launched, there was a reasonable understanding of the importance of the training program. In typical fashion, the fanfare of the new initiative meant everyone had an idea of the importance of the overall program and project.
As the project rolled out, the emphasis was on completion and pass percentages –a trend that is quite prevalent. The assumption is that if the Output is achieved (pass percentages and completions) the Outcome (improved sales) will automatically follow. Unfortunately, without evidence conclusively showing a correlation between increased sales and the program, this is a false assumption. Because the focus becomes getting everyone through the courses and making sure everyone passes, the reporting quickly turns to Output reporting. The intended Outcome of increased profits is lost.
A significant point I’ve raised above is the fact that most senior leaders and line managers aren’t interested in reports of Outputs when they don’t see any links to the Outcome they are interested in. They don’t see a practical benefit.
What about the next 12 months though? How often, with projects and programs of this nature, do we see:
- The focus slips and becomes more about completion of the training? Possibly highlighting how the “score” has improved?
- How often the Objectives are truly linked to the performance criteria and measured in terms of Outcome?
- How long it take for the program to end up a Process (e.g. Percentage Completion), an activity trap; regarded by most as nothing more than a time consuming event that must be completed?
This is easier to see diagrammatically. If the x axis includes Input, Process, Output and Outcome and time as the y axis:
If there isn’t an on-going renewal of the link between Outcome and Output, then the program quickly slips into Output mode, where scores are everything. It then goes to process mode, where completion is the main driver. At this point, the project is well and truly in the activity trap of process for processes sake.
Further, an Outcome focused model elevates the need for potential benefits realization after the fact.
To be successful, it is critical that any program or project, from inception through design and implementation must be focused on Outcome. There also needs to be a continuing process to communicate that the activity is part of an overall objective and how their individual activity achieves the Outcome. This is ensures that plan does not defeat the purpose and that all activity is focused on Outcomes not Outputs!
Next time, I’ll explain the importance of evaluating Criticality.
In a world of writers and verbal intellects, Eileen Clegg is a visual thinker. She is a prototypical Renaissance person with broad interests and deep networks.
The seasoned newspaper reporter (10 years at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat) spent an additional chunk of her life working at the Institute for the Future. You may have run across her at a Future of Talent get together. Eileen is the one making the visuals, capturing the essence of a conversation in a picture. (Here’s an image she developed with old friend Hank Stringer).
Ideas are big things. The narrative form (written word) has some pretty serious limitations. Eileen makes the picture clearer, so to speak.
Interestingly, she has a range of her own notions that haven’t mapped onto a visual somewhere. With a pile of books under her belt, she’s at least as accomplished as an author as she is as a visual clarifier.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get to spend some time learning about one of her most powerful notions: Extremophiles. There are a class of organisms that inhabit the toughest parts of our planet…under the poles, in the salt desert, near or in volcanos, in the intertidal areas. Clegg uses these organisms as a metaphor for a range of people who inhabit the harshest parts of our organizations.
“Extremophiles are nature’s pioneers, organisms that not only survive but thrive in the harshest environments. Some live undersea in hot volcanic vents at temperatures above 200 degrees Fahrenheit, others in sub-zero Antarctic waters. There are Extremophiles in saline waters where other life forms shrivel, and those living in acid where all other organisms instantly break down. They are thought to be the oldest form of life on Earth. Yet the scientific inquiry is fairly recent. The term “extremophile” – literally, “lover of extremes” – is less than 30 years old.” From Extremophiles
“Extremophiles are simple organisms; they are single-celled or in a filament of identical cells in alignment. Although their structure does not immediately appear analogous to a corporation or a country, their brilliant survival mechanisms raise questions how certain individuals or groups might rise to the fore (or should be brought into the organization) in threatening times, and how leaders can promote an “extremophile response” within their companies to fend off threats and thrive where others may succumb.” From Extremophiles
The military, over its 10,000 year history has learned to cultivate just this sort of thing.
In order to function effectively, the military has two operational modes. In peacetime, decisions are made by consensus and politics is a well refined sport. In Wartime, decisions have to be made in a hurry by people who understand the implications and remain able to act. The military employs a group of people who are known as “Wartime Generals”. These people are terrible peacetime leaders and great at the job during a war. If you let them be in charge during peacetime, they’d destroy the place. Good wartime leadership and good peacetime administration are really different from each other.
Human Extremophiles are like that.
Clegg’s notion, that “certain individuals rise to the fore under threatening circumstances” points in a direction we rarely consider in the Recruiting and Talent Management arenas. The idea that our people are more than a list of skills and credentials, the notion that they may behave in unpredictably positive ways during stressful times, is simply not a part of our evaluation protocol.
Somehow, we’ve come to believe that a job is a set of requirements. We think that the person who does the job is a set of skills that match those requirements. That’s some kind of weird, don’t you think?
A couple pf years ago, I was talking with Josh Kahn about Best Buy, I asked him how things worked when there were cutbacks. Everyone has cutbacks. Because the Best Buy architecture depends on a relatively ad hoc network, I was sure that there would be drawbacks. I guessed that the network would break when key players moved around or left.
Kahn’s answer surprised me. He told me a story about a very key network contributor leaving (he took the buyout, Best Buy doesn’t really do traditional layoffs.) He wasn’t replaced. How did the network work get done? Kahn says that other people filled in and the complexion of the network changed just a little bit.
That’s the thing about people who are trusted and encouraged. They pick up the slack. It’s just like the hidden characteristics that Clegg thinks we can learn to tap.
Heather Bussing is a returning contributor to our HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Heather has practiced employment and business law for over 20 years. She has represented employers, unions and employees in every aspect of employment and labor law including contract negotiations, discrimination and wage hour issues. While the courtroom is a place she’s very familiar with, her preferred approach to employment law is to prevent problems through early intervention and good policies and agreements. Full bio…
Financial Elder Abuse Laws- Paving the Road to Hell
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As legitimate concerns for our aging population make their way into law, some of those laws could affect the way your company does business and the rules that apply to your older workers.
All 50 states have elder abuse laws. All started out to protect older people who are neglected or exploited by caregivers. Institutional or caregiver abuse requires showing that the victim had diminished capacity due to a physical or mental impairment and that the defendant intended the harm.
With the prevalence of financial scams against the elderly, many states have enlarged the definition of elder abuse to include “financial elder abuse.” This is generally when someone takes advantage of an older person’s vulnerability or dependent condition to deprive them of their assets. In some states, elder abuse laws apply to people 60 years or older; in others, it’s 65 or older. Both criminal and civil penalties can apply to all forms of elder abuse.
California has the broadest elder abuse laws of any state. In California, financial elder abuse laws apply to anyone 65 or older regardless of whether they have any diminished physical or mental capacity. Financial elder abuse is defined as: when any person or entity “takes, secrets, appropriates, obtains or retains real or personal property of an elder for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud.” It also includes “assisting” in the taking of any property of someone 65 or older. The definition of “wrongful use” is: if the person “knew or should have known that this conduct is likely to be harmful to the elder.” Cal. Welfare & Institutions Code §15610.30.
This language is so broad that is applies to virtually every business transaction with someone who is 65 years or older. In other words, if you give the wrong change at the cash register and the elder can prove he is 65 and you know how to give correct change, and you shorted him one dollar, you could be guilty of financial elder abuse.
In the employment relationship, broad financial elder abuse laws like California’s would apply to every payment of wages, employment decisions that would affect wages, seniority (no pun intended), bonuses, lay-off and recall determinations and, of course, termination. (Most benefit and union issues would be pre-empted by federal law.)
There is no required showing of discrimination based on age or even an actual intent to harm. There is no required showing that the employee could not make her own decisions or choices.
The ONLY requirements are: 1) that the person is an “elder;” 2) he has been deprived of something/anything; and 3) you “should have known” it was “likely” to cause “harm.”
The potential liability is huge. In addition to any actual economic damages, the elder is entitled to attorneys’ fees if he prevails. If the action is frivolous or the elder does not prevail, he is not required to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees. This is called a one-way fee statute.
Both Title VII and most state discrimination laws have one-way fee statutes that allow only the plaintiffs to recover fees if they prevail. Because discrimination is against public policy, the legislature has tried to make it easier for victims of discrimination to seek redress, when they might not otherwise be able to afford it (especially if they have been fired). But in any discrimination claim, the employee has to be able to prove that the employer intentionally discriminated based on the protected factor and that the discrimination caused the adverse employment action.
That is not the case with financial elder abuse. If a 65 year old can show that a $10 mistake was made in her paycheck, she can potentially recover thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees with absolutely no risk of paying the other side’s fees. This makes lawyers file lots of lawsuits. And the fee provision is what drives the litigation, not the merits of the claim or the behavior of either of the parties. It becomes all about the lawyers.
The language of the California financial elder abuse statute is so broad that it preempts basic contract law for agreements entered with elders. So if you have negotiated an attorneys’ fee clause in your contract with someone 65 or older, understand that it was probably just converted to a one-way clause benefitting only the elder because all they have to do is attach an financial elder abuse cause of action to their contract claim.
Further, under traditional contract law, the plaintiff is almost never permitted to recover punitive or exemplary damages, unless there is fraud. Damages for breach of contract are limited to either the party’s actual economic losses or the “benefit of the bargain” if they were deprived of an opportunity and can prove it probably would have panned out. Under the California law, if the plaintiff can show “by clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant was guilty of “recklessness, oppression, fraud or malice,” the plaintiff can also recover punitive damages. Cal. Welfare & Institutions Code §15657.5.
Usually, civil cases are decided under the standard of the “preponderance of the evidence” or more likely than not. Quantified, this means that the jury is 51% sure that the defendant did it. Criminal cases are decided under the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which no self-respecting attorney will quantify, but it means pretty damn sure. “Clear and convincing” is somewhere in between and is a higher standard.
But the kicker is the inclusion of “reckless.” Normally a plaintiff does not get punitive damages because someone was “reckless.” Reckless is a stupid mistake, maybe even a really stupid mistake. It is not intentional conduct that constitutes “malice, fraud or oppression,” which are the traditional standards for punitive damages.
And if that wasn’t scary enough, many state elder abuse laws incorporate the remedies for unfair business practice laws that allow for double or triple damages.
What to Do
Get familiar with your state’s laws concerning financial elder abuse. Here is a compilation of state laws with links to the current statute. (It is primarily focused on neglect and caregiver abuse rather than financial abuse so don’t stop there.)
Find out if your state is considering enacting broad financial elder abuse laws such as California’s. If so, you or your company may want to point out some of these problems.
Don’t decide to refuse to do business with older people because it’s too easy for them to sue you. That will get you an age discrimination or unfair business practice lawsuit, which is somewhat harder to prove, but is still an expensive pain in the backside. And it’s illegal.
If you are faced with a frivolous elder abuse claim, your company will need to carefully consider the costs and benefits of fighting it. Some companies may choose to settle early if they don’t have the resources to launch a full-scale defense because the risks are so high. It is too early to know what insurers will do because the laws are a blend of negligence, which is insured, and intentional conduct, which is not. Anticipate a fight with the insurers too if you have errors & omissions coverage or a policy that covers employment practices.
If your company does have the resources to challenge these laws, it will be a service to everyone to get these issues sorted out.
It is likely that these laws will eventually be scaled back because the language is so broad and vague and they are contrary to hundreds of years of tort and contract law. Also some elements may be unconstitutional based on equal protection principles, such as the one-way fee statute, which gives older people exemption from attorneys’ fees clauses.
But don’t hold your breath. Older people are a powerful political force and lawsuits take years to wind their way to a published appellate decision.
As technology began to penetrate the HR Marketplace, buzzwords became a feature of product marketing. As a result, the language is getting sketchier and meaning changes too fast for anyone to be able to agree on anything. New ideas rapidly devolve to the least common denominator.
This is the way that great ideas like “talent pool,” “talent community” and “talent pipeline” have become shorthand for the more apt “email list”. It’s how “intimate and authentic communication” evolves to “modified and personalized direct mail.”
Software companies, particularly the giants, resist new features. They are uncomfortable with innovation. They hate risk. They are really good at stability. This is what their customers want, from a budgetary and cost standpoint. Predictability is the enemy of the new.
New ideas enter the market faster than enterprise providers are able to react. Pretty soon, all of the users are asking for the new feature. (In large software accounts, the users are rarely the customers and the customers are rarely the users.) There are very few tools that are useful for managing the problem. Caught between users and buyers, the enterprise vendors use marketing to solve the problem.
Here’s how it works:
- Great new idea emerges (let’s call it Using Social Media for Recruiting)
- Recruiters hop on board. Recruiters are always the first to use new technologies.
- New companies emerge to utilize the new services, many are variants on older ways of doing things.
- The industry is awash in quiet rumblings about the lack of useful data. New technologies don’t have an ROI
- The buzz builds, conferences launch, support groups are formed.
- Bigger companies start to get threatened by the early traction smaller more agile companies find.
- Big companies start renaming existing functions after the new ideas. Mailing list management is a good one. It’s been called “talent management” and CRM
- All companies in the market can check off the fact that they have the new capability.
- The cynics survive and get promoted.
- Great new ideas emerge….
Sadly, there’s no one who is really watching the henhouse.
Recruiting is a market at the intersection of people and opportunity. People, the supply, and opportunity, the demand, are combined to make organizations more able to fulfill their potential. Recruiters sift, sort and select in order to meet the need of the groups they represent.
That sounds painfully obvious.
But, that’s where the big picture lives. A strategic perspective comes from considering things that are ridiculously apparent. Competitive advantage comes from finding a way to view the basics differently.
Basic Questions about the Labor Supply include
- How many people are there?
- How many of them work in the profession?
- How many of them live in the neighborhood?
- How old are they?
In order to fully grasp the responsibilities and consequences, you need a deep understanding of the supply and the demand factors for the labor market. In the end, all you need is enough data to navigate the confines of your niche. In the beginning, you have to learn the location of the ditch.
Population distribution means dividing the whole in various ways (age, gender, occupation, zipcode, kind of car and so on). An understanding of population distribution allows you to compare one place with another, one group of people across places and so on.
The most common map of population distribution is the “Population Pyramid”. This graph shows age and gender distribution for a country, region, city or planet. It gets its name from its basic shape. Here is a huge collection of examples of population pyramids.