HRExaminer v3.24 June 15, 2012
Table of Contents
HR and The Law
One of the things that HR has in common with the finance department is its involvement with the legal system. Some of the tension between HR and the rest of the organization can be explained by HR’s role in enforcement of and education about the law. Charged with risk mitigation in the areas of legal compliance and employment law, HR’s role includes things that seem pretty intrusive.
With the exception of the finance group (and safety, if it is separated from HR), no other department is tasked with legal enforcement. In the case of finance, the issues involve accounting and reporting. In HR, the legal stuff is all about interpersonal relationships.
HR is the arbiter of what’s okay and what’s not okay in the way that people deal with each other in and out of the organization. The folks from HR provide legal guidance (and sometimes discipline) in the areas of hiring, firing, advancement, mobility, compensation, safety and employee relations.
Government regulations intrude into many aspects of organizational life and employee relationships with each other and the company as a whole. While finance is the only other function that draws some of its authority from outside the organization, HR’s responsibilities can make it seem nagging, gossipy and invasive. The fact that HR can seem to operate outside of organizational control is at the heart of many of its difficulties.
HR can never have a ‘seat at the table’ is because its legal responsibilities prevent it from being a trusted member of the inner circle. Often perceived as the “political correctness police”, a significant part of HR’s job is to promulgate and educate. That means noticing when something is amiss and correcting it.
And who wants someone like that in the middle of a problem solving session?
Where the legal department is in a position to recommend alternatives, HR’s role is almost exclusively limited to enforcement. Legal interprets, HR executes. Though there are plenty of hyper-critical strategic issues for which HR could provide insight, the enforcement function trumps everything else. HR’s role as policeman is not something that can be separated from the rest of the game.
Much of the HR Department’s reliance on policy and procedure stems directly from its enforcement role. Without much in the way of internal authority, HR relies on documentation to buttress its position. Most of the hard work of HR involves showing managers and employees how to work together in the light of the law.
A significant part of HR’s role resembles the work of a paralegal. Void of the credentials that give lawyers ‘on the spot authority’, HR workers build credibility by positioning themselves as resident interpreters of the law. This part of the work is fundamentally about enforcement, legal interpretation and situational delivery of legal insight.
Part of the confusion about HR’s role and potential comes from the fact that these enforcement responsibilities are at odds with the rest of the HR charter. Personnel development, talent acquisition, incentive programs, benefits administration, counseling, employee assistance and organizational development tend to focus on the other, more important (to the company’s success) parts of human relationships.
At the heart, though, the enforcement role is the thing that limits the upside potential of the HR function.
When I first started job searching in DC, it wasn’t tough. I got my first job as an HR generalist for Arthur Andersen, and began learning HR from the ground up. Two years later, I got the itch to move on and began another job search. I applied to a well-known consulting firm in DC. They were high-growth, had just gone public, and lamented my lack of an Ivy League education.
I convinced them otherwise, but then heard the same story when I joined the company. I had come in at a level above one of my new peers who wondered how I’d wrangled that without that prestigious degree. By that time, I had a Masters under my belt too. But it wasn’t from a top-ranked school. It didn’t impress.
Fast forward fifteen years. I see a C-level job opening that I think a friend would be a good fit for. It’s been open for awhile, so I reach out to see if they are still looking. They are. So I forward the resume to the COO. Mind you–I have no stake in the game. I don’t do placement. I just try to pay it forward.
The reply? We’re not interested. She doesn’t have the “meaningful experience” in the industry we’re looking for. I pushed back. The candidate had deep experience in the field and had just led a company turnaround while managing multiple leadership roles. I email back pushing on their lack of interest. The response? “We just have high standards.”
The next week, I had the pleasure of listening to Ret. Colonel Donald Sutherland at a RecruitDC session focused on military hiring. He told the story of SPC Steven Cornford who found himself under fire after his commander, 1LT Philip Neal was wounded. SPC Cornford doesn’t give up. He keeps telling 1LT Neal that he has his back and tries to tend to Neal’s wounds while still fighting the enemy. Injured himself, SPC Cornford used his only working arm to throw his last grenade. It pushes the way the enemy enough so that he could carry his wounded commander, 1LT Neal, 300 meters to the MediVac. There, the medical staff declare 1LT Neal Killed in Action. SPC Cornford stays with 1LT Neal until his remains can be evacuated. “I have your back” he says, and stays until the remains are evacuated. He later won a Silver Star for his efforts. But when SPC Cornford separated from the military, he couldn’t find a job.
I’ve been struggling for a long time with why companies care so much about credentials. About the perfect match. The Ivy League education. Fifteen years of experience with a direct competitor. Sure, the Ivy League degree tells me you likely had a certain GPA and SAT score. Experience with a competitor means you understand the market. But how do you perform under pressure? What do you do when your great idea is rejected? How do you start something from scratch?
Very rarely is it skill or education that defines the best performers. Take the story of Facebook puzzles. In George Anders’ book, The Rare Find, he profiles Facebook’s early struggle hiring engineers. The solution, Facebook puzzles, were difficult programming challenges designed to test the mettle of talented programmers. One of their earliest successes was a college dropout, stuck in a dead-end small town job designing small company websites.
In a world where technology means we have unfettered access to global talent, where college educations are become less and less affordable, and where competition brings out the best in people, why are we still filtering based on a static set of data?
As Anders himself says in The Rare Find: “ Traditional measures of past achievement, such as test scores and academic degrees, are losing power, and companies are getting better at looking for those future superstars who deliver many times the value of someone who is merely good.”
I argued before about talent being like stock—it’s not about past performance but future value. It’s not that what you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter. It’s how you use your assets moving forward.
My three degrees and fifteen years of work experience in HR shouldn’t drive the decision to hire me. But they do influence how I answer a question or think about the problem you’re trying to solve. As a consultant, clients care about my credentials, but they care more about what I am doing for them right now, in this moment.
And as they evaluate whether to hire me, they’re better served by asking what I’d do about a current quandary they’re facing. Does that mean the SPC’s military experience doesn’t matter? No. But what matters is how that makes him answer the question you put in front of him.
Look at the experience set to get a sense of the person. Test them to get a sense of performance. That’s the secret sauce. Let me explain it by using myself as an example for a hypothetical VP of Marketing job.
- Do I have a basic understanding of Marketing? Check.
- Do I have the requisite undergrad and grad degrees? Check.
- Have I managed budgets, led teams. and large projects? Check.
- Do I have pure corporate marketing experience? Not really.
- Have I worked for a consumer packaged goods company? Nope.
Would most companies totally ignore me for the role? Absolutely.
But here’s what really defines me. I put myself through much of my schooling. I’ve been in the workforce since age 13, and haven’t stopped working since. When asked, I have a completely unique perspective on marketing today. Oh, and I get more done in an hour than most people get done all day.
That won’t resonate with most people. But a good recruiter might see signs of culture fit, of work ethic, and probe to see what that perspective is and how I’d run the function. Rejection is still possible, but so is a gold mine.
It’s like dating. Stop looking for perfection. Stop looking for the reflection of yourself. Look for the spark, the differences that balance you out. Learn from their past, but look towards the future.
Ex-military can take the energy from their past to ignite something your organization has never seen. My friend could turn your function around in that C-level role with innovation you only dream about. But that guy with the perfect set of credentials and experience in the role and industry? He’ll come in and do what he always does. Good luck with average.
The first 100 respondents to complete all questions will receive a $5 Starbucks card. The 15th, 150th, and 1,015th respondents will receive a $100 Visa gift card in celebration of our 15th year. All respondents will receive an advance copy of the results in early October 2012. The Survey is now available at www.CedarCrestone.com/hrssv46 and responses will be collected until July 2nd, 2012.
Success Factors Stuff
Have you noticed that most stories about a visit to a users’ conference are positive and upbeat. Maybe those banquet meals have a special happy chemical in them. If you took the stories at face value, you’d have to believe that all vendors have users with no problems.
Then you’d have to wonder why they have the meetings in the first place. Are they simply a party that features the introduction of the next release of shiny object? Are they just pep rallies that try to minimize the broad dissatisfaction with almost every HR vendor’s implementation and execution? Are we supposed to believe and report that those stormy and disagreeable courtships resulted in marriages where there’s never a grumble.
I got to the success factors users conference in San Francisco (that would be SFSF in SF) about 10 minutes later than I hoped. The drive from Bodega Bay to the city took two and a half hours and I’d budgeted two. I wanted to be in the conference room for the 8:30 roadmap presentation.
When I got there, there was a huge crowd milling around the halls. I thought to myself, this is fantastic, they’ve figured out how to get people networking before their second cup of coffee. I want to know how they did that. Since everyone was standing around in front of the closed doors to the auditorium, I assumed that there was an equally packed crowd listening to the roadmap story inside.
I started to panic. How was I going to get in? What had I missed? How was this little software company able to do such amazing things with social engineering?
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
By the time I figured out what was happening, the doors to the ballroom opened to let the assembled crowd in. It was 9:15, 45 minutes after the appointed start time. The high tech production began without apology and with a few inside references to the parties the night before.
You couldn’t ask for a greater dissonance between a company’s brand and its performance.
SuccessFactors preaches the importance of execution built on great planning, personal responsibility and the cascading of objectives. If their core message is right, and they practice what they preach, execution should come off mostly without a hitch. And, when there’s a hiccup, this is the place where you’d expect transparency, grace and verbalized work arounds as a part of the remedy.
Given the opportunity to personify the stated values of the company, the SuccessFactors team choked and did what most organizations usually do. They pretended that the really big screw up didn’t actually happen. The only way a participant could be sure that something was amiss was when the stuff (you know, the stuff that always flows downhill) cascaded into the first vendor presentation. The SuccessFactors team took their scheduled time with presentations and left the PWC presenters to deal with massive lunchtime desertions due to the mishap.
You’d want to think that the company that promotes business execution as a central value would know how to create a powerful reworking of the opportunity. Most goals don’t convert into accomplishment by simply being assigned. The fog of war always produces insight that causes the basic plan to be re-wickered. That principle is immortalized in the notion that stuff happens. (It’s still that same downhill flowing stuff). Anyone who sells this stuff ought to be great at doing it, wouldn’t you think?
That’s sort of what the street level grumbling about implementation is about across the industry.
SuccessFactors created the single most impressive shift in the HR conversation in the history of HR Technology. By focusing on business performance and its integration with HR functionality, they’ve created a market phenomenon and a new class of tool. The people who occupy the VIP seats in the SuccessFactors fan club are the sorts of HR people that many executives dream about – dynamic, sports enthusiasts with a take no prisoners, gogettum attitude.
The first customer speaker was an HRIT manager from an athletic clothing company (under armour). Big, boomy, forthright and wildly enthusiastic, he completely broke every stereotype you’ve ever had about HRIT people. He brought his team on stage to demonstrate the way they pump themselves up before tackling a project. Words escape me. The routine looked like a combination of squats and synchronized grimaces while the five team members did complex rhythmic clapping and chanted tribal things like “I’m all fired up.” (I can’t make this stuff up)
This is not traditional HR and there’s some reason to question whether this particular market segmentation approach has legs into the non-sportsy, female heart of HR. Yoga is a better metaphor there than competitive sports. But, SuccessFactors is on a roll. The momentum is big and you can’t argue (too loudly) with success.
At that roadmap briefing, the company unveiled a masterful move into the business of organizing people in the company. Adding metrics to everything (cobbled from data all around the organization using the expertise of the Infohrm team), the emerging SuccessFactors tool set will define industry standards for years to come.
The thing about Big Data is that it isn’t really a question of how fast the HR process allows you to pull down your pants. Most of the companies that provide analytics and metrics seem to think that HR Analytics means measuring the inside of the silo Instead, great measurement helps employees see how they fit into the big picture. It creates the opportunity to draw novel conclusions based on your perspective.
SuccessFactors is paving important ground in this area.
That’s not to say that the emerging collection of SuccessFactors tools is everything that Big Data can be in the HR arena. Just that the company is developing a novel vision that is more directly aligned with what a customer organization actually does.. At the pure product level, the SuccessFactors vision really differentiates the company. They seem to be moving to become the company that helps insert people information where it matters while giving people actionable business information when it matters.
There’s little question the the SuccessFactors’ commitment to “Mobile First” is resulting in ground breaking product ideas. During the roadmap briefing, the company demonstrated a mobile app that ties important and actionable work data to the administrivia that gets people paid. The stuff (there’s that word again) is significantly ahead of anything else I’ve seen so far.
They are demo-ing great (if somewhat incomplete) software. The newly acquired Jobs2Web team did an astonishing demo (I was pretty sure the presenter didn’t inhale for 7 minutes while he fast talked through his demo) and side stepped the fact that recruiting really isn’t an exercise in advertising spend and ROI on those dollars. While Jobs2Web is a useful model for SuccessFactors to build out, it is the smallest part of Recruiting and leaves customers in the position of having to work with real recruiting workflow providers.
In that sense, SuccessFactors hasn’t really fielded a comprehensive Talent Management system yet.
In a nutshell, the SuccessFactors users conference provided a glimpse of a company reminiscent of a successful High School football player. Supremely self confident, a little immature, sloppy in key forms of execution, astonishingly innovative, out of synch with the reality that doesn’t fit his vision, inspirational and admirable. Thoroughbreds have these same sorts of foibles.
The way you can tell someone is making a difference is that they have a clear view and make observable mistakes. Companies like that are more likely to have great success than those that don’t. All in all, SuccessFactors is on the right track.
HR Metrics are so yesterday!
HR professionals have grappled with what to measure and how to display data over the last 10 years at least. Now, just when the profession is paying more attention to metrics, it’s time to move on.
Analytics are the new metrics.
I believe a couple of definitions need to be cleared up before I discuss roadblocks. Metrics and analytics are used almost interchangeably, but I feel there is a definite difference.
Metrics are simply measurements. For example, “Our average engagement level is 80%,” “Our annual turnover is 50%,” “Our average performance score is 60%.”
Metrics tracks activity. They don’t describe causal relationships. In other words, metrics won’t tell you what impacts engagement, what causes turnover, and what drives performance.
In HR terms, one could say human capital analytics examine the effect of HR metrics on organizational performance. In more general terms, analytics look for patterns of similarity between metrics. For example, do high performers leave at a higher rate than low performers? If so, what is driving that turnover? Statistical tests are necessary to get to those answers through analytics.
Analytics sound great. The process can uncover relationships, drivers, causal relationships, and can give insight into what really impacts business results. So, why aren’t we all analytics devotees?
In my experience, I have seen the following roadblocks when trying to move from metrics to analytics: (these are in no particular order.)
“I don’t have the analytical talent.” I hear this one very frequently as HR professionals haven’t been known for their analytical muscle. So when you start discussing statistics and measurement, it makes some HR pros nervous.
Solution: It doesn’t take a PhD to do a lot of this work. Half the battle is having HR professionals that understand the business and ask really good questions. These days, technology makes the math pretty easy, and math interns are easy to come by.
“I don’t have the technology to display the data.” Technology is definitely a consideration in the process, but the absence of technology should not stop your efforts.
Solution: We do have powerful desktop tools that allow us to do many type of analysis. Excel has add-ons that can run correlations and regressions pretty easily. The issues become one of a central repository for all data and the cleanliness of the actual data itself. I believe the technology consideration should be done on the front end, but many times HR needs to make the business case for resources first. As the effort gains momentum, other more sophisticated technology tools can be added which makes visualizing the data so much easier.
“I don’t have the upper management support for analytics.” I believe the time is right to garner upper management support as leaders are definitely less risk adverse than they were prior to the recession. I see more leaders making data-based decisions as a result of recent economic conditions. I believe they want more people data and want to understand how their people investment is paying off. You can’t show this ROI by tracking time to fill and turnover. You have to use analytics.
Solution: Start small. For example, you can begin evaluating what is driving turnover in the organization and designing solutions to lower turnover thus saving dollars. By analyzing a business problem and showing leadership something they didn’t know, HR will go a long way in gaining future support for an analytics focus.
Next, try and uncover your CEO’s top, most pressing business issues. Figure out how to use data and analytics to help solve the issue or shed some light on the problem. For example, if the organization is losing market share in a certain region of the country, go to the data and see what the trends are saying. Where is market share being lost? What is going on with the sales staff? Find out if it is a turnover issue, a skills issue, or a product or service issue. Look at customer data, to see if there are any insights gained from that data especially as it relates to customer service. Be a detective and just keep asking questions until you get to the root cause.
I believe we have long past our goals to be strategic, I believe we have entered an age of HR influence. What better way to influence our organizations’ business results than by analyzing what is driving those business results so we an do more of those activities and less of the activities that don’t add to the bottom line.