Synergy First, Employment Branding Second

On June 10, 2010, in More2Know, by John Sumser

Are silos are holding HR back?

Are silos are holding HR back?

The silos of HR get in the way of excellence. A comprehensive integrated human capital strategy results in well trained employees in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. The goal ought to be a system that anticipates, executes and shifts focus on the fly while the team gets better and better.

In most companies, each of the silos (Recruiting, OS, Learning, Compensation, Payroll, Benefits, Talent Management, and the other sticks of gum in the pack), work their own agenda with a firm understanding of what is and isn’t the job. It’s like an assembly line with each specialty working to time and motion studies to decrease costs and improve output.

The net result, most of the time, is that HR is not only a direct tax on revenues, it is an indirect tax because of its dampening effect on productivity. Rather than being the source of organizational excellence, the silo structure (we are HR and you are not) results in suboptimal performance by the organization. Most folks in HR don’t even understand how to think about the real cost and impact of their work.

Recently, I’ve been studying the policies and practices at Virgin America (VA). Since the first of the year, I’ve made about ten cross country trips, all with this interesting new airline. The nice seats and onboard WiFi got me on the plane. The extraordinary customer service and genuinely professional happy employees are keeping me there.

Last trip, I flew from San Francisco to Boston with one of their Recruiters. He was headed to Boston for a party, from San Francisco, he was headed in for the day and flying home. (Every VA employee tells travel stories).

He told me about the company’s desire to avoid hiring people from within the industry. “We don’t want to be like other airlines. They’re all grumpy and unhappy. We are looking for people who are delightful to be around. We look for self-motivated happy people. The less they know about our business, the better.”

Tonight, I caught the brilliance.

I was headed back to Bodega Bay from Boston a day early. The VA website makes it easy to shift flights around. The website is like everything else about the company, engineered to avoid causing hassle for customers.

But,when I got to the airport, a little late, the woman at the check in counter told me the plane had been delayed. “Is there a restaurant nearby?” I asked. “I’m looking for something with a chance that I can find a zero carb meal.”

She told me that Legal SeaFood, one of my favorites, had a small operation at the other end of the terminal. “If you hurry, you’ve got time for dinner.” I ambled down the walkway. She was engaging and gregarious, asking about the Bay area, what I was going to have for dinner and generally taking an interest in me.

Just before I started to eat, she sat down at my table. After a little small talk, she said “I don’t want to rush you but the delay has been lifted and the plane has started boarding.” I was astonished. She’d walked at least 250 yards to make sure that I caught my plane. In 35 years of traveling, I’ve never had that experience.

Being a guy, I assumed it was some combination of my charisma, good looks, intelligence, charm and all around great personality. Then, just as I was finishing, she came back. Now, I was sure there was something special about me.

We talked briefly. She said, after a little questioning, that she had a great job. “I love what I do and this is a fantastic place to work.”

I asked whether or not she was alone in her perception “I used to work in one of those places where everyone goes to retire. I thought my skin would rot off. This job is amazing. The company s fun and there is huge career potential.”

I told her about my conversation with the Recruiter. “We’re all always looking for the right kind of people. If I get in a grocery line and the gal is on the ball and friendly, I ask her if she wouldn’t want to work for VA. Same goes for anybody I encounter who has the right stuff. Did you ever think about working for VA? Oh, by the way, they’ve been boarding for about 15 minutes now. You probably want to pay the check.”

As she got up to leave, she said, “I really hope that I talked to everyone in the restaurant.” As I got on the plane, I discovered that she’d been delivering the same level of service to a half dozen other travelers.

Amazing. I generally expect snarls from people who were the check-in lines. She loved her job and took it to a whole new level.

I’ve had similar experiences with other VA employees.

That is social recruiting and employment branding in a nutshell. I’m sure they use technology to solve much of their hiring problem, But, rather than being the focus of the work, great manners, real enthusiasm, a little extra care and taking the time to treat people like people will win the day. Employment Branding doesn’t start with messaging, it starts with holistic, integrated HCM policies that create synergy and energy.

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