HR Cloud 9 requires a great ecosystem

woman_cloudHR Cloud 9 is being in a state of perfect contentment with your HR ecosystem. Getting to HR Cloud 9 isn’t a trivial matter, and it isn’t about choosing one vendor to handle everything. The choices you make when building out your HR ecosystem will either form your utopia or nightmare. To get to HR Cloud 9, consider how your ecosystem will fair in the following areas. If you do, you’ll be well on your way to Cloud 9.

You want intimate customer service experience that is highly accessible and feels like an extension of your staff. Vendors that strive for an intimate customer service relationship take customer service to a different level. Service personnel staff have relevant up-to-the-minute information such as sales orders, setup documents, and all service history. Each and every service staff member has the requisite and relevant industry and product expertise to be knowledgeable and helpful to customers. Customer service people who are empathetic and highly value the voice of the customer. They are reliable, interchangeable, efficient, and effective in resolving customer service issues and exceeding customer expectations. This is more than just responding quickly. Each customer exchange is a seamless, predictable experience, and a customer is never asked to retrace or rehash a service issue. And for those issues that require more than a few days to achieve resolution, service staff clearly communicate timelines and resolution expectations to mitigate misunderstandings upfront.

You want software designed the way HR people think and works the way it’s expected to. Great HR software is built with the end user in mind. The HR user experience should mirror the way HR people think and work. The manager experience should complement the managers’ work and work day. The employee experience should be designed for casual use and promote communication and feedback to encourage engagement and recognition behaviors, which lead to happy workers. Don’t settle for clunky and hard to use. There are way better options today. This applies to HCM and more. Today, the Girl Scout’s Digital Cookie™ app[i] is used by Girl Scouts to “gain new business and social skills in an entertaining and engaging way.” Your HR Cloud 9 needs this too.

You need speed and accessibility because lack of speed and accessibility kills productivity. Review service level agreements for reasonable up-time guarantees and response time measures for all major application functions. If you require access at remote locations or via mobile devices, verify that your solution supports those forms of access. Most cloud vendors use a shared infrastructure of web servers, applications servers, and database servers that are accessible via the public internet. Many cloud vendors do not offer exclusive use to a single organization, so performance can be impacted by what other users are doing at any given time. Don’t get bogged down by poor performance; it’s a real drag and a time suck.

You need to be sure that the vendor’s solution “box” of capability is big enough for your needs. A single code base is another key tenant of modern HCM systems. A lot of Cloud providers have application policies to customize look and feel and even some parts of the customer experience. So, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every customer is stuck with the exact same user experience. But it does mean that code customization for the unique need of a single customer is not supported. Keep in mind that mature solutions tend to have a bigger “box” of capability that allows more organizations to be easily supported by the product. Choose solutions that meet your needs today and for the near future.

You need an evolved reporting capability that shields end-users from complexity. Modern HR Cloud software solutions are built on large data repositories with comingled customer data because this is most efficient and affordable for them. This multi-tenant design requires programming to separate customers logically and adds complexity to data reporting. Techniques like de-normalized database views and metadata layers facilitating intuitive data relationship, grouping, and summaries go a long way toward enhancing the productivity of a reporting user. Ultimately, the best approach eliminates all reporting complexity by abstracting the data relationships from the end-user altogether. This yields point and click report definitions, grouping, and summaries in the most user friendly format available and ultimately makes the reporting function available to a greater cross section of your organization.

You need good support for system integration, data imports, and data exports. Supporting the data needs of the various executive that an HR department services means getting data in and out of the system in a secure and efficient manner is an essential requirement. Employee loads, time imports, carrier feeds, G/L files, and published web service integration points are just a few examples. Don’t get painted in a corner with cloud solution that doesn’t meet your integration requirements.

Achieving the perfect ecosystem for your HR function could mean multiple vendors.[ii] Look for each of those vendors to provide an intimate customer service experience, fast and reliable access, flexible software capabilities that meet your current and future needs, a user experience that mirrors the way people work, and reporting and data extraction that don’t require a programmer to use.

Choose your partners wisely and be on HR Cloud 9.

This blog was written by Richard Cangemi, Chief Executive Guru at PeopleGuru™. This post may not be copied or published without permission.

[i] Girl Scouts. Digital Cookie 2.0. GirlScouts.org. Retrieved from https://www.girlscouts.org/en/cookies/all-about-cookies/digital-cookie.html (accessed 18 August 2016).

[ii] Fosway Group Limited and Decebo®. (July 2015). Integrating the HR Landscape on the Cloud. Retrieved from http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter_articles/misc/Integrating_the_HR_Landscape_on_the_Cloud_(Jul_2015).pdf

HCM – Transition to Strategic and Predictive, Highly Engaged and Highly Productive

HCM Implementation Hierarchy

Phase 1 – Wage and hour, payroll and tax compliance requirements

Like food and shelter are to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Phase 1 HCM needs are fundamental to successful existence for any organization. An HCM implementation ensures these needs are fully met first.

Even mid-sized companies can struggle with Phase 1 needs and can find themselves in a fight for their lives. This can be due to growth spurts, mergers or acquisitions. Growth in employee counts, geographical footprint or revenue, all subject the company to governmental regulations including the Affordable Health Care Act, multi-jurisdictional taxation, and wage and hour law requirements, which strain an over-committed and growth-oriented management team. Spreadsheets, small-business payroll outsourcing and paper approvals are overwhelmed by sheer volume, inefficient procedures and duplicate processing. Information is lost, entered into systems multiple times, or otherwise inaccessible, inaccurate and/or ignored by managers.

I’ve seen first-hand how disruptive Wage and Hour or Department of Labor audits can be without the underlying recordkeeping to properly support the company; a costly event in precious time, legal fees, and fines. I have also witnessed dishonest employees and managers falsifying timesheets and payroll records literally robbing a company of payroll funds for years. Those management teams were preoccupied with growing the business and just didn’t have the proper HR systems in place to protect their company adequately.

Make no mistake that organizations with Phase 1 needs can be exciting companies with an impressive growth story, compelling products and services, and a management team engaged in fueling the rocket with talent and capital. And often those same managers are savvy enough to recognize that to continue their impressive growth story hinges on fixing these foundational HR issues.

Phase 1 of the HCM implementation is all about reduction in the number and complexity of manual paper-based payroll transactions to ensure accuracy of management reporting and compliance with governmental regulations. This means deploying HCM features like:

  • A system to facilitate daily collection of time and labor (biometrics as needed) with manager oversight and approval directly fed to payroll.
  • Enterprise level payroll processing with the controls needed to ensure proper federal, state, and local taxation and labor allocation broken out by the needs of the company, whether that be by location, department, project, job, and/or task. That information is ultimately reportable and fed to the general ledger so the organization has a true picture of its spending in the various areas of its business.
  • HR recordkeeping practices are transitioned from small-business payroll, spreadsheets, and paper to an electronic system so this information is touched once and compliant with governmental regulations and can be managed efficiently.

Phase 2 – Improve transactional efficiency and productivity

Phase 2 is largely about workflow automation and can account for a good portion of the return on investment projected for the entire HCM project. Paper processes and duplicate work are transitioned to a vastly more efficient framework of system workflows and notifications. The organization benefits greatly by using Employee and Manager Self Service as data entry and approvals can be handled one-time and at their point of origin. Employee adoption of self-service is key to this phase and will likely require cultural reinforcement from top management.

The Phase 2 implementation delivers the benefits of HCM features like:

  • Employee Self Service allows employees to help themselves via a mobile device or web browser to view or modify information about themselves, including time-off requests, timesheets, compensation, and benefits. This feature reduces the demand for HR and managers to service enquiries from employees.
  • Manager Self Service empowers supervisors to manage information for their direct reports via a mobile device or web browser and to approve requests for time-off, payroll, benefit, or schedule changes online and in real-time.
  • System workflows and notifications streamline approval processes that are uniquely programmed to adhere to company policy, inform all relevant decision makers and collect electronic approvals.

Phase 3 – Talent Management

Phase 3 is about Talent Management features such as Recruiting, Onboarding, Benefit Enrollment, Performance Management, Salary Administration, and Career Development. Each of these capabilities addresses a specific area of the Human Resource function with a mobile and web-based capability to engage employees and supervisors in administering this work conveniently and efficiently. Careful attention must be paid to the foundational system workflow policies to ensure that the companies underlying HR policies are respected at all times.

  • Recruitment features include branded candidate mobile and web portals for job seekers, assessment and review tools for hiring managers, and system workflows to guide candidates through the process of completing job applications, screening questionnaires, interviews, and ultimately the offer process.
  • Onboarding walks a newly hired employee through the hire process, collecting relevant information and signatures for hiring paperwork.
  • eDocuments eliminate the paper documents and replace them with a mobile and web-based presentation and repository system that records signatures and document versioning.
  • Performance management provides for talent assessments, performance reviews, and succession planning with employee, supervisors, directors, and peers all engaged in the feedback loop.
  • Salary Administration distributes salary increases and bonus assignments across the entire organization respecting department, division or location budget requirements and engages the decision-makers with a multi-step approval process. Once all sign-offs are made, the system records employee and payroll changes seamlessly.
  • Automate Benefit Administration using online enrollment, carrier eligibility feeds and billing reconciliation tools. Employees enroll in benefits online and changes in those enrollments are conveniently fed to carriers electronically.

Phase 4 – Social HCM and Predictive Analytics

Phase 4 is for the most committed, sophisticated, and engaged management teams. These organizations consider human capital vital and invest accordingly striving to achieve a highly-productive workforce that is highly-engaged, and this can be an elusive goal. It’s not as simple as implementing system features. An employee engagement philosophy of teamwork, collaboration, rewards, and recognition is vital along with a management commitment to transparency to the drivers of the business. And the benefits can be tremendous with productivity gains and improved employee retention. It’s a simple fact that recognition, now distributed and administered by the system, can play a big part in employee retention and productivity. As Tom Peters co-wrote in Excellence, “…the simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” The Social HCM acts as both a conduit for teamwork and collaboration, and it speeds the feedback loop between project stakeholders and contributors to help keep projects and people on track.

Phase 4 is focused on the following initiatives:

  • Predictive Analytics provide a real-time, deep, and intuitive understanding of your organization and transparency to reveal the drivers of the business.
  • Social Collaboration features foster an engaged workforce enabling employees to easily build relationships, cross-collaborate, learn, share knowledge, and ultimately improve productivity.
  • Recognitions and rewards capabilities provide a framework for consistent, fair and public recognition to those deserving such accolades. Automation of badging and awards with points tracking removes the chore of reconciling points for redemption of gifts or other company rewards.

This phased methodology makes transitioning to a strategic, predictive, highly-productive, and highly-engaged workforce an orderly and controllable process. Of course, getting to the top of the pyramid requires real commitments to transparency and a philosophy that engages and rewards employees.

For organizations that aspire to be strategic, predictive, highly-productive, and highly-engaged, a modern HCM is just too compelling of a technology for those businesses to ignore.

References

McLeod, Saul. (2007/2014). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Peters, Thomas J., Waterman, Robert H., and Austin, Nancy. (1992). Excellence: In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence. (pp. 94). Quality Paperback Book Club. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=scy5AAAAIAAJ&dq

The Corporate Psycho

psychoThe Corporate Psycho is an individual who systematically lies, coerces, intimidates, or otherwise instills fear in coworkers in the pursuit of power within an organization.

Hiring this person is your worst nightmare. They look great on paper and maybe their references even check out, but you will wish—no you will pray—that you didn’t hire them. And once part of your team, the psychopath will systematically and maliciously agitate and sabotage the efforts of coworkers.

The Corporate Psycho is a predator and you are its prey.

The Corporate Psycho has a self-serving agenda with no moral compass. They systematically oppress individual contributions with the intent to disrupt productivity and foster malcontent. They are deceitful and insincere in their relationships and communications. Once inside your department, the Corporate Psycho will destroy the quality of your work life and relationships by undermining the key ingredient to a functional workplace: TRUST. Once in the throes of chaos created by the Corporate Psycho, coworkers lack trust and confidence in each other. Finger-pointing and assessment of blame thrive. New challenges and problems surface, and nothing seems to work like it used to. Even the things that were easy are now hard. Productivity drops, deadlines are missed, quality suffers, negativity thrives, absenteeism skyrockets, and most good people move on to greener pastures. And then your department suffers more as it is placed under the microscope of upper management. That was the Corporate Psycho’s plan all along: to create the chaos and then take advantage of that chaos.

What makes the Corporate Psycho so treacherous?

They are psychopaths and very skillful liars, and they believe that their views of the world are more enlightened than others. They have total disregard for people and treat them as a means to end. They befriend only as a means to gain information and power and then use this information to disrupt order and promote their own agenda. Once the workplace is in chaos, they win over vulnerable leaders by promoting an insider’s view of how things really are going in-the-trenches. Only they are misleading leaders with lies peppered with just enough truth to seem credible and actionable. And the cost of the Corporate Psycho is substantial.

With an adult population consisting of 1% to 2% psychopaths in the general population,1 you are very likely to encounter a Corporate Psycho in your ranks. Consider the following outcomes directly attributed to an onboard Corporate Psycho:

  • Less engaged workers are less productive. The Gallup organization estimated that an average of 18% actively disengaged employees cost the economy as much as $450 to $550 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness and other low morale issues.2
  • According to Cornerstone OnDemand, good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee.3 Replacing employees is expensive and for skilled workers can easily exceed $10,000 per hire.

How do you defeat the Corporate Psycho?

The key to defeating a Corporate Psycho is to recognize the agenda early and to disrupt any maniacal plans.

Recognize the warning signs. Identify potential Corporate Psychos by their telltale traits. This person may appear to fit in at first, but then you will begin to notice the signs. It won’t take long for this person to gain trust and set their plan in place. Assess whether this coworker is working on a separate agenda, refuses to follow protocols, is overly negative, or two-faced and insincere in communications and dealings with others. Ask yourself:

  • Does this individual proclaim to be a rigid follower of protocol but in reality is not?
  • Does this person seem overconfident and display a superiority complex with others?
  • Are they willing to do whatever it takes to ascend in the company?
  • Is there a general disregard for others’ contributions?
  • Does this person take credit for others’ work?
  • Does this person generally take issue with authority?

Once a suspect is identified as a potential Corporate Psycho, govern your behavior accordingly.

Don’t be bullied. The Corporate Psycho needs your help to promote an agenda, so don’t be a victim. If you suspect you are working with a Corporate Psycho, don’t accept advice or share information, unless it is a requirement of your job. Keep your distance. The inner workings of your job and the difficulties of your workday should be kept between you and your boss. Be sure not to put the Corporate Psycho in a position to fight battles on your behalf with your supervisors. They will not represent your best interests. And resist the temptation to get baited into negativity directed to the company or other coworkers.

Document everything. When dealing with a suspected Corporate Psycho, document every exchange with this person. Keep a log by writing down the time, place, and detailed notes so you can reconstruct the substance of your meeting. Remember, this person is a psychopath – he/she will not expect you to document your interactions as they view you as too “weak” to foil their plan. When things get chaotic you’ll be glad you documented because you will be in a position to justify your actions with your supervisors.

The Corporate Psycho thrives via a web of backchannel and under-the-radar relationships and information. The most successful of which appear to be sincere, charming, smart and engaging communicators. They systematically instill fear, mistrust, and incite negativity with the goal of making you believe that they are essential to survival in the new world order. Your high standards and moral compass are the best way to rise above any chaos created by the Corporate Psycho. Because ultimately we all need the confidence and trust of our coworkers workers to be successful. As Warren Bennis said, “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”4

Footnotes

  1. PsychVisit.com. “Course and Prevalence of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy” http://www.psychvisit.com/conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder-psychopathy/5-course-antisocial-personality.html (accessed 23 Nov. 2015).
  2. Susan Sorenson and Keri Garman. “How to Tackle U.S. Employees’ Stagnating Engagement,” Gallup, 11 June 2013, http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/247/high-cost-disengaged-employees.aspx.
  3. Cornerstone OnDemand, “New Research Exposes the Hidden Costs of ‘Toxic Employees,’” 31 March 2015, https://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/news/press-releases/new-research-exposes-hidden-costs-toxic-employees.
  4. Robert Tucker, Innovation is Everybody’s Business: How to Make Yourself Indispensable in Today’s Hypercompetitive World (Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2011), 157.

When you dance with the gorilla, it is the gorilla who decides when you stop

A disagreement between ADP®, one of largest payroll processing companies, and Zenefits™ a self-described startup that recently raised $500 million at a $4.5 billion valuation has now been escalated to the court room. This disagreement centers on the method that Zenefits™ used to gain access to ADP®’s payroll system without specific authority granted by ADP® to do so.

ADP® says: “On June 4, we disabled Zenefits access to ADP’s RUN small business solution due to unusual and alarming demand for data from Zenefits far out of proportion to the number of clients who have allowed them access to our system.”[1]

Zenefits™ has made a very public display of itself on social media outlets accusing ADP® of acting in bad faith and succumbing to fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In this squabble with ADP®, Zenefits™ has garnered some high profile endorsements including a couple of A-list celebrities.

So, you might ask how Zenefits™ got itself in this sticky situation.

1)      Their promise of delivering disruptive technology is somewhat misleading. The definition of disruptive technology is one that displaces older technology.[2] But Zenefits™ doesn’t own a payroll platform as a part of its hub-and-spoke business model[3]; its strategy is to leave customers with their existing payroll company such as ADP®.[4] But payroll is arguably the core hub technology covered by its service designed to administer HR, payroll, and employee benefit plans. Can Zenefits truly claim to be a disruptive technology without control of the core technology underlying its service? Is piggybacking on top of third-party payroll providers without control of the core technology too risky to be viable as a long term strategy?

2)      Zenefits™ is wanting to eat ADP®’s lunch and dinner by keeping the higher margin brokerage commissions and leaving ADP® with the lower margin payroll revenue. There is way more revenue per employee and margin in selling health insurance than in payroll.It’s no secret that payroll companies are looking to brokerage services as an area for future opportunity. ADP®’s (and Paychex®’s for that matter) benefits brokerage constitutes almost all of its current growth. Consider the fact that a 4% brokerage commission for a typical employer sponsored health insurance premium of $8k and $24K a year represents $320 to $960 in annual revenue per employee while fee revenue for payroll is just $90 per employee per year. And selling insurance has only a handful of customer service administration events per year while payroll has weekly (or even daily) customer service events per year to manage.

3)      When you dance with the gorilla, it is the gorilla who decides when you stop. Zenefits™ needs ADP® to play nice since ADP®’s payroll is the core technology to its hub and spoke service model. And ADP® knows it and is prepared to play hardball. The ADP® website states: “We have never integrated with Zenefits™ in any sense and have never authorized their method of extracting data from our RUN payroll system. They gained access to our systems by convincing clients to give them administrative access to our platform. Despite having many legitimate ways to integrate with ADP properly, Zenefits™ chose an unsecure and indirect approach.”[5] ADP®’s statement is likely vetted by their legal team and therefore sound and given ADP®’s size as the entrenched incumbent that does not bode well for Zenefits™ getting their way anytime soon.

Our industry—the HR, Payroll and Benefit Administration space—is extremely competitive and technology-driven with complex compliance requirements. It takes a lot of hard work, intelligence, deep understanding of the law and customer service to make it in this business. And it takes lots of effort to convert clients from one Payroll company to another. I know why Zenefitswould want to leave the hard-part—the Payroll part to someone else, but I also know that there are no shortcuts in life. To become a disruptive technology leader in our space, I believe that you need to own all of your core technology so you control your users’ experience without the risk of someone or something pulling the rug out from under you and your customers.

So, this move by ADP® is not surprising at all. ADP® is simply a business that is protective of its customers’ assets and its future growth opportunity within its client base.

[1] ADP.com. The facts about ADP & Zenefits: Response to the claims made by Zenefits. http://www.adp.com/zenefits/downloads/The-Facts-About-ADP-and-Zenefits.pdf

[2] Zenefits has stated that it is a disruptive technology company. Zenefits | Disrupt NY 2013 Startup Battlefield. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KporpXG0XK8

[3] Inc.com. “Instead of charging for software, the idea was to do a hub-and-spoke model. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201503/liz-welch/hr-technology-with-benefits.html

[4] In an article written in the March Employee Benefit Advisor, Parker Conrad, CEO of Zenefits, openly stated Zenefits does not want to get into the payroll game. He says: “The reason is that payroll is really complex and there are really high switching costs. We’d much rather just be connected to everyone in that space and be friends with everyone in that space.”

[5] ADP.com. The facts about ADP & Zenefits: Response to the claims made by Zenefits. http://www.adp.com/zenefits/downloads/The-Facts-About-ADP-and-Zenefits.pdf

Trademarks in this blog post are the properties of their respective owners.

Before you hire that old pro

It’s really not about ageism. It is simply that a great attitude and passion to succeed trump years of experience and perfect qualifications every time.

Most recently with a sluggish economy, I’ve seen more expert candidates apply for jobs in the past year than ever before. And you’d think that would be a good thing, right? A perfect match between a job seeker’s past work history and the job requirements seems like a perfect hire. But I’ve witnessed seemingly perfect job candidates become under-performing employees. I’ve seen this enough times that a seasoned candidate is now a red flag. My best hires have almost exclusively been individuals who viewed their new job as a growth opportunity and worked very hard to be successful. And my more memorable worst hires have been those who seemed heavily qualified but yet fell short of expectations after being hired.

So why do these seemingly seasoned hires fail to thrive?

#1 reason – hiring managers are so focused on the technical match between the candidate’s past experience and the job requirements that they shortcut or deemphasize the rest of the recruitment evaluation process. It is huge rookie mistake, and I’ve made it myself. We become so enthralled by the possibilities of hiring the hit-the-ground-running, take-me-to-the-promise-land job prospect that we overlook the candidate’s shortcomings in terms of organizational cultural match, willingness to learn, and overall attitude.

#2 reason – our expectations are too high for the seasoned veteran’s performance. The seasoned veteran is short-changed on job training and knowledge transfer. The idea is that they really don’t need it, right? They already know what they are doing. Just look at their résumé. That is just wrong because different companies have different ways of doing things, and you can’t assume that a seasoned pro will be able to translate 100% of his/her skills from one company to another.

#3 reason – we undermine peer support. We position our seasoned new hires in a way that threatens peers and coworkers. They then gather no support and are left to die on the vine. Seasoned hires are often viewed as a threat to job security within a department or organization, so it is imperative that you ensure that each new hire is embraced and socialized adequately.

#4 reason – our seasoned new hire can carry some unwanted baggage and can be difficult to manage. I characterize these overconfident hires as overzealous in their contributions and opinions, unwilling to learn, and often lacking motivation or drive. I’ve seen and heard it all from this group. From “been there done that, so I’m not going to try it again”, “it’s worked my way just fine for 25 years” (whether the new hire is 25 or has 25 years of experience), or my favorite is the “I do not need to be told by some 20-something how I should be doing my job”. Organizations only thrive when teamwork, knowledge transfer, and learning are part of the work environment.
So how can I avoid this? I can’t just disqualify a seasoned pro. That wouldn’t be fair or even legal.

Here’s what I’ve decided.

Balance the technical match of skills to job requirements more evenly with assessments of your job candidates regarding organizational cultural match, ability to learn and adapt to change, leadership qualities, etc.
Carefully evaluate every candidate’s individual motivational factors. The best hire will often have something to prove. He or she is motivated to do a good job and be noticed. Access what will drive each of your candidates to perform, and this should help you more wisely choose who to hire.

Don’t always hire the smartest guy in the room, especially if that person is convinced he or she is the smartest. A better candidate is the one that demonstrates the ability and willingness to learn. These skills will serve your organization better longer term than any accumulated knowledge that a candidate may seemingly have.
The next time you are considering hiring a seasoned candidate, I recommend sticking to a balanced evaluation process that does not over-emphasize the technical needs of the job and being mindful of the need to support your seasoned new hire with the same training and internal support as your other employees.

Avoiding Job Burnout

What does a project with a tight delivery timeline, too many competing work priorities, and conflicting personal and work commitments have in common? They can all contribute to that feeling of being overwhelmed, and they can ultimately lead to job burnout.

And job burnout is not a place you want to go to. It’s a cake made of unhappiness, filled with exhaustion, and topped with resentment. It’s dark and cold place where one bad day hopelessly leads to the next even worse day. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen firsthand how burnout can turn the positive, organized and productive into negative, chaotic, and ineffective. And, I’ve found five principles to help team members turn it around before it becomes burnout.

1. Given a project with a tight delivery timeline, get organized and in control of your day.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Prioritize and break down your assignments into realistic schedules with tasks of a manageable duration: not exceeding two or three days. Don’t overcommit. Then review your plan and get buy-in from your supervisor. That way when your supervisor asks, “How are you progressing,” you can refer to your approved plan and respond with confidence and detail.

2. Pulled in too many directions: Focus on eliminating distractions, prioritizing, and delegating.

Doing three or four tasks halfway is not as good as finishing two properly. The act of juggling work consumes your most precious resource—time. Stay focused on a task and work it through to completion or to turnover to the next responsible party. This is by far the most efficient use of your time. If your job responsibilities allow, delegate a specific time (or a couple of times) of the day that you answer emails and calls since distractions like responding to emails or phone calls can increase the amount of time that it takes to complete what you were working on. As international speaker Jeff Gothelf from NEO asserts, “The costs of any team member supporting more than one team—context switching, prioritization, additional email churn, etc.—often end up costing much more than the added productivity multiple assignments seems to bring.” 1

Prioritize your activities on a daily basis. Make a daily list of must-do’s, should-do’s and would-like-to-do’s. Then follow this daily plan to guide your activity. Mark off the finished tasks and carry forward the unfinished ones. Do this each and every day and keep these lists for future reference.

3. Allow others to contribute by delegating and working in teams.

I’ve yet to see a “Me, myself and I” company award. Most organizations value teamwork and collaboration over individual contributions. As Petra Cross from Google once said, “…you need to use your soft skills to be able to work well with a variety of people,” and “You need both, good people and good idea.” 2 What is most important to your success is the success of your assignments, so you should always fully use your organization’s resources to complete your assignments.

Ask your supervisor with help prioritizing your assignments. Be organized and prepared to walk through detailed work plans and documentation on how you see tackling the workload. Your goal is to clarify your supervisor’s expectations and to gain a better understanding on how your supervisor envisions your assignments.

4. Focus on positive change that you can make happen.

Keep your attention and focus on the positive change that you can make happen and not on change that is out of your control. It’s worthwhile to offer your opinion on ways your organization can improve. The trick is not to get overly optimistic about your influence in areas where you are not directly responsible. Organizations are complex, and change can be difficult and slow to implement. The best way to make your opinion count is to excel at your job and be a positive influence on those around you.

5. Re-balance personal commitments and work commitments.

Do you have personal commitments conflicting with job responsibilities or vice-versa? If you’ve followed my earlier advice on breaking your assignments down and planning, minimizing distractions, and delegating, work-life balance may be one step closer already. Make peace between work and other aspects of your life since both are essential to your wellbeing. Plan your workdays and workload around beginning and stopping work at designated times. And then stick to your plan. If you have important personal commitments spilling into work time, see if you can use time off or other benefits to get caught up.

Avoid burnout before the situation spirals you out of control. Recognize the warning signs of feeling overwhelmed. Then, take action by getting organized, eliminating distractions, delegating, remaining positive, and‒very importantly‒balancing your life.

Footnote

1 Gothelf, Jeff, “Four Qualities of Successful In-House Innovation Teams: Considering the ‘Two Pizza Team,’” O’Reilly Programming, 2 July 2013, http://programming.oreilly.com/2013/07/four-qualities-of-successful-in-house-innovation-teams.html (accessed 26 Feb. 2014).

2 Atagana, Michelle, “Senior Google Engineer: Building Innovative Products Requires Team Work,” Memeburn, 9 Oct. 2013, http://memeburn.com/2013/10/senior-google-engineer-building-innovative-products-requires-team-work/ (accessed 25 Feb. 2014).

Employee Engagement Is Worthwhile But Elusive

There is a buzz now about Employee Engagement in all industries. Thought leaders in Human Resources are centered on the idea that engaged employees are more motivated, effective, and productive, and therefore can do more with less.

And that sounds like a good thing—doesn’t it? I want that. You want that. We all want that.

As a HR software executive, it’s no secret that I have a keen interest in all things Human Resource related and especially those that have the potential to change the way that employees’ are engaged. But what does Employee Engagement really mean? And how do we know when we’ve achieved Employee Engagement? Of course there are companies who provide nap rooms, free meals, and onsite daycare, but are the freebies the key to Employee Engagement? Those are nice perks, but is it really necessary to go over the top with giveaways to employees to get them engaged? Those questions are what I’ve decided to explore.

To begin, I needed a solid working definition of Employee Engagement. While I have heard the term itself for more than a decade, it often is used with varying meanings. It was surprisingly difficult to find a definition that focused on what the employer can do and what the results of Employee Engagement are. So, for the purposes of this blog, I created this definition of Employee Engagement:

Employee engagement is leadership communicating strategy and embedding goals to a receptive, motivated, and well-recognized workforce who in turn creates customer loyalty and satisfaction resulting in exceptional business results.

As my definition suggests, my thoughts on encouraging engagement do not involve giveaways and freebies but rather they center on leadership behaviors.

Principle 1—Good leaders communicate with their employees.

A good leadership team articulates strategic objectives and promotes processes that successfully embed those goals at every level of the organization. The idea here is that managers align goals to specific objectives for each of their direct reports and, at the same time, allow employees to participate in the strategy and planning related to achieving their assigned individual, team, and organizational goals.

Employees must clearly understand what they are supposed to do and what success means to them individually and as a team. They also need know the organization’s goals and more importantly what the organization stands for so they can be aligned with its intentions. This is important so they can reinforce and promote its culture inside and outside of work. Some organizations, such as Southwest Airlines, go so far as developing and promoting compelling customer service stories that intentionally embody and reinforce their culture and customer service philosophy.1 Those of us that have enjoyed Southwest’s unique style of customer service have witnessed how well this philosophy has worked for them.

Principle 2—Empower employees to do the right thing.

Providing an environment where employees are able to exercise judgment in doing their day-to-day jobs is a must-have for an empowered workforce. It’s not enough for your managers to provide leeway for direct reports to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Employees must feel safe in taking calculated risks, possibly breaking the rules, so long as those decisions result in serving customers better. Top managers and executives must be receptive to upward feedback. Good ideas cannot be ignored. When procedural or system changes are necessary to improve efficiency, accuracy, or customer service, your Engaged Employees should be leading this effort.

One caveat…while encouraging empowerment behaviors, emphasis should be maintained that employees are still responsible for maintaining direct and frank communication with their supervisors and keeping them in the loop at all times. An empowered employee is not an unsupervised employee.

Principle 3—Happy employees are positive and strive to do their best.

How happy are you? Thirty years ago, an employer would not likely ask that question. Today it is more common since happiness has been linked to productivity, so measuring and promoting happiness has been gaining favor with Human Resource practitioners. Tony Hsieh, the CEO and founder of Zappos.com, is going so far as to develop his own “Unified Happiness Theory.” 2 Tony may be uniquely qualified to undertake such a task since his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose is a #1 book on the New York Times© Best Seller list.

Happiness is the most subjective of my four Employee Engagement principles, but I have seen that it is an important one. Happy employees are positive employees that strive to do their best work. Here, we are focused on getting employees well-placed in their roles with a good sense of purpose and meaning for the job they do. Employees must be given the needed training and tools to be successful. They also need to be satisfied with their work environment and compensation. It is essential to foster participation in collaborative teams where all are invested in the successful outcomes of the team and are regularly communicating, sharing information, and sharing knowledge.

Happy employees routinely speak highly of the organization to coworkers, potential coworkers, and customers. Surveys are good tools in checking your organization’s progress in this area. Of course, the ultimate test of happiness is retention. If your organization has a retention problem, then you likely have some work to do on the happiness front.

Principle 4—Team recognition keeps the team spirit alive and well.

Teamwork is the most important aspect to high productivity: http://richardcangemi1.com/?p=89.

People naturally gravitate toward teamwork, but when the reward system is improperly designed teamwork is quickly snuffed out. Teamwork thrives when recognition is evenly and fairly distributed to all contributors.

Good coaches instinctively listen and recognize players’ contributions. They know that those coaching behaviors foster a loyal, motivated, and productive team environment with individuals working toward a common goals that are aligned to make the team successful. A winning football team’s quarterback and running backs naturally receive recognition as they are performing in highly visible positions. The same goes for salespeople and product engineers since they are recognized by virtue of the exposure that the job that they do affords them. Good coaches and managers fairly share successes with all contributors so everyone is recognized for the outcome of the team effort. Shared recognition is what keeps team spirit alive and well.

My four principles of Employee Engagement are simple enough. It is an elusive but worthwhile goal since achieving the kind of Employee Engagement that results in exceptional business results is easier said than done. Good luck!

Footnotes

1 Kelly, Gary, “Gary’s Greeting: Happy Holidays!,” Spirit,  Dec. 2013, http://www.southwest.com/assets/pdfs/about-southwest/garys-greeting.pdf (accessed 10 Dec. 2013).

2 Max Chafkin, “The Zappos Way of Managing,” Inc., 1 May 2009, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090501/the-zappos-way-of-managing.html (accessed 6 Dec. 2013).

Taming the monsters inside us

An awful lot is written about security from an Information Technology perspective, so we are pre-programmed to think that security means firewalls, encryption protocols, password policies, tokens and the like. Unfortunately, organizations are most at risk of theft and fraud from those that have intimate knowledge of their inner workings. We often don’t hear about these events because they are perceived to be embarrassment to the victimized entity.

Over my career, I’ve seen a number of situations where organizations have unwittingly put themselves at great risk for internal or even customer fraud. I’ve also been privy to some clever (but misguided) attempts that have failed miserably.

And I’d like to share a few of these past situations that have left an indelible impression on me.

I’ll start with the Canadian felon who duplicated a legitimate client refund check and then proceeded to issue hundreds of duplicate checks off this account. Then there was the controller that embezzled cash by processing refunds to inactive client accounts and redirected the refund deposits to his mother in-law’s bank account. Another incident involved an accounts receivable clerk that literally cashed hundreds of customer checks into a duplicate company account that she fraudulently opened in her name only. I was once exposed to a situation where a payroll manager cleverly voided federal tax deposits and then transferred those exact funding amounts to her own bank account. I should also mention the former Human Resources manager that used his still-valid payroll login credentials to change employee net pay bank account numbers to fund anonymous electronic payroll debit cards. Not so long ago, an IT worker retaliated against his soon-to-be former employer by posting all employee salaries on multiple bulletin boards at work. And finally, the data processing technician who gleaned bank account numbers from a payroll export file and then made payments to credit cards online using those stolen account numbers.

The common denominator in all of these situations is an insider. Well thought-out internal security protocols and procedures are our best defense against this type of fraud.
Here are my recommendations to be protected against being defrauded by the monster inside us.

Be ever vigilant with your cash and cash accounts. Reconcile bank accounts frequently and separate the reconciliation responsibility from those who processes payments or create client accounts. Use online banking access to match checks, electronic payments, and deposits to your accounting system daily. Require two signatures and/or electronic authorization for all checks or transfers greater than a threshold amount. Place blocks on your accounts so only authorized third-parties can debit funds from you. Use positive pay banking features, and flag unknown transactions and investigate them immediately. Good internal controls and procedures are the best deterrent to internal fraud. These basic steps will not only reduce your exposure to fraud but they’ll help you identify it really quickly when it happens so you can mitigate your damages substantially.

Separate Duties. I’ll say it again for effect. Separation of duties is essential. For example, never-ever-ever have the person who receives the money and credits the client accounts also produce your client billing. Client setup and termination should never be handled by the person that collects and posts your money. The person who reconciles the bank accounts should be different that the one that makes journal entries into the accounting system. You get the idea here: Separate duties so one accounting function provides a built-in audit to the other accounting function.
Expire access to systems and facilities prior to terminating employees. Termination can trigger retaliation and drama. Don’t put your company at risk for embarrassing post-termination drama. Get your ducks in a row prior to letting all employees go by terminating their access to all systems, collecting all their company assets, and ensuring that their access to facilities is limited.

Treat your payroll vendor like it is giving away your money. Just because you’ve outsourced your payroll doesn’t mean that you are safe from fraud. Make sure you separate the duty of changing account numbers from the person that reviews account number changes. It is a good practice to audit direct deposit account changes prior to processing each payroll. Also verify all third-party deposits. Review all manually entered checks, adjustment checks, and voided payments. Ensure that appropriate security is setup so sensitive information like salaries, social security numbers, and account numbers are available on a need-to-know basis. Limit those who can create output data or exported reports with sensitive data. Interface and export files should be encrypted at the source before they are downloaded or transmitted. A good payroll vendor will provide features such as warnings and detail reports to make these audits and verification steps fast and painless. If your payroll company doesn’t support these important features, then get a new payroll company.

The above recommendations are not intended to be exhaustive. The examples should make you think and assess your fraud risks and create a plan to mitigate them. Disciplined audit and security protocols are a great deterrent to fraud, and that deterrent may just be enough to tame those monsters inside your organization.

Hiring – Separating the posers from the performers

The Urban Dictionary defines a poser as a person who habitually pretends to be something he or she is not. The Free Dictionary defines a performer as one that is able to carry through to completion.

Chances are that if you have hired enough people you have made your fair share of hiring mistakes. I’ve had my own personal frustration with a candidate (or two) where after in-depth interviews and reference checks the candidate still didn’t pan out as expected. The candidate turned out to be a poser. And the current job market has both overqualified and under-qualified candidates stretching the truth and posing to compete for the few available job opportunities.

There’s no question that bad hiring is an expensive mistake. The U.S. Department of Labor pegs the cost of a bad hire as up to one-half of annual salary. And that doesn’t count the potential impact to customers, coworkers, missed deadlines, and morale.

So what is a hiring manager to do? How can we identify the posers from the performers? To start with, you can use the following hints to separate the poser from the performer during your initial screening of candidates.

Posers versus Performers

Posers Performers
Answer with rhetoric and hyperbole in an attempt to redirect the emphasis from their lack of experience or knowledge regarding the subject at hand. Cite real world examples of similar job experience and knowledge regarding the subject at hand.
Are heavily coached on interviewing skills and immediately ready with slick, rehearsed answers to expected questions. Make deliberate and thoughtful responses that exhibit passionate answers with in-depth analysis and problem-solving skills.
May have resumes that are heavily decorated with associations, certifications, and memberships. Tend to be more selective with their time and resources and only hold certifications and memberships that directly relate to job performance.
Self-label to guru status, go-to person, or top-performer without providing the insight into how they reached their current level of success. Tend to be more modest but exhibit a strong interest in their field of expertise and the trials and tribulations of becoming successful.

Interviewing should only be considered one tool in the hiring process. A rigorous evaluation with a well-defined process and assessment criteria is your best defense to identify the poser from the performer. At minimum, I recommend the following:

  • Encourage candidates to qualify themselves with job listings that advertise rigorous selection and testing requirements.
  • Document the job requirements in terms of skills, experience, interests, special qualities, and educational job requirements. Evaluate each candidate in terms of his or her match to these requirements, and use the same process and assessment criteria for each candidate.
  • Don’t rely entirely on interviews. Candidates generally want a job offer so they’re apt to tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • Assess cultural fit not personality or likeability; diversity is always a positive influence in the workplace.
  • Narrow down to a small pool of candidates and then enlist the help of an external testing service to validate your assessments and final choices before extending offers.
  • Finally, make all employment offers contingent on reference checks and completion of a 90-day probationary period.

I believe that a disciplined hiring approach that favors performers over posers will greatly increase your chances of selecting candidates that become happy and successful long-term employees.

The Social HCM

With more than one billion active Facebook users already, social networking is strong and getting stronger as literally hundreds of millions of new users join a social network this year.

Unfortunately, business adoption of social networking hasn’t extended much past the marketing department. Business has made its social network investments targeted toward gaining more customers and selling more products or services. Companies are behind the eight ball in their use of social network tools within the workplace and aren’t taking advantage of social networking’s potential to reinvent how workers connect, collaborate, and learn in the workplace. These tools can ultimately improve profits and promote a happier and more engaged workforce.

The modern dispersed workplace needs “social.” Business suffers with fundamental communication issues ranging from misinterpretations and assumptions to lack of follow-through, privacy issues, and inadequate distribution of vital information.

A workplace social network solves these problems because it redefines communication in fundamental and convenient ways. We now connect with friends and family and share multimedia content, update statuses, and check-in at familiar destinations—all paradigms that didn’t exist ten years ago. These new paradigms take social media beyond its entertainment value and improve communication in ways that benefit the sender and the recipient, making social media the most convenient means for sharing information. With such a dynamic shift in people’s communication preferences, why has business been so slow to adopt social networking tools for its workforce? This is for one simple reason. Current social collaboration products simply mimic the features of consumer products and lack the game-changing benefits needed for organizations to adopt them. Businesses will adopt a workplace social network when the products transcend novelty and entertainment-value to become an actionable tool for communication and vital business decision-making.

Human capital management fused to a social network is what is needed. The social graph inherent to the Human Resources function is the foundational element for building a “socially networked” workforce. This Human Resources function, once made socially-aware, can be used to identify, predict, and facilitate many of the actionable aspects of Human Capital Management to drive substantial productivity gains and cost savings. I refer to this game-changer as Social Human Capital Management or Social HCM for short.

A few of the productivity gains and cost savings that can be expected from a Social HCM are as follows:

Speed information flow and decision making.

A social network with its diversity of relevant connections increases communication and collaboration. When employees communicate and collaborate they are more careful and thorough in their thought processes, and in turn they develop better plans. Better planning improves speed, quality, and execution. Agility shortens the cycle of innovation and learning, and these are the keys to establishing a competitive edge and profits.

And it doesn’t stop there. Social HCM distributes actionable events, polls, and notifications, all within an easy-to-follow and familiar interface for information consumption. Users need only to look in one place for all relevant actionable items, such as time off requests or other items needing review, action or approval. Define and schedule favorite informational reports and event notifications to be delivered to your stream or to others as well. And keeping tabs on the whereabouts of your subordinates is gracefully managed by following check-ins and status updates from your direct-report workgroup. A manager can offer his employees instant feedback or tag items for future reference. As feedback from manager to employee is more frequent and conveniently indexed, the chore of managing performance is minified, and reviews can be conducted more accurately and more often with the most relevant content and feedback organized chronologically, by good or bad, or even by competency.

Improve relevancy and avoid Information overload.

The social network is an intelligent design with an intuitive framework for managing the high volume of information that workers face today. Replacing e-mail as a primary business collaboration tool will accelerate the benefits of the social network since the social network allows you catch what you need from the flow information, when you need it, without having to consume the entire river of information. Documents, multimedia files, ideas, and experiences can be exchanged privately or to entire departments, locations, workgroups, special project groups, or private communities. This flow of information can be tagged and retention periods defined so that relevancy for future learning remains high. Like, view, comment, share, alerts, along with tagging activities for follow-up—these concepts are intuitive ways for information consumption and exchange that are adopted from the consumer social network and optimized for use in business. The end result is relevant information accessible like never before–from your desktop browser or mobile device.

Promote employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” ― Tom Peters.

Recognition is a very effective and often underused form of motivation. Ask any HR professional and they’ll say that a recognized worker is more likely to be a satisfied and long-term employee. Social HCM both automates and provides for ad-hoc distribution of frequent, consistent, and fair public recognition to those employees deserving such recognition. Connect social badging metaphors to HCM’s traditional award and points tracking capabilities, and you’ve removed the chore of managing and assigning points for redemption of gifts or other company rewards.

Speeding the feedback loop between project stakeholders and contributors is essential to ensure that projects remain on track. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?”Communicating status and milestone updates regularly to the stakeholders and contributors is one way that Social HCM helps teams stay connected, engaged, on-track, and held accountable for their individual and team productivity. These are the very teams that are most likely to take pride and ownership in their work and perform better.

Increase compliance and utilization of intranets and self-service.

How do you get highly distracted employees to focus on quality initiatives, complete paperwork, read and follow important corporate communications, and respond to surveys without making them feel badgered and controlled? You provide simple and intuitive means for employees interact with the company by adopting the social network metaphor. Punching time clocks gives way to check-ins, status updates serve to update project milestones and project members, pay stubs are securely delivered to an employee’s stream, and events like open enrollment are simplified by virtue of the familiar easy-to-use interface—all of this making these tasks feel more like entertainment and less like work.

Improve knowledge transfer and business continuity.

In businesses, data is typically recorded and information is filed. But what happens to the great percentage of information that resides in the minds of employees? How do those in need of learning connect to those who can teach? For all businesses, it behooves them to establish a dialog before a vast amount of knowledge walks out the door as millions of baby boomers retire and their replacements lack essential core competencies. Social HCM can be the critical resource used to facilitate mentoring and sharing of organizational knowledge. Its metaphor both motivates and reinforces appropriate and responsible corporate citizenship as the social network promotes convenient, open, and transparent communication—the type of communication that is so much less likely to be ignored.

Social HCM will find its way into businesses as HCM software vendors fuse the social network metaphor to Human Capital Management. The virtues of this combination will be just too compelling of a technology for businesses to ignore.