VC investment alters the HR technology landscape

hr_investment_bargraphBillions of dollars invested in HR technology companies have created a handful of new and reborn one-size-fits-all HCM vendors who made a big splash on the HR scene throughout 2015 and 2016. Not to be outdone, niche HR specialist vendors have upped the ante with some very compelling niche products targeting recruiting, performance, learning, compliance, and social collaboration. Choice is always a good thing for HR departments. How does all this investment in HR technology companies change the way HR executives think about using technology within their operations? 

To best-of-breed or not to best-of-breed? That is now the question.

There is no question that current thinking leads HR executives toward single-vendor-fits-all approach for HCM over using multiple best-of-breed niche software providers. The best-of-breed approach may gain favor as convenient and reliable data exchange service to core HR platforms mature. I’m seeing this trend occur with SMB accounting and sales automation providers now supporting data exchange to financial institutions, POS, fulfillment services, lead sources, and even benchmarking data. I expect the HR space to follow suite making a best-of-breed solution approach more viable for HR executives to consider in the future.

A new category is born—The Social Workplace.

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all well-positioned to Socialize the workplace. Social tools at work have the potential to reinvent tracking time, electing benefits, performance management, training, and coaching. This goes much deeper that LinkedIn or Glassdoor—think Facebook, SharePoint, and GoToMeeting combined. In fact, Facebook is already in the game with Workplace by Facebook (https://workplace.fb.com/) launched in late 2016. Gaining access to the employee’s wallet will be the holy grail for Social Workplace vendors, and HR is positioned as the epicenter to be the gatekeeper and policy maker for this new category. I’m concerned that many HR executives are too overwhelmed with day-to-day workload to properly address this opportunity. So, jumping into bed with Facebook may be convenient but not in their companies’ best interests. There are so many issues to consider: security, privacy, data ownership, productivity, etc. It’s HR’s ball to carry right now, and I’m hopeful that HR executives prioritize their time so they can lead the charge to carefully, thoughtfully, and safely deploy Social Collaboration in their workplaces.

Regulations grow exponentially; strategic outsourcing is HRs only hope to keep up.

With all good intentions government continues to burden companies with new reporting and regulation. With the expansion of E-Verify, EEOC, health and welfare laws, efforts to curb tax refund fraud and change tax brackets, the coming compliance burden continues to grow. We’ve learned from the ACA that new employment laws can be anything but a routine and predictable compliance job during their initial rollout. Already understaffed HR departments should strategically outsource these duties to specialists because when you bake in the true cost of doing the work yourself, outsourcing is truly more affordable and reduces compliance failure risks at the same time.

On premise software bites the dust.

Technology investments have favored Cloud vendors exclusively since investors like the advantages of the Cloud business model with shorter development cycle times, a single code base across the customer base, a streamlined support experience, and out-of-the-box integrations with third-party vendors. These things are all made possible by the Cloud software business model. The Cloud business model also does away with version upgrades costs and aligns customer and vendor interests around a stable and compelling product version which reduces the demand for support. That benefits both parties. Vendors are rewarded with lower costs and clients are rewarded with a better product and lower total cost of ownership. As most software vendors exclusively align their products to cloud deployment, on premise software becomes a relic of the past.

The billions of investment dollars in the HR technology space over the past five years has created new choice for HR departments. HR executives should look to outsource the increased burden of compliance to leave them bandwidth to focus on strategic technology investments such as Social Workplace tools and Human Capital Management software. Arguments will still be made for a single vendor solution, but a best-of-breed approach may gain more favor soon. Either way, HR needs to exercise caution with adequate due diligence in the vendor selection process. Don’t pick a vendor solely on technology demonstrations. A vendor that is too focused on feature-packing and super growth and not enough on customer service can be a nightmare to deal with. Nothing can make up for bad partner choices and failed implementations. The cost, aggravation, disruption, loss of time, and negative hit to your reputation as an HR leader is unrecoverable.

Dark clouds of vendors are hanging over us

Do you listen to who uses your software?  Are you really listening to those who are responsible for the success of the project and your product? Or have you completely deprioritized your existing clients’ needs due to the constant push for new customers and revenue growth? Are you slamming customers onto the software without regard to their unique needs and befuddling and disappointing stakeholders and end users with lack of tangible results from their investment and hard work? Are you forcing new clients to compromise core objectives to accommodate overly optimistic go-live dates? Do you feel compelled to be a jack-of-all-trades and showcase feature parity with competitors hijacking your development roadmap leaving your product a mile wide and inch deep?

In my experience, the answers to these questions are now too often “Yes,” which is a strategy that is short sighted and sure to backfire. Bloated, hard-to-use software, rushed implementations, and low user satisfaction rates are not a recipe for success or growth. They are the recipe for failure. Cloud software vendors need to rethink their priorities and focus on change in the following areas.

Feature parity and one-upping your competition consumes development pipelines.

Rebalance priorities from adding new features to simplifying user experience.

It’s so easy to get caught up in a feature parity race and checking all the boxes on RFP responses that you completely neglect making the experience intuitive and creating the mobile-friendly experience that users desire. Your priorities are skewed toward taking orders while the needs of an existing, loyal user base are missed. The software gets bigger, more bloated, and harder to use. Users’ reject the software because the added features actually take them backward not forward. This alienates your users and lowers customer satisfaction. That consistently results in client losses over time.

Conversion of data in and out of the system is way too hard.

Step up to the plate and provide tools to make transforming data to and from your system fast and easy. 

Do vendors make it is hard to extract accurate and complete data from their system so they can’t easily be fired? Is conversion of data into a new system overly technical where it requires the use of expensive professional service resources just because the vendor wants the professional service revenue? Cloud based systems are often inherently inefficient and time consuming for data entry. Getting data into the cloud has been the Achilles heel of the industry. Vendors that do nothing to assist their users with data conversion features leave their customer between a rock and a hard place.

There is little focus and no vendor commitment to achieving the users’ desired outcomes and process improvement opportunities are ignored.

Truly engage as a partner ensuring that customers desired outcomes are fully met.

Once you’ve signed a contract with your cloud software vendor you’ve now begun a race to the finish line. Why is that? What is the rush? Is it because the vendor needs the client to go-live to recognize the revenue? Understanding user needs and business needs and then tweaking the software to meet those needs adds time and complexity to an implementation project. It’s faster and easier to ignore the uniqueness of each customer and conduct a vanilla implementation. Vanilla is what some Cloud software vendors push.

The result is an initial implementation with many missed opportunities for process improvement. Simply moving your current way of doing things over to a new system without thoughtful consideration of how the new system can be leveraged to improve things will likely perpetuate existing problems and inefficiency.  It is shame for Cloud vendors to railroad and marginalize users this way. It is not just a common courtesy, it is an obligation, for a vendor to ensure that their clientele isn’t hurried through implementation so that each client can get the most of their software investment.  As some claim Einstein said1, and as Rita Mae Brown wrote in Sudden Death, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”2

Cloud vendors would be smart to wise up and address some serious strategic problems that stem from their insatiable desire to add new clients at the expense of taking care of the ones they already have.

1 Becker, Michael. (2012 Nov. 13). Einstein on misattribution: ‘I probably didn’t say that. Becker’s Online Journal. Retrieved from http://www.news.hypercrit.net/2012/11/13/einstein-on-misattribution-i-probably-didnt-say-that/

2 Brown, Rita Mae. (1983). Sudden Death. (pp. 68) New York: Random House. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=QJj9VqInFyUC&pg

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).

Super size me Service, please!

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, “Super” is defined as being “of high grade” or the quality of “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” Merriam Webster’s online dictionary also defines “Serve” as “to be a servant.” So, really “Super Service” can be said more powerfully as: extreme servants delivering excessive service.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could super-size service like you can super-size your lunch and transform your company culture to one of extreme servants delivering excessive service? This is certainly a dream come true for many growing companies. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to get to Super Service standards. It is possible however, over time to position your company to Super Service by adopting the following, mostly simple (one not so much), recommendations.

Know the needs and service history of all of your customers.

Starting with the sale, continuing through setup, onboarding, and then ongoing with continuing service, it is essential to document your customers’ service needs and open issues to be able to super serve your customers on a consistent basis. At Mangrove, we use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to store relevant customer information such as sales orders, setup documents, etc., and then document customer encounters to create a customer profile with the institutional knowledge that is essential to serving our clientele with Super Service. When we engage a client, our service person can quickly review the CRM and determine the background information for important customer handling clues, such as: Has the recently called for a similar issue? Is someone else already working this issue? What out-of-the box service commitments do we have with this customer? This CRM allows us to perform as a united team and to collaborate toward developing and sharing a full understanding of our customers’ service needs and service history.

Communicate service expectations clearly and concisely.

In many cases service failures occur when the customer expects one thing, but your firm is doing something different. To be a Super Service organization, you’ll need to consistently manage your customers’ service expectations by documenting your service commitments and then sharing those documented commitments with teammates so you’ll effectively collaborate toward exceeding service expectations as a united team. With every customer exchange, a Super Service organization takes their obligation to communicate an understanding of what the immediate key service objectives are, develop and then communicate a plan to meet those objectives, and then arrive at an agreement of how success will be measured for achieving the previously defined objectives. This protocol of establishing an up-front agreement takes the guesswork out of service and ensures success, as long as you follow through with timely performance of your agreed-to service plan.

Measure your performance and how customers perceive your performance often.

Internal and external measures of your company’s performance are essential to maintaining Super Service levels and to making appropriate changes to improve service levels that aren’t making Super Service grades. At my company, Mangrove Software, we use a variety of tools to measure our performance including monthly department-level score cards, which objectively report our performance against our defined internal service levels and external customer surveys that help us gauge how our customers feel we are doing.

It’s not enough to just fix problems. Do something for the customer’s trouble.

The timely fixing of a customer’s complaint is essential to good service, but it’s just not enough to qualify for Super Service. To be a Super Servant, you must mend the relationship and rebuild trust that has been damaged by the service failure. Often the customer accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for services failures, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.

Follow up.

A few days after the dust settles, follow up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of being valuable to your firm. The intention is to convey these few things in this email and phone call:

  • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided, if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
  • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
  • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

Learn from your failures.

View every service failure as an opportunity to learn how to provide your clientele better service. Many customer service issues are symptoms of issues elsewhere in the organization and can and should be avoided with some planning and better, more concise communication. Empower your frontline service people to document service failures and then hold your leadership team accountable to identify the root cause of the service failures and create the needed policy, product, documentation, and/or service changes required mitigate these issues and keep them from happening again.

Put your money where your mouth is.

This is by far the most difficult recommendation to implement, but it is the one that can have the greatest immediate impact toward culturing Super Service. Give your customers control over a portion of your fees that will be earned by you based on your service performance, and then directly align your service team’s compensation with customers’ payment of these at-risk fees. This concept of having some percentage of your fees at risk where your firm earns its keep based meeting periodic measures of service-levels and/or quality expectations forces your service team into some important Super Service behaviors. For this program to work, your service team must define service expectations with the customer upfront and then manage to them with periodic and meaningful performance reviews with the client. This alignment between your customers’ expectations, service needs, and service, along with customer-controlled incentives to serve, is a very powerful tool toward being Super Service organization.

Are you hunting Purple Squirrels?

The Purple Squirrel is a term used by recruiters to refer to the most elusive of candidates matched to the most difficult of job requirements. A highly sought after and elusive Purple Squirrel candidate possesses the perfect match of education, experience, and qualifications to fit a job’s diverse requirements like a glove;  it is therefore assumed that this prized candidate can immediately assume the job’s responsibility with little or no training and perform with enhanced productivity.

Recruiters dread the “setup-to-fail” Purple Squirrel candidate search because it can be nearly impossible to satisfy a hiring manager’s unrealistic expectations for these job openings. And it is a growing problem. The current buyer’s market for talent has led to hiring managers with expectations that are unreasonably selective where qualified candidates are passed over with the hope of finding more closely matched candidates or even ones with lower compensation needs—a really frustrating no-win situation for the recruiter and the candidate. It is a tragedy that more people aren’t working while so many jobs remain unfilled for months while organizations conduct exhaustive searches for their Cinderella of candidates. This is not an entirely new problem. A few years back I was involved in the sourcing of candidates for a company with many job openings. Our team was excited about the size of the opportunity with this new client but we failed to realize that this client had engaged us in a Purple Squirrel hunt. This client’s expectations were so impossible to meet that after several months of unrewarded efforts we parted ways. When we discussed the situation with the client he mused that a workforce of perfectly matched employees would enable his businesses unit to function with fewer workers and greater productivity.

So why shouldn’t we be incredibly demanding and selective in hiring? What’s wrong with this thinking?

Extended candidate sourcing expenses can exceed the incremental training costs for traditional candidates. Purple Squirrel jobs are so difficult and time consuming to source that the cost-of-hire for a Purple Squirrel can often exceed the incremental training cost for hiring less well-matched candidates. Time is money and wasted time leads to missed opportunities. Wasting excessive amounts of time interviewing and sourcing the Cinderella of candidates can leave your department or organization lagging in productivity or even behind schedule in other areas of the business altogether.

Technical capabilities have overwhelmed your sourcing criteria. If you are recruiting Purple Squirrels you are likely weighing the technical capabilities of your candidates too heavily. Candidates should be evaluated in a balanced manner where qualities such as cultural fit, self-motivation, willingness, adaptability, aptitude to learning, and the ability to work in teams can be just as important to long term job success as a specific degree, certification, and targeted industry experience. Weighing technical qualifications too heavily in the recruiting process can leave you open to turn-over and cultural and morale issues down the road.

You can’t predict the future so don’t paint yourself in the corner by hiring a one trick pony. Markets and organizations change and so do job duties. A better employee is so often the one that can adapt to change, learn new skills, and rise to future challenges.

Been there and done that already. Employees perform best when challenged with growth assignments. The whole concept of a finding a perfectly matched Purple Squirrel candidate is counter to the concept of a growth assignment. Do you want an employee that is willing to settle for a job that really isn’t that challenging, growth-oriented, or provides them with a learning opportunity?

For Pete’s sake…let the stale air out and bring some fresh in. Promoting from other departments or sourcing from outside your industry has real benefits. You gain employees with fresh perspective, access to sources of new talent, and ideas; this in turn creates fertile ground for positive change. Any additional training or startup costs for hiring newbies can be defrayed by lower initial compensation requirements.

Don’t let the parade pass sourcing Purple Squirrels. Here are four recommendations to limit your organizations exposure to the wasted time, effort, and the missed opportunities that accompany Purple Squirrel hunting.

1)      Set a fixed reasonable duration for sourcing candidates for each job opening. Use a talent management system like PeopleGuruTM to define reasonable durations (like 90 days) for sourcing open jobs. Hold HR, recruiters, and hiring managers accountable for executing within these defined time intervals and escalate the recruiting process using workflow notification events at defined points throughout the sourcing window.

2)      Encourage hiring diversity, equality, and balanced candidate evaluations by defining corporate-level hiring standards such as cultural and physiological evaluations along with job specific evaluation criteria; enforce these standards via automated online questionnaires and ratings with assigned balanced scoring and knock-out criteria ensuring that the job-specific requirements do not overwhelm the candidate sourcing process. This has an added benefit insomuch as it ensures that candidates are evaluated in the same manner and judged using the same criteria.

3)      Engage internal candidates first. Release new job openings to employees via employee self-service for at least two weeks prior to accepting outside candidates. This will ensure that your internal candidates get priority consideration and foster a culture of achievement.

4)      Track cost of hire accurately. To accurately track costs of hire you have to consider all recruiting costs including internal and external costs. Use your HR or recruiting system to assign costs to each phase of the recruiting process and not just the external costs. Track internal costs by allocating expenses and overhead to the internal resources consumed in addition to external costs. Only this approach will provide a true picture of your total cost of hiring for each job opening.

Purple Squirrels may sound adorable and harmless; I assure you they are not. For job seekers and recruiters alike it’s a growing nightmare of unfilled jobs waiting for a dream Cinderella candidate that really doesn’t exist.

How to keep a Customer when things go wrong.

Remember how hard it was to score that customer, right? What do you do when Murphy’s Law kicks in and you now have an unhappy, or even furious, customer on your hands? How do you retain them?

Most people recognize that mistakes happen and things can and will go wrong. Your company will be judged most critically on your ability and finesse in managing these challenging situations.

Empower your customer-facing associates to follow these five simple rules, and I believe that you will find good success in turning the unhappy customer into a loyal advocate.

  1. Communicate often, maybe hourly depending on the nature of the issue. Answer and return calls promptly. Be patient and listen to them vent. The customer will often provide you with valuable clues on how they expect you to resolve the situation. Acknowledge your mistake (only if you made one), apologize sincerely for their trouble, and steer the conversation toward the plan to get their issues resolved.
  2. Only make promises that you are sure you can keep. The client is already upset, so it’s not the time to add fuel to their fire. Empathize, and don’t over promise. If you are not sure of a fix timeline, then don’t provide one with certainty. If it is an involved process to resolve their issues, then take extra time and precautions to fix it properly the first time. While you are working diligently on the resolution, always refer back to Rule Number 1.
  3. Cut out the red tape internally to avoid additional inconvenience for the customer. Be your customer’s advocate internally. Good news travels fast, and bad news travel faster. In the age of social media, industry forums, and complaint advocacy websites, even the smallest of customer issues can put your company and your personal reputation at risk for bad publicity. Enlist help from your supervisors, other departments, and co-workers and make a good case for why this customer takes priority over current work.  Avoid solutions where the customer incurs extra work or additional charges.
  4. Do something for the customer’s trouble. The accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Most often your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for ineffective products or services, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.
  5. Follow-up. A few days after the dust settles, follow-up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of their value to your firm. The intention is to a convey these few things in this email and phone call:
    • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
    • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
    • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

So you think you want to go with my competition? Why I could say I told you so, but won’t…

Their lower price is not what it seems.

The old expressions are true that “there’s always a catch,” and “a low price usually equals inferior products or service.” In our business of Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services, new customers come to us for a variety of reasons. The number one reason is frustration with service. We see clients that are just tired of painful and inferior help desk support, and sometimes others have more tenuous and complex system difficulties, and even some face significant compliance penalties.

Getting service is like finding Waldo.

Our competition has become data-processing-centric with service as an afterthought. And while the data processing aspects of the Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services business are vital, I don’t believe that it is reasonable to expect our customers to be experts in our business. We see it as our job to be there to guide our clientele through the process of getting the most of our service and product capabilities. How many times a month or a year do you make a change to a Paid Time Off policy or 401K match algorithm? I’m sure that for you it will not be that often, but, for us, we see these things every day. Our service model encourages our customers to engage us to assist in these types of events for your convenience. In our model, you can help yourself or be helped—either way is fine by us.

Don’t get sold a billed of goods: Implementation, schmimplementation.

We’ve been doing this for fifteen years. Our sales process engages our prospect to include enough information to understand our prospect’s needs. We generally skip the boring PowerPoint®, and limit ourselves to five minutes on “where we came from,”“who we are,” “what we stand for,” and “where we are going.” We spend adequate time justifying the project and defining project success criteria upfront. We follow-up our sales process with a client onboarding team that continues and validates the initial due diligence and works toward the orderly achievement of the defined project success milestones. We do focus on education so our clientele can get the most of our systems and services. And finally our systems and service are flexible and scalable so you are never painted in a corner or outgrow its capabilities.

System conversions are expensive and time consuming—don’t make the wrong choice. Of course it’s nice to see a prospect return to us after few months with our competitor, but I hate the fact that time and money were wasted in the process.

They won’t love you as much as we do.

I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. We bend over backward for our clientele. Your account manager is and will be knowledgeable and accessible because your account manager won’t be overloaded with too many clients—by design. In fact, client retention is a major part of their compensation structure. It is their job to keep you happy and retained. We strive to keep our employees’ interests aligned with our customers.

We are mature, reliable, and user friendly.

This is a business where focus, experience, and maturity counts. Is our competitor really worthy of your business? With fifteen years of singular focus in the Human Capital space, we know this business and can serve your needs in this area. Our systems are state-of-the-art, easy-to-use, and accurate. They work well for thousands of clients all over the USA. We manage all things compliance related in-house—it’s too important to leave to a third-party processor. We are not perfect, and I’d be skeptical of any firm that tells you that they are. We fix our mistakes, stand behind our company, and provide real service guarantees.