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.

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

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…

Featured

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

Most recently with an economic recovery underway, 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 to avoid this? One 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.

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.