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).

Are you ready for a storm of cloud-based software?

Knowing the right questions to ask when buying anything is essential. Sourcing cloud-based software is no exception. Cloud software can be tricky to evaluate because it’s bundled as a service to eliminate complexity. As a result, vendors are conditioned to provide little or no transparency to buyers. We are all too familiar with what happens when we make assumptions, right?

When you evaluate cloud software, break down each part of the service bundle and consider it individually. Here are tips to help you avoid a storm-cloud-based software solution.

Be sure to understand how the infrastructure is managed.

Cloud-based software is most often a shared infrastructure similar to the way we share public highways and bridges. This is called a multi-tenant configuration. The challenge is that heavy traffic and congestion at certain times can be a fact of life. Just as public transportation is not always suitable or convenient for transporting wide and heavy loads or private secure cargo, cloud-based solutions may not be suitable or convenient for supporting every unique business requirement. Larger and more sophisticated organizations can still make use of cloud solutions because the most sophisticated cloud vendors optionally support dedicated virtual machines for database, application, or even web servers. These configurations can eliminate many of the typical limitations of a shared infrastructure. If you need this today or in the future, choose a vendor that has the flexibility to customize the infrastructure to meet your needs.

On the infrastructure side of the cloud service, you should consider the following points before buying:

  • Will the vendor support a private connection with guaranteed bandwidth to eliminate traffic and congestion from other clientele?
  • What additional layers of security protection are optionally available?
  • How is the service updated for new functionality and compliance?
  • What are the intervals for applying maintenance releases and updates?
  • What are the service-level guarantees for uptime that are provided by the vendor?
  • What are the security policies for protecting your information from malware or other threats?
  • What level of reliability and redundancy is built into the service infrastructure?
  • Can the service be optionally configured to support dedicated hardware, virtual instances, or even in hybrid environment for companies with unique business needs?

Gauge how the system is going to perform in real life situations.

This one could really zap you if you’re not careful. Thoroughly evaluate performance, or you could be dead in the water and loosing revenue. Think in terms of your peak usage times or peak season and then make sure your cloud vendor understands your needs and can keep up with the influx of system activity that your company and others may need the cloud infrastructure to support. Get performance guarantees in writing.

Evaluate the functionality to be sure that it will serve your business needs.

Most of us instinctively think in terms of the web front-end functionality for this new cloud software we’re getting. But it’s not enough to just evaluate this piece alone with cloud solutions. Cloud vendors bundle the front-end that you see with the back-end functionality that you can’t see or touch. You need to know what is going on behind the scenes so you can ferret out what might be missing. Ask questions like:

  • What devices, OS’s, and browsers does the vendor support?
  • What level of customization can be supported to adjust the product to more closely match your requirements?
  • Can you manage the customization or is this only handled by the vendor? How are customizations supported?
  • How are integrations with third-parties handled?
  • What about single sign-on or items like active directory integration?
  • How do you access your data or even download your data for safekeeping?
  • What functionality is not real-time and subject to scheduling?
  • How are alerts managed?
  • What are your options for reporting and analytics?

Understand the true cost of using the cloud service.

Take the time to truly understand the pricing model and your true costs. Don’t solely rely on the sales proposal and estimate provided by the vendor. Find out:

  • How is the pricing incrementally adjusted for growth or shrinkage in the use of the service? Is it adjusted based on transactions or number of covered users or not at all?
  • How is data storage and bandwidth consumption managed? Are limits imposed or do charges kick in at certain thresholds?
  • What pricing guarantees can be provided to ensure that your price continues to be fair down the road?
  • Does the vendor offer a scaled down use of the service after cancellation? What are the charges for this usage?

Check out the bricks and mortar behind the cloud service.

What services are available conveniently and affordably from the vendor? Don’t assume. For example, PeopleGuru’s payroll cloud service bundles services for ACH origination, garnishment processing, check printing, new hire reporting, and federal-state-local tax filing with a dedicated account management team but many of our competitors don’t. Clients that are used to these traditional payroll outsourcing conveniences that switch to a cloud service without a bricks and mortar support operation have the unique challenges of staffing up to support these functions in-house. So, be sure to understand what services your cloud vendor is offering:

  • How is the vendor’s support operation structured?
  • What level of support is provided during your implementation process?
  • Does the vendor have a structured process for guiding your through the implementation?
  • What tools does the vendor provide to facilitate data conversion into their product?
  • How is training delivered?
  • Are self-help tools available?
  • Is technical support immediately available when you need it, or do you have to wait 48 or even 72 hours for a response to an email?
  • Will you have a dedicated account management team and an escalation point of contact, or will you have to wait in a call queue to get the next available representative at a call center?
  • Did you check two or three client references?

By considering the infrastructure management, real life performance, functionality, true cost, and bricks and mortar, you’ll avoid storm-clouds and will be able to identify the best cloud-based solution for your organization’s unique needs.

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.

Taming the monsters inside us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiring – Separating the posers from the performers

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

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

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

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

Posers versus Performers

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

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

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

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

The Social HCM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speed information flow and decision making.

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

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

Improve relevancy and avoid Information overload.

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

Promote employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

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

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

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

Increase compliance and utilization of intranets and self-service.

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

Improve knowledge transfer and business continuity.

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

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

Highly Productive Teams

I have been fortunate to participate in teams where members engaged each other in an inclusive way that energized, inspired, embraced change, and just plain made work more productive and fun. I refer to these teams as Highly Productive Teams. These teams always seem to position the rewards and accolades of success with the team and never the individuals involved. They keep their eye on the ball and collaborate instinctively to achieve the project vision. However, I’ve also seen firsthand organizations that don’t collaborate and have a silo mentality, hoard information, and resist change. They assign blame or success to individuals and in doing so they often neglect the overall goals and vision for the project.

I view the Highly Productive Team as the Holy Grail of productivity. At the centerpiece of Highly Productive Teams is workplace collaboration—the act of harnessing the collective intelligence, ingenuity, energy, passion, and creativeness of an organization to result in innovative and successful team effort driven toward achieving a common vision. Highly Productive Teams are inspired organizational efforts that transcend mediocrity and go on to achieve greatness.

Teamwork and collaboration are high on the list of reasons that top-performing companies give for their success. In 1999 at the height of HP’s reign as one of the most successful and innovative companies, it published the Rules of the Garage[1], a framework for innovation. HP’s framework heavily weights teamwork in its list of organizational success factors. Similarly, Google’s Susan Wojcicki’s Eight Pillars for Innovation[2] attributes collaboration within five of her eight pillars.

Do a little research on teamwork and workplace collaboration, and you’ll find a consensus of opinions centered on a close knit work environment promoting regular communication and sharing amongst team members: A team with a high trust quotient, common interests, vesting in the successful outcome of the project, and leadership that is clear on goals, objectives, and vision.

Just a few simple rules that should be easy enough to implement, right? The million dollar question is: “Why do so few teams click, collaborate successfully, and become highly productive, and the bulk of the rest, not so much?”

At Mangrove we pride ourselves on doing more with less, and I attribute our highly productive teams as a big part of the reason why. I wish I could say that every project or endeavor falls into the utopia of the Highly Productive Team, but we’re there more often than when we’re not. So what are we doing specifically at Mangrove to build Highly Productive Teams?

Our leadership model is open, inclusive, passionate, results-oriented, but flexible with deadlines.

  • We paint the big picture and are realistic and forthright with the project objectives.
  • We engage the team to discuss, challenge, contribute, and ultimately be a part of the solution-creation process.
  • We instruct the team on what not to work on, and prioritize the issues that require creative solutions.
  • We communicate flexible target dates, success criteria, and levels of authorities; we never sacrifice innovation, forward momentum, and morale for the sake of meeting short-term deadlines.
  • We are passionate with a singular focus on the delivery of high quality results.
  • We are generous with praise.
  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

Our teams are small, agile, aligned with vested interests, and are given adequate time.

  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

As Mangrove has grown, so has our distributed workforce. We’ve seen firsthand how contributors working in different physical locations and different time zones can slow down collaboration and challenge productivity.

We connect the team with technology.

  • We invest in video conferencing and document sharing capabilities, and now we engage our remote team members equally with our resident team members.
  • We use automated tools to track open items, record resolutions, and communicate progress frequently in terms of project deadlines and milestones.
  • We embrace a regular rhythm of social activities and informal meetings that promote trust and accountability among team members.
  • We encourage the use of social media tools to facilitate information broadcasts, knowledge transfer, recognition, and real-time communication.

Our approach to workplace collaboration is one that instinctively works for us, and it is becoming engrained in our culture as a company. I’ve seen both side of the coin, and there’s no question in my mind that organizations that collaborate earn the right to remain relevant while those that don’t eventually face tough times. In 2001, Apple’s iPod device was a runaway success that challenged Sony’s Walkman product line into obsolescence. Sony was unable to collaborate to counter with a viable iPod-iTunes alternative because of too much internal competition; they instead went to market with two competing products, and both failed.  Apple on the other hand, parlayed its previous iPod success by collaborating and sharing designs from the iPod team with the iPad tablet team, and the iPad became another runaway success.

So the rewards for assembling highly productive teams are obviously great. Getting your team there is a matter of finding the right balance of leadership style, and a having a good, solid framework for collaboration in place.

Leading the horses without having to make them drink

High performing teams are led and not managed. A horse when led to water should drink on its own just as a performing team when led with vision should achieve its stated goals.

Traditional managers are dinosaurs. Today’s younger workforce isn’t responding favorably to old school management techniques. They expect to be constantly informed, engaged in problem solving, recognized, and empowered through a common vision and goals. They just don’t respond to direct orders or micro-management techniques. The newer worker gravitates toward teamwork and collaboration and favors constant communication. That’s not to say that every tool of traditional management is obsolete, but proper leadership is the essential ingredient for a fully engaged modern workforce. Leadership is the bridge to productivity, loyalty, and ownership. Without leadership, you risk a disengaged workforce that is marginally productivity, with high turn-over, and very little commitment to the stated objectives.

Consider the attributes of the old school management philosophy versus those of a leadership model.

Management Model

Leadership Model

Manage: Submissive to one’s authority,   discipline, or persuasion. Lead: Guide, direct, or influence.
Manager: An old-school boss who focuses activities on   tracking, reporting, and controlling their direct reports’ individual   behaviors and contributions. Leader: A visionary who recruits, influences, and   motivates highly-productive, collaborative teams that are focused on   achieving a shared vision and common goals.

It’s been said that you have to be born a leader. I disagree because I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with a handful of natural leaders and a few who I personally witnessed mature into leadership roles. I have also been privy to a few failed efforts that resulted from a lack of leadership. So, I’ve seen both sides of this coin and benefited greatly from my experience.

There are lots of opinions on what makes a great leader. Some might say it requires eloquent public speaking, great personality, or even good listening skills. It is my opinion those attributes are certainly nice to have but won’t make for a great leader without the following eight qualities of leadership.

1.       Evangelize the vision, and light the fire within, not under them. Be the focal point for the vision. Inspire, motivate, and keep your messaging simple, realistic, and concrete. It is imperative that followers buy-in to the plan and how it will benefit them and the organization.

2.       Is your vision relevant? You should validate your vision periodically for relevancy to your organization, the market opportunity, and customer needs. You don’t want to lead your followers down a dead end or else they won’t easily follow you again. As Yogi Berra best said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.” Be sure to validate that your assumptions haven’t materially changed in a way that requires your vision to be revisited.

3.       Empower, coach and co-create. The focus should be on developing the right behaviors and achieving great results. Lead your followers through the decision process and allow them to arrive at a solution that they have crafted. Resist the temptation to waive your magic wand and just fix it.

4.       Keep your ear to the ground. Assess periodically if you have the necessary buy-in and sponsorship to make the vision a reality.

5.       Walk the talk. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Set a great example and use your behavior to reinforce your vision and the corporate culture that you embody. As a leader your actions are studied often, and your actions can be an opportunity to communicate, inspire, and empower. There is nothing more demotivating to followers than a double standard.

6.       Recognize and celebrate success. With success should come public celebration—it’s not necessary to have blow-out party, but you need to recognize your successes. The thrill of success is contagious. So often, great leaders assign the full credit for success to the team and take personal responsibility when thing go wrong. Never chastise failures, but instead study them for the purpose of not repeating the same mistake again. Avoid assigning fault to individuals as this process is counter-productive and de-motivating to your followers.

7.       Raise the bar. Great organizations constantly improve since maintaining the status quo while your competitors are improving is a recipe for ultimate business failure. What happened to Circuit City, Borders Books, and Blockbuster?Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Red Box took market share and forced them out of a leadership position. And great leaders promote high achievement. High achievers expect to be constantly challenged or they become bored and go somewhere more challenging. So either raise the bar, or go the way of Circuit City, Borders Books, or Blockbuster.

8.       Leave go. Lastly and most importantly get the right people involved then inspire them with vision and get out of their way.

Avoiding the “Saashole”

Software-as-a-Service (“SaaS”) is a software delivery model where the product and its associated data are hosted in the cloud, and users gain access to the application via a web browser. In recent years, many business applications including accounting, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and human resource management have moved from on-premise licensed installations to SaaS as a primary delivery method. Gartner Group estimates that SaaS revenues will reach a projected $21.3 billion by 2015.

I should say upfront that I am a big fan of SaaS. Its simplified product and service model yields lower retail costs, improved vendor profitability, and makes customer support more convenient for everybody. Unfortunately this sometimes means that all customers have to be shoe-horned into “the box” of canned functionality. A “one size shoe that fits all” solution may work well for some organizations, but it often doesn’t for all. Organizations that have customization needs or unique integration requirements will find that SaaS is too restrictive for them and in turn may end up in the “Saashole” trap. There are often better choices for these organizations such as hosted or an on-premises license.

Here are my tips for avoiding the “Saashole” trap:

Review service level agreements for reasonable up-time guarantees and response time measures for all major application functions. SaaS applications are cloud-based, meaning a shared infrastructure of web servers, applications servers, and database servers that are accessible via the public internet. SaaS does not offer exclusive use to a single organization so performance can be impacted by what other users are doing at any given time.

Does the vendor support the browser and platform that you desire? Now days SaaS is accessed using a web browser. Are you patient enough for browser-only access? Is your intended use conducive to browser access? Is your internet connection stable and fast enough?

Choose a vendor with a more evolved reporting capability that shields end-users from system complexity. SaaS vendors commonly use a large data repository comingling customer data as 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 to enhancing the productivity of reporting. Ultimately the best approach eliminates all reporting complexity by abstracting the data relationships from the end-user. This yields point-and-click report definitions, grouping, and summaries in the most user-friendly format available.

Make sure the vendor’s “box” of capability is big enough for your needs. A single code base is another key tenant of SaaS. A lot of SaaS providers have application policies to customize look and feel, and in some cases, parts of the customer experience, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that every customer is stuck with the exact same user experience. But it what it does mean is that code customization for the unique needs of a single customer is not supported. Keep in mind that mature products tend to have a bigger “box” of capability that allows more organizations to be easily supported by the product.

Don’t get “Saasholed” into a long-term contract without cancellation options. Yes it is true thatSaaS has a subscription pricing model, but many vendors impose minimum contract terms or early termination penalties. It’s no fun to be pigeon-holed with a contract for a product that is not working well for you. And what if your organization requires change? You must consider your future needs as well.

Don’t overlook your system integration points, data imports, and data exports. In our business of HR, Benefits, and Payroll, getting data in and out of the system in a secure and efficient manner is an essential requirement for our clientele. Employee loads, time imports, carrier feeds, G/L files, and published web service integration points are just a few examples. Does the SaaS solution you are considering meet your integration requirements?

The key to every successful SaaS implementation is matching customer requirements to the capability of the solution. Before making a buying decision, conduct enough due diligence to know if the solution is a good fit for your unique requirements. Like with so many things in life, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. One sure way of avoiding the “Saashole” trap is to try the service before signing a long-term contract.

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.