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Posts Tagged ‘Employee engagement’

The Dow is up and I’m getting nervous.

Capitalism is sleeping at the switch.  Big explosion coming, but I think that we’re missing some of the clues that will be obvious later.

As I talk with CEOs and CFOs, there is a common theme of “we’re hunkered down, and going to make it if we don’t take chances or make bad decisions.”  Fine with me.  The problem comes in a two-part storm that is coming.

The first clue are the low turnover numbers.  Nobody is going anywhere, fast.  The normal “breathing” of the job market has stopped.  The  normal movement of high performers from place to place is not happening.

High performers have long had careers based on a project world, and when a project is done they either move internally to a new challenge, or move over to another organization.  This is a group of people that seldom have an updated resume, both because they are moving quickly, and because their next employer already knows them and does not need a resume.  (Low performers ALWAYS have updated resumes…)

Therefore, pressure is building for movement within the ranks of high performers.  When the “coast is clear” for movement, it will happen quickly.

The second driver of the coming explosion is health care.  When – not if – our nation figures out a way to get everyone insured with baseline medical care, the handcuffs that are holding people to jobs that they do not like will be dropped.  The good news is there will be an explosion of entrepreneurial energy as the barrier of health care will be lowered.  Bankers will open flower shops.  HR professionals will become consultants or change professions completely, knowing that they can focus on service delivery and not worry about their health care.

The scary part is that I am confident a large percentage of dis-engaged high performers in our organizations will choose to set up their own businesses.  This removes them from the available labor pool.  They don’t leave the economy, but you can’ t hire them.

Here is the really scary part.  Both of these storms are probably going to happen at about the same time.  When the Dow gets back above, say 12,000, kapow.  When health care gets implemented, kapow.  If they both happen in the same quarter, kablooie.

So, what are you doing to stay dry?  I have some ideas…would love to hear yours.

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I felt I had been here before.   Image a large room full of marketing types and business leaders, all wearing name tags and juggling coffee and folios and talking about how great they were doing.  It was the new incarnation of the Business Rally, and I was happy to be back in a room of artificially happy people. The smiles were nice, even if they were forced.

Ron Brumbarger, CEO of Bitwise, had pulled this together, and was happy with the turnout.  I was happy for a free cup of coffee and getting some energy from a room of marketing types.  I think everyone needs a dose of happiness every now and then, even if it is partially artificial.  The rules on the invitation were clear – this was not a job search event, so if you were looking for work, look elsewhere.  That also meant that the requests for 20 minute networking meetings were eliminated.

What was different and refreshing was the presence of several key Human Resources professionals, and how they might have the answer to the turnaround.  Yes, there were bankers in one corner talking about cash flow and operations types in another corner talking about new tracking systems.  The surprise was a pair of HR experts, and the answers that they had for american industry.

Chuck and Chris make it simple for us

Chuck and Chris make it simple for us

Chris Woolard, whom you may already know, is a national expert on employee engagement at Walker Information.  Chuck Gillespie, ex-senior HR person at a local logistics company, is now leading the charge at Peoplebase, with a new take on HRIS systems.  Between the two of them, an organization could make sure that their high performers were fully engaged, and then use that knowledge to produce a better outcome.

It just made me feel proud that, here at ground zero of the business turnaround, that HR was at the table along with the money and the operations.

It also made me proud that people clearly knew who they were.  All of that work that HR has done to be taken seriously is starting to pay off…

The coffee was brewing, the suits were talking, and HR was in the room.  This was good.

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I attended the Indy SHRM lunch today, and ran into an old friend at the sign in table.  She had seen the postings about performance management and the notes about Jack, and wanted to vent a little.

“I was a big believer in the power of performance reviews and the importance of documentation, but now, looking back on it, I guess that all of that guidance and corrective advice we were giving never really did change behaviors.  Maybe it wasn’t worth the time.”  She laughed.  “Maybe, I’m just getting old and cynical.”  I assured her that she was….and that that was OK.

We all need a little watering, some encouragement, and occasional pruning.  Without the attention, we wither and die…

I was reminded a while ago when I found a dessicated and VERY dead office plant in an office, a great metaphor for performance management in our modern world.

When you feel old and dried up, like this plant, it's time to change jobs.

When you feel old and dried up, like this plant, it's time to change jobs.

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Well, hey.  Remember that speech that Jack gave at the SHRM conference?   Some of his remarks made the paper…and, not in a good way.  You can read the story here or, if you’re like me and don’t pay for internet content unless necessary, read the Salon post about it here. My savvy Uncle Tony saw it and forwarded it.

Hmm.  When I was sitting there listening and he delivered the  quote that is controversial, I looked around and saw a shocked sea of female faces.  They had come to see a big shot who was “good at HR”, and they were seeing a curmudgeon who is unapologetically cranky and not family friendly at all.

The quote in question:

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Mr. Welch [said]. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Mr. Welch said those who take time off for family could be passed over for promotions if “you’re not there in the clutch.”

“The women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, of DuPont, I know these women. They’ve had pretty straight careers,” he said in an interview with journalist Claire Shipman, before thousands of HR specialists.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster,” Mr. Welch said. “But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

Sooooo.

What makes this more interesting to me was the reaction of a woman I met on the shuttle bus that night.  She was still fuming, but from a surprising perspective.  “I’m mad, but because I WORKED for him.  I was in one of the GE divisions that he talks about, and we all knew that the window dressing did not match the world we saw from the inside.  Now, he’s starting to reveal that truth.”

Employer of Choice?  Perhaps, only in the marketing.  Not in the execution…

Take a minute and read the comments on the WSJ article – no subscription needed, and very enlightening…

Your thoughts?

Smilin' Jack

Smilin' Jack

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So, HR has been accused of not taking risks.  We’re being told that risk taking – good risk taking –  is an important part of our economic recovery.

Why should we?  For decades, HR has been browbeaten into risk avoidance, not risk taking.  The hiring of HR people has included people with administration backgrounds and legal backgrounds.  In general, neither administrators or lawyers have entrepreneurial leanings.  Neither of these types pushes the envelope and tries new things.  Risk taking is not in the “comfort zone”

What to do?  If we agree that good risk taking behaviors are needed in the HR community, we need to make a few basic changes.

First, we need to make Risk Management a more prominent part of the “body of knowledge” in the Human Resource Certification Institute’s certification process. Teach it, and require it as a part of PHR or SPHR certification.  When I took my SPHR exam, I don’t recall answering any risk questions.  To be fair, I was in enough of a test panic mode that I doubt I could recall any question in the SPHR exam beyond what year the Taft-HartleyAct was passed.  1947, I think.

Second, we need to practice good risk behaviors in our personal lives. This is a life skill, and taking good and prudent risks is not well tought in our society.  Just as negotiation is not a part of the North American culture, the basic midwestern risk profile is to not do it until at least three other people have tried it, whatever it is.  I know people with rotary dial phones in their house – this touch tone thing is just a fad, perhaps…

Finally, we need CEOs and CFOs that recognize and reward good risk taking. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated.  We have been talking about performance management and performance reviews.  I’ll bet money that none of your review forms have a discussion of good risk behaviors that are a part of the feedback loop, unless the job title has “Actuary” in it somewhere…

Until we’re rewarded and not punished for it, I don’t think it will happen.

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So, we hire poorly, screen poorly and then are surprised when the last line of defense – performance management – fails?

I spent quite a bit of time at SHRM National listening to the full range of topics, all themed on improving productivity and getting the “HR Thing” right.  Much of it was spent on the administrative side of our world.  Why?  Because it is safe, and it is what we see as the “bedrock” of our world.

It’s wrong.  We should be looking at a better bedrock.  We should be spending our time evenly split on workforce planning and helping guide the organization to a higher level of performance and profitability, and management development, helping guide the individuals inside the organization to higher levels of personal performance.

I’m writing this during the monthly meeting of the Human Resource Professional Development Association.  Elizabeth Stahl is presenting, and she gets this point.  She is pushing people to have courage, take risks, and gain influence.  All of which is true, especially as my data shows that we in HR have a very slow decision cycle and are cautious, and want to protect our paychecks. It is also clear that for this group of mostly senior HR people that we, as a group, think higher levels of risk taking is a good idea…within reason.

Within reason?  Hey, we’re in a “seige mentality”.  We’re under attack, and everyone is hunkered down, protecting their paycheck.  This is a lousy time to take risks.  At the same time, our organizations MUST take risks to survive.  Our CEOs need to have us taking good risks, and helping the organization survive.

Maslow got it right.  First we are focused on survival, then on safety, then on community.

Focus on survival.  Take some appropriate risks.  And accept that these are mutually exclusive.

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You don’t have to be high tech to “get it.”

Thinking about Hank’s comment to my last post as I drove by a car wash a minute ago.  The staff was out front in neckties and white shirts, waving in a line of cars and selling the service of a clean car.   Me?  I’m cheap and I use a discount gas station.  It’s $3 cheaper.

The local car wash chain ran an interesting series of advertisements a while ago.  They weren’t selling their service directly.  They spent their advertising dollars to have their hourly staff talk about the high quality of their bosses and how much they enjoyed the opportunity for personal development and what motivates them on the job.  They talked about how tough it was to get a job there and what they thought of having to wear a necktie.  They were clearly proud of it all.

And, they clearly think we have more intelligence than the average terrier or sheepdog or whatever breed it was that I recently saw in a parked car.

Seen on the street near my house...

Seen on the street near my house...

They never talked about washing cars or coming to Mike’s Car Wash.

My takeaway was that they are clearly a group of high performers at the bottom of the corporate food chain, and that I get more than $3 of additional service at their place. Also, I am impressed that the leadership team is proud enough of their culture to spend advertising $$$ to sell HR, not coupons.

To me, it is proof that good performance management and communication and high standards for hiring all pay off.  I’m going back there this afternoon for a wash…and I’m expecting a good experience.

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