All posts by David Shadovitz

What’s Driving Engagement

Engagement continues to be a hot topic. So I guess it’s no surprise to find at least two vendors at this year’s HR Tech Conference unveiling research studies on the topic.

thinkstockphotos-460766179For starters, Oracle released its first Global Engagement Study earlier this week.

According to feedback from 5,000 full-time employees at a variety of organizations, 40 percent of the respondents said their employers could do more to leverage technology to better enable them to do their jobs.

Employees as consumers are more plugged into technology than ever—so they expect the same level of accessibility at work that they get in their personal lives, says Gretchen Alarcon, group vice president of HCM product strategy at Oracle.

The research found that the quality of the digital working experience impacts how much employees feel they are empowered to do their job.

As you might expect, the research also revealed leadership can be a huge driver when it comes to engagement.

“One of things we learned is that leadership availability really matters,” says Alarcon. “Do employees have the ability to ask questions? Are they approachable? Do they feel trusted [by their leaders]? All of these can have a direct impact on engagement.”

The study, based on 4,706 interviews conducted earlier this year by Kantar TNS, found that 47 percent of the respondents consider their leaders visible and approachable and 44 percent have confidence in the company’s leadership, suggesting that plenty of room for improvement remains.

Meanwhile, Ultimate Software released the results of its 2016 National Study on Satisfaction at Work survey, a study of 1,000 American workers conducted this summer by The Center for Generational Kinetics. This study found that trust, open communication and development opportunities play an increasingly important role in influencing employee satisfaction and commitment. Indeed, these factors typically had equal or greater importance than compensation or financial motivators.

“What the research showed us was that the No. 1 driver of employee satisfaction is how companies treat their employees,” says Adam Rogers, chief technology officer of Ultimate. (Rogers shared some of the findings in an Ideas & Innovators presentation at the conference earlier today.)

Exactly three-quarters of the employees surveyed said they were more likely to stay with a company longer if their concerns were heard and addressed, and 73 percent said they were more likely feel satisfied with their organization if it were to invest in their development.

Their level of satisfaction especially depended on how they were treated by their direct manager, even more so than how they were treated by the organization’s top leaders.

Often, Rogers notes, companies will devote resources to developing executives, but the research suggests that they might be better served if they focus on developing managers.

Citi’s Search for Innovation

There are plenty of tried and true ways to identify hot new HR technologies for your organization. Of course, you can attend events thinkstockphotos-489083454such as the HR Technology Conference and Expo, where this year more than 400 companies are demonstrating and sharing their solutions. Or you can read HRE, which regularly covers innovative new human resource tools, including its annual Top HR Products Awards.

But as attendees at an HR Tech Conference session titled “The Smarter Worklife Challenge: Transforming Software Selection to Drive Innovation” learned yesterday, HR leaders can also take a less traditional path.

Last fall, New York-based Citi, with the help of PwC, launched its first-ever Smarter Worklife Challenge, a competition aimed at uncovering innovative digital HR solutions, particularly those being developed by smaller entities that might not be on Citi’s radar.

As PwC Global Head of HR Disruptive Technology Bryon Abramowitz explained, Citi cast as wide a net as possible with the goal of identifying eight innovative solutions in eight different HR categories: recruitment, onboarding, real-time feedback and career development, training and mobility, connecting/social, predictive analytics, executive management and undetermined (essentially, anything else that didn’t fall in the other categories).

A total of 231 companies entered the competition by sending in a short three-to-five-minute video that explained the benefits and value of their solution. Judges reviewed the entries and selected 19 they felt deserved to go to the next step, which was to demo their solution at a one-day event held on Feb. 11 in the Tribeca section of Manhattan. All of them were assigned a coach, who helped them prepare their pitch.

“Many of the participants were small vendors,” Jeff Bienstock, global head of HR technology at Citi, pointed out. “But they were very innovative and creative.”

The competition gave these companies the rare opportunity to make their pitch in front of a company the size of Citi. Teams that made the final cut shared a cash award of up to $50,000, but as Abramowitz noted, the real prize was a contract with Citi, along with the feedback and experience they received as a result of going through the process.

To arrive at the final eight, Citi live-streamed the demos to potential users, who, along with those present in the room, rated them in real time.

Each winning vendor was also given an internal executive sponsor to help ensure funding and provide direction.

According to a press release issued by Citi, the Smarter Worklife Challenge award recipients included: Rocketrip (an employee-rewards solution), Infolio (a digital-workplace solution), Cooleaf (an employee-connectivity solution), Agolo (a business-intelligence solution), Butterfly (an employee-feedback solution), Yandiki (a people-management solution), HRIZONS (a career-information-management solution), GamEffective (an employee-gamification solution) and Starmind (an employee-choice award).

Of the final eight, Bienstock said, two decided not to move forward, two are currently in contract and the remainder are at other stages of the process.

Setting Their Sights on Retirement

thinkstockphotos-498426671If you think millennials aren’t concerned about retirement, think again.

On Tuesday, Willis Towers Watson released a survey that found six in 10 millennials are willing to sacrifice pay for more secure retirement benefits. (This compares to roughly four in 10 in 2009.)

“Employees of all generations, including millennials, are feeling vulnerable about their long-term security,” says Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “Employees young and old actually have a strong desire for more retirement security and are willing to give up pay to get more guarantees or a larger retirement benefit. Interestingly, employees seem to be saying they have enough health coverage now and are reluctant to pay more.”

As far as healthcare is concerned, only one-third of millennials (32 percent) surveyed said they are willing to pay a higher amount for lower or more predictable health costs, a decline from 43 percent in 2009.

When asked how they would spend money if their employer provided them with an allowance to spend on a variety of benefits, millennials said they would allocate more than half to healthcare and retirement-plan benefits (27 percent each). Not surprisingly, nearly half of millennials (48 percent) ranked pay and bonuses over all other benefits if given a choice, a clear indication of the financial issues they face and the need for more financial flexibility today.

Slowly but surely, employers are beginning to accept the fact that employees, be they millennials, Gen X or baby boomers, are hungry for support as they strive to tuck more money away for the future.

So I guess it’s no surprise then that we’re beginning to see robo advisers such as Betterment gain some traction in the workplace.

At the 2016 Benefits Forum and Expo in Nashville, Tenn., this week, Betterment General Manager Cynthia Loh shared the value her organization is bringing to the business community. (Loh spoke during a general session on Wednesday.)

Many of you probably will recall Betterment’s announcement last fall of a new 401(k) platform that uses technology to offer personalized investment advice for all participants, along with administrative and fiduciary support for plan sponsors. (It began rolling out the platform earlier this year.)

Betterment CEO and Founder Jon Stein said at the time, “Current 401(k) offerings—and we have examined them all—have poor user experiences, high costs and a clear lack of advice. Not anymore.”

In late July, the company announced that it had signed on more than 200 plan sponsors since the beginning of the year—and, according to Loh, the company is continuing to sign up new clients at a fast clip.

So far, Betterment hasn’t signed up any Fortune 1000-size organizations. The largest plan sponsor to sign on is MVP Anesthesia Associates, a physician group. But down the road, the company certainly hopes to make inroads into even larger employers.

Getting Incivility Under Control

Does incivility take a toll on today’s workplace?

Well, if we’re to believe the findings of a recent study out of Michigan State University, the answer is yes—and maybe more than we’d like to think.

ThinkstockPhotos-579244800To capsulize, the researchers, who have published their work (titled Who Strikes Back? A Daily Investigation of When and Why Incivility Begets Incivility) in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that experiencing rude behavior reduces employees’ self-control and leads them to act in a similar uncivil manner. (In doing their study, they asked 70 employees to fill out a survey relating to incivility and its effects three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays.)

Of course, this finding is not all that surprising. As human beings, we’re easily influenced by those around us. Right? Probably the more interesting finding is the unintentional nature of so-called “incivility spirals”—i.e., when acts of incivility lead to subsequent acts of incivility.

As Russell Johnson, an associate professor of management at Michigan State University and the study’s lead author, explains …

“When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues. This happens even for employees who desire to be agreeable and polite; they simply lack the energy to suppress curt and impatient responses.”

That’s certainly a troubling thought, especially if you work at an organization in which incivility is clearly visible at the highest levels.

The study also found that incivility spirals occurred in workplaces that were perceived as political (i.e., where co-workers “do what is best for them, not what is best for the organization”).

Because the “intentions and motives of others are less clear” at such organizations, the researchers report, employees have a harder time understanding why they were targeted and how best to respond.

You’ve got to think, I might add, that this inevitably would take a serious toll on employee effectiveness and productivity.

In response to what they found, the researchers emphasize the need for managers to provide employees with clearer feedback on “the types of behaviors that are desired,” both informally through day-to-day interactions and formally through the performance-management process.

Certainly great advice. But is it enough to prevent incivility from spiraling out of control?

Changing of the Guard at Google

By now, many of you may have read that Laszlo Bock is stepping down as head of Google’s people operations, passing the baton to Eileen Naughton, who currently is vice president of sales and operations in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The news was first reported last week by Fortune.

Some of you may recall Bock was HRE’s 2010 HR Executive of the Year—and for good reason. Though only four years at the helm of Google’s HR organization at the time, it was already quite clear that he brought a fresh new way of thinking to the HR world.

As then Google CEO Eric Schmidt pointed out in our October 2010 cover story, “Building a New Breed,” “Innovation and data are at the core of who we are at Google, and Laszlo applies those same principles to HR. He drives cutting-edge people programs and uses rigorous analytics to guide decision-making—all in the name of finding, growing and keeping great Googlers.”

If you’re looking for a single place to go to get at what some of the “cutting-edge people programs” are, I suggest you pick up Bock’s 2015 book: Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. It’s all there.

Last year, the National Academy of Human Resouces also acknowledged Bock’s extraordinary contribution to the HR profession by naming him a Fellow in the Academy.

Unlike Bock, who held HR posts at General Electric before joining Google, Naughton is the latest example of an “outsider” taking the HR reins of a high-profile business.

Before joining Google, Naughton served as president of the Time Group and vice president of investor relations for Time Warner. She also served as president of Time Inc.

The Fortune story points out that she is one of the highest-rated managers at Google by employees and is “a founding member of Google’s women’s organization, Women@Google, along with former Google exec and current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.”

Like Bock (who is staying on as an adviser to CEO Sundar Pichai), she will report to Alphabet (Google parent company) CFO Ruth Porat and will oversee HR in its entirety, including diversity and inclusion (which, like at many Silicon Valley companies, continues to be a weak spot for the firm, though one it’s making great strides to address).

Only time will tell, of course, how Naughton will build on Bock’s legacy at Google. Will she be able to view HR through a very different lens, much like Bock? Who knows—maybe her lack of HR experience will be an asset in that regard(?) But this much is certain: She has a tough act to follow.

Cultivating a More-Innovative Workplace

Further evidence of the connection between workplace design and innovation was released earlier today, this time in the form of Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2016.

In its press release, Gensler, the San Francisco-headquartered architecture and design firm, says it “uncovered a statistical link between the quality and functional make-up of the workplace and the level of innovation employees ascribe to their organization.”

The survey of more than 4,000 workers across 11 industries finds that the most innovative companies provide employees with “a diversity of well-designed spaces in which to collaborate and to focus.”

As Gensler Co-CEO Diane Hoskins put it …

“Employees truly flourish when they have room to not only collaborate but also have space to focus, and are empowered to work when and how they work best—both within their workplace, and in other locations outside it.”

To arrive at its findings, Gensler created an index aimed at identifying the most innovative organizations, comparing the behaviors and spatial attributes of those at different ends of the innovation spectrum.

The research found that employees at the most-innovative organizations spend only 74 percent of the work week at the office, compared to 86 percent for less-innovative workplaces; are at least 2 times more likely to have access to cafeterias, coffee shops and outdoor spaces; have 2 times more access to amenities including specialty coffee, restaurants, gyms and child-care facilities; and have 2 times more choice in when and where to work.

In light of findings like these, I suppose it’s no surprise that we would continue to run across employers that are pushing the envelope when it comes to their workplace designs. Take Amazon, for example, which was featured the other day in a New York Times story titled “Forget Beanbag Chairs. Amazon is Giving Its Workers Treehouses.

The story explains how the online retail giant is growing actual plants (more than 3,000 species of them) about a half-hour’s drive from its new corporate headquarters in downtown Seattle. They will eventually be housed in one of three transparent spheres adjacent to the complex that will serve as greenhouses.

Amazon employees, the story says, would be able to “amble through tree canopies three stories off the ground, meet colleagues in rooms with walls made from vines and eat kale Caesar salads next to an indoor creek.”

As lead architect Dale Alberda points out, the whole idea behind the project is to “get people to think more creatively, maybe come up with a new idea they wouldn’t have if they were just in the office.”

Remember the good-old days, when high-tech companies would rely on a couple of strategically positioned ping-pong tables for those same results?

Battle Over Certifications Rages On

As might be expected, the Society for Human Resource Management made sure its HR-certification effort, announced roughly two years ago, received a healthy dose of air time this week at its SHRM 2016 conference in Washington.

ThinkstockPhotos-522859146At a press briefing on the opening day of the event, for example, Alexander Alonso, senior vice president for knowledge development and head of examination development and operations for SHRM’s professional certifications, reported that the society’s CP and SCP certifications are being well-adopted across key industries.

“Key metrics,” he said, “now include the 92,000 SHRM certificates that exist today [as well as] tremendous growth in the [number of] SHRM exam applications from spring 2015 all the way through to spring 2016, with roughly 9,800 people sitting for the exam in this window.” (Some of these figures were previously reported in a story we posted in April.)

In addition, he said that roughly 84,000 took part in the pathway certifications in 2015. (The pathway enables HR generalists who already have certain HR certifications to obtain SHRM’s certification by completing a brief online tutorial focusing on HR competencies.)

Alonso also reported that about 5,000 HR job postings per month refer to SHRM’s CP or SCP certifications and said that SHRM will be piloting a Spanish-language version of the exam in the winter.

What impact these numbers will have on the HR Certification Institute and its Professional in Human Resources and Senior Professional in Human Resources certifications isn’t entirely clear, but one thing is certain: HRCI isn’t sitting still.

In addition to holding a 40th Anniversary Celebration at Smithsonian American Art Museum (between hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails, participants were able to stroll the gallery and take in some great works of art), HRCI announced that, beginning on Nov. 1, it would offer year-round testing—essentially throwing testing windows “out the window” (HRCI’s words, not mine). Prior to this change, exams were available to practitioners twice a year.

As HRCI Chief Marketing Officer Kerry Morgan explained, HRCI is putting HR on the short list of professions that make certification exams available to their practitioners whenever they are ready and wherever it’s most convenient.

(SHRM currently has testing windows in the spring and winter.)

HRCI CEO Amy Schabacker Dufrane noted that HRCI partner organizations were especially excited about the move because it allows them to support the process year-round.

Asked about the impact of SHRM’s entrance in the field, Dufrane admitted that exam applications were down. But she pointed out that, during the group’s 40-year history, it wasn’t unusual for these numbers to decline during periods of low unemployment (currently at 4.7 percent), being that people may be less motivated to invest in their careers when the job market is more stable.

What’s more, she said, the number of recertifications was very encouraging, climbing from percentages in the mid-80s to around 91 percent.

Of course, as we’ve noted in the past, time will tell as to how this battle over HR certifications plays out. But for now, anyway, HRCI, as moves like this suggest, seems intent on keeping SHRM at bay and remaining a major force in the HR-certification world.

A Three-Prong Approach for Transforming HR

If there ever was any doubt that HR is now at a pivotal moment in its evolution, Ryan Estis tried his best to put them to rest in his Monday Master Session titled “Rethinking HR: The Future of Work” at SHRM 2016.

Changes Ahead
Changes Ahead

Estis, chief experience officer for Ryan Estis & Associates in Minneapolis and a regular presenter at SHRM, told a packed room of attendees that the HR profession is at an important “inflexion point.” As the world of work continues to change, he said, HR professionals are going to need to transform the way they go about performing their jobs.

Specifically, Estis served up three key principles HR practitioners need to keep top of mind.

No. 1: The profession needs to undergo continuous reinvention. “It’s our opportunity to play offense and be a disruptor,” he said. To successfully contribute to their organizations, he explained, HR leaders have to step out of their comfort zone and try new approaches.

“I personally try to force myself to stay in my learning lane,” he said, noting that every day he asks himself if “I’ve done something today that made me uncomfortable?” and whether or not “I’m making progress and improving?”

People resist change because they’re afraid to fail, he said, adding that “the antidote for curing that problem is to take action,” he said.

Estis specifically cited Adobe’s decision a few years back to eliminate its performance-appraisal system as an excellent example of how HR was able step out of its comfort zone to fix a process that everyone agreed was broken. “Leaders hated it and employees hated it,” he said. “So they got rid of it and replaced it with what they call Check-ins, where employees have conversations with their managers.”

(Estis referred attendees to HRE’s July 2013 cover story titled “Rethinking the Review,” featuring Adobe Senior Vice President of People Resources Donna Morris on the cover.)

No. 2: HR needs to deliver from a position of influence. “You have to inspire other people to champion initiatives,” he said. “You can’t do it alone.”

The best leaders are the best listeners, he added.

Estis told those in the audience they need to be able to have the courage to attack old ways of doing things and be willing to challenge leadership.

Further, he said, HR must develop a digital mind-set if it expects to be relevant.

No. 3: Be a culture champion and a catalyst of change, he said. Employers with breakthroughs have great cultures, he said, referencing Mayo Clinic (another client of his) as an example of an organization that has built a culture that has resulted in a highly engaged and loyal workforce.

At the Mayo Clinic, he explained, every employee, even those who don’t have jobs in which they interact directly with patients, embrace the organization’s core value of “putting the needs of the patient first.”

In employee focus groups, he said, each and every employee who took part fully understood the role they play in actualizing that value.

It’s the Eve of Digital Disruption

As its name suggested, HireVue’s Digital Disruption 2016 in Park City, Utah was, for the most part, all about distrupting HR through technology. More precisely, the vast majority of the content surrounded hiring, HireVue’s roots. But as CEO Mark Newman made quite clear during an opening general session titled “New Wave of Disruption,” the South Jordan, Utah-based firm is no longer just about talent acquisition. It’s now about coaching and developing talent, too.

Rusty Rueff
Rusty Rueff

Though still a small portion of its business, with around 30 clients, Newman noted that HireVue Coach, a recent addition to the firm’s Team Acceleration Software Platform, is already growing at a fairly fast clip. He predicted that it soon will become a substantial piece of HireVue’s overall business. To date, he noted, training has been ineffective; it doesn’t stick. But by leveraging the power of video, he said, employers can now change employee behavior (primarily for those in customer-facing positions) in a fundamental way.

Of course, as you might expect, Digital Disruption (now in its third year), like most user events, was chock full of client success stories. Hilton. United Airlines. Vodafone. Netflix. But it also featured a number of speakers who looked at bigger-picture issues impacting HR.

One who personally stood out for me was Rusty Rueff, a former recruiting executive at PepsiCo and Electronic Arts who now sits on a number of boards and is an investor in several Silicon Valley start-ups. (I personally had an opportunity to meet Rusty a number of years ago at a much smaller gathering of CHROs.)

Rueff, in a general session titled “Craft(ing) of the Future,” suggested that those in recruiting need to stop thinking of recruitment as a profession and begin to think of it as a craft.

“A profession is defined as an occupation requiring prolonged training and a formal qualification,” he said. “Doctors and lawyers are a profession. But a crafts person [exercises a skill] in making something. We make something of people. We make something of organizations. We make something of cultures.”

To illustrate his point, Rueff recounted his days running recruiting at Frito Lay, where he was charged with interviewing candidates all day long, week in and week out.

“One day, I said to myself, ‘I’m the most powerful guy in the company?’ he recalled. “My other voice said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m the most powerful guy in the company! because if I wanted everyone to have green eyes, I could do that. I could screen out everyone who didn’t have green eyes.’ That’s pretty scary, because I’m out there deciding what the organization’s culture is going to be by who I let in and who I screen out.”

Rueff recalled that he believed at the time that the HR function at Frito Lay needed change leaders—so that’s who he brought into the organization.

“I was a lowly little guy [at Frito Lay],” he said, “but I got to change the culture.”

Rueff told those attending that a crafts person needs to be, among other things, agile—someone who is able to adopt new ways of thinking. He added that such a person is like “an actor who can play many different kinds of roles on many different kinds of stages.”

To be successful, Rueff said, those in HR and recruiting are going to need to begin thinking like data scientists. “You don’t have to have a degree [as] a data scientist,” he said. “If you’re good with numbers, you can be one.” In other words, it’s a skill people can learn.

In addition, he said, they have to “think like the software-design architects of today, not yesterday. [People] who are fast and nimble.”

And they need to think like personal trainers, he said. “One size fits one when it comes to talent in the future.”

Speaking to this notion of one size fits one, another presenter, Molly Weaver, offered up a great example during a session titled “Stop Screening Out Great Talent.”

As director of talent acquisition at Children’s Mercy, Weaver said she was saddled by a hiring process that was way “too long” and “cumbersome” for applicants. So about a year ago, Weaver and her team unveiled a unique program called “Interview First.”

Instead of encouraging job candidates to apply for a specific job, “Interview First” enables them to submit a video via the company’s website in which they share something about their background and what they would like to do at Children’s Mercy. (Yes, you guessed it: Children’s Mercy, headquartered in Kansas City, uses the HireVue platform.)

Each day, two recruiters are assigned to review the videos that come in and parse them out to the appropriate recruiters (Children’s Mercy currently has 10 recruiters and jobs are divided into clinical and nonclinical). The idea behind the initiative, Weaver said, was to just give people a chance to tell their stories. By putting these videos at the front end of the process, she said, Children’s Mercy is able to quickly capture a lot of great talent, people who otherwise might have left the process.

Just because they aren’t the right candidate for one particular job, she said, doesn’t mean they aren’t right for something else at the company or an opening down the road.

Once the videos are evaluated, potential candidates are told they should consider applying for a particular position right away, there may be something for them down the pike or they’re not really a good fit.

Weaver pointed out that affirmative-action laws aren’t a concern for Children’s Mercy (a government contractor) here, since these individuals aren’t applying for a specific job.

So how is it working out for Children’s Mercy? To date, 120 positions have filled through “Interview First,” including nine individuals who were rehires. Interestingly, the new hires, on average, had applied seven times before.

Certainly, a pretty good start in disrupting a process that is clearly in need of some serious disruption, I think.

Getting Your Messages ‘Heard’

You can create the best comp and benefit plan in the world, but it will be all for naught if you don’t get your communication strategy right.

dv1492011Despite the many and varied tools available to them, employers continue to struggle to communicate in a way that ensures their messages are being heard. Sure, employers may be getting information into the hands of their employees. But is it really resonating with them?

The above point wasn’t lost on those responsible for programming WorldatWork’s 2016 Total Rewards Conference and Exposition in San Diego, which featured several sessions focusing on comp and benefit communications.

(Indeed, each of the half-dozen sessions I attended included at least a couple of slides emphasizing the critical role of effective communications.)

The value of a well-crafted communication strategy was certainly evident in a session titled  “Cutting-Edge Communication Strategies to Drive Employee Engagement.”

John Hyttinen, senior director of total rewards at ADP Canada, detailed the key role communications played as ADP went about revamping its global bonus program. Business leaders, he said, realized they needed to do a better job leveraging multimedia in order to communicate those changes to employees.

To that end, ADP engaged GuideSpark to build a solution for delivering content to its multigenerational workforce. (GuideSpark provides internal communication platforms that specialize in areas such as benefits, financial wellness and talent management.)

In the session, GuideSpark’s CEO and Co-Founder Keith Kitani provided attendees with a series of tips aimed at creating more effective communications, including …

  • Think holistically about your employee-engagement touch points. “To build a connection, you need consistency” from beginning to end.
  • Make sure your communication includes a theme. “Are you trying to get above the noise or just check off a compliance box?”
  • Put your employees at the center of your communication. “You need to connect on a much more personal level” and “help them understand what’s in it for them.”
  • Personalize your communication. He pointed out that “35 percent of Amazon’s revenue is driven by recommendations.”
  • Use a multi-channel approach.
  • Leverage trends such as social, mobile and Big Data.
  • Embed communications in the employee workflow so employees are able to get the information when they need it.
  • Measure your success. “It’s really important that you measure what you’re doing” and use that data to modify your approach.

At least one presentation at the conference addressed the challenges of getting your message across to the organization’s business leaders. No easy task, either.

In a session titled “Storytelling: Influence Leaders and Make a Business Impact,” Britt Wittman, director of executive compensation at Intel, outlined ways benefit and comp leaders can effectively use storytelling to make their cases.

Speaking to a packed room, Wittman explained how stories, when properly used, can be a powerful tool that helps “people remember key messages” and “drives them to act.”

To prove his point, Wittman (who, as the session’s title suggested, focused his presentation on influencing business leaders) shared a story involving former Intel CEO Paul Otellini. “One of the reasons Intel’s stock had gone sideways [for a while] despite strong financial results was the fact that the story Paul was telling The Street was not a compelling vision of the future.”

(Wittman prefaced his remarks by saying that, while Otellini was the “goat of this story,” he was a good CEO.)

You can present the data, Wittman said, but that alone isn’t going to inspire people to take action.

The key to delivering a good story, of course, is to know your audience, Wittman said. “The more you know that audience,” he explained, “the more likely your story is going to have an emotional connection. If you’re talking to someone who hates sports, building sports analogies into your presentation simply isn’t going to work.”

Fortunately, he said, benefit and comp professionals are often presenting to the same individuals—so “leverage what you know about them.”

Effective storytelling, Wittman said, requires setting the context. You need to make sure business leaders understand what you’re talking about, he said, adding that doing so could make a huge difference in getting a “yes” rather than a “no” to a particular request.