Category Archives: change management

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.

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Harnessing the Power of Vulnerability

Many HR leaders — along with leaders of every stripe — tend to view vulnerability as a weakness, and strive to “engineer it out” of their organizations. This is a mistake, according to author, consultant and University of Houston research professor Brené Brown, who delivered a keynote address at the Indeed Interactive conference in Austin, Tex. today on “Vulnerability and Workplace Transformation.”

Far from being a weakness, vulnerability can be a source of strength, power and innovation if people understand how to use it properly, said Brown, who’s spent the past 13 years of her career studying vulnerability, shame, courage and worthiness. Leaders who have an honest understanding of their own vulnerability, and who are comfortable displaying it during critical moments, are better equipped to lead and inspire other employees, she said.

Brown, whose TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability in 2010 became the fifth most-viewed TED Talk ever, cited her own experience in the wake of the talk’s popularity as instructive. Although it garnered more than 25 million views, the video also attracted some nasty comments from online viewers denigrating Brown’s appearance.  The anonymous comments included suggestions that Brown get Botox injections for her wrinkles and “If I looked like that, I’d feel vulnerable, too.”

Feeling traumatized, Brown compensated by “binge-watching Downton Abbey and eating lots of peanut butter.” But while watching the iconic British drama, she researched who was U.S. president at the time, and came across a speech excerpt by Teddy Roosevelt that inspired her:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;  …  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Roosevelt’s words not only helped Brown put the comments in perspective, but inspired the title of her 2012 book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.

“If you’re not in the arena, being brave and getting your ass kicked, then I have no interest in your feedback,” she said. “The world is filled with cheap seats, with people who hide behind anonymous comments and never get in the arena.”

Feeling vulnerable often leads people to try and compensate in ways that aren’t always helpful and, in some cases, damaging. She cited a brief disagreement with her husband that could’ve turned ugly had she not applied her own lessons in being aware of and mastering one’s vulnerability.

“Emotions drive our responses to tough things,” said Brown. “We tell ourselves stories about things that are happening and we get a reward from our brain that makes us feel better, even if the story isn’t accurate.”

However, vulnerability is not only the source of shame, fear and anxiety but also of love, belonging and joy, she said. It’s also the source of courage, empathy, trust, innovation, creativity, accountability and adoptability.

“If you foster a culture in your organization that doesn’t allow for vulnerability, then do not expect people to take risks and innovate,” said Brown. “If you don’t understand vulnerability, you cannot manage and lead people.”

Of course, leaders can’t display vulnerability in every situation, she said, citing the CEO of a start-up who told her he’d decided to share his vulnerability by going public with his feelings of being in over his head and having no idea what he was doing. “People who invested money in your company obviously aren’t going to want to hear that,” said Brown. “But if people sense that you’ll reach out for help when you need it, rather than not saying anything and continuing to plug along, that’s OK.”

The ability to be honest about what you don’t know or are uncertain of is a strength, not a weakness, said Brown.

“To be alive is to be vulnerable,” she said. “To be a leader is to be vulnerable every moment of every day.”

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Mercer: People Risks Can Undermine Mergers

Last year saw a veritable “merger tsunami,” including health-insurance giant Anthem’s proposed $47 billion acquisition of rival Cigna Corp., chemical giants Dow and DuPont becoming one and Dell’s announcement that it would acquire EMC. The trend is expected to continue through 2016, as low interest rates and volatile capital markets spur companies to grow via mergers and acquisitions.

A failure to address people issues can lead to a merger's unraveling.
Failing to address people issues may lead to a merger’s unraveling.

Mergers can and do go wrong, however, and one of the most volatile components are the people, especially the talented and experienced ones necessary for making it work in the first place. This risk is magnified when the necessary planning for employee retention, cultural integration, leadership assessment and compensation/benefits is given short shrift. However, in its first-ever People Risks in M&A Transactions report, Mercer finds that corporate leaders are being given less time than ever to properly address these risks.

The report finds that 41 percent of buyers report less time to complete due diligence compared to three years ago, while 33 percent say sellers are providing less information about assets for sale. Notably, more than one-third of sellers (34 percent) say more and more of their divestment resources are needed to address HR issues.

For buyers and sellers alike, a plan for clear and consistent communication is necessary for minimizing disruption, says Mercer. Beyond that, the companies doing the buying should use skills inventories and competency assessments to gauge the capabilities of leadership teams and key employees on factors such as their ability to govern, lead people and drive cultural change.

Buyers also need to “adopt an enterprise or global view” to effectively manage benefits, the report finds, and develop effective retention strategies for key stakeholder groups beyond the executive team during and after the transaction.

Sellers also need to identify critical employee groups and consider a retention program, says Mercer, and document a clear talent management/staffing plan to establish the infrastructure of the entity being sold and determine which employees will stay and which will join the new organization.

“The people risks highlighted in our report are clearly part of our conversations with the deal community here in the [United States],” says Mercer’s Chuck Moritt, North American multinational client leader. “The good news is that both buyers and sellers are fully realizing the urgent need to address them in a thorough and thoughtful manner.”

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Study: Core HR is Moving to the Cloud

In the early days of the Cloud, some predicted that while certain HR functions — talent acquisition, for example — would be well-suited for the medium, security concerns and the desire for customization (especially among large companies) meant that core HR functions would continue to reside in on-premise solutions. That’s turned out not to be the case, as evidenced by PwC’s latest Annual HR Technology Survey, which finds that 44 percent of organizatiCloud illustrationons have moved their core HR functions to the Cloud (aka Software as a Service) and an additional 30 percent plan to do so within the next one to three years.

“Moving HR to the Cloud is a question of when, not if,” says Dan Staley, a PwC principal who leads the HR technology practice.

For many organizations, however, the move has included some turbulence: More than half of the 650 companies surveyed say their organization’s “lack of readiness to give up customization and embrace the SaaS mindset” was a major stumbling block during implementation.

“Letting go of customization causes some angst for companies — they think they can do everything that they could do with their old, customized on-premise software but then find out they can’t,” says Staley.

The comparatively rapid pace of SaaS updates — patches that are released every month, new releases every six months — also takes some getting used to for organizations accustomed to on-premise updates that took place every three to four years, he says.

The study also finds that although transitioning to the Cloud makes it easier organizations to deploy mobile solutions — primarily because many Cloud vendors offer robust mobile apps to go along with their products, says Staley — many companies are failing to realize mobile’s full HR potential. For example, although 59 percent of respondents say it would be beneficial for managers and employees to use their mobile devices for performance feedback, only 18 percent of companies actually use mobile for their performance-management processes.

“Mobile is being more widely used, but organizations have got to take a ‘why not mobile’ approach to most of what they do — the capabilities are there, but they have to deploy it,” says Staley. “It hasn’t happened as quickly as it needs to.”

HR departments have moved relatively quickly in embracing mobile, he says. Two years ago, only 30 percent of survey respondents said they utilized mobile for HR-related tasks; this year’s survey finds that 70 percent do. Still, says Staley, much of that includes transactional work such as workflow and timesheet approval.

Companies have also failed to devote the necessary resources for taking full advantage of data analytics — even though they consistently say it’s very important to them, says Staley.

“I’m a little surprised — organizations prioritize analytics, but we found that 52 percent don’t have a dedicated HR analytics team and 44 percent don’t have an HR analytics strategy,” he says. “They desperately want the insights from predictive analytics but aren’t doing what they need to do to get there.”

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Rise of the Intelligent Machines

“Smart machines,” aka cognitive computing systems such as IBM’s Watson, robots and other systems incorporating artificial intelligence, could profoundly change the workplace. Researchers at Oxford University, for example, predict that 47 percent of U.S. occupations could be automated within 20 years thanks to smart machines.

Most managers are excited about the prospect of smart machines: 87 percent told Accenture that these smart systems will make them more effective and their work more interesting. About one-third, however, fear that these systems will threaten their job, according to the Accenture study. The study, titled Managers and Machines, Unite!, is based on a survey that queried 1,700 managers in front-line, middle and C-suite levels at organizations in 14 countries on their attitudes and expectations regarding cognitive computing’s impact on their job roles and skills.

The managers said they spend the bulk of their workday on planning and coordinating work (81 percent), followed by problem-solving and handling exceptions (65 percent), monitoring and reporting performance (52 percent) and maintaining routines and standards (51 percent). The study’s authors, Accenture’s David Smith and Bob Thomas, write that intelligent machines can take on much of these tasks, freeing up managers for “judgment work” such as complex thinking and higher-order reasoning.

However, managers in certain industries tend to regard these systems with more trepidation than enthusiasm, largely because of the potential threat to their jobs. Managers in the electronics and high-tech industries are most concerned (50 percent), followed by 49 percent of banking managers, 42 percent of airline managers and 41 percent of retail managers.

The study’s authors urge company leaders to address managers’ fears and concerns, explain to them the benefits of these systems and how they work, and counsel managers on developing the skills that will continue to be important. Indeed, the survey found that managers prioritize skills such as digital and technology skills, creative thinking and experimentation, data analysis and interpretation and strategy development, but place relatively little weight on soft skills such as social networking, people development and collaboration.

“Managers are not entirely sold on the benefit of intelligent machines and it is up to senior executives to address their concerns,” says Thomas. “They need to help their managers not just improve their technology skills but develop greater interpersonal skills to lead the workforce of the future.”

But given the inevitable disruption that smart machines will almost certainly wreak on the workplace (remember those Oxford predictions), one of the skills leaders will undoubtedly need is the ability to be honest with managers (particularly those on the front lines and in middle positions) about the impact this disruption will have upon them. After all, many predictions were made about how technology will free up employees (including those in HR) to focus on “more strategic tasks,” and while that has proven true in many cases, it also led to the elimination of many jobs and not a small amount of pain.

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HCSC Drives Change with Relationship Data

Social diagramming and relationship analytics at Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) was on a pretty fascinating display Tuesday at the HR Tech Conference.

HCSC Social-179275875Speaking on behalf of the Chicago-based, 14.7-million-member organization handling Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in five states, Steve Betts, HCSC’s chief information officer, told a very different kind of social-transformation story at his session, titled Why HCSC Thinks Relationship Analytics Are the Next Big Thing in Talent Management.

Looking to make hefty changes after he came on board about a year ago, he sought the help of Syndio — also Chicago-based — to, first, solidify his case for change and, second, determine his best drivers for that change through all the social-graphing relationship data Syndio could offer.

Key changes in the company’s scope, considered most crucial due to the fast-paced changes in the healthcare industry overall, were its needs to go from siloed teams to a highly matrixed organization, to go from a more traditional hierarchical structure to one with many points of interaction and to go from an organization with limited innovation to one that would be extremely focused on driving innovation with business partners.

“Essentially,” said Betts, “HCSC needed to change and technology was right in the middle of all of that.”

But not just any technology, mind you. What Syndio brought to the process was a robust and well-populated social-diagramming and graphing process based on employees’ answers to specific, academically validated questions that would then plant them on that diagram in terms of their strength of connectivity to everyone else in the company.

As Syndio’s senior vice president of customer success, Andee Harris, described it, “we combined the HR data and [our] relationship data to tell the full story of how work gets done at HCSC.”

Included in that “story” were pockets throughout the organization where departments were maybe siloed and autonomous, “and essentially not effective,” Betts said. The data also told him how people interacted, who they collaborated with, who had more meetings than necessary with no real leaders, who the “bridgers” were and who — all through crowdsourcing data — people went to for what.

Additionally, included in what the Syndio tool captured were several characterizations about each individual, as well as where they fell on the social-networking map — such as if they were collaborators, change agents, innovators, leaders and/or listeners.

Sentiment data combined with relationship data also helped pinpoint people and departments within the organization where support for the transformation would likely come and where more focused communication would be needed. “These aspects and characterizations could truly identify change agents who could help drive [this] transformational change,” said Betts.

The data, analyzed in Syndio’s cloud base, alerted Betts to key connectors in the company who might not have the skills necessary to drive the change he was looking for, but who could potentially bring the organization to its knees because of his or her social-connectivity strength.

“We were able to work with those people” for the good of the company and its goals, he said, “rather than let them go, which could have been devastating,” as opposed to highly successful in helping exact and promote the desired changes.

“We wouldn’t have known this without this data,” Betts said. “It really has helped me see who talks to whom, and how we interact — and how we should interact — across the states.

“It’s very addictive,” he added. “Very action-oriented.”

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Catching (and Spreading) the Rudeness Bug

It’s said that laughter is contagious, right? Well, apparently, the same is the case for rudeness.

ThinkstockPhotos-476962485According to a study out of the University of Florida, titled Catching Rudeness Is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low-Intensity Negative Behaviors, “encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions. … That perception makes them more likely to be impolite in return, spreading rudeness like a virus.”

Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration and the lead author of the study, puts it this way: “When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable. You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” he continued. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

Tracking 90 graduate students who practiced negotiation with classmates, the researchers found that those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner. In other words, they ended up passing along the first partner’s rudeness. The study found the effect continued even when a week elapsed between the first and second negotiations.

In a separate test, the researchers also found that people who witnessed rudeness were more likely to be rude to others. “When study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding,” a press release on the research explained.

So what do these findings (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) mean for employers? Foulks points to the need to take incivility more seriously.

“You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance,” he pointed out. “It isn’t something you can just turn your back on. It matters.”

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SHRM ’15: Global Shift, High Performers and More

Blistering temperatures hovering around 115 degrees apparently didn’t keep folks away from this week’s SHRM 2015 Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. Under the theme “It’s Time to Thrive,” the event attracted a record 15,500 attendees from around the globe. (Vegas seems to be a draw, no matter what the time of the year.)

SHRM photoCrowds and the heat index aside, I did notice at least one refreshing change at this year’s event: a lot more practitioner speakers.

Though I didn’t do a thorough analysis, a quick scan of the program book suggested there were definitely more HR leaders on the program than in prior years—a development I would certainly put under the category of a good thing.

Case in point: a Monday morning session by Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources for Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill.  Titled “Managing a Global Workforce During Times of Change: M&A, Organic Growth and Spin Offs,” Fussell’s talk recounted Abbott’s dramatic and impressive transformation in the aftermath of spinning off its research-based pharma arm, AbbVie, in 2012. (Fussell, BTW, was named to HRE’s Honor Roll in 2010.)

As Fussell explained to the packed room, the spin off left Abbott with a much more global business and workforce. (Today, he said, less than one-third of the firms’ revenue now comes from the United States and 70 percent of employees are outside of the country.)

On top of that, he added, Abbott became, almost overnight, a much more customer-facing business.

These changes, Fussell said, will inevitably lead a very different leadership mix in the coming years.

“Three to five years out,” he said, “I can tell you that we will probably double the number of people in senior leadership roles … who do not carry a U.S. passport.”

As a part of the transformation, HR focused on three specific buckets: core, critical and unique.

“Core,” he explained, is having people who feel and behave like owners and are able to make hard decisions. “We don’t want GMs saying this doesn’t matter in this market,” he said. To that end, he continued, Abbott built business advisory committees in every one of its markets around the globe and requires leaders in those markets to talk about those areas they consider to be core.

“Critical,” he said, “are the [issues] we have to get right together to build the market presence that allows us to [successfully] compete.”

And then there are those issues that are “unique”:

Don’t call me up and ask me about the summer bonus somewhere … . If I’m getting those calls … I need to question the people we have in those jobs.

Fussell also shared what he looks for in leaders. First and foremost, he said, leaders need to be able to analyze a situation. “Do they have an analytical ability to notice the things that are happening in the markets in which they serve?” he asked. “Can they see things our competitors can’t see?”

Second, he continued, are they leaders who can diagnose the things that ultimately will determine outcomes?

Third, are they able to describe a direct course of action? “Do they have a sustainable record of taking what they’ve seen and diagnosed, and then put together an outcomes-based approach … ?”

And fourth, can they execute? With a tone of sarcasm, he said “I’m sure none of you have seen a business that noticeably missed its plan for the year, perhaps by a mile, and then, after looking at all your performance ratings, found that 36 percent [of the employees]exceeded performance.”

Performance—and rewarding those employees who excel at it—was certainly at the heart of a presentation delivered Tuesday afternoon by Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president of human resources for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

In the session title “MGM Resorts: What is it Worth to You to Keep Your Top Performers?” DiTondo shared the talent-retention challenges facing the gaming giant and detailed an approach currently being piloted to help address them.

Envision having 50,000 of your 62,000 workers all located on a single street—and then having the vast majority of biggest competitors located on that same street as well. (In this case, the street is the “Las Vegas Strip.”)

That’s the reality facing MGM Resorts, DiTondo said.

To tackle this challenge, DiTondo said she put a unique twist on question business leaders at MGM Resorts were more than familiar with: What are your very best customers worth to you?  She asked them to think about what their very best-performing employees were worth to them?

“It’s an easy analogy for us,” she said. “As business leaders, we understand the value of treating our best customers [known as ‘whales’] differently from all of our other customers. We understand why an airline has a first-class lounge for customers who pay more …  .”

By making sure all of this is done in a very public way, she said, you’re able to drive “aspirational behavior.”

Every industry has “whales,” not just gaming,  she added.

At MGM Resorts, DiTondo said, the highest level of its loyalty program is called “NOIR.”

These “whales” represent less than 1 percent of the company’s total customers and are treated very differently, she explained. “They get exclusive awards such as being picked up in a private plane [or] staying in “The Mansion,” [exclusive quarters] just behind the MGM Grand. Why are they treated differently? Because while they represent just 1 percent of MGM Resorts’ database, they drive 600x more revenue compared to the average customer.”

Building off of this model, DiTondo, with her CEO’s blessing, began to rethink the way MGM Resorts’ approached its top talent. “If we have high-performing employee, do we apply the same sort of things to them that we give to our high-performing customers?” she asked. “Do we give them access to the chairman? Are they given access to senior leaders? Are they given exclusive benefits that are only for high performers? Do we have personal relationships with them? Do we know about their family, their interests, their personal milestones? Do we understand the impact on the business were they to leave? Do we treat them like VIPs? From my standpoint … the answer is no.”

In the pilot, DiTondo said, MGM Resorts partly copied an approach taken by Chipotle Mexican Grill to groom more restaurant managers internally. Under the initiative, she said, general managers at the chain were given a $10,000 bonus for each individual who was promoted into Chipotle’s management program.

To hold onto and incent its top talent, DiTondo said, MGM created, as a part of the pilot, a tiered bonus program for general managers and executive chefs who met certain benchmarks that included a “super incentive” of 1 percent of both the restaurant’s top and bottom lines.  (At one of the highest performing buffets, she said, these high-performing individuals could now receive a $30,000 bonus, compared to $3,000 under the prior arrangement.)

On top of that, she said, they also now have the potential of reaping a bonus of 10 percent of a person’s base pay if that individual is promoted to a GM and executive chef job. (To receive the bonus, the individual needs to put in a place a plan, as well as coach and mentor the candidate.)

*      *      *

In other news: SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its latest Employee Benefits Survey at the annual conference.

According to Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs, the big headline this year was employers’ continuing commitment to wellness. Of the 463 respondents, employers with wellness programs jumped between 2011 and 2015 by 10 percent, from 60 percent to 70 percent.

Esen suggested that employers were investing in wellness as a way to counter the financial strain resulting from healthcare.

In line with this increase, the study revealed significant increases over the past five years in the use of healthcare premium discounts for participating in wellness programs (from 11 percent to 20 percent) and healthcare premium discounts for those not using tobacco products (from 12 percent to 19 percent).

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Doing Good Through Better HR

doing goodChristine Bader, a former corporate social responsibility executive at BP, has an interesting piece up today at The Atlantic on the importance of a good HR department for companies that want to be better corporate citizens.

Bader, author of the 2014 book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (judging from the title, I assume it touches at least partly on her BP experience), cites companies such as auto-parts manufacturer Lear, Google and clothing company Eileen Fisher that take innovative approaches to HR to unleash their employees’ resourcefulness and creativity.

At Lear, Bader writes, CHRO Tom DiDonato did away with basing compensation on performance reviews, “realizing that the emphasis on pay created stress and stifled the candor that people need to improve and innovate.” Instead, the company now bases compensation on market conditions and awards equity and promotions for good performance.

Bader describes Google’s efforts to do away with unconscious bias through training that not only helps its employees recognize their own biases, but encourages them to step in and intervene when they see biased behavior toward others, Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock told her. The training isn’t being done entirely out of altruism, he said: People perform better when they feel more safe at work. However, Bader writes, if people are treating others more fairly at work, one hopes that will spill over into their lives outside the office.

At Eileen Fisher, the company’s long-term plan to improve the environmental and social sustainability of its supply chain depends on an intense spirit of collaboration within the organization — one that is carefully nurtured by HR, Bader writes. Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts are overseen by a team of leaders from different departments within the company who meet weekly by phone and monthly in person. “Traditionally, work evolves into buckets or silos; we help connect people so they can break down the silos,” Director of Leadership, Learning and Development Yvette Jarreau told Bader.

HR still has a reputation among too many people as a bureaucratic rut — a dark hole of stifling paperwork and mindless processes, writes Bader. But for companies that are trying to change for the better, she writes, a smart and flexible HR department is crucial.


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Forming a Different Kind of Alliance

Trust. Loyalty. Lifetime employment. I think most of you would agree these words don’t really apply to today’s workplace.

ThinkstockPhotos-181678934As Ben Casnocha pointed out during his keynote yesterday at the SHRM Talent Management Conference—conveniently taking place this week just a few city blocks from the ERE Recruiting Conference I also attended—companies such as General Electric used to treat employees like “family” and offer them lifetime employment. But as we all know, factors such as globalization and technology forced employers to abandon such approaches decades ago.

Casnocha, an entrepreneur who co-authored with LinkedIn Founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman and Wasabi Ventures Partner Chris Yeh a book titled The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age (published last July by the Harvard Business Review Press), noted that a General Electric executive once described job security as one of GE’s prime corporate objectives. The year: 1963.

It’s hard to imagine anyone saying that today, right?

More recently, Casnocha said, many companies have embraced the other extreme: the free-agent model. True, he explained, that model does provide both employers and employees with the upside of greater flexibility; but it doesn’t build the kind of relationships that are needed to innovate.

“Would you do your very best work knowing you might not have a job the next day?” he asked.

For those of you who haven’t read The Alliance, Reid, Casnocha and Yeh make a compelling case for a third model that treats employees as “allies.”

“Think about any great alliance between countries, companies and people,” Casnocha said. “In an alliance, both sides commit to adding value. It’s a relationship that’s characterized by mutual trust, mutual investment and mutual benefit.”

Both the employer and the employee need to be adaptable in order for such a model to work, he added.

Employers, Casnocha said, need to “look the employee in the eye and say, ‘We’ll help transform your career, even if that means your career takes you to a different company someday.’ ” As for the employee, he or she “needs to say, ‘If you can make my LinkedIn profile look more impressive by having worked here, I will do great work [for you] and make a meaningful contribution to the company … .”

In his talk, Casnocha also touched on tours of duty, in which employees embark on a specific “mission.” (Once one tour of duty is completed, a new one is then defined.)

Alliances are especially effective, Casnocha pointed out, when it comes to “super-talented employees” who can really move the needle in your company. “What fires [these] employees up more than anything,” he said, “is the opportunity to transform themselves, the company and the world.”

To be sure, it’s a collaborative effort.

Casnocha told the story of one manager who printed two copies of an employee’s LinkedIn profile (so both the manager and the employee would have copies). Together, the two went through the profile, circling those parts that mattered most to the employee and writing in how that person might like to see it read two or three years from then.

On the subject of millennials, Casnocha asked: Which is better for their careers: Giving them a new title? Or telling them that you’re going to help them have conversations with three of the most important people in the industry?” (Hint, it’s not the first. Because, as Casnocha explained, people can take their networks and relationships with them when they leave.)

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