Category Archives: HR profession

Microsoft CEO Touts Equal Pay after Apology

Satya_NadellaIt seems Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella (at right) is still in apologetic mode after making some ill-advised comments at a recent conference that, in essence, discouraged female employees from asking for raises.

Apologizing immediately afterward, Nadella now says in this Oct. 20 Time magazine online article, that men and women at Microsoft are paid equally. Clearly, the need for more positive spin is still there.

Here, in case you missed it, is Josh Eidelson’s Oct. 13 post on Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Politics & Policy site about whether Microsoft’s female employees have grounds for a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, based on what Nadella said onstage at the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in San Francisco.

The post also mentions that Nadella apologized and retracted what he said just hours later in a companywide email, calling his gaffe “completely wrong.” For the record and according to Eidelson, here was his egregious response to a question someone at the conference posed about what he would tell women who are hesitant to ask for a raise:

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along. And that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back, because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.”

Wilma Liebman, who chaired the NLRB during President Obama’s first term and now lectures at Cornell University, says in the post, “You could make a very clear argument that [such a comment] means, ‘Don’t ask for a raise, and if you ask for a raise, you’re not going to be trusted.’ And ‘you’re not going to be trusted’ translates to ‘you could be in some jeopardy.’ ”

The issue raised in the Businessweek piece, of course — since it considers NLRB review and possible enforcement of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act — is whether Nadella’s message explicitly chills a protected concerted activity; i.e., a group of Microsoft women banding together in search of higher pay.

Lawyers are mixed on that one. “If a group of women said these comments chilled them from seeking together to get better pay in the workplace, they could file an unfair labor practice claim with the NLRB,” Paul Secunda, director of the Labor and Employment Law Program at Marquette University Law School, is quoted as saying in that story.

On the other hand, the story says, Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor and former Department of Justice official, doubts Nadella’s comments would merit NLRB review, considering he didn’t specifically address that kind of group activism. “Asking for a raise for oneself only would count as concerted activity if there was an argument that the employee was asserting a grievance that was or could be expected to be shared by others,” Bagenstos is quoted as saying.

Hope B. Eastman, principal at Bethesda, Md.-based Paley Rothman and co-chair of its employment law group, who I spoke with about this, concurs. “The fact that Nadella has apologized and retracted his statement, and the fact that his comment was in the context of an individual woman asking for a raise,” she says, “makes it unlikely that the NLRB would take this on … .”

That said, she adds, “there have been studies suggesting that women do not negotiate salaries as well as men; this is an issue that needs attention.” So the silver lining, I guess, is that this issue was given new light through Nadella’s comments.

The Businessweek piece also brings up another story we followed in 2011 on this blog, when the NLRB issued a complaint against Boeing, claiming executives’ public comments about striking employees in the state of Washington suggested they were to blame for the company’s intended move to a new South Carolina site at the time. (Here’s one other mention of that story on this blog.)

As Eidelson points out, that Boeing story establishes “precedent for investigating public comments from an executive as alleged discrimination.”

And — aside from staying on that apparently long, arduous road toward equal pay — what’s the message for HR in all this? I guess check with your C-suiters on absolutely everything they intend to say publicly before they take the podium or stage …

If that’s even possible.

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Sniffling While You Work

For the first time in five years, the number of employees who said they go to work with the flu has dropped to 60 percent, after four straight years of increases, according to the fifth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples.

The 60-percent figure marks a drop from last year, and yet many employees still feel they can’t take a sick day, according to the office-supply retailer. Indeed, despite 88 percent of managers encouraging sick employees to stay at home, 40 percent of workers feel there is too much going on at work to stay away, and 31 percent show up sick because they think their boss appreciates it.

The Staples survey finds there are a number of factors that have contributed to the drop in employees going to work sick, including:

• Sick employees coming into work are now considered worse for office productivity than a security breach;

• Presenteeism recognized as a bigger problem than absenteeism;

• Employees are taking charge of their own health and wellness; and

• Recent virus outbreaks are affecting behavior.

“While we are encouraged that for the first time in five years the number of sick employees coming into work has dropped, 60 percent is still a significant number,” said Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples.

“Clearly there is still much work to be done. Recent outbreaks such as Enterovirus in the U.S. underscore the importance of fostering a culture of workplace wellness. ”

Meanwhile, last year was one of the worst flu seasons on record, reports outplacement consultancy Challenger, Christmas & Gray, with more than two-thirds of states reporting that the flu outbreak had reached “severe” levels, says CEO John Challenger.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits.  That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.   Online resource, Flu.gov, cites one study estimating that each flu season 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity.

“New York alone saw more than 15,000 reported cases in the first month of the season, compared to fewer than 5,000 in the entire previous season.  These outbreaks and the resulting workplace absenteeism can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line; particularly in smaller companies where illness can spread quickly and incapacitate large portions of a workforce,” Challenger adds.

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Cannabis Business Charges Full Steam Ahead

It came to my attention recently — actually in the writing of a news analysis last month — that there’s a big business growing around 465923899 -- cannabismarijuana, with 23 states now allowing for its medical use and two, Colorado and Washington, allowing for its recreational use.

(For the record, here’s that Sept. 29 news analysis — which actually aired Sept. 30 — examining the issue and what employers can really expect as more laws are passed. It was written just before the Colorado Supreme Court was to hear the case of Coats v. Dish Network and the issue of whether the plaintiff’s positive drug test should have been allowed under the state’s medical-marijuana statute. The court has yet to decide.)

With a keener understanding of this railroad coming down the tracks that is marijuana legalization and the business opportunities on board that train, I took special notice of the Hartford Courant‘s recent coverage of callback selections for a new web series called “The Marijuana Show,” aimed at giving specially selected and very “lucky ganjapreneurs” the chance to become “the next marijuana millionaire,” as the story puts it.

I also happened to notice in the piece that a handful of even-luckier finalists just finished participating in “an intense three-day business boot camp” that ended last Sunday, Oct. 12, prior to the finalists then pitching their marijuana-money-making ideas to investors in hopes of receiving financing, mentorship and attention on the show after the entire process has been filmed. (Here, too, is the Cannabis Business Times’ version of all this.)

So I reached out to co-producers Wendy Robbins, also the show’s director, and Karen Paull, to find out what I could about the boot camp. Their comments did nothing to quell the notion that there’s a most-definite marijuana-business movement afoot.

The camp, says Robbins, included “attorneys, an accountant [and] a branding expert [among others, and focused on] financial help with valuations, regulations, business-plan help, pitching advice and [of course] social media too.” Five out of the 10 finalists were even offered financing and some got mentoring help with their ideas — which ran the gamut from cannabis retail or leisure outlets to supply and distribution centers to growing establishments.

“Most shows have one winner, so we were blown away that half of the contestants got some sort of deal,” Robbins says.

“This is not a scripted show, nothing is predetermined,” adds Paull. “It’s a very organic process.” Indeed.

Looks like airing begins in December.

My story in September also references a Cannabusiness Accelerator job fair held in Seattle Sept. 19, “with the support of the [fast-growing marijuana] industry’s leaders to serve as a locus of networking and informational know-how [for job seekers], as well as a showcase for program partners, all suppliers to the new industry,” according to that company’s release about the event.

But the story does also include employment attorneys’ cautionary comments about the need for employers to not get too worked up. They needn’t, they say, ready themselves for all this marijuana-legalization and cannabis-business momentum to lead to across-the-board pot-induced workplaces (though statistics do show more employees are showing up for work under the influence).

Marijuana, they say, is still against federal law and employers still have every right, and responsibility, to maintain zero-tolerance policies because of that, and for safety and productivity reasons.

As Mark A. de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and a Reston, Va.-based senior partner at Jackson Lewis, told me for that piece:  “This is not a crisis for employers. Their backs are not up against the wall.”

Not yet anyway, legalization supporters and cannabusiness entrepreneurs would probably say.

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Steele Receives HR Exec of the Year Award

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John M. Steele, right, receives the HR Executive of the Year award from Editor David Shadovitz and Publisher Rebecca McKenna.

John M. Steele, senior vice president of human resources for the Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America, received HRE‘s 26th annual HR Executive of the Year award at an awards ceremony and banquet held at the Trustee Ballroom at Boston University last night.

In his remarks upon receiving the award, Steele recounted the many lessons he learned from each of the CEOs he’s worked with at HCA, including current CEO Milton Johnson.

“Milton walks in the door and says, ‘Culture beats strategy every day.’ How would you like to be his HR person?” he asked the crowd with a smile.

He described working with Johnson as a dream come true — he’s “someone who supports culture.”

Johnson, he said, supports both development and employee-engagement initiatives, as well as throwing his support into “consolidating HR into one HR organization so we can create capacity and opportunity in the organization.”

Steele went on to recognize the contributions of the different team members who were present at the ceremony. He then closed by quoting from Michael Dell, who summed up how he thinks about his role and career:

“Try not to be the smartest person in the room, and if you are, I suggest you find smarter people or find a different room. In professional circles, it’s called networking. In organizations it’s called team building. In life it’s called family, friends and community. We are all gifts to each other; and my own growth as a leader has shown me again, again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships.”

Three other members of the HR community were added to the  HR Honor Roll (see photo below): Terry Geraghty, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at Manhattan Associates; Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, senior  vice president and chief human resources office at Walgreen Co.; and William A. Blase Jr., senior executive vice president of human resources at AT&T.

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From left, Terry Geraghty, John Steele, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson and Bryan Gonterman, accepting on behalf of William A. Blase Jr.

The HR Executive of the Year and Honor Roll awards are presented each year to individuals in the HR profession who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary vision, strategy, direction and leadership in their organizations. A prestigious panel of judges, including previous award winners, HR thought leaders and HRE‘s editor, selects the winners from a field of worthy candidates.

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Egg Freezing: Unique Benefit or Bad Idea?

pregnant womanThe Apples and Facebooks of the world are known for their original and generous employee perks and benefits. But these companies find themselves in the news this week for offering a new benefit that goes well beyond the usual on-site dry cleaning services and free haircuts.

Earlier this year, Facebook began covering up to $20,000 for female employees to freeze and store their reproductive eggs, so they can put off pregnancy as they establish themselves during their prime career-building years. Apple has announced it will start doing the same in January 2015.

Cryopreservation and egg storage could be seen as the latest advance from the tech firms that continue to blaze the trail for employee benefits that help attract and retain the best and brightest.

“Egg freezing is one in a long line of innovative HR practices intended to be attractive to educated people with many employment options, seeking a focus on flexibility in the difficult balance between work and life,” according to James Hayton, professor of human resource management at the Warwick Business School in Coventry, England.

“The cost appears to be moderate, although not trivial, at about 20 percent of average salary at these firms,” says Hayton. “The benefits, in terms of attracting and retaining employees, can be expected to significantly outweigh the costs. The positive PR will pay for itself by signaling these employers’ values with respect to women’s control over this important life choice to prospective female employees.”

All that said, the practice isn’t without its detractors.

Healthcare law and bioethics expert Seema Mohapatra, for example, wrote in August that egg freezing “seems to put a Band-Aid on the problem of how difficult it is for women to have a career and raise a family concurrently.”

This week, one woman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the New York Times that delaying fertility for female employees is “certainly in the employer’s interest … from a business perspective. But in my experience, it’s more personal: Are you married or not married, and if you’re not and you’re over 35, it’s a health thing.”

In the same Times article, Mohapatra expressed concern that women who “do not fit that profile” could feel pressure to use the benefit.

“What I worry about is it’s not going to be just used by that population, but [it’s] going to be used by the population in their 20s and early 30s saying, ‘If I want to be seen as a serious employee and make it to vice president, I can’t take maternity leave,’” said Mohapatra, a law professor at the Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Fla.

Critics may also note that, “while perks such as these are very impressive and innovative, broader pay equity might be an even stronger signal of the importance of women in the workplace,” says Hayton.

Additionally, companies offering this benefit could draw the ire of religious groups with serious reservations over “the tricky domain of bioethics and reproductive choices,” he continues, adding that other observers may be “squeamish about the degree of paternalism when employers show concern for their employees’ reproductive choices.”

While we’re certain to see these and other strong reactions in the days to come, Hayton, for one, is confident that employers providing egg freezing options for female employees will prove to be a good thing.

“Ultimately … these policies are innovative and forward-thinking, and likely to benefit the employers [that are] creative enough, and bold enough, to offer them.”

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Recruiting Beyond Traditional Social Networks

An interesting little recruiting story came out of a late-afternoon session at the HR Technology® Conference in Las Vegas Thursday. 178915467--social mediaSlugged “How Red Hat Approaches Hiring Beyond Traditional Social Networks,” the session featured Brad Warga, senior vice president of customer and employee success for Gild Inc., a San Francisco-based technology-talent search firm, and Don Farr, director of global-talent acquisition for Red Hat, a global open-source provider.

“We found [traditional candidate sources such as] LinkedIn just weren’t providing the recruiting results we needed,” Farr told conference attendees. Long story short, he knew Warga, but not much about Gild, so decided to try him out with an assignment: Find him 200 top technology developers in a city abroad where Red Hat does business. Warga turned it around in record time “and more than half of the developers on his list were already employees of Red Hat,” said Farr.

Pretty convincing. So Farr decided to use Gild’s sourcing and reporting tool, based on far-more specific tech-developer social-media data — including code information and technical questions and answers, indicating levels of focus and expertise — to complement the recruiting system he already had in place.

Not only has it enriched Red Hat’s recruiting, with vastly improved and far enhanced returns on the right kinds of candidates for the growing company, it’s even provided some surprises.

Key among them was proof it needed to enhance its employee-referral service as well. Using Gild’s tools and services, Red Hat was able to determine that 70 percent of its developers who came in outside the referral program were actually connected in some way to current employees through social media.

“In other words,” said Farr, “we could have hired them ourselves if we had just sourced them through more social [streams]. The connections were out there.”

Long story short, Farr convinced his CEO to invest more in employee referrals and the savings are already being realized.

“We now have an employee-referral portal tracked through our applicant-tracking system,” Farr said. “We’ve effectively built a process where referrals aren’t going into a black box anymore.”

Lesson learned here? “Take advantage of the opportunity to embrace social media in multiple ways,” particularly when you’re looking for something as specific and hard to find as tech developers, he said.

“This is really the story of the old guard and the new guard,” Farr added. “You have to adapt or die.”

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HR Tech: Out With the Outmoded!

“If talent is the most important part of every business, then why do we manage it so badly?”

This question, posed near the beginning of Jason Averbook’s presentation at HR Tech 2014, titled “What the End of the ‘Job’ Means for the Future of Work and Talent Management,” was one of the major themes of his talk. Averbook, chief innovation officer at technology consulting firm Appirio and author of the new book HR: From Now to Next, repeatedly made the point that as the nature of work undergoes drastic change, the talent-management practices still used by a majority of companies today also need to be transformed, or perhaps jettisoned altogether.

“Many of the talent processes still in use today come from a time when our economy was manufacturing-based,” he said. “So today, most of our talent practices are broken down old pieces of crap — we manage people like they were machines, with annual performance reviews, timekeeping, performance ratings.”

Talent is the most important part of any business and, unlike machinery, can’t be easily replaced, said Averbook. So why, he asked, do HR departments continue to subject this precious resource to outmoded processes that no one — not even HR itself — believes actually work?

“How many of you here believe that your performance-management process actually helps improve performance?” he challenged the audience.  When only one person raised his hand, Averbook asked “So why, then, do you continue to use it?”

“For compliance,” one person replied. “Because HR makes us,” said another.

These outmoded processes include how most organizations go about measuring employee engagement, said Averbook,

“If engagement is so important, how come you’re only measuring it once or twice a year?” he said. “Do you look at your Facebook page just once a year, to see if anyone ‘liked’ your stuff? Engagement should be something you look at every day.”

Twitter can be an excellent way to determine employee engagement because it can reflect current engagement levels, rather than what they were six months ago, said Averbook. HR is a business function, not a support function, he said, and as such, its technology for supporting talent should incorporate the following five principles:

  1. It should be real time
  2. It should be looking now and forward, not backward
  3. It should be based on killing silos within the organization
  4. Its processes should be for the good of the business, not HR
  5. It should be easy.

As the nature of work and jobs continues to change, with many organizations moving toward an independent-contractor model, talent processes can no longer be cyclical and the technology supporting them can’t be user-unfriendly, said Averbook.

“You’ve heard of business-to-business — well, now we live in a business-to-employee world, and if a process isn’t simple, employes won’t do it,” he said.

And if your technology vendors can’t provide tools that are simple and intuitive and that meet your specific needs, then build your own, said Averbook.

“If your vendor can’t come through, then build an app yourself,” he said. “It’s not hard. My 10-year-old builds apps.”

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New Workforce Data Explored at HR Tech

Based on new research released Wednesday at the 17th Annual HR Technology® Conference and discussed in Thursday’s opening 174186913 (1)general session, employers and HR leaders seem to have some exciting new arsenal for recreating, reshaping and sustaining their workforces of tomorrow.

The research, to be released in quarterly reports as part of an ongoing ADP Workforce Vitality Report, measures the total real wages paid to the U.S. private-sector workforce based on a number of metrics, including job holders’ wages, job holders’ hours worked, job switchers’ wages and total employment. Although this index, at 110.6 in the third quarter of 2014, is considered the report’s baseline, it did show 0.77 percent growth from the previous quarter.

So job growth, as measured by this new combination of statistics, is, essentially, going up.

What’s especially exciting, though, seems to be the potential future indicators that so much data can provide the employment sector, when you consider it’s depth — based on the wages and employment profiles of ADP’s more than 50 million (one in six) paycheck recipients.

Segments of the U.S. workforce and the growth of wages and hours worked in any industry in any state are now tangible, or at least potentially tangible, showing where growth is strongest and weakest, and perhaps why. Segments “by age, by income, by full-time and part-time status, and even by gender” will also be available, “the latter of which is especially exciting to me,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, head of the ADP Research Institute, at the panel discussion.

Here, for more, is a recent CNBC televised discussion about the new research and another report from MarketWatch.

The session — moderated by David Gergen, senior political analyst at CNN, and including panelists John Boudreau, professor and research director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business; Steven Cochrane managing director at Moody’s Analytics; Steven Rice, executive vice president of HR for Juniper Networks; and Yildirmaz — took in differing perspectives on just what all this data might mean.

Although the report indicates the South is leading the Northeast in job creation, and low-wage jobs — as in trade, transportation and retail — are leading over higher-income positions, questions still loom over whether this retail boom “is driven by higher wages or higher numbers of jobs” since the data combines all factors into one vitality — or growth — index, said Boudreau.

Moreover, “HR folks today can think of [where to find, place and develop talent] like a chess game, playing it in a more nuanced way,” he said. For instance, the index looks at four types of workers in the labor market: those who stay with the same firm (job holders), those who change jobs (job switchers), those newly hired (entrants) and those who left the firm either voluntarily or involuntarily (leavers).

Where index indicators show higher numbers of “leavers” or “entrants” — be they by industry or region — or higher-level jobs unfilled, “HR folks can be asking, ‘What would it take to make [a particular] pocket of folks who aren’t ready to fill this new talent need more ready for this need as opposed to [having to] seek talent outside the organization?’ ” said Boudreau.

The dynamics of the numeric indications, said Cochrane, actually show “economic growth happening everywhere … we have moved through the downturn, albeit in  the context of a slow-growing economy … but the gap is widening between the South and West, and the Northeast and Midwest” … and this could be indicative of growth in general in the South, as in Texas oil and energy, and the “structure of the economy changing.”

Rice left attendees with an important reminder as the sole HR practitioner on the panel; that being that, while the ADP data is a start and a helpful tool, the main goal for all HR leaders using it will be to “build the best workforce to build our companies of the future.”

Looking at organizations, he said, “has completely changed for heads of HR [in terms of] where talent is located, where it’s leaving, cost of labor, etc.” It’s far more of a global challenge now.

“We need to be able to tap into that new talent pool,” said Rice. “There’s a lot of shifting, too, in terms of skill sets and teaching of skill sets to tie into that changing talent pool.”

HR leaders are also grappling with when it makes sense to bring talent together under one roof versus allowing for more virtual project work and collaboration.

“We all need to be asking, ‘What are the areas where we can drive the talent for our ideal workforce?’ ” said Rice. “This kind of data can help.”

 

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HR Tech: Rise of the Machines

When you’re a first-time passenger in a Google driverless car rolling down busy Highway 101 near San Francisco, you go through three phases, said HR Technology Conference keynote speaker Andrew McAfee: the first is “raw, abject terror,” quickly followed by phase 2 — active fascination. Twenty minutes in, that tends to be followed by the third and final phase: mild boredom.

“These cars are programmed to drive the way we were taught to in driver’s ed classes and then promptly forgot,” said McAfee, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of the recent bestseller The Second Machine Age. “There’s no speeding or abrupt lane changes — it feels like riding an airport monorail.”

McAfee’s driverless car adventure was the indirect result of a book  by two professor colleagues, who had written that despite the advances of computers and robotics, they would probably never overtake human beings’ ability to master and rapidly adapt to quickly changing patterns. Thus, they wrote, a computer could never do something like navigate a car through heavy traffic. The book in question, The New Division of Labor, was published in 2004. Six years later, Google announced that its engineers had been riding in computer-guided cars for a number of years.

“As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to experience it,” said McAfee.

The subject of McAfee’s talk, “Making the Right Choices in the Second Machine Age,” was that we’re now living in the greatest era of transformation since the Industrial Revolution. Driverless cars, supercomputers that handily beat long-time Jeopardy! champions and cheap, flexible robots mean that many jobs long-thought to be “automation-proof” because they could only be done by humans will likely be taken over by artificial intelligence. This will, of course, have huge implications for the workplace and for enterprises, he said.

“I don’t think all this will result in enormous factories staffed by only two employees, one of whom is a dog whose job is to bite the human if he tries to touch anything important,” said McAfee. “But I do think we need to re-examine the boundaries between technology and humans and rethink our business models.”

Ideally, human intelligence and artificial intelligence can complement each other, he said. He cited organizations that opened themselves to input from outsiders and used data algorithms to greatly improve service, accuracy and productivity. Such organizations stand in sharp contrast to those that continue to rely on “HiPPOs,” or “the highest-paid person’s opinion,” whether it be the CEO or highly paid outside consultants.

“Some HiPPOs will take data in, but it’s their gut that ultimately makes the decision,” said McAfee.

Geeks, by comparison (McAfee considers “geek” a compliment and describes them as people who are “fascinated and driven by data”) are willing to ignore their gut and follow the data to where it leads them.

This reaps notable dividends, he said: Companies that adopt “data-driven decision-making” achieve  a level of productivity that’s 5 percent to 6 percent higher than those that don’t. Digital intelligence is remaking occupations from dairy farming to pathology — indeed, a digital pathologist created by Stanford scientists has proven to be better, on average, at cancer detection than highly trained human pathologists, said McAfee.

For organizations, he said, the upshot of all this must be that they make themselves more open to data-driven approaches and to outsiders who promise to bring in different ways of thinking and doing things, rather than continuing to rely on HiPPOs. He cited the Obama 2012 campaign, which not only brought in “data geeks” to identify new ways of identifying and motivating voters but put them in charge of key operations — a sharp departure from most political campaigns, he said.

“A lot of companies will not be open to this approach, and that will lead to a lot of disruption,” he said. “But if we can find new ways to combine human and digital intelligence, then the sky’s the limit.”

 

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HR Tech Keynoter: Big Data is a People Issue

Although the buzz phrase “Big Data” can still fill the hearts of some HR professionals with dread, Rahaf Harfoush wants them to get over it — indeed, they need to get over it.  Harfoush, co-author of the recent bestseller The Decoded Company: What If We Understood Our Talent Better Than Our Customers?, delivered the first-ever “Welcome Keynote” yesterday at the 17th HR Technology Conference and Expo at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

“Big data is no longer a technology issue, it’s a leadership issue,” she said.  The sheer amount of data being produced these days — particularly by individuals, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones — means that big data will affect all industries.

“We live in a time of data abundance, and we as individuals have become data-producing powerhouses thanks to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like,” said Harfoush. All of this personalized data floating around makes it much easier for companies to offer products and services tailored to individual tastes, based on personal preferences, she said.

Data abundance and the rise of personalization is coming up against a third trend, she said: A talent shortage that, according to a Manpower survey, has left one out of three companies unable to fill key roles.

Companies that make smart use of big data can become “talent magnets,” said Harfoush. She urged the attendees to consider “the Decoded Model,” which consists of using technology as a coach, using data as a sixth sense, and “engineered ecosystems.”

By using technology as a coach, companies such as Sprint have been able to track data from its 45 call centers to link shortcomings in performance to training deficiencies, and use those “teachable moments” to support its employees in providing better customer service, she said.

UPS relied on “data as a sixth sense” to analyze the routes its delivery drivers used and discovered that if it came up with routes that eliminated the need for left turns, it was able to save millions of dollars in reduced costs and improved delivery time.  Google, meanwhile, used “engineered ecosystems” to identify the eight qualities of its most-effective managers via its Project Oxygen initiative. Once those eight qualities were identified, said Harfoush, Google remade its management training and recruitment processes to take into account that the ability to be an effective coach ranked much higher than technical skills. The result, she said, was higher employee job-satisfaction rates and lower turnover.

“The best part about a ‘Decoded Company’ is that their workplaces don’t suck,” said Harfoush. “People like going to work there.”

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