Category Archives: talent management

A Blockbuster Hack

By now, I’m sure most of you are quite familiar with Sony’s data breach, which has occupied headlines over the past couple of weeks.

176217375As you might expect, much of the attention surrounds the hacker’s decision to post some of Sony’s yet-to-be-released movies, including a remake of Annie and a new film titled The Interview — a comedy about two American journalists who are recruited to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. A group named Guardians of the Peace have taken credit for the cyber attack, but some have speculated the North Korean government could be the real culprit here, since it’s none too pleased with The Interview’s storyline. (Others doubt this is the case, and North Korea has publicly denied its involvement.)

Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at the private security firm Trend Micro, told the New York Times after the story broke that “unlike stealth attacks from China and Russia, Sony’s hackers not only aimed to steal data, but also to send a clear message. ‘This was like a home invasion where, after taking the family jewels, the hackers set the house ablaze,’ ” he said.

Though it certainly has been well covered in the mainstream press, just a tad less attention has been paid to the non-creative information liberated from Sony’s computers—employee Social Security numbers, healthcare records, salary information and performance reviews. Sure, Sony isn’t the first to experience such an HR data breach, but there’s little question the scope and nature of the information made public (which includes salaries of executives) make this breach especially noteworthy.

I can only imagine the kind of disruption this is likely causing at Sony—and the toll it’s taking on productivity. Not to mention the financial toll it’s going to have.

I also have to think more than a few CEOs, after reading the various stories appearing in the press, were once again wondering, “Could something like this occur here?”

Yesterday, I asked Gordon Rapkin, CEO of Archive Systems, an HR-document-management firm based in Fairfield, N.J., for his take on what happened at Sony.

“My impression is a chunk of the Sony HR breach has to do with people there who kept things on their computers that shouldn’t have been kept there,” he said. What the field, he adds, calls “shadow files.”

What’s more, Rapkin said, the fact that all this information was unprotected and unencrypted and seemed to be available in the same trove that was pilfered is pretty surprising. “Usually,” he said, “[the information] is carved up in different systems and kept in different files—with salary information in one place, benefit information in another, and employment and performance in a third. But here, it looks as though all of this was accessible in the same place. That’s surprising, especially when you consider HR information represents some of the more sensitive data a company possesses.”

Lisa Rowan, vice president of research at IDC in Framingham, Mass., agrees. “It seems odd for [these] to be stored together,” she said.

At a recent records-management conference he attended, Rapkin said his company surveyed attendees on how many felt HR followed their organization’s information-governance policies. One-third of those queried, he said, responded that HR didn’t follow those policies and procedures. Hardly a vote of confidence.

Perhaps Sony is the latest company to get hit, Rapkin explained, but, he added, “I think the problem may be fairly common.”

(Looking for more thoughts about this topic?  You might want to check out “4 security takeways from the epic Sony hack.“)

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TMBC Welcomes Averbook, Secures Funding

Jason AverbookJason Averbook has designs on reinventing workplace performance and employee engagement.

Earlier today, Averbook—recognized HR technology expert and former CEO of Knowledge Infusion—was announced as the new chief executive officer of The Marcus Buckingham Co. In the new role, Averbook plans to help the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based provider of leadership development training and tools “create an organization uniquely positioned to turn the world of talent and leadership inside out,” according to a statement announcing Averbook’s arrival at the company.

Averbook, who officially took over as CEO at TMBC on Oct. 31, won’t be alone in this task, of course. The same press release highlighted TMBC’s completion of a $5 million Series A fundraising round led by SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based online survey development company.

With Averbook at the helm and this funding secured, TMBC has lofty goals, according to founder Marcus Buckingham, a best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and business consultant.

The firm aims to “fix what is broken in the process of talent performance assessment and management,” says Buckingham. “TMBC’s vision is to deliver companywide and individual team leader visibility into employee strengths, engagement and performance; and its content aims to help the team leader build on the strengths of each employee.”

At the moment, “no such tools—designed explicitly for team leaders—exist,” according to Buckingham, who says the funds provided by SurveyMonkey will go toward “serving this pivotal but unserved market segment of true talent engagement, performance and real-time progress tracking.

On the eve of the announcement of his arrival at TMBC, Averbook echoed those sentiments in a chat with Human Resource Executive, during which he discussed the role of the company’s StandOut integrated performance and engagement platform in rethinking how workplace performance is measured and improved. The first round of funding from SurveyMonkey, he says, is tied to enhancements to StandOut, a strengths-based performance management system that includes a strengths profile for employees, pulse surveys designed to gauge employee-engagement levels and trends in real time, and talent reviews geared toward workforce planning using local talent data.

“The challenge has always been getting [the right] technology into the hands of team leaders,” says Averbook. “We want to [enable] real-time team building and measure engagement at a team level. We want to look at employee performance and engagement in a new way.”

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Who’s Leading the Way?

leadingIdentifying what makes for a great leader isn’t an exact science. But, each year since 2001, Aon Hewitt has done its best to pinpoint the traits shared by the best business leaders—and the companies that excel in cultivating them.

The Lincolnshire, Ill.-based consultancy recently unveiled its 2014 Global Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders list, a group of 25 organizations selected and ranked by a panel of independent judges, including experts from Wharton School of Business, the Indian School of Business, PUC Minas and Ivey School of Business.

The panel relied on a number of criteria, including strength of leadership practices and culture, examples of leader development on a global scale, alignment of business and leadership strategy, business performance and company reputation to compile the list, headed by GE, IBM, Hindustan Unilever Limited, General Mills Inc. and ICICI Bank.

What got them there?

According to Aon Hewitt’s analysis, the top companies for leaders shared five key characteristics in their approach to leadership:

  • Assessment. Top companies assess the whole leader early in their careers, evaluating leaders’ experiences, competencies, values and organizational fit, which helps organizations “understand the unique needs of their talent pipeline to fuel the right development solutions that move people forward faster,” according to Aon Hewitt.
  • Awareness. These organizations have leaders who demonstrate tremendous self-awareness by understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses, and using this information to become more effective leaders.
  • Resilience. Those atop the 2014 list build resilience in their leaders by creating inclusive cultures “where multiple perspectives and ideas are expected and fostered to help the organization meet continued business challenges.”
  • Engaging leadership. Leading firms focus on identifying and building engaging leaders who “are stabilizers, demonstrate versatility and stay connected to people and events inside and outside their organization.
  • Sustainability. Top companies for leaders also concentrate on building talent programs “nimble enough to respond quickly to the market demands, yet sustainable [enough] to deliver superior business outcomes.”

This year’s top companies have shown a knack for nurturing talent in an ever-more competitive marketplace, says Michael Useem, professor of management and director of the Leadership Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, in a statement.

The Top 25 firms are “especially notable for the detailed tracking and comprehensive building of their talent pipelines, with special emphasis on strategic thinking, broad engagement and personal resilience—all increasingly critical given the companies’ changing and complex markets,” says Useem, who also describes “the direct personal involvement of senior managers and even company directors in their leadership programs” at top companies as “striking.”

What it takes to be “striking” in terms of leadership has changed greatly in the 14 years Aon Hewitt has compiled its leader list, and “what was exceptional [just] two or three years ago … has now become table stakes for top organizations,” adds Lorraine Stomski, a partner and head of Aon Hewitt’s leadership consulting practice.

“Those companies that rest on their laurels and rely on practices that have previously brought them success will no longer thrive like top companies do,” says Stomski. “Change and innovation are a must.”

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Veteran Hiring, Revisited

Just last week, President Obama authorized the deployment of another 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, doubling the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.  But headlines aside, the fact remains, as we celebrate Veterans Day 2014 tomorrow, there are more veterans returning than soldiers being deployed. Indeed, the churn’s a steady one, of veterans leaving the military and seeking employment—and employers looking to add them to their rosters.

475000847Indeed, on the latter front, a CareerBuilder Veterans Day Job Forecast released earlier today found 33 percent of employers are actively recruiting veterans over the next year, up from 27 percent in last year’s survey and 20 percent in 2011. Further, 31 percent have hired a veteran who recently returned from duty in the last 12 months, up from 28 percent in 2013.

HRE has published its share of stories in recent years about companies that have made huge commitments to employing vets, and some of the policies and practices they’ve put in place to help achieve that objective. So I’d like to think businesses are beginning to gain some serious ground on this issue.

If we’re to believe the findings of a RAND Corp. survey released earlier today (also just in time for Veterans Day), however, there’s still a lot more work to be done by all parties concerned.

On the employer side, RAND’s analysis found companies still need to do a better job educating managers on the value of veteran employees, making themselves known to veteran job candidates and taking advantage of federal resources, such as the Veterans Employment Center and SkillBridge.

According to the researchers, many employers also fail to understand how military experience translates to the skills needed for civilian jobs and they lack the ability to track and measure relevant recruitment, performance and retention metrics.

The report, titled “Veteran Employment: Lessons from the 100,000 Jobs Mission,” explains …

“Many companies respect that their veteran employees want to be treated the same as non-veteran employees, but these organizations are investing resources in veteran hiring and could benefit from information about the return from that investment. Although companies perceive their veteran employees to perform well, they do not tend to collect metrics about veteran performance and veteran retention.”

Despite all of the attention workforce metrics has been getting lately, many companies, according the RAND report, are apparently falling short when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of their efforts in these areas.

Veterans, meanwhile, according to the researchers, too often believe their talents apply only in the security or defense arenas and employers (as mentioned above) struggle to make that military experience-civilian job connection.

Kimberly Hall, lead author of the study and a senior project associate at RAND, points out that “military members need to know that defense contractors and similar businesses are not the only places they should look for work, [and they can] contribute valuable skills and experience across the spectrum of American industry.”

One silver lining in the report (which is based on interviews with representatives from 26 member companies in the 100,000 Jobs Mission): Those interviewed volunteered that post-traumatic stress disorder was not an issue. This finding contrasts with an early study on veteran employers, in which more than one-half of the companies interviewed reported concerns about PTSD, suggesting that “employers’ initial concerns have been allayed by their experiences.”

In any case, you might want to carve out a little time this Veterans Day and check the report out, especially since it does include some good recommendations for employers, as well as veterans and federal agencies.

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Psst … Gossip Isn’t All That Bad

More than a few times in your career, I’m sure you’ve walked by the watercooler and witnessed two folks talking in a whisper. Were you to assume the participants were engaging in some gossip (hopefully not about you), you’d probably be right. We all know gossip is one of the most popular of sports—one most of us have engaged in at some point in our working life (perhaps more times than we’d like to admit).

148242887Gossip, typically, is seen as something that’s unhealthy and counterproductive—and therefore something that should be discouraged. (Remember, no one likes a gossip, right?) But I recently ran across a just-released study (published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin) suggesting that being on the receiving end of gossip can actually be beneficial, helping individuals adapt to their social environments, illustrating how they can improve or revealing potential threats.

To reach these conclusions, the researchers at the University of Groningen (in the Netherlands) conducted two studies. In one, they asked participants to recall an incident in which they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. They then were asked questions intended to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion and self-protection value of the received information.

It turned out that the individuals who received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas those who received the negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. (Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.)

In the second study, participants were assigned the role of a sales agent and given either negative or positive gossip about another’s job performance. (Not boring you with the details, this study specifically looked at the differences between those with a “salient performance goal” and those with a “salient mastery goal.”)

Like the first study, positive gossip in the second study had more self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had greater self-promotion value and raised self-protection concerns. Negative gossip, meanwhile, elicited pride due to its self-promotion value since it provided individuals with information that justified their self-promotional judgments.

The researchers said they figured the participants would be more alert after receiving positive rather than negative gossip because they might find positive gossip provides a source of information they can learn from. But to their surprise, alertness was high in both positive and negative gossiping situations, probably because both forms of gossip are highly relevant for the receiver.

In a press release on the findings, lead researcher Elena Martinescu also noted some gender differences in the studies. “Women who receive negative gossip experience higher self-protection concerns, possibly because they believe they might experience a similar fate as the person being the target of the gossip, while men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening.”

Of course, no one, including myself, is saying employers and HR leaders might start to design workplace initiatives that encourage gossiping. (I’ll leave it to you to imagine what such an initiative might look like.) But Martinescu and her colleagues suggest that we might want to be more open-minded about such behaviors, noting that being on the receiving end of gossip about other people might provide a valuable source of knowledge about ourselves.

Richard Marcus, a business psychologist and executive coach based in Philadelphia (who I recently shared the two studies with), agrees the findings offer a few insights worth considering, including the notions that discussion about an individual’s performance could have a positive value whether he or she is there or not;  informal communication about performance could help to raise the bar by getting everyone involved and staying focused on performance; and that indirect criticism could have value both for the individual who is the subject of the criticism and those around him or her.

But Marcus also adds that the findings don’t diminish the fact that gossip can also have some obvious negative consequences, including putting too much focus on the individual and not the team; breeding distrust among co-workers; and wasting energy worrying about how individuals are being perceived and judged.

All points that are also well worth considering the next time you head in the direction of the watercooler.

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Google’s CHRO on Resume Mistakes

Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations at Google — and HRE’s 2010 HR Executive of the Year — recently weighed in on LinkedIn on the five biggest mistakes he sees on resumes and how to correct them.

When you helm HR at one of the most-admired, most-envied tech companies in the world — one that can reportedly receive more than 50,000 resumes in a single week — it should surprise no one that Bock says he personally has seen more than 20,000 resumes himself.

 “I have seen A LOT of resumes,” he says.

While the five mistakes Bock shares are not exactly earth-shattering — typos, length, formatting, sharing confidential information and lying — his insight adds a certain gravitas to the conversation, especially on the topic of confidentiality and who you can trust to keep your company’s secrets once you let them in the door:

I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake. While this candidate didn’t mention Microsoft specifically, any reviewer knew that’s what he meant. In a very rough audit, we found that at least 5-10% of resumes reveal confidential information. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates … unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors.

While Bock’s post is of course more intended for the job seeker than the hiring manager, it is nonetheless heartening to see such advice earnestly dispensed by the top HR person at one of the hardest places on the entire planet to get hired.

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Taking Talent Acquisition Up a Notch

If you’re looking for additional proof that talent-acquisition capability matters, check out the latest research coming from the Bersin by Deloitte unit of Deloitte Consulting LLP.

452269237According to Bersin by Deloitte’s study of 300 U.S. organizations, titled High-Impact Talent Acquisition: Key Findings and Maturity Model,  employers with mature talent-acquisition strategies perform, on average, 30 percent better than their peers as far as business outcomes are concerned, including the ability to meet or exceed customer expectations, create new products and services faster than competitors, and meet or exceed financial targets.

So what are the key drivers of talent-acquisition performance?

The Bersin by Deloitte research puts developing strong relationships between recruiters and hiring managers at the top of the list. At organizations with lower levels of maturity, the study found, recruiters are basically order takers for hiring managers. But for those organizations with higher levels of maturity, the relationships between recruiters and hiring managers typically were strong and, in turn, the performance outcomes greater.

Other influential talent-acquisition drivers, according to the research, include developing candidate pools, giving employers the ability to find “just-in-time” candidates; and leveraging social media both as a recruiting vehicle and as a way to promote the employer brand.

On this latter front, some mature organizations have gone so far as to hire dedicated strategists whose purpose is to “curate” social-media content.

When I asked Robin Erickson, vice president of talent-acquisition research at Bersin by Deloitte, what surprised her most in the findings, she pointed to the significant role building strong relationships plays as a driver of talent-acquisition performance. “We didn’t expect the relationship with hiring managers to be four times more influential than everything else—more influential than social media and more influential than employment branding,” she told me.

To be sure, there are no shortage of vendors out there working hard at developing tools aimed at helping employers get their hands around the three major drivers cited in this research. If you’re planning to attend next month’s HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas and walk the floor of the expo, I’m sure you’ll come across lots. But whether you’ll be there or not (and I certainly hope you will), I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open and let you know what I find.

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Men, Women, Competition and Cooperation

Common stereotypes may tell us that men are more competitive and women are more cooperative, but researchers at Aalto University in Finland recently studied the physiological responses to both competitive and cooperative play in order to investigate respondents’ emotions to see how males and females are motivated to behave in these situations.

So, what did the researchers find?

While males did enjoy competition more than cooperation, females enjoyed both competition and cooperation equally.

(The results of the research were published in an article in the international science journal PLOS ONE.)

“Although there is a lot of research on gender differences, nobody has studied the emotions – the physiological mechanism that steers our behavior – of competitive and cooperative activities in males and females before. This gives a better insight into why people behave the way they do. You may unconsciously give false information about your motivations, but your body doesn’t lie,” said researcher Matias Kivikangas.

Kivikangas also said the results suggest that parts of the common stereotypes are untrue, at least in that women are not enjoying cooperation any more than competition.

And, he added, “it seems that the fact that men do enjoy competition more than cooperation might actually be a consequence from gender expectations rather than innate differences.”

According to the press release announcing the findings, the two studies employed cooperative and competitive digital games to test the responses. While this makes the responses more natural than a contrived experimental procedure, the intrinsically motivated nature of the activity limits the generalizability of the results.

‘Neither males or females experienced notable differences in negative emotions, indicating that only positive emotions are relevant in motivating competitive behavior. However, separate studies with other activities should be carried out as well, because I’d suspect that competition that the individual has not chosen themselves might elicit different emotional reactions’, Kivikangas added.

The implications of this study could indeed have some far-reaching  consequences in the workplace, especially in terms of how work groups are organized (i.e. competition-based vs. collaboration-based).

But for this admittedly male writer, the findings only confirm what I already learned from my childhood experiences playing (and losing) board games with my mom and sister: Women can be just as competitive — if not moreseo than — men.

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A Rocky Road to Recovery

Here’s some sobering news going into Labor Day Weekend out of the Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

459982591Despite the S&P  500 hitting record highs earlier this week, seven in 10 Americans continue to believe the Great Recession’s impact has been permanent, up from half in 2009, when the recession officially ended. This finding, and other equally  gloomy stats, are featured CWD’s latest Work Trends report, released yesterday and appropriately titled Unhappy, Worried and Pessimistic: Americans in the Aftermath of the Great Recession. These latest stats are based on a survey, conducted between July 24 and Aug. 3, of 1,153 Americans.

Among the other findings in the report …

  • Most Americans do not think the economy has improved in the last year or that it will in the next.

  • Just one in six Americans believe that job opportunities for the next generation will be better than for theirs; five years ago, four in 10 held that view.

  • Roughly four in five Americans have little or no confidence that the federal government will make progress on the nation’s most important problems over the next year.”

Five years of recovery, sustained job growth and reductions in the number of unemployed workers still hasn’t convinced Americans that the economy is improving, points out Carl Van Horn, a Rutgers professor and co-author of the report.

Only one in three Americans questioned thinks the U.S. economy has gotten better in the last year, one-quarter thinks it will improve next year and just one in six believe that job opportunities will be better for the next generation of American workers, down from four in 10 five years ago, according to Van Horn.

Moreover, the study confirms that the Great Recession took a personal toll on many of the respondents.  Indeed, only one in three of the nation’s 240 million adults reported that they were completely “unscathed” by the recession. Asked to describe, using a list of a dozen words or phrases, today’s typical American worker, just 14 percent checked off happy at work and only 18 percent believe they are well paid. Two-thirds say that American workers are “not secure in their jobs” and “highly stressed.”

Not surprisingly, many of those questions were critical of Washington policymakers, with more disapproving of the job President Obama is doing (46 percent to 54 percent) and even fewer approving of the job Congress is doing (14 percent).

True, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that most Americans aren’t terribly upbeat about the state of things today. Certainly, there has been no shortage of stories in the news these days detailing the plights of many who are struggling. What is surprising, though, is the extent of the level of pessimism cited in the Rutgers report, especially when you factor in the amount of time that has passed since the latest recession was declared officially over.

Taken as a whole, it would suggest that employers and their HR leaders, once back on the jobs next Tuesday, have some serious work ahead when it comes to ensuring that their workforces remain fully engaged and focused.

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Are Drones Targeting Your Job?

This morning, I came across an interesting piece on the ABC News website titled “How Drones Will Replace Humans in the Workplace.”

462430535True, this probably isn’t the most burning issue facing HR leaders today, but the commercial use of drones is certainly a topic we’re starting to see a lot more of in the news lately. If there’s been a tipping point here, it probably was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s revelation on 60 Minutes last December that the world’s largest online retailer was exploring the use of drones to deliver packages to its customers.

Since then, drones have left the war zone and have started to appear in our backyards. As a story appearing in The Des Moines Register pointed out last month, real-estate is a natural, with agents “increasingly taking their work to the skies, using remote-controlled aircraft to film bird’s-eye-view video tours of homes, land and commercial properties.”

Asking what jobs might be at risk if and when drones are given clearance by the Federal Aviation Administration to take off commercially, the author of the ABC News piece quotes Mary Cummings, a drone expert who teaches at MIT and Duke University. Cummings suggests delivery jobs, such as UPS and FedEx, are likely candidates, along with police jobs. “Crop dusters might also find their risky work outsourced,” she adds.

(As you might expect, there was no mention of HR jobs. No speculation that, one day, drones might be delivering pink slips to remote workers included in a reduction-in-force.)

A number of obstacles, of course, lie in the way of this becoming a reality, including the need for the FAA to ease up on regulations. But experts expect it’s just a matter of time for that to happen.

In the ABC News piece, Cummings also suggests workers, in general, don’t really need to sweat the commercial use of drones catching on.

‘Ultimately,’ she says, ‘drones will create more jobs than they replace, they will save lives and they will give us capabilities we only dream about—like everyone owning our own flying cars.’ ”

 

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