Posts belonging to Category talent management

Giving Workers a Reason to Quit at Amazon

Years ago, we reported on Zappos’ decision to offer employees a $1,500 bonus to quit during its intensive, four-week training period. The thinking being, if they’re not happy in their jobs 480491805at that point, why prolong the inevitable and suffer the consequences in the process.

Well, in case  you haven’t already heard, earlier this week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reported in his letter to shareholders that the online retailing behemoth has established a program called “Pay to Quit” that pays warehouse employees up to $5,000 to leave.

Bezos spells out “Pay to Quit” this way in his letter to shareholders

It was invented by the clever people at Zappos, and the Amazon fulfillment centers have been iterating on it. Pay to Quit is pretty simple. Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000. The headline on the offer is ‘Please Don’t Take This Offer.’  We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay. Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

In a story in The Tennessean, an Amazon spokeswoman says only workers in the fulfillment centers, where customer orders are packed and shipped, are eligible for the program and that only a small percentage of employees take the company up on the offer. (Back in 2008, when we first wrote about the Zappos program, we were told only 2 percent of the trainees took the online shoe-and-clothing retailer up on its offer.)

Hearing about Amazon’s decision to follow in Zappos’ footsteps (excuse the pun), I tried to find other attempts at this, at decent-size organizations anyway, but came up empty handed. (If you’re aware of any, let us know.)

But with Amazon’s program getting the press attention it has, could that change?

I asked that question this afternoon to Joel Garfinkle, founder of Garfinkle Executive Coaching in Oakland, Calif., and author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.

That’s certainly possible, Garfinkle told me. “ We live in a copycat world” and “a lot of people look to Jeff [Bezos] as the new Steve Jobs — someone who leads from the front and is willing to take risks,” he said.

Garfinkle believes the approach might have some merit. “If you’re neutral or positive about your job, you’re not going to take [the offer to leave],” he says. “But if you’re really on the fence or negative, it might be enough that you just might take it.”

Much still needs to be measured, he adds, but at the end of the day it could very well lead to higher overall productivity.

Giving HR the Boot

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal, titled “Is It a Dream or a Drag? Companies Without HR,” focuses on several mid-sized companies that have decided to get rid of their HR departments or never even had one in the first place.

These companies include LRN, a training and consulting firm (which has also served as a source for several stories we’ve written here at the magazine). David Greenberg, LRN’s executive vice president, told the Journal that the 250-employee company did away with its HR department several years ago because “we wanted to force people issues into the middle of the business.”

The story notes that companies are jettisoning their HR function because they’re concerned it bogs down innovation and nimbleness with too many rules and too much bureaucracy — and that software can handle most of the transactional stuff. I should add that the story doesn’t cite much in the way of statistics or research to support its thesis — in fact, the only figures it cites are from a SHRM study showing that U.S. employers had a median of 1.54 HR professionals for every 100 employees in 2012, which is actually up from a low of 1.24 in 2009. Nevertheless, the anecdotes within the story are interesting and offer some food for thought.

Steve Miranda, managing director of Cornell’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, notes the benefits of having HR staffers available to protect companies from running afoul of federal laws such as the FMLA. And the story cites restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse, which created its HR department in the wake of a $19 million settlement with the EEOC over a sex discrimination lawsuit.

Yet companies such as Klick Health (which has also served as a source for at least one HRE story) have forgone creating an HR department because they believe training managers and employees to handle conflicts on their own is a better approach, according to the story. CEO Leerom Segal said that instead of an HR function, Klick Health has two employees with customer-service backgrounds serve as “concierges” — it’s their jobs to ensure a “frictionless work experience” for employees.  The concierges serve as part of what the company calls its five-person “mojo team.” However, a former employee told the story’s authors that he often worried about liability when he had to discipline or terminate a direct report during his time at Klick Health.

As regular readers of HRE well know, HR — at its best — does a whole lot more than just protect its company from liability. Smart HR pros help their companies attract, retain and develop their talent — no small thing in an era where innovation matters more than ever and employee tenure is shorter than ever. This is not something a piece of software can do, no matter how beautifully designed; it’s certainly not something a lawyer can do, nor can an outside expert substitute for an insider who truly knows the organization and its people. If you’re looking for greater proof of the value HR can add, just review some recent HR Execs of the Year or our HR’s Rising Stars feature.

A Message Worth Repeating?

In case you missed it (apparently I did), Jack and Suzy Welch crafted a LinkedIn post last week that again spoke to the importance of HR.

188065235“HR should be every company’s ‘killer app,’ ” they wrote in the piece, titled So Many Leaders Get This Wrong.

“What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted or moved out the door? Business is a game, and as with all games, the team that puts the best people on the field and gets them playing together wins. It’s that simple.”

Considering this, the two noted, it’s too bad “HR rarely functions as it should” and is often relegated to the background. “If you owned the Boston Red Sox, for instance, would you hang around with the team accountant or the director of player personnel?” they ask.

They continue …

Sure, the accountant can tell you the financials. But the director of player personnel knows what it takes to win: how good each player is and where to find strong recruits to fill talent gaps. Several years ago we spoke to 5,000 HR professionals in Mexico City. At one point we asked the audience: ‘How many of you work at companies where the leader gives HR a seat at the table equal to that of the CFO?’ After an awkward silence, fewer than 50 people raised their hands. Awful!”

They then go on to propose how to fix this mess …

It all starts with the people they appoint to run HR — not kingmakers or cops but big leaguers, men and women with real stature and credibility. In fact, managers need to fill HR with a special kind of hybrid: people who are part pastor (hearing all sins and complaints without recrimination) and part parent (loving and nurturing, but giving it to you straight when you’re off track).”

Of course, these comments are right in line with others offered up by Jack and Suzy Welch in the past. In a 2004 story we ran, Jack Welch shared an anecdote similar to the one in Mexico City, pointing out that having a scorekeeper in baseball who’s more important than the director of player personnel on a team is crazy.

Also, this isn’t the first time Jack and Suzy Welch referred to HR as a “killer app.” (One reference I found dates back to 2006.)

I’m sure some of you may be scratching your heads, wondering why the two are revisiting this subject once again. But considering how many organizations have yet to adjust their thinking, I think a case could easily be made that it’s a message worth repeating. (In case you were wondering, last count, the LinkedIn piece received 163,376 eyeballs, 2,679 likes and 565 comments.)

Adding one more point of view to this discussion, Bloomberg TV interviewed former GE executive and former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli yesterday, asking him to share his thoughts on the couple’s piece. Nardelli, who is now founder and CEO of the investment banking firm XLR-8,  said he was in complete agreement. (No surprise there, considering he describes Jack Welch as a mentor.) Companies, he said, “will spend an inordinate amount of analysis on your physical capital, and yet it’s your human capital that brings that to life.”

An Eye to the Future

As I’m sure many of you are aware, HRE has published a fair share of stories on the need for HR leaders to pay closer attention to their own talent pipeline.

159252853In light of this, I’d like to once again call your attention to an initiative introduced by the National Academy of Human Resources a number of years ago aimed at raising future leaders in the profession: The NAHR Ram Charan HR Essay competition, which is now open to undergraduate and graduate students majoring in HR, industrial/labor relations or related fields.  In addition to the priceless prestige that goes with being selected a winner, award recipients also receive handsome cash prizes of $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 1.

This year’s topic ….

Performance Management – A Very Real Issue for Employers and Employees.  Students are asked to identify a new way to measure and improve employee performance that is efficient, effective, and will be embraced by employees because they view it as a fair system that is helpful to them in their career.  The new process must be measurable for effectiveness, contributions to the success of the organization, and reassure management that the right people are being rewarded.”

If you know of anyone who might be interested in participating in this competition, please pass on the above link.

And if you’d like to get a sense of some of the original research and thinking that resulted from last year’s competition, check out the first, second and third place winning entries, submitted by Tiffany Scheff and Josie Trine of Cornell University’s ILR School; Joseph Redlitz of Rutgers University, and Indranil Dey of the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines, respectively. Their topic: “How are electronic technology and social media affecting the employment relationship between employers and employees; and the roles, responsibilities and contributions of HR organizations?”

I suspect those of you who do will walk away feeling a bit better about the profession’s future.

Rough Road Ahead for HR?

rough roadFindings from a new study suggest HR departments aren’t ready to respond to the talent challenges facing them now and in the days to come.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report compiled data from a survey of 2,532 business and HR leaders at organizations from 94 countries around the world. In the poll, 86 percent of respondents cited leadership development as the biggest challenge for their organization, followed by employee retention and engagement (79 percent).

At 77 percent, “re-skilling the HR function” ranked as the third most-pressing issue, with many executives feeling their HR teams lack the skills and data they need “to understand today’s global business environment, local labor markets, evolving workforce demographics, shifts in technology and the changing nature of work itself,” according to a Deloitte press release.

For example, while 75 percent of respondents rated “workforce capability” as an “urgent” or “important” challenge, only 15 percent said they believe they are ready to address it. More than two-thirds of those polled (70 percent) see new learning methods such as free online and mobile learning platforms as urgent or important, but just 6 percent say they have mastered the content and capabilities necessary to make online learning accessible and digestible for employees.

Overall, more than one-third of the business leaders polled (34 percent) said their HR and talent programs are just “getting by” or even “underperforming,” with less than 8 percent of HR professionals expressing confidence that their teams have the requisite skills for today’s global environment.

While leadership may be underwhelmed with HR’s performance, it seems many organizations aren’t doing a great job of equipping HR teams with the tools they need to keep pace, either.

In the study, 43 percent of respondents described their organizations as “weak” in terms of providing HR with the appropriate training and experience, with 47 percent saying the same with respect to preparing HR to deliver programs aligned with business needs.

With “radical shifts in demographics and technology” occurring, “doubling down on the human capital practices of the past” won’t be enough to help HR teams do more than just get by in the future, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, in a statement.

“The research shows that organizations should re-imagine their approach to engaging people and move to re-engineer many of their HR practices,” according to Bersin. “Attracting top talent has become a serious competitive issue that demands attention at the highest levels of the organization.”

Looking for the Exit Signs

Looking for signs some of your top talent is about to head out the door for good?

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Utah State University that recently crossed my desk, the signals are often more subtle than 77870591blatant. Generally speaking, says Utah State Associate Professor Tim Gardner (one of the study’s authors), the one thing most employees had in common before they left was that they began to “disengage” in the workplace. How so? Gardner’s research found those who were about to leave …

  • Offered fewer constructive contributions in meetings;
  • Were more reluctant to commit to long-term projects;
  • Became more reserved and quiet;
  • Became less interested in advancing in the organization;
  • Were less interested in pleasing their boss than before;
  • Avoided social interactions with their boss and other members of management; and
  • Began doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer went beyond the call of duty.

In other words, their lack of engagement began to show up in here and there in their performance a few months before they actually quit. (Gardner, who did the study with Utah State Professor Steve Hanks and Florida State University Professor Chad H. Van Iddekinge, says the statistical formula they used could predict with 80 percent accuracy that employees demonstrating at least six of these behaviors were about to leave.)

It’s no surprise, of course, that signs like those listed above would make the researchers’ list. Those looking to exit are inevitably going to mentally check out some time before they actually give their notice. But what was somewhat surprising about the findings, Gardner points out, is that things like taking more vacation time, punching out at 5 p.m. every day and looking at outside openings on company time were not on the list.

“You might think that someone who starts showing up to work late, failing to return phone calls and emails, and taking lots of sick days might be about to leave, but those weren’t unique behaviors that applied only to the quitters,” he says.

Plus, just maybe, these latter individuals are savvy enough to avoid the obvious.

Putting Talent at the Top of Your Company’s Agenda

The latest post from HR guru Ed Lawler, titled What Should HR Leaders Focus On in 2014, cites talent management and talent development as the top concerns — specifically, the managerial and technical roles that are “difference makers,” he writes. Lawler, distinguished professor of business at the University of Southern California and founder/director of its Center for Effective Organizations, writes that focusing on talent “is a great way to get the HR function into a broader discussion about what is next for the organization and what the business strategy should be. ”

He elaborates further:

The most important thing that HR should focus on in talent management is assessing the skills the organization needs to implement its strategy and the plan for recruiting and managing that critical talent. It is important to understand what the organization can do to add the right talent: Whether it is best recruited or internally developed, and whether it is even possible to develop the right talent in order to implement the business strategy. … Often, the reasons why business strategies fail is that they mistakenly assume that the organization can get the right talent in order to perform the way the strategy calls for. All too often organizations cannot attract or develop it, and as a result, the strategy is not feasible.”

Lawler goes on to cite Google as a good example of a company that’s done an “exceptional” job of recruiting and managing people who have critical knowledge skills, noting the tech firm’s practice of letting its people set aside certain times of the week to devote specifically to projects that interest them. This has proved not only to be a great way for Google to come up with new business ideas, he writes, but to also develop and attract the critical talent it needs. (We’ve been reporting on Google’s talent-development processes for a while here at HRE; here is a recent story on how it strengthened its corporate culture and here’s a piece on its recognition-and-rewards strategy.)

Of course, not all business leaders are sold on the importance of talent, writes Lawler. Some think they can get by without top talent while others—lacking a background in talent management—may see functions such as engineering and finance as far more important to the business strategy than recruiting and developing talent, he notes. HR’s challenge is to show that link between talent and the business strategy, he concludes. I can’t help but think that last week’s announcement by the Conference Board that CEOs consider human capital the No. 1 challenge for 2014 should give HR leaders a bit of a boost in this department.

New Report: CEOs Focused on Employees for 2014

dv1954038This just in from the Conference Board, from its CEO Challenge 2014 report based on a survey of CEOs, presidents and chairmen from more than 1,000 companies around the world: Human capital — how best to develop, engage, manage and retain talent — was named the leading challenge among 10 choices, followed by customer relationships, innovation, operational excellence and corporate brand and reputation.

The findings represent an acknowledgement by global business leaders that people really are their greatest resource, says Rebecca Ray, report co-author and Conference Board senior vice president of human capital:

Though particular strategies vary from region to region, business leaders are working to optimize their greatest resource — their employees and those who will lead them. This emphasis on people-related issues makes perfect sense in a still-uncertain economy. Building a culture that supports engagement, employee training, leadership development and high performance is something companies can control, and can mean the difference between growing market share and simply surviving in 2014.”

Interestingly, this year’s survey included a question on “hot-button issues” CEOs were most concerned about. “Big Data” was cited as the No. 1 hot-button issue, a topic that’s addressed by my colleague Mark McGraw in this recent story. Other hot-button issues cited by respondents included “diversity in our leadership ranks,” “potential economic depression in Europe” and, for U.S. respondents (perhaps not surprisingly), “healthcare benefits for employees.”

Breaking down the findings region by region, the report finds that “improve performance management processes and accountability” rose to the No. 1 strategy in China, which is facing a slowing growth rate, as well as in Asia as a whole. The report also found that three of the top five strategies for innovation are predicated on human capital, with “create culture of innovation by promoting and rewarding entrepreneurship and risk-taking,” “develop innovation skills for all employees” and “incentivize key talent for innovation.” Even our cranky HR Technology columnist, Bill Kutik, acknowledges in his latest piece that CEOs seem to finally be coming around to the importance of the people in their organizations.  All in all, it appears that CEOs will be keeping their CHROs close by for the foreseeable future.

‘HR vs. HR’: The Battle Over Talent Management

Marc Effron, president of The Talent Strategy Group, often posts provocative pointers on the Insights portion of his website devoted to talent management. This one, HR vs. HR, especially caught my eye. It’s 178812724-- business boxing matcha conflict problem I’ve heard about and discussed with HR executives over the years, but I’ve never seen the issue presented so clearly and … well … helpfully.

Effron not only lays out, in nice detail, the fisticuff scenario of HR business partners being the very (often greatest) sources of resistance to corporate HR leaders’ talent initiatives, but he offers specific, straightforward reasons for that scenario, followed by itemized suggestions for countering the pushback.

He pulls no punches in suggesting that some HR BPs “actively and/or passively block the talent agenda [and that this] resistance may be driven by control needs, jealousy or outright lack of confidence in your abilities.”

If focusing hard on building the relationship doesn’t work to quell the resistance, absorbing his list of primary reasons for it should be a good Step 2 for anyone in this boat. Like “going native,” which occurs when BPs align far more closely with their business leaders than with the HR functions or company agendas. Or when the BPs believe they know talent management as well as you, or think you’re tearing down what they created.

Indeed, writes Effron, it’s “quite likely that a member of your HR leadership team actually built the process that you’re now replacing. They infer from your actions that you’re critiquing their earlier work.”

What’s the solution? “Honor the past,” he writes, “whether or not you believe it deserves to be honored.”

He goes on:

Talent-management practices are too important to our organizations to let them be destroyed by ‘friendly fire.’ While we should always assume that our peers have positive intentions, we should also keep our political radar tuned to pick up the faintest echo of resistance. Too many HR leaders will — understandably — act in their own best interest. Our job is to find a way to align those interests with ours.”

If this issue is hitting a nerve, if you’re experiencing a similar standoff at your company and see no way out, Effron’s piece stands a good chance of helping you find one.


Third Time’s (Often) a Charm

Job hopping may be the “new normal” for millennials these days, but it’s apparently not going to improve one’s chances of landing a CHRO job at a large corporation—at least for the time being.

The other day, someone emailed me a study conducted by the HR website Software Advice (and featured on its New Talent Times blog) that found 61 percent of CHROs worked for three or fewer companies throughout their careers. More than one-third of them worked for just one or two companies.

152117115No matter how you slice it, that’s a pretty interesting and impressive number, especially when you factor in that nearly half (46 percent) of those CHROs reached their current senior-level positions from an external position. (To give this three-or-fewer figure some context, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median employee tenure was 4.6 years in 2012.)

Also worth noting from the Software Advice analysis is the fact that the overwhelming majority of HR executives—roughly 80 percent—worked 16 or more years before reaching their current position.

To arrive at the findings, the blog analyzed the career histories of 100 CHROs featured on HRE‘s own Top 100 and the HR Elite lists (we’re glad to be of assistance), as well as Forbes’ list of the 100 Best Places to Work for 2013. Only CHROs with LinkedIn profiles and biographies on their corporate websites were included in the sample.

Over the years, there’s been a lot written about what it takes to reach the corner office in HR, with some experts making strong cases for line-management and international experience. But if we’re to believe this latest analysis by the New Talent Times, I guess we now know one thing that’s not needed: a resume that’s rich in former employers.