Saving Time with Social Learning

Innovations and new discoveries occur all the time inside organizations. But how can you shorten the time between the moment those discoveries are made and the results  those discoveries will have in terms of increased customer satisfaction or more-efficient internal processes? Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based health-technology company, believes it’s found the answer, said Robert Campbell, the company’s chief learning officer.

Campbell spoke at a panel discussion on social learning at the HR Technology® Conference on Sept. 29. “We created UCern to reduce the time between discovery and adoption,” he said.

UCern is a virtual learning center consisting of threaded discussion lists, a point system that lets users rate the quality of contributors to those discussions, embedded videos and wikis, he said. When employees need the answer to a question, rather than searching for someone within their workgroup who can help them, they can access the discussion lists or the archived discussions for their particular topic. Solutions to vexing problems can be posted on the company’s publicly available wikis, said Campbell, which are available in “published” and “draft” versions. Material posted on published wikis has been verified for accuracy by the company’s experts; material on draft wikis has not yet been verified and is “use at your own risk,” said Campbell. Either way, it’s drastically shortened the time the company previously needed to document and publish information for employees and customers, he said.

Social media technology can, as in Cerner’s example, allow employees to quickly access the experience and knowledge of their colleagues, rather than waiting to take a formalized course or search for documents that may or may not be properly archived, said Jeanne Meister, the panel’s moderator and author of the book The 2020 Workplace.  Nevertheless, many HR leaders are reluctant to embrace social media, she said. They shouldn’t be, she added.

“You have to ask yourself whether your competitors haven’t already embarked on doing this, ” she said. A good place to find out is the website, a database of hundreds of different social-media policies from a wide variety of companies. The database can be searched by industry, so HR can determine whether their company’s competitors are on the social-media bandwagon, said Meister. “Don’t be left behind,” she said.

‘Yelp’ for Rating Managers??

Many of us turn to the website–the site that compiles user reviews of local restaurants and other service providers–when we’re looking for a good place to eat in whatever location we happen to be. But the folks at Cisco Systems are giving some serious thought to creating a homegrown version of Yelp that would let Cisco employees post reviews of their managers in a public forum available to all of the company’s employees, in a fashion similar to the way users rate the newest sushi joint or Italian bistro.

“We’re trying to figure out how ‘ungoverned’ we can be without getting into legal trouble,” said Don McLaughlin, Cisco’s chief learning officer, during a panel discussion on using social media for corporate learning at the HR Technology® Conference.

McLaughlin said he thinks it’s a great idea, although he admitted he’d be a bit worried about getting negatively “Yelped” himself. But the concept ties into Cisco’s long-term strategy with respect to social learning, he said, which is to create a new “capability set” for the company’s next generation of leaders.

Some in the audience were receptive to the idea of a Yelp for managers. “How can you really know what sort of training a manager might need without really frank, honest feedback from his or her direct reports?” one attendee asked.

Others were skeptical. “You might have people afraid to post honestly for fear of reprisals,” said another audience member. “Then you’d also run the risk of managers who are afraid to do anything that might be unpopular for fear of getting trashed.”

“What about combining the employee reviews with hard data, such as metrics on turnover in a manager’s group, and its business performance?” said another. “That might be really powerful.”

Moderator Jeanne Meister, author of the book The 2020 Workplace, said the concept could be an improvement over performance reviews. “Aren’t we all tired of performance feedback that arrives too late? Why not find out immediately if there’s something we may need to improve, skills we need to learn, rather than waiting six or twelve months down the line?”

Face-off on HR Outsourcing

No blood was spilled during the Great Service Delivery Debate, as Phil Fersht and Lowell Williams faced off during a Wed. afternoon session at the HR Technology® Conference. But the two experts didn’t pull their punches either when it came to discussing whether or not HR outsourcing has lived up to its promise.

The benefits of HRO haven’t materialized, suggested Phil Fersht, founder and CEO of consultancy Horses for Sources in Boston.

Consequently, he said, a number of deals have ended up going sour.

Fersht cited Convergys as an example. “Convergys had a great run with HR outsourcing, but in the end couldn’t [make a go of it] and ended up selling the business to Northgate Arinso,” Fersht said. “The whole [first] generation of HRO didn’t work and Wall Street didn’t like it. So people started talking about single process.”

Fersht suggested that the industry is basically back to where it was 10 years ago.

Williams, however, was a bit more upbeat about the model, showing a slide listing 23 HR processes that are being outsourced today.

“The fundamental premise that we could take administrative, repetitive steps out of HR and move them into a service center is a very valid one,” said Williams, executive director of global HR services for EquaTerra, a Houston-based advisory firm.

To be sure, Williams said, HR outsourcing hasn’t fully lived up to its promise. But the benefits of HR outsourcing are equally clear.

If there’s an area employers in need to get better at, Williams added, it’s figuring out “how to repurpose the people in the company once administrative tasks have been outsourced.”

Contingency — A Perfect Storm

I had an interesting visit today at the HR Technology® Conference with the folks from CyberShift, the Parsippany, N.J.-based provider of workforce-management and expense-management software and services. They were telling me about their new product, CyberShift CLMS, designed to help companies through the ever-increasing morass of contingent and nontraditional labor challenges brought on, in good part, by the recession and slow-growth recovery.

But they were also telling me about the opportunities out there, for both employer and employee, in this “perfect storm,” as Morne’ P. Swart, CyberShift’s vice president of product management, put it. His company even has a white paper coming out tomorrow delving into this phenomenon they’re seeing in the world of work.

“Right now, you’ve got more and more employers looking for temporary workers to help them meet their business objectives while maintaining a flexible cost structure,” Swart told me. “At the same time, you’ve got swelling ranks of contingent workers who, quite honestly, are unhappy; they don’t want to return to the old model of work, the model that didn’t work. Because of this economy, contingency is now attractive to them. There’s a real social element to this.”

For an employer wanting to tap into this swelling mass of talent waiting in the wings and frustrated with the conventional model, he said, perfecting the contingency model — which his company can help with — can create the ideal union between the real work world and the new transient and temporary one. Swart likened it to “dating an avatar.” (He did laugh after saying that, but he was serious about the fact that the phenom is growing.)

“With about 26 percent of the U.S. workforce in jobs that, in one way or another, are considered ‘nonstandard,’ it is evident that contingent labor is becoming increasingly important to successful business operations,” said Swart. “How to manage contingent labor processes, such as sourcing and vendor management, efficient scheduling and compliance-risk reduction … all these are new challenges to consider in [standard] workforce planning [now].”

United’s New Succession Plan … and Much, Much More

When United Airlines decided to regroup in late 2008 and reassess itself, some revelations emerged. Such was part of the story relayed at a Wednesday session of the HR Technology® Conference entitled “United Flies High with Comprehensive Succession Planning.”

Consider the fact that “we’d been through bankruptcy, issues with the H1N1, Asian Flu, then the challenges of the recession,” Cynthia Starz, managing director of leadership and organizational development for United, told session attendees. “All those things made us take a look at our business model and structure. We realized some significant talent gaps.”

And the need for a different approach to succession planning. The old model — usually limited to an org chart leading to a specific person in a position — wouldn’t cut it for a company operating in one of the most volatile industries in the world, with reporting structures that were constantly changing.

For most of 2009, with the help of Taleo, Starz worked to get a handle on United’s internal talent pools by having employees fill out Talent Profiles. “In the United story,” she said, “we got 80 percent of the value out of the interviewing [that resulted from the profiles] and less about the succession.”

What came from the interviews was a general “vetting of the talent” that has led to the “creation of jobs for the people [United discovered it had] rather than the people to fit the jobs.”

The succession planning experiment, if you will, even has senior executives trading talent now, recognizing that some departments produce more than they can use.

Jason Blessing, senior vice president of products and Jason Blessing, senior vice president of products and technology for Taleo, confirmed the rather revolutionary approach to performance management and succession planning that evolved from the United relationship. “Setting up the configuration [which was completed on May 20, 2009], we realized we wanted to look at business processes, not just roles and positions.”

Erickson Opens Conference with a Call to Embrace the Times

As the opening keynote speaker for the 13th annual, and largest-ever, HR Technology Conference® and Exposition in Chicago, Tamara Erickson — collaboration and innovation expert, blogger and author of numerous books on generational evolutions in the workplace — got things rolling with an inspiring look at where technology’s taken us from the beginning of man to where it’s now taking American businesses.

That is, if they’re savvy and open enough to evolve.

Starting with the caveman’s need to share ideas  in order to make the very first tools and taking us through the 20th century corporate organizational model where “we had to make enough stuff at good-enough quality and low-enough costs to sustain the company and help it prosper,” she said,  “now, this century, if you can’t figure out how to tap into the knowledge and ideas of customers and employees … and do [the latter] on a more horizontal org. chart,” she said, you won’t make it.

Challenging listeners to adopt an entire new approach to employment; that is, away from expecting employees to perform because you pay them and into a model where you need to entice them to expend “discretionary effort,” she said, Erickson listed off numerous companies that are starting to adapt: Best Buy, Deloitte, Rypple, Kraft Food, the list went on.

But most companies, she said, are still stuck in the old way. “They’re not providing the technologies and investing in the tools so employees will choose to innovate,” she said.

“You have to invest in their discretionary effort,” Erickson said. “Now is the time for the combination of to invest in their discretionary effort,” Erickson said. “Now is the time for the combination of technology and HR. This time is ripe. HR holds the key to the next step change in our organizational technologies.”

Executive Comp Gets its Credentials

It’s not surprising that the WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals has developed a new certification for executive compensation, available in October.

As the Washington-based agency notes in its recent announcement of the move, “In the wake of the economic crisis and continued scrutiny of executive compensation by media and shareholders … executive compensation practitioners are being called upon to design and manage programs that attract, motivate and retain dynamic executives and leaders who have the ability to drive positive business results.”

The new certification — designed for executive rewards practitioners, consultants and human resource professionals involved in the design and administration of executive compensation — would help to “ensure that companies are working with knowledgeable and competent executive rewards practitioners,” the release states.

Don Linner, executive compensation practice leader for the Washington-based total-rewards company, says the alternative — poor executive comp practices — “can lead to intense public scrutiny, organizational instability and turnover.”

It’s about time this expertise became legitimate, test-worthy and trustworthy, especially in this environment. Had something like this been in place several years ago, it might have spared a few organizations I can think of some unwanted publicity.

Funny You Should Ask That

And a happy Monday morning to the blogosphere!

The New York Times site runs a great blog called You’re The Boss, designed for small-business owners, but they sometimes touch on issues that also can affect executives at larger organizations.

This morning’s post takes a look at job-interview questions and how to determine the right questions to ask a candidate:

I’ve learned that different questions work for different jobs. The manager of my picture-framing business, for example, hires people to do “pick-ups” — they retrieve finished framed pictures from a room full of racks for customers. She routinely asks interviewees if they have ever thought about becoming a librarian; those who say they have thought about it tend to do the job best and to stay around the longest.

 Take a look and have a great last week of September.

Outsourcing Hits the Big Time!

A new workplace sitcom called Outsourced premiers on NBC tomorrow night at 9:30 p.m./8:30 central. Here’s the NBC website where you can read about it and catch the preview video. Considering this is the first I’m hearing about it (which doesn’t necessarily mean anything), I figured there might be one or two of you out there who haven’t heard about it either.

Looks like the premise (or goal, rather) is to put a “fresh and funny spotlight on the challenges that come with managing employees overseas,” says Brian Abrams from the New York-based PKPR public relations firm.

One of his clients, workplace behavior expert Aubrey Daniels, says the biggest mistake managers (and HR leaders) make is thinking people are different in other countries.

“The principles that cause people to do their best are the same in India, China, Russia and the rest of the world,” says Daniels, author of OOPS! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead. “When managers export techniques that they have learned in the United States to other cultures without an understanding of the science of behavior, they are bound to have problems, as I am sure that this series will exploit.”

Daniels talks about the show in more detail on his blog. Happy reading and TV viewing!

Unhealthy Outlook

Confidence in the future availability of employment-based health benefits fell following passage of the healthcare-reform law, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington.

In 2010, 52 percent of individuals with employment-based coverage reported they were extremely or very confident that their (or their spouse’s) employer or union would continue to offer health insurance. That’s down from 59 percent in 2009. 

Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s health research and education program, says that “people do see the law as detrimental to employment-based health coverage, which is where most Americans currently obtain their health insurance coverage.”

EBRI notes that the weak economy may be contributing to that decline.

Another interesting finding from the survey is that Americans rate their own health plans as generally favorable, with 58 percent of those with health insurance coverage being extremely or very satisfied with their current plan. Three in 10 (30 percent) are somewhat satisfied. 

At the same time, the study finds that a majority of Americans rate the healthcare system as poor (27 percent) or fair (31 percent).