It’s not the “Brand” – it’s the “Experience”

pinocchioWe can talk all day about employer branding – and we often do.

My friend Lars Schmidt has a definition that I like (and shamelessly use): “Your employer brand, at its core, is the shared values and employee experiences of your organization.”

The important part of that definition, in my estimation, is “employee experiences;” the most critical and often over-looked part of the equation.

Branding is often the sparkly part of HR; there are keynote speakers talking about it, talent acquisition experts are put in charge of Employer Branding departments, and loyal devotees act like evangelical preachers as they roll out EB initiatives in company-after-company. Pretty fun, I imagine, when one’s organization exists to sell technology or entertainment or trendy hipster-friendly fashion. Not as exciting when one is manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals or running a for-profit prison because the department of corrections has been outsourced by the local government.

Of course it’s easier to promote the brand at the beginning stages of the employee life cycle – Join us! Here are our values! See how we fly every employee to Cancun for onboarding!

But the depth and breadth of the employee experience includes environment and supervisors and coworkers. It includes the fact that passive-aggressive employees have been allowed to create internal fiefdoms and exert ridiculous control. It means there’s a historical practice of managers chastising staff members in public forums in the name of transparency. It means that the C-suite folks are out of the office 24/7 while the average employee, who has been wooed with flexible work programs, is expected to sit in a grey cubicle between the hours of 8 and 6 and needs that abundant PTO balance (promoted by Joe the Recruiter!) because she must use PTO every time she leaves the office for an hour-long dentist appointment.

The employee experience includes handbooks and policies. It includes an over-reliance on PIPs because “treating employees fairly and justly” is merely code for giving people a heads-up notice that they’re on their way out the door.

It’s the reality of “we promote from within” meaning “we’ll never pay you as much as an external candidate because employees are capped at a 15% increase even for promotions.”

 So, I wonder… where are the companies truthfully talking about the entire – and real – employer brand?

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A Different Twist on HR Networking

martini with a twistOver the last week I’ve read just about every #SHRM15 recap post. In 99.9% of them (ok, I just pulled that statistic out of the air but it’s pretty close) the author opined something like “networking is one of the greatest benefits for attendees of the big show.”

I do have to say, after attending the conference for well over a decade, that I’ve seen a marked increase in the interactions, meetups and blossoming relationships that occur amongst peers and professional colleagues. I certainly give some credit to the increased usage of social media channels and technology platforms that allow people to connect before, during and after the event. Jan tweets Carol during a session, they meet face to face in the SHRM bookstore, grab a cocktail together at some law firm’s networking event that night and BAM – next thing you know they’re LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends.

That’s a good thing.

Here’s the issue though…often times this “let’s network!” mantra only gets trotted out at events or conferences. People turn the idea of connecting into a 4 day goal as opposed to an ongoing dedicated belief that there is inherent value in continuously meeting new people, learning new things and indulging in new conversations.

Obviously the thought of purposeful networking is as horrifying to some people as is the idea (to me) of encountering a spider in the bathtub or a clown at my front door. The fact that articles about its importance continue to be shoved down their throat just makes them even more reticent and unwilling to indulge in activities that appear to be about mindless chit chat or conversations with strangers.

I get it. But I also find it disheartening when members of professional organizations don’t take advantage of networking opportunities; especially in a small community where, for better or worse, everyone will some day either work or collaborate with everyone else.

I’m a member of two SHRM chapters; New Orleans SHRM (NOLASHRM) and Baton Rouge SHRM (GBRSHRM) and the approach to networking is strikingly different between the two chapters. The NOLASHRM chapter holds monthly evening networking events and earlier this week they hosted a get-together at a wine bar/store/restaurant. 50 HR ladies and gents showed up to enjoy a cheese and charcuterie spread and, of course, wine. This attendance number represents but a fraction of the members but the events are held whether 5 people attend or 100.

The GBRSHRM chapter, on the other hand, hosts no dedicated networking events nor is anything done in the evenings except for the annual Holiday Party at which spouses/guests sit awkwardly, watch HR ladies line dance, and silently vow to never attend again no matter how much their wife/husband pleads. There’s a little history to this that I can speak to (having been chapter president 7 years ago); even though chapter members regularly state in survey after survey that they want networking opportunities, whenever events are held attendance is dismal.

It’s become abundantly clear that HR professionals in Baton Rouge don’t want to attend anything outside of work hours. Reasons I’ve heard have ranged from “the Baton Rouge traffic is so bad that I just want to get off the roads and get home” (understandable) to “I use my evenings to spend time with my family” (I get it) to “I really don’t want to spend time with any of these people.” I kid on that last one. Sorta.

Over the years the BR chapter has attempted numerous times to get local HR people together; we’ve done crawfish boils and picnics (zoo and water park). We’ve done a golf outing. We’ve put together a walking team for charity events and volunteered at the Food Bank (6 people showed up). We’ve done “meet ups” and “tweet ups” and post-seminar happy hours. An HR friend of mine started a non-SHRM affiliated “HR Special Interest Group” a few years ago and built an email list of 100 or so HR folks to whom she mails monthly invites to gather at Venue A on a given date. Over the course of almost 2 years we have had about 20 different people show up with a core group of 6-8 regular attendees. At this stage it’s merely a gathering of friends that, while fun, is not a networking event.

Sigh.

Is it a local community thing? Perhaps. When I lived in Milwaukee we did all our SHRM chapter meetings at night and they were packed. I spoke at a Cleveland SHRM DisruptHR event last year and there were 40+ of us who first descended on a local bar at 9PM (well past the bed time, apparently, for Louisiana HR ladies).

Is it an HR thing? Maybe; although one certainly doesn’t run into this reluctance with the HR Technology crowd or with Recruiters, subsets, to some degree, of the greater HR world. No wonder I like recruiting conferences better than HR conferences; the best conversations, learning, and information sharing happens at the bar after the day’s activities have concluded.

Maybe purposeful networking isn’t for you. Maybe a mad dash once a year to grow your professional connections seems like enough effort. That’s OK – go ahead and stay home. Resign yourself to hanging out in the same circles, with the same people, talking about the same stuff.

But I’ll be over there having a conversation.

With a twist.

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Agile HR: Fables and Fairy Tales

scrum-pigs-chickensWho doesn’t love a good fairy tale or fable?

As a child I had an affinity for Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Princess and the Pea” and Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Well maybe not that last one. My mother, on the other hand, liked to quote it a lot.

Then when I grew up and started to hang out with other HR ladies everyone seemed to love business fables like “Who Moved My Cheese” and “FISH! Philosophy.” I remember going to a conference/seminar where we tossed stuffed fish around the room. Yeah. Really.

But there’s another business fable – a cliché by now – that I’ve always enjoyed:

The Pig and the Chicken

A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road.

The Chicken says: “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”

The Pig replies: “Hmm, maybe, what would we call it?”

The Chicken responds: “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”

The Pig thinks for a moment and says: “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

It’s a fable often trotted out in the world of software development when teams implement the agile software development methodology. (note: the Scrum Guide officially discontinued the use of this analogy in 2011. I don’t care…I still like it).

Even if you don’t work in the IT world you may have heard of scrum; a framework that helps people and teams work through a complex project. Or, perhaps, you’re a rugby fan who likes the correlation between a scrum half (#9) who directs traffic and links the forwards to the backs, and the scrum master (development world) who coaches and coordinates and connects team members to ensure collaboration.

For me it’s always begged the question…can HR professionals play rugby? OK…I jest. But can HR pros be agile, fast and flexible? Can they “think” this way?

  • Roll out a product (an HR initiative) in incremental stages
  • Test it
  • Improve it
  • Repeat the process for continuous improvement

Are HR professionals willing to be the pig and sacrifice in their entirety? Seek improvement in order to work themselves out of their jobs? Do HR so well that the need for redundancy and layer-upon-layer of HR positions are eliminated? Outsource when it makes sense? Pass responsibilities on and empower both managers AND employees? Sacrifice unnecessary HR bureaucrats in order to allow the business to operate more effectively?

Or is that, perhaps, a fairy tale?

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Jurassic World: Candidates Loose in the Theme Park

jurassic-world-chris-pratt-dinosaur-whispererAmidst all the information we read and see about the death of the resume and candidates being able to apply with the one-click sharing of a social profile here in Jurassic the real World job seekers encounter some decidedly archaic practices.

A friend recently alerted me to an organization’s career site and encouraged me to click the “Apply Online” button.
Doing so brought up a non-fillable 4 page PDF that needed to be printed out and completed with a pen. Or a typewriter I imagine; if anyone can actually find a typewriter in 2015.

I decided it might be fun to test this out to see if, perhaps, it might be a shorter or more pleasant process than some of the actual online applications with which employers torture applicants.

It was not.

Once I moved past the basics (name, address, phone, email address) I was asked for:

  • Spouse’s name
  • Spouse’s Employer and Occupation
  • If I own my home or rent
  • The year and make of my car
  • If I financed my education and, if so, what percent
  • Hobbies, interests and sports
  • My current (employer-provided) benefits and how much I contribute to the cost
  • How many scheduled days of work (not vacation) I have missed in the past 2 years
  • My educational goals for the next 5 years
  • 3 things I would change at my current job
  • My greatest strength
  • My greatest weakness
  • The primary reason I’ve accepted positions in the past and what must be offered to motivate a career change
  • 3 adjectives that describe me   –    (1) Annoyed (2) With (3) This
  • Words-per-minute speeds for typing, shorthand and 10-Key
  • Other companies with whom I have interviewed (space for five)
  • Other resumes I have mailed (space for five)

Whew.

Look, I’m not trying to shame this particular company. Well…maybe a little; although you notice I’m not naming names. I will, however, let you know that this team of recruiters touts its specialized and comprehensive recruiting and screening process. For, believe it or not, technical positions.

But this, my friends, is the reality for numerous job seekers in small towns and big cities the world over.

When I get to contemplating such things I wonder why some organizations and recruiting teams continue to operate in such a manner?

Are they not paying any attention to research, insight and trends to get an understanding of how job seekers expect to apply for jobs in the year 2015? Do they not realize there are numerous inexpensive and easy to use cloud-based Applicant Tracking Systems in the market that will allow them to ditch the PDF application form? Do they honestly think it’s wise to gather, on an ‘official’ document, a candidate’s marital status? Do they even worry about the potentially stellar candidates who are dropping off as soon as they click “Apply Online” and are faced with this monstrosity of an application?

Do they just…not care?

So many questions. So many mysteries.

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Big Data for Big Tools

toolboxI read an article yesterday from the Wall Street Journal entitled “Are Companies Any Good at Picking Stars?” in which the author stated that despite companies having more data than ever (big data!), predicting which employees will be successful is still more an art than a science. Those of us who pay attention to HR technology trends know that seemingly every vendor out there is scrambling to bring anything they can label as ‘predictive analytics’ to the market. Am I right? (You know I am).

As the article reminds us “makers of HR software are beginning to develop their own solutions, claiming that algorithms built using an array of metrics—from an individual’s 401(k) contribution to promotions to connections on the corporate social network—can yield information about high potentials.”

Yeah. I really want to see the employer side attorney who gets to litigate the class action suit that arises when a bunch of employees decide they were passed over for promotion because their employer was analyzing data that included their 401(k) contributions.

Now, were I the attorney for the company, I imagine I could argue that using this data point had absolutely no disparate impact on any class of protected employees; nothing at all to do with race or age or gender, et al. After all, I might argue, according to an oft cited report from the US Social Security Administration’s Office of Policy, 401(k) participation and contribution rates are not related solely to income and age. Rather, participation and contribution rates appear to be related to an individuals’ propensity to plan as well as the existence of a match (and the rate of the match) as well as access to the right mix of funds in the plan.

The research also finds that Overall, the results confirm earlier findings that age, income, and job tenure increase the probability of participating in a 401(k) plan. Education is not statistically significant, a result that holds regardless of how the education variable is specified. Age has a large impact. An eligible worker between the ages of 25 and 34 has a 14 percent greater probability of participating in a 401(k) plan than a counterpart under age 25, and the probability increases for workers aged 35 to 44. Interestingly, for workers aged 45 and over, the probability of participation is only 11 percent greater than for workers under 25.”

Also… “job tenure has a statistically significant impact; as noted earlier, one additional year of tenure raises the probability of participation by 0.7 percentage point.”

So…we can assume that if Gina is over 40 and has been with the organization 10 years (the mean is 9 years) her 401(k) participation is higher than her coworker who is 34 and has only been with the organization 7 years.

But then we get to contribution rate. According to that SSA report “….age, the presence of a defined benefit plan, and the wealth in that plan are no longer statistically significant, and education remains insignificant. In contrast, a short planning horizon continues to have a statistically significant and important effect: a planning horizon of less than 5 years reduces the contribution rate by roughly 1.2 percentage points. The contribution rate is positively related to wealth, which again suggests that the variable reflects a taste for saving. Household income has a statistically significant negative effect.”

What if Gina, who attended a state university in the Midwest, is competing for promotions against a bunch of Ivy League guys/gals with family wealth? What if Gina, a superstar employee, is not socking away as much money in her 401(k) as Tripp and Buffy? What if Gina, who does not have a trust fund, is supporting her extended family back in the Midwest and thus, at this stage in her life, is not bulking up her personal retirement plan?

Why in the world should ANY of that have anything to do with assessing Gina’s potential?

I’m all for using data to make appropriate decisions; we surely need to do a better job of that in HR. Let’s definitely look at hiring data, performance metrics, employees’ networks and collaborative reach and impact. I want us to pull in organizational data like sales figures and output and production. We need to gather and sync external market and economic data, trends and forecasts.

We don’t need to reach end-ways around our behinds though to make a labored connection that seems to indicate an employee making a 12% contribution to his 401(k) doesn’t have the same leadership chops or mental acuity as the employee who contributes 18% to her 401(k).

Give me a break.

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