Here’s What Talent Agility Looks Like

rubber bandsMary managed a small team consisting of 3 employees. The positions they held were coveted jobs in a small but well-known company. With few exceptions these employees tended to be entry-level professionals who used these jobs to launch their careers – ultimately moving on to bigger and better things at other organizations. Even though salaries were below-market and there was limited career mobility due to the size of the organization, morale was high and the employment experience enjoyable. Tenure for these positions was in the range of 18 months or so which meant, as you can imagine, just about the time an employee became extremely proficient and productive, s/he opted to move on for another opportunity.

The department had numerous and varied accountabilities and deliverables over the course of any given year but core responsibilities could be boiled down to 6 primary areas:

 

  1. Make the widgets
  2. Market the widgets
  3. Sell the widgets
  4. Invoice for the widgets
  5. Ship the widgets
  6. Service the widgets

While all 3 team members needed to have some familiarity with all duties, the job descriptions looked like this for years:

  • Employee A: Responsible for 1 and 2
  • Employee B: Responsible for 3 and 4
  • Employee C: Responsible for 5 and 6

Stuff got done.

But then, one day, both Employees A and B tendered their resignations. The two-week countdown began as Mary realized it was going to be her and Employee C (who had been with the company for 6 months) running the show for the foreseeable future.

Initially Mary approached the hiring process as most managers (and HR professionals) do: she resurrected Job Descriptions A and B and set a course to hire employees who would perform function 1, 2, 3 and 4. After all, she reasoned, Employee C was slaying all the dragons with functions 5 and 6.

But then she stopped. Perhaps, she thought, if I provide a bit more variety and the chance for staff members to contribute in different ways, we’ll not only get the work done but reap the benefits of employees staying for longer periods because they’re continually learning and exploring. Maybe if they have the chance to do something new – something that builds on what they already know – we’ll all benefit.

So she talked to Employee C (who for 6 months had been responsible for shipping and servicing the widgets) and asked her “what would you like to do? What do you want to learn? What functional areas interest you?” Employee C said “I’ve always wanted to market and sell the widgets but I know those tasks are assigned to two different jobs. So I’m not sure what we can do.” 

But I’m sure you’ve guessed what they did.

Mary decided to be much more fluid in her operational model; versatility was in and rigidity was out. Rather than creating positions and praying-and-hoping that employees would stay long enough to develop deep-deep DEEP expertise she opted for a new model that encouraged the development of skills and the need for employees to tackle new challenges. She adopted a high-touch and constantly evolving approach that provided for task rotation every 6 months; this not only kept team members interested and engaged but insured cross training in a fully team focused environment.

While the jobs continued to be ones that young professionals used to merely launch their long-term careers tenure for the department increased from 18 months to close to 3 years.

I call that talent agility. I call that winning the battle.

After all…sometimes the “war for talent” is waged within.

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Improve the system. Don’t overcomplicate it.

puzzle piecesI hate to cook. I can easily spend hours watching Giada or Ina or any other number of folks on The Food Network but will do anything and everything to stay out of the kitchen myself.

Fortunately Mr. S. not only enjoys cooking but does a damn fine job. While I lounge on the sofa and he rattles the pots and pans I remind myself, while refusing to feel too guilty, that I’m doing so because too many cooks spoil the broth.

After all, if I jump in to “help” I may merely end up adding unnecessary steps and confusion. My advice on how to stir the roux or in what order to chop and dice the vegetables may just complicate the matter. Right?

There’s also a lesson in there for HR.

How so you ask?

In HR we’re known for our propensity to create convoluted byzantine procedures for the simplest things. We add layers to processes without evaluating each component to determine necessity. Sometimes it’s because we see a predicament where none exists. Other times we add complexity in an attempt to demonstrate our worth and prove that we’re needed.

We stir the pot, add a pinch of this, toss in a dash of that…and spoil the broth.

When mired in a system rather than taking a step back and determining if more is better we tend to add (rather than subtract) in a misguided attempt to fix or clarify. A position requisition approval suddenly requires 5 signatures. Our onboarding process expands from one based on ease, simplicity, and common sense to one with flowcharts and multiple checklists.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, we lose sight of our end-users; employees, managers, candidates and other stakeholders. We forget to wonder if they want more for the sake of more or if, perhaps, they would prefer to receive less for better.

We need to stop, step back, and breathe. I like to evaluate every action, process or plan through the lens of continuous improvement by thinking in terms of the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) Cycle (also known as the Deming Cycle after W. Edwards Deming).

  • Plan: identify a goal or purpose, formulate your theory, define the metrics to measure success and put a plan into action
  • Do: Implement the components of your plan
  • Study: Monitor outcomes to test the plan’s validity; look for signs of progress and success while also watching for problems and areas for improvement
  • Act: Bring together the learning acquired from the process and use that to adjust the goal, methods or even the theory

Adding approval steps to your procurement process for contract staff? Define the why (Plan), try it out (Do) and check to see if it’s working (Study). But don’t get stuck in study mode for months or years; monitor, evaluate and adjust quickly. Act. Don’t hesitate to act. That’s important.

Then repeat. Over and over.

This doesn’t require a chartered project team with spreadsheets, charts and dashboards. You can start thinking this way for every action you take and for every process you touch.

I once worked with an organization where the PTO approval process went like this: (1) employee completed PTO request to schedule a day off (2) routed to their manager for approval (3) routed to 2nd level manager for approval (4) routed to HR Department for approval (5) employee received approval/denial from HR Department to schedule the PTO day

What the what? Why in the world was the HR Lady part of this process? Why, for that matter, was the 2nd level manager getting looped in to this? Surely, I asked, managers had the ability to plan and coordinate scheduling for their own departments? Upon investigation I found, as is often the case, this process had steps added over time for reasons ranging from “Acme Corp does it this way and they run a tight ship” to “remember that one time when Joe took PTO time and he didn’t have a sufficient PTO balance?”

Lord.

Improving something does not include adding additional intricacies or replicating what we’ve heard is a “best practice” at another organization.

Let’s stop overcomplicating everything.

Let’s review…think…improve.

Let’s refuse to get bogged down in the bullshit.

 

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Leonardo da Vinci

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Engaging Top Tech Candidates Doesn’t Have to be a Mystery

Dice May 2015Finding – and more importantly – having conversations with tech talent is an ongoing challenge isn’t it? If you’re looking for an Application Developer with Agile or JavaFX experience (by tomorrow!) it can be tempting to rush in and contact any and all hot prospects in an attempt to get some sort of activity going.

And if you’ve ever done that you also likely saw it delivered lackluster results. Oh sure you broke out into a sweat with all your feverish typing and dialing but you still didn’t end up with any viable candidates.

So what to do?

Fortunately Dice has just published a fantastic resource.

 

The Definitive Guide to Engaging Top Tech Candidates takes you through the process with 3 Easy Steps to message top tech candidates via email, phone and social media channels. (seriously…go download the guide via Slideshare).

John Vlastelica with Recruiting Toolbox, in partnership with Dice, has put together this guide and he tells it like it is. Download this guide and you’ll learn:

  • John’s three steps to effective messaging: (1) preparation, (2) personalization and (3) persistence
  • How to decide what candidate information to use in your communications and when to use it
  • Rules of engagement for email, phone and social media channels – with templates to get you started

Templates!! I LOVE templates!! Why reinvent the wheel…am I right?

Look…we all make mistakes when, as recruiters, we craft a message to send to the passive-and/or-elusive talent we’re seeking. In this guide you will find out how to avoid making those mistakes and how to create the right messages.

“The best messages are never about you or the job you’re trying to fill.  

The best approaches start with the work that they are passionate

about and how you can connect them to

1) new, really challenging problems in their space, and 2) help them grow in their career.”

Andrew Carges, VP Talent Acquisition, GoDaddy

Nice.

Hey…we can ALL win in this.

Dice Big Mistakes

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Guess What HR? You Don’t “Hire & Fire”

MalcolmLife2If you work in human resources what follows is a pretty common exchange.

Random Guy You Just Met: “What do you do?”

You: “I work in human resources.”

RGYJM: “Oh. So you hire and fire.”

 

Right? Am I right? If I had a nickel…. well, you know the rest.

So how do you respond to RGYJM? I surely hope you don’t answer “Yup. That is, indeed, what I do.”

I’ve got a bit of news for you my dear HR professional (or HR student looking to enter human resources) – unless the candidate or employee in question is your direct report you are not the one hiring or firing.

So why does this continue to be the primary concept of HR in Joe Public’s brain? Why is this the automatic go-to-thought of the average dude on the street when he thinks about what his company’s HR lady does?

I mean really… this is what is said all the time. I’ve had this phrase tossed at me hundred – no…thousands – of times over the course of my professional career. Never once did a RGIJM say “Oh! So you’re a partner in strategy execution and are responsible for delivering results in all areas related to the human capital of the organization.”

Nope. Not once.

  • CEO of a local (large) insurance agency who I met at a networking event: “Oh. You hire and fire.”
  • Regional Manager of a national retail chain deployed to town for a start-up who I sat next to at a luncheon: “Oh. You hire and fire.”
  • My mother: “Oh. You hire and fire.”

Oh mom.

There are lots of reasons folks the world over seem to think HR hires and fires. It’s Jeff Goldblum/Dr. Ian Malcolm writing a manifesto on Chaos Theory in a weird alternate HR universe:

  • Company owner/CEO puts pompous HR goon in charge of all employee matters. This is often memorialized in job descriptions and company handbooks and, to a lesser extent, in SOPs.
  • Domineering HR practitioner assumes complete control over all actions and activities that should be in the domain of managers; it’s at this stage that Carol in HR decides she will be the one issuing PIPs to transgressing employees rather than letting that responsibility reside with the managers.
  • In an attempt to bring order back to their domains managers assert their rights and attempt to gain control of hiring, performance management, and terminations for their own staff members. Citing policies, regulations, and frightening edicts from various-and-assorted governmental agencies, Carol denies their request with a firm and final “no.” (note: ever mindful of the fact that she went into HR because she’s a ‘people-person,’ Carol presents this by saying “I’m here to help you. Let me assist.”).
  • Carol develops more convoluted and cumbersome processes designed to preserve her own job whilst simultaneously relegating managers to minion status.
  • Employees, managers and leaders began to believe that nothing related to hiring, compensation or culling-the-deadwood could ever be accomplished without the totalitarian rule of Carol and her crew.

And this is repeated over and over in organization after organization as people continue to ask (and try to answer) “what does HR do?”

Until and unless we break this cycle we will never – I repeat never – have someone think HR is a partner in strategy execution. Or change management. Or whatever. HR will forever be considered the “hire and fire” department.

Oh…and the “people who enroll us in our benefits” department.

But that’s a post for another day.

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Embrace change…and a little chaos

chaos“I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”

Bob Dylan

The future is scary. It’s rushing at us and it’s as if we’re not even keeping pace today let alone preparing ourselves for tomorrow.

To further complicate matters, the tendency of some – not all – who work in human resources, honed after years of practice, is to hunker down, pretend that change is not coming, and keep maintaining the status quo for as long as possible.

I’m not making that up. I meet HR professionals who, even after implementation, are hoping and praying that the Affordable Care Act will go away. I talk to HR practitioners who gripe about the burdens brought on by the Family and Medical Leave Act…and the FMLA has been around since 1993.

Employee reviews on Glassdoor. The rise of the contract worker. The demands for remote work and flexibility. The globalization of talent. The economic demands of underdeveloped nations. Politics. Wearable tech. Robots. Generation Z.

For some it’s all too overwhelming.

It can be somewhat comforting in this volatile environment for HR professionals to want to go back to the basics and focus on legislative updates, benefit plan utilization reports, 401(k) administration, and the doling out of annual performance reviews.

But you can’t retreat to the comfort of the familiar.  Your CEO doesn’t close the door and refuse to pay attention to trends. Your CFO is checking the markets and conferring with financial advisors to make projections on where to invest the corporation’s assets. Your CMO, originally terrified of Twitter and Facebook circa 2010, quickly learned that she will no longer be the only one controlling the company’s message.

Put your ear to the ground.

“But I am,” you protest (I can hear you). “I belong to my local SHRM chapter and go to monthly meetings and get updates. I read that HR Magazine they send me in the mail each month. Once a year I go to a legislative conference so I know what’s been proposed on the state and federal levels.”

That’s not enough.

I want you to explore and learn and be aware about issues going on in the economy, politics, and the technology sector. I want you to pay attention to consumer trends and pop culture. I don’t care if your favorite musical genre continues to be 80’s hairband music (Guns N’ Roses forever!) and you’ve made the statement that what passes for music today is crap; if your employees are tuning in to Common and Pro Era you best have them on your radar because your references to Will Smith as a hip hop artist are not going to cut it.

I’m not even going to talk here about the need to know your business and industry. That’s a given. If I hear one more HR pundit trot out that tired old line as if it’s some sort of earth-shattering revelation I am going to, perhaps quite literally, stab someone with a fork. Obviously if you work in the restaurant industry, you best hustle your butt into the restaurant and work a shift or two. If you work in banking you best understand how bankers categorize assets. Oil and gas? I want you to be able to talk, with some degree of understanding, about supply, demand and how pricing per barrel occurs. You get the picture.

But what I’m talking about goes far beyond that. Listen…

  • I run into HR professionals who have no idea who is running for national office in their district. “I don’t like politics so I don’t pay attention.”
  • I know HR leaders who have never heard of Glassdoor or other similar sites…even though their company has scathing reviews listed. “They can do what on what website?” 
  • I encounter HR practitioners who don’t pay attention to the changing workforce demographics and the rise of independent workers. They don’t comprehend how wearable tech and the “quantified self” is not just coming to the workplace but has arrived. They think they will use robots and data and technology on their terms instead of realizing that their lives are already affected.

“ I don’t have time,” they lament. “I’ve got work and my kids and my family. I sing in the choir every Sunday and we have choir practice on Wednesday nights and soccer on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

C’mon now; don’t be that guy/gal.

I want you to be wildly curious about everything. Subscribe (or read the free versions…there are plenty out there) to Fast Company, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review. Peruse Architectural Digest and Popular Science and Psychology Today. Check out Rolling Stone (yeah…sometimes it’s still relevant), Politico, and your local newspapers. If you live in the US watch the BBC News. Explore your town. Drive to the neighboring city and take a walk. Ask questions. Seek answers.

I want you to look forward … not backward.

I want you to welcome the future … not run from it.

I want you to embrace change … and a little chaos.

“Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.”

Steve Martin

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