Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The January 5th Carnival of HR Wants YOU - 'A Fresh Start'

The 2011 Carnival of HR schedule is up at Carnival of HR and Working Girl will be your host on January 5th.

In honor of the new year, the Carnival topic is 'Reflections and Resolutions' - and feel free to throw in some predictions while you're at it.  Let's lay 2010 honorably to rest and start getting ready for 2011!

To submit your posts for the upcoming Carnival, you can:
  1. Leave me a comment with a link 
  2. DM me on Twitter (@workgal)
  3. Email me directly at laura dot schroeder at workday dot com.
I'm looking forward to some New Year HR goodness!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Holiday Medley: Compensation Cafe Podcast

ChristmasTime In celebration of that special time of year, check out the Compensation Cafe Holiday Medley podcast - a lively thirty minute turn through a number of seasonal reward topics:
  • Cash versus Recognition. Salaries have been in a suppressed state due to the tough economy, salary freezes/cutbacks and record low salary increase levels. Can we make recognition succeed in this environment? If so, how? Will employees respond to non-cash rewards when/if they are feeling underpaid?
  • Salaries versus Incentives. Research suggests variable pay opportunities are growing more quickly than salary levels and that incentives are playing an increasing role in all employee’s pay packages. Do we buy this? Will employees buy this? Will this hold true as the labor market recovers and salary pressure grows?
  • Cash versus Learning and Development. Are learning and development legitimate forms of compensation? Will people accept training and growth opportunities in lieu of more money – particularly as the economy grows stronger?
The Holiday Medley podcast was produced in partnership with Human Resources IQ, as part of the lead-up to their Online Compensation & Rewards Summit 2011 (January 18 through February 10).

(Note that the early bird discount for event registration is extended through this week.)

Happy Holidays!

Image: Creative Commons Photo "Christmas Time!" by L*u*z*A

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 5 Talent Management Trends in 2011

Here are five of my favorite talent management trends to help you get excited about 2011. Why? Because these trends promise change, growth and opportunity.

Trend #1: Creative talent acquisition strategies - In response to talent scarcity companies will continue to pursue creative strategies to acquire top talent such as contractors, remote workers, retirees, part-time workers. As a result, the workforce will grow increasingly culturally diverse, global, virtual, connected, and multi-generational. Needless to say, traditional top-down hierarchical management styles and one-size-fits-all approaches to talent management won't cut it with the modern workforce.

Trend #2: Focus on engagement - Few top performers consider themselves highly engaged and as many as 1 in 5 are actively looking for new opportunities. This isn’t surprising given that the workforce has undergone both a cognitive and a demographic shift while talent management practices lag behind. Given ample evidence that companies with highly engaged employees outperform companies with neutrally or negatively engaged employees, over the next few years we'll see more companies adopt - not just talk about - best practices such as closer scrutiny of manager quality, continuous feedback, talent mining and mobility, workforce segmentation, employee recognition programs and differentiated pay.

Trend #3: Technology’s finally starting to deliver on its promises from the 80s - I've been waiting a long time to say that! Modern talent management solution capabilities include talent profiles, faceted search, talent pooling, goal alignment, embedded multi-dimensional workforce analysis, mobile device access and collaboration tools. These solutions help business people work together across borders and time zones; accurately assess workforce costs, capabilities and capacity; align work to business objectives; and optimize deployment of a highly diverse workforce.

Trend #4: HR’s about the business - It always was, but now that costs have been cut as far as they can there’s a new focus on value creation. HR professionals have a unique opportunity to help drive share price with improved workforce insight, alignment and optimization and it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of this opportunity. Modern HR solutions can help but aren't a substitute for strategic thinking and execution - the solution needs to fit the strategy, not the other way around.

Trend #5: Global's the new black - According to a recent Towers Watson study Creating a Sustainable Rewards and Talent Model companies are focused on creating globally consistent talent and rewards strategies in order to improve efficiency and alignment while reducing costs and risks. Global consistency will require companies to identify talent programs and critical talent pools across borders; standardize job profiles, compensation plans and competencies; and define a global performance and rewards process. At the same time, companies must remain locally flexible in order to stay competitive and compliant in each region. In other words, global companies need to get better at managing both globally and locally.

Wishing you a very talented new year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Project Social: Sustainability Pays for Itself

My Project Social partner Dave Ryan and I were catching up on our various sustainability projects and he suggested I write a short post about how Germany supports renewable energy.

Americans tend to distrust new legislation, and not without reason. But check out what intelligent legislation in action can do:

Thanks to the adoption of feed in tariff legislation in Germany, anyone can become an energy provider.

For example, if you install solar panels on your house the energy produced feeds into the grid and the energy provider pays you for it at a fixed rate.

You can kiss your energy bill good bye and probably even recoup enough cash back each month to repay the loan you took out to pay for the solar panels. Best of all, once you’ve paid off the loan your investment turns into an annuity.

That’s the beauty of sustainability: It pays for itself.

As a result of sustainable legislation, Germany is already enjoying the benefits of renewable energy, such as less dependence on foreign oil, fewer power plants, more choices for energy consumers, a thriving domestic industry and leading the charge on green technology.

Increasingly, being competitive will mean being sustainable. For example, did you know:
  • According to Deloitte: 50% of shareholder proposals in 2006 were sustainability related;1
  • In 2010, a record number of investors filed shareholder resolutions related to climate and energy;2
  • According to E&Y recruiting top talent is more difficult for organizations that do not communicate their sustainability agenda.3

Make no mistake: The world as we know it is changing, moving to decentralized computing, sourcing, production and knowledge networks in order to increase capacity and lower costs. Energy production will necessarily follow, which will mean a cognitive shift in how we think, behave and conduct business.

If you’d like to get a glimpse of a world where distributed power production replaces big, ugly, expensive power plants, check out this preview of The 4th Revolution



And don't miss Dave's latest post on making green pay!

1 Deliotte, “Sustainability: Balancing Opportunity & Risk in the Consumer Products Industry” (2007)
2 Ceres, “Investors Achieve Record Results On Climate Change”, July 7, 2010 - available here
3 Ernst & Young, “Ready Or Not, Here Comes Sustainability” (2009).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Project Social: Green Jobs

My Project Social partner Dave Ryan and I met this week to coordinate our next post.  Up to now, I’ve been focused on the corporate sustainability side of green technologies while Dave the HR Official has been thinking more in terms of job creation.

My kinda HR guy!

For his next post he plans to visit a recycling plant with his camera and film a short vlog about who works there and how it all works so stay tuned...

Anyway, as we got to talking about jobs in green tech I also started feeling excited as possibilities occurred to me.  Mind you, it’s not totally clear what kinds of jobs will be created by emerging green technologies and most of the manufacturing may be done offshore.

But think about it: 


With the emergence of any new technology or industry, you need planners, inventors, project managers, buyers, market researchers, sales people, facility managers, trainers, marketing professionals, consultants, installers, accountants, legal experts, resellers, technicians, billing clerks, business software designers, hotline personnel and a whole cast of other supporting talent.

For energy generation in particular you also need construction workers, plant managers and personnel, cable layers and engineers to assemble all those off shore manufactured pieces into power plants that actually feed electricity into the US power grid.

Plus all the people involved with leasing and developing land, including bankers, lawyers, landowners, notaries and bureaucrats.   And training programs focusing on green tech and people to write books on all these new topics.

And let us not forget HR folks to administer all these people…

Even if you don’t believe in the environmental importance of sustainability – which I won’t comment on – believe in the jobs.

So, where are all these jobs?

Some of them are there now, although not enough to feed the US demand for jobs or even green jobs in particular.  For example, although only about 3% of total US energy is produced from renewable sources, wind energy already employs approximately 85,000 people today.

And unlike oil – the US uses 25% of the world’s oil but only has 3% of the world’s oil reserves - it’s our wind.

Other jobs have yet to be created because the US has been slow to recognize this opportunity while other countries like Germany have been moving ahead with alternative energy development. 

The good news:

Although the US is still clinging to the previous century when it comes to energy production there’s lots of promising stuff going on.  Energy's expensive, after all, which encourages business leaders to take an interest in sustainable energy with a view to minimizing costs.
                                                    
One way companies and private individuals can invest in a sustainable future is by purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset the energy they consume from non-renewable sources. RECs subsidize renewable energy providers and help them get a foothold in the energy market. 

It's not a perfect system - it's a bit like saying Hail Mary's and capacity is still limited - but RECs help renewable energy providers expand their operations and provide cheap, clean, sustainable energy.

If anyone has questions or would like to discuss setting up a corporate sustainability program at your own company, feel free to reach out to Dave or myself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Managers: Time to Talk Turkey

As we go into the holiday season, consider talking turkey with your employees.

If you're a typical manager I'm guessing you don't do this too much. Other stuff gets in the way. You have your agenda and work schedule and meetings. Your employees seem reasonably happy and productive. You probably assume things are fine.

And maybe they are. But extrapolating from recent studies about employee engagement, they probably aren't. Very likely, there's an undercurrent of resentment from employees who feel undervalued, primarily by you.

No, I'm not psychic. But I do know people and organizations. When managers assign work without talking to people first - or fail to publicly recognize work - or talk more than they listen - people feel unappreciated.

And most managers do exactly that. So, I'm guessing you do that, too.

Don't get me wrong: you do a lot of things right. You're a nice person. You share information. You try to look out for your team and share the workload fairly.

But at some point, if it's all about the work and never about the person, people start feeling resentful.

So let me tell you about the best manager I ever had, who ended up leaving corporate life to have a third child and start her own business.

Some of you may know who I'm talking about...

First of all, she made time to sit down with everyone on her team and discuss their interests and career goals. This conversation included honest brainstorming about how she could - and couldn't - help them.

It's important to note here that this wasn't a one-time conversation. Circumstances change. People change. She didn't assume she knew everything about a person's aspirations from talking to them once. Helping people clarify and realize their goals is an iterative process.

You're busy, I get that, but this is your most important job as a manager. If your other work is more important or interesting you should be an individual contributor.

After the initial conversation it was less straightforward, which is probably why most managers never get around to it or only do it once. Obviously you can't hand your employees everything they want on a golden platter just because they want it. They get that, too.

What you can do is assign work to them that starts them in the right direction. You can mentor and sponsor them. You can bring their achievements in those areas that bring them closer to their goals to the attention of upper management.

She did all this and one other thing that really made her stand out in my memory: When she assigned work she positioned it in terms of MY goals.

She was amazing at this. She could send me to make copies and make it sound like I was really moving up in the world.

She didn't give me what I wanted all the time. In fact, looking back I think she gave me the work she would have given me anyway but she framed the request in the context of my own goals.

I don't know you or your situation. You may be a fantastic manager with an egaged team. I hope so.

But even if that's true, making time to talk to people about them and framing work requests in terms of their goals can't hurt.

Someone might even blog about you some day. In a good way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hard to Imagine Talent


My youngest daughter had her fifth birthday a couple of weeks ago. We celebrated at the local pony club, where she and several friends from Kindergarten rode miniature ponies around in a circle for about an hour, followed by pizza and cake.

A former equestrian myself, I was proud to note my older daughter’s straight back and general competence on a horse. Later that night I remarked to my husband that we should enroll her in a riding class.

His response: ‘No way. What a completely useless skill!’

I bristled a bit at this. I rode horses competitively for seven years growing up, two of them on the school rodeo team, and while I don’t exactly use those skills today they are part of who I am.

‘Oh, yeah?’ I retorted. ‘If I’d married a Texan rancher instead of you I bet he wouldn’t say that to me!’

My husband stared at me blankly. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You know I used to ride on a rodeo team in school,’ I responded icily.

I knew he knew because he’d laughed heartily at my tales of lining up to tie the understandably depressed school goat. I can still hear its plaintive ‘baaaaah’ each time it got flipped to the ground.

‘Oh, right.’ He still looked confused.

I sighed. This is the man who didn’t realize I could swim until we’d been married for about six years because he thinks an icy cold lake is perfect for a ‘refreshing dip.’

‘Rodeo’s no cake walk, you know,’ I said sternly. ‘You have to keep your seat, pay attention to your posture, keep your ride in check, and often as not you have to rope a running cow or something from the back of a galloping horse. It’s a real skill.’

He stared at me thoughtfully, presumably trying to picture the woman he married on the back of a racing horse whirling a lasso in the air and yelling, ‘Haaaaw!’

He seemed to be looking for the right words. Finally he settled on, ‘I find that hard to imagine.’

By now you're probably wondering what my point is, beyond letting the world know I know more about cows and horses than one might assume meeting me for the first time.

My point is that people have histories, skills and experience beyond what you hired them to do. Many of these skills may be completely useless but others could be exactly what you need for a particular project or job.

For example, if you're looking for a project manager you might try asking if anyone on your team knows how to herd cows. Trust me, it's a transferrable skill.

One of the best ways to motivate people is to look beyond the tasks they perform for you today and consider how they can develop and integrate other skills going forward. Everybody wins.

All you need is a way for people to track their skills, experience and interests and the ability to search against this information when trying to fill a new job or staff a project.

It's just basic talent profiling.

Are you mining the ‘hard to imagine’ talent in your organization?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Project Social: Seeing Green

Although briefly distracted by the news that Google employees will be getting a 10% increase and servants to run errands and assemble their IKEA furniture for them – have you ever tried to assemble IKEA furniture?? - I've managed to shrug it off and focus on what really matters:

Sustainability.

I was recently asked to write a Corporate Sustainability Report (CSR) for my company, so I've been busy researching Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards and existing sustainability reports.

Just to be clear, I will not be getting any servants for doing this but my passion for corporate sustainability is reward enough. I'm proud to work for a company that takes this topic seriously.

I beleive sustainable business practices are key to long-term economic viability and human well-being. Growing up in Los Angeles you learn to turn off lights (black outs) and not waste water (droughts) but my big picture view didn’t come until my first child was born.

Suddenly, guardian of this precious and trusting new life, I started noticing waste everywhere:
  • products designed to break or go out of style in a few years or even months;
  • cars that offer about the same mileage they had back in the 50s;
  • plastic bags, utensils, bottles, packaging and where it all goes.

I could see how wasteful production processes create economic activity but no real value or quality. And I started wondering how much longer 9 billion people can peacefully share a limited earth with such wasteful habits.

Of course, as a working mom I’m a big fan of comfort and convenience. I try to do my part with good habits and informed purchasing but we won’t save the world by turning off lights, boycotting bottled water and buying cloth shopping bags.

We should still do these things but it's not enough.

What needs to change is how companies design, manufacture and package their products and services. This includes everything from how energy is produced to the recycling and re-use of components to create new products.

My Project Social partner Dave Ryan feels the same way (he'll be posting on a similar topic over at HR Official - his post here) and we want to do our part to encourage the growing movement toward corporate social responsibility.

That’s why we decided to put a stake in the ground around green HR and sustainable business practices and start gathering case studies, metrics and other sources of good information to share with you.

Here are a few resources to get the ball rolling…

Companies That Walk the Walk:

Other Resources:

Whether you are a parent, a professional or a citizen of the world, we invite you to weigh in on this topic, share information and toot your own company’s horn if applicable. Let's get those success stories out there!

Or think about how we can create more...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Project Social - The Role of HR During Good and Bad Times

My Project Social partner Dave Ryan and I were talking about what topic we wanted to tackle next and decided on the role of HR during good and bad times - Dave's post can be found here over at HR Official.

An old friend of mine came over for coffee on Sunday. She currently works as a recruiter but worked for years in HR at both big and small companies.

She talked about an unpleasant experience she had working as the sole HR person for a consulting start up. At first everything was great: the two founders (a couple of techies-turned-consultant-entrepreneur) loved her ideas about talent management and encouraged her to introduce best practices. People were to be recognized as the drivers of value, treated with respect, supported in their personal career goals, etc.

My friend recruited and on-boarded a qualified group of technical consultants and there was a real family feeling for the first several years. Then a series of poor business decisions – such as not hiring a qualified sales person as the business expanded - led to a cash crunch. Suddenly the tone changed. Salaries were reduced, although not at the C-level. Several projects were severely undermanned but hiring was frozen. Paychecks were late, causing extreme hardship for several employees.

Finally, employees were let go without any notice or severance – it was my friend’s bitter task to communicate this to people she had hired and worked beside for several years without inconvenient legal problems. Not surprisingly best people - the ones most critical to current projects - began jumping ship as well as the company began its final collapse.

And the co-CEOs? Apparently they sat in their office playing World of Warcraft while all this was going on.

I guess this is a good lesson for would-be talent managers: With the best talent management practices in the world you still have to run your business intelligently.

‘I wanted to make a difference,’ my friend remarked sadly. ‘I thought I could effect change from below but you can’t without support from above.’

‘That sucks!’ I commiserated. ‘So that’s why you quit and now you do recruiting. Uh... how do you like it?’

She shrugged indifferently. ‘It’s OK.’

‘But you can really make a difference as a recruiter!’ I protested. ‘You can help good people find new jobs after their lame CEOs destroy their company.’

She laughed but shook her head and explained, ‘I have limited influenced over who gets hired. In my experience it’s rarely the most qualified person and usually the person the hiring manager ‘clicks’ with.’

Just to be devil’s advocate I asked, ‘But isn’t it more important to hire someone who gets along with the team and can also do the job than someone with the top qualifications?’

She allowed that it is but added that too much value is placed on impressions rather than substance, which impacts overall performance.

‘Maybe you can help the best candidates by coaching them on what the hiring manager’s looking for,’ I suggested.

‘The only thing we're measured on is time to fill,’ she informed me. ‘I’m not paid to find the best candidate or help people - I’m paid to fill positions as quickly as they open. And they’ll replace me in a heartbeat if I perform slower than my colleagues.’

‘Oh,’ I said. What could I say?

What would you say?

Friday, November 5, 2010

More On Leadership and Stinky Fish

A great post over at Fistful of Talent about the overconfidence of new managers lured me in by mentioning stinky fish in the title. I mean, who doesn't enjoy stinky fish analogies about leadership?

The author Suzanne Rumsey briefly describes her own first management experience and admits she wasn't 'all that.' Which made me think of my own first management experience...

Overconfidence? Guilty as charged. I jumped at an early chance to manage a global team. I had a graduate degree in international business. I had almost a year and a half of professional experience. I had worked abroad. I was totally ready to lead.

Looking back I don't think I was such a terrible first time manager. It wasn't an easy gig: I had to produce a Japanese HR product with no knowledge of Japanese HR practices. There was no team so I had to build one, which at the time meant training non-technical people who had the functional skills I needed to develop software. Japanese employees also respond to a different leadership style than American employees, which I had to adapt to. I did my best, I cared about my team and we got the job done.

But my leadership style was pretty rough, especially vis-a-vis other more senior team leads who created work for my team. In other words, I managed down OK, I managed up sort of OK, but my lateral management left much to be desired.

Fast forward a few years to my first global project management job as an implementation consultant. I'd cut my teeth at a big German transportation company and was stepping up to a functional lead role for a huge global implementation at a high end global car manufacturer. Again, I was a bit junior for the role but completely confident in my ability to get the job done... if everyone would just do as I said.

(Does anyone else hear laughing?)

I soon discovered that project management is much harder than management. When you manage people, if you have half a brain, a dollop of self-awareness and decent people skills you can get people pointed in more or less the right direction. They report to you, after all, so you have a whole bag of tricks to incent them.

Whereas project management is like herding cats. No one reports to you so technically, no one has to do what you say. Your influence is indirect, i.e., you might be asked to provide input on someone's annual review or you can recommend that a problem consultant be removed from the project. But that's about it.

So all of a sudden you're in the realm of persuassion and consensus building rather than coersion. You have to figure out what people want and help them get it so they'll do what you want. More importantly, you have to keep the trade off of favors balanced with the end goal in mind so that the project keeps moving forward.

And if you're paying attention, here's what you learn: Direct managers must also lead with persuassion and consensus building rather than coersion, at least if they want to be effective.

Unfortunately, not all managers learn this lesson. How can they, with so many props at their disposal? To a large extent, managers control upward communication, work assignment, compensation and perqs. Who needs leadership skills?

The 'smart' ones focus on building relationships to their own colleagues and management team, too often at the expense of the people reporting to them. We can't even blame them for this because in most companies managers are by and large dependent on the good will of other managers rather than their own teams.

But I don't want to get all systemic here. My point is simply that putting a manger in a project manager position forces them to learn some new skills that will stand them in good stead as a manager.

So here's an idea: Before you give someone more power than they are ready to wield, why not give them a chance to show what they can do without it?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carnival of HR: The Bone-Picker Edition

I'm so proud: Someone found this blog using the key words 'Fairyland Compensation Specialist.'  These are the blogging moments I live for.

I also enjoy when someone winds up here with search keywords like 'work' or 'girl.'  But 'fairyland compensation specialist' is just... special.

And speaking of blogs, be sure to check out this month's Carnival of HR over at HR Examiner In the Know by John Sumser.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Project Social - Why is HR Like Ice Hockey?

So we’re into week 2 of Project Social and Dave Ryan and I caught up last Friday to discuss next steps. One topic that came up is that our circumstances are very different and yet, here we are working together. Dave’s a male HR executive living in the Midwest and I’m a working mom living in Munich employed by a California-based software company.

We both have something to say about HR, however, and together we can say it louder.

We decided that this week we would interview each other. Dave wants to know more about what it’s like living and working in Germany and I want to know more about how being an ice hockey ref is a lot like HR.

Dave's interview of me can be found over at HR Official.

And here's my interview with Dave:

Laura: You are an ice hockey referee. What parallels can you draw between being a ref and being an HR executive?

Dave: In both roles the overall objective is to maintain order and provide a sense of fairness. While those are quite esoteric goals, if done properly both will promote an excellent environment in which to work or play. Consistency is another quality that should be demonstrated in both environments, this is reassuring to players and employees alike. In the larger sense this is all part of professionalism. A good official should never demean, or belittle players or coaches, just as a Human Resources Profession should never demean or belittle employees. It is pretty simple stuff when you get right down to it.

Laura: Are you as passionate about HR as you are about ice hockey? If your job was ice hockey referee, would you volunteer as an HR executive?

Dave: To directly answer the question the answer is No. If I could make a good living officiating, I would not dabble in H.R. For the time that I am on the ice all I think about is that moment i.e.: how many players are on the ice, how much time is left in the period, where is the player carrying the puck going to move it to and what is that players number, where is my officiating partner positioned; is the score on the scoreboard correct, all game related things. It reminds me of an old Nike commercial, when the off camera voice asks Jackie Joiner-Kersey what she is thinking about when she competes in the Olympics. The commercial cuts to a scene of Jackie running hurdles and you hear her shouting out 1-2-3- jump (over the hurdle) 1-2-3 jump, and then Jackie says, 'What do you think I was thinking about?'

Laura: What’s the most satisfying thing about HR and ice hockey?

Dave: I once heard a fellow talk about his work who said, 'That is my profession, my day job, but hockey is my passion.' I truly love being involved in both activities. There are probably many folks who would question my ability to perform the job in both roles (and they might be right). But, I try to do the absolute best that I can do each and every time on the ice and in the office!

Laura: Can you describe your biggest challenges in both roles? Are they similar?

Dave: The second answer first -yes. The biggest challenge in both roles is maintaining the sense of fairness and consistency. What is a penalty for one team should be a penalty for the other team. What is a disciplinary offense for one employee must be the same for another - otherwise I will have a coach or union steward taking me to task for the perceived inequities. To give you an example from the ice, a player who is known to commit a lot of penalties, is going to get far more scrutiny than a player who is known as a high skill player. If the high skill player commits an infraction, it may get overlooked because of his reputation as a "fair" player precedes him. This can happen in the workplace too. A problem employees may get more scrutiny that a top performer. Be careful, it is a slippery slope!

Laura: Do you feel like you make a difference?

Dave: Yes, I feel like a make a difference on the ice and one the job. If I didn't feel that way it would be time for me to do something else. I hold myself to that standard, and I feel that everyone else should be held to the same standard. Anyone who does not feel like they are making a difference should move on to something else. Like is too short not to care deeply, and immerse yourself in your passions, whatever they may be!

Laura: Thank you, Dave, for those honest and insightful answers. It sounds like both both roles require a high standard of consistency, fairness and excellence. And I couldn't agree more that people should be passionate about what they do. I'm looking forward to our next topic!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Project Social - Let's Clique

I'm the classic late adopter. I'm the girl who waited for an iPhone before upgrading my ten year old Siemens cellphone that forced me to buy a larger purse if I wanted to leave the house with it.

It's not that I lack technical prowess - I used to be a pretty good software developer before I moved into more functional roles and lost my geek cred. But I do lack patience with early versions that seem to be designed by - and for - unmarried engineers in their twenties.

In fact I insist that an application be developed by at least one harassed new dad in his early thirtees and tested by a team of busy moms before I will even look at it.

That's why I'm relatively new to social media, compared to many people out there. I started this blog about talent management about two years ago, joined the Compensation Cafe team about a year ago and finally caved to Twitter just a few months ago.

When I found Project Social over at Ben Eubank's Upstart HR, I signed right up. After more than a year figuring out stuff on my own it felt like the right time to reach out for some more experienced guidance.

Almost immediately I got a Gmail via LinkedIn from Victorio Milian saying I'd been paired up with Dave Ryan, otherwise known as the HR Czar - a name I recognized from my Twitter contacts. And sure enough, within a few hours of receiving Victorio's email I received a Twitter message from Dave asking how soon we could meet.

Dave is in the process of launching a new blog "The HR Official" and has already written a great post about our first international, Skype-based meeting. Since Dave already described our project goals and game plan in his post, I thought I'd cover why I recommend Project Social to any HR folks who want to get more involved with social media:
  1. Social media techology has reached a tipping point where social has overtaken technology - in other words, you can be a technology dunce and still get your voice out there.
  2. It's a terrific way to 'take the pulse' on topics you care about, find out what people are saying, and even chat with them about it.
  3. Project Social will give you access to someone who knows the ropes and can help you take the first steps.
Dave asked me a great question while we were chatting: Do I think people in social media are cliquey?

I can only speak from my own experience. For the most part people are friendly and welcoming but many of them are business people and their time is valuable. You can't just sign up for Twitter and expect that everyone you follow will follow you back.

For example, I tend to follow people with similar interests, i.e., HR technology, talent management, compensation, etc. Selective following gives me more time to focus on topics and connect with people.

When it comes to building a social network I've encountered three kinds of people:
  1. People who mostly ignore you, either because they are so well-established they don't need to cultivate new followers or so busy they don't have time.
  2. People who respond to comments on their blog and thank you for re-tweets but never comment on your blog or re-tweet anything of yours. Some of them are good bloggers and you can learn a lot from them but don't expect to establish much of a relationship.
  3. People who reciprocate, taking the time to comment on your blog or tweet your links to their own followers. These are the people who form your 'real' virtual network.
This list will be different for each person because different people 'attract' each other. Generally speaking, I passively follow the first group, spend a bit more time on the second group and make an effort to actively interact with and support the third group.

Just like in real life, I spend more time with the people I 'clique' with.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"I Thought of it First!" - The Movie

Remember this post about how a fake phone call can get you out of pointless, boring tasks and show ex-partners we've moved on?  Well, it was so popular I turned the first vignette into a movie using online xtranormal software.

It's super easy and free to use.  You pick your actors, write your script, add gestures, facial expressions, a sound track and voila!  It isn't perfect - I couldn't accessorize my actor with a cellphone, for example, or have her walk offstage at the end of the dialog - but the price is right.

Here's the movie - it's less than a minute long and only took about 5 minutes to make:

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7336249/

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting My SaaSy On: Upgrades

In a previous post I wrote about designing a new compensation product for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) software solution but I didn't explain what SaaS is or why it has business relevance.

SaaS is basically a delivery model of business software that lets people use software over the Internet without installing it. A fair whack of the business value of SaaS can be illustrated by talking about software upgrades and what it means not to need them any more.

I spent several years as a global project manager leading on-premise HCM implementations.

On-premise means the vendor sends you the software on a set of disks and it's your problem to get it installed, get your data into it, manage your technical architecture, etc.

Customers could change the product to meet their business requirements and a large part of the implementation involved designing their 'ideal' business processes, building new transactions, workflow and business logic, and creating myriad reports and interfaces to external systems.

The average implementation took about a year and a half and right about then the vendor would release a new version of the product and the fun would start over because now you had two versions.

The process of merging the two software versions is called an 'upgrade'. Here's how it works:

Let' say the vendor delivers a new process that you like better than your current process. If you decide to adopt the vendor process, you may need to back out the changes you made to the old version during the initial implemetation. Or selectively back out some changes but keep others.

Or you may decide to keep your process. Fine, but now you have to make sure you don't apply the new process from the vendor and overwrite your own.

In other words, you have to compare the two systems field by field, line of code by line of code, page by page... ... and that's just the analysis part. You also have to implement your intended changes, which requires great documentation, an alert technical team and a back up environment, in case you run the wrong script.

Then you have to TEST the application. Of course, the vendor tested the new version but you're no longer on that version because you changed it. You have to make sure the changes you made still support your business requirements before the extremely tense moment when you cut over to production.

(Not to be a killjoy but depending on how long that all took, the vendor may be releasing a new version right about now.)

With a SaaS solution you don't need to do any of this for two reasons:
  1. You don't customize SaaS solutions, you configure them, which means you change processes by adding data rather than changing the structure of the application. Since all customers are on the same version, the same update process works for everyone.
  2. SaaS solutions are hosted, which means the vendor manages the software and technical infrastructure for the customer. SaaS vendors apply the changes needed for the new version centrally without disrupting customer business.
Aside from the obvious cost savings associated with supporting a single version of software and sharing technical resourses, SaaS customers save big time by avoiding the upgrade treadmill.

Pretty SaaSy, huh?

'No more upgrades' is just one of the many benefits of SaaS solutions. If you want more information about how SaaS solutions create business value feel free to check out this white paper on 'Real SaaS' I co-authored with a colleague.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HR and Leadership Carnivals

Be sure to check out this month's Carnival of HR over at Rethink HR and Great Leadership Carnival at Aspire Collaborative Services.

Lots of great topics, posts and authors!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I need a drink

I thought of it first!

Recently I saw an add for a new phone application called 'Rescue Me', which sends you an urgent text message to get you out of boring meetings.

Which is a fine idea but I thought of it first back in May - here's a reprise of my idea:

I've had the greatest idea that I can't wait to patent: a cell phone that rings on command.

I am positive that my invention will change the world. It will help people escape boring meetings, wriggle out of awkward situations, or even flaunt one's newfound happiness at one's ex.

How many times have you prayed in vain for the phone to ring? For example, at work:

Boss: Do you have some time right now? I wanted to discuss how to convert our 6,529 escalation requests to a new format. I'm afraid it'll have to be done manually but the new format is much better. It has blue column headers, which are way nicer than orange, so we really need to do it and I'd like you to be in charge. I'll expect status reports every half hour and if you have any ideas about how to work more efficiently, run them by me first.

ring, ring

You (pretending to answer the phone): Hello? Grandma? Grandma!! Are you OK?? Oh my God! Don't try to get up, I'll be right there!!

or

Colleague: Hey, I was hoping to meet with you for a few hours today to discuss new naming conventions for effective dating. I've got some great ideas about this but we need to do a detailed impact analysis and of course survey all of our customers. We wouldn't want to just pick a name at random, ha ha. Do you have some time right now?

You: That sounds awesome, thanks for including me. Let me just...

ring, ring

You (pretending to look at the incoming number): I have to take this one. (pretending to answer the phone) Talk to me. What? When? That's not good. He did? You gotta be kidding me. The Big Guy wants me to handle it? OK, then I need you to forward me ALL the paperwork, yesterday. Great, thanks, I'll take care of it. (to your colleague) Sorry, I gotta run but let's definitely catch up about this later.

There are useful non-work applications as well. For example, what if you run into your ex on the street, the one you stalked for 6 months after he dumped you as an embarassing prelude to spending the next 6 months hiding out in your apartment eating Ben and Jerry's.

Him (embarassed): Uh, hi.

You: Well, hi! Fancy running into you here. You look, um, really great. I was just...

ring, ring

You (giggling self-consciously): Oh, excuse me just one second. Hello? (in a lowered voice) Hi, darling, I was just thinking about you. No, I'm not busy. Yes, I did, that was so thoughtful. They're my favorite. I didn't have enough vases so I had to donate some to the senior home. I hope you don't mind. What? Yes, of course I like jewelry, why? A surprise? When? Paris?? Oh, darling, that sounds wonderful. I can't wait. Me too. I love you more. No, I love you more. OK, see you tonight. Mwamwamwa!

Am I a genius or what?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Gleeful Workplace

Glee is a musical comedy about high school students, a clear departure from the shows about computer geniuses and spacetime anomolies I usually prefer. The kind of show where people burst out into song with syncronized choreography.

Which I don't mind per se but also don't find nearly as believable as saving the universe by travelling back in time or creating a clever computer virus.

Glee is about a team of talented individuals who want to achieve something and be recognized and appreciated for it. Like any of us, they are capable of jealously and taking action that hurts the team for personal gain. They are also capable of incredible teamwork and loyalty.

The Glee Club is managed by hunky Mr. Schuester, who wants everyone in his team to feel like a winner. He tries to let everyone shine while creating a safe, supportive team environment. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, there are only so many solos to go around and in order to win they need to go to the best singer.

Mr. Schuester experiments early on with spreading the solo opportunities and alienates Rachel, his star performer who has no intention of sharing the spotlight. She ends up (temporarily) leaving the club and taking with her their only chance of winning at nationals.

Selfish? You bet. But also correct when she observes that it's unfair for her to take a back seat to someone less talented and risk blowing her chances at a musical scholarship.

The Glee Club offers an amusing contrast to the Cheerios, the popular cheerleading squad that consistently wins competitions. The Cheerios are coached by Sue Sylvester, who is tough, unscrupulous and mean. She hurls abuse at the Cheerios and demands absolute perfection from each team member. The Cheerios win but at a high personal cost.

At one point two Glee Club members, Mercedes and Kurt, decide to join the Cheerios squad, which means they no longer have as much time and energy to devote to Glee. Mr. Schuester is put out by this but as Kurt puts it, "This is our chance at the spotlight."

In a recent episode, Rachel gives a new student with an amazing singing voice the wrong directions for Glee try outs because she fears the competition. Which sounds awful but people suppress knowledge in the workplace every day to stay ahead of the competition. Rachel doesn't have less integrity than everyone else, just less talent for subterfuge. (Although sending the poor girl to a crack house is probably further than most of us would go.)

There are some lessons here for leaders or would-be leaders:
  1. Sue's harsh style of leadership may work if the only goal is to win consistently. But Mr. Schuester's style is your best bet when you have to go up against a team that is coached by someone like Sue... and win. Sue achieves perfection, Mr. Schuester achieves miracles.
  2. You don't bring out the best in teams by penalizing your stars but you also can't afford to act like they're the only people in the universe or you'll lose your supporting cast.
  3. Everyone is capable of both petty selfishness and compassionate self-sacrifice. Great leaders help people to succeed by cooperating rather than acting like weasels.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Compensation in the Membrane

I love compensation. Although I don't think compensation is the only or best way to motivate people, I adore complex, global, multi-faceted compensation programs.

I... just do.

I used to be a software developer for a large, global software vendor. My job was to manage the design and development of the Japanese HR requirements in the global product.

My work involved adding "local" features to the existing global application, which essentially meant slogging through other people's code trying not to break anything with the new stuff.

Did you know that code has personality? For example, French code tends to be brilliant and erratic with cryptic (if any) comments. German code is orderly and concise, with over-capitalized comments that imply the reader is stupid. American code is sometimes brilliant, sometimes sloppy and rarely commented.

It was mostly fun although I sometimes fantasized about blowing up the old code and building something from scratch.

Fast forward, glossing over several jobs, life events, and international moves.

A few years ago I was recruited to design the compensation solution for a new product line at another company. The company was in the process of developing an HRMS solution based on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model.

At first the 'compensation team' was just me and one developer. That seemed small to me after transitioning from a large global team, but on the upside, fewer schedules to coordinate.

We ran around like Benny Hill that first year, only mostly without the slapstick.

I wrote product designs, marketing collateral, white papers and user documentation. I tested each new feature. I trained the sales people and consultants. I presented our product vision to analysts, prospects and customers.

My development partner was just as busy on the technical side, developing the product, testing the limits of new tools that hadn’t even been QA’d yet and working weekends to squeeze in just one more enhancement.

We followed a few simple design principles:

1. Compensation is core, not something you do in a separate system.

2. The solution must be flexible enough to work in any country.

3. Information to make a decision should be available where it's needed.

4. All processes should have a consistent look, feel, set up and behavior.

5. Don't build features no one will use.

One of the great things about SaaS is you can deliver a lot of product in a short amount of time. Our rapid progress helped us attract customers, who shared their passion about compensation and helped us refine our business requirements.

The product grew. The team grew. The company grew.

Today the product is used by more than 100 companies worldwide and growing.

Want to see it? :-)

Click HERE to watch a short product preview.

International Carnival of HR

This HR Carnival on Jon Ingram's Strategic HCM blog is special because it includes such a great mix of global voices.

Click HERE to check it out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poor Working Moms

Recently there’s been a fair amount of discussion around gender inequality when it comes to compensation. It turns out that on average, women earn as much as men with one notable exception: working moms, who on average earn less than men and childless women alike.

Now they tell me.

The disparity in earning power has as much to do with career choices as salary. There are several forces at work here:

Availability – Working moms are available at odd times and in an era where promoting work life fit is still pretty cutting edge it makes them stand out. The burden is usually on them to set expectations and find ways to make it work with individual personalities.

Flexibility – Lack of flexibility also plays a starring role when it comes to a working mom’s reduced earning power. Working moms are more likely to have limited ability to travel, relocate or live away from home during the week, all of which may deny them access to higher paying roles.

Time Out – In addition to missing salary raises and bonuses while on maternity leave, working moms lose months or even years of work experience. And not just the actual experience but the whole ‘being there’ factor that forms such an important part of human relationships. It's sad but true that corporate life moves on without you while you’re at home changing diapers and trying to fit back into your skinny jeans.

Perception – People who work long hours may resent people who knock off at 3 to pick up the kids, which is understandable to a point. Working moms also miss out on office social life, which can be even more damaging than missing meetings.

Note that none of these things involve people trying to put working moms at a disadvantage, although I do think there’s a tendency to focus on the superficial rather than the real. The reality is that although working moms have availability constraints, they are also highly efficient. Not all of them, of course, but the ones that were efficient before they had kids tend to be amazingly efficient after.

Now, you’d think in a company where ‘doing more with less’ is important this would bring them lots of success but it can actually have the opposite effect, as we will see below.

There are two kinds of working moms,* the plodder and the work horse. The plodder does her work, has a smile for everyone, and goes home after lunch. She’s well-liked but not on anyone’s radar for advancement. The work horse cranks out high quality work at high speed and could easily take on more responsibility but rubs people the wrong way with her relentless productivity and acting like her time is more valuable than anyone else’s.

Which is OK if you’re an executive but don’t try it with some lame-ass excuse like raising a family.

*There’s actually a third kind, the player, who has a full-time nanny at home and spends as much time networking as doing actual work. However, the player is rarely salary challenged and is therefore irrelevant for this discussion.

The financial disadvantage of working moms is not a legal problem, it’s a mindset problem. Even in Germany, where women can take up to a year of paid leave to have a child and two additional unpaid years, working moms suffer from the missed time. And companies are reluctant to hire women because they can legally go on extended maternity leave at any moment.

But the way we work is changing whether we like it or not. People are focusing more on work life fit, more people work remotely and social media tools are re-defining how we interact and collaborate. Today’s workforce is dominated by people who prefer face-to-face meetings (and lots of them!) but that is already changing on the heels of new technology, new economic reality and a new generation entering the workforce.

In this new world, the focus will be on output and quality rather than 'being there.' Relationships will still be important but they won't be based around the water cooler.

In this new world, the smart money's on the working mom.

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Social is Your Social Marketing Strategy?

When pioneer social media tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn first became available, they weren’t all that 'social' by today’s standards. Early adopters were people who wanted to network with others like themselves and you could only connect with friends or colleagues who accepted you.

Blogs were more social because they enabled people outside of one's immediate network to read, comment and join the discussion. Early bloggers laid the foundation for the creation of myriad online communities.

Twitter was an important next step in the ongoing social revolution and has evolved into one of the leading tools for sharing ideas and one of the fastest growing mediums for employer, personal and product branding.

One of the things that makes Twitter seem like catnip to marketing professionals is that it’s the perfect vehicle for selective disclosure to a target audience, i.e., a tweet that costs nothing leads people interested in a particular topic to a website offering a product or service related to that topic.

Follow me home, baby, come to mama!

Ah, but laying a trail of bread crumbs back to your website in the hopes of inspiring a sale is not what social marketing is all about. Sure, if you sell a product or service you want people to visit your site and become customers so, yes, in that sense, it is what social marketing is all about.

But that’s not how it works.

If you view social media as a new platform for traditional marketing, you’re basically just doing advertising in a new (albeit cheaper) medium. And while the cost savings are nice, don’t expect your social media campaign to go viral with that approach unless you’ve got the Old Spice guy on the payroll.

One of the keys to effective social marketing is that it isn't social if it's all about you. Effective social marketers listen more than they talk. For example, they pay attention to what their customers and target interest groups are saying, which allows them to respond in a way that is responsive, timely and relevant.

The challenge, of course, is time. Building social communities takes significant time investment. Let's face it, one person in marketing is unlikely to have sufficient bandwidth to reach a wide enough audience to capture the benefits of social marketing.

That’s where the 'social' part comes in.

Some ideas to consider when developing a social marketing strategy:
  1. Define your objectives for social marketing: Drive sales? Engage with customers? Establish thought leadership? Attract qualified employees? Improve brand awareness?
  2. Create a social media handbook for employees outlining communication guidelines. Many of them are already active in some form of social media - are you prepared?
  3. Identify employees with relevant expertise who blog or tweet, or are interested in doing so. Review any existing employee blogs for content, appropriateness, style, tone, writing skill, etc.
  4. Establish a ‘champions’ team of employees with an interest and talent for social media. Communicate regularly with the champions team to share information and ideas around themes, product messaging, upcoming campaigns, etc.
  5. Identify areas of responsibility, which might include blogging, commenting, tweeting, joining conversations in expert forums, etc. Some people may engage in multiple channels, others may specialize.
  6. Encourage employees to have their own blogs where they can promote key themes in their own voice to their own followers.
  7. Champions should also be encouraged to support each other, with blog links, re-tweets, etc. Extending individual reach helps extend organizational reach.
  8. As you establish your social media footprint, reach out to customers, partners and thought leaders and invite them to be part of the team.
In other words, harness what's already there. People want to be heard. And don't forget to measure which channels drive traffic and lead to real conversations - you'd be amazed by all the ways people find you once you go social.

On a final note, if you're still wondering how 'social' your social marketing strategy is, take this short social marketing test:

Have you assembled a passionate team of evangelists who can’t wait to tell the world how great your product or company is?*

A. Yes, the synergies are amazing!
B. We're working on it but we don't have executive buy in yet
C. We're trying to hire a social media guru
D. Our PR team handles all external communication
F. Er... no

*The corresponding letter for your response is also your social marketing grade.

Picture courtesy of Fred Cavazza.

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