Experience Matters!

Technology when you want it, people when you don’t

Several years ago the US-Based internet car insurance company Esurance launched an advertising campaign which highlighted the benefits of their service delivery model – a model based entirely upon choices.  The campaign had the tagline of “technology when you want it, people when you don’t” to emphasize the fact that everyone has a different optimal service experience and they weren’t purely a self-service organization.  With this campaign Esurance focused on the customer experience over the price of the coverage, the breadth of their geographic footprint, or other traditional points of emphasis in insurance advertising.

The concept of choice in a service delivery experience makes perfect sense in a consumer-based model, but does that same thought process apply in how HR services are delivered to an organization?    Over the years I’ve seen a variety of HR service delivery models which are generally predicated upon efficiencies gained by way of automating routine inquiries and transactions.  Broad-based assumptions are made which impact financial modelling, assuming upwards of 80-85% of all inquires can be accommodated by way of self-service.

After all the number crunching and analysis, there often remains large barriers to achieving the desired levels of utilization based largely upon the overall user experience of the technology and supporting capabilities.  This isn’t purely a technical issue, although the technical user experience is a large contributor to the experience. 

The Service Experience

Service experience is defined by technology, process design, logical structure to system data, the manner in which systems are accessed by users, the structure of the support model – phone, portal, in-person, etc.

A well designed service experience becomes an enabler of transformed business operations. Conversely, a poorly designed service experience can not only be a critical point of failure in the service delivery model but ultimately result in less efficient operations.

Getting to the Point!

When working to design new systems, processes, and/or operating models, maintaining a customer-centric (employee or manager) mindset in the design becomes one of the most critical success factors.  In order to deliver this optimal experience, keep in mind the following items:

  1. Include non-HR stakeholders in the overall design process by way of focus groups at a minimum.  Ideally you have business stakeholders embedded into the design team to help ensure the needs of the customer remain front and center.
  2. View efficiency gains not just from a HR perspective, but from the perspective of the employee and/or manager
  3. Design system values such as job codes, department codes, locations, etc to be meaningful to the primary user (which isn’t HR).  Use of “smart codes” should be avoided at all costs
  4. Make all solution design decisions as holistic as possible and replicate values across related systems.  This means that finance and HR have the same definition of items such as headcount, organizational structures, etc.
  5. Think about the future when designing processes and systems – be sure that design decisions don’t limit you in the future.

In the end success lies not in making something technically work, but in enabling the desired outcomes.  In order to drive user adoption experience matters.





Controlling Your Zombie Population

Imagine for a moment that you are the CFO of an electronics company and just learned that nearly 67% of your product inventory was either partially or completely at risk of becoming a warranty liability – meaning that it is already broken or close to being broken before the warranty expires.  In that circumstance, you likely would immediately seek to address the risk by addressing the at risk inventory and reassess your supply chain, raw material providers, component assembly functions, and your quality processes.

Additionally, stringent quality controls would be put in place to prevent at-risk product from entering inventory in the future.  To do anything different would expose your business to entirely too much financial risk, jeopardizing the ongoing viability of the firm.  Most Chief Human Resource Officers face a very similar situation, with 69% of the average workforce being either partially or completely disengaged according to a 2011 study of employee engagement by Blessing White Research.

A bit tongue in cheek, any workforce can be viewed in three distinct categories; fully disengaged workers (The Dead) , partially disengaged workers (Zombies) and engaged workers (Zombie Slayers).  The Dead population are those workers who do the bare minimum to get by, occupying a chair and collecting a paycheck.  The Zombie Slayers are those who are actively driving the business, pushing the envelope, making things happen – a population that can never be large enough for any company.  The rest of the population are somewhat in the middle – they do what they need to do, may go above and beyond, any may not even realize that they aren’t fully engaged – much like a Zombie may not realize that they’ve become the living dead.  You can easily identify the dead and the Zombie Slayer populations in your workforce, but the Zombies often are more difficult to spot.

As with any good Zombie movie, the goal is to either slay the Zombies or find a way to bring them back from the living dead .  To that end, after assessing the engagement levels of their workforce, many companies attempt to put in place programs which prove to be ineffective or worse yet aren’t funded.  The end result is often a Zombie population who is neither slayed nor “cured”, they simply maintain status quo, blissfully unaware that they have become the living dead.

Exacerbating the situation, companies will exclusively focus their engagement programs  upon the existing employee population.  This results in  little to no thought to the workers joining the company by way of external recruitment.  Failure to effective screen for potential Zombies is likely to result in growth of the Zombie population within your company.

What’s an HR Pro to do?

Employee engagement is the byproduct of competent people doing work that fulfills them for a company they admire.  Unfortunately there is no simple screening mechanism to identify a disengaged candidate.  It’s not a skill, competency, or behavioral characteristic which can easily be measured by way of a survey or assessment.  It can only be identified through personal interaction, careful screening, and an honest assessment by the recruiter as to whether the company is really the right fit for the candidate as much as whether the candidate is the right fit for the company.

While there’s no silver bullet so to speak, in recruiting candidates I’ve found those that perform the best and remain engaged satisfy three simple observation points:

  1. The work that the position requires addresses a personal need of the candidate – i.e. professional fulfillment, personal desire, etc.
  2. The candidate has a clear and realistic expectation of what the job entails and the operating environment of the company
  3. There is a strong cultural fit between the candidate and the company

If you as a HR pro are looking for ways to directly impact the financial performance of your company – look no further than your hiring practices.  Hiring a candidate based on the best set of skills, the lowest price candidate, or some other set of attributes which don’t address the three bullets above may result in growth of your Zombie population.  And unlike in the movies, Zombies in your workforce don’t eat brains, they eat profits.

Happy Zombie Hunting!



Pay the Job Not The Gender (or the person for that matter)

It’s hard to believe but 48 years have passed since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed, officially ending the legal disparate compensation between men and women for similar jobs.  If only it were so simple to sign a bill into law and correct decades of behavior overnight.  The fact is that 48 years later the gender earnings gap still has yet to be fully closed.  As recent as 2008, unmarried women earned 94.2% of what their unmarried male colleagues earned.  Overall, women on average earned 79.9% of what men earned in 2008.

The problem that I have with statistics is that they can distort reality.  Anyone who has pain attention to a presidential election knows that you can make data support even the most extreme position on something by simply altering the lens by which you analyze.  For every data point thrown out by a candidate, their opponent can throw out a counterpoint supported by data (often from the same dataset) to refute the original point.

Given the fact that numbers can lie, how can one make sure that the gender pay gap is as substantial as it is portrayed?  Just talk to people.  Look at data within your organization for similar roles, compare pay by job code by gender both at an aggregate level and at an individual level.  Do you see any patterns?  Any biases (intentional or not)?  I’m sure its hard to imagine that this is an issue within your organization – this only happens other places, right?  WRONG!

Earlier in my career I actually was a HR practitioner who worked in the compensation function of an organization.  Given that we were one of the city’s better known employers, progressive, and skewed towards a female workforce you would expect that our pay practices supported pay equality or even a positive bias towards women.  Unfortunately after some in-depth analysis and major MS Excel & Access data-crunching I noticed that the perception didn’t match reality.

Needless to say that I was very surprised.  Its hard to believe that an organization like ours knowingly engaged in pay practices which were the exact opposite of everything I know to be right.  Was this part of a sinister plot?  Was this a conscientious direction the company chose to take?  The answer ended up being yes and no.  While pay practices were designed to be gender neutral, there were some very specific aspects of the culture which impacted the ability to remain gender neutral.

  1. We were a very paternalistic organization – Our company culture had long been one based on taking care of our employees.  As a result of this there was a fair number of managers who made decisions related to compensation and promotions, etc based on not only individual performance and contributions but also based on key life events.  Got married?  There might be an off-cycle raise or a larger merit in your future.  Had a baby?  Diapers cost money, so let’s make sure your incentive payout is able to help out.
  2. While we were a female-heavy population, the women in the organization tended to be younger than the men.  Women occupied larger percentages of the more junior roles than the senior roles (with almost no presence in the executive team).  It wasn’t because the organization didn’t promote women, but rather women who started out on a career track moved into a mommy track at a rate that was higher than some other industries resulting in a larger percentage of more senior roles being occupied by men.
  3. Our highest paying individual contributor roles were in occupations which historically were dominated by men.  As a result, the pay bias in these roles did get skewed

Regardless of the reasons for why this happened, it did.  Since then I’ve been much more aware of the issue and have more vocally advocated for pay practices which encourage organizations to pay the job not the person.  By consistently paying the job you can remove many of the factors that contribute to unintentional (or intentional) pay biases.  How can this be put into practice:

1.  For your highest volume positions publish standardized guidelines for compensation which managers and recruiters can use to have a discussion around before an offer is extended.  e.g.  Staff accountants are consistently paid at $37,500 per year.  Anything that deviates from that requires compensation review.

2. Avoid counter-offers whenever possible.  Employees who obtain offers elsewhere will eventually leave you anyway even if you do counter offer.  More importantly, yet highly unscientific, my personal experiences show that men use this approach to obtaining a raise more so that women.  Where I have tracked this information the male/female ratio of increases due to counter offers was 3:1.

3.  Be sure to consider both internal and external equity when considering a manager’s request for a salary adjustment.  If an adjustment is requested to an employee’s compensation, determine whether its a performance-related increase or something else.  If performance, determine if a promotion is more appropriate than simply paying more for the same job.

It seems like common sense, but inequities occur on a daily basis.  What are your thought on the topic and your experiences?

You Are The Company You Keep

While growing up I was often told that you are the company you keep, and as a kid I had a very difficult time both comprehending as well as following that advice.  As time went on and I matured personally I began to better understand it, but this was really driven home for me while in college.  As a freshman at DePaul University I made a decision to join a fraternity.

While I wasn’t necessarily the “fraternity type” and as a commuter-oriented college DePaul wasn’t exactly the typical college campus in which a Greek-letter organization would thrive, I opted to join regardless. Overnight I went from being classified as a freshman to being a “fraternity guy”.  People started making very specific assumptions about me personally – both positive and negative based exclusively upon my decision to join a fraternity.  Moreover, people made certain judgments and assumptions about me based on which Greek-letter organization I joined.  Certain fraternities had been labeled as “jock” or “party” houses; neither categorization well defined me personally.  I often had to work to overcome these categorizations.

Professionally this same lesson applies, with more impact than could ever have been realized as a child or teenager.  When someone reviews your resume, they are instantly making assumptions about you based on the organizations you’ve worked for in the past, schools you’ve attended, roles you’ve held, etc.  While a resume doesn’t get you a job, it does get you further in the process.

For example – when looking for a Senior HR leader, I would give more consideration to a candidate who has been in HR roles at Pepsi, and organization known for growing very successful HR talent than I would a candidate who worked for a smaller, less well-known organization.  Prior experience at a top consultancy is always a plus, as is attendance at an Ivy League University (or any other well regarded local institution).  A MBA from a top school will always get my attention as well.  Lastly, when researching a candidate I always look at their profile on LinkedIn.  If they don’t have a LinkedIn profile I have second thoughts about their candidacy.

Why is a LinkedIn profile critical?

I can give you several key reasons:

  1. People are less likely to significantly stretch the truth about their employment, responsibilities, titles, etc on LinkedIn.  Since often someone is connected to colleagues or managers at their current employer, there is an incentive to not stretch the truth as much as on a paper resume where its not likely seen by colleagues.
  2. Recommendations are easily accessible.  While I don’t give them much weight, the lack of recommendations often tells me a fair bit about the individual as well.  They either haven’t done anything worthy of a recommendation or are shy/afraid about asking for one.  In either case, I can be somewhat confident that they’ll struggle in a senior role.
  3. You can tell a ton about someone based on the other profiles that are most commonly viewed by others when looking at the candidate’s profile. Web traffic doesn’t lie – it tells me exactly what I want to know.  Do people look at other senior HR leaders profiles after reviewing the candidate’s profile?  Is that list mixed with C-level execs or is it more closely associated with analysts, receptionists, and other less senior roles?

What does all this mean?

In the job market, in the conference room, in the halls, and in the virtual meeting places of the world people are constantly making judgments and decisions regarding you and potentially your future all based on things or people with whom you are associated.  I’m not suggesting that you go and quickly unfriend a bunch of people on Facebook, stop following people on Twitter, and unlink with a large quantity of your contacts on LinkedIn.  Rather I’m suggesting that you evaluate what you’re looking to get out of each of those sites and be sure that your connections are aligned with your personal objectives for joining.   After all,  you are the company you keep.

Do you make similar assessments when reviewing someone’s information?  Please share your thoughts on the topic.

And for those who are wondering, the picture on this post is from the spring formal of my fraternity in 1994.  See if you can find me in it.

The Principal of Least Interest & Interactive Recruiting

For years recruiters have been looking for the best way to reach those who are not actively looking for a job – passive candidates.  For some reason that I don’t always agree with, the passive candidate is perceived to be more valuable than those who are actively seeking a job.  There is a sociological theory called The Principal of Least Interest and what it means which I can see very much applying to why passive candidates are so attractive to recruiters.  The principal of least interest is explained as such:

The individual who is least interested in a relationship has the greatest power

Its simple psychology that explains why we want what it is that we cannot have.  If I want my 3 year old son to eat carrots, I just have to eat them and tell him that he cannot have any.  In seconds he’ll be demanding that I share some with him and he’ll be eating carrots like they were made of pure sugar.  Without directly comparing recruiting to my situation with my toddler, it does highlight an important aspect of reasons why recruiters covet passive candidates – because they’re not available.

There are plenty of well documented methods of connecting with passive candidates which include branding, social networking, and countless “old-school” methods of networking, etc.  In an effort to cut through the clutter that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn present, my former employer Advertising Giant Leo Burnett has cooked up a great innovative way to reach their target candidates in a way that only an ad agency can – David On DemandThe Advertising Festival in Cannes France has quickly become a great recruitment vehicle for an organization that looks to hire only the best, brightest, and most creative professionals in the industry.

David on Demand is an interactive tool much like Ad Agency CrispinPorter+Bogusky’s Subservient Chicken campaign for Burger King a few years back except instead of a pre-recorded, limited number of responses to users requests, David On Demand is a way for people to send messages via twitter to David Perez, a creative recruiter at Leo Burnett, telling him what to do while he’s out and about in Cannes.  And to make sure he does what is requested, he’s installed a live-streaming webcam to his glasses, allowing users to see exactly what he’s doing 24/7.

This started as a creative way to attend an exclusive industry event in a location known for its nightlife as much as the events that the town hosts and has morphed into something much larger.  I’m not sure if anyone realized ahead of time, but David has stumbled upon recruiting gold.  How is this gold you ask?

As of this morning David already has 1381 fans of the David on Demand Facebook page, 3,628 followers of the David on Demand twitter account, and messages to David’s twitter account are pouring in nearly every minute of the day.  Each interaction is with someone leaves a trail – a name, a twitter account, an email address, and more important than anything else a very unique impression of what makes Leo Burnett an amazing employer.  This isn’t a professionally crafted culture video, a welcome statement from the CEO (usually crafted by a marketing or PR professional), or a slick brochure.  It’s simply David out having fun, meeting people, and representing his agency in a highly visible way.

To bring it all full circle, Leo Burnett and David have discovered how to cut through the clutter and reach out to the highly coveted passive candidates in a way that few can ever hope to.  In doing so, they have helped to shift the power of the discussion from the highly coveted candidate to the employer, by putting Leo Burnett in a position of having the least interest and thus the power in the conversations that take place from this point forward.

Your Million Dollar Compensation Package

I’ve been running this blog since October of 2009, so just a hair under 8 months.  In that time I’ve averaged about one post a week.  While not as frequent as some of my fellow HR bloggers, it is still a respectable pace – and one that isn’t always easy to maintain along with a demanding client work schedule and family responsibilities.  Regardless, I strive to update the blog at least 4-5 times a month and more if possible.

Unfortunately this hasn’t always been easy and once again life got in the way.  I’ve been maintaining a low profile as I recover from an abdominal surgical procedure which kept me off my feet for a week and slowly coming back up to speed the following week.  I’m now back, quickly approaching 100% and am looking to make up for lost time and missed blog posts.

While I’m very fortunate to have extremely good health thus far, I am equally fortunate for the following things in my life:

  1. An amazing family who support me, challenge me, and love me more than I can ever imagine
  2. Wonderfully supportive colleagues and clients who have been understanding and flexible during the time that I was out and recovering
  3. Challenging work that provides me with flexibility to work outside of traditional business hours where appropriate
  4. Unbelievable health insurance which provides me with peace of mind even after racking up some pretty substantial medical bills over the last 7 months due to extended hospital stays by my two latest additions Allen and Collin

As a former HR practitioner I can’t help but think about my experiences over the past year and how much the HR practices of my employer impact my life far beyond the boundaries of the office.  I’ve been able to handle major life events such as the addition of two children,  19 weeks of hospital stays (including 17 weeks of Intensive Care), surgery, and personal medical leave all without missing a beat.

None of this would have been possible without some HR practices that many people take for granted such as:

  1. Solid health insurance coverage
  2. Generous paid time off programs
  3. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)
  4. Family & Medical Leave (FMLA)
  5. Flexible work arrangements

While many people compare jobs on the basis of the cash compensation, the value of the benefits listed above in my case have far exceeded any cash compensation I would ever earn.  Without exaggerating, the value of these benefits to me in the last 12 months exceed one million dollars. Had I compared the cash compensation of my job against other opportunities in the job market and made an employment decision based on the cash aspect of the package, I would have potentially lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. The non-cash aspect of my overall compensation package has exceeded my cash compensation many times over.

Ten years ago I wouldn’t have ever been able to place a value on the benefits I enjoy today, just as many younger workers view aspects of their overall package as being less valuable than they actually are.  My former employers have attempted to highlight the “value” of their overall package in the form of the annual total rewards report that was mailed to my house every spring.  Unfortunately these reports were mostly numbers – and while that was somewhat helpful, the lack of a meaningful story to wrap around the numbers resulted in the message being lost.

Which brings me to the point of this long-winded post.  How are you selling the true value of the non-cash aspects of your compensation package to your workforce?  Are you showing numbers or are you using the numbers to help tell a story?  Using my personal example, if someone had told me that my compensation package was worth more than $1m in a single years time, I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced what I did.  Having a story to use to highlight the point helps to provide context and drive home the true value of your offering. It humanizes the numbers.

I bet that if you look around there are countless people with stories similar to mine who can help humanize the point and cut through the clutter – driving home the true value of what your organization has to offer.