Pulling at the arm of my jacket, my friends futilely attempted to drag me away. “C’mon Mark!“, they implored, frustration palpable as I placed yet another quarter on the rough wooden plank that served as both armrest and launching point for my arch rival, the ping pong ball. I was two dollars in and determined that this would be the one.
The money was mine, earned through a wide variety of enterprises my brother and I had launched as creative and unfettered children. We were raised with a strong work ethic in a growing subdivision. That meant construction, which meant construction workers, which meant thirsty and hungry people who just happened to have a soft spot for the neighborhood riffraff.
Of the eight balls thrown thus far, three were underhand, four were dead aimed and one was a high floater. My goldfish had died the week prior so I was not going to leave the carnival without his successor safely bagged and in hand. Rocking back, I decided that a backspun high floater was going to win the day. My fist opened, the ball rose and I waited for it to glide over three-dozen puckered orange faces. Landing on a bowl’s edge, it took a wild bounce, struck another, then a third, and landed quietly on the hay-covered ground below. I had lost, but smirked at knowing that I would try again and again as the day wore on.
Everyday we take this same journey. We throw ourselves into the air, hoping to land in the right destination but often tossed asunder by forces both within and outside of our control. That doesn’t mean we stop trying. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. This is the Carnival that we who work in HR experience more acutely than many of our peers. And as others try and pull you away, we want you to stay and give it as many chances as you can personally and professionally afford.
Welcome to the May 2016 Carnival of HR.
- Jennifer Miller of the The People Equation offers us 4 Tips for Avoiding Costly Hiring Mistakes: “Yes, we all want fabulous candidates with perfect track records, at a very affordable salary. That’s not realistic; you’ll need to decide which skills are the most important and look for those skills first.”
- Mick Collins of SAP SuccessFactors suggests Measuring Engagement via Social Collaboration: “Thankfully, through analytics, we can derive many insights on engagement that pave the way for interventions aimed at improving commitment.”
- Judy Lindenberger of The Lindenberger Group reminds us that Communication Matters: “As George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying: ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.'”
- Talent management strategist Dorothy Dalton identifies 7 Tells You’re On the Brink of Losing Your Team: “When there is barely a murmur about the bonus situation or summer party, you know you are in trouble. Your employees have opted out of even medium term thinking.”
- Stephanie Hammerwold of HR Hammer calls for the need for Finding Time to Play in the Work-Life Unbalance: “Life is more than a job. Whether it’s family obligations, time to read a good book or stepping outside for a nice hike, we need to celebrate time off.”
- Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership breaks down barriers with Don’t Worry About Being Humble, Just Do It: “There are many possible starting points when you begin trying to act humble. Anything that moves you in the right direction will work.”
- Leanne Morris of Carter Morris discusses Commerciality and the HR Professional: “I remember being one the first HR recruiter to request “commercial savvy” and basic financial knowledge as key criteria in my European job ads. Now, everyone is using this request in their advertising. And every HR practitioner claims to have both of these in spades.”
- John Hunter of Curious Cat suggests that Statistical Techniques Allow Management to do a Better Job: “Thinking that adopting a few tools is what is needed completely misses the point. The point is to change how management thinks and behaves and then have that way of thinking permeate the organization.”
- Shauna Moerke of the HR Minion shares lessons from an uncomfortable experience in Mansplain It To Me: “Any company can say it is committed to diversity and an harassment free workplace. You can put it in your values, write policies, and hold mandatory training. But it takes more than that. Your leadership has to model these values every day.”
- Steve Browne of Everyday People asks you to share Tall Tales: “This week lead with a story. Share an experience. Tell a tall tale. Watch what happens when you see someone start to pay attention when they were indifferent in the past.”
- Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen reminds us that Everybody Matters: “You are the message, in everything you say and do. And when it comes to messages, everybody’s extraordinary message does indeed matter.”
- Dwane Lay of Dovetail Software helps us with Planning for Long-Term HR System Success: “Every system or project should have a primary and secondary owner. We live in a fluid professional world, and the cost of not having someone ready to step into a leadership void is too high to ignore.”
- Chris Fields of Performance I Create asks When Did HR Become So Cautious: “When a manager feels they can come into your office and tell you how you should perform HR duties, yet they can’t even manage their own team – that’s a problem and we need to call that stuff out.”
- Jesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center brings us home with The 4 Dimensions of Trust: “As important as trust is and as much as we talk about it, the problem is we are not always talking about the same thing. Trust is an all encompassing word that can mean many different things.”
Read. Discuss. Challenge. Be a part of the conversation and eventually you too can pick a prize.
Let’s suppose you’re an HR buyer. You’re experienced. You’re competent. This isn’t your first rodeo. And as much as you believe that logic and process will dictate what you buy, there are several emotional impacts that will absolutely factor into the bets you make.
The following list is derived from the work of the incomparable David Maister* as applied to our corner of the buying universe. HR service providers, it would serve you well to keep these ten items in mind as you prepare for your next pursuit.
What It Feels Like to Be An HR Buyer
- I’m feeling INSECURE. I’m not sure I know how to detect which of the finalists is the genius, and which is just good. I’ve exhausted my ability to make technical distinctions.
- I’m feeling THREATENED. This is my area of responsibility, and even though intellectually I know I need outside expertise, emotionally its not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others.
- I’m taking a PERSONAL RISK. By putting my affairs in the hands of someone else, I risk losing control.
- I’m IMPATIENT. I didn’t call in someone at the first sign of symptoms (or opportunity). I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
- I’m WORRIED. By the very fact of suggesting improvements or changes, these people are going to be implying that I haven’t been doing it right up till now. Are these people going to be on my side?
- I’m EXPOSED. Whoever I hire, I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets, not all of which are flattering.
- I’m feeling IGNORANT, and don’t like the feeling. I don’t know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one. I’m not sure I can trust them to be honest about that; it’s in their interest to convince me it’s complex.
- I’m SKEPTICAL. I’ve been burned before by these kinds of people. You get a lot of promises: How do I know whose promise I should buy?
- I’m CONCERNED that they either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. They’ll try to sell me what they’ve got rather than what I need.
- I’m SUSPICIOUS. Will they be those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave you out of the loop, who befuddle you with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why, who …, who …, who …? In short, will these people deal with me in the way I want to be dealt with?
Behind every HR buying decision is a human (or more likely, a group of humans), so always keep that in mind.
HR buyers, what else would you add to this list? Your comments are encouraged, so let’s keep the conversation going.
(*Source: David H. Maister, Managing the Professional Service Firm, 1993)
Each year, hundreds of organizations vie for the accolade of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, a process governed and managed by the Great Place to Work Institute. Companies with greater than 1,000 employees and at least five years of operations are qualified to apply for Fortune’s list with their smaller brethren eligible for “Best Small and Medium Workplaces” honors. This is a highly competitive process with two-thirds of scoring derived through the Trust Index Employee Survey and the remaining one-third via a Culture Audit across a wide litany of evaluation criteria. It’s notable that 277,000 employees across 259 firms participated in last year’s competition.
So with fifteen years of history behind this extremely marketable moniker, how does a Catch-22 come into play?
The Origins Of A “Catch-22″
Although a commonly (mis)used phrase, Catch-22 is derived from Joseph Heller’s quasi-historical novel about a group of World War II airmen caught in the untenable circle of military bureaucracy and the impact of sanity on their ability (or necessity) to continue flying missions. The gist is that “anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy” and therefore is sane enough to fly more missions, but if you wanted to fly more missions you were crazy. As described in the book:
“If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.” – pg. 56, Catch-22
Still stuck? Another way to think about it is that solving one part of a problem creates another problem, ultimately leading back to the original problem. Glad I could clear that up.
How Does “Best Companies” Create An HR Catch-22?
For the sake of stimulating discussion and debate, here are three examples of the challenges encountered by the Best Companies to Work For. Readers should note that I’ve spoken with several current and past Best Companies to corroborate these findings.
Example #1: The Competition Conundrum
You obviously cannot be recognized as a Best Company if you do not participate fully in the application and survey processes. However, you can fully participate in the application and survey processes and not be recognized as a Best Company. In other words, you can survey your employee population and not make the list, thereby signaling to the participating employees that you’re not a Best Company to Work For. Surveyed (and disheartened) employees may therefore leave, either decreasing the likelihood that you’ll make the list the subsequent year (because these positive employees were part of the solution) or increasing the likelihood you’ll make the list the subsequent year (because these negative employees were part of the problem). Alternatively, employees could view the survey itself as a sign that you want to be a Best Company, provided you do something with the survey results to drive change and ultimately do achieve Best Company status. What to do, what to do….
Example #2: Holding You Hostage
If you make the list it means you exceeded the sniff test and your employees believe you truly are a Best Company to Work For. Therefore, you begin to market to current (and future) employees that you are a Best Company. Knowing that being a Best Company is disproportionately dependent on employee surveys, employees exercise their leverage and begin to coerce you into exceptions you never imagined by effectively stating, “You don’t want me to respond negatively on the Best Company survey, do you?” (And no, I’m not making this one up) This results in one offs and unsustainable practices that ultimately cause the company to focus their precious resources on the few over the many, subsequently resulting in falling off the next year’s Best Company survey. And if you do fall off, this signals to your current (and future) employees that you’re no longer a Best Company, which can either encourage you to once again drive change to make the list or discourage people from joining your company who may have helped make you Best Company the subsequent year. Still with me??
Example #3: Playing The Odds
It you participated in the 2013 competition you had a 39% chance of making the Top 100 just by virtue of the math (259 applicants) compared to a 28% chance in 2009 (353 applicants). But remember that more employees voiced their opinion, on average, per company in 2013 (1,069) than in 2009 (229), thus rendering it statistically more difficult to make it than ever before (provided that standards remained the same and the bar wasn’t lowered for 100 firms to make the grade). And with the voracity of the honor waning as fewer and fewer companies participate over time, should you lobby more of your peers to participate in the competition, thereby decreasing your odds of making the cut? Quite the dilemma…
Why Pick On “Best Companies”?
The tone and tenor of this post may suggest that I’m targeting Best Companies with some sort of smear campaign. I’d argue quite the opposite given that research has shown that Best Companies significantly outperformed the S&P 500. Instead, I’m simply suggesting that for every cloud’s silver lining there is a comparable storm awaiting within. Given the amount of time, money and resources applied to this process (combined with a 25% drop in participation over the past four years), I’d ask HR to ponder whether it’s crazier to participate or to not.
My final thought is this. Just as there have been hundreds of Best Companies, there are literally thousands more who will never have their day in the sun. It behooves each employee to assess what makes a company right for them, just at it behooves each company to define what distinguishes them from their peers. Your thoughts and comments, as always, are welcome.