The Carnival of HR – Pick A Prize

The Carnival of HR – Pick A Prize

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.

Read. Discuss. Challenge. Be a part of the conversation and eventually you too can pick a prize.

What It Feels Like To Be An HR Buyer

What It Feels Like To Be An HR Buyer

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I’m taking a PERSONAL RISK. By putting my affairs in the hands of someone else, I risk losing control.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. I’m EXPOSED. Whoever I hire, I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets, not all of which are flattering.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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)

The Best Companies To Work For: HR’s Catch-22

The Best Companies To Work For: HR’s Catch-22

fortunelogo2013-300x400Each 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.