HR’s Monumental Step into the Golden Triangle

StepCHROs are forging unprecedented relationships with CEOs and CFOs, according to Lancaster University’s Anthony Hesketh in the Harvard Business Review special report, “The Call for a More Strategic HR.” Hesketh calls these relationships “golden triangles”—triumvirates that fuse strategic, financial and people issues into business strategy.

In other words, HR has taken a huge step toward achieving a decades-old ambition: taking a seat at the strategy table.

That phrase, now so ubiquitous it has the ring of a punch line, is no joke to HR. The function’s leaders have long championed the notion that people (HR’s primary focus) are a strategic asset, not merely a business cost; attracting and developing people, therefore, are strategic imperatives that HR should have a hand in. While this line of reasoning makes perfect sense, members of the c-suite have continually questioned HR’s contribution to the strategy of attracting and developing people. (In fact, some HR professionals have raised this question as well. Thirty-year HR veteran, Carol Anderson, did so quite compellingly in her article, “What HR Needs to Do to Get a Seat at the Table.”) HR also has been criticized for its lack of business acumen and analytical skills—core competencies for anyone sitting at the strategy table.

As a result, HR has spent the past several years building the capacity to deliver reliable people data and analysis to the organization. One way it has done so is by constructing predictive talent models to identify, develop and retain high-performance individuals. These efforts clearly mirror the big data initiatives launched by CFOs, CMOs and other senior leaders who have successfully transformed the way their functions operate.

So, with HR reinventing itself and forging those precious golden triangles, all’s well. Right?

Not so fast …

Key Competencies for HR’s Success

It would be easy to assume that HR’s success at the strategy table hinges on its ability to serve as a workforce data hub for the rest of the organization. But it turns out that’s only part of what makes it successful in the golden triangle—and it’s not even the most important part.

According to Hesketh’s research, “the most important competency for HR success in the golden triangle is the ability to be well networked with other executives in the company. The CHROs who truly exert strategic influence do so outside of formal settings in conjunction with the organization’s movers and shakers.”

In addition, Hesketh’s research found that financial acumen is a crucial driver of HR’s credibility. “HR leaders in the golden triangle understand the financial implications of their ideas for the entire enterprise, not just their own function. The language of the boardroom is finance, and HR leaders have to be able to speak it,” he notes.

At the end of the day, there’s no denying that HR is making inroads on taking its place as a strategic function—and that HR leaders are raising their profile among the organization’s senior ranks. But providing reliable people data and analyses are just table stakes. To solidify their place in the golden triangle and to complete their function’s transformation, HR leaders must strengthen their peer networking and sharpen their financial acumen.

That’s a lot to achieve in addition to everything else on their plates. But then HR has already progressed light years from its humble beginnings. A few more critical steps are certainly within its reach.

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Deloitte Report: Good News for HR, Sobering Stats for the Organization

9045254666_a29652749b_bDeloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report contains some encouraging findings for Human Resources. For other facets of the organization the report is more sobering.

Based on surveys and interviews of more than 7,000 business and HR leaders worldwide, the report reveals:

  • 68% of participants said their companies have solid development programs for HR professionals.
  • 60% believe they are holding HR accountable for talent and business results.
  • And 40% said their companies are ready to address the skills gaps in HR.

All of these percentages are higher than they were in the 2015 Deloitte report, indicating that HR continues to gain credibility as a strategic function rather than a merely transactional one.

The needle is moving in the right direction on HR’s performance scorecard as well, which shows “a marked and steady improvement” in several areas. For instance, 60% of executives said their HR teams are innovative, up from 56% in 2015. And 64% said “HR is embedding itself and aligning with the business,” up from 58% in 2015.

The report’s authors also stated this about HR’s performance: “For the first time in the four years of the Global Human Capital Trends report, there are real signs of change and progress: HR teams are learning to experiment with new ideas; they are making significant steps to upgrade skills; and a new generation of younger, more business-savvy and technology-empowered people is entering the profession.”

The Picture Isn’t Entirely Rosy

When asked to rank human capital trends in order of their importance, executives cited the following as their top three: 1) organizational design, 2) leadership, and 3) culture. They also identified serious organizational challenges in all three areas.

Here’s what the report uncovers about each:

Organizational Design
92% of executives rated organizational design as a top priority but only 14% believe their companies are ready to effectively redesign their organizations. Additionally, only 21% feel expert at building cross-functional teams and even fewer (12%) understand the way their people work together in networks.

89% of executives rated the need to strengthen, reengineer and improve organizational leadership as an important priority. Yet more than half (56%) report their companies are not ready to meet leadership needs, and nearly a quarter of companies (21%) have no leadership programs at all.

86% of executives cited culture as an important or very important issue. However, only 12% believe their companies are driving the “right culture,” and just 28% report that they understand their organization’s culture.

Despite These Gaps …

Executives and HR leaders indicated that some progress has been made in a few of these areas. For example, regarding organizational design, 45% of executives reported their companies are in the middle of a restructuring or are planning one. And in leadership development, companies have grown their investment 10% since last year.

Additional hot-button issues addressed by the Deloitte report include employee engagement, people analytics and workforce management. The report offers plenty of valuable insights for those interested in benchmarking their organizations’ human capital initiatives.


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Thanks, Sebastian Thrun, for Chilling Me Out about Artificial Intelligence

27224616072_013f4b68d6_bTo some of us, artificial intelligence (AI) is inherently scary.

Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak have spoken openly about their AI concerns. Elon Musk is so badly unnerved by AI he plunked down $10 million for research on how to keep machine intelligence under control. Even Stephen Hawking signed an open letter calling for more AI research not long after telling the BBC, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

If AI gives those guys the willies, how can borderline technophobes like me be expected to cheerfully embrace it? I don’t trust my smartphone enough to do my banking on it, for crying out loud. So I’m not exactly thrilled by the prospect of a future rife with treacherous thinking machines hell-bent on my destruction (or stealing my job, at the very least).

At best, I’ve regarded AI with a healthy suspicion … until a few nights ago. That’s when I came across a Bloomberg interview of Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity. He had just finished speaking about self-driving cars (more scary technology) when the interviewer asked which technology is more ready for the mainstream marketplace—AI or VR.

Thrun’s response caught me by surprise.

He pointed out that the two technologies are quite different. Virtual reality is entertainment-oriented and experiential in nature, he said. “I love VR in the classroom because it gives kids the ability to go somewhere and feel other places as opposed to just flicking through pages in a book.”

Cheers to that, I thought. I’m all for improved education and learning. Now what about the killer robots?

Thrun continued, “AI actually gets to the core of human effectiveness. AI can make our brains superbrains: we can remember everything, we can recognize anybody, we can live every experience we’ve ever missed. Artificial intelligence is going to turn us into better human beings.”

Wait, what?

“For me, AI is a productivity-enhancing thing we do to make humans more efficient,” Thrun explained, “the same way that farming equipment made farmers more efficient.” And with that the interviewer moved onto the topic of content.

Thrun’s sunny take on AI actually didn’t seem unreasonable. In fact, it seemed rational. Exciting even.

I wanted to know more (that farming equipment analogy really got to me) so I spent the following day poking around Thrun’s website reading up on AI. I also did a Google search that turned up fascinating articles from the MIT Technology Review, The Guardian and The Washington Post, all written within the past year and all seemingly acknowledging that some measure of concern over the development of AI is warranted.

Almost everything I read pointed out that ongoing research and debate will only help us maximize whatever rewards AI has to offer while minimizing possible risks. But my reading also made me realize that my suspicion of AI wasn’t based on common sense or logic; it was based on a visceral fear of the unknown and a lot of pop culture nonsense.

My view of AI wasn’t simply clouded. I was blind to its vast promise. Medicine, science, agriculture, manufacturing, education—all of these fields and many more could one day be transformed by AI. Undoubtedly, jobs will be lost to AI but job opportunities are lost to shifts in technology and business practices all the time. AI is just another in a long line of reasons we have for creating new jobs and supporting entrepreneurs.

Clearly, my AI education has only begun. Yet I can already see why so many people are enthralled with the technology and the questions it raises. And I understand why someone would want to make a career of asking, exploring and trying to answer these questions.

I still don’t trust my smartphone. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.


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Employee Recognition: Stronger Engagement Isn’t the Only Benefit

6631645347_dc66171e35_bIf you manage employees or lead a team, O.C. Tanner’s Executive Vice President, David Sturt, says there’s one easy thing you can do to dramatically enhance engagement levels: recognize great work.

“That means calling out excellent accomplishments by your employees right away—and doing so in consistent and regular increments from the start,” Sturt wrote in a Harvard Business Review article. In two separate studies of nearly 3,500 individuals, Sturt’s company found that recognition directly affects several aspects of employee morale and loyalty:

  • In a 2014 survey, 87% of the U.S.-based participants who said their companies have strong recognition practices also said they feel a strong relationship with their direct manager. Among those citing a lack of strong recognition practices at their companies, this figure drops to 51%.
  • In a 2015 survey, 70% of employees who have received some form of appreciation from their supervisors say they’re happy with their jobs. Without this recognition, only 39% are happy in their work.

Sturt goes on to say that recognition also has a powerful effect on the peers of those who receive recognition. Managers who publicly presented a few individuals with a “years of service award,” for example, actually increased the feeling among all employees’ that their employers cared about them.

What Kind of Recognition Is Best?

Obviously, an award for years of service is only one of many ways managers can show their appreciation—but not all forms of recognition have the same impact. According to a recent Gallup workplace survey, the six types of recognition workers find most memorable are:

  1. Public recognition or acknowledgment via an award, certificate or commendation.
  2. Private recognition from a boss, peer or customer.
  3. Receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews.
  4. Promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust.
  5. Monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase.
  6. Personal satisfaction or pride in work.

Notice where money is on that list. Next-to-last. Clearly, managers can’t say that recognition is too costly to dole out—not when the top three responses are simple acts of public or private acknowledgment of a job well done.

In fact, there is research that shows non-monetary forms of recognition are the most effective and least problematic. It also shows that poorly planned and managed recognition programs can actually erode productivity. Still, the vast majority of research and expert opinion supports the positive outcomes of sound recognition programs.

Who Provides the Most Meaningful Recognition?

Participants in the Gallup survey also identified who gave them their most meaningful and memorable recognition: their direct manager (28%); a high-level leader or CEO (24%); the manager’s manager (12%); a customer (10%); peers (9%); other (17%).

As with many past studies, Gallup’s findings show that employees themselves cite direct managers as the single most meaningful source of recognition. Unfortunately, it appears the vast majority of managers aren’t schooled in the art of employee recognition. A few years ago, a WorldatWork survey that found just 12% of organizations provide managers with some type of training in recognition, despite 88% having recognition programs at their disposal.

That’s a fairly big disconnect—one that employers will have to bridge if they truly want to move the needle on crucial issues such as employee engagement, manager/employee relationships, on-the-job happiness and team morale.

If you’re interested in launching or revitalizing your company’s employee recognition program, check out this Justworks blog post for five no-nonsense suggestions to get you started.


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Do Flexible Work Arrangements Really Impact Productivity?

23485697294_cce6de165e_bIn the recent TLNT blog post, “Six Myths Of Employee Engagement,” employee recruitment expert Magi Graziano debunks a half-dozen employee engagement myths. Or does she?

With all due respect to Ms. Graziano and the editors at TLNT, myth number one—A flexible work environment fosters productivity—seems fairly disconnected from the “debunking” that follows it. Judge for yourself:

A flexible work environment fosters productivity
While remote work opportunities reduce the carbon footprint and avert hours wasted in traffic, more often than not companies do a poor job of looping remote workers into the day-to-day activities of the business. Unfortunately, a very typically adverse impact of remote work for the employee is “out of sight, out of mind.” Research shows that remote workers and workers with flex-time schedules receive less coaching and mentoring and miss out on the institutional knowledge-sharing and socialization that happens in the typical course of a shared workspace.

Frankly, I don’t see a solid connection between these points and employee productivity. After all, “doing a poor job of looping remote workers into the day-to-day activities of the business” doesn’t automatically imply poor productivity. Nor do receiving less coaching and mentoring or missing out on workplace socialization. I’ve known plenty of people who worked under these very conditions and were consistently rated as exemplary performers.

Don’t get me wrong, these issues certainly can impact productivity levels … but the post doesn’t show any real correlation. Still, all of this did get me wondering: how do flexible work arrangements affect employee productivity?

Victor Lipman addresses the question from the employee perspective in his recent Forbes article, “Are Remote Workers Happier And More Productive?,” in which he shares the findings of a new TINYpulse survey about remote workers. The survey shows that remote workers overwhelmingly believe they’re more productive:

“According to the survey, 91% of remote workers believe they ‘get more work done when working remotely,’ compared to only 9% who feel they don’t. While it’s worth noting this is an employee self-assessment (as opposed to managers’ assessments), the large margin here does seem significant,” writes Lipman.

A 2014 article published in the Harvard Business Review, “To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home,” offers a more objective point of view about flexible work arrangements and productivity, It describes a study of call center staffers working for the travel website Ctrip. Half the staff was allowed to work from home while the other half worked in the company’s office. Stanford University Professor of Economics, Nicholas Bloom, helped conduct the study and afterwards reported the following:

“The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away. Ctrip was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit it would take when employees left the discipline of the office environment. Instead, we found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.”

The 2015 article, “What makes remote workers more productive?” published by Insight UK, also references the Ctrip study but offers these insights as well:

  • A Gallup survey found that remote workers logged four more hours per week work than their in-office counterparts, and they were more engaged (32% engaged) than those who work in the office (28%).
  • British Telecommunications said its home workers are 20% more productive than their office-based colleagues. It also found that absenteeism among home workers was 63% lower than their office-based counterparts.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention that the Insight UK piece ended with this observation: “On the flip side, 80% of home workers are distracted by spouses, children and pets while 20% exercise less and 38% snack more.”

I suppose no work environment is perfect.


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This Is What Interests Job Candidates “Above All Else”

4835354126_834e350d9e_bEmployers on the hunt for new talent, take note …

More than two-thirds of the 26,000+ professionals who participated in LinkedIn’s 2016 Global Talent Trends report said they want to know about a company’s culture and values “above all else” when considering a job.

Not salary. Not benefits. Not perks. They want to know about your culture and values. Yet, sadly, these are the very qualities that often remain a mystery when candidates are scoping out potential employers. “They may know about your company, but they lack a clear picture of what it’s like on the inside—and the typical job description isn’t helping,” the LinkedIn report indicates.

So what can employers do to better illuminate their company cultures?

“Position their cultures front and center, and use current employees—their best ambassadors—to help,” advise the report’s authors. “Involve them in your brand initiatives and encourage them to create their own content that candidly shows what they think about your work culture.”

Cultural Transparency: A Clear Win-Win
While social media and websites such as Glassdoor have made it easier for today’s job seekers to learn about workplace cultures, using these tools feels like detective work to many candidates. They’re forced to dig up clues about life inside a company through these indirect sources. Imagine how much better the candidate experience would be if employers made cultural information more available and transparent.

Greater transparency would speak volumes about an employer’s commitment to hiring and retaining the right talent (individuals who truly fit a company’s culture and possess the skills and temperament to thrive there). Also greater transparency would enable candidates to self-select companies and jobs more effectively, which would streamline talent engagement and acquisition processes and reduce the demand on recruiters to weed out incompatible candidates.

The fact is cultural transparency is on the rise among progressive employer brands. As Wade Burgess, LinkedIn’s VP of Talent Solutions, explores in his recent Fast Company article, brands such as Netflix, Starbucks and Gilead Sciences are doing much more than simply touting their cutting-edge perks and benefits; they’re showcasing actual business practices and employee initiatives that exemplify their culture and mission.

At Dell, for example, global talent manager Jennifer Newbill asked employees to express how they experience the company’s entrepreneurial spirit. Her request blossomed into a popular SlideShare presentation featuring real employees that has earned nearly a quarter-of-a-million views.

If you’re into numbers, here’s another showing just how crucial company culture is: 66% of HR managers who responded to a 2015 OfficeTeam survey cited poor cultural fit as the top reason people left their companies.

The LinkedIn and OfficeTeam surveys are vivid indicators that culture matters to candidates and employees alike—and it matters lot. It’s a huge factor in attracting new talent to our organizations, and it’s a key reason people are walking out the door.


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Here’s What Content Marketing Can Do for Your Sales in a Hurry

runner copyNot a helluva lot.

So why should you even give content marketing a second thought, particularly if you have limited marketing and sales resources? Because content marketing achieves something many other marketing tactics don’t: it builds your brand’s credibility.

Executed properly, content marketing assures audiences that your company has valuable expertise to share … that your brand is worthy of attention and interest … and that you have what it takes to be a good partner or vendor. Many other marketing tactics, by contrast, are shallow lead-ins to a sales pitch.

But make no mistake—good content (content that provides actionable, educational or strategic insights to your audience) requires a serious creative effort. And you need to produce a steady stream of it over time. That’s how you earn audiences’ trust and build brand credibility. There are no shortcuts.

Warp-Speed Marketing: A Fast Track to Nowhere
The simple truth is no marketing activities deliver instant sales gratification. Marketing and sales are processes. When we try to rush prospects through these processes at warp speed, we usually fail. That’s why content marketing has become such a tremendous force; marketers and business leaders have embraced the fact that investing time and effort into content pays off.

According to a recent report from Contently, 73% of organizations created more content in 2015 than they did the year before. And the Content Marketing Institute predicts that 76% of B2B marketers and 77% of B2C marketers intend to create more content this year than they did in 2015.

The reason so many companies are turning to content marketing is simple. It works. But it doesn’t work at warp speed. Content marketers don’t try to rush individuals from browsers to buyers in a flash.

Content marketing attracts audiences over time through a kind of gravitational pull. You draw in audiences who are naturally aligned with your organization and what it has to offer. The ideas, expertise and experiences you share via your content are all for the benefit of your audiences. Eventually they benefit your sales.

If the word “eventually” is a deal-breaker, then content marketing may not be for you. But I’m not sure what marketing tactic would be, in that case.

There’s one other thing to keep in mind when it comes to content marketing—a hidden gem, in my opinion. Great content doesn’t only attract buyers. It also draws potential employees, partners, investors and other audiences who are spiritually aligned with your company and its messages. Other marketing tactics simply don’t offer that benefit.

So if you’re looking for warp-speed results, look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in attracting audiences from all directions, the gravity of content marketing is a power you should harness.

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