HBR: A 5-Part Process for Using Technology to Improve Your Talent Management

“There is a lot of fear about the speed and scope of technological change, and it’s perhaps most acutely felt by the middle-management survivors of years of corporate layoffs. Fear does not make people more open to experimenting; rather it leads us to put all our energy and ingenuity toward protecting ourselves — and that is lethal for innovation. That’s why the critical task for leaders in a world in which machines will do more and more of their routine work is to enable a shift, from valuing being right, knowing the answers, or implementing top-down changes, to valuing dissent and debate, asking good questions, and iterating to learn.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Herminia Ibarra and Patrick Petitti:

A 5-Part Process for Using Technology to Improve Your Talent Management

At the law firm Allen & Overy, the idea of replacing traditional, annual performance appraisals with a technology-enabled continuous feedback system did not come from human resources. It came from a leader within the practice. Wanting something that encouraged more-frequent conversations between associates and partners, the senior lawyer read about what companies like Adobe were doing, and then asked his firm to help him create a new approach. When the new system, Compass, was rolled out to all 44 offices, the fact that it was born of a problem identified by internal staff helped accelerate the tool’s adoption across the firm.

In an era of transformative cognitive technologies like AI and machine learning, it’s become obvious that people, practices, and systems must become nimbler too. And because organizational change tends to be driven by those who most acutely feel the pain, it’s often line managers who are the strongest champions for “talent tech”: innovations in how firms hire people, staff projects, evaluate performance, and develop talent.

But as we have observed in our research, consulting work, and partnerships with dozens of Fortune 500 companies and top professional services firms, the transition to new and different ways of managing talent is often filled with challenges and unexpected hurdles. Gaining the most from talent tech, we find, depends on the adopting firm’s ability to confront, and ultimately reinvent, an often outdated system of interlocking processes, behaviors and mindsets. Much like putting a new sofa in the living room makes the rest of the décor look outdated, experimenting with new talent technologies creates an urgency for change in the rest of the organization’s practices.

While the jury is still out on the long-term impact of many of the talent tech experiments we have witnessed, we have observed five core lessons from those firms that seem to be positioning themselves most effectively to reap their benefits:

  1. Talent tech adoption must be driven by business leaders, not the C-suite or corporate functions.
  2. HR must be a partner and enabler — but not the owner.
  3. Fast-iteration methodologies are a prerequisite, because talent tech has to be tailored to specific business needs and company context and culture.
  4. Working with new technologies in new and nimbler ways creates the need for additional innovation in talent practices.
  5. The job of leaders shifts from mandating change to fostering a culture of learning and growth.

Let’s look at these one by one.

  1. Talent tech adoption must be owned and driven by business leaders.

Many business leaders we have spoken with have stressed: It’s not about the technology, it’s about solving a problem. It’s no surprise then, as we have observed, that talent tech projects have a greater likelihood of succeeding and scaling when they are driven by the business line — and not by top management or functional heads in HR or IT. Because operational managers are closer to the action, they have better insights into specific business challenges and customer pain points that can be addressed by new technologies.

As a VP charged with talent tech innovation at a large consumer products company told us: “We started our digital transformation top-down, creating a sense of urgency and cascading it down. Now it’s much more bottom-up because you have to experiment, you have to do things that are relevant in the field. The urgency has to come from inside the individual instead of top management.” The company organized a series of road shows that exposed high-potential managers to new developments in AI and enabled them to propose and run with projects of their own.

Putting responsibility for innovation in the hands of those who are closest to customers, and reducing layers of control and approval, increases the likelihood that the talent technologies will be fit for purpose. But for a generation of senior managers and functional heads raised on a steady diet of “visionary leadership,” this more adaptive approach does not always come naturally.

  1. HR must be a partner and enabler — but not the owner.

Not only are line managers closely connected to business imperatives, but they are also eager to move fast in technology adoption. They want to seize on the promise of AI, machine learning, and people analytics to improve business results and enhance their career prospects. But their priorities can conflict with other parts of the business.

At one of the companies we worked with, a young, ambitious manager experimented successfully with an on-demand talent platform for staffing employees on projects. But the experiment raised questions, for example, about what latitude bosses had in deciding who’d be allowed to take on extra projects and about whether performance on these extra projects could or should count toward an employee’s annual appraisal and compensation. HR was not involved early enough, was more attuned to the risks than the opportunities, and opposed scaling the project further. Only after a lot of stakeholder management and leadership intervention did the pilot get back on track.

The ramifications of reimagining work are far-reaching, necessitating talent strategies built on the ability to access the right people and skills at the right time and then put them to work in flexible ways for which they will be coached and rewarded. But if middle managers wind up caught in bureaucratic procedures and rule-enforcement mindsets, implementations will falter. That’s why getting buy-in from HR early in the process is so important — and necessary for scaling up when pilots yield promising results.

  1. Knowing how to use lean, self-managing team methodologies is a prerequisite.

Because AI-powered tools like on-demand talent platforms and project staffing algorithms are not simply “plug and play,” it can be helpful to use methods such as rapid prototyping, iterative feedback, customer-focused multidisciplinary teams, and task-centered “sprints” — the hallmarks of agile methodologies — to determine their usefulness.

For example, one large industrial company needed a better way to get people on cross-functional projects. Information about people’s skills and capabilities was dispersed across siloed business lines. Rather than attempting to build out a comprehensive system to identify and match employees across all the projects (and the silos), the company piloted the idea with only a few projects and a carefully selected pool of employees. Starting small allowed extremely fast learning and iteration, broader scaling, and more-complex uses of the system.

We have worked with a range of companies that are experimenting with technology platforms that catalogue projects that need doing, match project needs to skill supply, and then source appropriate talent. In each case, significant modifications were needed to adjust to specific requirements. And in most cases the data necessary to run the new systems existed in different formats residing in silos. Companies that lacked experience with lean methodologies had to be trained to operate as agile teams in order to define a specific use case for the technology. This learning curve is often the culprit behind implementation processes that take significantly longer than managers expect.

  1. Talent tech raises urgency for further talent innovation.

Much has been made of the scarcity of AI engineers, along with the fact that the precious few are quickly snapped up at huge salaries by the usual suspects — Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook. Beyond the hype, many firms are finding that they cannot hire the talent they need (because the top experts prefer to be free agents or already work for competitors) and that the skills and capacities they need evolve rapidly or are best sourced externally. These trends are fueling a strategic shift from acquiring talent to accessing talent on an as-needed contract basis; yet the cultural hurdles to staffing externally can be as, if not more, challenging than the technological ones.

One organization we worked with did not have a good mechanism in place for prioritizing the work requested of its shared internal consulting services. Its highly skilled consultants were responding on a first-come, first-served basis and fielding more demands than they could handle. Often they were also the wrong demands. When the team didn’t have the right people on the team for the work, they’d either do their best to complete it themselves or abandon it altogether. An analysis revealed that a good portion of the work could be better done externally by highly skilled contractors, and in fact the team could dramatically increase its ability to provide value across the organization if it could access a specific set of external expertise. But implementing the change was a challenge because the unit’s internal clients felt “safer” working with internal employees.

Once one part of the people system changes significantly, the pressure is on to change related processes. Companies that have shifted to more-agile ways of working have also found that they can no longer evaluate people once or twice a year on their ability to hit individual targets; they now need to look at how people perform as team members, on an ongoing basis. All of this is driving a shift from annual performance assessments to systems that provide feedback and coaching on a continuous basis, as firms ranging from Allen & Overy to Microsoft have found.

  1. Leaders must foster a culture of learning.

One CTO we spoke to tells a story about an AI project that “hit the wall” despite a sequence of green lights. “It was over-administered,” she explained. “We had specified detail into 2019.” As reality on the ground began to diverge from the plan, the people in charge of executing the plans failed to speak up and the project derailed. Without people who feel an “obligation to dissent,” she concluded, it’s hard to innovate.

Across industries and sectors, practitioners and academics seem to agree on one thing: Successfully piloting new technologies requires shifting from a traditional plan-and-implement approach to change to an experiment-and-learn approach. But experiment-and-learn approaches are by definition rife with opportunities for failure, embarrassment, and turf wars. Without parallel work by senior management to shift corporate cultures toward a learning mindset, change will inch along slowly if at all.

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took charge, for example, he saw that fear — and the corporate politics that resulted from it — was the biggest barrier to capturing leadership in cloud computing and mobility solutions. A convert to Carol Dweck’s idea of a growth mindset — the belief that talent is malleable and expandable with effort, practice, and input from others — he prioritized a shift from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” culture as a means to achieving business goals. Today, not only does Microsoft rank among the top firms in cloud computing, but the company is also “cool” again in the minds of the top engineering talent it needs to compete.

There is a lot of fear about the speed and scope of technological change, and it’s perhaps most acutely felt by the middle-management survivors of years of corporate layoffs. Fear does not make people more open to experimenting; rather it leads us to put all our energy and ingenuity toward protecting ourselves — and that is lethal for innovation. That’s why the critical task for leaders in a world in which machines will do more and more of their routine work is to enable a shift, from valuing being right, knowing the answers, or implementing top-down changes, to valuing dissent and debate, asking good questions, and iterating to learn.

 

Advertisements

HBR: Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

Most building supplier retailers do not have a formal HR department.  If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees. What is your company doing about sexual misconduct? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Karen Firestone:

Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

The subject of sexual misconduct at work is dominating mainstream conversation and board room agendas. This doesn’t just mean men and women who run large global enterprises, Fortune 500 behemoths, film studios, and media platforms. The conversation is happening in small businesses as well.

In the U.S. 43% of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people. It would be a mistake to think that a smaller workforce means a decreased chance of sexual harassment. In fact, a few characteristics make small firms more susceptible.

For example, at a smaller firm, people may engage with each other more frequently and that proximity can make the impact of any harassment feel disproportionately large. It can be extremely disruptive if two out of twenty employees suddenly can’t work together and need to be separated. And the legal and punitive costs of sexual harassment cases can feel steeper to a firm with less money and fewer resources.

Importantly, many small firms, especially those with fewer than 30 people, do not have a formal HR department. There is often not enough work to justify a full-time HR employee. The absence of HR means that CEOs must take more responsibility when it comes to keeping current with changing laws, and designing, communicating, and monitoring rules regarding workplace behavior. Another challenge is that without an HR department, more incidents might go unreported, since it may be easier for staff to talk to HR than the boss.

Managing all this is no easy feat for leaders who must also focus on running the business. At our firm of thirteen, the president and I, as CEO, handle all the hiring, compensation, performance, promotion reviews, and any personal matters that our staff brings to us. (Our business manager handles the rest of our “HR” functions like administering payroll, health insurance, and 401K enrollment issues.) Over the past thirteen years, I have brokered the reconciliation of some damaged relationships among colleagues, occasionally helping them through difficult medical and financial situations, and remained watchful for any unhappiness or anxiety. We have never had a sexual harassment complaint, but I’m on high alert for any signs, and I’m thinking more now about how to preempt them.

My CEO peers feel similarly. I surveyed 57 small business CEOs on how they were thinking about sexual harassment. Twenty-nine of these firms had fewer than 50 employees and 21 had no full time HR staff. Among the group, 30 had a written sexual harassment policy, 14 had held a company-wide meeting, and 10 had conducted a training session on the subject.

Two-thirds of the CEOs were male and the group ranged in age from 27 to 81. The majority (70%) said they are more worried now about sexual harassment affecting their business than they were a year ago. They attributed this heightened anxiety to the news focus on high profile cases and reverberations, rather than to any specific incident within their company.

They worried that allegations of inappropriate behavior would damage their office culture, but they were also concerned that hiring a consultant for a day-long training session might be costly, redundant, ineffective, and cause tension about the reasoning behind such action. They were also nervous that the absence of a clearly written harassment policy could hurt both recruiting and the firm’s reputation.

Despite the lack of organized meetings or programs, they seem to be trying to create a constructive workplace culture: 20 of them acknowledged that they are more aware of their own behavior today than in the past, and 16 said that they encouraged their colleagues to come to them directly with any issues or complaints.

Small businesses do not need HR to root out and prevent sexual harassment. But leaders need to 1) be conscious of the factors that lead to a toxic work culture, such as having a predominantly male executive staff, layers of hierarchy in power within the organization, and indifferent responses to previous allegations; 2) establish clear policies outlining what constitutes sexual harassment, which behaviors will not be tolerated, and what employees should do if they see or experience misconduct; and 3) enforce these rules by designating clear roles for people within the organization. At my company I have told everyone they should come to me or my second in command immediately with any complaint. Should this ever happen, I would try to understand the incident by interviewing everyone involved, and I would likely ask the alleged harasser to take a leave until we understood the entire situation. Then I’d try to resolve the problem internally. If that was impossible, we would seek outside counsel.

So far, it’s not a dilemma I’ve had to face. Over a decade ago, we wrote up a sexual harassment policy that strongly denounced any form of sexual harassment. These included physical, verbal, or implied requests for sexual favors; inappropriate jokes and gestures; and intimidating behavior. It also offered directions about reporting that misconduct. Each year we revise this, recirculate it, and have every employee sign it. We continue to discuss this policy at company-wide meetings, including one recently, following all the recent news stories on the subject. At that session, I asked everyone if we should do anything else, such as hold a sexual harassment training session; no one believed that necessary.

Since we have no HR department, we tell employees that should they experience sexual harassment, they need to come forward, at some point, to one of the top managers. We know that this won’t happen if they don’t trust us and feel that we care about their well being. To foster this kind of trust, I talk to my colleagues every day when I see them, make sure people are included in any discussions around their work, and ask them questions about their assignments and contributions. This may sound trite, but these actions will generate more trust than merely telling people to come forward with a harassment charge.

Every CEO of a small company has concurrent goals of growing into a highly profitable business and creating a vibrant and desirable office environment. If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees, and face high financial, reputational, and energy-sapping costs of dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. The main way small businesses can prevent sexual harassment is to establish the right internal culture, which means paying more attention to the example you set. The well-being of your company could be at stake.

HBR: How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Are you providing yours directs’ feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop their growth?  Are you having a conversation about expectations? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by David Burkus:

How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Providing employees feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop is one of a manager’s most important tasks. As important as it is, however, it can often get pushed down pretty far on the to-do list. Many leaders face a swarm of pressing deadlines; moreover, feedback conversations can be awkward. Even the preparation for such conversations can make managers feel stressed. It’s easy to fall back on the annual performance review to make sure at least one conversation happens. It’s no wonder many employees report getting no other feedback throughout the year.

But giving regular feedback on performance doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are a few relatively simple formats or templates to help guide the conversation and ensure the discussion is meaningful (and hopefully more frequent than once a year).

One of the best examples I’ve noticed is at Adobe, a company that became notable recently for ditching their performance appraisals and replacing them with informal “check-in” conversations. But, as we’ll see, their framework for a check-in conversation works well for any situation where relevant and valuable feedback is the goal.

For Adobe, a good check-in centers around three elements of discussion: expectations, feedback, and growth and development. When each of these areas have been discussed, then managers and subordinates know they’ve had a meaningful conversation.

  1. Expectations refer to the setting, tracking, and reviewing of clear objectives. In addition, expectations also mean that both parties agree on roles and responsibilities for the objective, and also are aligned in how success will be defined. For Adobe, employees were expected to begin the year with a simple, one-page document outlining the year’s objectives in writing. Regular check-ins became opportunities to monitor progress toward those goals and well as review how relevant they might still be in light of recent events. Regardless of what your own team may start the year understanding, taking the time to regularly review what the goals are, how close individuals are to achieving them, and whether or not those goals need to be changed is a vital step in making sure you arrive at the end of the year (or whatever cycle goals are measured by) with everyone in agreement about how successful a period it has been.
  1. Feedback refers to ongoing, reciprocal coaching on a regular basis. Feedback is the logical next step from a discussion about expectations. Once the goals are clear, and how close to meeting them is established, feedback is how employees learn to improve performance and more quickly achieve their goals. For Adobe, it was important to emphasis the reciprocal nature of feedback. Managers were providing performance feedback but also needed to be open to receiving feedback themselves. Specifically, feedback conversations provided answers to two questions: 1) “What does this person do well that makes them effective?” and 2) “What is one thing, looking forward, they could change or do more of that would make them more effective?”
  1. Growth and Development, the final element, refers to the growth in knowledge, skills, and abilities that would help employees perform better in their current role, but also to making sure that managers understood each of their employees’ long-term goals or career growth and worked to align those goals with current objectives and opportunities. Instead of a simple “year in review” approach, inclusion of growth and development as one element of a “Check-In” ensures that the conversation is centered on future development of employees … not just arriving at a score for the previous period. A vital part of making check-ins successful was not just the forward-looking nature, but also the frequency. If you’re checking-in regularly than it’s much easier for both managers and employees so see progress.

And that final piece might be the key to why check-ins work so well. Researchers Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School and Steve Kramer conducted a multi-year tracking study in which hundreds of knowledge workers were asked to keep a daily diary of activities, emotions, and motivation levels. When they analyzed the results, the pair found that progress was the most important motivator across the board. “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” they wrote of their findings. “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.” Surprisingly, however, in a separate study of 600 managers, Amabile and Kramer found that managers tended to assume progress was the least potent motivator — citing things like recognition and incentives as stronger motivators.

Looking at the three-elements of a meaningful check-in, it’s easy to see why the system would be more motivating and performance enhancing than the norm. While most performance appraisal systems are backward looking, assigning what is essentially a grade to past performance and spending only minimal time focused on the future, this format centers around highlighting the progress made and the skills and abilities needed to make further progress. Both are mechanisms to provide feedback, but one appears far more motivating.

 

Perhaps most importantly, the beauty of a check-in conversation is that it doesn’t automatically mean abandoning all of the other mechanisms required by your organization. Well-intentioned managers can start holding check-ins with or without an overhaul to the performance management system being used. At its core, it’s a helpful tool for having a more meaningful conversation… and using it regularly might even make the annual performance review discussion more meaningful as well. If you’re looking for a way to provide more meaningful feedback and better develop the people on your team, talking about these three things (expectations, feedback, growth and development) is a great start.

BoF: The Business of Love and Passion 

Are you in the people business? Below is a blog from the Brains on Fire:

The Business of Love and Passion 

At Brains on Fire we believe with all our hearts and souls, it is possible to fall madly and passionately in love with the people you serve. And we believe that it’s possible for those folks to fall in love with you, too; and, yes, for you to become famous and grow your organization because of that love.

That’s exactly what we’ve done to grow our own business over the years. Not only have we fallen in love with our customers, we received the permission and indeed the honor to get to know and care for our customers’ customers. It’s our role as marketing matchmakers to help connect our customers with their employees and customers through shared passions.

Every business owner should be wildly romantic and passionate about your advocates; the employees and customers who help fuel your success.

What does it take to fall in love with your advocates, the customers and employees who are ready, willing and happy to fall in love with you? Start by following these Passion Principles.

  1. Love people. Never leverage people.
    We hate it when we hear companies talk about leveraging fans to tell their story. Think about it: Do you really use people you care about? Absolutely not. You listen to them. You get close to them. You see them frequently. You want to be a meaningful part of their life. You inspire them and in return, they inspire you.

If you want people to be in love with you and talk about you, you must fall in love with them first. Your clients, customers, donors, tribe, employees, advocates—what you call them doesn’t really matter—can and should become beloved heroes in your organizations.

  1. Love takes patience.
    For real and lasting relationships to take hold, you have to be in it for the long haul and not for a one-night stand (perhaps the marketing equivalent of a one-time purchase).

Loving your customers is not something you do for a limited amount of time. It’s something you do every single day. And the value of that effort grows exponentially stronger and deeper with time.

  1. Get people to talk about themselves.
    The passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves. Encourage others talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes and their dreams. Create platforms, online and offline, for the people you serve to share their own stories. Give them opportunities to talk and be willing to listen.

At Brains on Fire, we no longer consider ourselves to be in the marketing business. Instead, we’re in the people business. This makes sense for us because marketing nowadays is more about reframing the work you do in the world to inspire your employees and customers. The most successful word-of-mouth–driven businesses in the world have always been in the business of inspiring people.

Good stuff happens when you’re in the people business. We promise.

 

HBR: Build a Great Company Culture with Help from Technology

Are you making sure employees are challenged, motivated, engaged, and know that they are contributing to the overall success of the company? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ashley Goldsmith and Leighanne Levensaler

Build a Great Company Culture with Help from Technology

Culture, and how to build and sustain one, is one of the toughest challenges for managers, especially in today’s fast-paced, highly competitive organizations. Every organization wants to create a culture that works from a set of core values, where everybody is on the same page about what’s important, where the company is going, and how it’s going to get there. But what happens when the external competitive environment — and the direction of the company — changes? And what happens as advances in technology constantly change how customers and employees expect to interact with your company? How do you manage the evolution of your company’s culture, and hold on to what makes you great, even as you change and grow?

Here at Workday, these questions have been central to our existence from day one. We were founded in 2005, and our cofounders, Aneel Bhusri and Dave Duffield who were both already highly successful entrepreneurs, understood that any successful culture would be built on a core set of values. For us, those values are employees, customer service, integrity, innovation, fun, and profitability. We are certain that our high customer satisfaction ratings and top spot on many best-place-to-work lists come from our early recognition that culture permeates every sales call, every employee interaction, and every product innovation.

As a provider of cloud-based finance and HR applications designed to help companies change and grow, our customers rightly expect us to lead by example. At the same time, we listen closely to our customers’ business challenges and successes — which in turn helps us change and grow.

While we hold on tightly to our core values, we strive to keep evolving our culture to meet the changing needs of our employees and customers. Perhaps not too surprisingly, technology plays a central role (after all, we’re a technology company). But if you asked most people to list the things that create and maintain a strong company culture, chances are they wouldn’t list technology. We’ve found that you can’t create a culture just through values, new processes, or an organizational restructure. Those things are necessary, but we like to think of values as the beating heart of culture, processes and organizational structure as the brain, and technology as the nervous system that makes sure heart and head are working together to move us forward.

For us, giving our people tools that empower them to work how they want to work — in everything from finding their next career opportunity, to hiring their next employee, to making data-driven day-to-day business decisions — is critical to holding on to the integrity of our culture in a fast-changing environment. This culture of empowerment has helped keep the company true to the core values on which we were originally founded. Here are the main components of that culture, and how they work:

Democratization of information. In their personal lives, people have become accustomed to having access to any piece of information they want at a moment’s notice. This hasn’t always been the case in the workplace. Data was usually kept in the hands of a select few, and extracting and using that data in a meaningful way was a long, painful process. But modern enterprise technologies and applications are pushing access to data and information to the front lines.

One area we see this playing out is within our own HR organization. At Workday, managers don’t have to spend valuable time with HR discussing headcount or status updates on new job openings — they already have this information at their fingertips. Instead, managers can spend their time with HR talking about how to get top performers to the next level, keep people who are at risk of leaving the organization, and align workers to meet business objectives. They can focus on creating value for the business by mobilizing talent.

Another area where this plays out is in hiring. When it comes to recruiting for fast-growing companies, talent acquisition needs to be efficient without sacrificing quality. Our managers can see all interview, resume, and references information in one place from any device, anywhere. Whether sitting on a plane or walking between meetings, a manager can immediately see the hiring team’s feedback and decide whether to move a candidate forward with a tap of their phone.

It’s good for any company to be able to make faster decisions based on immediate access to data, but it’s also good for the candidate — no repeated requests for a resume or work samples, no making them wait longer than necessary for news about next steps. And, with the race for top talent, speed-to-hire is crucial. And this says something to a candidate about our culture right from the start: We move quickly and we respect your time.

This democratization of information also enables greater transparency, which is critical to sustaining a positive culture. For example, we conduct online chat sessions that provide employees with the opportunity to ask our top executives whatever questions are on their minds. This is done in the spirit of keeping employees informed and is at the center of everything we do.

Culture of opportunity. Another area we’re passionate about is creating what we call a culture of opportunity. We’re not about stringent policies or old-fashioned career paths. We’re about being transparent about new positions and opportunities that exist within the organization and then providing the tools and information our people need to pursue them.

For example, we are rolling out a tool that will give employees a personalized view of positions within Workday that are a good fit for them based on the actual movement and success of other employees who held similar positions. Besides a real-time glimpse into the vitality of the company and how it’s evolving, it’s an employee-centric view of possible career paths.

An employee can not only see what moves others have made, they can also reach out and connect to those specific individuals to talk with them about their experience. With a tap you can introduce yourself to set up time to connect or simply ask a question.

And as mentioned earlier, we listen to and learn from customers. Adobe, for example, often “pulses” its employees to get quick feedback on their experience. We were inspired by this approach when we built a tool that we use to ask one or two simple questions that can be answered via any device in a few seconds such as, “Has your manager talked to you about your career goals in the last month?” Our aim is to quickly and easily capture employee sentiment so that we can calibrate our efforts to reinforce our culture.

Performance enablement. For us, performance enablement is an evolution of the traditional performance management process that stresses regular, ongoing feedback, and takes an employee-centric approach to helping our people thrive. Several of our customers, like Ellie Mae, are passionate about this approach as well and have set a great example to follow.

Measuring an employee’s impact is more efficient and ultimately more effective thanks to tools and technology that allow us to regularly capture and aggregate real-time information.

The annual review process at some companies is not very transparent — and, there can be demoralizing surprises. It can also be demoralizing to only receive feedback once or twice a year. We now expect managers to have regular check-ins with their direct hires, ideally on a bi-weekly basis.

It doesn’t make sense to only flag areas for improvement once a year, and more often than not, an early course correction heads off bigger issues. By the same token, there are many positive behaviors, such as suggestions for process improvement or innovation, which might not get immediate feedback in a more traditional environment that are important to encourage.

From a manager’s point of view, regular check-ins give more visibility into not just their team, but how their workers are interacting with other parts of the organization.

In the end, our goal is to hire and retain the best people in order to provide the best service to our customers. To do this, we need to keep our employees happy, make sure they are challenged, motivated, and engaged, and know that they are contributing to the overall success of the company. We want to keep learning, adapting, and listening to our people as we grow. We know that technology is most effective when it’s designed to support and encourage the behaviors and processes that lead to innovation — and we believe that this is what will continue to foster our great company culture.

 

Do I Have an Opportunity to Do What I Do Best Every Day?

I read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton many years ago. I was listening to a podcast about managing your directs’. The podcast talked about developing your directs’ strengths. It mentions this book, so I pulled it off the shelf. Below is excerpt from the book about opportunities.

The more you ponder the question “At work, do I have an opportunity to do what I do best every day?” the more Now Discover Your Strengthscomplex it becomes. There are many reasons that a particular employee in a particular role might say no. He might genuinely feel that he lacks the talent to do the job. Or perhaps he possesses the talent, but the organization has overlegislated the role so that he has no chance to express his talents. Perhaps he feels he has the talents and room to use them but not the necessary skills or knowledge. Perhaps objectively he is perfectly cast, but subjectively he feels he has much more to offer. Perhaps he is right, or perhaps he is deluding himself as to where his true strengths lie. Perhaps he was perfectly cast in his previous role but was promoted into the wrong role because the organization couldn’t think of any other way to reward him. Perhaps the organization sends signals that it is a “pass-through” role, and thus no self-respecting employee will ever say he is well cast in it even if he knows he is.

At first glance this complexity can be overwhelming. To address all these possibilities and thus ensure that your employees say “strongly agree” to the question, you would have to attend to many different aspects of each employee’s working life. To address his fear that he lacks the talent for the role, you would have to be careful to select people who seem to possess talents similar to your best incumbents in the role. To avoid the overlegislation problem, you would have to hold him accountable for his performance but not define, step by step, how he should achieve the desired performance. To overcome his fear that he lacks the necessary skills and knowledge, you would have to construct coaching programs that help him develop his talents into genuine strengths. To address the “delusion” issue you would have to devise a way to have every manager help each employee discover and appreciate his true strengths. To avoid the “overpromotion” problem you would have to provide him with alternative ways to grow in money and title other than simply climbing the corporate ladder. And, finally, to deal with his perception that he is in a “pass-through” role, you would have to send the message that no role is by definition a pass-through role. Any role performed at excellence is genuinely respected within the organization.

Listed back to back like this, the challenges associated with building an entire organization around the strengths of each employee appear almost incoherent, “try a bit of this, do a bit of that.” But dwell on them for a moment, and you may soon realize that all these challenges cohere around two core assumptions about people:

1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.

2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of the person’s greatest strength.

As you can see, we have come full circle. We presented these assumptions earlier as insights into human nature that all great managers seem to share. What we are saying now is that as long as everything you do is founded on these two core assumptions, you will successfully address the many challenges contained in the question “At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?” You will build an entire organization around the strengths of each employee. Why? Let’s play out these two assumptions and see where they lead:

  • Since each person’s talents are enduring, you should spend a great deal of time and money selecting people properly in the first place. This will help mitigate the “I don’t think I have the right talent for the role” problem.
  • Since each person’s talents are unique, you should focus performance by legislating outcomes rather than forcing each person into a stylistic mold. This means a strong emphasis on careful measurement of the right outcomes, and less on policies, procedures, and competencies. This will address the “in my role I don’t have any room to express my talents” problem.
  • Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his “skill gaps.” You will find that this one shift in emphasis will pay huge dividends. In one fell swoop you will sidestep three potential pitfalls to building a strengths-based organization: the “I don’t have the skills and knowledge I need” problem, the “I don’t know what I’m best at” problem, and the “my manager doesn’t know what I’m best at” problem.
  • Lastly, since the greatest room for each person’s growth lies in his areas of greatest strength, you should devise ways to help each person grow his career without necessarily promoting him up the corporate ladder and out of his areas of strength. In this organization “promotion” will mean finding ways to give prestige, respect, and financial reward to anyone who has achieved world-class performance in any role, no. matter where that role is in the hierarchy. By doing so you will overcome the remaining two obstacles to building a strengths-based organization: the “even though I’m now in the wrong role, it was the only way to grow my career” problem and the “I’m in a pass-through role that no one respects” problem.

These four steps represent a systematic process for maximizing the value locked up in your human capital. In the pages that follow we flesh out this process. We offer you a practical guide for how to use those two core assumptions to change the way you select, measure, develop, and channel the careers of your people. Needless to say the individual manager will always be a critical catalyst in transforming each employee’s talents into bona fide strengths; consequently, much of the responsibility will lie with the manager to select for talent, set clear expectations, focus on strengths, and develop each employee’s career. Taking the ideas found in First, Break All the Rules a step further, however, we have aimed this practical guide at the challenges facing larger organizations as they strive to capitalize on the strengths of every employee.