Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Author: Harrison Withers (page 1 of 6)

Integration, Experience, and Discovery

A few years ago I became aware of a guy in Portland Oregon, named Tor Clausen who owns a company called Musical Furnishings (www.musical It seems this gentleman had the brilliant idea that furniture, while remaining functional as furniture, could also serve as entertainment and as a tool for creativity. He designed a series of tables, benches and chests that also can be used as percussion instruments. This takes the form of various drums or xylophone type instruments.

I’ve been a musician most of my life, which is almost embarrassing to claim since my playing ability nowhere matches the amount of time I have spent practicing or just fooling around for the pure joy of it. But the one thing that I have never been any good at all is percussion. Despite having reasonable time while playing other instruments, I can’t carry a beat even if it has a handle. I have little creativity when it comes to hearing drum beats and clapping can sometimes even be a challenge.

Regardless of my obvious and self-admitted lack of talent in all things percussion, I could never get the concept of a musical table out of my head. Just the idea of having a musical experience integrated into something as common as a coffee table, is just so appealing to me. The context that it presents is so attractive that I couldn’t imagine putting down my coffee cup or the remote without a couple quick taps.

Luckily for me, the kind folks at Media1 picked up on my intrigue for these musical tables, and for my 10th anniversary this last January, they gave me a gift certificate for one of my very own. I got to work with Tor Clausen on the types of drums and size of the table as well as the finishes. A few weeks later, I’m the proud owner of my very own musical table.

Now I don’t expect that suddenly I am going to become an amazing percussionist, but I do expect, that I will get better. If I had a drum in my music room, I would probably never play it; instead I would choose to pick up my favorite guitar or mandolin, but the coffee table in my living room? How can I not walk by and try a little beat? It’s integrated into my everyday life and it has a presence that will be hard to ignore.

All of this got me thinking, can we create better leaders by making sure that the opportunity to be a better leader is ever-present? How can we make professional development as irresistible as playable furniture?

Harrison Plays his Rumba Table

HR Analytics: Find the Why

WhyRecently I’ve come across two studies that have been rather critical of the current state of HR Analytics. A recent study by LFR Inc. Human Resources Research Report ( reports only 13% cited Big Data and Talent Analytics as important. While a Bersin By Deliotte study ( found: “86 percent of companies say they have no analytics capabilities in the HR function. Moreover, 67 percent rate themselves as ‘weak’ at using HR data to predict workforce performance and improvement.”

This got me thinking, If Big Data is so important to HR, why aren’t they paying attention?
The operative word here is “why”.

Turns out, I could think of lots of barriers without too much trouble:
• Lack of expectation
• Low skill on analytical practices
• No capacity for analysis
• Immature tools sets with unreliable data
• Lack of process around analytics
• No incentive or motivation
Think about which if any of these things are true in your organization, and I would guess you’ll find at least two that resonate.

Truth is we don’t — and can’t – “do analytics” just because it’s trendy; we have to find business reasons that make sense. With very rare exception, being good at analytics is not a product or service that our company sells; it’s not our core competency. Yet, it’s hard to deny that analytics are critical to determining the effectiveness of the things we work to improve.

“What gets measured, gets done” is backwards. It’s consequence driven. In an accountable, incentivized- culture, Measurement is what tells us the effect of our efforts. The “why” in what we measure has to be integrated into the initiative and has to align with strategic business goals.

According to the annual CEO Challenge study by The Conference Board (, the #2 concern of CEOs in the US is Human Capital, with the following initiatives being top priority:
1. Raise employee engagement
2. Provide employee training and development
3. Enhance effectiveness of the senior management team
4. Improve performance management processes and accountability
5. Increase efforts to retain critical talent

Nowhere on that list is “Get better at Big Data and HR.” Yet the need for analytics is clearly present and critical to the success of each of the initiatives. Regardless of the strategy to move the bar on any of these initiatives, you’re throwing money into a black hole if you can’t find a meaningful way of measuring results.

The classic argument against integrated analytics is that sometimes you don’t need the number to tell you to do the right thing. That’s honestly a legitimate truth in a lot of cases. However, let’s imagine for a moment, that you’ve made great strides on an initiative and made real progress. The next thing to do may not be so obvious, and not having any measurements from the past is going to hurt your ability to make good decisions moving forward. It may not be today, but eventually having good analytics is going to be important.

Low analytics maturity in HR may be an indicator that we are currently focusing on initiatives that have more obvious immediate benefits, but that will quickly change. It behooves all of us to find some legitimate “why” to start improving our analytics practices. The tools may get better over time, but the discipline is never going to get any easier than it is today.

Measure Twice, Cut Once the SlideShare

I wrote a blog a little while back that was a crossover between my one of my personal hobbies, guitar building, and my profession, business consulting around people. When I initially wrote the blog, I had quite a few pictures and it didn’t translate into the blog format very well. With this version, I have all the pictures and a fraction of the words. Let me know which you prefer. The blog can be found here.

58 Quotes, Facts, Benchmarks, and Best Practices on People and Analytics

For the last 18 months, the consulting team at Media 1 has read tens of thousands of pages of research, presentations, and white papers on analytics as it relates to people and performance. When we came across especially interesting content, we added it to a master list of resources. The following 58 Quotes, Facts, Benchmarks, and Best Practices on People and Analytics where curated from that list in the hopes that people will use them in support of creating great places to work.

Why Creating a Sense of Urgency Is a Terrible Idea

Several times in the last few weeks, someone has told me that I have to “create a sense of urgency” in the context of change management. Typically this was said within a sentence or two of also telling me I needed to be “open” and “transparent.” It occurred to me somewhere along the way that creating a sense of urgency is the worst kind of cliché. Management experts have been saying it instinctively for years without actually thinking about what it means. It’s like when the doctor hits your knee with that little hammer, and you have no choice but to kick.

Got a change management issue?

Create a sense of urgency.

Let’s break it down a little to illustrate my point.

Create – We create solutions, ideas, art, fiction, but in the context of change management, what is it really we are trying to create? If you’re trying to get people to help create a solution, you really should engage them well before the need for a sense of urgency. If your change is really at the point where you’ve thought it through and can prove it’s the right thing to do, then what you need to do is communicate, not create.

Sense – Sense is a vague word that alludes to a feeling. It’s that little tingle at back your throat that gives you the “sense” that you may be quite possibly may in fact be getting a slight cold, or maybe you just need a drink of water. The problem here is the interpretation of what it is you were trying to create is highly dependent on how in touch the receiver of the message is with his or her feelings. There’s nothing concrete about it. What you really meant to say is that there is an expectation that you want to set. Expectation clearly states there is a specific action, behavior, or thought pattern (gasp) that you will follow.

Urgency –Urgency is not as vague as the word “sense,” but it also implies a personal interpretation. The fact that something is urgent does not necessarily mean it’s important. If you think of it in a time management context, Stephen Covey, came up with a great visual matrix in First Things First:

Covey matrix showing urgency juxtaposed with importance

Urgency juxtaposed with importance

Truth is that change may not be urgent at all, but that doesn’t make it any less important. With any change, lasting effects occur only when the change is important to the business and the individual. That’s the point—that it’s important—not the timetable.

Without specificity, human beings tend to be quite literal. I don’t think it much of a stretch that:

Create a Sense of Urgency

Is translated as:

A fictional account that will make me feel uneasy and that I need to take care of immediately, but that probably isn’t important.

If we really take our own medicine and are changing the way we think about people in our organizations, we’ll see that they deserve far more than a tired, irrelevant cliché. What we all need for today and lasting change is to communicate an expectation and explain the importance. Make a new cliché if you must, but let go of language that is misleading and vague.

Thoughts from Performance Excellence Week 2014 (PEX)

IMG_20140120_172747_378Having just returned from a few days at PEX Week 2014, I would like to share a few of my thoughts. This will not be a blow-by-blow recap, but rather an attempt to collect my thoughts into a set of themes and takeaways that I left the conference with.

Visually, I was struck at this conference by how many people were wearing suit and tie, buttoned-down business wear. I know that seems like a shallow impression to lead with, but I think it speaks to how seriously people who are engaged with process excellence take themselves and their craft. I admire the pride, but I can’t help feeling that particular display is getting a bit dated.

There was a tremendous focus from the vendor community on tools and software for the process mapping or process tracking standpoint. As a first time attendee of the conference, I was impressed with the functionality of many of the tools, but as someone who is also interested in usability and user experience, there were some really abhorrent interfaces and design schemes.

I believe that some aspects of the software design reflect a continued undervaluation of the people side of process improvement. While black belt and green belt professionals are the primary architects of process improvement, the vast majority of the users of those processes are blissfully unaware of the intricacies of continuous improvement and the language it uses to describe itself. We must never lose sight that even when we seek automation, the human aspect of change is still our ultimate goal. As Brad Power said in his keynote on the first day of the conference: “Build people first, get results second.”

The truth is that if you don’t build people first, you will still get results; they just won’t be the results you were looking for.

Another theme that I noticed was that technology driven disruptors continue to affect process excellence and improvement. Mobile, Social, Cloud, and Big Data technologies are all causing many to reevaluate some long-held and stable processes. However, it is up to us to look at these disruptors as either threats or opportunities. Some process can still be leveraged through continuous improvement, while others are disrupted to the point where we really should start over.

My primary interest in attending PEX was to network and get a sense of where companies are with process improvement as it relates to people and more specifically, traditional “HR” roles.  As I talked to people, I got a lot of reactions that HR was “really broken” and I saw a lot of light bulbs go off that HR could really use a process improvement touch.

One of the best sessions of the entire conference for me was Christina Gasperino from Cott Beverages, who spoke about HR service Delivery transformation. She’s doing at Cott what I had hoped to see more companies doing—a series of people- and process-centric improvement projects aimed at bettering employee’s experiences with service delivery and reducing cost and waste at the same time.

Process improvement in the HR space is clearly something most companies have a large potential to benefit from. While there weren’t a lot of HR practitioners present, I don’t think the topic should be out of bounds for anyone who is focused on the betterment of their business through process excellence.

3 Ways People Analytics Go Beyond Talent Acquisition

The Atlantic – They’re Watching You Work

Last week The Atlantic published “They’re Watching You at Work.” by Don Peck. It’s a catchy title that implies that your employer is spying on you, watching your every move. But the subtitle is much more Insightful: “What happens when Big Data meets human resources?” The result is probably the most complete look at people people analyticsanalytics that’s been published today. The article paints an excellent picture of how analytics can help in the Talent Management process, especially in helping identify potential and overcome bias. It also features some very good examples where people analytics were applied with a positive result. The article is not brief, but it is worthy of your time.

What Happens After Talent Aquistion and How Can People Analytics Help?

Most of the article deals with the Talent Acquisition portion of the Talent Management cycle. As you read the article, consider this: What if we do use people analytics and we recruit the best people with the highest statistical potential, but then the one of these three things happens?

  1. They don’t accept the job
  2. They fail to meet business metrics
  3. They leave (when you don’t want them to)

How can Big Data help human resources if any of those three things happen? The truth is that Big Data still can help quite a bit, but we have to develop and push how people analytics can help us all the way through the talent management and the career cycle.

Examine the first proposition, “They don’t accept the job.” It may be that the person was the right fit for you, but you may not be the right fit for them. This happens to some extent today, but as people analytics becomes more open and transparent, the door will swing both ways. As you gain more insight into your candidates, people will increasingly gain more insight into your company. The companies that will thrive over time will use analytics to look at themselves and make changes so their top picks return the love.

What about the second proposition: “They fail to meet business metrics”? In that case, the first thing you have to consider is whether you hired the right person but for the wrong job. And by that we mean;

Does the design of the position actually take advantage of the strengths your data supported recruiting hired for?

People Analytics can tell us a lot, not only about that person, but also whether or not our business process and job design actually allow people to succeed and thrive. What good is hiring for a behavioral attribute if the person you put that position in only gets to exercise that muscle on rare occasions?

Finally, imagine if we do use great people analytics as part of our talent acquisition strategy. We save a lot of money by hiring the right person and realize greater profit by having high performance, but then that person quits? We will have spent more on acquisition, and the loss realized from attrition of a high performer is huge. People Analytics can and must help us predict—and ideally prevent or reduce—high-cost turnover.

The bottom line is that People Analytics will have a huge impact on HR well beyond Talent Acquisition. In fact, if we only pay attention to the acquisition side of the equation, it will actually expose shortcomings in other areas of the employee life cycle. A balanced approach to the use of analytics is the right course to take.

Return On People: Why It’s Good for Employees

We all understand from a business perspective the concept of getting returns. We spend dollars in order to make more dollars. However, as an employee of a business sometimes the concept of “returns” gets a little cloudier. Sure, we all earn a paycheck but sometimes it’s hard to see in the “here and now” how helping our organization makes more, benefits us and it rarely shows immediate returns in our paycheck. So when we talk about “Return On People”, it’s really easy for employees to relate that concept with just another way for employers to make more money off harder work, more hours, or fewer benefits.

As much as adopting a Return On People mindset is about making more back from your investments in people, it doesn’t work if those people can’t see or don’t understand where they fit in, or what they will get out of it.

A huge component of getting better Returns on People is increasing the amount of time spent on activities that generate profit, as well as decreasing or eliminating activities that have no measurable, or even a negative impact (more cost), on profitability. While the benefits to the employer of better job design are obvious, the net effect for employees is better, more meaningful jobs.

If you asked one of your employees how much time they spent doing actual work in a day (and they answered honestly), what would they say?

It is safe to say the answer would be less than you would like, but the real challenge is identifying what they did with the remaining time and why they didn’t consider it “real” work. Chances are at least some of the time is doing activities that is a requirement of their job that they just don’t see value in.

We all want employees that are engaged with work. It’s much easier to get that level of engagement when the majority of the time spent at work is on activities that have meaningful outcomes and align with that individual’s skill sets. It creates an atmosphere of value. It says to the employee that you value what they are good at far more than the activities that don’t produce returns. You have involved them in something larger than just themselves, and have shown the relationship between work and the success of the company.

Conversely, if we treat employees as costs and draw direct-line relationships between that cost and productivity, that productivity will be limited to the spend associated with it. If they don’t see you trying to make meaningful work for them, your get just what you paid for, labor in exchange for money.

Paying attention to Return On People isn’t just the right thing to do for your business, it’s the right thing to do for your people.

Measurement and Trust for HR (2013 Remix)

Back in 2011 I wrote series of articles on measurement that focused in performance-based measurement for training professionals. At the time, Media 1 was focused in on the transformation of the training function to a performance mindset. In subsequent years, we’ve reframed that performance mindset for the HR professional. The following is an update on my thoughts from the original post.

Far be it for me to hold back on how I really feel about something. So, here goes:

Measuring HR as a justification for HR is an utter waste of time.

It’s like giving style points to the 50-yard dash. It may be interesting, but the only thing that matters is who crossed the finish line first. In other words, the performance or result mattered; the style in which it was achieved is barely noteworthy. Yet, when you measure HR in and of itself, that’s exactly what is happening.

I think Charles H. Green hits it on the head with this quote from his blog:

“The ubiquity of measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure.”

Why do we keep using measures instead of actual performance as justification to ourselves and our organizations? The answer to that question in many cases is rooted in why we are asked to measure HR in the first place… that is, to prove that it has some kind of meaningful, measurable impact on the organization’s results.

Many of our organizations do not believe that HR as it is currently defined contributes to profitability. Or they do not trust that you or your immediate organization can execute HR in an impactful way. The requirement for measurement comes from a place of distrust—not from a defined need to measure results. Consequently, measurement is demanded to “prove” HR has value. Trust is not impacted or improved through this exercise, but regardless, time and effort is spent generating measurements that don’t really tell us anything about the business.

It is not my intent to write a primer on the effects of trust in business. I think Stephen M.R. Covey has done a good job with that in his book the Speed of Trust and the follow-up Smart Trust. The point is that a lack of trust affects our relationships and results in demands for measurements based on volume that are intended to justify the existence of HR in an organization. It’s a closed loop with no obvious business value. That’s why old-school HR departments are usually viewed as a cost centers, not as a strategic business partners or even a source of predictive intelligence.

So how do we as HR professionals earn trust and show that HR can be a source or profitability within the enterprise?

In short we have to make the paradigm shift into measurements that help the business make better, faster decisions based on the analytics of human performance. When business sees we are measuring things that concern them and aren’t self-serving, then that’s a great first step in assuring the business that we’re all in this together.

What to Measure First, Key Performance Indicators for Supporting the Business Case

It’s easy enough to come up with meaningful HR generated data that should be meaningful to business stakeholders.  After all who wouldn’t want to know revenue and/or profit by FTE, loaded costs by function, or engagement levels? The problem is that those measures while valuable may not align to what is most important right now. The first step in aligning the measurement of HR to the needs of the business is to align to corporate goals and initiatives. From there we should be able to identify specific measurements or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) when building the case for an initiative.

Resist the temptation to use measures based and volume and time alone. These metrics generally serve as justification indicators, but fall short of a true performance benchmark.  Good KPI’s rely on multiple sources of data that allow for calculating true costs and profitability. At minimum good KPIs support direct correlation to cost and profitability.

Once your KPIs have been identified, you are well on your way to generating a measurement of your current operational state, also known as a baseline.  Now all you need to do is figure where you left all that elusive data…

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