Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

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Good Baselines Come from Good Data

The first programming class I ever took, I was introduced to the acronym G.I.G.O. For those of you who have never had the distinct pleasure of such a course, it stands for Garbage In, Garbage out. The premise is that if you input bad data, the only result you can get out is similarly flawed.

Traditional HR does not have a heavy emphasis on data or statistics. We ask finance for numbers, or we run a report and generally trust what is there. Or we like and trust people, so we ask them for numbers. However, as we strive to strategic if not enabled business drivers, we need to pay more attention to where our numbers come from and how those data sources affect the baselines that we use to measure progress against.

I recently had a client provide me with baseline cost data that clearly showed a disproportionate spend on one particular area of operations. Without getting into a lot of detail, it turns out that baseline cost included quite a bit of misplaced expense that significantly bloated the baseline. After removing the added expense, the project couldn’t be justified on a cost basis alone. It was still critical that the client generated a true baseline, but not having an accurate picture up front really took the wind out of everyone’s sails.

The reliability of your baseline data can be directly linked to the maturity of your data analytics culture and the tools you use. There are four primary sources of baseline data listed here from least reliable and mature to most.

Conjecture, anecdote, and correlation – probably the most utilized source of baselines, this method involves making educated guesses about the metrics you use for baseline calculations. This approach is best characterized by using very small sample sizes, and applying logic. If it takes this long to do a known quantity, then this other target quantity is x% of that time. While useful for napkin calculations, this type of data is highly subjective and has credibility problems. At some point someone will question the validity of numbers and it becomes a trust game.

Survey/poll – When you don’t know something you think you should, its human nature to reach out and ask someone that you think should know. In HR terms that means asking a group of employees about the activities they perform. This can be as simple as an email or complex as a survey. When using this type of data to form a baseline you have the benefit of a larger sample size (assuming you get enough responses), but you are essentially either asking an employee how they feel about something or what they imagine something is. There is no way to validate the data and it leads to interventions that are centered on changing the way some one feels instead of changing the way they think and consequently act.

Activity logs – If you aren’t measuring something that you really want to measure, the best way to fix that problem is to start. If you wait to measure until you’ve already changed something you missed out on a lot of good data and it really didn’t help you generate a baseline. In the simplest terms, start asking people to track what you want to measure. Think of it as a naturally occurring experiment. If you want to know the data state of the current state, start logging some data. It will take a while to generate enough of a sample size for it to be reliable data, which means it’s not a great technique to use when you’re already under the gun. However, more mature organizations anticipate and proactively measure.

Enterprise systematic – Of course the best way to generate a baseline is on reliable data that is tracked systematically across your entire sample size over a long period of time. Look for sources of this type of data in your organization first, ERP, timekeeping systems, and payroll are all rich centers of reliable baseline information, but typically require set-up and configuration to get exactly the type of data you need for good baselines.

At the end of the day, having one singular source of truth for your baselines is something to aspire to. If you’ve already got it figured out, my guess is that you haven’t read enough of this post to get to this point. The reality is that as we get started with measurements, metrics, and analytics we have to develop and plan for our baseline data sources. The better the data we get in, there better data out puts we’ll be able to produce, and the more we can help our companies move forward.

The Five Stages of Human Capital Maturity

Based on existing theory about Human Capital Analytics and levels of organizational maturity, and thousands of hours of our own primary research, these are the levels of maturity that we believe every business leader will need to move his or her organization through in the process of transforming the Human Resources organization into an empowered driver of business strategy.

Let’s take a look at the levels of Return on People Maturity, starting from the lowest level of administrative processes and moving to the highest level, where HR dictates strategic decisions based on data about the organization and the market – a discipline that we refer to as People Analytics:

Return On People Maturity Levels1. Operational Provider

Traditional employee-focused Human Capital Management (HCM) is occasionally aligned with Line of Business.  HR is a tactical, administrative, and human relations cost center that:

  • Transacts basic HR services such as payroll and benefits.
  • Enforces policies, compliance, and legal matters related to human resources.
  • Provides “back office” administrative support to front line leaders.

2. Strategic Service Partner

Strategic enterprise-focused HCM serves organizational leadership as well as employees.  It focuses on a value-driven approach for the “Front office” HR services provided directly to the business. Other characteristics may include:

  • Scorecards, dashboards, and benchmarks are used to provide targets for specific improvements.
  • HRBPs (Human Resource Business Partners) consult with business units to define and set compensation strategies, recruit sought-after talent, and coach leaders.
  • Shared Service Centers consolidate and automate processes and enforce standards.
  • Centers of Expertise ( COEs) exist to maximize efficiencies in targeted areas.

3. Integrated Enabler

Enterprise-focused HCM converges around talent integration. It creates a single view of Human Capital value for leadership and the workforce and helps the organization make the best business decisions.  This includes:

  • Effective data gathering, analysis, and reporting systems.
  • Analysis of data to allow development of targeted initiatives to increase performance.
  • Focus on root causation and solution mixes to drive employee behaviors and results.
  • Talent management strategies and employee life cycle models.
  • Integrated back office services, processes, and systems.
  • Advanced shared services environment with Centers of Expertise.
  • Effective analytics capabilities to interpret data.

4. Predictive Driver

Enterprise-driven predictive HCM anticipates changing market conditions and the company’s ability to leverage human capital to produce bottom line results.  Predictive Drivers promote:

  • Constant monitoring and data generation around market conditions that will place new Human Capital demands on the business.
  • Continuous assessesment of the workforce against anticipated future demands.
  • Advises the business about emerging trends that will affect its ability to perform optimally in the near and far term.
  • Providing key Human Capital insights to the company.

Measured on its ability to help the company anticipate and supply enough skilled, engaged, and motivated employees to meet business needs and drive future business decisions.

5. Empowered Driver

Fully integrated continually improving Human Capital Management (HCM) in which HR:

  • Regularly gathers data and provides trend information that is used for improvements and agile business adaptations.
  • Is an integral business function through which the business optimizes the value it receives from its Human Capital assets.

These stages lay the groundwork to transform the HR function into a strategic player in the business. To request an assessment to find out where your organization fits into the maturity model, call us today at 616-935-1155 or email

Human Capital Analytics – Baselines First

Ever get a feeling something isn’t what it should be? Do you “know” that that a process related to HR or people is broken or inefficient?

Rarely do we get “go with our gut” in business. We need to start by having data, aka baselines. We need to know by the numbers where we are today before we can drive into the future.

Most people’s first reaction to gathering baselines is to “prove” that there is a problem and to justify an initiative. There is a place for that, but baselines need to be so much more. Imagine you create a baseline that shows a $1 spend every time a person performs an action. Then what? What does that data really tell you? In and of itself, you don’t know if spending a dollar is good or bad for that action.

Typically companies just add up those dollars until they add up to bigger dollars. Then they determine that they can spend a smaller number of dollars, and set off on improvement initiatives. Sometimes our operations are so broken that we get lucky and actually find ways to fix them. The danger as we mature is to keep applying that logic. But eventually we have fixed the process problems, and we find out $1 is just what it costs.

The problem with this approach of the use of baseline is that the need to improve is subjective. There is just a “feeling” that $1 is too much and there must be a cheaper way. Instead of looking at the baseline as an aggregate, you need to determine what makes up that $1, and what other data can tell you what part of that $1 you can change and ultimately if it’s worth it.

This is all a cost-centric approach. In the end, a good baseline tells us if we have moved the bar, and the bar should be measured in profit. Cost is only one factor. The control and service centered HR organization is measured in what it costs the enterprise. The strategic, enabled, predictive, data driven HR organization is measured by the value it helps the enterprise generate. In either case, you can’t quantify your contribution, or better yet, its effect on the business without a baseline.

What is Return on People?

The largest expense on any enterprise P&L is the money it spends on combined wages, payroll taxes, paid benefits, and unpaid benefits. This is fitting since most companies at least pay lip service to people being the most important and valuable asset that company has. While many will go to exhaustive lengths to calculate return on investment in software, hardware, and real estate, surprisingly few companies measure the return they get as a result of their spend on people.

Return on People is a philosophy and practice of calculating and projecting cost, revenue, and profit that is a result of a company’s spend on people. Return on People is measured using Human Capital Analytics. Human Capital Analytics is designed to measure people on an unemotional and equal business footing with other business measurements such as financial, operations, inventory and facilities. Management and improvement of Human Capital is the mechanism used to maximize Return on People.

For a snapshot of how well your organization is utilizing its most valuable (and costly) asset, a free version of our ROP Maturity Assessment will be available shortly. You can sign up to be notified as soon as it is available. Your ROP score gauges your organization’s readiness to make strategic use of Human Capital information. A high ROP score indicates your ability to earn high returns on your Human Capital Investment – your Return on People.

Thoughts on Innovation from TEDx Grand Rapids 2013

Ingenuity, innovation, inventiveness, improvisation – it seems we’ve been talking about these words for a decade now. In fact, we’ve talked about them so much that I think sometimes the words have lost their meaning, or at least are diluted to a point where their mention causes a roll of the eyes. Yeah I know, I get it, the innovative thrive and succeed. But what does innovation really look like? What is innovation in practice?

That’s why we go to things like TEDx, to see that it’s possible to make a refrigerator that uses no electricity, a device that prevents amputations, a gene map that can save millions of dollars a year. Ideas so worthy that our business problems seem small. These ideas give us hope that in the light of a new day, we can also do innovative things.

However, I reject that notion that the result of innovation is always a “thing” and that innovation comes in response to something that needs to be improved. The height of innovation comes not from what you want to fix, treat, or respond to, but rather what you predict and work to prevent. The distinct shift in mindset from responsive to proactive is critical. But you have to create space to think about the future. It’s just too hard to worry about tomorrow when you’re trying to recruit fingers to put into the holes that keep appearing in the dyke of your present day.

To link these concepts to what Media 1 does, we are all about trying to innovate in the way that companies look at the people who work for them. To get companies to see how people can better contribute in the future and feel better about it. To predict and prevent business conditions that adversely affect those people and promote conditions that enhance both the company and the lives of those who work there. We help you start measuring the things that spur action to innovation in the real world of your business and your people.

I’ll leave you with my favorite slide of the day from Greg Galle, on the six keys to jumping the ingenuity gap. TEDx events are one day that you can dedicate to the future, but they are a just a starting point of changing the way you approach your business and your life. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.

The six keys to jumping the ingenuity gap

Bersin IMPACT 2013 – Day 2 Recap

I recently attended the Bersin by Deloitte Impact conference in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. We’ve been following Bersin for quite few years and have used Bersin research with client engagements in the past. I chose to attend this particular conference because of its concentration on HR and data analytics in predictive ways. There were four tracks: Manage Develop, Attract and Retain, and Predict and Plan. I spent almost all of my time looking through the Predict and Plan lens since that is where the use of analytics are most prevalent. My comments here will reflect that perspective.

While there was not clarity around how the acquisition of Bersin by Deloitte will affect the service offering, one benefit that was evident at the Bersin IMPACT conference was that Deloitte will contribute its best people and thought around talent management. Cathy Benko is Vice Chairman and a Managing Principle at Deloitte, and wrote The Corporate Lattice. Cathy delivered a keynote on “The Shifting Ethos and What It Means for Talent Leadership”. We all must face the truth that talent leadership is changing, and we need to have the data and analytics to help steer the ship. But we also need to adapt to a continuously changing workforce that values corporate citizenship. How we change, plan and react is critical to the “engagement” that we all claim to seek.  According to Cathy in order to succeed we need to address three key principles:

  1. Dismantle the corporate ladder
  2. Connect the dots
  3. Forge a co-operative

The principles tie back to her model of the corporate lattice. Linearity gives way to flexibility and work is encompassed in interconnected ways. She highlighted 3 applications of the lattice in this diagram.

To embrace the lattice model, and fundamentally change the way we lead work and function in HR, we will need to be more agile. Gloria Stinson from Adobe presented a session on the topic of agility. Gloria laid out how her team adapted the principles of agile software development when addressing human-based work issues and flows. Deloitte threw in their agile manifesto for good measure. Looking at their service delivery model through an agile view point, Adobe learned that while they had a great team, the physical and organizational structure was holding that team back. Adobe learned 5 key lessons along the way:

  1. Transformation is a journey
  2. Leadership is needed
  3. Equipping is essential
  4. Communicate & leverage
  5. Always be cognizant global/legal considerations

When data, systems, tools, agility, and attitude all align at the top of the organization, new ways of work become possible. Imagine a company where PTO doesn’t exist and people take time off when they need it. In fact, the 8 hour workday is even a thing of the past. Ryan is a global tax services firm that, under the direction of EVP Delta Emerson, blew away all traditional interpretations of work life balance. They created accountability for work while allowing the flexibility for life. Enabled by a system of dashboards on both the employee and management levels, productivity is measured not in terms of hours but by goals related to revenue or support tasks that agreed to in regular collaborations. Low performers are quickly identified, and predictive modeling is enabled through projected productivity.

While much of the talk about predictive analytics at the conference was directly related to projecting and reducing attrition, Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, presented a case study on leveraging analytics to improve end to end process with their store development teams. The result was that Lowe’s was able to cut almost in half the time it took to open a store, improved the accuracy of the projected cost, and even produced workforce planning models for stores that hadn’t even opened yet. One issue I have with Lowe’s model was their characterization of HRBPs as generalists. I agree that HRBPs need to be consulted and worked closely with. But HRBPs need to be so much more than generalists. HRBPs should be your organization’s internal consultants that have tangible expertise that they can bring to bear strategically.

The conference wrapped up with Dr. Paula Caligiuri on “Cultural Agility“. She spoke on the importance of agility, and how to build, attract, and retain talent that can help you operate in the new global talent model. She referenced a 2010 IBM CHRO study which can be found here. She had some great tips on where to look for globally agile talent, and how to recognize the skills and abilities that are common among these people. She has a book on the subject, which can be found here.

We are now in a time where HR transformation is no longer optional but a business-based requirement. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for seat at the table. We need to embed ourselves in the core business of our companies and provide real value through strategic and predictive data-backed initiatives. In short, we will provide value by transcending our delivery models and cost-cutting efficiencies, and begin to directly engage our lines of business for meaningful and sustainable improvement.

Read my recap of day 1.

Bersin IMPACT 2013 – Day 1 Recap

I recently attended the Bersin by Deloitte Impact conference in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. We’ve been following Bersin for quite a few years and have used Bersin research with client engagements in the past. I chose to attend this particular conference because of its concentration on HR and data analytics in predictive ways. There were four tracks: Manage, Develop, Attract and Retain, and Predict and Plan. I spent almost all of my time looking through the Predict and Plan lens since that is where the use of analytics are most prevalent. My comments here will reflect that perspective.

In many ways the topics at this conference are the same topics people in both L&D and HR spaces have been talking about for ten years:

  • How do we get people to be better?
  • How do we get “a seat at the table?”
  • How do we show return on investment?

But who asks the question (and the way the questions are answered) is undergoing a monumental shift.

Instead of asking, “How can my department have a greater impact on my little segment of the business?” we are now asking holistically, on behalf of the entire enterprise, “How can we reach and affect the fundamental ways we do business?” with the full realization we are talking about people. We still call them cryptic names, like talent assets and human capital, but as a whole we understand more what those terms actually mean.

For the world’s best companies, looking holistically at people means looking globally and trying to understand what it takes to operate our people-fuelled and dependent enterprises across cultures. This global theme was pervasive throughout the conference and started off with Josh Bersin’s The World is Local: A New Model for Human Resources article that was released just prior to the kickoff keynote. It’s an excellent paper that I encourage you to read. My favorite snippet from the article:

So while companies spend a lot of time focused on reducing HR costs and improving service delivery efficiency, the big value occurs when the HR team directly engages with managers and leaders to help the business run better.

Directly engaging with line of business becomes immediately evident when you start talking about analytics that matter. The business rarely cares about the measures that HR uses to measure itself. The numbers that really matter are the ones that directly link to the business.

Jonathan Ferrar from IBM presented a session on “Big Data in HR” that addressed making connections between business data and HR Strategies. The data maturity model from the book Competing on Analytics was explained, as was how it fit into IBM’s five pillar data source model which consists of Social, External, Internal, Predictive, and Enterprise-wide. IBM used a predictive model to project $9M in savings by strategically reducing attrition by 2.7%. This represents a significant shift in how the enterprise leverages HR and how HR can respond by transforming from a retrospective reporting model and showing real value in a predictive sense.

The theme of using predictive analysis was carried into the next session with representatives from Pfizer. In this case, Pfizer analyzed attrition from a socio economic lens and the predictive models were able to project factors that correlated with high attrition. One of the clearest indicators, rehire status, confirmed a long held cultural belief – if they left you once, they’ll do it again. However, as someone in the crowd aptly recognized, correlation is not the same thing as causation. Predictive data gives us insight, but not absolute truth. We need to be diligent and careful with its application.

Despite some excellent examples of how predictive HR analytics have been used at IBM and Pfizer, both of those companies cited that their analytics capabilities were very much early stage efforts that they were trying to expand and grow. On the theme of building capability, there was an excellent panel with representatives from Alliance Data, eBay, and Aleris. As these three companies have taken a head first approach to embracing analytics, it’s important to note that two of the three panelists did not come from HR roles within their companies, and none of them started their efforts by sitting down and asking what HR needed. They all started by sitting down with business leaders (engaged directly with the business) and digging into ways of measuring things that mattered.

Myank Jain from eBay said to start with the basics, Revenue per FTE. But I have to add, don’t underestimate what it will take to get that data. With multiple systems and varying definitions of roles within the business, it might be a bit of a process to define FTE, revenue, or even a definite headcount for the enterprise as a whole until your data maturity gets to a point where you have reliable data. However, it’s worth it, and as Jeff Buchmiller from Alliance Data put it, “The big wins are not usually exclusive to HR data.”

As important as analytics are becoming in the HR landscape, these efforts are not being driven up through the organization. They are intentional top-down efforts led by a new breed of C-level HR executives that are fully engaged with the business that they lead – not the “business” of HR. Another panel at the conference was called “the bold new CHRO,” but I found it interesting to note that only one of the four actually had the job title CHRO. The market is moving so fast, and this new HR is so important, that there is no time to wait for job titles to catch up. The panelists were:

  • Bruce Boucher, Extra Space Storage, CHRO
  • Richard Hughes, United Health, SVP
  • Garry Randall, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive HR, SVP
  • Steven Rice, Juniper Networks, EVP HR

What these gentlemen all had in common (other than being white males, but that’s another story) is that they all had bold new visions for HR. In their vision, HR is a partner to its business, an enabler of strategy, and a driver of business performance. All four speakers were highly engaged, charismatic, and knew that they were on a long path that would require continuous improvement. While all spoke with passion on their organizations, Steven Rice from Juniper Networks is someone to watch. His plain language approach to making things work and work right is highly admirable and will lead to great things in our industry.

Read my recap of day 2.

Bersin IMPACT 2013 – Day 2

To keep up with the Bersin IMPACT conference in real time, follow Media1der Harrison Withers on Twitter at @harrisonwithers.

Here’s a summary of yesterday’s session, courtesy of Harrison’s twitter feed, in reverse chronological order. Make sure you take a look at his photos too!

thank you @CornerstoneInc for a great reception. Another Fort Lauderdale time elapse picture to celebrate. #impacthr

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trying to think of something clever to say about big data and big boats, but brain is full… #impacthr

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Finally the clouds break and we are enlightened with knowledge and warmth (and ideas about analytics) #impacthr

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Congratulations to Bersin “What Works” award winners! #impacthr

Steven Rice “Benchmarking is interesting but not helpful” #impacthr

Steven Rice, Juniper networks, what a great down-to-earth no BS approach. #impacthr

Free Return On People maturity assessment#impacthr

“Distinctly Disney, Authentically Chinese” -J. Bersin. Great characterization of Global/Local operating model that we aspire to. #impacthr

The best way to predict the future is to create it. So, what does your business need tomorrow to be? #IMPACTHR

“entrepreneurs of talent” sounds like the makings of reality tv show. Part joking, but it might actually help #impacthr

Only one of the four on the panel has the title of CHRO, is the title important or the mindset? #impacthr

the BOLD CHRO panel with Disney, Extra Space Storage, United Health, and Juniper Networks #impacthr

the business will see HR as a cost until HR shows a profit. #impacthr

Revenue Per Employee, simple measurement that can be deceptively hard to get. #impacthr

My personal hobby of building guitars and HR Measurement meet in this blog post:  #impacthr

Which system would you go to for an employee count? Is there more than one? Would you get the same answer? #impacthr

the big wins are not usually exclusive to hr data – Jeff Buchmiller, Alliance Data #impacthr

Analytics starts with the business and not the needs of HR. Who do you talk to first? #impacthr

2 of 3 panelists in predictive analysis didn’t come from HR roles. #impacthr

Step 1 to analytics: get smarter about the question. #impacthr

Thought I recognized Mayank Jain, IRC correctly he presented at #learning12 on behalf of amex, now with eBay. Mobile talent. #impacthr

building capability in predictive analytics at #impacthr with Alliance Data, eBay, and Aleris

Social people search is the new recruiting nirvana, is knowledge management next?How do we “recruit” internally for capability. #impacthr

from the crowd: correlation is not causation. true dat. #imapacthr

Return on People Analytics maturity is a slope not a step. Get what you can and utilize it to enable the next step. #impacthr

Dear CLO, read what the the CHRO reads, worry about what the CHRO worries about, or get called to the table on it. #impacthr

Distributed HR does not necessarily mean decentralized, does not mean disconnected, and absolutely does not mean inconsistent. #impacthr

Pfizer data shows rehire status is strong predictor #imapcthr

Being predictive with analytics requires a shift from being reactive to being proactive. #impacthr

71% of surveyed executives express very high (43%) or high concern (28%) about losing critical talent. (Deloitte) #impacthr

Whatever we say about “learning” almost always transcends into HR. Learning plans are annual, just as well be HR, Talent, Etc. #imapcthr

learning that doesn’t lead to performance =  #impacthr

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38% of respondents cite “lack of understanding of how to use analytics to improve the business” as barrier to adopting analytics #impacthr

Newsflash: Nobody has time for anything (including learning) they don’t derive value from. #impacthr

measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure. -C. Green #impacthr

IBM used predictive model to project $9M in savings by strategically reducing attrition by 2.7% #impacthr

“Heat Map” hurts my head but clearly shows differentiation #impacthr

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Does your company have a set definition of what an FTE consists of? Most of my clients do not, and it is not uncommon. #impacthr

Waiting for somebody to do something about that? Wait … aren’t you somebody? #impacthr

5 levels of analytics: Social, External, Internal, Predictive, Enterprise-wide #impacthr

From book: Competing on Analytics, Davenport and Harris #impacthr

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According to IBM study 71% of companies cite human capital as a leading concern #impacthr

Waiting for somebody to do something about that? Wait … aren’t you somebody? #imapcthr

Analytics Driving Action with Jonathan Ferrar, IBM #impacthr

Agile Performance Management- Shift from competitive ranking to continuous coaching #impacthr

Social people search is the new recruiting nirvana, is knowledge management next?How do we “recruit” internally for capability. #imapacthr

30-35% higher returns on process when shift from annual performance reviews to quarterly. Agree, but how measuring “return” #impacthr

Agile Performance Management- Shift from competitive ranking to continuous coaching #imapcthr

changing from “learning” to “capability and performance” #impacthr

Experience design note: I sat in the middle so I could see Josh, screens are now too far away to read infographics. #imapacthr

Bersin drivers: 1. gaps in leadership, skills, and ed. 2. Explosive role of technology 3. Disparities in economic growth & opp. #impacthr  -very wise words from @Josh_Bersin #impacthr

Wise words from others:

@hirevuejosh Steven Rice, EVP HR at Juniper Networks – If I can’t deliver content on a mobile device, my execs won’t read it. #impacthr

‏@charlietierney #hranalytics 2 ways 2 do it. Small group doing cool stuff OR embed the analytics into hr culture…everything u do. #ImpactHR

@StaciaGarr #impacthr Speed of accessing info is most determined by having clear data definitions. #hranalytics

@emmajs24 HR orgs should build networks of expertise, not centers of excellence #impacthr

@bollinger Best quote today -Extra Space Storage – “our competition is the dumpster” – Bruce Boycher – CHRO #impacthr

@rgravelin #impacthr Metrics change based on the needs of the business partner. “If it’s not measured, it’s not real.” — Yetter

@rgravelin #impacthr We get locked into annual learning plans, but the business changes more frequently that annually.

@davidkoehn #impacthr …map the global local L&D model to the overall operating model of your business… CLO Fishbowl

Bersin IMPACT 2013 – Day 1

To keep up with the Bersin IMPACT conference in real time, follow Media 1der Harrison Withers on Twitter at @harrisonwithers.


Here’s a summary of yesterday’s session, courtesy of Harrison’s twitter feed, in reverse chronological order. Make sure you take a look at his photos too!

From bootcamp, Bersin seeing a lot of interest in abandoning performance ratings. I bet trend grows this year. #impacthr

Well there’s nothing to lose And there’s nothing to prove And I’m dancing with myself -Billy Idol #impacthr :)

Good to see maturity come up, but it’s more than learning. Comes into play on many other dimensions in HR and Return on People. #impacthr

Bersin by Deloitte playbooks releasing this week and look very promising. #impacthr

What use social media for membership interaction? That’ll never work ;) (Insights Boot Camp) #impacthr

Love the hotel, seriously slow elevators. #impacthr

Concentrating on the “Predict and Plan for Agility” track. Looking forward to hearing from eBay, Lowe’s, Pfizer, and Adobe #impacthr

Calm before the data storm? Off to registration at Bersin Impact. #impacthr

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Wondering what the Return On People formula is for beach time, I know it’s there somewhere. #impacthr

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Live tweeting this week from Bersin-by-Deloitte Impact HR conference. My spin and the best thinking from people I respect. Tune in #impacthr

Fort Lauderdale by night on the eve of the Bersin Impact conference. 50mm, f1.7, ISO100, 30 second shutter. #impacthr

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Cigar box guitar

My biggest hobby outside of work is building musical instruments. I don’t have a woodworking or lutherie background. In fact, I’ve never taken a single class on either, and my dad is more shade tree mechanic than wood worker. So my instruments are generally pretty primitive.

I started building instruments out of cigar boxes. The practice of building instruments out of found objects is nothing new, in fact there is a long history of improvising to create something that you couldn’t afford for less than the cost to acquire that item. If you don’t have anything good to work from, then use what you have and improvise.

While this is a rewarding hobby for me, and it keeps me sharp in a lot of areas in my business life, my HR clients are not dealing with “found objects”. They don’t need to, and can’t afford to improvise on their talent to meet the needs of their companies. They are more mature at the practice of HR than a proverbial cigar box guitar.

The thing about learning slowly through experience alone is that while it takes a while, the journey is fairly rewarding. But the costs to get the experience are astronomical. Part of that cost is time, some of it is materials, tools have been a major expense, and some of it is lost to mistakes made.
As my skills have improved, the instruments I build take more time,
and the cost of materials I used have escalated rapidly.

Maple guitar

Measure twice, cut once is an over-used cliché, especially when we are talking about ruining a 99 cent 2×4 that is part of the unseen interior hidden by drywall. But when I’m using a $100 set of spalted curly maple (as seen in the picture to the right), that over-used cliché suddenly means something. I measure multiple times from multiple directions because there are real consequences if I make a mistake. But it’s more than the cost of wood. That piece of wood directly determines how the instrument sounds, how it plays, and how attractive the end result is. It also determines, if I choose to sell it, how much I can sell that finished instrument for.

Companies spend more on their people than any other expense on the balance sheet, yet too many of them treat people like a 99 cent 2×4 and not like a beautiful set of unique one-of-a-kind wood that directly affects their profitability. That’s not to say that they treat those employees poorly, it’s that they fail to measure, let alone twice, what the real value of that person to the organization really is.

This is also more than a “cut” metaphor; this isn’t about “staff reduction” as much as it’s about being smart about how people are applied to the end result.

I want to build better guitars. If you want a better HR function, measurement that means something
needs to be part of your approach. You will never improve without it.


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