Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Tag: human capital improvement

Organization Horsepower Author Movie

Book Preview on SlideShare

I put up this teaser on SlideShare, if you’d like to learn a little more about the book:

Don’t Confuse a Benchmark with a Goal: Video Blog

The following is a video perspective on the blog post “Don’t Confuse a Benchmark with a Goal,” released last week:

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.

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.


Why Measure HR?

Think about this for a second. Are you measuring HR? What are the measurements you are tracking?

If you aren’t measuring HR, why would you want to start?

Many companies are trying to track employee satisfaction with HR services or transactions. Even more are capturing volumes of services.  Those are excellent measures if you are trying to diagnose efficiency of a specific function or process for targeted improvement, but do you send those numbers to your boss? Do those numbers reach the C-suite?

The brutal truth is that the only reason you would ever send volume or satisfaction numbers up the line is to justify your own existence, to “prove” you are doing work of value. The problem with that approach is that it is very transparent in an “emperor has no clothes” sort of way. If you are fighting to justify yourself, it casts a shadow of doubt on your numbers. It does nothing to show the value HR brings to the business. It doesn’t matter how insightful your take on the numbers is, the business has no reason to trust you.

If you are going to measure HR, and you really should, you need to pick metrics that speak directly to the function of the business. Or at bare minimum, ones that can be directly correlated to a business measure. An employee being happy with a process is valuable to that process, but the business wants to know if that happiness made the company more profitable.

If you’re measuring the wrong things for the wrong reasons, stop. You are part of the problem by adding costs (labor) to something that undermines your credibility and at the end of the day isn’t helping your company be better.

Key Learning from the Gartner Portal, Content, and Collaboration Summit

Having just returned from the Gartner Summit, I thought a quick recap was in order. Besides I need a break from my measurement series (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Things got started with Gartner VP and Analyst Whit Andrews taking the stage carrying a shovel. My first thoughts were he we go with another speech about breaking new ground, but I should have known better. His comment was “A Gartner guy with a shovel, never a good thing.” But it turns out, it was a prop for talking about Minecraft, an online game both he and his son play on a regular basis. Here’s a YouTube of him previewing the shovel theme. It set the tone to talk about gamification, but the rest of the conference was decidedly higher level and talked about building and maintaining higher orders and evolutions of portals and content management.

Side note: While researching Whit Andrews I found this hilarious text-speech YouTube diatribe.

Day 1: Portals & UXP

All of the sessions I attended were geared more towards the portal end of the spectrum. Within the realm of portals, the major focus areas were User Experience (UX) and mobile. Of course there is a ton subtlety and secondary topics. I won’t cover every session, key sessions, and perspectives here.

My first session was Gene Phifer talking about User Experience Platforms or UXP. Any reader of the Media 1 blog knows this is a huge focus for us right now. The UXP definitely has a place in the corporate landscape and is a critical piece for creating alignment between people, process, and technology. Gene’s original article on UXP is a great overview of the session. For more of Media 1’s vision for how UXP can drive performance, see Chris Willis’s blog post “Social, Mobile, Integrated…UXP and Your Future Workforce.”

“Using Generation 7 Portals to Attract and Engage Customers” with Jim Murphy was up next. While this session was geared somewhat towards customer facing portals, the same principles apply to employee or internally-focused portals. With a lot people I talk to, “portal” has become a bad word. In a lot folks’ experience, portal technology has been purchased, implemented, and subsequently fallen short of expectations. What we have to realize is that portals have evolved and continue to evolve. The biggest shift I see in portals is that they are moving away from being company, department, or role specific and they are getting personal. When you put the individual at the center of the design and you surround that person with filtered and specific options, portals get a lot more compelling—and that’s the root of why Media 1 is bullish on UXP.

Jim Murphy describes the characteristics of Generation 7 portals as featuring:

  • Analytics
  • Portal-less Portals
  • Context aware
  • Portal ubiquity
  • Emerging UXP
  • Widgets dominate
  • Mobile dominates

Jim and Gene teamed up on another session later that afternoon called “Employee Portals: The Revenge of the Intranet” to address the employee-specific side of the portal equation and aptly drew the connection that the employee portal is the heart of the new intranet. The changing ways that we work have driven the corporate intranet from being information portal to knowledge portal, then to process portal, and now to the latest generation of intranet portal that includes social functionality, mash-ups and combined applications, and has a mobile enabled interface. Social is the connective tissue that ties people to process and information—or people, process and technology in the Media 1 vernacular. More than social, the new portal-based intranet (SharePoint portals included) also enables information management and process management driving alignment to corporate goals. Gartner defines the must have characteristics of the next-generation intranet as:


  • Social
  • Business process enabled
  • Analytics and optimization

Near future

  • Mobile
  • Context aware
  • Gamified

Wish list

  • Enable user content contribution
  • “App store” model

Day 2: Gamification & More

Day 2 of the conference started out with Jane McGonigal’s  compelling presentation “Reality is Broken” on the role of game play on our society and consequently how we can use those principles when addressing the needs of our organizations. Jane’s presentation was based on her book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. While I’m not always a fan of gamified approaches to development, I must admit to having some changing perspectives based on this presentation. One of the key advantages to gaming is the resiliency gained from repeated trial and error—and sometimes subsequent failure. I think that’s why a lot of people find golf compelling and certainly the incredible volume of Angry Birds play would also seem to reinforce that supposition. Seems to me that many corporate gamified approaches take a “failure is not an option” position and with the absence of failure or the possibility of failure, you miss out on the resiliency benefit and ultimately engagement that the “game” was intended to create. I’m going to do a future blog post on this topic alone. There are some very compelling distinctions between playing, competing, achievement, failure, and losing that deserve to be explored.

I spent the afternoon of Day 2 exploring sessions on UI/UX, people-centered strategy, Yammer and Mobile. Not that these sessions weren’t valuable or intriguing, but I have to assume you have something else planned for your day other than reading my blog.

I finished up the conference with a case a study from GlaxoSmithKline where they talked about their cloud-based employee portal solution, which happened to be a SharePoint 2007 site. While many of their experiences and concerns aligned with my other clients’ SharePoint installations, the fact that the SharePoint farm existed in cloud space created very few if any new concerns. Instead, it appeared to show considerable value to GlaxoSmithKline along the lines of the value proposition of other cloud services.

The final keynote of the conference was from Seth Godin. It was engaging and inspirational to say the least. While many of the examples used where on how to create compelling messaging, or “purple cows” as he calls them, it’s not much of a stretch to see how that relates to how we market performance improvement to our own organizations. It’s more than position; it’s the stories we tell.

In summary, the conference served as an excellent confirmation that I’m talking about the right things with my clients and in the right priorities. It also has taught me that I have a different perspective to bring to gamification and a new understanding of what it takes to make these games compelling. And finally, not that I needed any more convincing, we need to find ways of engaging employees on mobile platforms in meaningful ways. Our obstacles are just that, but mobility is critical to the new work environment.

Branding and User Acceptance of SharePoint Sites

In my last post, Pizza and SharePoint™—Branding and Design, I drew an analogy between presenting your best work to your customers without presenting your best selves to your employees in terms of the systems and sites developed for internal use. But why is it so hard to gain user acceptance and what sorts of things can we do to make it easier on ourselves? Why do we even care if your employees “accept” sites we build for them?

It’s easy enough to operate from the perspective that there is certain information that employees “need” to do their job, and there is certain information that is “nice to have.” In corporate structures, critical information or the “need to have” information is often presented in the most expedient way possible. Very often expediency in design results in the employee having to jump through hoops to get the information. “It’s the best we could do, in the time we had.”

While we may have accomplished our basic goals for a site, it doesn’t mean we did a good job. In fact, if we aren’t careful, we may actually create new issues in the process. If we didn’t gain acceptance of the platform we used for the initiative, chances are we’ve:

  • Poisoned the platform for future use by leaving a negative first impression.
  • Used too much time ($) to achieve too little tangible results.
  • Sent a message that we don’t value our users.

While it is sometimes necessary to compromise good design for expediency, we pay a heavy price for failing to gain acceptance. When we do gain acceptance, we achieve our goals faster, cheaper, and we create repeat visits that give us a viable way to expand our goals and create something sustainable over time. AND, we send a message that we care enough to think things through and value our team.

So why, when it comes to SharePoint sites, is it so hard to design for acceptance?

When building informational or community sites, SharePoint acts as a content management system, or CMS, and allows us to present the data separately and in different contexts. This means the data or information is contained in a different technical structure than the look and feel, or branding of the site. This is wonderful when it comes to keeping the content up-to-date, but requires a little extra planning when designing page layouts that support content that is meant to be changed independent of the layout. That seems to be where many implementations fall short.

I.T. departments are typically charged with implementing systems, such as SharePoint, and while your mileage may vary, they generally do a very good job of implementing the functionality or data layer… and tend to pay very little attention to the presentation layer. The typical result is a perfectly functional data infrastructure with a bone-stock, straight from the vanilla Microsoft set of page templates. Since SharePoint wasn’t designed to fulfill a specific need from a specific audience, not much care was taken with these stock templates. Frankly, I find them ugly and filled with usability issues, and I am not alone. Nonetheless, as SharePoint is rolled out, content owners are very often forced to use these templates either expressly or because they aren’t informed that they have any control over the presentation and don’t have the knowledge of how to change it.

In many organizations, a user’s first exposure to SharePoint is an ugly, usability-challenged site, a “crew pie” to reference my previous post. They may need the information that the site contains, but they are often left frustrated and unimpressed. For organizations that recognize this failing, this typically results in a subsequent project to improve either:

  • Look and feel (branding)
  • Usability

The truth is you need to do both. If you fix the content organization and improve the usability, it’s hard for the user to get past the ugly and truly engage with the site. If you fix the ugly but leave the usability out, you may get your users back briefly, but they will inevitably get frustrated again. User acceptance of a site means they accept both the way a site looks AND the way it works.

Usability is a topic for another article, but for organizations that have already fallen into the bad- or no-design trap, a good design can help them crawl out of the user acceptance hole. It sends a message that this site is worthwhile and important enough to warrant thoughtful design, and likewise the users of the site are important and valued enough to warrant the time and money spent on design. For those organizations that haven’t rolled out their first sites, let this serve as a tip:

Whether you call it branding, look and feel, or design, it’s a critical piece of user acceptance.

In the next entry, we’ll focus on usability some more, starting with setting realistic objectives and how to map those objectives to the functionality you design into your sites.

Overheard at Strategies 2011: Employee Engagement

Media 1 is pushing hard into the Human Capital Improvement space with SharePoint-based offerings for cohort learning (leadership and sales) and Onboarding. To learn more about the concerns and needs of people involved in talent management and development, we decided to attend MediaTec’s Strategies 2011 conference in Half Moon Bay, CA.

What a fantastic location and a great conference filled with key learning around diversity, inclusion, and techniques for managing and developing the workforce. However, the concept that I want to focus in on is that of employee engagement. Engagement isn’t a term that I have used a lot before now, but it’s one ingrained in the talent management lexicon.

It’s a great term because it encompasses and describes a level of involvement and commitment regardless of the development level or stage that an employee is in. While consulting on Onboarding systems, one of our primary goals is to increase time-to-productivity, but if we want higher levels of productivity, we have to get engagement first. A new hire can be modestly productive without engagement, but that hire won’t reach an optimum level of performance unless that person is truly engaged with their position and your company.

Beyond the Onboarding development phase, engagement is just as important. As we move through our careers, our level of engagement is variable; it waxes and wanes over time. Again we may have employees that are productive, but not engaged. Development opportunities in the form of corporate learning are one tool that talent managers have to re-establish, increase, or maintain engagement throughout the talent life cycle.

Looking back at the conference, it occurs to me that I saw a lot of curriculums designed to address engagement, but the really impressive ones paid as much attention to how the curriculum was delivered as they did to the curriculums themselves. In all cases, engagement programs were not single learning events or courses, but included a series of different kinds of learning opportunities delivered over a period of time. None stated it as such, but the net effect of the approach is the creation of a robust “learning experience.”

The more advanced engagement models also took into account where the employee was in their development within the organization. New employees have very different development needs than top executives, and their motivation and engagement levels will also vary widely. While that is the common-sense practical application of different engagement models for different types of learners and content, it also aligns with commonly accepted theories of employee development stages and talent management cycles.

I’m thinking deeply on how SharePoint-based curriculum frameworks can be targeted and mapped to specific phases in career development and how that can translate into better engagement and better performance. Stay tuned.