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    Imagine there are no 'A' Players; it's easy if you try

    Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management at the Wharton School, delivered the closing keynote, 'Managing Performance in a Post-Recession Workspace' at the end of the first day of the Human Resource Executive Forum.

    The presentation was equal parts entertaining, engaging, and challenging; in particular the preliminary results that Professor Cappelli shared around his analysis of the consistency of employee performance over time. 

    Essentially the question that Cappelli's research aimed to answer was this?


    How much does last year's performance appraisal tell you about what this year's will be?

    Here is the basic methodology - obtain the performance review scores and results over a period of years from a large, established organization, thousands of performance reviews, and examine these reviews and scores to see if there is consistency and predicability in individual's performance reviews over time.

    So back to the question - How much does last year's performance appraisal tell you about what this year's will be?

    If you are like most of the audience, I'll bet you'd say that last year's review would tell you quite a bit about this year's review, most of the attendees felt like about 75% of the time performance results would remain predictive and consistent; i.e., last year's best performers would almost certainly be this year's best performers, and middle of the road performers tend to plod along year after year.

    But according to the research, Cappelli indicated that only 25% of this year's performance review could be predicted from last year's results. The data set suggests that performance fluctuates much more widely over time that we tend to believe, and that he has found no evidence to indicate otherwise.

    Cappelli elaborated on the implications of these findings, offering a series of smart, common-sense approaches to managing performance that would, if skillfully implemented, tend to improve performance over time, particularly performance for so-called 'troubled employees'.

    But the most interesting observation was this - if performance does indeed vary widely over time, the entire idea of 'A' players and 'B' and 'C' players is overblown, if perhaps almost irrelevant.

    If the data suggest that this year's top performers, those 'A' players that we constantly talk about, turn over every rock in the recuiting process to uncover, attempt to nurture and coach up through our organizations with 'special status' and development plans, might only be 25% of next year's 'A' players, well then, the entire notion of 'A' players doesn't make any sense at all.

    If performance is highly variable, highly situational, and difficult to predict based on prior year data, then what does that mean for talent and performance management?

    Is recruiting 'A' players highly overrated?

    Are there really 'A' players and 'C' players?

    What do you think?


    Human Resource Executive Forum 2011

    Today and tomorrow I'll be attending the Human Resource Executive Forum in New York City.  

    Later this morning I have the great honor of participating in a panel discussion titled 'Leveraging New HR Technologies to Thrive in a New Reality', along with Josh Bersin, CEO of Bersin & Associates; Bettina Kelly, Senior VP at Chubb; Stephen Mirante, Senior VP at CBS Corp.; and moderated by Mercer's Patricia Milligan.

    Clearly, the HR Technology landscape remains complex, fluid, and in many ways, in transition. From consolidation at the higher ends of the market, to the emergence of a slew of interesting and dynamic solutions at the edges of the market, and finally to the emerging importance and challenge presented by social and collaborative technologies; today's HR and organizational leaders are faced with both opportunity and decision points.

    In organizations of all sizes, the need to understand workforce ability, alignment of capability to intended business strategy, assessment of current and future workforce needs, while simultaneously measuring, analyzing, and taking actions on data and information gleaned from these workforce technologies, combine to present the HR and HR technology professional with a diverse and complex set of requirements to address and technologies to evaluate and implement. 

    And oh yeah, make sure these technologies are easy and engaging to use, can be deployed rapidly and on budget, work on an increasing number of platforms and devices, and be adaptable to a set of ever changing business needs. One more thing, these tools need to be 'social' too. Most people don't really know what they mean by that, but one thing we all agree on is 'social = good.'

    Simple right?

    Of course most of us agree that sorting out the new world of enterprise and workforce technologies is anything but simple, and that realization I think, is one of the main reasons that events like the Human Resources Executive Forum dedicate time on their agendas to specifically address some of these technology issues and challenges.

    For my part, on the panel I will be talking about ways to transform data into information, and why that matters; some of the new, and non-traditional technologies that exist a bit outside the mainstream; and what the changing composition of the workforce and the demands that increased mobility will place on HR technology decisions and deployments.

    I am looking forward to the session, and to attending the rest of the event.

    Of course I will be tweeting and blogging from the event, if you are following on Twitter, look for the hashtag #HREforum11.


    All these empty spaces

    This morning’s drive from one suburb to the next, on a commute that I’d bet is quite similar to many of yours:

    Signs are everywhere along this suburban two lane road, the kind of road that you’d see in the near and semi-near outskirts of every mid-size city.  Signs reading ‘112,500 Sq. Feet - Class ‘A’ space, will divide’. I pass four or five of these signs on my 10 minute drive each day. Not really from my drive, but you get the idea

    These seemingly relatively new, perfectly adequate, likely inexpensive ‘Class A’ spaces going vacant, with buildings designed to hold dozens of tenants and hundreds of workers hanging on to the three or four anchor companies, while holding out the hope that as the economy and job market improve, so might the corporate real estate market.  And perhaps it will.

    After I pass the last of these ghostly office parks I stop at the local coffee/bagel shop for a refill. The parking lot is always packed with cars.  The shop itself, (not a hip or trendy place at all), is buzzing with activity and energy. This morning, like most, nearly every table is populated with people talking, drinking coffee, and working.  Laptops are out, portfolios, resumes, project plans, blueprints - all to be found. This isn’t a ‘lone hipster hanging out all day in a coffee shop with a MacBook while looking 'pained' kind of deal’, these are the kinds of traditional, rudimentary, and entirely adult kinds of meetings that used to take place in some of that vacant Class ‘A’ space just up the road.

    Heck, all the ‘work’ going on in the place makes it hard to even find some space to sit and hang out for a bit. Kind of reminds me of how it used to be impossible to score a conference room in the office. Which in is of itself one of the dysfunctional paradoxes in many traditional workplace environments - management and leadership insist that everyone congregate every day in a central location, for a fixed time period, but there is hardly any functional, effective, and even available space to actually work together. So most of us sit in our offices and cubes all day and email, IM, and occasionally call each other on the phone.

    What should happen to all these empty office spaces?

    Can communities and organizations re-configure, re-zone, re-deploy the spaces? Should we start by tearing down the inner walls, removing the acres of metal file cabinetry (the unfortunate by-product of the unfortunate excesses of paper creation), and put some old sofas and easy chairs? Set up a range of flexible and communal workspaces? Contract with the local coffee shop for a steady supply of caffeine that doesn’t taste like it was ordered from the same catalog as the industrial cleaning supplies?
    Our attitudes about work are changing faster than our infrastructure. The designers and owners of places like the coffee shop can (and have) reacted more rapidly to these attitudinal changes and more expansive thinking about what the appropriate ‘place’ for work can be. They might have better and free wifi access than many offices, and they provide for many a conducive work environment without being restrictive, you can sit wherever you like, stay as long or as short as you care to, even, in the best ones, allow you to connect with people that may not have anything to do with your company or work, but just might provide the kind of inspiration and re-charge that most traditional office workers rarely get to experience.

    In ‘Caddyshack’ the Al Czervik character, a real estate developer played by the great Rodney Dangerfield observes, ‘Country Clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of real estate there are’. I think perhaps if Al observed all the ‘Class A Space Available’ signs and the coffee shops and bookstores packed with workers, he might add ‘Suburban office parks’ to the list.



    Logo Outrage and Lack Thereof

    Have you seen all the outrage and crazed, incensed, 'blow up the interwebs' freakout that has accompanied the JC Penney logo redesign?

    What's that?  You missed it?

    Of course you did, because unlike recent and much more high profile logo changes from the Gap and Starbucks, hardly anyone seemed to notice or care about the JC Penney logo changes.

    No massive Facbook protests. No derisive Twitter hashtag like #JCPFAIL that suddenly turned into a trending topic. The only reason I even know enough about the new logo to post about it is that I am insane and need to turn away from the computer once in a while.

    Accoding to the press release, the new logo offers, 'fresh, bold design', and 'signifies the Company’s great progress in creating a more exciting and relevant shopping experience'.

    And that may be true, lowercase letters and a two-tone vibe seem fairly exciting. I guess.

    The reason I bring this up, besides it being the end of a ridiculously long and tiring week, is to ask a simple question?

    If you, or really your organization, announces a big change, a major initiative, restructuring, re-branding, re-imagining of your corporate mythology and no one (at least by today's social web measure), seems to notice, then did it really even happen?

    And if no one notices, and after the big splash announcement your Google Alert only fills up with services that picked up your press release and that is about it, is that a signal or a sign of your irrelevance?

    Should JC Penney care that you did not even know they changed their logo, and that you certainly didn't rush to Twitter and Facebook to get your opinion registered? How could JCP do this!?!

    Is this the most tedious post you have ever read?

    Have a great weekend!


    Ambition and Curiosity

    There is (yet another) interesting discussion happening on Bill Kutik's HR Technology Conference LinkedIn group about the social media and social networking in the workplace, and the relative pros and cons of the opposite sides of the argument.  As is the case in Bill's group, the discussion is intelligent, balanced, and reasonable - unlike what you might find in other forums attempting to discuss these issues.

    I haven't weighed in on the discussion on LinkedIn, (sorry, Bill), because I am a selfish blogger and needed some content, and I had a kind of different take on the topic, one that veers slightly away from the practicalities of the debate, and drifts more into the philosophical. I think while the debate about blocking these sites tends to center around data security, productivity, message control, etc.; the real issues (even if companies don't want to admit them), are much more about the ideas or concepts of ambition and curiosity. 

    Ambition in the sense of aspiration, of becoming something bigger, greater, and more meaningful in whatever measures that are relevant to the organization.  Curious in the framework of inspiring interest, discovery, or of seeking and (hopefully) finding new meanings, connections, and ideas.  

    It seems, at least on the surface, that organizations that have moved to actively block or restrict access to social networks and internet based productivity services using the practical and typical concerns about security and the like are quite possibly betraying a lack of ambition and curiosity. Sure, no organization or leader would admit to this, no one would flat-out state, 'Our firm has limited goals for future growth and innovation, and we are not terribly interested about what is happening with out competitors, customers, partners, and community.'

    Of course no leader would admit that, since even if it were true, the admission would send share prices plummeting, drive smart and talented employees for the exits (or at least to LinkedIn to update their profiles), and drive a stake in employee enthusiasm and morale.  Sure, the connection between open, unrestricted, and organizationally supported access and engagement on social networks to improved business outcomes is, for now, still spotty, sporadic and tangential. It is still difficult for social media proponents and aficionados to clearly articulate their arguments when faced with the security and 'not important to the tasks at hand' talking points.

    But what the reluctant or skeptical are more easily convinced of, is that the threats to their empires and their livelihoods are likely to come from new competitors. Ones that are smaller, more nimble, more adaptable; and by necessity are forces to avail themselves of all possible resources, full access and exploitation of social network connections certainly chief among them.

    Small, aggressive, and dangerous start-ups don't worry about 'time-wasting', and they are willing to accept whatever security risks may arise from the social web - happy to trade off some level of risk for the vast benefit they see and can derive from these networks.

    Now that we are into 'beating a dead horse' territory, I will close with this - the organizations that are taking over today, and will dominate tomorrow, have a wide, broad, and expansive view of the world. And they realize the world does not solely consist of their own employees, and the relationships they share with each other.

    Great ideas are everywhere, if your eyes and ears are open to find them.