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    Wednesday
    Nov302016

    When the feedback loops get shorter, the performance process can get ruthless

    Quick foray into the world of sports, (Shock!), for a look at what can happen in an organization, and their view of what is unacceptable employee performance, when feedback loops, (or review periods if you like), get shorter and shorter. Kind of like what seems to be happening in many large organizations who are moving away from annual performance reviews/ratings and toward more frequent, regular, lightweight, feedback loops.

    The back story is from the University of Oregon, who yesterday terminated their head football coach Mark Helfrich after four years in charge, (and four years as essentially the #2 person in charge), and a impressive 37- 16 win-loss record as the head coach. From the USA Today article titled Mark Helfrich's firing sends chilling message to coaching trade:

    (After a loss to arch rival Oregon State), Helfrich met Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens to discuss his future Tuesday night and left the meeting without a job. Internal discussions about the football program began before Saturday’s loss, according to USA TODAY Sports. Since Saturday, Helfrich had been in coaching purgatory, with two feet straddling the line between retention and dismissal.

    There is something far bigger than just Helfrich at play at Oregon, which in the past two decades has grown into one of college football’s elite programs. First as the offensive coordinator and then as head coach, Helfrich deserves recognition as a key figure behind the Ducks’ surge.

    But this is about more than just Helfrich, and the reach of Tuesday’s decision extends far beyond Oregon.

    If you’re a college coach, take note: If Helfrich can be fired after one losing season, two seasons after the finest year in program history, after coaching the program’s only Heisman winner, with an eight-figure buyout — so can anyone else.

    A few things to unpack here, especially if you are not a fan of or at least familiar with some big trends in college athletics in general, and football specifically. The sport at its highest levels - think Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, and yes, even Oregon - has become a high-pressure, big-money endeavor for that set of 40 or 50 schools that choose to compete at that level. They invest enormous resources in facilities, recruiting, support staff, and they pay their coaches, especially head coaches, astronomical salaries.

    And in exchange for making these massive commitments of the school's resources, the administration expects to recoup that investment in revenue from broadcast and cable TV contracts, ticket sales, donations, and whatever else they can get their hands on. But to maximize those revenue streams, the football team needs to win lots of games, consistently, and every year. And that is where the feedback loop idea comes in.

    Let's take this back to the Oregon situation and the recently fired Helfrich. From 2009 - 2012 Helfrich was the Offensive Coordinator (the most important coach aside from the head coach) on teams that went a combined 46 - 7, including reaching the national title game in 2010. In 2013, Helfrich was promoted to Head Coach following the departure of former Head Coach Chip Kelly to the NFL and the Oregon team proceeded to go 11 - 2, 13 - 2, (with another national title game appearance), 9 - 4, before stumbling this year to a disappointing 4 - 8 record.

    So in eight years in 'executive' level positions with the Oregon football program Helfrich had what amounts to one bad year, this past year when the team struggled, and had its worst season in some time. In the past, and really the not so recent past, university administrators would look at that kind of record and see what has been, largely, fantastic performance. There may be only 3 or 4 other programs in the country who have won more games in that 8-year span than Oregon. But, and this is a big but, Helfrich's (and Oregon's) worst performance in some time was this past year, and since Oregon's, (and probably lots of other schools as well), window for performance evaluation is compressing, Helfrich was let go.

    Seven years, (with three as head coach), of impressive results. One 'not acceptable' year. And you're gone.

    No probation, no warning, no 'performance improvement plan'. Just, 'Thanks for your service. Take care.'

    Look, I don't feel that bad for Helfrich. He (and every other big time college coach), makes a ton of dough, and sort of gets that all of these jobs are pretty tenuous and often kind of cruel.

    But why I think it is important to consider is that a few years ago Helfrich's performance and contribution to the success of the organization would have been assessed with a wider angle lens. He certainly would have in the past been given at least one more season to try and 'right the ship', and return Oregon back to its expected winning standards, (standards he himself had a large part in creating with his coaching).

    But as the performance and feedback time horizon for college football coaches has contracted, 'What have you done for me lately?', then Helfrich's 'review' didn't really take into account, nor give him much credit for his efforts over his 8-year tenure at Oregon.

    I think this same kind of compression is one of the potential dangers for organizations who are moving towards more frequent, and real-time performance management and coaching kinds of schemes as well. As these windows shrink from what typically was once per year, the opportunity for HR and business leaders to get subjected to recency bias is much more present. If we are all being evaluated much more often, the chances of any given evaluation to be negative are much higher - even for those folks who would average out to be 'good' or 'really good' performers when considered over a longer time horizon.

    We all have bad days. Bad weeks even. Maybe a project we didn't really do the best with. But that may be one project out of 27 we wlll work on this year. In the past, one or two bad projects would more or less get lost in the wash of 25 other good ones. But when we move to a process that demands we assess performance pretty much all the time, then those one or two bad projects are going to stick out, be remembered, and probably carry more weight in the aggregate than they should.

    Helfrich had one bad year out of eight. In today's world of college football that is enough to get you fired.

    I guess the real question is how many bad days are you allowed to have in your job until you get fired too?

    Tuesday
    Nov292016

    CHART OF THE DAY: Managing the algorithms

    It must be 'Algorithm Week' on the blog, given that yesterday I posted a piece about how HR folks need to consider carefully how algorithms and other intelligent technologies are introduced into HR and talent management practices. 

    Keeping with that theme, today's Chart of the Day is also about algorithms, more specifically about how the overall role and responsibility of HR and HR leaders might shift as more intelligent technologies are introduced into workplaces. The chart comes to us from an MIT Technology Review briefing paper titled 'Asia's AI Agenda: How Asia is speeding up global artificial intelligence adoption', a look at how the increased adoption of automation and other 'smart' technologies are going to impact work, workplaces, and too, the practice of HR.

    The entire paper is interesting, but for today's chart I wanted to share what MIT's survey of Asia HR leaders revealed about how these HR leaders see their roles changing along with the changing workplace (and workforce).

    Here's the chart, then some FREE comments from me after the data:

    Three quick takes...

    1. First off, it is really interesting, (and I think really encouraging), that more than 87% of HR leaders in the survey realize that these new technologies are going to have a 'major impact' on the role of the HR leader moving forward. The first step in the grieving process is acceptance, (actually, I am not sure if that is true, but don't have the time to look it up, so just pretend it is true anyway), so it is a good sign that the vast majority of these HR leaders are at least cognizant if not accepting that advances in automation and smart tech are going to change the HR role. 

    2. Next, it is also interesting, (if possibly a little naive), in that fully two-thirds of these surveyed HR leaders see that their roles will expand to encompass the 'overall productivity' of both people and the machines and other intelligent technologies that are increasingly being introduced into their workplaces and processes. I have to admit to being a little surprised that so many HR respondents seem ready or at least willing to get into the 'machine management' business.

    3. What that does imply however, is that these HR leaders wanting to expand the traditional talent management role to include machine management as well are going to have to develop an entire new set of expertise and skills, (not to mention some baseline understanding of this technologies), that have as far as I can tell never been a part of HR or talent management in the past.  I am not sure if 'managing' the machines and algorithms is going to be easier or harder than managing people, (if I had to bet, I am going with 'easier'), but either way it will require an expansion of the traditional HR role beyond what most if not all HR leaders are prepared for.

    Check out the paper from MIT if you want to learn more. Really interesting stuff on how business and HR are thinking about the increasing incorporation of automation and algorithms in the workplace.

    Monday
    Nov282016

    Onboarding the algorithms

    During the Ideas and Innovators session at the HR Technology Conference last month, my pal Michael Krupa gave an outstanding talk about automation and advanced 'learning' kinds of technology, and some of the implications for HR and organizational leaders who are choosing to incorporate these technologies into their people and talent management programs.

    In the talk, (and once I get the video of this, I will be sure to update the post with the link), Michael used a great expression to illustrate the deliberate and measured approach HR should take to adoption of these 'smart' tools. He called it 'Onboarding the algorithms'; a way of comparing the introduction and deployment of these technologies to the structured and immersive process that most organizations follow when onboarding new employees. The larger point - HR and business leaders need to carefully evaluate, understand, assess, and introduce algorithms and other advanced, intelligent, (and often predictive), tools carefully, and insert them into the HR and talent processes intelligently and intentionally - just like we do when hiring and welcoming new employees.

    I think Michael's analogy was a great one as it serves as a kind a warning to HR and business leaders eager to adopt these kinds of advanced and predictive tools for functions like evaluating a slate of job candidates, making decisions about which employees should be considered 'high potential', and thus granted more development and growth opportunities, scheduling the 'optimal' mix of employees for a given day or shift, or to provide intelligence and decision support to managers making decisions about the allocation of salary and bonus pools.

    I have no doubt that organizations and HR leaders will seek to adopt these kinds of tools more and more in 2017, but at the same time I think it also we be important, to use Michael's phrase, to 'onboard' these tools and algorithms effectively, in order to ensure we not only utilize the tools to their potential, but we also understand how these tools are actually designed and how they are performing. Kind of like how we know the background of every new employee that comes onboard the organization and how we like to keep track of their assimilation and performance - usually in a pretty structured 30-60-90-180 day kind of manner.

    This is a pretty important and complex idea for sure. One that can't be completely explained in one blog post. But I think one good place for HR and business leaders to start is to have really open and honest conversations with their HR technology providers of these smart tools and algorithms to gain a better understanding of how they are designed, how they work, (or are meant to work), and how transparent are the machine's thought processes they end up in a decision, (or at least a recommendation, i.e. 'Hire this person, and not that person.').

    A great starting point for HR leaders who need to know what questions to ask of your HR tech providers is the Principles for Accountable Algorithms statement from the  Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning organization. They break down the five key guiding principles for algorithm design, (responsibility, explainability, accuracy, audibility, and fairness), that HR leaders can look for, (and seek answers about), from their technology providers. Of course there is plenty more for HR leaders to consider when evaluating and deploying these tools, but the FAT/ML document provides a good starting point. You can learn more about that organization and what they do here

    Just like every good HR pro knows that we just can't toss new employees blindly into the fire and expect that they will produce desired outcomes, (and be happy), we can't expect that we can simply insert new technologies, no matter how 'intelligent', and think we will get optimal outcomes. If these tools are meant to become a fundamental element of you and your leader's talent and people management playbook, then you need to understand them as well as you need to understand all the members of your team.

    And you need to be able to tell when the algorithm is wrong too.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Nov232016

    HRE Column: On Recruitment Marketing

    Here is my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech that can be found here.

    This month, in the aftermath of the recent Talent Acquisition Technology Conference and thinking about all the innovative and potentially disruptive HR and talent acquisition technology solutions that continue to appear in the market, I thought about how much I have heard and seen lately about the concept or category of 'recruitment marketing.'

    Both at Talent Tech and at the recent Smashfly Transform event, the strategies, tactics, and technologies that HR and talent acquisition leaders are employing to define and communicate their unique employer brand and value proposition, as well as find, engage, and convert their targeted candidate communities were on full display. This field or category of recruitment marketing has seemingly emerged from the combination or confluence of a tight labor market, powerful and purpose-built technologies, and HR and talent acquisition strategies that are leaning heavily on consumer marketing precepts and concepts. 

    It is a really exciting, interesting, and fast-moving time in this new recruitment marketing space, and I thought it would be fun and hopefully valuable to share with HR Executive readers my thoughts about this new and emerging space. I came up with a few observations for my latest HR Executive column.

    From the HRE piece:

    One of the highlights of the recently concluded Talent Acquisition Technology Conference was the emphasis on recruitment marketing as an emerging new recruiting discipline. The definition of recruitment marketing is pretty straightforward: "the strategies and tactics an organization uses to find, attract, engage and nurture [sought-after people] before they apply for a job, called the pre-applicant phase of talent acquisition." (As an aside, you know a new concept has "arrived" when it has a Wikipedia page for its definition.)

    In some ways, recruitment marketing is just the natural extension of the widely discussed "HR should act more like marketing and/or sales" argument that has become popular in recent years. While that argument has indeed proven durable, it may not always be appropriate in all cases, as George LaRocque from HRWINS, one of the conference speakers, pointed out. LaRocque correctly showed that, while most consumer marketers serve only their ultimate external customers, recruiting leaders and recruiters often serve several kinds of customers: candidates, hiring managers, and even HR and organizational leaders.

    But even if there is not a perfect analogy between recruiting and sales/marketing, many progressive organizations and talent-acquisition leaders are successfully using consumer-marketing strategies, tactics and approaches to more effectively "market" their organizations and employment opportunities to potential candidates. This discipline of recruitment marketing has indeed emerged and grown more prominent in just the last few years and since not all HR leaders might be completely familiar with the concept and approach, I'd like to explore at least a few important points and share some thoughts on how HR and organizational leaders can begin to incorporate these ideas into their talent acquisition strategies.

    Why is recruitment marketing different than just posting job ads?

    In her closing keynote at the conference, Stacy Zapar presented a comprehensive review of the many strategies organizations can and perhaps should employ to more effectively define, communicate and market their unique employer brand and employee value proposition to the candidate marketplace. While posting specific job ads on the company careers page and ensuring these ads are distributed to additional outlets such as Indeed or LinkedIn are certainly part of most organization's candidate-attraction strategies, Zapar correctly emphasized that these efforts are only a small part of the optimal overall recruitment-marketing strategy.

    Read the rest at HR Executive online...

    Good stuff, right? Humor me...

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and rake your leaves car or clean out your gutters or even help you re-purpose the Thanksgiving leftovers. 

    Have a great, long Thanksgiving weekend!

    Monday
    Nov212016

    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 268 - We are grateful

    HR Happy Hour 268 - We Are Grateful

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Listen to the show HERE

    This week on a special Thanksgiving-themed HR Happy Hour Show, hosts Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane each run down their 'Top 5' things they are thankful for this year, as well as talk Thanksgiving  foods, sports, and travel. 2016 has been a crazy, eventful, and sometimes trying year for many of us, so we thought it would make sense for the Thanksgiving week show to try and focus on the positive - on the people, places, and things that we are thankful for as we head into the holiday this week. We didn't share our 'Top 5' lists prior to recording the show - have a listen and see just how similar Steve and Trish's lists ended up being.

    Additionally, Steve and Trish talk Thanksgiving foods, NBA basketball, and some great 'Thanksgiving' moments from some famous TV sitcoms. Note: Steve really shows his age with his favorite Thanksgiving TV highlight.

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or by using the widget player below, (Email and RSS subscribers click through)

    This was a really fun show, and we hope you enjoy it and we hope all the HR Happy Hour listeners have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

    And of course we are thankful for our wonderful show sponsor Virgin Pulse - learn more about them at www.virginpulse.com.

    Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and all the major podcast apps - just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to subscribe and never miss a show.

    Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!