Big HR Data By Any Other Name

I’m mindful of Laurie Ruettimann’s blog post from a couple of weeks ago wherein she put it straight out: HR Research Isn’t Research, It’s Marketing. She ends her post with this: Remember — today’s HR research is marketing, wrapped up in survey data, presented for consumption as sales collateral. And, of course, she’s right. Lots and lots of surveys are fielded in the HR space by consulting firms, service and products providers, professional associations, academics, writers – heck, by anyone who wants to sell something to HR professionals. And many of those surveys are biased, have no real hypotheses, and the resulting white papers are designed to create the case for you want to buy whatever the sponsor is selling.

But this isn’t news. We all know this. HR professionals all over the world know this. And probably none of these white papers with their biased surveys ever propelled a sale. I think we can agree on this.

But I still find value in these so-called research papers because they raise questions, spur investigation, create doubt and motivate thinking. Not a bad thing for HR professionals. Asking questions, investigating additional data, analysis and research, creating doubt about the effectiveness of current practice and motivating thought to consider other ways of creating value for the business – these are all very good things.

I thought about all of this as I read KPMG’s recent white paper, Evidence-based HR: The bridge between your people and delivering business strategy. And as I read it, I thought about whether or not it was useful in creating a case for HR professionals to ask more questions, get a handle on organization data – not just HR data, and think about the future effectiveness of HR in the organization to drive greater business value. And I believe it does. So I recommend that you read it with the understanding that KPMG would like to sell you some consulting services. (With a hat tip to Laurie.)

 The primary points are in no way earth shattering, but the underlying data give some new color to the discussion of HR, Big Data and creating business value:

  • Evidence-based HR is still at the embryonic, pioneering stage

  • The progress of evidence-based HR is hampered by a negative perception of the HR function

  • Evidence threatens the established order, inevitably triggering resistance as a consequence

  • Whatever the obstacles, and whatever the resistance, the growth of evidence-based HR will gain momentum; companies and HR practitioners must respond urgently to avoid losing ground

That third point was particularly interesting to me: “Evidence threatens the established order, inevitably triggering resistance as a consequence.” Evidence threatens the established order in HR for HR professionals who believe the people part of the business is more art than science. Not new. It also threatens the established order in the C-Suite and in other functions where executives have free reign to act on their own experience and perceptions of what works in leading people. And resistance to HR analytics comes from locations in the organization other than HR. New. And also interesting.

“The new era may also endanger the myth of the omnipotent executive, and the massive rewards that flow from it. Decisions based on gut instinct are now becoming exposed to immediate criticism. ‘Evidence suddenly makes people accountable, quite an uncomfortable feeling for some people…’ “

I’m interested that some of those uncomfortable people are other than HR people.

The data in the report are presented appealingly. Here’s one graph:

KPMG April 21 2015 An interesting finding is that the biggest obstacle to the use of evidence in people management is corporate culture. Not HR’s reputation, but corporate culture. Also new and maybe worth considering.

KPMG’s concludes the report with this, “…the days of basing people decisions on the whims or personal motives of one person at the helm are about to end. Organizations that acknowledge that inevitability already have a substantial head start.” That’s more a message to CEOs than it is to CHROs. More a message to the C-Suite than to HR practitioners. I just hope CHROs and HR practitioners are ready when the message is received!

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Starbucks’ Ethical Sourcing: Beans AND Talent

I read in the newspaper yesterday morning that Starbucks has achieved an incredible milestone for the ethical sourcing of virtually all its coffee – 99%! This means that more than 400 million pounds of coffee served globally meets really tough economic, environmental and social standards for growers from whom they buy their coffee. According to Starbucks’ website, they take a “comprehensive approach to ethical sourcing, using responsible purchasing practices; farmer support; economic, social and environmental standards; industry collaboration and community development programs.” And it’s all verified by third parties like C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity) Practices, Fairtrade and Certification Global Services. There is much to admire in Starbucks’ commitment to and execution in the ethical sourcing of its primary physical ingredient and I believe this achievement connects to what we could call the ethical sourcing of talent.

Starbucks also recently announced that it is making a full four-year college degree available without cost to all of its more than 140,000 full- and part-time partners (employees) through Arizona State University’s online degree program. Let’s see… Ethical sourcing of coffee beans from farmers all over the world and offering full college tuition coverage to tens of thousands of employees. I see a consistency of approach to trustworthy leadership here that is hard to find today anywhere in the world.

There are thousands of organizations all over the world that are serious about their corporate social responsibility commitments. They have programs that are helping to build communities, reduce environmental impact, improve the public health, educate young people – the list goes on and on. But these are programmatic approaches reliant upon individual leader commitments, not essential strands of the warp and woof of the organization’s foundation. As an observer of corporate culture, I find it rare to observe an organization that sees every aspect of the business as part of the whole cloth of social responsibility. Starbucks certainly sets the bar high in this regard. From a talent acquisition perspective, paying full college tuition for 100% of your employees is the most ethical sourcing strategy imaginable. And it makes sense when it’s lined up next to ethically sourcing 99% of its primary ingredient, coffee beans.

Trustworthy leadership is reliable in its consistency, transparency and ethical behavior. Starbucks is a pretty great example of this.

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Moving the HR Industry Forward

Key Interval Analysts 2I love finding new sources of information that shine a light on how organizations can achieve better business results through better people practices. This month I found a new source – although the principals are old friends – that is going to make important contributions in the use of HR technology in the improvement of business outcomes. If you haven’t heard of Key Interval Research, you most certainly have heard of John Sumser and William Tincup, the founders and principal analysts. And if you haven’t seen the first of their monthly research reports, let me introduce you to “The Ideal Vendor Relationship.”

The report is based on a survey of 1106 HR and Recruiting professionals conducted in December 2014 and January 2015. The survey respondents were from a broad cross section of titles in HR functions from organizations of all sizes. The survey itself had 85 subject matter questions and 35 demographic questions and the answers were collected online through several methods.

The incidence of “ah ha!” moments are so numerous in this report that sets out to explore, understand and illuminate how HR practitioners and their administrative players work successfully together with HR technology vendors and their administrative players to achieve organizational goals. These are crucial insights because, as William and John believe, “today’s work world requires that HR Departments accomplish their work through outside people and tools.” As we all know, more and more of those people are vendors and those tools are software.

The report is full of surprising findings:

  • The software lifecycle drives relationships
  • Only a small fraction of HR practitioners are dissatisfied with their HRTech tools
  • A majority of respondent companies have terminated an HRTech vendor for cause, but
  • Nearly 80% of respondents like their HR Software
  • The HRTech vendor-practitioner relationships are surprisingly healthy
  • The most important factor in the long term relationship with a vendor is the time required to get an answer

And there are more. Many more surprising findings. I won’t give away most of the good stuff, these guys are in business and want you to buy this report, but the myth busting section was particularly interesting. One of the myths they bust is that what matters most to the customer is schedule and budget. That’s right. A myth. User Satisfaction is significantly more important. This would be important for every vendor to understand and for every customer to own. Here’s the graph explaining…

April 7 2015 Customer MythThe report covers the software lifecycle, discoveries – including the busting of long held beliefs, easily digested findings, notable vendors and a pocket guide. Also included in the report are 4 cases from HR practitioners managing HR software vendor relationships and working on important business issues. The takeaways are critical. (Note: not all of the outcomes are positive.)

These are smart guys asking smart questions that maybe no one else is asking. And the answers aren’t what I expected. They aren’t even the answers they expected. And that’s what makes this report so refreshing and so useful: answers to questions that aren’t being asked and insightful analysis into the surprising answers. Worth the price of admission. Check it out here.

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The Rise of HR

Rise of HR front coverI recently had the honor of participating in an effort to crowd source real business wisdom about how Human Resource practices sit at the center of some of the most important decisions in business and are rapidly impacting the workplace, talent, culture and business success. Three titans in the HR space, Dave Ulrich, Bill Schiemann and Libby Sartain – together with the support of the HR Certification Institute – invited a who’s who of HR from business, academia, government, consulting and the non-profit world to weigh in on what business leaders need to know to be effective in creating sustainable, long-term growth for their organizations. The 73 essays included in The Rise of HR provide a blueprint for business leaders and HR leaders alike to successfully face the challenges looming ahead of us.

The seven broad categories of essays are:

  • Context To Strategy
  • Organization
  • Talent Supply
  • Talent Optimization
  • Information & Analytics
  • HR Governance
  • HR Professionals

And with authors like Josh Bersin, Wayne Cascio, Ian Ziskin, Sue Meisinger, Diane Gherson, Arvind Agrawal – and too many other true thought leaders to list – this collection of essays should be on the top of the reading list of every CEO and every CHRO – and every person who aspires to be a CHRO.

My essay on page 179, “CEOs Want Better Performance. Great Culture Can Make It Happen,” draws from my own experience as a CEO as well as the research and analysis from the Great Place to Work Institute. I think you’ll find it compelling if you’re trying to improve your organization’s performance.

Check out The Rise of HR. Unlimited copies are available in PDF and EPUB which are sharable on nearly every device. If you read one essay a day for the next 73 days you will be so much smarter and will be able to identify solutions to the issues that are fast piling up on all of us. This crowd-sourced collection is a win-win-win-win for the HR profession, for HR professionals, for business leaders and for employees everywhere.

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Our Shaky Millennial Education Foundation

It’s the definition of a counter-intuitive statement: the Millennial generation has attained the highest levels of education of any previous American generation, yet on average demonstrates weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. This is a tough realization to stomach for a number of reasons. Not only is it disheartening to hear, and confusing considering the exorbitant and rising costs of education in the U.S., but Millennials are estimated to make up 50% of the employee population by 2020 and will shape the economic, political and social landscape for years to come (so their skills are important, to say the least). What though, will the impact of the predicted skills shortage look like? A new report by The Educational Testing Service (ETS) begins to answer that question, bringing to attention a topic that is of growing interest to a broad range of constituencies.

ETS’s report uses data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to explore this topic. ETS asks why we should we pay attention to these findings, when some argue that comparative international assessments do not yield valid results. The PIAAC though, is not the only study to raise these concerns. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as well as organizations such as The College Board and ACT, all report similar findings. In 2013, the NAEP found that 74% of U.S. 12th graders were below proficient in mathematics and 62% were below proficient in reading, and the College Board reported that 57% of SAT takers failed to qualify as “college ready.” Additionally, ACT recently reported that close to 31% (1 out of 3) high school graduates taking the ACT exam failed to meet any of the four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading, and science. These findings – besides the fact that any question of inadequate education or skills for our nation’s youth and future generations should always top of mind – tells us that yes, we should pay attention to such findings.

The PIACC is unlike school-based surveys (which focus on specific ages or grades of in-school students) and was designed as a household study of nationally representative samples of adults age 16-65. ETS’s report disaggregates the PIAAC data for Millennials (young adults born after 1980 who were 16–34 years of age at the time of the assessment). Let’s take a closer look at some of the top findings.

U.S. Millennials scored lower in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE (problem solving in technologically rich environments) than their global counterparts. Out of 22 participating countries, U.S Millennials:

  • Ranked above only Spain and Italy in literacy
  • Ranked last in numeracy (alongside Italy and Spain)
  • Ranked last in PS-TRE (alongside the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland)

March 24 2015 PIAAC Proficiency Levels

ETS compared top-performing and low-performing U.S Millennials with their global counterparts and examined the inequality in score distribution and found that:

  • Top-performing U.S. Millennials (90th percentile) scored lower than top-performing Millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries (only scoring above Spain)
  • Low-performing U.S. Millennials (10th percentile) ranked last along with Italy and England/Northern Ireland (scoring lower than Millennials in 19 participating countries)
  • There was a higher gap in scores (139 points) between U.S. Millennials at the 90th and 10th percentiles in the U.S than in 14 other participating countries (signaling a high degree of inequality in the distribution of scores)

March 25 2015 Numeracy Score Gaps 10th-90th Percentile

ETS also explored how Millennials with educational attainment perform over time and in relation to their peers internationally. They found that since 2003, the percentages of U.S. Millennials scoring below level 3 in numeracy (the minimum standard) increased at all levels of educational attainment.

ETS’s data highlight that despite rising levels of higher education attainment by U.S. young adults since 2003, the numeracy scores of U.S. Millennials, whose highest level of education is high school and above high school, have declined. ETS additionally found that:

  • S. Millennials with a 4 year bachelor’s degree scored higher in numeracy than their counterparts in only two countries (Poland and Spain),
  • The scores of U.S. Millennials whose highest level of educational attainment was either less than high school or high school were lower than those of their counterparts in almost every other participating country, and
  • Our best-educated Millennials (those with a master’s or research degrees) only scored higher than their peers in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.

Demographics also play a role in the performance of U.S. Millennials, and ETS noted that:

  • There was a strong relationship between parental levels of educational attainment and skills in all countries
  • Across all levels of parental educational attainment, there was no country where Millennials scored lower than those in the U.S.
  • The gap in scores between U.S. Millennials with the highest level of parental educational attainment and those with the lowest was among the largest of the participating countries.
  • In most countries, native-born Millennials scored higher than foreign-born Millennials (however native-born U.S. Millennials did not perform higher than their peers in any other country)

As ETS puts it, their “…primary concern is not to bemoan the nation’s declining status…. [but instead to] highlight deeper social issues concerning not only how we compete in a global economy, but also what kind of future we can construct when a sizable adult population—especially the millennials—lacks the skills necessary for higher-level employment and meaningful participation in our democratic institutions”. This report contains tough, but extremely meaningful data, and should be a huge indicator to the business, academic and political leaders of the U.S that our policies around education need urgent and major overhauling. As a business leader, I can’t grow my business unless my team has the skills needed to grow my business. It’s that simple. The sustainability of business in the U.S. is built on an unsustainable and very shaky educational foundation. We all need to ask ourselves: “what are we doing about this?”

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Deloitte’s HR Wake Up Call

Deloitte recently released its 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report, their annual comprehensive study of HR, leadership, and talent challenges compiled using data from surveys and interviews taken by 3,300+ HR and business leaders in 106 countries around the world. The report identifies 10 major trends that emerged from the most current research, and cites the capability gap (measuring the distance between the importance of an issue and organizations’ readiness to address it) associated with each, as well as practical ideas for how to help organizations combat theses challenges. Ranked by importance, the top ten talent challenges reported for 2015 are: culture and engagement, leadership, learning and development, reinventing HR, workforce on demand, performance management, HR and people analytics, simplification of work, machines as talent, and people data everywhere.

Deloitte’s data highlight considerable gaps in capability among all 10 trends, with the majority of capability gaps getting larger compared to last year. Global Importance vs. ReadinessLet’s take a look at the top five talent issues for 2015: Culture and Engagement ranked as the #1 issue overall for 2015 (not a surprise to us at Great Place to Work®), barely edging out leadership, which ranked as the #1 issue in 2014. This highlights organizations’ recognition that understanding their culture and focusing on building great cultures is a critical need in the face of a potential retention and engagement crisis. Building Leadership ranks as the #2 talent issue for 2015, with close to 9 out of 10 respondents citing the issue as “important” or “very important.” Despite this, Deloitte’s data show that organizations have made very little progress towards meeting this challenge since last year. Learning and Development jumped to the #3 talent challenge in 2015, up from the #8 spot last year. And while the number of companies rating learning and development as important has tripled since 2014, the readiness to address it has actually gone down (!?). Reskilling HR came in as the 4th most important talent issue for the year, with business leaders rating HR’s performance 20% lower than HR leaders’ ranking (and that is with both HR and business leaders ranking HR performance as low on average). Workforce on Demand was the #5 talent challenge for 2015, with 8 out of 10 respondents citing workforce capability as “important” or “very important” in the year ahead.

Through data analysis and extensive conversations with organizations around the world about these challenges, Deloitte arrived at six key findings that give us a bird’s eye view of how organizations are approaching talent and work:

  1. “ ‘Softer’ areas such as culture and engagement, leadership, and development have become urgent priorities.”
  1. “Leadership and learning have dramatically increased in importance, but the capability gap is widening.”
  1. “HR organizations and HR skills are not keeping up with business needs.”
  1. “HR technology systems are a growing market, but their promise may be largely unfulfilled.”
  1. “Talent and people analytics are a high priority and a tremendous opportunity, but progress is slow.”
  1. “Simplification is an emerging theme; HR is part of the problem.”

Each chapter in Deloitte’s report takes a deep dive view into the 10 talent trends they uncovered through their research with some interested findings. For example (in looking at the #4 trend, reskilling HR) Deloitte notes that nearly 40% of new CHRO’s now come from business, not from HR. Why are CEOs bringing in non-HR professionals to fill the role of CHRO? The answer may lie in their sinking belief in HR’s capabilities and abilities to provide solutions to people-related business problems.HR Performance

Deloitte puts it bluntly: right now HR is just not keeping up with the pace of business, and a reskilling of HR professionals while reinventing the role of HR is becoming critical. This need however, also creates an unprecedented opportunity for HR to play a big role at the highest levels of business strategy. But where do organizations start? Deloitte offers the following advice:

  • “Redesign HR with a focus on consulting and service delivery, not just efficiency of administration. HR business partners must become trusted business advisors with the requisite skills to analyze, consult, and resolve critical business issues.”
  • “Rather than locating HR specialists in central teams, embed them into the business—but coordinate them by building a strong network of expertise. Recruitment, development, employee relations, and coaching are all strategic programs that should be centrally coordinated but locally implemented.”
  • “Make HR a talent and leadership magnet… Create rigorous assessments for top HR staff and rotate high performers from the business into HR to create a magnet for strong leaders.”
  • “Invest in HR development and skills as if the business depended on it… Focus on capabilities such as business acumen, consulting and project management skills, organizational design and change, and HR analytical skills.”

There are very useful insights in this report – as there are every year. But this year the insights also serve as a warning to HR. A warning that it’s losing the confidence of CEOs and other C-Suite executives. That 40% of all CHROs are coming from functions other than HR should be sobering. That the top capability gaps are growing larger, not smaller, should be cause for concern. Without bringing furniture into the conversation, this report is a credible and important HR wake up call!

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Filed under China Gorman, Culture, Data Point Tuesday, Global Human Capital, HR, Human Resources, Leadership, Learning/Development

Who Really Cares About Employer Branding?

Data Point TuesdayIn a recent report by Universum, a tactical view of how organizations are attracting talent and combating problems is given with some fresh insight. The report: State of Employer Branding is part one a four-part 2020 Outlook series, based on responses from 2338 interviews conducted in the winter of 2014 in 18 different countries. Respondents represented a variety of industries and job functions with more than 50% working within HR, 16% being the CEO of their respective organization, and 23% working for organizations with more than 1000 employees in the country. Universum’s report starts by posing a necessarily blunt question to its readers, “How long have executives argued over the need to make talent attraction a corporate strategy rather than an HR strategy?” Point taken, talent acquisition remains an ongoing point of struggle for organizations, but is a critical strategy for organizations to remain competitive.

March 10 2015 Talent Acquisition Concerns

As Universum makes clear, we’ve known this for a while, so what are organizations doing to step up to issues relating to talent? Let’s take a look at the meaty details of Universum’s report….

Talent acquisition and retention is a complex equation involving (among other things) talent management and development, employer branding, and analytics to measure effectiveness. Part of the problem with employer branding is where responsibility lies:

  • 60% of CEO’s feel they own employer branding.
  • 58% of HR executives, 63% of talent acquisition executives, and 57% of recruiting executives say HR owns employer branding.
  • 39% of marketing executives point to HR owning the role and 40% to the CEO owning the role.

Why all this variability? Universum underlines repeated studies that have shown CEOs don’t believe HR is up to the task, as well as studies that say HR itself is not confident in their current approach, or do not feel their approach is innovative. Greater stakeholder cooperation is another broadly identified need when it comes to employer branding efforts:

  • 70% of senior executives see a closer need for stakeholder cooperation in the next 5 years.
  • 77% of HR executives see a closer need for stakeholder cooperation.
  • 53% of CEO’s see stakeholder cooperation as a growing need.

Though this is an identified need, without changing CEOs’ confidence in HR to solve strategic talent challenges, HR will be hard pressed to effect change in this area.

Universum asked respondents about their employer branding objectives, and how these objectives will change in the next five years.March 10 2015 Employer Branding Objectives

Interestingly, of all the objectives listed, none earns much more than one third of respondents’ votes. The most critical need is “to fulfill our short-term recruitment needs” but is claimed by just 36%. This should lead us to ask why so few executives (and CEOs in even lower numbers) are prioritizing such objectives? Universum offers the following explanations

  • Organizations face a lack of clarity about which objectives matter most
  • There is a perceived lack of ownership for the discipline of employer branding
  • Employer branding is not viewed as a critical priority when organizations face many other pressing challenges

To better understand their commitment, Universum studied how organizations are currently investing in employer branding:

March 10 2015 Employer Branding Budget

Overall, we see that organizations are overwhelmingly focused on external employer branding efforts. KPIs, however, often measure almost inclusively internal factors (presenting another potential issue).

Organizations also face a perceived gap when it comes to the association between consumer and employer brands. Recently there has been a concerted effort to more closely align employer and consumer brands, yet when executives were asked how closely they feel these are aligned, the responses indicated there’s still much work to be done:

  • 19% say their employer and consumer brands are the same
  • 36% say “there is a connection today”
  • 17% say there is no connection at all

When marketers were asked this question though, the answers were remarkably different, with marketers much more likely to report a connection between the employer and consumer brand.

How do organizations more forward with an employer branding and talent strategy when there appears to be little consensus about how to do so? Universum’s report cites from PwC’s global CEO survey, which reports that while 93% of CEOs say they know they need to change their strategy to attract and retain talent, 61% say they have not taken steps to do so yet. The first step towards addressing “the talent gap” may just be to get organizations to accurately recognize areas of misalignment and differing perceptions. Employer branding, as we see from this data, is certainly one of these areas. Organizations must also commit to an investment strategy; as Universum states: “If talent is as important to competitive might as capital, it must be managed and measured with the same disciple applied to financial planning and management.”

This report makes me think we have a massive showdown coming between HR and CEOs. I don’t know about you, but I think I know who’s going to win unless something big happens. And the only thing big I see happening is Marketing swooping in to save the day. HR, if you think you’re hearing footsteps, you probably are!

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Filed under China Gorman, Data Point Tuesday, Employer Branding, Talent Acquisition, Universum