Performance Reviews and Parent Teacher Conferences

17 Dec

     ’tis the season of the good ‘ol “performance reviews are alive and well”/”performance reviews are dead” debate. Personally, I’m happy it’s still a debate, at least it means people are actually thinking meaningfully about reviews.  This year I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about reviews as I helped develop their performance review tools.  This involved looking at the entire landscape of options in the market, including the traditional companies like SuccessFactors, Taleo, Halogen, Cornerstone, and looking at some of the new up and coming companies like Small Improvements, 7 Geese, GoodRevu etc.

     They are all pretty good and getting better. The bigger companies are focused on ease of use, reporting and connecting performance to compensation and development, the newer companies are employing new approaches to reviews (social, gaming) and user experience. I think there is a strong market for both.

Back to the “to do reviews” or “not to do reviews” debate. Last week I had parent – teacher conferences for my 8 year old. It was a great opportunity, 3.5 months into the year, to go over his grades, discuss his strengths and find out where improvement is needed for him to have a successful rest of the year and be prepared for the next year. I left the meeting feeling really good, and empowered. I knew exactly how he was doing subject by subject and had a plan to tackle the areas he needed to improve on (math, he gets that from me).

It was only the next day when I was speaking to a client about performance reviews that it hit me. Parent teacher conferences are a performance review. Done well they tell a parent exactly what they need to know to ensure their child’s success. When employee reviews are done well, they tell an employee exactly what they need to know to be successful and move up to the next level.

I know a big part of the debate is that ongoing feedback is much more important than 1-2 time a year reviews. I get regular feedback about my son too, homework, quizzes, projects and tests, but it’s those meetings 1-2 times a year that really drive home the keys to success. I am all for 1-1 meetings with employees on a regular basis, but it is those formal reviews that will let your employee know what it will take them to be successful moving forward and get to the next level.

Reviews are a key to happy, retained employees. As long as employees are clear about what they need to do to perform at a high level they will stick with you and give you 100. Focus less on the past and more on the keys to a successful future.


HR System Selection and Implementation Part VI: Implementations

30 Oct

Now we get to one of the more surprising aspects of implementing HR software. You have just spent the past few weeks reviewing all of the various components of a piece of HR software. The entire time the salesperson and other associated vendor representatives have been touting how easy the system is to use and set up. Now you’re getting down to the details and they spring this on you.

“It will take 2-3 months to get the system up and running”.

“What?” you ask, “How can that be, you told me this was a really easy to use system and I assumed the implementation would be easy too?”

In their defense, the system they showed you was easy to use, but it was a mock site set up for that purpose. In all likelihood, when the system was created it was probably implementable in a week or two. As functionality and features were added, the system now requires an increased level of customization to meet each organizations individual needs. It’s sort of a catch 22, if you want a lot of features and functionality, you are going to be looking at a more complex system and require a lot more time and effort. If you want easy implementation, you may not get all the features you want.

Something else to know, implementations are so complex that most vendors outsource the design and implementation to a third party. That should give you a sense of how tough this is going to be.

My advice for the vendors is to design the system in micro-pieces that can be set up individually and then added together. Make it easy to set up (drag and drop) a review process or a candidate workflow by looking at each component of the process individually rather than at the macro level. With an easy workflow, documentation and wizards most experienced HR people should understand the options and be able to make the right selections.

Here’s my recommendation for HR people, before shopping for a system know what your processes and requirements look like. You may get lucky and find a system that was designed to do just that and you should be able to be up and running in a pretty short amount of time. If you go into your search not knowing what you want, you will spend a considerable amount of time designing your processes and implementing the system.

HR Systems Needs and Desires Part V: Integrations

16 Oct

It is an inevitable question you know is going to come up at some point when discussing HR software, “What other systems does it integrate with?” HR people are tired of having to duplicate data entry in multiple systems every time you have new hire, someone leaves or you need change some information. The classic scenario is a new hire. If you have no integrations and use multiple systems the new hire may need to be added to your HRIS, payroll provider, benefits provider, 401K, intranet, performance management system, learning management system and the list goes on.

The Need

The need for integration exists is because the full HRM/TM solutions don’t necessarily have best-in-class components. Their ATS may not have the social component you are looking for like Jobvite or their performance reviews may only support an annual process and not ongoing feedback like other newer systems. Inevitably, an organization ends up with some point solutions that they use for various HR functions. Now the key is figuring out how to integrate the point solutions with the system of record so that information gets shared between the systems.

Challenges to Integration

First and foremost the biggest challenge for HR people is finding vendors that actually want to integrate. Many vendors are not interested in integrating in the hope that customers will only use their platform for all their HRM/TM needs. A great way to retain customers is to ensure that your system is their only system of record.

The second is systems design. To have an open API you have to design your system in a way that lends it itself to being integrated easily with other systems. Until recently, systems were not necessarily designed with integration in mind. Most systems being built now are specifically built with open APIs.

The third is the sheer number of vendors constantly popping up across the HR systems spectrum. As a vendor you need to pick and choose who you want to integrate with, you can’t integrate with everyone. Vendors will choose to integrate with companies that they see as complimentary and matching their needs without being a threat to their ability to sell their own platform.


As with any software search you probably have a long list of things you are looking for. You may not get everything you want so it is also important to prioritize each item. Decide how important integration is to you and with which systems is integration integrally important. You can eliminate a number of vendors pretty easily if you decide that a specific integration is critical and they don’t support it.

HR Systems Needs and Desires Part IV: Configurability

10 Oct

For reference, here is a partial list of the HR systems I have implemented or used: Halogen, Sonar 6, Taleo ( and Vurv), HRSmart, iCims, ADP, Paychex, Namely, Jobvite and Oracle

As I previously wrote, almost every HR system I have encountered claims full customizability of all of their features. Whenever I hear this I get a bit weary. From my experience, a fully customizable system means that I will have a lengthy implementation process, long documents to complete and the system will be engineered for me. Custom built sounds great, but it also means you won’t be able to change much without going through a formal development process and probably some cost. It’s sort of like buying a custom suit. It’s great to have and you love designing it and getting fitted, but if you gain or lose a few pounds you can hardly wear it. And no one else can use it either.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy designing HR systems, but anyone who has implemented any system knows that organizational requirements will change all the time and they need to be accommodated. Workflows change, processes change, organizational structures change and that means that the HR system that supports that process will need to be changed.

For larger systems even the features you are supposed to be able to change on your own are pretty complicated to understand and require all types of support. Workday, the HR system everyone HR person dreams about, requires some pretty serious ongoing consultation to support it. An example of the complexity and danger with features of large scale systems I often hear about is when an admin makes a change to one part of the system not realizing that they have exposed parts of the system they may not have wanted to. I.e. a change to a permission set allows all team members to see each other’s compensation.

As a system buyer you want to have absolute clarity on what the build process will be, an understanding of why it will take the amount of time it will take to build and the process and cost for making changes at any point before you commit. If it seems complicated it probably is. I’m not saying complexity should be the deciding factor, just be clear about what you are getting.

There are a point players out there right now who are focused on creating user friendly, self-serve systems, but so far they have been developed with limited functionality. As soon as they start adding some functionality and features this will directly impact the ability to be self-serve.  I look forward to the day when HR systems will be built with maximum configurability in mind. I’ll buy it.

HR Systems Needs and Desires Part III: Data and Dashboards

7 Oct

It’s amazing to me how many HR pros are now so focused on data. Not that I am surprised, I have lived by data for the past 10 years, it is just that until recently the HR data discussion was reserved for really big companies. These companies were using SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft or some other system to inform them about the thousands of global employees they were trying to keep track of. Small and medium sized businesses neither had the systems or the desire (my impression) to track data. Now it’s all anyone can talk about, regardless of the size of your organization.

Why is data so important?

Two relevant, personal examples immediately come to mind. The first was when I was working for an organization that was looking to double the size of the organization over a 2 year period. Let’s say that organization had 500 employees and a 20% annual turnover rate. To get to 750 after the first year they would need to hire 350 employees (250 new heads and 100 backfill heads for the 20% that left). In the second year to get to 1000 they would need to hire 400 employees (250 new heads and 150 backfill). If the organization can cut its turnover in half, it would need to backfill 125 fewer employees over the two year period. At an extremely conservative cost of $25K per turnover (made up number, well below the actual cost) the company would save $3.125Mil over the two years. That’s a huge number. That is exactly what happened.

The second example was when I was trying to convince the CFO and CEO of a company to invest more money into getting employee referrals. There is a lot of research and literature that suggests that employee referrals are the best source of hire, but they wanted their own data. After aggregating data from a couple of sources we found that given a set period of time (we looked at 24 months post hire) referred new hires were twice as likely to still be with the company than non-referred employees. That’s a pretty important piece of information to have!

So what’s the issue?

Personally, I have always loved data. I love looking at hiring data and analyzing the success of an interview process.  I love deploying surveys, calculating the results, setting benchmarks, creating action plans and trying to get the numbers to move. I love correlating data and seeing how making an organizational change can make a significant impact on survey results and ultimately your people.

And I love dashboards more than anything.

As an HR person there is nothing like being able to log into a system and seeing at your fingertips: open roles, costs, candidates in the pipeline, new hires, employee satisfaction, attrition or anything else related to your people.

It’s really too bad this doesn’t exist.

Crazy as that may sound, all I hear about is the frustration HR folks have trying to get accurate data so that they can make critical decisions. For example, if you wanted to measure the efficacy of a group of hiring managers based on a couple of factors, let’s say: time to hire, performance of new hires, satisfaction of new hires and attrition, you would need to log into multiple systems (ATS, Performance Management, HRIS), pull the data and try to put it all together in some kind of spreadsheet. In all likelihood none of those systems is providing the data in a clear way that make is easy to pull that spreadsheet together. Definitely, none of those systems allows you to integrate or easily pull data into so that maybe you could have one system of record and create one report, but that is for a different post.

While some might point to Workday as exactly what I am describing, that might be true from a dashboard standpoint, but where is the data? Companies are not using Workday for all of their talent management needs (They don’t have an ATS yet). Workday is also incredibly expensive to implement and maintain so clearly it is not for everyone.

Bottom line is the HR market is wide open for a company that wants to be the system of record for anything and everything HR related, has clean, configurable dashboards (think Salesforce) and creates great reports. Looking forward to seeing that sometime soon!

HR System Selection and Implementation Part II: Needs and Desires

4 Oct

This is the second part of a a two part post on HR Systems: Needs and Desires. The first post is here

Integration: I can’t help but laugh when I hear what peoples expectations are for integration. I think the hope is that somehow you will click a button and trigger an endless number of actions and events that will mean you never have to do anything again. The Rube Goldberg machine of HR. Somehow with the push of a button, employees will be on boarded, added to payroll, signed up for benefits, given the resources they need, trained, have their performance measured and all of their data will come flowing back to HR in a neat little dashboard. Automagically.
Easy Implementation: Implementation is one of the biggest issues HR software vendors are currently dealing with. Many vendors do not even do their own implementations, you need to work with an external consultant to help design and implement the system. I am not sure why HR vendors have not figured this out yet, but it is a huge frustration to a client when you are getting near the signing point only to learn that implementation is going to take 3-4 months at a minimum, you are going to have to pay a consultant an exorbitant amount of money (anywhere from $20K to $100K+ depending on the system and size of your organization) and dedicate a significant amount of internal resources and time. Even more frustrating when the estimates are off and all of the above items are double.
Low Cost: Proposals I have recently seen for HR software comes with all kinds of interesting additional costs and line items. There might be an implementation cost, per user license cost, admin license cost, maintenance fees, customer service fees, fees to make changes to the system, fees to cancel and the list goes on. HR professionals don’t want to see proposals with a number of costs, it’s hard to bring that to your CFO. They want to see all the costs bundled into one low price, the real low price the first time.

Over the next few weeks I will take a deeper dive into all of these areas. Any and all feedback is appreciated.

HR System Selection and Implementation Part I: Needs and Desires

3 Oct

Due to a consulting engagement, I have recently spent a considerable amount of time speaking to various companies about their HR system needs and desires. The conversations have been great and generated a number of thoughts and ideas. I thought it would be good to get all of the thoughts and ideas down on paper while they are still fresh in my mind. My hope is to turn this into a series of articles to be published over the next few weeks.

Before I get to the needs and desires, one of the most fascinating themes I have come across over the past few months is the universality of the dissatisfaction HR people have with the systems they are currently using. This is from Payroll/HRIS to Applicant Tracking Systems to Performance Management Systems and everything in between.           No one is happy. In the literally dozens of conversations I have had, I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard, “I love this system”. I am not sure why there is such a significant gap between what clients are looking for and what HR software companies are producing, but clearly it is there.

Needs and Desires

So what is everyone looking for in their HR systems? Here is the primary list I have put together:

  • Data and Dashboards: Everyone wants data and they want it to be easy to access and clear. The data conversation used to be primarily with large companies, but now small and mid-size companies are looking for lots of the same data points around their people. Salesforce has set the standard for dashboards and HR people want their dashboards to be easy to set up and look like Salesforce’s does.
  • Configurability: Every system claims customizability, but in a meeting I had yesterday with a head of HR, he stated, “I want configurability not customizability”. I couldn’t agree more. The difference being that companies can customize their system for you, but that typically means that for you to make any changes to the customization they will need to have engineers redesign it for you. Configurability means I can make those changes myself.

Part II of this list coming tomorrow.

Career Advice for College Students

13 Feb

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with 20-25 college age boys about careers. The conversation was based on my own education and career path and what I have learned along the way. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did think there were a few things worth sharing though.

 What I learned:

  • Most college age students have no idea what they want to do as a career. About 50% of the students I spoke with, when asked, had no clue what they wanted to be when they grew up. I’m not sure what to make of this, or how to fix it, but I don’t believe it is necessarily a bad thing. I think many students today realize that they may not want to take a traditional path to a traditional career. The key is figuring out how to take a nontraditional path and what that career, potentially non-traditional, is.
  • Those who do know what they want to do for a career do not know what it takes to get there. Undergraduate and graduate education is still a mystery to most college students. There is definitely a lack of belief that most undergrad degrees will provide you with much more than a good opportunity to go to graduate school. That is sad. The students who felt they were getting the most out of their education were those who intended to go to graduate school. This does not say much for our post-secondary education system.

What I shared:

  • Go for what you are passionate about. Success comes from passion, not from trying to pick the perfect field/job. We live in an amazing era that has allowed people to create great companies from nothing and follow their passion instead of just getting a job. I encouraged the boys to figure out what they are passionate about and then turn that into a career.
  • If you are going to school make sure you know what the terminal degree is. As Stephen Covey would put it, “Begin with the end in mind”. Know what the last piece of formal education you will need for your career to never hit a ceiling. I shared my own experience of both my wife and I finishing our graduate degrees while working full time and having multiple kids. As hard as it was, it only gets harder later. You never want to reach a point in your career where you cannot advance because you do not have enough education. Know what you need at the outset, create a path and execute.

The session lasted about an hour and was very conversational. It was a great experience and I hope to do it again soon. The best part was that by the end of the session I had about 5 new LinkedIn requests.

Reinforcing Behaviors and Changing Patterns: Lessons from My 3 Year Old

7 Sep

I recently had a conversation with a manager who was relating to me a complaint that one of their employees had. This is not the first time I have had this conversation. Since this particular complaint included something I could have done differently I asked the manager why the employee did not come to me directly. Then I changed my tact and told the manager that I could not respond unless the employee came to me directly. I wanted the pattern to stop.

If I did respond I would be reinforcing the pattern instead of improving it. Employee goes to manager, manager comes to me, I respond to manager, manager goes back to employee….

This reminded me of when my 6 year old, Tzvi, first started school as an almost 3 year old. The school rule was that he was supposed to be potty trained in order to be able to go, and he pretty much was, but then he had an accident. So the school called my wife, she went to the school, changed him and came back home. Sure enough, the next day the same thing happened, he had an accident, she showed up, changed him and went home. Almost everyday for the next few weeks this happened and either me or my wife (or a great grandfather once, no joke!) went and changed him. What was troubling was that the accidents were not happening at home at all. I tried explaining to the school director the pattern we were getting stuck in and suggested they not call us one time and see what happens, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Eventually we got the inevitable phone call, the school wanted us to take him home, he wasn’t ready for school.

I decided it was time to play my trump card. I called the school director back and made her an offer. I would pay $20 for any teacher that was willing to change Tzvi when he had an accident and I would pay as many times as necessary. I asked her to try it for a week. The only stipulation was that we could not be called. $20 was just enough money to make it work and she found a teacher who was willing to do it. The next day I waited for the phone call letting me know how much I would have to send in, it never came. Or the next day. I never got another phone call. As soon as Tzvi saw that no one was going to come visit him of he had an accident it was all over. He knew how to go to the potty, but the one time he had an accident and his mom came to visit him he figured out a new pattern to get to see his mom.

Next time you need to respond to a negative situation and it seems all too familiar ask yourself why. Why am I doing this again? Will my response reinforce that this is the right behavior and keep it going? What can I do to stop the pattern?

Why Great Feedback is so Hard to Give

5 Oct

FACT: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD FEEDBACK. There is feedback that is poorly delivered (we’ve all experienced that boss) but all feedback is good feedback, and definitely better than no feedback. There can, however, be positive and negative feedback. Both are equally important for high level performance.

Positive – Nice shirt and nice pants. Negative – But they don’t match.

Feedback is one of the most critical requirements for sustained high-level performance of any human. – Ferdinand Fournies

It’s pretty easy to understand why it’s hard to deliver negative feedback. You don’t know how it is going to be received, you don’t know how your employee will react and it makes you feel really awkward. However, any employee who has had even a modicum (look it up) of success will tell you that one of the secrets to their success is the feedback they received. Many employees I speak to tell me their favorite managers were the ones who gave feedback whether it was positive or negative, they just appreciated getting it.

So why is it so hard for managers to give feedback even when it is good feedback?

Here is my theory. Unfortunately, much of the feedback we get is poorly delivered. Even when it is positive many managers do an inadequate job of delivering it (Tip: they key to effective feedback is 1. timeliness 2. specificity). Therefore feedback generally has a negative connotation associated with it. The word and meaning cause a negative emotional reaction based on our own personal experiences. That sucks. It’s like we are doomed for a life because the first few times we got feedback someone did a crappy job. So, like most things we have a bad emotional reaction to, we choose to avoid it.

Avoidance is our #1 defense mechanism and we use it often.

So what is the solution? Simply put – change the pattern. Anytime you have a consistent emotional reaction to something it means there is an established pattern. You may not even mean to react that way, maybe there isn’t even a good reason, but it happens. Patterns are a killer to break, but they can be broken. Think about a food you never used to eat and now just discovered you actually like. For years whenever someone even mentioned the name of that food (i.e. spinach) you cringed. Then one day you were convinced to try it, and it wasn’t so bad. Now you probably still have the same emotional reaction when you hear the worked or see spinach but you have learned to overcome it with your positive experiences.

They key is to start by doing at least one thing differently whenever you are in the same situation again so that the pattern is disrupted. You have to recognize the behaviors you exhibit whenever you are faced with the situation and consciously change the way you react, even if it is only one little thing. If, for example, you typically push off scheduling a meeting to deliver feedback, change the pattern by immediately scheduling the meeting. You have not even delivered the feedback but already you are changing the pattern about how you deliver feedback. Sometimes something as simple as changing the location where you usually deliver the feedback can lead to much bigger change.

These small changes will lead to better experiences (or at least experiences that are not as miserable). Over time (sometimes a long time) creating positive experiences will create new emotional reactions. Soon you’ll be an expert at delivering feedback and gain a reputation as an awesome boss. Who doesn’t want that???