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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 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.

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?

Best Consulting/Coaching/Mentoring/Meeting Question

13 Sep

Last week as I was perusing the aisles of my local supermarket (I went for rye bread, perusing was for cake), I bumped into a former colleague of mine, a really talented couples therapist. We started talking about couples therapy and various styles, mine is pretty distinct (strategic therapy). She mentioned that she had recently been to a workshop by Terrence Real and he brought up the key question he starts each session with and she thought it was right up my alley.

It was. Here’s how it goes, “What would you like to have accomplished by the end of this session?” In an advanced form (maybe after the relationship with the client is established)  this can be asked as, “What will be different at the end of this session?”

Think about it. Setting the expectations that way from the start of the session removes all the need for exploration as to what the issues are. In fact, it removes the need for negative reinforcement typical in therapy that requires the parties to complain about each other. (ok, it’s not required, but that’s what happens). It starts the session off on an optimistic note and allows for positive potential outcomes to be imagined.

When mentoring or coaching an employee, using this type of questioning at the outset can expedite the process by beginning with the end in mind. What are you hoping tot get out of this relationship/meeting? The onus is now on the employee to make the most of the session by providing a well thought out answer.  It may even be best to send the question to the employee prior to the session so they know what to expect and are not thrown off.

In meeting settings this type of questioning can lay the ground work for a mutually beneficial outcome. Parties have the opportunity to share what’s important to them prior to getting down to work.

I think one of the most important implications this question has is that it pushes for a results orientation. Once hopes have been established it is up to the parties involved to make it happen.

Amelia Bedelia and Managerial Power

13 May

Just to clarify,  I am not breaking my rule about sensationalistic blog post titles, there’s a good connection here.

In a communications class for managers I facilitated yesterday we had a great discussion about how your communication changes when you go from being an individual contributor to becoming a manager. Whether you like it or not your communication is more authoritative when your a manager.

Case in point:

As Bill returned to his office, he overheard Judy, the accounting department assistant, comment to a supplier on the telephone.

“Yes Mr. Goodwin,” Judy said, “Lucy will definitely call you early next week.  I know how important that financial report is to you.”

“What’s going on?” interrupted Bill.  “Where is Lucy?  I gave her last Monday off, not the entire week!”

“That’s strange,” replied Judy.  “Lucy told me you gave her the week off.  And because of your suggestion, she was going to Jamaica with her boyfriend.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Bill, annoyed.  “Last week she asked for Monday off.  I felt she had taken enough vacation time in the last few months and sarcastically told her ‘Why not take the entire week off and go to Jamaica with your boyfriend.’”

“Well, Bill, I guess she took your advice literally and did just that,” said Judy, laughing.

When you are a manager, your direct reports and others take what you say much more literally. As we were discussing this yesterday the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish came to mind. (Peggy died in 1988, but my kids still love her books today. I actually just ordered a bunch after my 7 year old read the original book and loved it). If you remember the character, Amelia Bedelia takes instructions literally, extremely literally. Dress the chicken, draw the drapes, steal home etc. My kids get a crack out of seeing how Amelia will misinterpret all of the instructions and come up with her own interpretation.

This is ok in a kids book, not at work. Managers need to recognize that what they say now carries weight and is taken literally. If you make a flippant, sarcastic comment like “forget about it” the odds are now greater that it will actually be forgotten. You can’t expect to then follow up the next week and say “what are we doing about ABC?”

As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Blog Post Pet Peeves

11 May

I blog because I need to become a better writer  so that I can eventually write a book worthy of me getting on Oprah, make a ton of money and reach my ultimate dream of just being able to hang out at the gym all day. Therefore, I blog so that I can gym.

I also read a number of blogs to get ideas of what or how I should write. Over time I have come to the realization that there are a number of things that bloggers do that get on my nerves, so I figured I would write about it.

1. Relating some current cultural reference to the point your trying to make just because it will get you noticed.

“Oil Spills and How You Can Improve Employee Morale”

“Why Lady Gaga Would Make a Great CEO”

“Recruiting Techniques and Remaking the Karate Kid”

Let’s face it, almost anything in the world can be related to anything else. We all learned that lesson from 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon and learn it everyday through social networking. Just because they can be related doesn’t mean they should be. If you are just relating the two items because they make a good headline is that really a good relationship? Most of these tend to be forced relationships anyway and you realize halfway through that the author is reaching and has lost you somewhere between “What Obama Could Learn from Iron Man 2” and “Why Congress is Like American Idol”.

2. Linking for no reason whatsoever.

This one really grates on my nerves. I am all for linking if it helps me understand a concept that I may not know or introduces me to something novel, but would I not know what a hamburger was without your clever little link to Wikipedia? Or maybe not know where NY is if not for your sending me to Google Maps?

Link if I need it, not to just add some color to your blog entry.

3. Not having an opinion.

Did you really start a blog to just relate the news? You’re competing with CNN?

Have an opinion! Right or wrong, yes or no. This is your little pedestal, use it!

<feeling better already>

Performance Management, A Stamp in Time

4 May

Recently a number of HR professionals have been raising the idea of getting rid of the performance management process and the appraisals that come with them. There argument is that feedback does not happen on an ongoing basis because managers are waiting for mid year or end of the year reviews to provide feedback. They would prefer the focus be on an ongoing basis and not just twice a year.

Of course, I agree with the notion of feedback being an ongoing conversation, but I think the notion of “doing away” with the entire performance management process is throwing out the baby with the bath water. The issue is not with the review process, the issue is that managers are not giving feedback to their employees in a timely, consistent manner. Perhaps they are using mid-year reviews and the performance management process as an excuse for not meeting with their employees more regularly, but that is a separate issue.

One solution is to build “check-ins” into your performance management process. Most software out there will allow you to schedule reviews throughout the year and not just 1-2 times a year. Technology helps if used properly

The reason I like the performance management process is that provides that much needed “stamp in time”. It’s hard to measure performance on an ongoing basis, how will managers see and measure growth and performance? Remember when you were a kid and your mom would measure you and your siblings on the back of a door? There was not point in doing that every day or every week was there? Measured at the right intervals and you could, hopefully, see some significant growth.

I am all for coaching and feedback as a continuous process, but don’t take away my end of the year appraisal. It’s when I learn if and how much I’ve grown this year.

Hey HR, Wanna Influence? Change the Way the Game is Played

3 May

What do Zappos, Netflix and Amazon all have in common? If you guessed cool, new companies you wouldn’t be wrong, but their is something even more fundamentally amazing about them. They have all changed the way the game is played within their respective industries.

Look at Netflix for example. Netflix shares are up 130% (Over $100 now!) over the past year while Blockbuster is down to over 50% (now trading at $0.40). Netflix did not look to just get into the DVD rental business, CEO Reed Hastings set out to change the way the game is played! His company is now worth over $5 Billion while Blockbuster is worth under $100 Million. Netflix continues to focus on innovation by now working on streaming video through multiple platforms.

When you look at most HR organizations, processes and systems today they look a lot like they did 50 years ago. Recruiting looks the same, performance management looks the same and little has changed in the way that training, compensation or benefits. HR, unfortunately still looks a lot like Toby on The Office, outdated and out of touch.

If HR really want to become influencers we need to innovate. We need to come up with a better way to recruit, develop and retain people. We need to find better ways to develop talent. We need to work in real time as the last few years of economic uncertainty have shown that long-term planning has little value.

I love to hear and read about innovation in the workplace, but the last few conferences I have gone to have been disappointing. The presentations I am seeing today the same things I was seeing from HR pros 7-8 years ago. It’s time to innovate.

If you are innovating or have seen some innovative HR initiatives that work drop me a line, please!

Top of Mind

18 Nov

Any great sales person will tell you that one of the keys to sales is always being “top of mind”. This refers to a sales person or organization’s ability to be the first one thought of to provide a solution for a client’s challenge.  The goal is to be the first email or call the potential client makes to have the best opportunity to win the client’s business.

This past Halloween one of our sales people took this to a whole new level. He dressed up as Superman and went around to all of his clients dropping off candy. Just a great excuse to stop by and see how business is doing and if they needed us for anything. A great way to stay top of mind.

There is a great lesson to be learned here by training and OD professionals. How do we stay top of mind to our clients? How do we position ourselves to be the first one’s thought of to provide a solution? What can we do while not training or consulting to better understand the business and our client’s needs so that when they have a challenge they see us as a solution. That’s the key to being top of mind.

If you want to be consultative and strategic (I am not sure I know what they mean, but everyone seems to want to be) you need to figure out how to become the go to person or department. When your employees are chasing you down for help you’ll know you’ve made it.

So, Did we Ever get a Seat at the Table?

22 Oct

For years the big HR conversation was about HR getting a seat at the table. The goal was for the HR head  to be  considered an equal partner within the executive team. I don’t hear as much chatter about it these days, so what happened? Did HR get the at the table?

Here is my though on it:

I don’t think it ever happened. My litmus test? How many CEO’s do you see that were former heads of HR? To truly have an equal seat at the table means you need an equal say, which means you have enough knowledge to be able to potentially be the CEO. That’s typically the head of sales, CFO and COO. Why not HR? Because HR has never acquired enough knowledge.

HR should be able to produce, sell and support whatever the business sells, if you can do that then you are an equal partner. The only way for HR to be taken seriously is to really understand the business and how it functions. HR continues to fail to provide ROI beyond hiring, retention and employee satisfaction/engagement. When HR starts to show how it contributes to the business success we’ll have made it.

The opportunity is still there, HR needs to be seen as not just a contributor, a knowledgeable asset too.