Sunday, November 30, 2008

HRM in tough times

I have been asked over the last few months to write about HRM in tough times and to change presentations and executive education programs to focus on the current business climate. I can do that, but what's interesting about these requests is that even if I change the title of what I'm talking about, I continue to teach and present the same material.

That is because I am convinced that the issue we should be focused on is not what HR does differently when times are tough but what HR should be doing differently ALL THE TIME.

How long will we continue to talk about HR moving from administrative to strategic before realizing that HR in tough times and HR in good times is just plain old HR being strategic and paying attention to the times - all the time.

Any high caliber HR function today should be totally in sync with the changing nature of the business environment. This is, by the way, NOT the same as being aligned with strategy (which for some reason continues to be the big focus for HR).

Perhaps it is the mantra of strategic alignment that has lulled many firms into complacency by thinking that internal alignment makes them so strong they can weather the storm of the changing business conditions.

I continue to think HR should be less worried about alignment and more concerned with environmental scanning and realignment. What better way to inform your management team of the changes that are happening 'out there' than by being in better communications with employees who are talking to clients, suppliers, partners, and other stakeholders?

HR teams that find sophisticated methods for tapping into employees knowledge will be able to do the right things in tough times; they will anticipate tougher and better times and be able to help the leadership team continually change tactics and strategies when needed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Investing to Make Money? Radical New Idea

Does reading the news make your stomach turn?

We went through the crisis that was called the dot-com bust. What happened then? Investors put money into small firms at a value that was not 'real.' They gave lots of money to these pre-IPO firms that were losing money, and then these businesses moved into the quarterly nightmare cycle when they finally did their IPO in order to make Wall Street happy in short spurts. The firms made no real money, and eventually everyone figured out that the valuations made no sense, and the dot com bubble burst.

Today we are witnessing a madness of similar making. Albeit, more complex, basically a lot of bad investments were made. Markets grew and grew in order to satisfy the quarterly measurement cycle, make bonuses, grow rich on promises, and then use an elaborate system of borrowing non-existent money to move over to non-existent accounts and somehow along the way convince everyone to just keep getting more mortgages and keep borrowing and lending until one day, the promise was, most of the ‘people’ would become incredibly wealthy.

And now - billions and trillions of dollars (I can't even imagine that much money) is being handed out to the people who made the mess in the first place. I know.. it's necessary, but it does not make sense.

Here's what I'd suggest. Since we have billions available to toss 'out there,' what if we find a way to create a 'real' wealth creation vehicle?

I want someone to restart the IPO market with REAL companies that agree to do business under a completely new set of rules. Start out with a new fund for real companies that follow the real company mantra.

Real company mantra:

1. They make something real - that you can see, touch, or use (it adds value); they have a real place where people go to work, and they have real employees.

2. Their shareholders have access to the BEST communications and data that any shareholder has ever had before.

3. Short-term quarterly results are less important than annual progress. No short-term incentives will be in place for executives.

4. All employees have stock options or equivalents.

New data that stakeholders will have access to:

* Employee survey data - done monthly - with open-ended comments about all the things the board and clients care about. The Board gets this data directly.

* Customer survey data - done quarterly - with open-ended comments about all the things board and clients care about. Board gets the data directly.

* Key Investor survey data - to get feedback about what they are seeing in the market, what they are looking for, how they think their investment dollars are being managed. This also is given to the Board.

* Partner, supplier, and community survey data - to assess how the investment is doing in the community, working with key stakeholders, etc. Yes, these data too are given to the Board.

* Summary report given to all stakeholders, and summaries that are used for regular, interactive, and healthy board discussions on a regular basis. These discussions inform and help us redirect strategy because we know that the strategy making process must change (high rate of change is forcing us to alter our models of how we do business).

* Third-party firms does the data collection, benchmarking (within the fund), and provides the reports to the Board and other interested parties. This is a new ‘stakeholder audit’ function.

The firms grow; they sell real stuff; they hire employees; they create wealth, and then these firms go public. The data gathering and sharing with the board and clients continues after going public. A new type of audit function is built out; strategizing is more nimble, agile, and on target.

Quarterly and annual meetings are held with all the stakeholders in the pre-IPO fund to share best practices and learning. Thought leaders are included in the programs to teach what is learned from all the data that the firms in the fund have collected because these types of data can change what we know in management theory.

This is the organizational learning fund, designed to grow great businesses that continue to succeed - to take them public - and to rebuild confidence in the economy. We could do it via entrepreneurial firms; the fund should be global because entrepreneurial firms that can grow like this are all over the world.

The IPO market just may be the place to grow wealth again in the shortest time possible.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What if we got rid of performance appraisals?

I had a great meeting yesterday with two HR executives who suggested that, at least in their organization, they just stop doing performance appraisal. I can't tell you how happy I was to hear this statement. Whenever I teach, I preach the same thing. Why?

* Per the HR executive: Performance appraisal causes problems, takes tons of time, results in ratings that we all know are not quite accurate, and really - we want managers to talk to employees regularly not once a year.

* Push-back HR executive got from her team: We need them for legal reasons. She has been around long enough to know first hand that this is just not the case. Plus, if managers had 'regular' conversations, then you would have better data.

How do you assure regular conversations? We were talking about adding a question to a regular survey asking employees "are you getting feedback from your managers?" This is a simple solution - something that real managers would trade in for the yearly agony of having to fill out the long, painful performance appraisal forms.

Other defenses I've heard for keeping performance appraisal:

* The 'keep' argument: You need it for merit pay.

* The 'delete' argument: Let's face it - if you are lucky, you have 3% budgeted for merit pay; this is not even cost of living. Why not just give cost of living to everyone who does well enough to stay and then add a recognition program for above and beyond (outstanding) performance? You don't need performance appraisal for that.

When I teach performance appraisal, I title the section: "In search of the right form." Throughout history we have tried and tried to change the forms. Sometimes we go backwards and take what we used to do and change labels. In fact, one could argue that the recent move toward competencies are just BARS (remember those- behavioral anchored rating scale) all over again.

No matter how long the form, how complex the process, managers HATE doing it.

Doing the performance appraisal, no matter what, is a negative experience. It demotivates both employees and managers. I wonder what the effect on productivity is of performance appraisal. Managers hate doing it; employees hate receiving this formal document, and everyone spends way too much time on it.

I just want to say thank you to the HR executive I met who brought up this topic. And she is not with a small company; she is well trained in HRM, and I am convinced she can make it work.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Big Bailout: Rewarding What Behavior?

In discussing the current financial crisis, I've been in conversations where friends ask 'how could this happen?' At the origin of much of the situation is the mortgage market. So, you say how could homeowners take on such large mortgages? Why did they keep refinancing and refinancing? Well, let's think about it - the government rewarded it, and the mortgage industry and homeowners responded to their incentives.

In the 'olden days' the tax system was set up to allow people to deduct interest paid on credit cards, car payments, and basically any other type of credit. Then the system was overhauled so that the ONLY thing that basically can be deducted is the interest paid on mortgage payments.

Consumers are smart; they took on second mortgages to pay off cars, credit cards, loans for projects, etc. The mortgage industry made money on this behavior, then they got creative and put together other packages to bring in even more people into the mortgage market.

If you reward a behavior, you get it.

So .. with the new bailout plan, just what is the government rewarding? What about the $25 billion they are giving the auto companies? It's interesting how that is now 2nd (or 3rd, 4th) page news when compared to the $700 billion for the financial industry. What new behavior will the bailouts (plural) motivate leaders to pursue?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Research, Reputation, and the Power of One Number

I wanted to thank everyone who took time to write a comment about the "consumer of research" story. It was interesting to speak with my colleagues who attended the Academy of Management meeting this month about the "HRM rankings case."

There was an interesting mix of "shock" that this could happen (that the system being used to do the rankings, which are so important to academics, can be so fraught with error), to people thinking the whole process of depending on one number is silly, to congratulations that the journal is doing so well overall, to a few people saying they would never publish again in HRM because the impact factor number is not what they thought it was (this was 1% of the many people I spoke with by the way).

For those interested in HRM, in particular, I can tell you that we have recalculated the last 7 years, and as our 'instinct' suggested to many of us, the numbers have been going up, and they continue to rise. However, HRM is not ranked higher than AMJ, and you know what, that is not our goal. If anyone wants more information (I did get this request from several colleagues), please write to me directly, and I can share what I know.

HRM is a bridge journal, and we will continue to pride ourselves in providing high quality 'bridge' material. This means we will publish papers that are rigorous and that cover research which has value in the real world. We will publish manuscripts that bring new learning to the table, be it in the form of case studies, thought pieces, literature reviews, exploratory studies, or original, theory-based research. Papers that are not research focused will 'bridge' to research by suggesting ideas for researchers. Research studies include sections on implications for practitioners.

We will stay true to our mission, and our team is committed to do the best it can do. Our reputation is built on more than just one number (thank you to Andrea Wyatt-Budd for her comment about reputation; if you have not read it, please do).

The lessons learned for me is to be a better consumer of research. None of us should be lulled into a state of complacency because we are depending on a number that makes us look good. I love data, and so do a lot of people in my network. But as I say when doing business at eePulse, it's not the data that really matters. Data can be used to start high-level dialogue, and the data and dialogue are where true learning can be derived. The search for a magic number will always be a search because magic numbers do not exist.

Numbers are helpful to us because they make us question, help us calibrate results, and they provide learning. But alone, they are nothing.

Maybe we should think about this as we lead, consult, and teach.

Think about the one quarterly stock price number, the annual performance review score, the yearly employee survey benchmark, or the once every six months customer service statistic. What are you doing with these data? Are they being used to engage in action-focused dialogue? Or are they used for something else, and is that other purpose perhaps dysfunctional in some ways?

Maybe it's time to rethink how we teach, lead and consult.

I am going to start by developing the 'consumers of research class.' It may be part of a bigger program, or it may be a stand-alone course. However, I'm pretty convinced that this can be a very useful addition to our learning, and I know that I would benefit from putting it together.

If you have ideas for content, please continue to let me know.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Consumers of Research: HRM, the Journal, Ratings Story

I have been thinking about teaching an executive development class focused on learning how to be a good consumer of research. I developed this concept after working with executives who are using employee survey data and other HR / people metrics to make decisions. With the flurry of activity from what is being called 'evidence-based management,' employee engagement, and the need for ROI work, more and more data are being made available by larger numbers of people. I still think this may be a good idea, but I was recently caught off guard by the fact that maybe the academic community, of which I am a member, are not good consumers of research themselves. We pride ourselves in using high quality methods, reviewing others work through the peer review and publishing process, training doctoral students on the latest research methods, and then even updating ourselves through professional training and conferences. But .. what I learned over the last month was that we are lulled into the complacency of numbers just like everyone else. Let me tell you a story.

I am the editor-in-chief of what is called a bridge journal (that means it is designed for both academics and practitioners). The name of the journal 'officially' is Human Resource Management. I have come to call it HRM, the Journal, because just having the name "human resource management" is difficult (people don't know if you are referring to a department, the field of HRM, etc.). I've been the editor for 3 years now. When I started out we struggled to get enough papers to fill an issue, and now we are in a position of having too many good papers, and we're booked out until 2011. So we are going to 6 (vs. 4) issues in 2009. The journal has won a number of awards since our first year in the editing role (I say we because it is the editorial team that really makes it happen), including most improved journal award. We were lulled into thinking we were doing pretty well.

But along the way there was an odd factor for us to contend with. There is something called the ISI ratings. An organization rates journals based on the impact factor of journal articles and then publishes the number annually. They use the number of citations per article (look at how many other articles are written that reference the original article in question), and journals that are cited more (more citations per article) are the ones that get a better score and then are more important, prestigious, etc. The problem is we don't know where they really get the citations from or which citations go with which article. The process is somewhat a mystery.

Our journal (HRM) has had an incredibly high ranking for the last few years. In fact, it was always higher than I ever expected it to be. By nature of being a 'bridge' journal, some of our articles would not be cited by other scientists because they are meant to be practical (as in for practitioners). But hey, who questions a good number?

So this year, when the new ratings came out and our journal dropped from the top 10 (which it has been) to number about number 50, our team was a bit shocked. We immediately tried to find out what we did. What mistakes were we making? We looked through the articles again, and we all decided nothing seemed dramatically wrong. We questioned whether the citation gathering process was working, whether key word searches were correct, and we went down lots of paths.

Then I got an email from a professor named Anne-Wil Harzing. She is an expert in the journal ranking process and has web site I would recommend to anyone interested in this topic (http://www.harzing.com/index.htm). She informed me that the drop in rankings for HRM (the Journal) may have been (as she said in her note to me) "her fault." Of course, it was not Anne's fault; however, her investigations led to the discovery of an error that led to the change in the ratings.

What happened? The organization in charge of one of the most important ratings that the world of academics uses made a mistake. And in my opinion, at least, it seems to be a pretty big one. Our journal (remember, HRM) was mistakingly getting credit for articles that cited Human Resource Management Review, HRM Journal (there is one that has the journal word in its title), and even books that are just HRM. For I don't know how many years, the index we've been using to tell ourselves how good we were was wrong. So this year, the number was corrected, and our journal took a big plunge in the rankings. Of course, the organization doing the rankings did not inform us. In fact, we contacted them on several occasions to find out what happened, and they never told us it was due to a mistake they made.

Net: We have no idea if the ranking is going up or down.

Personally: I have little faith in this number. How do I know that it's accurate for all the other journals?

Learning: Why do a group of academics, trained in the methods of research, give such high credibility to a number that is calculated in secret? There is very little transparency to the way the number is computed; we just believe the rankings when they come out.

Implication: EVERYONE needs a class in "learning to be a consumer of research."

We use metrics all the time. We are fascinated by numbers, and we particularly like it when they make us look good. But when things go bad, we fuss and worry about why.

This is not just the story of our journal (HRM). This is a story of employee survey data, of stock price, of best place to work rankings, and I am certain you can add many many more examples.

We all need to be better consumers of research. We need to ask the right questions when things are going well and when not. We need to know where numbers come from, and we have to take them in context.

Now .. you may wonder .. what am I going to do about the journal situation?

We are going to continue to do the work we've been doing. We think the journal is improving. We have global presence, subscriptions are going up, subscriptions are even being renewed at a higher rate, excellent authors are submitted high quality papers to us, we are winning awards, and yes, we have now learned that we may not have as high a ranking on this particular 'score.'

I hope that after reading this story that some of my academic colleagues will do the same. In fact, in a world of the open source code, the Internet, and full disclosure, I want to ask why we are using a metric from an organization that will not provide full and complete disclosure of process?

If these rankings and numbers are used for tenure decisions, reputation making, and more, then shouldn't we who believe in peer review, open dialogue, and having the information we need to be consumers of research, insist that the process by which these numbers are calculated be completely and fully disclosed?

This story has implications for all sorts of metrics that we are using for people at work. Let me provide two examples that I have talked about in other blog posts (and that I have articles about on http://www.eepulse.com/):

Benchmarking data - when is the last time you asked where the data came from, or how old it is? Did you know in most cases you are comparing your data to the average of data base that may be 4 years old. That's like taking your stock price today and comparing it to the average stock price of your competition for the last 4 years. We would never do that!

Average scores on employee surveys? Who says every question should be higher than it was the year before? Did you know that for some employees, improving employee engagement survey scores lowers their performance?

Question: If I teach the 'consumers of research course,' would anyone would show up?




Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rage in the workplace

I just posted a new discussion on the leadership forum site. I will list it below, and if you want to join in the discussion go to: www.energizeengage.com.

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William Sweetland from Ragan Communications wrote a blog post on rage in the workplace. It came to my attention because he mentioned research from the leadership pulse (and ok, he said very nice things about our work).

He interviewed me Friday, and it was a real pleasure to find out that someone else has been observing the same kind of data points we're seeing in the research and coming to the same conclusions.

I thought you'd enjoy his blog post, and I'd be interested to hear what you all think. It's below:

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Blog post by William Sweetland of
Ragan Communications
uly, 2008
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Recently two online stories, one in the New York Times and one in Yahoo News, dealt with Anger in the Workplace. What are its causes? How common is it? What can we do about it?

The Times article, partly tongue in cheek, assigns blame to petty rudeness and thoughtlessness, mostly such things as food theft, dishes left in the company kitchen sink, and cell-phone abuse by the idiot in the next cubicle. The Yahoo News article, a straightforward, serious examination of the problem, concludes that the rising price of gas and the falling economy are to blame.

What baloney. When nearly half of the workers in America report yelling and verbal abuse on the job, and a quarter say they've been reduced to tears by such abuse, the cause is NOT four-dollar-a-gallon gas. Nor is it that my retirement package is worth 18% less today than it was four months ago. And it certainly isn't the rumors I've heard that my entire department is going to be outsourced to Nepal within the next three months.

No, as worrisome as these concerns are, they don't come close to the heart of the matter, the real reason why people yell and scream at others at work. The real reason is on top of your desk right now.

It's your damned workload. The workload that's so big, you don't know where to start. So big, you don't know how to attack it, how to assign priority to the most important stuff, what to work on, who to blame, where to go for help, why it happened, or how to solve it.

That is the reason people snap and start yelling at subordinates. They're at the end of their ropes. They can stand the hour-and-a-half commutes in from Schaumburg, the waste of gas, the trip that costs $15 or $20 in gas instead of the $4 it should cost. The terrible state of the economy is something they know they can't do anything about.

But those piles of work on their desks: That they feel personally responsible for. And those piles are growing like a malignant cancer. And this knowledge is driving them crazy, the most senior management as well as the line supervisors in the Podunk, PA factory.

Don't believe me? A very smart professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Theresa Welbourne, has made a deep, wide-ranging study of anger, disillusionment, disgust, and disengagement inside the American corporation, and here is her conclusion: The problem of undone work piling up on everybody's desks is so big that it's the No. 1 cause of disengagement. Not only for management, but for everyone in the corporation.

We don't want to admit the overwhelming pressure of this problem, because we think we're at fault. Deep down, we think it's also the fault of the executives in the C-suite. The systems they created (or didn't create) are responsible. Or it's the people who work under us. They just don't care as deeply about their work as we do. In our desperation we make bogeymen out of innocent people. And we hate ourselves for doing that, because we know we’re being unfair.

So the next time The Wall Street Journal or the Christian Science Monitor tells you that the real cause of workplace rage lies outside of work, write them a note and set them straight.
It's the work that isn't getting done, no matter how hard we work, no matter what we try, that brings on these attacks of rage. It isn't the price of gas or the declining value of our 40l-k's. To blame the morning commute or the fact that we can no longer afford our annual vacation in Bermuda is ridiculous.

Getting our job done well is FAR more important than any of these secondary annoyances.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Management old wives tales 101: Maybe the manager isn't as important as we think!

I feel like I have been in the 'busting old wives' tales business for the past year. I keep doing research that finds results that are counter to what everything "thinks" is the truth. I'm going to talk about a few of these over the next few months. The first one is:

The direct manager is most important for retention and engagement.

Not so - not for everyone!

I'm not saying that this research is absolutely exhaustive, but in at least three fairly large studies I've found the following:

* Lower and average performing employees are more likely to leave because of their manager.

* High performing employees really don't care about he manager; they leave due to culture.

In fact, engaged and higher performing employees seem to not care too much about the manager. From reviewing the data, my sense is that they know they can do well with or without their managers. They can get transferred, work around their manager, get a new job, etc.

But the 'not so outstanding worker' - for that person, the manager really matters. They probably need more help, more direction, and maybe because they know they are not going 'above and beyond' at work, they need the manager to really like them .. because if the manager doesn't like them, then they may start seeing consequences that they won't like.



Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What goes down - keeps going down

At 12:01 this morning (just after midnight) on June 25th, 2008, we closed the leadership pulse dialogue. We had an record number of participants - just over 1,200 people. For a survey open about 2 weeks, that goes out every 2-3 months, to senior leaders around the world, this is not too bad. That's a 10% response rate (we had a little over 12,000 'good' emails for our core sample group).

What did we learn? Keep in mind these are data from day #1. However, we can take a look at the top line results and share some observations.

#1: Leader energy, overall, went down again. You might not be surprised. The economy is not so great, the weather is not really pleasant for summer (lots of rain here in Michigan at least), and leaders / managers are still feeling overworked and underpaid. The average energy level (on the 0 to 10 scale that we use) was 6.52, and that is 1.08 points below the reported productivity zone (between 7.60 and 8.64).

For those of you who are not familiar with the scale, energy is measured using a validated scale that goes from 0 to 10 (0=no energy; 10=overly energized and near burnout). We ask employees to report their energy and where they are most productive, and a series of longitudinal, predictive research studies resulted in understanding how to calculate and interpret the zone data (being in the zone predicts good outcomes; out of zone by more than one point results in negative outcomes).

#2: The trend data for HR confidence was quite interesting. We've been tracking (since 2003) several questions assessing the degree to which leaders are confident in their HR functions. The data reported today focus on: (1) confidence in HR overall, (2) that HR can deliver on tactical work, and (3) HR's ability to do HR strategic work. The numbers have been trending down since 2003. But today, we saw a reverse in that trend for at least two questions. Confidence in tactical work and confidence in HR overall both increased. However, confidence in HR strategic competence went down.

Is there a link? My theory, based on not only on these data but other sources of research, is that yes, there is a relationship. Leaders are not doing well themselves, and in order for them to do better (be in their own energy zones), they need HR to step up into the strategic role. On the leaders forum site, www.energizeengage.com, we have some highlights of the data reported. You will see that the higher performing firms have scores that are closer to being in the zone, and they are the most confident that their HR teams are delivering on being a strategic HR function.

You probably have lots of questions. I'd ask: (1) are the high performing firms all large because, sure, they would have more HR people and probably be more strategic, or (2) could the data be biased based on the type of people responding, or (3) are there industry differences? These are all valid and good questions that we will explore over the next week

Also, I am only sharing top line results of the peripheral questions. The primary topic was relational capital. These data are very interesting (yes, I peaked), and we'll be reporting on these data too over the next week.

To all of you who participated in the leadership pulse, thanks!

If you want to learn more or read prior reports, go to www.leadershippulse.com.

Join the leaders forum to view more detailed results and participate with colleagues in dialogue: http://www.energizeengage.com/.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Social Networks or Learning Networks?

Over the last month I set up two social networks. This has been a tremendous learning experience for me as I had previously never really been involved in one. The first social network is for the journal for which I am editor-in-chief (HRM, the Journal). It has been about four weeks since we started the group, and we now have over 600 people on the network. The second one is for friends of the Leadership Pulse, which is a study of leaders I've been running since 2003 (www.leadershippulse.com). This one has less participants (over 70) due to the fact that it 'younger.'

One of the most interesting learnings for me has come from the groups set up by the HRM social network. These groups sprouted up from the interests of the members. There is not one group on what I would call "traditional HRM." No one set up a group to study selection, training, compensation, or benefits.

Some of the topics are: HRM and sustainability, HR in China, in India, in Arab/Islam countries; Iberoamerican HRM, HR and OD convergence, HR and social networks, qualitative research and meta analysis in HRM, HRM in high tech and knowledge-intensive industries, and the list goes on.

This, to me, is good news. From this social network, I see emerging more excitement in where HRM is going than in all of my reading in the journals or in magazines, newspapers, etc. The people working in HRM are not breaking it down into pieces and studying the various tactical components; instead, they are looking at how HRM works in the dynamically changing, global world in which we live and work. They are not arguing over whether their work is micro, macro or somewhere in between, but they are doing work that will have high impact in the real world, looking at HRM as an overall system or process and how it can work better in new environments or to solve bigger problems.

These two networks were not set up to be 'social' really; my goal was for them to be learning networks. I thought they would be a great source for connecting people from around the world to share best practices, exchange ideas, and more. That does seem to be happening.

Maybe even more important, however, the networks seem to be an incredible source of research data. We are learning what's really important by 'listening.'

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Global Employee Energy

One of the issues I hear about when it comes to being energized or de-energized at work is the global nature of business. On one hand, executives are talking about being tired and not having free time because they have to be on phone calls at all hours (due to time zone differences, working with people all over the lobe). They mention long flights, being in places where they do not understand the customs or language, and the never-ending change in process at the airports.

However, there's also the burst of excitement when they talk about what they are learning, how their perspective has changed, and the potential of working in such a global world. This means global assignments, or doing business globally, both energizes and de-energizes.

What is your experience? Are there any stories you can share that will help us understand how the best of the best balance the pros and cons so they get an optimal energy experience outcome?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Helping leaders; creating energy

As I think about the big issues of personal health, depression, suicide, firm performance, employees doing well or not - I am sitting in my home at 11 pm working with my team (from eePulse) to get ready to launch something (a big new project). We are all on-line; we are working when many of you think we should not be, but I'm totally energized by it all.

I wonder - why I am not depressed but really having fun (in a weird sort of way I admit)? I think it's because the team is doing the work - not just me. That's the difference. I have a team with me, and we're working together. You can't do it alone. When your team is working together, everyone feels good about it (although we all complain - human nature I suppose).

Did you know that the most de-energized people (per the data we collect) are those who do not have enough to do and who feel left out when the big projects hit? Sharing the 'pain' sometimes isn't so bad. But .. it's back to extremes. Too much stress and pain is bad; not enough challenge is bad. Balance - with a little bit of bias on the high side - is the answer.


David is right again!

David Zinger just responded to my last comment that yes, you can take off a weekend, and it's important for your health. I agree. There was an interview on NPR yesterday with a CEO who was suffering from depression. He explained it was just too much work, not enough days off, and just too much of everything. I've seen similar comments in the leadership pulse study, with executives saying they are suffering from serious depression. The economic conditions do not help at all.

But sometimes, you have the same 'too much work' issue when things are going well. When you're an entrepreneur, or if you love what you do, you get into that "zone" (as Csikszentmihaly describes in his book "Flow"), and it's sometimes hard to just take off the weekend even when you know you should. The challenge is when to get out of the zone and back into the real world I guess.

Tracking where you are on a regular basis is important. In the research we're doing, we measure employee energy sometimes as frequently as weekly. There are two danger zones - too much (you're almost at burnout) and not enough (made it to burnout or de-energized for other reasons). From studying the data, it seems that checking in regularly and not letting yourself get into the 'bad flow' or the 'de-energize' state is important.

So back to our leaders - trouble is they don't have time to check in with themselves, and often no one is doing the checking in for them. They are just expected to do the checking. And back to employee engagement - let's get the leaders energized and engaged so they can do their job when we ask them to help their employees. We don't want more CEOs in the predicament that the one on NPR was in. Before they interviewed him, they talked to the wife of another CEO; her executive husband committed suicide from depression.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ian Turnbull posted a very interesting comment:

One of the problems that i see is that "Monday Morning" no longer exists. Certainly not for leaders, and rarely for the rising stars.The instant nature of our society, and in particular of business, means that IM and email pervade 7/18 - or more.I sat on a dock with 2 executives yesterday and watched as they spent 40% of their "down-time" texting to others and wondering why those others were "in the office"

I can't help but relate to this because I spent 80% of my weekend working, and the sad part is there's just so much to do I kinda hope a lot of my employees were working too. That's because I don't' want to be "behind" all summer. And I depend on others; they depend on me, and the list goes on. So.. what to do? Can we do a better job of focusing our efforts during the week and keep up the demands of our work? Can you really spend a whole weekend not working when you lead an organization, or when you are in a highly responsible, professional position?



Saturday, May 31, 2008

Energize Leaders

There is a lot of focus today on employee engagement, but what about leader energy and engagement? Everywhere you look there are signs that leaders are not doing very well. Leader turnover is an all-time high; confidence is down, engagement scores are down, and leaders are being asked to answer the phone 24x7, track email nonstop, be on call for questions from employees and peers, firm performance is lower than expected for many organizations, and the list goes on. I continue to find that leader energy is lower than they want it to be, and their confidence in themselves and their support systems is low and declining.

In the last leadership pulse, I asked the respondents what exactly is affecting their energy at work. Below are some sample responses from the CEO respondents:

"Too many unrealistic deadlines can cause problems."

"Overtired conditions due to working late in the day and less sleep "recovery" time"

"Since I own the company, I am sought after for answers from many directions. This limits the work goals I personally set. I lose energy when I don't see my own goals to fruition."

"The feeling of being overwhelmed continues unabated. I try to set a certain number of things that I must accomplish each day to give myself a sense of momentum and achievement. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not and I feel guilty when I am not.... I am leaving too many things to that last minute which is partially because I have convinced myself that I work really well under pressure (that may be a personal myth)."

"Need more assistance-To hire employees when profits increase"

"Family Issues, Economic uncertainty, employee issues, account receivables"

How do we help leaders? I'm sure there are many answers, and I'll start the list with one.

Monday morning - rather than make the long to do list of all the overwhelming things you have on your plate for the week, take a moment and think about last week. What did you do well? What worked? Then go into the office, or make a call, and take a few moments to share that information with your team.

I'm looking for other tactical ideas - that can be done on Monday morning. If you have some thoughts, please share them.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

HR Myths


If you follow the last post titled "first do no harm" and the comments, it leads to the conclusion that there's not "one best over-riding" way to do many things that we do in HRM. But somehow, the "one best way" philosophy has a strong grip on the field. Research that I have conducted shows that simply raising employee engagement or employee satisfaction or employee survey scores is not always the right strategy because raising scores for some employees lowers their performance. There's a similar story for turnover. Lowering turnover for all departments, all jobs, and all groups also is not the right thing to do for many organizations. What other myths should we be challenging in the field?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

First Do No Harm

First do no harm. It's a statement you hear most often associated with the medical community. However, what if this same caution should be applied to HR? Let me explain. In several studies that I have done over the last 20 years I have found an interaction effect in analyzing employee survey data that leads to the following conclusion: Increasing employee engagement or satisfaction survey scores for "low energy" employees has a negative effect on their performance. Basically, the action plans that we give managers can do more harm than good for a specific subset of the employee population. I was presenting this research last week to a group of senior HR executives, and they all had examples of this phenomenon in their own firms. One executive asked me if I thought the 'best place to work' surveys were bad, because she was convinced that their firm's actions to become a best place to work backfired in just the way that my research shows. Comments?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Check out John Boudreau's response; you will find it in the response section for the original post. Out-take: "The paradigm extension is that at some point the dishes are clean enough. We don't have to get them perfectly sterilized. In the same way, it would be a mistake to think that we need to create perfect HR services before we extend our focus to tracking the quality of talent decisions, wherever they are made."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Steve McElfresh left a very thought-provoking comment .. please check it out. An "out-take" from his comment:

"In sum: It may be that becoming less transactional (even in the name of becoming more strategic) often simply creates a vacuum with which we fill more operating activities and HR services. "

Saturday, May 10, 2008

HR progress

I just got back from the annual Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) sponsor meeting, and one tidbit should be of interest to you all. The team at CEO has been doing a research study on the state of HR since 1995, studying a number of issues by collecting data on how the HR job is evolving. The bottom line result is that although the respondents say that the HR function is changing, that they are doing more strategic work and less administrative work, the raw data show that things have been pretty stable. For example, in 1995, respondents said they spent 15.4% of their time on administrative tasks, and in 2007 they say they now spend 15.9%. In 1995, they said they spent 21.9% of their time in the strategic business partner role, and in 2007 it's 25.5%. Why, even though we think things are changing (by the way via other data, the study shows they really do perceive that they are spending their time differently), does the data show basically no significant changes in how HR spends its time? I'm asking John Boudreau to chime in here so he can explain the details of the study for those of you who want to learn more.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Need energized and engaged leaders

The bottom-line story on what I am seeing in the research data on leadership confidence that has been in the Leadership Pulse study is that many managers and leaders have severe "stacking work syndrome." They have so much to do, so many projects, and multiple demands that they don't have enough time to do even their core jobs. They keep surfing from stack to stack, trying to get even just a small amount done of every little project, and then nothing is completed - making them feel de-energized and less confident. These leaders do not have time to engage their employees. Someone needs to help them first. You have to start with leaders - they need to be at an optimal energy level before they can even start to think about employee engagement.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

David Zinger posted a comment and asked about the drop in confidence for two specific questions - confidence in economic conditions and confidence in their own leadership skills. They both decreased, but the change in personal leadership was small compared to what we saw in the other questions. The biggest drops were in: (1) confidence in their firm's ability to change as needed, and (2) confidence that they have the right people and skills in their organizations. What's interesting about this is "how can we be so confident in ourselves as leaders but not be able to change and not have the right people?" What's going on out there?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Leadership Confidence Down Again

Latest news from the March, 2008 leadership pulse work - leadership energy is down and leadership confidence declined yet again -- this is the 5th year in a row that we have seen a decline. Do you think this has anything to do with declines in business? Are you wondering why these leaders are reporting lower confidence levels? The downward sloping line you are viewing is the trend data from 2003. These data are for the overall leadership confidence index, which is composed of answers to six questions. We ask respondents how confident they are in themselves (their own leadership skills), their leadership team overall, the economic conditions for their organization, that they can execute on their firm's vision, that they can change as needed and that they have the right people and skills in their organization to succeed. You may think the latest news of recession is the cause, but if that alone were the issue, then the trend would not be from 2003. There are other big issues at work here. Stay tuned for more ...

Leadership Pulse - What is it?

The Leadership Pulse project has been running since 2003. A total of over 15,000 leaders are now participating in the study, which is a partnership with The Conference Board, the Center for Effective Organizations at USC and eePulse, Inc. eePulse donates the technology for the study, and I am the lead researcher on the project. Leaders who are part of the study receive short pulse surveys about every two months, and then in exchange for five minutes of their time they get back their own personal reports (shows their data vs. their industry vs. the overall results), technical reports, and access to webinars. Our goal is to continue to build up the sample so that the benchmarking can be even more powerful. If you'd like to learn about joining, contact me at the email on this blog. You also can join the leadership team pulse, which allows you to add up to 100 members of your management team and receive reports and benchmarking for your team. By the way this is all available at no cost. As the sample grows, the learning you get back is even better.