Thursday, December 10, 2009

The end of employee engagement

It's been many years since we in the HR world started talking about employee engagement. And since that time the following has happened (or not happened):

1. We have no agreement on what engagement is.

2. Many people refer to their employee engagement survey questions when defining engagement.

3. It has become one of HR's most successful fads, with everyone and everybody using it to describe what they do (myself included, albeit I was dragged along unwillingly).

4. We are all very comfortable having no agreement with what it is.

5. No one has an answer to the "engaged in what" question. Think about it for a minute, your employees could be engaged in baking cookies all day; that is probably only good if you are in the business of baking cookies. What about the rest of us?

6. Did you know that there are examples of companies winning the most engaged company awards and then going into bankruptcy a few days later? Is that ok?

7. Did you know that there are conditions under which raising employee survey engagement scores actually leads to lower employee performance? Here's how that works. Manager X has a bonus tied to the engagement survey scores. Manager X gets a low score on a question that leads the manager to take all his/her employees out for fun; make sure they like each other; they like their jobs. Employees start having a great time at work. Employee engagement scores go up; performance goes down.

8. When you don't know what something is (employee engagement) and you spend lots of money on it, and you do not have a calculated return on the investment, some day some other executive will come after your budget. When times get tough, your budget goes away.

9. Employees jump for joy that the employee engagement initiative went away; now they can do their jobs.

10. Firm performance improves because HR is finally done pestering everyone about employee engagement.

Is there a better way? Yes.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In search of Fast HR

Fast HR is a growing body of work that spells out ways HR can change to meet the needs of today's fast-growth and high change organizations. The recession has brought the need for fast HR into focus because many firms were caught off guard, without line of sight to the changes that were right in front of them.

The proposition of Fast HR is that traditional change management models and tools are not enough. Change management implies that change will finished at some point in time. Today's firms need to learn to thrive on change and build the ability to change into their DNA (read Built to Change by Lawler and Worley to learn more about the agile organization).

A key part of the Fast HR movement is transformation is the HR function. In order to keep up, HR has to speed up. This means that the HR function itself has to change how it is organized, the processes it uses, and the tools it employs; all should be fast.

What companies today are doing to speed up their HR functions and help their leaders be more responsive to client needs and the change in the environment they live in:

* Reorganize using HR pods. This is a new concept that challenges the traditional center of excellence and generalist concept.

* Speed up the traditional, long and slow annual employee survey process so that data is flowing faster to everyone in the organization.

* Get rid of the traditional job posting process; replace it with a fast, more effective method.

* Replace or supplement traditional, time consuming, long 360 develop processes with a faster, shorter process that invites more frequent feedback and faster employee and leader development.

* Move new ideas around the organization faster; use technology tools to help employees take their best practices and share them with others who want to learn from their peers.

Want to start doing Fast HR? Read the article provided in the link on this topic. Try these 5 steps in the exercise below to get started:

1. Meet with your HR team and have them start listing the HR processes they think are too slow and that would be up for change.

2. Ask that same team what HR processes are fast.

3. Deconstruct the fast process and apply the lessons learned to the slowest process you found. Develop a model for speeding up this process and document it.

4. Meet with some of your key leader / manager stakeholders; find stakeholders who are going through high change and who are 'friends' of your team. Get their feedback and ideas on the model for your HR practice. Incorporate their ideas, and rework the model.

5. Make the change; go back to your stakeholders; get feedback; change it again. Then try the process with another HR practice.

In order to share the learning with our readers, please write back and talk to me about some of your slow HR processes. What HR processes do you think should be on the top 10 must speed up list?

Thank you all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Do we really need more bar charts and pie charts?

The world of HR has evolved to the point where we now have dashboards, surveys, data from sophisticated IT systems on our people, and even linkage research showing how all the data can mix together. We have many many bar charts, pie charts, and line charts. They sometimes are all nicely placed on dashboards, and some even have benchmark data.

But the question I have for anyone reading this is:

What are you doing with all that data?

It seems that we are so happy to finally have HR data, that we may have gotten data greedy at the expense of action and results.

Data alone cannot drive action. Think about how we use financial data, sales data, and production data. We don't send piles of data to people and ask them to act. We review data in discussions, meetings and in sometimes heated confrontations. Data sparks discussions, and it is the data and dialogue that drive action, which ultimately impacts results.

The challenge for HR is not what new data to collect; the critical measure of success is and will be using the right data to drive the right dialogues. The skills associated with that process, however, seem to be new in our field. Therefore, in response to this need for skill building, we are working on a program to certify HR, OD, communications professionals and consultants as Data Coaches. This learning opportunity focuses on helping people in the 'people management' fields learn how to coach managers to use people data to drive action and results. This initiative is being run out of the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business, USC. We are doing custom programs, and our first public program is in March, 2010.

I'd like to get your feedback on what the ideal content would be for this program.

To non-HR leaders reading this blog - what do you think your HR, OD, and other professionals in this field need to be skilled up in to help you better use the right HR data to drive your business goals?

To HR professionals, what do you want to learn? What skill do you think is missing? What would you want to get out of a program that focused on data coaching?

Keep in mind this is not statistics 101, 201 or even 701. Our focus is on using data to tell stories that drive conversation. It's not about what's statistically significant but perhaps what is practically significant.

I look forward to your comments.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Two new things in the world of employee engagement

There are two new things in the world of employee engagement explored in the article available via this link.

Click here to get white paper.

New thing #1: The conditions under which employee engagement does good

Employee engagement may not be good for all employees. We find this when we begin to examine interaction effects on traditional employee engagement surveys. Interaction effects basically explore the "conditions under which" something goes up or down. When applied to employee engagement, the interaction effect that I found in over 20 years of research is that for high sense of urgency (high energy) employees, raising traditional employee engagement scores has a positive effect on their performance.

You can lower employee performance for some subgroups when you raise employee engagement survey scores

This research was done over long periods of time, measuring performance at time 1 and time 2, and assessing urgency and energy scores for multiple time periods. The findings also show that for low energy or low sense of urgency subgroups of employees, raising scores on traditional employee engagement items actually lowers their performance. This is because all people are not equal, and engagement is not as simple as it sounds. This type of learning via research happens in all the fields of behavioral science we explore. We start out with a simple equation (engagement is good), then we do more research and find out it's a bit more complicated than that - because humans are not so predictable after all.

New thing #2: Real-time benchmarking

The second new thing that is new for employee engagement is an effort to change the way we do benchmarking. The traditional method is backwards looking. Let's take an example. What do you think about this scenario?

You are meeting with your board of directors to review stock price performance. Your contribution is to take the stock price of your firm for today and compare it to the average stock price of your competitors for the last five years. What do you think the response would be?

Your board would think you were out of your mind; this is a backwards-looking analysis. However, that type of work is exactly what we do with employee survey benchmarking. It may not be 5 years, but in most cases, the benchmarking comparison is between 1 to 5 years of data. We compare our current data to an average of old data.

We are doing backwards strategizing

In today's fast-paced world, this is not acceptable. Therefore, in an effort to try something new, my team is running the first (that we know of) real-time employee engagement benchmarking surveys with questions that uncover the interaction effect that I noted earlier.

Let's try real-time benchmarking instead

More information on this initiative is available at the link below. You can participate if you have a minimum of 5 people in a team and we can include large, global organizations. There is a fee for this work as the project is not funded; however, because of the newness of the idea, we are charging for services only (no technology fee as eePulse has donated the technology for this work). We picked one launch date to assure the real-time output, and then we are lowering costs by having all follow the same project plan, attend webinars for training and more. In other words, real time is not only new; it's less expensive.

First real-time employee engagement survey

Launch is November 12th, 2009.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Driving Success During a Recession

Want to learn more about this topic? Join a special, web-based executive development learning event hosted by the Center for Effective Organizations, Marshall School of Business, USC. To learn more click here.

In the summer (July), 2009 leadership pulse we examined business drivers. These are sources of capital that affect organizational performance. In all, we asked our members to rate 20 different drivers. A total of 579 people responded to this leadership pulse survey. The rating scale ranged from -5 to 0 to +5. Negative numbers indicate that driver having a negative effect and a higher value (5) means that the driver was negative and relatively strong in affecting performance, while 0 represents no effect at all and positive numbers indicate the driver was positive with higher numbers meaning positive and stronger. For example, if a business driver is rated -5, it means it was important to our firm's performance during the last 9 months and it had a negative effect on our performance. If it was +5, the driver was important and helped our organization.

Based on the overall mean (average) for the overall sample, the top 5 business drivers (the sources of capital that respondents say have been most important in driving their firm's performance during the last 9 months) were:

#1: Brand and reputation
#2: Quality of our offering
#3: Quality of client relationships
#4: Level of customer service
#5: Skills and knowledge of our employees

At the bottom of the list (or the bottom 5) are the following:

#16: Internal technology solutions
#17: Cost of our product
#18: Ability to manage cash flow
#19: Ability to manage profitability
#20: Internal HR strategy (how we hire, develop and reward employees)

To obtain the full ranking list, you an go to and download the early insights report.

What do the ranking data tell us?

The top drivers are sources of capital that take years to develop; they are not focused on short-term decisions (layoffs, managing costs, etc.). That is my observation. Brand, relationships, skills of employees, and service levels are not magically changed in the short term. At the same time, the lowest ranking items seem to focus on tactical issues such as managing cash flow and technology.

At the bottom of the list is internal HR strategy, and we had in parentheses, the way we select, develop and reward employees. In an environment where employees are being laid off, not given salary increases, and being told to work more hours, I'm not surprised that HR strategy made it to the bottom of the list. However, note that skills and knowledge of employees (which is a function of real HR strategy) is in the top 5. The "people" story is actually a lot more complicated.

I've done some more sophisticated analysis of these data already, looking at the gaps between what higher performing and low performing firms report. These data help us understand what's really going on with the business drivers, and the more rigorous analysis provides better learning about what an organization can do to help improve its performance during tough economic times.

The bigger report will be made available in the next few weeks. Also, we will be hosting two web learning events, going over the findings and discussing the implications for member organizations. If you would like to be part of the web-based learning event, you need to sign up (click here to register and learn more). To learn more about the Leadership Pulse, go to

Theresa M. Welbourne

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More on Fast HR

Fast HR - the words just don't go together. If you do an Internet search, you find my blog on fast HR, and you find the article in Fast Company magazine about "why we hate HR," and lastly you find lots of references to fast heart rate. But Fast HR as in Human Resources; well, it pretty much does not exist.

I think it's time for a change. HR can be fast; HR can enable a fast company. And when HR works with fast companies, changing how it does its work, it is a significance force in driving performance. In a series of studies I've done over the years, I've looked at what HR contributes to fast-growth vs. slow-growth firms. One such study was published in the Academy of Management Journal. In this work we found that when the senior HR person reported to the CEO in a fast growth firm, the effect on performance was very positive (by performance we mean stock price and earnings or revenue growth). However, when the senior HR person reported to the CEO in slow growth firms, there was a significant and negative effect on performance.

The moral to that story is that what HR was doing in the high growth firms was helping the organization, and what HR was doing in slow growth firms was having a negative effect on performance. In fast growth firms, the CEOs simply do not let HR engage in 'slow' practices.

In the years since that study I've worked with numerous HR groups, in large and small firms, global and local organizations, in multiple organizations. HR continues to struggle with how to organize, how to do its work well, and how to make a positive difference. The functional leaders look to their peers for benchmark data; they organize the way that everyone else is organizing; they do what is popular. In the midst of all this work has come less innovation than we need.

We are searching for deep innovation via the Fast HR work. If you have any stories of fast HR practices, please share them. If you have stories of slow HR, we want those too.

As I get stories in, I will share those that I can in this blog.

Write to me at: if you have a story to share.

For now ... we are still in search of Fast HR.

Thank you. Theresa

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fast HR

Fast HR: a New Paradigm, Structure and Process for Growth

The past 9 to 12 months have demonstrated the fact that business and the world are speeding up. The rapid and extensive types of changes that organizations experienced and are still seeing are unprecedented. With this type of new speed of information, rapid change, and creation of new processes to compete in the new world, what is HR doing that's different?

Here's an idea. What about building a new model of Fast HR? What do I mean by this?

1. HR enables fast companies.

2. HR recreates new processes, willing to step back and question assumptions behind all the tools and processes we have built to date.

3. HR starts with strategy and moves all the way to every tactical process done - speeding up everything to enable managers to be faster in their response time, quicker in their ability to create a change driven organization vs. managing change, and HR enables leaders and strategy by recreating the strategy making process.

Some things our team has been working on to help move Fast HR along are:

* Extreme strategizing - using employee insights, gained from their interactions with key stakeholders, for fast, regular strategy making sessions (vs. infrequent strategic planning processes).

* Pulse surveys rather than annual employee surveys - we've been doing this since 1996 with very good success rates and outcomes of over 2,000% return on investment in one year. Rather than doing one, large survey, with set questions that managers find difficult to action, firms do regular (monthly, weekly, bi-weekly) short surveys with 3 - 7 questions. The process is all built for speed of decision making with real-time data; use short surveys, get fast answers, deliver fast reporting (participants receive reports the day the survey closes), see fast actions (tactical, short-term questions asked), and get fast results (results posted as achieved).

* 3-minute (or role-based) 360 - move from competencies to roles (as supplement or substitute) to make the process an ongoing, easy-to-use tool for teams or organizations who want to provide feedback on a more regular basis.

* Action taking vs. action planning. This is our contribution to stopping passive (and maybe slow) HR language and processes. We have been providing on-line action taking tools (related to surveys and other dialogue methods) for ALL employees. Why are managers the only ones taking action? Are only managers responsible for employee engagement, change, or improvement? Also, share the results with everyone - quickly - so you enable learning in real time.

Those are my team's four contributions (so far) to the world of Fast HR.

Please share any practices you have changed that have helped speed up HR. We are putting together a new model of HR based on speed. We are working with a few good firms who will be the first to implement the new structure and processes.

Contact me or contribute to the blog if you want to learn more or if you have ideas to contribute.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do employees really resist change?

I'm finishing up some new research looking at how rate of change affects employees. It builds on a body of work that I've been doing examining how rate of change affects firm performance. When it comes to firm performance, on a 0 to 100 point scale, rates of change at the 80th percentile seem to be associated with the highest performance. There's more to the story, but this is the easy way to think about it.

In this new data, we're seeing that employees who are experiencing change personally at the 80th percentile range have the highest scores on attitude surveys, experience higher levels of employee engagement, and they are higher performers.

So that is interesting. Don't we say that people resist change. Is this assumption no longer valid in today's new bold always changing world?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I don't get Twitter

I just added a bunch of twitters mainly because I just cannot believe how this has become so popular. Do we really care what everyone is doing minute by minute? Do we really want stalkers to come find us wherever we are? Are the things we say in these small blurbs important? Or are we just contributing to massive loss of productivity in the nation? Or are we so terribly lonely that we reach out to anyone? Or is it a contest to see who has the most followers (I am not at all winning by the way - and I don't know most of the people 'following" (I hope they really are not wasting their time doing that) me.

Hmm, do I sound old?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Leadership Confidence is UP .. Finally!

I started the Leadership Pulse process in 2003, and for the first time since then the overall confidence index is up.

Confidence in the leadership team is up by .12 points (for core respondent group; it is on the rise for the overall group too by .06 points)

Confidence that they have the right people and skills is up by .26 points.

Confidence that they can execute on vision is up by .14 points.

Confidence that firms can change as needed also is up - by .21 points.

Confidence in the economy, however, is down by .31 points.

One other question was down (other than economy), and that is confidence in leaders' own personal skills - down by .03 points.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sales Satisfaction Surveys and "Why is buying a car still such a sad experience?"

OK.. to you people out there doing sales satisfaction surveys the day after you buy something here's an important comment:

"Are you serious?"

In two days of shopping with my daughter who is buying a car, getting insurance for said car, purchasing a few appliances for a new apartment, and more, we have had quite a few sales people say:

"Tomorrow someone will call you with a survey about how our sales process went. Please give me a 5; please tell them it was excellent."

Why do they do this? Let's explore the possibilities:

#1 - if they get good scores, they get bonuses.
#2 - if they get bad scores, they get in trouble.

Basically, you get what you pay for. This survey and the related incentives and/or punishments are creating a negative experience for the customer. You get what you pay for - people focusing on getting good scores. But lost in the mess of creating surveys and scores is the fact that what you are doing is CREATING A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE FOR THE SHOPPER.

Hey, remember us? The people who are buying the product? If you want us to buy more stuff, quit hassling us so much we don't even want to walk in the door of your store!!!!!! Quit torturing your employees to stoop to these methods that they don't like. PLEASE think about what you are doing!

First, I do not want to be hassled by sales people and pressured into giving them high ratings, particularly when in most cases, they don't deserve it.

Second, I don't want the phone call pestering me about the sales process.

You guys who are doing this are totally WASTING YOUR MONEY !!!!!

What kind of data are you getting?

And hey, car sales guys - why don't you interview real people and ask them about this process. Years and years later, the process is terrible.

* Treat women like they have brains.
* Don't talk to the man when the woman is buying the car.
* Quit lying to people to continue the haggling process.
* Don't leave the customer sitting there for a long time while you go 'fake' talk to the boss.


We may like cars, but the process is incredibly painful.

Hey, by the way, the obnoxious experience that set me off on this blog entry was with a non-USA car company; I am not picking on our friends in Detroit this time around.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Motivate with Low or No Budget

There's a lot of discussion now about how to motivate or energize employees when you are in a situation with no money, no budget, and maybe just coming off of some fairly demotivating experiences like layoffs. I may have an answer. It's based on the results of deeper analysis of the one of the leadership pulse studies we did last year on relational capital.

Relational capital focuses on the quantity and quality of relationships a firm has with its various stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, investors, suppliers, etc.). We ran a study in summer of 2008, and about 1,200 leaders responded. The bigger report will be available on next week, but I'll share an interesting highlight from the work that relates to the topic of this blog.

When looking at high vs. low performing firms, the higher performing firms had strong and significant differences in relational capital focused on a group of stakeholders that encompassed temporary employees, outsourced employees, the government, suppliers, and the general community. When employees thought their firm had positive and higher relational capital with these groups, employees were more motivated and firms had higher performance.

Think about what that means if you follow the logic. It suggests that you can improve morale and energy, which lead to higher productivity, by engaging in activities that help your community.

I received some great quotes from survey respondents about what they are doing to improve these relationships (these will be in the report). But in the meantime, if you are reading this, let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Managing layoffs

Almost everyone I talk to is managing layoffs or a victim of layoffs. The question that I continue to ask is how organizations are making layoff decisions and if anyone is comfortable with the decision rules.

How do you know that you are keeping the best talent or the people most likely qualified to help your organization grow when the economy starts to turn around? Is anyone out there doing anything innovative? Or are most organizations still using tenure as the rule?

I did a webinar last week on relational capital, and we discussed whether organizations know what relationships are walking out the door with their employees? We talked about whether you could really do this, and we brainstormed a few ideas.

1. Maybe as you are walking the employee out the door, he/she will not be too happy to tell you about all the relationships they are taking with them, but you can plan ahead. Rather than just keeping lists of names in your CRM system, do relationship audits. Or create ways to measure relational capital on a regular basis.

2. Use your outplacement providers. Can they do an audit as part of their exit interviews, and then they can share these data with the organization?

Any more suggestions? Let us know.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Transforming employee surveys

Just finished teaching a seminar on HR metrics, and we spent time looking at how to change the typical employee survey into something that adds value and that drives results. Key messages were:

1. Keep it simple - you really don't need hundreds of questions.
2. Think horizontally vs. vertically; spread questions out over time.
3. Start with results in mind.
4. From results go to action; who will take action and how.
5. How do you convince this person (or people) to take action?
6 With target in mind, what kind of data do you need?
7. What dialogue is required to accompany the data?

Dialogue focuses the data and helps guarantee results.

It seems easy, but what we learned is that there are data people and dialogue people and for some reason, their skills don't always transfer.

Thus, our challenge is to teach data people to engage in high quality dialogue, and to help dialogue people learn data skills.

If you have proven ways to make this happen, please share your success stories.

More lessons from the road coming up soon.