Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Web is Spying on Me

You just can't help but be bombarded with the Holiday season. It started earlier this year than in the past; this seems to happen every year. I try very hard to avoid that Holiday shopping, but this year I went on line to tinker around and look for some gifts, items, etc.

Now... the web is spying on me.

All of a sudden, ads from some really not-so-common stores that I decided to look at are showing up as part of other searches. I never had these ads come up in the past. It's like they are haunting me - a little voice saying "hey, stop what you are doing; quit your current legitimate business-focused search and come shopping again."

It makes me want to never ever buy a thing on line.

So all you people out there running these ads - studying my web browsing habits - hey KNOCK IT OFF! I don't want your spies watching me. I don't want to have custom ads annoying me all day. I find it offensive.

Is this the new cost of our freedom to search and learn? The cost is that we are victims of the biggest spy ring in town, and it's one that it seems no one is monitoring.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Data Coaching is What's New

On December 8th, 2010, Lacey Leone McLaughlin and I will teach a workshop called data coaching. The program is run by the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. It’s a great institution, celebrating over 30 years of a unique approach to helping organizations through:

Action research – Action learning and Action taking

In this blog I will introduce you to data coaching, which is a new initiative.

Background: We’ve been doing data coaching and something called data audit work for both human resources (HR) and communications professionals. Both fields have progressed with data along the same lines. They went from no data to some data to now having lots and lots of data. HR provides its internal stakeholders with dashboards that have lots of information about employees, their performance, their movement, and their productivity. The communications field has data about each of the communications they provide, and with the rise of the Internet, email, and social media, today there are lots and lots of types of communications people are using.

The first round of measurement seemed to be "how are we doing?" You see metrics on HR and communications effectiveness. Even some of the first survey work being done in organizations tends to be around "are we ok" questions.

Evolution: As the fields evolved, they moved their data beyond how well they were performing to how employees were doing. Initiatives began to measure things like employee response to communications (like or not like), employee engagement, employee satisfaction, culture, turnover, absenteeism, new hire productivity, and exit data. Everyone seemed pleased with all these data.

Evidence-based approaches: In fact, there's a lot of talk today about something called "evidence-based management' and this way of thinking is being utilized to help focus measurement. What's so interesting about the evidence-based work in medicine (where the work originated) is that doctors are now supplementing their evidence with the narrative. Doctors and medical researchers are learning to tell stories with their data. This is because story telling is the future of evidence-based work if you want people to pay attention to your message. The medical field needs evidence; no one wants to start taking medicine or be scheduled for surgery without knowing that research was done and data gathered to validate the use of the procedure or drug. But what medical researchers and doctors learned was that lots of data and evidence were not necessarily changing public opinion or behavior.

The need for the narrative: There is an accumulating amount of knowledge about how the brain works. Scientists study brain activity when people are provided with different types of stimulus. One such experiment has been run with data, and you know what - people do not get too excited about data. What we learn is that people don't emotionally respond to data, and thus, they do not remember data. What the human mind responds to, however, is a story. Stories provide context; stories provide the process by which the mind can get activated and then remember.

So all that good data we're producing in HR and in communications -- without a good story -- you might as well just forget about distributing it. That's why we see so little action as a result of the multitude of surveys that are done within businesses. A deck of 50 slides with bar charts, even with little statistical significance symbols, or notes saying you are "in the best of class" now - is still just a bunch of numbers. Time and time again executives approach me with their big decks that they got from HR or communications and they ask "can you make sense of this?"

Beyond making sense of your HR or communications data: There is a need for people to learn to be data coaches. Data coaching is a brand new skill for HR and communications professions. Some data coaching has been going on in education; the focus has been on helping teachers use data to help children succeed and learn. The approach we use in data coaching for HR and communications is to help these professionals learn to use data to assure managers take action that leads to business results.

Learning data audit and data coaching skills: We have had to invent something new to teach data coaching. We are uniquely blending human capital analytics with story telling, with a key emphasis on the narrative. What we find is that the way we present data in HR and in communications does NOT follow the rules of how to tell a good story. So we are changing that. The workshop we run is not going to turn a dialogue person into a data person; what we can successfully do is to help everyone learn to take the data they have and tell a better story with it. We start by teaching participants to do their own data audit, or at least learn enough about the process to work with a professional who can do a data audit for them. The data audit helps uncover the stories (or lack of perhaps) that exist in your own data. It also pinpoints the holes in the current metrics strategy. If you want to improve your human capital metrics, then the data audit process provides the answers to streamline and focus your data with stakeholders and stories in mind.

Outcomes: I recently did a webinar on the data coaching process, and one of our past data coaching participants helped with the program. There are two webinars available for anyone interested in learning more.

Go to and type in data coaching. There is a webinar from October 27, 2010 with Northrop Grumman and an older one on January 27th, 2010 with O2. Both have the slides and audio for your viewing and listening pleasure.

Next public data coaching workshop - Be there!

The next 2.5 day workshop is being offered December 8 - 10th. The program is in Redondo Beach, CA -- need I say more -- Southern California in December, a great topic, and a small, interactive group and time to learn to transform your data from "boring" to "interesting."

Custom data coaching and data audit work

For those of you intrigued with the data audit and data coaching work, we also are offering custom data audit and data coaching programs. Write to to get more information.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

News on Fast HRM

New research from the Leadership Pulse on Fast HRM made its way to the Michigan Tech News web site.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Innovative ideas to help with direction

I just got back from another conference where we talked about energy and direction. There were a lot of people agreeing that they are being bombarded with projects and find it very hard to keep on track.

The link to a recent article (link in the title of this blog) goes over some new data on the topic.

The question is - what can you do?

One thing we've been trying at eePulse is "priority moments." Every once in a while - and definitely random - we send out a "Skype" message and ask everyone to stop what they are doing and tell us what their priorities are. Even with our small team, we find that there are disconnects - people working on stuff that really is not the highest priority. So we readjust and keep on moving forward.

I'm looking for other direction tips. Got any? If so, please share.

Thanks, Theresa

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Engaged in what? So what?

Last week I was invited to present to a group of HR executives on the topic of employee engagement. I started out with a picture of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I asked the audience to remember a time when they "believed" and in particular in Santa and/or our friend the Tooth Fairy. Then I asked for stories about what happened when they learned there was no Santa Claus. The stories were, as you might guess, great. People were angry, sad, and they projected those negative feelings toward the people who sold them on the story.

So ... we talked about employee engagement. Why? I linked employee engagement to Santa Claus because it's being hailed in many cases as a magic wand to make companies better. Don't get me wrong; I truly believe and know by reviewing the data that employees are the key to long-term company success. However, employee engagement as many people "envision" it in their minds is probably not it. And the morale of the story is that when our senior executives realize all the money spent on employee engagement just may not lead to the performance outcomes they desire, whoever sold them on employee engagement is going to be the target of that negative projection.

Telling a mystical story when people are expecting facts comes at a price.

However, I remember learning about Santa Claus. And frankly, I was a bit relieved. When we were kids, we did not have a fireplace, so Santa coming down the chimney really made no sense. Then there were these kids down the street who always got into trouble, and they always got better presents than we did. So it seemed "right" but disappointing that there was no Santa.

The same thing happens with employee engagement. If you think about it carefully, you know that those survey questions you're tracking look a lot like the employee satisfaction questions. Do we really think that raising these survey questions is going to magically make everything better for all companies and all employees everywhere? If that were the case, why is the economy taking so long to recover?

The reality is employee engagement is not magic. Employee engagement surveys are probably doing more good than harm, but increasing survey scores on engagement does not improve performance for everyone. There is a thing called an “interaction effect” which we find in the research. It shows that there are “conditions under which” some employees will experience lower performance when their engagement goes up (kinda like the not so good kids getting better presents). That’s because performance is not in the engagement work being done to date (in most cases), and that’s where we think the field needs to go.

Also, maybe it’s time to start being honest with ourselves and admit employee engagement is an industry or a field of study – not a construct. If it were a clear construct, at least there would be some agreement on what it is, and there is no consensus to date on the “thing” that is employee engagement.

I vote to move on to questions #2 and #3. They are:

1. Engaged in what?
2. So what?

Focus on the performance in which you want employees engaged in and then move backwards. To do this, we have been using models from physics, looking at energy and momentum. What we want are employees moving forward vs. going backwards or standing still and then when moving forward, with a high sense of urgency, make sure their efforts are pointed in the direction needed to drive strategy.

Then please address the so what question. For employees, so what? What do they get in return?

There are a number of simple ways to move this work forward in your organizations. If you want to learn more, contact me. If you have your own stories, share them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fast and Agile HRM

The last leadership pulse asked respondents to rate the speed and accuracy of their HRM function. The results show that Fast HRM is good. Basically, respondents are willing to give up accuracy, if needed, for speed.

That has been a hard finding for a lot of people in HRM to understand. We are driven by the fear of lawsuits and of getting things wrong. However, if you wait too long, you miss the opportunity to contribute. I find myself using a lot of NASCAR examples recently. One is to imagine HR as the pit crew. If they were SO SO very careful that they checked everything before the driver left the pit, then the driver wouldn't even have a chance to win. That's what we're seeing - managers who feel like they are being held back by their HR departments.

Below are a few comments from the Leadership Pulse:

“We have needed a relevant performance management process and development tool for years - we are challenged with increasing (low) morale and related people issues due to the lack of a clear vision and strategy from HR.”

“HR reacts slow and indecisive most of the time, leaving our review process and reward system problematic.”

“We need to speed up hiring. Very cumbersome for the hiring manager.”

“Compensation - especially job evaluations, promotions, adjustments - takes 3 - 6 weeks to have a job evaluated and a promotion approved or denied. Line management find this unacceptable!”

We can look at these data and get depressed. HR can fight back. What about HR standing up and speeding up? Let's face it - any company can be sued by anyone for anything, so let's not let the fear of lawsuits or fear of failure keep us from helping managers get their jobs done. You do not want to take unnecessary risks; however, we need to be like those pit crews - focus and go fast.

Focus on the activity that will drive performance and not only give your organization a chance to win but skill up so they can keep winning.

In the meantime, here's some fast actions:

* Share examples of Fast HRM work that you have seen.

* Sign up for a webinar on Fast HRM that I will be doing on October 19th with Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer, the Knowland Group (a fast company). Send a message to if you want more information or to sign up.

* Go to and read more about Fast HRM. We have articles and other resources for you to start learning how to go fast ... faster.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

CHANGE change management

I've been looking quite a bit at the change management literature lately, and I think it's time for it to change. Many of these models are based on early research and learning on grief management. The work, started in the 1960s, focused on the experience of personal loss, such as a the death of a loved one. The models were used by organizations based on the logic that there was a parallel between grieving the loss of a loved one and losing a job.

This logic held for years when change was an event, and the idea of grieving the event made sense. In today's world, however, change is continuous. There is no time for grief, and in fact, one might argue that change should be celebrated instead. If we can create positive momentum around change, then the process can be managed differently.

In fact, in several studies we've been doing on the effect of rate of change on employees, we are finding that the higher the level of change, the more engaged employees are. They want to be part of what's new, and they don't want to be left behind.

What that means is that the money spent on some of the change management systems and models may not reap a return on investment and may be doing more harm than good. Consider the results of the latest Leadership Pulse data (July, 2010).

Leadership confidence went down again, and confidence in ability to change too decreased. The group with one of the lowest overall scores on this question was the HR cohort. This is the team within a firm that should be ushering in change. Is it possible that they are providing low scores because they know the models they are using don't work?

The business world is moving faster, and as a result, change management and other key business processes need to evolve for success. New models of change management are a start. We also need new ways of doing strategy, managing employees and organizing.

Fast HRM is one answer. Look for more information on this in future blog posts and articles.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Part 2 of Manager Letdown Syndrome

Earlier I wrote about something we are finding in our Leadership data and multiple research projects within companies. It's a function of the recession and, I think, the growing "chatter" about employee engagement and worry about survey scores.

Chapter 1 ... John and Michelle

John works for Michelle. Michelle's bonus is partly based on her employee engagement survey scores. All year Michelle has been working hard to show employees that she cares about them, their careers, and all the things that are in the survey. Michelle wants her scores to go up so she can get a salary increase. Also, Michelle truly wants to be a good leader.

Chapter 2 ... John's coworker is laid off

Well, after all those sincere talks about how much the organization cares about employees, the firm lost a major client, and John's coworker was laid off. Not only is he let go, but there's no one to take on the work he was doing other than John. Now John is doing the job of two people. Of course, given the financial crisis, there is no extra money for John; he just has to work more for the same amount of money.

Chapter 3 ... John's wife and kids

John is working late nights. His wife and kids are getting very irritated with John because he's not around much, and they have to cancel their annual vacation because John can't take time off.

Chapter 4 ... John and Michelle

John thinks Michelle let him down. All year she talked about how important the employees were to the company. She made him feel more valued by the firm than he has in ages. So why can't she protect John? Why couldn't she fight for him and his coworker?

Chapter 5 ... Manager letdown syndrome

John sits back and realizes the engaged worker is engaged in just working harder and taking on longer hours. His manager really never could do anything to help. The last year of being all "ra ra" was for nothing. They are just trying to get him to work harder, and that's it.

Chapter 6 ... Leader letdown syndrome

After John thinks about it a bit, he realizes that maybe Michelle is not to blame. It's those evil leaders; it's those people making all the big decisions who never really get to know the workers. The leaders of the firms let everyone down, John, his coworkers and Michelle.

Chapter 7 ... Michelle wants to know what to do

Michelle has to become a different type of leader. She realizes that worrying about increasing survey scores and making people feel satisfied and happy really didn't do her any favors. She needs to focus on performance and keep the communication lines open between her and her employees. And she needs to demand the same thing from her bosses.

Chapter 8 ... The dilemma

To reduce manager letdown syndrome, Michelle has to quit being so nice and stop worrying about her survey scores. The less employees expect of her, the less they will be let down.

But Michelle wants to be a great managers. She knows the survey scores are used as one measure of her ability as a leader. To improve her survey scores up, Michelle has to be more caring and well "nicer." But if she goes the nice manager route, and something bad happens again, her people will be even more let down.

What should she do?

Chapter 9 ... Leadership is about performance

Michelle went off to a leadership development program, and she got 3 tips that helped her solve the dilemma.

1. Focus on performance. Employees who develop skills and perform well can survive tough times and do well in their current jobs or elsewhere if needed. The survey really did not have performance in it, so she has to focus on what matters, performance. She has to talk to her leaders and explain her strategy.

2. Michelle learned how to be more persistent about getting information from her peers and leaders. She found ways to get the information that she then could share with her employees. She learned that communicating the facts (vs. just being nice) had a very positive effect on productivity and performance in her group.

3. Michelle became relentless about communicating whenever she could. She was open about the business facts; she taught employees about the business. Michelle worried less about being "nice" and more about being a mentor and teacher. She established learning relationships with her team.

Chapter 10 - The End

The recession is over. Michelle was promoted and is now the Chief Learning Officer. John decided to leave and pursue his Ph.D. in macro economics because he wanted to understand more about the recession. Michelle's daughter went on to law school and became an employment lawyer, defending the rights of people who were laid off (she was dating John's coworker and was inspired by his plight). John's wife decided to start her own company, and she became a consultant teaching people about manager letdown syndrome. Michelle's boss quit and decided to get into show business; he has a new idea for a reality TV show.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Employee engagement and turnover

Click here to get the newest leadership pulse technical report.

It's titled: From the war for talent to the battle for future heroes.

What you learn in this report is how to spot the people who not only may leave but who are about to be recruited away or poached from your organization as the economy improves.

The people to be poached are the neglected heroes of the recession. They are energized and engaged, but they are unappreciated.

What makes them a hero? Heroes are recognized for their deeds. Neglected warriors are not.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Manager Letdown Syndrome

Over the last few months we've been doing a number of analyses of big employee survey / employee engagement data sets. As part of that work, we've done a series of studies looking at what causes changes in scores from 2008 to 2009 and from 2009 to 2010 (for those that have 2010 data). The analyses include a number of control variables, including personal demographics such as job level, job type, gender and then department or business unit demographics and lastly location demographics. The analysis predicts changes in employee survey scores, such as changes in employee engagement.

Across the studies we've been doing and regardless of who the survey vendor is or what the predetermined scales or indices are suppose to be, we have uncovered 3 core scales. The first index (or scale, set of questions) is about "me" - we think it can safely be labeled employee engagement or motivation. I say that because it includes questions on motivation, pride, commitment, energy, willingness to go above and beyond at work, or the types of things the vendors and academics are saying should go into an employee engagement scale. The second bucket is about my manager. These questions are about a number of topics, including how my manager rewards people, talks to people, is fair to people, etc. The last group of quetions focus on leadership and the firm. These questions may be directly about leaders, or they may be about company practices.

In study after study, we keep finding what we thought was a really odd pattern - the higher the scores on "my manager" in the first survey, the lower the scores on engagement in the 2nd survey. Let me say this again - the more positive attitudes were about the manager in the first year, the lower the engagement scores were in the 2nd year.

Ok.. this makes no sense right? That's what I thought. So we looked for all the statistical issues that may be to blame, and we found this did not explain the data. Then we started reading comment data from year 1 and year 2, and from this work, we have a working hypothesis to propose. The hypothesis also is based on the knowledge that the manager negative effect is stronger in firms where more negative things happened over the year we studied. These organizations had more layoffs, rougher layoffs, etc.

Manager Letdown Syndrome

I am speculating that the more employees felt positive about their managers in year 1, the more they were let down by them when the company bad stuff happened (e.g. my friend was laid off, we shrunk the company, they took away my benefits, and the list goes on). Because the employee feels let down by his/her manager, the engagement scores go down.

What does the manager do?

While this is academically interesting, we have to think about the manager who is now in the position of having let his/her people down. First, the manager likely was not really responsible for these events; it was someone higher up in the hierarchy. Second, the manager probably doesn't know this is happening. Third, what is the manager to do? If managers start rebuilding relationships, are they setting themselves up for more problems because they are likely to be in the letdown position again.

Should senior leaders take the fall? Maybe they should cover for their managers and be more open about the organizational level practices,protecting the relationship that the manager built with the employees.

I'd like to hear your ideas. In the next post, I'll list some actions that I've seen work.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rate of change and HRM

As rate of change in the company increases, what does HRM do differently? What do leaders do differently?

We are finding today that organizations are not going from the 'no change' state to a change or transformation initiative. They are all changing all the time. What differs is the rate of change and how it's affecting different people, teams and the company.

In some new research that we've been doing with clients and in the leadership pulse, we are learning that the rate of change lens is important for understanding anything from employee engagement to why people leave the organization to productivity and sales. Rate of change not just change is the critical factor in understanding your organization.

Knowing that, here are a few tips on managing in a world where rate of change continues to change on a frequent basis:

* What has to go fast ALWAYS is your ability to listen. Create fast processes for moving communications from the employee to management NOT just from management to employees.

* Focus extra attention on those pockets of the organization that are in the 'hot seats' - where change starts or where change is really fast.

* Measure rate of change, not just at the company level but at the employee at team level.

* Look for gaps in rate of change metrics. We find that the most disengaged people are those who feel their rate of change is different from the rate of change of the people around them.

Let's CHANGE change management while we're at it. Many of the models of change management were built in the 60s, when we had time to grieve the loss of the old and build toward the new. That's not the case today.

More on the CHANGING of change management in the next blog.

Tell me about your firm's rate of change and what's working and not working in the way it's being managed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In search of good stories about using HRM data to drive action

I am in search of wisdom and stories from the people in our network. In a few weeks I am teaching a workshop on data coaching. The program focuses on helping people in the fields of HR, OD, communications and other related areas learn how to coach managers specifically to use HRM data to take action.

Given that we have inundated managers with HR data (in many cases) and that we are learning from neurological research that people do not remember or take action on statistics but with stories, our goal is to merge the art (stories) and science (data) of HRM to drive improvement in organizations.

That means stories are important in this workshop. Thus, I wanted to collect stories from others that reflect examples of managers using HRM data to take action. If you have anything to share, please do let me know.

Thank you,


If you'd like to learn more about data coaching, a recent webinar provides information about the topic and a case study from Telefonica O2. See

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Human Capital vs. Relational Capital

Starting a new year many leaders are thinking about how to help their organizations grow. And as I look at the contributions of the human resource management field, one area that continues to attract attention is the work on HR metrics and human capital. I get the interest in measurement, but I am starting to think that there's something terribly wrong with a core assumption of much of this work.

Human capital assumes that people are a source of 'capital' that can be controlled and manipulated. We then start to use models from accounting and finance (as well as other fields that focus on products) to think about managing people. What if that leads us down a dark alley? In other words, what if the whole notion of controlling people is fundamentally flawed?

There is quite a bit of research on relational capital, and I've been doing some work comparing human capital vs. relational capital. In addition to getting numbers and statistics on this topic, I've been talking to leaders. When you ask leaders what makes a difference to their organizations, they point to things that represent relational capital. Those would be the relationships managers have with employees, relationships with customers who are helpful in recommending the company, and relationships with vendors who customize work for them. The list goes on and on.

This is because relationships are not managed or controlled. They are constantly renegotiated. Think about family relationships. You don't control your children or spouse. You enter into ongoing constant negotiations and communications with them, where you always show your affection, your love, and you continue to grow the relationship. Anyone who has tried to control a loved one would tell stories of the many ways in which that effort is dysfunctional and does not work.

So I worry that thinking about employees as capital is not good for business. I'm concerned we are setting ourselves up for suboptimal performance.

I go back to the entrepreneurial firms I have worked with for a very long time. They thrive and are successful until they start putting in so much bureaucracy they drain the life out of their organizations.

There are lessons to be learned here, and the importance of relational capital is only beginning to surface. Here are three tips for anyone interested in doing more to build relational rather than human capital in 2010:

1. Measure relational capital. You can make it simple. Ask employees to tell you with whom they have relationships (who they interact with), and are they positive or negative. Use pictures, and draw plus and minus signs. Use focus groups and have a discussion. Use surveys and obtain data that can be tracked over time. Use social networking tools to learn even more.

2. Where you see negative relationships, make changes. This is particularly important with clients.

3. Where you see only one employee with an important relationship, make some changes. Team people up so that you cover all critical relationships with at least two people (e.g. key clients, vendors, employees, etc.).

That's a start. In my next blog I'm going to focus on tips for changing talent management if relational capital really mattered.