Driving Business Success: Limiting How Much We Look Back

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 2.41.39 PMSince I’ve been working from my home office the last few years, it strikes me that I don’t drive much anymore.  Well, I drive to the airport a fair bit, but day-to-day driving is a thing of my past.  I was thinking about it because I have young teens who are already anxiously focused on learning how to drive.  When we are in the car, they ask tons of questions about how the car works, what the driving laws are, how other drivers respond, etc.  It struck me that when they asked about mirrors and how often I use them, I really don’t look in my rearview mirror much.  Sure, I use it to check when I’m backing up and going that direction, or to do a quick check to ensure that someone else is not going to hit my car from behind.  What I don’t do is use the rearview mirror to determine my direction or progress driving forward.

So, why do we spend so much time looking back in business when we are trying to drive the organization forward?

I first ran into this thinking when I moved from the HR practitioner/ leader ranks to that of a full-time analyst. The thing that surprised me the most was that analysts tend to do surveys that predominantly focus on what happened in the past as a way to predict the future.  Now, that IS very valuable, however, business leaders don’t necessarily benefit from only looking to the past to determine their future direction or approach.  In fact, there are some clear barriers to predominantly focusing on the business rearview mirror.

Barriers when we look back

  • Best Practice- Analysts and companies provide statistics on the “best practices” of an industry or company.  These are certainly interesting data points to consider in your organization, and I do value these.  However, when we try to adopt some other organization’s “best practice” without understanding what our real business issues are, we run the risk of choosing and implementing a process or solutions that may not apply to our workplace.  It also may not drive the appropriate business results.
  • False Solutions- A trap many leaders bring to a new organization is proposing a solution based on what they did in a prior company.  Similar to the best practice, this false solution may not address any of the current company’s problems.  Time and again, we find leaders pursuing a solution in search of a problem, not the other way around.
  • Failure Focus-  There are nay-sayers in every organization.  The barrier is letting these people get you hung up on what went wrong in prior projects and letting that derail future progress.
  • Excruciatingly Slow Data Analytics-  A majority of organization leaders I talk to say that they do not have access to all the data they have.  This means they have no simple, efficient, accurate way to pull data together in order to make a business decision.  By taking too long to get data on the past, the data becomes stale and can lead to missing out on opportunities to make the organization better today.
  • Future Fear- Showing other leaders that we fear the future is going to influence them in embracing their fears as well.

While there are many other barriers, you get the point that by primarily focusing behind us, we may be missing out on opportunities to excel, to drive the business forward, or to fall behind competitors.  Everything we do should not be a response to someone else’s move.  As leaders, the best thing we can do is suggest new and innovative approaches to process, to thinking and to solutions.

What are you doing today?  Are you looking back, or to the future?  Let me know what techniques you use to move yourself, your team and your organization forward.  Please share in the comments.

HR Happy Hour #201: Putting the Fun Into Analytics

A few weeks ago, Steve and I had the opportunity to record a HR Happy Hour episode with Mike Psenka, SVP of Workforce Solutions at Equifax and Edward Pertwee, Strategic Workforce Consultant at BT.  We had just conducted a panel discussion on how to leverage data and analytics for HR and organizational success.

Mike and Ed both shared some excellent examples, (both in the panel and in the HR Happy Hour podcast), of how, where, and to what effect data and analytics are making an impact in workforce planning, compliance, and to improve business results. There are some amazingly powerful applications for using data in a wide variety of contexts – where to locate company facilities, the effect of demographic shifts on performance, and how long commute times impact engagement and satisfaction.

Additionally, Steve defended Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, I told Steve that the number ‘201’ should not be said as ‘two hundred and one’, and we learned that a husband should never question the strength and intensity of his wife’s labor contractions.

You can listen to the show on the show page here, and using the widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio

As always, you can listen to the current and all the past shows from the archive on the show page here, on our HR Happy Hour website, and by subscribing to the show in podcast form on iTunes, or for Android devices using Stitcher Radio (or your favorite podcast app). Just search the iTunes store or your podcast app for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to add the show to your subscriptions.

This was a really fun show with some fantastic guests and I hope you enjoy listening!

Big Data Isn’t Necessarily “Good” Data: What You Can Do

big-dataLast week during my time at the Equifax Form 2013, I attended as many sessions as I could around data, analytics, technology, onboarding and turnover.  As I was listening to the general session on Labor Market Dynamics and the way that impacts your bottom line, I was impressed with the amount of data Equifax already has regarding competitive labor markets, voluntary and involuntary turnover by geography, benchmarking, and speed of turnover.

This made me wonder what HR leaders can do to increase the quality of data collected. Take reasons employees leave their employer, for example.  Here were a few that were shared:

  • Other opportunities
  • Personal reasons
  • Quitting without notice
  • Dissatisfied

As a HR leader, I know that if I can provide more specific reasons for employees to choose, I will have a more realistic picture of why they are not staying with the company long-term.  If you were a leader and looked at the list above, would you be able to decipher any real meaning from those reasons?

I think not.

To me, when someone leaves your company, they are firing you.  If an employee is leaving, they must be dissatisfied with some aspect(s) of your company offerings.  It could be dissatisfaction with:

  • Advancement and promotion opportunities
  • Compensation
  • Percent of increases
  • Flexibility in the work environment or schedule
  • Education and training provided
  • Healthcare benefits

If you were creating the perfect survey to measure this, you’d want to dive further into specifics on many of these items, as well as others.

Keep in mind, the more data you give yourself and your fellow leaders, the better you are equipped to make strong business decisions.  Be sure to check out Equifax for solutions to help you look at comparative benchmarks and your own data.

Workforce Planning And Analytics: HR Week

Recently in NYC and at the end of one conference, I was granted a press pass into the HR Week ‘Human Resource Executive Forum‘.  Many thanks to Eric Winegardner from Monster and Rebecca McKenna from Human Resource Executive Magazine for helping me get there.  I’m always amazed when you go to a “real conference” vs. an “un-conference”.  The vibe at the real conference is so formal.  I was greeted by the very efficient team of people at registration and soon, badge and information in hand, I was rushing down the hall to catch a session.

One I was able to attend was “Workforce Planning and Analytics: New Face of Planning” which was led by Dr. Jac Fitz-enz.  He is a leading authority who specializes in measuring human capital.  You can learn more about him here.

I quickly got settled in the back of the room, next to Eric Winegardner, and we fired up our netbooks to take notes.  I wanted to tweet during the sessions but earlier I noticed that there was no wifi available to participants UNLESS I WANTED TO PAY $100!!!  WHAT??  Anyway, we were just getting ready to take notes when something shocking happened.  Dr. Fitz-enz introduced himself and one of the first things he did was ask participants not to text or use their computers.  I’m stitting there thinking, how on earth am I supposed to cover this session as “press” without being able to take notes?  This attitude is completely behind the times.  I will suggest that conferences going forward should make sure to offer wifi to all participants and should certainly allow netbooks or pcs to be able to take notes to bring back to the organizations.  That said though, I really enjoyed the session and learned quite a bit.

Words matter

Although the session was called workforce planning, Dr. Fitz-enz wanted us to understand that words drive attention and action. So  by using the phrase “capability planning” rather then workforce planning, you will be creating a mindset that is receptive to thinking in terms of the capabilities that individual employees bring to your workforce.

What human capital is about

According to Dr. Fitz-enz, human capital planning is not about, “filling jobs or putting butts in chairs.”  It’s about looking at how capable your workforce is and how that affects your organization’s mission. How capable are the incumbents?   If you’re not considering the skills of the people waiting in the wings, you may lose them.  You have to keep them challenged and progressing.  Human capital is about managing the risk of losing your great players.  You need to find employees that can anticipate what you’ll need them to do A YEAR FROM NOW, not someone who is able to do what they did for you last year. Dr. Fitz-enz says, “when you have about 75% of your mission critical positions with someone ready to step in tomorrow, you begin to see revenue per employee increase. Until that point, it’s flat, and research bears this out.”

What about planning analytics?

Planning analytics is about applying logic, accounting, statistics, and data mining to analyze current and historical data to make predictions.  But, what if people were your brand?  Whenever knowledge is your product, it is much harder to apply metrics and measures.  Even so, you have to find ways to tie performance to business measures so that you can predict.  In addition, Dr. Fitz-enz believes that in the future, HR professionals will need to focus on the future instead of looking at the benchmarks of the past.  You have to look at what is going on in the environment both internally and externally in the marketplace.  Only then will you be able to plan and get all departments integrated and focused on the organization’s vision.

On processes and effectiveness

One critical component of effective workforce planning is how well you organize your workforce. Is the facility they work in configured properly to maximize efficiency?  What steps can you take to improve productivity relative to the way in which people are working?  You’ll also need to take a hard look at your organization’s processes before you just decide to make and upgrade and throw technology at it.  That is not what will drive effectiveness.  Careful analysis of current processes will help guide what type of technology makes the most sense.  This should be done after you’ve taken time to examine each process.

Engagement is not correlated with productivity

This was something that came up in two sessions and really caught the attention of the audience both times.  I think it’s because as HR professionals, we are constantly told that if you have a high level of employee engagement, you will see productivity increase.  It just makes sense.  I think the clarifying point that Dr. Fitz-enz made is that while that may be true in most cases, there is not a mathematical correlation.  So, if the engagement scores increase by 2%, you will not see a 2% increase in productivity.  Related, not correlated.

Where I disagree with Dr. Fitz-enz

Whenever you hear an industry expert speak, you are most likely going to be hard pressed to find flaws.  Not that I was looking for them, but one thing he said I whole-heartedly disagree with.  He said, “Leadership is a finite thing.  There is only so much that can be said about it.”  In my notes that day, I actually followed that sentence up with an expletive.  Very unusual for me to do that.  It just struck me as an odd thing to say for such a progressive thinker.  I think the only way we’ve heard enough on leadership is when we are at the point where a “right” way of leading has been established.  I do not ever think we’ll be at that point.  As long as there are people leading companies, there will need to be many types of leadership styles to put toward making the organization a success.  Therefore, the discussion of what makes good, solid leadership will continue.

Thanks again to Rebecca McKenna for giving me the opportunity to experience part of the Human Resources Executive Forum at HR Week.  I encourage you to mark your calendar now for next year’s event.