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Many powerful ideas are shaping the jobs of HR professionals and, rightfully so, attracting much attention.

Consider, for example, the impact of network analysis – methodologies to gain insights into social and information-transfer relationships - useful for improving organization effectiveness, enhancing leadership development, understanding inclusion patterns, providing guidance for managing the onboarding process, and other applications.

Another powerhouse discipline affecting jobs in HR is the application of sophisticated people analytics. This is an area where HR has invested and made great strides. The April 2019 HBR article Is HR the Most Analytics-Driven Function? by Tom Davenport, Distinguished Professor of Management and Information Technology at Babson College, highlights the accelerated rate of improvement in HR’s analytical maturity.

There are also other areas where HR jobs are addressing promising ideas such as use of artificial intelligence in talent acquisition processes and in the analysis of employee survey comments, creation of continuous listening strategies to understand and enhance the employee experience, use of new learning platforms to create personalized development paths, and much more. Clearly, these are times bringing growth and challenge to HR.

Nevertheless, despite the emergence of many new and exciting developments influencing the work of HR professionals, one area of HR – the HR Business Partner role - is still the hottest job in HR. A key feature of the HR service delivery model for decades, the HR Business Partner position, when done well, is a complex, relationship-intensive role. It is responsible for the two most important contributions HR makes to the business:

 (a) building a talent strategy and plan that produces the workforce needed by the business to succeed, and

 (b) delivering multiple appropriate interventions that help leaders provide an employee experience that attracts,  retains and engages people.

Often misunderstood, poorly designed and weakly executed, the HRBP role can be HR’s problem child. Business leaders complain when their assigned HR partner lacks true business understanding, embodies the “I’m from HR and I’m here to help you” bureaucratic, compliance-heavy orientation, or pushes one-size-fits-all HR solutions. Too, leaders in HR Centers of Expertise, Finance and IT business partners also get heartburn when they work with an HRBP who has only a superficial understanding of their discipline, blocks their ability to bring effective expertise and guidance when and where needed, or treats their capabilities as the next bright shiny object, awkwardly pushing externally-driven initiatives on the business unit with no appreciation for organizational context or sound business rationale.

To get an idea of how HRBP’s create value, let’s look at statements of job requirements included in current HRBP vacancy advertisements from Amazon and Providence Health System:

  • Proactively translate business strategies into HR solutions that best enable the organization to meet its strategic objectives
  • Partner with executives to address operational, talent, and talent lifecycle–related issues, including change management, organizational development, culture, employee relations, workforce planning, talent growth, development, and coaching.
  • Coach leaders to enhance their people-leadership capabilities
  • Ensure the quality of HR service delivery through effective collaboration with HR operational services (shared services) and centers of expertise (COE) specialists.
  • Develop and support HR strategies that support the business objectives and partner with international HRBPs on executing on these strategies, including areas such as organizational change, onboarding, performance coaching, training and development, employee relations, and retention.
  • Champion our culture and values, partnering with clients to help them build and retain customer obsessed teams.
  • Diagnose problems, identify appropriate solutions, influence the business leaders with data-driven recommendations, and drive change.
  • Interface effectively with leaders at all levels and apply excellent communication skills, analytical thinking and ability to perform in a fast paced and innovative environment.
What a fantastic-but-challenging job! This is where the action is, where HR meets the needs of the business and works with the distinctive personalities that lead business units and functions. This is the coalface, the point of HR’s organizational intersect, where stakes are high, where collaborative actions taken can have far-reaching beneficial impact, and where failures have serious consequences for the business and the workforce.

Where do great HR Business Partners come from? At the time of this article, the job site Indeed shows 28,950 HRBP job openings, with nearly 10,000 of those listings being Senior HR Business Partners.

One thing that’s certain - good HRBPs don’t grow on trees and they don’t come freshly minted from the latest university graduating class. They grow on the job through experience and development.

Recognizing that it is difficult to find people with the capabilities to perform the HRBP role, we at i4cp – the Institute for Corporate Productivity – have drawn upon our studies of the HR organization to produce information and insights that can help with understanding HR roles and upskilling HR talent. In 2016, we produced research on HR organization structure, roles and priorities. In 2018, we released to our membership a research-based virtual on competencies especially appropriate to the senior HRBP role, which we call the Strategic HR Business Advisor.

Early this year, to assist organizations with their efforts to upskill HR talent and enable success in the HRBP role, we created development tools focused on the HRBP position. One of these tools is an HR Business Partner development assessment model.

The development model defines six areas of HRBP performance:

  1. Business Acumen - The ability to view a business from the top leader’s perspective, understand core organizational functions and how they interact, and apply financial metrics that reflect the business success of the organization.
  2. HR Knowledge and Expertise - In-depth familiarity with the functions and disciplines of the HR organization and how they work together to provide products and services to executives, managers, and employees.
  3. Relationship and Interpersonal - Skills and abilities used to interact with others effectively across all management levels and job disciplines.
  4. Consulting and Influencing - The capacity to affect the behavior of others in a business setting while successfully providing expert advice, solution options, methods, and tools.
  5. Talent Planning and Risk Management - Skills and ability to ensure the talent requirements of a business are assessed and understood, planned for, and addressed through practical action.
  6. People Analytics - Ability to use statistics, technology, and analytical skills to help managers and executives make informed decisions about employees or the workforce.
The full version of the HRBP model – which includes over 50 performance points - serves as a framework for self-assessment, developmental coaching, and obtaining key relationship feedback through multi-rater feedback. It can be augmented by adding skills or experiences appropriate to a specific role, for example adding content related to international business experience and cultural understanding as performance points for HRBP positions with global scope.

If you are interested in a copy of the i4cp HRBP Development Assessment model, send me an e-mail. There is no cost to you for the model, but we’d love it if you told us (a) how you plan to use it, and (b) what have been the most effective development methods and experiences you’ve employed to upskill HRBPs in your organization.

It’s a great idea to invest HR’s time and energy in learning and applying new and powerful ideas, just don’t lose sight of the need to cultivate and enhance the capabilities of people who occupy one of HR’s most strategic and challenging roles – the HR Business Partner.

Patrick Murray works for i4cp – the Institute for Corporate Productivity. His e-mail is patrick.murray@i4cp.com . New to i4cp? Visit us at i4cp.com.
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Think about the highest-performers on your team.

Are they the embodiment of a bulleted list of job responsibilities, skills, and credentials? Partly, perhaps, but there’s much more to it than that. They are individuals who thrive in their roles because they were the right hires for the organization—and the reality is that sometimes this happens by sheer luck.

Anyone who has participated in some or all of the steps of sourcing, recruiting, vetting, interviewing, and hiring candidates knows that the process is at best time-consuming and stressful, and at worst, a costly fumble when the wrong hiring decision is made.

Our talent acquisition research has found that high-performance organizations are going beyond comparing candidates to lists of credentials and skills. They start by look closely at the talent in their organizations who are thriving, creating profiles of these employees (personas), and incorporating that understanding into their hiring decisions.

The process itself of creating personas, which involves doing some research on your own workforce, conducting stay interviews, etc., helps employers better understand what draws key talent to their organizations in the first place, what resonates with them most in terms of culture and benefits, and what sort of work is most meaningful to them.

Personas enable employers to communicate more effectively with the talent they are trying to attract—and keep them longer once they’ve hired them.

The use of personas to help identify and connect with the right talent, which likely looks very different in real life than on paper via a brilliantly crafted resume, is a worthwhile undertaking. But it’s one that requires investment of time, open-mindedness, and willingness to set aside everything you know about how to hire top talent.

Everything is evolving—technology, jobs, talent—so too has the approach to profiling the “right” hire for a job and an organization.

Give creating a persona a try—there’s no need to hire an expensive consultant. Check out this new i4cp toolkit, which outlines the basics, and experiment with creating a profile based on your highest-performers.
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TIAA made a big change to its parental leave policy in 2018.

The New York-based financial services firm now offers 16 weeks of paid leave to employees who are new parents—regardless of their gender, whether or not they gave birth to the child, or if the employee is the primary or secondary caregiver.

TIAA anticipates that a given year will see between 350 and 400 of its 12,000 eligible employees taking advantage of this expanded, inclusive benefit, which was driven by input from TIAA’s LGBTQ employee resource group (ERG).

“A member [of the ERG] shared some frustrations with the amount of time allotted to the mother and the comparatively minimal time allotted to the father,” says Cathy Ivey, director of diversity and inclusion at TIAA. “Our alliance leader national chair shared this with their executive sponsors, who took swift action.”

That action came in the form of a discussion with TIAA’s chief HR officer, who sat down with the benefits team to work out the details of a new gender-neutral parental leave policy for all the organization’s employees.

Ivey says that this example highlights two direct benefits of ERGs—the employee felt comfortable speaking up in the safe environment provided by the ERG, and in doing so, reflected living TIAA’s core values. And the HR leader was responsive to the concern raised, which resulted in a meaningful outcome.

While the outdated perception on the part of some that ERGs are basically glorified social groups that bring together employees from similar backgrounds for “food, flags, and fun,” persists—it’s just that—outdated (and inaccurate).

Make no mistake—connecting employees with shared experiences and interests is certainly part of what employee resource groups do. As the TIAA example illustrates, ERG involvement can drive inclusive policies, help employees cultivate leadership skills, and reveal those who have plenty of leadership potential who may have not yet been identified as high-potential employees.

But perhaps because of the common off-base perception of ERGs as mostly social groups, they can be overlooked as the powerful and cost-effective leadership development platforms that they are.

In reality, employee resource groups are often-untapped goldmines that organizations should look to as a viable source for future leaders.

Viewing ERGs as strategic initiatives

Many high-performance organizations—which i4cp defines as those that consistently outperform their competitors in the marketplace—already understand the role that ERGs can play in keeping talent flowing through the leadership pipeline.

In fact, i4cp’s study The Untapped Power of Employee Resource Groups, based on a survey of 363 business professionals found that high-performance organizations view ERG participation to be more effective than formal development programs in terms of developing a variety of leadership skills.

For example, 87% of survey respondents representing high-performance organizations said that ERGs are more effective than other leadership development practices at fostering collaborative skills. Comparable numbers said the same with respect to nurturing inclusive behaviors (82%) and the ability to work with diverse employee groups (81%).

The research also found that ERGs play a bigger part in leadership development when the organization considers these groups to be strategic initiatives, rather than affinity-focused and networking-oriented collectives. When ERGs are viewed through this lens, ERG members are more engaged and feel more empowered. And, in turn, ERG members believe their voices are vital in creating a more inclusive culture.

Overall, those in high-performance organizations have a much more positive perception of their ERGs and recognize the strategic business impact such groups can have.

Indeed, respondents from high-performance organizations were 2.5 times more likely than those from lower-performing organizations to describe their ERGs as active, and three times more likely to consider their ERGs as business partners and/or drivers of business performance.

Choice Hotels International certainly looks at its employee resource groups this way, says Corinne Abramson, national inclusion director at Choice.

"Organizations that are seeking leaders who have global perspective and inclusive leadership competencies are certain to find value in the diverse talent pipeline that today’s employee resource group leaders serve up."

Overall business impact is a prime focus for employee resource groups at Choice, according to Abramson.

"At Choice, our resource group leaders aren’t interested in purely social/affinity type mixers. In fact, they don’t regard themselves as being fully optimized if their activities don’t impact either Choice’s talent, culture, or business."

Sourcing ERGs for leaders

The attributes ERGs help foster in those leading these groups are, or should be, considered core competencies for leadership roles.

High-performance organizations recognize as much, and actively source ERGs for leadership positions, with 40% of survey respondents saying that ERG leadership experience has a positive impact on selection and succession decisions. High-performance organizations are also twice as likely to weigh ERG involvement in making such decisions and five times more likely to require the executive sponsors of ERGs to observe and group members for leadership potential (see sidebar).

All that said, most organizations (even high-performance ones) aren’t doing all they can to maximize the potential of their ERGs as a leadership development tool.

While high-performance organizations are three times more likely to assess or review the effectiveness of ERGs as a leadership development vehicle—mostly by looking at promotions and career mobility among ERG leaders—just 14% of all respondents do so.

Why don’t more companies devote time and resources to evaluating the efforts of their ERGs as a leadership development platform? Many might not fully grasp the potential of these groups as both an experiential development assignment and a source of the diverse future leaders most organizations are struggling to acquire.

Eaton Corp. understands as much, however, and seeks out employees with leadership potential to lead the multinational power management company’s employee resource groups, says Amber McElhiney, inclusion ERG manager at Eaton.

“This provides them with more leadership development and exposure to executives and senior leaders. It also allows them to work globally and on a project outside their day job, influencing and changing the culture at Eaton to be more inclusive,” says McElhiney, who is working with the Eaton HR team to develop a scorecard that tracks promotion rates among ERG leaders within the 96,000-employee organization.

The type of exposure and experience afforded by ERG leadership participation is invaluable for any employee eager to get on a leadership track and is exactly what Eaton looks for when selecting individuals to head up ERGs, says McElhiney.

“When we look for ERG leaders,” she says, “we’re always trying to find a balance—someone who’s high-potential talent and an active member of the community.”
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You may have missed it, but in November 2018, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released its Human Capital Reporting Standard. The standard calls for 23 metrics divided into nine categories:

  • Ethics
  • Costs (total workforce costs)
  • Workforce diversity
  • Leadership (“leadership trust,” to be determined by employee surveys)
  • Organizational safety, health, and well-being
  • Productivity (EBIT/revenue/turnover/profit per employee; human capital ROI, or the ratio of income or revenue to human capital)
  • Recruitment, mobility, and turnover
  • Skills and capabilities (total development and training costs)
  • Workforce availability (number of employees; full-time equivalents)
The standard also says companies should make an additional 36 measurements but report them only internally. These include two additional categories—organizational culture and succession planning.

While many people involved in this project view it is ground-breaking, attempting standardization is not new.

Jac Fitzenz introduced the idea standardized reporting in 1978 and spent the next 35 years training people in over 50 countries on how to do it.

In December 2012, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) dropped the proposed human capital metrics standard it was creating for the American National Standards Institute.

The intent of the standard was to help investors evaluate the worth of a company’s human capital. The standard was dropped was due in part to it being perceived as burdensome and the metrics irrelevant to investors.

How much do people care about the new standard?

Since the new standard was announced, there has been little additional press. This flash-in-the- pan announcement and intrigue could be due to timing of the roll-out, lack of knowledge about the subject matter, work overload, of just lack of interest.

In January 2019, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) launched a pulse survey to gauge the opinion of practitioners about the new standard. The number of responses: a mere 65.

As all researchers know, response rate can be influenced by any number of factors.


  • the survey didn’t make it to the target audience – technology is only so helpful.
  • the timing, as with the announcement, was just lousy.
  • the target audience doesn’t know enough to respond.
  • there simply is no interest at this time.
While lack of interest may have been a factor in the low response to the pulse survey, lack of knowledge about the standards was an issue for the few who did respond.

Over half (54%) indicated they were are vaguely or not at all familiar with the standard.

This may be why three-quarters (74%) of those responding are undecided or don’t know whether or not they will adopt the standard.

A top concern about adopting the standard is that it will take more time than it is worth, with 38 percent selecting this response choice. This sentiment was echoed by members of i4cp’s People Analytics Board (PAB) during our recent review of the standard.

Granted, standardization is difficult, especially when the meaning behind metrics varies. In fact, the bigger issue is not about standardizing metrics, it’s about identifying the questions then determining the metrics that best answer them.

One important benefit of the new standard, according to 49% of respondents, is that complying with the standard is an opportunity to better connect HR’s efforts to the business—something for which senior leaders have long been asking.

As a few members of i4cp’s People Analytics Board noted, the standard provides a framework that can be useful in aligning metrics to the interests of the board. For those responding to the survey, the most important metrics represent compliance and ethics (82%); costs (75%); diversity (75%); and leadership (50%).

Should we care about the new standard?


I don’t mean drop what you are doing just to comply with a standard that is still developing. You’d benefit more by demonstrating impact and ROI for all those expensive HR activities that are in question. But I do think it’s time to consider the ISO standard as a framework for reporting on talent management to senior leaders and board members. Why?

Today, there is far more interest than in the past in knowing how and the extent to which organizations manage and invest in their people, and the results of those investments.

For example, in 2017, the Human Capital Management Coalition (HCMC), a group of 26 institutional investors with aggregate assets of more than $3 trillion, led by the United Automobile Workers (UAW) Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, petitioned the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public companies to disclose information about their human capital management.

On March 22, 2019, Cambria Allen-Ratzlaff, Corporate Governance Director of the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, wrote Anne Sheehan, Chair of the Investor Advisory Committee with the SEC, reaffirming their support of the adoption of such standards, using the new ISO standard as another lever in the argument.

Additionally, management of and investment in human capital is an important factor in an organization’s environment, society, and governance (ESG) performance, which is an important standard to investors. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities can influence that performance. These activities can have a positive impact on community, employees, and the financial well-being of an organization. Tyson Food’s Upward Academy is just one example of how an organization balances CSR and business outcomes.

By including people measures as part of standard corporate reporting, investors can see the full scope of organization sustainability. In fact, a new study by the HR Policy Association, finds that the CHRO’s role in ESG activities is becoming ever more important.

Finally, the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), an independent not-for-profit organization and the US’s only membership organization devoted to improving corporate board performance, is encouraging board members to better understand an organization’s talent. With this type of encouragement, board members are inclined to ask more questions about the people-part of the business.

The key is to get ahead of the ask.

While the ISO Human Capital Reporting Standard is still new and the adoption of it just beginning, as we have seen with other HR accountability practices, waiting until asked can cause more trouble than it should.

Unlike SHRM’s earlier attempt at standardization of people measures, the new ISO standard, or some version of it, will likely take hold.

So, think about the questions your senior leaders, board members, and investors ask about the business and what talent management metrics align with those questions. What measures do you have readily available? If you don’t have measures, maybe now is the time to pursue them.

Patti Phillips, Ph.D., is president & CEO, ROI Institute , and chair of, i4cp’s People Analytics Board
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“Republicans buy shoes, too.”

This was Michael Jordan’s famous reported (but never actually confirmed) response when then-Charlotte, N.C., mayor Harvey Gantt sought MJ’s endorsement in a 1990 North Carolina senatorial race against Republican incumbent Jesse Helms.

Gantt, a Democrat who served two terms as Charlotte’s mayor, was the first African-American man to ever be elected to that position in the Queen City.

His opponent, long known as “Senator No,” Helms espoused a particularly strident brand of conservatism, and frequently fought legislation that afforded increased civil rights to a number of minority groups.

A blessing from Jordan—NBA superstar and a native North Carolinian whose popularity transcended demographics—could have been a real difference maker for Gantt in an election that he ultimately lost. But whatever he said or didn’t say in response to the endorsement request, Jordan stayed out of the fray.

Over the years, Jordan has carefully crafted a neutral, non-offensive public image. His brand has mostly managed to sidestep discussions of divisive social and/or political topics. In this case, his reluctance to stump for a liberal Democratic candidate may have been based on concern that, in response, right-leaning consumers might shy away from the myriad products and brands associated with him (to include Gatorade, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Wheaties, Hanes, and many more).

The foundation of Jordan’s athletic empire was built primarily on one product: the Nike Air Jordan basketball shoe. The iconic sneaker debuted in 1984, and still rakes in millions for Jordan and Nike each year, along with all sorts of other apparel bearing the famous Jordan Jumpman logo.

We’ll never know what (if any) effect backing Gantt would have had on Air Jordan sales, or on Michael Jordan the brand. But he might have believed that wading into political waters wasn’t worth the risk. Most companies at the time certainly believed the same—that steering clear of any issue with even a whiff of controversy was always the safe, smart play.

Flash forward to 2018. The current political and social environment seems polarized in ways that we couldn’t have imagined in 1990. Yet many big, well-known brands—including Nike—feel emboldened, even obligated, to take public stands on the explosive issues of the day.

Why the reversal? To start, i4cp research finds that large numbers of consumers and prospective employees more or less demand it. Consider that 46% of nearly 400 respondents to an i4cp pulse survey say they strongly or very strongly believe that organizations should have a stated position on current social and political matters. Given this and other findings from i4cp’s research, it certainly seems that the days when a company could remain a spectator in the cultural debate are long gone.

Taking a calculated risk

There are repercussions that come from speaking one’s mind. Naturally, expressing a strong viewpoint might alienate those who don’t share in that view.

And we’re seeing that this applies in corporate America as well. For example, 65% of respondents to i4cp’s recent survey said they would not buy from a company if they disagreed with that organization’s stated beliefs. Another 62% said they wouldn’t work for a company with a worldview that wasn’t like their own.

Such figures aside, though, we still see most companies avoiding the social and political arena, at least for now. Consider that 56% of employees polled said their employer hasn’t ever taken a public stance on a contentious topic, with 30% saying their employer has spoken out on a touchy subject at some point.

But that trend isn’t likely to hold. And you can count Nike—the brand that has benefited the most from Jordan’s middle-of-the-road persona throughout his 30-plus years as a public figure—as an organization that already falls into the latter category.

The sports equipment and apparel giant launched an ad campaign in 2018 featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who lit the match on a political powder keg during the 2016 football season. During preseason games that year, he started kneeling as the national anthem played before games, in protest of what he saw as racial injustice in America.

Several players around the league soon joined him in taking a knee for the anthem. And, just as quickly, a heated national debate began. And it’s still raging. Some cheer Kaepernick for using his public platform to exercise his First Amendment rights. Others see red when they see him and other athletes opting not to stand for what they view as a symbolic expression of American pride.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, was released by the San Francisco 49ers the same season he started this movement and has not played a down since.

As a player, Kaepernick might be considered radioactive around the NFL. But Nike has put him front and center in ads celebrating the 30 th anniversary of its defining “Just Do It” campaign.

The tagline for this new campaign? “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick’s expression of his beliefs might very well mean sacrificing a lucrative NFL career. But Nike has thus far been rewarded for bringing him on board.

Yes, Nike has faced boycotts. But it also saw its stock price soar after the print and TV spots featuring Kaepernick first appeared, and sales have spiked since Nike’s late-August announcement that Kaepernick would be part of the new campaign.

Knowing the marketplace

The risk Nike took was a calculated, informed one. Nike’s leadership knew their customers, they knew their target market, and they figured they were likely to emerge relatively unscathed.

Nike and its connection to Kaepernick may be the most high-profile case of a company that’s made this kind of bet by staking out a position on a hot-button subject. But there might not be a better example of an organization that wears its beliefs like a badge—or a nice winter fleece—than Patagonia Inc.

In 2018, the Ventura, Calif.-based outdoor apparel retailer launched Patagonia Action Works, a digital platform designed to connect Patagonia customers with environmental action groups in their communities.

More recently, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario announced that the organization will donate $10 million it received in federal tax cuts to various organizations “committed to protecting air, land, and water, and finding solutions to the climate crisis,” according to a statement from Marcario.

In that same statement, Marcario describes the corporate tax cuts initiated by the Trump administration as “irresponsible.” She also cited Trump’s refusal to accept the findings of an especially grim climate change report as a key factor in Patagonia’s decision to put this $10 million “back into the planet.”

This isn’t the first time that Patagonia has taken on President Trump. The company previously sued his administration in an effort to block its attempt at significantly reducing the size of several national monuments—protected sites long considered historically, geographically, or culturally important—and opening the land up to commercial development and activities such as mining and logging.

All of these developments have occurred in the past 12 months, so it’s too early to say what if any long-term impact such moves will have on Patagonia’s sales. But there must surely be some Patagonia customers who love quality micro-puff hoodies, but don’t like some of the social and political stances the company has taken. Just as some consumers out there can’t stand the trend that Colin Kaepernick started on NFL sidelines, but still lace up their Nikes when they hit the gym or go for a run.

We’ll see if that holds. As one participant in the i4cp survey made clear in a written response when asked about organizations taking political or social stands, this isn’t a cut-and-dry issue.

“It’s complicated. I avoid certain companies whose beliefs I strongly disagree with yet tolerate others where I am mildly opposed.”

Not every company that entrenches itself on one side of an issue might come out completely clean.

But customers are increasingly interested in aligning themselves with brands they believe have a worldview similar to their own. And, as i4cp’s research makes clear, an organization could ultimately pay a steeper price for staying silent about its views than for speaking out on them.
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It’s the rare organization that at some point doesn’t embark on a transformation initiative of some sort. Whether the intended change is about bringing a function into the digital age, fostering a more innovative environment, or becoming an agile enterprise in which everyone meets disruption with a “bring it on” attitude, there’s no shortcut. It takes time, planning, and consistency to have a shot at achieving success and maintaining it once you’ve gotten there.

Much of the talk about organizational transformation seldom gets around to acknowledging that most initiatives don’t effect any change let alone a “transformation” so much as they result in disappointment or straight-up failure.

Among the reasons for this is that too little time is spent examining why we want something to change. And not much energy is devoted to identifying what still works that doesn’t need to be fixed or replaced. This is why we titled i4cp’s latest study Culture Renovation – A Blueprint for Action . Renovation starts with identifying the things about the original that remain strong and can be enhanced rather than starting from scratch.

Released at i4cp’s 2019 conference, Next Practices Now, the study features stories and interviews with leaders from high-performance organizations such as 3M, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Booz Allen Hamilton, Ford Motor Company, and others, with detailed descriptions of the actions required to successfully renovate organizational culture.

The reality of successful culture transformations being the exception rather than the rule is profoundly evident in this study; of the 7,662 respondents who participated (4,110 of whom represented organizations with workforces of >1,000), just 348 from larger employers reported that their organizations’ culture transformation efforts had been successful to a high or very high degree.

Our study focused on the practices of those 348 organizations to determine what they had in common. We wondered what they all did right, which leadership actions translated to successful outcomes, and which of those practices related to better market performance.

But we were also curious about what not to do.

What essential steps were overlooked by those who told us that their initiatives faltered? What are the common miscalculations that resulted in the failure of culture transformation initiatives that started out with the best of intentions?

First: What’s a healthy culture?

Ask ten people to describe a healthy corporate culture and chances are you’ll get a degree of subjectivity depending on whom you ask and what backgrounds and experiences they bring to the conversation.

To benchmark different cultures, we created an index based on six elements that regression analysis of the data shows combine to form the foundation of a healthy culture.

i4cp defines a healthy organizational culture as one in which the following factors are present:

  1. The work environment brings out the best performance in its employees
  2. Innovative thinking is nurtured and applied
  3. Work is highly collaborative
  4. Execution and accountability are valued
  5. Everyone is obsessed with delivering value to customers
  6. Speed-to-market is a high priority
How to be a total failure at leading a culture renovation

No one sets out to fail, but in case you’re one of those naysaying contrarians who delights in the collapse of a poorly executed initiative, here’s your blueprint for guaranteeing that a culture transformation will faceplant:

1. Rely solely on employee engagement surveys to gauge the culture

Run an employee engagement survey once a year (or even better—every other year) and tell everyone that it’s a full and effective measure of your organization’s culture, period.

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) of those surveyed reported the use of their all-employee engagement survey as a mechanism to measure and/or monitor their organizational culture. But i4cp research shows no statistical relationship between using the employee engagement survey for this purpose and the firm’s ability to achieve a healthy culture.

It’s been evident over the last few years that companies are moving away from the annual engagement survey for a variety of reasons: too slow, too cumbersome, too expensive, and not actionable enough. Instead, they are moving to more frequent, rapid, easier methods to gather sentiment, and to analyze it more efficiently and effectively in order to act more quickly. They are also listening across a variety of channels, and using technology to help analyze employee sentiment in real time to act more quickly.

2. Assume that the board of directors doesn’t care about culture data

Don’t talk to the board about culture, ever.

According to the National Association of Corporate Directors, “Boards should set the expectation with management that regular assessments of culture will include qualitative and quantitative information and incorporate data from sources outside the organization.”

Interviews conducted by i4cp revealed a strong desire on the part of senior leaders to revamp how and what is presented to their boards related to culture. This presents a tremendous opportunity for the HR leader to provide valuable, forward-looking guidance to both the organization and its board.

But if you’re intent on failing, keep the boring culture talk out of the boardroom.

3. Make it all about the past rather than the future

Talk a lot about all the failure the organization has experienced and make sure everyone knows that poor past performance is the one and only reason for the culture transformation.

Our research found that the message delivered by the CEO about the reasons why a culture renovation is necessary must be future-focused. Looking in the rear-view mirror and making it all about what didn’t work in the past is not an effective way to move forward.

In organizations that have had successful transformations, leaders communicated a need to reinvent the organization as the primary driver for change (a proactive strategy is much more likely to generate the momentum needed to succeed than a reactive strategy). But to guarantee the strategy is a bust, be sure to dwell on the past.

4. Ignore the skeptics and the energizers equally

When leaders who have no interest in getting onboard with a culture change make themselves known, let it ride. Ignore them. It’s no big deal—they can’t toxify the environment to the extent that the transformation is doomed before it even starts.

And don’t worry about it. No one will blame you. Nobody likes confrontation—it’s much easier to let the defeatists roll their eyes and make snarky comments than it is to ask them to join you offsite for a cup of coffee and a frank conversation about where the organization is headed. It would be great if they could get excited about the new direction, but if not, that’s cool, you can come to an agreement about an amicable separation. Do not have that tough conversation. Don’t ferret out the skeptics; just ignore them and hope for the best.

While you’re at it, be sure to ignore the key influencers who are found at every level of the organization who could help drive a culture renovation. And totally forget about doing an organizational network analysis to help you identify who those influencers are. You don’t need them to help set the tone of the culture change, model the desired behavior, and really get things energized. Nope. Let’s just leave them out of it.

5. Cede the all-important deep work to outside consultants

Pay someone a lot of money to come in and tell you all about where the organization has been, where it is now, and what the future direction should be.

External consultants are frequently brought in to assist, lead, or manage a culture transformation. In fact, 40% of those who participated in this study reported that their organizations used consultants at least to some extent in their transformation initiatives. However, i4cp’s research found that this is more prevalent in lower-performing companies than in high-performance organizations.

True, consultants may bring valuable external perspective and fresh ideas, but too often they don’t truly understand the unique DNA of the organization they’re trying to help, so they offer up ideas or models that ultimately won’t work in the current cultural construct.

6. Keep doing the same things but expect different outcomes

Change is scary—so change nothing. Hang onto the same tired practices no matter how archaic or pointless.

Upwards of seven in 10 organizations that have successfully transformed their cultures indicated they made changes to various talent practices (i.e., development, onboarding, performance management, etc.), in order to reinforce the desired culture.

Of those who reported that their organization's culture transformation was not successful, only two in 10 said the same. This is a significant oversight. Transformation means things must change in order to get there. This can be challenging and sometimes painful. It can also be exhilarating. But the culture of an organization doesn’t evolve simply because the leaders say that they are changing the culture and some nice posters with snappy slogans about change have been tacked to the walls of the employee dining room.

Successful transformation requires a clear plan, distinct action, and vigilant ongoing maintenance. This involves concise and predictable communication, consistent, authentic modeling of desired behaviors by leaders, and an all-hands mentality.

Everyone should own culture transformation, and that starts with a solid foundation that acknowledges the organization's legacy and builds on existing strengths toward a sustainable future.

Lorrie Lykins is i4cp’s Managing Editor & Vice President of Research
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Did you miss the i4cp 2019 Next Practices Now Conference, or looking for a quick recap of some of the themes discussed throughout the highly rated event? In this video, i4cp's CEO Kevin Oakes and Chief Research Officer Kevin Martin present a summary of some of the key takeaways from this year's presentations and hit on other trends we expect to have a significant impact on the human capital function in the year(s) ahead.

Looking to sign up for next year’s conference? Sign up here.

Download the slides.

The Future of Work - The i4cp 2019 Conference - YouTube
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The annual i4cp Next Practices Now conference always provides a fascinating glimpse into the future.

In the 2019 edition, which took place in Scottsdale, Arizona last week, CEO Kevin Oakes kicked off the event by affirming that the future-looking aim of i4cp’s work will continue to be focused on next practices—not the usual best practices, but the uncommon practices that few high-performance organizations are implementing today.

There were plenty of future next practices shared over the course of the conference—both from new i4cp research and in the presentations from provocative thought leaders and practitioners onstage. Equally interesting were the leads and ideas shared by attendees during informal conversations throughout the week.

What was striking was the number of conference attendees advancing new ideas in their own organizations, overcoming internal resistance, and crafting innovations that fit each organization.

What follows are 22 seeds of next practices and leads of innovative applications I noted throughout the event. If you are looking to revitalize your human capital practice and better prepare for what’s ahead, consider investigating two or three of the most interesting seeds and leads:

Talent Acquisition

  1. Sense check your employer value proposition on an annual basis (through surveys, focus groups, etc.) to keep it fresh and relevant.
  2. Upcycle/recruit former employees to higher level roles than those they were in when they left.
  3. Pay part or all of student loans to attract today’s college graduate and ease the burden of entry-level employee debt.
  4. Offer up to $12,000 to help employees buy their first house.
  5. Creatively help potential candidates and current employees facilitate a better commute to work.
  6. Facilitate re-entry to the workplace after a pause (or leave) with three-month internships that could lead to re-employment. The three months should include updating skills with technology.
Inclusion and Diversity

  1. Freely share inclusion and diversity training material with others across your industry and community to have greater impact for societal gains.
  2. Extend your culture and protection policies to contractors and other talent ecosystem contributors so they feel as safe and included as your traditionally designed full-time employees.
  3. Integrate I&D staff and practices with the talent acquisition unit and set measure and reporting relationships to a common manager for unified impact.
  4. Utilize the business’s launch of a new product or service with I&D implications as a catalyst for internal team discussions on inclusive themes. Include representatives of your ERGs in these conversations.
  5. Involve HR leadership in initiating courageous conversations about what’s not working, what business leaders are overlooking, or what’s coming that the business isn’t prepared for—whether that’s for a more positive, inclusive culture or to prepare for the coming choices to be made when AI and work automation drives change—hopefully both!
Talent Management and Development

  1. Create the official job description AFTER the employee is hired to customize the role, leveraging the unique talents and interests of employees to align with work opportunistic.
  2. Use Organization Network Analysis (ONA) to aid with a number of improvement efforts, including finding the natural change agents and influences (both positive and negative) to involve in new initiatives as well as augmenting traditional leader successor profile information and high potential identification with ONA.
  3. Refine the launch of a more contemporary approach to performance management conversation by utilizing language grounded in the culture of the business. In one case, musical terms are used to describe the discussion tools, such as “your greatest hits” to better reflect the unique culture of the organization.
  4. Open new cross-training opportunities, upskill training/certification, and incremental pay increases to advance low-level employees into higher-value trade positions.
  5. Reimagine employee volunteer programs with higher developmental and culture-building impact.
  6. Approach first-time leadership training with the same discipline as finance and engineering, where employees first need to master fundamental frameworks and problem solving; in this case, mastering optimizing human resources before becoming a leader.
  7. Encourage each employee to identify their personal passion that "feeds their soul” and then finds way(s) to enable, support, and foster their involvement in that passion as a form of reward and engagement.
People Analytics and AI in HR

  1. Leverage people analytics teams to influence behavior change. One way in which it is happening is through real-time nudges. Building on behavior economics nudge theory, people analytics professionals leverage machine learning to prompt individuals to modify their behavior in a predictable way.
  2. Use of people data analytics capabilities to inform new work site decisions based on workforce availability.
  3. Google’s “Grow with Google” search capability, which enables military service members preparing to transition to civilian life to enter “jobs for vets” and put in their military occupation code (MOS) and the search will return information on civilian occupations that match their skills and experience. This helps address the common challenge of translating the skills and experiences gained in military careers to relevant jobs in the civilian world.
  4. Use analytics to build out job recommendation engine. Based on employee capability and their developmental activities (formally through work and informally), this engine enables employees and the organization to find the best fit for a given job or project.
Kevin Wilde

Kevin D. Wilde is a strategic business adviser with i4cp and former Chief Learning Officer at General Mills
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New study from i4cp,“Culture Renovation: A Blueprint for Action,” provides a master plan for initiating and sustaining organizational culture transformation.

Seattle, WA: Only 15% of global survey respondents reported that their organizations have achieved highly successful culture transformations according to a new study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), Culture Renovation: A Blueprint for Action. Despite that lack of success, the steps to effective culture transformation are clear and attainable for most organizations.

Nearly 7,700 business professionals representing thousands of organizations took part in the groundbreaking i4cp research, which sought to identify the actions and next practices employed by the 348 companies that have experienced culture transformation success. Through the research, i4cp identified 18 key actions the HR and leadership teams took to plan, build, and maintain success.

Most (78%) survey respondents confirmed that any change to culture needs to be driven by the CEO, although enlisting the support of internal influencers is a critical factor to success. Further, interviews with CEOs and HR leaders from Ford Motor Company, Microsoft, Zumiez, T-Mobile, 3M, AbbVie, Booz Allen Hamilton, and others as part of the study, indicated that renovating a culture was more effective than an entire transformation.

“You really need to figure out what’s at the core of your culture—what you want to keep and what you want to evolve and grow,” said Pat Wadors, Chief Talent Officer at ServiceNow, one of the many senior HR leaders interviewed for the study.

The 18 HR and leadership actions identified by the research form a three-step process to successfully renovate a culture:

  • Plan - 90% of organizations that were unsuccessful in transforming their cultures did not set clear success measures upfront. The 66% that did so reported successful transformations.
  • Build - 57% of organizations that have had successful culture transformations conducted an Organizational Network Analysis to identify influencers and energizers to champion the transformation.
  • Maintain – Successful companies were three-to-seven times more likely to change core talent practices, such as employee onboarding, performance management, and talent mobility, to reinforce and engrain new cultural values and behaviors.
While the full i4cp report is available exclusively to i4cp members, an executive brief will soon be available for download at www.culturerenovation.com along with other culture renovation resources.

About the Institute for Corporate Productivity

i4cp is a human capital research firm that discovers the people practices that drive high performance. i4cp provides its extensive member network of leading global employers and government institutions with the research, peer collaboration, tools, and data essential to developing and executing workforce strategies and practices that deliver higher market performance.
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The i4cp 2017 Conference is fast approaching!

(Seriously, March 20 be here before you know it)—in the meantime, check out these select recordings from the awesome 2016 conference.

i4cp’s 2016 Conference: Next Practices Now delivered a stellar line-up of leading industry experts, thought leaders, and senior executives from some of the world’s top companies who delivered fascinating presentations. A whopping 100% of attendees ranked the conference, which is always closed to vendors and consultants, as a great place to network with other HR, talent, and learning leaders, and three-quarters said it offers "superior networking opportunities."

This selection of videos highlights several of the highest-rated speaker presentations (note: due to copyright issues, we are unable to share some presentations). Each presenter revealed detailed strategies about how high-performance organizations consistently connect people practices to market performance.

Jack in the Box CEO, CFO & CHRO Talk Strategic Alignment

The leadership of Jack in the Box Inc. delivered a standout presentation which focused on how organizations can enhance and accelerate strategy execution by aligning leadership in the C-Suite.

CEO Lenny Comma, CFO Jerry Rebel, and CHRO Mark Blankenship discussed how they work together as a team to ensure that the organization drives strategic execution in alignment with stakeholder needs.

People Deliver Strategy Jack's Way | i4cp Conference 2016 - YouTube

The three discussed how they partner with one another, where their roles naturally work well together, where there are challenges, and how they address those challenges.

Panel Discussion on the Evolution of Work

Professor, author, and world-recognized thought leader John Boudreau discussed his latest book, "Lead the Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment.”

i4cp 2016 Conference | Panel Discussion on The Evolution of Work - YouTube

John led a private pre-conference session with members of i4cp’s Chief Learning & Talent Officer Board and facilitated a joint conversation with members of the Chief Human Resource Officer Board and the Chief Diversity Officer Board joining in.

How Intel Drives Diversity through Data

Alexis A. Fink, PhD., took a deep dive into how Intel is driving diversity through data. Fink is currently Intel’s Director of Talent Intelligence Analytics, and her team provides original organizational effectiveness research, HR analytics, talent marketplace analytics, HR systems and tools, and consulting on talent solutions.

Alexis Fink from Intel Speaks at the i4cp 2016 Conference - YouTube

Intel has long held a leadership position in diversity, and in 2015, its CEO made a significant public commitment to investing in closing all of its diversity market availability gaps in the U.S. by 2020.

Women & Diversity in Tech

Attention to diversity and inclusion—and women in technology in particular—has never before been more intense. i4cp was delighted to have the opportunity to provide conference attendees with a private screening of the award-winning documentary film, CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, followed by a panel discussion on women and diversity in tech, featuring the film’s director and producer, Robin Hauser Reynolds.

i4cp 2016 Conference. Panel: Women & Diversity in Tech - YouTube

The panel was moderated by Lorrie Lykins, i4cp's managing editor and director of research services, and of The SheSuite profile series. In addition to Reynolds, panelists were Alexis Fink, Director, Talent Intelligence & Analytics at Intel Corporation and Soheila Khosravani, Director, Strategic Sourcing and Partnerships at Boeing."

Elliott Masie on Learning Choices and Trends

Elliott Masie, learning industry legend and provocateur, provided conference attendees with an entertaining and stimulating view of today’s learning trends and choices.

i4cp 2016 Conference | Elliott Masie discusses learning trends and choices - YouTube

Masie is an internationally recognized futurist, analyst, researcher, and organizer on the critical topics of workforce learning, business collaboration, and emerging technologies. He is the CEO and founder of The MASIE Center & MASIE Productions, author of a dozen books, and the convener of Learning 2013 and Telework 2013.

How Effective Leaders Drive Results Through Networks

Rob Cross, Ph.D., professor of commerce at University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, and a member of i4cp's Thought Leader Consortium, took participants through these network dimensions as well as illustrated where rising stars undermine their effectiveness by falling into one of six common network “traps.”

i4cp 2016 Conference | Leading in a Connected World - Rob Cross - YouTube

Next Practices in Total Rewards

Michelle Clements, former head of HR at REI, and Mark Englizian, who chairs i4cp’s new and whose previous roles include former Chief HR Officer at Walgreens, total rewards leader at Amazon.com, and compensation leader at Microsoft, challenged employers to embrace the needs of the modern workforce for flexibility and portability through practices like flexible scheduling, virtual workspaces, compressed workweeks, and job sharing.

The Total Rewards Leader Board is an exclusive, confidential, and vendor-free group dedicated to exploring the future of total rewards and its evolving role in business. For more detail on the total rewards next practices discussed at the 2016 conference, and to learn more about the Total Rewards Leader Board, watch the conference presentation now:

i4cp 2016 Conference | Next Practices in Total Rewards - YouTube

Ford's Innovation Test Track Breakout Session

Gale Halsey, CLO and Director Learning and Organization Development at Ford Motor Company, led the “Innovation Test Track” session at this year’s conference, which detailed Ford’s process for idea generation that breaks all the rules, then turns ideas into actions.

i4cp 2016 Conference | Ford's Innovation Test Track Breakout Session - YouTube

Eva Sage-Gavin on the 2025 Workplace

Eva Sage-Gavin, former head of HR at GAP Inc. and member of the UpSkill America Coalition, presented an invitation of transformation to the audience. Sage-Gavin, who has been recognized by Human Resource Executive as one of the 25 most influential and prominent women leading Human Resource organizations, challenged the audience to reinvent the future of work and business competitiveness—or be outpaced by those who do.

Watch her presentation now to see her recommendations on how HR can truly shape the workplace of the future and increase individual, organizational and societal opportunity and prosperity.

Eva Sage-Gavin Speaks at the i4cp 2016 Conference - YouTube

Sign up now for the i4cp 2017 Conference

i4cp thanks the nearly 300 senior human capital practitioners from the world's most respected companies who attended the 2016 conference. And even though the i4cp 2017 Conference (March 20-23) is eight months away, registration is already open for what many call the best HR event of the year. The question is: will you join us?

By attending in 2017, you will have the opportunity to:

  1. Network with peers, not vendors or consultants.
  2. Learn from world-class thought leaders and executives from top employers.
  3. Gain actionable insights that truly drive market performance.
  4. Discover how talent programs can transform your organization.
Don’t just take our word for it. We leave you with this 15-minute video of Kevin Martin, i4cp’s Chief Research and Marketing Officer, in which he briefly recaps highlights of the 2016 conference and discusses key HR trends emerging from i4cp's research.

The i4cp 2016 Conference in 15 Minutes - YouTube
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