A Few Thoughts About Winning


, ,

…So I have made a career out of existing in the top-right quadrant of the Thomas-Killman conflict resolution spectrum (see image below). Given two (or more) competing objectives – no matter how far apart – I figure out a way to bring everyone together and leave (mostly) happy about the end resolution… whatever it may be.

I have been nothing else if not patient, persistent, and perhaps even relentless in the pursuit of this goal. One of my personal mottos has been that anyone that believes you can’t please everyone simply isn’t trying hard enough.


…That said, what the past year(ish) has taught me is that often times there should be losers. I don’t necessarily know that there have to be – given enough time almost anyone can reach a compromise – but the emotional, physical, and capital investment required to get everyone on the same page is way-more-often-than-you-might-think not worth it.

Kris Dunn wrote a few days ago here that the best HR leaders are as assertive as the salespeople in your organization. He notes that in our function the need for comfort with confrontation continues to escalate. This is as true as anything I’ve read all year.

Frankly, as our workforces have become more global, company investments in long-term retentive benefits such as pensions become less prevalent, healthcare access becomes less tied to enterprise employment, and skill-sets become more transferable, the tension between talent management and business priorities have become both more interlinked and in conflict. Today’s business leaders need HR Business Partners that will push back on human capital strategy when the current state doesn’t make sense for organizational health, whilst also being willing to let go of their agendas and/or the present agendas of the function when it/they don’t align with the needs of the business.

Winning and success don’t always mean everyone walks away happy. And sometimes it means everyone walks away more or less pissed. That conflict – that tension – is an integral part of success.

…I think. I will keep you posted.

Happy Wednesday,


The Importance of Cultivating Good Judgment (and How to do it)





…So this morning I read a great piece from CIPD here that examines the changing role of the HR Business Partner, and why some organizations have been more effective at cultivating the talent pool required to be successful in these roles than others. From the piece:

In many cases, however, there has been a failure to understand the business partner role and how it differs from the old HR model and then match this to existing HR capability. The simple fact is that the ‘ask’ has risen faster than the capability of many people in HR to deliver it. As a result, many HR business partners have been unable to deliver what is required in the role or have dumbed down the role to a level they are comfortable with but which doesn’t deliver what is required by the business.


This isn’t just about a competency framework; it’s about being realistic about the level we are asking people to operate at. It’s become unfashionable to use tests of verbal and numeric reasoning skills, but perhaps we should look at more sophisticated and rigorous ways of assessing what level a person can operate at. We are letting our people and the business down if we recruit people to do a job they simply can’t do. Levels of work suggest that by far the best predictor of success in higher complexity roles is judgment – but this is rarely assessed.

and finally:

It is very difficult to send someone on a programme that develops their intellectual capability or their systemic thinking ability. But these capabilities can be more swiftly developed through a broader career-pathing approach which tries to develop perspective (for example across different functions) and hence judgement. But this takes time and our research shows that this kind of development is the least often used by HR.

…So what’s powerful about the above is that it frames the matter of experience in a different way than I normally see it talked about. By instead tying the importance of good judgment to performance, the author (1) highlights the reality that not every person can develop the capabilities to be great at every role, and (2) highlights the reality that developing the capacity of talent can only come from giving them the high volume of ‘reps’ required to get good.

This may all be a roundabout way of saying that each organization needs to (1) recognize its talent’s strengths / weaknesses and (2) give its talent the targeted development opportunities required to reach their full potential. *But* this advice is easier said than done. It requires an organization to (1) really knows its people and (2) really understand what drives success in every role and what someone needs to be exposed to properly develop.



Understanding Your Audience is Key When Communicating Employee Benefits Programs


, , ,


…So this evening I read a really interesting predictions piece from Josh Bersin here and want to share an interesting takeaway that from it (see page #8, excerpt below):


Bersin gives non-total rewards examples above, but from a benefits standpoint this is powerful for me because it drives home the point that – regardless of how value added our total rewards programs can potentially be to our employee population – for our employees to realize said value, our offerings must be easy for them to use and easy to understand.

This means it’s important to always consider how colleagues across all segments of our workforce are engaging with our HR platforms… and also to think about how accessible the information housed on them is. Because if an employee doesn’t understand how a benefit works (or it isn’t otherwise intuitive to use), the most likely action that they’ll take with regards to said benefit is no action. This harms (1) the employee because they may be underutilizing a product that could significantly improve their health, engagement, or retirement/financial security outcomes. And it (2) harms the Company because we’re paying for a benefit that isn’t being used by our population (resulting in unnecessary expense and a failure to realize what might otherwise be an offering’s retentive value).

The above is in many ways common sense, I suppose, but as I read this article it struck me how often I assume my audience knows things that they may not. After all, just because a communication or SOP is sent out doesn’t mean it was read. And just because it was read doesn’t mean it was understood.

My big takeaway? Regardless of the platform I am working from in 2016, I want to be mindful to stop and ask myself three questions when communicating/explaining a benefit to someone:

  1. What is this audience’s current level of knowledge about the offering? If I don’t know the answer to this question for sure I need to clarify it before communicating anything.
  2. How can I augment my audience’s knowledge in such a way that they (1) feel confident about how the offering works and (2) empowered to use it to improve their lives in some way?
  3. Does my audience know who to contact if they have additional questions about the product / offering?

Simple, yes. Value added, hopefully?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Benefits That Employees Value More than Pay Increases


, ,

Employee benefits definition highlighted in green

Thanks to HLBR for sharing this Glassdoor survey highlighting the perks that employees most value. The benefits valued more than pay raises, in order are:

•Healthcare insurance (e.g., medical, dental): 40%
•Vacation/Paid time off: 37%
•Performance bonus: 35%
•Paid sick days: 32%
•401(k) plan, retirement plan and/or pension: 31%
•Flexible schedule (e.g., work from home): 30%
•Office perks (e.g., free lunch, casual dress): 19%
•Employee development programs (e.g., on-the-job training, professional development): 19%
•Tuition reimbursement: 18%
•Employee discounts: 17%
•Gym membership or wellness programs: 16%
•Stock, stock options and/or equity: 16%
•Paid parental leave (e.g., maternity leave, adoption assistance): 13%
•Childcare assistance (e.g., on-site childcare, financial assistance): 13%
•Commuter assistance (e.g., company shuttle, commuter checks): 9%
•Diversity program: 3%

^Of note 401K/Pension is 5th on the list at 31%, meaning that just under a third of employees value retirement benefits from employers more than increased salary. That isn’t 50%, but it shows that this is an issue that is top of mine for a lot of employees. Also ranking highly are PTO and sick leave, which are fast becoming government requirements and may become less of a potential differentiator for employers over time. Health insurance and performance bonuses also top the list, the latter of which employers may want to consider as performance bonuses are only prevalent in most industries at the management ranks.

…Just some interesting data I wanted to share.

Happy New Year HR Pros.



Only One in Five Workers are on Track to Retire at Age 65…


, , , , ,



…So this evening I came across a white paper from Aon Hewitt here that shows only 1/5th of the workforce is putting away enough earnings to retire when their parents did. The article goes on to highlight that employers are putting in place increasingly generous 401(k) matches *and* auto-enrolling employees into their plans to rectify the issue… but most workers are still a long ways away from where they need to be in order to obtain financial security. And with the average employee needing an average of 11 times their final pay to retire with dignity at 65, many workers are going to need to take a more hands-on approach to saving for their future.

To this end, I said in my last post that I think a big part of helping employees make the decisions they need to in order to grow here will come in the form of employers helping them visualize the consequences of not saving, and the data supports that. According to a Prudential survey that analyzed women’s financial experiences and behaviors:

…the results indicate that women are more confident in their ability to manage day-to-day finances. And they have advice for financial services firms about how to help them achieve their long-term financial goals: simplify the process, stop using so much jargon, look out for the customer’s interests, and maintain a strong code of ethics.

^But I also don’t want to dismiss the role of the employer here, and believe they may have an even bigger role to play going forward. In fact, going forward I think that a big part of the solution is redefining the total rewards picture in organizations to place a greater emphasis on retirement savings as a core component of compensation. Don’t get me wrong: When I say this I’m *not* suggesting that employers go back to investing in DB pension schemes. With flat rate and variable rate premiums continuing to go up for single employer plans through law changes such as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, that ship has long sailed. PBGC premium aside, running large DB pension plans simply has too unpredictable an effect on company financial statements (and the liabilities too great with mortality increasing) for employers not move away from them.

That said, companies are doing all sorts of creative things via 401K/DC plans to position their employees to be in good financial shape at retirement. Companies like ConocoPhillips have matches as high as 9% of pay, while companies like Philip Morris contribute in excess of 15% of pay to employee 401K accounts (see the full list from Bloomberg here for a clearer picture of the most generous 401k plans). To be sure, these are very profitable companies that can afford to make these sorts of plan contributions… but I would also submit that at least some of these monies might otherwise make their way into employee pockets in the form of base salary if not for these companies setting those dollars aside for retirement contributions. With this in mind, is part of the solution here to have a total rewards design that funnels more of the dollars normally allocated for pay increases into more generous match components in DC plans? There is an argument to be made that this is perhaps overly paternalistic, but I would say to this that so to is auto-enrolling employees into DC plans at X% of pay, and so to is forcing employees to diversify retirement holdings in company plans, which after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dudenhoeffer I suspect more employers are going to start doing.

…Obviously, the decision to allocate more salary increase dollars towards DC plans in the form of employer contributions is one that should be made carefully (contingent on a host of factors including 1. how it impacts an employer’s pay competitiveness in the marketplace relative to peers, and 2. the demographic breakdowns and current savings patterns of the workforce). But I *do* think the shift might be right for some employers.

Just a Wednesday evening thought stream…

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



The Importance of Helping Employees Visualize Mission When Implementing Change


, , ,


…During the summer of one of my first HR internships, my HR manager told me a change management story that has stuck with me ever since. She recounted how several years prior, she was the HR Manager for a struggling manufacturing plant with numerous production and quality problems… and if those problems weren’t resolved in short order then the business was in danger of losing a big customer whose departure could mean the facility’s closure. Changes needed to be made in the way employees and managers were held accountable, long standing expectations around hours and work needed to change… and as part of this process a re-organization would need to take place that would mean layoffs. Almost none of the needed change was of the ‘feel-good’ variety, and delivering this message to the workforce in a way that didn’t cause people to dis-engage would be challenging.

Ultimately, after a lot of hand wringing the leadership settled on a novel way to deliver the message that significant changes were required in a way that would both resonate and engage the workforce: For the better part of the week, empty boxes were brought into the primary facility warehouse and stacked along the walls. No one knew why the boxes were being stacked along the walls, and no one knew when it would stop or what it all meant.

^After 4 days, with more than a quarter of empty warehouse space dedicated to the boxes, the Plant Manager shut down all of the lines, scheduling an all-hands meeting in the warehouse. The Plant Manager faced the entirety of the workforce; and the boxes were his back drop as he delivered the message that – unless the facility dramatically changed the way it did business – the boxes behind him represented the monthly volume of product that the facility would lose in business. Losing that amount of business, he said, would potentially place the job’s of everyone standing there that day in jeopardy. He then laid out the general framework of a large scale change management effort that would re-define the way the business operated – from the organizational and decision making structure to its quality controls to the production schedules and beyond.

The workforce responded to the message, embracing the changes the facility needed to make and – so her story goes – the plant was saved. The leadership laid out a difficult vision for the future that the workforce accepted… but to do so they needed to help employees clearly visualize why change was necessary.

…I share the above story after reading a fantastic Aon Hewitt blog post titled “Why Retirement Models are Perfect, While People are Not.” It highlights that 60% of workers will not have enough money saved to retire at 65 (the new normal will be 68), and that 16% of workers won’t even have enough to retire by 75. Hewitt goes on to highlight the many reasons that this is the case despite the median retiree needing to save just 7.3% of their income per year over 40 years to retire at 65.

^There are lots of very good reasons that not everyone is able to have this sort of consistent savings over their lifetime… but for many people in the workforce the primary reason they don’t hit their savings goals is because putting away 7%-8% of one’s income just feels like too much when one is in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s. By the time most workers begin earnestly thinking about saving for retirement… it’s increasingly becoming too late (particularly as employers move away from lifetime annuity based pension plans).

…Re-visiting the lesson of the story I shared above, I think that to really help workers today make smart retirement savings decisions that employers have to help them to really start thinking about the consequences of saving today, and help them visualize what that looks like in the future. Because to have the willpower to make smart savings decisions in the first half of one’s life, I don’t think that giving worker’s access to financial planning tools and expecting them to always make the right decisions is enough. Planning for the future has to be a mission, which requires I won’t power, I will power, and I want power:

^Or maybe an idea like this is too paternalistic (or idealistic)? If so, why? If not, what would a program that helps employees paint a picture of retirement look like?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Solving the Right Problems




…It’s 6:32 PM here, so I want to keep this short. But I wanted to share a great article I read this evening because it inspired a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment for me. From Peter Bregman at the HBR (article here), who was trying to figure out how to get his kids to stop fighting in the morning:

It was 6:45 am and my three kids were already fighting.

My wife Eleanor and I have tried everything. We talked to them about how important it is to have a good relationship with your siblings, made clear what we expected, and developed rules for living together. We trained them in respectful communication and taught them how to breathe and manage their anger. We meditated with them and mediated between them. We rewarded them, punished them, reasoned with them, and begged them.

and when none of those solutions worked;

…If my kids didn’t have a sibling fighting problem, what else might it be? I thought through a number of different possibilities and landed on what turned out to be a simple problem with a very simple solution.

My kids didn’t have a sibling problem; they had a morning problem. They woke up tired and with low blood sugar.

Which means the solution wasn’t to teach them how to speak nicely to each other. In fact, that just exacerbated the problem because after we lectured them, they felt worse and now they weren’t just mad at each other, they were mad at us.

The real solution? An earlier bed time and a glass of orange juice when they woke up.

Those two interventions decreased the morning fighting by 90%.

^In HR (and in general, to be fair), we often times try and solve challenges by focusing on process management. Whether it’s hiring a boss for a poor performer (instead of performance managing them), trying to change undesirable behaviors by simply exercising willpower, or trying to fix a broken business model with new technology, we often times misdiagnose the problem when looking for a solution for something causing us personal or business pain. But, by periodically taking a step back and revisiting our assumptions when a challenge is particularly sticky, we’re more likely to identify a misdiagnosis to the problem if/when it exists.

There are all sorts of applications of this idea, but it’s helpful for me just now because there are a myriad of different nails that I have been trying to apply a hammer to when a claw would have been more appropriate.

…Not rocket science, obviously, but I hope this is value added for someone. Think about the problem you’re trying to solve and ask yourself if you are solving the right problem!

Happy Tuesday.



The Utility of Stress

…So lately I’ve found myself thinking about what drives people to better themselves. The answer to this question might feel elementary, but the more I live, the more I am finding that developing good habits, earnestly investing in one’s own development, and continually pushing oneself when that which was easy becomes hard is not merely a matter of formulating a trigger, behavior and reward process (as is written about in various academic literature).

In fact, I think the key ingredient to really pushing past limits we all grapple with (such as procrastination, lethargy, fear and frustration) is properly channeling stress.

On the one hand, we shouldn’t let stress rule our lives. Obsessing over an outcome or issue to the extent that you can’t focus on anything else has negative health outcomes that in a worse case scenario can lead you to an early grave. But conversely, stress is our body’s way of saying focus and pay attention. From the Wiki on stress here:

Stress is a body’s method of reacting to a challenge. According to the stressful event, the body’s way to respond to stress is by sympathetic nervous system activation which results in the fight-or-flight response.

^Leveraged properly, stress is a tool that we can all use to help push us into becoming the best versions of ourselves. It’s a vehicle that can help narrow our focus and peel away the blockers that inhibit our ability to give maximum effort. But there is also this:

Because the body cannot keep this state for long periods of time, the parasympathetic system returns the body’s physiological conditions to normal (homeostasis).

^We can’t stay in a stressful state indefinitely. As stated above, doing so will make us ill or worse. And so it’s important to strike a delicate balance between utilizing stress as a source of energy to push us forward without allowing it to burn us out.

…I do my best work when I am stressed, but then ultimately use the fuel of stress until I have nothing left to give. This can lead to wildly uneven performance like this:

Zig Zag

^Where I get a lot done and then drag for a while as I recover. And I’ve seen this same cycle from others in client groups and teams I’ve supported over the years as well! I think this is because – for most people – stress manifests itself in a short-term, destination focused way: One needs to complete a project, report, presentation etc… and then the stress dissipates. Or, conversely, a stressor might manifest itself in the form of a challenge that feels too big… in which case it acts as an anchor until it becomes so heavy that one sinks.

…Maybe the solution is to stop working towards the “reward” of stress relief. And by this I mean that when stressed, the best way to think about stressors is not as a burden to be eased, but as an opportunity to get better. This may sound overly philosophical, but I think the way we each independently deal with stress and channel it (or not) is driven by our value systems. And the best organizations hire talent with attributes that lend themselves to effectively managing stress (see this Southwest article from HBR here).

Of course, cultivating this sort of world view (and approach to stress) is easier said than done.

If you succeed in doing so, tell me how.

Happy Thursday.




A Few Thoughts on Vacation (and White Space) After 7 Days in Dubai



A group photo in Dubai

A group photo in Dubai

…So I recently returned from a 7-day vacation in Dubai (not including the 24+ hours spent in flight roundtrip). It was the longest vacation I’ve taken in at least a decade, I spent it with my closest friends… and because of the 9-hour time differential and spotty network access, for much of that time I was truly ‘unplugged’ and effectively removed from day-to-day work.

…Much has been written about the benefits of time off, and some of the executives I respect most in the world swear by the powerful rejuvenating effects of white space. Ergo, as an HR pro and Benefits Manager I found myself reflecting on these promulgations upon my return to the U.S. A few thoughts on the pros/cons of extended time away:

1. It helped me recognize the importance of sleep.

I’d been getting by on just 5-6 hours a night for so long that I’d forgotten how much more highly I function on 8-9 hours of uninterrupted rest. When I get a full night’s sleep I exercise better judgment, am more articulate, more agreeable, and – perhaps most importantly – more disciplined and less prone to unforced errors. With no early morning obligations (and a set of highly effective hotel blackout curtains), for a week straight I slept with no alarm clock and let my body wake me up. And since coming back to work (and the states) I’ve continued those habits because I’ve felt so much better when doing so.

2. The time off helped me break bad habits.

Over time we all fall into routines, and I am as guilty as anyone. Some of my habits around diet, work hours, work style, and even morning and night time rituals were sub-optimal, and stepping away from those habits allowed me to identify opportunities for growth and change accordingly.

3. The time away helped me to think more strategically about the HR function.

As we become comfortable in our roles, sometimes we become overly focused on tactical, short term goals as opposed to taking a longer term view. A greater focus starts to be placed on satisfying the expectations of our key stakeholders and constituencies in the present as opposed to thinking about how we can really make a lasting impact. Getting some distance from work helped me think about what I can do differently to affect real changes

But on the downside…

4. I have never had such a massive backlog of emails in my career.

Fortunately, I work with a great team that made sure anything of real urgency was addressed in my absence. But it still took quite a while to catch up…

5. When I got back, I really needed a few days to recover from my vacation, but returned immediately to work.

Next time I will structure that a bit differently…

^To the above point, it’s approaching end of day Friday, so I am going to now get some much needed rest. 🙂




The Week in HR (10.9.2015)


, , , ,



It’s Friday, so as always here are a few articles you should be reading:

  1. Laurie Ruettimann has a solid 4-part series up on her site about the core components of a great company culture here. The whole series – which cites continuity, curation, collaboration, and creativity as must have fixture in a great culture – is worth reading in its entirety… but I want to specifically highlight the post outlining the case for collaboration. It’s a great read because it touches on the importance of trusting and including people across demographic and experiential lines in discussions and decision making processes. This because the best teams trust and (on a larger level organizations) communicate effectively as a group, leveraging one another’s strengths while respecting differences. Ergo, whether focusing on building a stronger culture, or just looking to raise the water level around performance, collaboration has to be a table stakes requirement.


  1. Margaret O’Hanlon has a great piece on Compensation Café laying out the value proposition for pay transparency. I’ve gone back and forth on this one over the years (I think it really depends), and I think there are some good arguments on both sides of the debate… but I’m sharing this piece because I think the point made in it – that transparency limits compression issues and in the long run controls salary cost – is a powerful one. When an organization has to defend pay inequity, it is less likely to make offers that create compression issues on the basis that it will ultimately have to correct for them. Interesting idea… check out the full post here and please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. Tim Sackett reminds readers of one of the great wisdoms in recruiting – never give a hiring manager just one candidate – even if he or she is a nearly perfect fit. As human beings, when there is only one option we often tend to assume there’s something wrong with it. As HR pros one way we should look to overcome this issue is by presenting our hiring managers/teams with a slate of prospective talent (even if the best choice is obvious). Old but good tip…

Happy Friday,