If You Can See It, You Can Be It!

What Are You Visualizing, and What Does It Say About You?

It has been said that everything important, including every great company, begins with a single idea in someone’s mind. A simple vision of what is possible is affirmed, nurtured and supported until it becomes reality.

For individuals seeking to set a new or improved course for their life, visualization can be used as a way to embrace this new “picture” of the future. Affirmation of this new vision is a way in which we can move out of our comfort zone to adopt the new vision and establish behaviors that will support it. Engagement depends upon our ability to envision what is possible and commit to achieve it.

As we move through life, we gather thoughts and perceptions based on past experience. We may not realize they are there, until our beliefs are challenged or we find they are limiting to us in some way. At this point, we have the opportunity to visualize what is most important, and reconsider our beliefs and experiences.

This can be difficult, because without a special effort on our part, these perceptions can shape the way we look at the past, live in the present, and plan for the future. They can become like a “movie” we replay in our mind over and over again, and which seems comfortable and familiar.

Those of you who have children know we start enjoying movies, and playing them over and over, at an early age! Children can watch movies tirelessly, memorizing their favorite stories, dialog, and songs, enjoying them no matter how many times they have seen them. Often, these movies are hopeful and inspiring!

When we create our own “life movie” it is important to think about the theme we want to create, and what is most important to us. We want to focus on the happy ending we seek. Like the child, if unchecked, we will memorize that movie and use it as a filter in our own world. If you don’t believe it, consider the conversations around you! How often do people tell stories again and again about something that happened in the past, allow them to influence behavior and relationships in the present, and cling to them in considering the future..

As you become conscious of what you will allow in your movie, the same process that may have restricted you, will now work in your favor. As you become more engaged with this new vision, you will watch it again and again! It will provide a positive way to consider what is possible, and to learn from what happens along the way. It will become natural to you to look for those things that will support this vision. You will, as the saying goes, “become the change you seek in the world.”

Napoleon Hill described the importance of being purposeful about your vision by saying,

“… imagination is the most marvelous, miraculous, inconceivably powerful force the world has ever known.”

How will you inspire yourself and others with imagination? Here are some thoughts as you begin:

  • Create a plan for your life that will help you identify your vision, goals and purpose, and to pursue them.
  • Consider the people and events most important to your vision.
  • Find comfort in the memories, relationships and resources that inspire you.
  • Value the physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial assets that will be important to your vision.
  • Create structure, allow for the unexpected, and remember that Rome was not built in a day!
  • Congratulate yourself for success.
  • Remember that failure is part of success.
  • Revise your plan when needed – this is a process of discovery!





Am I Innovative: Test Three

timeAccording to Harvard and The Energy Project people that are able to focus on one task at a time are 50% more engaged.   What this means is that those people were more involved with and passionate about their work.

The same holds true for Innovation.  Those individuals who can focus on one task at a time tend to be more innovative.  The big question is why?

The answer is simple.  Innovation takes time.  In order to create something new or change a process in a meaningful way it takes time.

When we innovate we need to play with ideas and concepts, define a future state, test new processes, and more.  People innovate when they have the time and space to engage in those efforts.

We also lose time when we take on too much and multi-task.  Study after study comes back with the same answer:

  • People that multi-task actually lose productive time and the quality of their work decreases.

So in order to truly say yes to an idea we have to say no to others.   How are you creating time in space in your organization for people to innovate?  How are you creating the time and space for you to innovate?

I am Innovative: Test One

I am Innovative: Test Two

Bringing Young Leaders Forward

At Five Star Bank, we are always looking for ways to further our employees’ talents and invest in their strengths. It is part of bringing the best service we can to our customers. A prime example is Five Star Bank employee Stephanie Petrakos, who started at the bank eight years ago fresh out of college as a management trainee and worked her way up. Currently she is the Vice President and Credit Administrator. In her position she is required to have a leadership role in the bank’s credit department. As such, she was sent to a leadership development conference through Independent Community Bankers of America. What she also found was that Five Star Bank could be ahead of other organizations when it comes to ushering in the next generation of its leadership.

Read the full article at:

Five Star Bank

Brad Federman Interviewed by Business Interviews

“In terms of a unique tool or technique used to help create a more sensitive or respective workplace environment nothing beats one-on-one connections and conversations.”

Brad Federman

Brad Federman
F&H Solutions Group

F&H Solutions Group (FHSG) is a national consulting firm specializing in human resources and labor relations matters. Their HR consultants have unmatched expertise and experience in working with all types and sizes of organizations in different industries in both the private and public sectors.

FHSG provides solutions for a better workplace. Clients value their ability to develop strategies that have a positive impact on their organization and save them time and money.

F & H Solutions Group

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some trends in the human resources industry that you’re excited about?

Brad: I’m excited about several trends in the Human Resource industry. One of the first things I find exciting are the millennials. We have such great diversity in terms of generational differences in the workplace. It has opportunity to cause a lot of conflict, yet it also has an opportunity to create change. We have so many tools out there that promote networking and connections that are no longer hierarchical and yet we live in organizations that make it difficult to utilize those platforms in a productive manner because they are focused on hierarchy and outdated policies. When organizations catch up to where society is you have moments when things really work, where people truly connect at a unique level and a great deal of innovation occurs. I think this next generation is going to drive that, they are going to make that happen. They believe in workplace balance, being treated as an adult, jumping in and participating on the frontend. They want to put their imprint on what they create which means that our workplace needs to begin to represent that in the way that we establish our structures, our policies and procedures, etc.

The second trend I really am excited about is globalization. While that trend has being going on for a long time, what’s unique and different is that it is continuing to infiltrate every aspect of business. It doesn’t matter whether you work for a large company such as Microsoft, or you work for a small mom and pop shop, at some point the concept of diversity, globalization and dealing with different cultures is going to impact your business. I know small firms with one or two people in them that work across the globe and respond to clients of different backgrounds and nationalities. This presents a real challenge for a lot of miscommunication, etc. However, what is exciting is that people are getting better at understanding differences, embracing differences, learning about different cultures. We are becoming more mature in the way we view people around the globe.

The last trend is technology in HR. Now, I am not excited about the technology per se, I am excited about what possibilities it presents. You see, the history of HR is it’s an outgrowth of the legal profession so it’s been focused on risks and compliance. The truth is that in today’s world with everything becoming more and more transparent due to technology and because of the type of worker in place it is imperative that HR is focused more on building a strong culture and relationships that drive business success and performance. Focusing on risks and compliance doesn’t allow HR to do that. The idea of risks and compliance are going to go away would be foolish and unrealistic. However, with the amount of technology that is coming into play and the ability to outsource so many of these compliance functions to organizations that specialize in these areas allows HR an opportunity to shed what does not add value to the company and focus their activities on what does. That is exciting.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you provide an example of a unique tool or technique that you’ve used to help encourage a more sensitive, respectful workplace environment?

Brad: In terms of a unique tool or technique used to help create a more sensitive or respective workplace environment nothing beats one-on-one connections and conversations. People are always more respectful and sensitive to those they understand, that they know personally. They are also more respectful and sensitive to those that they really listen to. So one activity that we do to encourage this kind of situation is called “rant and rave.” We have them stick two flipcharts up in the workplace for their team. One is rant, “What makes you rant about this place?” “What drives you crazy on a day to day basis?” And the other one is rave. “What makes you want to cheer?” “What makes you excited about working here?” And the leader gives people time to write things upon on those flip charts privately and when they are finished we encourage the leader of that team to have a conversation with their team about what is on those two flipcharts. The conversation is centered on two things (1) how do we remove, eliminate or reduce the things that drive us crazy, that make us rant; and (2) how do we increase or keep the things that make us rave, that we love? The wording is key because it is not how can I as the leader do it, it is how can “we” as a “team” do it? This should not be about the leader it should be about the group.

The second technique is that we create interviews for leaders to foster interesting conversations with their employees such as specific questions that we know will generate a conversation centered on personal things. In working with a major retailer, we had them take two or three questions that we supplied them and asked them to incorporate these questions into conversations with their people. They were shocked at what they found out. They learned about hardships and about the fact that many of their people are struggling financially. They realized that some of the things that they did as a leadership team actually caused their people to be frustrated or disengaged even though they had good intent. When they had this new information about their employees they were able to respond in kind and change the way people viewed them in the workplace. Because of this knowledge changes were made to make the workplace more respect oriented and fun. Ultimately it was all because they understood who their employees were and what they were going through.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some common obstacles you see top-level managers encountering and how can they be avoided?

Brad: Top level managers are encountering a lot of obstacles in their daily work. One of the biggest obstacles that people face is their pace of work. Since technology follows us wherever we go managers struggle to be more efficient and one way is to multi-task. Unfortunately, when we try to get more done more efficiently the quality of our work and ability to problem solve goes down because we need space and time to really reflect. Also, when we multi-task we know that things actually take longer, the quality of our work drops and we wind up sending a message to the people around us that they are not valued because doing things like answering emails while having conversations. Leaders who do a great job of handling this issue do it by knowing what to say “no” to. They do that to free up time and space to tackle complex challenges and problems. Problems that need buy in from different stake holders. The ability to say “no” to different things is what gives you an opportunity to truly say “yes” and commit to others.

The second obstacle that top level mangers encounter is forgetting what it is like to be an employee, a worker on the line, or in an entry level position in today’s work world. They don’t know their employee’s concerns and don’t realize that employees struggle just to make their rent or pay the gas to get to work. They become further removed from their employees by only hanging out with other leaders, creating separate dining rooms, separate bathrooms, putting themselves on separate floors and creating environments where they sit up high and watch over the staff. This creates barriers between themselves and the people with who they work. When those barriers exist even with the best intent we take actions that cause people to disengage and promote significant distance between us and those with who we work. The best way we can avoid making this mistake is reducing those barriers by promoting cross-pollination between different levels of people so people can talk openly and freely and encourage people to build connections with each other, not just professional connections, but to get to know each other personally. The client I referenced earlier, where we had them ask two or three questions of each employee is a good example. One of the “aha’s” they had was they had a lot of people who were struggling monetarily in their company. They had made a decision in some of the charity work they were doing to stop crediting people with giving their time and asking people just to give money. Some of the people they were asking to give money to a food bank were actually spending their time at the food bank because they needed food. The idea that their manager asked them to give money to the very same food bank that they have to go to so they can eat was emotionally distressing. When these leaders realized what they were doing to their people they had a very different perspective about their charitable efforts in the office. They had a very different perspective about the reaction employees had to the charitable efforts in their office and they would never had a sense of humility and a sense of empathy towards their employees if they had never asked such questions.

BusinessInterviews.com: Do you ever find that time-management is over looked as an important component to building a strong leadership foundation?

Brad: I think time management is actually not only over looked, I think it is misunderstood. There are some things you can tack with basic time management such as keeping meetings short, putting some rules in place not to waste time, but time management is a subset of something bigger which I would call choice management. Every day we walk into work and we make choices. Where will we spend or not spend our time and how will we spend our time? I believe it is about choice management not time management. People look at time management as a date book, as scheduling in Outlook and it really is about priorities. The way we spend our time is a reflection of our priorities. Those people that struggle with time management are really struggling with priorities. Being a leader means understanding what has the most impact and then spending time and resources on those impactful activities. That’s our core effort. Anything else either needs to be outsourced or removed, or managed efficiently using a system. The tasks that deserve our time, our efforts, that are truly core and important, those are our priorities and that is where our time and energy should be spent.

BusinessInterviews.com: What advice would you pass onto a manager who has been experiencing a long-term, high volume of staff absences?

Brad: The advice that I would give to a manager that is experiencing long-term, high volume of staff absences is to first look at them self and ask them self, what am I doing or not doing that is inherently contributing to the absences? Your team is a reflection of you. We create a shadow that we cast on our departments, our groups, our teams, based on our own behavior. Second they should look at how they are recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding new employees. Are they hiring for job and culture fit, not just skill set? People need to be good, but they also need to feel good (about what they are doing).

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share with our readers why this is such an exciting time to be working for F&H Solutions Group?

Brad: When you ask me why it is such an exciting time to work at F&H Solutions Group, the reason has a lot to do with the trends in the human resource industry going on now. The complexity, challenges, excitement of the change that is happening in our organizations, and in the HR industry as a whole, makes working here fun. We are on the preface of significant shift in the way we operate, the way we think about human behavior and the way we interact with organizations. To me this is an thrilling moment in time and because the transformation in the workplace is creating some stimulating projects and a lot of growth. After all we like to learn and be challenge ourselves.

F&H Solutions Group is a creative, innovative organization that is reflecting today’s organizational needs. I would much rather work for this firm because a lot of firms have not moved forward and are basically are stuck in the 80’s and 90’s workplace and mindset.

Freedom is not free, and neither is engagement.

man-free-signThe 4th of July – Independence day.  It is the day we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.  From there, The United States of America went on to form a government and agree to a constitution.

However, the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution by themselves are just pieces of paper.  Many other countries that suffer from coups, military control, and sectarian violence have had similar pieces of paper.  If you look beyond the documents and think about history the real work and tests were in the political upheavals and wars such as the American Revolution and the Civil War.  And we are retested throughout our history.

We paid highly for our freedoms.  We paid dearly for those pieces of paper.  And in the end the spirit of “One Nation” won out.  Those pieces of paper reflect work, pain, sacrifice and the choice to rise above oneself or a particular group.

Engagement is no different.  Survey time –  It is the day we commemorate the adoption of the idea that our employees are valued.  Here is the difference between American History and corporate history.  Too many organizations, leaders, and managers see the survey as the work, the pain, the cost.  We are interested in results and fixing items, or as I like to call it, treating symptoms.

The real work and the significant investment come after a survey.  Most companies spend 80 cents on the survey and 20 cents on follow up.  That concept needs to be turned upside down.  An easy way to test my theory out is to look at survey results of companies.  One of the lowest scoring items on any engagement survey is…

“I had an opportunity to discuss the previous organizational survey results with a member of management.”

In fact, in a recent survey we just completed only 21% of employees felt that they had a real opportunity to discuss the previous results with a member of management.  If a company cannot even meet this threshold there is no way they are supporting an engaged culture.

Let’s put a stake in the ground and change our approach to engagement.

  • Start a conversation.  A conversation is a two way dialogue.  Engagement follow ups and action planning needs to be a conversation.  Unfortunately, most managers are held accountable for having a plan not engaging their employees.  Managers comb through the results, diagnose the issues without really understanding them, create an action plan on how to fix engagement levels, and then share that plan and work with their employees.  Employees bless the plan because they do not want to be seen as questioning their manager’s thought process and ideas.  Hey, they are not stupid, and the employees feel less engaged after the survey follow up process then before.
  • Fix the problem.  One reason we talk with our employees or hold focus groups is to better understand the “Why” behind the ratings.  If employees don’t feel recognized it could be for any number of reasons.  Maybe the recognition is not specific.  Maybe you rely too much on programs rather than making it personal.  It could be that you are not providing enough recognition.  Or it could be that you are counteracting the recognition by your ability to find things wrong more than you do right.  I could go on.  The point is, knowing the “Why” is what helps you move forward.
  • Execute a strategic, disciplined approach.  If you want employees to believe that the company truly cares about employee engagement then make sure you have a plan.  When will they hear about the overall results?  How? Will they receive anything in writing?  When will they hear directly about their team or department?  This effort should be run like a military campaign from the top down.  It should be as transparent as possible and ensure that everyone receives the same or similar messaging.
  • Make the invisible visible.  You will not get credit for actions your employees cannot see or connect to the survey feedback.  It is critically important to tie an organization’s, department’s or manager’s decision and actions back to the survey feedback.  Too many times organizations make positive changes, but do not get credit for them.  Marketing is a part of responding.
  • Create a culture.  What happens after 2-3 months when the action plans are finished?  Back to business as usual.  And all that progress is lost because employees see the survey and action planning as an event.  But nothing really changes.  Creating an engaged environment is more about creating a culture that breeds trust, reduces fear, creates connections between employees and the organization, promotes the ability to focus on the right things in the right way and to work with pride toward something that has meaning.  In order to create that culture and maintain it everything changes.  The way we talk, behave, our meeting structure, our organizational structure, who we hire, who we promote, how we hire and promote, the things we measure, the stories we tell and so on.

Surveys tell us how well we did last year at creating and maintaining that culture.  In the end, responding to the survey is not the answer.  Why?  Because those survey results reflect the work, pain, sacrifice and the choice to rise above oneself or a particular group, or our inability to do so.  It is not the paper that matters.    It is price we paid for that culture.









HR skills inadequate? Research details challenges for 21st century employers

Few would deny that the human resources department has its hands full. With change bombarding the workplace at an ever-increasing pace, HR professionals feel the heat. Now, a new study examining 21st century workplace trends concludes that HR is at risk of getting burned.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report sounds a dire warning. The report, which brings together 15 years of research along with the views of more than 2,500 business and HR leaders in 94 countries, goes so far as to say HR is “playing catch up,” and there’s a need to “reskill” the HR function. In fact, reskilling HR was one of the top three concerns identified in the study.

Seventy-seven percent of the study’s participants see the need for HR to develop new skills. They say today’s HR professionals lack the skills and data they need in the modern work environment. More than a third (34 percent) of respondents said their HR and talent programs are just “getting by” or even “underperforming.”

“Critical mission”
“There’s no doubt that human capital strategies are now a major factor in business growth,” says Jason Geller, national managing director for U.S. human capital consulting at Deloitte Consulting LLP. “Yet, today’s HR departments are not equipped to face the challenges of this new role. When you add to this the rapidly changing landscape of HR technologies, such as cloud and big data, and their impact on attracting, retaining, and developing talent, it becomes clear that reskilling HR teams is arguably the most critical mission for organizations today.”

“Playing catch up”? A need to “reskill HR”? The Deloitte report uses tough words and highlights big challenges for the profession. Jerry Glass and Brad Federman of F&H Solutions Group, a national human resources consulting firm, are on the front lines of the changing workplace, and they have ideas about how HR should respond.

Creativity versus compliance is one area HR needs to examine, Glass and Federman say. Glass, the firm’s president, says the HR function often is still largely risk averse, and “anything you want to do in HR still gets run by legal.”

Federman, F&H’s chief operating officer, agrees. “The joke goes if you have an idea you want to kill, bring it to HR or the legal team,” he says. “If you come up with a fantastic idea, something that’s not been done before, most business people will say, ‘Fantastic, how do we make it work?’ but HR will pick apart the idea. It won’t get off the ground. HR can sometimes hold an organization back from doing good things.”

Glass says reskilling HR includes teaching the brain to act differently. “When you have a great idea, the easiest thing to do is to say why it won’t work,” he says. But he wants to train people to explore how to say yes instead of automatically saying no.

Federman says he sees HR professionals struggling to figure out how to administer the Family and Medical Leave Act and other compliance issues when they can outsource those tasks and focus on what’s going to add value to the organization.

Paradigm shift on engagement, recruitment
Retention and engagement, along with leadership development, were other concerns explored in the Deloitte study, and Federman says a paradigm shift is needed. Surveying employees is good, he says, but too often more money is put into conducting the survey than is invested in dealing with what’s learned from it. Engagement shouldn’t just be thought of in terms of a two- or three-month action plan.

Not only do managers need to focus on engagement of their employees, they also need to think about their own engagement, Federman says. “If I’m disengaged, my employees will be disengaged, guaranteed,” he says.

Federman says organizations need to encourage the concept of accountability and individual responsibility among employees. He says surveys show that most employees say their coworkers have as much or more impact on their engagement as their managers, but it’s the managers who get blamed.

The challenge to attract top talent is mentioned in the Deloitte study as a serious competitive issue, and Glass says finding the right talent has been difficult for a long time. He says talented individuals are always going to want a challenge. So the employer needs to focus on employees’ career paths as a way to keep them interested.

Federman says organizations need to support career growth by giving employees the ability to manage their careers. When that happens, people will want to stay with their organization and when they do change employers it will be for the right reasons.

Trust and transparency play a role along with an organization’s values, Federman says. When organizations get involved in community charitable events for more than just public relations reasons, employees have a sense of pride that their employer is supporting their value system.

Millennial challenge
The change the Millennial generation is bringing to the workplace is another challenge for HR. Glass says HR needs to learn how to get the Millennial workers engaged and understanding the employer’s mission and objectives when the forms of communicating HR is used to aren’t working.

Glass says he recently spoke to a group of 35 Millennials and asked how many of them regularly read a print newspaper. Only three raised their hands. Most get their news online and may not even click to read an entire article.

Federman says when employees are just picking up snippets and doing a lot of things at the same time, two things happen: They make decisions based on limited information, and because they’re so tied to technology, they don’t shut down. That leads to burnout as well as communicating via technology on things that need to be communicated in person.

HR’s ability to set ground rules for effectively managing communication with the youngest members of the workforce will be key to success, Glass says.

Originally Published by Tammy Binford in HRhero

What Is the Future of HR?

Robert Browning’s poem “Andrea del Sarto” describes the 16th-century painter’s love for his wife but laments that del Sarto is limited by the mundane duties of earning money and supporting her, while his more famous (and unmarried) contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael live for their work with greater passion and spirit.

Despite being published in 1855, the Victorian Age poet’s work is relevant to the challenges facing human resources leaders today. The demands of day-to-day HR may be crowding out the focus, passion and spirit that are necessary if practitioners are to take a leading role in helping organizations capitalize on opportunities offered by emerging trends such as big data and gamification. This could hinder an organization’s quest to maximize productivity and be competitive.

Is the HR profession moving fast enough to capture the opportunities in emerging trends? Much of the work addressing this issue has defined the future of HR in terms of competencies, workforce demographics, or professional techniques or practices.

Here we take a different departure point by starting with prominent emerging general trends and examining their potential effect on HR, now and in the future, and HR’s desired and actual role in addressing them. What we found was that while HR leaders generally feel their ideal role is one of broad leadership, their assessment of the current role often is far less than that.

Our research at the Center for Effective Organizations was conducted with a consortium of 11 large companies: Citrix Systems Inc.; Electronic Arts Inc.; Gap Inc.; Lockheed Martin Corp.; Mattel Inc.; Rockwell Automation; Royal Bank of Canada; Sony Pictures Entertainment; Unilever; UPS Inc.; and The Walt Disney Co. Twenty to 30 HR professionals within each company participated in the consortium. We examined the trends of globalization, generational diversity, sustainability, social media, personal technology, mass customization, open innovation, big data and gamification.

Beyond Tradition: Reach Out, Venture Out, Seek Out, Break Out
Our findings suggest that human resources can make great progress by simply allocating more time, budget and expertise to the emerging trends that have the greatest potential effect on organizations. However, at a larger level, lasting change will require fundamentally rethinking how the HR profession and the HR function operate. This includes:

Reaching out: By infusing talent from other disciplines such as marketing, finance, logistics and engineering, and bringing those disciplines to bear on HR issues such as the employment value proposition, options-based leadership development, optimized talent supply chains and risk-optimized performance management.

Venturing out: By exerting influence beyond the traditional role of functional specialist, through direct interactions with constituents such as government, regulators, investors and global collective movements.

Seeking out: By finding and skillfully surfacing unpopular or unstated facts or assumptions that can be debilitating if not addressed. Such hidden assumptions are often first visible among employees, and HR is in a position to “sense” them early.

Breaking out: By leading transformational change. Increasingly, change will be a constant, not a periodic, challenge. HR is uniquely positioned to be the repository of principles and skills for creating change-savvy and agile organizations.

—John Boudreau, Ian Ziskin and Carrie Gibson

We conducted surveys with the consortium participants on all nine trends, asking them to rate HR’s role now, what HR’s role should be, and to discuss the barriers they were encountering to having a role in these trends. Each survey was followed by a webinar discussion of the findings. Our analysis will pull from research gathered within this consortium, which has created communities with HR leaders in several organizations on these issues and established a network of HR professionals spanning multiple organizations.

The four trends in Figure 1 (below) have arrived, meaning HR is participating in them, though often not at the extent HR leaders think they should. The five trends on the right are emerging on the horizon, meaning HR has not yet established a role in these but is reaching into them.

The HR leaders see HR ideally playing a leadership role, even in trends where HR is only occasionally involved, if at all. The work that HR must pursue is significant.

There is a very important role for HR to play in each of these trends. However, it is not always the role that HR plays today. The five trends on the right in Figure 1 sound very technological and may seem on the surface a strange place for HR to engage, but in the rush to become technologically savvy, organizations may have missed the human implications in these trends. This human element is where the real potential for HR exists. These human implications and what HR can do with them stood out in our research. Next we will focus on four of the nine trends: big data, generational diversity, mass customization and sustainability.

Big Data
A large financial services firm traditionally recruited sales people only from the highest grade-earners at top-tier universities. Using “big data” it correlated employee characteristics with unit revenue, and found that grades and school quality were least predictive of unit revenue, with six other variables emerging as more predictive. The company shifted recruitment away from grades and school quality and toward the six more-predictive factors and saw an improvement of $4 million in revenue in the next fiscal period.

While it is terrific to learn how to recruit better, there are two issues on the horizon for HR regarding big data. The first is storytelling as a way to engage people. With no story behind the data, analytics or correctness seldom drive change in an organization.

Should HR know how to tell the story behind data? There are not many business disciplines other than HR that are as appropriate a home for that expertise. The HR profession includes disciplines such as psychology, anthropology and communication. Yet, if HR practitioners fail to develop these disciplines into a practical and scalable ability to tell stories with data, the opportunity may be taken up by other areas of organizations, such as marketing.

Then there is the “art” of the question. Big data is much more about questions than it is about answers. HR has a unique opportunity to lead the organization in asking good questions by developing the art of the question in the way they approach data and encourage others to approach data.

This idea of asking good questions is fundamental to leading through influence, which is again something HR traditionally does well. HR often has “permission” to ask hard questions or to probe beneath long-held assumptions, because the job of forging strategies for talent often requires much deeper understanding of strategy, execution and assumptions.

HR could accelerate this role by developing more systematic and common approaches to questions that connect strategy with talent, such as “where would improving our talent make the biggest difference to our strategic success?”

Generational Diversity
HR already has a fairly strong role within generational diversity. However, there is a large gap between where HR is and where it thinks it should be. The preparation for the multigenerational workforce lags well behind the reality.

Those polled have agreed that organizations will be hurt when the older generation leaves and takes knowledge with it. To counter this, many organizations now have reverse mentoring programs where the younger generation is mentoring the older generation to help with technology skills and to transfer knowledge.

While HR is active in these aspects of generational diversity, coming down the road is the question, “Are organizations willing to make the social investment to make diversity come alive?” Research shows that more-diverse groups face greater challenges and may not perform to potential unless provided more time and collaboration tools.

Diversity can be useful, but it also can be hard to manage. Investment in skills, collaboration and understanding differences is necessary for diversity to pay off. HR should take the lead in engaging business leaders in the story of the benefits of diversity in order to get the resources necessary to make it work.

Figure 1. Lofty Ambitions but Less-Elevated Reality
Globalization: Integrating world economies through the exchange of goods, services and capital. Personal technology: Mobile platforms such as smartphones, laptop and tablet computers, future technology such as wrist devices and Google Glass, and the apps that support them, seamlessly and constantly connecting people and Web-based content.
Generational diversity: The presence of many different age groups among workers, citizens and consumers. Mass customization: Combining mass production with customization for specific individual consumers or groups to meet people’s needs with the effectiveness and efficiency of mass production.
Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Open innovation: The inflow and outflow of knowledge to increase innovation, including user innovation, innovation ecosystems, co-development, innovation contests and crowdsourcing.
Social media: Online networks and two-way communication channels that connect users in the virtual world, establishing new relationships that expand users’ networks and facilitate user participation in interactions and exchanges. Big data: Data that are too big, too unstructured or too diverse to be stored and analyzed by conventional means, processes or tools.
Gamification: Applying game mechanics to nongame situations to motivate and change behavior.

Mass Customization
There is a lot going on already within HR concerning mass customization, the optimal combination of mass production with customization. We’ve seen companies basing employment arrangements on learning styles and personalities, allowing employees to choose between lower base pay and higher bonuses vs. higher base pay and lower bonuses, and changing from career ladders with a straight shot to the top to career lattices where a sideways move is considered a good career move. Here, HR has done a great job of applying HR principles to its own traditional functional processes.

HR will need to take the tools of marketing around customization for consumers and clients and applying them to the task of talent segmentation. The key is to optimize. At one extreme, a personal employment deal for every individual would be chaotic. At the other extreme, defining fairness as “same for everyone” risks missing important benefits of customization, and in fact may be unproductive and unfair.

Thus, HR should develop principles for understanding the optimal level of customization in the employment relationship. Moreover, because customization will often mean that different groups of employees receive different employment arrangements based on their needs or the way they contribute, HR must develop principles that equip leaders to explain these differences to employees. Our work suggests that while many leaders understand the need for customization and differentiation in principle, they resist it because they simply don’t feel well-equipped to explain them. It is far easier to say, “We do the same thing for everyone, so it’s out of my hands.” The concept of fairness is sometimes confused with treating everyone the same.

Sustainability is a trend that has arrived (HR has a strong role already as shown in Figure 1) but there is room for HR to become more involved and even lead. One sustainability issue on the horizon for HR is fatigue. In this technologically created 24/7 work environment, HR is uniquely equipped to offer principles that define an optimal balance between work demands and “slack” in the system that allows innovation and flexibility.

What is the optimum amount of rest/work? The fight or flight response that employees engage in for most of the workday has immense physical effects on the brain and has negative effects on the way people lead, on their ability to make decisions and their ability to create. HR can optimize the notion of wellness against the notion of work in a way that is more precise.

One way to optimize wellness at work is mindfulness. Mindful meditation — taking two minutes to breathe and focus — has immense effects on stress-related biometrics and diseases and has been reported to make leaders feel more focused, less reactive and open to new ideas. HR should take the lead in better understanding how these potential benefits affect organizations, and how they fit into an optimum balance.

Barriers and Opportunities to Close the Gap
What are the barriers to closing the gap between where HR is and where it thinks it should be regarding these nine trends? Based on the data, it is not because HR is seen as irrelevant or other functions have already taken the lead. HR relevance was among the lowest-cited barriers. The prominent barriers were more traditional: lack of time, budget and expertise.

Recall the story of del Sarto. Browning wrote of the painter: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp/Or what’s a heaven for?”

Is HR at the risk of spending so much of its resources on the day-to-day that it misses the big opportunities? To paraphrase Browning, does HR’s reach exceed its grasp? Of course, conquering such shortcomings is just the beginning.

Originally published in Workforce