Bright, Shiny Objects and the Future of HR

Many of us have had the experience of listening to a talk and suddenly making a connection between the speaker’s big idea and a challenge we face at work. To listen to David Rock, of the NeuroLeadership Institute, for example, is to have one’s eyes opened to recent neuroscience research. One discovery Rock shares is that when people realize they are being compared with others, a “threat response” in their brains sends cortisol levels skyrocketing and makes it hard for them to take in other information. If you oversee your company’s annual performance review process and it centers on the delivery of a single number derived from a stack-ranking exercise, this insight could be a lightbulb going on.

Maybe you’re listening to Rob Cross, of the University of Virginia, revealing that your company runs according to a hidden structure that looks nothing like its official org chart. Informal networks matter much more than hierarchies. Whatever the source, you find yourself doing what so many HR leaders have done before. You grab that bright, shiny object and take it home, in the form of pages of excitedly scrawled notes and an intense resolve to get your team working on it.

Is this a bad thing? We’re inclined to say that the opposite reaction—sitting with arms crossed, impervious to any provocative ideas—would be far worse. But such enthusiasm does present challenges. Applying any big new idea will change how some aspect of HR is managed, and that aspect is connected to all the others in a larger system.

In this article we will describe how Juniper Networks, a Silicon Valley–based innovator of high-performance networking technology, tackles those challenges. Over the past six years the company’s HR team has adopted an approach whereby it can tap into the latest research and thinking and apply it in unexpected contexts. It’s a loose, four-part process, which we’ll outline below. But first we want to share a valuable lesson we’ve learned about cultivating such constant evolution and innovation. Before Juniper could figure out which solutions were right—much less how to apply them—it had to adopt a certain mindset.

HR needed to figure out how its initiatives and activities could yield a talent pool that was better prepared and empowered to innovate.

Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

As leaders, we have ready access to potentially powerful, game-changing ideas. It’s easy—and tempting—to chase after a new practice, a new expert, or new research that seems to provide some relief or a solution to a problem. What’s harder, but far more valuable, is to fall in love with the problem. Then you aren’t quite so eager to embrace the first possible solution and move on. You spend some time letting the challenge soak in, studying it from various angles, and understanding it more deeply. Rather than hastening to narrow the scope of your decision and the options under consideration, you remain receptive to additional, possibly better ones. For example, Juniper’s David Rock moment didn’t end with a workshop or a separate initiative. Brain science fueled the company’s understanding of an important problem—one tied to values and talent.

In 2009 Juniper’s top managers had called for a renewed focus on values and culture as a differentiator. They sought advice from Ann Rhoades, who had done much work along these lines at Southwest Airlines and then at JetBlue. (She later wrote about her work with Juniper in Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture That Outperforms the Competition.) One outgrowth of that effort was a program of “trio tours”—a total of 75 sessions with three senior executives at various company locations to connect with local talent in thoughtful discussions of Juniper’s culture.

During one session in Bangalore, a young engineer decided to speak his mind. The topic he put on the table was the company’s use of forced performance rankings. He felt that it was demoralizing and effectively pitted colleagues against one another in a zero-sum game. How did that jibe with Juniper’s espoused values of authenticity and trust? How did it support a culture of innovation? Unquestionably, his bluntness was challenging. But he raised a problem worth digging into: How should a company do performance management if it really believes in its talent and wants to raise everyone’s game? And why would a company that seeks to differentiate itself through talent use the same performance evaluation tool everyone else does?

This was the problem Juniper was considering when neuroscience started to edge its way into the business world. Rock’s research clarified why forced rankings were undermining the desired culture of trust, collaboration, and risk taking. It provided another angle for exploring the complexities of culture, values, and talent systems.

In 2011 Juniper became one of the first global companies to abolish forced rankings. Rather than spreading people across a bell curve, it now seeks simply to have what it calls Best Talent. It has replaced annual reviews with frequent “conversation days” for the purpose of discussing areas for improvement, goals, and career aspirations. Today more than 97% of its employees are considered Best Talent, and Juniper’s talent management efforts focus on putting the right capabilities in the right places to achieve its business goals. The Bangalore engineer was absolutely right, but his insight required more than a rush to a solution. The problem had to be viewed differently.

Juniper’s leaders avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead hold out for bigger ideas and underlying principles. They home in on what’s pivotal—where change will have the greatest impact. They hired Chris Ernst, David Gonzalez, and Courtney Harrison, of the Center for Creative Leadership, and built an HR team committed to radically rethinking HR. The team’s members collectively immerse themselves in challenges—even those that don’t appear to be HR problems or that seem too big to solve.

Falling in love with the problem rather than the solution makes it possible to avoid shiny-object syndrome, unconnected programs, and random HR innovation. Within that overall mindset, we believe, the right approach consists of a four-part process.

1. Get the Big Picture

How do HR leaders decide which few, pivotal solutions to adopt and then successfully integrate them into the organization? First, they need a reliable way to discern the big picture—the conditions and business imperatives that create the context for their choices.

Six years ago that big picture was coming into focus at Juniper after something of an identity crisis. As a start-up, the company had revolutionized the computer network industry with the M40 router, which played an essential role in scaling the internet to where it is today. Juniper grew rapidly, expanded its offerings, and was flush with success. Even so, it struggled with being “stuck in the middle”—tiny in comparison with its closest competitor, but bigger and more diversified than the single-solution niche players. It couldn’t compete with a rival that was able to throw 10 times as much money, time, and personnel at any problem. And unlike the smaller companies, Juniper had already banked on offering end-to-end solutions. To reinvent its business strategy and grow, it would have to innovate. So HR needed to figure out how its initiatives and activities could yield a talent pool that was better prepared and empowered to do so. That meant innovation within the function as well.

A great example is the initiative Juniper undertook a few years later to refresh its understanding of the big picture. It sounded like madness to some at the time, but the HR team resolved to have one-on-one conversations with every senior leader of the company (a total of 150 executives), including the chairman, and with 100 other managers around the world. The conversations would include questions such as What are the key external environmental challenges currently facing Juniper? How are they affecting you and your team specifically? What excites you most about Juniper’s business strategy and its execution? What concerns you most? Of course, the risk was that HR would hear about a lot of people issues for which it had no ready solutions.

Uncomfortable truths did surface. Juniper had too many silos and too many priorities. It was top-heavy and conflict avoidant. It made the work overly complex where it should have been operating more interdependently to provide solutions for customers.

That initiative paid off in ways that go well beyond leadership development and performance management. The findings inspired Juniper to rip out business units, break down P&Ls, and integrate in ways it had never done before. Now it has the simplest operating model in its history. Across the company, six people can get together and make any decision. Product lines have been streamlined too. Previously, for instance, numerous resources were tied to multiple routers, switches, and security products. Now a common resource strategy spans the product road map, saving the company millions of dollars and untold headaches.

2. Spot the Valuable Insight

Deep understanding of the business allows HR leaders to pursue the second part of the process: Seek out—and take in—the latest and greatest management ideas and connect them to what is pivotal in the organization. Tying together values, performance assessment, and neuroscience is one example in Juniper’s experience. Another is improving customer service by analyzing an organizational network—and this effort put HR directly into the operations of the business.

A series of communication problems with a key customer had resulted in missteps and quality concerns. The obvious, traditional solution might have been to focus on the salespeople who met the customer. Instead the HR team reflected on an intriguing line of research: the idea that organizations are networks, not just hierarchies and business units. That exposed the problem as a lack of sufficient collaboration across units and functions. It wouldn’t be effective to encourage everyone in the organization to be slightly more collaborative; collaboration had to be seriously enhanced in the few spots where it would make a crucial difference.

Rob Cross was recruited to conduct an organizational network analysis. He and the HR team began by looking for employees who were involved in any way with the customer account. They spoke with a few dozen key people and identified 344 such employees. “Impossible,” said the EVP sponsoring the project. “There cannot be 344 people working on a single account.”

So the team did a formal network analysis, after which it told the executive he was partly right: The account didn’t have 344 people working on it—it had 920. In other words, almost 10% of Juniper’s employees had some involvement in getting the job done well for that big customer. It’s no wonder that lines were getting crossed. The network analysis brought hard (albeit uncomfortable) evidence to support an observation often made by Juniper’s founder, Pradeep Sindhu: “Silos rob networks of their inherent value.”

Since then Juniper has learned to think about natural organizational networks as crucial components of how it works. But it’s what the company does with a network analysis that makes a difference. Later, for example, with a different account team, it went beyond simply describing the informal network to learning how to optimize it. HR served as an embedded adviser to the account team, conducting weekly sessions to systematically apply the network analysis findings and concepts in team planning, development, and information sharing. The team began to operate across the internal network, bringing in expertise faster, clarifying decision rights, and eliminating power or information bottlenecks. The account relationship went from being closely held by a few to involving open communication among functions and levels in both organizations. The customer is now Juniper’s largest in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region, delivering 135% of expected revenue in 2014 and with stellar customer service results.

This sounds like a story in which a new idea was spotted and introduced to an organization. Its more subtle lesson is that although a new concept may be broadly useful, it will get the most traction if you think beyond its obvious appeal. Understand the research. Look at the evidence. Then dig more. You’ll better see how to translate the idea to your context.

3. Apply with Care

Next comes sensitively integrating the insight with other initiatives already under way. Most important here is that major HR innovations must be purpose built. Juniper has explicitly moved away from a “best practice” approach. Instead it strips a promising practice down to its kernel of insight and then expands that insight into work experiences that are right for the company’s unique climate, brand, and business objectives. This allows and requires the application to have impact in connection with other components, leading to a greater payoff.

Prototyping the application of an idea in some fertile area of the organization is a valuable way of working out the necessary synergies. It also offers proof of concept through experience. You can’t just tell people about a great idea and expect them to pick it up and run with it; they need to see and experience its value. HR plays a big part in creating such experiences. One example of how Juniper put its own stamp on a research idea lies in the area of boundary-spanning leadership.

Rooted in research from the Center for Creative Leadership, the concept of boundary spanning—which reframes common barriers (horizontal, vertical, stakeholder, demographic, geographic) as places for opportunity and innovation—was introduced at Juniper by Chris Ernst. However, the ability to lead and collaborate across boundaries doesn’t come naturally in today’s siloed and internally competitive organizations.

To more deeply explore the implications of boundary spanning, Juniper decided to bring together 85 people from engineering, sales, and operations who had differing roles, levels, locations, and backgrounds. The focal point for the gathering was a Juniper Innovation Challenge: The participants would spend three days collaborating in San Francisco with the explicit goal of hatching new product ideas. But the company had another agenda, which it made no attempt to hide: These people would be immersed in an experience that might reveal how boundary-spanning leadership connects to the problem Juniper loves most—the need for breakthrough innovation.

That purpose-built network and energizing experience changed the thinking of a small cross-section of Juniper employees about their ability to innovate. Out of it came a product that was prototyped within six months and is today being tested in production environments in more than half a dozen large companies. Of course not every HR initiative or project will lead to a clear and tangible business win and a proof-of-concept experience. But that Innovation Challenge showed how valuable it is to put early applications of a new idea in service to already recognized priorities and try them out on a manageable scale that will generate learning quickly.

Ultimately, the broader dissemination of any concept will call for integration. The amalgam of ideas to which you commit must have integrity as a system, with no elements working at cross-purposes and everything guided by the same sensibility and vision. If the ideas you’ve introduced are well integrated, you’ll know—because they will begin to connect and amplify one another in unforeseen ways.

When Rami Rahim was named CEO, late in 2014, he set the expectation in his first 30 days that the Juniper Way (the company’s values and related behaviors) would return to the front seat. The concepts of informal networks and boundary spanning had already taken hold, so rather than relaunching the Juniper Way top-down, the company turned to a subset of “connectors”—informal influencers—who’d been discovered through organizational network analysis. Rahim asked them to work together to redefine the values in simple language and in terms of observable behaviors and then develop that understanding across the company. HR’s collection of applied ideas revealed itself in that moment as a well-integrated system.

4. Aim for Business Impact

The similarity of HR metrics between organizations with very different strategies is amazing—especially when you consider how powerfully the choice of what to measure can drive behaviors. In our view, if you intentionally rethink your HR function, you will also need to rethink how you measure progress and impact.

In all its measurement efforts, HR must ensure that it keeps people’s focus on what is most pivotal for the business. Assessing pivotal impact is a critical step toward further progress. Measurement becomes a forward-looking learning and improvement process rather than a backward-looking declaration of triumph or failure. Metrics and signals along the way tell you what’s working and what isn’t, where to recalibrate or ask more questions. You need the mindset—and the stomach—for experimentation, revision, and occasional missteps.

If your new initiatives are well applied, they may suggest and enable important new metrics. For example, after Juniper’s network and boundary-spanning efforts had identified the nearly 5% of employees who operate as connectors, the company had the basis for an important new metric: Those people are flagged on the dashboard, so any attrition in the group will spark an investigation of the cause.

Understanding progress may also mean looking at available data through a different lens. Pay attention to business measures such as time-to-revenue of new products, cycle times, product introductions, and quality metrics. Factor them into your talent processes, compensation systems, or learning objectives—and interpret them through your big themes or pivot points. At Juniper, the level of participation in the 401(k) plan can be seen as a proxy for how people feel about the company—an indicator of culture and values. For HR, the fact that 87% of employees now participate in the plan—one of the highest participation rates among high-tech companies—is a signal that people are committed to future growth and believe that they and their colleagues can make it happen.

The precise ROI of an important new idea in HR is impossible to measure. That doesn’t mean that HR can’t make its case, or that you can’t observe the idea’s impact. You can map the logical connections between an effective HR initiative and desired business outcomes. Focus on what can be measured along that path, and extrapolate where you can’t measure precisely. That’s exactly what every other management discipline does.

Juniper has undergone significant changes and challenges—including three CEOs in three years. In 2014 it sent out an employee survey designed around three key questions: Do you know our strategy? Do you understand your role in executing that strategy? Do you feel inspired and accountable to help the company achieve it? None of those questions got even 50% affirmative responses, so the company created a road show for executives to share the granular details of its strategy with teams around the world. Then the connectors were empowered to engage their peers in small-group strategy conversations across the company. Four months after the initial survey, the results of a second survey put all three indicators above 80%.

Different by Design

Developing a reputation as an innovative HR organization requires walking a fine line. You are not an R&D facility or a university; you do not employ a large cadre of social science researchers and data scientists. Your ideas for innovation will often arise from popular talks and articles. Embrace too many of those, however, or apply them too superficially, and you’ll develop a reputation for fad surfing. Dig beneath the surface to the fundamental scientific research and insights, and you can set the stage for true impact.

Failing to innovate is not an option, so it’s important to have a specific approach for responsibly bringing new ideas to the organization. Juniper’s method—getting the big picture, seizing on insights, applying them wisely, and ensuring their impact—may be useful to you. It has enabled this company to move from one-off programs and unconnected experiments to a system that is always evolving in exciting and consistently business-aligned ways.

There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to the bright, shiny objects of a thriving thought leadership industry. They offer new solutions and, at the least, inspire you to revisit your assumptions. The key is to maintain your long-term love affair with the problems you need to solve and the business you are here to serve. You’ll know you’ve struck the right balance when your HR programs start to look less and less like your competitors’ and contribute more and more to your competitive distinction—when every year makes you more different by design.

How AI Is Changing Human Resources

Making a good impression with a prospective employer often requires little more than a great résumé and congenial personality. But how do you impress an algorithm? That’s the question facing applicants of Facebook, IBM, and a spate of other companies that are starting to incorporate artificial intelligence into their hiring practices. They’re using machines to scan work samples, parse social media posts, and analyze facial expressions on behalf of HR managers. Such practices raise questions about accuracy and privacy, but proponents argue that harnessing AI for hiring could lead to more diverse, empathetic, and dynamic workplaces.

Though traditional personality-assessment techniques, such as the Myers–Briggs test, are designed for objectivity, somewhere along the way “managers still inject personal bias,” says Mark Newman, founder and CEO of HireVue, a recruiting-technology company. That’s where machines can act as a check. HireVue records and analyzes interviews, noting things such as facial expressions and word choice to provide its clients (including Hilton Worldwide and GE) with feedback on a candidate’s levels of engagement, motivation, and empathy. Koru, another human resources software developer, also gauges personal attributes, using a written test to evaluate “impact skills,” such as grit, curiosity, and polish. Koru compares candidates’ results to those of a client’s top staff performers to identify those most likely to excel at the company.

But recruitment isn’t just about discovering the best people—it’s about eliminating the worst. Fama, founded in 2015, uses natural-language processing to conduct automated web searches on a candidate, scanning news coverage, blogs, and even a person’s public social media history for signs of bigotry, violence, sexual content, and illegal drug use. It can also look for indicators of positive attributes, such as volunteering.

Artificial intelligence can even be used to check for skills specific to certain jobs. The year-old company Interviewed, which has worked with clients such as Instacart and IBM, administers “blind auditions” in which applicants for customer-service jobs field chats or calls from bots that represent consumers. It’s now beginning to automate the assessment of what cofounder Chris Bakke describes as “softer skills,” by using computerized analysis to identify speech patterns among, for example, empathetic individuals. An algorithm’s ability to understand something like empathy, Bakke says, points to a new hiring technique—one in which machines assess, but humans make the final call.

40 Talent Principles That Represent the Future of HR

The Future of HR Is Already Here — Dominate Your Industry by Adopting These Silicon Valley Principles

If your CEO expects your firm to lead your industry, he/she will eventually realize that this can only happen if the firm adopts a “continuous innovation” model. That means that CEOs in all major industries will eventually have to look to the bastion of innovation in the Silicon Valley for ways to increase innovation through superior people management. The Silicon Valley already has an established set of proven principles for effectively managing people and innovation. “The Future of HR” already exists, and it can be found today in the Silicon Valley.

I get to travel the world sharing how Silicon Valley manages talent. And during that travel, I also get to learn how hundreds of firms in other regions and countries manage their talent. And when I make a side-by-side comparison, I am instantly reminded of the quantum difference between the two. It’s like night and day.

Silicon Valley Business Results Reveal the Power of These Principles 

We know that our talent management principles are incredibly effective, because in the Silicon Valley we have firms like Apple, Google, and Facebook that serially innovate at a breathtaking speed. As a result, these firms are literally the most valuable firms in the world in market cap value (Apple is No. 1, Google/Alphabet is No. 2, and upstart Facebook is already No. 6). Firms like Apple, Google and Facebook also have incredibly productive workforces (each worker on average produces $2.12 million in revenue each year at Apple; it’s $1.41 million at Facebook and $1.19 million at Google).

If you’re curious about how your firm compares to these amazing results, go to MarketWatch.com and enter the firm’s stock symbol in the search box to see how any publicly traded firm compares (also the box on the left hand side states the revenue per employee).

Which Model Represents the Future? 

I would wager that firms that want to lead their industry (no matter where they are located) will have to learn to follow our Silicon Valley principles of talent management. Even if you don’t believe my contention that “The future of HR” is here today, quickly note how the talent principles that we operate under are dramatically different from the traditional risk-adverse approach that your firm probably uses in HR. So after a quick scan, you should simply ask yourself, which model represents the future and which approach represents the past? And my guess is that you will then have a follow-up thought, which is not if you will make the shift, but when.

Silicon Valley Talent Management Principles That You Can’t Afford to Ignore

These Silicon Valley talent management principles are separated into three categories.

A) Talent management principles that apply across every aspect of the firm

The most impactful talent principles in this section are listed first.

1)  Quantify talent management’s impact on strategic goals — talent management needs to shift away from an overhead function mentality and to begin focusing on having a direct impact on strategic business goals like revenue and innovation. Because the language of business is money, talent management needs to work with the CFO to determine how to best measure and quantify in dollars its impact on the targeted strategic goals. Talent-management leaders must also focus on solving business problems, rather than its historically lower-level focus on tactical “HR problems.” A talent-management focus on revenue-generating jobs is also justified because of its direct impact on the strategic goal of increasing corporate revenue.

2)  Innovation dominates — innovation becomes the top strategic goal at most firms. It not only creates exponentially higher business returns, but it also creates disruption, which hurts competitor firms. As a result, increasing innovation in products, processes, and people needs to be the primary goal. Because people create innovations, talent management, rather than product development, needs to take the lead in using data-driven methods to increase innovation. Being an innovative firm also has the side benefit of attracting and retaining top talent.

3)  Speed contributes to innovation — innovation means being first and in most cases that yields higher margins and a first-mover advantage. Being first requires speed capabilities in employees, managers, and decision-making processes. In order to get everyone’s attention, the dollar cost of “a delayed decision” or “doing nothing” must be revealed.

4)  Collaboration contributes to innovation — purposely increasing serendipitous interactions among employees outside the team increases sharing and learning, which in turn increases innovation. Talent management needs to scientifically determine how to increase collaboration.

5)  Rapid learning contributes to innovation — innovation, collaboration, and speed all require rapid learning and data shows that learning on the job has the highest impact. So “learning ability” should be the No. 1 hiring competency across all jobs.

6)  Freedom must be expanded — expanding employee choices and freedom motivates them, and it creates customized dream jobs. Employee freedom also provides time to think, learn, and experiment, which taken together increase innovation.

7)  Learning from failure is essential — in a rapidly changing business world, when striving for innovation, taking calculated risks allows you to take large jumps forward. However, failure is only valuable if you learn from it, so failure analysis and acting on the provided feedback is essential in order to get that rapid improvement (i.e. move fast and break things).

8)  Adaptiveness is essential — an increasingly volatile business world means everyone will encounter double-digit rates of hard-to-predict change. This means hiring and retaining people who are highly adaptable. And this uncertainty will force new talent-management programs to be scalable in capacity, to have assumed obsolescence in their design, and agility in their processes.

9)  Next, maximize workforce productivity — after increasing innovation, increasing the productivity of the workforce to where it is the highest in the industry is the next most important talent-management goal. The average revenue per employee is the accepted assessment ratio for comparing workforce productivity.

10)                A focus on top performers — measuring the performance differential between top performers and the average demonstrates that exceptional performers produce exponential returns. So a focus on top performers is justified in recruiting, retention, internal movement, and development. Talent management must customize this approach to ensure that their unique needs are met and that they are rewarded unequally, based on performance.

11)                Prioritize talent management’s targets — there are never enough available resources, so everything must be prioritized based on its potential business impact. Prioritize high-value projects, business units, key jobs, and innovators/top performers. And then provide them with the highest quality and the most talent-management resources.

12)                Talent management provides a competitive advantage for your firm – Talent management is not exempt from being highly competitive. Everything in talent management must be measurably better than your firm’s competitors. So conduct a competitive analysis and compare “us to them” to make sure that your firm is superior in its talent-management approaches and results.

13)                Have a War for Talent recruiting mentality — you must be talent centric because it is the No. 1 business success factor when continuous innovation is the primary goal. Recruiting has the highest business impact of any people-management function. So use the most effective recruiting tools and sources (i.e. employee referrals) and realize that the war for talent (due to low unemployment ) requires aggressiveness, so boldly poach the best from your competitors.

14)                The two brands both emphasize innovation — the most powerful long-term attraction strategy is a combined product brand and employer brand that both emphasize innovation. The most impactful brand pillars to attract and retain innovators and top performers include offering great work, having a high impact, and working with great managers and coworkers.

15)                Influence over command and control — no one likes to be ordered, so “nudges” and “influencing” must replace ordering. Influence employees and managers with data, proof of “what works,” and revealing the financial consequences of making a bad decision.

16)                Transparency is essential — providing broad employee access to information improves decision-making and innovation. Open information access and sharing also reveals your level of trust in your employees.

17)                Teams dominate — innovative ideas can’t be successfully implemented by individuals acting alone, so teams become essential. In addition, most work will shift, so that it becomes more like project work. Numerous small ad hoc teams will be needed and they will be successful if they share two common characteristics, members speak in roughly the same proportion, and members on average have a high level of “social sensitivity” to each other.

18)                Best-practice sharing — widely sharing what has proven to already work internally costs little, so it has the No. 1 ROI in talent management. However, a formal process along with sharing metrics are needed to best facilitate rapid internal best practice and problem sharing.

19)                Global capabilities — with numerous global variations, the typical talent management “one-size-fits-all” approach actually reduces overall productivity. Instead “a one-size-fits-one” avocado approach, which allows for some local customization, is best.

20)                Aim-ahead benchmarking – be careful because traditional benchmarking where you match current practices may only help you catch-up. Instead, if you want to lead, aim one year ahead of what others are currently planning.

 B) TM principles that apply primarily within the HR function

The most important talent principles in this section are listed first.

1)  Success in talent management is defined as maximizing productivity and innovation — talent management’s primary focus and measure of success should be optimizing the dollar value resulting from employee productivity and innovation. Rather than a focus on processes and compliance, talent management should be considered and act like “The Productivity and Innovation Consulting Center.”

2)  A shift to data-based talent decisions — shifting away from an intuitive and past-practice model in talent management, relying on data results in faster, more accurate and more credible talent decisions. Analytics are superior to historical HR metrics because they reveal “why” things work, trends, and effective action steps to take. Distributing talent-management metrics widely dramatically increases awareness and internal competition.

3)  Manage a performance culture — talent management must take responsibility for building and maintaining a powerful performance culture, where everything emphasizes performance. Communications, metrics, recognition, and rewards must be closely tied to job performance. And effort, years of service, job titles, education, and political connections should have their influence minimized.

4)  Prove talent-management programs work — in a fast-changing world, talent-management programs quickly become ineffective. So proactively calculate correlations, and use pilots and split samples to prove which programs still work. Also, correlate hiring selection factors and sources with quality of hire data, to determine which ones currently predict on-the-job performance. Adding an R&D team allows talent management to experiment with new approaches.

5)  Prioritize talent programs, based on their impact — after determining which talent-management programs actually work, gather data to determine which talent programs have the highest business impacts on important goals like revenue and profit. And then prioritize and focus on those highest-impact activities (e.g. recruiting, retention, and the manager).

6)  A continuous updated talent-management business case — because the top factor that limits HR effectiveness is often a lack of resources, work with the CFO to build a continuously updated business case. Quantifying your results and their financial impact on revenue will influence executives and provide you with significantly more resources which will allow talent management to innovate and move faster.

7)  Talent management must take calculated risks — after a lack of resources, having a risk profile that doesn’t match the business environment is the No. 2 failure factor facing talent management. HR must learn to take up to 50 percent more risks with bold proactive but calculated actions that produce a measurably higher payback, ROI, and competitive advantage.

8)  Talent management must be forward-looking — predictive analytics, trendlines, and projections warn managers about problems when there is still time left to act. In addition, forward-looking data-driven workforce and succession planning can accurately project the career trajectory of key employees.

9)  Team/manager performance must continually improve — because teams will dominate, talent-management professionals must become experts in team management. So talent management must identify the factors that increase team performance, productivity, and innovation and the factors that increase a manager’s performance (e.g. Google’s Project Aristotle and Project Oxygen).

10)                Borrow from business functions – Talent management can decrease its failure rate and increase its speed and rate of innovation. It can accomplish that by proactively borrowing and then adapting already operational practices from other business functions and industries.

11)                Managers do most HR — perhaps the biggest shock to traditionalist in HR is the changing role of the manager. People-management decisions will be made closer to the employee because line managers will have access on their mobile phones to real-time people management data and the recommended actions. As a result, managers will “do most HR” at a higher level of quality, without the help of generalists or central staff.

12)                In-house consulting — because technology allows managers to do most HR work, HR shifts to an in-house management consulting firm model. It offers advanced advice and proven data-driven solutions.

13)                Employer brand management — because it is the No. 1 long-term attraction and retention factor, talent management must take ownership of the brand. The employer brand can be most effectively built by increasing employee referrals through providing employees with a story inventory of WOW company stories. Encouraging managers and employees to be highly visible on social media and through writing and speaking about your firm’s best practices is also essential.

14)                A focus on quality — move away from HR’s traditional exclusive focus on costs and volume, and instead focus on quality and results. Quality can be indicated by advanced program features, high satisfaction rates, rapid response rates, accurate answers, low error rates, and a measurable improvement in performance. Quality is the No. 1 metric that is most frequently omitted from the metrics set for an individual talent-management program.

15)                Diversity because of its business impact – talent management supports diversity not because of legal requirements, but because data demonstrates that when your workforce in key jobs reflects your desired customer base, business results improve.

16)                A whole career focus — when you focus on top performers and innovators, you quickly realize that career-long retention is simply not a realistic goal. Instead, develop a plan to get the most out of them whenever you can during parts of their entire career.

17)                Respect a manager’s time — minimize the amount of time that managers must spend on talent-management activities. Also include the cost of employees’/managers’ time in your program cost calculations when talent management activities take them away from their regular job responsibilities.

18)                Technology dominates — in a global world where speed is essential, software, hardware, social media, and the mobile platform must support everything in talent management.

19)                Centralized talent management — a centralized, integrated, data-driven, technology supported and demand-driven approach to talent management has proven to be superior to a decentralized one.

20)                The capabilities of the talent-management staff must change — all of the actions described above cannot be accomplished with the current skill sets in most HR departments. Instead, all new talent-management hires must have some experience in the business itself and in consulting with clients. New hires must also have business acumen and knowledge in the financial, data, and technology areas.

 C) TM must minimalize these traditional approaches

In addition to the above positive principles that must be added, in order to maximize its effectiveness, talent management must stop doing many current “low-value-add” things. It should stop inventing new HR buzzwords, stop following HR fads, and stop acting like an overhead function, where it emphasizes cutting costs over increasing revenue. HR should shift from trying just to be a business partner to setting a goal of achieving the status of business leader. And it should stop trying to merely align with strategic goals and instead to directly impact those goals.

Talent management must also stop worrying about getting “a seat at the table” and instead strive to become a proactive leader on the executive team that others listen to and follow. And finally talent management must realize that technology can often now replace employees, so it needs to consider software, hardware and robotic substitutes before it automatically hires, trains, developed, or transfers employees.

Final Thoughts

Because of constant change in the business world, whenever you are trying to predict the future of HR, anticipate radical changes in it. But there might be no need to wait because there is already an area called the Silicon Valley where talent management currently operates in a radically different way. And it is this author’s contention that our principles of talent management already reflect the way that every firm will manage its talent in the future. And that means by simply studying and matching the way that Silicon Valley firms currently operate, any firm can produce the equivalent results to firms like Apple, Google, or Facebook. The path is clear and the only restriction that I have encountered … is a lack of courage.

The HR Department of 2020: 6 Bold Predictions

The human resources department is doomed. There is no viable future for the HR function, and HR professionals will inevitably be replaced by software. At least that’s what some are saying.

They’re wrong.

Without a doubt, software is changing how HR functions. But rather than spell the end of the human resources function, the nine experts I interviewed predict these changes will provide growth opportunities for HR professionals. This article lays out what will change and why, as well as how HR professionals can prepare.

Prediction 1: In-house HR will downsize and outsourcing will increase.

This prediction may seem somewhat, well, predictable. But the reasons our experts give for the change might surprise you.

Industry analyst Brian Sommer, the founder of TechVentive, claims a shift to smaller HR departments will be caused by new technologies and increased employee participation in HR processes. As he claims, “Many businesses are going to get a lot of capability done by better technology, more self-service and the employee doing a lot on their own.” For instance, employees will increasingly input their own data into self-service systems.

In addition, many transaction-heavy HR jobs will be outsourced entirely to HR agencies or specialists. Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, goes so far as to say, “Entry-level HR jobs, as they currently exist, will all but disappear as transactional tasks are consigned to outsourced services.”

Elizabeth Brashears, the director of Human Capital Consulting at TriNet HR, as well as Scot Marcotte, Barry Hall and Steve Coco of Buck Consultants, believe benefits administration will be particularly impacted as a result of increasing regulations and a globalized workforce. Brashears says, “As regulations surrounding employment, and particularly benefits, become more and more complex, I believe that companies will turn to field experts to help navigate through the landscape.”

Elaborating on this point, the experts at Buck Consultants say, “With employees taking on increasing responsibility for their benefits, we’ll see not only the administration of benefit programs but the entire benefits department become outsourced. Service firms will offer ‘benefit-in-a-box’ models that will offer cost-effective, bundled health and welfare, wellness and retirement plans to organizations.”

Nonetheless, the internal HR function will survive. As Chip Luman, the COO of HireVue, explains, “Given the ongoing regulatory environment, the need to pay, provide benefits, manage employee relations issues, and process information will go on.”

Prediction 2: Strategic thinking will become in-house HR’s new core competence.

The leaner version of HR that remains will need to reposition itself as a strategic partner within the business. In fact, the trend toward smaller, more strategy-focused HR departments was predicted 11 years ago in SHRM’s 2002 report, The Future of the HR Profession.

More recently, an Economist Intelligence Unit report stressed the need for C-suite executives to partner with HR to drive growth. In support of that, over half the experts I interviewed mentioned that HR needs to increase its strategic value to the business–or else. Dr. Presser says, “This includes the ability to make accurate projections based on understanding the goals of the business and using metrics that describe more than lagging indicators, such as how long it takes to fill a job or the per-employee training spend.”

This strategy role cannot be outsourced. As Dr. Presser says, “Strategic planning requires in-house expertise.”

In fact, Brashears predicts the trend toward a more strategic HR function may even drive the creation of new job titles. As she explains, “HR Professionals will likely transition into HR Business Professionals who not only understand HR implications but also business operations and strategy.”

Prediction 3: The pendulum will swing back to the specialist.

Janine Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer of Talent Think Innovations, observes a cyclical shift in the HR field. As she explains, “Every decade or so we fluctuate back and forth from the paradigm of the independent contributor/specialist to the generalist practitioner. We were in a ‘generalist’ mode and now I think the pendulum may be swinging back toward the specialist.”

Luman puts it more bluntly: “HR generalists as we know them will disappear.”

Brashears agrees, noting that “There will be more specialized roles. I believe this to be the case as the employment landscape becomes more complex with changing regulations around employment law and benefit compliance with the Affordable Care Act.”

Prediction 4: HR will increasingly utilize analytics and big data to augment its value to the firm.

In-house HR professionals will need to embrace analytics and “big data”–now often included in talent management software suites–to become strategic leaders in their companies. Gyutae Park, head of Human Resources at Money Crashers Personal Finance, predicts that:

“In the coming decade, the career trajectory of HR professionals will be determined more so than ever by the analysis of data and metrics. Although HR already uses some metrics such as turnover ratios and employee engagement levels, you can expect to see new metrics tracked and used in HR, such as the average timeframe for staff to be ready for promotion, or percentage of top candidates to be hired within the organization.”

New hires might be needed in the HR department to accommodate the increased use of analytics. As Dr. Presser explains, “The current trends in big data will provide new ways for HR to prove its value, so we can expect HR departments to want to add people who can analyze and make projections using these tools, and people who can drive positive change using the information derived from the analysis.”

Prediction 5: Managing a remote workforce will be the new norm.

Recent moves by companies like Yahoo and Best Buy to end their remote work programs are the exception, not the new normal. Without a doubt, HR will increasingly have to tackle the challenge of managing a remote workforce. Luman points out that companies will need “to leverage employees where and when they are most productive and impactful”–even if that means they’re halfway around the world.

But remote management isn’t a skill you can pick up on the fly. Dr. Presser cautions that, “The trend toward remote workers is a growing challenge to managers who are not effective in managing people at a distance.”

Automation and a different set of expectations will be part of the solution. Wim de Smet, CEO of Exaserv, predicts that “New technologies will be used to analyze the work production instead of the working time. Results will become more important and business will expect HR to be producing more result-driven performance analysis.”

Prediction 6: HR will need to become more like Marketing.

Sommer says that “recruiting is going to become more like marketing.” Specifically, he advocates that recruiters “identify specific micro-segments of either job seekers or job holders that you want to target to bring into your firm, just like a marketing firm would.”

The experts at Buck Consultants cast an even wider net. They claim the need for HR to think like marketers will expand beyond recruiting. “HR will evolve the ‘internal marketing’ role to include social marketing coordination and brand ownership, that is, outside talent ‘buying’ into the brand–the company–to potentially work in the organization,” they say.

Preparing for 2020

What can current HR professionals begin doing now to prepare for these predicted changes? The experts all endorse one tactic: keep learning. Risk-taking and networking will help, too.

“Get ahead of the curve,” advises Dr. Presser, “Realize that many of today’s ‘best practices’ evolved under very different business conditions, and may well become obsolete within this decade. Learn everything you can about your industry, your competitors, and pending legislation that affects your business operations. Most of all, define yourself as a businessperson and act accordingly.”

Truitt advises pursuing additional training or formal education. As she observes:

“One difference that we will see clearly in the next decade is that people will not be able to merely fall into HR. Long ago, when HR was ‘Personnel,’ the profession was largely made up of individuals that happened upon the profession. With many colleges and universities offering HR coursework and degrees at the bachelor’s and master’s level…it seems that the future HR practitioner will likely have to be formally educated in this discipline to be gainfully employed in HR.”

In particular, HR professionals should dig deep into one HR specialty. And, given their increasing importance, training should include data analysis and business strategy components.

Additionally, Lynda Zugec, Founder and Chairman of The Workforce Consultants, advocates welcoming failure as a learning tool. As she says, “In the changing HR landscape of today, failure is embraced because it means that you were brave enough to ‘give it a shot’ and also that you now have more information regarding what works and what doesn’t work than before. Eventually, if you keep exploring different avenues, you are bound to succeed.”

Finally, Luman encourages HR professionals to develop their own personal brand–to find their voice and be active. As he says, “Network inside and outside of your field. Blog, communicate, read and help others achieve success. If you are not outside of your comfort zone, you are stagnating.”

Dave Ulrich: Build HR on relationships, not roles

There has been much debate about Dave Ulrich’s HR model, which has widely been adopted by organisations around the world and aims to enable HR teams to think strategically about their organisation’s human resources as a value-add to their business – and build a talent strategy accordingly.

An academic at Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Ulrich has been ranked the #1 Management Educator & Guru by BusinessWeek and selected by Fast Company as one of the 10 most innovative and creative leaders.

Today, debates still continue about how to organise HR departments. Should HR work be centralised (functionally driven across an enterprise), decentralised (uniquely applied to each business), or some combination (shared services)?

Do you think that HR is at different stages of evolution depending on where in the globe an organisation is based?

There are many HR practices that vary by geography, industry, size of company and competitive strategy. Sometimes legislation or regulation shapes how organisations treat people. But there are some universal HR principles that pervade all organisations and settings:

1. HR should be measured by the value it creates more than the activities it does
2. HR delivers value in talent, leadership and capability (culture)
3. HR’s value is increased when it offers integrated solutions of HR practices, rather than isolated or event-driven practices
4. HR is owned by line managers, with HR professionals being architects and anthropologists.

How do you think that HR departments are viewed specifically in the region?

Our research on global HR competencies shows that there are some unique HR challenges in the Gulf States region, including localisation of talent (versus over-reliance on expats), becoming less dependent on a single industry or product (eg: oil) and competing in global, not regional markets.

 We found in our research that Middle East HR professionals tend to score lower in the six domains of HR competence, need to have a balance of HR competencies to be seen as effective, and that they have more impact on business results when they offer integrated solutions. 


How does this compare with the global position of HR?

Looking at the 12 key foci of an HR department, overall we found that “has clear roles and responsibilities for each of the groups within HR (eg: service centres, centres of expertise, embedded HR)” ranks as among the best done but least impactful on business. On the other hand, “connects HR activities to external stakeholder expectations (eg: customers, investors)” and “tracks and measures the impact of HR” were the two activities with highest business impact and least well done.

Why do you think this is? Do you believe that HR teams lack the skills necessary for these value-adding activities or are perhaps short of confidence?

These findings suggest that a head of HR should make sure that his department focuses on creating value for external stakeholders such as customers. This outside-in HR focus is newer for many HR departments, so it differentiates the good from the bad ones. Many HR departments emphasise success as measured by things that happen inside the company (eg: cost per hire per employee) less than whether the employee hired has the skills that build customer confidence and revenue from key customers. We like to study and find future, not past, HR skills. These outside-in skills define the future.

So how might this play out in Middle Eastern culture?

Some HR leaders are constantly rearranging the boxes on an organisation chart to help the HR department be more effective. This is like assuming a family will get along better by buying new furniture or adding a new room to the house. Physical adjustments may be necessary, but relationships matter most. In the Middle East region, relationships seem to be at the heart of organisational governance. For HR, this means putting people into the function who have strong reputations and abilities to forge good relationships. Then, those in HR should work to highlight relationships as part of their stewardship. 

For families to function better, they need to learn to belong, to focus on relationships more than roles. For HR operating models to deliver more value, once the basic roles are satisfied (eg: matching HR structure to business strategy and structure), maybe we should focus more on relationships than roles. 

For the HR operating model to deliver real value, HR roles matter. Families need houses with rooms that reflect their lifestyle. But relationships matter even more. A nice house will not ensure a well-functioning family, nor will an elegant organisation chart guarantee an effective HR operating model. 

Roles matter, but they matter less than relationships. Maybe it is time for our discussions of the HR operating model to focus more on relationships than roles. 

What is your advice to HR leaders in the GCC wary of transferring Western practices?

We look to the past to learn and to the future to create. Even in short histories, senior HR leaders in the Middle East can discern what is more or less likely to work. But they should be very attuned to what will be required to be effective in the future. When learning from other settings, be wary of: best systems, not best practices…any isolated best practice works within a system; adapt, don’t adopt, which means do not just do what someone else did, but learn from what they did and see how it adapts; and leapfrog…don’t do what someone else has done, but go to the next generation of that activity.

What are your top tips for HR leaders operating in this region to win the respect of the people they are leading and develop credibility within their businesses?

Firstly, concentrate less on HR and more on the business. This means starting every conversation with the requirements of the business, not on the activity of HR. In addition, define outcomes of HR in terms of talent, leadership and capability. Make sure you can discern the required talent, leadership and culture for any specific business challenge. Also, create innovative and integrated HR solutions that will deliver these outcomes. Build an HR department that has clear roles and positive relationships. Finally, make sure that HR professionals demonstrate the competencies that deliver business results. 

Five Traits Of The New CHRO

Last week I got to play DJ and spin some great examples of the new kind of HR leader. In a few days, along with some 15,000 others, I’ll hit Vegas for SHRM 2015. We’re not in the desert to debate whether the HR ecosystem is changing — we know the answer to that one. Nor are we there to learn to love new bells and whistles — as a field, looks like we’re adapting to that brave new world of awesome. The onus now: HR leadership 3.0. It’s time to learn how to lead in ways that embrace the changes, but don’t overlook the essence of what we are here to do.

Chief Human Resources Officers are trending, and they’re going to become more common. That also means our fearless leader may well be a face up in the clouds of the executive floor, so she, or he, had better have the goods to lead the rest of us. And yes, it means that as we climb our own career ladders, we can officially reach for the stars. What should we aspire to bring to the boardroom?

Here are 5 traits for the CHRO A-game:

1. Relevant

My friend Steve Browne cites relevance the key challenge HR faces. Without being woven throughout the business, the relevance of an HR leader is compromised. To be (and be perceived as) relevant, we need to know how to integrate ourselves into all facets of the organization. We need to represent HR has as a function that’s absolutely critical to the firm’s lifeblood, function and trajectory. The new CHRO has the skill to not only stay grounded in that reality, but to convey it so effectively, it’s transformed into a non-issue.

2. Well connected

Timely, given I’m about to head to a party with 15,000 colleagues, but a leader never neglects her outside network. That ring of peers around the planet we call Our Present Job is no tangent: that’s your go-to team, the talent and the culture that you bring to work with you every day. Your peer connections are those helpful voices perched on your shoulder, guiding you from the perspective of talent, not your company’s mission: both are critical facets of your own leadership. Particularly in a climate of continued disruption, your peers are your personal team, and we need their entire range of experience and skills for true 360º leadership and problem solving.

3. Into everything

Tentacles, people, tentacles: spread your arms and fingers as wide as they can possibly reach into every single facet of your organization, and then pull. The HR leader needs to be the hub that brings everyone into the same sandbox, from marketing to IT to operations to accounting to graphic design even down to the person who plans the meals at the company cafeteria. Connecting people is key, and it’s what we know how to do.

4. Verbal

One of our bright rising stars reminded me of this in the most perfect way: she said it. Clearly, enthusiastically, intelligently. No matter what the papers say, the future of HR is not an algorithm, it’s a human. We may wind up with a new branch of HR in the future that’s called RR, as in those of us who have the dubious privilege of staffing up the non-human workers. But for now, and I’d say, for a long, long time, HR is about human talent, human capital, human needs and human lives. Social media and remote conferencing and chats and all that, we will need to be able to actually speak, and engage with other people, face to face. We have to be able to talk. Do the face to face. And, even more important, we need to want to.

5. Disruptable

What does it mean to be a disruptable leader? You can play every position in the game, often at the same time, and embrace constant disruption. It’s a core requirement of the new CHRO: pitcher and catcher, shortstop and outfielder: a combination of appropriate long range and short term competencies. E.g.: the CHRO embraces our shiny tools not as methodologies, but tools, framed with intuition, foresight and creative thinking. The global and multigenerational world of work calls for a very different view of borders and structure: expandable and fluid rather than stacked and static. Finally, the CHRO has no problem taking a sudden, surprise innovation and leveraging its abilities and power. We are flexible, agile, and love change as much as we love people.

That last trait? It had better be a given. You love people. This is tricky universe we’re staffing up and engaging, with shortages and shortfalls and challenges. Some competencies will change, but some won’t: the core goals are the same. No matter the new nomenclature, semantics or infinite data, New Day or Old Guard, human is the bottom line.