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Posts from the ‘Talent Management’ Category

Everyone Must Be Exceptional

An explicit focus in almost every area of HR is getting, developing, growing, and keeping top performers. The cream of the crop, the engaged, motivated and committed super star, showering discretionary effort wherever they go like flower petals.

 

And yet, we accept that performance distribution will look like this:

Bell curve

Or, if you agree with Josh Bersin, like this:

Bersin Curve

Either way, it’s easy to grasp the basic logic that most people cannot be the best. The exceptional are by definition exceptions, and the majority will hover in and around the average point of a distribution curve. In any organization there will be a range of performers, and in comparison to one another there will be some superstars, a few bad apples, and then sandwiched in between these a big swath of employees who vary in their degree of competence and potential but are ‘pretty good’ performers. Meets expectations, 3/5 type folks. At organizations which are more successful at attracting, developing and retaining “top talent” these distribution curves aren’t different, because they are comparing people in relation to one another within the organization. Their average performers might be operating at a much more effective level than those of an organization which experiences obstacles in attracting “top talent”, but they are still average within their organization. Likewise, if you fire an organization’s poorest performers, you don’t cease to have poor performers, you just (theoretically anyway) raise the overall performance standard and the next poorest performers find themselves at the tail end of the curve. This is the basis of most prevailing performance management efforts.

So, given that the majority of the employees in any of our organizations will fall into the “pretty good” category, what are we doing with them? Where are all the articles, blog posts, inspirational quotes and social media chatter about the average performers? It seems to me that if you’re not a super-star or a pain in the ass that you’re mostly being ignored. Except perhaps by HRM Online, with their article this week boasting the provocative title “What To Do With the “Competent Squatter”?”

Competent squatter. Oh boy.

This term was not actually coined by HRM Online, but rather is contained in a quote from R.J. Morris, director of staffing at McCarthy Building Companies. He describes these individuals as competent, but not interested in growing their skills, advancing in the organization, or investing discretionary effort outside of their formal duties.

Although Morris acknowledges that not every employee can be a top performer, the use of the word “squatter” is telling. It implies that the competent person is unfairly and selfishly taking up space that they do not have a right to, and which would be better filled by a more motivated and high performing employee.

I think that the competent but unambitious employee has a place in all of our organizations. In fact, their average but reliable performance is quite often the bedrock that supports the few top performers to achieve their best. I am disturbed by the notion that someone who is competently doing their job but lacks the ambition and aspirations to voluntarily take on more or advance to another level can be viewed as an undesirable thing. But I also think that Morris’s viewpoint is just one example of ways in which the more general fixation on “top talent” that characterizes prevailing HR discourse manifests itself. Another is the recent announcement from Zappos that they intend to do away with job postings and instead hire from a community of would-be Zapponians who will share their relevant skills and enthusiasm for the organization with its employees through social media channels.

Followed through to their logical conclusions, the shared assumptions underlying these two scenarios (that every role should be filled with an over-achieving, enthusiastic, top performer) would have major implications for our organizations and the societies they exist within, and for that reason they should be examined and questioned.

  • Would we be better off if average, competent employees were all replaced by motivated high achievers?
  • Should all employees have the ambition and desire to advance to the next level in their organization?
  • Do we truly expect that employees should or could maintain a perpetual state of enthusiasm and ambition for a promotion or job offer that may never materialize?
  • What would our workplaces look like if that were the case? What kind of society would we live in if this were true?

Our workplace might be filled with perpetually over-performing super-achievers, hungry to move up the ranks, who will be replaced by the most promising hi-po from the mob of brand-zealots circling like buzzards in the digisphere, striving to out-enthuse and out-last the competition in a ceaseless virtual networking performance – “Dance, monkey! Dance!”. As competent performers are replaced by great performers, and then by exceptional performers, the organization will speed towards its own ‘talent event horizon’, when its performance distribution curve will cease to exist, a mere dot floating in space…

Of course I exaggerate, but I do so intentionally because engaging in such a thought experiment can serve a useful purpose. I don’t know about you, but I think that this sounds like the most grotesque, dehumanizing future imaginable, and I think that we should question whether placing a disproportionate value on exceptional performers at the expense of ‘the big middle’ threatens to move us in its direction, even incrementally. The fact is, if we were to ‘evict’ all or even most of the “competent squatters” within our organizations, they would fall apart. And we might then find ourselves living in a Mad Max-esque dystopia…or at least a world where ‘good enough’ is never an option.

Image credit: eparales via Flickr Creative Commons

The Tyranny of the Happy Workplace

“An office is a place to live life to the fullest, to the max. An office is a place where dreams come true.” – Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin

Have you noticed how organizations are no longer content with simply having engaged employees? Now they must also be happy. Why? In part because research claims to show that happy employees are more productive and create more value for their organizations.

Ah, say the social science majors, welcome to our world, where proving causation (rather than just correlation) is not such an easy thing to do. In fact, as reported in a recent article from Inc, competing research shows that happiness may in fact be a bi-product of focus and productivity, not the other way around. Read more

Organizational Plumbers

I am utterly delighted to have contributed this very blog post to a just-released eBook called Humane Resources. This project is an anthology of HR blogs from more than 50 authors, compiled and produced by David D’Souza  out of the U.K. who blogs at 101 Half Connected Things. The eBook is currently available for purchase in the Amazon Kindle store for $2.99 – every cent of which will go to charity (including OCD Action and Cancer Research UK), AND will be available free next week. It is a wide-ranging, entertaining, intelligent, and contradictory mash-up that represents the breadth, diversity and paradox that characterize Human Resources today. I love it, and I hope that you’ll check it out, tell us what you think, or even write a review on Amazon. I’m so proud and grateful to be part of this international collaboration – many thanks to David and my fellow contributors!

Read more

Message in a Bottle

Last week I returned from 8 days in Las Vegas. I was there to attend HRevolution, and a friend’s wedding. If some know-it-all ever tells you that 8 days is a long time to spend in Vegas…well, they’re a wise and knowledgeable individual, so ask them for investment advice.

Although it was long, my trip was a tremendous time during which I met brilliant and funny HR folks from all over the world, consumed (too much) excellent food and drink, and celebrated with dear friends. It was great, and I learned a lot, much of which is applicable to HR. Read more

How We Fool Ourselves Into Bad Hiring

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”  ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Hiring the right person is not easy. No matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, good hiring is more art than science; and like many art forms, creative approaches abound.

A few weeks ago I happened to come across a Glassdoor tweet, linking to an article about the ‘hardest’ interview questions out there. Curious, I clicked through, and was involuntarily overcome with an acute episode of eye-rolling, due to the fact that by ‘hardest’, the writer actually meant ‘senseless’. I was further irritated to note that a former employer of mine was represented on this list, dutifully reported by the poor, unfortunate souls who had been subjected to this nonsense and lived to tell the tale. Read more

Evidence-Based HR: Are We Kidding Ourselves?

Metrics. Big data. Analytics. If you work in HR and haven’t heard these words over and over again in the last few years then you probably work for ‘Underground Bunkers R Us’. The rest of us have heard again and again that the next big thing in HR is learning how to better capture and use the information we are all awash in to make our work more evidence-based, measurable and targeted.

In a recent article series for Personnel Today, Paul Kearns sets the bar even higher, making the case for putting HR on the same professional footing as medicine in Part 1 ‘It is Time to Build HR into a True Profession’:

“It [HR] is a highly skilled job that requires the same level of training and dedication as the most qualified and experienced brain surgeons.”

“If HR is to achieve the requisite level of professionalism, it has to become as scientific as it can be, and that requires methods based on the best evidence available.” Read more

HR, The Hulk & Sandwiches

Happy Saturday everyone! It’s a little extra happy if you’re in Canada, as it is the Victoria Day long weekend and the sun is shining. Hope you’re all enjoying it as much as I am. Things have been a bit quiet on the blog in recent weeks, but I assure you that I have several posts on the way. This week I was honoured to write a guest post over at The Buzz on HR, celebrating the anniversary of Sarah Williams’ fantastic blog by writing about What HR Means to Me. As it turns out, that has something to do with The Hulk (Incredible, not Hogan), sandwiches, and the lack of sorcery involved in HR. Sometimes I am as surprised as anyone about how these things turn out…

Anyway,  please take a minute to check it out, and stay tuned for new Talent Vanguard content soon!

Jane

HR’s Future: ‘People Persons’ Need Not Apply

I strongly dislike the phrase “put the human back in human resources”. In part because it has become an unimaginative cliché and also because it usually sits atop a passive-aggressive treatise pleading with HR people to stop being such heartless, paper-loving bureaucrats and realize that employees are people too.

The premise underlying these arguments is usually that doing HR well is really just a matter of caring about people. This is nonsense, and does our profession a significant disservice. To see what this belief has wrought, ask 10 HR students why they want to work in HR, and I will wager money that at least 7 of them will say “ Because I’m a real ‘people person’”. Sigh….. Read more

HR and the Hazards of Automation

As HR evolves, one of the many challenges we face as a profession is how best to deliver value to our organizations in ways that are aligned with the leaner, fast-moving nature of today’s business landscape. The wide adoption of HR technology, self-service models, and outsourcing are a few methods that the HR profession has increasingly turned to in an effort to place limits on the admin-focused work that has threatened to overwhelm our function. And yet…this kind of automation is unacknowledged as a delicate art; a balance must be sought. We need only look to the larger market for examples…

In recent years a handful of telecom and tech service companies have begun advertising the ease with which their customers can access a “real human being’ by phone as a key differentiator of their service. A real human- imagine! Read more

HR and the ‘Art of Oppression’

“It is generally the case with figures of authority that when the masses start laughing at you, you are through.”

Those in positions of authority, including HR pros, would do well to remember this quote. It comes from an article in the Economist discussing recent developments in language policy and enforcement in the Canadian province of Quebec. For those of you who are not Canadian, allow me to briefly contextualize:

Quebec, a French colony that was subsequently conquered by the English (thus being included as part of Canada’s confederation), has grown increasingly resolute in their efforts to protect the French language’s prevalence and usage within their province. Recently, an Italian restaurant owner in Montreal revealed that the office responsible for enforcing French language policy in Quebec-  l’Office québécois de la langue française – had sent him a letter demanding that he change his menu to replace Italian words like ‘pasta’ with French ones. The media has had a bit of a field day with this, and dug up a few more ‘extreme’ examples of this type of highly enthusiastic application of authority, leading the Minister in charge of this enforcement to resign. Read more

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