Archive for the ‘HR’ Category

The great talent database in the sky

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009


Many HR departments are building talent databases. BusinessWeek.com, under the catchy headline “This is Not Your Father’s HR,” recently reported that these companies, encouraged by HR software suppliers, are hoping they’ll be able to tap into those databases to fill positions at the end of the economic crisis.

My prediction, quoting Richard Dreyfus in Jaws: they’re all gonna die.

The idea of an employee database wouldn’t be a bad thing if it were a starting point for a dialogue between the person looking to fill a position and the applicant. The focus of the software should be the enabling of the dialogue, not the database. The programs on the market, however are quite literally databases where employees provide data allowing the software to characterize, analyze, and search them – but the employees themselves are passive. The article points out that “Many companies are now venturing far beyond rudimentary personality assessments with newer ‘psychometric’ testing, which measures knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality traits as a way to determine a candidate’s compatibility with a position.” The software does the matching: you want your employee tall, blond and handsome, so the software finds you all tall, blond and handsome candidates. Welcome to the eHarmony of business, where lonely hearts find the traits they have been seeking. And so the HR department can now claim it adds value.

But psychometric databases are not the real world. Matching an internal person with a job opportunity is a lot more subtle than matching a set of attributes with a set of aspirations. No applicant ever fits the requirements perfectly. Any filling of a position involves not only compromises but also some form of co-creation, where the person hiring inevitably changes the job itself around the unique abilities of the applicant and vice-versa. The software that will focus on engaging applicants and job providers in a co-creation dialogue is the one that will win out.

Performance management is another HR area littered with ponderous, top-down, and ultimately useless programs. At least one software company is embarking on the co-creation journey, though. The Economist, in an article entitled “The Rypple effect,” features a piece of software that allows employees to solicit feedback from a self-constructed network of peers, a kind of real-time 360-degree feedback (e.g., “Did you like my presentation today?”).

With Rypple, employees are the ones framing the performance issue. HR and management can see how their employees define success and can coach in top-down fashion as needed. The basic service is free, and a more advanced version costs $2-5 per user per month. My money is on these guys.

Leadership sucks

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

I never got the leadership thing. Leadership is the number one issue in most manager surveys. It is the most prominently featured section in managerial magazines. Leadership professors engage adoring HR fans in parsing out the differences between leadership and management. It is the star program in every executive education program. The parables of leadership – particularly those involving polar bears or movable cheese – take on messianic virtue. But none of this stuff ever does anything for me. I clearly suffer from leadership impairment, and it feels pretty lonely out there.

Until yesterday that is. At the end of the day, I ran across an article in the latest Harvard Business Review by Henry Mintzberg, the ever-young professor of strategy and organization at McGill University.

Suddenly, I have a Sherpa, someone who describes the world I live in. Mintzberg’s thesis: leadership sucks. O.K., I may be editorializing a little, but it’s the idea. To him, the US model of leadership, with its top-down, hero-at-the-helm iconography bears no resemblance to the way successful organizations actually work. His view: good managers foster the building of communities inside their organization and engage their employees in a collective process that starts with single innovative projects, and eventually shapes the enterprise as a whole. In the end, it is about communities doing meaningful things together, not fungible individuals who transact with their leader in the accomplishment of tasks. He suggests substituting “communityship” for “leadership.” (Henry, give me a call, I think I can help you a tad with your conceptual marketing.)

The use of the concept of community as it applies to organizational dynamics inside the organization is the new story here. We have long argued that co-creation with communities applies both outside the company – the more traditional marketing-oriented definition of community – and inside the organization – the way Mintzberg describes it. These are two sides of the same coin, an uncomfortable reality for marketing and HR people who think of themselves as having wildly different expertise (knowing “markets” vs. knowing “people,” but failing to realize that markets involve people too). Management is about communities, and there is no essential difference between building a customer community or an employee community.

There’s something annoying about Canadians like Mintzberg. On one end, they’re very much American, er, North American, that is. On the other, they have that “I’m looking at your menagerie from outside the cage” quality, with its vaguely socialistic, French-influenced hauteur. The only problem is they’re often right.