Thinking like an Investor


Ask yourself these questions.  Start with “If I were a long-term investor considering making an investment in the company where I currently work…”

1.  In what areas would I want the company to invest more (time, money, and leadership focus)?

2.  What would I want the company to stop doing?

3.  What aspects of the company’s culture would I consider most important to preserve?

4.  What aspects of the company’s culture would I consider most important to change?

5.  Would I want more (or fewer) employees to spend their time doing what I do?

Since the vast majority of wealth is now created through intangible assets – all of which ultimately emanate from human capital – these questions are particularly important for professionals working in HR, organizational development, and learning.

Can you answer all of those?  Our hats are off to you if have the evidence necessary to confidently answer each of them.  On the other hand, if you’re worried you don’t have a strong evidence base for answering these questions, that’s cause for concern.  It reflects a likely lack of clarity and effectiveness in your company’s HR strategy – and could also mean you should think hard about your own career prospects in an organization like that.

One of our key themes this year is the tremendous power in simply asking better questions (and, of course, being able to answer them).  Asking the questions that investors would ask of you if they were given the chance is a very powerful strategy for guiding HR investments.

At its heart, this is what advances in HR analytics can help you accomplish – asking and answering better, more insightful, more important questions.  And remember – since the time and energy you spend working means that you ARE an investor in whatever company you choose to be your employer, these questions can also help guide you in major career decisions.


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The 3 Flavors of HR — Which One are You?


Based on our many years of providing analytical and coaching services in the HR arena, we have concluded that organizations’ HR functions can be categorized along 3 basic dimensions.  (And these same dimensions can often be applied to HR professionals as well.)

1.  Corporate social workers:  This best characterizes those folks who went into HR because they “love people.”  Make no mistake about it: every organization (and HR function) needs a good dose of the humanizing element that this breed provides.  But troubles surface when this dimension carries too much weight.  If you (or your department) are perpetually trying to “earn a seat at the table”, it’s a good bet that the role of HR as corporate social worker has been overplayed in your organization.

2.  Corporate police:  Compliance is what makes some other HR folks tick.  And, of course, organizations have a legitimate need to avoid fines, penalties, and court time.  But all things in moderation.  If your HR function is actively disliked within your organization (or is seen primarily as a collection of paper-pushers), it’s likely that this dimension needs to be reined in.

3.  Business people:  These are the gems of the profession – experts in both HR and the business world.  They understand and speak the language of business, while providing deep HR expertise to their organizations.  They know how to help their company achieve a balance between people as assets and people as costs/risks.   These are the folks for whom the term “HR business partner” means exactly what it says.

Those HR professionals who can demonstrate significant skills along this third dimension have naturally always been in great demand.  In recent years, the growing importance of HR analytics has further elevated the status of HR people (and departments) who fundamentally understand the world of business.  HR professionals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle their organization’s HR-related business challenges are increasingly central to an organization’s overall success.

What’s the best way to ensure you’re able to demonstrate value along this third dimension?  Develop your analytic skills and know-how to ensure that you can make useful contributions to people-related business decisions.


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Five Questions & One Resolution for the New Year


One of the frailties shared by human beings and organizations – the latter, of course, being made up of the former – is a proclivity to get stuck in endless do-loops of “urgent” activity, while losing sight of what’s really important.

Many of our classic New Year’s resolutions – spend more quality time with loved ones, eat better, exercise more – are intended to help us focus on what’s truly important in our personal lives.

But what about our professional lives?  What is the organizational equivalent of those personal New Year’s resolutions?  What will help us focus on what’s most important while helping to stop the urgent activity do-loop?

Here are five questions designed to help you shift your work toward what’s truly important:

1.  If I had 15 minutes on the agenda of my organization’s Board of Directors, what would I choose to do with the time?

2.  How could my organization become more worthy of the best efforts of our employees, the loyalty of our customers, and the ongoing support of our investors?

3.  Is my organization investing its time and resources in the most important areas?

4.  What aspects of the “accepted wisdom” in my organization are actually limiting our opportunities or even putting us at risk?

5.  Most importantly, what do I need to do to determine the answers to the four questions above?

Building on those questions, here’s our suggestion for a really powerful (and achievable!) “professional” New Year’s resolution: this year, seek to ask and learn how to answer powerful questions.

This is a resolution with real win-win-win potential – it can enhance your career, boost your organization’s performance, and leave you with more time and energy to keep your personal New Year’s resolutions.

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3 Meta-Trends to Harness in 2014


As 2013 draws to a close, the economies of most of the developed world continue to recover from the Great Recession at a painfully slow pace.  But a convergence of three meta-trends is laying the foundation for a brighter future:

1.  Sustainability is becoming mainstream.  After decades of operating at the periphery of corporate operations, sustainability is increasingly seen as a  source of competitive advantage.   As a result, it is now receiving an unprecedented level of attention from Boards of Directors.

2.  Corporations are increasingly naked.  Although there is a lot of kicking and screaming, corporate transparency is on the rise.  “Technology-fueled people power“, combined with initiatives that are underway to force greater transparency, are chipping away at corporate secrecy and beginning to usher in a new era of more open corporate behavior and decision-making.

3.  Human potential is being unleashed.  There are (at least) three aspects to this:

  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are making learning available to anyone with internet access
  • “ObamaCare” is making health care more accessible in the United States, thereby reducing people’s need to stay at jobs just for the health insurance
  • The increasingly diverse generational mix of the workforce fosters a fertile environment for innovation (even as it simultaneously creates new managerial challenges)

Separately, but especially together, these trends create tremendous opportunities on the “people side” of the business for those organizations understanding and embracing these forces, and put them to work to create sustainable competitive advantage.

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Do You Have the Ladder on the Right Wall?


A generally accepted truism is that 80 percent of the work in an organization is accomplished by 20 percent of its employees.  But it is also true – at least based on the view of the world we see in our client work – that most people are working incredibly hard these days.  So how is it that both of these propositions could be simultaneously true?

The most likely answer is that lots of people are spending lots of effort placing and climbing their proverbial “ladders” on the wrong wall – or at least the wrong spot on the wall.  We see it all the time: employees and organizations working diligently, all to maximize the wrong outcome.  Attempting to maximize customer satisfaction is an example.  When you stop to think about it, achieving this objective should be very easy – just produce an acceptable product or service and give it away for free.  But, of course, that would be completely unsustainable.  (The HR equivalent is attempting to maximize, rather than optimize, employee engagement.)

And that is why people involved in this type of work find it so difficult – the organization pushes back to prevent the damage that would occur.

So ask yourself whether a part of the resistance you encounter in work might be the result of attempts to maximize the wrong objective?  In other words, do you sometimes attempt to put the ladder on the wrong wall? And if so, how would you know?

Having solid business acumen skills is the one sure-fire way to avoid this exhausting and career-limiting error.  And it is also why a key element of business acumen – HR analytics – is getting so much attention these days.

It helps ensure that you’ve got the ladder at the right spot on the right wall.

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