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February 2008

Can Incentives Be Used If You Aren't Ready to Fire Someone?

Paul Hebert, my go-to-guy for all things incentive in this world, has a great post up at Incentive Intelligence about the types of things for which you should provide incentives

From PH's post:

"Incentives have two poles - rewards and punishment.  I can move your behavior based onBaldwin_glengarry_glen_ross providing an incentive or I can punish you for non-performance.   If you don't do what I want - there will be negative consequences.

I was wondering if this idea of opposing sides to incentives could be used to test the validity of an incentive and reward structure?  What if we re-frame the rules using the negative - and see if it still makes sense? 

If you wouldn't punish someone for missing a goal then maybe you shouldn't reward the same goal."

Think through that for a moment, and you'll find the exercise is more difficult than you think.  For example, Paul uses the concept of making a sale in his post as a basis for incentives.  We provide incentives for sales all the time.  Paul uses the test logic "Make a sale today (use this week/month depending on the cycle times for your product) or you're fired".

Would you make that blanket statement?  Probably not.  To Paul's point, there are too many things involved to let someone go, based on non-performance over a short period of time.

But that brings me pretty quickly to the related topic of performance management.  If you read this site, you know I am pretty strong-headed about doing performance management off a 3-point scale (Exceeds, Meets or Does Not Meet) rather than a 5 or 7-point scale.

The reason?  Simplicity, my friends.  I can bring an expert like Paul into the organization to assist me with structuring incentives.  But, the best way I can think of to make sure I get "bang for my buck" is to tie the incentive, even if it is short-term, to the "Exceeds" level of performance.  In that fashion, I'm using a short term incentive to reinforce how high the bar is to be an "Exceeds" performer.

That feeds the culture of performance, which is the goal of upstream incentive programs.  The danger is that you set the bar low enough that "Meets" performers get the carrot.  It's cool to be a "Meets", but incentives should be there for those who exceed and deliver extra.

The more people who get that, the better the performance of your organization.

Online Degrees - The Real Deal or Diploma Mills?

Don't flame me too hard in the comments - hate the game, not the player.  I thought the question was worth talking about.  A few weeks back, I put up a question from a reader wondering whether she should pursue certification or go back and get a masters in HR.  I told her a Master's in HR, while valuable, was worth less to her career-wise than a MBA.

A commenter to that post (Ed) encouraged her to get the M.A. in HR - but warned her about the perilsWestern_international_2 of online universities.

So what about it?  Are online degrees the real deal or diploma mills? 

Here's my rank order of the best options to get a degree, or an advanced degree.  Note, I am not slicing and dicing the quality of traditional universities as part of this post.  I get that Ivy league schools are good and the junior college around the corner isn't known for its pre-med.  Here's how I would rank my impression of 4-year or graduate options for the discriminating worker/scholar:

  • Choice #1- Traditional University, 4 Year School (you attend on a campus)
  • Choice #2 - Combo online/weekend program, traditional 4-Year University
  • Choice #3 - Franchise School (my term for the mcUniversities that are popping up in Suburbia, like Strayer University, maybe a Devry - you attend most of your classes, but it's not affiliated with a four-year program)
  • Choice #4 - Online Program from a school with brand recognition, like a University of Phoenix
  • Choice #5 - Any online program other than that of a 4-year school or the University of Phoenix. Most have directional sounding names that end with something besides a state, maybe a PO Box.  "Southwestern Pacific", "International Bailiff Academy" - something like that.

As the commenter to the post mentioned above outlined, the University of Phoenix has had some issues in the past year (outlined by the NYT here), so it still needs to be "buyer beware."

If online is your flavor, I would do anything I could to stick with an online curriculum affiliated with a traditional program.  Once you have the degree, no one will care whether it was online or traditional - they'll just note the degree from the school.

Another huge warning sign.  If you are getting an undergraduate in 2 years, when it takes traditional mortals 4-5 years, your degree is probably not going to perceived as real.  My take on graduate degrees?  Anything less than 2 years and 50-60 credit hours is going to be treated in a hostile fashion as well.  I'll simply ask candidates conversationally how long it took them to complete and how many hours were required - that tells me what I need to know.  If they don't know how many credit hours it was - well, that REALLY tells me what I need to know.

Just because you have an online degree doesn't mean you didn't learn anything.  Learning's a state of mind as much as it is a program.  You just have to be ready to convey the value of what you learned to someone who cares - like an interviewer.

If This Were a Division, You'd Shut It Down Tomorrow - The Cost of Health Care to Double By 2017...

Hey dude... The light at the end of the tunnel?  It's a freaking train, and it's coming to run you over....

Seriously, can there be a more desperate situation than the state of US Healthcare?  The population isLight_at_the_end_of_the_tunnel aging, the mostly good capitalist society creates drug companies that create billion dollar markets out of vapor, and you are in the middle of the fray, trying to be the Daddy Warbucks of healthcare by providing medical and Rx to your workforce.  That's what you're supposed to do as an employer, right?

Sure, that's been part of the employer role.  But, it's getting ready to be very painful.  From the Associated Press:

"By 2017, total health care spending will double to more than $4 trillion a year, accounting for one of every $5 the nation spends, the federal government projects.

The 6.7 percent annual increase in spending — nearly three times the rate of inflation_ will be largely driven by higher prices and an increased demand for care, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday. Other factors in the mix include a growing and aging population. The first wave of baby boomers become eligible for Medicare beginning in 2011."

That means total health-care spending in the year 2017 will average out to $13,101 per person.  By contrast, that spending in 2006 worked out to an average of $7,026 per person. 

WOW... 6.7% actually sounded OK to me, until I realized that compounding, which is good for my 401k, really hurts when it impacts the expense side of the P&L.

If it were a division, you'd shut it down tomorrow.  But it's not...

The Problem with HR Pitching Voluntary Benefits.....

Arnold Did you hear?  Critics are lashing out at the state of California and Arnold for aggressively pitching Long-Term Care to its residents.

It seems as if many expect state governments to avoid being a marketing channel, even if the product is in the state's own interest.

Some would say the same burden should apply to employers.

Warning - HR Capitalist opinion ahead which many HR professionals will not agree with....

Topic - "Voluntary Benefits", defined as benefits in which the employee pays all of the cost, provide employees with options for benefits and insurance coverage they might not otherwise be able to afford.  The affordability of such benefits is usually enhanced by the face that employees can often pay for voluntary benefits with pre-tax dollars.

Sounds noble, right?  Here's are a few problems that are often overlooked:

-Voluntary benefits usually include benefit classes like supplemental life insurance, long-term care and auto/property insurance that can have wildly variable cost structures based on the provider and the demographics that are insured.

-HR shops don't do RFPs that closely canvas each class of voluntary benefits.  They usually are hit by a comprehensive provider like an ADP, which provides a package of voluntary benefits with some high margin products built in.  If an HR shop doesn't do a comprehensive provider of the benefits, then they are usually assaulted by the bank, or insurance agent with the most aggressive marketing strategy.  In that scenario, HR people are often bad at saying no.

-Everyone, including the employee and the voluntary benefits provider, loves the concept of voluntary benefit costs being automatically deducted from their paycheck.   Employees love it for the convenience and the fact they don't have to track it.  The providers love it because they don't have to collect money.  Once the automatic deduction is in, it's hard to get out.

Put all that together, and it's complicated.  Here's the biggest issue I have, and one of the reasons I haven't opened my shop up to voluntary benefits since I arrived at my current company - I feel responsible for the solicitation.  If I'm going to open up our employee base to a voluntary benefit, for which the employee is going to pay 100% of the cost, I feel like I am VOUCHING for its quality and value across the marketplace.

And there's no doubt that employees expect you to be looking out for their best interests.  So, they take the voluntary coverage, if available, often without shopping. 

If I am going to allow an auto insurance product to be marketed to my employees through our normal channels, I feel like I need to say the quality/price combination is the best in the marketplace.   And that, my friends, is hard to do.

And that's why I traditionally have said no to the concept of voluntary benefits. 

Tom Brady - Posterchild For Why Video Resumes Are A Bad Idea...

If you are thinking about doing a video resume as a candidate, stop.  You're not George Clooney or Jennifer Anniston.

If you are thinking about using video resumes as a hiring manager, stop.  You'll limit yourself by seeing what the talent looks like WAAAAAY too early in the process.

When you are early on in the recruiting process, it's a stack of resumes.  The possibilities are endless, and you'll carve your 100 resumes down to 15 viable candidates.  You'll get excited about the talent as you pick up the phone to have initial phone screens with the candidates.  Some you'll click with, others you won't.

That's OK.

You'll bring the ones with whom you click in for interviews.  As you go out to your lobby to greet them, at least half will suprise you by not looking like whatever you had in mind.  Here's the cool part - the fact that you have already dug into their resume and heard the communications skills/energy over the phone will allow you to give them a chance, even if they don't look the part.  That's how folks who aren't models get hired and thrive in organizations.

If you started with the video resume, those folks never make it in the door.

Case in point, the picture below of NFL megastar Tom Brady before he was drafted.  If you were recruiting for a NFL star and were presented with this snapshot, would Brady have been called in for a live interview?

I thought not. 

All I'm saying is give every candidate a chance - just say no to video resumes and photographs......

"Reply to All" - The Nuclear Button for Employee Relations Issues...

Who hasn't been there?  You meant to reply to one person only, but instead it went to everyone.  Hasn't everyone had an experience like that?

You just hope at the end of the day, when it happens to you, that it's a small explosion, not a nuclearEmail one.

Of course, the size of the explosion is out of your control.  Most of the time, it's determined by who the original recipients of the email were before you got cute with the response.

Small group = manageable.   Medium-sized group = bad.  Distribution List for the entire company = Nuclear Winter....

Everyone's got a story on this.  Here's a great one from the January issue of GQ:

"One summer, we had an attractive intern, to put it mildly.  When her internship ended, she emailed everyone saying how great it was to work with us.  The right thing to do would have been to respond, "It was great working with you too."  But because I was on such familiar terms with her, I wrote back, "I'm going to miss you, baby.  We had great times together.  Your Latin lover." 

Without thinking, I hit "reply all", and it went to the entire company.  And when I say the entire company, I'm not talking about 15 or 20 people.  I (sic) talking about hundreds of people.  Even the employees at various subcompanies got it.  I felt like a total #$*.  My bosses immediately emailed me, telling me to try and recall the message, but it was too late; people were already opening it.  I got responses within seconds: "Who is this?"

Some people where annoyed.  Some were baffled.  Many knew who I was and couldn't believe I'd made such a stupid mistake.  Responses to my email poured in for two or three days.  I took the next day off out of total embarrassment but learned a valuable lesson:  The "reply all" button and the "reply" button are really close to each other.  Luckily, there wasn't any major fallout with the company, but I still hear about it to this day".

My favorite part of the story is the group that is confused and not even focused on the content and the obvious career-limiting blunder you've made.  They want to know what you need from them and why you are emailing them since they've never heard of you...

"Why are you sending me this?", they reply.   As you read their innocent response, you think, "Please move along.  Don't look at me - I'm hideous"....

Then, my second favorite part of this morality tale of public humiliation happens.  That's when people start using the "reply to all" button to encourage everyone to stop using the "reply to all" button.

That's ironic.  Too bad it's lost on you, because you'll twist in the wind for another week at the minimum.

On the positive side, you become much more alert at your desk for at least a couple of months... 

Commentator Compares Social Network Experiment to Puppies with Vertigo....

Thick skin is required when you blog and put your professional feelings out there.  Here's what JakePuppies Swearingen of BNet blogs thought of my upcoming social networking experiment inside a real company:

"Kris Dunn’s HR Capitalist blog is normally pretty spot-on. But his idea of experimenting with a social network for his company is cute but dumb, like when puppies try to run and keep falling over."

Ouch...That's gonna leave a mark....

Actually, I laughed out loud when I read it.  One of the things I said in my post, announcing my intent to use Ning to create an internal social network, is "we'll see"... I don't know if better engagement and communication is a natural outcome of an internal social network.    It might be that we build it, try to put recurring content on it, and no one comes...

Still, running a few month's worth of an experiement on the topic seems worthwhile.  If we can't make it work in a software company, where everyone lives off the web and email, then I don't think anyone can.

Of course, that's me, the giver.  Jake's the guy having fun watching puppies stumble... PETA readers, let Jake know how you feel about that..

I'm out...

Are You Working Remotely or Remotely Working?

As the percentage of the total workforce working remotely grows, so does the periodic distrust of those working remotely.  Are they really working?  Or are they simply squeezing 3 hours of work into an 8-hour day?

More importantly, can a remote worker/telecommuter even go to lunch without having that "gotcha" feeling?  A realistic question that serves as the basis for a recent BusinessWeek online article:

"It was the kind of spring day that golfers fantasize about—balmy, crisp, no wind. But there wouldRemote_worker  be no links for Ken Wisneski. The president of business services firm Vendorseek and his staff were pushing hard under a crush of new business. So when the office’s toner cartridge broke, Wisneski did his servant leader thing and volunteered his lunch hour to drive to a nearby Staples to pick up replacements. As he sauntered across the parking lot, he glanced over to the patio of Don Pablo’s, where the sun-dappled throngs were lapping up their margaritas.

Wait…was that? Surrounded by her three children and husband in a picture of leisure-class bliss was one of Wisneski’s employees—the same one he had recently warned about falling behind. She was supposed to be “working remotely.” Not enjoying a familla fiesta.

Caught in the act by the man. It’s the flextiming faker’s worst nightmare. Though such treacheries are the aberration, they are on the rise simply because so many companies have opened the floodgates on working remotely. Indeed, seven years into the let-your-people-go phenom, a cadre of burned managers are beginning to ask, sotto voce: is it working remotely…or remotely working? “I have a lot of friends who “work remotely” for big companies, says Wisneski: “They play a lot of golf.”

Here's how I would coach any remote worker regarding the types of concerns outlined in the above missive:

-You like working remotely, so do what it takes to make it work well for those around you.  Don't mess it up for the rest of the remote team.

-Perception is reality - deal with it or go back to the office.

-Focus point number one - answer the phone and respond to emails quickly.  You have to do more than your office based friends.  People will naturally look to be critical of your responsiveness based on your arrangement.  Go above and beyond to pick up the phone and respond to emails same-day.

-If you're going out during the day in the same metro where you have office-based co-workers, don't wear your "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt and flip flops.  If your office is biz casual, you need to look that way when you go out.

-Do what it takes to stay engaged with your team or those that you rely on.  Accept their meeting invites, even if you have to move your calendar around.  Set up a few tele-meetings on your own, even if you could do it all off-line and one-on-one.  It's good for folks to know you still think like an office worker.

-Send some emails after hours if you are working then.  Most remote workers find themselves cranking work out in the evening or after the kids go to bed.  If you are working then, don't hide from laying out a digital trail. 

If you can't deal with that simple roadmap, some folks are naturally going to assume you are taking shortcuts in your remote role.  If you're offended that you'll have to respond quicker to manage perception, you should probably stay in the office.

Then you can judge others from the comfort of your traditional cube...

Help Wanted - Witty and Sometimes Jaded Talent Professionals Who Want to Blog Weekly....

HELP WANTED - (4 Positions Available)

Progressive blogging organization is looking for witty and sometimes jaded professionals, in the TalentBoss_2 Management sector, to blog on a weekly basis, about their life as part of the machine.  New blog, as yet unnamed, to be launched to provide perspective of people conducting recruiting, staffing and talent management activities in the field.


-A working position in recruiting, staffing or HR, focused on acquiring, aligning and maximizing talent in your company, or on behalf of clients.

-Writing skills, plus the actual willingness to write and blog on a weekly basis.

-Personality and the ability to merge other resources and pop culture in writing, all in an effort to make it digestible for the commoners (that's me..)

-Ability to tell the world who you are while you are blogging - name, what you do, and where you do it.

-Skin thicker than that of a donkey, for the lashings you'll receive in the comments section.

Successful Applicants Will Come From the Following Areas:

-HR Pros with recruiting responsibilities
-3rd Party Recruiting/Search Execs
-Director of Talent Management within a company
-Staffing/Recruiting Manager within a company
-Gen Y Correspondent
-OD Professional, preferably within a company
-Leadership Development Pro
-Employee Incentives and Performance Pro
-Sourcing Pro

What You Get in Return:

-Membership in an exclusive, yet opinionated team that will undoubtedly make the dysfunction in your extended family look like an episode of "Little House on the Prarie".

-The ability to blog and share your thoughts without having to start your own site.

-Exposure of your ideas and brand in the online property of a national periodical in the Talent Management space.  If you're a current blogger, you'll also get enhanced exposure for your blog.

-A projected stipend per month that will fall somewhere between a night out at Denny's and paying your cable bill.

-The warm feeling of giving back to your profession with the professional distance that only digital media can provide.

Sound like you?  Interested in hearing more?  To apply, please confirm your interest in the comments section or email the Capitalist at [email protected].

Dorky Video/Feel Good Friday - HR is "More Than A Feeling"...

I have no clue how I found this clip from Scrubs, but I love this kind of stuff. 

Consistent with the title of this Boston cut, HR should always be "more than a feeling".   Case in point, I see a clip like this, I start thinking like a marketer.  How can I use an idea like that to improve our employment brand?  You're progressive as well, so you probably start thinking about how to run a contest to enhance employee engagement using video.

If HR isn't more than a feeling to you, well... You're just wondering what the corny takeoff, of the Boston 8-track in your attic, is all about.  Or maybe you're just enjoying Scrubs.   That's cool, but opportunity is everywhere - all it needs is your application....

PS - If I was doing this air jam session with bloggers, I'd have Paul Hebert, Frank Roche and Michael Moore in the band.  I'm the maintanence guy with the shades on.  I'd make room for Evil, Ann Bares, Lisa or the Wench, but apparently this is a dorky guy thing.  My guess is they've seen plenty of those that they wanted no part of...