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How to Create More Value From Employee Surveys

create value from surveys
CEOs often proclaim that "people are our most important asset." Yet many HR departments find themselves unable to play a significant part in translating these words into reality for several reasons:
a) Some HR departments rely so heavily on benchmarking that they fail to customize their strategies to their organization's unique circumstances, thereby almost guaranteeing they will, at best, stay average.
b) Others get too caught up in the flavor-of-the-month programs.
c) Many are so busy putting out fires they have no time to address what's truly important - drivers of business results.
d) Despite its potential, too often the only thing that comes out of the annual employee engagement survey is a big data dump with no real impact.
Analyticscan ensure HR is not pigeonholed as non-strategic and out-of-touch. "It's no longer possible for HR departments or functions to ignore analytics," said Larry Costello, executive vice president, Tyco Fire and Security. "The forces bringing analytics to the forefront are simply too powerful to disregard."
Talent leaders can use a four-step process to create an HR analytics strategy that will transform the traditional engagement survey into a source of actionable business intelligence.
Step 1 - Create a smarter employee survey.
Traditional employee engagement or satisfaction surveys are not up to the task of producing actionable business intelligence. Engagement is necessary to produce great results, but it's not sufficient. For example, in the Harvard Business Review article "Manage Your Human Sigma," while describing an analysis of customer engagement at a multi-site retailer, Gallup researchers state, "Our working assumption was that at least a few of the top employee engagement stores would also be top customer engagement stores. We were wrong.
Just one store appeared on both lists."
There are two major deficiencies in most employee engagement surveys:
1. They pay too little attention to critical organization-level factors such as work processes, hiring processes and informal learning. These factors are big drivers of business results, but are typically not among the top employee engagement/satisfaction drivers. For this reason, they are under-measured in most surveys.
2. They miss the opportunity to tap into workforce wisdom about the drivers and impediments of what it takes for an organization to be a good seller and a good community and environmental steward - both of which are increasingly necessary to an organization's ability to outperform its competition.
Employee survey content should be expanded to include a broader set of questions that go beyond HR's current concept of employee engagement.

Step 2 - "Linkage analysis" to business outcomes.
Next, statistically link the data from the smarter employee survey to data on desired outcomes.
Linkage analysis can be done with soft outcomes data collected within a smarter employee survey, which includes engagement - including employees' intent to stay and willingness to recommend the organization to friends as a good place to work - as well as elements such as employees' reported ability to help the organization achieve its cost containment goals; and the extent to which employees report that the work environment supports excellent customer service.
Data on hard outcomes comes from outside the survey, such as sales, safety, turnover and customer satisfaction, and is then mapped to the survey. This involves aligning these outcomes to the survey responses of the employees who provided them. It is important to note that this mapping requires the survey be non-anonymous. Hence, creating business intelligence from a smarter employee engagement survey requires contracting with an independent third-party analytics firm, since failing to do so is likely to result in less-than-frank responses to a non-anonymous survey.
Thespecific statistical methodologies that should be used for the linkage analysis will depend on the outcome being analyzed. The techniques can range from complex multivariate analysis, such as logit regression or panel estimation techniques, for most individual-level data, to more straightforward univariate analysis - correlations and statistical testing of differences of means - for group data with small sample sizes.
However, it's important not to get hung up on the statistical nuances since there are plenty of experts who can help with this. The critical point is that linkage analysis is the missing connection that allows organizations to move beyond guesswork, hope and intuition on the people side of their business.
"Leveraging analysis that connects areas like employee engagement to important business results is the missing link," said Mary Humiston, senior vice president, global human resources, Applied Materials. "It is helping us to develop a strong fact-based HR strategy for driving improved business results. Identifying the unique human drivers of our business outcomes with precision and rigor is helping us to elevate our game."
Step 3 - Create a rigorous, fact-based process to identify the best areas of opportunity.
It's important to understand that benchmarking is not analytics. For example, knowing that an organization benchmarks at the 90th percentile on a specific survey item should not be cause for celebration - unless linkage analysis reveals that the specific item drives an important business outcome. And a low score on a specific survey item should only create significant concern if it drives a key outcome. Benchmarking provides little, if any, basis for creating a fact-based HR strategy.
Following a survey, many organizations spend lots of time working on their lowest-scoring items. They would therefore focus heavily on seeking to improve survey item A - the item with the lowest overall score.
However, if a second piece of information is added to the mix, a different conclusion emerges.
Remember survey item A with the lowest score? Turns out it's a negative predictor of sales and therefore is actually a poor target for improvement. The best area of focus turns out to be survey item B, which has the fourth-lowest score, but is both an important positive predictor of sales and still an area of relative weakness. While it might be tempting to wonder what the specific survey questions are that correspond to A and B, that would miss the point, which is that each organization must do its analytics homework to determine the survey items that are most important for it rather than accept a one-size-fits-all answer.
The content of the actual survey items in this example doesn't matter; the results will be different for every organization. That's the point of doing this analysis - to help organizations move beyond benchmarking and target survey items that are the most important predictors of their organization's business outcomes.

Step 4 - Make insightful and easy-to-understand recommendations.
Getting to step 3 can be challenging, since it helps move organizations beyond potentially misleading one-size-fits-all benchmarking measures. But to enjoy the full advantage of this breakthrough, effectively communicating the findings from the analysis is essential. Three points to keep in mind:
1. Avoid data dumps and the temptation to share everything learned in the course of the analysis.
2. Home in on the most important findings and implications, and focus on those.
3. Communicate simply and compellingly. This is as much art as science, but it's critical skill to create actionable business intelligence on the people side of the business.
The top areas of opportunity emerging from Step 3 provide a compelling business case to create a fact-based HR strategy to drive business results.
"At Applied Materials we are using analytics to convert both HR data and business data from information into actionable insights," said Angela Sheffield, head of global workforce planning at Applied Materials. "The executive team is very engaged - they are asking for more. It really helps them to understand the link between what goes on in HR and our business results and guides them to where the biggest levers are for improvement."
One of the real beauties of this approach is that it is possible to provide insightful, customized reports to each manager and offer specific recommendations for actions the manager should take - based on his or her specific pattern of results - to help that manager achieve his or her objectives.
Once this has been achieved, it is typically no longer necessary for HR to push the findings of the employee engagement survey onto the organization - the organization starts to pull for the analysis and insights. The move from push to pull is a significant breakthrough in HR's ability to help the organization be truly strategic.
There are powerful forces - in terms of both supply and demand - that are bringing HR analytics to the forefront. First, technology advances have made HR data available on a scale that was heretofore unimaginable. More importantly, the growing economic premium associated with superior human capital management means that HR strategy is simply too important to be left to gut and intuition. If HR doesn't step up to the plate, another part of the organization is sure to fill the void.
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Assess if Employees Are Really Happy

assess if employees are really happy

When it comes to a new employee's journey with an organization, recruiting and on-boarding are top priorities in laying the foundation for human resources in making a new team member happy. But sometimes companies focus too much on making a great first impression, overlooking the opportunity to validate how new employees are feeling in their job in that initial period.
According to Right Management, a subsidiary of the staffing firm Manpower Group, 44 percent of employees say they are "unsatisfied" and not happy at work.

One way to reverse such a discouraging number is to invest in a 90-day happy check program, a mechanism to ensure new hires have continued to progress after the initial on-boarding period has concluded.

In performing a happy check, HR must address three questions: What is it that you want to measure during this check now that new hires have had a chance to experience the culture and interact with fellow team members? Who should perform the check? And how will HR follow up?


Regardless of an organization's culture, here are some basic questions to consider as part of a happy check program:

a) On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the happiest, how happy are you that you joined us?

b) How are things going in your daily work?

c) Is the work what you expected?

d) Is there anything we can do to make you more successful in your role?

e) How are things going with your supervisor, manager or coach?

f) Have you had a special moment that sticks out in your mind as an especially rewarding or happy moment since joining the company?

g) Is there anything we as a company could do to enhance the on-boarding process to make it better for future new employees?

Of course, companies should also have their own set of questions to supplement this list, ensuring they are capturing what is most important to them.

Who Performs the Happy Check?

The size and structure of an organization will largely determine the answer to this question. Ideally, the "happy checker" should be someone who plays a neutral role in the new employee's daily work.

For example, perhaps it's the HR representative who was responsible for orientation on the employee's first day. Another candidate might be a new hire's direct supervisor - although there is the risk of not getting complete and transparent information depending upon that employee's relationship with the manager and how safe he or she feels sharing honest feedback with the supervisor.

Happy Check Follow Up

Valuable feedback on various opportunities for improvement may be revealed during the happy check process. To protect the program's integrity, it is important to establish a clear follow-up procedure that ensures the new employee who shared his or her ideas for improvement understands that the feedback was heard and acted upon to improve the company's processes moving forward.

Feedback should also be consistently reported to senior leadership to ensure they have a pulse on the perspectives of newer employees.

Happy checks - or what others may refer to as 90-day reunions - can also serve as a wealth of information that is easily accessed and readily available. When the company is ready to take the steps to implement a happy check program, consider these tips:

1. Set the stage:
Let new employees know during their orientation session that they will be participating in a happy check at their 90-day period with the company.

2. Show the value:
As the company introduces a happy check program to new employees, let them know how much the organization values the process as a way to ensure that things are going well in their job as well as the transparency the company hopes will be shared through any suggestions new hires may have for enhancing on-boarding.

3. Share success stories:
When a company hears about a great idea during a happy check, take the steps to implement it and share the success story with the entire company.
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How to Create a Culture of Succession Readiness

Lets start with a quote "Failing to plan is planning to fail".
Every day for the next 18 years, 8,000 Americans will turn 65. That demographic includes today's 47-year-olds. The AARP estimates only about 37 percent of companies have considered how this brain drain will affect them in the next five to 10 years. The situation is not very different in India where retirement/superannuation age is 60 years for centre Government employees and all Public Sector Undertakings employees. A big chunk of employees are going to depart from the organizations in next years.
The skills leaving the workplace will create a knowledge gap that is hard to close. Therefore, leaders must think differently about their people assets and create a culture of succession readiness. Knowledge will be lost if preparation does not begin now.

Building in Readiness

Building a culture of succession readiness means learning how to observe, shape and reinforce the right behaviors for all employees to achieve and sustain success. Start with strengths.
Find exemplary performers and look at what they do. Leaders should capture what happens so they know which activities to teach, practice and reinforce. A succession-ready culture will create more capable performers as talent managers take on their most important role - developer-coach.
Open architecture describes a culture designed to teach or cross-train employees, providing them with multiple skill sets. This makes adding, upgrading or swapping activities easier, yet many organizations tend to pigeonhole their employees.
Tom Gilbert, a 20th century performance expert, created a formula to measure the performance improvement potential for every worker in a specific work setting. By looking at the exemplar, Gilbert demonstrated what the variance was in terms of possible - or potential - performance.
Some companies today use Gilbert's formula. Instead of assuming the most accomplished performer is uniquely different from the lowest performer, his work reminds that differences often relate to opportunity and contingency. With proper coaching - opportunity - and consequences for increasing skills - contingency - a performer at any level of accomplishment can advance.
Gilbert demonstrated that there is an acceleration curve, but not a bell curve, on performance potential. Extraordinary performance is shaped and limited only by workplace conditions, and those conditions are in the talent managers' hands.

The Fabric of Succession

Learn to ask a simple and clear question of top performers: "How did you do that?" and attend to the answer. Further, leaders should learn how to support behavior change in themselves and in others. Doing so will open the door to achieving a culture of flexible succession. Two major American business leaders who have incorporated these concepts into their succession planning are Laree Daniel, senior vice president, chief administrative officer for administrative operations at Aflac, and Denise O'Callaghan, senior director, learning and performance improvement for Express Scripts.
Some 40 percent of Aflac's operations employees will be eligible for retirement in 10 years. Daniel manages those employees, is mindful of those departures and is working to ensure those who stay have a sense of what their future holds at Aflac. Managers are measured by each employee's improvement. Daniel said that processes, systems and structures that surround workers can bring out their best, allowing individuals to achieve evolving potential. In such a culture, one need not be trapped by "where I am," but can strive toward "what I can be."
Aflac's emerging leadership initiative develops employee potential from the office floor to the C-suite. The program was specifically designed for high-potential employees to engage them in initiatives outside their typical roles so that they learn new things about the business and how it operates. This helps to mitigate risk of flight as bright, creative workers look to their futures. Plans are refined with each participant on a regular basis, sometimes weekly but at least monthly. In these roles employees are expected to demonstrate the values essential to being an Aflac employee in observable and measurable ways.
Any Aflac employee's path to increased responsibility requires becoming expert in behavior and, if they are to manage others, in coaching. Leaders are required to earn the right to be someone's coach. "We have a 'leaders are coaches' understanding in our culture, but there is an optional, extra step leaders can choose to take in order to achieve the designation of a certified coach," Daniel said.
Understanding how to shape and support behavior is the No. 1 skill Daniel and other Aflac leaders seek in supervisory candidates. Daniel and all others have developmental plans with a focus on what the company expects her to do to help employees succeed. Senior leaders engage in cross-training, through rotation and pairing, as do all other levels of the organization. This broader exposure generates new ideas, which are captured and incorporated into work processes where appropriate or considered for the future.
Creating a culture where managers are no longer command-and-control timekeepers and goal setters but rather coaches and mentors requires an understanding of behavior, the cues that get desired behavior started and the follow-up that keeps it going.
Demonstrating proficiency in the science of behavior means:
a) Pinpointing the appropriate results and behaviors for employees at every level.
b) Measuring progress at frequent intervals.
c) Providing regular data to each performer about his or her progress while arranging consequences that maintain, redirect or accelerate behavior.
d) Evaluating progress and celebrating accomplishment.
The manager's job is to take the present behavior and build on it for everyone's success.
Daniel said those who have the privilege of managing others must understand that their success is measured by that of their employees. She said she expects every leader to learn how to maintain, accelerate and celebrate individual achievement. Performance goals for managers - up to and including top executives - are linked to each person they supervise demonstrating progress toward individual goals.

Molding the Right Behaviors

Acquisitions require new behaviors and creating a new culture, both of which can present their own challenges. Two pharmacy benefit managers, Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions, merged in April 2012 to become a company with more than 30,000 employees tasked to make the use of prescription drugs safer and more affordable. According to O'Callaghan, the organization has a flexible approach to learning that is consistent with the company's overall efforts to drive clients and members toward better decisions and healthier outcomes.
Express Scripts' research revealed that poor decisions typically reflect a gap between intentions and behaviors. By anticipating member needs and preferences, then earning their attention, the company can close these intent-behavior gaps. The company also extends the behavioral approach to its employees via training and coaching.
For instance, it will soon adopt a behavior-based rapid change process as part of a succession-ready approach. With rapid change, groups and individuals start with the end product, the end delivery and the customer interface in mind. From there, everyone in the system identifies how his or her specific behavior affects the end result and how the team can use that knowledge to work better as a unit. This promotes shared knowledge and cross-training at all levels, resulting in better understanding of every person's role in making the company successful.
"We can unify and solidify respect for the worth of every employee for the value they bring and the behaviors they engage in once we as leaders and managers learn to ask the simple question, 'How did you do that?'" O'Callaghan said. "Then we take that information, help others to replicate it and standardize our processes. We are all about creating an environment at Express Scripts where the best choices are also the easiest ones to make."

The Science of Behavior

Managers can look to a future where their role is that of coach. To coach well, they need behavior-based principles to guide their efforts and measure their effects. The following six items are critical, yet often missing in organizational efforts to create a sustainable succession-readiness plan.
1. Discover the employee behaviors that are reinforced or suppressed by a company's operational and HR systems, management processes, physical settings and technology.
2. Attain skills in the science of behavior, grounded in a belief that every employee is underutilized, to create a culture of individual and group potential for performance excellence.
3. Observe, measure and track individual skills based on what employees actually say and do. This kind of observed analysis can occur at every level. All employees can demonstrate excellence in their particular business environment, demonstrating worthy habits through deliberate practice. The mystery of effective senior leadership is not innate to a person, nor is it unobservable. A person's particular learning history and skills can be made clear and replicable.
4. Measure leaders, managers and supervisors by their direct reports' success. Understanding how to coach skill development is a useful tool for managers, helping them to build excellent habits. Blame for individual failure is absent in such a culture. Rather, the analysis is about what is needed to redirect or accelerate performance and skills development.
5. Create a culture of mentoring and coaching. This culture of engagement and respect requires managers to transfer critical skills to employees and seek opportunities for them. It is understood that leaders are not in such positions because they are the only ones who can lead; instead, they too are products of opportunity for repeated practice.
6. Understand that all employees are essential to success. As employees progress, they coach others. Continuous learning and supporting effective behavior from all is the expectation from the moment of hire in such a culture.
Robust succession is about scientifically applying good practices to behavior that create a level of fluency in problem-solving across many conditions and areas of company operations. It requires placing a new value on the potential of every worker and approaching that potential scientifically. As Gilbert demonstrated, the performance improvement potential of every person is unlimited among current top and bottom performers.
As much as things change, the laws of behavior remain the same. Talent managers can create a succession-ready culture to address, with optimism, a fast-approaching future.
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