Michael Walsh, Ph.D. in Work Arts Interview

Dr. Michael Walsh is an industrial and organizational psychologist, author, professor and leader of human resources and people analytics. In this Work Arts Interview, he shares some of the foundational ideas of his 2021 book, HR Analytics Essentials You Always Wanted To Know, discusses how changes in work are impacting organizations and their HR professionals’ efforts to build healthy communities that retain talent, and leaves us with practical steps we can take to make better decisions.

Michael currently leads Global Talent Management and Organizational Effectiveness for Eaton Corporation’s Vehicle Group. He also teaches graduate students at the University of Illinois and Wayne State University. Previously, Michael started and led the Global People Strategy and Analytics function at Bloomberg and the People Analytics and Insights Function at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Michael began his professional career as a client facing consultant for Mercer’s Human Capital practice focused on HR Strategy, Organizational Design/Development and Human Capital Analytics. He worked for Mercer in Chicago, Dubai and New York.

Arts We Like is a series of posts spotlighting great thinkers, ideas, products and partners that we share to help enable remarkable performance through more effective and engaged organizations. Contact Us about how to deploy these solutions as a part of a broader HR Strategy or engagements to develop your organization, capabilities and talent.

Form Follows Function

It’s common to hear us say things that those we admire say. We adopt their ideas over time. You’ll hear me repeat what those I admire say – “there’s nothing so practical as a good theory; good theory in service to a functional outcome.” It is a core value – Form Follows Function.

Since my early teens, I have embraced the Patagonia brand, their “cleanest line” design ethos and generally consider myself a fan – a Patagoniac. Beyond the best products for doing my favorite things, the brand engaged me with their technical marketing, product differentiation and influenced my thinking as a steward and as a designer. In 2003, I started my first business offering learning and performance consulting as form by function design & consulting. I have learned to make this plain in practice over years, and continue to seek the cleanest line, pursuing the elegant, simplest functional solution.

I was recently invited to help a group of HR Business Partners and their leaders level-up some of their talent practices. It’s a profoundly committed group of people who give their lives to “missions.” When making an effort to design a process or practice, it’s helpful to borrow some thinking and skills from practical problem solving.

In problem solving, the logic that to agree on solutions, we must first agree on the problem is accepted; to identify best solutions, we must understand the functional “job to be done.” I asked the group, when you plan missions, do your missions look like this (referencing image above)? Or, in order to be successful, must you first choose the mission? The same is true of your management and talent practices.

Where organizations go wrong is that they fail to balance complexity with value as they build these processes… as each additional element is added, evaluate the trade-off between the complexity it brings to the overall process and the impact it will have on the original business objective.

Effron & Ort, One Page Talent Management, 2010, p. 4-5.

For example, you may design a succession process with the purpose of lowering risk to business continuity or you may desire to build a culture of leadership stewardship and engagement. You may need both – but they will not have the same priority and time horizon. These choices will yield different best solutions. You may be using benchmarking as the basis for what a mature process will look like. Be careful that you don’t make it your plan to effectively deliver on day 1 what your “benchmark” comparison companies achieved – in a context different than yours – through a series of efforts over years by a learning and improvement loop.

You may design a performance management process with an interest to better align resources to priorities in deploying strategy for execution. You may desire review discussions to drive meaningful development plans. You may be laying the ground work to differentiate rewards, reinforcing a performance culture. Again, in what priority order and timing.

It’s normally easiest to start with your top business objectives. In light of these, prioritizing talent practices may be clearer. ALL of the value of talent practice work will come from successful implementation and adoption by a set of stakeholders. Simplicity and clarity in the priority jobs to be done and the benefits for each stakeholder will improve your chances of achieving a productive outcome. Focus, implement, improve, repeat.

Here is a simple example of an interview I originally developed early in my career that has served me and others well in engaging groups of stakeholders to improve talent practices. Even if the solution seems obvious to you, create the pull for intervention in your organization through a small effort to engage your stakeholders to build ownership.

What are your top lessons learned from building talent practices?

How do you engage your customers to build ownership?

Is Employee Experience Talent Management’s Ziggy Stardust?

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photo credit: revolveribiza

I recently came across an interesting article touting the death of Talent Management. The concise introduction to the growing focus on Employee Experience was thought provoking. Unlike the attention seeking headlines about performance management being dead we too often read of these days, I think the shift to Employee Experience is a legitimate and productive application of human-centered design to employment.

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Today, the demand for skilled talent outpaces the supply of capable employees in a growing number of areas. Many of the terms of the employment contract desired by job seekers have also changed or at least have become much more variable (e.g., by generation). Some organizations have shown the agility to respond to this consumerization of employment, while many others, particularly slow changing organizations in industrial and highly regulated industries, are struggling to accept that the change is even necessary.

In 2014, HBR printed Ram Charan‘s proposal that it’s time to split HR into two groups – HR Administration (HR-A) and HR Leadership & Organization (HR-LO) with HR-A reporting to the CFO and HR-LO reporting to the CEO to focus on improving the people capabilities of the business. Dave Ulrich is known globally for helping the HR profession develop the capabilities and structures needed by their changing organizations and environments. While few argue that the field of Human Resources is changing and requiring innovation to compete, the reality is that making the right changes fast enough is difficult.

Ziggy Stardust was a short-lived persona adopted by David Bowie that allowed him to explore, then taboo, topics in his art. As Ziggy, he was able to venture into territory where David would never have been heard. Similarly, Employee Experience is an outcome to focus on much more accessible than many of the topics organizations have to face to consistently produce great employee experiences and compete for talent. Employee Experience has the potential to enable successful changes aligned to a common interest. Much like focusing your operations on value streams or your marketing and technology teams on user experience (UX), integrated strategies to optimize Employee Experience could enable organizations to make bold moves where current functional strategies such as Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, Talent Management, Total Rewards, etc. will fall short.

Employee Experience has the potential to be what Edgar Schein calls a cultural island. To overcome the subcultural issues that he credits as the real problem in many organizations hindering their ability to make needed changes. A cultural island is a happening where the norms, rules, interests and virtues of a culture can be suspended to try something new because the environment is exceptional enough to allow for it.

I have begun to think about this notion of cultural islands. Where can you actually get multicultural units into a talking relationship with each other so that they can begin to explore their common ground? It is not going to happen in the daily work scene. I think that we have to create cultural islands to allow that kind of communication to occur.  ~ Edgar Schein

Talent Management is not dead. To the contrary, there is a deficit of competent expertise available to help organizations grow and develop. Employee Experience is a useful concept to most organizations that can help overcome current circumstances and the energy that goes into keeping your organization as it is. Even if, like Ziggy Stardust, the useful life of Employee Experience is short, it has the potential to make a significant difference mobilizing management teams in alignment to a shared priority.

 

Talking Talent Reviews: repost of Interview with Cornerstone OnDemand

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Chris Stewart from Cornerstone On Demand about how I have helped a company implement talent reviews as the capstone of their annual talent management process. See more here:

Reblog: from August 25, 2014 CSOD Q&A on Talent Reviews

Hiring internally is a cost and time-effective way to recruit, yet many companies fail to move employees through the organization. We spoke with Brandon Curry, director of global talent management at Federal-Mogul Holdings Corporation, about the approach his company has begun utilizing to make career succession and development planning more integrated with business management, rather than a stand-alone HR task. As a result, the company has seen more internal hires and a greater focus on developing employees to follow their ideal career path. Here, Curry shares his insights on how the company changed its talent processes and several tips for companies looking to do the same.

How does your company approach talent reviews?

We’ve adopted leadership team-based reviews, so the decisions that are made become the leadership team’s decision. Our bottom up approach drives a level of ownership, accountability and visibility to an individual manager’s peers and their manager around how are they doing at managing their talent. 

Many organizations identify succession candidates solely based on managers’ ratings of employees’ performance and some competencies identified as HR’s criteria. In these cases, the leaders may have some confidence in the criteria because they trust the criteria concepts, but if it’s not a team decision, then they don’t necessarily all feel accountable for the decision. What we’re trying to do is bring the best of both perspectives together, where we have strong criteria and a strong process that engages the leadership teams. The goal is to ensure that when people are broadened to new roles and are onboarded into the organization, that they have support from their peers and their leader for continued development. The process also brings out quality developmental feedback on how individuals are impacting the organization and reveals areas where we lack the bench-strength desired to execute and grow in the future.

What was the process like before it became team-driven?

In the past it wasn’t nearly as inclusive. Previously, leaders from the top two levels of the organization prepared a succession report as an HR process, and each business or functional leader reviewed it with the CEO, HR leader and me. There wasn’t much visibility on who were the key talents across groups and we lacked the diverse perspectives and options for how to deploy talent. As a result of that, it reinforced silos, and we didn’t have many cross-moves for development purposes.

What results have you seen from the new succession planning process?

We now have a broader talent pool, and the talent in the organization sees more opportunity because they see more people moving across the organization. We’re able to identify better leads internally before we look outside. When a position becomes open in the organization, employees are able to search for opportunities in the system. We also receive requests from hiring managers and HR Managers to search internally such as, “We have this number of candidates identified as successors, who else do you have in mind?” We’re able to go into the system and do searches based on career preferences — who has identified that role as their next logical position and, based on succession plans, who is ready to move into that role.

We’re also seeing improved development planning because of increased visibility. If an employee has a development gap for a planned career change, it’s much more visible now because we have this series of discussions during which managers have to present this information to their peers and their manager.

Talent Management is clearly a priority for our leaders as they have a growing demand for resources to operate and grow their businesses. As the process becomes more socialized within the organization, it will become more of a cultural element and less of a tool. Succession planning and talent management is now considered a legitimate business conversation.

What advice do you have for companies that are having trouble making talent management part of the business discussion?

Start with the end in mind and think about basic objectives. At Federal-Mogul, we want critical positions to be filled internally and that drives a lot of our development action. Too often, in the past, we identified a need too late with not enough time to develop an internal candidate, requiring us to hire someone from the outside. This can cause resentment from employees who are not developed and given the opportunity and, ultimately, may leave the company. That’s a major objective of our process: that we’re good stewards of our talent.

Another piece of advice is to keep it simple. We have made leadership team-based reviews a recurring event on the calendar, so it’s integrated with our business process of budgeting, business planning and quarterly reviews.

Finally, make your leaders the owners. We enable line managers to take ownership, accountable for doing the work and presenting it, and human resources is supportive by providing them counsel, tools and resources. Previously, HR performed this function for or to the organization; now business leaders own it and HR facilitates this process.

There’s no such thing as a great company

There are great teams and not so great teams. The best companies are networks of great teams. When you look at organizations, there is a huge range in performance team by team by team. There are differences within high performing teams compared with underperforming teams. These differences impact not only business outcomes, but lead measures like the ability to attract and retain talent that create the valued product or service that customers trade money for.

In 1994, a HBR article titled Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work (J. L. Heskett et al.) introduced a model that is widely referenced and used. This year, DDI published their DDI’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast. In it, they illustrate an adapted version of this value chain based on their huge biannual leadership study. Integrating the two looks something like this:

I do this to illustrate a (simplified) sense of cause and effect. The best companies are made up of great teams. Great teams have high quality leadership that build a uniquely positive work environment / climate. This leadership and context supports team member engagement in work that allows them to contribute their strengths. While the local leader exists within a system – enabled or confined by talent systems and process, as well as the broader management culture – it is the leadership of the local manager that has the greatest impact on the engagement and performance of their team. While leaders are as much a product of this system as they are nodes within it, positive deviants exist and they make the most significant difference. Most team members’ knowledge of and beliefs about the organization are driven by how the organization is presented and exemplified through their local leader’s words and behavior.

Curt Coffman and his partner Kathie Sorensen have taught me a lot about how local managers drive engagement. Most engagement research consists of reporting data collected from a large sample of employees from a broad set of teams and organizations – how do a broad range of factors impact engagement. Coffman’s research surfaced drivers of engagement by finding the correlation between employee responses to questions and team performance. For example, while a question like, “I’m fairly compensated…” is a highly rated hygiene factor that individuals rate as highly influencing their level of discretionary effort and intent to stay, It’s important to everyone regardless of performance level. However the question “My manager really knows me” is rated significantly higher on high performing teams than low performing teams. This research shows that highly engaged teams delivering superior results are different and the key differences are under the control of and most influenced by the local leader.

Despite more than a decade campaign to refocus leaders on achieving greatness through allowing talent to contribute those things they are truly great at, we remain fixated on being “not-bad” by trying to put in what’s not there or improve what we are remedial at. Good is not the opposite of bad. It’s entirely different.

“We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

There’s no perfect job. The ideal for most people, when they are asked to describe it, is an enriched and empowered variation of what they are doing now.

SO WHAT?

Glad you asked. Leadership matters. How we feel about our contribution at work matters too. Focusing on these two things will make you and your organization more effective.

Leaders – Focus on leadership drivers of engagement. How would those you lead respond? Ask them?

  • What are the outcomes that you are accountable for?
  • Do you feel that you really know me? Is there anything you’d like to know?
  • Do you see additional opportunities where you could contribute your talents and abilities?
  • What’s the best (most meaningful) recognition you’ve ever received at work?
  • What are you doing when you’re doing what you’re best at?
  • Who was the best manager you’ve ever had? Tell me about what he or she did that you liked so much?
  • How do you feel you best add value to the organization?
  • What are the strongest teams in our organization? Tell me about the strongest team you’ve ever been a member of?
  • When have you grown most professionally in your career?

Each of us must better understand our strengths and use them more. This will serve our personal interests, benefit our organizations and the stakeholders we impact – family, community, etc.

What, in your experience, causes an organization to be seen as great?

Do You Moneyball?

I recently saw Moneyball for the first time on a flight and was jumping out of my seat. There are so many clips in the movie that parallel how OD & Talent processes can enable performance. My favorites:

1. GM, Billy Beane confronts his scouts about the subjective discussion of perspective talent – “…you’re just talking…”
2. Near the end of film, the Owner of the Red Sox invites Billy to Boston. Over coffee, there’s a brilliant series of lines where he say’s to Billy that anyone that’s not using his system the following year is a dinosaur.

I’d love to (plan to) use these clips in a session with leadership to frame up the talent system improvements that most organizations are working to implement. I knew immediately that I wanted to write on the topic, but David Almeda beat me to it with his post Hitting a Home Run in Talent Management: The Value of HR Analytics. The key point to me is somewhat buried in the middle – “Doing this work effectively requires an understanding of the organization’s value chain: How does the workforce help the organization make or save money? It also requires a clear understanding of the company’s future strategy” (or in how we will make or save money in the future). This same thinking applies to organizations with a purpose other than making money as well.

Baseball games are won when your team has more runs than your opponent. In Moneyball, they show how the Oakland Athletics moved from static score watching and individual performance analysis to analysis of the dynamic process of run creation and then systematically build a team, as closely as possible – given present constraints, around effectively performing this process of run creation.

How do you and your organization win? Do you view it as static through lag measures and a “great man or woman” profile for talent? Or, do you manage and enable performance in those things that actually build performance with individuals positioned in area of strength to “get on base” to enable the organization to score?