Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.


5 Key Rules to Crafting Leader Learning

While most employers tend to finance formal classroom or seminar learning for leaders, substantial opportunity is missed when more targeted and cost-effective methods are overlooked. Embracing our 4th decade of dedicating ourselves to the understanding of cognitive function and the variety of learning methods, we offer the following 5 key rules to success. 


1. Address the 84% who prefer roundtable to classroom learning. 
Learning goals differ among individuals, as do learning styles. Audience adaptation is paramount. While kinesthetic learning outpaces auditory learning more than 2:1, classroom and/or seminar activities are less effective than hands-on and interactive learning. Top academic institutions certainly get this, and they heavily deploy group tasks, case studies and hands-on assignments as key training methodology. Classroom is the set-up to learning, but most will forget the “talking head approach” unless follow-up kinesthetic training is meaningfully deployed. 

Kinesthetic learning is preferred by most, and it consists of do-it-yourself or tactile activity. Interactive Q&A done well can address this learning style. Visual learning is the next preferred, consisting of videos, observation, pictures and graphics. Auditory learning is the least preferred learning style, consisting of lecture, listened instruction and/or audio-training. When learning style is unknown, kinesthetic or combination methods are best deployed as a default.


2. If the message isn’t delivered 3 times, don’t bother delivering it at all.
The average human mind must receive a message 3 times before long term memory is invoked. Long term memory is defined as only 20+ minutes’ duration. While we all know exceptional learners who can receive instruction once and simply get it, these learners have likely learned their own trilogy memorization techniques, such as visualization, note taking, rehearsal, role playing or others. 

Trilogy training curriculum must be deployed at least two-fold. Not only do we repeat any message 3+ times to our immediate leader learning participants, but we must also help them execute trilogy training with those they then train. All leader learning should not only consider the knowledge transfer to immediately trained leaders, but also a “train-the-trainer” approach. 


3. Preserve pride and safe harbor while training leaders.
One of the biggest mistakes is internal training of leaders where hierarchy is present in the room. Seasoned leaders, especially, shut down critical questions when either their supervisors or those whom they supervise are present. In doing so, learning assessment and learning itself both suffer dramatically. While building trust between supervisor peers requires careful protocol from the experts, a relaxed mind accelerates learning and builds supervisor teamwork in a support system beneficial well beyond the immediate training exercises. 

“Old school” leadership training started and ended with salesmanship training. While more than 16 effective leadership styles are profiled, a leader can only lead to the extent subordinates are willing to follow. Beyond salesmanship, therefore, substance is more important than ever. Supervisors who are transparently incorrect will lose team confidence fast. In many environments, new hires may have received more leadership training than those to whom they report. In many cases, either the talented new hire then resigns or is forced out by implying an ability to advance past the supervisor. Experts address these topics through “safe harbor” methodology.


4. When choosing a trainer, embrace that speaker and facilitator skills are reverse-correlated.
Unless a panel discussion, the act of speaking in front of hundreds or thousands most often requires an ability to disconnect from the audience and rehearse a scripted presentation. Some speakers are more of entertainers than subject masters, and while humor is engaging and promotes auditory and possibly visual learning, Q&A may suffer. These presenters most definitely have their effective place in the schemata of combination method training; however, be careful when choosing them for a rapport-building coaching role. Very few can effectively transition between the two. 

For roundtable methodology, choose a facilitator who is a subject master and assessor who can meaningfully answer unanticipated questions and tailor curriculum to learning needs. Ensure that meeting skills and Gestalt protocol are simultaneously trained as not only immediate training enhancements but also to ensure company-wide meeting effectiveness improves as well. 


5. Market leadership training as not only necessary but also an employee benefit.
The benefit component is easier to market when a third party trainer is brought in. However, every investment into the team is in fact a benefit to be boasted. Effective leadership training creates transformational leaders and improves career path and success rate for all trained and all reporting to the properly trained leaders. CEOs, newly promoted team leads, or anyone in between should find improved time management, job satisfaction and job success through effective leadership training. 

Beyond these 5 key rules, leaders need regular refreshers and self-forgiveness in re-grounding to the basics. While leadership training needs to help leaders advance, leadership training for many needs to remind leaders of the rote redundancy which the intelligent mind would prefer to move past. Adaptation is critical. Employment law, motivation, corrective action, personality styles, six-hat thinking, appreciative inquiry, situational leadership and so many more topics are integral to leadership training, yet missed by many “cookie cutter” trainers. Do not settle for less than the best!




A learning styles survey is available at AskHRS.com/learningsurvey09

As experts in Organizational Development, Employment Law and HR, HRS empowers business owners and C-suite leaders with fiscally savvy performance management solutions, custom to each unique employer. Leadership training and assessment are delivered onsite for our employer clients. Headquartered in Brookfield WI, HRS offers locations in Washington DC and Scottsdale AZ plus national satellites. 



Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, June 10, 2015

 





Do “Happy” Workers Have a Reason to Excel?

When happy workers become complacent, work suffers. Simultaneously, demotivated workers are a substantial threat to business viability. A blueprint of empowerment exists.

Not long ago, many C-Suite leaders displayed skepticism when advised that ‘happy workers are productive workers.” To a limited extent, this skepticism served them well.

Per definition, motivation is a reason for behavior. The most widely accepted longstanding theories, such as Maslow and ERG, force us to question if “happy” is in fact the absence of motivation. If “happy” equates to Maslow’s self-actualization stage, why would happy workers be motivated to excel? Furthermore, is “happy” an effective measurement and business criterion?

Decades of studies have validated the pragmatic human capital approach to talent management, yet certain extremists are still peddling a “puppies and sunshine” approach to business. While “happy” workers are not necessarily a meaningful target, and are certainly not a lawful target, let’s explore a more prudent target.


Is “Happy” a Meaningful Criteria?
No astute business leader will ignore today’s five to seven-figure risk of incorporating terms like “happy” and “attitude” into performance criteria. Mood disorders are specifically protected by the EEOC, especially via the Americans with Disabilities Act and its subsequent amendments. Therefore, evaluating happiness can be discriminatory per both statutory and case law. All performance appraisal toolsets that previously carried this language are no longer safe to deploy and require recrafting. With expert guidance, updated terminology equally protective of workplace outcomes is available.  

Highbrow thinkers often characterize “happy” in the same realm of “utopia,” where “happy” exists as a non-sustainable target rather than a constant state of being. That being true, optimum productivity exists in the individual who can achieve fleeting happiness in the workplace and finds that work excellence is the path to attainment. That worker, in the proper performance management system, then repeatedly pursues the fleeting sense of “happy” through positive work behaviors, well-aligned with the organization’s goals. This assumes the worker is at socio-economic level beyond basic safety and security needs. An employee whose food and shelter are threatened may throw “happy” out the window quickly for extra money or job security. 

Today’s expert business leader recognizes that motivation cannot happen without hope and incentive. Demotivation occurs when employees are not properly rewarded for positive performance. An employee who exceeds expectations may not repeat the excellence if behavioral reinforcement is absent. Rewards, however, must be commensurate with the performance. Both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards collaborate together in a well-aligned system, refraining from impinging upon the other’s efficacy. A bonus for only adequate performance, for example, strips intrinsic motivation and creates a derailing reward system. A bonus for no performance, as today’s federal government often promotes, most certainly strips motivation and threatens productivity. 


A Relaxed Mind is a Productive Mind.
More meaningful than the elusive “happy” is cognitive ability. Productivity and creative problem solving are increased when negative noise is averted. The noise of fear, anxiety and negative emotion shut down the capabilities of most, while a few might benefit from a brief adrenaline rush through sympathetic nervous system response before crashing. Where a team member believes he or she can succeed and shall receive betterment as a result, and where the negative noise is quiet, the team member is exponentially more likely to demonstrate positive work behavior. 

Quality of work life deliverables which facilitate problem solving are frequently deployed by companies who depend upon invention and creativity. Work campuses and work days designed to unlock mental energy flourish. Wellness is a powerful human asset which translates into positive corporate output. 


And the Answer Is…
The discussion of “happy” workers is not only an irritant to many business pragmatists but also lacks legal risk management and, quite frankly, lacks tangible meaning. The real discussion is about workplace productivity as defined by motivation, environment and leadership. Again, motivation is a reason, and complacency will not do. Failure to deliver proper incentive will also not do. We advocate and deliver lifelong learning for leaders, accompanied by proper crafting and delivery of performance management systems. New leaders do not instinctively know how to lead and require solid formal training, often in a kinesthetic learning environment. In any talent-intensive organization, getting the right people doing the right things is the heartbeat of success. Keeping talent management at C-level authority is critical. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 14, 2015

 





The Skills Gap, Pt. II: Addressing Education

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the skills gap and the phenomenon of how workers are failing to meet the standards of U.S. employers. It’s an evolving situation. I argued the point of, “how could there be a skills gap now when we were just dismissing people for being overqualified a few years ago?” You can read more about my viewpoint here.

Recently, however, a new study came out that showed a new aspect of this problem, and it has to do with everyone’s other favorite topic: the Millennials.

According to a recent study from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), U.S. Millennials drastically lag behind the rest of the world in areas of basic job and life skills. Out of 22 different nations, the Millennials of the United States were tied for third-last in the rankings of reading and writing, and were dead last in math and number skills. Ouch.

As a millennial myself, I can speak to this – I am CONSTANTLY finding people my age who don’t know proper grammar and writing styles, and I find that, when you give the average millennial something to read, they will often miss some of the key points included. The math, however, seems to be more of a person-to-person distinction. Regardless, this study’s findings are quite alarming. (Note: These are just my personal findings – I have no study at this time to back it up. Don’t worry fellow Millennials, I am going somewhere with this).

The ETS made this statement in their report: “Millennials, who will form the backbone of this nation's future, are not poised to lift us out of this predicament; in fact, the lack of adequate skills in this population has become a challenge for us to confront.”

Let’s put this into perspective - all of this data is even more surprising when we factor into account that this generation is on track to be the most highly educated generation (in terms of average years spent in school) EVER. Let that sink in – this generation is highly under-educated, all while simultaneously dumping billions of dollars into our education system every year. So, let’s ask the question, “Where does the problem lie? With the students, or with those who are paid to arm them with these necessary skills?”

This issue can only be the result of a problem that our country, and our government, has spent years discussing: education. Our education system, as a singular entity, is failing to teach our kids these basic skills. I’d argue that we’re even teaching kids the wrong things. For example, I’d be willing to wager that the average American millennial knows more about the biological anatomy of a plant than how to write a proper business letter. Odds are, a child is probably more likely to wind up in a career in corporate America than as a botanist, wouldn’t you say? (Note: I don’t feel that every individual education institution is at fault here, but this is an overarching problem amongst the masses.)

We can talk about all the usual topics and criticisms here: how everyone writes in shorthand, the seeming over-fascination with pop culture, etc. The truth is, however, that none of these issues describe the problem itself; rather, they are only symptoms of the problem. The culture of this world has taken us to a place where we haven’t been before, and we simply don’t know how to teach people to be successful in it…as of yet.

We don’t know how to teach a young adult how to learn important life skills while also being able to utilize the vast amount of technology that’s at their disposal. Simply enough – the technology is winning and is making the average citizen dumber. We need to not only adapt our education system to teach kids the right tools, but we also need to adapt to teach kids how to perform their jobs as their predecessors would have – with a high work ethic and the right knowledge base.

So, where’s the solution? We can’t necessarily wait for Congress to get out of gridlock, especially with this being the final year of presidency for Obama. Let’s take action more quickly; let’s confront the problem ourselves. The issue is education, right? And it’s not a lack of desire to be educated, otherwise this generation wouldn’t be spending so much time and money on it. The answer, rather, is in the right education.

We have a specific call to action: an education that delivers critical information not just in classroom style, but also kinesthetically in hands-on roundtable format; an education that doesn’t require 4 years’ experience and thousands of dollars to finance; an education that delivers information to students as they work, and allows them to improve, while on the job, for a fraction of the cost. Summarized, our call to action is to deliver an education that actually sinks in (sic, is taught in a way through which students will learn more effectively), and transfers the knowledge of what employers actually want their employees to know. It’s an education that’s taught by the business world for the business world.

Professional Workshops and Individual Learning Sessions. Like other education leaders, HRS has built a long history off of delivering the necessary information needed for employees to succeed. We know what employers want and need because we represent them, and they’ve told us. We can convey this information to those who want to learn, and these Millennials WANT to learn. They WANT to be educated. They WANT to be successful. Let’s give them the tools to do so. 

HRS is proud to launch a series of professional development workshops tailored to address this specific issue. They are workshops which will teach individuals these aforementioned skills, and can do so for either an individual company or for a group of individuals. Let’s give the population the necessary skills they are spending thousands of dollars trying to obtain, but aren’t. Let’s give everyone the knowledge they need to keep a steady job. Let’s fix our workforce.

To learn more about HRS Workshops and Individual Learning Sessions for Professional Development, please contact us or visit our Workshops page for more info.

 

Please find a link to the ETS study here: http://www.ets.org/s/research/30079/index.html. It’s definitely worth a look.


Matthew Bare - Monday, April 20, 2015

 





HR Advice from Nonprofit Associations Can Be Lethal! Non-legit Nonprofits Lurk Among Those that Deserve Our Support.

Make no mistake. HRS has been a substantial supporter of worthy nonprofits since our inception, and our Angel Wings and HRS Gives Back programs are fabulous examples. In the face of that, certain nonprofit associations, not specifically tied to greater good, are abusing tax-exempt status, betraying taxpayers and delivering dangerous advice. We warn to be wary. 

A disreputable few nonprofits are beginning to cross the line and betray their status. In the world of HR, employer membership associations done well can be great places to swap case studies, find research, attain broad-based information and acquire non-custom tools. Those that promise to give advice, however, are in direct conflict with IRS tax code and their rights to the tax breaks they demand. Specifically, IRS tax exempt status prohibits a nonprofit from serving, addressing or advocating specific interests of individuals or individual members. This IRS covenant stands to prove that any nonprofit addressing the unique interest or custom need of an individual member is likely practicing tax fraud and is specifically ill-equipped to provide meaningful adaptive solutions of quality caliber. Some are delivering dangerously poor advice, resulting in six or seven-figure disaster for constituents. One such criminal was recently found distributing an employment application template unlawfully bearing a social security number field. 

HRS continues to support, contribute to and partner with a wealth of professional associations relevant to our fields of study. You will find our logos and sponsorships proudly displayed. The best of them provide complimentary benefit to tax paying consulting firms and internal employer expertise. Similarly, IRS code also requests nonprofits to refrain from providing service available in the private sector market from tax paying employers. Any nonprofit that dramatically changes its service line in recent decades does not find itself exempt from responsibility to tax exemption covenants. Criminal behavior remains the outcome.

We at HRS embrace additional opinions on any topic of consequence. Our own boardroom approach to client problem solving demonstrates our ideology. Our multi-rater approach to assessment scoring further validates. With HRS, you already find holistic approach and several experts represented in any single proposed solution. As far as competition, we welcome competition. Today, seven critical disciplines fall under the HR umbrella, and the generalist needs specialist partners to get it done right. Having opened our doors before widespread HR demand at executive level, we welcome those who help us promote the critically expanded role of HR and those who keep us on our toes.

However, in a world where worthy nonprofits that save lives, advocate human rights and protect our kids are starving for government support and are suffering government cutbacks, we demand the non-legit nonprofits back away from the table. When nonprofits compete with tax paying firms, by definition and tax code, the nonprofit is not a legitimate nonprofit… in the wrong and abusing greater good. Tax breaks, grants and donations are sadly misguided when nonprofits dishonor their status. Buyers and taxpayers are called to use their voice and their buying power to encourage reform for greater good. 


 


Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, April 07, 2015

 





Old School Meets New School With “Social HR”

The new big thing in HR technology merges social platforms together with cutting edge information systems, especially via mobile and interactive apps for HR deliveries. Many call it “social HR.” A natural evolution of the steadily emerging HR portals, social HR grants employees interactive communications related to learning, assessment, performance management, payroll, benefits, policy handbooks, employer news, record keeping and so much more. This trend is actually the re-emergence of old school success, postured on new school innovation. For years we’ve been dehumanizing Human Resources for the sake of compliance. Social HR re-socializes, without compromising compliance.


Where Social HR Will Succeed
To the same extent corporate websites have turned to interactive rather than search engine based filtering, employee portals enjoy similar advances, delivering a more “social” attentive feel. Every employer whose brand is attached to progressive technology is keeping a keen eye on these emerging trends. Workplace pride, motivation, productivity, cultural acceptance and comprehensive efficiency are impacted by employer choices. Too little, too much or poor posturing will affect outcomes. Cost is a factor; however, proper methodology and timing will yield return on investment. 

Having reported on social HR for three years, a recent Forbes article discusses nuances, examples and impact for 2015. Forbes Article. Highlighting the training features, today’s mobile apps and gamification allow kinesthetic learning, which is not only the most effective, but also the most preferred, of the learning styles. By deploying a variety of training media, we incur a high probability of meeting unique individual learning styles. Done well, platforms will tailor learning to individual styles. In applause to employers who deliver hands on and facilitated round table training, social HR is the next best option. While only certain training needs can be effectively satisfied via technology, platforms can deliver options, decision tools and event scheduling. 

To qualify as “social HR,” the platform must truly consider the precise audience, demographics and communications culture. As data collateral to audience knowledge, more than 3000 responded to an HRS learning style survey, validating that kinesthetic learning remains most effective, preferred 2:1 over auditory learning. 3 different primary learning styles exist, and each learning style, relevant to demographics, needs to be attended. Learning Styles Survey. While social learning cannot entirely replicate the effectiveness of more precise hands-on learning and/or face-to-face interactive learning, the social HR apps discussed promise far greater effectiveness as an everyday tool than applications currently in use.

Much of the prior de-socialization of HR is due to the critical need for written documentation. Verbal discussions alone have become nearly worthless in the schemata of HR, as compliance documentation is not addressed by oral communication. Done well, social HR could create critical documentation while simultaneously serving a more personal interaction.


Where Social HR Can Fail
Employers that fail to tailor precisely to their own teams will likely achieve poor results. Platforms need to serve content creators and content recipients. The quality of content is critical. An already emerging downfall is the use of cookie-cutter information, rather than the unique toolsets critical for unique employers and unique employer brands. The key to success will be the creation and deployment of custom resources and policies. Those that focus only on the technology and under-attend quality of content and adaptation will fail. 

While each organization has its own subcompanies and subcultures of varying peoples with varying tech savvy and learning preferences, HR deliveries of the future will need to keep up with simultaneously serving each employee. We're already seeing certain HR departments boasting the best “bells and whistles” without proper consideration to the utilization needs of each individual employee. While entertainment is known to heighten engagement, our learning survey respondents chose quality of content over entertainment 2 to 1.

Recent studies have shown that more people own iPhones than any other phone on the planet, so many HR teams will want to address mobile apps for the popular phone of the day. However, technology can't be a foreign language to employees. It must tailor to the specific audience, and it must simplify content updates. Additionally, varying media updates must align. The hard print binder in the corner needs to be updated at the very moment of the smart phone update. 


What Does This Mean to Employers
Social HR is not a fad; it's the way of the future. This natural evolution promises to deliver great outcomes. Employers need to begin research now, assess tech comfort of employees and proceed in specific alignment with unique demographic characteristics and company resources. This progression is a movement of gradual change, to be followed and reassessed no less than annually. Not all employers should dive in head first, but missed opportunities will result for those who don't at least dip a toe in the water and keep an eye on the tide.
 

Recognized by the U.S. Patent Office, HRS has been bringing HR technology inventions every decade since the 1980s. We pledge more pioneering and ongoing topic research. As your company continues in its unique technological journey, keep us in the loop as a worthy partner. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, January 31, 2015

 





Is The Talent Gap Overstated?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and recount the mindset of our society:

The year is 2009. The economy is in a massive struggle, and it is still trending downward. We see several busts, crashes, and every conceivable angle at which our financial sector could fail. Most Americans are either about to lose or have already lost a significant chunk of their life savings. Things look grim. Remember what that felt like? I’m sure you do…all too well.

It is at this time that a decree is handed out to corporate America, “Every business shall either adapt…or fail.” In order to survive during these crumbling economic times, a company had to scale back and had to become lean. Unnecessary waste and, more harshly, “unnecessary” jobs, had to be cut in order for the majority to survive and maintain their livelihoods. We all remember these times, and, chances are, most of us are still feeling the effects of these changes just a few years later.

As businesses were faced with these decisions, the ones who survived all seemed to make a common decision: just as the company had to become agile and adaptable, so did the workforce. What followed then was a decision to hire young, developable talent (a.k.a., adaptable talent). It was a smart decision; hire the young guns and develop them to be the people you will need in the future. This was not only smart because of the adaptability factor, but also because of the cost factor. Hiring a YP could be much cheaper than hiring a senior level employee.

This was such a smart decision that, as mentioned previously, numerous employers jumped on the bandwagon and made this a national trend. We saw this out of the majority of our clients here at HRS: many wanted to hire the younger, more developable, cheaper talent; it made too much sense to ignore.

Of course, the adverse effect of this was that the senior, higher trained employees became less in demand. At every turn, older workers seemed to be passed over for the younger talent. Employers no longer wanted to pay for the more experienced, more expensive talent. It wasn’t of the same value anymore, and it wasn’t as affordable (side note: this also likely explains the beginning of the YP boom, and also the analysis of the generational gap).

Our country, in unison, made the statement to a segment of our working population that all of their training, and all of their experience, was no longer valued and was no longer part of the equation to better our broken economy. Out of nowhere, U.S. workers who spent their entire career learning specific skillsets were told that they had, essentially, wasted their time. I’m sure you can understand how this would feel – or maybe this even happened to you directly.

Now, let’s fast forward to the present day: it’s 2015 and we have been in the midst of a multi-year discussion about how to fix the lack of talent and appropriate, usable knowledge base in our talent pool.

Wait…what?

What happened to those workers we passed over that had that training? What happened to hiring younger talent, and developing them ourselves? What happened to our plan?

Short answer: the knowledgeable workers have become discouraged…pun intended.

Long answer: Our economy, almost instantaneously, went from a place of choosing not to hire the senior employees, and identifying advanced skill sets as “less than preferred,” to a place where suddenly those skills don’t exist, and haven’t existed for a long time.

We went from a place of telling the experienced worker that their skills were no longer valued, to a place of telling them that they never had the skills to begin with. Talk about being discouraged…

One of either two things is happening here, Corporate America: 1) We have forgotten about the discouraged worker, and we are wondering why the young professionals don’t have the hard (or soft) skills of a seasoned professional after only a couple years, or 2) Our demand for workers’ skills is rapidly changing and outpacing our supply. We have become too ethereal and ever-changing with our ideology of the “perfect worker,” and the common population just can’t keep up with the changing trends.

Either way, Corporate America, we have grown impatient. I’m sorry to say it. We signed up for the inexperienced, developable work force. We can’t be upset now that they don’t have the skills we are looking for…when we are the ones who haven’t given it to them. Our economy spent decades’ worth of time, energy, and resources training the workers of pre-2009 to have the skills we needed. Let’s either not let that work go to waste, or acknowledge the fact that we may need a few decades (not months or single years) to embrace the change.


Let’s give our workers a break. They’re not incapable; they’re just trying to keep up.



Matthew Bare - Friday, January 30, 2015

 





Predicting the Downfall of Apple

I’ve long been a fan of Apple. Close to every piece of tech I’ve bought since 2007 has been manufactured and pioneered by the industry giant. I loved the design and ease of use of each product, and I loved how seamlessly they all worked together (The ability for me to stream my music library through my AppleTV, and subsequently through my surround sound system, and control said music by virtue of an iPhone/iPad app? Simply amazing). I believed strongly in what Apple was doing, and I would glue myself to my newsfeed every September to read about the next developments to come out of the WWDC. All of this is true; however, what would be more accurate is to say that I loved Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs was, and still is, one of my premiere business idols. But now that Steve is gone, it doesn’t seem that Apple is going to maintain. Apple is trending down.

We all know how hard it is to replace a visionary like Jobs (and yes, I feel that I can safely use the term visionary to describe him). It appears, however, that Apple didn’t even try. Apple didn’t try to find the next innovative mind to lead them, but rather brought in fiscal-minded Tim Cook to eat up the profits. Tim Cook may deliver exactly what he’s supposed to, but Apple will lose its identity in the process. The only way for Apple to save itself from what I’m about to describe is if they view Cook as a stepping stone – an intermediary until they find that next innovator.

The most recent ad from Samsung is, in my opinion, the biggest blow that Apple has taken in years. Samsung hit them right in the gut – and it hurt. (If you haven’t seen the ad that attacks the iPhone 6 – watch it here. http://mashable.com/2014/09/14/samsung-galaxy-note-4-ad/)

The statements made in this advertisement were ones that had been circulating for months surrounding the new iPhone release – all Samsung had to do was compile them into a 30-second spot and showcase it to the world. The work was done for them, but Samsung was brilliant to take it right to Apple.

How do we know that Samsung has hit Apple right in the gut? We have yet to see any response from Apple. 

Sure, we can argue that the numbers speak for themselves (over 4 million iPhones preordered at last report), but the truth is that these statements made in the Samsung commercial are RIGHT: There is nothing innovative about the new iPhone. There is nothing exciting about it other than that it is new. The best thing Apple has to say about the new model is that it’s bigger and better than the old model. Apple has completely missed the innovation train for the first time since Jobs’ return in the late 1990s. It has lost its competitive edge.

Apple is trending down. Apple positioned itself to focus primarily on the phone and tablet market, and all they did was copy their biggest competitor. Apple was once in position to lead and “front run” this market for eternity – they could have always been the first mover and leave everyone else playing catch up, and it’s completely unflattering for them to now simply copy someone else.

I fear that Apple is losing focus of who they are (see the recent discontinuation of the iPod classic for reasoning of that opinion, which is a completely different diatribe). Apple’s innovation was certainly tied to that of Steve Jobs, but they don’t need to repeat the innovation of Jobs. They can be innovative in new ways. There are always ways to take a shot at something new and creative – even if you swing and miss – but, right now, Apple isn’t even picking up the bat.

If they don’t move on from Cook in the long run and get back to their innovative ways… Apple is going down.

- Matthew Bare, HRS CRO, September 22, 2014


Will Apple Rebrand and Re-posture?

Apple can do this! While this giant clearly appears to be floundering, having abandoned the original identity without clearly defining a new identity, record-breaking sales validate that consumers are buying tickets to see what happens next… even if it’s a train wreck. Inasmuch as every point Matt makes needs to be noted, second or third-mover status often wins, and this could be Apple’s “next big thing” or alter-ego. They have time and resources to turn this into a “win,” but will they?

First-mover status put Apple on the map, but second-mover status can posture for improved market share. HRS and other visionary companies are typically the inventors of the next great thing, but giant companies successfully thrive upon monitoring competition and knocking off ideas on larger volume scale. Likely, the absence of Steve Jobs is felt and the former brand is no longer viable. Is Apple changing its model by design or disaster?

The Apple brand is blurry now, but record-breaking sales are a great platform from which to fix it. Will they re-posture successfully? If enough of us point out the pending disaster, will they react? Time will tell. In the meantime, I love my new iPhone 6, and I have to say… it’s not for the lack of invention it offers, but rather the sleek “shiny new thing” feeling that Apple is so great at delivering.
- Jessica Ollenburg, HRS CEO

They key team at HRS always delivers multi-perspective thought leadership. Diverse knowledge bases of critical information and the six hats of thinking come together for big picture understanding and adaptability to unique employer case studies. 



The Team At HRS - Monday, September 29, 2014

 





Hit the Curve: Business Diagnostics Through Baseball

On the night of August 17th, 2012, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton stepped up to the plate with his team losing 5-4 to the Colorado Rockies. It was a game between two last place teams well into the Major League Baseball season, and few people around the country were likely to witness what was about to happen. 

Stanton was facing a young pitcher by the name of Josh Roenicke who was fairly effective in his role – keeping opposing batters off base. He was even more effective at an even more important role, preventing opposing batters from hitting a home run. He was a valuable piece to the Rockies bullpen, and a valued team member. After falling to a 1-2 count, Roenicke looked to have Stanton exactly where he wanted him…on the verge of an out, and on the verge of meeting his goal.

This is when the magic happened. Giancarlo Stanton sent the very next pitch deep into the bleachers in Left-Center field. The distance? An estimated 494 feet away. The longest home run in the majors since one of equal distance was hit in 2009. The pitch?

A curveball.

Why should it matter that a young player on a struggling baseball team hit a ball so far? Why should we care? This story matters because it illustrates something that we lose focus of all the time…

You don’t need to go after the fastball. You don’t need to swing at that pitch that’s straight and coming right at you. In fact, those pitches can often be the ones that are most enticing for pitchers to get batters to swing and miss at. In essence, they could be a “decoy.” The lesson here is that you don’t always have to lock in on the fastball.

Sometimes, it’s best to swing at the curveball.

Sometimes, that curve is going to give you the best opportunity to get a hit all day. At first, the curveball may shock you. You may not know exactly where it’s going. You may even get scared. However, if you do what Stanton did, if you size that pitch up and roll with it, you can hit that ball further than anyone else has ever dreamed of doing. You can not only meet your goals, but greatly surpass them.

When you’re strategizing and laying out your action plan, the standard inclination is to avoid the curves and focus only on what you know – the fastballs. We do this because the “fastballs” are exactly what we know them to be. We know exactly how fast and in what direction they’ll be coming in, and we’ll look to swing for the fences. We’ll look to tackle these incoming hurdles even if they’re well out of our comfort zone, because we know what they are. Sometimes, when you’re at the plate, the fastballs will all be garbage, but it’s the curveball that will provide the greatest opportunity for reward. You need to watch every pitch, you can’t ignore the fastballs, but you can’t ignore that curve.
You may think that it’s a wild card without any rhyme or rhythm, but it may just wind up being a slow, hanging pitch that you can knock right out of the park. The curveball may wind up being your greatest gift.

Let’s look at this using another analogy – language. The average person may be given the best, most helpful advice on the entire planet. However, if the advice were presented in a foreign language, we wouldn’t even blink twice at it. We would let it slip right past us. Why? Because we didn’t recognize it.

We as people tend to stick with only that which we know – the fastballs – and ignore what we don’t – the curve. What we need to remind ourselves of is that we’re missing so many opportunities by ignoring the curves. We may be missing a vital piece of information or a once in a lifetime opportunity that will give us our true “home run.”

We all need to do a better job of recognizing what is coming our way. Don’t just sit there and wait for the fastball when it may never come. Analyze what’s coming your way, recognize your opportunity, and hit the curve.



Article by Matthew Bare, HRS AVP. Summary Bio. 


Matthew Bare - Wednesday, June 04, 2014

 





C-Suite Edge: Keeping HR Eye-Level, Evaluating Partners and Rewarding Top Talent for Optimum ROI

No matter the organizational headcount, C-suite executives must focus due diligence upon talent management, workforce ROI and legal compliance. For any labor intensive organization, the keys to success rely upon increased workforce productivity, astute risk management and surgically cut talent dollars. In doing so, idle time, legal costs, under-utilization and any such wasteful spending must be avoided. Expert solutions exist and are catching on quickly. Those not paying attention will be left behind.

Employment law is ever-changing and requires daily research. Beyond pure legal advice, legal compliance experts need to deploy business acumen, organizational psychology and aligned mission commitment to deliver best decision tools and implementations. Top executives are earning spectacular ROI and competitive edge by finding their own perfect internal-external partnership balance. Some are outsourcing it all, but better options exist.

The options promoted here do not involve the outsourcing of the employment relationship. For many, outsourcing employees can be counterproductive to ROI. Employees want to feel part of a team, and in today’s world of “pay without play” where some label work a “choice,” employees often deliver commitment only with reciprocity and incentive. In many environments, outsourcing employees can be an expedient method of deteriorating engagement and productivity. Keeping workforce on the payroll and outsourcing certain or all HR management, however, can be a collaborative win for the entire organization. 

Third party expert operations have long been enjoyed by employers of all sizes and cultures. Employers under 200 are eligible to partner for all HR operations. Employers of limitless size find third party partnership extremely beneficial for talent assessment, education, compliance certification and change leadership. Most employers will attain betterment through a stable, highly competent and dedicated HR team, rather than revolving part-time talent with limited versatility. Employers who embrace external experts enjoy competitive edge and visionary foresight. Top quality is accessed with keen cost control, unbiased expertise, widespread case study and flexible utilization.

As we re-evaluate the HR team, workforce headcount only matters so much. For the average employer, the optimal team is comprised of functional management plus specialists and support under the direction of a Chief HR Operating Officer (CHRO), a right hand to the CEO. CHROs can be internal or external partners. An established CHRO already succeeding is always to be treasured and protected, as premier talent is undoubtedly rare and worthy of appreciation.

When selecting a professional consultant as CHRO, employers should seek quick adaptability, C-suite proven excellence, vast third party expertise and, of course, flexible utilization for cost control.  HR practitioners for top partner firms never stop learning, growing, embracing and delivering new value. Among many other deliverables, they bridge gaps and engage workforce into the company’s mission. CHROs should facilitate a highly effective and well-aligned supporting team.

Delivering fiscal due diligence, the average cost of third party partnership is less than the average cost of internalized operations. Done well, spectacular ROI is expected year one and builds substantially in consecutive years.  Through selection of the right partner organization, the HR team stays in place, benefiting from learning curve balanced with constantly emerging fresh ideas and case studies. Access to dedicated expert talent on demand without idle time is a steadfast cost reduction and quality optimization technique. Impartial third party experts avoid bias and deliver information with enhanced credibility. Everyone wins.

In some organizations, CHRO and CFO responsibilities are merged. This yields mixed results. Merging CHRO and CFO roles can produce conflict of interest or limited perspective; however, both CHRO and CFO need a clear grasp of fiscal prudence, organizational psychology and legal compliance. Ideally, each of these practitioners is ready to deploy as needed but never underutilized. Neither role should be subservient to the other.

Some fabulous internal HR leaders exist in today’s companies, and many of them are existing or future HRS clients. They call upon preferred partners for compliance, talent assessment, education, decision tools, case studies, affirmative defense and third party expertise. Astute business leaders recognize these top performers and keep them engaged with incentive and growth. Partner organizations deliver the tools and opportunities for such growth. 

Cookie cutter solutions are abused, overused and rarely appropriate in HR. Every employer is unique across widespread criteria, including but not limited to company brand, culture, history, demographics, business model and keys to success. Accredited consultants deliver the ability to assess and tailor programs which plug into these unique paradigms. Those who devote only to a single employer at a time and/or “job hop” do not necessarily deliver the third party expertise necessary to capture success opportunities.

While the essentials are somewhat universal, today’s business leaders enjoy a healthy range of HR options. Whether enjoying premier internal talent, premier external talent or a custom blend of the two, HR is never a remedial function. The HR function should be in the hands of those who deliver extraordinary legal knowledge, fiscal due diligence, talent management, lifelong learning for leaders, policy establishment, organizational communications, conflict reduction, operational efficiency and forward thinking, to name a few. HR is an executive function which, done poorly, can decimate an organization… and when done well, delivers impactful ROI, business sustainability and critical risk management. Today’s top executives keep it eye-level and empower extraordinary partners.

 

Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Chief Empowerment Officer. Summary Bio. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, May 05, 2014

 





Building a Rock-Star Employer Brand with Glimmering Engagement Tactics

As the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest not only presents rock stars, but also presents a rock-star employer brand worthy of spotlight and emulation. While the widget shop next door might not enjoy intrinsic stardom, the same techniques that reinforce and sustain Summerfest’s brand are those that can make any employer shine. Successful talent management aligns with successful employer branding. 

We spoke with Eric Heinritz, Director of Food & Beverage Operations for Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. (MWF), parent organization to Summerfest. Heinritz offered us some of his leadership team’s most successful talent engagement tools, and these keys to success are accessible by every employer. Too many employers, however, continue to miss these opportunities.

As Dallas-based strategy, marketing and brand expert Dar Hackbarth describes it, “You have a brand whether you want one or not. Your brand, simply put, is not your logo or your advertising tagline; it is instead how people perceive you.” Brand management relies upon daily leadership commitment and so much more. Hackbarth continues, “The good news is that you don’t have to book Prince, Foo Fighters or Tim McGraw to create a rock-star perception about your workplace.”

Milwaukee Word Festival hires a few thousand quality seasonal employees each year and gets it done successfully. The organization's empowerment of the year-round team creates a magnetic culture. "It can be difficult to find organizations that are willing to loosen the reins and truly empower their employees.  Empowerment is often laid out as lip service or what I like to call the 'faux empowerment tactic'," offers Heinritz. "The employee should be integral to a decision making process that affects his or her actual job, not simply put on a committee that plans the annual holiday party or organizes the company softball team. If an employee does not feel a true sense of ownership, they are not truly empowered and are not as likely to be fully invested in the job."


Align with the External Brand.

Hackbarth reinforces that a company’s workforce is key to a strong, believable external brand. “People are the most powerful brand touchpoint you have. They are likely the most frequent and in-depth medium via which you interact with customers. You can try to change your brand through different graphics or words, advertising or social media, but if your people are saying and doing one thing while your words and graphics are saying another, you lose.” He observed that Summerfest does a good job of interweaving its longtime smiley-face logo within the smiling, happy demeanor of its employees. “Summerfest markets itself as a happy place to be, and they do a nice job of educating their employees to be living embodiment of that smiling brand.” He continues, “Neither good external messaging nor educated people come first; neither is more important than the other. Rather, it is the ‘chicken and the egg together’ that make a branding strategy successful.”


Listen to Employees.

"Listening sessions are another great tool. Not only are you going to discover the common issues that the team struggles with, you will also likely gain some fresh ideas," delivers Heinritz.  "The best listening sessions are those that are not run by a team's direct supervisors.  The team is most likely to open up and freely share concerns and ideas when that intimidation is removed.  It may be necessary to utilize an experienced moderator who will be able to keep the group focused on practical criticism and foster those fresh ideas." 

To Eric's point, third party facilitated learning sessions continue to emerge in popularity. With an unbiased expert deployed, the meeting has structure and contribution without fear of reprisal. HRS regularly substitutes roundtables in lieu of seminars. The participation not only elicits important team ideas but also delivers empowerment and augments learning. Further supporting participation, most people are not auditory learners but rather kinesthetic learners. Heinritz adds, "Most importantly, these listening sessions will require follow through by management." Leadership response and positive energy are the building blocks to successful consecutive sessions.  

Listening can also be in written form, and employee surveys have been widely used by countless employers over many, many decades. Heinritz discusses his company's survey success. "The addition of an employee survey last year proved to be one of the most powerful and impactful tools we have implemented in years.”  Well-crafted surveys can evaluate processes, leadership protocol and team effectiveness. Surveys can be voluntary and better present themselves as an employee benefit where voluntary. However, those reluctant to volunteer can be just as or more important to contribute.  Heinritz tells us the MWF survey was voluntary and offered protected anonymity, along with an option for further discussion with management. When crafting a survey, be certain to add only those questions employees are qualified to answer and management is willing to address. We caution against questions calling forth evaluation of practices outside respondents' knowledge base. However, well-crafted questions that anticipate response can assess impact upon employee engagement, and well-crafted questions manage expectations of potential outcomes.  Similar to 360 reviews, language and anonymity must be carefully considered.


Build your Brand into your Employees’ DNA.

Taking the idea of employees as brand missionaries further, Hackbarth added that “the best companies bake their external brand into their core employee values,” He cited Harley-Davidson as an example of a company that does this well. “Most people intuitively get the Harley brand. What they likely don’t know is that the brand has its roots within five core company values: tell the truth, be fair, keep your promises, respect the individual, and encourage intellectual curiosity. These operating values are ingrained internally, they emanate outward from employees, they interweave into marketing efforts, and the world then sees them as the encouragement of freedom and straightforward American values, values we’ve come to associate with Hogs and denim.”

Hackbarth also cited an aviation company he worked with to help rebuild their external brand “from the employee out.” The company developed several ongoing education sessions to emphasize the ideas of brand selling, brand service, and daily brand behavior. These sessions were mandatory for new and long-time employees alike. The company reinforced the training by creating a quarterly recognition program in which rank-and-file employees nominated each other for specific acts of exemplifying the brand. “Sales and customer satisfaction numbers increased measurably as a result,” he said. “There are significant bottom-line benefits to having a workforce that all walks the talk.”


Employer Brand Management Delivers ROI.

Employers like Summerfest understand that getting their employees involved creates success for all. Techniques like the ones mentioned above are universal keys to success and have been studied and validated for more than half a century.

An employee who volunteers to weigh in on his or her own departmental tasks should certainly be heard; that employee repetitively performs a task first-hand and is therefore integral to decision tools in process design. Not only is that information valuable to process evaluation, but the employee will also feel substantially valued.

HRS has been “rocking” employee involvement training for more than 30 years, starting with Quality Circles in the early 1980's. We continue to deliver programs such as these herein, and we've had the good fortune of educational collaborations with many top employers including Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Hackbarth summarizes, “If you create ways to align your external brand with your employer brand, and nurture employees who become a living embodiment of your external brand, you’ll amplify everyone’s perception of you and turn the volume up on your bottom line.” Hackbarth has guided countless employers in turning their brands “up to 11.”


For more information regarding our feature experts, please visit summary bios for each...

Eric Heinritz

Dar Hackbarth

Jessica Ollenburg


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, March 05, 2014