Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers


Using Big Data in Human Resources

What if companies knew as much about their employees as they knew about their customers? That is the provocative question at the heart of The Decoded Company — a book written by a group of entrepreneurs connected to a technology-driven health care marketing agency called Klick Health. Klick Health CEO Leerom Segal and his co-authors are great believers in the potential of big data — the myriad of information that is quietly and continuously collected from you as you go about your business as a consumer. Surprisingly, while companies have near-unanimously embraced the use of big data technology for their customers, very few attempt to find out more about their employees.

Three Principles

Using their own experiences as leaders of a fast-growing technology company, the authors describe in their book three fundamental principles for decoding your organization — that is, truly understanding in real time the individual skills, motivations and successes of employees, recognizing the challenges they face, and supporting each individual or groups of individuals as needed.

  • Principle 1: Technology as a Coach and a Trainer. According to the authors, most organizations use technology as a referee rather than as a coach. Technology allows companies to monitor what employees are doing and to whistle the fouls when they fall behind or fail. In decoded companies, technology is a      trainer and coach — preparing employees for the game (to continue the metaphor), then watching from the sidelines and jumping in to coach as      needed. One coaching idea proposed by the authors is the hiring of a “concierge” — someone who might use some of the traditional HR tools, such as career counseling or performance reviews, but whose one and only goal is to design a customized solution for each employee that helps them perform and grow. Technology as a trainer, the authors explain, means using “data and systems to watch blind spots, identify teachable moments, and proactively intervene with just-in-time training.”


  • Principle 2: Informed Intuition. The second principle is that technology does not replace but rather augments the intuition of leaders born from their      experience and knowledge, thus allowing them to make better decisions. The      capture of ambient data — ongoing information about what employees are doing or saying — is vital. (One example of the creation of ambient data is your Facebook activity. Facebook tracks with whom you communicate on their site, how often, from where and through which method, such as posting or chat message. This ambient data determines which Facebook friends end up on your newsfeed.) After analyzing a combination of ambient data and selected self-reported data, such as performance self-evaluations or monthly results, managers in decoded companies use their intuition to seek solutions to employee challenges. Bank of America discovered that the performance of call-center employees improved based on whom they talked to  during overlapping lunches. The bank thus decided to create more opportunities for employee conversations by changing a policy that had restricted overlapping breaks.


  • Principle 3: Engineered Ecosystems. The third principle is to use data to set up the culture and the environment that enables employees to work at their highest levels. Engineered ecosystems are both data-driven and talent-centric. For example, the authors describe how Google — which, as the company that tested 41 shades of blue for one of its toolbars, is notoriously data-driven — launched a major initiative to identify the most important traits for its managers. The results seemed at first less than earth-shattering: The eight identified traits included not micromanaging, expressing interest in employees’ success, having a vision and a strategy, and having the technical skills to advise the team. The data, however, not only identified the traits but also ranked their importance, and this is where Google’s leaders uncovered a truth about its culture that was contrary to everything they believed: technical expertise, once thought to be the keystone of a great Google manager, is the least important trait that a manager can have. Everything else comes first.

While Segal and his co-authors use Google and numerous other companies in a variety of industries as examples, it is their own success at Klick Healthcare that make The Decoded Company an authoritative, balanced and real-world exploration of the human resources potential of big data.

Who Needs an Office These Days?


Office Not Required

How am I going to know my employees are really working? Won’t those in the office be jealous? What if I need an answer now? These are just some of the excuses that opponents of remote work advance as they resist what Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson argue is the most effective and promising way to manage people. Fried and Hansson should know: As co-founders of software company 37Signals, they have 36 partners spread around the world serving millions of users. In their new book, Remote, they clearly advance the advantages of a virtual workforce while forcefully responding to those who can’t let go of the traditional office.

Are They Really Working?

For many leaders and business owners afraid of remote work, the main objection is that workers will “slack off” if not supervised. According to the authors, this fear reveals a much bigger problem. Specifically, it reveals that the manager sees him- or herself as not much more than a babysitter – which does not portend well for the organization. To put it bluntly, if managers act like babysitters, employees will respond in kind, the authors write. “People have an amazing ability to live down to low expectations. If you run your ship with the conviction that everyone’s a slacker, your employees will put all their ingenuity into proving you right. If you view those who work under you as capable adults who will push themselves to excel even when you’re not breathing down their necks, they’ll delight you in return.”

In fact, as the authors argue in a later chapter, managing remote employees increases the focus of the employee’s performance on the actual work for which he or she is responsible. Performance measurement in traditional work environments can be diverted by factors that don’t involve the true productivity of the employee. Did the employee arrive at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m.? Is he wearing appropriate attire for the office? These are not the questions that managers of remote employees ask. Instead, they are focused on the employee’s work results: Did he finish the report on time? Is her sales team improving their closing ratios? Remote work doesn’t enable slacking off – you can’t disguise lack of productivity; but it does refocus the manager’s attention on what’s important.

Some Trade-offs

The authors aren’t starry-eyed zealots about remote work, nor are they academics examining the virtual workplace as a theoretical construct. They recognize the advantages and potential of remote work but also recognize that there can be some trade-offs. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to your manager in person or sit in a room with your colleagues brainstorming on the next big idea.

Discipline is a big commitment, more than you realize. And interruptions are going to happen – it’s hard to say no to your child showing you the “A” on his homework.

But with technology and the right management – for example, holding weekly virtual meetings where people can give an informal report on their week – the tradeoffs can be mitigated, and the full benefits of virtual work can be enjoyed by employees and organizations alike.

Of course, there will always be some bosses who steadfastly believe remote employees means total loss of control. In such cases, the employee looking for virtual work employment has but one choice: to look elsewhere. In the end, it’s the company that loses.

Emotions in the Workplace

We’ve all heard the news stories about the employee or former employee who, in a fit of anger, shoots up the workplace, killing or wounding those they used to work with. While this is not a common occurrence, the damage caused by emotions in the workplace is. The tensions and dysfunction directly affect the bottom line of the company.

Dr. Vali Hawkins Mitchell cautions C-Suite Executives and Line Managers that ignoring the impact of employee emotions in the workplace is a recipe for disaster. Dr. Mitchell’s important work in the rising field of Emotional Continuity Management (ECM) clearly outlines how emotionally-charged situations, when mismanaged or unaddressed, can have a calculable, direct impact on the fiscal bottom line. She also offers clear steps for a company to take to train all employees for dealing with emotions in an appropriate and effective way.

We have invited Dr. Mitchell to join our Soundview Live webinar on December 3rd to provide guidance in dealing with the inevitable emotions that occur when people work in close quarters over an extended period of time. If you would like to avoid this kind of disaster in your workplace, then please join us for this important event.

As always, Soundview subscribers attend for free, and for all others the cost is just $49 for a full hour of analysis and advice on this important topic. Please register today for The Cost of Emotions in the Workplace.

A Must-Have Handbook For Human Resources


Hiring, Firing, Performance
Evaluations, Documentation, Benefits, and Everything Else You Need to Know

One of the core challenges faced by human resource managers is a constantly changing regulatory environment that requires vigilant monitoring. In addition to the notifications and news from government and professional websites, books such as the second edition of Max Muller’s The Manager’s Guide to HR can be invaluable in updating you on the latest HR developments as well as providing a comprehensive overview of the human resources function. This new edition of Muller’s book now includes:

  • Information on amendments to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • An overview of the differences between the IRS’s definition of a contractor and the different definition, based on the “ABC Test,” that is followed by 23 states.
  • A new section on using the Internet for background checks.
  • Updated recordkeeping requirements related to the Genetic Information      Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

From Hiring to Privacy

As evidenced by the sample of updates listed above, this book is a comprehensive manual that dives into the specific laws and regulations governing 21st-century human resources. Muller also takes apart each function of HR (hiring, training, benefits, compensation, firing and separation), carefully explaining in detail the tasks and responsibilities that must be carried out.

Muller’s first chapter on hiring is typical of the book. It begins with a discussion on creating a complete job description, which he says should be based on interviews with incumbents — people who have held the job before and who know better than anyone what’s required. Muller includes a chart listing 26 core competencies that should be covered in these incumbent interviews. Once the job description is created and the job is posted, Muller tells his readers what to look for in the applications received from candidates — from the overall appearance of the application (are there misspellings?) to gaps or overlaps in employment. Another chart in the chapter covers 16 topic areas that can fall under the bias rules governing job interviews. The chart differentiates between what is acceptable to ask and what is not. For “national origin,” the guide suggests it’s OK to ask what languages a candidate speaks, but not about the national origin of the employee, his parents or wife.

In addition to the standard HR areas mentioned above, Muller dedicates a chapter each to sexual harassment and workplace violence, employment laws, privacy issues, and documentation and record retention. One of the most difficult areas for employers to deal with involves privacy issues. Muller notes there is no single definitive set of laws that delineate the boundaries of privacy. His chapter on privacy issues offers some guidelines based on laws governing consumer reports, criminal and social media background checks, medical information collected during the hiring process and email and Internet monitoring. In many cases, acquiring consent from the employee is recommended. One important takeaway from this chapter is the tendency for companies to implement overly broad social media policies — such as (but not limited to) prohibitions against disparagement, the use of logos and photographs “depicting the company in any way” — that would be considered unlawful by the National Labor Relations Board.

Despite the overwhelming complexity of its subject, The Manager’s Guide to HR is not only balanced and authoritative, but it is also concise and clearly organized — a valuable manual for HR directors and personnel in any organization.

The Keys to Leadership and Innovation

It’s always a challenge to find, train and keep good talent. In our current economic climate companies need top-notch leaders to provide vision and keep things moving, but they also need really creative people to instill innovation in the very fiber of the company.

Next week’s webinars promise to deliver on both counts. Emmanuel Gobillot will be talking about how to develop leaders that people want to follow, and Nolan Bushnell and Gene Stone will be discussing how to attract and keep creative people.

What Great Leaders Have that Great Followers Want – Emmanuel Gobillot

Most leadership models start with trying to identify what great leaders do. Instead, leadership expert Emmanuel Gobillot answers the question “what do great followers want?”

In this Soundview Live webinar, What Great Leaders Have that Great Followers Want, Gobillot will identify the key elements of leadership success and the proven pathways to developing the charisma we all seek in the leaders who truly inspire and motivate. He will break down charisma into eight critical elements, explaining how each component works and offering practical development steps for each. Getting these steps right will transform good leaders into magnets for great followers.

How to Find and Keep Creative Talent – Nolan Bushnell & Gene Stone

The only way to handle the constant change in today’s business world is to have a staff of wildy creative people who live as much in the future as the present, who thrive on being different, and whose ideas guarantee that your company will prosper when other companies fail.

In this Soundview Live webinar, How to Find and Keep Creative Talent, Silicon Valley legend Nolan Bushnell and author Gene Stone will explain how to find and hire employees who have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs. Their advice is constantly counterintuitive, suprising and atypical.

So whether the current staff challenge in your company is around leadership or innovation, you’ll want to join us for these two excellent webinars. And bring along you questions for the live Q&A.