InetSoft Webinar: Number Eight – Worthless HR Metrics

This is the continuation of the transcript on "Top Ten Business Intelligence Mistakes” hosted by InetSoft. The speaker is Christopher Wren, Principal Consultant at TFI Consulting.

Number eight, worthless HR metrics. These are even worse than the customer ones. What I typically see in the people section are balanced scorecards or dashboards. Most organizations track employee turnover attrition. Is turnover necessarily a bad thing?

Do you ever have somebody leave and everyone went, man I am glad that guy left? Productivity went up by 28% when he left because everybody hated him and was a lousy boss but HR puts the same dot for turnover for somebody you are glad that left with someone you are devastated at the loss of, someone who’s been there for 28 years and irreplaceable.

So I think that’s a pretty useless measure in most cases. The other thing we do employee satisfaction or the new buzz word engagement is surveys. Remember the client I told you about that had the culture problem? The medical device manufacturers are too cheap to measure employee satisfaction every year because it costs a lot of money for these surveys.

As a result, they do it every other year. So every 24 months, they get a data point. This is a company that used to be listed in Fortune magazine’s 100 best employers in America. For a long time, they were in the top 50 but eventually dropped to 75 and then 82.

After about a year and half ago, they just fell off the list. So they are no longer on the list of the 100 best companies to work for in America.

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So I went back there to work with them and I asked them if they were taking this seriously. They said they were. They told me they had all these teams working non-stop. They had a recognition team, some other teams, and they were working on all these projects to try to improve employee morale. I asked them how that was coming along. They responded by saying we don’t know, we have to wait another 19 months to get another data point.

Is it possible that they could be spinning their wheels for 19 months? Of course they can. They could be wasting a lot of time and energy in all these stupid teams, projects, and initiatives by spending money on plaques and pins and whatever. Its nonsense what they’re going to do and it can adversely impact employee morale.

So if you’re going to measure something about employee morale, you might want to do it a little more often than once a year or at least every other year because people’s morale changes on a daily or hourly basis, doesn’t it? Maybe you’re having a pretty good day today until you got some email and all of a sudden your day was not so good anymore.

So I have a client that came up with this approach and a number of my other clients have adopted this as well. They measure employee morale on a daily basis; it’s a very low tech approach. When you go home at night, you drop a marble in a vase based on how your day was. There’s a big bowl of marbles by the doors: green, red, yellow.

So if you had a really bad day today, and you’re ready to go postal, you put a red marble in the vase. If you had a pretty good day and you feel like, “Hey, I could work here for free, this is so good,” you put a green one in. If you’re a little stressed out today, you put the yellow one in there and the boss’s secretary collects all the vases and does a little spreadsheet for Bob, the boss, every morning so when he comes in, he can kind of scan the morale of his entire facility and can kind of tell which jar came from which department.

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So when he sees that there’s a lot of red marbles in engineering, he calls up the engineering manager and says, “Judy, you had a lot of problems yesterday with morale. What was going on?” Judy says, “I don’t know. I better check on it.” So Judy goes out and talks to her people and finds out what was going on.

What this system replaces is a once a year survey used to be done by university professors using his grad students, his free labor, and for a $100,000, this company got a nice notebook and PowerPoint set for a $100,000 scheme to get a data point once a year. How much do you think this whole system costs to administer? Marbles in the bowls. We used to use glass jars but what they found happening was people would look at the jars and see how other people voted and make a decision off of that. Now they use opaque vases so you can’t see what anyone else voted.

So another client of mine liked the idea but went with the Vegas theme and used poker chips instead. So every day they would put their chips in the coffee can and measure morale that way.

Now the problem with that is when you get a lot of red chips or red marbles, you don’t know why. Do you? That’s the boss’s job to go out and talk to the people and find out why. After the why, you do something about it. So that’s a very low tech system.

An example of a higher tech system is in an army group I worked with in Huntsville, Alabama. What they came up with is they do it electronically once a week when doing your timesheet. On the electronic timesheet they fill out once a week, the bottom includes how your week was on a scale of 1 to 10. One signifies you’re ready to quit, 10 means you would work here if you won a lottery and you’re independently wealthy. So everybody puts that right on their timesheet. It’s not so anonymous but people aren’t threatened by it, so that’s a much better measure than a once a year survey.

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Something else people are concerned about today is something they call intellectual capital, whether or not we have the right brain power, knowledge, skills, and competencies. When I was working with the corps of engineers, I said that’s our biggest challenge because they came up with an early retirement package a few years ago and encouraged all their grey hair people to walk out the door. What they realized later on is it wasn’t a very smart thing to do. The grey haired people really knew a lot and so now they have to hire them back as consultants for a lot more money and so they said we needed an intellectual capital gauge on our dashboard that measured the knowledge and competencies of our workforce in order to avoid that mistake again. Everybody agreed to it. So I said all right.

Once we got into the intellectual capital gauge, one guy said I think we should measure the education level of our people. Somebody else said I don’t think that’s at all correlated with competence because I have two PhDs on my staff and they are both dead from the neck up and I have a woman on my staff that never went to college and was a C student in high school. I treat her any day than these two PhDs. As a result, we crossed off education as a measure of competence.

Somebody else suggested we measure seniority. How long you’ve been in the field is a measure of your level of competence. Somebody else said no. It’s not that in our department we have a couple of Road Scholars in the military but that means they’re retired on active duty. Although it means he’s been showing up for 28 years, nothing’s happened up here for about 10 of those 28 years. So we crossed off experience.

Somebody else suggested we should measure how many different jobs someone has had that shows the breadth of their experience. Somebody else said no, it doesn’t. We don’t fire anybody. All that means is you are incompetent, it needs physician and they keep moving you around. Would it be important for a group like the corps of engineers to measure intellectual capability of their staff? Yeah. They’re not hiring strong backs. They’re hiring brain power. It’s something that’s very, very difficult to measure.

What they ended up coming up with is a measure where we took every job and identified what are the competencies, technical and non-technical, for this job and then what level of expertise is needed. We came with a 1 to 10 scale. One means the level of expertise is you took a class on this in college and you have a root elementary level of knowledge about this. You could talk about it but you have no depth. The 10 means you have a high level of skill that is so good that you could do this with your eyes closed. You’re a master performer, you could write a textbook on this, and you’re outstanding at this.

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So then you look at the requirements of the job, you look at each individual and they do a gap analysis. They then say if this is what you need, this is what you got, what’s the gap? If that gap is pretty small and you have 80% of the knowledge, skills, and competencies, and you’re doing your job so that the gauge is green, we’re doing a good job. If not, then we need to drill down and figure out what we can do about it. So that’s a more intelligent way to measure whether or not you got the right people, the right skills, instead of just counting who has an advanced degree or who has 10 years experience, things like that.  So those are some ideas on some better people measures than the traditional ones.

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