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Best HR Ideas for HR Technology

The editors of HRE announce their choices of the most noteworthy HR ideas for HR technology that were launched last year.

Monday, March 1, 2010
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Social Network for Displaced Workers

USAA, San Antonio

Social-networking technology is being applied to a variety of HR disciplines, especially when recruiting new talent. But as USAA recently demonstrated, Web 2.0 can also be an excellent tool for assisting displaced workers.

Last February, the provider of insurance and other financial services to military personnel and their families announced it would consolidate its real estate by closing its Sacramento, Calif., operation and most of its offices in Norfolk, Va. Roughly 1,100 of the company's 22,000 employees were affected.

In an effort to retain the displaced workers, the company built a social-networking site aimed at connecting those affected with one another as well as with employees at corporate headquarters or in other cities with USAA branches.

Discussion boards were set up for each of the unaffected offices, so displaced workers could pose questions to co-workers in those communities about schools, child care, real estate and other issues before deciding whether or not to move. Further, employees in other cities were encouraged to reach out to the displaced workers.

So, was the initiative a success? In the end, the networking site received "hundreds of thousands of hits," reports Chris Olson, USAA's executive director of strategic internal communications. And more importantly, by the time the offices in Sacramento and Norfolk closed this past September, 54 percent of the displaced workers had decided to relocate.

The Wiki Project

U.S. Army, Arlington, Va.

When it comes to ensuring that your firm's policies and procedures are up-to-date, getting input from employees with hard-won field experience can be priceless.

Like most military entities, the U.S. Army is far more hierarchical than the typical civilian company. Nevertheless, it decided to break with precedent by encouraging its soldiers to take an active role in updating several field manuals.

As we reported last summer, the Army unrolled a 90-day "wiki" program that invited approximately 140,000 soldiers of all ranks to make real-time wiki updates to the Army's tactics, techniques and procedures. The Army's wiki platform was set up on Army Knowledge Online -- the military branch's intranet -- using the same software as the online Wikipedia encyclopedia.

Soldiers who have access to the Army intranet can contribute to seven field manuals on subjects such as Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Cold Weather Operations. As with Wikipedia, comments may appear immediately and are monitored; unlike Wikipedia, all comments must be signed. If the project is a success, another 200 field manuals may be "wikified."

"By opening up these documents to updates by users, we will be able to stay more current with best practices being used in the field," says Clinton Ancker, director of the Army's Combined Arms Center, which partnered with other training organizations within the Army to create the wiki project.

Retention Prediction Algorithm

Google Inc., Mountain View, Calif.

As we reported last summer, Google has developed an algorithm designed to identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit. The company isn't the first to develop an HR-related algorithm -- large companies have been using statistical models for decades to determine which of their employees are most likely to leave. What's unique about Google's algorithm is that it incorporates a wider range of variables than those that have traditionally been used, says Douglas Klein, president of Sirota Survey Intelligence in Purchase, N.Y.

"Google is casting a much wider net, looking at things like promotion and pay histories, performance appraisals and other kinds of HR and non-HR elements that haven't traditionally been used in these sorts of things -- it's pretty unique," says Klein.

Jordan Newman, a spokesman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, says the company is no longer commenting publicly about the algorithm. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google had suffered an exodus of top talent. The new algorithm, using data from employee pay and promotion histories as well as performance reviews, helps the company "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave," Laszlo Bock, Google's vice president of HR, told the WSJ.

Dr. Jac Fitz-enz, himself a pioneer in HR metrics, calls Google's algorithm "very exciting."

"This is what we've been talking about in terms of predictive management," he says.

Even better, other companies don't necessarily need to purchase expensive applications in order to replicate Google's algorithm, says Fitz-enz. "If you hire a couple of statisticians, they can help you develop an algorithm for your own organization," he says.

Feedback and Engagement Initiative

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Washington

If the findings of the 2006 and 2008 Federal Human Capital Surveys were any indication, the HR office of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had some serious gaps to fill in its communication pipeline.

Granted, not all of the CBP's 60,000 employees responded to the survey. But of those who did, a significant number expressed dissatisfaction with a number of factors, including inadequate feedback from supervisors regarding performance and a lack of top-down communication to the group's diverse workforce.

Armed with survey findings, Christine E. Gaugler, the CBP's newly appointed assistant commissioner of the Office of Human Resources Management, set out to address these issues with a series of programs and products.

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One was a performance feedback video, which used real-world vignettes to provide more than 7,000 supervisors with guidance on how to give effective day-to-day feedback. It attracted nearly 8,500 visitors in two months.

Others included a Customer Response Interactive Service, giving employees the ability to receive "one-stop" assistance for their HR-related issues; and a "Most Valuable Perspective" survey tool featured on CBP's intranet, giving employees the ability to comment on specific issues.

"We had to find a way to reach out and respond to ... our highly dispersed workforce," Gaugler says. Through third-party solutions, the CBP has been able to do just that.

Electronic Passport for New Hires

Paetec Corp., Fairport, N.Y.

At Paetec, it's all about helping new hires feel connected to "the mothership."

That refers to the company's new onboarding program, in which employees receive an "electronic passport" and are matched with a "co-pilot" to help get them up to speed and acquainted with the corporate culture so they can become productive members of the team more quickly, says Director of Talent Acquisition Jody Stolt.

"We have offices scattered throughout the United States, and we wanted to make sure each new hire has a strong sense of what we're all about," she says.

Each new hire at Paetec (a 4,000-employee telecommunications company based in Fairport, N.Y.) is matched to a co-pilot and presented with an electronic passport. Co-pilots help ensure the new hires complete each item on the passport, which includes links to each page on the company's intranet containing information on benefits, company policies and procedures, training and information on the company's culture.

"It's easy to feel connected to our culture when you work at headquarters -- the 'mothership,' " says Stolt. "But when you're based far away, it's a little harder. So this bridges the gap."

Co-pilots, who are selected by the new employees' supervisors and are provided with some online training, are enthusiastic about the program and the feedback from new hires has been very positive, says Stolt. Then there's a bonus for both: Once the passport is completed, they're awarded points from Paetec's internal rewards program, which can be applied toward items such as iPods or flat-screen TVs.

See the 2010 Best HR Ideas.

See also:

Contextualizing Cleverness

Worst HR Ideas

The Architecture of Change

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