HR Technology Column Buys Something Really Cool

Is your HR department still fretting and fussing for the third year over re-inventing the dreaded annual performance review with its numerical rankings? And has its two-year hysteria eased over low employee engagement, and how to measure it, let alone raise it? Well, in the midst of all these consternations, The Marcus Buckingham Co. has had some clever solutions and now ADP owns it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
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Over the last 27 years, it seems, HR's concerns about urgent and necessary innovations (beyond compliance) have run in annual cycles. Or perhaps the concerns of the chattering classes who write and talk about HR have run in those cycles. Lots of HR departments are still struggling, as you know, to get a fast, accurate corporate headcount.

Let's take the oldest concern first -- analytics -- and say no more.

More recently, concerns have been urgent about changing a performance-management process that everyone hates because, among other things, the focus is on ratings rather than improving anyone's actual performance.

Next, anxiety has run deep about employee engagement being so low -- as bad as 20 percent. So low that some employees may be actively sabotaging the company from their desks, when their heads aren't resting on them.

Most recently predictive analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and robots.

Let's focus on the second and third because we've seen real action and adoption there. A bunch of large, high-profile companies publicly discarded the performance review, and the vendor that has sold more software enabling the traditional process, SAP SuccessFactors, has put a new top on it, allowing a more modern process.

Plus, dozens of vendors have sprung up to help discover employee disengagement, though rarely offering any ways to fix it.

For the last five years, The Marcus Buckingham Co. has offered some innovative solutions to both those problems in a software package called StandOut.

It's all based on this simple life experience that most of us have had but not everyone noticed. Most of the institutions you've passed through have tried to find out what's wrong with you and then tried to fix it! Think grade school, high school, college (phys ed at the last two for me) and certainly various corporations. They focused on improving what you're bad at, rather than exercising what you're good at.

Call what you're good at your "strengths."

During his 18 years working at Gallup, before founding his eponymous company (known as TMBC), Marcus worked with the pioneer of "strength-based assessments" and then became the concept's leading evangelist with two best-selling business books: First, Break All the Rules (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press, 2001).

I found the concept personally liberating, offering intellectual justification for my avoiding doing anything I wasn't good at for the last 20 years. (Easier when you're self-employed.) And for reveling in the different parts I was good at for the HR Technology Conference & Exposition®. The owner said I had a "unique skillset." Marcus would probably call them my   strengths: made up of talents, which are innate, and combined with skills and knowledge that can be learned.

StandOut has four distinct elements that I detailed in a previous column. The easiest and most frequently copied feature is called "check-ins." Answers to two simple statements/questions (such as, "This week I had a chance to use my strengths every day") are sent online every week or two from an employee to the team leader.

It seems so simple and obvious, but consider the real-world parallel. "How ya doin'?" your boss says passing your cube in the morning. Everyone but a new hire knows the boss doesn't want a real answer to that question -- "Actually, I'm having trouble with this project, and my son has just been diagnosed with ADHD" -- so instead, your answer becomes the corporately correct, "Swell, couldn't be better!"

Suddenly, thanks to TMBC, the answers matter.

The company's senior vice president of product and technology, Heidi Spirgi, points to two spectacular success stories for StandOut. A group of hospitals totaling 16,000 employees increased engagement 83 percent in one year. A professional-services firm did even better: a 62-percent engagement increase in just 12 weeks.

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"In both, we were able to trace the root cause of the increase to the frequency of check-ins," she says.

Happily for its competitive purposes, StandOut offers a lot more, including a devilishly clever 30-question situational judgment test in which you truly can't figure out the right answers.

The answers roll up to the team leader. The system offers one or more of its 2,700 bits of coaching advice based on the employees' test results and the managers!

That's my favorite part, since I started saying about 15 years ago that most B-school graduates know nothing about managing people. Tons about finance, but no courses in management. Worse, employees promoted to their first managerial jobs in most corporations are simply thrown into the deep end of the pool, perhaps clutching some ancient LMS course on managing direct reports.

Team leaders are also given a larger engagement pulse survey with eight deceptively simple questions and are urged to send it out every six to eight weeks or at their own intervals.

Are you thinking what I am? At first glance, ADP seems the most unlikely buyer for TMBC after years of a laser focus on the traditional processes of payroll, employee record-keeping, recruitment, learning, and benefits administration and reporting.

Now, it has bought software that allows continuous performance management, and building teams and engagement. Different, yes, but software with real data behind it, that ADP hopes to add to as it quickly rolls out StandOut to its National Accounts and GlobalView customers.

They'll all be better off from it.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chair emeritus of the 20th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Expo, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 10-13, 2017. 2017. Watch top thought leader Jason Averbook on the 25th episode of his broadcast-quality video series, Firing Line with Bill Kutik®, for his 2017 predictions.


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