CEO-to-CEO Hot Topic: Talent

I recently went to the CEO-to-CEO conference held at the New York Stock Exchange. I was the only chief executive in attendance that leads a human resources professional services or HR technology firm.

The group that was there was made up of chief executives from all types of engineering services businesses, healthcare companies, manufacturing companies and so on.
The number one thing that they talked about at these roundtables was how to engage talent to perform better. Everybody was talking about it. We discussed how to lead our teams better, how to engage them, how to get them to innovate, and how to break down barriers that stifle progress.

Talent and people were the watchwords of the day. I actually don’t find that very surprising. I’ve been to conferences like this before, and typically when business leaders get together they talk about the leaders that work with them. When I go to the World Innovation Forum or World Business Forum that’s produced by HSM and the makers of WOBI, our providers of leadership training for our customers, the same topic is discussed at length.

In addition to talent and talent acquisition, the topic of analysis, decision-making, and data seemed to also pop up. The chief executives talked about their engagement surveys and how they were reaching out into their businesses to understand what was going on, and then reacting to that to make change. We discussed the importance of data and how powerful it can be for decision-making, but the subject of business intelligence wasn’t talked about with a fine point.

A wide array of companies was represented in that room. Some companies were so large that they had thousands of employees, which are typically the types of companies that we work with in their human resource development. Yet others were as small as my business or just a few times larger and they had similar issues.

What I found interesting is that, of the eight hours we talked, I would estimate almost four hours were spent discussing talent and engaging it in one way or another.  The concerns of the chief executives were mostly human resources-related even though I was one of only a few HR centric folks in the room.

This tells me that human resources development has a seat at the table as a major talking point, but we don’t yet have the vocabulary to help it stay there. These leaders were talking about people, leadership and productivity, but they are all complaining about how they don’t have what they need to handle those things. As I reflect on it now, I don’t recall anybody even mentioning the human resources department.

As we were discussing innovation at a long table that reminded me of the dining tables at Hogwarts, we were going back and forth about how to drive innovation within our businesses amongst our leadership. After getting the attention of the moderator, I asked all the CEOs in the room how many of them ask during an interview about how that candidate drives innovation within a team. This question prompted a series of blank stares.

The lack of response again reminded me of how human resources strategy wants a seat at the table but most CEOs don’t understand the vocabulary they need to let it stay there. How am I sitting at a table with 40 chief executives and none of them during an interview ask about innovation when clearly they need innovation in their businesses?

At the end of the day, I was sorry that I had to step away from that session in order to attend a webinar on cost-per-hire (although that was a good webinar). We ended the conference at the New York Stock Exchange having conversations on the exchange floor while sipping drinks and enjoying appetizers. The conversation was great, the company was fantastic, and the dialogue was valuable.

The topic of human resources needs to find a way to get into rooms like this and be a central part of the dialogue we share. When I go to these HSM events, I’m always surprised to learn how few human resource managers are in the room despite the fact that the primary topics are leadership, talent, team development, and engagement.

I truly believe that HR can have a seat at the table. We just need to find the right room for it.

Aspen launches ADVOCATE, a series of talent programs, policies and services to enable economic recovery

March 1, 2011

Aspen Advisors, a strategy consultancy based in New York, is pleased to announce its ADVOCATE initiatives, a set of programs and services built to enable economic recovery. ADVOCATE will build on Aspen’s long standing philosophy of offering assistance to companies with globally and/or socially responsible values by adding income and outplacement opportunities for unemployed people, consultation to government agencies assigned to solved the labor issues of our country, special services for corporations looking to build their staffs and executive teams, and a realignment of its charitable raising and donation efforts to assist families that have been hit hard by this economy.

The first asset in the program will offer income opportunities to job seekers, rather than Aspen expanding itself using a traditional sales force. People will be able to identify globally and/or socially responsible companies in their network that need talent assistance and can refer those companies to Aspen. Aspen will compensate against those referrals that are converted to an account to anyone who participates in the program. The program targets those that have been unemployed for a period of six months or more, amongst other qualifications. The program will provide income assistance to help bridge financial needs, while also providing outplacement and career assistance. And most importantly, it will offer greater opportunities for self-improvement, and a chance to gain the educational background necessary for re-employment. Andrew Gadomski, CEO and Founder of Aspen, and long time Adjunct Professor in the Career Development curriculum at New York University, noted, “We could easily hire commissioned sales people, but I am not convinced that is as responsible as we can be. I would rather provide short-term financial compensation to people who need it now, in return for their access and influence. Their influence may not be able to produce a job immediately, but it may be able to produce income. While they work with us, we will do what we can to augment their job placement with a series of coaching and services. Its really a win-win because people can earn a short-term income while continuing their job seeking, which has been a problem for many in this economy.”

The second asset in ADVOCATE is that Aspen will augment its efforts in assisting local, state, and federal agencies and associations in trying to get people back to work. Aspen will offer its intellectual property system, PANDO, as an included service to these organizations once they agree to work with Aspen in a coordinated and public fashion. Agencies who are trying to get hundreds or thousands of people back to work will be granted access to best practices, tools, and methodologies usually reserved for corporations and staffing organizations. “Our Pando system provides a significant competitive advantage to companies that are battling for market-share, but in a recovery, our agencies and government needs help to get companies to hire people effectively and easily. We are looking forward to working with the associations and agencies in our states, and to assist them in getting people back to work. We should take the best practices we design for Wall Street and get them onto Main Street.”

Aspen will also add a set of services for its corporate clients that make it easier to find key executives and quickly build their staff. The first two services take a series of best practices and services that are rarely combined, and will be targeted to small and medium sized organizations that are trying to make smart expansion investments.

Finally, Aspen has slightly changed its charitable giving program. In the past, Aspen takes referral fees that vendors provide to them and donates it to certain charities of its choosing. It also has raised money and offered matching for those raised funds through 5k, 10k, and other long distance races. Aspen will continue that charge, but has selected the Make-a-Wish Foundation® to be the primary recipient of those funds. Make a Wish® has coordinated with Aspen to have funds targeted at children who are not only battling disease or illness, but also whose families have been hit hard by unemployment. Advisors will then also help those parents in their job search with career counseling. “We have a long standing relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. To focus on helping children whose families have also been hit hard by unemployment is a special thing. We understand how our youth needs hope, but its even more difficult when parents also think there is no hope. We will not only attempt to designate Wishes to such families, but also provide as much career assistance and guidance as we can.”

Aspen Advisors is an efficiency consulting company that uses continuous improvement projects, training, and tools to transform the effectiveness and productivity of small, mid-sized, and large businesses. We design the plans and processes that build and manage workforces, utilize facilities and resources efficiently, and serve customers consistently. We help companies that do great things build and develop great people. Our method, which includes no waste processes and sustainable partners, serves as the platform for clients to access our knowledgebase of programs and change management tools.

For more information about ADVOCATE or Aspen Advisors, please contact Allyson Greenman, our Marketing and Communications Manager. She can be reached by phone at (609) 432-0981, or by email at

Building a Business Case for HR Technology – Ask Questions to Get Grounded in Business Strategy

I have to thank our friends at HRMAC (the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago) for driving this topic to the top of the list lately. That group has asked me to moderate a panel on how to build a business case and create a ROI for HR Technology. The event can be found here on our blog, and you can register for it by going to our events page. It is being held on November 12.

What is HR Technology? Exactly as it sounds. Any kind of technology that is used by HR and enables the line. Payroll, contingent labor, applicant tracking, enterprise planning, onboarding, offboarding, performance management, intranets, sharepoint, etc. These all are viable types of HR Technology.

But the reasons to use these types of tools has changed over the years. I had discussions with several leaders in the industry (listed below) and crafting a business plan or ROI case is little different than it used to be. Our panel includes:

  • Bill Gilbert – leader at FutureStep and a former CFO
  • Jacqueline Kuhn – a long time expert, and full time consultant in the evaluation and implementation of HR technology
  • Shirley Roberts – Manager of Organization Transformation at US Cellular
  • Bryon Abramowitz – consultant at Knowledge Infusion, specializing in HR technology

I have asked our panelists and members of the audience of November 12 to comment on this blog post to keep the conversation going.

ROI 10 years ago is not ROI now
You have to first realize that. We have advanced the use of technology so much in our everyday office lives, that most organizations have leaned out administration and people more than they think. We have fewer opportunities to reduce staff as a result of technology. As a simple example, the introduction of a new expense reporting system will likely change out people using a Microsoft office template, rather than people handwriting. Of course other advantages will be included, but the initial savings of time is greatly reduced.

We Enable Different Stuff
What we use technology for now is different than it was years ago, and to make the idea even more complex we have more choices. You have to really think what are the 1, 2, or 3 behaviors or processes that you want to focus on, and then match the appropriate technology.

The panel that I am moderating is going to talk about building a business case, and identifying key performance indicators or ROI measures that you can use.

To get started, start by asking yourself some questions that help you understand if you have the right leadership around this technology project, if the vision is clear or blurry, and if a successful project is even feasible.

Leadership – Do you have the support you need?
Did you collect lessons learned from previous technology evals or installs?
Did management tell you to build a plan that includes tech?
Will the technology be abandoned under pressure?
Are there competing objectives or initiatives internally?
Does management respond well to change?
Is management going to micro-manage? (this is bad)
Do you have a project mission?
Do you have support for having a technology partner?
Are you operating under severe constraints? (pressure is bad)
Has your team had failure in regards to technology before?
Key stakeholders identified?

Vision – How well can you see?
Did you do a risk analysis?
Does management really understand the end user problem?
Critical success factors identified?
Did you SWOT?
What is the worst case scenario to the install or project undertaking?
Can you prototype or test? Can you replicate and scale?
Take longer than 12 months to implement? (bad)
Do you have an exit strategy from the plan?
Are Social or behavioral impacts supporting?
Has management been asking lots of questions? (this is good)
Do you have alternatives?
Is this a silver bullet? (this is bad)

Feasibility – can you really do this successfully?
Strong commitment from management?
Clear vision statement?
Have you documented all your findings and research to produce the business case?
Did you do an organizational change analysis?
Is this technically, politically, and financially viable?
Big gap between what is done now and what you are proposing?
Did you estimate the workload?
How are you managing quality?
Do you have multiple options, each of which will solve the problem? (if not, this is bad)
Got budget? Is it appropriated?
System costs, staffing costs, training costs, implementation costs, initial start up costs, and maintenance costs captured?

There are so many more questions you need to ask just to make sure you can even get this done. Doing the RFP and signing a contract is easy. The vendors have made it easy for you.

Make sure you are grounded in the business strategy, and enabling the business. Get leadership buy in and support, have a strong path and vision, and make sure that your project is well scoped and viable.

Then build a strong business case, and present your findings. With approval and strong roadmap, you should have a much more rewarding experience and impact to the organization with the technology.

Companies Taking Similar Recruiting Approaches in Down Economy

On March 20, 2009, I moderated a panel of recruiting leaders in Chicago about how this economy has affected their processes and the techniques they use in order to lead effective recruiting organizations. The Human Resources Management Association of Chicago was kind enough to ask me to facilitate. Prior to the questioning the panel in front of 75 leaders in staffing and HR, I spent about 90 minutes with each panelist reviewing their practices in staffing, so we could build a robust presentation.

The panel included David Meija of Pepsi Americas, Darcy Zulpo of Citadel, and Melissa McMahon of CDW. 

Preparing for the Panel
Realize that as I moderated the panel, I wanted to keep the panel and audience engaged. I really wanted to get our panel to share as much as they could about transforming their organizations, while having the audience heard. Keeping a robust discussion was important, as my conversations with staffing leaders recently have had overtones of concern and confusion around maintaining value when requisitions are low. This has rung true even more in organizations where supporting functions like HR, finance, and IT have a weaker strategic position. I really have not seen any trends on “Recruiting’s value” based on the size of company or an industry – it’s the mindset of the company that has been the common trend. That observation proved true with these panelists and their organizations, as each had varied in industry, size, and design, but clearly all three leaders have influence within their organizations, and the respect (and ear) of executive leadership.

This Review…
With the permission of our panelists, I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing the answers to the questions that I asked during the panel, and offered some takeaway action items and suggestions. I have added some commentary throughout that reflects insights that I have seen from other companies and also reflects the discussions that I had one on one with each panelist.

Post Article…
A word of advice before you start moving the chess pieces internally – think of change management as a boat that needs to be turned. To drive this analogy home, realize that recruiting may be behind the wheel, but is rarely the captain of any ship and never on a boat alone. You can turn the wheel, but your turn has to match the mindset of your passengers (and how fast they can tolerate a turn), the size of the ship (and how fast it can turn without tipping over or be deemed an emergency), and how the captain and first mate think the turn has been executed. If your company is a cruise ship and you spin that wheel too fast, an alarm goes off, passengers lose balance, and the officer core starts asking questions quick. If you are a speedboat, that same wheel turn could be expected, admired, and even applauded.

Thanks to the panelists, HRMAC, and the attendees for making this a great event. We are doing it again on May 19th, with the staffing leaders from Sara Lee, Exelon, and Career Education Corporation.

(Open the PDF to this lengthy article…)