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Rendre Heureuse (RH) – Render Happy – The New HR?


LeapWhile speaking about HR, human resources recently, someone said to me, “RH est pour rendre heureuse (RH) aux salaries”. Some linguistic explanation required. Human resources is “ressources humains” in French, thus the acronym RH, the same for “rendre heureuse” which is render or make happy. So is HR the new Happiness maker in the company?

It’s been circulating recently, the idea that HR should rather be Chief Happiness Officer and happiness in employees will make them better at work and thus make the company better and more profitable. But can HR really be the holder of happiness of people at work? And is happiness really the key to a high performing company?

The amount of research in this area is rather extensive on both sides. Happiness at work creates a joyful culture and people are more helpful and less cases of burnt out. It made sense. So can a bunch of very happy employees also turn a 10-man company to 20 to 1000? I doubt it. Unhappiness at work can create very toxic environment, create residue stress that seeps into personal life and create more unhappiness where people burn out and leave. Will a 1000 plus employee company become inefficient and reduce to 20 people? I doubt it too.

The pursuit of happiness is natural in human kind. That’s just a natural law. But happiness is so many things to so many people. More importantly, work is only part of our lives and can only contribute to part of our happiness.

When is it the responsibility of the company, mangers or human resources department to make us happy? Isn’t that our responsibility to create a life we want with the brand of happiness we define? Why would I cede this power to make me happy to someone or an institution and why would I hold someone accountable if I’m not happy?

No, I think the pursuit of happiness is my business. Work is a path and HR can clear the path!

What do I mean?

There are several well-written articles from the perspective of the organisation. I’ll take this up from the perspective of what I think HR can do.

Clear the recruitment path

Today’s recruitment in many protective labour markets is very risk averse. This means recruitment is based on all the criteria of the past (good education, experience in the same job, doing exactly the same thing elsewhere). It’s not future or potential looking. When HR succumbs to the pressure of “no hiring mistake”, the perversion is to hire like for like for current need and render the future needs of the company to luck. The person hire for the existing job may or may not be able to grow for the next job in the company. Without potential leaders, succession planning is hampered and the flow of talent will be choked.

If I’m recruited on my potential and capabilities, I’ll feel appreciated and motivated to prove my worth.

Clear the development path

Training and development prevalent today reminds of tuition, supplementary to help employees do their work today better. The educational path of an employee should be forward looking and requires a development and a career path. When HR do not help to facilitate identification of leaders and development for management teams, it’s allowing upward movement of unqualified managers who might be star players in their current job and a generation of unqualified managers and leaders. It also loses the opportunity to unlock potential in people and help employees strive to excellence.

If I knew that someone is working with me on my career development path, putting things out for me to reach, I’ll feel interested and motivated to learn to get there.

Clear the mobility path

The mistake most people in mid-career make is to think that only promoting to a higher position is a sign of success. There are multiple paths to reach capacity and some includes horizontal moves and working in different environments. But it disrupts teams and managers often try to keep their good people than letting them go. Mobility is also difficult in cultural adjustments and provides a new set up challenges in living skills. HR can help to promote mobility within the global working environment or across teams rather than looking at legal implications, releasing liabilities and tenures and thwart movement in the process.

If I had HR support in protecting my tenure while I move across countries and teams, I would feel helped and focus on the move and new job.

Clear the political path

Every workplace has politics, as each employee is different in character, communication style and ways of working. When there is an absence of a strong culture that focuses people on working together and achieving common goal, these politics come into play for personal protection, bargaining for gains and often an expression of frustrations. With HR taking a backseat in culture, they become the undertaker when things have really gone wrong often resulting in lawsuits, firings, employee relations and unions discussions. HR can take a more active stand to assess how people are working together and steering in team building activities, working through differences and strengthening team communication and common understanding.

If I feel that I can ask HR for help in conflicts and that we are all playing for the same team, I’d feel understood and more tolerant of differences.

Conclusion – Happy or not happy?

I struggled with this. Perhaps at then end of all these is indeed happiness. If I feel motivated, loyal, listened to, appreciated, respected and developed, this would mean I’m happy. But this can’t be all of what happiness means and that’s just too easy to say HR, be Happiness Officers.

Happy is a feeling. I can be happy or sad because of so many things. But I want to wake up and want to go to work because there is a challenge out there I can solve, I can do something, be useful. I want to earn my keep that I deserve.

I think I’ve said. It’s the dignity of work. It has nothing to do with happiness. And HR can help me keep my dignity, not my happiness.

(Will update links to articles on this topic.)

Talking about HR in Agile Meetup


It was 29°C outside, 7pm in the evening and one of the 2 days in between the world cup matches. I thought everyone would be off somewhere in a bar, movie theatre or somewhere cool. But it was a full turn out. And it was in front of some very lovely and patient french people that I presented a case study on Agile in HR and HR in Agile.

To begin with, it was based on an project I was involved in. And to be honest, before this project, agile was really just an adjective. It still is but there is so much more depth to the agility used in software development. And this group of people I was standing in front of were all practitioners of agile methods for many years.

Agile, whether referring to being flexible and adopting to circumstances or tied to a whole library of terminologies like scrum!, kanban!, XP programming!, burndown! or for that matter burnup! (all terms that made me stopped in my track at one point or another to say huh?!), is irrevocably, undeniably, incontestably about people.

So it was to great wonder why there haven’t been much talk about HR in agile. And even more curious is how the basic principles of agility can be applied to HR? Because, how can an arm in the company (usually IT department) be agile whilst the rest of the company be fat and heavy?

And so it was, after reflections on that project, the hits, misses and the “je ne sais pas quoi” that I attempted to be honest in this sharing about my involvement, my learning and most of all, why if we want to talk agile, we should talk people and if we talk people, we can be agile too.

With or without the library of terminology tied to agile, most business leaders today have to battle with rapidly changing consumer behaviours, disruptors from non-traditional competition, globalisation and accelerating innovation. Thus, being adaptability as Darwin first proposed is really the only contant and means of survival. And so agile or capital A-gile is a logical response.

This is the case for the example I provided. The company had to be quick in time to market, they had to deploy digitally sound solutions across various parts of the customer journey. And they had to use a combination of acquired expertise and in-house capabilities simultaneously across various markets covering different technology platforms.

The example I presented was on a part of the project where adapting agile methods cannot be independent of helping people adopt the change. And where adopting to this change cannot be done through traditional HR means.

The challenge was to condensed it to 1hr 30mins and respond to any questions from the floor. I think we did well as a group, 29°C and hungry to share on a hot July evening.

The english version of the slides are now available on: http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agility-in-hr-hr-in-agility-july-2014

Oh did I mention that it was in French, a first for me in terms of public french presentation.

Agile in Organisation Transformation


MetaRecently I was involved in a project that uses agile methodologies and gave me the opportunity to deepen my understanding and see agile in action. Agile methods originated in software development.

“It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.”

In agile, I found a practical companion to change management.

In the organisation transformation and change management, I had often advocated for the importance of step-change to increase adoption and to ingrain change. In many instances however, I had seen organisations embarked on change programs with lofty ambitions only to let it frizzle out or stopped midway due to lack of funding, buy-in and/or change in focus, typically after spending a lot of money with no real evidence of benefits. And this is largely due to a lack of detail application of step change.

Take for example, implementing a personal development program. An organisation had decided to overhaul the people management program through its HR department. Once the team set out to shop for toolsets, it encountered a large variety of choices and methodologies. In an effort to create a holistic approach, the team worked on a blueprint of requirements that may include competency framework, balance scorecard, 360 feedback, review process and etc. Typically, it is followed by numerous RFP process to select the right vendors and consultants. Before long, it had become a huge project with large financial investments implications that would require further board and management approval who would raise concerns on benefits versus cost, investment timing, impact to share holder value. While the efforts were plagued with indecision and continual budget revisions, the next economic cycle would have hit and a new recession in sight., thus further pushing out the decision to more “suitable” times. Sounds familiar?

Perhaps the story is too simplified and a stretch from reality. Reality may not be far behind. In the best of instances, an organisation came out of a transformation process full of fatigue and unable to leverage on the changes for positive impact. In others, an organisation is so scarred by the process that any future change efforts is viewed with cynicism and resistance where necessary change do not happen until too late while more adaptable competitors change and overtake in market position.

It is easy to understand that step change is important, it is quite another to build out the details behind it. This is where I borrow some key terminologies in agile to lend some insights into the practicalities of step change.

Commander’s Intent – The objective of the organisation is expressed as its vision. This vision does not include details in “how”, it is only a view of the future state. In the example of a people development program, the intent should be what the company is trying to achieve and not the specific toolset. And perhaps, the program is only a building block and not the intent itself.

Minimum viable product – MVP is about creating the smallest product that is operable to test a hypothesis and learn from it. In the same example, it is important to define a problem statement that is top priority in achieving the vision. Then create the smallest potential solution that can either prove it is the right solution or if the problem statement is the accurate. There are 3 key steps in the process: build-measure-learn. It is important to decide early the KPIs and the intended learning.

Pilot or Prove of Concept – Both are ways to implement the MVP. In a pilot situation, the solution is deployed in a real scenario with a small set of users and prove of concept is where no real users are involved. Let’s say a competency framework is identified as key solution to assess accurately and create focus in personal development. An MVP is a small set of core competences and it can be piloted with a selected team or a specific group to test out usability. Alternatively, a proof of concept can be used to compare the competences with vendor options prior to purchase committments.

Short release and frequent release cycles – Shorter release cycles meant that the scope is reduced to MVP from idea creation to initial release. Small frequent releases follow for continuous build on the MVP or create other MVPs so that multiple products are released to complement each other. In the same example, the next release could be an extension of the framework to the pilot team and the MVP to other teams and continue simultaneously until the framework is being rolled out.

Feedback loops & Retrospective – Learning from the process is important for adaptive planning and evolving solutions to fulfil the vision. In some instances, the feedback is also used to converge initial ideas. Feedback loops complete a release cycle prior to the next release where KPIs are measured and applied. Retrospective refers to a critique on the process of roll out and people involved. It is key to ensure all environmental factors like buy in, communication, business readiness are reviewed and to provide learning required for continual process improvement.

Fair process – All change efforts have a people impact for success. Fair process ensures that all parties involved have a chance to learn about the intent, provide input and ask questions. Whilst the solution is not a patchwork of individual intents, the process allows for communication, creates understanding and encourages innovation in solution creation. It gives appropriate time for people to debate, question, consider and ultimately accept the changes to come.

Most recently, I had used the above in creating a new team including job profiles and competences necessary to build in-house capabilities to delivery a solution. It helped me frame the process to create a small enough team and feedback loop to add resources as required. The organisation chart was reviewed and built out through feedback and provided me with opportunity and time to coach and integrate new additions to the team.

A suitable consideration in using agile in organisation design is that whilst building a software where codes can be erased and redone, hiring and firing is not as easy. Thus, it is even more important to ensure the right team is created and built on without unnecessary expansion. Using options such as contracting, 3rd party becomes important, a topic I will discuss in the next post on Total Talent Management.

Multi Business Lines = Multi Conflicts?


As companies grow, a natural evolution is expansion in different geographies and/or business lines. For recruitment companies, this can also be governed with changes in the way people work and how companies engage people. In the 50s, we see a build up of temporary work, in the 80s, outsourcing became a new cost reduction trend and that also included recruitment services. While a company like Nestle can differentiate their products by packaging. Differentiation in a service industry is subtle and lack of it has more detrimental impacts on conflicts of interest.

Consider a common example and a true story. A company is confronted with 2 separate businesses of the same company, one in providing recruitment services, another in providing recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) services. The first team offered recruitment services at X% of salary with potential volume discounts. The second, not knowing their colleagues had pitched recruitment, now offers on-site recruitment services charged with a margin and salary of recruiters on board.

As the company considers both offers, they are left with wondering: if 2 on-site recruiters can handle the recruitment, why bother using recruitment services from team 1? And why is the same company offering me completely different services? At some point, the company will also wonder: if I need 2 on-site recruiters over a period of time, why not just hire them?

The example is simplified but the reality is not far. This happens when there are no clear rules of engagement and differentiation. While the dynamics of a services work best at being flexible, differentiation will be important to give room for each business line to grow without them choking each other’s growth. Sending a clear message also allows the sales team to better communicate the services.

Create differences by considering the following for each business lines. Ideally, when there is no cross over, it will be able to stand on its own and even create hybrid partnerships for their client.

Defining rules of engagement

The business rules should be clear for each business. This will allow them to pursue business within the areas where they should engage and avoid potential conflict with another team. The following can be considered when defining the rules:

  • What is the level and type of candidates recruited by the team? This can mean level of experience, seniority, functional levels, salary ranges, contract or permanent hires.
  • What is the service delivery model? This can mean individual delivery, volume, and geographical coverage.
  • What is the pricing model? Is this by margin, salary of candidates, one-time fees?

Defining rewards and penalties system

Once the rules are defined, it needs to be followed. And each team will need to know the rewards and penalties for following or working outside the rules. They should be aware of:

  • When should a business opportunity be passed over to the other team?
  • What is the reward for passing on an opportunity and/or helping the other team to follow through for win?
  • Who are the authorities to arbitrage a conflict?
  • What kind of penalties are involved for working against the rules?
  • When are these penalties waved or exceptions?

Building a business sharing environment

While rules are established to avoid misbehavior, a positive growth environment is important to create a counter balance to the restrictive nature of rules. This can also be a platform to create hybrids and partnerships. Business sharing is about communication. And communication can be encouraged but without a structured approach, daily activities will choke agendas and communication will be left till the last moment and often too late for any collaborative work.

  • Organize periodic cross team meetings for business sharing of latest wins and losses. This can be organized at the highest level as management meetings and at lower levels with subject matter experts.
  • Make use of intranet to post wins and loses. This can be a form add on to in-house CRM or an extract of CRM information. It can include key accounts, contracts, and potential leads.

Celebrate success and publish case studies

Celebrate cases where teamwork from various teams contributed to success. Creating case studies of hybrid models that worked for clients will also be a form example for future cases. Some times, studying losses are just as important to understand what worked and what does not. This may also provide information for changes in rules where it has not worked.

The above are process changes. In almost all situations, the people aspect is key and needs to be the first to be addressed. An analysis of the different business and existing situation and creating open communication with management to create the desire for change will build strong foundations for future changes.

The People in Recruitment


It is incredible how quickly a company can fall. Currently, I am reading “Too big to fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin. As I flip through the pages that document the incredible downfall of big financial institutions, the stories of such downfall is not limited to the financial industry.

For a recruitment company, the rise and fall can be just as quick and sometimes many times more brutal. A recruitment company is a house of cards built by all the different individuals. It does not have products that can be produced by machines or inventory of assets. In a service industry, lean manufacturing has no sense, 6 sigma is not practiced. In effect, sometimes efficiency through people can be seen as inefficiency in a products company. This is why running a recruitment company or a service company is a unique management study in itself.

Where people run the show, it is a common paradox that the people industry has the worst human resources practices if they even exist in the organization. It is not common that a recruitment firm has more than a payroll executive and even rarer to find a human resources department that looks at training and development of staff. The quality of human resources department (if in existence) is questionable.

Recruiters belong to a very unique camp of people driven by passion in the business and money. As long as their interests are served, the machine stays powered. And when motivation is low, yesterday’s profits will be wiped out by today’s inactivity.

Here’s a story of an incredible downfall.

– Bad top level management that drove away good managers due to disrespect, harassment, pressure.
– Good managers left with their clients to a new company or set up their own.
– The team without a good manager now struggles to find new clients and assignments.
– Good team members are attracted to join their managers in another company or set up and leave with their clients.
– Without new assignments or clients, there is less income and thus profits.
– The company starts cutting back staff to stay afloat.
– The staff in the company starts to shake in confidence of the stability of the company and impacts their performance.
– The company had to continue to cut back staff due to lack in productivity to stay afloat.
– Bad top level management is removed with payout without new replacements.
– The company continues to cut back staff to pay for payouts of departed managers.
– Staff confidence drops to new low and began looking for jobs. Thus further impacting productivity.
– And layoffs continues as a vicious cycle.

This is a common story in service industry where people matters. Let this be a cautionary tale.

Suggested Remedies (before it is too late)

Regain Confidence
Confidence is a very volatile element. In a service industry, confidence within the company will affect every day performance and motivation. If cutbacks continue to try to protect profits, losses are imminent.
Explore the option where layoffs are systematically stopped except for bad behavior or performance. When there is a greater sense in job security, there is also less need to spend time looking outside and thus more time in focusing on business development and delivery.

Admit the misbehavior of past management without conceding defeat. Be honest in the situation and then persuade the staff to look forward to work together.

Creating confidence internally can also help to regain confidence in investors and draw cash to sustain short term liquidity. A more confident workforce will also be apparent to clients to win sales and build top line.

Participate not support
Under normal circumstances, management has the responsibility to manage teams and “clear the path” for success. However, in dire times, leadership is often seen as rolling up the sleeves and work along side the people.

The time of an executive is expensive and thus, their participation or action has to matter in the best way possible. Here, the best impact is to meet with key clients or potential clients, using their position as leverage in creating opportunities for sales meetings and winning deals.

Being active in professional networks and associations are also important contributions to drive leads and raise visibility of the company. Every executive should participate including the CFO, CCO, COO etc. C-level executives have their own professional network where they can bring a difference.

For executives, they should remember that it is not enough to state what you want, it is just as important to show what you mean.

Start Measuring and Announcing Success
Executives are used to measuring and reporting on results. This often means profits and bottom-line, return to share holder value etc. Under tough conditions reporting on continuous negative profits can only serve to shaken confidence and raise doubts on job security. Whiles these should be measured, reporting on wins, success are more important.

Measuring increase in sales is also important in measuring success of teams. Here, a team manager cannot hide bad performance by cutting cost or use other ways to hide cost to show an inflated profit. This may also mean % increase in sales and measuring absolute profits and not in %.

Such measurements will direct focus on sales and increase in top line. When top line is secured, bottom line will be managed.

Mark The Turnaround
Extreme measures are used in extreme situations. Finally, building a strong DNA of a company will be important in attracting good people and keep sustainable growth. And this needs to be communicated and the targets once set and achieved, should be celebrated.

The people in recruitment is all a company has. Management will be well served to remember this.

Catch 22 – specialization in the recruitment practice


I’ve been asked several times, “how can we specialize when we are (5, 10, 15) people in the company?” It’s a catch 22 situation.

In recent days, specialization is no longer an accessory in marketing communication of recruitment firms. It has become a harsh reality. Let’s face it, if a company is willing to pay anything from 10k – 30k to recruit a talent, what would make them choose a generalist recruiter over a specialist recruiter? The answer is probably only price and even that price advantage is eroding as the market readjusts in the crisis.

On the other hand, the risks of sustainability is a real concern for small to medium size recruitment firms. If the company has 10 people, that just about covers all the different sectors and/or functions to specialize in. A sudden change in demand or loss of a key recruiter could mean its death.

That is not to mean that big companies have profit with their size too. Many are unable to make a psychological leap of “one-stop shop” to “multi-specialization under 1 roof”. Large companies are hampered by internal politics, fear of change and commitment to change, while small companies are paralyzed by fear. Having said that, there are successful cases and proof that it can be done, to the profit of those who dared.

Some considerations I had shared:

It doesn’t have to be a case of either or
Many companies think that to specialize means they have to name and cover all the different areas from a-z. Unless the company employs 500 employees, it can hardly cover all the different sectors and functions in recruitment. It doesn’t have to be this or a generalist.

If we compare the financial times, the european listings of sectors / functions and any other listings, we can quickly observe that there is no 1 standard list. The lack of common standards in this case is a clear advantage. A company can draw on its strength and find large groupings beneficial to them.

Eg, IT&T is largely accepted as a common grouping for information technology and telecommunications. Healthcare & Pharmaceutics is another broad group that can include hospital care, medical devices, biotechnology, medical drugs development and sales.

Keep it broad, keep it separated
The reality of small businesses is that they cannot afford to turn down good business just because they have committed to specialization and they don’t have too.

Choosing to specialize has 2 obvious benefits: marketing on strengths and building internal strength. For a small to medium size company, it is important to name the specializations so broad that it can just about cover everything. A paradox? No, a clever mask perhaps.

Eg: Technical and Non-technical skills. This works for small firms of 3-5 consultants. It doesn’t have to be publicized widely on the website or company collaterals but can be used for client presentations and during sales pitch. The 2 teams should be separated and built for further specialization as the company grows.

Evolve and multiply
Like cells, a growing team often need division to create further growth in their own right. In today’s market, more and more companies are focusing on short to mid-term planning as long term planning can quickly be obsolete. Equally for recruitment firms, specialization can evolve over time.

While the core marketing, communication and external materials can retain general information, companies can make use of easy to produce 1 page appendixes or add-ons for their specialization. This can be replace quickly when the teams evolve. For a small company, size and agility is a competitive edge.

Eg: In the above example, when the team reaches a size of 5 members per team, it can be split. In the “Technical” group, this can be split into broad base of “Engineering & Technical” and “IT & digital”. Core marketing materials can still say “Technical” with an additional paragraph for each.

Commercial positioning need not mean organizational structure
For many companies, there is a confusion of external and internal view. External communication and representation of the company is usually used to speak to clients and potential stakeholders. Internal structures relates to management and operational effectiveness. Potentially, it is beneficial to mirror each other but it is not a necessity.

Advocating a company’s strengths in specialization is a strategic sales decision. This does not have to be mirrored if it does not serve operational strengths. Where teams are small, it can continue to operate as a single team with the same manager.

Eg: A large size recruitment firm may have varying strengths in the different teams of specialization. They could group a small team of recruiters in digital marketing under a broad group of marketing, communications & public relations for ease of management and cross over business. Externally, they list the specializations separately to create an impression of strength.

Specialization does not have to be a catch 22 situation if it is managed thoughtfully. Internally, it is a core benefit for people development. When a recruiter starts to focus, their knowledge base for a particular area and their contact base is built up. Not only does it sell easier, it will also help in operational efficiency in delivery. I’d say, it is a “catch all” situation, no pun intended.

Taking cue from Google’s new privacy policy in candidate database sharing


Google has recently changed its privacy policy. Instead of different policies for different products and in different countries, it has created a single policy. For a recruitment company that maintains a candidate database, privacy policy is also a key consideration.

Typically, a recruitment company has to have approval of a candidate before they can use their information and retain their information in the system. Every country has different privacy policy. In Europe, the policies are typically tighter especially in southern europe. In Asia, the policies are more relaxed or the laws are less evolved to protect rights. For recruitment companies that have offices internationally, this meant managing as many privacy policies.

There are limitations to maintaining local privacy policies. Most importantly, this meant that candidate information cannot be shared easily even if candidates want to be considered for positions abroad. Taking the lead from google, having a single privacy policy can be achieved. It will not only simplify the process but also allows for sharing of data. Potentially, the database can also be turned into an asset that provides valuable information on trends, candidate behavior etc.

How is creating a single privacy policy useful? As the main use of candidate database is in looking for suitable candidates for open jobs, the most important consideration is if it facilitates this. For a recruitment company that targets blue collar workers or administrative skills, this can be less useful since candidates are usually not mobile. It is more important for a recruitment company that targets middle to senior management level candidates or young graduates. Theses job applicants are usually mobile and willing to consider overseas position when the occasion arises. In some cases, the skills are concentrated in some countries. Allowing candidate sharing will help local offices tap into talents elsewhere.

There are some companies that already uses single privacy policy such as Monster.com. Even though it is an online job positing and application system and not a recruitment company, the same principles apply. Some potential considerations to creating a single privacy policy.

– Consider if a single privacy policy is possible. From the examples of some companies, I would say this is entirely possible. Look at google.
– Are there privacy considerations that are unique in some countries that cannot be excluded? If so, add them as part of the single privacy as a note for “x” country only.
– Using the change in policy as as a marketing initiative to invite candidates to update their records.

All things considered, the politics of the company and inter-country database sharing cannot be ignored. But once this is enabled, the rest is management.

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