Strategic Workforce Planning Workshops in Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland

I’m happy to announce some upcoming Strategic Workforce Planning masterclasses in Melbourne (July), Sydney (July), and Auckland (August).

Attendees at the recent Wellington Workshop described it as

  • “A thought provoking and clarifying call to action.”;
  • “Practical, experience-based learning about a comprehensive model for conducting workforce planning”;
  • “A relaxed, social environment that made participation and involvement easy.”;
  • “A fascinating introduction to the world of Strategic Workforce Planning.”; and
  • “Not having enough morning tea”.

We’re fixing that last one.  If you’re interested in attending, more information, dates, and bookings for both Australian and New Zealand courses can be found here.

Principles, Laws, and Effects at Work



In an earlier post, I wrote about The Peter Principle – the concept that individuals are promoted to their own level of incompetence in an organisation.

Here are some of my other favourite principles, laws, and effects:

Parkinsons Law “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (tweet this)

Hofstadter’s Law – “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”. (tweet this)

The Dunning–Kruger effect is the concept that if you’re not very good at something, you’re also not very good at recognising that.  It explains why people who are unskilled in a particular area sometimes rate their own ability higher than more competent people.  (over-confident and under-competent)

Putt’s Law – “Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand”.

The Dilbert Principle (from Dilbert creator Scott Adams) is an adaptation of the Peter Principle – paraphrased, it states that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.

Goodhart’s Law – “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.  (tweet thisThis is something of particular relevance to Workforce Analytics, and something which I spoke about in The False Proxy Trap.

Most people know Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, but may not know there’s a related law,  Muphry’s Law – “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written” (tweet this)

The Pareto Principle is another well-known one, usually referred to at the 80/20 rule – for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes (80% of the revenue from 20% of the clients; 80% of the problems from 20% of the clients – not necessarily the same ones).

Are there any other principles, laws, and effects that should be added to the list?

Hoodies, Disintermediation, and the 457 Visa Program

American Giant Hoodie

American Giant Hoodie

An article titled “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made” article appeared a few months ago on Slate.  It’s an interesting article, but what grabbed me most about it is that it’s yet another example of technology disrupting traditional business models.  (The author raved so much about the hoodies by American Giant, that the post went viral and caused fulfillment issues for the business).

The author stated that the key to making the greatest hoodie ever is disintermediation:

Today, when you buy a hooded sweatshirt, most of your money is going to the retailer, the brand, and the various buyers that shuttle the garment between the two. [Not to mention the retail].  The item itself costs very little to make—a $50 hoodie at the Gap likely costs about $6 or $7 to produce at an Asian manufacturing facility. 

American Giant has found a loophole in the process. The loophole allows Winthrop to spend a lot more time and money producing his clothes than his competitors do. Among other things, he was able to hire a former industrial designer from Apple to rethink every aspect of the sweatshirt, from the way the fabric is woven to the color of the drawstrings around your neck. The particular loophole that Winthrop has found also explains why he wanted to chat with a technology reporter: It’s called the Internet.

We’ve seen this kind of disruption in manufacturing, real estate, travel, retailing (especially in some categories, such as books), and now even education… basically anything with an intermediary is ripe for disruption (if you have “Agent” in your job title, be very very scared).  And it’s not just consumer markets that are affected – it’s the talent market as well.  Here in Australia there’s a lot of controversy over the skilled visa (“457 visa”) program.  I wonder how long the debate will be relevant in a world where traditional barriers to accessing knowledge and skills are rapidly falling away?   The challenge for both employers and governments is to adapt to this changing economy and way of working and get the best talent with the least number of artificial barriers.

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott and The Peter Principle

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott, manager in “The Office” and victim of the Peter Principle

The “Peter Principle” is the idea that when promotions are made on the basis of prior performance, everyone will eventually be promoted to their own level of incompetence.  It still has resonance some 40 years after is was first proposed, and it has an enormous impact on productivity, engagement, and retention in organisations today.

Perhaps one of the most recent high-profile embodiments of the Peter Principle is Michael Scott from the TV Comedy “The Office”.  A great salesman before he was promoted to Regional Manager, Scott can’t seem to cut it in a management position.  He is allergic to conflict, provides cliches in place of leadership, and haplessly implements one half-baked strategy after another – all to hilarious effect.  We laugh along because most of us, at some point in our careers, have known a manager like Michael.

The skills to excel in a technical area are not the same as the skills to manage or lead a workforce.  Many organisations fail to recognise this, or are unable to support employees transitioning into a management role.

Project Oxygen was Google’s quest to use Data Analytics to find a better manager, based on the premise that people leave companies for three main reasons:

1. They don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or have a sense that their work matters;

2. They don’t really like or respect their co-workers; and/or

3. They have a terrible boss.

Given the last of these points is arguably the easiest to control, Google sought to find out what actually makes a good manager, and found that  it comes down to these attributes and behaviors, in order of importance:

1. Being a good coach;

2. Empowering their team and not micromanaging;

3. Expressing interest in team members’ success and personal well-being;

4. Being productive and results-oriented;

5. Being a good communicator and listening to their team;

6. Helping their employees with career development;

7. Having a clear vision and strategy for the team; and

8. Having key technical skills so they can help advise the team.

What’s telling about this list that the least important trait of the manager is usually the main reason why people are promoted to technical management roles in the first place.  Without coaching or transition support into management roles, it’s no wonder the Peter Principle is still alive and well today.

Leadership positions (and done well, a management position is one of those) can have a disproportionate impact on the ability of the organization to execute strategy, but what makes a great technician is not what makes a great leader.  How do you support people transitioning to leadership positions in your organisation?

Yahoo Logo

Why Yahoo banning work from home doesn’t matter (and why it does)

I’ve been avoiding this one for a while – partly because almost every HR blogger has made some mention of it.  But now I’m in fear that if I don’t blog about it, WordPress might force removal of all “Human Resources” tags from all my posts.  But I also think there’s something missing from the conversation – working from home is not a belief system, but a policy… and we don’t need to get so upset about Yahoo cancelling theirs.

What Happened?

On the 22nd February, Yahoo! issued a memo banning work from home.  The memo states:

…To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together… Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices.

Public Response

…And the media and blogs went, well, kind of crazy.  Here’s a summary of some of the responses from the media:

“Perplexing” – Washington Post

“Epic Fail” – Forbes

“Risky” Bloomberg

“From a Bygone Era” – The Guardian

…and here are some comments on various blog posts and media articles:

I am horrified by this drastic measure taken by Yahoo”

“Another reason why Yahoo! is so far behind Google. The year is 2013. If Yahoo! is still operating in five years, it will be a miracle. They are the next MySpace.”

“I take personal offense to the inference that working at home doesn’t produce the same quality of work.”

Employee Respsonse

Guess who wasn’t all that enraged by the change?  Actual Yahoo employees:

“I have been at Yahoo for four years and let’s just say the house needed and still needs a lot of cleaning up and Marissa is doing just that. So I am glad that the change in policy was made.

…We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask. If you don’t like it well too bad, the exit door is over there.” – Read Quote of Anon User’s answer to Marissa Mayer Ends WFH (February 2013): What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no-work-from-home policy? on Quora

“I’m not providing an internal reaction as I no longer work at Yahoo (left in 2012). However, from the perspective of my time there this is a much needed policy. I saw many people abuse the work at home policy. In fact it was a running joke that a large percentage of employees basically did no work on Fridays.” – Read Quote of Anon User’s answer to Marissa Mayer Ends WFH (February 2013): What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no-work-from-home policy? on Quora

“I think its a great thing for the company. I have been at Yahoo! for 5 years and Marissa is doing a much needed house cleaning. There is still some good talent here but we need all hands on deck and thoses who are not team players can just bow out.” – Read Quote of Anon User’s answer to Marissa Mayer Ends WFH (February 2013): What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no-work-from-home policy? on Quora

Yahoo's new working from home policy is just fine, according to Yahoo news.

Yahoo’s new working from home policy is just fine, according to Yahoo news.  Got to give Yahoo credit for SEO knowledge.

Why doesn’t this matter?

Well, it seems that major news outlets care deeply about this issue – but here’s the thing… Yahoo’s policy just might be right for Yahoo.  It might not be right for your organisation, and it might not be consistent with your views on how the world of work should be configured, but unless you work at Yahoo, it won’t affect you directly.  It’s true that working from home has proven benefits for many organisations including retention and productivity; and positive externalities like less traffic congestion for everyone else, and lowering pollution.  But it’s also true that Yahoo has to do what is best for Yahoo.  Yahoo, nor any other organisation, should run HR by what the commentariat consider to be “best practice”, or by the latest trend.

Personally, I think productivity is not the issue for Yahoo.  I’m not saying it’s not AN issue, but it’s not THE issue.  The issue Mayer needs to address is not with productivity, but with innovation.  To quote from the memo, Some of the best decisions and insights” are not coming out of Yahoo, and they’re struggling for relevance and market share… that’s not an issue of productivity, but it’s a critical issue for the company.  I believe there are many, many organizations for whom a work from home policy works – but I suspect Yahoo is not one of them, because of the alignment and engagement issues.  Mayer is famously (at times frustratingly) data-driven in her decision-making.  From her time at Google, she would understand the power of HR Data Analytics, and if Mayer has cancelled working from home at Yahoo, it’s because working from home isn’t working at Yahoo.

Why does this matter?

Because of the inevitable knee-jerk “me-too” responses, the most high-profile of these being Best Buy cancelling their work from home policy two weeks later.  This one matters because Best Buy were pioneers in working from home, in fact the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) movement came out of Best Buy, and helped Best Buy teams save $2.2 million over three years by reducing turnover by 90 percent and boosting productivity by an average of 41 percent (source).  So it’s puzzling then that Best Buy would roll back a program that they’ve been using for almost two decades and with claimed savings in the millions.

There will be many others who will be seriously considering rolling back work from home, regardless of their own individual goals and culture, and whether that’s the right thing to do for them.  Yahoo’s leader is data driven, but that can’t be said of all organisations.

What’s the right answer when it comes to working from home?

It very much depends on your organisation.  But if you don’t want to have to worry about whether it is or isn’t right for you: hire great people, engage them in the company’s mission, and hold them accountable for their results – all the way down the org chart.

If managers don’t get results on unambiguous goals, they’re accountable.  This will ensure that they harness their teams to meet those goals, and so on down the structure..  Importantly, this approach also requires that the work people are doing is aligned to the goals of the organization (that they’re not doing all the wrong things very efficiently).  That can’t be done if employees don’t know what those goals are.  If both accountability and alignment are in place, then regardless of when and where employees work, more than half of your productivity issues are solved.  It quickly becomes clear to both management and the staff themselves where they are not being productive – and gives the employees the opportunity to address that.

But primarily, as with all Talent Management programs, you need to ensure that there is a fit with your organisation’s goals and culture.  Don’t cut back on working from home (or implement ROWE, for that matter) without understanding how it will help your organisation achieve its’ goals – and keep in mind that your organisation’s goals are going to be significantly different from those of either Best Buy or Yahoo.

The ROI of Talent Management Programs

I’ve been working with a great organisation here in Melbourne over the last few weeks and ran a 2-day Strategic Workforce Planning workshop with them recently.  One of the questions that kept coming up was how to engage the executive in Strategic Workforce Planning to ensure that the program is successful.  In my experience, as well as aligning the workforce strategy to the business strategy, Strategic Workforce Planning is an effective way way of providing evidence that each initiative is providing a Return on Investment – or showing where they are not, and how to improve.

It’s not easy, at times, to quantify the costs of HR programs in in an organisation – but there are ways of doing it.  Turnover and Absenteeism are relatively straight-forward, but how do you put a price on innovation? productivity? creativity?   Even more challenging is predicting the extent to which a particular program will increase or decrease these factors.

Wayne Cascio, who I was fortunate enough to meet last year, has some great resources – including the book “Costing Human Resources” – with some techniques for costing some of these aspects.  For factors such as innovation and productivity, case studies can be instructive – but as each organisation is different, a well-crafted analytics strategy is the only way to really prove the “return” on your people investments in your organisation.

Business talks the language of numbers – and though it can be challenging, justifying proposed HR programs, and uncovering the value of existing ones, is one way of elevating Human Resources to become a strategic partner to the business.

A seat at the (kids’) table

HR, The seat at the table won’t be yours for long

if you can’t hold a conversation once you get there

Image Source –

Just the other day, I was having a conversation with a senior HR leader who had been demoted from the elusive “Seat at the Table” after pushing – hard – for it 18 months earlier.  She believed that once she was in the “inner circle”, she would be free to move HR up the curve from tactical to strategic.  But she was unprepared, and soon on the outer.  There was no formal demotion, just a change where she was now only invited to select conversations at the executive level.  As she put it, she was now “sitting at the kids’ table”.  Getting a seat at the table is one thing.  Getting to sit there permanently is another. 

Getting “a seat at the table” is one of the topics that comes up again and again in conferences, white papers, and blog posts targeted to HR Professionals (and IT and Sales professionals).  It struck me today that although this blog is now in its’ seventh year, there isn’t a single post referencing the question directly, yet Strategic Workforce Planning is in many ways the answer.  

HR is intricately involved in the execution of strategy, and in an increasing number of organisations, in its’ formulation.  After all, it’s the executive that sets the strategy, but the entire workforce that executes it.  HR, therefore, is in a unique position to provide valuable input into the formulation – so long as they can speak the language of business.  

Have you ever been to a dinner party where one person just can’t hold a conversation with anyone else?  That’s an unprepared HR person who’s just been granted a “seat at the table”.  Chances are, they won’t get invited to the next party.  And you don’t get an invite to a dinner party in the first place if you haven’t first engaged with the host on some level.

Instead of focusing on how to get an invite, how about we focus on how to add value, to provide insights, to bring a different perspective?  Do that, make a meaningful input to conversations with the business, and the invitation to the party will follow.  For HR wanting to get invited to the executive table, that means understanding the business strategy, what it’s going to take to formulate and execute it, and how you can help.  It means an eye on the future, not looking exclusively at the past, or the present.  It’s not about “best practice” or “how company X does it”, and it’s certainly not complaining about what you wish was different.  It’s about ROI, results, improvement, and insight.

“How do I get a seat at the table?” is the wrong question to ask.  You don’t get an invitation to the party by wishing you had one.  You either engage at a meaningful level with the host, or you crash the party and make such an impression that nobody can imagine having another one without you.

And here’s an exercise – 

1) If you could invite 5 people to a dinner party from any period in time, be they alive or dead, real or fictional – who would they be?
2) Now list the reasons why you would invite those 5 people.
3) Now ask yourself – honestly – can you provide those things in an executive-level conversation?
4) If so, DO IT!  If not, work on it, then… DO IT!