Engagement Rich Training Model = Culture Differentiator

learning model pic engagemnt

By, Cari Desiderio

The Engagement Rich Model

As the field of talent management evolves, it is becoming clearer that a critical formula to make this stick is a rich layer of engagement and values mindset in the process. This is because the brand of the company and the value sell of the environment need to be deeply woven into the human resource development model. True learning organizations have a mixture of values + purpose + environments of growth and stretch. This is a lynchpin in engaging and retaining the high potentials who can easy wander if there is not something dynamic and exciting to capture their attention.

The Five Sections

The five sections of this learning pyramid tie to culture, development in one’s current role, development into one’s future role and simply growing as a person and as a leader (with an “everyone leads” philosophy which suits our flatter organizations and builds self worth). More and more research are proving that the very act of feeling one is growing and improving is the key here. Certainly career paths need to have positional direction overall. But if some development activities just “grow me as a person” so to speak, I see that the company cares about my whole self. This act of attention is a key differentiator in the overall engagement equation. And, so, it is super important to show visually that the company is setting out to grow a whole person, not just their future XYZ position. It’s all the difference in the world. Either we develop people we care about. Or we just see people as objects to fill jobs. The former creates loyalty and respect. The latter creates high turnover and bad culture.

Getting Granular – Bringing Development To Life

Where the rubber meets the road is where pie in the sky ideas become tangible, practice, workable plans. This is one reason it is important to have a simple, visual and printable action plan for your team members’ development. Software can be very useful too of course. But make sure that every person on your team has a simple and workable map of their learning activities. Some years back my team installed a dynamic HRIS system with an extensive Learning Management and Performance Management arm to it. We hired a consultant and had her map about 70-80 competencies for each job at the company. We then built this into our reviews and succession planning in the HRIS system, so it was visual and automated. This was overall a success in terms of evolving us to a higher level of performance ownership and learning culture. However, one critique I walked away with was that it was too complicated. To hand a team member a print out with 80 things to learn for their current role, paired with a second printout with 80 more things to learn for their succession role, was just too complex. In this overwhelming data, real learning was curtailed.

A Few Examples

So, let’s break this down. In the spirit of simplicity, a workable and engagement rich training model might have about 3-5 core activities going on in each of the five areas. That means no more than 15-25 activities on the development plan heat map at one time. This should map directly to performance reviews and manager communication touch points.

Below is a very simple map of some examples. Identify what the Competency or KSA being grown is. Tie is to the pyramid and show linkage to how it develops the individual as a person, or into a future career path. Then the action items should blend interactive and classroom like training. For example, to build spreadsheets certainly an Excel class could be a simple assigned activity. But to learn how to really bring voice of the customer to life, the team member might lead a larger scale VOC project involving customer interface and internal team interface. Or, to learn to conduct an investigation well the junior HR associate might shadow and learn directly from a senior HR manager.

Make each task meaningful, and tie it to making a person a better them. Remember that development tied to culture and caring, are game changers!

Section of the Pyramid Current Role Role that Assignment Ties To: KSA (Knowledge/Skill/Ability) or Competency that Assignment Ties To:
Core Values Base Marketing Manager All Roles – Core Values are Universal Putting Customers First
Functional Field Knowledge Base Financial Analyst Current Role (Financial Analyst) Building Spreadsheets with Advanced Excel
Stretch Assignments Base HR Associate All Roles – The Act of Stetching (Doing Somethiing Hard for Us) is a Universal Goal Solving Complex Problems
The Future Assignments Base Manufacturing Manager Future Desired Role – Plant Manager Managing a P&L
The Leadership Base IT Supervisor Current Role and Future Desired Role (IT Supervisor, IT Manager) Developing Others

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The New Role of HR in Flat, Global Organizations

new hr

By, Cari Desiderio

The face of business has changed, and so too must the face of HR. I began to see the pattern about five years ago when I was part of a HR team that rolled shared services out to the field for on boarding, and promotion of our HR call center. The goal was to move from a heavy employee facing HR ratio to about a 1:1000 HR Manager ratio in the field. And then ample outsourcing of transactional based HR tasks, a robust call center for the “tier 1” level employee questions and a very dynamic talent acquisition recruiting team in house. It was in this time that I decided to begin to learn the principles of lean and six sigma. This company went from hardly anything to FORTUNE 500 and has grown over 50% the past years.

The principles of scalability and lean are impacting every piece of business operations. America is no longer a corporate monster able to dominate the world. As the book author Thomas Friedman puts it, the world is flat. As third world countries become educated and competition is on a 7 Billon person scale, we all must change with the tides. We must become as lean and efficient as we can. The leanest and most effective companies win. The rest get acquired or lose profits.

As relates to our field of human resources, this means a few things. The chart above highlights just a few key areas that are being changed in our field to shift in a more strategic direction. The big trend here is rooted in the need to build flat and resilient teams. Hierarchy and tradition are out the window. To survive in today’s business world everyone has to be current in skills and able to step up to lead projects, create and initiate. Workers are expected not to just do, but to understand and comprehend at a more sophisticated level so they can make improvements and add new and better ways of doing to the process.

This means that talent is the name of the game. Ingenuity and sharp minds are direly needed to win in this global competition game. Such minds need a new brand of HR supporting them. Old school HR is drying up. Old school HR is focused on rules and establishing tradition and guidelines, and often supports a very change resistant culture. I have in my Dilbert moments called this the way of school marm HR. There to cite policies and enact punishments when said policies are broken. There to take care of the employees much like one tends to children. This works in a culture that wants sheep to follow, but not in a culture that wants people who grow and contribute strategically. This shift is in part happening due to the new generation. Our workplace today is full of independently minded Gen X and team-centric open minded Gen Y who demand a contextual and diverse mindset. But most essentially this way of doing HR is out due to the above mentioned entrepreneurial demands of a flat corporate structure where change agility and openness to new rules, new ways, and new types of teams are the critical lynchpins of success. In the new world of business, we need flexibility and change openness to promote teams that respect the company and stick around. This means we live in the grey. We change the rules. We listen to the people. We rewrite HR.

New school HR is all about shepherding talent. This means engaging people and building culture brands. This means teaching managers how to lead and inspire creativity (and not just “supervise”). This means focus on sourcing and finding top talent to bring in, and realizing that the company with the brightest minds, wins. This means engagement of people by creating cultures that listen to people and their ideas, and fund these ideas. Time in new school HR will be spent in areas such as:

  • Teaching leadership skills to direct and indirect managers with an “everybody leads” philosophy
  • Investing in cutting edge Talent Acquisition processes
  • Investing in cutting edge Talent Development programs and moving to a true Learning Organization
  • Significant focus on team engagement, and the measurement and improvement of employee feedback

This probably means a face lift for a lot of HR practitioners. But that’s OK. It is an exciting time to be in HR. The most strategic time I have even experienced!

Bottle up that Holiday Cheer – it’s Contagious!


By, Cari Desiderio

I’m sitting here fat and full, enjoying the joy of this simple day, a hearty meal, time with family, songs and relaxation. Yes, it is the holidays. For me that is a precious time to simplify and celebrate the gift of forgiveness, joy and faith. But today is otherwise not too different from the rest. The weather is cold and damp and not too pleasant. Nothing is marvelously changed about life. But it is different all the same, isn’t it? It is the holiday season and so that substantially changes the environment due to the meaning of the season. I feel cheer because of what that symbolizes.

Which makes me wonder. Why should this day be so unique? Why should a holiday day really be different than any other day?

So here is a challenge I put forward today. Make every day something special. Don’t be complacent and accept the status quo. For those in the business world, the challenge is this. Bring more than work back to work. Bring some purpose and bring some fun. As Seth Godin says in his book TRIBES, be a heretic, “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.”

I will never forget the fun bag one of my bosses who did this well gave me at a healthcare company I was at a few years back. She was a VP of Finance, not known to be the more energetic of professions. But she defied the status quo of what COOs and Finance VPs were supposed to be. She was a heretic you might say, after the Godin definition. She brought laughter everywhere she went. The fun bag was literally a bag with a clown nose in it, and a book about how to bring joy and fun to each new day. Many of us on her staff received this little gift, which symbolized something she wanted us to remember. She taught me to not let the status quo, the should be, the dreariness, the boredom of corporate America, stifle the wonder of life. She made work fun and appreciated the value in relationships. To this day my best friendships from the workplace are from this company. Because when you let your guard down and approach business and life not as a place to win and conquer and “perform” so hard, but a place to cultivate relationships and find joy, something happens. You are that heretic that Seth Godin speaks of. You are a magnet for followers. You are joyful. And you lead engaged teams. It was in this place of work that I learned to hold fiercely to the principle of positivity and relationship. Yes we will face obstacles to this. I have in fact faced strong resistance when I have held steady to the principles of relationship based management in environments a bit more cold to this, where distance based control and fear management was preferred. But in the end, loyal employees win out and engaged teams are the ones that produce the most profound things. When you lead with a little joy, with a little focus on others before self, you wind up with a loyal group. A tribe as Godin would put in. And these tribes equate to high retention and high performance in the workplace.

So, enjoy this holiday season all! And bring a bottle of that celebration with you to work in 2015!


Godin, Seth. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Find Them, Grow Them, Engage Them!


By, Cari Desiderio

This week I read an article that some HR practitioners may find a bit frightening. It is an article from WSJ that recounts how some companies are saying no to having a human resources department (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304819004579489603299910562). The point of the article is that old school human resources departments can actually be more detrimental than beneficial to organizations. Now on this point I would agree. If you think about the trending toward flat and democratic organizational structures, the notion of a team dedicated to policy pushing and uniformity agenda is unappealing. The organizations of tomorrow are companies fueled by flatter structure with higher accountability around performance and entrepreneurial cultures where those who deliver outcomes win. While there will always be a place to manage performance issues and compliance matters, on the whole the flatter structure “self manages” more of the problems via a strong culture of high performance bars and entrepreneurial allowance.

So if writing handbooks can be outsourced, personnel files can be converted to electronic files managed by shared services, and benefits can easily go to third party administrators, should those of us in the HR profession be concerned? For the change averse, absolutely. However, if re branded there is still a need for human resources that is more powerful and strategic than ever before.

The human resources leader of tomorrow is a talent advocate. A change agent of sorts, who is able to facilitate making the most of a company’s human capital. Study upon study reveals that disengagement in companies is toxic. Gallup estimates $360B a year is the cost in America alone (http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/247/the-high-cost-of-disengaged-employees.aspx ). This is an astounding figure. ROI opportunity for those who can impact the problem of people motivation.

To be corporate partners of tomorrow, the new role of human resources has to be solving the talent problem. Finding talent, and making that talent reach full potential. This requires a move away from the more linear and compliance oriented thinking of yesterday. Find talent. Grow talent. Engage talent. The strategic HR partner of tomorrow is a coach, a mentor, a creative engagement agent of the human spirit!

Town Hall Meetings that Drive Culture and Change

The Town Hall meeting is both a nostalgic and a contemporary activity. This is because some things don’t change, despite change itself. Human need for connectivity and celebration is one of these staples of life. My family just came back from watching the new movie Interstellar. In the movie Matt Damon’s character Dr. Mann loses his marbles after way too much time alone. He references how all humans have a basic need to connect and how he was starved of this for some time. Then he snaps. Too long without people it seems made him a little crazy.

Move analogies aside, the simple need to connect in order to process life is intrinsic to who we are. In particular when a company is undergoing a significant shift, or change, or when it’s struggling and needs the company to pull through, the time for human connection is all the more critical. It’s like the way people gather with warm food and hugs in the church basement after a wake. They need to bond and comfort each other. It’s like the way we celebrate birthdays with friends and family gathered round and gifts and songs. What’s the fun of enjoying a life event without people? So why would communication and rallying together be any different, or more complex for that matter, at work? We need to take off our stiff white collared shirts for a minute and cozy up on a couch somewhere with a cup of cocoa. Gotta nurture your people sometimes or they won’t feel part of the work family.

This is why I like the notion of calling a town hall a town hall at work. I’ve seen different names for such gatherings. Corporate meetings, report outs, state of the plants, all hands, and more. But my favorite corporate gathering was one I used to host with a leader every two months. We called it a Town Hall Meeting. The cool thing about our Town Hall is that we pulled it off quite successfully with only a fifth or so of our team together live, and the rest were virtual across over a couple dozen states. WebEx meeting was the method by which the others joined. But we were able to create a simple routine that engaged celebration, business and discussion virtually. It was critical at the time as we were in a state of constant flux as the R&D segment of a big company and without constant communication our people felt in the dark. Change management would not succeed without these regular meetings.

The action of coming together regularly (quarterly at a minimum – hopefully more often) is a simple way to invite your team to join the vision casting and journey of change. As such, the most critical piece of the people planning process is to etch out a blueprint for success/change that invites people to write it, deploy it, celebrate it and finally lead it. Take out your people and you take out the guts of change management and guarantee failure. A consistent Town Hall meeting is one way to ensure the people are not forgotten in the midst of the business changes.

A good Town Hall has some simple but effective elements. The first is a standard template or ritual to go through. If the meeting can be a dependable event with a bit of tradition, it’s at least one constant in the midst of change. People like some tradition when it comes to gathering together. The second element is celebration. Celebrate new hires. Celebrate work anniversaries. Celebrate break through ideas and team accomplishments. Start off with the celebration and don’t be loose with rewards and monetary recognition. Then the third is the business report out. Be honest about what is going on in the business. Be thorough in report outs about financials and state of business. The fourth element is an invitation to collaborate and build together. Here’s where the soul of engagement occurs. Change fails if top dog leaders shout the plan and cascade down. Change succeeds when team input is solicited and feedback is received and applied even if a correction in course if required. Plus in the discussion process (the actual heart and soul of the classic town hall), some existing team members may step up to embrace leadership and change championship and in so doing become catalysts of the change and leaders themselves. Some may just need encouragement to stay the course – and these meetings are part of the persuasion process. And some may fall to the bottom as a small group that may not wish to join the vision. That’s okay. Better to know than pretend these folks don’t exist. Point being Town Hall meetings can be a perfect setting to gauge where your people are at and work on engagement.

Creating a thoughtful and communication rich change management map necessarily must be a glue to adhere the whole organizational through any major change. Healthy Town Halls are kind of back to the basics. But, they work.

My Favorite Lominger Competency: Dealing with Ambiguity


By, Cari Desiderio

For those who have never taken a good look at the Lominger Competency Model, it’s a great list to study from time to time when it comes to a set of leadership attributes that are worth their weight. A super quick glimpse of them is on this web site: https://www.udemy.com/blog/lominger-competencies/.

Perhaps the “competency” term is a little overused these days. We HR professionals love it, but I am not so sure business leaders see the term as useful outside of HR lingo that you are supposed to talk about. That’s why I prefer not to use the term competency so much. Rather, I prefer to study what these little buzz words actually are, and explain the business case for learning them. ROLI (return on learning investment) here by breaking it down to something logical.

While it may take a full book to review all of the Lominger competency list, there is one personal favorite I like to think can make the difference between good and great. That trait is the ability to handle ambiguity. I appear to not be alone in my enjoyment of this trait as a fellow blogger beat me to the discussion – you can read more here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20130829124922-284615-dealing-with-ambiguity-the-new-business-imperative.

Here’s why dealing with ambiguity seems a deal maker or deal breaker in the realm of true leadership in my opinion. This is because people are curious creatures. We have ideas and feelings that can vary from one day and one circumstance to another. As Adele in one of her songs called “Rumor Has It” says,People say crazy things, Just ’cause I said it, don’t mean that I meant it. There’s a lot of truth in this. We don’t always say what we mean. Life is muddy and one needs to be aware of this. It takes a little wisdom of interpretation, understanding and forgiveness of people to muddle through things in the workplace and made the best decision. Kind of akin to Solomon’s wisdom – smarts only get you so far. You need to be astute about the human condition to navigate with real wisdom. And this is where the ability to deal with ambiguity kicks in. The higher you climb the ladder at work, the more complex and nuanced situations and judgment calls become. One must be able to look at data and see trends and patterns that aren’t always black and white, but that provide adequate guidance (albeit ambiguous) to make the right call.

Now I’m not saying dealing with ambiguity is easy. For those who like crisp policies and rulebooks, this competency will likely be a constant stumbling block. But persist because as long as we work with humans, we must learn to deal with ambiguity.

“The ability to deal with people is as purchasable as a commodity as sugar or coffee and I will pay more for that ability than for any other thing under the sun.” – John D. Rockefeller