Mile-wide-inch-deep: Why HR Tech ends up as, “much ado about nothing”

Let me begin by saying that, HR is working hard.

Working hard to pivot. Working hard to become digital. Working hard to keep pace with the Millennials and Gen-Z. Yet, all that hard work, ends up as, “much ado about nothing”. Allow me to explain.

To be fair, in the last 10-15 years or so, HR in India has invested resources in technology. However, the approach HR and service providers have traditionally taken is:

  1. Do-a-bit-of-everything: Typical HR-Tech solutions try to address everything from recruitment, performance management, compensation to training with one “end-to-end solution”.
  1. One-size-fits-all-employees: The only way a solution can address such varied functions en-masse, is treating all employees just the same; i.e. assuming that all employees want the same things, work in the same way, are motivated similarly – and therefore must be managed the same way.

This has led to the generation of mile-wide-inch-deep HR-Tech solutions, offered by biggest players in the market. And for sure, these have made the task of “management” of employees convenient. However, the fact that we have forgotten the core purpose of HR-Tech (an “experience enabler”) and traded it for convenience – is the root of HR-Tech – with all the hype around it – becoming a case of much-ado-about-nothing.

In his white-paper (a highly recommended read), Josh Bersin, argues that while the use of technology systems by employees has increased in the US – the output has only marginally improved. And this is while employees are working longer hours, taking fewer vacations and being stressed – if the burgeoning corporate spent on well-being programs (USD 40 Billion per year) is anything to go by. The story back home is no different, given Indian employees switch more jobs than any other country, and nearly 50% of employees admit to experiencing stress at workplace.

I said it in my previous blog, and I will say it many times over. The idea of “managing employees” simply doesn’t work. Employees expect a certain experience from their workplace. And if they don’t get it, they have the choice to move. A choice, that they are increasingly exercising without any qualms. Gone are the days when employees aspired for a long-service award. We live in the age of portfolio careers.

If HR’s core objective is to enable employees’ experience, such that they work to their best potential; and if the core objective of HR-technology is to enable that goal – then clearly things have failed. Infact, I will go a step further to say that, even as HR has realized the need to change its approach, technology is coming in its way. Clearly, the investment, efforts and brouhaha around HR-Tech, in its current avataar, are simply much-ado-about-nothing.

“Okay we get it – but what is the solution?”  You might ask.

To start with, the solution is not, to shoot the messenger. Technology is only a tool. The success or failure of it, depends on how it is used. As I see it, we need to go back to the drawing board, and flip the two aspects of the approach, I mentioned in the beginning.

  1. One-size-fits-all Each-employee-to-his-own

Improving technology, begins with changing the underlying assumptions. In our case, it is the underlying assumptions about what employees want.

Raghav may be willing to work for a lower pay, provided he can have flexi-time to take care of his kid. Harini might want a higher take-home component to be able to pay for her mortgage. Further, each of these employees may have different needs at different life stages. Further , Harini learns better by watching e-learning videos. Raghav learns better by talking to peers.

If we want HR-Tech that will enable Raghav, Harini and many others like them – we need to begin with acknowledging that they don’t want the same things.

  1. Do-a-bit-of-everything Do-few-things-well

As a natural outcome of acknowledging that each employee wants a different experience, we will have to dig deeper into each HR process and deliver it to the employees individually, in a manner that suits them. This requires a shift from mile-wide-inch-deep solutions to feet-wide-mile-deep solutions, where specialists dig deep into each HR sub-function, brought together by platforms that enable interoperability.

I wish I could say that Dockabl is a pioneer in this kind of tech approach. But the truth is, this kind of approach has been staring right at our face every morning – in form of a Google screen. Google in itself does not solve any of our problems. But it brings together all the solutions out there. Or, take Facebook, which does not create any of the Farmville or Candy Crush Saga we love, but simply hosts them.

So, we are not pioneers. It’s just, that we are the first to recognize the potential of something that was out there for everyone to see (but got missed in plain sight) – and bring it to HR. But I am happy today, as an HR person more than anything else, that players such as Workday, SAP, Oracle are warming up to it – maybe slowly, sometime shyly, perhaps reluctantly – but surely; happy that they are moving to “open platforms” that will allow specialists like Dockabl to provide feet-wide-mile-deep solutions.

Finally, and at the cost of repeating myself, I will say something – that we keep reminding ourselves at Dockabl every day. A reminder, of the fundamental assumption which is at the heart of our product design. In the words of Shakespeare in his play called (well!)  “Much Ado About Nothing”..

A line we remember about every employee we design Dockabl for…

“Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”

Continuous Performance Essentials For Startups

A new shift has been underway that most startups are recognizing. Competing in today’s digital business environment demands a new approach to performance management.

Performance management has long been overdue for a revolution, and digital is the way forward. Its future is now rooted in data, in being flexible, continuous, and development focused.

Technology-enabled, continuous performance systems are driving today’s successful HR transformations.

As annual reviews fall out of favor, their replacements are more agile performance review strategies. This allows for frequent communication about performance between supervisors and employees.

And let’s be real, annual reviews have needed an overhaul for a while now. It is difficult to collate and keep track of different feedback. These reviews are not usually reflective of a holistic evaluation of the year. It ends up being bits and pieces of different elements.

How can employees thrive when there is no real-time management and feedback? How do you give them a running start towards professional development, while still addressing key issues at hand?


Develop a roadmap for development


The first step in developing a continuous performance management system is to start with a baseline. Having a strategy based on objectives and key results (OKR) is beneficial because it gives both employee and employer a level playing field.

Expectations are set and communicated and there is little confusion or misunderstanding. OKR allows employers to put in place coordination in a startup. It also ensures accurate communication and establishes indicators to measure success.

Establishing a culture of goal setting aligns the entire team to work towards the key driver – “growth”.

A 360-degree performance review that integrates OKR into it gives employees a new way to understand their place in organizations. This is especially salient in a start-up context. Roles may be more fluid and there is rapid growth, so employees need to be able to adapt quickly to new settings. The 360-degree model gives them more understanding of how their work is being viewed.


What is the role of real-time feedback?


Running a startup can be tough – trust me, I know. Tensions run high, management can sometimes be difficult. Especially when you’re promoting more junior members to senior positions.

The transition can be tough, both for employees and employers as these new roles come in. This is why real-time feedback is so important in implementing an OKR strategy. Its main goal is to help a team focus their efforts and move in the same direction to succeed.

Combined with instant feedback, this strategy helps improve efficiency in job roles. This also builds a more focused and engaged workforce. Increase employee engagement and retention by creating a culture of appreciation. I’ve seen firsthand how transformational this can be for startups, and we built Dockabl with this in mind. For example –

  • Dockabl allows easy setup and delegation of goals for seamless week-on-week execution while keeping an eye on your long and short term strategy. Because when people are open to feedback, communication flows improve.
  • Dockabl’s review module keeps you connected to the process in real-time. Whether it is the status or communication with other stakeholders. It also allows mid-review changes in the simplest way.

Today’s technology wires us for instant feedback. Millennials always want to match their cadence by setting aggressive, short-term goals. This is why the feedback module works great for collecting and soliciting feedback anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to wait to launch and receive feedback. This works great during project catch-ups and presentations.

The role of peer to peer recognition is also important to recognize here. We know that employees feel much better when they get recognized by their peers. But how do you do that in a meaningful and tangible way?

Dockabl allows calling out value badges with a simple #hashtag along with the points, images and more while recognizing peers. You can also customize the experience to match your organization’s style.


Measurable progress


One of the larger issues with the current performance management is that there are no real ways to measure goals and objectives. Sitting down every once in a while isn’t that helpful, whether it’s a large team or small. Goal progress is important because it gives employees a signpost for how they can progress and develop. It helps you and your team keep the momentum and intensity high. Dockabl allows you to update progress on objectives & key result areas via the on-going check-in feature.

Why is this important? Because performance management can no longer stick to its one-size-fits-all roots. Customizing a review process for employees ensures that it is in line with company culture, and it is you. Plus Dockabl’s review wizard helps recreate a variety of your best review practices online. With our Reviews module, translate any philosophy, which means you can meld best practices and your own unique culture to build a process that is reflective of these two worlds.

Dockabl allows feedback to be provided in a free-flowing or via pre-defined questionnaires. Translate complex frameworks into comprehensive forms accessible to all. You can create a performance management system that is positive, collaborative, and accessible from anywhere.


True transparency


Another major flaw of performance management is the secrecy that goes around it. Reviews are shrouded in secrecy. No one knows how the other is doing, and it can often lead to a stressful work environment. By bringing in transparency, you can show that the system is fair, and so that everyone feels like an equal.

Every OKR at any level in the startup must be public. It is necessary to help you know what matters and what everyone else is working on.

Dockabl helps manage people & resources in real-time by keeping the lines of communication always open. This way you build an environment where you foster discussions.

You can create a performance management system that works for your people – not against them.


We’ve created a simple system that allows co-workers to receive and provide timely help by sharing development insights. By linking it to a project, skillset or behaviour, feedback can have a real tangible impact on professional development and start meaningful conversations between employee and employer. Learn more here.

Effective Tips On Leveraging Cross Functional Collaboration To Grow Your Startup

Some startups believe that business is operating in silos. Their marketing departments are constantly entering new dimensions, while sales try to expand the existing accounts. The customer service departments are scattered to different ventures and have a hard time offering customized experiences to clients.

All these groups may serve different functions, but the ultimate goal needs to be consistent and focused on the growth of the startup. You can achieve this by implementing cross-functional synergies.

In this five-minute read, we offer all the tips you need to put in place a strategy and speed up your newly established business.


What does cross-functional collaboration entail?


By cross-functional teams, we refer to groups of staff members within an organization with different expertise working towards common goals and objectives. Workers from all levels in the business can collaborate to achieve results that speed up business growth. Such a team could put in place crucial improvements within the business. Thus, it is an effective tool for implementing a culture of continuous growth and improvement.

Studies state that businesses with strong governance support either through a higher-level cross-collaboration or a high-level executive champion achieved a 76 percent success rate. This shows how much you need to keep your staff working together. But we have more reasons why you should have the strategy in place already.


Benefits of cross-functional collaboration


The entire process of nurturing a cross-functional team may seem daunting, but trust us, it is a worthy decision.

One of the crucial benefits is that it encourages a collaborative culture as the business grows. Different areas of expertise and backgrounds create a team with a collective knowledge base, and they also work towards shared goals. So if you have not harnessed this form of energy in your new business, then you are missing out.

The culture also encourages experimentation and continuing education, which are also crucial drivers of business growth. When the IT and sales department tackle a project together, no doubt a lot of learning will take place. And what if the sales agent wanted to learn how things worked in the back-end? What if that lady in IT has some cool sales ideas that she picked up in her evening classes?

Worker satisfaction and autonomy are based on allowing your staff to grow and learn, and we recommend cross-functional teams for this.

This business growth strategy also sparks innovation. With departments working together, you will soon have your best marketers also thinking like IT specialists, while the coding expert will be creating incredible marketing flyers. You will also strengthen staff alignment to the vision and mission of the company. Understandably, you want to make the overall vision happen. Luckily, this will get closer to your face if you have different departments and skillsets working for a similar goal.


Tips on building successful cross-functional teams


Collaboration across departments is crucial to business performance and innovation. So it is in your best interest to have in place a united approach to business growth. We recommend the following strategies:


  1. Encourage random interactions

A spontaneous chat in the break room could bring about an innovation breakthrough. Businesses with effective strategies in place design the operation schedule and workday to allow for these random interactions.


  1. Promote diversity

Grabbing an individual from every department to create a team may be easy. But to maximize the team’s effectiveness, your group must cut across different areas beyond their working sections. Factors to consider when developing your team include experience, ability, seniority, skills, tenure, gender, and location.


  1. Work with influencers

Most organizations have employees who are born leaders regardless of their position in the company. Such people are adored and respected and tend to work well with their colleagues. It is easier for such an individual to influence other team members to take part in the activities. These are the perfect influencers to help enhance your efforts by getting others engaged.


  1. Involve experts in the subject matter

You can also grow your business through cross-departmental collaboration by leveraging on people within the organization knowledgeable on particular products, processes, or disciplines. These important team members could share their knowledge and skills with the rest of the staff. This helps educate employees with less experience, while the experts simultaneously end up with a new point of view.


  1. Assess the true impact

You must enable your teams to measure the impact they are having as this creates momentum while ensuring the sustainability of the respective teams. Of course, your staff want to see how much difference their efforts have created. So showing them the actual results could urge them to maintain the continuous cross-developmental engagement.


  1. Align Incentives

Without recognizing and rewarding performing employees in all departments, all the strategies we have highlighted above can be undermined. Financial incentives based on the goals of a particular department have poor results and would lead to paycheck conflicts. So to achieve an effective collaboration system, your goals and incentives must acknowledge and reward performing individuals across all departments.


User-friendly tools such as Dockabl can help review performance, and manage feedback and recognition to all your teams. Get docked and make it simple to appreciate the efforts of the team members who deserve it.

The current startup environment needs innovation, and this can be easily achieved if a diverse group of employees with different interests, skills, and expertise works together. Furthermore, dialogue between staff with varying industry backgrounds has become a fundamental part of boosting creativity and sparking innovation.

This communication can be achieved faster in startups through cross-functional synergies. It may not be easy, but once in place, the strategy could facilitate innovation and collaborative culture. Both of these are crucial tools for the improvement of your bottom line and facilitate business growth.


Why Ongoing feedback Is The Way Forward For Your Startup

The term ‘performance management’ has seen many evolutions over the years in the corporate world, but what does it actually mean? And how applicable is it as a one-size-fits-all model, especially in a new world filled with start-ups and non-traditional work environments?

These are two complex questions, so let’s take them one at a time.

The role of performance management


Feedback is the lifeblood of performance. It sounds straightforward. You tell employees how they can improve based on what you (and others) have observed, and voila. Change is there.

Not exactly.

That’s the simple scenario but rarely is it the case. The meaning of performance management itself is based on several components:

  • Behaviour
  • Outcomes
  • Skill-sets

These can be complicated individually, and together, even more. You could be seeing certain behaviour that are keeping employees behind, like procrastination. Or there might be projects where a team member wasn’t performing well. They might be missing certain skill sets that are keeping them from progressing. A simple change could help evolve in their position and equip them with knowledge on how to improve and progress within the team.

However, taking all of these disparate pieces and trying to cobble them together is difficult. Which is why performance management has seen a lot of shifts. How do you address all of these things effectively, and with impact? Ideally, you would be able to talk to colleagues right then and there, as soon as you spot whatever it is that needs fixing…but that doesn’t happen. By the time feedback is delivered, that moment is long gone so it takes more time to see a change.

In an earlier post, We wrote about the diminishing role of management and there’s a particular phrase that bears repeating:

We have all heard the cliche, “don’t measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree”. Yet, we implement this cliche with religious zeal through performance management systems, every year, around the world.

Rather than making feedback, and thereby broader performance management more individualized, it becomes standardized. This version of performance management doesn’t end up working for employees. But recognizing their individual strengths and weaknesses does. It’s about showing employees, in real time, about what’s going well and what isn’t. For feedback to be effective, it needs to be timely and tailored.

Examining startups in this context


Taking on the second question, performance management takes on more importance in the context of startups, for a variety of reasons.

Startups function differently from conventional corporations as they are made up of smaller teams of talented (and often young) professionals. Within these teams, management experience itself can be varied in these settings, which makes employee feedback and morale that much more critical.

Sometimes younger team members might be put in a management setting they are unfamiliar with (and therefore struggle with delivering employee feedback) or might be managing employees with more experience. Or there might be more experienced senior managers who struggle with the start-up setting and delivering feedback in a more meaningful way since they are more used to different performance management methods.

In either scenario, I think the role of ongoing feedback takes on more importance because it is experience-agnostic. Rather than adhering to older, stolid ways of feedback, there needs to be a shift in thinking.

There is more focus on multiple milestones rather than big accomplishments. By rewarding their employees for making incremental progress, they can nudge them towards the overall goal and encourage them to ‘level up’ at every step of the way. This form of structuring and delivering feedback is beneficial, both for employees and management teams. 

By utilizing this interactive (and rather fair) form of appraisal (constant feedback), managers can benefit from a less time consuming and more cost-effective way to manage employees. It becomes a collaborative process between employee and employer, and it sets up expectations well. Either employer/manager or both employee and employer can begin setting up objectives and goals for the employee, which can, in turn, help him/her perform better. This is due to the fact that it lets employees know the goals they need to reach as well as the quality and quantity needed to achieve them.

It is also worth noting that, if both employee and employer decide on objectives together, the probability of meeting those goals can be much higher.

So what difference does ongoing feedback make?


Simple, because feedback involves two parties: employee and employer. Rather than siloing feedback, this allows smaller teams to grow together. Remember that earlier phrase about not teaching fish to climb trees? It applies here. This form of appraisal opens up the process into a dialogue and a real conversation. Instead of expecting employees to adhere to the same standards, treating them as individuals opens up a new realm of professional development that has true impact. 

While it might seem daunting to start a system of ongoing feedback, I can tell you firsthand, the individual employee approach works. I’ve seen it time and time again in different circumstances, and for start-ups, in particular, this form of performance management is far more effective and meaningful – both for employees and employers.


Is your startup struggling with delivering feedback that provides real value for employees? Our Feedback module can help. We’ve created a simple system that allows co-workers to receive and provide timely help by sharing development insights. By linking it directly to a project, skillset or behaviour, feedback can have a real tangible impact on professional development. Learn more here.



Fill it, shut it, forget it: Why the very idea of ‘Management’ is all wrong

“Human Resource Management”

“Talent Management”

“Learning Management”

“Performance Management”

Meet the corner-stone of how people are dealt with in organizations, i.e. management. Even the top business schools around the world are dedicated to this one cause. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I went to one of them. But here’s what I want to say today, without qualms, and from the bottom of my heart:

If we care for how businesses can create value using their human capital, we should scrap every trace of this thing called “management” from organizations, and drown it in the deepest ocean known to man.

Now if that seems a little extreme, bear with me for a while. I hope you will soon see the point.

Take for instance performance management. Every working professional has suffered it. What is the yardstick “successful” performance management system? That it is “standard”. We have all heard the cliché, “don’t measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree”. Yet, we implement this cliché with religious zeal through performance management systems, every year, around the world.

You see, management is nothing but a “set of transactions”. We need to pay employees, so let’s define a philosophy, process and policy, i.e. set of transactions – whether or not they suit the context or employee need. Similarly, we need to hire people, so let’s have a fixed selection process irrespective of the fact that different candidates may need to be assessed differently.

Problem is, our idea of “management” assumes that “one size fits all”.

But if we look around, the employees have changed. People might choose to work with start-ups at 1/4th the salary. A decade or so ago, people focused on career, money and a stable job. Today they are seeking learning and a meaningful experience. Job is just a by-product. There is no way we can create experiences that make sense to each individual with the current idea of management – which prioritizes efficiency and standardization above personalized experiences.

I was in a conversation with a senior leader in one of blue-chip companies. We were talking about the kind of people who are joining start-ups like ours (@Dockabl). He said,

“Sanjeev, I want talent like you have, but we don’t know how to attract them”.

This is someone from a blue-chip company telling the founder of a start-up. No, I don’t feel smug. I feel sad.

Sad because the answer is not all that difficult. And there are companies who are already practicing it. In Asian Paints, when they find an employee not doing well – they don’t simply discard him/her in the bell curve. They ask 3 fundamental questions:

·      Have we put him in the right place?

·      Have we enabled him?

·      Have we created the right experience for him?

The company practices “putting the fish back into the water”, not judging it for climbing a tree.

Another example is that of Sapient. That is one company I have almost never heard any employee crib about their HR. I happened to meet someone from their HR team at a conference and asked her what they were doing differently. The answer was simple. “We are focusing on individual aspirations”, she said.

Now we might ask, how do we enable individual aspirations, without a standardized management system, while dealing with large numbers?

Fair question.

Let me give the example of a Google screen. How does it look? Is it loaded with features? Or, is it plain and simple? It is the latter. Yet, Google offers a world of tools to you. But it does so, without over-whelming you – and it gives you, what you need, by understanding you. So, your Google screen over time, will work differently for you, than it will, for me.

In my interactions with business and HR leaders over years, my sense is that many do realize that the traditional management methods have failed. However, they are still stuck with the inertia of using tools and systems, designed for the erstwhile management style. While the philosophy has changed, the systems have not.

I was speaking on a panel, at a conference, recently. I asked (rather poked) the audience:

Don’t you think the technology we use for people, within organizations, are like glorified excel sheets?

There were about 150 HR professionals in that auditorium and everyone got laughing, nodding their heads vigorously. We know the problem. We also know the solution. In an age where user-experience is the king, organizations cannot afford to turn a blind eye to it, when it comes to the tools used for their own employees.

There used to be this Hero Honda ad when I was young.

Fill it. Shut it. Forget it.

For far too long, we have dealt with employees like that; i.e. creating a management system once, and forgetting about it, even after the context and employee expectations have changed.

Employees are taking cognizance of the changes in the world. And they are taking charge of the situation. It’s high time, organizations wake up, and do the same.

Millennials will not play ‘Emperor’s clothes’ with archaic talent management systems

It is both appalling and intriguing. On one hand we are talking about the fourth industrial revolution where man and machine will work side by side. Yet, we have managed to stay in the Flintstone age when it comes to talent management systems, used by organizations. Worse, we are resisting doing something about it.

Sometime in February 2017, I was talking to our friend (now also investor and client), Aditya Berlia. I was moving out of my last entrepreneurial venture, looking to solve a problem in my core domain. I still remember what he said.

If you want to solve any problem Samarth, solve the problem of these horrifyingly expensive, inflexible, bulky talent management systems with such poor user experience.

That statement pretty much started Dockabl.

The problem exists at multiple levels.

Firstly, it is the question of, who do these archaic talent management tools serve – the ‘talent’ or the ‘management’? Most employees will recall (painfully) the experience of filling year-end appraisals on these difficult-to-use, boring tools. The experience is like typing an SMS on those single-line display push-phones of early 2000s. I am not even talking about the difficulty, a field staff faces while accessing these systems remotely. Even, HR folks themselves have a night-marish experience, often resorting to manual excel-based follow-ups, to complete the process.

Secondly, the problem is at the level of the very talent philosophy these tools support. We are still appraising employees once a year – despite all the talk about continuous dialogues. The entire process of performance rating is a black box for most parts. Even recognition waits for the occasional townhall and most people are not sure of the criteria applied to select those who are awarded. There is no transparency or consistency in the process.

Few key questions here are:

  • Is this the kind of talent philosophy organizations believe in?
  • If not, why is there a gap between the philosophy we propagate, and the one we practice?
  • Whether a tool does or doesn’t enable the talent philosophy; should this not be a key decision-making criterion for CHROs to sign-off on tools?

In many of our discussion, we still find CHROs stuck in the past of end-to-end type of tools – which may provide convenience to the decision-maker and some cost savings, but seriously compromise on the impact they create on employees. HR is finding it difficult to shake-off its identity of a ‘cost saver’ and think like a ‘value-creator’. As a member of the HR fraternity, this worries me!

Thirdly, the generation of millennials is not one that conforms. They are not those who will do something, just because they are told – unless they see sense in it. They need to know how they are performing, here and now. They are not okay with waiting for a full year to hear a year-end prophesy about their future in the organization. They are not afraid to ask questions and express their disagreement.

We are watching this story unfold in every organization. Take two of our clients. One of them is among India’s largest e-commerce platform. They are an organization who are as millennial as it gets. The other client is a Big 4 audit firm at the cutting edge of talent practices. Yet, both found themselves struggling with tools that are status quo in the market, which neither support their talent philosophy nor are well accepted by employees.

I really like this story of the Emperor’s clothes. How all of the King’s subject saw everything, but said nothing. For far too long, we have been like those subjects. We have struggled with these tools and never challenged the status quo. But the millennials are like that child at the end of story, who gave the Emperor a reality check.

Times have changed. The technology has changed. The users have changed.

If organizations fail to change their act, they will be much like the Emperor, parading in the past, to be called out in the open, by their very own employees.

The HR ‘split personality’ simply isn’t working

Sometime during the year

Dear Employees,

For the development of budding managers, we are launching a 360 degree feedback program.

Thank You, Talent Management Team


Later in the year

Dear Employees,

We are thrilled to announce a tie-up with a so-famous-university for continued education of our top talent.

Thank You, Learning & Development Team


In the same year

Dear Employees,

To keep our teams motivated to do good work, we are launching a peer-recognition program.

Thank You, Employee Engagement Team


Sounds familiar?

HR was meant to be a single entity; the arm of business that engages with people. However, somewhere down the line, HR developed this split personality – a composite of recruitment, compensation, talent management, business partners, OD, learnings, engagement, etc. What makes it a split personality (and not a multi-faceted personality) is that:

All facets of HR operate disjointedly, having very little connection to each other.

Take for instance a very common phenomenon in organizations, i.e. attrition. When more people start leaving, the employee engagement team swings into action, rolling out interventions to “make employees happy”. Or, the compensation team rolls out “retention bonuses” for “key talent”. In parallel, the recruitment team naturally has more numbers to rehire. However, almost never does it happen, that the recruitment team is involved in conversations on why people are leaving.

Pause for a while, to marvel at the manner we operate in.

I will say it again. The part of HR which is responsible for bringing people into the organization, has no involvement or in-depth understanding of, why people are leaving the organization! This is what I mean by HR having dis-integrated into multiple sub-functions operating in silos. The biggest tell-tale sign of this dis-integration is that:

HR has become, a function of “interventions” and “check-boxes”, instead of a function that creates impact.

If you have attended any town-hall presentation of HR, the slides are mostly around a list of “HR initiatives”; something like this:

  • Learning team conducted 300 trainings
  • Business partners facilitated 50 team building activities
  • Engagement team organized “employee coffee conversations”
  • Talent management launched “leader connect”

However, the key questions remain unanswered:

  • Why did you take these “initiatives”?
  • What problem were you solving?
  • Why were these the best solutions?
  • How are the initiatives connected to each other, and to an overall goal?
  • What’s happening to the “initiatives” taken last year?
  • What is the impact – how does it affect the employee’s life?

No wonder employees and managers feel awkward, when you have to go in for the “annual ceremony” of performance conversations. If you never had a discussion in the entire year, good luck with having any meaningful conversation about what happened 12 or 6 months ago! Further, it is not surprising that the “learning goals” you chose a year ago, make no sense during the appraisal discussion.

Or, even the training programs you get nominated to, just because you and your manager need something to fill in the “developmental goals” section.

We at Dockabl, follow a simple practice for the development of our team. We don’t have the typical blanket workshops for everyone. We practice micro-dosed, on-demand learning. While on-job, any team member who feels the need to quickly learn a skill (say something to do with programming on Coursera), they ask for it, and we enable it. It has a direct impact on business outcomes. It helps the employee perform better, get rewarded better. They feel nice getting better at their job. Everything gets connected to each other – learning, performance, reward, motivation and engagement.

It’s not that organizations need to crack some Da Vinci code of HR, to get this right. Organizations simply need to crack common sense.

Common-sense that reminds us, that an employee is one human being. Also, that each employee is unique. So, a set of silos, blanket interventions driven by silos sub-functions, will simply not work.

The key handy-man enabling the HR split personality, are the legacy systems and tools.

Any HR professional in the industry using some of the most popular systems will know that they hardly provide any insights or analytical capabilities to answer questions such as:

  • Why is the employee unable to perform – what can be done to change that (currently these are gut-based solutions, dependent on the managers’ individual wisdom)?
  • Where exactly are hot-spots of problems, addressing which should be our top priority?
  • Are we demonstrating any kind of bias while appraising or rewarding employees (as diversity gains priority, these questions will become critical)?
  • What kind of developmental opportunities do we need to invest in (Currently, this is one of the most unscientific, whim and trend-based decision in organizations)?
  • Can I build a 360-degree employee-view far ahead of the 9 box – can we factor in performance journey (not just ratings), data on key values demonstrated, potential, demographics (helps understand diversity), etc?

One of the top challenges for businesses today is engaging the millennial and Gen Z workforce, amidst making sense of the technology onslaught. Days of interventions like joining bonus, retention bonus, fun and games are over. Unless HR is willing to acknowledge this problem and fix it, it cannot survive the next wave of change in the industry. As they said in the movie, Split:

“The beast is real”.

Digital-divide between workplace and home, no one is talking about

Have you seen those sci-fi movies, where the characters keep moving in and out of parallel universes? That is almost how office-going people are living today.

One of those universes is outside the workplace. Here you can run a good part of your life on the phone. You have choice. You can expect speed. If you don’t like, so much as the look of an app, you can simply discard it. In this universe, your experience matters.

The other universe exists inside workplaces. This one feels like a time travel, 10 years into the past. It is difficult to figure out the login to the tools and navigate the complex and unpleasant interface. Not to mention, you can access it solely on your laptop and sometimes only on your office network. If you happen to work remotely, on field or client site, then your woes just increase. The entire thing takes so much effort that you avoid it for as long as you can, until HR serves its last stern warning. Your experience as an employee? No one cares.

We talk about the digital-divide between urban and rural areas. It is an irony how we suffer that very divide, every single day, between the technology eco-system an employee experiences inside workplaces, and the one they experience outside it; while we pat ourselves on our back for being technology-driven, innovative companies. It is not surprising that a KPMG study on the future of HR, found that only 40% of HR leaders admitted to having a digital workplan in place.

However, we will not get away with this for much longer, for one fundamental reason; that is, the employees of today are driven by experiences. There used to be a time, when people selected companies based on the brand name, stability and such factors. Today we select companies based on the kind of experience they will give us on a daily basis. Earlier, we relied on official websites for information on the company; its revenue, global presence.

These days, hardly anyone gets on the website because those are no longer the criteria for deciding on a workplace. We get on social media and read comments of ex-employees; we get on Glassdoor; we read comments and posts of the company leaders on LinkedIn – and follow the very hiring managers who interviewed us. This is because we care for our experience within the organization. Today a local start-up offering great employee experience may be preferred over a global brand. I have travelled across the country to hire from colleges. Over the years, I have noticed a distinct shift in the way youngsters perceive companies, based on how digitally enabled the selection process itself was.

My colleague and co-founder of DockablSamarth, wrote about the millennials not willing to play along the status quo of talent management systems. Millennials and now Gen Z, are surely the torch-bearers of seeking a better digital experience at workplaces. However, today the oldest millennial is already 38 years of age. All earlier generations have adapted to the digital eco-system outside workplaces, just the same as millennials. Therefore, I believe that the expectation of a better digital experience exists among all cohorts of employees.

Finally, the talent eco-system itself has shifted. Workplaces operate in the gig economy, where portfolio careers are becoming a norm and frequent job changes are no longer considered blotches on the resume. Employees, especially key talent, have choices and they are not hesitant to exercise it. CHROs must factor in this talent risk and the associated cost, while ignoring the digital experience of employees.

The digital divide between workplaces and outside it, is real. If organizations really care for talent, they must seriously consider bridging this gap. And for that, CHROs will need to step out of their alternate universes and step into the parallel world the employee lives in.

Employees Don’t Need to Become Better at their Jobs. Managers do.

Everyoneand we do mean everyone, wants employees to become more productive (in fact, that’s one of the key selling points of our own performance management system, so we’re guilty here too.) So we keep talking about training & motivating them to be better at their job.

Unfortunately, we’re looking at the problem  at a symptomatic level. We’ve focused so much on the employee & his/her performance, that we’ve mostly ignored the real underbelly of the situation – What’s up with our manager? Many of our large companies are stuck in a feudal, hierarchical system where the manager decides what the employee does, based on a ‘set in stone’ job description. Moreover, the manager controls the levers when it comes to the employee’s career progression, which gives the manager too much power and can endanger the employee’s career growth if the manager isn’t actually good at his job.

Finally, we have to consider that no one is actually teaching managers how to manage. The average 2-year MBA program will have maybe one course on how to effectively manage, train and build your team. And once people graduate, companies assume that these graduates will be great managers, because they’re coming from the top B-schools. So within a year or so, a fresher with an MBA degree is put in charge of a team – with little or no study into whether he has the capability, the empathy or the team skills to lead that team.

This is going to change fast, as startups and even larger companies become agile, nimble and data-driven – and we need to train managers to quickly adapt to the coming reality, where the employee, and not the company, is in the driver’s seat. So the question is how to get better at managing teams – without having to go through 18 leadership seminars (“For only Rs. 75,000, you can attend a full-day workshop with eight bored speakers in a swanky hotel basement! You might not learn much, but hey, at least there’s gulab jamun and vanilla ice cream for dessert. And you get to keep the ball pen.”) and 34 self-help books.

So How do we Manage Teams Better?

1.    Get a good Performance Management System, right now! (And we’re not just saying that because we’ve made a really good system, honest) Without a good PMS, you’re running blind when it comes to understanding your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, focus areas, skills & interests. It’s incredibly easy these days to gather relevant data and use it to improve decision-making.

2.    Restructure Career Progression. Don’t assume that “more work experience = better manager”, and build hierarchies and never-changing departments where everyone does the same role for 2-3 years before getting promoted. Structure your company around strategic goals and objectives rather than traditional departments. There are people who can manage large teams, and there are those who can’t (at least without a lot of training.) Don’t assume that if I can manage 3 people at age 28, this means that I can manage 300 people at age 38.

3.    Make goals specific, clear and actionable – and ensure that all Managers know the goals. A manager who doesn’t understand the company’s priorities will not be able to set goals for his own team-members. We spoke to Avantika Susan Nigam, the Total Rewards Capability Lead for Asia, Middle East and North Africa at Pepsi, about permeating organisational goals through the organisation. She told us, “You are only as good as the information provided to you. It’s the organisational leadership’s responsibility to make sure that the organisation’s goals and priorities are clear, and communicated clearly and often. The more you communicate it, the more employees and managers will internalise those objectives. Managers can display behaviours, but they can’t be held accountable for what information they have or don’t have.” A good goal-setting system will make this task much easier.

4.    Have strong feedback and recognition systems. If you’re saving your feedback for the end-of-the-year appraisal cycle, you’re doing it wrong – your team members might not stick around till then. We spoke about this in detail in our last article – make sure you’re acting quickly, getting feedback from multiple sources, and dealing with your subordinates in a fair, transparent and open manner.

The work ethic has changed rapidly over the last few years – and the work environment needs to catch up fast. People are taking more ownership of their careers, and see employment as a mutually-beneficial transaction rather than a long-term loyalty-over-all-else relationship. If your management style reminds them more of a henhouse than a smartly run operation, they’ll be gone soon.

If you want a game-changing tool that truly empowers your managers, Contact us today!

Using data to improve performance and productivity – and balancing it with employee privacy

Talk of “Big Data” is everywhere – but the field of HR is one of the last few holdouts that isn’t rapidly using analytics to improve processes. Talent Management programs (specifically performance reviews, appraisals & employee recognition) still rely on inputs from very few people; it’s either just the immediate boss or the boss plus 2-3 colleagues. Add the recency effect (ref. Samarth’s last piece) and it just compounds these problems.

This is going to change quite rapidly because the startups that use data analytics to help their clients have started looking within and realised that they could be running a much better, faster & stronger organisation through the power of analytics.

An employee stands to gain control over his career, through the use of technology and data in performance management. Now, let’s look at how better use of data will help organisations:

  1. Improving employee recognition and review systems by adding more data points and contributors. Data will allow a 360-degree view in ways that have been impossible till now. A good system that allows for recording of immediate feedback will make appraisal systems more reliable, transparent and trustworthy.
  2. Driving hiring and career decision-making. Data-driven insights will enable decisions on promotions, career progression, skill set enhancement, critical talent retention, culture fitment and value alignment. These are “riddles” that will be demystified with the power of analytics.
  3. Identifying star performers. Ensuring that organisations identify A-level talent, ‘the stars’ who drive the company forward, is vital to success. In the words of Aditya Berlia, Co-promoter of the Apeejay Stya Group, “A-level people work faster, they have a fast learning curve, they’re more productive, they’re the most committed, and they have the biggest impact.” Data based inferences will help an organisation improve the selection capabilities, i.e. identify and onboard more star performers from outside & within the system.
  4. Integrating different systems to build one common view. People Management in large organisations is highly fragmented – recognition, employee engagement, performance management, comp & ben etc. sit with different teams for the required expertise and focus however, they end up becoming silos of operations. A seamless platform would present one view of the organisation with multiple inputs to answer questions such as, “Who deserves my ‘Performer of the Year’ award?”
  5. Making the company more productive and dynamic, focusing more on solving problems in an agile manner than on building hierarchies and departments. Once employee data is readily and clearly available to managers across the organisation, they will quickly assemble teams for projects based on skills and project requirements, rather than building a hierarchical structure around it.

Technology will have a significant impact on the structure and organisation of the workplace of the future; a topic for another article because it needs a deeper dive.

Wait, so much data – what about privacy concerns?

Yes, that’s a lot of data, and we’ve seen in the recent past that people aren’t exactly super careful with others’ personal information (Mr Zuckerberg, we know you’re reading this, and yes, we’re referring to you. Also, we’ve already bought those blue shoes – you can stop showing us their ads now.)

Awareness of privacy norms is increasing and as an increasing number of millennials join the workforce, the expectations that their personal data is safe with the company is paramount. The organisation of the future will have to balance the need for transparent & accessible information-based system with the employees’ expectation of privacy. There will also be legal requirements & compliances and of course, a major data breach will be extremely painful for a company’s reputation. But first and foremost, it’s about basic respect for personal information! So how should companies look at securing data? Here are some simple guidelines:

  • Treat data as a liability, not an asset. An employee’s medical and career history isn’t the employer’s to use as he sees fit; it must be handled very carefully. Collect only what is needed; keep only as long as required and anonymise where individual information is not core.
  • Secure everything. No passwords in text files. No confidential information stored in Microsoft Excel. Strong data encryption. A strong firewall.
  • Restrict access on a need-to-know basis. The HR and Accounts team shouldn’t have open access to everyone’s complete info; there should be processes in place to allow access and access should be logged.

This is more a cultural shift than an IT exercise; privacy and security should be a habit, not a once-a-year mandatory training video that everyone plays in the background while checking Instagram on their phones. Over the next few years, we’re going to be collecting, processing & analysing much more data than ever before. It is our colleagues’ right to ask that we keep it safe.

If you are interested in implementing a cutting-edge talent management system, Call us today!