New Years 1

New Year’s Evolutions

So here we are at the start of a new year, slogging through the inevitable (and often tedious) year-in-review retrospectives and forecasts for 2012. But, let’s be honest – how much do those forecasts really affect your life?

We get it – looking ahead requires perspective in terms of where we’ve been and what we’ve learned so far, and too often forecasters merely jump on the most recent bandwagon. We know from experience that sustained high performance is synonymous with, among other things, being ready for change – but having a degree of insight into what’s around the corner doesn’t hurt.

It’s easy to predict that new challenges await all of us – but research and experience clearly shows that organizations best positioned to seize upon and leverage the strategic advantage of the next best practice, and that continue to foster a culture of innovation, are the successful organizations. So what does all that really mean – what should we in HR be thinking about and how can we support innovation and growth that will help kick our organizations into high gear in 2012?

Start by making a commitment to embracing the sometimes complex, but high-value strategic work recent human capital research has demonstrated is critical for success. Here’s a rundown based on i4cp’s 2011 research of just a few of the issues we think are important for organizational success in 2012 and beyond:


One of our favorite quotes of 2011 came from the SVP of HR at one of our member companies. To paraphrase, he said “Historically, HR has done a horrible job of leveraging data to its advantage, certainly when compared with sales, marketing or other strategic functions.” This sentiment sums up why the subject of Evidenced Based Human Resources (EBHR) has risen so dramatically in popularity.

John Gibbons, i4cp’s VP of Research, defines EBHR as “Simply, the use of human capital analytics and scientific standards of causation to build a case for how people management practices drive operational and financial performance of the business.” Many seasoned HR professionals are embracing evidenced-based decision-making and resisting the urge to avoid it because it’s perceived to be too complicated, too costly, too critical or just another fad. More organizations are using evidenced-based approaches to measure and manage talent, and this practice is serving as a competitive advantage – not only in terms of how they compete for, engage and retain talent, but as a competitive lever for the organization as a whole. Employees are the most important asset in most organizations, and EBHR increases the financial contributions HR makes to business by effectively leveraging that asset.

Gibbons recommends two initial and simple steps for implementing EBHR: ensure the HR team understands the most important measures used in the enterprise and keep the first project(s) small. Bottom line, you don't need to tackle everything at once, but ignoring EBHR could be a fatal management mistake. If you missed it, check out John’s webinar on EBHR for more information.

Performance management

It became somewhat popular in 2011 to suggest that eradicating the performance appraisal process is what should happen in order to improve the culture. Our research suggests something far different – top organizations more often perfect and leverage the PM process to gain a strategic advantage.

If that’s the case, why does the term performance management evoke so much criticism? Why do so many of us, even the owners of PM, dread it as something to be tolerated at best? If your organization’s approach to PM needs to be re-tooled, familiarize yourself with i4cp’s Performance Management Playbook: Tools and Techniques for Managing Performance. This playbook addresses the fundamental programs and philosophies used by top companies, and expounds on the ideas organizations should consider in building a best-in-class PM program that is strategic, well-understood and expertly executed. It also examines some of the key findings from two i4cp surveys on the topic, and features real world strategies and approaches currently in practice in leading organizations worldwide.

For example, forced ranking and forced distribution has seen a significant decline in high-performing organizations. Why? Mainly because these systems are often “gamed” by managers rather than being applied properly and producing real results. That doesn’t mean it isn’t appropriate for some corporate cultures, but understanding what types of culture are right for these practices is critical to ensuring performance management success.

Contingent workers

The four-year, stomach churning roller coaster that has been the global economy has brought about a great deal of change in approaches to staffing and as a result, the demand for contingent workers has increased. Our research on the use of contingent workers found that now more than ever, there is a demand for agility as well as acumen on several fronts – workers and executives must be equipped with core competencies such as critical thinking, effective communication, creativity and innovation.

Organizations must be able to expand and contract the workforce as needed and knowing how to do that without losing efficiency and effectiveness is critical. This means striking that critical balance of deploying and managing contingent workers strategically while also keeping permanent employees engaged. This is much easier said than done, but our report, The State of the Contingent Workforce, which was featured in the Wall Street Journal, offers insights into road-tested strategies being employed by some of our members.

Embracing technology (when it makes sense)

Like the fallacy that humans use just a small percentage of our brain capacity (so not true!) leaving our full potential untapped, we seem to easily fall into the same line of erroneous thinking regarding new, innovative technology. Take the ubiquitous smartphone for example. In i4cp ’s research in partnership with ASTD we found that just-in-time, always-in-context learning can save a company a tremendous amount of money while improving productivity.

But questions arose too – do content owners need to develop a mobile application for every piece of content they create? If so, does there need to be versions that run on iPhones®, Android®, BlackBerrys® and Windows® phones (among others)? What about tablets? Are there authoring or content creation tools that make this easy? How do we manage all of this – through our existing Learning Management System (LMS)? These and other issues are tackled in our research, and as is often the case, high-performing organizations take a different path than their low-performing counterparts.

Speaking up, even when the news isn’t great

The very basic foundation of an effective HR strategy is a culture that supports all levels of employees in an organization. This is often achieved through effective, coherent internal communication. i4cp’s research on communication, highlighted in our Effective Internal Communications Report, found that high-performing organizations know that internal communications must be strategic in addition to being tactical – they use internal communications to deliver higher level information, including policy changes, company successes, company financials and even pay-for-performance information, while lower performers view it as a vehicle for delivering emergency, crisis and safety information.

There are, of course, myriad issues and concerns beyond these that keep all of us up at night. While the uncertainty of what lies ahead is the one thing we all have in common, the ability to deal with our constantly evolving roles with confidence based on evidence, facts and research will help us sleep a little more soundly.

To all of our i4cp member organizations, thanks for a productive and profitable 2011 – we’re looking forward to even higher performance in 2012.

Lorrie Lykins is i4cp's Managing Editor and Director of Research Services. She has been engaged in the study of human capital management since 2002 and has published widely to include authoring a chapter in the ASTD Leadership Handbook (2010) and publishing feature articles and editorials in various journals and magazines. Her work at i4cp has been featured in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She is an adjunct professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.