What Eddie teaches us about talent

It’s been amusing to watch the mixed reaction to the recent appointment of Eddie Jones as English rugby’s new head coach.  For those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of rugby union please bear with this as it provides an interesting insight into the way we source for talent.

Sporting insights in talent sourcing

Eddie Jones is an Australian so the fact he has now been given the keys to the front door of English rugby has prompted a mixed reaction with significant rumblings from jingoistic corners claiming dismay at an “outsider” being given the chance to lead the team.  It’s the first time a “foreign coach” has been appointed.  Now Eddie Jones is a heavily experienced coach and has the potential to do great things with England (especially in light of Japan’s heroics in the recent World Cup compared to England’s pitiful exit).  But I suspect a number of people will continue to question why the post has been made externally, especially an Aussie.

I think this highlights the real challenge with how you introduce new talent to organisations.   When faced with the challenge of growing new capabilities there can be a tendency to source from existing networks with tried and tested techniques.  However, taking the bold and radical choices and going to a different industry or market can make a real difference.

Jones at least is a rugby professional, albeit from a different country, but there are countless examples in sport of people crossing codes who bring about major changes in performance and create a winning formula.    Team Sky’s meteoric rise in pro cycling has at the heart of it a Performance Director who plied their trade as a swimming coach.  But he (Tim Kerrison) has revolutionised the training for the riders, bring in new innovative techniques.   The opportunity of bring in fresh talent with alternative thinking can be game changing.

Seeking help from the outside

In this context I think you have to question how much the HR industry is willing to be bold and radical in their talent sourcing strategies.  As an industry do we really challenge ourselves and bring in external thinking (outside of the confides of HR practice) and people into our teams to overcome the new challenges we face?  I suggest it’s questionable or at best patchy.  I was recently chairing a round table on analytics recently and I found it worrying that when challenged with the question of how will attendees grow the new analytic capabilities in their teams several eye brows were raised when a suggestion came to source these from other industries like marketing.    It felt that there was a dominant mood of ‘we know what’s best for or business.’   In the same way that some noses have been turned up at an Aussie running English rugby.

Given the challenges we face as an industry like  becoming more tech savvie, analytic and lead business change it is a worry we are not open to new ideas and perspectives.   To address these challenges we need to open our minds and listen to our specialists that reside in our business today (you know those in marketing, data science, digital developers etc) equally we need to make bold decisions and source people from other walks of life.   That way you learn and embrace different alternatives and grow.  Eddie Jones may not work out for England but you can’t fault the RFU for being radical (at last).    HR practitioners need to take note.

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Unpacking Progressive learning

I love those Friday afternoon moments.  You’re relaxed and looking forward to the weekend and the creative juices are flowing ahead of closing down the week.

Today we sat as a team and tried to unpack the definition of what would constitute a ‘progressive learning agenda.’   So much is written about bold HR, how our agenda is being disrupted and numerous ‘game changing forces.’  There is a danger that the hyperbole outshines substance.  Therefore it was refreshing and energising for us to talk about what one of thes buzz words actually meant.  Here is a few ideas we came up with.

Learning on demand

The rise of new HR cloud solutions have enabled people to use a virtual platform in the palm of their hand allowing them to learn when they want to.  In order to progress you need to create an environment and infrastructure where people learn on the go.  Mobile learning is now a right not a privilege in this new world.   Unless you can provide an interactive learning platform for your colleagues you’ll never be able to break out of the traditional confines of old school CBT classrooms.   The mobile first approach challenges the boundaries of how people integrate work and home life together.  Organisations that fail to invest in technology will be left behind.

A market place for content

To be progressive you need to look at the content you use.  Traditional models involve centralising the creation of content and doing this in house.  This fails to involve a wider network of expertise to crowdsource the best content through harnessing new digital technology.   In the new world, content needs to be captured externally and then Learning practitioners will be required to package and deliver this internally through interactive play lists.  For learning practitioners it’s an opportunity to use great content and focus on the delivery and how it’s consumed by your people.   You could see a day where the requirement for central content activities are dramatically reduced and replaces by crowd sourcing content.  Gone are the days of turgid repetitive slides and flash programmes with endless ‘Next’ buttons.  These arereplaced with interactive multi media sound bites.

We are all learning professionals

Another consequence of virtual learning platforms is the ability to upload content in real time and to enable everyone to contribute in learning communities.  Through smart phones your work force are able to upload videos and idea and broadcast them in minutes.   Cycle time to create and deliver content can be done in minutes rather than months.   Content that previously would have taken days to create can be produced in minutes from the shop floor.  Through messenging platforms we can quickly share ideas and content virally.

These were just a few ideas of the thinking we came up with.   Without doubt there are more opportunities  open to organisations but what is certain in this unpredictable world is the times are changing and progressing.    It’s time to embrace and make the most of it.



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Patterns of Play – Lessons for HR analytics from football

In preparation for the launch of last weekend’s English Premier League season I listened Graham Hunter’s interview with Gary Neville, the former England footballer turned Sky Sports super analyst.  The interview was a fascinating insight into Neville’s attempts to transform the way football punditry is done.  Listening to it made me appreciate how the same approach could be applied to benefit the developing world of HR analytics.

Bird’s Eye view
Neville’s approach to watching a match is different from the typical fan.  He spends the first twenty minutes watching the match from the top of the stadium to get a bird’s eye view (in stark contrast to the majority who just sit on the sidelines).    He spends this time analysing what he calls the ‘patterns of play.’   In simple terms, understanding what tactics the teams are deploying and the initial interactions between players that will set precedent for the match.   His point was you have to look at matches from different perspectives and view points.    This reminded me of how similar this is when looking at people data.  You have to look at this applying different perspectives and characters both within and outside the organisation.
Patterns of play
Neville was refreshingly honest that as a pundit he cared little about the act of scoring a goal.  His point was that a viewer can see the goal for what it is and that doesn’t need explaining – it’s stating the obvious.    What he is interested is in understanding the whole process and how different interactions and patterns build up to create that moment.  He looks to seek the pattern rather than admire the act.
There are distinct parallels here with people analytics.   We seem hard wired to focus on the blatant stats rather than the underlying root causes or patterns.   For instance we can invest in ways of reducing our recruitment cycle time when it is in fact attrition that should be addressed.   Being time poor, with limited attention spans, we head for the obvious answer rather than challenging and analysing the underlying reasons.
Building on the point about the danger of limited attention spans Neville shows a real passion to be different amongst his peers and trail blaze a new approach for entertaining viewers at home.   His passion provides the fuel to invest hours of hard work to understand the game at a very deep level.
This simply highlights that to be really good at analytics you need to invest resources and time in this.  There are no quick fixes you just need a deep rooted interest and passion to get underneath this.  Perhaps this is the most disputive theme from the interview in the field of HR analytics.   Given how critical analytics is and will become in the future how many HR professionals have this deep seated passion and commitment of time to this?
In many ways Gary Neville is revolutionising the way football analysis is done.  Bringing together a more systematic and deeper insight into how simple acts like scoring goals happen.    Through applying some of the simple insights he applies can offer HR professionals a similar opportunity in the diverse and growing field of people analytics.
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We thought 275 was chaseable. We will have to look at the data.

This was the response of Peter Moores, England cricket coach, as he tried to rationalise England’s early exit from the World Cup after a humiliating defeat to Bangledesh where they failed to chase a score of 275.

Spurred on by the folklore from Moneyball, data is all the rage in cricket. As teams search for the marginal gains to increase their chances of winning. The quote highlights that sometimes it’s not all about data and to a certain extent Enlgand’s exit was characterised by a lack of belief, confidence and failure to apply the basics of cricket. Ask any English fan, it is not about the data the team simply didn’t play well enough.

This story is relevant to organisations. They can get lost in numbers and data. Sometimes it’s the basics you need to focus on. An over reliance on numbers can hide basic failings. It’s about balance and using a combination of intuition and analysis in partnership to make gains.

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It’s all about the action


I recently heard this quote from David Walmsley and it reminded me that despite all the interest and hype around big data and analytics, it is nothing unless you follow it up with real action.    It is the action that delivers business outcomes not the data.

Without question the possibilities of big data are enormous and this is sure to continue in the future.   But people often get lost and hoodwinked by technology.  It can be far easier to blame the absence of the right technology or availability of data to avoid adopting good analytical practices.

For sure there is obvious truth that technology and clean data is important but at the end of the day don’t forget the room 101 of analytics: action.    David Walmsley’s quote is a timely reminder that you can make a big difference from just changing your mindset and looking at any data, driving insight and getting stuff done on the back of it.   Don’t worry about not having the latest analytics engine in your organisation or if your master data is in a mess.   Just use what ever you have got, start simple and take action.

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Shifting from the inside to the outside


At the recent HRD Business Summit in Birmingham I was fortunate enough to hear Dave Ulrich’s keynote speech.    He outlined the paradigm shift HR needs to make from having an ‘internal mindset’ to focus on the external business and this idea is well documented in his book HR From the Outside In.   In this brave new world the emphasis is on understanding business performance, the external customer and enable HR to play a direct role in delivering growth and the strengthening the bottom line.

In many respects this is not a radical approach and on the face of it entirely sensible and logical.   Put simply, what HR professional today would claim that they don’t operate without understanding the business context or customer?    Few would own up to that.  But as in so many aspects of life actions speak louder than words.   What was enlightening was when Dave Ulrich got the 1,000 person audience (a decent sample of HR leaders) to participate in the discussion.   It was startling to see how few leaders had objectives that will directly influence business outcomes (e.g. revenue or launch of new products).    I suspect this is mirrored across the industry.   For example, how many HR professionals think about an employee first when asked about how they support customers?   As an industry we need to look at ourselves in the mirror.   It is far harder for the industry to act in this way than we think (otherwise we would have cracked this years ago).

Whilst I believe this approach will ultimately require significant change in the industry and different capabilities it isn’t necessarily that difficult to do.  It simply requires taking small steps and a commitment to change mindset and behaviour.   For example, if you are launching values across your business I’m sure you would have involved employees in developing this.   But have you asked your end customers?    Have you asked them what sort of values they would want someone to behave in when they are interacting with them?   When you are building your goals for this year and business cases how many direct business outcomes are you committing to influencing (indirect does not count!).  If you get it then are you continually reinforcing and challenging your colleagues to do this in the same way?  With a commitment to change and courage it can happen.

In terms of context as well now is the time for HR to make this change.   The timing is perfect.   The current combination of demographic, technological and sociological changes represent a pivotal time for business.   There is no better time for HR to take the lead and play a lead role in enabling businesses to take full advantage of this.    The rewards are great as well, as this recent blog in HBR highlights the skills of a Chief HR Officer are closely aligned to those of a CEO.    It’s warmer on the outside than you think.

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