Flexible Working hours brings gains

Management Issues recently published an article titled “Flexible working boosts the bottom line” that reports on some very interesting research results that says:

…a new study has found that greater flexibility reduces absenteeism, improves employee health and even helps to improve employee commitment.

The research report, released by Wake Forest University, provides some very interesting results. Look for my analysis toward the end of this post.

The study, as explained in the MI article is:

…a health survey completed by 3,193 employees of a large multinational pharmaceutical company, shows that flexible working is associated with definitive improvements in absenteeism rates, job commitment and employee health.

Some interesting results from the research:

  • An increase in flexibility of working hours was associated with a decrease in absence and and an increase in job performance
  • Part-time and flextime options create a culture of flexibility, especially when managers and supervisors encourage a proper ‘work-life‘ balance.

The research is summed up thusly:

“This study provides evidence that flexibility is associated with health or well-being over time,” said Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ph.D., senior author and an associate professor of family medicine.

“For managers, the results suggest that implementing flexible work arrangements can contribute to the bottom-line.”

Analysis:

I’m a big believer in flexible work arrangements…everyone that I know who works from home or has some other type of flex time arrangement is much more happy with their job. They feel as though their employer understands that there is things in life other than work…and…many of these people work much more than the ‘required’ 40 hours a week because they feel much more excited and interested in their job.

Contrast that with the folks that slog through a job that still holds to the 8 to 5 mentality and, for the most part, you’ll see less happy folks.

Experience vs ability

Jeff Attwood over at Coding Horror wrote a great article titled “The Years of Experience Myth” that everyone should add to their ‘must read’ list.

The article discusses the use of phone screens to in the hiring process (and points to a couple of great articles on the topic) but the point of the article pertains to the trap of trying to be overly specific in your hiring.

Jeff writes about the myth of ‘years of experience’ and how many organizations fall into the trap of trying to hire the perfect person. You know the job descriptions that require “7 years experience in J2EE in a manufacaturing environment”. An excerpt from the article is:

This toxic, counterproductive years of experience myth has permeated the software industry for as long as I can remember. Imagine how many brilliant software engineers companies are missing out on because they are completely obsessed with finding people who match– exactly and to the letter– some highly specific laundry list of skills.

Somehow, they’ve forgetten that what software developers do best is learn. Employers should be loooking for passionate, driven, flexible self-educators who have a proven ability to code in whatever language — and serving them up interesting projects they can engage with.

Emphasis mine.

Jeff’s article discusses software engineers specifically but this same issue can be found in any technical area and many other areas. I’ve talked with recruiters and organizations are filter out way too many excellent candidates. For example, the “7 years in J2EE in Manufacturing environment” sample I gave earlier is one that I saw while searching indeed.com (great site btw) for this post. What does someone with 7 years in experience know that someone with 6 years experience doesn’t? Does it really matter that the J2EE experience come from the manufacturing environment?

I’m of the mindset that you hire the best person you can regardless of the number of years of experience that they have. I’m not convinced that someone with 20 years experience is a better hire than someone with 2 years. I’d rather hire the person that will get the job done. As Jeff writes:

Employers should be looking for passionate, driven, flexible self-educators who have a proven ability

Absolutely.

Next time you go to hire someone…look at what they can do and what they have the potential to do; not what they may have done in the past.

[tags] Hiring, Experience vs ability, Coding Horror, Human Resources, Management [/tags]

Employee Engagement – not just a buzzword

“Employee Engagement” is one of those ‘buzzwords’ that you hear thrown about quite a bit…but this is a buzzword that should be carefully thought about by every organization.

A recent survey, reported on by Management Issues, has some very interesting results pertaining to Employee Engagement. The article, titled “Getting to the Heart of the Disengagement Gap“, reports the following results:

A poll of 14,000 employees across 10 European countries by consultants Watson Wyatt has confirmed what a number of similar large-scale surveys have been suggesting over the past few years – namely that there is a vast reserve of untapped potential in the workplace in the form uncommitted or actively disgruntled staff.

It also revealed that more than four out of 10 are actively considering leaving their current employer.

But whereas a 2007 poll of almost 90,000 workers by workplace consultancy Towers Perrin found that just a fifth felt engaged with their work, Watson Wyatt found that only 13 per cent (fewer than one in seven) displayed both strong commitment as well as having a good understanding of the part they could play in making their organizations successful – an understanding Watson Wyatt term “line of sight”.

Only 13 percent of the workforce is fully engaged and trying to create value of organziations. What are the other 87% of the workforce up to? Are they lazy? Incompetent? I highly doubt it…its more likely that the organization has done a poor job of describing how each person’s contributions can affect the organization.

The lack of Employee engagement isn’t just the fault of an organization. There are people who are OK with doing ‘just enough’ to get by but an organization should do everything in its power to ensure that employees are happy and that they understand how valuable they are to the organization.

Whether you agree with the Towers Perrin study that found 20% engagement or Watson Wyatt’s 13% engagement, I think you’d have to agree that there is a problem. How many coworkers/employees do you know that are actively seeking employment elsewhere? How many are really doing the best job that they can do?

How can an organization engage employees? There’s no simple answer…it takes long-term effort by both the organization and the employee(s). I’m not an expert in this field (or any field!) but I will provide a few basic thoughts on how to get started engaging more employees.

  • Hire right
  • Don’t ask for (or expect) an employee to ‘live to work’ for you…respect their life outside of the office.
  • Hold all employees accountable. If an employee notices that there are ‘sacred cows’ that aren’t accountable for their actions, their level of effort and engagement will drop.
  • Offer flexibility for work hours
  • Offer job rotation opportunities – this would hold especially true to young/new employees….keep people interested and don’t let them get bored with their job.

Those are just a few thoughts…i’m sure there are many more. For a great follow-up article on the subject, read Wayne Turmel’s latest article titled “Employee Enagement has a ring to it” that discusses this topic…great article and worth reading.

[tags] Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Organizational Behavior [/tags]

IT Human Capital as Competitive Advantage

This is an excerpt of a paper I’ve just completed titled “Information Technology Human Capital as Competitive Advantage”. I’ve provided a brief intro plus the conclusion here. This white paper was the inspiration for the the topics discussed in my previous posts titled “Resource Diversity & Immobility Simplified“, “Competitive Advantage and the Resource Based View of the Firm“, and “Competitive Advantage – The Human Capital approach

To read the entire article, download the PDF titled Information Technology Human Capital as Competitive Advantage“.


Purpose of this paper

This paper provides a brief review of the literature within the space of information technology and business alignment, and more specifically, the areas of creating competitive advantage by managing human capital to create a sustainable advantage in the marketplace.

Introduction

In today’s ever-changing world, organizations must learn to evolve, adapt and continuously rethink their strategic objectives and operational abilities. As part of this strategic planning process, organizations have historically looked at two aspects; strategy (how they will go to market, what they will sell, etc) and execution (how to implement the strategy, how to do business, etc). The seminal research on strategy and competitive advantage (Andrews, 1986; Porter, 1998a, 1998b) historically overlooked two of the most important aspects of any strategy; technology and people.

In the 1990’s, researchers and practitioners began looking at merging technology into the strategic planning process and how the alignment of business strategy with information technology can help to create a competitive advantage (Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993). These researchers had brought technology into the strategic planning process, and in some respects they considered the human resources of the organization, but they still overlooked the people as being a valuable piece of capital that could be used to create competitive advantage.

This oversight is most visible within the information technology (IT) groups. Even though many organizations and researches stressed the need for IT and business alignment, they still seemed to overlook the human capital aspect while aligning IT and business strategy.

These oversights have led to the current environment of overworked, disengaged and misaligned IT personnel and IT groups. The “turnover culture” that has arisen within the IT industry provides some evidence of the unhappiness and/or discontent that most IT personnel have (Moore & Burke, 2002).

Recent research has provided a path to the solution of the problem of creating sustainable alignment between IT and business strategy. These solutions involve not only aligning IT and strategy but also implementing human capital management practices to ensure that people are considered as much of a resource for creating competitive advantage as any other asset within the organization (Hu & Huang, 2006; Robert, Agarwal, & Ferratt, 2000).

This paper provides a review of existing literature related to the strategic alignment of business and information technology and human capital management practices. The first section, titled “Alignment of IT with Business Strategy” provides a review of existing business and IT alignment research. The second section, titled “Human Capital Management, IT & Business Alignment” provides an overview of existing research into human capital management practices within the IT space.

The third section, titled “Human Capital as Competitive Advantage” outlines the use human capital as a means to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace. Lastly, the fourth and final section titled “Future Research and Conclusions,” outlines areas that may provide avenues of further research and concludes the paper.

To read the entire paper, download the PDF titled “Information Technology Human Capital as Competitive Advantage“.


Further Research and Conclusion

Further research into this area can follow Ferratt et al.’s (2005) study of the effects of human resource management on information technology (IT) employee turnover (Ferratt et al., 2005) and Joseph et al.’s (2007) suggestion that adopting a human capital management approach to managing IS employees may increase employee engagement and reduce turnover and job dissatisfaction (Joseph et al., 2007).

Another area of further research that could be considered is Huang and Hu’s (2007) approach of combining human capital management along with a business-IT alignment model by using a balanced scorecard system to implement and measure alignment. This balanced scorecard approach seems reasonable but very little quantitative data exists to measure the success or failure of this approach (Huang & Hu, 2007). Further research into the use of balanced scorecards to align IT, business and human capital management practices could be accomplished by collecting quantitative data in multiple organizations to provide more insight into the success and/or failure of this approach.

Yet another avenue for further research is within the area of validation of alignment of IT system requirements with business strategy (Bleistein, Cox, & Verner, 2005). Bleisten et al.’s research provides a framework for measuring and ensuring that all IT system requirements are in alignment with business goals. This research is interesting but as yet unproven.

Lastly, research into furthering the application of the resource based view of firms and the creation of resource diversity and resource immobility within organizations seems to be a fairly wide open area. In many organizations today, outsourcing work has become the norm as has hiring contractors instead of full-time employees. Many research questions arise from this. A few examples are:

  • How can an organization create resource diversity and/or resource immobility when they are drawing from the same talent pool of outsourcers and independent contractors as their competitors? This is an idea that is very interesting and something worth pursuing.
  • How can an organization segregate IT projects so that non-strategic projects (is there such as thing?) are managed with non-strategic assets and resources while strategic IT projects are managed with strategic assets and resources.

There is still considerable research to be done to better understand how to create sustainable advantage using technology and people. The areas of information systems, strategic human resource management and organizational behavior can provide models to help create sustainable advantage and value for organizations.

In order to truly create sustainable competitive advantage, an organization must have the right strategy, technology and people in place. In today’s world, it isn’t enough to have only one or two of these; an organization must obtain and maintain the mix of the right strategy, the right technology and the right people.


A Full References list is found in the paper.
[tags] organization, Human Resources, information technology, Strategy, Management, HR, Project, Technology, culture [/tags]

HR World – 30 Questions you can’t ask

HR World has a new article titled “30 Interview Questions You Can’t Ask and 30 Sneaky, Legal Alternatives to Get the Same Info“.

At first, the title seemed to turn me off to the advice, but after reading through it, I’m OK with it but would have preferred a different title without the word “sneaky”.

There is some good advice for interviewers in the article. For example, one of the illegal questions and its legal alternative is:

What you can’t ask: Are you a U.S. citizen?

Although this seems like the simplest and most direct way to find out if an interviewee is legally able to work for your company, it’s hands-off. Rather than inquiring about citizenship, question whether or not the candidate is authorized for work.

What to ask instead: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?

Another interesting example:

What you can’t ask: Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?

Again, gauging commitment is important, but illness isn’t something that most people can help.The answer here is to make sure that the candidate can perform the job while avoiding questions about his or her physical abilities.

What to ask instead: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?

The article does a good job presenting illegal questions and alternative questions that an interviewer can use to gather as much information as possible.

Perhaps an unintended accomplishment of the article is to educate people that are interviewing as to what some key phrases in job descriptions and interviews might be and what they might mean. For example:

What you can’t ask: Do you have or plan to have children?

Clearly, the concern here is that family obligations will get in the way of work hours. Instead of asking about or making assumptions on family situations, get to the root of the issue by asking directly about the candidate’s availability.

What to ask instead: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?

This is an interesting question. Instead of directly asking if you have children, the interviewer might ask availability questions…knowing that these types of questions might be alternatives to the question such as ‘do you have children’ or a similar question might help the interviewee better understand the job.

Its an interesting article and definitely worth reading.

[tags] HR, people, Leadership, organization, Human Resources [/tags]

Competitive Advantage and the Resource Based View of the Firm

Managing Knowledge for Sustained Competitive Advantage: Designing Strategies for Effective Human Resource Management

As a follow up to my previous post titled Competitive Advantage – The Human Capital Approach, I wanted to take a second to talk a little bit about the Resource Based View of the firm that I mentioned in the previous post.  Before I continue, if you are interested in this topic, definitely take a look at the book titled Managing Knowledge for Sustained Competitive Advantage: Designing Strategies for Effective Human Resource Management (affiliate link).

Most organizations don’t place a high enough focus on human capital management as a component of competitive advantage. In order for an organization to be successful in any market, they must create value for their clients. This value can be created using a new strategy, new technology or some other ‘gimmick’ but in order to sustain this value (and the competitive advantage it brings), organizations must develop and maintain an engaged, knowledgeable and creative workforce (Afiouni, 2007).

To create a workforce that provides sustainable competitive advantage and value creation, an organization must create an environment that allows their human capital to grow, much like money sitting in an interest bearing account does. This growth, expressed within people as increased knowledge, increased motivation, increased engagement, etc can be used to create competitive advantage that would be very difficult for competitors to imitate (Afiouni, 2007; Agarwal & Ferratt, 2001; Luftman & Kempaiah, 2007).

Out of the many theories of organizational behavior, one aligns itself well with the human capital view of people within an organization. This theory, called the Resource Based View (RBV), suggests that the method in which resources are applied within a firm can create a competitive advantage (Barney, 1991; Mata, Fuerst, & Barney, 1995; Peteraf, 1993; Wernerfert, 1984). The resource based view of firms is based on two main assumptions: resource diversity and resource immobility (Barney, 1991; Mata et al., 1995). According to Mata et al. (1995), these assumptions are defined as:

  • Resource diversity (also called resource heterogeneity) pertains to whether a firm owns a resource or capability that is also owned by numerous other competing firms, then that resource cannot provide a competitive advantage.
    • As an example of resource diversity, consider the following: a firm is trying to decide whether to implement a new IT product. This new product might provide a competitive advantage to the firm if no other competitors have the same functionality. If competing firms have similar functionality, then this new IT product doesn’t pass the ‘resource diversity’ test and therefore doesn’t provide a competitive advantage.
  • Resource immobility refers to a resource that is difficult to obtain by competitors because the cost of developing, acquiring or using that resource is too high.
    • As an example of resource immobility, consider the following: a firm is trying to decide whether they should buy an ‘off-the-shelf’ inventory control system or have one built specifically for their needs. If they buy an off-the-shelf system, they will have no competitive advantage over others in the market because their competition can implement the same system. If they pay for a customized solution that provides specific functionality that only they implement, then they will have a competitive advantage, assuming the same functionality isn’t available in other products.

These two assumptions can be used to determine whether an organization is able to create a sustainable competitive advantage by providing a framework for determining whether a process or technology provides a real advantage over the marketplace.

The resource based view of the firm suggests that an organization’s human capital management practices can contribute significantly to sustaining competitive advantage by creating specific knowledge, skills and culture within the firm that are difficult to imitate (Afiouni, 2007; Mata et al., 1995). In other words, by creating resource diversity (increasing knowledge and skills) and/or resource immobility (a culture that people want to work in), sustainable competitive advantage can be created and maintained.

In order to create human capital resource diversity and immobility, an organization must have adequate human capital management practices, organizational processes, knowledge management practices and systems, educational opportunity (both formal and informal) and social interaction (i.e., community building) practices in place (Afiouni, 2007; Barney, 1991; Mata et al., 1995; Schafer, 2004).

NOTE: I am finishing up a White paper on the topic of Competitive Advantage & Human Capital and hope to have it available within the next week or so…check back soon.

References

  • Afiouni, F. (2007). Human Resource Management and Knowledge Management: A Road Map Toward Improving Organizational Performance. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 11(2), 124.
  • Agarwal, R., & Ferratt, T. W. (2001). Crafting an HR strategy to meet the need for IT workers. Association for Computing Machinery. Communications of the ACM, 44(7), 58.
  • Barney, J. B. (1991). Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage. Journal of Management, 17(1), 99-120.
  • Luftman, J., & Kempaiah, R. M. (2007). The IS Organization of the Future: The IT Talent Challenge. Information Systems Management, 24(2), 129.
  • Mata, F. J., Fuerst, W. L., & Barney, J. B. (1995). Information technology and sustained competitive advantage: A resource-based analysis. MIS Quarterly, 19(4), 487.
  • Peteraf, M. (1993). The cornerstones of competitive advantage: A resource-based view. Strategic Management Journal, 14, 179-191.
  • Schafer, M. (2004). Why Workforce Management Is Back In Style. Optimize, 67.
  • Wernerfert, B. (1984). A resource based view of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 5, 171-180.

[tags] competitive advantage, technology, resource based view of the firm, human capital, organization [/tags]