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WorkforceNEXT Healthcare: Talking with Jim

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Jim Smalley, Ed.D, SPHR 
HR Executive, Talent Management Expert
Texas Children’s Hospital

Jim is a Talent Management expert with experience in the healthcare, high-tech, higher education, non-profit, energy and financial services sectors. His experience ranges from succession planning and executive development, to high-performance coaching,  organization design, metrics for human performance programs, and diversity & inclusion initiatives.

What are you doing to address the planning-for-growth problem that exists within many health systems?
One of the ways we address this issue is to challenge it directly.  Clayton Christensen, author of the book The Innovator’s Dilemma and principal of the Christensen Institute, observes that while 20th-Century Health Care moved from doctors making house calls to physician offices to “the grand general hospital”, the 21st-Century model will reserve this by utilizing emerging technologies and adapting to consumer/patient expectations and demands.  The linear assumptions of growth will be totally disrupted by exponential technologies and health care moving from a producer-oriented model to a consumer-oriented one.

What is the generational employment breakdown within your company? How does this affect HR Management?
45% Millennial, 35% Gen X, 20 % Boomer.  This generational constellation invites/compels HR and Senior Leadership to focus more on technological presence and process, structure in career development, and a focus on “work is *not* my life” approaches to performance management.  Millennials are impatient with processes and procedures developed in the 1940’s and 50’s, over reliance on paper, and a lagging technology infrastructure (other than clinical) from what they’ve experienced in school and in other segments of the economy.  Boomers continue to insist on “leaning in,” which doesn’t play well with the younger generations. In recruiting, leading, rewarding and promoting, there is intense pressure to be transparent, logical and accountable. Business disciplines adopted in other industries decades ago are now vital for Health Care talent management to succeed.

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What’s the one thing you want to accomplish before you die?
I wish to be present at my great-grandchildrens’ weddings!

If you weren’t doing what you do today, what other job would you have?
Computer animator!

If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would it be?  
Oxford, England.  The history of the university and its many notables would keep me busy for a week and more!

This Q&A is merely a preview of the topic, Developing Healthcare Leaders: Leadership Development in Volatile Times, which Jim will be speaking on at the upcoming WorkforceNEXT Healthcare Summit,;taking place January 9, 2018. Hear more from Jim and register today!


*Ever wonder what perspectives colleagues in your segment of Healthcare might offer? Would you like to participate in a Q&A to share your point of view? We want to encourage you to engage with your Healthcare community all year ‘round, not just at our Summits — connect with me with questions you want answered or to volunteer for a Q&A Insight Article.

WorkforceNEXT Insights: Talking with Ilda

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Ilda Andaluz
Director, Global Human Resources 

Ilda Andalus is a Senior Human Resources Professional, who is  fully versed in four languages: Spanish,French, English and Italian. With her expertise being in developing system wide organizational effectiveness programs, Ilda has gained over 15 years of experience in private and public sectors including: telecommunications, retail, manufacture, municipal and education.

What hiring techniques do you use in the energy industry? What is working now versus what has worked in the past, what will work in the future?
The turnover is very low. Word of mouth works well for us; however, another effective technique is using social media outlets, for instance, LinkedIn. Job Sites, like Indeed, have proven to be beneficial as well.

What is your biggest challenge as a human resources professional in the energy industry, and what are you doing to address it?
The biggest challenge is employee engagement & compensation.

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Who is your hero? And why?
Nelson Mandela because of what he did and what he believed in.

What one event in your childhood had the greatest effect on your life?
My family and I were homeless for 3 months. I had to find a way to survive and support my family while still going to university.

What “lesson from mom” do you still live by today?
Focus on the Good.

WorkforceNEXT Insights: Talking with Steve

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Steve Werner, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Chair
Department of Management
C.T. Bauer College of Business, University of Houston

Steve Werner is a Professor of Management and Chair of the Department of Management at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston and has taught a course titled, “Managing Human Resources in the Oil and Gas Industry” at the graduate level for the last 3 years. He received his Ph.D. in Human Resource Management from the University of Florida. His research focuses on various human resource management issues, particularly compensation and international HRM. Recently, Werner published a book titled, Managing Human Resources in the Oil and Gas Industry, the only book that focuses on HR in oil and gas.

How can companies facilitate communication and a positive work culture?
I believe it begins with company leadership, but can then be carried forward by every one of us. How leadership treats employees helps to model behaviors to everyone in the organization.  Creating and supporting fair policies and procedures help. Hiring the right people, training them well, and paying them fairly also help. So does being proactive in addressing the needs of employees not just the business. Good leaders know that effective leadership involves not only a task-centered focus, but also an employee-centered focus.  Further, research has shown that positivity has numerous benefits not just for the employees, but also for the organization. Positivity can come from leadership and spread throughout the organization, but it can also come from anyone in the organization and influence all those around them. This is particularly important for those in HR because they interact with employees throughout the organization.

How do we keep an engaged and committed organization when the going gets tough?
This follows from the previous question, because a positive work culture is a great start.  Research on stress relief training shows that training employees on how to frame things positively relieves stress substantially more than other types of training, including relaxation oriented training methods and practices. I believe the same is true at the organization level, when the company is under “stress” because of tough times. In a positive work culture, the tough times can be framed as challenges that can be overcome, rather than as insurmountable obstacles. HR can be helpful by facilitating the design of jobs to make the work itself more engaging, by providing support to those who need it, and by coming up with creative ways to reduce the need for layoffs.    

What does the future of the workplace look like? How can we prepare for the next generation in the workplace?
I believe the workplace in the near future will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We will see technology making greater inroads into everybody’s work including that of HR professionals. Mobile applications, social media, and gamification will affect selection, training, benefits administration, and performance management more than ever before. Training will occur on cellphones and laptops and be more entertaining than ever. Prospective employees will apply and take selection tools on their cellphones. Performance management will include a greater component of developmental aspects and include crowdsourced feedback; metrics and analytics will be used to better forecast and predict outcomes and human behavior. The best way to prepare for the next generation in the workplace is to be open-minded. Our views would likely be the same as theirs if we were in their generation.  

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Who is your hero? And why?
Kurt Warner, former NFL Quarterback. No team wanted him coming out of college, but through hard-work, positivity, and persistence, he landed at the St.Louis Rams and won a Superbowl his first year in the league.  After an injury and subsequent poor play he was cut from the Rams and then later cut from the NY Giants.  He then fought his way to the starting job for the Arizona Cardinals and took them to a Super Bowl. This year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Throughout all his ups and downs he was a great supporter of the under-privileged (even winning the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award one year), and continues to do so through his foundation. He is a great example of what can be accomplished through hard-work, positivity, and persistence.

What’s the most unusual place you have visited?
The indoor skiing facility in Dubai, UAE. It was a great experience, “the mountain” is inside a 25 story building. The snow was perfect. They provided all the equipment at a very reasonable cost. I would highly recommend it.  


WorkforceNEXT Insights: Talking with Uma

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Uma Ranganathan, PHR
Program Manager, Statoil
Advisory Board Member, WorkforceNEXT
Global Organization for Divinity, volunteer

Uma is program responsible for ‘Lead and Drive Performance’, which aims to improve business performance by strengthening leader’s abilities to drive team performance and influence others. With this position Uma has had the opportunity to specialize in talent and performance management, along with employee branding.

What hiring techniques do you use in the energy industry? What is working now versus what has worked in the past, what will work in the future?
In the past, recruitment was about volumes. With the vast changes that have impacted our industry, due to the downturn, recruitment is now about value. In other words, identifying the best solution in light of digitalization, changing competence requirements and a renewed strategy.

How do you create opportunities to increase employee engagement?
The three main activities through which employee engagement is maintained and increased are continuous feedback, strength-based development and creating a learning culture. Further encouraging continuous feedback and openness around decisions gives more impetus to engagement. This can be done through town halls and Senior Leadership presence from time to time.

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What one event in your childhood had the greatest effect on your life?
It was the time when I did bungee jumping. I felt every moment of the activity was crushing every inch of fear that I had.

If you weren’t doing what you do today, what other job would you have?
I would have been a Musician: teaching, researching and performing.


What Keeps You Up at Night?

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Kylee Beth Ngo
Manager of Compensation and Benefits
Genesis Energy, LP

What is your biggest challenge, or what “keeps you up at night” as a human resources professional in the energy industry, and what are you doing to address it?
Over the last year, many companies in the oil and gas market have made difficult personnel decisions whether it be around hiring freezes, reductions in force, delaying merit increases or freezing salaries, and decreasing the value of short-term and long-term incentive programs. Often times these types of responses create uncertainty and anxiety in the workforce, which leads to dissatisfaction with the company. One of the many challenges in this environment is understanding the attrition risks when the job market does open up again. Some employees who were dissatisfied with the annual bonus they received or the lack of a merit program, among other things, will be the first to enter the job market and potentially leave. Unfortunately, some of these will be key employees and high-potential employees. As an HR team, each time we implement a program, we work to identify these employees and address individually to help mitigate any risk of attraction in the coming years.

How is technology affecting your role in HR?
Technology has streamlined the administrative functions of many HR activities including recruiting, onboarding, compensation management, benefits enrollment, and others. Over the last two years, management at Genesis has embraced multiple initiatives to enhance the technology in place, allowing me to transform the Compensation and Benefits programs. Two years ago we implemented online open enrollment for the first time modernizing a very archaic process and eliminating hours of work for the benefits team. A year ago, I worked with IT to build direct file feeds between our HRIS system and our carriers removing the need for double entry of benefits elections. On the compensation side, in addition to fully utilizing the Compensation Workbench for the annual bonus and merit program, we have moved all one-time payments into the HRIS system eliminating the need for email trails of approvals. Each time we are able to move a manual process to a tool, it reduces the manual workload of my team, allowing us to focus more on the strategic direction of the programs and the employee experience all while decreasing the potential for errors.

The two year delay of the 40% excise tax, also known as the Cadillac tax, on employer-sponsored healthcare benefits was a significant opportunity. This was part of the first wave of significant changes to the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). What changes are your company still considering in response to the PPACA? Or, is your company taking a “wait and see” approach? What is the driving factor behind your company’s approach?
The delay in the excise tax was considered by many HR professionals, specifically Benefits professionals, to be a huge win when it comes to the ACA. However, prior to this delay, many oil and gas companies, including Genesis Energy, LLC, had already implemented the “wait and see” approach. While the health care insurers and consultants have better developed many alternatives to the traditional health offerings (exchanges, narrow networks, full replacement consumer-centric plans, and specialty care management programs) which would decrease the actuarial value of a plan, in turn decreasing the excise tax burden, the traditional PPO is still the most prominent plan for most oil and gas companies. For Genesis Energy, LLC, the potential for the excise tax did not immediately change our benefits strategy. We discussed offering alternatives as additional programs to the PPO, but chose not to implement. In the coming years, there may be opportunity for us to adopt more aggressive strategies, but for now we shall wait and see.  

How do you facilitate communication and a positive work culture in your company?
From a benefits perspective, I have created an educational email communication program. Just like many other small companies, Genesis does not have an internal communication team with most Genesis branded communications created by outside consultants. As we discussed the need for a benefits communication program to educate employees and get them excited about benefits, we had to look to alternatives. These alternatives actually come straight from the vendors as most have well developed communications to serve our exact need. Over the last few months, I have sent a weekly or bi-weekly email with these “canned” communications and the result has been overwhelming. The increased discussion around benefits and the additional questions the benefits team has answered not only helps to educate the employees but it gets them excited about their benefits. Any time an employee can better utilize the benefits we provide, or chooses to increase their 401k deferral, we feel we have positively impacted our employees.

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What one event in your childhood had the greatest effect on your life?
While not a single event, playing softball had the greatest impact on my life. As a member of the team, you have to work together to achieve a common goal while working individually to succeed in your own position. This can be applied to most aspects of my professional life. I have a team working together to achieve a common goal, but I must individually succeed in my own role to make the team successful. As a softball player, my position was pitcher which meant I had to practice the hardest and longest and be the best player on the team in order for the team to win. I have applied this mentality to every professional position I have taken. I have to be the best in my role, work the hardest and set an example for the team.

WorkforceNEXT: Talking with Fred

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Fred Stawitz
Principal, Technical Training and OQ Regional Coordinator
Kinder Morgan, Inc.
President and National Award-Winning Writer, Educator
Storymakers, Inc.

Fred is a thoughtful leader specializing in employee engagement, with over twelve years of progressive expertise in the design and implementation of state of the art skills management programs that maximize workforce productivity, retain talent, and ensure regulatory compliance. He’s also a national award-winning writer and educator, published author and popular conference chairman/speaker. He has appeared on CNN Headline News in Southern California, was a featured guest in a PBS special one-hour program in Pennsylvania, and was quoted in a special Congressional Quarterly report.

How do you attract new and qualified talent? How do you work to retain talent?
Your best recruiters are your employees if you treat them well. When employees are engaged and committed to the organization they will tell friends and family what a great place this is to work. The word will spread. Or you can draw new recruits in the door with glitzy advertising and buzz words like teamwork, opportunity, and rewards. You will only keep them if the functional culture they experience when they step in the door does not differ significantly from the aspirational culture you promote with values statements and mantras posted on the walls.

How do we keep an engaged and committed organization when the going gets tough?
You keep an engaged and committed organization when the going gets tough by establishing the conditions that foster an engaged workforce before the going gets tough. You build trust between management and workers by creating an atmosphere of respect and open communications. You create an environment where pain and rewards are shared equitably at all levels in the organization. Not an environment where pain is pushed to the bottom and rewards always give those at the top a soft landing. You don’t treat workers like a commodity that you can easily jettison to lighten the load when the going gets tough. You view an engaged workforce as the way you do business and your employees will be committed to the success of the organization in good times and bad.

How do you create opportunities to increase employee engagement?
You don’t have to create opportunities to engage employees. Those opportunities exist in the normal course of doing business. The question is, do you take advantage of these opportunities and allow employees to act within clearly defined areas of authority and responsibility? Do you support them in navigating a path to success or hang them out to dry when something bad happens? Do you give them ownership of their role in the process? Employee engagement is better viewed as a value, not a technique to boost productivity.

What does the future of the workplace look like? How can we prepare for the next generation in the workplace?
The workplace is currently in flux. Traditional top down approaches of authority and control are being challenged by a new generation looking for the opportunity to contribute. If their efforts to engage prevail, then the future looks bright. Young people bring energy and creativity that if channeled in the right directions can transform the workplace as we know it. Society stands to benefit from higher levels of engagement, new methods of collaboration, more efficient and eco-friendly processes, and more socially conscious business practices. If they fail, the outlook for the future of the workplace and society as a whole may be a bit more bleak.

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What’s the one thing you want to accomplish before you die?
Before I die I want to find a forever home for one more homeless pets and help one more person move closer to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. If I can accomplish both tasks at the same time that is simply icing on a chocolate eclair.

Do you have a pet? If so, tell me about it.
I have many furry members of my family. Most are strays who through no fault of their own were abandoned on the street and thankfully found their way into my life. Each has a wonderfully vibrant personality that adds so much joy and love per pound of body weight that the ROI of the small effort required to care for them is incalculably astronomical.

What’s the most unusual place you have visited?
Planet earth is the most unusual and intriguing place I have ever visited or lived. Whether strolling along the pathways of Dowager Cixi’s Summer Palace on the outskirts of Beijing or attending a briefing at The White House. Whether waking up next to a coyote under a picnic table in Kansas, bar hopping at midnight atop the handlebars of a bicycle in Baden Baden, marveling at the Alps in Austria, or swimming with seals in Alaska (WOW that was cold!) My life has been and continues to be a full array of unusual places, people, and events that keep me always interested in finding out, what’s next?

WorkforceNEXT: Talking with Jamie

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Jamie Belinne, SPHR
Assistant Dean, Rockwell Career Center
Enactus Sam Walton Fellow
C.T. Bauer College of Business, University of Houston

Inspirational speaker and educator helping people embrace change, diversity and growth. Jamie’s specialties include managing generational differences, leveraging interpersonal style differences on teams, enjoying and promoting diversity, Millennial and Gen Z career development, negotiations, recruiting, onboarding, conflict resolution and women’s leadership issues.

What are the best practices you’re seeing among energy companies who hire college graduates?
The best companies are realistic about the cyclical nature of the industry, and they know entry-level hiring will be one of the first things to pick up when things improve. As a result, the best companies are staying involved on campus with branding activities, even if they’re not hiring much or at all. We’re seeing more energy companies volunteering to guest lecture, presenting to student organizations, helping with mock interviews and resume reviews, and sponsoring leadership and diversity programs that aren’t focused on hiring.

Should companies be on campus if they’re not hiring?
Don’t attend career fairs or host interviews if you’re not hiring. But it’s important to keep a strong brand on campus to position you for future hiring. The best companies are currently doing programs that target freshmen and sophomores so those students will feel a strong connection to the company when they are graduating and entry-level hiring has improved again. Otherwise, you risk being forgotten, and you won’t get the top candidates when you return in the future.

As Gen Z starts to enter internships, what can we expect?
I survey thousands of college students each year, and Gen Z is definitely different from the Millennials.  Gen Z is very comfortable solving problems independently and even implementing their own ideas with limited involvement or oversight from others. For this reason, it’s important that new hires are very clear on what types of things need approval prior to moving forward. It is also important to be very clear on what information can and cannot be shared, and with whom, and under what circumstances. This is a generation that has been very successful through crowdsourcing, so they are less likely than the Millennials to seek approval before asking questions or testing ideas outside of their own departments.

How should you attract Gen Z to the energy industry?
As with the Millennials, it is still important to tie your company’s work and mission to a larger meaning.  The more you can talk about how your company is improving the world and the lives of people in it, the more exciting you are as an employer.  Social entrepreneurship is big with this generation, so showing how your company impacts the “triple bottom line” (people, profit, planet) is critical. The students also want to see a family atmosphere in their potential employers. Team-building activities and co-workers who socialize are big perks for younger hires. They no-longer expect work-life balance as much as work-life integration. They may play Pokemon Go at their desks on occasion, but they will also bring work home and work on projects after hours.

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What “lesson from Mom” do you still live by today?
Find something nice to say. Complaining and gossiping never got anyone anywhere.

If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’d love to visit the Galapagos Islands and see all of the unusual wildlife.

What’s the worst mistake you ever made in life that taught you a valuable lesson?
I took a job right out of college, just because it was in my field, without really thinking critically about the company. It was a terrible fit for my values system, and I cried all the way to work every day. That decision has made me passionate about making sure other college students don’t make the same mistake I did!

Prior to her position as Assistant Dean for Career Services at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, she managed Recruiting and Staffing at The University of Texas at Austin. Earlier at UT, she built McCombs’ first MBA Career Services group.

She is a founding member of the global MBA Career Services and Employers Alliance. She is the recipient of the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2012 Professional Change Maker Award and the 2013 Innovation Excellence Award in Diversity Programming for one of her books on career development. She is also an Ironman and a mother of two.


Building Relationships and Staying Ahead in HR Technology

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HR Tech Connect

Given the rapid rate of change and proliferation of options from HR Systems to Individual Apps for each phase of recruiting, engagement and workforce management, it’s important to find ways to maintain a pulse of the industry, while learning real-world best practices for selection, implementation and integration from the innovators, practitioners and suppliers in this new, converged HR technology workplace. To assist HR and IT professionals in keeping up with this ever-changing industry, WorkforceNEXT launched the HR Tech Connect Summit taking place this November 5-7, 2017 at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

HR Tech Connect is a focused and intimate conference for both HR and IT professionals to network, share information, strategize and discover the latest HR technology solution offerings from industry-leading vendors. This event is exclusively for qualified executives responsible for driving the next wave of business decisions, strategy, implementation and technology investments to advance and solve their organizations’ HR, Talent Acquisition, Employee Engagement and Workforce Management challenges.

The key players in attendance are fully vetted in order to ensure the highest level of peer networking and learning in the HR tech space. These select professionals are fully hosted, which means that HR Tech Connect covers airfare, hotel, meals and registration fees in exchange for valuable time spent out of office. The conference program builds in boardroom-style case study sessions as well as 1:1 time for face-to-face interaction between attending executives, supplier representatives and industry experts, allowing attendees to accomplish months worth of meetings with solution providers and market experts in just 2.5 days.

The summit agenda is more business intensive than any other event focusing on the HR tech landscape. HR Tech Connect’s unique format offers keynote presentations, panels, breakout sessions and case studies focused on delivering and implementing a successful HR and Workforce digital transformation strategy. There is no wasted time and those in attendance walk away with solutions and strategies they can act on immediately. The goal of HR Tech Connect is to build lasting relationships so all members in these complex ecosystems can better understand and advance their needs.

Visit for more information. For attendee inquiries, contact David Pesko, or Tom LeComte, For sponsor inquiries, contact Joe Warring,

Searching for Talent: The Plight of Oil, Gas Companies

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The oil and gas industry has been aware of its talent shortage for years – fueled in part by retirements, a pause on graduate recruitment during the downturn of the 80s and cutting of training programs. But now that the industry is ramping up E&P (exploration and production) activity again, the shortage is more pronounced.

Still, some would say employers can look within their own organizations for potential leaders, but if there’s nobody in the pipeline – what can be done?

In a Feb. 28 whitepaper, David Armendariz, managing partner for executive search firm Lucas Group, addresses the topic of developing technical leaders. While the whitepaper focuses primarily on Houston, Armendariz looked at companies that are based and work in areas throughout the United States.

He said layoffs and tight budgets left oil and gas companies with less money to invest in technical skill development.

“Rather than grooming younger employees for top technical positions, companies were forced to slash training programs and cut payroll,” Armendariz said. “Now companies are finding that they have few, if any, mid-level employees who are adequately trained to take over more senior positions.”

Many laid off workers argue that there can’t possibly be a shortage of skilled professionals, given the 440,000 global layoffs. Armendariz said though there’s a larger candidate pool of younger candidates and industry veterans, many young professionals are looking outside of the industry – leaving another talent gap for the future.

“Many [industry veterans] are working on technical projects and are adding value, but the whitepaper focuses on leaders who will grow and shape the industry,” Armendariz told Rigzone. “Those skilled professionals – the high potential leaders – are still difficult to recruit out of their current companies. Firms that recognize the war for talent is still going strong will be best positioned for the industry’s rebound.”

Developing top technical talent is not impossible, but it does require a shift in recruitment strategy, said Armendariz said.

This involves:

  • Understanding the current talent gap. This can be done by asking the following questions: What will our energy business look like in five years? How many mission critical employees do we currently have and where are we falling short? At a minimum, how many new hires do we need in each discipline or geography to bridge this gap? How much experience will our new hires have and how quickly can we help them gain additional on-the-job experience and develop their leadership skills?
  • Maximize available talent. Rather than assessing the pool of potential leaders and modeling their likely advancement paths globally through the organization, some companies think only of their local talent – failing to track and coordinate their development at a global level. By redistributing talent throughout the organization, it will help the recruitment team better understand what gaps currently exist. Then they can develop a strategic model for long-term recruitment and internal promotion efforts.
  • Recruit talent with global leadership potential. In today’s industry, globalization and geopolitical risks are just as important as operational excellence and profitability. Tomorrow’s technical leaders must be global leaders as well.
  • Look outside the industry for confident decision-makers and quick learners. Disqualifying candidates for a lack of technical skills won’t work anymore. Instead, companies need to think outside of the oil and gas talent box. These are the people who take it upon themselves to further their knowledge and leadership skills.

“Companies that are positioning themselves in the best way for future growth are spending money, time and resources to identify and grow future leaders,” Armendariz said. “High potential employees are easier to grow organically and are rooted in the company culture better than firms who are forced to recruit reactively.”

>> Link to original article.

10 Steps to Becoming More Analytical

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Business leaders value analytics because they want to better understand how the business works, gain insights and assess the value of talent investments. They want to get help solving problems and to make better decisions. As an HR business partner, recruiter or specialist, you may find that exciting, intimidating or a bit of both. The good news is that you don’t need deep quantitative training to help leaders make more informed evidence-based decisions.

The list below contains 10 simple, but powerful, actions for approaching your work more analytically. They’re based on my 15 years of experience helping leaders at a top professional services firm find ways to attract, engage, develop and retain highly talented people, and on my time at other organizations as a manager and consultant.

  1. Get to know your organization’s strategy.

Do you know how your company makes money? The organization’s strategic imperatives? Your source of competitive advantage? It’s important to explore your company intranet, look at external media and find a mentor who can share insights with you on what leaders care about most. Chances are, most people in your organization only have a general knowledge of your strategy at best. A little time invested in understanding your organization’s strategy will help you focus your conversations, priorities and day-to-day work on the things most important to the business.

  1. Understand your organization’s talent imperatives.

There’s a difference between an organization’s talent imperatives and its HR team priorities. Talent imperatives are the critical human capital decisions, investments or actions required to achieve your organization’s strategic goals. HR team imperatives may be operationally important, but not critical to achieving strategic goals.

What has to happen talent-wise in your organization to meet your organization’s strategic goals?

  1. Ask good business questions.

Do you want to be taken seriously? To be a trusted advisor? You can, by asking powerful questions that get to the heart of the problem the leaders you are supporting are trying to solve. The following seven questions will serve you well:

?          What are you trying to accomplish?

?          What prompted this request?

?          What problem(s) are you trying to solve?

?          What do you hope to learn?

?          How will you use this information?

?          What audience will you share this with?

?          Is there a story you hope to tell?

  1. Get to know your organization’s structure and data.

You should know the types of data you have available to you and get to know the data itself. Understanding the basic calculations (turnover, retention, etc.) your organization uses and making connections with people in other parts of the business who may have access to data that could be useful to you are great ways to learn more.

Other suggestions include the following: learn how the business is organized, how it is managed day to day and how money is allocated among business units, and learn how leaders prefer to look at the organization and data.

  1. Learn some very basic Excel functions.

You don’t need to be an Excel wizard to be analytical, but you do need a basic familiarity with Excel. It is easy to learn, though; anything you need to know is an Internet search away. You should be able to do basic calculations and to use a pivot table to summarize data.

  1. Make and test hypotheses.

Everyone has hypotheses (explanations) about how the world works at work. Sometimes hypotheses come out as stories, rumors or myths: “All the level 5 engineers are quitting!” You’re fully capable of testing this hypothesis with the data in your reports and coming back with a response.

You can make and test a wide range of hypotheses. Maybe the engineers are being poached by a competitor; maybe they’re only leaving in a particular location; or maybe it’s a combination of things. Using the data you have to test hypotheses like these can help narrow the range of possible responses and increase the likelihood that any action taken will make a difference.

  1. Develop and share a point of view.

Many requests are for a specific piece of data rather than a point of view: “Please send me the headcount report.” It’s important to give your perspective anyway: “Here’s the headcount report you asked for. We currently have 5,417 employees; that’s up 10 percent year to year.”

Why give a point of view? Remember, a leader’s goal is to gain insights that help him or her solve problems. Do you want to be the go-to person for reports, or the go-to person when a leader has a problem he or she is trying to solve? People will become accustomed to your offering a point of view and will soon come seeking it out.

  1. Know when to call in the experts.

You don’t need to know how to do a regression analysis. Decisions to pull in an expert should be based on the cost of the problem or size of the investment being made. If you’re proposing a $2 million training program, it’s probably worth spending $10,000 to test the impact of a pilot. When contemplating a survey, get help from someone who has done surveys many times before. If you don’t have a person with these quantitative skills on your HR team, you may find someone in finance, strategy or marketing who is able to help.

  1. Explain things simply and clearly.

Sometimes analysts are tempted to try to impress with big technical words, artistic charts or lots of data. One of most valuable things you can do is to share your conclusions in plain but precise, everyday language. Charts should be simple and clean, and they should only include elements needed to make your point.

  1. Persuade others to act on what you’ve learned.

My team has a saying: “Now we know this. So what?” It turns out that 20 percent of analytic work is done in spreadsheets. Eighty percent is done by communicating what we’ve learned and encouraging people to act on it. Data by itself typically isn’t enough to persuade people to act. It needs to be put into context, linked to the issues leaders care most about, presented simply and clearly demonstrate what action should be taken.

Jeff Merrifield is a leader in the Americas Organizational Development and HR Enablement function at EY, Ernst & Young LLP, a member of the EY global professional services organization. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of EY. Send questions or comments about this story to

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