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The Business Analyst Skillset in the New World

The Business Analyst Skillset in the New World


The Business Analyst (BA)is a key role bridging the domains of business and technical world. In midst of Outsourcing/Offshoring, this pivotal role is still preferred to reside onsite. Having been in the staffing industry for over 20 years, I am often asked this question –  what skills should I acquire and develop to be a successful Business Analyst?  Let me try to answer this from the recruiting perspective:


Traditional BA skills

Traditional BA skills are very much in play – communication skills being the most important trait. One needs to be a great communicator. As Andrea Morra, Director, Prudential Retirement, who heads a team who performs business analysis puts it, “Someone who can see the big picture, and then is able to break it down into the smaller components.  Someone who can inspire people around them by painting the big picture in a relatable way”.


As for technical skills-Data Modeling skills and SQL are a MUST have.  A rudimentary understanding of programming helps to grasp the fundamentals.  Being able to draw up Use Cases and Wire-frames are the standard skills you must have. But as the Business Analyst role is evolving and they are playing a major role in a company’s transformation, we have seen the following hottest skills for Business Analysts.



As more and more organizations are going towards Agile methodology, time for Business Analyst to adapt to the change and imbibe the spirit of the agile methodology. They need to understand their strengths and play accordingly.  For example, if they are playing the role of a Project Manager BA, they need to learn “ manage” or a BA on a core development team has to be technically savvy to act as a bridge between business and developers.


Data related technologies

Every company on this planet is talking about data and how they seek meaningful information out of it. If you like data and can play the role in data representation, you may see some good job opportunities. But you still need to learn tools such as Microstrategy, Tableau etc. and be more technical savvy from the data perspective (Sourcing, Cleansing etc.)


Cloud Computing

With the deployment of cloud computing, organizations are undergoing a lot of changes which include business process re-engineering and dependence on Cloud provider. Here the Business Analyst needs to make use of their soft skills and interact with vendors from time to time. Negotiation skills, vendor management, Business Process reengineering skills are a must for these kinds of scenarios.


Besides these skills, one of the most important skills is “continuous improvement and innovative skills”, as Andrea Morra puts it.  “Business Analysts must build creativity and have problem-solving skills”.  These are just a few examples of skills needed for Business Analyst jobs.


Making the Most of MOOCs for Employee Development

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) first began gaining traction in 2011, with high profile educators like MIT and Harvard, as well as new entrants like Coursera and edX, entering the marketplace. These online courses, some available at no charge, could represent opportunities for employee development, but there are pros and cons, as well as best practices for their use.

Pros of Using MOOCs

The most obvious pro of incorporating MOOCs into your training and development activities is cost—most are free. And, because these open courses are offered by some of the best schools, and professors, in the country free doesn’t equal poor quality.

Another benefit is flexibility. Employees signing up for these programs generally have the ability to choose when they engage, at times most convenient and productive for them. The courses are also easily acceptable—and engaging. Many now incorporate video and some incorporate interaction to help boost engagement and positively impact learning.

Cons of Using MOOCs

There are also some downfalls associated with using MOOCs. Chief among them is the flip side of the benefit of flexibility—because the training sessions are “virtual” and generally accessible based on the schedule of the student the “no show” or noncomplete rates of these programs are high. EdSurge reports that a study by HarvardX and MITx indicated that only 5.5 percent of those who enroll in their open online courses go on to receive a certificate.

Another potential downfall is the alignment of this content with organizational needs, mission, vison, values, processes and policies. Companies don’t want employees to engage in training that undermines or contradicts their own practices, creating confusing and cognitive dissonance for students and potential headaches for management and HR staff.

Finally, the sheer volume of courses available from a growing number of providers can make the selection process feel overwhelming.

Best Practices for Incorporating MOOCs into Your Training and Development Efforts

Despite the potential downfalls of using MOOCs, the pros certainly provide a compelling reason to consider this form of training. Here are some best practices that can help minimize the cons, while maximizing positive outcomes.

  • Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. MOOCs are not appropriate for all types of training and may also fail to meet the learning needs and preferences of all employees.
  • Make it real by ensuring that both employees and managers understand how the MOOC can meet job- or company-specific objectives. Participation should not be “nice to do,” but “need to do” in order to achieve specific outcomes.
  • Engage employees in identifying appropriate sessions to meet their needs, in alignment with their jobs and the organization’s goals. MOOCs should be selected to align with employee development needs that support the overall organization’s strategic initiatives. Employees, along with their managers and HR staff, as appropriate, should work together to identify potential options.
  • Review/evaluate the offerings before pulling the switch. To ensure that course content is supportive of company policies, processes and preferences, review the course material ahead of time. This doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task. It’s likely that there are certain types of training topics that may apply to multiple employees. Vetting potential programs in advance can result in a go-to list of programs for employees to choose from.
  • Hold employees accountable. Once a MOOC has been selected, hold employees accountable to completing the course. This can be done by tying participation into the performance appraisal process.
  • Remain engaged with the employee while they’re enrolled in the program. Check in to see how it’s going, what the employee is learning and how these new insights can be applied on the job.
  • After the course is complete ask the employee to provide an overview of what they learned, how it can be applied and their evaluation of the course for use by others.
  • Recognize that MOOCs should be just one of the tools in your training and development toolkit. There will still be a place for traditional, instructor-led training, as well as participation in traditional college and technical courses and offerings.

The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of MOOCs make them a potential go-to option for organizations needing to ensure that employees remain up-to-date on key issues, trends and topics that impact their ability to do their jobs most effectively. Recognizing the pros and cons, and following best practice guidelines, can help to ensure that employees—and the organization—get the most out of MOOCs.

Best Practices in Reducing Time to Hire

As the economic downturn of 2008 becomes a distant memory, a growing number of employers are finding that the tide is turning when it comes to competing for talent. It wasn’t that long ago when employers became relatively complacent from a hiring standpoint—it was an employer’s market. But all of that is changing as baby boomers are finally beginning to leave the workplace and as organizations find themselves becoming more dependent on technologically competent staff members.

With a shrinking supply of workers available to meet the growing number of job openings, employees are now in the driver’s seat, often finding themselves in the enviable position of needing to choose between two or more offers.

What does that mean for employers? It means that the company, recruiter, hiring manager or HR professional able to “make the first move” in terms of extending an offer is likely to land the top candidates.

Unfortunately, time-to-hire is a metric that has been steadily growing. According to a Glassdoor study of “hiring delays,” hiring decisions can take as long as 53.8 days (in the government sector) and 32.6 days in the aerospace and defense sector. The specific jobs with the longest lag times between interview and offer are professor (60.3 days), business systems analyst (44.8 days) and research scientist (44.6 days). At the low end of the spectrum are jobs for retail representatives, delivery drivers (both at 8.5 days) and waiter (8.0 days).

It is both ironic, and unfortunate, that the jobs requiring the highest level of talent, and representing the greatest competition, take the longest in terms of time-to-hire. The ability to reduce time-to-hire can help.

According to Glassdoor research, “company-specific factors explain about 14.7 percent of variation in hiring delays around the world, about twice as much as job-specific factors, or factors like industry, location and company size. That means that you have the power to turn these numbers around and to boost the odds that you’ll get to top candidates, first, with an offer they won’t refuse.

A blog post by senior contributing writer John Rossheim offers some practical tips to help drive those numbers down:

  • Get consensus on the job profile. When those involved in the hiring decision don’t agree on the type of candidate they’re looking for, delays are inevitable. Don’t assume this agreement. Identify, up front, the knowledge, skills and abilities that will define top candidates and make sure those are communicated thoroughly to your staffing partner.
  • If you are not working with a staffing agency, get input from managers to help source candidates. A dialogue between managers and HR can help to identify some potential sources of candidates. HR staff members are likely not as familiar with niche sources of candidates as hiring managers are. That dialogue can help to identify specific channels that can yield good results.
  • Screen applications in bulk. “Make resume screening an intensive, short-duration effort and you may be able to reduce your time-to-hire by weeks,” writes Rossheim.
  • Streamline high-volume phone interviews. Tina Hamilton, president of HireVision Group, suggested to Rossheim that phone interviews can be streamlined by asking the important questions first. The interview can then be concluded when it becomes apparent the candidate will not be a good fit.
  • Get managers comfortable with interviewing. Managers are a critical part of the hiring process, but need to be trained to fulfill their roles effectively. Help ensure that they will handle their decision-making process efficiently by providing them with the tools and training they may need.
  • Consolidate individual interviews. Some companies have found that bringing in a group of candidates all at one time can provide a good sense of how these potential employees interact with others in a stressful setting, and can help to shorten the process.
  • Consolidate first-round interviews. Schedule individual interviews, once you’ve narrowed the field, but group them within a day or two of each other to avoid stretching out the process.
  • Have candidates show their skills. Certain positions lend themselves to asking the candidate to demonstrate their proficiency. Send out these assignments in advance and ask candidates to submit prior to their interview.
  • Wrap up recruitment promptly. When all candidates have been interviewed, wrap it up! Make a decision that ties back to your job profile as quickly as possible.

There’s one caveat here, though. While it is certainly importance to work at reducing time-to-hire to up the odds that you’ll get an offer to a desirable candidate first, you don’t simply want to “settle” for a warm body. “Don’t hire in haste,” cautions Rossheim. It’s good advice.

The Impact of Office Layout on Productivity and Engagement

Noise, distractions, lack of personal space and potential impacts on productivity are just a few of the unintended impacts that office layout choices may raise. While open office environments have been popular, a recent Gallup report suggests that most employees prefer to have a place to call their own.

What office space decisions may serve to hinder—or, potentially, help—your company?

The Prevalence of the Open Concept

The open office concept took root in Germany back in the 1950s and was brought to the U.S. more recently. According to the International Facility Management Association, about 70 percent of U.S. organizations now incorporate some type of open office layout, Gallup says. Gallup research, though, indicates that 57 percent of employees surveyed work in a “similar location as their coworkers.” Unfortunately, that layout may not be leading to the positive impacts these organizations are hoping for.

Yes, open concepts can be conducive to conversation and collaboration—but they can also be conducive to disruption and distraction. Having some flexibility to choose the conditions where they work is important to employees according to Gallup:

  • 42 percent would change jobs to have more privacy when they need it
  • 41 percent would change jobs for a personal workspace
  • 38 percent would change jobs for their own office
  • 33 percent would change jobs for a door they could shut

How can you meet your employees’ needs for both privacy and flexibility?

Helping Employees Find Privacy and Flexibility

Maura Thomas is the founder of and the author of Personal Productivity Secrets (Wiley, 2012) and Work Without Walls (Burget Ave Press, 2017). Thomas says that maintaining employee productivity starts with design considerations.

“Certain floor plan components will help you maximize productivity in the office,” she says. “Knowledge work requires quiet thinking space for flow. However, if you have the space, you can build in opportunities for collaboration with some open work space.” In addition, she says, “coffee house” settings can offer an opportunity for employees to do low-focus work in the presence of others. “Game areas also do well as collaborative spaces, because physical activity fosters creativity. You can make collaboration and teamwork a prominent feature of your office space.”

Still, while opportunity for interaction and collaboration is important, “employees still need quiet, undistracted environments that support the flow, creativity, and brainpower that is required for the work you hired your knowledge workers to do,” says Thomas. She recommends that employers consider making the following types of small changes that can positively impact employee performance, productivity and job satisfaction:

  • Offer private storage space for employees’ personal articles and supplies
  • Provide flexibility in office decor, including personal décor like family photographs or “knickknacks”
  • Consider the impact (positive and negative) of “noise,” which might include music or other background sounds
  • Provide flexibility—desks on wheels, for example.

Giving employees some control over the environment they work in, says Thomas, “leads to happiness—and happiness leads to productivity.

Type of Work Drives Layout Considerations

The type of work being done in an organization, or department, obviously also impacts layout decisions, as Jan Bednar, CEO at ShipMonk, in Deerfield Beach, Florida, points out. At ShipMonk, for instance, a fulfillment and shipping company, employees need to work together to meet client needs. A former company layout had employees working in an open workspace, with a “deep partition” between them and the senior leadership team. ShipMonk’s new facility was designed in an effort to remove that barrier, while still providing effective work environments to meet both the collaborative needs of the front-line staff and the privacy requirements of the firm’s leadership team.

“Our new facility features an open workspace, and our management team works behind glass doors and windows,” says Bednar. “This fosters collaboration between our front-line employees while figuratively—and literally—removing walls between them and their supervisors.” Better yet, says, Bednar: “We have noticed 50 percent, plus, improvements in efficiencies, contact resolution time and order fulfillment time across the board—these improvements can be directly attributable to our workspace layout.”

Let There Be Light

Don’t overlook the impact that lighting—especially natural lighting—can have on employee mood and satisfaction, says John Crowley, a blogger who focuses on HR and employee productivity issues. He says that a recurring theme in his work has been the importance of designing office space with natural light in mind.

“Creating an office layout that puts employees close to a source of natural light can really boost productivity and make your employees happier,” he says. “Dim, artificial light can cause strained eyes, dizziness and headaches,” he says. He points to an example from the 1980s when a post office in Nevada renovated their entire lighting rig to move away from dim, artificial light and to increase exposure to more natural sources of light.” These effort, says Crowley, resulted in the firm becoming the most productivity mail sorting center in the western states.

Seek Employee Input  

Innovative and best practice examples of workspaces designed to boost satisfaction and productivity abound. But, rather than making assumptions about your own employees’ preferences and needs when it comes to workspace, ask them! Their insights can help you find the right balance between privacy, camaraderie to build the kind of engagement that boosts both productivity and retention.

Older Workers On the Rise: Benefits and Potential Drawbacks

The baby boomer generation has had a significant impact on society—and the workforce. That impact is predicted to continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, while only 11.9 percent of the labor force was 55 years or older in 1990, that percentage will increase to 25.2 percent in 2020. Many Americans are choosing to work longer these days, either based on the need for additional income or the desire to stay involved and active. Seniors in the United States are employed at the highest rates in 55 years according to a Bloomberg article.

An Aging Workforce

With the tsunami of aging baby boomers poised to finally exit the workplace, many companies have found themselves faced with concerns about whether they have the bench strength to fill these soon-to-be-empty positions. Engaging these older employees and keeping them in the workforce is one option to help minimize the impact of this exodus. Engaging with retirees to draw them back for special assignments or limited term engagement is another.

According to research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 79 percent of workers plan to supplement their retirement incomes by working.  In addition to their contributions as employees, older workers and retirees hold potential to give back to the organizations they’ve served, and future leaders, by serving in coach/mentor roles. Retirees can also serve as brand ambassadors, spreading the good word about the organizations they’ve worked for in the community.

There are obvious benefits for organizations in terms of retaining the institutional knowledge that older workers retain; there are some drawbacks though as well. Here we take a look at both.

Benefits of Retaining Older Workers

As the economy has begun to show signs of improvement, employers are starting to feel the pinch and finding it more challenging to recruit workers—especially for certain positions. The ability to retain older workers is one way to lessen that pinch.

In addition, as we’ve already alluded to, older workers have a significant amount of knowledge and past experience to bring to bear. The loss of that knowledge and experience can be a definite blow both in terms of finding someone to fill the gap and in terms of lost productivity. These experienced workers have also established relationships in- and outside the organization that also have value.

As Nathaniel Reade points out in AARP The Magazine, older workers “score high in leadership, detail-oriented tasks, organization, listening, writing skills and problem solving—even in cutting-edge fields like computer science.”

Because of the knowledge they have accumulated and the experience they have to share, some older workers are being called back to the workplace after retirement for short gigs or to mentor their younger replacements. These types of arrangements can be a win-win for all involved.

There are, though, some potential drawbacks that organizations should be aware of. In fact, Fidelity Investments recently made the news for its offer of a voluntary buyout package to 3000 employees, age 55 or older who had been with the company for at least 10 years. They’re not the only company to do so.

Drawbacks That Older Workers May Present

Why would organizations like Fidelity choose to offer older workers an incentive to leave? The bottom line.

One of the key drawbacks of older workers is that they cost too much. Having been in the workforce longer, and often receiving pay increases year over year, these older workers are more expensive than new hires might be. Their benefit packages may also be more costly—e.g. more accrued vacation or sick leave, higher costs of insurance coverage, etc.

Still, there are ways to get around some of these expenses. In recent years an increasing number of organizations have shifted to a market-based compensation strategy, rather than paying employees more as they gain increasing years of service. This can help to maintain a level playing field that benefits both employers and employees.

Another potential downfall? In some cases, regardless of their chronological age, employees who have been on the job for a longer period of time may become burned out or disengaged and disenchanted with the work they do. It may be time for them to leave and to insert new energy and enthusiasm into the position.


Each organization will have to weigh the pros and cons based on their own unique situations and workforce makeup. Despite organizations like Fidelity that are finding value in paying older workers to leave, other employers are taking advantage of the skills, knowledge and unique abilities that their older workers—and retirees—can bring to the workplace.





Social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and others, can be great tools for employees to use for learning and communication. The same is true of employers. But both sides need to know some important do’s and don’ts for leveraging social media channels effectively.

Rapid Adoption

According to an infoplease timeline, Friendster, the first of the modern day social channels, emerged in 2002; LinkedIn in 2003, Myspace and Facebook in 2004. The adoption and impact of these tools has been rapid—at least outside the workplace. In the workplace, many employers have been more hesitant to open the gates to allow employee access. In much the same way as many took a go-slow approach to employee access to the Internet, the same has applied here.

Today, of course, while a wide range of companies in a number of industries have recognized the Internet as an important workplace resource for many employees, not all have equally embraced the use of social media. In fact, according to a 2013/14 survey by Proskauer, an international law firm, 90 percent of businesses, globally, are now using social media for business purposes. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that they’re approving of employee use of these tools in the workplace. Only 43 percent of those responding indicate that they permit employees to access social media sites—a top of 10 percent since the previous survey!

With or without permission, though, employees report that they are using social media tools while at work.

How Employees Use Social Media in the Workplace

There are certainly some legitimate, business use cases that can be made for the use of social media. Chief among them: recruitment, with LinkedIn being a top tool for recruiters, HR professionals and managers to find and connect with potential employees. Social media tools have also become go-to resources for marketing communication professionals to connect with, and engage, external audiences. Research and information sharing are two other common applications from a business standpoint.

Pew Research Center surveyed 2003 American adults about their use of social media in 2014. Not surprisingly, the use of social media was prevalent—even in organizations that prohibited such use. The 77 percent of those responding who indicated that they used social media at work, whether or not their employer had policies regulating its use, indicated that they were most likely to use these channels to:

  • Take a mental break (34%)
  • Connect with friends and family (27%)
  • Make or support professionals connections (24%)
  • Get information that helps solve problems at work (20%)
  • Build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers (17%)
  • Learn about someone they work with (17%)
  • Ask work-related questions of people outside their organizations (12%)
  • Ask work-related questions of people within their organizations (12%)

Their responses suggest a combination of both work- and non-work-related activities. Considering that many employees now have access to their own personal devices while at work, it has become increasingly challenging for employers to attempt to completely lock down employee engagement in social channels during the workday.

Benefits and Drawbacks

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points to both benefits and drawbacks for employers allowing social media use in the workplace.

Benefits include:

  • Information discovery and delivery
  • Opportunities for discussion among employees
  • An opportunity for business networking
  • Ability to expand market research and deliver communications to others

Drawbacks noted include:

  • Potential for spam and virus attacks
  • Risk of data or identity theft or other negative impacts on computer security
  • Possibility for negative comments from employees about their companies
  • Risk of legal consequences if employees use these channels inappropriately

And, of course, just as with any other potential workplace distractions—like the Internet, the phone or the watercooler—employers are legitimately concerned about anything that might have a negative impact on productivity.

Do’s and Don’ts for Navigating the Social Terrain

At a minimum, employers should have a policy providing guidance to employees about the use of social media and the impact on the organization. Some key points to include:

  • Social media use, while at work, should be limited to work-related activities
  • Unless specifically authorized, employees should not post on behalf of the organization
  • Employees should not share proprietary company information; trade secrets; financial information which may violate Insider Trading Policies; or protected information about customers, clients or, in the healthcare industry, patients.

SHRM offers a helpful draft social media policy that can serve as a good starting point. Be sure, though, to have any policies you create reviewed by your legal counsel.

Taking a Marketing Approach to Attracting Talent

In many organizations, the marketing and HR functions operate independently—HR focused primarily on internal communications with employees and marketing focused primarily on external communications with consumer and business audiences that include both prospects and customers.

In some organizations, though, these two groups have teamed up to combine their expertise to boost overall communication effectiveness, internally and externally. One key area where the two are helping their organizations achieve success is in employee recruitment.

Following the Lead of Marketing

Last year, Mark Miller wrote a piece for TLNT (Talent Management and HR), “It’s Time for HR to Follow Marketing’s Lead and Develop Employee Personas.” Personas are a commonly used tactic in marketing circles that help marketers “get into the heads” of their target audiences. Miller writes: “If this is the best practice for companies connecting with customers, why shouldn’t HR professionals use this same concept to truly understand their employees?” Why indeed?

In fact, that question can be broadened to ask: “Why shouldn’t HR take a marketing approach to attracting top talent to their organizations?” The answer, of course, is that they should. The same marketing principles that can be applied to attracting customers to a company can be applied to attracting employees. The process is the same.

Steps to Developing an Employee Recruitment Process Based on Marketing Principles

Following are some specific steps that HR leaders can take to boost their recruitment efforts through a marketing process:

  1. Make sure you’re effectively managing your “employer brand.” What does that mean? It means understanding how you would like your organization to be perceived compared to how it is actually perceived—and taking steps to close those gaps. How can you determine how you’re currently perceived? You can ask employees—even job candidates. You can glean information from online review channels like Or you can conduct your own research with the employee populations you are recruiting from. A key point here—your messaging must reflect reality. As marketers say: “You need to live the brand promise.”
  2. Build an employee persona. What does your “ideal” candidate for a given position look like? As Miller stresses in his article, taking this step can help ensure that you clearly understand your potential employee audience, their interests and concerns. One way to develop a persona is by “profiling” top candidates that currently hold the position, or who have held the position. What are the traits that make them valuable to the organization? These are the traits, or attributes, you would seek in prospective employees.
  3. Understand what is important to the candidates you hope to attract. This can be done by reviewing secondary data online (e.g. research from trade organizations, comments and profiles of similar types of individuals on LinkedIn or polls/interviews/focus groups with existing employees.
  4. Analyze the competition. Just as companies have competitors for their products and services they also have competitors for staff. What companies do you compete against locally, regionally or nationally (depending on the scope of your search)? What attributes do these companies have that position them favorably against you? What attributes do you have that position your company more favorably based on what you know about what’s important to your target audience of potential applicants? These considerations will help to direct your messaging.
  5. Identify communication channels. How will you connect with potential candidates? LinkedIn is clearly a top site for recruiting today, but it may not be your only—or even you primary—source of candidates. Much will depend on the type of position you are recruiting for. For instance, if you’re looking for business professionals (e.g. accounting, HR, marketing, etc.), LinkedIn is likely to be a good communication channel. If you’re looking for tradespeople, however, (e.g. roofers, electricians, plumbers) it may not be such a good channel. On LinkedIn, its relatively easy to see what the field of candidates looks like by doing a people search within the geographic range you’re recruiting from. Other channels, depending on your target audience, might include trade publications, online directories—and even traditional classified listings.
  6. Create messaging. Your communication efforts related to recruitment should leverage the unique position you hold compared to competitors as well as emphasize the benefits of working for your company based on what you know about the target audience.
  7. Measure, monitor and modify your approach based on which communication channels and messaging yield the highest quality of applicants, the most hires, the most valued employees, etc.

Throughout the process, don’t hesitate to call on your marketing communication colleagues for assistance. They have a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to your recruitment efforts to ensure that you are using proven strategies to position your company as a great place to work.

Are Wellness Programs Wasted on the Well?

Wellness programs are increasingly common these days in organizations large and small. But some believe that participants tend to be those who were already well, or planning to get there. Is there evidence to suggest that employees who really need to avail themselves of these offerings are doing so? What best practices are organizations using to ensure that their investments in wellness programs are paying off?

Numbers Matter

Intuitively, and based on broad coverage of the general value of wellness programs for employees, it’s logical to think that the programs provide benefit. When working with the C-suite, though, intuition isn’t enough. HR leaders need to be able to link real results—quantified through actual costs savings—back to companies’ wellness initiatives.

For example, according to Fitbit, in 2014 Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s employees spent 8 hours a day sitting behind a wheel, had company-wide health problems and a yearly healthcare spend of $7+ million. They implemented Fitbit into their corporate wellness program and began offering onsite fitness classes. As a result, the company’s employees dropped an average of 17 glucose and 12 LDL cholesterol points and saved $2.3 million healthcare costs after one year.

Making the Connection

Making this type of cause and effective connection between wellness initiatives and some real, and relevant, bottom line impact helps to provide evidence in support of the time, effort and investment that these programs may entail. Yes, there are likely to be some general benefits that companies receive through their employee wellness efforts, including employee satisfaction, decreases in absenteeism, etc., but these soft benefits need to be augmented through quantifiable data.

The best time to think about making these types of bottom line connections, is before an initiative is implemented. Specific outcome measures should be identified at the beginning of any wellness program. In what ways do you believe the effort will generate results? What metrics will you monitor?

In larger organizations pilots can be set up to demonstrate the difference in employee populations that were, and were not, included in an initiative. For instance, suppose you were to provide employees with wearable devices of some type to monitor the number of steps they walk each day and challenge them to walk 10,000 steps a day for some period of time. You might decide that your outcome measures would be impact on absenteeism during the initiative and impact on specific types of healthcare claims over some period of time. You might do this pilot in one area of your organization and change nothing in other areas, then do a pre/post comparison of the data to determine if any positive change occurred.

Building Alliances

While this type of data certainly can be tracked, the process of tracking can challenge internal resources particularly in smaller organizations. In these cases, HR leaders may wish to consider partnerships with other companies or groups. In Hawaii, for instance, the Hawai’I Health at Work Alliance (HH@WA), a statewide initiative has measured attitudes toward worksite wellness programs and assessed the impact of the programs were having. According to this group’s research 69 percent of participant organizations saw an increase in employee productivity, 68 percent saw an increase in employee satisfaction and 61 percent reported an increase in company revenue that they tied back to their wellness programs. It is also of interest to note that only 38 percent of the companies surveyed had wellness programs in place.

Can these programs work? Yes. But HR leaders are well advised to ensure that they are implementing programs for reasons tied to company benefit and that they are measuring, monitoring and reporting on the benefits they achieve.

New Ways of Thinking About Performance Management

Face it. Performance management and employee reviews are the bane of existence for most managers—and the employees they manage! It’s unfortunate that a practice that should be designed to improve employee performance and contribution to the company, while developing career-related skills that are personally important, often becomes a dreaded—and, sometimes, contentious—once-a-year interaction. It doesn’t have to be that way; here are some new ways that HR is approaching the performance management process.

From Episodic to Ongoing

The idea of having a formal meeting, once a year, between an employee and his or her manager to get useful feedback to drive effectiveness and performance improvement is clearly flawed. In an era where jobs were narrowly defined, goals were clear, and the internal and external environment was very stable, that approach may have worked to a certain degree. It really doesn’t work today, though.

More companies are moving to more frequent ways for employees and managers to have conversations related to performance.

Adobe has gone from an annual performance review process to a Check-in approach that requires managers to meet with employees regularly to provide feedback. The result, according to Adobe, more engaged and empowered employees.

A Focus on Measurable Outcomes

What does a “3” really mean on a scale of “1-5”? That question has been the source of much conflict and consternation for both employees and managers as they attempted to navigate the often qualitative application of quantitative metrics to employee performance.

Google has been at the forefront of taking a more metric-driven approach, guided by KPCB’s John Doerr who encouraged Google to adopt Intel’s approach to using objectives and key results (OKRs) in performance evaluation, as outlined in a Fast Company article.

A key point made in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Performance Management Revolution,” by Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis, is this: the biggest drawback to annual reviews is their focus on past, rather than future, behavior. “With their heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, they hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future,” say the authors.

It’s a good point. Whichever model of, or approach to, performance management you take, a focus on how the process will serve to positively impact performance, productivity and profits should guide your decisions.

Communicating When You Don’t Have All The Answers

HR professionals are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place these days as they attempt to communicate with employees about impending legislative and policy changes that may affect their healthcare coverage, their benefit options, and more. Employees want answers, but HR and company leaders often don’t have those answers. How can you successfully respond to employee questions and address concerns in an era of uncertainty?

Work to Build a Climate of Openness and Trust Always

The best time to work at building a strong climate of openness and trust—one where employees feel comfortable asking even the toughest questions and where they trust the answers they receive—is before the need for sensitive communication exists. When employees know they can trust their leaders and HR representatives to be straightforward and honest with them, they’re more likely to accept “no-response responses” like “we don’t know right now, but we’ll let you know when we do.”

Develop Multiple Channels for Two-Way Communication

While HR and organizational leaders will often have messages that they will be sending to employees via various channels, it’s important that employees also have the opportunity to share information, to ask questions and to seek information. Two-way communication channels like suggestion boxes (even the “old-fashioned kind,” online chat rooms and open door policies help to ensure that employees have the information they need—and that leaders and HR professionals have a finger on the pulse of employees interests and concerns.

Be Transparent

While not all information can be shared, it’s important to be transparent about why. For instance, for publicly held organizations some information of a material nature must be carefully guarded to avoid running afoul of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) guidelines. In regulated industries—like banking, healthcare or the energy industry—other rules and regulations may govern when certain information may not be released.

It’s important for employees to understand, though, the restrictions that the company may face and why those restrictions exist. And, of course, to trust that when the time is right, they’ll receive the information they need.

Keep Track

It’s important to stay on top of the types of questions and issues that concern employees regardless of how they emerge. Devise ways of easily capturing their information—through technology or through management feedback channels. This can provide you with insights about issues that are of concern—and help you avoid overly focusing on issues that really aren’t of that great concern to employees.

Tracking these inputs can also help you arm managers and leaders with FAQs and responses that can help them respond to questions that employees may be asking.

Let Your Employees Be “The First to Know” Whenever Possible

Employees are an important audience for any organization. When they feel respected and important they’ll serve the company well. Whenever possible, make sure that your employee audience is one of, if not the, first to hear any important message. Employees don’t like to be blindsided by friends, neighbors or relatives who ask them questions about information they’ve heard on the news that employees weren’t aware of. Arming them with that information can help them spread the company message accurately.

Recognize That Employees Are All Part of a Larger Communication Ecosystem

Employees “get it” so give them credit for being aware of the bigger picture related to many of the issues that impact them. Employees know, for instance, that the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) is up in the air right now. Consequently, they understand that you don’t have answers. They know when the economy is declining, when competitors enter the market—and when business is booming.

Give them credit for that awareness and take advantage of the opportunity to build your messaging based on the broader messages that employees have already been exposed to.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “We Don’t Know”

Finally, don’t be afraid to say, “we don’t know.” Sometimes you simply don’t. Being open about these situations, and ensuring that employees trust that when you do know, you’ll provide them with the information they need, build trust.

Follow Up!

While it’s okay to not always have all the answers, it’s also important that when you do learn the answer you share that information with employees as soon as possible.

Ask for Feedback

On a regular basis, perhaps annually, ask employees for feedback on how you’re doing at providing them with the information they need. Do they feel that the organization communicates with them effectively? Do they believe that management and the HR department is open and transparent with them? Do they trust the messages they receive from the organization? What issues do they feel most/least educated/aware of?

The answers to these questions can help you identify areas of opportunity for improvement to ensure that the communication climate in your organization remains positive—even when you don’t have all the answers.

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