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Employee development and performance hot topics at Oracle HCM World

Find out why UnitedHealth Group encourages workers to drive their own employee development and ICF International revamped its onboarding system.

Human capital is the No. 1 priority for CEOs in 2014, according to The Conference Board's CEO Challenges Study. But after evaluating their workforces and the talent market, they realized there's some work to be done. Seventy percent of survey respondents to PricewaterhouseCoopers' 17th annual CEO Survey said they are concerned about availability of key skills; that is the highest response percentage in the survey's 17 years, PwC Practice Leader Ed Boswell noted.

With these stats in mind, learning and performance management were hot topics at Oracle's first-ever HCM World Conference held last week in Las Vegas. Attendees heard about the value of reimagining onboarding and innovative strategies for employee development, but were cautioned against misidentifying high performers.

Enterprise collaborators new standard of high performance 

It's a familiar tale in human resources (HR): doing more with less. Although the economy is recovering and CEOs are optimistic about hiring in 2014, companies still need to drive high performance in their workforces to stay competitive. 

And that's because higher individual performance equals higher organizational performance, right? To the audience's dismay, Brian Kropp, corporate leadership council managing director at CEB, an advisory company based in Arlington, Va., revealed that his research found no correlation between employee performance scores and business-unit performance.

That revelation was met with audible groans. "This is why companies want to blow up their performance management systems," Kropp said.

But he argued that it's not the equation that's flawed, it's how employee performance is defined and identified. While individual performance -- how well an employee can reach goals and deliver on his job description -- has traditionally been the basis of scoring performance, Kropp said this isn't the whole picture in today's horizontal and collaborative workplace. In this context, network performance -- an employee's effectiveness at working with and for others -- emerges as a critical factor.

Kropp called employees who demonstrate both high individual and network performance "enterprise collaborators." And with both aspects of performance accounted for, a correlation emerged. Enterprise collaborators "have an impact on the performance of the organization that's bigger than their job," he said. "The business units that have more of those people actually outperform." While approximately 60% of employees are effective individual performers, only 20% are enterprise collaborators.

However, they're often misidentified in performance management systems; 65% of employees who get the best scores are not enterprise collaborators. This might be due to the top-down nature of traditional performance reviews, Kropp said. Managers don't adequately value network performance and might not be as privy to these performance measures as co-workers or external contributors.

So how can companies start cultivating enterprise collaborators? Kropp recommended first learning how to recognize them. While individual performers prioritize tasks, build connections and are receptive to change, enterprise collaborators prioritize contribution to the organization, understand peer motivations and initiate change.

Then, companies should tweak their performance management processes and systems. Scoring method aside, Kropp recommended changing the focus of performance reviews.

"The scoring process that's there has no relationship on the performance that employees have. What does is if you change the way you're talking with people," he said. "[Shift] the conversation from being backward-looking and evaluative to being forward-looking and aligned with the direction of the person and the organization."

Employee development best driven by employees

HR leaders who give employees the power might be amazed at how forward-looking they can be. In the creatively named session, "Selfies in the Corporate World," Susan Weedman, director of human capital development at UnitedHealth Group, advocated that organizations allow employees to take their career development into their own hands instead of "sitting back and hoping the company will promote them."

In the Minneapolis, Minn.-based company's revamped development system, employees can access Oracle's Professional Profile tool through a portal site and rate their skills for various job profile competencies. They can use the "raise your hand" feature in their profile to indicate interest in a certain job category, which is then routed through a custom feed to the Taleo recruiting module. When asked if employees are honest when rating their skills, Weedman explained that managers review employees' self-assessments and arrange a conversation if they think there's a discrepancy.

Every six months, managers sit down with employees to discuss career goals. If the employees need work in a certain area, managers can refer to a list of employee development exercises organized by skill. While these conversations help employees further their progress, managers are expected to act as "talent stewards" that align individual goals with organizational goals.

Drivers behind UnitedHealth Group's new employee development program included growing strong leaders, boosting employee engagement and productivity, and retaining high performers who are at risk of leaving due to perceived lack of opportunities. Although Weedman acknowledged that the company has a ways to go, she said the program is taking shape. She cited challenges such as making employees feel empowered to drive their own development, finding a way to address international employees that might not be comfortable rating their skills and increasing transparency of listings for internal candidates.

Weedman also said it's a change for all involved -- employees, managers and recruiters. "The culture shift is the number one thing to anticipate, and it's an ongoing process," she said. For this reason, change management and internal marketing should be primary considerations. 

Strategic onboarding doesn't start and end with HR

Effective employee development can start on day one if done right. New employees just starting at a company are the most engaged they'll ever be, but they're also high risk. According to Aberdeen Group, 90% of employees make a decision in the first six months on whether they're going to stay with a company for the long term.

That's why "first impressions matter," which was the title of Terri McBride's session on strategic onboarding. McBride, HR manager at Fairfax, Va.-based ICF International, implemented a new automated onboarding process in October 2011. Approximately 3,300 employees have been onboarded through the new process, and ramp-up time was shortened by two to three days.

An accepted offer kicks off the new onboarding system at ICF. McBride said the company integrated its Taleo onboarding module with its human resource information system so records and accounts are set up before a new hire even enters the building. On an employee's first day, they not only complete employment forms and receive orientation information, they're also set up with a "new hire buddy" who helps to guide them through their initial weeks on the job. Surveys are administered at 30 and 90 days to gauge the employees' progress and garner feedback.

While the process is now much more consistent, perhaps the most important change is the involvement outside of the HR department. The company "pushed onboarding to our operating groups -- HR can't [do] everything," McBride said. "From an HR perspective, we give all the communications, but we have seven different operating groups and as much as we'd like them to be the same, they're not. So [for] all those idiosyncrasies, we expect everybody's manager to really [help] get that new hire engaged."

Her advice on others looking to redo their onboarding processes? Take a phased approach with clear deadlines -- and "document everything."

Emma Snider is the associate editor for SearchFinancialApplications. Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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