10 Outrageous New HR Programs
Dr. John Sullivan is a respected and well-know HR Guru. He’s a professor of management at San Francisco State University, speaker, author and advisor to Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 firms. So when he posted his recent list of the Top 10 Bold and Outrageous Practices I carved out a few minutes of my day to learn from one of HR’s most respected people. In his article Dr. Sullivan invites readers to ponder the controversial ideas and suggests that as one of the more conservative and risk-averse functions in the corporate world, HR needs to be more ‘bleeding edge’ in this competitive market place for top talent.
I agree with Dr. Sullivan’s comments that HR can be risk-averse. Too often we are so preoccupied developing strategies to reduce cost or oversee compliance activities in order to avoid litigation that it may not come naturally for us to be ‘bold and outrageous’ or ‘bleeding-edge.’ And while I can see the value of some of the ideas presented, others seem a bit far-fetched to me. Here is what he suggests:
- Outrageous benefits – Dr. Sullivan writes that Google now offers a death benefit to every US employee – a surviving partner or spouse receives 50% of the employee’s base pay year for 10 years. While this may seem a little morbid, it’s a brilliant idea for a company in the right industry and the right employee demographic. With so much change on the horizon in the world of healthcare reform, a benefit like this could be very cost effective to make a big and bold addition to benefit options.
- Limited-term employee contracts – This is worth giving consideration. As an HR advisor, I once worked in an environment that was so ideal and the work so rewarding that the organization had little to no attrition. While that may seem like a great idea, sometimes you want new ideas and a new energy that can come from a little turn-over. Term limits in employment guaranteed that every four to five years (at least) positions would turn, creating opportunities to hire a replacement, promote someone from within, or move other staff around. In an otherwise stagnant environment, term limits created opportunity. Since every employee knew they needed to maintain strong performance in order to be asked to re-interview for a position, performance remained high.
- Meet-ups for recruiting — While this does not really seem to be a particularly “outrageous” idea, it has huge potential. The idea comes from Edelman, a PR firm. It combines social media and “meet up” events to attract and build relationships with the very best. It uses employee social media contacts to invite candidates to mingle and to build relationships at social events held at popular restaurants. Candidates are offered unique snacks and drinks, while senior executives give a brief presentation. At the events, employees wear name tags with their Twitter handles on them. Attendance has reached as many as 300 and the events have resulted in more than 25 hires.” I’m definitely going to try this one with the right client…
- A recruiting TV show – This idea came from a Chinese company. It offers a TV show entitled Only You where candidates are interviewed and hired by executives reality-TV-style. Really…?
- Outrageous recruiting video — Dr. Sullivan writes that Kixeye tries to recruit in the competitive gaming space by creating recruiting videos that poke fun at the competition. I once worked for an internet start-up called Scient where this approach would have suited us well. Sure, it may be in bad taste to some, but to our target audience it was bold, hip, and different.
- Bold employer branding – This idea involved placing HR and recruiting information prominently within a firm’s primary homepage. Reportedly, Amazon placed information regarding its employee educational reimbursement benefits on its customer homepage. I like this idea as well. Why not leverage all of your assets to promote your firm. Customers might find it a little odd to find marketing recruiting material on the customer home page, but the smart customers will get it – and better still – may look up the job postings. It’s a creative way to reach the passive job seeker.
- Unlimited vacation policies – In a recent blog, Lexi Louderback explains Why Unlimited Time Off Makes Employees More Productive. Been there, done that. And it works!! As Dr. Sullivan reports, “this bold approach treats employees like mature adults who know how to manage how much time to spend away from work.” If you are recruiting the right people, setting the right expectations, and providing feedback along the way, employees will manage their time very well. Sure, there are always outliers – the employee who uses more than the average person or the one who does not use any time because he/she isn’t reminded how much time to take on his/her pay stub. But in general, the average number of weeks off taken was about 3 weeks per year. It made administering vacation and sick leave easy and it made employees feel like grown ups. This approach does pose some interesting challenges on how to administer various types of leaves, but with the right HR advice, it’s possible. Try it!
- Outrageous referral practices – The idea of employee referral bonuses is not new or bold, but offering $20,000, as DNAnexus does, certainly qualifies as outrageous. If your company is such a great place to work, why do you have to offer so much money for a referral? I’m not sure I get this one…But I agree with the sentiment that referral programs can be more creative. I recently launched a referral incentive program where an employee is entered into a drawing for every name they refer to the recruiting team. At the end of every month, a name is drawn and the winner receives an iPad. This incentive will continue for the next three months.
- The worst-place-to-work ranking – It is said that most human beings tend to focus on the negative – maybe that’s explanation for this idea. The Consumerist is reportedly sponsoring a new “worst place” ranking for “worst place to work.” Using its own surveys and research it ranks the worst companies to work for in America. Maybe it’s just me, but I find there’s already too much negativity in this world….
- Keeping the job a secret – This idea suggests keeping candidates in the dark regarding the specific role and job throughout the hiring process. I’m no genius, but I can’t figure out how this idea could possibly work. What/how do you even post for the job? How does a candidate tell if she/he has the right skills for the job? I can understand that in some industries competitors analyze job postings to predict upcoming products, features, and initiatives, but I would think that not providing this information only makes it that much harder to recruit talent. In Dr. Sullivan’s own words, “Obviously this approach can frustrate some candidates and it could even turn them off if they didn’t fully understand the reasons behind it.” On this point, I agree completely.
- Make employee salaries public - Just for fun, I’ll thrown in an idea that I read about in Inc Magazine. A Colorado based company, Namaste Solar, has decided to make employee salaries public. Now THAT is bold! They believe that creating salary policies that are fair and consistent means they can make employee pay more transparent. As the author writes, “If all your employees were aware of what others at your company made, how would they react, and if they'd be less than thrilled, what does that say about your company's approach to compensation?
So, there you have it, the Top Ten Bold And Outrageous HR Practices as proposed by Dr. Sullivan plus one proposed by Inc Magazine. As Dr. Sullivan points out, “almost by definition, bold HR programs are new, controversial, and full of risk, so don’t be surprised when you don’t agree with many of the listed approaches.” Furthermore, he suggests that the reader compare them to their own programs to see where their programs might come up short of “cutting edge”. This is great advice. I would add that obtaining HR advice from an experienced HR consultant who has deployed many programs across many clients is a great place to start. Deploying bold and outrageous programs doesn't have to be a high risk proposition. With the proper HR advice, you can be cutting edge without getting cut in the process.
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