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Coffee, cupcakes, easter eggs, and innovation

Posted by Louise Barnfield on April 12, 2011

I have very mixed feelings as I retire from Oracle at the end of this week after 21+ years!

Moon over Oracle

On the one hand, since it’s my choice, I’m excited for what my very different future holds; on the other, I know I shall miss seeing so many people, who have become more friends than work colleagues, on a day-to-day basis.

Over the past few weeks, as I drive to the office each day and our HQ campus comes into view, I’ve found myself nostalgically focusing on the impressively architected buildings whose exteriors still look fresh and contemporary, and a darn sight more fresh and contemporary than I feel, after 22 years. The same goes for the interior decor and facilities. I know there are plenty of unsung heroes who keep our entire campus ticking along, unnoticed and often unappreciated by most of us, but, since I can’t hope to recognize everyone in one blog post, here’s a shout out to someone who’s responsible for one of the areas I’ll miss more than many: our 3OP Café, which houses the campus café and bakery, and which (a happy coincidence for me) is in the same building as my own office, 300 Oracle Parkway.

The Café, though once a fairly insignificant portion of a large and varied restaurant, has taken on a character all its own over the past few years, under the leadership of Ian Farrell.

Ian is a shining example of passion, innovation, and creativity – all characteristics that our TalentedApps bloggers frequently praise, encourage, and admire – and, as a thoroughly decent, caring member of the human race, he has even found a way to donate his skills for a worthy cause, such as baking a vast quantity of cakes, cookies, and tarts to benefit the recent Bakesale for Japan!

The photos speak for themselves, yet don’t come close to representing all that Ian has achieved. He came to Oracle five years ago as Executive Pastry Chef for Bon Appétit, our corporate caterers, with a remit to develop new programs and to change the quality of the desserts and bakery. He is now responsible for all the dessert catering for our Customer Visitor Center, and for our three main campuses in the area: Redwood Shores HQ, Pleasanton, and Santa Clara. However, for many employees, the 3OP Café remains our primary window into his world of creativity.

From time to time, I’ve exchanged a few words of appreciation with Ian, but it was only recently, as I reflected on the many changes that I’ve witnessed in the Café, that I truly appreciated the scale of his achievements. Here are a few of his innovations over the past few years:

  • Truffles – Ian’s an experienced chocolatier and takes great pride in the quality of his ingredients (sorry but, as a Brit, I have a very critical palate for chocolate that does not include the more common US offerings!), and the fact that he uses Fair Trade certified Cordillera baking chocolate from Colombia. He started packaging his truffles for special occasions and holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, but they are now available and in high demand at any time of year.
  • Chocolate specialty creations – The high-heeled shoes (a Valentine favorite apparently) were inspired by The Devil Wears Prada, and working at Oracle evidently provided his inspiration for the chocolate laptops and cell phones. His chocolate sleds filled with a variety of cookies and treats were extremely popular last winter, and his Easter eggs are now selling like hot cakes (‘scuse the pun!).
  • Cake designs to order – Ian is a master at designing and executing fondant cakes, all the more impressive for being a self-taught skill. Many of his first-time cake designs were ideas requested by customers, and he has now built quite an amazing portfolio of photographs. Customers can order an existing design, use the photographs as inspiration for their own ideas, or simply peruse the photographs to give them a smile while waiting for their latte or cappuccino.
  • Breads – There is now a range of artisan breads to order, and an entire cabinet dedicated to their display.
  • Sugar creations – One of his most skillful accomplishments, and possibly one of the least appreciated in terms of the time and skill required, are his 3D sugar creations. At various times of year, one or more of his designs makes an appearance…a Halloween haunted castle with intricate turrets surrounded by bats and cobwebs, or a holiday train dusted with snow and bulging with cheerful passengers. His artistry and attention to detail always fascinate me.
  • Classes – Ian’s baking classes for employees are becoming increasingly popular. What a great way to collaborate with friends and colleagues while learning a new skill, such as creating and decorating Easter eggs.
  • Social media – Ian enthusiastically embraced the world of online communication a couple of years ago, and frequently highlights the Café activities and offerings through his Twitter account and Facebook page, 300 Sweet Treats. Those of us who follow him are the first to learn of the day’s specials, and are reminded to buy our fresh-baked bread on Fridays.

In terms of smart marketing and business acumen, increasing the variety of product, the display cabinets, and the online communication has no doubt been a huge success but, personally, what I appreciate most of all is the appearance of our Café, and the sheer entertainment value of the displays. Thank you for your passion, Ian, and for always making me smile!

I’m relieved that I will still be able to enjoy the 3OP Café when I leave, as it’s in an open area of the building. So I, and you if you’re local, can visit for a coffee, admire the ever-changing displays, and maybe buy my old man some truffles (I can always hope he’ll share)!

P.S. Since this appears to be my parting post for TalentedApps, I will add that it has truly been a privilege to be a member of such a passionate team of bloggers. I shall continue to read, learn, and be inspired and entertained by their posts, as well as those of our close counterparts in the HR blogging community. Onwards and Upwards, and best wishes to you all!

Photo: “Moon over Oracle”
Source: Flickr.com
Credit: Not Quite a Photographr

Posted in Innovation, passion, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

From BASIC to BSc: the nameless enthusiast who rewrote my future

Posted by Louise Barnfield on November 18, 2010

The Beatles on iTunes! Now, that takes me back a bit!

I grew up with the fab four oh-so-many years ago…collecting their black vinyl 45s, EPs, and LPs! Now, it’s all about the digital age with iPods, iPads, iEverything…and thankfully I’m still taking it in my stride.

I’m so grateful I didn’t get left behind by the great technological explosion, which could so easily have been the case had I not met an odd little chap by sheer chance…

1983: I and my husband (first, not current) had returned to England after living in West Africa for two years. I had almost finished renovating our first home in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, and was working as a realtor in that small market town, when I happened to take an adult education class in basic computing, and by basic I mean BASIC! 🙂 To further date me, I’ll admit to practising my new found programming skills on my very own Sinclair ZX Spectrum, yes really!

The instructor was…um, how can I say this nicely?…really really weird, and quite frankly didn’t know much about the subject himself. The evenings were somewhat frustrating but, to give him his due, he was madly passionate and enthusiastic. After only four weekly night classes and despite his noticeable lack of knowledge (or maybe because of it), he lit a fire in me. I saw a need to learn more just for my own personal understanding, because it was evident that computers would increasingly impact my daily life.

Intending to enroll in just one or two classes, I interviewed at a local college (Oxford Polytechnic, as it was then) and ended up signing up, not for a couple of modules but for a three-year degree course…which led to a B.Sc. first class hons…which led to a job in IT as an Analyst/Programmer for Surrey University…which led to a technical Training Consultant role at Oracle Corporation.

2010: I recently clocked up 21 years with Oracle, in a variety of interesting, challenging roles – too many to mention, but including traveling and working in countless countries, relocating to the San Francisco bay area, managing a global team of curriculum developers, and, for the past few years, the privilege of contributing to the development of our latest Fusion applications. I owe all those experiences to a weird, passionate, enthusiastic night-class instructor whose name I can’t remember.

Wouldn’t we all like to be remembered (even if not by name!) for inspiring and enthusing a fellow human-being so much that it completely and positively changed the course of their life?

Posted in passion, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

“But She’s Not the Right Alice!” Recruiting Pressures in Wonderland

Posted by Louise Barnfield on March 18, 2010

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_in_Wonderland_(2010_film)I saw Tim Burton’s glorious Alice in Wonderland this week. What a 3D feast for the eyes and ears! Thoroughly entertaining, even if I did feel the White Queen’s bushy eyebrows were a tad bizarre. Although, having sat through a plethora of trailers prior to the main feature, I wonder how long it will take for us all to have overdosed on 3D fantasies.

Btw, for those movie-goers who leap to their feet as the last scene fades, I urge you to sit tight for the credits, the extra treat is worth it!

While watching Alice ‘succeed’ (somewhat unwillingly) to the vacant position of Challenger to the Jabberwocky – not worthy of a spoiler alert, since I resisted letting slip the victor! 😉 – it occurred to me that the White Rabbit delightfully played the role of a cute long-eared fluffy incarnation of an unappreciated recruiting agent.

It didn’t take long, after Alice’s appearance, for the Underland gang to question the Rabbit’s professional abilities. The Dormouse and March Hare were scathing, and even Absolem the Blue Caterpillar (<swoon> how I adore Alan Rickman’s dulcet tones!) was initially ambiguous enough to cast doubt, despite the White Rabbit’s exasperated protestations that he had done his homework, searched for years, and was adamant he had successfully tracked down the right Alice!
Which conveniently(!) reminds me of an article by Nick Fishman in February’s TM Magazine on the topic of applicant screening. Life is Not an Open (Face)book warns that, in these days of social networks as well as online availability of more formal resources, it’s unwise, and at worst a legal liability, to rely too heavily on information that’s readily (or not so readily) available on the internet.

Dangers lurk on both sides of the equation – damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

If you do take the information provided by candidates at face value, you run the risk of being duped by false accreditations. In a tough job market, the temptation is even higher than previously for applicants to ‘load’ their resumés, and even to resort to unscrupulous ‘diploma mills’ offering degrees for sale.

Conversely, for those who delve into online resources, there are cases where otherwise perfectly suitable and reliable candidates have been overlooked because of less than flattering images, or inadequately validated data, or data not even relevant to the position. Even apparently trustworthy data can be misleading; Nick Fishman cites an example of employers using the FBI database that was not created for, nor intended as, a tool for applicant background checks, and may contain incomplete information or, even worse, confused identities.

As always, the human element cannot be replaced by new technology. The recruiters worth their weight (whether internal or external to an enterprise) are the ones who make full use of emerging technologies and the wealth of information available, yet take the time to support that data with intelligent research and reasoning, resisting the temptation to cut corners.

Take a bow, White Rabbit, job well done!

Photo credits:
Walt Disney Pictures

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Try bagging spuds to increase employee engagement

Posted by Louise Barnfield on February 20, 2010

For me, one of the most meaningful and satisfying goals that Meg sets her team each year is that of Community Service.

As a team, we’ve participated in a number of local events each year, helping at various food banks, and local shelter housing projects. I am always blown away by how much we can achieve in a very short time when we work together as a team.

This week we returned to Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), this time bagging spuds! Working together for just a couple of hours, we bagged 14,000lbs of potatoes, the equivalent of 11,000 meals’-worth. That felt pretty good…until we realized that through their various programs, ACCFB now distribute enough food for 300,000 meals weekly. This put our contribution in perspective, and showed us how much the community needs help from groups such as ours, in order to meet the demand – a demand that has almost doubled in the past 18 months as a direct result of the current economic climate.

This week’s event had an added bonus, since a number of colleagues were visiting HQ, some for the first time, from a variety of states and countries. With such a dispersed global team, we rarely have the opportunity to meet in person, and particularly to get to know new faces as our team grows. Several mentioned how much they appreciated participating in this event during their visit.

Many of us had been cooped up in a conference room for three very full days, and were feeling the effects of brain-overload. So, a complete diversion for a couple of hours, performing a manual task, conversing with friends and colleagues while at the same time doing something meaningful and helpful for others, did us all a power of good.

After each event, we gather somewhere locally for a ‘happy hour’ – another chance to chat with colleagues, and also to acknowledge our gratitude for our own more fortunate circumstances. The camaraderie that this instills benefits the whole organization, as the team spirit that it fosters spills over into our day-to-day collaboration at work.

I feel fortunate that Meg recognizes the value of giving our time and effort for the good of the community, and the beneficial effect it has on our team. Earlier this year, she blogged about her experience with colleagues as guests on Compassionate HR Blog Radio, discussing the various volunteer projects we have taken on in the past year, and in particular how we have been supported by Oracle to do so.

As they pointed out, the volunteering projects that we undertake are as much a benefit to us as individuals, and to our organization, as they are to the community. It is true that we have the satisfaction of accomplishing something meaningful together as a team, which increases employee engagement and encourages closer working relationships.

So, instead of trudging into the office in ‘Friday mode’, brain-dead from a week of meetings, I spent today catching up on tasks with more enthusiasm and with a far lighter frame-of-mind, thanks to our rewarding team ‘down-time’.

A big shout-out to two other TalentedApps contributors, Vivian and Keshav – I am so thankful that you guys never tire of organizing our crowd for these events! 🙂

Photo: Anupma Sud

Posted in collaboration, engagement, goals, teams, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Confessions of a performance review convert: no pain, no gain?…no longer!

Posted by Louise Barnfield on August 27, 2009


I’ve noticed that performance review meetings with my manager have evolved over the past couple of years, and my performance document looks very different too. It has become a living, breathing document over the course of the entire year, and, as a result it is more complete and more relevant, both as a history and as a roadmap.

In the past, I admit I was prone to similar mistakes that Meg called out in an earlier post on performance reviews. Thanks Meg, I learned a lot from that post!

Happily, over time, she and others have encouraged me to improve my own self-evaluation process, and this in turn has provided better input for my manager, enabling him to make more comprehensive and constructive comments himself. I spend more time on the process than I used to, because it matters to me more – and it matters to me more, because it’s very evident that it matters to our management team.

Meg has strongly encouraged us to have more frequent reviews with our manager, to summarize progress on our goals, and adjust as necessary. On second thoughts, for ‘strongly encouraged’ read ‘mercilessly nagged’!! 🙂

When I perceive the importance that’s placed on this process, then I’m willing to invest more in it myself.

This has meant, for this past year in particular, that I’ve updated my performance document at quarterly intervals, which made the final summary far more manageable and more meaningful, as I could see my own progress over the entire year. Since I didn’t have to conjure up 52 weeks’ worth of information when faced with the end-of-year deadline, it also meant I spent that time more productively reflecting on the year’s events and on where I want to go in the future.

In support of this frequent update process, a recent BusinessWeek article, The Trouble with Performance Reviews, states: “…reviews occur too infrequently to provide meaningful feedback.” Luckily for me, many of the negatives raised in the article no longer apply to my performance reviews: we do “make criteria more explicit and objective and have more people involved in the ratings process, so that one person’s perceptions and biases don’t matter so much”; we do “focus more on facts and evidence and less on benchmarking and unexamined conventional wisdom.”

The annual task that I used to dread is no longer drudgery, it’s my opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not a breeze. I spent a long time thinking and working on this year’s self-evaluation, but it was a more satisfying process because I was able to focus my attention differently, and now that I see the positive outcome I certainly don’t feel the pain as I used to. So: less pain, more gain – gotta love that!

For those of you who lack the benefit of your own Meg kicking you up the proverbial backside, I encourage you to do yourselves a favor: proactively keep frequent notes and write your own quarterly review – schedule it in your calendar and don’t (as I’ve been known to do) let it slide into obscurity in deference to seemingly(!) higher priorities.

However, for those subjected to the same regular nagging that I am, be grateful that your managers encourage you to review your goals and keep them current. My management team recognizes the benefit of ensuring that team members are continually aligned to valid smart organizational goals, for the good of me as an individual as well as for the good of the team and the business.

I’ve already updated my 2010 performance document twice in the past 2 months! Quite a change for the person who (like our Ken) was previously dragged, kicking and screaming, through the once dreaded annual process.

Which are you, a diehard or a convert?

Photo by Little Jeanne

Posted in goals, management, performance, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Deliberate Practice in the Pursuit of Excellence

Posted by Louise Barnfield on July 24, 2009

Tiger Woods at the driving range at Augusta National

Tiger Woods at the driving range at Augusta National

Many years ago a neighbor’s son, whom I shall call he-who-shall-remain-nameless, was frequently the butt of jokes within my family for being phenomenally ‘bright’ (academically-speaking) and stupendously useless, at one and the same time. His parents delighted in boasting that his IQ was off the charts, yet he was socially and practically inept. Although he sailed through exams in his early years, he did not live up to his potential, and turned out to be [pause to select a suitably charitable phrase] somewhat of a disappointment.

There have been plenty of studies regarding the correlation between IQ and job performance. However, while IQ is evidently a helpful predictor of future achievements, it does not negate the need for commitment, motivation, and application.

I feel rather sorry for he-who-shall-remain-nameless; I believe he was done a great disservice by his parents, as he felt he was so intelligent he didn’t need to apply himself to anything. However, as individuals we ultimately own responsibility for whether we make use of the abilities we are given, and seize the opportunity to practice them.

So, I was interested to read an article in this month’s issue of Talent Management magazine highlighting the achievements of certain high school students, and the schedule of study and practice that prepares them to compete in California’s Academic Decathlon. The article Human Performance discusses the ‘value of deliberate practice’ and also the implications for the workplace.

This may not be radical new thinking, but it provides talent management personnel with some persuasive arguments when seeking executive support for, say, providing a stimulating environment, creating increasingly challenging opportunities, reinforcing deliberate practice, and “rewarding successes until the successes become their own rewards”. Organizations that provide environments and opportunities that both challenge and interest their workers, and encourage deliberate practice, will be rewarded by increased commitment and motivation, as well as a higher level of expertise.

Sadly, this comes too late for he-who-shall-remain-nameless, who continues to meander aimlessly through life having wasted a superior level of natural ability that I freely acknowledge I never had, and very much envied.

Posted in performance, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Do you have an awesome pit crew?

Posted by Louise Barnfield on May 19, 2009

f1-grand-prix-crewf1-grand-prix-crewI have been watching in delight as Jenson Button has taken four chequered flags in the last five Formula 1 Grand Prix races.

The meteoric rise of the Brawn team has set this F1 season alight, and Jenson naturally does not hide his excitement or pride in the current situation.

The F1 drivers are the attention-grabbers, the celebrities who dominate the air-time and headlines. It’s the excitement and speed of the race itself that commands the full focus of the cameras and the spectators, with only occasional glimpses of the pit crew. You could almost forgive the drivers for having huge egos.

Yet, what’s the first thing that Jenson did as he crossed the finish line in every one of his four wins this season? He elatedly screamed his gratitude to his team, broadcasting his thanks for the world to hear on the Team Radio.

His team: the guys huddled in the pits, wearing anonymous overalls and balaclavas. The guys who spend sleepless nights just before the event dealing with last minute glitches to get their machines out to the starting line in race-winning condition. “Thank you, thank you! …You guys rock! …The ride was awesome! …You guys did an amazing job!

Recently, I was that driver. I drove a demo to a wide audience of colleagues across a number of teams. Apparently it was a great success – let me rephrase that – it was a great success! The demo ran smoothly and I received a great deal of kind and enthusiastic comments from my peers who were evidently enlightened and entertained by the event. But I wasn’t the success; I didn’t make the demo rock; I was simply the representative who presented the terrific work and dedication of many others around me.

So, I want to share the positive comments and encouragement that I’ve received! I’m taking this opportunity to turn this post into my own Team Radio and give a heartfelt shout-out to our amazing pit crew who themselves spent sleepless nights just before our event, dealing with last minute glitches to get to the starting line in winning condition. “Thank you, thank you! …You guys rock! …The ride was awesome! …You guys did an amazing job!

Posted in productivity, teams, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Do you wear your stripes with pride?

Posted by Louise Barnfield on April 30, 2009

school-uniformMy UK school days have receded into the far too dim-and-distant past, but I still remember our uniform.

Through 9th grade, the winter uniform at our all-girls school (junior high and high combined) was a traditional gray pinafore (skirt and bib), with striped shirt. 10th graders, however, were allowed to ditch the bib and wear a plain gray skirt. (The ultimate was in the final two years at senior and prefect level, when dress-code was further extended to any style of black skirt and solid color shirt.)

A typical ruse of the 9th graders (and later even 8th graders) was to unstitch the bib from the skirt, and replace with some kind of temporary fastening (velcro, poppers, or even just safety pins)! During the day, the bib was dutifully attached, with no outward signs of tampering. However, as soon as they left school premises in the afternoon, to head off into town or meet a group of boyfriends, they ripped off the bibs thereby achieving the appearance and status of those a year senior.

Of course, if they got caught by a teacher ‘sans bib’ there was hell to pay, but that just added to their sense of bravado – sounds pretty tame in comparison to what many teens get up to these days, doesn’t it! 🙂

On the other hand, 10th graders were not amused. They felt they’d earned the right to wear their senior uniform with pride, and that that right was undermined and devalued by the rules not being observed. (…and ‘they’, of course, included those who had themselves played the popper-game a year previously!)

In the military, uniform and rank are strictly observed. Each rank is immediately recognized for exactly what it signifies, by anyone with knowledge of the hierarchy. Officers wear their insignia proudly on their sleeves. There’s no opportunity to hide or misrepresent one’s position.

Not so in the corporate world.

Decades ago, the title of Secretary was a respected position. A true secretary had excellent typing and shorthand skills, as well as a great deal of responsibility for the smooth running of their bosses’ calendars and lives. Then, mere typists started calling themselves secretaries to inflate their resumes. Firms started advertising for personal secretaries, hoping to attract the cream of the crop, then personal secretaries became executive secretaries, until the word fell into such disrepute that the alternative terms Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant were spawned.

In 2007, Wharton School’s Knowledge@Wharton published an excellent article: Chief Receptionist Officer? Title Inflation Hits the C-Suite, discussing the cheapening of titles, and the reasons behind inflation infatuation! But it’s not just C-level; the same issue pervades every level of the corporate chain.

While companies have figured out that “many times it is cheaper to give people a title increase than a raise increase”, I believe they have created a rod for their own backs, not only by devaluing the titles, but more significantly by demeaning and alienating the employees who have genuinely earned their ‘stripes’.

As the article above notes: “Firms should be deliberate about how they give these title awards out to employees, because each additional person who gets a C-level title dilutes the currency of the title structure.”

How meaningful are titles where you work, and does your HR department care? Have you earned your stripes, or are you one of the unjustifiably bib-less? Do you see over-inflated titles as a necessity to represent your company effectively, or just an ego-trip at the expense of others?

Yours sincerely,

Chief Senior Principal Vice Managing Dogsbody and Bottlewasher

Posted in hr, management, teams, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Throw mud at me and see how much sticks!…but don’t call it training!

Posted by Louise Barnfield on March 6, 2009

muddy pig @ www.designedtoat.comWill folks out there please, please stop abusing the word ‘training’!

Firstly, let’s clarify the definition of training, courtesy of Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

Train, verb:…
– to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient

to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill

There have been times when I’ve had to sit through rushed, unimaginative, uninspiring, fact-crammed hours of death by powerpoint. I have listened and watched as some, admittedly well-intentioned, individuals raced through a stream of slides, reading the bullets word-for-word, with a few examples thrown in verbally for good measure, and the promise that the slides will be posted somewhere — of course, I can never for the life of me remember where!

As a result, I feel neither fit, qualified, proficient nor prepared!

I’m sorry to shout, but that’s not training! That’s a data dump; that’s information overload. It may well be necessary information, but when delivered as a stream of consciousness it renders the audience unconscious, if not comatose!

I’m not averse to receiving such information in ad hoc online sessions. I’m a realist! I recognize that, in any demanding environment, the temptation is to roll out information, links, and instructions in the quickest and most efficient (note, I did not say effective!) way possible, but please don’t insult my intelligence – and, more importantly, the intelligence of anyone with teaching experience or qualifications – by calling it training.

I understand that individuals in these situations are given a thankless task and are often carrying it out to the best of their abilities (given that they are not ‘trainers’) – I just want the powers-that-be who constantly send out the stock announcements to such sessions to stop calling it training!

I know I can’t halt the trend of spewing out information in this way, because it’s quick and easy to deliver, but it simply results in the content being poorly digested… the end result is that the audience kinda, sorta gets a grasp that there are a lot of things they should know about, some things they should do, and certain things they should not do, but they can’t quite remember which is which, or where to go next to fill in the gaps. It has not helped to make them prepared nor proficient enough to carry out the task. That’s not training!

So if it’s not training, what can we call it?
Answers on a postcard please, and thank you for your indulgence!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Don’t spin your wheels! Taking baby steps on the rocky road of talent management

Posted by Louise Barnfield on March 2, 2009

I was on my bike this morning…I mean literally and recreationally, not figuratively and professionally. I’m hoping I won’t hear the words “On yer bike!” in the office any time soon.

I’m no @lancearmstrong or @vendorprisey, both of whose blogs and tweets I avidly follow, but I’m training for my first big event since my last 100-mile ride. Three years on, and very little bike-time in between, it’s pretty much like starting from scratch, which might have been rather depressing if I’d thought about it too much.

I was unexpectedly on my own this morning, and was oh-so-tempted to skip the big hill that I’d planned to climb with a friend before she bailed on me. The complete circuit starts with a steep (my kind of steep, not Thomas Otter’s!!) climb up to a college campus that sits on the crest of the hill. At the top, there’s a 3/4 descent down the far side, then other climb back up before returning down the hill to the start point. All-in-all, the whole thing is pretty daunting for a first timer, which is how I was feeling this morning.

However, I knew it had to be done sometime, and if I avoided it today, I’d only have to face the whole thing for the first time next week. So, I figured procrastination was no escape. Still, I admit I wimped out of the complete circuit, and just did the initial climb up to the top before retracing my steps. Actually, I prefer to think of it as intelligent partitioning! It was more manageable than I feared, I know I can do more next time, and I felt good…in fact, I still feel good!

Isn’t this the same logical approach that we should take to larger scale challenges? If any task seems too daunting, don’t bite off more than you can chew, but don’t let it put you off starting! Start with something that’s more easily accomplished, but still satisfying. If you choose your starting point carefully, there are invariably gains to be made that will stand you in good stead for the next bite of the apple.

Often, we’re told that effective employee development and performance measurement begins with a full-blown competency library. Many HR professionals are daunted by the challenge of creating an entire competency model for their organization, which they perceive as mandatory for an efficient, comprehensive talent management strategy. Isn’t it easier to avoid the issue altogether, rather than face a project that requires too much time and resources before you are able to prove any ROI? Not so! There are ways to scale down the problem, to jump start your program so that the organization is benefiting from the initial achievement while you continue to implement future stages.

Successful organizations have started by defining and implementing a few core competencies for their workforce, before identifying more specific requirements for individual divisions or roles. Their next step might be to profile only those jobs that are critical to the organization…which are not necessarily the C-level or executive positions. A retail business might, for example, perceive the most critical role as their counter staff who are in direct and daily contact with customers, and can therefore most impact the business, either positively or negatively.

This kind of approach is particularly important during the current economic downturn, when organizations are looking to cutback any extraneous work, and get the most bang-for-their-buck from what’s left.

So, there I was on the bike, knowing that I had to tackle the college hill at some stage during my ride. I could have parked at the bottom of the hill and immediately started riding…uphill. Not smart! I can be dumb, but not that dumb! I preferred to start easy – to get a few easy, flat miles under my belt. By the time I reached the college entrance, not only were my legs warmed up but I’d enjoyed a very pleasant ride with superb views across a reservoir and surrounding hills. I was feeling gooood – inspired, enthusiastic, and approaching a hill that didn’t look anywhere near as daunting as it would have done half-an-hour earlier.

Starting easy with competency modeling can also be a no-brainer. Think of what you already have as a starting point – employees aren’t just a blank sheet of paper. Even if you don’t have a fully-fledged competency library, your employees have competencies and skills they’ve already achieved. So, use their history to build your future.

Talent review meetings, as a starting point, provide the incentive for managers to pull together this kind of information for an identifiable reason and recognizable benefits. Past performance reviews identify the abilities that each employee already has. That information should automatically feed into their employee profile, at the same time rewarding them for what they’ve already achieved. In turn, those profiles can feed into the talent review. Not two, but three birds with one stone!

…perhaps even four birds, since this approach could also make your performance reviews more palatable to your workforce, when they realize they have the makings of a decent employee profile with no added effort.

A truly integrated talent management solution enables you to insert, update, access information from multiple procedures. Of course, full TM integration goes way beyond the bounds of just performance and profile management, but this is one obvious starting point that more businesses should take advantage of when looking to kick start the TM process.

I’m not ready for my 72-mile ride around Lake Tahoe quite yet, but it was a pleasant way to start!
Onwards and upwards, I say!

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