The Schema of HR

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, August 26, 2013

One of my favorite terms in the organizational behavior literature is "schema" - "a person's mental picture or summary of a particular event or type of stimulus (Kreitner & Kinicki)."

When you hear the word "professor," what is the schema that comes to mind?  My guess is that image contains one or more of the following characteristics:

  • male
  • older (45 or older)
  • gray hair
  • tweed jacket with patches on the elbows
  • has facial hair (mustache and/or beard)
  • carries a pipe 
If you do a google image search for "professor" most of the above descriptors are evident.
Today is the first day of classes where I work.  Students will encounter numerous professors that fit the schema.  Fortunately for us, many of my colleagues do not fit that typical image.  This, however, can lead to problems.  Student evaluations of professors have shown that professors who do not fit the schema tend to be rated lower.  

Beautyism biases can also creep in, where hiring and rating decisions can be affected by the physical attractiveness of the applicant.

Research has also found that the evaluation of leader effectiveness can be influence by one's schemata of good and poor leaders.

Perhaps the reason HR is often raked over the coals is simply the result of one's schema of HR.  So, what is your schema of HR?  What are you doing at work to ensure that the schema of HR is a positive one?

#HRevolution - What HR Can Learn From the Television Industry

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, August 23, 2013

We're rapidly approaching the 6th iteration of the HRevolution conference sponsored by Sumtotal, October 6th at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

Steve Boese and Ben Eubanks have already shared their reasons for attending the event.

While all the sessions will likely be fantastic, for me, the session I am most looking forward to seeing is "What HR Can Learn from the Television Industry" with Kelly Kahl and Phil Gonzales.

Kelly Kahl, Senior Executive Vice President, CBS Primetime, oversees the planning and scheduling of all primetime programming for the CBS Television Network.  He also supervises coordination between CBS programming divisions and the network’s respective operations in sales, marketing, affiliate relations, news, sports and research, as well as with the CBS Television Station Group.

 Joining Mr. Kahl will be Phil Gonzales, Senior Vice President, Communications, for CBS, who oversees the network's publicity campaigns on behalf of primetime series, specials, longform, as well as late night and daytime programming.  He also serves as the media liaison for network activities in program development, casting and scheduling.

So, why should those in HR listen to these two?

To focus on promotion, public relations, and crisis management.  

Whether it is the firing of an employee at AOL or the recent issue with Applebee's firing a waitress over a tip, the importance of crisis management once again rears its head.  The TV industry deals with crises all the time (think Charlie Sheen's outburst and quitting over "Two and a Half Men)".  

Similarly, HR could always do a better job with promoting what it does. What would they suggest HR do to better improve its often battered image?  What is HR's pitch?  Does being in HR make, perhaps, good TV?

Find out the answer to these questions, and more, by attending the HRevolution event in October.  Click here for more information and to register.

The 1% Rule of Candidate Experience

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, August 12, 2013

Imagine you're among the best and brightest at what you do.  Your talent is recognized by nearly everyone.  Any employer wants you to be part of that organization.

If you are truly among the 1%, candidate experience is not going to matter (in the traditional sense).

Say, you're the #1 ranked college basketball recruit, Jahlil Okafor.  346 Division 1 schools would love to have you join their program.  338 know they have no shot.  Eight schools are under consideration, with one believed to be the leader (more below).  

That being said, the critical information (see p. 15) a typical applicant for a job might want to make the candidate experience worthwhile is not applicable

  • Application accepted?  Most likely for Okafor, an offer to play for a particular university has  already been made, and the application process is cursory.
  • Expected time to hear back from a recruiter?  Again, he already knows the "job" is his if he wants it
  • If I have been knocked out of consideration.  Doesn't apply here
  • Next step in process.  The universities competing for your services are waiting for you to come for an official visit and say "yes"
  • If anyone has reviewed your information.  Again, cursory
  • Where I am in the process.  As a top notch college recruit, my guess is that each organization is in constant contact with Okafor, visiting him at basketball camps, calling him on the phone, texting him, and seeing him play during high school competition.  And, this is going on for a matter of not days or months, but years.
  • What criteria is used to determine my job-fit.   You're tall, talented, and skilled. You'll fit.
  • Fit with minimum qualifications.  Uh, yes.
  • How I stack with other candidates.  You're being wooed, and the school would accept you immediately
  • Number of applicants - this almost doesn't matter, except that schools have a limited number of spots.  As Dave Telep, ESPN recruiter noted on Twitter on July 30 after a number of basketball camps, "July reality: if you know where you want to go and you aren't a Top-25 guy, make your decision before someone takes your first choice."  "As of right now, most schools have 2-4 guys they'd take at your position. First one to call gets the spot."  For Okafor, they would leave the spot open.
  • Expected feedback on application - this is almost immediate.
Again, if you're in the 1%, traditional candidate experience is not going to matter.

However, there is a flip side.  What if competing employers believe there is a leader?

The ongoing rumor that Duke is the leader for the recruiting package of No. 1-ranked senior Jahlil Okafor and No. 3-ranked Tyus Jones is ruining the recruiting process for the two players, Okafor's father said on Friday.

"It's disappointing. It's taking the fun out of the process for the two boys," Okafor's father, Chukwudi Okafor, said by phone on Friday. "That's a shame. Let the kids go through the process. I just want them to enjoy it, not the media, not Twitter, not the coaches, not the AAU coaches. Those kids are highly intelligent. They know what to do. Let it play out, and I think the world is in for something special."

"They're going to make their decision. Everybody is saying they say this and they say that. It's not fair to them. It's not fair to the other schools. It's not fair to Duke. They might want to go to Duke, but decide not to go there because everyone is saying that's where they're going. I'd hate for that to happen." 

As Dave Telep notes, "I think a number of kids are genuinely torn about telling a school "no." In August, "no" is the best thing after yes. Both need to move on."  If I am trying to recruit top talent to my school, there is a limit to the amount of resources and time I can pour into every candidate, let alone the 1%.  If I am no longer in the running, I would prefer knowing that than trying to continue the facade of thinking I have a chance.  

Sometimes it is tough out there for the 1%.

Elysium: Even 140 years in the future, there is bad #HR

by Matthew Stollak on Saturday, August 10, 2013

Note: Minor spoilers about the movie "Elysium" are revealed below, though there is nothing that isn't already revealed in the trailer above.

As the trailer above indicated, "Elysium" takes place over 140 years in the future in 2154.   The 1% live on a space station orbiting earth where there is no war, no crime, and health care eliminates all illness.  Meanwhile, the 99% on Earth are living in Rio de Janeiro-like favelas, scraping to get by.

What sets the movie in motion?  A case of poor supervisor-subordinate relations.

Matt Damon plays Max De Costa, a small-time criminal, trying to get his life back on the straight and narrow.  As noted in the trailer, he works in a huge factory assembling robots.  As he loads the pallet of robots into a chamber to be irradiated, the door gets jammed, and production stops.  What occurs next could have happened 90 years ago.

The supervisor tells Max to go in the chamber to fix the problem.  Max is hesitant.   The angered supervisor threatens Max, "either you go into the chamber or I'll find someone who will."  Of course, seeing no other choice, Max goes in, unjams the door, the door closes, and Max gets exposed to radiation, and only has 5 days to live.  And, the rest of the movie proceeds based on this singular incident.

Why wasn't the manager trained to engage his employees more appropriately?  Why weren't better safety procedures put in place?

Even 140 years in the future, we will still be dealing with bad HR.

On A Very Silly Social Media List - the Top 100 Best and Most Collaborative Colleges

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, August 8, 2013

From HR's favorite list maker, Vala Afshar, comes his latest creation - "The Top 100 Best and Most Collaborative U.S. Colleges." (Hat tip to Laurie Ruettimann and John Hudson for bringing it to my attention).

According to Afshar, "the very best schools are also the most collaborative."  So why is this list incredibly silly?

1.  Let's start with the methodology.  According to Afshar,

I researched US News & World Reports list of the best schools. The 2013 national university rankings identified the top 100 universities in the U.S. I then re-ranked the schools based on their combined Klout and Kred scores - a measure of their engagements across all major social platforms.

Let's make an assumption that Kred and Klout scores are legitimate for our purposes.  Unfortunately, Afshar doesn't provide the combined scores for making a comparison.   While he provides an average Klout score and Kred score, he does not tell the audience how he combined the scores.   Are they added together? If so, Klout is on a 100 point scale and Kred is made up of two parts - a 1,000 point Influence scale and a 12 point Outreach scale.  Were the scales adjusted to reflect equal weight? 

Further, what is the threshold score to be considered one of the top 100 best AND most collaborative schools in the U.S.?  While the average Klout score of those 35 schools in the small college category might be 74, what is the variability?  Harvard at #1 has a Klout score of 99.  Meanwhile, Colorado School of Mines only has a Klout score of 47, a far cry from 74. In fact, the bottom 10 schools in the list of 35 do not have a Klout score near 74.  

Finally, instead of an exhaustive look at over 6,000 colleges and universities in the United States to determine which colleges are the most engaged and, perhaps, collaborative, based on the combination of these scores, Afshar simply looked at ONLY U.S. News and World Reports top 100 to make his list.  Are there others who might be more collaborative?  More engaged?  One wouldn't come to that judgment based on this list.

As a point of comparison,
On the list
Colorado School of Mines: Klout score of 47, Kred score of 694/4
Stevens: Klout score of 49, Kred score of 706/5

Not on the list 
Swarthmore  College (the #3 ranked Liberal Arts College): Klout score of 55, Kred score of 740/6
St. Norbert College (my school and #138): Klout score of 52, Kred score of 744/6

One might want to check out the list of top Social Media Colleges over at for comparison purposes.

2.   Is there a relationship between school ranking and social rank?

Even if we give credence to Afshar's methodology, does his claim that "Not surprisingly, the very best schools are also the most collaborative"carry any weight?  For this to be credible, we should see some sort of linear relationship between social rank and school ranking (i.e., those with a higher school ranking should also be at the top of the social rank list; we should see significant overlap between the top 10 or top 20 or top 50).   Check out the scatterplot below (with U.S. News ranking on the x-axis and social rank on the y-axis:

Do you see ANY sort of relationship whatsoever between social rank and school rank?  Any? 

Even if one runs a correlation on the two variables, one only gets a correlation coefficient of .32, which indicates a weak to middling relationship at best.

Very silly, indeed.

On Challenging the 10,000 Hours Rule

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, August 5, 2013

I teach intro to business statistics usually every semester.  While students grasp the concept of the mean rather easily, the notion of variance and standard deviation often takes a little longer.

Take the 10,000 hours "rule," for example.

Popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," the 10,000 hours rule basically states that through dedicated practice, reaching this "magic number of greatness" allows one to achieve a professional level of proficiency regardless of talent or skill.

In the fascinating new book, "The Sports Gene," David Epstein (that will likely provide a number of posts to fulfill my #8ManRotation quota), challenges the belief in 10,000 hours.

What is often ignored in the discussion are a couple of items.  First, is the notion of sampling and research design.  In the original 10,000 hours study of musicians, most individuals were already screened out, making it difficult to discover evidence of innate talent.  It is extremely hard to create a longitudinal study where groups are divided into those who receive 10,000 hours of training against those who do not.

Second, variability is not often discussed.  Is 10,000 the hard rule, or do some take a longer or shorter time.  In the Sports Gene, Epstein highlights the work of Guillermo Campitelli and Fernand Gobet who recruited 104 competitive chess players of varying skill for a study of chess expertise.  They found that it took 11,053 hours to make it as a professional chess player.  Much more interesting was the range of hours it took to attain master status.   "One player in the study reached master level in just 3,000 hours of practice, while another player needed 23,000 hours."  As a result, Epstein notes about the musician study, "it is impossible to tell whether any individual in the study actually became an elite violinist in 10,000 hours, or whether that was just an average of disparate individual differences."

Epstein also shares an anecdote about the skilled Swedish high jumper Stefan Holm.  Holm fastidiously practiced - 12 hours a day for years on end - to become a world class athlete, winning the Olympic gold medal in 2004 and equaling the record for the highest high-jump differential between the bar and the jumper's own height.  However, in 2007, he faced Donald Thomas, a jumper from the Bahamas who had only just begun high jumping.  In less than 8 months of training, Thomas cleared 7'7.75" to win the NCAA indoor high jump championship.  Despite such insignificant training time, Thomas defeated Holm, winning the world championship.   While not the sole reason, it was found that Thomas had an incredibly long Achilles tendon that better serves one's ability to rocket throught he air.

Nonetheless, being fat, 45 years old, and 5'9'' with a limited vertical leap, LeBron has nothing to worry about, even if I practice 10,000 hours or more.  Much like Thomas had an incredibly long tendon, you can't teach height!

#ILSHRM13 - A Sort of Homecoming

by Matthew Stollak on Sunday, August 4, 2013

I'll be there
I'll be there...
A high road
A high road out from here

In two weeks from today, the 2013 14th ANNUAL ILLINOIS HR CONFERENCE & EXPOSITION will begin at Drury Park in Oakbrook Terrace, and I will be serving on their social media team, hopefully bringing you the highlights of the events.

Much like a person has a bucket list of seeing all the Major League Baseball or NFL Stadiums, this will be my 4th state SHRM conference (having attended the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Texas (aka HR Southwest).  I'm not sure I will hit all the state SHRM conferences, but a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, as the adage goes.

Attending the Illinois HR Conference will also serve as a sort of homecoming as I attended graduate school at the University of Illinois Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (now the School of Labor and Employment Relations) in Champaign in the early-90s.  This is where my passion for human resources began, and where it continues today with events such as this.

So, if you haven't signed up for the conference, it is not too late to attend.  You can register here.

If you haven't already checked out the great list of talent presenting, check out the lineup here

If you are attending, check out the great mobile app by Bizzabo (and sponsored by Symbolist) to help with planning which sessions to attend and to connect with others at the conference.  Also, don't forget to register for the Monday After Hours Social here.

Hope to see you at Drury Lane in a couple of weeks.

U2 - A Sort of Homecoming