10 Bold and Outrageous HR and Talent Management Practices

In the corporate world, HR leaders are frequently considered some of the most conservative and risk-averse.

Running HR in a conservative manner might have served your company well in the 1990s, but unfortunately, it may be inappropriate and even damaging today. This fast-changing and highly competitive business world has caused senior executives to now expect innovation not just in their product lines but also in all of their business processes.

As a result, it’s time for HR leaders to realize that in a battle to attract and retain top talent and innovators, your firm has to act differently with superior talent management approaches if your firm is to develop and maintain a competitive advantage in the talent marketplace. In fact, from an employer branding perspective, your firm needs to do a few unique things in HR if it is to stand out as a great place to work.

As a college professor, I am fortunate to have the time to track and give corporate presentations on the array of leading and “bleeding-edge” programs that a handful of firms have had the courage to implement.

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. I suggest that you compare them to your own programs in that functional area in order to see if perhaps your firm is being too conservative and is falling behind the leading edge.

The Top 10 Bold & Outrageous Practices

Here are my selections for the top 10 bold approaches that define the current “bleeding-edge” of HR practices.

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  1. Outrageous benefits – Google recently revealed that it offers amazing death benefits to every U.S. employee. Should any of its U.S. employees die, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive 50 percent of the employee’s paycheck each year for the next 10 years! With a young employee base, fortunately not many will likely take advantage of this benefit, but it still sends a powerful message that benefits at Google are different.
  2. Limited-term employee contracts – Even though most managers have the right to fire weak-performing employees, most never get around to it unless the employee does something truly outrageous. In order to force managers to weed out weak performers, the Revel casino and hotel required many of its new hires who interact with customers to sign employee contracts with a limit of four to five years. After their contract expires, employees must formally reapply for their job. Hotel management argues that eliminating the guarantee of a permanent job will pressure employees to remain productive and customer-friendly throughout their employment term. They also believe that top performers won’t be discouraged with the lack of job security because their performance level will continue to make them desirable.
  3. Meetups for recruiting — Edelman, the powerhouse PR firm, 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.
  4. A recruiting TV show – The Chinese are learning how to be bold in recruiting by offering a TV show entitled Only You where candidates are interviewed and hired by executives in front of a live TV audience.
  5. Outrageous recruiting videoGame creator Kixeye put together an outrageous recruiting video that pokes direct fun at its competitors. The video literally mocks the age of EA’s approach to gaming by including the logo “EAARP Games” (A reference to the AARP senior group) and an aging executive with an oxygen breathing tank. They also mock another competitor, Zynga, by transforming its famous dog logo to a logo showing one dog literally humping another. To most, this mocking would definitely be in bad taste, but to candidates in the gaming industry, it may be considered cool and bold.
  6. Bold employer branding – Amazon recently placed a letter containing information about its employee educational reimbursement benefits directly on its customer homepage. Although a letter about benefits might startle shoppers, it also sends a message to everyone who interacts with Amazon that employee welfare and development is important. Placing HR and recruiting information in the middle of a firm’s primary homepage is certainly unique.
  7. Unlimited vacation policies – a major role of the HR department is to track absenteeism and vacation days. However, foursquare, Netflix, and several startups have begun to offer unlimited amounts of vacation and sick leave. This bold approach treats employees like mature adults who know how to manage how much time to spend away from work. By offering compelling work, tightknit teams, and performance-based pay, the firm offers enough positive incentives to drive employees to work more hours.
  8. Outrageous referral practices – The quality-of-hire results provided by employee referrals has encouraged firms to redesign their programs. While many firms discourage nominating friends as referrals, Tata Consultancy Services of India did the opposite. It developed a program that was specifically designed to encourage buddy referrals by making “your friends your colleagues.” Its slogan “what if all your friends worked with you at TCS?” is a powerful one. The pressure to increase employee referrals has become even stronger now that employees can use social media to make more contacts so DNAnexus raised the reward bar by offering a $20,000 referral bonus … plus a free DNA screening for referring a software engineer who was hired.
  9. The worst-place-to-work ranking – For years there have been a variety of best-place-to-work rankings, but now the magazine The Consumerist is sponsoring a new “worst place” ranking. It conducted and published a poll asking readers to rank the worst companies in America to work for. Obviously making the list would severely damage your employer brand and recruiting. This year EA beat out Bank of America with more than 64 percent of the vote. In addition, the increasingly popular employee feedback site Glassdoor.com now allows contributors to rank a company’s CEO. In one case this year the CEO of Visa received only a 20 percent rating while the Apple VP received a 97 percent. Obviously, a bad CEO ranking can now damage your recruiting and employer brand image.
  10. Keeping the job a secret – Smart firms periodically peruse the job postings of their competitors in order to use the required skill sets to aid in predicting their upcoming products and initiatives. The “inside Apple” blo, reports that some candidates at Apple are being kept in the dark throughout the hiring process about the specific role and job that they are being recruited into. In a company well known for secrecy, the premise for this approach is that the information about what new hires will be working on is valuable and it must be kept from competitors. Obviously this approach can frustrate some candidates and it could even turn them off if they didn’t fully understand the reasons behind it.

Final thoughts

If you’re going to provide a competitive advantage for your firm in the talent marketplace, you by definition have to do things that are different and that produce superior results to your talent competitors.

Even though budgets are tight, now is not the time to be conservative in HR. Most major corporations that I advise need to be much more aggressive in the area of talent management.

If you’re going to be a business leader as opposed to a business partner, you have no choice but to lead by going first.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



3 Comments on “10 Bold and Outrageous HR and Talent Management Practices

  1. The unlimited vacation policy need to be supported by excellent leadership and management. If an employee is not happy at work, then s/he will easily abuse that policy and spend months away from work, or until the problem at work goes away.

    By the way, Netflix is really doing bad at the moment. Its stock is trading at about 25% of what it was trading for last year.

    The recruiting TV show is very silly and should have not made it in the list above.

    1. I agree that unlimited vacation isn’t as great as it sounds. The reasoning is different though.

      At least on software engineering teams, the opposite is much more frequent. Unlimited vacation is viewed by rank and file as a way to make it slightly awkward to take vacation and to prevent employees from building up vacation over time. Every year, a large number of my peers take “use it or lose it” vacations because they are otherwise constantly working long hours, under tight deadlines, and in a highly competitive field. Aside from it always being a bad time to take a break, everyone wants to show that they’re working harder than their neighbors and since everyone sacrifices vacation, the one person who doesn’t get dinged by relative comparison.I thought unlimited vacation was a cool and novel concept a few years ago when I saw it for the first time at Zynga. However, whether the intent was pure or not, my colleagues and I quickly came to identify it as a measure to take advantage of employees. This is viewed in the same light as the perks Google made famous that allowed employees to never have to leave the office.Unlimited vacation is an interesting concept, but I imagine very difficult to get right. Some companies ingrain it in the culture to view vacation positively and some “force” their employees to participate in company or team-wide exotic vacations.Either way, this is something to be careful with so you don’t turn an honest gesture into a misperception.

  2. I do not agree that any of the talent management initiatives above is silly. Rather, HR professionals are meant to engage contemporary ideas, and then make up their minds about how effective they might be in their organization. This is in line with Pilbeam, S. & Corbridge, M. ( 2010) thought on the issue of context being king rather than HR ‘best practices’.

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