TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast

Ep. 03 - John Sumser

May 20, 2020 Fuel50 / John Sumser Season 1 Episode 3
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 03 - John Sumser
Chapters
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 03 - John Sumser
May 20, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Fuel50 / John Sumser

John Sumser, Principal Analyst at HRExaminer, joins host Rhonda Taylor to tackle the hard stuff – employees fears and emotions, layoffs, and the difficulty many have experienced with remote work. He also dives into what the physical return to the office might look like and how can we make employees feel safe about doing so. John shares how breathing exercises can be beneficial to moving forward amid uncertainty. So take a deep breath and soak up this episode of TalentX.

Find John on Twitter @JohnSumser, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnsumser/ or at https://www.hrexaminer.com.

For more insightful conversations visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast! 

Show Notes Transcript

John Sumser, Principal Analyst at HRExaminer, joins host Rhonda Taylor to tackle the hard stuff – employees fears and emotions, layoffs, and the difficulty many have experienced with remote work. He also dives into what the physical return to the office might look like and how can we make employees feel safe about doing so. John shares how breathing exercises can be beneficial to moving forward amid uncertainty. So take a deep breath and soak up this episode of TalentX.

Find John on Twitter @JohnSumser, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnsumser/ or at https://www.hrexaminer.com.

For more insightful conversations visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast! 

Rhonda Taylor
Welcome to the TalentX podcast. TalentX is a podcast in the talent space addressing the thought leadership in this ever-changing marketplace. Today I have a great, uh, just a wonderful person that I've known for several years. John Sumser, who is the owner, founder, writer, presenter, godfather, of HR examiner. Welcome John.

John Sumser
Hi, how are you this morning?

Rhonda Taylor
I'm doing well. Hey John, just out of curiosity, HR examiner has been around forever and a day. Do you know what your following is like?

John Sumser
Well, do you mean, do you mean, have I met them and can I tell you about them individually or do you want numbers?

Rhonda Taylor
No, I'm just wondering numbers. Like what's the distribution of your, of your publication.

John Sumser
so the newsletter goes out every week to 20,000 people and it's a really interesting list of 20,000. We encourage people who don't like it to get off. Mmm. And so the newsletter has stayed level at 20,000 with the same number of people getting off as you get on every week basically. Then the website has about 40,000 monthly visitors. And um, so between the two of 'em, you know, I think the total audiences may maybe six. Um, they just, they just read the newsletter a lot. They read it all the time.

Rhonda Taylor
Yeah. It's, uh, it's my go to, um, because you really do address all the changes that are going on, the trends that are going on, um, in HR technology and the people that are making it happen. So thank you.

John Sumser
Thank you. Thanks for reading.

Rhonda Taylor
Yeah. So, John, my gosh. Look what's going out going on in today's society with Covid-19, how do you think it's impacting the HR space?

John Sumser
Well, this is a really challenging time to be in HR. Uh, on the one hand, Mmm. You're the gateway to all of the policy that people are interested in. So in HR department. So everywhere, the number of questions that HR practitioners are being answered is going through the ceiling. Mmm. On the other hand, um, you're the source of compassion. You're the organization's expression of compassion when somebody gets sick or somebody dies. And so there's a lot more of that. And then at the very same time as the, the HR professional has those two roles that involve empathy, everybody's laying off. Um, and so, so the cognitive dissonance involved in being an HR professional is acute right now because compassion and being there to protect the countries and the company's interest in a layoff are the two tasks that people have. It's, it's a tough time.

 

Rhonda Taylor
Well, it is a tough time. A lot of these companies who have been competing for top talent and have worked for their, worked to make sure that their employer brand has been so relevant in the space, they're now laying people off. How do you think they're protecting the brand? Have you seen any innovative things happening?

John Sumser
Well, I'm not the world's greatest believer that there is such a thing as an employment brand. I get the idea that it's super important to convey a good message about what it's like to work in your company. But the relationship between employees and the company varies over time. Sometimes the employees have the upper hand and sometimes the company has the upper time in times of labor shortage, employees have the upper hand and candidates have the upper hand and in times of labor surplus, the company has the upper hand. And so as that power balance shifts the way that you describe the message shifts.

Right. And so, so what's important to people looking for work today is stability, right? I don't want to take a job with some, well I don't know, depends how long it's been since I wrote my mortgage chapter. I suppose, but I generally don't want a job with a fly by night operation. I want something stable and stability, trumps free lunches and ping pong tables, uh, where those might've been important things to have a month ago.

Rhonda Taylor
Yeah. You know, one of the important things to have in the past has been the opportunity to work remote. Now, in North America we allowed remote working quite a bit, but in Japan where the element, of trust was not definitely there. We witnessed remote working, not occurring. Now, everybody's working remote. Is this here to stay?

John Sumser
So I don't know who you've, talked to, but almost everybody that I know is less than perfectly happy working from home. Um, so if you've got kids, I think it was, it was only about two weeks till you figured out that we should go back to the office. Uh huh. Mmm. If you are, as I am working at home with a partner, Mmm. The house gets small, the house gets small and almost everybody I talked to is comfortable noticing that the house gets small and that maybe, maybe it's nice to talk to somebody else every once in a while in a hangout by the watercooler sort of way.

Rhonda Taylor
That's, that's interesting. Um, and, and I hear you because my girlfriend says I love my, I love my children dearly, but if I hear mommy one more time today, I just, I can't handle it. And so she went to her husband's office to work the other the other day. Are you witnessing any other trends out there in the marketplace as a result of Covid-19? 

John Sumser
Well sure. There there's, there's a, uh, a kind of a disturbing trend. And the disturbing trend is that since most lead generation approaches that existed prior to the start of this have failed completely. There are a lot of desperate marketers with a lot of taking up a lot of space in my inbox with nothing to say, uh, but, but all of a sudden, all of a sudden, Joe's job board, it has a message for me about Covid-19. And so in order to just navigate by my inbox, I've had to put a filter on it that says, if Covid-19, is mentioned, I don't look at it. Mmm. And I'm hardly alone in that hardly alone in that it's unlikely that most of the people who are trying to tell me something about Covid-19 actually have anything worth listening to. Um, and so it is the height of arrogance, uh, uh, a black Mark that's worse than some black Mark on their employment brand. I'll never look at their email again. Mmm. You'll never look at their email again. And so being tone deaf in this environment. Well there aren't very many answers and, and there are a ton of people claiming to have answers. That's, that's, that's a disturbing credit to me.

The other thing that's interesting is you know, Mmm. Guess we're also the rage up to about a month ago, but if you're in a company that has layoffs and the boss comes along with a survey and asked you how you feel about the company, are you going to tell her the truth? It was the case before this that you could rely on the face value response from an employee because there was lots of abundance and employees were well taken care of and there was a competition for employees. But now, if you say the wrong thing, you risk your job. And so just like you might, you might imagine that people, who would be whistleblowers are the people who support whistleblowers and the American government aren't piping up so much. The same thing is happening with engagement surveys and pulse surveys is the data's, the data is less than trustworthy. And that means that people have to install systems that check on employee temperament from less verbal cues and don't solicit it overtly, but listen to those voice tone or monitor all of the email in the system to see changes in language across the system. And those sorts of things are starting to get more popular

Rhonda Taylor
Yes. Um, and I was just speaking with someone today in regards to pulse surveys. Mmm. Yeah. They hurt. They're still big. They're still being used quite a bit. Yes. So John leaders, this is where leaders are made and, and like we've been in this space a while, but for 10 years, the HR leader has, you know, surfed a wonderful wave and drawn a big paycheck. Now they're making some serious decisions. Mmm. Mm. What do you think, how have their jobs changed?

John Sumser
Well, there's a couple of things. First of all, first of all, in a pandemic, we may flatten the curve, but until there are vaccines and antibody tests, we're not going to be able to reconstitute the workforce in the work in the old workplace. And so the job of the HR department starts to be figuring out what the minimum necessary levels of capability are. Right. And so that means when we had successor planning a month ago, succession planning was whether or not we have the right replacement for the CEO tomorrow, like really tomorrow, 24 hours from now, tomorrow. Mmm. We need to know who the replacement is from the truck driver and who the replacement is for the person in HR who knows how to do the payroll. Because your workforce, until there's a vaccine and until there is an antibody test, your workforce is going to have 20% of it's people out from sickness for nine 90 days and three to 5% of it dying. And you don't get to pick which ones, no matter how much you'd like to.

Rhonda Taylor
Yeah. Do you think that, there's obviously a big morale issue going on right now. Like as you said, even in your own household. Is there anything HR can do to compensate for some of the stresses that are, that's occurring now to the employer, to their employees?

John Sumser
I've seen organizations that start every meeting with a three to five with a breathing exercise. That's a pretty good idea cause you can't, you can't fix what people are scared of, what people are scared. People are scared of getting sick, dying, being broke, having the society fall apart. People are scared about some big things that it's just not possible to control. But you can sent the example inside of an organization for taking a deep breath before we go any further and really being calm as we move into things. The, the biggest risk we face is that people will develop certainty about their answers. And right now we don't have enough information to have single threads, certain answers to anything. So the great leader, instead of trying to get to certainty so that they can make proclamations and look like an experts, a great leader sort of surfs changing expectations as we learn about things, the way the world operates, it's different.

And a great leader does that, and provides, what would I think of as Mmm, fog lights, in the fog of war. So that the great leader helps see in the midst of the fog and that's not fixed answers. That's, that's trust and confidence that comes from being there. So you have these really interesting questions like should the supervisor visit people while they're working at home? And if the supervisor comes to your house while you're working at home, do you have to clean it. You know, do you have to put on extra special and nice clothes. Do the kids have to be all scrubbed up because the boss is coming into work to inspect the work place? Mmm. And we're going to deal with very fundamental issues like that while we're trying to figure out how to keep the company going.

Rhonda Taylor
Yeah. And, and some companies are, are identifying how to measure their employee success during this Covid-19 Exercise. Um, Just because job descriptions are, are very vague, especially in some organizations. So there's, there's a risk in trying to turn metrics into the success of what they're doing at home. Do you see jobs like this probably coming back into the company.

John Sumser
I think more jobs than most people think will come back into the company, but they won't come back until the company, until we can guarantee that you're safe to come to work. So by my sort of back of the envelope cast is if you've got a five story building, what is it going to take to get more than one person on the elevator? Yeah. Right. Um, how do you make people safe enough so that they can all get on the elevator together? Because until you have that, you can't reopen the office.

Rhonda Taylor
Oh, that's, that's so true. And, and it's going to be very hard for people to make the decision, do we call a, do we ask our employees to come back? Because you're right. There are companies that are up on the 20th and 30th floor of some of these high rises, can we ask them to step into the elevator and with three or four people, that they don't know that are probably going to other floors. There are so many ifs going into it after Covid-19.

John Sumser
Yep, yep. And we don't have the answers yet, but right now you've been in, you've been in the company where you moved offices. [Yeah for sure.] And nothing gets done the first couple of weeks after you've moved office and we just had a big office move. Everybody moved into a new office last week or the week before. And so, so it's appropriate for people to be confused. It's appropriate for people to cry half the time. It's appropriate for people to be scared. That means that having realistic expectations about what's going to happen is central to effective HR.

Rhonda Taylor
Oh, that's, yeah, definitely. Definitely. John, when we speak of talent, and this is obviously the strength of this show. Talent has so many other facets to it. Mmm. Educational. Leadership. Mentoring. These are all parts of professional development and I can't help but think somehow we as employees need to dig deep and start thinking, here's our chance to take ourselves to the next level. Are you seeing any employers encouraging their employees to follow that path?

John Sumser
It's very early. It's very, very early that that will come, that will come, but right now people are wounded. It's a mistake to two sort of growl at somebody and say, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make yourself into something new when we're about to walk into a moment where everybody is suffering grief and everybody is taking bereavement leave. Mmm. Um, and so, so that idea of personal development, that's may, June, that will start to be a very interesting thing, but right now, Mmm. Oh. What we need to try to do is stay coherent and stay compassionate and understand that, that this is a frightening time and that it is perfectly reasonable for our employees to behave as if they're frightened.

Rhonda Taylor
Wow. The uncertainty is, is definitely there. And the media obviously contributes to that. John, we're all about talent. Um, you, have been with HR examiner, you created it, but you're also known as the speaker and analysts being a voice at HR. What is it that you like about what you do?

John Sumser
So I'm really lucky. I am just super lucky. I get to follow my curiosity and I've been following my curiosity for 25 years. I happened to be because of, some accidents at birth. I happened to be very, very interested in the way that work is structured and how organizations operate. I happen to think that organizations are complex dynamic systems that may actually be biological entities. And I'm super curious about how you make organizations do the things that you want the organization to do because they don't always do that. Um, and so, so I've been looking at that from a variety of perspectives for a long time. And loved talking about it, love writing about it, love, uh, helping people understand how to make their systems work better. Um, and you know, my pet project for the last four or five years has been learning how to incorporate machine employees into the organization. So I spent a lot of time talking about AI and intelligent tools. And if you want to find out about that, follow me on HR examiner, follow me on Twitter at John Sumser. And there's a pretty steady flow of information about intelligent tools and Mmm. Some not. So worky things because I think that blending work and play is what you're supposed to do.

Rhonda Taylor
I have a question. This is personal. How does an engineer turn HR?

John Sumser
You just start with a philosophy degree. So the real question, the real question is how do you turn a philosopher into a credentialed engineer? And once you can figure out how to do that, but then going to HR is easy. But the big trick, the really big trick is getting fired at the right time. Mmm. Um, I had, I had come to California for the job of my dreams and it didn't work out and I had to do something. Uh, and I'd studied HR in graduate school. Mmm. You know, my dad ran the project to develop the dictionary of occupational titles in the department of labor, in the early sixties, so it was dining room table conversation and I stayed looking at that project ever since. 

Rhonda Taylor
Huh. That's wonderful. Thank you. It's always a pleasure to chat with you and catch up.

John Sumser
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me on. It's been great and good luck to you.

Rhonda Taylor
This is Rhonda. From the TalentX podcast saying see you next time.