How to Keep Culture Intact While Scaling Remote Workers

In this Point of View, Ultimate Software Vice President of Human Resources Kathleen Pai shows how culture and smart management help employers leverage remote workers–without sacrificing engagement.

Shifts in workplace culture and connective technologies have created an influx of remote workers. In fact, 25 percent of the workforce works remotely in some capacity.

This has created a whole new set of challenges in talent management: While the breakdown of geographic barriers expands the talent pool, dispersed populations can have an adverse effect on culture if people aren’t managed effectively.

Remote employees often have different motivators, pain points and feedback preferences compared with their in-office colleagues. Therefore, they require distinct considerations. They’re also often just as integral to a company’s overall culture and health as local employees and should not be relegated to an afterthought.

If organizations don’t adapt management to fit the needs of remote workers, managers could face, at the least, a lack of engagement among virtual employees and, at worst, an exodus of talent as those employees look for work elsewhere. However, there are steps that everyone from HR leaders to managers can take to manage their remote talent effectively and keep their culture intact.

Avoid Virtual Micromanagement
Whether it’s online or in the office, micromanagement is among the top complaints people have about their managers. More than a third (39 percent) of employees said being a micromanager was the worst trait a manager could possess. Micromanagement can also contribute to disengagement.

According to CareerAddict, 69 percent of respondents who experienced micromanagement in the workplace considered changing jobs, and 85 percent said their morale was impacted negatively. As managers learn to empower their teams, they need to apply the same level of trust–if not more–to their virtual team members.

To monitor for and address micromanagement, managers should consider preferred communication styles in developing a team communication and operating agreement for their remote workforce

Ideally, this plan should include guidelines for project management, incorporating information such as when to provide status reports, preferred communication channels and who should conduct the final review on specific portions of the project.

This kind of agreement helps instill a greater sense of accountability among team members, especially when some or all of them are remote. Establishing expectations throughout can also get ahead of any miscommunication and ensure key milestones are met.

Keep Time Zones in Mind
Remote teams often span across regions, and it’s easy to forget that scheduling a routine 3 p.m. team call may actually cut into another employee’s lunch hour.

While it’s not always easy to accommodate multiple busy schedules, making an extra effort to keep different time zones in mind–and avoid putting a check-in on someone’s calendar for 8 p.m. on a Tuesday–can help remote workers feel like their specific working situation is understood and respected.

When scheduling recurring team calls, occasionally rotate start times to ensure team members across the country–and around the globe–aren’t always stuck with an especially early or late call.

Managers should also help remote employees set boundaries and clearly communicate their typical schedules with their colleagues. This can be tricky territory, especially for more junior team members who may feel intimidated about countering their coworkers if a meeting is scheduled outside their usual work day.

Over communicating around time zones will help colleagues learn one another’s schedules and allow for better workplace etiquette overall. For example, when a team member is reaching out at noon for feedback from someone who has left for the day, encourage them to acknowledge this is their initial note and make clear that an immediate response isn’t needed.

Watch ‘Virtual Body Language’
Spotting disengaged employees isn’t always easy. A team member might produce consistent work, but in fact feel disconnected from their team’s day-to-day activities. This is true even when you see a person every day!

Add virtual employees to the mix and recognizing disengagement becomes a greater challenge. While body language can say a lot about an employee’s state of mind. managers must learn how to catch virtual body language cues through video, instant messages or email to recognize and address disengagement in their remote workers.

There are patterns that may point to a disengaged employee. Managers should keep an eye out for team members who miss or are continuously late for routine meetings or who fall silent for long stretches on team calls.

Also consider missed deadlines, lack of participation in team activities or unanswered emails and messages. It’s vital that leaders assess their virtual team’s engagement levels often and address concerns with individual team members early.

Make Time for Communication
In a physical office, employees can chat anywhere: over coffee, at lunch or in the halls. This kind of casual social interaction builds team bonds and even results in spontaneous brainstorming sessions. Virtual employees typically miss out on inter-office socialization, which can lead to feelings of isolation.

Managers can combat this by making time for both formal meetings and informal discussions with remote team members. For example, scheduling daily or weekly 15-minute “stand-ups” can help build team chemistry.

Each team member can share what they’re working on, any challenges they’re facing, and whether they need help. This essentially creates an opportunity for virtual employees to connect and collaborate on a work challenge, or simply chat about something fun in their personal lives.

After all, working on a team is about camaraderie as much as collaboration on business projects. Whether in person or online, friendly conversations can go a long way in fostering team relationships.

Managing remote talent sometimes requires a few extra steps, but those steps are well worth taking. A truly engaged workforce not only strengthens culture – it also helps attract top talent. By prioritizing culture and managing virtual employees effectively, companies can scale across geographical borders without sacrificing employee engagement.

Kathleen Pai is the vice president of HR at Ultimate Software. Based in Weston, Fla., Ultimate Software is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report. To learn more, click here. This article was originally published in Training Journal.


IBM’s chief human resource officer, Diane Gherson, describes how the company overcame cultural as well as technical challenges in revamping its performance management system.

The traditional ways of managing performance simply aren’t working anymore.

To strive for continuous improvement, agility, and innovation, your employees need frequent feedback, ongoing upskilling, and a sharp focus on business outcomes.

IBM recently completed a reimagining of its performance management model to achieve those goals. In this webinar, Diane Gherson discusses the redesign of IBM’s talent and performance management system. She is joined for a best practices discussion and audience Q&A by McKinsey’s Bryan Hancock, coauthor of MIT SMR’s report, “Performance Management’s Digital Shift,” and Anna Tavis, research adviser to the report.

In this webinar you’ll learn:

How to align a transformation effort to business strategy.
How to secure employee buy-in for new ways of working.
How AI and other new technologies can modernize, personalize, and optimize performance management.


How To Build An Effective Employee Mentoring Program

Employee mentoring programs can enable you to get more from your most valuable resource, your employees. Further developing the talent you already have through mentoring could lead to a variety of business benefits, including company growth, increased innovation and higher profits. On the flip side, it also proves to employees that their employer values them and wants to invest in their potential future with the business. In fact, millennials planning to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not, according to The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey.

Along with improved retention rates, I’ve found that mentoring programs within businesses can increase employee job satisfaction levels and boost productivity. After successfully building and implementing a mentoring program at my company, a tech and digital marketing staffing agency, here’s what I learned about making it work for your business.

What Does A Successful Employee Mentoring Program Look Like?

It’s best to find inspiration from ongoing programs with similar goals at the enterprise level to understand how to develop a successful employee mentoring program. For example, according to an older Fast Company article, Intel’s employee mentoring program is built around the goal of knowledge transfer.

According to Deloitte’s website, the company focuses on building a leadership talent pipeline — as evidenced by its employee mentoring program, entitled the Emerging Leaders Development Program. The mentee is assigned a mentor for at least two years who helps them focus on how to further their career.

At my firm, we’ve recently doubled down on our people-centric culture to improve retention and employee satisfaction levels and drive business growth. A big part of redefining our culture was implementing an employee mentoring program to help build the bridge between our recent trainee graduates and senior leaders. We did this by supporting mentees in reaching their full potential, faster, through targeted one-on-one, peer-to-peer mentoring, coaching and development. With feedback provided directly from the field through various committees and surveys, we clearly defined the requirements of mentors, incentives for mentees and the frequency of mentor-mentee meetings, along with monthly and quarterly group discussions and check-ins on progress.

We’ve seen a lot of success with the program since launching in early 2018. Almost 50% of our sales and recruiting teams became mentees, with 31% of them graduating from the program and 28% of mentors receiving promotions by the end of the year. We also saw improved retention rates that were driven in part by the mentoring program and our focus on an employee-centric culture.

How To Build An Effective Employee Mentoring Program

Now that you know why it’s crucial to implement an effective mentoring program within your business and the results it can produce, here’s how to make sure you do it right.

● Define the purpose of the program. First things first: what is the objective for your mentoring program? This will determine the structure you need to produce the results you’re after. What works for some teams might not work best for others. We developed a program for the sales side of the business initially. When we found success there, we then developed a similar but tailored program to suit the needs of our internally-focused teams, which differ from the support and guidance employees needed on the sales side. Each time, I worked with management to clearly define the purpose of the programs and how we hoped mentees would benefit. From there, you can finalize the requirements for mentors, determine a graduation timeline and establish how mentees can apply.

● Generate participation at all levels. You can’t have a successful employee mentoring program without support and participation from employees at all levels. It’s important to drive support for your program from the top down. Executives and management should be vocal about why they think the program is beneficial and encourage their direct reports, teams and departments to participate as either mentors or mentees. I found the support at the management level goes a long way in driving adoption and interest in the field. If you’re still struggling to generate the participation you need, consider providing incentives to generate interest from potential mentors, like formal recognition within the business, monetary rewards when mentees hit milestones, or career growth opportunities. After all, mentors are taking time from their busy workloads to support mentees, so it’s not a bad idea to reward that effort.

● Be thoughtful with mentoring pairings. A key element of any successful employee mentoring program is the pairing process. Implement a process to ensure this is done thoughtfully and that pairings are best suited to each employee’s skill sets and experience. Incorporate both mentor and mentee interviews with a set team of coordinators to best match them based on their needs. We first sent out surveys to gauge the interest and size of our mentor and mentee groups. From there, we instituted mentor interviews with the employee’s immediate manager, along with all department heads and program decision makers. For mentees, we took a dual approach by having them complete both surveys and initial interviews to find their best match. Take your time with this step, as I found it was the most important for the long-term success of the program.

● Incorporate monthly and quarterly assessments. Last but not least, you should establish clear timelines on a monthly and quarterly basis to evaluate how each pairing is going and the overall effectiveness of the program. These assessments can be in whatever form works best for your business, whether that’s personalized feedback surveys, discussion groups or roundtables. I’ve found that both surveys and roundtables work best for our program’s goals. The worst thing you can do is create an employee mentoring program and then think your work is done. Instead, an effective mentoring program should require regular check-ins, assessments and updates as needed to ensure it remains impactful and aligned with your business goals.


The Chicken or the Egg: Using Assessment Data to Create Better Leadership Training

Whether you’re a nimble startup with 100 employees or a multinational conglomerate with 100,000, effective leadership training is critical to your organization’s success. There’s no shortage of leadership theories and development methods, but generic models often fall flat in leadership development programs. It’s much more effective to tailor your curriculum and your leadership model to your specific environment and leaders. Tailored content can be the difference between an effective program that accelerates leadership and an ineffective program that’s cut to save costs.

Assessment data is often overlooked as a way to tailor your leadership development program. Typical programs use leadership assessments, such as 360-degree feedback, to show leaders how they stack up. Some programs also have an individual coach to guide leaders in how to respond to the feedback. While all this is valuable, it misses an important opportunity: drawing a clear link between the leadership curriculum and the specific feedback results. Leaders may connect the dots on their own—or not. Many programs also miss the chance to use leaders’ data to shape the curriculum itself. This wastes rich and valuable insights into training needs.

Once an organization decides to harness these opportunities and use leaders’ feedback results to level up their leadership development program, there’s a core question: Which comes first, the curriculum or the assessments? Like the chicken-or-the-egg paradox, either way may work.

Method 1 (the egg): A large university wanted to develop its administrative leadership with a one-year development program for high-potential leaders. The university had always done standard leadership programs that covered the full range of leadership; but this year, training staff decided to offer a more tailored approach. They identified 50 leaders, then did a 360-degree feedback process. They also had each leader talk with an executive coach to understand their results and make a development plan. The training designers examined the feedback results and talked with the executive coaches to uncover the most pressing training needs. They used these data to determine which topics should be emphasized in the leadership training curriculum.

Method 2 (the chicken): A real estate development firm chose a dynamic, highly tailored approach to building content for its leadership development program. Instead of using a generic set of theoretical leadership competencies, they took a hard look at what their leaders needed in their specific environment. They also focused on areas where their organization was unique and on their latest business strategy. Then, they stepped up the curriculum even more by customizing a 360-degree feedback survey. Leaders took the survey before starting the program, and on their first day, they learned where they measured against the curriculum. This way, they could use their results to tailor their individual learning within the course.

There is no better way to waste leadership training dollars than to have learners spend time on irrelevant material. You can tailor your curriculum based on a prior analysis of your leaders’ needs. You could also give them individualized assessment results to shape their own learning path. Either way, your training dollars will go a lot further and your training ROI will be much stronger using data-based methods.


4 Ways To Keep Employee Retention High In The Age Of Low Unemployment

The unemployment rate has been staggeringly low throughout the past year. And although this is excellent news for workers and our economy, it might not be the best news for your small business.

With such a low unemployment rate, workers have options. Employees can quickly bounce from job to job, raising your turnover rate and impacting your bottom line. How can you keep employee retention high during this time of unemployment (and beyond)?

4 Ways To Increase Employee Retention
I’ve talked about how to reduce employee turnover before. But now that jobs are so readily available to workers, it’s time to up your game even more.

As you likely know, losing and replacing employees is expensive and time-consuming. Not to mention, the low unemployment rate means top talent is already employed, which can mean two things for your business:

You might have trouble readily finding qualified applicants to replace terminated employees.
When top talent is already employed, you have to worry about other businesses trying to recruit your employees.

Use these tips to create an employee retention strategy that resonates with your workers, improves engagement, and keeps them from seeking other positions.

1. Onboard New Hires
Onboarding is a make or break time for employees. Done well, onboarding can increase your employee retention rate. Done poorly, onboarding can result in employees quitting within six months of starting.

Your employer goals during the onboarding process should be to tell employees about your business, show them the ropes to successfully do their jobs, answer questions, and introduce them to your current staff.

If employees are significantly confused about how to do their jobs after onboarding, you could have problems down the road. They could become frustrated with the lack of communication, leading to disengagement.

2. Develop A Relationship Of Mutual Respect
What’s the number one reason employees move on to a new job? Although people heavily debate this question, some research suggests people quit their bosses, not the jobs themselves.

There are many reasons employees leave that have nothing to do with their bosses. But if you do not develop a relationship of mutual respect with your workers, you could be pushing them out the door.

At my company, Patriot Software, I work alongside my employees and stay late. I work in an office where my door is always open. When I hire employees, I train them, then give them authority over their responsibilities. I look at employees as my co-workers and family. I tell them “thank you” at the end of their shifts. With these seemingly simple acts and attitudes, I promote mutual respect.

Barking orders and yelling at employees when they mess up (or even if they do something differently than you would have) isn’t the way to show you respect them as talented workers. And, it certainly isn’t the way to gain their respect.

When employees respect you and know they have your respect, the likelihood of them leaving “because of their boss” decreases. And, mutual respect also increases employee loyalty toward your small business.

3. Engage Employees
People get bored. It’s human nature. And when they get bored, they might start looking at greener grass to reignite their engagement.

It’s not your job to be an entertainer to your employees. But with the right attitude, leadership, and strategy, you can create a naturally engaging culture.

Engage employees by pointing them in the right direction. Help them see that their work matters to your business and customers. The more an employee can connect their work with making a difference, the more engaged they’ll be.

How do you engage employees? Try setting business-wide and team goals. Not only will this give employees something to work toward, but it could boost camaraderie, which also increases engagement. At my company, I encourage teams to set and reach goals. My employees pull their weight when working on the projects, and they are excited to achieve their goals.

Another way to encourage employee engagement is to give them ownership over their jobs. That’s why I refuse to micromanage my employees. How can an employee genuinely engage with a job if you always tell them what to do and how to do it? Not only does micromanaging discourage engagement, but it also hinders innovation. If you micromanage your employees, they might start looking for a job with more freedom.

Lastly, engage employees by encouraging development. Regularly train employees, give them leadership roles, add new responsibilities, and offer educational assistance. When appropriate, promote employees. If you are unable to promote, you can try instituting a job rotation program, which lets employees make lateral moves into different positions.

4. Offer What Other Businesses Can’t
One of the biggest mistakes I see small businesses make is trying to be something they aren’t. I’m sure you’ve seen it, too. Or, maybe you’ve even made this mistake! Whether they try to grow too fast, add unrelated offerings, or get too far away from their roots, small businesses can dig themselves into a rut if they focus on keeping up with bigger firms.

The same is true with retaining employees. Sure, big corporations can likely afford to give higher salaries, bigger bonuses, and better insurance benefits. Although it’s crucial to offer a fair compensation package, you shouldn’t try to spend more than what you can afford. Instead, offer what other businesses can’t.

Benefits like job flexibility can be inexpensive to offer. At the same time, they are in high demand. If it works for your business, let employees work from home, work flexible hours, and take time off. But, offering job flexibility might not set you too far apart from other businesses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77% of employees receive paid vacation days, and 71% receive paid sick leave. And, 70% of employees worldwide work remotely at least once per week. So, what else can you offer that other businesses can’t?

Many working individuals prefer to be big fish in a little pond rather than little fish in a big pond—and your small business can deliver just that.

In your small business, you can give employees more leadership. According to one study, 86% of small business employees reported that their opinions were heard and listened to.

Lastly, if you want to keep retention high during this time of low unemployment, capitalize on what can truly set your small business apart—treat your employees like family. Thirty-two percent of small business employees said feeling like family was the best part of working for a small company.

Although I’m an entrepreneur and not an employee, I can attest that the familial feeling in my companies is one of the best parts of my job. And based on what some of my employees have told me, it’s one of the reasons they stick around in the age of low unemployment.


4 Ways Analytics can Improve Workforce Planning in 2019

With the global workplace facing a skills shortage and the emergence of roles that were once unheard of, workforce planning is now a major differentiator. Advanced analytics can give HR professionals a comprehensive yet granular view of workplace trends and future needs. We discuss the benefits of adopting this technology in 2019.

In the last few years, advanced analytics has emerged as a popular technique for making sense of organizational data and guiding HR strategies. Spread across three primary arms – historical, predictive, and prescriptive – analytics can give HR professionals a deeper understanding of current movements, future shifts, and the best ways forward. As the global workplace witnesses, multiple waves of skills shortage and rising demand for new expertise types, effective workforce planning is essential to stay ahead. A well-articulated workforce planning strategy can help HR teams and organizations remain abreast of the most dominant trends, preempt any issues, and proactively deploy solutions for positive business outcomes.

Workforce planning is defined as the planning undertaken by an organization to ensure that it has the necessary human capital for its current as well as future requirements. HR teams often use HR technology to ensure maximum utilization of resources. In this article, we discuss how analytics serves as the technology HR teams need for strategic workforce planning.

Why is Workforce Planning Imperative to an Organization’s Growth?
Dave Weisbeck, Chief Strategy Officer at Visier, a people analytics provider, tells us why workforce planning will impact an organization’s bottom line: “Being able to pull out the most important details from increasingly bigger and more complex data sets in order to make informed decisions will have a strategic value to the business. More specifically, it will be crucial to master people analytics and use predictive models to improve workforce planning and routinely update these plans as the business and market changes.”

How Can Analytics Improve Workforce Planning?
Here are four ways in which organizations can leverage the power of analytics to streamline workforce planning in 2019.

1. Analyze Performance Data to Spot Talent Gaps
Performance management information can offer a wealth of insights into the needs of each department, the capabilities required for a department, and underutilized resources, if any, who may be able to fill the capabilities gap with some upskilling. In addition, a small team may require stronger leadership to aid learning and to sharpen members’ focus; or, a particular employee may be shuffled from department to department without finding the right place. This indicates a lack of talent planning and poor utilization of existing resources. Analytics can identify these patterns and anomalies, indicating to HR professionals where training would be required or if a new hire is the best alternative.

2. Solve Recurring and Long-term Labor Issues
Teams might be consistently putting in overtime hours or weekend efforts, signaling a demand issue that needs to be resolved. This not only indicates a labor shortage, it is also indicative of an eventual burnout of the current workforce, leading to low engagement, attrition, and a weakened bottom line. Using analytics, HR teams can link the increased demand of labor to a specific time of the year, seasonal changes, or a calendar event. HR professionals can, therefore, incorporate these milestones into their yearly workforce planning roadmap, preparing for this shortage beforehand, and preventing employee burnout.

3. Schedule Staffing based on Real-Time Updates
While performance analysis and labor management deals mostly with historical data, daily staffing requires the most immediate and relevant information. This will offer a comprehensive view of everyday demand volumes, the level of output required, and the best resource/s for the job. By combining this information with an intelligent workforce scheduling software, HR professionals can ensure that each project in the pipeline is functioning smoothly, and no resource is left idle/overburdened.

4. Ensure Employee Satisfaction and Engagement
Attracting, engaging, and retaining top performers is a major priority for any HR professional. In fact, a big part of workforce planning is having a strategy specifically geared to identify and engage these individuals. Employee feedback and surveys that feed into the analytics engine help to highlight problem areas in the workplace. Data can even be extracted from time and attendance (T&A) modules, productivity measures, and turnover rates to arrive at a holistic picture of employee satisfaction. HR professionals can then use these insights to reinforce employee engagement efforts to maximize retention.

Essentially, analytics assists workforce planning initiatives by revealing information which would otherwise remain hidden. From ineffective business models to personal complaints, from errors in engagement programs to unfulfilled skill requirements, these challenges could prove damaging to an organization in the long term. In 2019, as HR moves into an era of proactive workforce planning powered by data (instead of traditional models guided by only short-term needs), analytics will be one of the most powerful tools for HR teams.


Compensation bias is bad for business. Here’s how to fix it.

Are you paying your employees fairly? Despite good intentions and substantial investments in diversity programs, companies are finding that bias in compensation is difficult to detect, remove, and keep from recurring.

Pay equity is more important today than ever. Beside the potential negative consequences of landing your organization in the headlines, in court, or both, it brings many bottom-line benefits. Compensation equity:

Enhances your brand and your ability to attract and hire the best talent, which is especially valuable in today’s tight labor market.
Helps you retain valuable employees and avoid costly turnover.
Increases productivity because employees who feel valued and fairly compensated are more satisfied and more invested in their work.
Leads to a more diverse workforce, which can increase profitability. For example, a 2016 survey of 22,000 companies worldwide by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that companies with at least 30% women in senior management had 15% higher profits.
However, equity remains elusive, and progress has been slow in closing gaps. Today, U.S. women make 80% of what men earn, compared to 60% in 1970. And the rate at which that gap is closing has slowed since 2000, according to a report by the American Association of University Women.

“If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2106,” the report’s authors write.As for racial pay gaps, the Pew Research Center found that black workers earn just 75% of white workers’ compensation. And the Economic Policy Institute reports that wages for black men have actually fallen since 2000, to 70 cents on the dollar.

To a large extent, gaps persist because of unconscious bias. Despite decades of diversity programs, hidden assumptions and beliefs in stereotypes still influence hiring, promotion, and compensation in subtle yet substantial ways. It may require big changes in long-standing traditions in hiring, salary-setting, and performance reviews to achieve and sustain equal pay. Even then, there are no guarantees.

“Given the millions of dollars spent on making and monitoring [diversity efforts], surprisingly little evidence exists on the efficacy of various policies and practices adopted by organizations to address the problems and to capture the benefits of having a demographically diverse workforce,” write MIT Sloan professor Emilio Castilla and Cornell University professor Pamela Tolbert in the introduction to a January 2017 special issue of the Industrial and Labor Relations Review on inequality in the workplace. “And even less evidence is available on the conditions that may moderate the impact of these policies and practices.”

Nevertheless, academic and think tank research does yield insight that may help lessen bias’s harmful influence on salary.

Make sure there’s a fair starting line
An employee’s first salary at her first job can set the wage bar for the rest of her career, perpetuating any initial inequity.

One way to correct for this is explored in a November 2018 study by MIT Sloan professor Roberto Fernandez and Stanford Graduate School of Business assistant professor Adina Sterling, published in Management Science. The pair analyzed data on several hundred 2009-10 MBA graduates, studying salaries offered to those who were hired without internships and those who were hired after internships.

Without internships, women were offered an average of $102,165; men were offered $109,899, a difference of $7,734. Internships appeared to close the gap, with women receiving average offers of $108,600 versus $108,196 for men. Women were actually offered $400 more than the men.

While it’s hard to pinpoint the many nuanced factors that go into salary offers, initial offers are typically made “when employers know the least about individuals’ skills and abilities,” the researchers write. That can open the door to bias based on stereotypes. Internships help employers get past that because the more they get to know someone as an individual, the less likely bias is to impact compensation, according to the paper.

Fernandez said that internships cut both ways, giving employees a chance to test drive the employer as well. In a competitive labor market, where candidates post information and assessments of employers on sites like Glassdoor, these tryouts can either enhance or sully an employer’s brand, he said.

Forget about the past

Another way to counteract existing bias is to stop using salary histories in hiring, said American Association of University Women Senior Vice President Deborah Vagins.

“Even well-intentioned employers, if they peg your salary to your last job, can carry forward discrimination from previous jobs,” she said.

Several U.S. companies have eliminated salary inquiries in the hiring process, Vagins said, including Staples and Amazon. And since 2016 at least a dozen U.S. states and as many cities have passed laws banning the use of salary history in hiring, according to the American Association of University Women.

On the federal level, the Paycheck Fairness Act was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Although it has little chance of passing the Senate, the bill would ban employers from asking candidates how much they made in previous jobs, eliminate employer rules that penalize workers who disclose their salaries, and require employers to be more transparent about worker pay.

Practice real transparency
Full salary transparency, which could expose any wide divergences in pay, would be an effective way to spot potential bias, but few companies want to reveal their salary data to their employees, much less the public. There may be ways, however, to reduce the chances that secrecy around salaries and performance evaluations hides bias.

“Pay secrecy … may make it easier for managers to use any criteria they wish to compensate employees [including demographics] because their pay decisions are less likely to be scrutinized by others,” Castilla writes in a 2015 paper on transparency and accountability in pay. “In addition, it may provide no expectation for managers to justify how rewards are distributed — thus making them less accountable for their decisions.”

Castilla examined bonus payments for 9,000 employees of a large private company. He compared compensation decisions before and after management implemented procedures to increase transparency and accountability, including the formation of a committee that monitored and analyzed pay decisions. The comparison showed that those procedures narrowed the pay gap between U.S.-born white men and a group of women, ethnic minorities, and non-U.S.-born employees.

Another tactic is the periodic pay audit and report, in which a company surveys its salaries by gender, race, and other factors, then publicly reports any pay gaps and its actions to correct them. A growing number of companies are publishing these reports, some in response to public or shareholder pressure.

But these reports don’t always tell the whole story. Results depend on what companies measure, and how. For example, Google was criticized when its latest report found that in one category — level four software engineer — it was paying women more than men. The company therefore raised the men’s salaries.

Google’s measurements are too simplistic, said diversity consultant Kim Elsesser, SM ’92, author of the book, “Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace.” Because the company looked only within job categories, it did not account for women that are either improperly put in a lower-paying category or are stuck in a category without opportunity to advance, she said.

“The women at a particular level were making more than the men at that level, but if women aren’t being promoted but rather are being held at that level, then you would get this result,” she explained.

In fact, a gender-pay lawsuit against Google claims that women were inappropriately placed in lower-paying job categories.

Pursue equity for the long term
Increased salary transparency and pay equity audits aren’t necessarily long-term fixes, said Joan Williams, MCP ’80, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law and distinguished professor of law at University of California, Hastings.

“You can make a one-time correction, which is admirable, but unless you go back and address the kinds of biases that influence the kinds of assignments people are given and the kind of performance evaluations they get, the same biases will re-emerge over time,” Williams said.

Even after leveling up salaries or providing anti-bias training, “what typically happens is these subtle and not-so-subtle forms of bias are constantly being transmitted through your basic business systems — through hiring, through assignments, through performance evaluations,” Williams said.

One way to counter that is to institutionalize what Williams calls “bias interrupters.” When posting an open position, for example, including the phrase, “salary is negotiable,” can interrupt pay bias by giving women, who tend to be more reluctant to negotiate than men, permission to raise the topic.

Another interrupter is to ban global performance ratings, which rank employees on a scale of 1 to 5, or excellent to poor. Williams calls global ratings “a petri dish for bias,” because they use highly subjective rankings to set objective pay levels. Instead, managers should have to “show their work” when evaluating employees.

“They should have to provide enough evidence that another person reading the performance evaluation can show the evidence upon which the manager bases the judgement,” she said.

Constant vigilance
All of these methods require substantial changes in traditional hiring, promotion, and compensation systems. Even if companies adopt all of them, they aren’t fully inoculated against compensation bias. In short, there are no easy solutions, Castilla and Tolbert write in summing up recent research.

“For organizational leaders and practitioners … the quest for ‘best practices’ — connoting ones that yield positive results across the board and under all conditions — is a quixotic one,” they write.

Instead, eradicating bias requires nuance, careful attention, and constant vigilance.


The Ethics of AI in HR: What Does It Take to Build an AI Ethics Framework?

Tackling bias is among Google’s top three principles to guide AI development. It is also the reason why Google’s recent AI Ethics Council was dissolved. Bias is evidently one of the biggest concerns in the implementation of AI technology, and even the search giant is facing challenges in defining an ethics framework to guide its development. So, where does HR fit into the context, and can an ethics framework for AI in HR be built effectively?

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be implemented across industries with positive impact. However, there is still no unified ethics framework that guides AI development and its application in all industry verticals.

To address this pressing issue, on March 26, 2019, Google announced that it had created the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) to develop an ethics framework primarily to address AI-powered facial recognition and fairness in machine learning (ML). However, on April 4, 2019, within 10 days of its establishment, the ATEAC was dissolved. One of the reasons was the controversy around the members of the council. Kay Cole James, President of the Heritage Foundation, was accused of harboring anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant beliefs. As a result, the company decided to dissolve the council and work with external researchers independently, to guide their ethics in AI development.

A year ago, when it was called out for working with the Pentagon to create AI-powered weaponry, Google created a set of seven principles that would guide their work in the applications of AI. “Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias” features as number two on this list. Clearly, the ability of AI to reinforce bias is apparent and acknowledged even by the frontrunners of AI technologies.

What does this mean for the world of human resources, where AI is increasingly being applied to processes such as candidate screening, recruitment, employee engagement, and compliance? Before we investigate this, let’s look at how AI reinforces bias.

Also Read: Why Artificial Intelligence Needs to Be Balanced With Human Intelligence In HR

How Does AI Reinforce Bias?
As futuristic and promising as it may seem, AI is not without flaws. Its deep learning model relies on what in the context of human behavior is called “conditioning.” Just like humans can be conditioned to discern good from bad, and sometimes favor the bad instead of the good, so can deep learning algorithms learn from human bias. So, if the data has bias – even if it is unconscious and inherent – that’s what the machine is going to learn.

Bias begins in the data that is fed to ML engines. These engines are made up of neural networks that begin to make associations in the data. Let’s take, for example, an AI-powered recruitment tool. If its algorithm is based on data that shows that among 10 candidates for a tech job, 7 have a relevant college degree but 3 do not, the tool is likely to give preference to those who have the degree, even if those without one are more experienced in the field. It can keep reinforcing this bias by continually downgrading individuals who have no degree and reducing a rich talent pool on the basis of one factor, because of this bias.

However, AI can even be deployed to eliminate bias in hiring, when treated carefully and by eliminating the factors that contribute to bias, such as skin color, gender, education, and so on.

How Can We Build a Unified Ethics Framework for AI in HR?
To truly understand the need for and the challenges in building a strong AI ethics framework in human resources, we spoke to Loren Larsen, CTO of HireVue, a platform that uses AI predictions to simplify the hiring process. HireVue was the first in the HR technology space to create an expert advisory board to guide ethical AI development.

Loren explains, “The biggest challenge in developing an AI framework is to ensure that it’s relevant and applicable enough for the here and now while also being flexible enough to cover the rapid evolution of AI technology.” As a rapidly evolving technology, AI must be built on a framework of clarity and the ability to turn philosophical questions into mathematical data that can tell right from wrong.

But Loren also offers a practical way to bring covert human bias to the forefront and address it: “HireVue believes that any ethics framework for AI needs to incorporate a vast set of perspectives – from academic to legal to social to technological.”

And to further simplify the challenge, he adds, “To be robust enough to serve as a North Star for technology developers, I think the best place for an ethics framework to be developed is within specific industries. This will have the most decisive impact on technology as it is applied to a particular area of practice, such as hiring.”

A Final Word About AI Ethics Implications for HR Professionals
In AI-powered recruitment, the collection of data is a long-drawn but fruitful process if done right. Organizations cannot afford to show bias in hiring anymore – even if it is unconscious. The rise in the global level of awareness about bias, the compliance issues, and the legal aspect of biased hiring are major factors that emphasize the need for a transparent hiring process.

We conclude with one more valuable input from Loren: “Because of the substantial potential impacts of AI technology on individuals and on society, a unified framework of guiding principles is critical – and must reflect a high degree of responsibility from companies developing AI solutions. If any truly unified ethics framework can be created, I think it will necessarily be extremely high-level and not finely grained.”

An ethics framework must be the foundation on which any AI technology is created and implemented. However, even in its presence, it may be a while before bias can be entirely addressed in the implementation of AI-powered solutions for HR. What such a framework can do is help companies create AI technologies to minimize, if not eliminate, bias in their algorithms. Then, combined with human intervention, AI applications can lead to unbiased recruitment and quality hiring.


The yin and yang of people productivity: HR contribution business leaders miss most

Considering that it is at least two decades since the clarion call was given for HR leaders to become business partners1, it is disappointing to find how little most business leaders think of the contribution they are getting from these Self-Appointed Partners (SAPs). For the past year, I have been probing the reasons for the dissatisfaction with a large number of business heads. Their answers, of course, differed, but if I were to extract a common theme, it was that simply understanding the business, which many CHROs consider their ultimate competency goal, was just the price of admission to the CXO table – by no means did it fulfill all the expectations the business leaders have of HR. What they were looking for were contributions only HR could make. When asked to give examples of what these unique contributions could be, the answers again varied. People productivity, however, appeared almost at the beginning of nearly every business head’s list – only to be dismissed by most of them as something HR just wasn’t equipped to deliver. Given the importance they attached to productivity, HR’s perceived (and possibly real) inability to contribute in this domain poses among the greatest threats to the relevance of HR for business.

Having identified this gap in HR capability pointed out by business heads, I pursued the topic further with several CHROs. Almost all of them confirmed that productivity occupied little of their time. Some of them were surprised it loomed so large in CEOs’ expectation-sets. Then there were those who thought the problem was for line managers to solve and that HR had contributed what it could by contractualizing a large part of the workforce. Finally, there was a significant number that was both aware of the importance of people productivity and owned it but had very incomplete and rudimentary ideas on how to go about improving it. It is to this last group that the bulk of this column is addressed. But first, we must get past the prevarications of the precariat2 purveyors.

CHROs are never tired of claiming parity with CFOs and rightly so. But if they are to do so convincingly, they cannot step back from improving the productivity of the prime resource with which they deal. The CFO who disclaimed responsibility for profits and returns on capital because line managers have the prime responsibility for meeting profit targets, would not have even a day’s tenure. By the same token, the CHRO who does not take responsibility for and possess the skills to monitor and guide the improvement of people productivity doesn’t deserve to be in that role. The argument that contractualization has made improvements in people productivity irrelevant is dangerous. The large-scale denudation of the permanent workforce to which industry in India has become addicted is unfair, unsustainable, and futuristically fragile.3

The rest of this column, of course, is directed to those HR leaders who want to play a key role in people productivity improvement but face difficulties in making it happen. For them, I plan to describe some of the fundamental pillars supporting such improvement, for the want of which, the arch of productivity gain can come crashing down.

Why a ‘VRS’ very rarely succeeds
Have you ever wondered why, after all those drastic downsizings announced by corporates that can’t think of a better way to slake the bloodthirst of some baying shareholders, their performances continue to be in the doldrums?4 In fact, there is evidence to show their results falter even further after they slash their workforces.5 One of the reasons for this paradox is that unless there is significant slack in the system, reducing people will only leave work undone, apart from the other demoralizing effects downsizing has.6 Assuming that the work was necessary, the consequence can only be poorer quality, safety and service levels, even if some of the durable employment gets substituted by a contingent workforce.

The mistaken assumption many organizations make while slashing their workforce in the hope of cutting costs is that the work that the terminated employees were doing will vanish with them. Considering how obviously false this assumption is, it is surprising how little these organizations do to cut the work to be done or improve the efficiency with which the remaining workforce operates.

It is almost thirty years since Michael Hammer made the case for obliterating needless work instead of automating it. To the fad for automation, which Hammer criticizes, in our context, we might add the penchants for outsourcing, contractualization and the use of AI, but the message remains valid all the same. As Hammer puts it: “At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking – of recognizing and breaking away from the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations. Unless we change these rules, we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We cannot achieve breakthroughs in performance by cutting fat or automating existing processes. Rather, we must challenge old assumptions and shed the old rules that made the business underperform in the first place.”7

There’s always a better way
Eliminating pointless or wasteful tasks is only the beginning of the productivity improvement process. In any extant enterprise, there will always be some tasks that are essential and the productivity with which they are carried out depends on these Ms:

Manual or Mental Skills
The first two of these appear so simple and obvious that it hardly seems worthwhile to spend any time on them. It is true that Methods of Work and Measurement of Productivity need no explanation for HR professionals. The tragedy for them and for most modern corporates arises from the fact that very few organizations any longer have the internal resources or access to reliable external expertise for undertaking these even if they wanted to.

Till a couple of decades ago, most large enterprises had substantive and capable Industrial Engineering departments. Admittedly, I spent a fair part of my time during the formative years of my career at the Telco (now Tata Motors) plant in Pune in conflict with worthies from Industrial Engineering. But there is no gainsaying what I learned from them and their methodical approach to measuring work and improving the efficiency with which it was carried out. Years later, when I led HR for Telco, we recruited some of the brightest people NITIE (the National Institute of Training in Industrial Engineering) and the company’s factories had to offer for building productivity planning and improvement expertise at the corporate level. It was in those years, during my regular visits to Telco’s Jamshedpur plant, that I learned the tricks of the Industrial Engineer’s trade from my friend Ravi Mukherjee (now no more), who led the department there. Over endless Charminar cigarettes and cups of tea, between the time the first shift started at 6 am and the formal agenda for my visit began a couple of hours later, Ravi would share the intricacies and problems of improving productivity while contending with a throttling incentive scheme, a strong trade union, and a frequently unstable external environment. Much of what I learned subsequently from Kaizen experts about the ‘machine that changed the world’ could not have been easily assimilated or implemented in the absence of such a foundation.

If today’s HR leaders were to look for similar guidance, even in those manufacturing units where Industrial Engineering continues to exist, they would find departments that are pale shadows of their former robust selves and which command little serious attention in top management deliberations. Rebuilding this capability will also not be an easy matter. The supply of smart Industrial Engineers from educational institutes has dried up – doubtless in response to dwindling demand from industry. It goes without saying that the masters of Industrial Engineering who taught us its nuances are more likely to be engaged in pushing up daisies than productivity and the Charminar (whose smoke was an essential catalyst in the transmission of tacit knowledge) is strictly prohibited in the antiseptic factory environments of today. Faced with this bleak resource horizon, some CHROs turn to manufacturing process consultants – frequently housed within the glossy confines of ‘the big four’. This can at best be a temporary expedient, not just for reasons of cost but because the expertise they command in this domain is extremely shallow and operationally inexperienced. The only solution can be to reconstruct a modern avatar of the Industrial Engineering function internally, updated with appropriate learnings from the Japanese revolution in manufacturing and augmented by other proven methodologies such as TOC (Theory of Constraints).8

HR for BOP
Unlike Methods of Work and Measurement of Productivity, most HR departments do have the capability to build up the other Ms: Motivation and Manual/Mental Skills. What prevents this capacity from being used to make a major impact on productivity is the myopic concentration some HR departments have on MOP (Middle Of the Pyramid) operations. This is just one instance of the disturbing trend of focusing more and more HR effort on a smaller and smaller part of the employee population. Pious expressions of the intent to devote a fair share of HR attention to the Bottom Of the Pyramid (BOP) seem likely to materialize no quicker than it took to find King Senebkay at the bottom of another pyramid.9

After years of running engagement surveys for senior and middle-level employees, the number of corporates that have extended these to the large numbers (of direct and indirect operatives as well as contract employees) whose efforts have maximal impact on productivity, is still negligible. It is as if these surveys were Bacchic mysteries and the punishment of Pentheus10 would pulverize anyone who dared to open them up to the uninitiated. Yet this reluctance flies in the face of mounting evidence that higher levels of engagement are among the key ingredients for improving people productivity.11

Admittedly, the situation is somewhat better where skilling is concerned. Permanent employees at the BOP do get training and an opportunity to upgrade their skills. For the precariat, however, there is little beyond safety training and, even if there were, it is questionable whether such trained people would be retained long enough for the organization to benefit from the skill enhancement.

In sum, while Methods and Measurement require hard-to-acquire competencies to be re-built, Motivation and Manual/Mental Skills call for existing HR competencies to be deployed creatively to populations which are relatively neglected in most HR game-plans at present.

The great balancing act
The Yin of reducing the need for people (by eliminating wasteful work and using the four Ms to increase efficiency) must be balanced by the Yang of downsizing. Unlike the Yin of cutting the demand for manpower where, as we have seen, most HR departments either lack the key competencies or are reluctant to expend them on the BOP, they undertake the Yang of cutting headcount with unseemly relish. It is almost a rite of initiation into the big boys’ club in HR to have a couple of downsizings under your belt, like a grisly Celtic token.12 I do not gainsay the need for headcount reduction, provided it really is a last resort and accompanied by the equity-checks I have detailed in an earlier column.4 It cannot be stressed enough, however, that of the three Rs of Yang, Retrenchment is the last. It must be preceded by Re-training and Re-deployment. Every Rupee spent on these two prerequisites can save tens of Rupees in ‘voluntary’ retirement payments and a further ten times of that cost by avoiding the intangible damage to belongingness and morale caused by such slaughtering sprees.

Striking a real-time balance between the Yin and the Yang is as much an art as a science. Manpower Planning becomes the critical bedrock for grounding both sides of the people productivity dynamic. Its task is hugely complicated in larger corporates where different units, products and future skill requirements might demand significant intakes just when outflows are being triggered in other units by market declines and productivity gains. In coping with these complexities, the tools available for quantitative projections grow more sophisticated by the day. But they are not the last word in making accurate forecasts in uncertain and turbulent conditions. Research in recent years has yielded a wealth of insights into how forecasting capabilities can be improved. Among the more readable compendiums of both the research and the means by which the capacity for prediction can be improved is Superforecasting.13 Every manpower planner would do well to read this slim volume and even super-busy CHROs should read its eight-page appendix which contains the ‘Ten Commandments for Aspiring Superforecasters’.

Make productively in India
Speaking of predictions, I don’t want to be the Laocoön of forecasters but I have to point out that the competitive advantage India enjoys internationally will be ephemeral if it continues to be based on arbitrage, as it is in several industries. The manufacturing sector is over-reliant on low-cost contract labor both directly and, even more so, though its vendors. The export-oriented service sector also relies on wage differentials between its markets and India. For obvious reasons, neither is a sustainable competitive advantage in the long-term.

In the case of manufacturing, models and methodologies for people productivity improvement (many of them pioneered by the Japanese automobile industry) already exist. In fact, several Indian corporates were well set to attaining these standards when the seemingly easy gains offered by the lower wage costs of a contingent workforce, side-tracked the effort. When they resume the more strenuous (but far healthier) journey of making permanent people productive, they will also be better positioned to implement winning strategies, such as Reverse Innovation14, which demand low-cost delivery without any sacrifice in quality or commitment.

The truly golden opportunity for world-beating productivity gains, however, lies in the knowledge and service sectors, which still await their Toyota. Please don’t imagine that AI will provide the answer and that the pursuit of productivity in tech can be left to the tech mavens. That would be like imagining automation, by itself, could have solved the productivity challenge in manufacturing. In fact, US auto-makers tried precisely that response when faced with the Japanese productivity miracle decades ago – and it proved to be spectacularly unsuccessful.15 As study after study has pointed out, dramatic productivity gains demanded far more than a quick tech-fix and included a total change (at least for Western companies) in their ways of working and in the culture of the firm.16 If an Indian IT major creates the equivalent of the TPS (Toyota Production System) in the IT and tech space, it will consolidate India’s predominance in the sector for a long time to come. From that launching pad in knowledge-work productivity, the next leap could be to make radical improvements in the productivity of innovations. The organization that first makes such a jump will be assured a place in the Business Hall of Fame for all time to come.


Dave Ulrich, Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results, Harvard Business Review Press,1996.
Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury Academic, Reprint edition, 2016.
Visty Banaji, Udta Udyog – Industry’s addiction to contract workers, People Matters, 15th September 2016.
Visty Banaji, People are not beans, People Matters, 13th July 2016.
James P Guthrie and Deepak K Datta, Dumb and Dumber: The Impact of Downsizing on Firm Performance as Moderated by Industry Conditions, Organization Science, Vol. 19, No. 1, Dec 2007.
Rolf van Dick, Frank Drzensky and Matthias Heinz, Goodbye or Identify: Detrimental Effects of Downsizing on Identification and Survivor Performance, Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 7, Article 771, May 201
Michael Hammer, Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate, Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1990.
Eliyahu M Goldratt, Jeff Cox, and David Whitford, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, North River Press, Revised edition, 2012.
Stuart Jeffries, King Senebkay: how did the Egyptian pharaoh stay undiscovered for so long? The Guardian, 22 January 2014.
Euripides, Translated by Mark Griffith, Glenn W Most, David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, Euripides V: Bacchae, Iphigenia in Aulis, The Cyclops, Rhesus, University of Chicago Press; Third edition, 2013.
James K Harter, Frank L. Schmidt and Theodore L Hayes, Business-Unit-Level Relationship Between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A MetaAnalysis, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, No. 2, 268–279, 2002.
“Warriors proved their prowess in battle by decapitating their slain opponents. Such trophies we worn on the belt as ornaments.” Patrick Harvey, The Tokens of Esteem: An Essay in Ritual Inhumanity, iUniverse, 2002.
Philip E Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, Random House Books, 2016.
Vijay Govindarajan, A Reverse-Innovation Playbook, Harvard Business Review, April 2012.
Gwynn Guilford, GM’s decline truly began with its quest to turn people into machines, Quartz, 30 December 2018.
John Shook, How to Change a Culture – Lessons From NUMMI, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2010.


To get better at negotiating salary, start negotiating more at home

Maybe there are some people out there who relish the opportunity for a good, hard salary negotiation.

For the rest of us, the times when our pay is at stake—if we’re starting a new job, for example, or requesting a raise—can be stressful and uncertain. Unless we’re pretty sure we’ll get what we want, some of us might not even put ourselves in the vulnerable position of asking for more than we’re offered.

Jane Charlton, head of leadership programmes at London Business School, who along with her team at the school’s career centre has helped thousands of business students prepare for job interviews, says we should always negotiate, even when we know the answer is going to be no. And in order to make it more likely we’ll actually do so, she says, we should practice. That can mean using some surprising situations—a standoff with your kids about mealtimes, for example, or a discussion with a partner about where to go on holiday—to hone skills that can later be employed in meetings with managers.

Practicing the art of negotiation, as with any skill, is a great way to learn. Every time you negotiate, you’re “not learning just about yourself and how you handle the situation, but you’re learning about the behavior of other people as well, which is really important,” Charlton says. “And you’re building your confidence.”

Develop your narrative
Going into negotiations over pay, or into a job interview for that matter, many people haven’t actually thought hard about what specific skills and strengths they bring, the gaps in their knowledge, or, crucially, what they’re doing to fill those gaps. She calls this detailed thinking “developing a narrative” around who we are, and encourages students she works with to practice it ahead of interviews.

Charlton says that some of the most common mistakes people make going into negotiation are not to have thought enough about their own story, and not to have spent enough time getting information to back up their desires. Going into an interview, for example, a candidate seeking a certain salary should be armed with knowledge about what competitors are paying—information that’s increasingly available through comparison sites like Payscale, Emolument, and Glassdoor.

It’s also a good idea to try to gain information about your interlocutor and what it is that drives them, even if that’s just from sharp attention to their behavior, she says.

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and founder of The Black Swan Group, a negotiations training and consulting firm, sets out three “archetypes” in his book Never Split the Difference. When it comes to negotiation, he suggests, we’re all likely to be either Assertive (in a nutshell, needing to be heard), an Analyst (needing information), or an Accommodator (wanting to be liked). Work out which of these categories you and the person you’re negotiating with each fit into, and you can adjust your approach accordingly.

Test your skills
Ever without the resource of a career center filled with paid advisors, there are opportunities for practice.

“You can negotiate with anyone you’re in a relationship with,” Charlton says. With kids it might be about how you get them to eat healthy meals without the use of bribery. With a partner, it might be about reconciling their wish for a beach holiday with your hope of spending the vacation time climbing mountains. “How do you resolve that situation?” Charlton asks. “It’s a negotiation essentially. It’s a conversation about hearing what the other person’s position is, and telling them what your position is, and potentially coming to a compromise.”

Be flexible
Conversations with those we love and trust might feel completely different from a hardball boardroom discussion, but here Charlton’s point about listening is key. To get a good outcome in a negotiation, she says, we need to understand the wants and needs of the other person. There’s no point, for example, driving relentlessly for a massive salary raise with a company that’s struggling, or a manager who truly doesn’t have the budget to give you what you want. In that situation, Charlton says, being flexible can be a huge asset.

That’s why she advocates for negotiating even when you know the answer about the money is going to be no, because there’s often more than one thing at stake.“Perhaps you might get a ‘no’ on salary, but might get a yes on something else,” like time off for training, a more flexible work schedule, or better healthcare, she says.

Find the lesson
Practicing any skill also forces us to admit that we don’t always get things right. You can read Getting to Yes as many times as you’d like, but if negotiating is new for you (or even if it’s not) you can expect that sometimes you’ll come up empty handed. And that’s okay, Charlton says.

“You know, maybe the first one bombs, and you don’t get what you want,” she says. “But actually there’s something to learn in every situation. So you can use that to help you frame what you will do next time you go into a negotiation. It really helps you develop clear communication skills and how [to] pitch yourself.”

So your five-year-old still won’t eat spinach? Never mind. The practice at keeping a cool head, using data to back up your suggestions, listening, and clearly stating your case will stand you in good stead at the next meal—or the next time you’re gunning for a promotion.