Michael Salone Author of ‘Tagging for Talent: The Hidden Power of Social Recognition in the Workplace’, Michael Salone shared his insights on new ways to recognise talent, how peer to peer recognition works through tagging, why performance appraisals don’t work for millennials – what works and what doesn’t.
Michael Salone, an international HR expert, author and sought-after speaker, is the CEO of 3-6TY, a unique consulting firm which uses the power of the crowd to share knowledge and identify talent for organisations. He has worked for international companies Alstom and Schlumberger and has helped clients such as Carnegie Mellon University, the United Nations, Total and Michelin (just to name a few) identify the strengths they have inside their organisations. By observing and helping companies quickly and accurately identify talent, Michael has saved companies millions of dollars, increased company morale and aided them in sustaining success.
Q: In your book ‘Tagging for Talent’ you talk about an interesting way to give recognition within an organisation. It challenges the old way of talent identification and succession planning using a crowdsourcing approach to finding hidden talents. Can you explain a bit more on this method for our readers?
Michael Salone: Yes, the book explains how a simple function, tagging, makes it possible to answer a current problem of organisations: to identify the “hidden” talents of their employees and to value their contributions to the company on a daily basis. Specifically, I’m talking about “peer-to-peer” tagging – that is, allowing – and encouraging – members of the same team, department, or company to identify by simple keywords (tags) the strengths of each.
Q: Can you give us a concrete example?
Michael Salone: Yes, if one of your colleagues exhibits a talent or ability, where you do not necessarily expect it – for example, a member of the IT team who is very good at negotiating (when it comes, for example, to getting employees to accept new security procedures in a company) or shows excellent listening skills (when employees have trouble with new software) we simply tag them. In this example, with the keywords #negotiation or #listening. If they are particularly good in these areas, there is a good chance that other people in the company will also notice his or her strengths and tag them equally. Quickly, their skills, or Tagability, will stand out and can be better used within the company and give the employee recognition, or Tagognition, more frequently.
In the same way, a sales manager or a marketing director will be very likely tagged with talents such as #communication or #presentation skills because they are almost indispensable talents in this function. Only some will be tagged #collaborative, #intercultural, #rigorous or other rarer and specific behaviours that can make the difference when forming a task force to approach a large international customer or develop a new activity in the company, by example.
Q: It works a bit on the same principle as LinkedIn, in which we can put tags too, right?
Michael Salone: Yes, the principle is the same, except with LinkedIn everyone in your network can tag you, sometimes more or less specific because they do not always know you really well and just wait for you to tag them back. These endorsements are not as valuable to an organisation because they can be misleading when coming from people who have no reason to tell the truth about someone, just get their attention. With the method we use, only people from the same company, who are used to working together and who know each other well have the opportunity to tag each other. The result is much more qualitative because, in a company, when you tag a colleague you are also committing your own reputation to the talents you attributed to someone. I call this Tagutation.
Q: And what about weaknesses, can you also tag a colleague negatively?
Michael Salone: The main principle and beauty of Tagging for Talent is to capitalise on the strengths of each and therefore to detect, value and recognise only the abilities of individuals, not to highlight their weaknesses. As a result, using this Tagitude, we only tag talents, positive behaviours or skills and the tagged person must always be free to refuse a tag that he or she does not consider appropriate or that they do not want to make visible. Likewise, if I am not tagged with a skill I believe I have, I can determine for myself that this may be an area for development and can seek feedback from my manager, a coach or HR without having to wait for a performance review.
Q: Talent through crowdsourcing…what is that?
Michael Salone: Just as Google Translate gets more and more accurate as more and more people contribute to it (two heads are better than one), the same applies to identifying talent inside an organisation. Some theories and systems look at strengths, but only as seen by the individual themselves. Frances may indeed have the strength she’s identified, but she is only one person, one perspective. If 50 people think Frances has a particular strength or talent, she discovers something about herself that she might not have seen before or, it can validate what she thought was already true.
Q: How did you get to this method?
Michael Salone: After working in HR for 25 years I have encountered this problem many times. Managers are often too far away from their teams on a daily basis to find out their hidden talents or abilities not directly related to their duties. And it is not the annual performance review that makes it possible to “catch up”. So, we will often seek to recruit externally talents that we already have internally. It’s a lot of energy and money lost … and oftentimes the employee who has the hidden talent becomes a frustrated and if not recognised will seek green pastures elsewhere.
‘We get instant “Likes” (or not) on social media, but it takes 12 months to have a performance review.’
Q: Millennials work very differently to the previous generations. Their expectations, priorities and work ethics are different too. In your opinion how should organisations prepare themselves to attract this young talented generation who has a drastically different outlook on what they expect from their employment experience?
Michael Salone: Like it or not, we are in the era of the swipe. We swipe left and right and get what we want on our smartphones or tablets. We get instant “Likes” (or not) on social media, but it takes 12 months to have a performance review. New entrants into the workforce (and many already there) want instant feedback. This includes managers losing valuable communication time with employees because they are busy filling in fields or forms. We developed our software, TagUp to not only be easy, employee driven and using behaviours of the social media generation, but it had to integrate into existing systems to respect the investments already made.
Companies need to let go and trust, but still guide. Give more opportunities for employees to contribute and provide feedback and recognition more often
‘Do I get enough encouragement to make me want to come back to work tomorrow?’
Q: When it comes to growth economies like Malta, a major problem organisations may face is attrition. Employees’ desire to assume challenging roles and growth within their roles, make it necessary for organisations to adopt innovative HR policies to keep them engaged. What should organisations do to prepare themselves?
Michael Salone: I’m much more practical on this subject. Depending on the sector, attrition may or may not be preventable. What I do know is that when people leave, they still talk about you so treat them the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated. But in reality, keeping millennials, or any employee, comes down to the fundamentals of them feeling respected, receiving constant learning, having more free time, the company’s values matching theirs (think environment, social responsibility), and yes, constant feedback. Do I get enough encouragement to make me want to come back to work tomorrow?
Feedback isn’t easy. For anyone. Even the perfect performance review is uncomfortable. But where getting tags each day about what I do well helps, is that it’s real. It’s founded on observations and I can also see what others DON’T see in me, but in a non-threatening way.
Another idea I think works very well is the reverse or external mentoring concept (upward mentoring). Get millennials to coach the CFO about bitcoin for example or the HR manager about the Gig economy. In return, the CFO and HR manager coach them about their expertise. I don’t know if these are great examples, but the best way to convince somebody to stay is to get them to convince others why they should stay. It’s the “I learn more when I teach others” concept applied to employee engagement.
Q: Succession planning is not always on the agenda and most organisations either look at it when it’s too late, or prefer hiring an outsider. In your book ‘Tagging for Talent’ you speak of a unique method for talent recognition from within an organisation. How will this better equip organisations to plan for future roles?
Michael Salone: I think the main point here is that there are people we’ve hired 10 years ago, 5 years ago, even last week, that bring with them skills and experiences that quickly get lost in the system. We spend a lot of time pre-screening, interviewing and onboarding people, but then all of the background that’s seemingly irrelevant to the job gets forgotten. With TagUp, we are able to look very quickly and easily for talents in the entire organisation. In fact, everybody can look, not just the boss or HR Director. If I need somebody who can speak French to look over my slides, they may be down the hall but I didn’t know that they spoke French before. I want some advice on how to speak to a customer about her skydiving hobby? I can see who else in the company knows about it.
‘Tagging (Recognising) employees can have both a gamification and engagement effect’
Q: In your book you speak of ‘Peer tagging’. Peer to peer recognition is not too common. Most of the times appreciation is top down. How can an organisation create a culture to encourage more peer to peer recognition.
Michael Salone: I think many companies have gone about peer-recognition the wrong way. Often it’s about winning a prise, or a badge or a gift certificate. Show employees how giving peer feedback can help them in their career, and then we’re talking. ‘The individual tag cloud becomes the badge’ we say.
In terms of practical means there still needs to be a Tag champion that communicates, promotes and keeps things moving. People are busy. But including tagging into many normal processes makes it a habit. A project review, a presentation, even an expense report (“tag three talents you learned about your colleagues this trip”) can have both a gamification and engagement effect that keeps things moving.
Then there’s TagSwag (swag is a term used for that gift bag you get at a conference or event ‘Sealed with a Gift’). At Carnegie Mellon University in the US we used TagUp to help women learn about each other’s talents while developing their negotiation skills. Each participant tagged their co-participants in the learning sessions over 5 months after presentations, projects and other activities. At the end of the course they were each presented with a coffee mug with their tag cloud. To this day, I still receive emails from participants saying that they are sitting there looking at their coffee mug they were given and seeing what their co-participants said they do well – and it makes them feel good.
‘Peer-to-peer tagging helps in talent recognition’
Q: What are the results one sees when ‘tagging for talent’ actually starts working in an organisation?
Michael Salone: Depending on the application, a learning programme, team building, or longer-term application, we see higher levels of engagement, retention and reduced recruiting costs. The issue however is that many companies do not know the baselines of these measurements to start with. We as a provider are also only told anecdotes that we can extrapolate from. Finding somebody internally vs hiring a consultant has both a cost and retention benefit, but unfortunately not often measured when it doesn’t actually occur. TagUp is not a cure-all either, but years of experience and lots of research tells us that if I feel appreciated, am considered for new opportunities, and I’m fairly paid I’m more likely to stay where I am than leave. Peer-to-peer tagging contributes to this AND maybe even help me see where I’m not appreciated or being recognised for things I’d like to be recognised that can be discussed with the organisation or offered elsewhere.