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Swipe right or left – Why Millennials need to be recognized differently at work
Michael Salone interviewed by Swati Gangawane Gujar - 9th April 2018

Michael Salone, an international HR expert, sought-after speaker, and author is the CEO of 3-6TY, a unique consulting firm which uses the power of the crowd to share knowledge and identify talent for organizations. He has worked for international companies Alstom and Schlumberger and helps clients such as Carnegie Mellon University, the United Nations, Total and Michelin (just to name a few) identify the strengths they have inside their organizations. 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.

Author of ‘Tagging for Talent: The Hidden Power of Social Recognition in the Workplace’, Michael Salone shared his insights with the Bravo team on the unconventional ways to recognize talent, how peer to peer recognition works through tagging, why performance appraisals don’t work for millennials – what works and what doesn’t, and his remarkable story on how he created a world class University.

Q: In your book ‘Tagging for Talent’ you speak of a unique method for talent recognition from within an organization. It challenges the status quo of talent identification and succession planning with an easy crowdsourcing approach to competency recognition. Can you explain a bit more on this method for our readers?

Michael Salone: One thing I learned working on talent acquisition, talent identification, succession planning and a load of other HR processes, is that the process is never very quick, nor realistic. We spend a lot of time filling in spreadsheets or online HR databases, ask our managers to do the same, and then when somebody leaves rarely use the data. And if we do, it’s not because it was in the database but because we’ve come to know the people.  I’ve always said the best part of those processes have been the roundtable discussions with managers to get them to see the potential of people they may not have otherwise noticed, or if we can get them to share resources working together.

My colleagues on the project we’ve been working on however, know what I do well often times better than my boss. They know what I did before this job because we talk about it. They know that I teach cooking on the weekend, because we talk about it. My boss knows what I do related to my current position and maybe a little more, but he or she can’t know everything about everybody on their team, or in the company even less so. This I call Tagability.

So when we give everybody, the crowd, an easy way to capture skills, behaviours and roles about their colleagues – and themselves – they get recognized for hidden (and unhidden) talent while also receiving instant feedback. In my book this is called Tagognition.

‘It takes 12 months to have a performance review. Instead give more opportunities to millennials to contribute, provide feedback and recognition more often.’

Q: ‘Tagging for Talent’ is an interesting title especially when it comes to the millennials. Could you explain the value of tagging as a talent identifier?

Michael Salone: Many companies have tagging inside their HRIS system. It’s usually used to tag competencies by the employees themselves or the manager. What we’ve missed until recently is the ability for everybody to identify talent – or at least note it. Suddenly we have as many talent scouts in the company as we have employees. What CEO wouldn’t want to increase their competitive edge in this respect? In fact, it’s often the HR leaders who resist, sometimes thinking “that’s my job”!

It takes 12 months to have a performance review. Give more opportunities for employees to contribute and provide feedback and recognition more often.’

‘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 organizations 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. 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 millennials, a major problem organizations face is attrition. In a 2014 study by Bayt, 43% under the age of 35 saw themselves working at their current job for two years or less. Their desire to assume challenging roles and growth within their roles, make it necessary for organizations to adopt innovative HR policies to keep them engaged. What should organizations do to gear themselves with this changing scenario?

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.

When I first started my HR career I was asked to do university recruiting. After repeating all of the good things about my company to people WANTING to work there over and over, I really convinced myself I had joined the right place…or not. But then I was part of the solution not the problem.

Q: Succession planning is not always on the agenda and most organizations 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 organization. How will this better equip organizations 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, the software we use with companies to capture these tags, we are able to look very quickly and easily for talents in the entire organization. In fact, everybody can look, not just the boss or HR Director. I need somebody who can speak Italian to look over my slides, they may be down the hall but I didn’t know that 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 (Recognizing) 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. We would like to know how an organization can 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 prize, 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 things you learned from 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 a 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 over 5 months tagged each other 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 organization?

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 recognized for things I’d like to be recognized that can be discussed with the organization or offered elsewhere.

‘If I say you’re good at something, I’m engaging my own reputation as much as yours.’

Q: Wouldn’t tagging or social recognition result in people gaming the system to favour those they are close to?

Michael Salone: Unlike a lot of HR systems, the best thing about our method is that it’s transparent. And it can be because it’s all about my strengths. Not what I don’t do well. In the Tagitude chapter I talk about how some external platforms allow people to endorse others, and they may not even know each other very well. We end up kind of stuck with the endorsement, which we secretly like, but isn’t very accurate.

When we bring this method into a closed environment, the company or organization, everything changes. Since everybody can see everything, my own reputation (Tagutation) comes into play. If I say you’re good at something, I’m engaging my own reputation as much as yours. Therefore, we see very little ‘gaming’.

But let’s say somebody wants to get their friends in the company to say they’re good at something. First they’d have to ask. And if the people they ask do not mind that their own reputation is at stake they can certainly tag their friend. Given that it takes many people saying the same thing about someone to increase the tag value, a handful of tags saying I’m a leader won’t make a difference compared to the 50 who say I’m an expert.

Sometimes it’s best to put people who are not responsible for the subject in charge.

Q: Organizations mostly do have engagement strategies in place. However, on the implementation front they usually falter. From your experience what mistakes do organizations usually make and what can they do differently?

Michael Salone: Firstly, I think the annual employee engagement survey is useless or outdated in this fast-moving world. What I answer the day I complete the survey might change the minute I hit ‘send’ or a week later. But in that year, we’ll see initiatives put in place, a task force formed or other committee to improve the low points, then take another survey to measure (if the company actually does it twice….they’re expensive too you know) and start all over again.  Daily, one question surveys on the company Intranet tend to give us a better view of how we’re doing.

Secondly, implementation strategies often are led by the wrong people. The ones at the top of the subject who may be responsible for the low rated subjects in the first place. Sometimes it’s best to put people who are not responsible for the subject in charge. They see things with fresh eyes. And if you have implemented a peer-based talent identification system, you may find expertise hidden inside the company that can help as well.

Q: Remote working is here to stay. What strategies would you give managers to engage remote workers and keep them emotionally invested?

Michael Salone: Communicate often.

Ask don’t tell.
Video conference enough to read the non-verbals of your remote team members.
Out of sight does not mean out of the managers responsibility.

Q: Looking at the future, what product or technology in the HR space excites you the most?

Michael Salone: This is a difficult one as I don’t tend to view it from an HR perspective and it’s moving so quickly.

Artificial Intelligence will become more and more prominent with HR applications already being developed. Virtual spaces like Telepresence bring potential for the CEO to be in every country in one day.

Micro learning and peer-to-peer learning are much more accepted and have the potential to speed up learning and be better targeted. We’ve gone on to develop 3-6TY Video to help companies share knowledge more easily since the demand is so high. This has been very rewarding to see the rapid exchange of knowledge when employees don’t think it’s only for the company’s benefit.

‘All over the world no matter the culture, everybody wants the same thing – appreciation and feedback.’

Q: You have worked across diverse sectors. You were also asked to create Alstom University. Which of these profiles was instrumental in founding 3-6TY?

Michael Salone: Great question. I don’t think it’s either/or but both contributed to the idea of creating something that could help both employees and employers receive feedback and recognition. I spent time all over the world discovering that no matter the culture, everybody wants the same thing – appreciation and feedback. Companies on the other hand spend a lot of time complicating things. What I discovered in the Alstom University experience was that in the “classroom” – whether real or virtual – all levels of employees’ walk away feeling appreciated and at the same time, have opportunities to demonstrate their potential sometimes outside of their usual job-titled roles.

Q: You were asked to create Alstom University to install a learning culture and a community approach. This was very different to the work you had done previously. Can you share your experience in how you went about it?

Michael Salone: Interesting. I wouldn’t say it was so much different to my previous work, as it was a culmination of applying both HR and business experience. It was scary at first since I had never created a corporate university before, and to start it in conservative France, had all the potential to fail. But, I also knew that this was an amazing opportunity to create something unlike any other. I did the required benchmarking, only to discover that every corporate university is different, and based on its company culture. I probably learned more about what doesn’t work at other companies from that exercise.

I was also inspired by an amazing man, Ed Trolley, who wrote a book called ‘Running Training Like a Business’. Ed really mirrored what I wanted to do which was getting the business to see the university as an asset, not a “have to do training” activity.

This was also the time of a dramatic shift in the company’s strategy. We had come out of a very low period, were shifting production to low cost countries, new collaborative tools were becoming increasingly pertinent and so forth. All of these business aspects helped formulate the structure so to speak. Instead of building a concrete structure, I went into the regions and had them create campuses, which were sometimes only 2 or 3 people but localized in different parts of the world. This turned out to be key. The local management had wanted better direction of the learning activities, but training also turned out to be a benefit much more appreciated in countries such as Brazil, India and China than in the US or Western Europe. That led to our Country Presidents supporting initiatives they may not have otherwise done if they had only come from the HQ while at the same time adopting quality practices we established globally.

We eventually worked to become the first corporate university in France (and probably Europe) to achieve ISO Quality Certification. Most corp U’s go for an accreditation of sorts from the Global Academy community. That meant absolutely nothing to our internal or external customers, but ISO they could relate to.

Finally, a big game changer for us was the creation of peer-to-peer video learning. Not top down video learning, but letting our colleagues teach us what they know and vice versa. When at home and we have a problem with the washing machine or want to learn something quick, we head over to YouTube to get the answer before paying a repair person or spending. In a company we hire a consultant or send somebody to a training course. AUTube (Alstom University Tube) would start to change some of that. In fact, I sold the concept to the CEO with two sample home-made videos in 7 minutes. A production worker in China, with no English skills, showed us in under 3 minutes an improvement to a manufacturing process that existed throughout the company all over the world. The CEO and CFO saw the cost savings; I saw the peer based recognition opportunities as well.

Q: And lastly, you name your business 3-6TY (“three-sixty”). It is a very interesting name. What is the story behind this? 

Michael Salone: When forming the company with our peer-to-peer and crowdsourcing services, we wanted a name that implied the well-known concept of 360° but without the connotation of the evaluation process. So some young PR agency suggested this and it stuck. I think the best result has been that people ask why? And then we have a conversation about why not?

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Pozitive” a Product Division of SpadeWorx is next step in taking forward our mission - “Employee Engagement To Drive Productivity & Innovation”. We have been privileged to work with lot of customers over the last decade and have learnt a lot when it comes to the increasing importance of Employee Engagement as organizations are getting on the digital transformation journey.

Increasing Employee Engagement requires a cultural transformation at many organizations and we believe reimagining recognition is a good start. For this purpose, SpadeWorx launched “Bravo – Workplace Recognition Reimagined

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