Weekly Wrap: When the Right Tone Trickles Down From the Top

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Apr 25, 2014

I’ve been hitting a lot of conferences recently, and when I do that, it’s easy to see that some events have a good vibe, while others don’t.

For instance, the recent Great Place to Work annual conference in New Orleans had a very positive tone, and that’s not surprising since the event showcases organizations that are recognized as the very best places to work.

Yes, it makes for a happy conference when the focus is on what great employers do for their employees.

But sometimes, a conference sneaks up and surprises me and I find happy attendees and a positive vibe where I didn’t expect to find it — like at this month’s Saba @Work Summit 2014 user group meeting in Orlando.

Now focusing on “all areas of talent management”

I have attended the Saba conference before, most recently in 2012 in Miami, and although it was a solid event, it was very different. In 2012, it had a standard, conference-like vibe.

Fast forward to 2014 and the Saba event was, as the conference blog put it, “happy,” with incredible energy as “a group of happy team members danced (or mostly bounced) their way to the stage” to kick things off in Orlando.

Saba has been known, primarily, for its training and learning technology platform. But specializing in one talent management area is tough to pull off in a world where organizations want end-to-end systems that can handle all the major verticals in the talent management arena.  So, that’s where Saba is going, too.

“Learning was a great business,” says Saba President and CEO Shawn Farshchi. “But we really needed to be in all areas of talent management.

Farshchi is an interesting interview, mainly because he has two qualities that you rarely find in a CEO (or any C-Suite executive for that matter) these days — a positive, open spirit infused with a large dose of humility. And, these qualities naturally spill over  to everyone Farshchi comes in contact with, which seems to be just about everybody in the company.

The right tone trickles down to everyone

And, when the person at the top of the organization sets the right tone, it trickles down through all levels of the organizational food chain. If I had to put my finger on one thing that was different about the Saba user conference this year versus the one I attended two years ago, I think this may have been it.

The revitalization of Saba (that’s my perspective) seems to come at a time when the company has a lot going on.

As Farshchi detailed during the opening session, Saba has been aggressively focused on transformation, business growth, product innovation, and of course, customer success. Not only has Saba added some 200 new global customers in the past year, but they’re pushing to get out of customized software and transition clients to the cloud. To do this, more than 900 new features have been added to Saba Cloud in the past year — a huge undertaking by any measure.

Only time will tell how Saba will do moving ahead, and given how notoriously competitive the HR and talent management tech space is, it won’t be easy.

Still, you’ve gotta feel good about an organization where employees at all levels seem genuinely happy and engaged at a level that wasn’t apparent before. That’s where Saba is right now, and it was clear from the Orlando conference that this is more than just employees who were “on” for an annual event.

No, Saba seems to have momentum and a good tailwind behind it these days. If I had to choose, happiness and a good corporate vibe is  something substantial to build on.

Quitting because of the CEO’s bonus

Of course, there’s more going on this week than me musing about the latest conference I attended. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • The real reason you should hire superstar employees. You hear a lot of reasons why organizations should hire superstar employees, but the HBR blog zeroes in on what they say is THE critical reason — superstar employees raise the level of hiring throughout the organization. As the article notes, “Researchers found that the superstar’s impact on recruiting was far and away the more significant driver of improved organizational productivity. Starting just one year after the superstar joins the department, the average quality of those who join the department at all levels increases significantly.”
  • How much trust and flexibility do you give employees? The New York Times’ You’re the Boss blog always tackles great topics, and this one about how much flexibility to give employees is a keeper. As the article says, “At the most recent meeting of the She Owns It business group, the owners continued their conversation about how best to motivate employees. Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, said that in addition to being transparent — and offering free food — employers can take other steps to keep employees engaged. “I’ve always been a believer in giving people equity,” she said.
  • A carpenter quits over the CEO’s $700,000 bonus. Things have been tough at Lee Enterprises, the owner of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The stock price has gone from from $44.55 in 2005 to around $4 today, but CEO Mary Junck and other corporate executives keep getting big bonuses. It bothered a carpenter at the St. Louis newspaper so much that he decided to quit, according to a post at and a column in the Post-Dispatch. Columnist Bill McClellan writes: (Carpenter Scott Bujnak) told his boss he was through and explained why. What’s the point of saving nickels and dimes when the big boss gets a $700,000 bonus? Word spread quickly. “He did what?” “Wow.” How many people at how many companies have daydreamed about doing the same thing?”
  • How to avoid being a micromanager. Fast Company tackles this tough to answer question, and here’s one great tip — learn how to properly delegate. “Find out and focus on the strengths of each employee, and keep those strengths in mind as you delegate. Give them just a bit more than what you know they’re capable of, so that they have a challenge to strive for — your faith in their ability will help inspire them to stretch.”