Blog Post

How a premortem can help you better prepare to return to the office

Laurie Ruettimann (she/her)

Author of "Betting on You"

Human resources leaders are at the heart of the next generation of economic development.

Don't believe me? Look around. Thriving businesses are putting employees at the center of everything. Successful restaurants are rethinking their talent attraction and recruiting strategies. Cutting-edge corporations are developing their best and brightest workers through holistic learning strategies. And all of this is possible because HR professionals like you know that reopening your organization means rethinking everything from the ground up.

COVID taught us that everything is on the table, from benefits to remote work scenarios. But unfortunately, it's easy to fall back into old patterns and habits as employers. Executive leadership teams are full of confident people who can easily make assumptions about workers and economic trends. Historically, they've been right about their organizations. However, the pandemic taught us that nobody is infallible.

That's why I'd like to teach you a technique called the premortem to help you avoid risk, make fewer mistakes and deliver right-first-time employee experiences in a post-COVID landscape.

What is a premortem?

In my new book, Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career, I share the story of the premortem that I learned from my mentor, Chris Ostoich. He's the co-founder and head of innovation at LISNR, which created a new way to transmit data using sound. Chris and his team have raised millions of dollars in venture capital and serve customers like Ticketmaster, Jaguar Land Rover, Visa and Lenovo.

One day, Chris and I were chatting about risk, failure and betting on ourselves. He mentioned the Space Shuttle Challenger flight. If you weren't alive, let me fill you in. In January 1986, seven astronauts died when the shuttle exploded right after liftoff. NASA retooled its entire approach to preflight communication after the accident. It turns out an engineer named Bob Ebeling predicted the space shuttle would explode. He tried to prevent it, but his bosses didn't listen. So for years, Bob blamed himself. It was only later in life that he could finally forgive himself for the mistakes of others at work.

Chris asked, "Have you ever heard of the premortem?"

I had not, and I'm guessing neither have you.

The premortem is a simple exercise. Before you do anything — paint your kitchen, create a hybrid work program, or implement new learning management software — pause and reflect. Think about how you can fail before you start. Then work backward to create solutions for this hypothetical failure and put those action points into your project plan.

If you can see the failure now, you can beat it. Develop a plan that sees imminent obstacles and avoids them. That's the premortem. And in 2021, the premortem offers HR teams an opportunity to learn from the pandemic and avoid worker downtime, the risk of lost productivity and continued employee disengagement.

Ready to learn something new?

How to do a premortem

Variations of the premortem have been around forever. Still, its popularity did not take off in earnest until Dr. Gary Klein introduced the methodology to readers of Harvard Business Review in the early 2000s. Today, it’s used by Fortune 100 companies, small-to-medium-size businesses and consultants around the world. According to research, your chances of success improve by over 30 percent if you attempt to predict failure before starting and change your behaviors and actions to avoid it.

How to use a premortem to help your organization reopen?

  1. Choose a task you’ve recently assigned to your human resources department, such as creating a hybrid return-to-work program.
  2. Set a timer for two minutes and start imagining the ways your team failed at achieving their goal.
  3. List all the rational, irrational, silly, or ridiculous, ways that your team could fail.
  4. When the timer goes off, stop writing and review your list.

What you have before you is a gift. It's a pathway to success. Address those hiccups and you have the beginning of a road map to achieving your goals. Fix those glitches as part of your project plan, and you'll improve your chance of success exponentially.

How the premortem can help you reopen

The premortem is a fantastic method for helping you think through anything:

  • Returning to work
  • Keeping employees safe
  • Rethinking your corporate learning strategy
  • Even remodeling your home

That's right. You can use the premortem in your personal life for career development, more effective communication or even home improvement.

For example, my husband and I were thinking about renovating our kitchen during the pandemic, but the premortem quickly showed that I have trouble sticking to a budget. So, we still have the same kitchen. But, now that the economy is opening up, we go out to eat and don't worry about the remodeling costs.

The premortem can work for you and your team, too.

When creating a plan in human resources, we often present our best ideas to leadership teams only to be disappointed. Our presentations and strategy documents come back with notes, red lines, or messages of rejection. So let's flip the script and anticipate those criticisms.

The premortem is about highlighting failure and beating it.

So, if you want to propose a different production schedule for your workforce, think like a CEO and identify what will go wrong. Or if you're interested in reallocating dollars to invest in training, identify your leadership team's concerns and answer those questions proactively.

You don't need a coach, a consultant or an author like me to get your HR team ready to reopen your business. You’ve done a great job this far. It’s important not to lose momentum. So, be brave. Be bold. Be courageous. Make a case for change, and be on the right side of history after COVID.

But also be smart and do the premortem beforehand.

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

Citadele: Investing in a culture of learning and individual performance management

Customer Story

Citadele: Investing in a culture of learning and individual performance management

Citadele Group is an innovative, full-service financial group for both private individuals and companies. The Group offers a complete portfolio of banking, financial and private capital management services in the Baltic states. Citadele’s mission is to provide more opportunities to its clients by redefining modern banking – it aims to change the meaning of current financial business with innovations and an outstanding client experience beyond the formal frame. With the goal of becoming the Baltic banking champion, Citadele offers multiple career paths and a variety of professional development opportunities for all its employees. Our new path towards ambitious and modern goals also demands a change within our employees’ learning and performance tracking model. Improved tools and solutions are needed to streamline Citadele’s employee progression processes across 37 offices. Why Cornerstone? Recognising that employees are its most valuable asset, Citadele made sure that employees are the top priority in the process of change. Bearing this in mind, Citadele had three key requirements during the search for its talent management solution: the system needed to be easy-to-use; it needed to have the option to involve employees in individual goal-setting; and it needed to track feedback on an ongoing basis and provide tracking for necessary compliance training. The system also needed to feature engaging and motivating content to help Citadele boost talent retention rates. After considering 20 other vendors, Citadele chose Cornerstone OnDemand as it ticked all the required boxes in terms of being both an established SaaS platform and a well-developed system that adhered to all of Citadele’s needs. After considering 20 other vendors, Citadele chose Cornerstone OnDemand as it ticked all the required boxes in terms of being both an established SaaS platform and a well-developed system that adhered to all of Citadele’s needs. The Results Increased productivity. Since implementing Cornerstone Performance, Citadele has seen an improvement in its employees’ performance. The simplified goal-setting, monitoring and continuous feedback system means that employees feel more confident and more motivated at work. That in turn has led to increased productivity levels. According to Citadele’s recent feedback survey, more than 95% of employees expressed satisfaction with the system. Streamlined performance processes. Before Cornerstone, all records regarding employees’ career, training, obligatory certifications and performance appraisals had to be integrated manually. With Cornerstone Performance, managers now receive detailed analytics at the click of a button, meaning that employee goals, training activities and tracking have become optimised and tailored to employees’ needs. Enhanced employer reputation. Citadele strives for the status of best employer in the Baltic region. Partnering with Cornerstone has helped Citadele to attract and retain even more talent in the industry Full compliance visibility. Compliance training was one of the key requirements for Citadele. Since implementing the Cornerstone e-learning module, the company is now confident that all its employees have the necessary training to meet the industry’s compliance requirements. Citadele is also able to successfully track completions in order to meet deadlines. Motivation and passion for learning. Implementing Cornerstone Performance has helped Citadele to significantly raise the ambition and motivation of its employees. Necessary changes in individual performance management have pushed Citadele forward regarding its learning culture. Since then, the company has selected Cornerstone’s e-learning as its next module, in addition to the already launched Cornerstone’s Performance Appraisal System. This will allow each employee to choose their most convenient way to learn, integrating learning into their everyday work.

Announcing the Convergence 2021 featured speakers: Dan Levy and Malala Yousafzai

Blog Post

Announcing the Convergence 2021 featured speakers: Dan Levy and Malala Yousafzai

We’re counting down the days to Cornerstone Convergence 2021. Get ready to join over 20,000 talent professionals on November 16-17 from the comfort of your laptop at this 100% virtual and completely free event. There’s so much to look forward to at this year’s event, but we’re especially excited to announce this year's special guest speakers, Dan Levy and Malala Yousafzai! Levy is an Emmy® Award-winning writer, actor, director and producer best known for his work on Schitt’s Creek. And Malala is the Co-Founder of Malala Fund, a recent Oxford graduate and a Nobel Prize laureate. To get you even more excited, here are two previews of their can't-miss Convergence sessions. Meeting the Moment with Dan Levy We give rise to our greatest work when we embrace the strengths that lie in our individuality and build a shared vision for something better. Join this session to hear Dan Levy share his personal journey of using creativity to overcome obstacles and Meet the Moment. Register to see Dan Levy A Moment with Malala What does it take to move forward in the face of adversity? To pursue a higher purpose, in spite of targeted violent backlash? When Pakistani education activist, Malala Yousafzai was just 15 she learned the answers to these questions as she recovered from an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Join this session to hear Malala share her story of personal resilience and collective purpose in driving global education for girls everywhere. Register to see Malala Even more excitement at Convergence 2021 The next year of work will be all about turning change into opportunities for everyone. Check out a sneak preview of just a few Convergence speakers and informative breakout sessions. Bold Thinkers Dealing with Microaggressions and Healing from Workplace Trauma – Featuring Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo LLC More Bold Thinker sessions led by Jason Lauritsen, Laurie Ruettimann, David Wilson, Josh Bersin and others. Customer Spotlights Delivering skills-first careers powered by AI – From Deutsche Post DHL and Alstom More strategies, tips and advice from the Cornerstone and Saba community in our Customer Spotlight track, featuring Dell Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, Nespresso, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and more. The Content Channel The World Premiere of Seat at the Table – A Cornerstone Original Series Other sessions focused on leading innovations in learning content from top providers such as Cornerstone Studios, TED, ITProTV and Mind Tools. Daily Keynotes Conversations with industry luminaries and Cornerstone executives about reimagining work and Cornerstone’s vision for leading the way. Join us at Convergence and Meet the Moment Convergence 2021 is your opportunity to get inspired, find “ah-ha” moments, connect with your peers and explore the future of work (and your role in it). As a talent leader, you're connecting what your people need to your organization's evolving goals so everyone thrives in this moment. We’ll see you there!

CGL: Improving learning and performance capability through advanced digital solutions

Customer Story

CGL: Improving learning and performance capability through advanced digital solutions

Communities often need help when their quality of life is affected by crime. Homelessness, drugs, alcohol and domestic abuse all have an impact on the local area and this is where the CGL (Change, Grow, Live – formerly known as CRI) steps in. Every year, more than 120,000 people across England and Wales receive assistance to get back on their feet. At CGL, full-time staff and volunteers work to encourage and motivate people to take control of their lives. CGL now has more than 3,000 staff and 1,000 volunteers in more than 160 regional centers. With so many employees across a wide region, keeping track of their progress was proving to be difficult. Previously, there were instances where notes were lost, handwriting was illegible, copies were not being shared, and many of the action points from the meetings were missed. CGL knew they had to address this by empowering its employees and volunteers by implementing a unified talent management solution. Why Cornerstone To overcome its reliance on paper-based records, CGL decided it had to go digital. It chose the talent management tools from Cornerstone OnDemand, selecting Cornerstone Learning and Cornerstone Performance solutions. The solutions enabled CGL to standardise its recordkeeping across the organisation. What happened in one office needed to be replicated in another, even if it is hundreds of miles away. So, for the first time, the performance management process was exactly the same across the country. Through Cornerstone, CGL now has the ability to deliver, track, view and report on all learning and development progress across the organisation. In turn, it brings unity and consistency to all its training modules. Furthermore, through Cornerstone’s cloud-based talent management software, CGL was able to empower its employees and volunteers through learning and development, as well as foster a more aligned performance management process throughout the organisation. The sharing of best practices developed a powerful team of employees and volunteers that could provide the best possible service to those that CGL works with. Results Created central access to learning. Cornerstone has provided CGL with central access to learning and development from any device. It has revolutionised the way that CGL is able to quality assure and monitor both individual and overall service performance. Improved Customer satisfaction. Sandra Eden, Development Manager at CGL in the Midlands, said “Quality performance reviews contribute to positive outcomes and achievements, improved staff engagement and customer and stakeholder satisfaction. The quantitative and qualitative detail driving everything that we do is now easily accessible at the click of a button.” Standardised performance reviews. CGL constructed a thorough marketing plan to prepare for the roll out of the new system across its workforce. With tailored emails outlining clear benefits – both from a line manager’s perspective and frontline perspective, uptake in the first week was 15 percent. So far, just a few months after rolling out the service, 1,791 performance reviews have been created across CGL. Increased employee and volunteer engagement. The newly introduced Welcome Page on the training site has had an immediate impact. An internal Stonewall diversity survey generated only 17 respondents prior to using Cornerstone; three days after a message and link were posted on the new hosting site, the number of respondents rose to 82 – a 482 percent increase. Kevin Crowley, Executive Director – Quality, Governance and Innovation at CGL values the visibility he has over the organisation. He said, “Using Cornerstone to bring performance development online has really given us a powerful tool to more closely align learning with performance and ensure our staff has the necessary skills and knowledge to provide the best possible service to those we work with. We have been able to build up a national picture of our strengths, and can identify and share good practice to ensure continuous improvement across the organisation.”

Schedule a personalised 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organisation’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022
Legal