The Evolution of Standardization

So my wife has been on a homemade donut kick lately.  That’s right, every weekend I get to sample another dozen donuts.  Those of you who read often know that my constant struggle to stay fit must work really well when there is a new batch of donuts sitting around the house every Saturday morning.  We’ve got the chocolate dipped, the glazed, the orange glazed.  She says she is going to try a custard filled next.  I’ve sampled a quite a few dough recipes so far.  It started pretty poorly.  She tried to source a recipe off of some random website that sounded reasonable.  The dough turned out to be a bit too firm and chewy.  Therefore, the next go was from an authoritative cookbook by a guy who is a famous executive pastry chef and happens to have a cookbook exclusively about donuts.  This went a bit too far, and the dough was possibly too airy.  Not to be too Goldilocks, but my wife then blended the recipes until she found just the right combination of (turns out it was milk content).  She went from kinda random, to expert driven, and finally figured out somewhere in the middle was going to actually work out.

We’ve been experimenting with the idea of standardization for decades, but more so in the last 15 years as our organizations have gotten more global and those global populations have kept increasing.  The evolution started with zero standardization.  it was really step one as global organizations just did whatever they wanted to.  There were shadow HR systems everywhere, country specific processes, and inconsistent delivery to the business.  Local HR organizations provided generally adequate service to the business, but corporate HR organizations couldn’t get simple head counts let alone anything that was actually useful.

Many organizations have moved to the next stage of evolution, the corporate mandate.  Corporate HR organizations tried to make some sense of this mayhem by implementing core HR systems and mandating that all countries around the globe had to have their employees entered into the common HR system.  This did nothing except ensure that country HR double entered employee data but kept their own individual way of processing transactions.  In almost all cases, the shadow systems (usually spreadsheets) still existed.  The problem is that most organizations think that there is a way to make the corporate mandate work, when really this is as much a failure as the mayhem that existed before.

We’ve also gone down the road of “the only modifications to standard processes will be for local compliance needs.”  Basically, we’ve told the local HR organizations that the local practice is not acceptable and we’re not going to cater to them unless there is a law involved.  Personally, I can’t think of much that less engaging.  Some things make sense, like if we’re transferring an employee, it should not be that different across the world.  Especially if transfers are across country borders, we really do want some consistency.  But when we get to things like how managers work with employee performance or the allocation of spot bonuses, there will often be some local flair that could be important.

What I’ve found is that the corporate HR mandate is just as dysfunctional as the mayhem of no standardization.  This is because the corporate mandate does not solution for local needs in any way, or even admit that local needs might be different.  It’s a totally selfish view by corporate HR organizations that the need of central authority, consistency, governance and data override everything else.  If we treated our personal relationships this way, we’d have no friends.  Luckily, we seem to have some sons socially in our personal lives.  Not so much in business though.

Here’s my solution.  At the end of the day, it’s about the business.  We need to let the in-country businesses decide that they can standardize and want to standardize.  This actually means de-standardizing for them.  In some cases, it’s as simple as providing them with the localizations they need (and that we promised them for compliance reasons, but for some reason we never came through on that promise).  In other cases, it’s giving in on the one extra level of approvals they want for the salary increase process.  In simple terms though, you almost never get what you want by mandate, you get it by partnership.

These days, the new HR systems all pretty much come with packaged localizations, so it’s not like the old days when you had to purchase the country pack and install the thing.  I’ll admit I’m not a fan of massive process customizations for every country – this becomes impossible to manage.  I’m really not a fan of anything other than the minor token tweak.  What we’ve found over time however, is giving in on one or two battles that are genuinely important to the local business will leave you from ten other battles that could have happened.  At the end of the day, it’s about finding that middle ground that gets you the desired results for both corporate HR and the local business at the same time.

The Endless Immensity of the Sea

“If you want to build a ship, don’t gather people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Saint-Exupery

Ok – so I don’t get out on the water that often, and I’m a cyclist so I tend to write about that.  As a cyclist, there are a variety of things I’m always thinking about.  I’m thinking about my weight a bit too often, I think about how my bike is working, I think about my form on the bike, and of course, how fit I am.  These are all things that I work on constantly.  Each component makes me a better rider if I can have small improvements in any area.  There is a joy to riding well, but that’s not really why I ride.  Climbing up Mt Tam in the bay area north of San Francisco, there is a descent off the back side that goes towards Stinson beach (Panoramic if any of you are in the Bay Area).  You start the descent in the trees, and it’s one of those nice, curvy, fast descents.  There is a point however that only lasts for 2 seconds when you break through the trees, and a scene of 180 degree views of Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you.  You have Stinson Beach below, blue sky above, and one of the most breathtaking views in the world.  Without all the little components of fitness, great bikes, etc, you can’t really do this ride.  But the ride is not about the component parts – it’s about that 2 seconds of pure joy.  We build things in order to increase our achievement and experience.  If all I did was work on my bike to get fit, I’d have been out of cycling years ago.  I spend hundreds of hours on the bike just for those 2 seconds.

When we deploy anything in HR (or really anywhere in our businesses), we do a fantastic job of crafting communications and training programs.  We are amazing at making sure people know what is going on and what to do.  We last think we are great about behavioral change – getting people to not only know what is going on and what to do, but actually wanting do it repetitively over time.  This is where we are wrong.  I’m not sure we are at all any good at behavioral change.  Changing behaviors has nothing to do with pounding people over the head with information, and forcing them to do new activities because the old way of doing things has been completely removed.  Yeah, we can get people to do a task or process by edict, but 100% compliance to the change does not actually mean you had 100% adoption or engagement.

What we often forget is the importance of audience analysis.  “What’s in it for me” changes not only with every population type, but with every person.  I’m not advocating that you go through and figure out what every manager in your organization wants when you deploy a new manager self service application, but it’s probably worth the time to spend extra time here segmenting the population to gain greater understanding.  Let’s face it, we are always rolling out processes and technologies saying that there will be a dramatic improvement of efficiency or effectiveness for our business.  We know intuitively that these outcomes only happen if our audience adopts and engages.

4 things you can do differently to improve your audience analysis:

  • Don’t wait until you have a major process or technology implementation to figure out your people: Chances are that you will roll out processes and technologies to your populations repetitively over the year(s).  What drives a population really is not going to change that much over the short and mid term.  Why not do the work up front and use the basic drivers every project?  Then all you have to do is connect those drivers to the specific project you’re deploying.  The first part of budget to get cut is the strategic change management stuff, so why not do that up front so it’s not part of any specific project’s budget?
  • Increase the segmentation of your populations: I hope you don’t think that managers are managers the world over.  There may be significant differences in wants and needs based on countries, business units, age, and any other number of dimensions.  Figure out dimensions drive difference in your organization and focus on those areas for each population.
  • Don’t forget to tie into the business strategy: How often do we connect the projects to the benefits, but we then forget to connect those benefits to the department, unit or business strategy?  Assuming that your employees are engaged to the business goal, this is easy low hanging fruit to exploit.  “It will make the transaction faster for you to process” is all good, but if you don’t point out how/why the manager is driving business outcomes, you’ve failed to maximize the change impact.
  • Figure out who your evangelists are: We’re pretty good at putting together focus groups of managers who can help us spread the word.  We use these people as advisors and they help us test.  But we don’t really have that much success with having them evangelize for us.  We’re afraid they won’t have time to get on a training webinar to talk about their experience (they can record a video and only do it once, you know) or we simply don’t plan far enough in advance to lever them during the deployment.  The truth is, employees and managers don’t really care what we in HR have to say – the 5 minutes one of their peers takes to talk to them is 100 times more valuable.
  • Nope – I really don’t expect that any of our change management activities will convert any business process into 2 seconds of joy, but we’re not even close to that.  For many of us, our change management activities are the pre-ride check of putting air in the tires and making sure the gear shifters work.  We’re not actually even riding the bike yet.  There’s a lot of improvement to be made.


Thinking Like A Leader

On my recent Taiwan trip with my family, one of my uncles tagged along for much of the tour.  I really like this uncle as he is often quite interesting to talk to, and is an extremely smart guy.  He’s been retired for a while from his last job as the COE of a major electronics manufacturer, and now sits on the boards of several companies.  To say he’s smart is a but lame actually.  Chances are that the touchscreen you use on your phone or tablet were created by him – literally he is the patent holder.  So as usual when I see him, I’d try to engage him in any number of conversations from Taiwanese politics, the economy, history, the future of personal devices, etc.  Ultimately it occurred to me that these conversations seemed to be extremely short lived.  The extension of the conversations were quite long however, but always seemed to end up being about LCD touch panel displays.  At some point, I finally realized that it was all he either wanted to talk about, or could talk about.

Imagine this: you ask me a question about benefit plan strategy, and all I can talk about is benefit enrollment technology. (I do have my CEBS by the way, even though I never talk benefits).  Or if what you really want to know is best practices around transforming HR business partners into internal management consultants and I give you the pitch about how manager self service will free up time for you to work on that project.  It’s all good and sort of related, but really it’s not.  The problem is larger than random bloggers who have a one track mind though.  It’s not even a problem with HR technologists who do tend to be a bit “focused.”

I’ve spent years doing strategy projects from comp, HRIT, and service delivery organizations and they pretty much all have one guiding principle in common: the need to bring better value to the business.  We’re excellent at thinking about it, but we’re not so good at implementing it.  When we go to the business leaders we’ve promised ourselves to serve and communicate with better, inevitably, we fall back to the same conversations, “Here’s how we are restructuring HR to provide better service to you, our customer.”  It’s as if we think they care about our Talent Management project, or that we will be implementing new job codes.  These are just headache projects to them that mean more work they will need to bear in the short term.  At the end of the day, we’re trying to have the right conversations, but we’re are approaching them in the wrong way.  The end result is we just talk about the stuff we know, instead of the stuff they care about.

Here are some tips:

  • Approach every leader conversation not as an update, but as a change management conversation.  If you do this, you are less likely to talk about the details and dynamics of the project, and much more likely to talk about why the project is important for the business and how the decisions you will be making right now will positively impact the leader.  You’ll also be better positioned to ask the leader to make decisions if they understand the context of how it fits into her business.
  • Bring your guiding principles and strategy documents to every meeting.  Unless you meet with the leader every week, it won’t get redundant to spend 3 minutes at the start of each meeting revalidating the strategy and guiding principles.  It might be the best time you spend, drilling your leader with your core outcomes.  Without it, you risk a disconnect at the end of the project.  With it, you have a leader who will actively sponsor you if she continues to stay on board, and you’ll know this if you stay in front of it.
  • End every meeting by making your leader agree that they get it and you are on track.  If they don’t get it or think you are off track, make them verbalize this and why they think so.  Most leaders who verbally tell you good news consistently and repeatedly either believe it to be true, or will convince themselves out of sheer repetition over time. (that’s not cynical, it’s psychology)
  • Leave the project plan in at your desk.  Leaders only care about budget and timeframes if you’re totally off track and there is business impact.  Otherwise, just bring up the decisions that will be made in the context of pros and cons.

It’s totally human nature to talk about what we know best, and that is what we do every day.  But we risk sounding like a broken record that nobody was interested in in the first place.  What business leaders want to hear about is not our stuff in HR, it’s their stuff.  So long as we can figure out how to talk about their stuff, we’ll be in good shape.  I’m not so sure most of us are in good shape right now.

Dysfunctional Self Service

So I’ve been away for a year and I’ve let this website go a little bit.  (I just started back up in September) I mean, if you click on any number of links, you’ll find error pages, pages that don’t load, or just pages that don’t display correctly.  Basically, letting go for a year while and applying little to no system maintenance has killed the site.  The content mostly works, but there are actually posts that will also no longer appear due to some coding that is old and out of date.  I used to be incredibly diligent when I updated the site – there is an enormous amount of custom code in this thing just because I liked playing around.  But updating the core engine (WordPress) usually meant updating the various plugins I had and then checking a couple of areas where I had customized some code and CSS.  Now, updates are rather haphazard, and I barely do any QA when I apply updates.

Imagine if this happened in HR systems.  Indeed you all know that it does.  Pretty much every client I have ever talked to has a complete mess when it comes to HR content on their intranets.  Everything and anything goes from stale-dated content, to multiple versions, to bad links.  How many of us have changed a business process and forgotten to update the documentation for it online and remove the old documentation?

For the most part, we are all really diligent about applying upgrades and patches, but horrible when it comes to the non-technology stuff.  I’d say we’re getting more aware that our supporting content sucks, but we also are doing very little about it.  Even when we implement cool technology, that does not mitigate the fact that we still need people managing and versioning our stuff in the background.

Let’s also not forget about all of our document management systems and knowledge base applications.  Far be it for me to guess, so I won’t – way more than half of my clients have employe intranet sites that have multiple versions of the same documents out there, documents that apply to policies that no longer exist, documents from vendors that are long gone, etc.  This isn’t just a systems issue – it’s pervasive in HR anywhere a process exists.

What happens is that people end up being satisfied with the process within the technology, but very dissatisfied with the process overall.  It really does not matter how much they loved <insert vendor name here> because their overall impression was that it was frustrating.  No matter how easy the technology actually was, they end up hating <insert vendor name here> because of all the stuff we didn’t do around it.  We have to be better not only about the technology, but making sure all the wraparounds and loose ends are tied up.


I Can Finally Buy My Dad a Smart Phone

Just a couple years ago, my parents came back to the US after years of being overseas missionaries.  They have been in Siberia, on a random island in the Pacific, etc… and they came back to a world where cell phones were ubiquitous and information was accessible everywhere.  My father is now over 70 years old, and he loves gadgets and toys of the electronic variety.  However, simple things like programming a new DVD player can elude him – not because he could not do it 15 years ago (I guess that would have been a VCR), but because it really is a bit different.

A couple years ago I bought my parents cell phones and put them on my plan.  This way they would have something in the case of an emergency, and of course a way to call me for free without paying long distance.  I’ve held off of buying my dad a smart phone though since I wasn’t sure if the whole thing would be a bit daunting.  Sure enough he’d love it, but I didn’t think he’d use it to 20% of its capabilities.  However, the time has come that I think I can do it.  No – it’s not going to be the iPhone, and certainly not an Android (my OS of coice).  I think I’m going to get him a WP8 phone.  Yep – Microsoft has finally created something that I can give my dad and not even worry about having to teach him how to use it.  The thing is marvelous – it works the way it should, it’s totally intuitive, notifications happen in the live tile rather than in some random notification area, etc…  This is a phone that my dad will understand, and I don’t even have to give him mor than 30 minutes of training.

I’m reminded about heading to India a few weeks ago where I was coordinating some UAT for a new core HRMS I was helping to implement.  I’d stand in front of a group of managers, give them the 5 minute pitch about why we were changing and who the vendor was.  Then I’d give them the 3 minute orientation to the product.  “Here’s where your ESS is, MSS, reports, and search” basically, and then let them loose with their scenarios and see what happened.  Unbelievably (to me) the managers unanimously walked out having figured out the product on their own, and all had great experiences.  Of course there was a feedback comment here and there, but all in all, these untrained managers just did their thing and got it right.

All UX should be this easy.  Throughout the ERP era, we were so used to overloading the managers with complexity and data that we assumed they wanted.  At the end of the day, they really needed something they could understand immediately upon login (the 3 times a year that they actually logged in).  And really, they didn’t want data – they wanted insightful information about their workers.  The data just turned out to be overload.

I’m pretty pleased about this decision to get my father a smart phone.  Not only am I going to get him more connected, but I know he will be really engaged with the tool – the man is going to have fun with it.  He’ll have a phone, but now I can text him and know he’ll get it, he will also have easy email, an easy way to send photos to me from his phone, etc.  In other words, I’ll have given him a tool that will make him more productive because he can use it.  Less really is more.


Social Taxonomies: Tagging versus Crowd Metrics

Every now and then, I’m parked at a mall, convention center, airport, and I ask myself, “now where did I park my car?  OK, so I don’t lose my car that often, but on occasion it happens.  OK, I’m not at the mall or convention center that often either.  At any rate, the appropriate action is to walk around the parking lot for a while constantly hitting the alarm button and waiting to hear that familiar chirp.  (Actually, I do that even when I know where the car is and I’m just walking over to it – no idea why…)  At some point, I’ll eventually locate the car.  The alternative, since I’d never really go to a mall or convention center or whatever alone, is the hope that someone I’m with actually remembers where the car is, or the general vicinity.  Depending on the person I’m with, there is either a high level of confidence or not, and sometimes none at all.

Here’s the problem with social enterprise.  Stuff can be really hard to find.  Let’s say that we remember that something was said on a particular subject, but we don’t remember who said it, if it was in a group message board or a blog, or even when it was.  How the heck do we find this stuff?  Even if we did remember it from a blog, the content might be 2 years old and still take a while to find.  Social tools all seem to use a variety of different search tools, but the tools that have emerged seem to deal with either tags or crowd metrics (or a combination of each).

Tagging is the job of either the content author, or content manager.  Sometimes tags can be community driven as well.  The point being that people can tag content with topics that they feel are associated with the content they are presenting.  You’ll notice that this post will return a tag of “social” and “social enterprise” among other things so that those get indexed by the blog and search engines.  It’s not an exact science like the good old dewey decimal system we all learned in elementary school, but if authors are tagging, then it’s likely to have a decent relationship.  If you give readers and the community the ability to tag, now you have even precision as the readers are also the searchers of the content and will have a pretty good idea if the original tags are off.  Every now and then on systematicHR posts I’ll actually adjust tags based on what searches are driving hits to the content.  Lastly, if you have a content manager involved that can further tag, now you have an element of standardization, so you know that similar posts will always be tagged in a similar way – in other words there are no concerns over someone tagging only “social” and a different author using “network.”  The content manager can leave the original tags intact, but would also communize the tags being used across the community.

Crowd metrics are also a wonderful thing.  For those of us who are Facebook users, we’re probably pretty familiar with the news feed that tends to launch more popular items to the top of the list.  The assumption is that if lots of people are looking and commenting on a particular piece of content, there is a higher probability that you’ll also be interested in the content.  The same goes for social enterprise in the workplace.  If many people are looking at content that you follow in some way (through a person, group, topic…) then chances are you want to see it also.  The assumption is that hits, reads, comments, thumb ups indicates some degree of quality of the content.

Things get better when you combine tagging and crowd metrics.  If you do a search for “talent management” in your social enterprise tool, hopefully it brings up the things that are not only tagged with the topic, but also finds the ones that were most popular first.  This blends not only the topical result, but also the assumption of quality as well.  The issue with this is that you can still miss content.  Some things can be mis-tagged, or some items just go unread by the crowds, and continue to appear lower in search results because of it.  Good search should also index words inside the content automatically, but that alone does not mean a high search result.

Obviously for me, the best result is if I just remember where my stupid car is.  But if I can’t hopefully some crowd intelligence in combination with my alarm clicker will work pretty quickly.  I don’t wander aimlessly in parking lots that often thankfully.

Using HR Analytics to WIN

So I have to admit it’s hard to come off the election and not write about this.  This election was defined by some pretty deep population analysis, incredible forecasting and pretty significant actions to try to address the most important populations.  All of this went right along with a prioritization model that was pretty strong.  If we look at Obama/Romney, they each had target demographics: Obama needed the youth vote, managed to capture more than his fair share of the female vote (because the GOP was being stupid, and a couple contributions by Romney as well), and he also predictably got the “minority” vote.  As the election neared, both candidates narrowed down their activities to a few key states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, etc.)  They had incredible models about what percentage of each population’s vote they would get, and if they followed those models, all they had to do was figure out how to get those people to the polls.  It turns out that in the end, the Obama machine was far better, and the Romney machine actually broke down (the phone app they were going to use literally went down on election day, and thousands of faithful Romney campaign volunteers had no idea which houses to go to and make sure people actually voted).

At the end of the day, the story is the same as the one we have in HR.  It’s about winning.  The difference is that we all want to win at different things.  Some of us want to win at engaging our employees.  Others want to win by having the best IP.  More yet want to win by producing the best products in our category in the world.  What is great is that if we’re good at what we do, we’re not focused on running analysis about turnover and headcount (although we’ll do that anyway), but instead we’re focused on understanding exactly what 5 things increase engagement in our populations.  Taking that a step further, we’d know exactly what populations are the most impactful on the entire workforce and target those people.  A 1% increase in engagement in the 30-something sales guys might yield an advantageous network effect while it takes a 3% increase in another population for the same to happen.

Similarly, if I want the best IP, I need to understand the roots of this.  Chances are it’s not just the standard talent management equations we need to figure out.  I mean, performance and succession are only going to take us so far.  Instead, if we’re figuring out the profile of the employees that created the most patent applications, the people who have the highest levels of trust in their subject matter, and specifically what are the attributes that made them successful, then we can start recruiting for those people, aligning our performance reviews not to achievements, but to the competencies we know work, and doing talent reviews that direct us to the right employee profiles rather than who we think is ready from a job perspective.

My assumption is that if you have created your HR strategy in the right way, and you have aligned that strategy with the corporate strategy, then HR is designed to make the organization WIN.  Therefore every analytic you are running should be directing your organization to that win.  Don’t forget about the mundane operational reports, but understand that focusing on that isn’t really helping you.

At the end of the day, Romney actually did almost everything right, and he really thought he was going to win.  The problem that he had was that he made a few wrong assumptions.  The GOP really thought that all the pollsters were wrong – that they were over emphasizing the Democratic vote that would turn out on election day – that Democrats, the youth, and Hispanics were really not as excited about Obama as they were 4 years ago.  Obama on the other hand had callers identifying who were voters, if they were voting for Obama, and then instructing the voter where their polling place was, good times to go, and what the plan was to get them there.  At the end of the day, forget about the other guy.  Just go run your analytics, make sure you are focused on what matters, and go out there and WIN!

Note:  Please assume no political commentary, simply an example of who analytics can be put into action.



Absurdity (Parental Advisory)

I love San Francisco.  It’s a great city to live in, with lots of food, plenty to do, and great places to ride a bike.  It also happens to be quite the interesting place for all sorts of reasons.  I could point to the Golden Gate Park, numerous museums, beautiful hills and neighborhoods – but I’m not.  Instead, I’m going to talk about naked people.  You see, SF happens to be a place where it’s legal to be naked, basically anywhere in the city.  My neighborhood bus stop is affectionate known as the “buff stop” and of course what would we do without the Barebucks (Starbucks) a couple blocks away.  This might be one level of absurdity, but to each their own.  The second level of absurdity is this:  San Francisco actually felt the need last year to pass a law stating that the naked people could not sit on public surfaces without a towel between them and the thing they happen to be sitting on.  When all of this happened, my first response was, “people let their skin come in contact with random foreign objects in public city spaces?”  Yeah, I’m the guy that washes his hands at least 20 times a day.  The point being that you’d think there are some things you just don’t need to tell people.

This doesn’t always hold true.  We’ve all heard of companies where the COE wants to approve every new hire that comes through the door.  We in HR know that the CEO adds no value to this, and that after 2 weeks the CEO has stopped to even bother looking at whoever it is s/he is approving.  We’ve all heard of companies where VP’s need to approve every compensation increase, again knowing that there is very little value being added except during the major exceptions.  Once again, I’m not sure if it’s more absurd for a VP to approve an increase of even one penny, or for HR not to have been a bit more persuasive against it.

It seems to me that all manner of obvious things happen in our organizations – but in this case, we’re doing things that we obviously should not.  And we shouldn’t have to create policy to prevent this absurdity, but often the absurdity will happen if we don’t.  The problem is that our organizations seem to like creating waste – wasted time and effort.  In the case of the CEO, it is also the diagnosis of a far more serious problem:  s/he does not trust HR/TA to get the right candidates, nor does s/he trust the manager to hire the right person at the right price.  We in HR are sometimes put in no-win situations.  Telling the CEO not to approve hires is both something we should not have to do (why is the CEO even thinking about it), but it also can put us in the light of not being serious about cost controls if we’re not careful.  Regardless of all that, these are conversations we need to have if we want to be true partners at the executive level.

For the record, I don’t hang out at Barebucks or the Buff Stop.

Also, hoping you realize how long it took me to find an image for this post.  :-p


Feedback and Calling BS in Social

An interesting thing happened at the recent HR Technology Conference.  During Naomi Bloom’s “Master Panel,” when Mike Capone noted that ADP had the first SaaS application, before anyone else and before anyone called it SaaS, many of my compatriots on twitter decided to tweet this statement.  I have no issues with announcing to the world what a panel member said.  However, I know for what must be a fact that half of my compatriots on twitter thought to themselves, “Hmmm, really?”  In fact, I myself wrote a tweet, “ADP had SaaS first?  I think not!” and posted it just to immediately delete it.  Why after all, would I want to be the only dissenter?  Why would I want to be the only one to rock the boat?

I’ve continued to think about this statement about ADP, and have decided that I can’t really abide by it.  I have defined SaaS by two simple parameters: hosted and single code base.  All that means is that the customer does not maintain anything outside of their network infrastructure, and that all clients have the same application at the same time.

ADP has had Enterprise (before that HRizon) hosted since probably the mid 1990’s.  But they were always on multiple versions.  Similarly, you could say that AutoPay (the mainframe payroll engine) was SaaS since it does indeed cover both parameters of vendor hosted and always on the same version for all clients.  The problem here is that there are different versions of the input devices, and even different applications (Enterprise, Payforce, and now Vantage).  It really was not until ADP Payforce that I think ADP had a true SaaS platform that even they finally called “versionless.”  By the time this came out in about 2005, had been out for 5 years.  It’s completely possible that somewhere in ADP’s portfolio there was a SaaS platform, but I just can’t think of what it was.  If mainframe service bureau was SaaS, then I think IBM had it first.  Did ADP have SaaS first?  Perhaps, but that’s not my version of history.

<begin ADP response>

The fundamental concept of delivering a hosted, multi-tenant solution is something ADP has been doing for decades.  The delivery of those applications via the Internet / Cloud is something we’ve done since ’97 when we launched a product called ADP Remote Control.  This technology eventually became our iProducts series which now has well north of 100k clients.

Another early huge success in the Cloud was the Fall 2000 launch of Pay eXpert, a cloud-based payroll solution.  Today, more than 60,000 clients are using Pay eXpert.

Overall, we have more than 300,000 clients and 18 million users leveraging our cloud solutions.  Included in that count are 30,000 clients leveraging our cloud-based, integrated HCM and Talent offerings such as ADP Workforce Now, ADP Vantage HCM and ADP GlobalView.

</end ADP response>

Back to the point, now that I’ve had the time to think through this.  There was a comment by Ben Brooks in the Social Media Unpanel at HR Technology about “bad behavior.”  Something like “if you have a jerk, let them rise to the top so you can fire them.”  This really could have been me.  With nobody else saying anything about ADP, maybe I was the jerk – the one guy who had to say something and call someone else out in front of (how many thousand people?).  Being the jerk and providing negative public feedback (as I’m doing now in fact) is a dangerous thing.  You can be wrong, be seen as the A-hole, antagonize someone you work with (either internal or god forbid a client).  These are indeed serious risks and impact the way you’ll be seen in the organization.  If your organization is really transparent, perhaps some small callouts or questions are very acceptable.  But in highly politicized organizations, you’d best be thoughtful before being too vocal.

In another session (I wish I could remember), someone noted that with social in their organization they were receiving significantly more positive feedback for their employees than previously possible.  Employees found that giving people “stars” or other types of recognition was not only good for themselves, but also rewarded those they gave the positive feedback to.  Overall, employee engagement probably increased, and the sharing of positive feedback is quite circular (you’re likely to try to return the favor when it’s warranted).  The negative or constructive feedback rarely makes it to social media that is implemented in the enterprise.  These comments are usually reserved for private discussion (which can be dome through some social tools), or for manager discussions.

Either way, the socialization of constructive or negative feedback seems to have been restricted from our social interactions based on the concept of a “polite society.”  It’s not that we don’t want to call each other out, it’s that there is sometimes risk associated with it, and that the benefits of handling certain interactions privately benefits all parties.

I have just looked up Wikipedia’s page on SaaS (the social source of all truth in the universe…) and they do indeed list IBM as one of the first.  But given that mainframe service bureaus are on the SaaS history page, I suppose that ADP might have had it first in HR.  Mea Culpa, I retract my earlier criticism of ADP.  I will now giddily await Ceridian’s rebuttal.

The Pain Threshold

Lance Armstrong was a US National Champion and a World Champion long before he ever won seven (eight?) Tours de France.  The man was always known in cycling circles as the next big gun in US cycling.  In one race (San Diego I think), we were riding a horrifically fast pace, many of us in the pack heckling Lance often simply because he was a captive audience, when he just decided to ride away from us for a while to get a workout in.  Severely humbling.  He was known as a big, strong guy.  The guy who won that world championship was a guy who could sprint, a guy who had incredible short term bursts of power.  But he was never going to win the Tour de France.  That was, until, he got cancer.  Cancer did a couple things to him.  First, he lost a crapload (technical term) of weight and it transformed him into a leaner version of himself, but tapping into the same level of power that could now get him of 5 mountain passes in the Alps instead of just the last 500 meters of a race at 50mph.  Secondly, it taught him to experience pain in a way that he would never experience again.

I’ll be honest, these days when I’m on the bike, the barrier for me is not usually my legs or my lungs.  If I have a few rides under my belt, I’m really pretty good.  The problem is all mental.  I’m not in college anymore and I really don’t like pain.  There are times I’ll be doing an extended climb and one of my riding buddies will “attack” and while I often could follow, something in the back of my head says, “nah.”  I could follow the lead, but I know it will be painful.

Transforming HR is really, really hard work.  For much of the readership, it’s not just hard work for us, it’s even harder work for the employees we would deploy to the effort.  When our execs chose to switch out the payroll system, guess who gets to work long hours in December prior to a January 1 go-live?  We deal with a lot of pain to implement systems, both in effort as well as cash, and the ROI is not always financially obvious, but to get to the top of that hill, it’s something we have to commit to, and something our staffs need to commit to.

In understanding the work behind HR transformation, there are a few things to remember:

  • People actually don’t like change.  When you change their processes, they will resist doing something different than what they have done from years.  It’s not that they don’t want to support better processes, but a certain amount of fear arises when they are unsure how well they will perform in the new environment.
  • People resist making others change.  HR transformation is just that – we are changing ourselves.  But teams often protect people internally realizing that friends will lose jobs, or be forced to make unwanted shifts and compromises.
  • We get to do multiple jobs for a significant amount of time.  Not only are we going to have real jobs to do, but there will be project roles as well.  I don’t care if you bring an army from one of the large consulting firms, the internal team is going to be burdened with more work.
  • Outsourcing done right is hard.  Organizations don’t remember the depth of retained organizations that are needed, SLA’s need to be formulated to be specific and measurable, and internal staff are resistant to seeing their jobs performed differently than how they did them themselves.

Often when we deploy and new system that has the opportunity to be transformational, we focus too much on the external.  We train managers, communicate to employees, figure out who the main audiences are that we need to convert.  We assume that our own people are already bought in.  All I’m saying, is we can spend some time to look internally.  Give them some love and attention.  Encourage and motivate them.  Otherwise you’ve got a Justin at the top of the hill looking down, wondering where the hell I am and why I didn’t make it up there with you.  It was just too much pain.

Missing Steps

I started my day on Monday at 4am when my cab picked me up to head to the airport.  As he missed the airport exit (how does that even happen?) I thought to myself that missing my plane would cause me to miss a series of 4 conference calls in the afternoon.  Given that it was a 5 hour flight, that would also mean that I’d wind up on the redeye later in the afternoon, but still miss the start time for my meeting the following morning.  One I realized that there seems to be very little slack in my week’s schedule.  Any one thing goes wrong, my week falls apart and I start cancelling things.  Luckily for me, I actually had to build some time for me to get to the airport early and do a call in the airport lounge (which I missed).

We often time our HR technology projects based on fictitious end dates.  Sure, there are a few out there that make a whole lot of sense.  It’s really nice if payroll implementations can go live on January 1.  It’s nice if new benefits vendors go live in time for a new open enrollment season.  But every once in a while, our CEO tells us in October that we had better have a new, global talent management system by January 1 in time for February performance reviews.  Huh?

In most of our projects, we have actually messed up our overall project timelines.  We don’t spend enough time thinking about some fairly significant parts of an implementation.  We’re all about getting the requirements blueprint down and hitting the config tables.  As you all know, I’m a big fan of prep.  When we rush into implementations, there just isn’t enough time to reengineer our processes and realign what we are doing to our core HR strategies.  We find out over and over again that we’ve simply reimplemented the same processes or the same config and not made HR any better.  We find out that we didn’t spend time cleaning up our data and our reports are still horrible.

  1. Map to our mission and create actionable measurements of progress – Just because we map to our mission in the business case to implement a new system, does not mean we can stop measuring success.  Success needs to be measured before implementation, during implementation, and score carded repeatedly after go live.
  2. Improve the quality of our data – data cleansing is not always sufficient.  Yes, it’s true that we should not just import data and begin a new system with the same crappy data that we had before, but it is equally wrong to clean the data without addressing the fundamental problems that created the bad data in the first place.  More on this in the next bullet.
  3. Redesign our processes – Process redesign is not just for the sake of aligning process with the new technologies.  It’s an opportunity to address other issues within your environment.  Often, our processes are actually the cause of data issues we have.  Because we don’t use high quality data practices throughout our workflow, we end up auditing data on the back end when we catch only a fraction of the issues rather than ensuring high data quality throughout.

If we miss a step, it does not mean we don’t go live.  Nor does it mean that our implementation was not any good.  However, it might mean that our long term success is suboptimal.  For HR to have continued credibility with upper management, we have to do all the steps that it takes to create long term success.

Deception and Selling Your Data

US President Obama is a Muslim, right?  Raised in Kenya, he’s a Mau Mau sympathizer, and actually not even a US citizen (masterfully covered up I must add).

Apparently in a new poll, fully 50% of the US population registered with the Republican party believe this ((Joe Klein, “Huckabucking.”  Time Magazine, March 11, 2011.  Page 15.))  I mean, COME ON!!!! Seriously?  I remember having an argument with my uncle back in early 2002.  Before the US “shocked and awed” Iraq, there was a pretty large part of the US population that was quite sure we would never find WMD’s there.  The evidence that Saddam didn’t have WMD’s was actually stronger than the evidence that he did.  And listen, I’m sure the other side does it too.  I just can’t give you examples because I’m sure I’ve bought into all of the left’s version of crap as a left leaning Democrat.  (Please don’t stop reading because of that)  At least I’ll admit it.

We lie.  Does not matter what side we’re on.  We lie to get what we want.  No, don’t call it manipulating the truth.  There is no truth in the tools that many politicians use to coerce their voting populace to give them money and votes.

How many of our organizations do we describe as “political”?  We politic to get ahead, to get funding, to get systems, to get employees, to get what we want.  Even though we all decry how much we hate it, we all play the game to some degree. In some cases (Mau Mau sympathizer??) we’re just making up crap.  In other cases, (WMD’s) we might actually believe we have the right information, or have manipulated the data to say what we want it to say.  ROI studies are probably the best example.  We’re big believers in ROI not just so we can get funding, but so we can get executive sponsorship.

There is an art to presentation and telling a story.  Crafting an effective story is truly the difference between getting change and not getting it, whether it’s a sale, executive sponsorship, funding, etc.  At the end of the day, the story is about conveying emotion, not data.  We use data as a tool, but we realize that the data can skew the emotion of what we’re trying to change by many degrees.  Knowing this, we sometimes  manipulate the data.

I’ll be honest in saying that every now and then the data surprises me.  I’ll go back to colleagues saying, “is this really telling me what I think it’s telling me?”  The result is going back and re-cutting the data several more ways to validate the results, and then, instead of crafting new results and “spinning the message,” going back to the client and admitting, “this is not what we expected.”

I recently did a survey with one of my clients which was supposed to tell me what their functional and system weaknesses were.  Instead, the data I got back was crap (self described).  It took me a couple days and many conversations to realize that the result I wanted (knowing what areas they needed to target to improve service delivery) was never going to materialize.  Instead, a completely new and unexpected story started to unfold in front of me.  Upon reanalysis and looking at the data in a completely different way, the client had deeper issues than functionality and technology.

Sometimes we know what we want, we get some data, and it’s just not corroborating our story.  But we end up telling our story anyway.  But you know what? Somewhere in the data lies a truth which is waiting to be uncovered, and that truth is stronger than any fictional story we want to tell.  It’s hard work, and it isn’t always the direction we want to go, but get to the bottom of it.  There’s no point being 3 years down the road later and wondering why anyone thought the Mau Mau thing was anywhere close to real.

Managing Thinking, Managing Knowledge

On March 2, 2011, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.  Like others before him (including Benazir Bhutto), he was killed for standing up for the right of Pakistanian citizens to believe in whatever they wanted to believe.  In this case, Bhatti was a Christian, and (to his detriment) was outspoken about it.  There are leading Muslim clerics who will say that the Koran is precise about the consequences of “blasphemy” which I suppose being Christian is.  Whether or not this is true is not for me to decide as I have no basis in Islam, the Koran, or as a religious scholar of any sort.  However, I do this to simply point out that people the world over feel a compelling need to manage what other people think and believe.  We can take another example of China and the shutting down of Google months ago.  (Google actually pulled out I think – but at any rate, the internet is government regulated)

There are some organizations that are quite liberal with knowledge management.  Many technology companies deploy blogs and wikis and actively encourage employees to write and participate.  Many brick and mortar companies won’t deploy enterprise social platforms because they are afraid of what might come out.  Rather than encouraging the discourse (ALL of which will happen anyway), many of us have suppressed it based on a fear of “bad behavior.”

The problem about this is not about trust.  It’s about generations.  Unfortunately, many of us (I’ll just draw a line at 35 years old and up), realize that large corporations have not been democratic societies.  We work in states that are oligarchical at best.  Even in companies where the corporate center does not have much power over divisions, the individual divisions can command the employees at will.  Those in the workforce in their 20’s have no acceptance of such a model.  We’ve always talked about them as being insistent on having access to decision-making, being vocal and contributory, and demanding the be part of the conversation in general.  They have grown up in a world where technology has democratized the world, and it’s their expectation that data and information is part of their realm.

Evidence supports that actual instances of “bad behavior” are so low that it’s really not worth being afraid of – and the community will generally self police itself.  People realize for the most part that the conversations that happen in the workplace are different than the conversations that happen without – and the 5 horror stories you hear each year are insignificant compared to the potential for collaboration you have.  We can’t control the thinking.  Nor can we control the content.


Between everything that has been going on in the Middle East and of course the earthquake in Japan, I think April will be a current events month.  My thoughts and best wishes go out to all those throughout the world as they struggle in their various ordeals.  (written a while back obviously – sorry)

I Should Have Been A Rice Farmer

OK, I’m Taiwanese, and I recently went back to Taiwan to visit family and see the “home country” that I’ve never been to. As I stayed in the apartment my family had rented, surrounded by rice paddies on all sides, i realized how close I was to having been a rice farmer of some type. Perhaps i would have been growing green onions instead, but either way it was a close thing. One twist of fate 50 years ago would be all that stood between the Dubs you know (me), and the Dubs blogging about the best way to maximize a rice crop.

In another nice example, we are all hopefully familiar with those famous words from Ronald Reagan, “Mr Gorbachev, TAKE DOWN IS WALL!!” (ok, maybe I’m not that familiar, this is close though). Realize that the fall of communism actually came after the Reagan presidency, during the George HW Bush presidency. Also realize that one of the initial predecessor events was Gerald Ford signing the Helsinki act in 1975 that sowed the roots for internal uprising in the Soviet Union by those like the poet Vaclav Havel.

To stay with the rice analogy, a small seed sown ages ago, that nobody now remembers, I the root of all to come later.

We don’t always get this right in HR. Regardless of what we are implementing, we wait too long to consider change management. Its always in our approach and in our project plans, but as soon as we get into configuration, the best laid plans fall away and we end up with a change management program that involved a cool flyer and some training that goes out just before launch.

I’m not saying that these are not important. What I’m saying is that the best implementations and he best adoption rates come from planing a small seed early on and watching the organic growth of change spread through the organization (I would say “like wildfire” but hat seems counter productive to this particular analogy). the best changes occur when you can find an executive sponsor who really wants the stuff you are planning to implement, and you can get her excited about it. Before you know it, her entire organization is clamoring for your product, and its months before you are going to roll it out. Anticipation and continued communication and statusing is a good thing here. You can then use them as a pilot, collect heir recommendations and feedback, make them part of the implementation, and in turn, make them your organizational disciples to the rest of the organization.

The point is that you have to start early, and you have to start with the right population. The most effective transitions occur early. For me, I’m actually pretty happy I’m not a rice farmer.

Nucleating agents for change

Interesting thing about water.  You can pretty significantly influence the temperature at which water freezes  simply by introducing an agent to it.  But there are other times when water actually should freeze, when it is pure and below the freezing temperature, but that water can be held in a liquid state at just below the normal freezing temperature until a nucleating agent is introduced.   We’ve seen in it a variety of environments whether it’s in movies or what not.  I remember a recent mythbusters show (for those of you who watch discovery channel in the U.S.) where they were able to keep a liquid in the liquid state, but once the first ice crystal was introduced, a rapid chain reaction occurred and the rest of the liquid formed into ice in seconds.

HR is much the same.  Any time you are introducing change to the organization, there are times where change happens naturally, and other times when change has to be strongly influenced.  Unfortunately for us, we need those nucleating agents more often than not.  The problem is that we don’t always realize until it’s too late that we needed an agent, or we didn’t know which agent to choose.

I completely realize that we are all sick and tired of the concept of change management, but all too often as I visit my clients, change is treated in the same fashion that it was 10 years ago.  We push out training programs, and we attempt to do the same type of communications.  Let’s be the first to admit to ourselves: HR has no flair for marketing.  We’re in HR partly because we are not salespeople – often times we don’t even understand salespeople.  But sell we must, and when we realize that we don’t have those abilities/competencies, it’s time to find the nucleating agents that will sell for us, and spread the word – forming ice crystals in seconds instead of… well, never.

The best nucleating agents are those who are not only already on our side, but those who are obviously influential.  There are those who have broad networks, and others who simply have the right connections to other important people.  One would think that in Human Resources, we would know who these people are – but we don’t.  In the organizations that do understand that they are not the most effective marketing arm for new rollouts, HR solicits the help of VP’s to communicate the message and brand.  In effect, we have managed to enhance our training and communications materials with and additional layer: change management by edict.  This is not to say that VP level communications are not necessary – in fact their level of sponsorship is very necessary.  But when rolling out new manager portal tools (for example), the people who are going to sell are not the VP’s, but other managers who buy into the product, decide that it is more effective than the prior state, and will selflessly market it for you.  These, indeed, are the true nucleating agents in the organization.

As sick and tired as you all are of hearing people talk about change management, it is still under-budgeted and improperly deployed.  As sick as you are of it, I’m equally sick of most of us not getting it right.  I totally understand that when we are in the throes of implementation, we’re all heads down and grinding away at table configuration and testing, but that is no forgiveness and excuse for messing up the end user rollout.  Better to get the audience right and miss a bit on the config.  So here’s me, asking yet again, find your nucleating agent.  Deploy them well.  Get buy-in and adoption in the seconds it takes to crystalize liquid when the right conditions are met.

Dulling the Noise

So I admit that I use multiple methods to dull the noise when I’m on a plane.  The first are the industrial grade ear plugs from Home Depot.  I love these things, but by themselves, it’s not enough.  Second in the line of defense are the Bose noise reduction headsets.  Combined with the ear plugs, this method eliminates most of the unwanted external noise.  However, it’s really not until the music of choice is on that I’m surrounded by what I want to hear, and not all the random conversations and buzz that I want to filter out.  The point is that on the plane, I’m usually trying to focus.  I don’t read or watch the movies, I almost always work the entire time.  The random conversations and hiss from the plane is distracting.

We deal with the same thing in HR.  We get distracted by the little things that seem like big things.  All too often, we focus on the details of why we can’t get a person transferred from one department to another, or the fact that the payroll taxes seem to not balance.  Don’t get me wrong, these are urgent matters in many cases, and sometimes they border on the severe.  We sit around in vendor selections and debate the relative functionality of one core HR system versus another, or our technologists scramble to add a field to some integration somewhere in the HR ecosystem.  Again, don’t get me wrong, we have to do these things.

The problem is that fabled 80/20 rule.  We spend 80% of our time chasing the fires, battling the tactical.  We get so driven by the tactical that we forget to take a breath and focus.  Everything we do, from transferring employees, to filing taxes, to selecting vendors and creating integration is about delivering a service that is so seamless, managers and employees don’t know it exists.  We need to fix the fires, but if that’s all we do, we never fix the root causes.

It’s a hard balance to make.  When I do activity analysis around HR service delivery, I inevitably find out that organizations are actually spending more than 80% of their time being tactical.  The other 20% is mostly internal consulting, which is actually a good thing.  The bad thing is that the best of companies will spend 2-5% of their time being strategic.  What is more of a wonder, is that often, that tactical time is often spent in department meetings – not solving anything, not discussing problems and solutions.  Just meeting.  It’s like we all know we’re supposed to say we’re getting more strategic, but none of us really have enough guts to actually make it happen.  Fact of the matter is, we like the tactical – we like the noise.  When we say we’re going to outsource something, people scream.  Even when all we do is outsource the administrative crap that supposedly nobody likes, we can’t get buy-in from our HR practitioners until some VP signs a piece of paper and makes our complaint a moot point.

We need to focus – and we need to realize it’s not that we can’t focus, it’s that we don’t want to.  Sometimes the change management is within, not without.

The Butterfly Effect

In 1972, Edward Lorenz wrote a paper called “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”  In this paper, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, a minute, very low mass, and quite insignificant action, represents a small initial and remote condition that can lead to major downstream impacts.  Chaos theory is actually the study of initial conditions that lead to large divergences in outcomes.  ((I know you guys don’t like when I talk science, it shows in the hit rates for this site.  But here goes anyway.))

I’m always complaining about meteorologists (I actually long since stopped watching TV news, so now I complain about  But considering the numerous possibilities and dynamics of how weather can change, it’s no wonder they can’t quite get the formula right.  I mean, how many butterflies are there in the Amazon in Brazil anyway?  The possibilities are so staggering that any predictability is pretty good – so while they can’t take into account every possible variance, it is possible to look at large inputs that are happening fairly close to the near future and impending events.

HR is quite similar – we have so many individual contributors (pun intended) that watching every employee in the organization, every conversation, IM and email is rather impossible.  But we do know that our ability to engage our workforce happens through communications, whether it’s manager to employee, from project managers giving cool work to people, vendors making good or bad promises, executives steering the company direction with the board of directors or communicating to employees.  It might be the random water cooler conversation that spins out of control and becomes an avalanche of employee sentiment (good or bad).

So while we can’t monitor every single interaction in our workforce, we can indeed monitor major trends that are going on.  We know that wind direction is blowing east at 10 miles an hour in a particular region, and that atmospheric pressure is dropping somewhere else.  We understand that as these two conditions might hit each other, certain predictable events happen.

I’m talking as much about tragedy, a change in benefits providers that leads to major losses in employee engagement, as I am talking about those huge gains, increases in a specific competency that drive the next major innovation.  Our jobs in HR are so incredibly complex as we as we create service delivery, technology and processes that foster growth while at the same time combing through predictive analytics that avert disaster at every turn.  It’s our job to understand those trends in current and fan them so they become stronger or weaker.

The breadth of currents that we look out for is also amazing – from all things rewards which is already extraordinarily broad, to talent which is also extraordinarily broad, to core HR, ER, PR, and whatever else R.  We constantly adapt, to new legislation to new processes, technology and theories.  There is so much “why we hate HR” out there, but we accomplish so much it’s often staggering.

So here, on my 1,000th post, I wanted to offer my congratulations to all of you out there – my readers – for all you do, all you are, all we create, and all we contribute.  We control the chaos.  And while you do it, thank you for reading.

Android versus iPhones

The web is alive with comparisons of Google Android phones and Apple iPhones.  While it seemed for a long time that the iPhone was going to own the market, Android has slowly picked up steam.  In fact, Apple may have made a serious miscalculation in tying themselves with the AT&T network and a limited population of cell phone users.  Meanwhile, Google Android has snuck into all the other providers as the operating system of choice since those other providers can’t get their hands on the iPhone.

However, what has emerged is not only a discussion about who will ultimately dominate the market, but the varying philosophies of the two competitors.  The iPhone touts ease of use and intuitive user experience.  Alternatively, the Android is about personalization and the ability to modify applications to suit your own specific requirements.  Truth be told, I don’t really think there is that much of a usability or personalization gap between the two systems, but this is how the market is portraying it.  The fact of the matter is that both systems are enormously easy to use and give you enough personalization opportunities.

Personally, I’m an Android user, but that’s neither here nor there.  The point is that what I want is to tap an application and quickly enter in what I had for lunch (translated to caloric intake), look at the weather delays for airports across the country, or quickly locate somewhere to have dinner.  At the end of the day, users just want to get to the applications and data they want.  They want a quick reference and that’s about it.

The future of HR applications may be 5 years away or more, but I like to think about managers who just want to quickly log into their phone and add a note about their employee’s performance and then check a quick metric around productivity.  I think about the employee who logs in later that day and logs in their learning experiences in less than a minute and then uses the same phone to check their paystubs.

Theoretically, the presentation of data is all possible today, and quite easily.  All applications should be able to ship out widgitized content that can be adaptable to phone technologies, so long as an application is written for it.  Transactional processes are a bit tougher since legacy applications have to be reworked to accept transactions through these phones, but I’m convinced that these capabilities are not that far away either.

The core problem is that we have barely gotten to complex transactions on our intranet portals let alone getting to them on the phones.  However, I think we’re largely making a transition from legacy email and portal applications as the places we do our work, to smart devices and Web 2.0 technologies.  Back to the phone comparisons, it’s not about picking a winner – it’s about realizing what the customers want, and that is quick, fast, easy and on their device.


My road bike is a custom titanium racing frame.  It was made by a guy in Montana who is probably the cleanest welder of titanium bike frames in the world, the guy’s work is just impeccable.  I don’t really need a custom bike – it’s not like my body proportions are weird or anything.  I’m a pretty average guy apparently – or so my builder (Carl Strong of Strong Frames) tells me.  However, I was starting to have some problems on the bike I had never had before.

A few years back, I was riding down a winding road in the rain with my team.  We had decided very early on that we would not go fast, but down this road we were probably averaging over 30mph, and it was wet out.  I remember feeling pretty good and very comfortable with the person in front of me – 30mph in the rain and being consistently less than an inch from having my front wheel touching their rear wheel is nothing to sneeze about.  Then in an instant, the entire world literally went to slow motion.  My rear wheel slid out in the water, I remember vividly as my bike stayed upright sliding down the road sideways as I countersteered the bike trying both to keep from crashing and not drift into oncoming traffic at the same time.  Years later, my body is still creating new scar tissue.

I had lost my balance.

I needed a corrective emotional experience, and I could not do it on my current bike.  I had forgotten how to corner aggressively, and while I could walk into any bike shop and pretty well fit on any bike my size, I needed a custom rig that was made especially for a few specific purposes.  I needed a bike that would make me corner well again and give me confidence.  Carl decided that he would lower the entire bike ((For those who know bikes, he lowered the bottom bracket height by 5 millimeters)).  This minute adjustment lowered my center of gravity by just enough that the wheels would be a significant amount stickier than any other bike on the road.  I also asked him to put the top tube of the bike exactly where my inside knee hits in a corner so that I could use it as leverage in corners. ((I point my knee towards the bike, not into the corner like most people – I use the knee to push the bike upright in a corner, even while I’m pushing on the inside of the bar to countersteer.))

Every now and again in HR, we need a corrective emotional experience.  Our customers get so frustrated with us, complain about inaccurate data, complain about cumbersome processes, ask finance to check our numbers because they think all of our reports are wrong.  Singe bad experiences in key meetings or transactions can haunt us forever, and sometimes the only fix is a new vendor or a “reimplementation.”  Sometimes the fix is spending a ton of money to show the organization that we’re fixed.  While this is not ideal, and while there are often less costly ways of straightening ourselves out, from a change management perspective, our customers sometimes just want us to get rid of the original culprit.

In the psychiatry world, they call these corrective emotional experiences.  Until you have a corrective experience, the last negative experience is just going to linger with you, and you’ll be skeptical of anything with the same roots as the single bad experience.  It’s suboptimal, but when there is no other way around it, a corrective experience might just mean throwing something in the trash and starting over.  You don’t like it and I don’t like it, but I’m just saying sometimes it’s necessary.

Why Can’t We Implement Succession?

I can’t quite remember when it was, but on a recent Bill Kutik Radio Show, Bill mentioned, “One of the things that drives me crazy, is every survey that comes out, everyone says that Succession Planning is their top priority, and then the following year, the same survey states that nobody implemented it.”  Bill’s absolutely right, and I’ve started wondering exactly what is so hard about Succession Planning that with all the best intentions, we just can’t seem to get moving on that front of talent management.

I have a theory that there are a couple of pillars that make us unable to implement it.  First of all, there are core capabilities that need to be created before we can get Succession in place.  While we can often think of Succession as a stand alone process from the rest of talent management, Succession certainly needs a few ingredients to work.  Fist of all, we want to be able to create plans based on actual measurements rather than the reviewer’s subjective opinions which we know would result in a high probability of bias and be subject more to potential successors networking capabilities than job capabilities (although this may not be a terrible thing).  What we need are a few years worth of performance and competency data.  This means that to have a quantitative means of measuring probable successors, we’d like to see trends and trajectory.  This can go not only for internal candidates since external candidates often have measurable indicators that may be public.  The core problem however, is that not only do we need the basics of talent management intact, but we also would like to have a few years worth of data.

Second, there is a distinct manager capability that is far beyond that of other talent processes.  In performance management, our managers are asked to measure direct employees on a specified set of performance parameters.  When we talk about succession plans, we are often asking our executives to look at possible successors that they don’t directly work with today.  They look at the capabilities of each candidate, level those candidates across the multiple business units, look at total experience, expertise and capability, and then look at potential.  Succession or our executives is far more complex than performance is for our managers.  We have an expectation that we can put in software and a process, but once we come down to the actual planning process for implementation, we realize that this is far more complex and the expectations are far higher than anything we have done before.

Usually what we think will happen is that HR will run all sorts of reports that show possible successors for each role, and be able to analyze those candidates so that meaningful conversations can be had with the appropriate successors.  We think this because we don’t really believe that a bunch of executives is going to sift through complex, detailed data on each possible successor.  However, this also means that the business process for Succession Planning is more complex than just the analysis.  In performance, we have a pretty reliable expectation that managers can figure it out.  In Succession, we have every reason to believe that HR business partners and leaders are going to have a series of meetings with executives to reach a final understanding of what the succession landscape looks like – and most of this happens outside of software.

When we really get down to it, Succession probably really is our greatest want and need.  When we get down to it, Succession really is more complex than we expect it to be.  However, we need to get succession right.  If we think Succession is bad, wait until we get to topics like workforce mobility and areas that are so cross functional and multi-threaded that we have multiple HR organizations interacting with multiple business organizations.