The Decline of Corporate Elitism

When I was a kid, I always hoped and dreamed that I would get into one of those Ivy League schools. Unfortunately, I was a disaster of a student (and a ridiculously undisciplined Asian student to boot). Yes, I had well over a 4.0 GPA, took 26 total AP classes in high school, but I really succeeded by my ability to test well. I never studied, barely did my homework and didn’t read assigned texts. In short, I just happened to be really lucky. But I also didn’t have the drive that it takes to get into one of the elite institutions of higher learning. Those schools, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, were reserved for those voted “most likely to succeed” in their high school yearbooks.

Upon graduating from college (from what turned out to be an excellent, small, liberal arts college), I didn’t land that highly desired job in consulting or investment banking. Those jobs primarily came from colleges more elite than my own. So I fought and clawed my way into situations where I would learn and grow, eventually creating this blog not as a public space, but as a place to record my thoughts so I’d remember them in the future.

I now have the pleasure of helping my clients understand how strategy can impact all manner of HR, talent and service delivery outcomes. One of the most interesting in recent years has been a focus on understanding staffing outcomes in the college recruiting area. The old conventional wisdom has always been to get the most elite candidates from the most elite colleges. After all, these are the best and the brightest, and what CEO does not tell the world that they have the best and smartest team in the world? Unfortunately, this conventional wisdom does not work out for all it’s cracked up to be.

My favorite case study comes from a global financial analyst firm. This organization recruited from one of the Ivy Leagues for years, but ultimately they ran some analytics and discovered that the Ivy League candidates not only didn’t perform better, they often performed worse than candidates from “middle of the pack” schools. The most successful candidates (those promoted into management and eventually reaching executive ranks, those who had long tenure rates, and those who became great leaders and people managers), were often from public sector universities in “Po-dunk, Middle-of-Nowhere.” The analysis revealed a single striking characteristic difference: the sense of entitlement.

It turned out that candidates from elite schools were indeed smarter, but they also had in their belief system that they could do better – no matter where they were. There was not only a continuous striving to get to the top faster, but a sense of discontent no matter how good their present state was. This ultimately lead to early voluntary terminations in less than 2 years, and a striving for job/title inflation that was counter-productive to real experiential growth.

On the other hand, candidates from “Po-dunk” were so excited for the opportunity, happy they were in New York instead of “Po-dunk” and genuinely appreciative that they somehow got into one of the elite financial firms, that they worked their butts off and formed long term relationships with their companies. Ultimately, sticking around and putting in some real effort ensured that many of the “Po-dunk” graduates made it into executive ranks, probably as quickly as the elitists did (after 6 company changes).

Another customer, an engineering firm, found that not only did the school not matter (which would seem odd in engineering), but what did matter was how well this organization could form high quality relationships with Ph.D candidate advisors. A high quality relationship with a professor guiding many engineering Ph.D. candidates was a significantly better predictor of the new hire’s desire to put in hard work and stick around. After all, if your Ph.D. advisor got you and many of your predecessors an opportunity at a job, and they are all experiencing success, aren’t you going to do the same thing?

The point being that the old conventional wisdom isn’t the formula for recruiting success anymore. The pressure high school kids face these days to get set up for life by getting into the best colleges is also creating very bad precedent and expectations. Just the idea that they think they will be “set up for life” by getting into the right schools is turning off employers. More and more of my customers are doing deep analytics to understand where their top college candidates come from, and increasingly it’s not the elite schools. If you’re still following the old conventional wisdom, it might be time to revisit your strategy.

HR Technology Conference 2014: HCM Roundtable

Every year we’re trying to figure out what’s next.  7 years ago, I started hearing about social HR everywhere, but the market really wasn’t ready.  Every HR organization thought that social was a bad idea, with personal privacy challenges looming to kill any social enterprise initiatives.  2 years ago, we all took for granted that social was going to be a part of our businesses, and this year it really seemed like social finally became its own and is permeating many of our HR processes and technologies.  It lonely took 7 years after the vendors and advisor market predicted it for it to become reality.  (LOL)

During this year’s HR Technology  Conference HCM roundtable, it was fascinating to hear what everyone was working on (it was the first question posed to the group, and I’m not trying to bash any vendor, but I am representing my opinion of the answers).

  • What was fascinating was that 2 of the vendors were talking about a great user experience (Oracle Fusion and Ultimate).  Wait a second.  We’re still talking about UX?  How did these 2 vendors get a seat at this panel and only have UX to offer up for what’s new in the product.  It’s unfortunate.  Y’all gotta do better than that.
  • 2 of the vendors talked about machine learning.  (ADP and Workday).  Machine learning was part of an overall theme of the conference, and there was a follow-up conversation in this panel about it, but these 2 vendors were the ones who brought it up as a focus area in their opening comments.  When I think about social HR 7 years ago, I think that machine learning is what the next few years might be about and it seems like 2 vendors want us to know that they’re on top of it.  What is surprising here is who the vendors were – and it shows us that there can be surprises.  It wasn’t Oracle and SAP with their deep (and legacy) analytics engines and mountains of programmers.  It was ADP (wh-wh-wh-what?!?!  I LOVE that ADP is thinking about this as they have the largest client/employee base to run analytics off of.  Maybe I don’t give them enough credit.) and Workday (ok, maybe predictable since they seem to be thinking/innovating faster than the others).
  • Last up was SAP.  Can anyone say “extensibility?”  Actually, SAP was gearing up to talk about some really cool metadata and object architecture that will create extensibility, but they got cut off from a time perspective.  Leave it to SAP to make things more complex, but if we can get to configurable extensibility, that’s pretty cool.  Honestly, I would have expected Oracle to be on the extensibility bandwagon based on their application architecture.

I’m hard pressed to say whether machine learning or extensibility is what’s next, but I’d think that all the vendors should be working on both of them.  UX is table stakes, and you should not be allowed to talk at the table (or panel as it was) if that’s what you’re working on.  My guess is that SAP will have some chops in the machine learning space, but it just was not what they wanted to focus on.  It’s also interesting that ADP and Workday were not on the extensibility front as it’s clearly a focus area for the very large customers that SAP has as its client base (but maybe that’s why SAP is so focused).

In a few vendor comments unrelated to the HCM roundtable, the HCM vendor space is going to start reaching parity in the next year.  Oracle and SAP are picking up steam and finally starting to look competitive.  First of all, lets agree that I HCM software in vendor demo booths while I was at the conference.  The following is an aggregation of vendor demos and conversations I had with conference participants.  Here are a couple of comments around gaps or deficiencies that I’m still watching out for based on those conversations:  (alpha order)

  • ADP:  I was really quite pleased to see their new UX.  I can’t remember what it’s called, but they’ll be rolling it out to all of their products so that no matter what you’re on, you’ll have a similar experience.  My concern is really still around the back end.  ADP’s ability to stitch together a common front end on top of multiple back end (and still mainframe?) systems is pretty good, and perhaps when you’re outsourcing everything but the core HCM to a best in class payroll and benefits vendor, it might not matter what the back end looks like.  Maybe.
  • Oracle:  The main question is in the UX.  It’s simply not seamless, and it goes to the point of why they were focused on UX in the panel. It’s way better than the last couple of years, but one goes from the cool “mobile apply” look and feel into a slightly different transaction screen, into a completely non-appy environment in just a few clicks.  The first couple pages are well executed, but it just feels like they didn’t finish the job as you continue through a manager transaction.  The second question is in their customer base for sold Fusion Core HCM.  As I talked to conference participants, they were getting numbers from the Oracle booth anywhere between 400 to 600 (note to Oracle, please get your story straight).  There are still a lot of conference participants wondering why Oracle is giving Fusion HCM licenses away for free if they have market demand in the 100’s of customers.  It’s just not adding up, and nobody I talked to could figure out the story.
  • SAP:  I’m pretty sure that SAP is on its way to filling a few gaps.  Certainly per the above comments, if they are working to fill extensibility gaps that its large enterprise clients will need, they are also going to figure out benefits administration, timekeeping and payroll.  I talked to one conference participant who was told that benefits administration will be available to demo this quarter, and another who said they were told it would be in Q4 of 2015.  Either way it’s coming and that’s good news.  I think SAP’s original philosophy that payroll, time and benefits get outsourced, but for the top 250 clients in size, that’s a hard position to maintain.  (I don’t consider SAP cloud payroll to be comparable to Employee Central in architecture, agile configurability, or usability, so that’s why I harp on it.  I know that SAP would disagree).
  • Workday:  Everyone has been uber positive about Workday for years.  The questions among conference participants seemed to be around the viability of their recruiting module.  Granted this is their newest module, and the top vendors seem to have the capability to innovate rapidly over a couple release cycles.  Just as I’m confident SAP is going to figure out benefits quickly, same goes for Workday recruiting.

Having said all of this, I’m actually quite pleased with the vendor space.  The last couple of years (no matter what Oracle and SAP say) have been relatively uncompetitive.  There has been one clear winner in the market, and the fact that I don’t have to say who it was is a good indicator that it’s true. I think 2015 will get a bit more competitive, but 2016 will become an all out war.  This post is definitely “negative” about what my concerns might be, but what I don’t mention is the huge progress that all of the vendors have made and the very long lists of things they have done well and right.  I’m going to get in trouble from the vendors over this post anyway, but either way, I think 2015 is going to be interesting.  More viable vendors is always a good thing.

(Last comment.  I thought long and hard whether to post this.  Some vendor somewhere is going to be pissed at me, but at the end of the day, there were only 5 HCM vendors on stage, so any exclusion is not mine.  Also, each vendor chose to talk about what they talked about.  Perhaps they didn’t have enough time, but again, if Oracle really wanted to talk analytics but didn’t get to it, that’s not my fault.  Each vendor decided what they wanted to focus on by themselves.  The opinions in the latter half of this post are based on talking to other conference participants and seeing each of the vendors demo at their booth.  Posting this also saves me the effort of writing a year end post.)

Get Over the Cloud

I think it was back in 2004 that I was writing about “DavesNextMove.com.”  PeopleSoft had just gotten acquired by Oracle, and Dave Duffield was sitting around with $1B but no job.  At the same time, SuccessFactors was building up some pretty good steam, about to start having bad implementations because their stuff was so much cooler than everyone else’s that their deployments could not keep up with the sales.  RecruitMax had made their conversion to Vurv which was then bought by Taleo (if memory serves me correct).  It was also around 2003 or 2004 that I got my first work issued Blackberry.  Before that, my personal device was purely for phone calls.  10 years ago, we were just starting to get cloudy and mobile.  DavesNextMove.com became Workday.  SuccessFactors much later got bought by SAP to fuel their cloud HCM offerings, and Taleo by Oracle to bolster their cloud HCM.

The point being… that was 10 years ago.  If you are not already in the cloud, you’re somewhere between 5-10 years behind the times.

None of us can imagine being on our 2004 Motorola flip phone, so why is it ok that we’re still talking about deploying cloud technology today?  I still go to clients that tell me they are getting ready for PeopleSoft 9.3.  A recent conversation with a large employer informed me that a client on Oracle EBS had no intention of getting off of it.  If you are on-premise for HCM, chances you installed it between 1998 and 2008.  I tell you what – you can have your 10-15 year old technology.  Send me your iPhone, and I’ll send you a 10 year old flip phone.  It’ll be great.

By the way.  PeopleSoft was founded in 1987 and the underlying architecture has remained pretty much the same.  Where were you in 1987?  I was just starting high school.

The point being… your employees and managers hate you.  

You really think they don’t know that their employee and manager self service technology predates Amazon.com’s initial user interface?

Wait, if I’m telling you to get over the cloud, where exactly are you supposed to be?  All the cool stuff right now is in consumer driven technology.  Think Uber.  I don’t call a taxi service that controls where the cabs go.  I get on an app and the consumer controls the experience without a middleman.  Same with AirBnB.  Come to think about it, same with Quora.  Ask anything and a community of users will tell you how it is.  Hang on, we’ve been rating products to help other consumers on Amazon for years.  How many of us read the product description on Amazon?  Maybe a few of us, but pretty much 100% of us check the consumer star ratings first.

The same thing is happening in HR.  Companies like Careerify are helping employees control the recruiting process.  Instead of recruiting organizations pleading with employees to provide referrals, the technology advises the employee putting them in complete control.  Companies like Betterworks are making goals and feedback real time, collaborative, and truly valuable.  At the HR Technology conference this year, ADP and Workday were talking about machine learning where their tools will help employees predict what to do next faster and better than your HR people.

The point being…  HR isn’t the facilitator anymore.  If you are, then you’re not adding value where you should be.  HR should be sitting around analyzing what is happening, not managing it.  The power to create, transact, and collaborate is squarely in the hands of employees and managers now.  Time to give them the technology to do it.  

And if you’re still not in the cloud, you’re 10 years behind your competitors.

HR Technology Conference 2014: Recruiting System Thoughts

Overall, this year was one of the best years in a while for the vendor and show floor.  In my opinion, there were some significant areas where technology has finally started catching up with vision, and it was happening on a pretty broad level.  The smaller startup vendors from the last year have pushed the bigger players, creating a lot of positive movement.  More on that in another post.

Let’s start off with recruiting because…. well everything starts off with recruiting.

User Experiences:  
The idea that you can take any of the older recruiting experiences like Taleo, Brassring, PeopleSoft, etc and wrap a UX around it is fantastic.  Half of the candidate problem is process and interview experience, but it all start with being able to submit an application in the first place.  We all know when we’re in the never ending PeopleSoft application submission process because most of us have never actually gotten to the end of it.  Manager experiences are equally bad, and half of our organizations can’t get managers to use recruiting functionality because it’s so bad.  We have HRBP’s supporting them instead.

  • Jibe has been around for a few years that I know of, and they have an incredibly elegant candidate, manager and recruiter experience.    Jibe avoids all of that by cleaning up the experience, making it mobile and easy, and doing for a huge selection of ATS systems.  I do have some concerns with their laser focus on the user experience since at some point the vendors might catch up and make the UX overlay unnecessary, but for now and the next few years, there is a huge amount of opportunity for them.
  • Findly is an organization that I just don’t understand their core ATS differentiator, but they also have the ability to wrap a UX around Taleo, Brassring and SuccessFactors recruiting.  At this point they are only doing a wrap around for the candidate experience, but it’s pretty decent.
  • Many of the newer cloud ATS (including the ones mentioned below) have great UX – being architected in the last 5 years puts them far ahed of the old generation, and really makes it unnecessary to wrap a different UX around it.

Old vs. New ATS
One of the things I’m desperately trying to figure out is when the new vendors will be ready to fully take over the mantle from the older recruiting vendors.  We still have the old school, behemoth vendors with such robust and rich feature/functionality that deployment and maintenance of the applications just are not agile.  Then we have the new school of recruiting applications that are very agile, but don’t have nearly the depth in functionality.  Somewhere in the middle is a happy medium that allows 95% of our organizations to get what we need and manage staffing practices with the speed at which the employment market changes.

Just to name a few, we have Jobvite with good ATS adoption, but it’s obviously not Taleo in functionality, we have Smashfly who started in the referrals business and is trying to broaden functionality quickly, Hirevue started in interviewing and is also trying to grow into other areas.  All of the systems have gaps, and at some point the gaps are small enough that system viability is unquestionable over the old ATS.  Right now, this feels a bit like 2007 when the talent systems started buying each other ,but there were always clear strengths based on where the vendor’s original functionality was.  it took 5 years before end to end talent was truly viable.

Recruiting CRM:
I’m still seeing a pretty big gap in really capable recruiting CRM systems.  Integration to the truly powerful content marketing engines and really deep CRM that comes close to matching traditional CRM is just not there yet.  That said, there are recruiting CRM systems that do a great job, but there are not that many of them.

I’m pretty excited about recruiting systems this year.  I do think we’re in a transition phase where the old stuff looks a lot older this year, and the new stuff starts looking pretty good.  Next year should hopefully see more maturity and hopefully the start of the changing of the guards.

Common Sense KPI’s Gone Wrong

I love dashboards.  I have a goals list on my phone tracking how many miles I’m supposed to run or ride on my bike.  I have a trending graph on the device that tells my how much I weigh.  The only reason I have not bought one of those fitness wristbands yet is because I just can’t stand things on my wrist!  I was just on the company call, and we do the company performance dashboard, we stack ranked the all time leaders for ideation at the company, and all sorts of other visual and gamified graphics.  As employees, we should be managing our goals and goal progress, and some systems now have cool mobile components that can visually show where we are with each performance goal.  It’s great to be able to track where we are at any given time in almost any area of our lives.

Sometimes our KPI’s go desperately wrong, even though they seem to make sense.  My current personal goal is to get back to 10% body fat.  For those of you who don’t know me, let’s just say I’m already one “skinny ass dude.”  The problem is that less fat for a person who is generally athletic and out of doors as often as possible sounds like a good thing.  The question is, is it the right thing?  We actually face the same problem in our HCM KPI’s.  Here are a few examples.

Employee Referral %:  

  • Employee’s who are referred to us by other employees are our best people.  Right?  Almost all of us would agree that this is true as these employees will have higher levels of engagement, are pre-screened as people we’d want to work with, are capable and smart.  The referrer has a stake in the person’s success, but their credibility is also on the line so they probably won’t be referring crappy people.
  • Often, we’ll see that companies want to achieve as high a referral % as possible.  This allows the company to get more great people, but also reduce recruiting costs.  The problem is that there’s also a tendency to refer people who are similar to us.  This is a problem on a couple of fronts.  First of all, there is an ideation and innovation problem.  If you recruit people who are similar to you, who have similar experiences, have worked in the same places, you are not getting your company’s due in diverse thinking.  Second, people like us are not demographically diverse all of the time.  if you have a lot of “white dudes” and you want a 100% referral rate, you’re still going to be a bunch of “white dudes” in 5 years.

Employee Turnover %:

  • This one is fun.  Some organizations are SO proud of the low turnover that they have.  I’ll walk into a new project and within day’s I’m inundated with how they have achieved 5% turnover.  I mean, having great employee engagement so much so that nobody ever wants to leave is a great thing, right?  We see targets of 8% and lower all the time.
  • Depending on which philosophy to subscribe to, there is such a thing as “desirable turnover.”  Those are the Jack Welch bottom 10%, or in your forced bell curve performance ratings the bottom 5-15%.  Let’s just say that there are 10% of people in your organization at any time that SHOULD leave, and you should be encouraging to leave.  So if your desirable turnover is up to 10%, and your target is less than 10%, something is pretty much wrong.  Right?
  • The key is to figure out how to shift the conversation to unwanted turnover rate instead of total turnover rate.  A very high performing organization could have a total turnover rate at 12%, but if their unwanted turnover is only 2%, I’d say they are doing fantastically.

We all want high referral rates, and we also want low turnover rates.  These are great KPI’s, but we take too much for granted and at face value.  Going to extremes just because there’s a number to hit impacts our organizations in a pretty negative way, and in HR, it usually means that we have some of the wrong people working for us.

Time for the Annual HR Technology Survey

With the web content and search developing the way it has over the last 15 years, I think we take for granted how ubiquitous information is.  We can Google just about anything and get decently reliable results every time.  At the root of all of this, somebody is creating great information and insight, and it takes time.

One of the very few surveys that is just purely robust in it’s data set and is unquestionable in it’s quality is CedarCrestone’s Annual HR Technology Survey.  This is the 17th year of the survey, and we’ve all benefitted from its insights and direction.  It helps us all know what the market is thinking about and if we’re keeping up with everyone else.

All respondents will receive an advance copy of the results in early October 2014. The first 100 respondents to complete all questions will receive a $5 Starbucks card. The 17th, 117th, and 1,017th respondents will receive a $100 Visa gift card in celebration of our 17th year. All who complete the Survey will be entered into a drawing for an in-depth Benchmark Service.

SystematicHR.com used to be one of the leading blogs in terms of how many responses this website generated versus other blogs.  In fact, at some point we were the top blog, but we slipped last year.

First:  Fill out the survey.  It’s worth doing just from the standpoint of helping out the industry.  Second, use this link!!!

The new HR Portal is not an HR Portal

What exactly was Web 1.0?  I honestly can’t even remember.  I barely even remember Web 2.0 other than it was the advent of user interactivity so minimally executed that today’s teenagers would not even recognize it as internet. Oh, wait – I totally forgot that today’s teenagers no longer care about the internet.  Here’s the history and future of the HR Portal from the past 10 years, into the next 10 years:

  • 1990’s:  Most of us don’t have a high quality HRMS solution yet.  Don’t talk to me about a portal.  I don’t even know what Yahoo! is yet.
  • 2000:  We just implemented a recruiting system and might be implementing PeopleSoft soon.  Starting to realize that somewhere for managers and employees to go as a launch page might be important, but it’s an after thought.  I don’t have budget for it anyway.
  • 2005:  We just implemented Plumtree as our corporate portal.  Here we come PeopleSoft Portal!  Woot!!!  We have a link farm!!!
  • 2010:  We decided to get rid of our link farm portal and have something a bit more design oriented.  Usability just went up 10 times, but I still don’t know why our managers don’t use it and surveys say our portal sucks.
  • 2015:  Our portal finally goes mobile.  HR transactions are executed on phones and tablets, and the portal has a responsive design so it knows if I’m mobile or at a regular browser.
  • 2020:  We’ve integrated social transactions in all of our portal experience.  Employees can #HR and create cases in the case management system.  The employe population is also a form of crowd intelligence – half of the time my #HR posts are answered by peer before HR gets to it.
  • 2025:  The HR portal is gone.  In fact, what’s HR?  What used to be known as HR transactions are now just embedded in the business portal space.  My approval lists all appear on my phone (this used to be on a browser?!?!?!) in the same list my expense and procurement approvals are in.  Time to hire metrics are somehow integrated within a view of my financial budget for my department.

My point is that the HR portal is a bit of an stupid idea.  Apologies to all of the HR portal professionals out there, but nobody goes to the HR portal by choice.  We don’t find extraordinary satisfaction by checking our process diagrams and compliance mandates.  The fact of the matter is that nobody cares until they have to.  HR has had a habit of over communication.  We do have compliance stuff, and since nobody cares about the HR stuff, we think we have to pressure them into caring.

HR has it all wrong.  Managers and employees do care about stuff – just not the annual programs we drive them hard on, and not about the compliance stuff we won’t stop pestering them about.  Employees and managers do care about giving and receiving public recognition.  They do care about the things they are supposed to do that benefit others, like real time feedback and doing transactions if they are easy to do.  All we really have to do is make it simple, mobile, social, and relevant.

Simplicity:  This should be the mantra of HR.  K.I.S.S.  In many of our organizations, HR is the most at fault for writing 10 paragraph emails when 3 sentences and a link to more explanation would suffice.  We’ve made it so hard for any manager or employee to comply with HR policies and procedures that it’s no wonder they don’t like us.
Mobility:  This could be part of simplicity, but it’s more important than that.  The next couple of generations aren’t going to want to do anything if it’s not on their phone or tablet.  Oh, who and I kidding.  Better make they their wearable device.
Social:  We need to figure out how to embed social in everything.  There’s a #HR case management example above.  How about social real time feedback?  How about getting rid of competency models and using social expert profiles or having peers evaluate profiles like they do on LinkedIn?  Huge HR constructs that take 20 FTE’s to manage annually are dying.  In with the social crowd wisdom!  The sooner the better!
Relevance:  Can we stop with the HR stuff already and figure out what our employees and managers really want?  These are simply avenues to engage them in our processes.  Let’s take employee recognition as a launching point to rewards.  Let’s use social feedback to get people interested in performance.  Let’s use LinkedIn-like profiles as an entry point to talent mobility conversations.

Attention spans are decreasing every year.  If we choses to bore people to death, we’ll just be the same HR in 2020.

Big Data For HR & Recruiting: 2 Use Cases

Forget about Google.  One of the world’s favorite sites has got to be LMGTFY.com.  “Let me google that for you.”  With the wondrous world of the internet and ubiquitous information, ubiquitous access through our mobile devices, and ubiquitous connectivity, whenever someone asks a dumb question in email, you get to just send them back a link to LMGTFY.com (since most of the time you don’t actually know the answer anyway – I can’t count the times someone asked me something I didn’t know but I gave them the answer after googling it.)  It’s a bit sad though, that we have such incredible access to information in our personal lives, but our access to HR information seems to be severely limited.  We are just starting to do cool things in HR to answer interesting questions about our employees, but in a couple of segments of the industry, it’s about to get completely fascinating.

(NOTE TO READERS:  I stopped writing about specific vendors a long time ago, but today I’m going to highlight a couple that I think are doing really great work – but it’s more about the work that I’d like to highlight, so don’t take this as a vendor plug!!!)

Oh, we love buzz words.  I know I’ve been writing about big data and social HR a lot this year.  If the last decade was about the shift from HR administration to talent management, the next decade is going to be about creating insights about our people and making them own their own development.  When we talk about information, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft have been creating algorithms to search data for years.  HR just hasn’t had to tools to do it.  Things are about to change rapidly.

Use Case 1:  Using Big Data to Use Your Employees:
Use your employees?  Oh that sounds terrible.  The reality of this is that it’s really cool.  A small company called Careerify (careerify.net) started selling a product last year that allows you to easily grow the volume of high quality employee referrals you get.  What they do, is they allow employees to connect their Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Twitter and whatever other networks they have, so that you can help them understand when they should refer someone to the organization.  Let’s say for example that you have an opening for an electrical engineer.  Careerify would help you push an internal campaign to your employees, perhaps sending them an email that automatically identifies people in their network who are electrical engineers.  It goes a step further though.  Because you might be linked to a number of the employee networks with a variety of data, you can target the location of people on top of jobs.  But it even gets better… let’s say you know you have a culture of people who are active, outdoorsy, and fit, and there is an electrical engineer who happens to be a bass fisherman and loves to skydive (based on photo tags in Facebook).  This EE would be scored higher than individuals without those interests.

The ability to mine employee networks (with their opt in) and present employees with easily selectable pictures they can click on to invite someone in their network to apply is almost too easy.  We all know that employee referrals are the fastest, highest quality, and lowest cost recruiting source we have, but we just never knew how to make it easy for the employee.  By using big data to reach into employee networks and analyze profile attributes and even tags and update activity, you could literally improve your core recruiting metrics (time to hire, cost of hire, quality of hire) in weeks.

Use Case 2:  Bringing More Information to Recruiters
To be totally honest, I’ve been trying to work out why recruiting is always ahead of the curve when it comes to HR technology.  I think at the end of the day it all has to do with the fact that it’s a function the business actually depends on.  If they (managers) don’t do performance reviews, their organization probably won’t suffer for months or years.  If they don’t fill the open seat though, their productivity is suffering the very next day.  A company called eQuest (been around much longer than Careerify) has been using big data to answer some of those questions around “why aren’t I hiring anyone right now?”  What is interesting and wonderful is the completely different approach organizations like Careerify and eQuest are taking.

eQuest looks at the market through job boards, and correlates your recruiting activity to activity in the market.  Basically, if that same electrical engineer position is still open in 60 days, eQuest can tell you what ever other company is doing differently.  For example, based on what is out on the job boards, you have 3 EE jobs open out of 50 in your local area.  It just might so happen that you are offering a lower compensation rate, so you are getting 60% fewer candidates than the average EE job opening (demand is up, but you have not adjusted to market yet).  Or, it could just be that in the last 6 months, there are fewer EE candidates even looking at and opening those job postings (supply is down).

Unlike Careerify who tries to solve the problem by making it easier for your employees to help you, eQuest tries to solve it by putting better data in your recruiter’s hands.  Both are completely valid mind you, just different approaches to big data.  With either technology, I actually think we are getting closer to LMGTFY.com for HR and recruiting.  When my internal recruiter asks me if “I know anyone,” I’d have to think about it.  But if Careerify asks me, and automatically sends me a clickable picture of 5 people who already match, I only have to think about whether I really want that person around or not.  On the other hand, if my recruiters are asking “Why the F isn’t anyone applying for this job?” eQuest can probably give you a pretty good answer as well.

An Unremitting Devotion to Strategy

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.” Frank Lloyd Wright

Every year, I have a plan.  At the beginning of every year, I realize I’ve gained between 5-7 pounds from my November and December feasting.  January and February are almost always diet months for me.  Then comes March and April when I realize I’m painfully out of shape for riding my bike.  I ride about 150 miles each weekend, so March and April are just about trying to stay on my bike for as long as possible.  Just as I’m able to increase my miles for the summer riding, I realize that everyone I ride with is about 2 months ahead of me, and they are all riding quite a bit faster.  May and june are about power for me as I just struggle to keep up.  If I’m lucky I finally hit my stride in August and have a couple decent months before I start eating again and the whole cycle repeats.  The point is, that there’s a process, and if I follow the process I know that I’ll get to my goal in August, no matter how derelict I was at over the Winter.

In my line of work, I help a lot of organizations figure out what they should be thinking about strategically, and putting together plans to get there.  All too often, consultants are overly willing to tell their clients that the plan will need to be revisited every year as the business context and the budgets change.  As I think about this, I’m not sure this is totally true.  Our 3 or 5 year roadmaps are always connected to higher level corporate strategies.  If the imperative is to ensure we have talent processes to backfill all of our succession plans, that’s pretty specific.  No amount of increases to health insurance premiums should offset our timing to get that done.  If our attrition rates are terrible and we can track them back to employee engagement, then the roadmap for solutioning that should not be redirected when the bottom drops out of the economy and retention increases due to a crappy job market.  Strategic outcomes are strategic outcomes and I’m not sure why we think it’s ok for a tactical or environmental condition impacts the “choice” who and when we pursue correcting these business elements.

When I go see my clients, 100% of the time I ask for a copy of this year’s strategic plan.  100% of the time, I’m presented with a document that has a plan with the current year on it. 80% of the time, the elements of that strategy are fundamentally different from last year’s.  The problem with strategy is that we are relenting in our devotion.  The tools and tactics that we use to get to our goals each year can change, but the fact that those long term objectives actually seem to be shifting is extremely problematic.  I’ve been back to see companies I saw 3 years ago with a plan to put in succession systems that don’t have them yet.  Wait, that was the strategic imperative 3 years ago to develop and grow senior bench strength and its’ still not done?

Here are a couple comments:

  • Tie it all together:  We in HR do a decent job tying the annual corporate strategic plan to our HR plans.  We should actually do this in conjunction with tying our strategic plan with the prior year’s as well.  If there is a fundamental shift, we should be able to articulate why that happened.
  • Maintain the roadmap:  If we revisit the strategic roadmap and something big falls off, did it just become less important? or did something get in the way that is blocking us.  Maybe we are not supposed to be eliminating things off the roadmap, but eliminating the blockers instead.
  • Align the leaders:  OK – I get that sometimes you have an new CHRO and they have different ideas.  The corporate world is no longer about leaders being dictators.  They have an equal responsibility to express why they are making huge shifts in the roadmap, and why one program is going to be valued more highly than the current – and they are responsible for articulating why that is going to serve the business strategy better than what we already came up with.

A plan is a plan, and things do get in the way.  I know I’ll be generally fit by August, and I’ll suck before that.  But when we have a plan that will foundationally improve our ability to advance the business and we can’t get there due to changes in direction (which will also get changed in a couple years and never get done themselves), we have got to realize we’re a bit messed up.  I love the Lloyd Wright quote.  Based on my experience with 80+ percent of organizations I see, some unremitting devotion is in order.

Jocks vs. Nerds

“There’s this idea of the jocks vs. nerds thing. That sort of ended when the nerds won decisively. We now live in this era where your big summer tentpole movies can be hobbits and minor Marvel Comics superheroes and boy wizards. If you had told me when I was in junior high there would be a $200 million movie about Hawkeye andBlack Widow, I’d be like, ‘Hawkeye — that guy’s lame!'” Jennings says. “Those nerds started running Hollywood studios, and our captains of industry became Asperger types with acne scars.”

I was reading about what Ken Jennings (of Jeopardy! fame) was up to these days, and there was the above quote that I found hilarious.  It’s totally try though, especially for a guy like me who lives in the Silicone Valley.  High school might have been a time when the jocks ruled the world, and college was a transition time, but once you get into the workforce, there are really grate charismatic guys running businesses, but the people who are really redefining the world and how we change our behaviors to adapt to the world on a daily basis are quite clearly the nerds.

(Credit to the HR Technology Conference and Bill Kutik bringing IBM’s Watson computer for making me think about Ken Jennings)

I’m continuously thinking about analytics these days and I start to think that HR has also started the transition from “people people” to something a bit nerdier.  Maybe we are in that college stage I mentioned above – we’re no longer just the people that you go to for benefits and worker’s comp – that was over a couple decades ago.  We’ve started down the path of Talent Management, and we’re probably still trying to figure that out.  We keep talking about really great analytics, but we really don’t do it well.  I think what we need to really get to a mature level of HR as a profession is we need to get nerdier.

Talent Management:
It’s entirely possible we’ve been wrong for the last decade.  We’ve built these incredible competency models, tracked how and when a goal should cascade, and automated all of our talent processes.  I don’t think the business is convinced that we’ve actually improved the core employee’s ability to get developed.  Think about what you yourself did 10 years ago.  Big deal that you can now enroll yourself in training on-line and you have a cooler performance tool that is not a piece of paper.  Have the majority of employees in any company really experienced a perceptible difference in talent and development outcomes?  I’m guessing not.

It’s entirely possible we need some nerds to take over.  I don’t care how much HR shepherds the process along – if the employee and manager don’t own their own talent, it’s game over.  The only way to do this (that I can currently think of) is to create easy to use, social, real time, talent engines.  I’m thinking of an engine that quickly allows a manager to give feedback or development instructions when and where they think of it, then have seamless execution (again in real time) by the employee.  All of this has to happen without the HR practitioner and then roll up at the end of the quarter or year so we get that macro view of progress.  Without real time integration with the employee and manager though, all we have is another failed HR process.

Where HR gets involved is not in shepherding the process, but instead in managing success.  If we can mine the data and understand who is doing what, what works, and where we are missing the mark, that is where the value is.  Somewhere and some point, process people are still important as we make the transition, and certainly we need great change people to get manager adoption, but what we really need are analytical nerds who get how to interpret data.

HR Analytics:
I really hope we don’t have illusions that we are any good at this – we’re not.  We have technical people and we have functional reporting people helping our organizations create reports.  We have vendors feeding us cool dashboards that we then flip and roll out to our managers and executives.  What seems to be missing to me… the statisticians.

Have you ever talked to the finance guys about what they are doing in their analytics functions?  The stuff they produce is absolutely amazing – and they are set up in a pretty different way than we are.  Financial models are very complicated, but shouldn’t our models of people resources be just as robust?  In fact, if anything we have more complex, more dynamic, and more diverse data sets.  If we were dealing with numbers, our lives would be easier – but we deal with more complexity with less sophistication.  No wonder we walk into the executive boardroom and don’t get credible respect.

It’s interesting – when I look at the type of people HR hires, we automatically know we’re not going to have the best friend relationships with Comp, Payroll, IT, etc…  Those guys are just different from us.  I mean, my God, they are analytical in a totally different way.  Embrace the difference – it’s what HR needs, and it’s not even enough.  I’d love to see us start to hire the nerds – math majors and people who can come up with complex statistical understandings of the HR world.  We are in our infancy for understanding HR, but it’s because we don’t structure our organizations in such a way to create deeper understanding.

Get used to the fact that the nerds have won.

Bread & Butter

It always frustrates me when I’m dieting – I have to forego one of my favorite food items:  Butter.  Butter (fat) along with bacon fat (fat) is one of those amazing joys of life.  When butter is great, a bit salty, a lot smooth, and a lot fatty, it is a wonderful thing  Unfortunately, one cannot generally eat butter straight off the spoon without incurring some ridicule from friends.  Therefore, one must also eat bread.  To me, bread is not just a necessary evil.  Great bread on its own is also a joy of life.  It can be beautifully crusty on the outside, warm on the inside.  But sometimes when the bread is not great, it’s just a delivery system for the butter.  Perfect harmony ensues when both the bread and butter a great.

HR service delivery (you knew it was coming, don’t roll your eyes) is quite like bread and butter.  Imagine your HR business partners as the bread and butter as amazing data and insights.  When the HRBP is great, you have a wonderful partnership of a person who actively gets to know the business, builds great relationships, communicates, plans and collaborates effectively.  Unfortunately, the HRBP is often paired with crappy systems, inaccurate data, and poor reporting capabilities.  The business wants a partner, but they also want a partner that can help diagnose what is going on with their people.

Butter on the other hand is like great data.  When systems and data are in good order, access to reporting and discovering insights become possible.  Insights into the organization and people don’t mean anything  however if all you have is some people at corporate that don’t have relationships into each business segment.  Data and insights get lost in the fray, lost y the wrong people, poorly communicated, and otherwise rendered meaningless.

Just as you can’t eat butter straight (again without incurring ridicule), you need a good delivery system.  That’s the bread. In this case, the delivery of the insights can’t even be consumed without great HRBP’s.  In a prior consulting firm that I worked for, we used to have a line at the bottom of each powerpoint that said something like, “content should be considered incomplete without contextual dialog.”

We’ve been so caught up in data, big data, business intelligence, predictive analytics that we’ve been on a quest to spend millions of dollars to fix all of our foundational data systems.  In a few years, we’re hoping to deliver amazing insights into the organization.  Pair processes with real time intelligence that allows managers to know exactly what actions to take with people.  I’m the downer guy to tell you that without the context of the great HRBP who understands the business, 80% of that cool data analysis is meaningless.  You don’t get insight without understanding the business – all you have is a cool analytic.

That poses the second problem.  Do we actually have great HRBP’s?  The analysis of that has been done in many other places, but the answer for the vast majority of us is “no.”  We’re spending millions of dollars on the data, but we still have not figured out how to transform our HRBP’s.  I’m not saying they are the HR generalists they were 10 years ago, but they still don’t usually have the full trust of the business, the ability to make business, people, financial, operations… correlations, and they still don’t understand the business the way they understand HR.  We still have work to do here, so realize that we can deliver the data, but whether we can make it meaningful is still uncertain.

In our quest for great data delivery to the business, let’s not forget that it’s the pairing of two great elements partnered effectively together than makes the data meaningful.

(this post was made possible during the consumption of some pretty good bread and butter)
(I thought about using “meat & potatoes” but I’m not quite as passionate about that)

HR, Twitter and Osama bin Laden

Yeah – I’m going to write about this.  I just finished watching Zero Dark Thirty on the plane, and I’m thinking back to that day.  I remember landing in the Chicago airport, booting up my phone and checking Twitter.  Scrolling through the feed, one caught my eye: “bin Laden is down.”  The tweet was more than a couple hours old at that point, but I noticed it came from a friend of mine in India.  I then proceeded straight to the United lounge where I was in absolute disbelief – they had some random Court TV channel on or something.  I asked everyone to change channels to CNN saying something like, “Guys, bin Laden is down, we need some news.”  I got blank stares and a, “Who are you and what are you smoking?”  By the time I left the club, everyone was hanging out next to the TV’s, it had finally made US media more than 4 hours after the event.

There are all sorts of Twitter analogies I love.  I love that Twitter can figure out the mood of the country every single day (probably every single minute) based on keywords.  I know that we don’t all use Twitter (hey, I’m totally a late adopter and I still barely use it to this day), but this post is really about social media and the pulse of your organization.  Hopefully you have something running whether it’s Sharepoint, SFDC Chatter, Jive or anything else.  The question is, “are you listening?”

Speed:
There are all sorts of stories these days about customers who don’t go to the vendor customer service call center, but tweet problems on-line.  Service organizations are starting to get pretty good at monitoring Twitter and responding to people to fix problems.  I’m not saying that your HR service center needs to allow tickets to come in fiat social media, but when there is a thread about how bad the health insurance is, or that managers are not listening to employees, do you find out about that first, or does someone else bring it to your attention 3 days later?  You have the ability to get a view into the problem before it explodes into something bigger that execs are now worried about, but you have to be listening in the first place.  Seriously, do you want to bring it to your exec that there is a problem, or do you want your exec to bring it to you?

Mass Collaboration:
You can’t get this on email.  Even if you are using large distribution lists, most of the people on those lists ignore those emails.  Take it from me – I’m one of them.  You can get really interesting ideas out there, but if it’s in an email thread where the content is not managed, it’s not owned by the enterprise.  Social collaboration forums not only allow mass storage of insights, but they do it in perpetuity (until someone cleans up or archives).  If we’re all sitting in front of the news waiting 4 hours to get it, that’s pretty slow and we’re dependent on the distribution channel to tell us what’s important.  If we take to the user owned collaboration forums, we get to filter insights in real time.

Engagement:
Back to this idea of pissed off employees – there doesn’t always have to be a thread about something that is upsetting any group of people.  How cool would it be if you could create an algorithm that gives you a measure of employee engagement on a daily basis (ok, maybe weekly).  Apologies to the vendors who sell engagement surveys, but if you could put together an algorithm that gave you engagement, split it up on dimensions of level, job families, pay grades, organization, you’d have a pretty powerful tool.  You might complain that you don’t have specific actions, but I’d disagree.  What is the use of an engagement survey that gives you a report every year?  Just like the crap about performance management not being meaningful, if it’s a year later, it’s too late.  On a weekly basis, you could dig into what comments are causing lower engagement scores, deal with them in the specific populations, create engagement and solutions before things escalate.

Talent Management:
I wrote about this years ago, but I think it might actually be time.  I’m totally intrigued by the idea that you can get rid of your entire competency model and just use social media.  LinkedIn is getting closer, but it’s nowhere near perfect.  I don’t want anyone tagging me with skills.  What I do want is for HR to figure out what I’m good at by looking at my social media posts inside the corporate firewall.  If I post about HR Analytics and 20 people respond, that gives HR an idea that I might be interested in the subject.  If someone posts a question about HR Analytics and I respond, and I also get 20 “likes” for my answer, I might have some expertise.  As you aggregate all the social data over time, create a taxonomy to apply against business conversations, and apply all that data against employees, you have a pretty good idea of what people are thinking about and what they are good at.

I’ll acknowledge that listening is only part of the solution – much of the other part is figuring out how to listen, what to listen to, and how to decipher what you are hearing.  There is a lot of static out there and you need good tools to get good insights back.  I also don’t know how far off social listening is for HR, but hopefully this gets us thinking.  It’s something we need to do as our organizations get more diverse globally, disconnected geographically, and technologically savvy.  Conversations are moving to social, and we have an opportunity.  Let’s grab it.

It’s Time For the CedarCrestone HR Technology Survey

It’s that time of year again.  The IHRIM conference is going on this week (no I’m not there), and the CedarCrestone HR Technology Survey is in full swing.  I publicize this particular survey every year for a couple of reasons.

  1. I gain the most insight from CedarCrestone’s survey about HR Technology than any other.
  2. This survey is the largest in the industry, and more participants means better insights
  3. Lexy Martin, who runs the survey, is on the leading edge of surveying not only what people are doing now, but what they are thinking about for the future.  This is one survey you can look at to evaluate not only your current practices, but also to predict if you are going to be a laggard next year.

For a number of years running, systematicHR readers have contributed more usable survey responses than any other social media outlet.  I’d like to keep that up.

If you are a person of the many thousands who likes to hear about the survey results later this year (at the annual HR Technology Conference, this year in Las Vegas), then take some time and contribute so that everyone can have better access to the insights.  (Filling out the survey also gets you a $500 discount to the HR Technology conference)

http://www.cedarcrestone.com/survey/systematicHR.html

 

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.

The Permanent Record

Perhaps it was because I’m Chinese American and my Chinese parents were rather crazed about education.  I did graduate high school with a 4.2 GPA and considered myself an academic failure (still do in fact).  My parents used to threaten us that our grades and other bad things we did would go on our permanent records.  I’m sure some of the bad grades I got (B’s?) are stored somewhere, but the permanence of them is questionable.  If I tried hard enough, I could probably find a transcript, but who really cares?  The permanent record is only meaningful so long as anyone cares to look.

This changes once you get into the workforce.  You get a bad performance review and it’s going to follow you around in that company for a very long time.  One wrong comment in a meeting with the CIO and you are not living that puppy down for years.  But one can always move on, and most things don’t truly last forever, especially if you switch divisions or companies.  Pretty much, when someone calls your old company for a reference, there is about 10% chance that job and last date worked are the only tidbits of information anyone will get.  There are things that seem to last longer now…

Ok, admit it, sometime this year, you have Googled yourself to find out if your name is on the first page of hits.  I’m happy to admit it.  I probably search myself once a quarter, but it’s not some narcissistic thinking in the back of my mind that is driving me to do it.  I could care less that on a random friend’s web browser I’m 8 of the top 10 hits.  (yeah, don’t search for yourself on your own PC – Google and others have figured this out and move hits about yourself up apparently).  What I really care about is my reputation.  My Facebook, Linkedin, systematicHR, published articles are all out there.  I’ve had conversations and arguments on the web, all recorded on some server I have no control over.

That picture of me on Yammer pretending to be Vanna White at some client change management thing (there was a whole spin wheel for prizes and everything).  I’m horrified, but it is out there forever.  (Damn you Erin!!!)  I might do silly things that I regret later, but I manage myself pretty well that I don’t do stupid things.  Somewhere along the line, a recruiter will undoubtedly look at a candidate profile of me on Taleo or Brassring, or whatever, and see all the web tidbits that link back to me.  They owe it to their companies to get a complete picture of who I am and how I’ll fit into the organization.  I owe it to myself to make sure that it’s a realistic picture, and not one tainted by one or two events that will stain the rest of the image.  If the worst thing anyone ever finds is that I helped with some change management, I can live with that.

 

Global or Regional: HR Service Delivery Should Always Be Perfect

I’ll admit it. I fly United. I also know that everyone hates them, but I actually don’t. In fact, I’d fly United over any other carrier in the US (which does happen quite often). Ok, so sometimes extreme status helps out, but they do treat their upper tiers of status holders rather well. In the latest round of airline mergers, I was nonetheless please to hear that it was not really a merger of equals. In fact, what happened is that at the end of the day, Continental Airlines bought market share and brand, the United leadership team was generally disbanded, and the continental leadership team brought in to transform what is generally considered a high cost United model. No matter what, I have been treated well at United, but not everyone is. In fact, unless you are a 100k miles flyer and up, your experience on UAL probably sucked. For me, I knew exactly what I was getting when I got on a plane or called my excessive help line. But for the masses, the experience was poor.  ((I write this sitting in International First  – no doubt in my mind that my experience is vastly different than it is downstairs.))

As I extended my travels outside the US, I also had a similar experience on United. I knew I could count on upgrades, tell free exclusive help lines no matter where I was in the world. Again, for the masses, this didn’t work out to the same experience. Instead, if you really wanted a good experience, you decided to fly regional carriers. Everyone that is not a frequent business traveller seems to love Southwest, Jet Blue, and Virgin Atlantic, and if you go overseas, god forbid you get stuck in some foreign land using a large US based carrier.

Part of what I see in HR is that HR service delivery is totally variable depending on who you are and where you sit.  OK, I get it that on an airplane, if I pay for a business class seat, I should get a nicer seat and better food.  I get that if I’m a seriously frequent flyer, I’m going to get on the plane first.  But shouldn’t everyone who calls the help desk get the exact same experience?  Is it ever acceptable that someone sits on the phone for 15 minutes to wait for a real person?  Back to this idea of variability, there’s a significant problem that how good your service is can depend on what country you are in.  It’s not for skills, but for US based countries, the training is just often better and more attentive.  If you don’t sit in the HQ country or have a large population, then your employees are relegated to second class status where service is concerned.  Often, we have plenty of people from HR Service Centers and HR Coordinators and HR Business Partners in our major population centers.  Countries with 20 people get a website and a phone number of someone who is not supposed to talk to them if they are not a director and up.

If I think about who our callers are, let’s face the facts here as well.  If a VP calls your HR center, you are going to get her paycheck fixed within a matter of hours.  Some guy from the manufacturing line?  Right, manual check will be cut, Fedex’d out and you’ll have a new check in 4 days.  We all know the probabilities – the VP does not really need the money, but the line guy might be living paycheck to paycheck.  Our priorities are to address those with status first though.

Here are a few things you can do to fix the problems:

  1. Look into your service delivery infrastructure and find out if all your populations have acceptable if not equal access to services
  2. Do a survey in your non-major populations to see if you are effective or not
  3. Run a report on HR staff training to see if your non HQ populations receive the same level of attention
  4. Look at call volumes per country, and don’t stop there – understand the differences in volumes and don’t assume lower is better

Don’t get me wrong – I love the fact that someone pretty much always picks up the phone when I call.  I love that I only have to listen to 20 seconds of the automated guy, and that they keep upgrading me.  I totally get they do this so they can keep my money when I fly.  But I’m also quite saddened to hear when others have very poor experiences.  If the VP with the paycheck knew what the experience of the line person was, she’d most likely tell you to give everyone equal treatment.

 

Tweet 1: Airline miles is not a model for #HR. Services to all, not just the loudest and neediest. http://bit.ly/12SA5uL

Tweet 2: Standardizing user experience globally in #HR Service Delivery http://bit.ly/12SA5uL

Tweet 3: Your low population countries matter for HR service delivery too. http://bit.ly/12SA5uL

Is Big Data An HR Directive?

I have an argument with my wife every few years.  I tend to like cars with a bit more horsepower.  I mean, that 1 time a year when there is a really stupid driver about to crash into you, a few extra horses comes in handy when you really need to speed away.  The problem is that 99.99% of the time, that extra horsepower is a luxury you really don’t need.  You’d get from point A to point B just as safely, and probably just as fast.  Sometimes though, that engine really does matter.  (My wife wins 90% of arguments by the way)

Everyone in HRIT is talking about big data these days.  Unless I completely don’t get it, I thought this is what we’ve been working towards for years.  I mean, having ALL of our talent data, core HR, learning, recruiting, payroll, benefits, compensation, safety, etc data all in the same place and running analytics against it all was always part of the data warehouse plan.  I mean come on, what else is ETL for if not to grab data from all over the place, aggregate it into the ODS, and then figure out how to make sense of it all?  We’ve built a nice engine that caters to our needs 99.99% of the time.

I’m going to propose something:  Big data does not matter to HR.  It’s just a new naming of something that does matter.  Business intelligence and truly focused analytics is what makes us focus our actions in the right places.  BI, Big Data, I don’t care what we call it.  Just do it.  Either way, HR does not have a big data need at this point.  I’d propose that we can use Big Data technology to speed up our analytics outcomes, but that’s about all we need for the next few years.

In my simplified definition of Big Data, it comes down to two major attributes: the use of external data sources, and the lack of need to normalize data across sources.  If we look at it from this point of view, the reality would state that almost no HR department on the face of the earth is ready to take HR data and compare it with government census data, or employment data.  Let’s get really creative and take local population health statistics combined with local census to get some really interesting indicators on our own employee population health.  Right, we’re just not there yet.

Let me reverse the thinking for a moment though.  What about the other 0.01% of the time that our traditional BI tools just won’t help us out?  Going back to benefits examples, how many global organizations can really directly compare benefit costs across the entire world?  How many of those same global organizations have a great handle on every payroll code?  Much of the problem is that the data is often outsourced, and definitely not standardized.  Collecting the information is problematic in the first place, but next to impossible to standardize annual changes in the second. The beauty of Big Data is that in these cases, you’d actually be able to gather all of that data and not worry about how to translate it all into equal meanings.  The data might aggregate in a more “directional” way than you’d like, but you’d probably still have an acceptable view of what global benefits or payroll is doing.  It seems to me that this puts us quite a bit further ahead of where we are now.

Listen, I know that HR has some place in Big Data at some point in the future, but the reality is that the current use cases for Big Data are so few and far between, and that we have so many other data projects to work on that we should continue investing in the current report and analytics projects.  Big Data will come back our way in a few years.

As I said, my wife usually wins the arguments.  We end up buying a car that has 175 horses under the hood, and I end up wishing we had more once a year.  But inevitably, automakers seem to up the game every few model years and come 5 years down the road, that same car model how has 195 horses.  If I just wait long enough, those extra horses in the engine just become standard.

 

 

 

 

I Could Have Been A Ditch Digger

Note of warning:  Stereotypes follow in plenty. Last year I wrote a post titled “I could have been a rice farmer.”  It’s completely true that had my parents not moved from Taiwan to the United States before I was born, the possible alternatives to my life are infinite.  However, I probably would not actually have been a rice farmer even though the family residences are surrounded by them.  I come from a family where most of the members are teachers/professors, or (to my great surprise) artists of some fashion or another.  Even if I go back 4 generations, the number of teachers is astounding.  (My maternal grandmother and grandfather were “arranged” by their uncle – a good match because they were all teachers).  The point though is that with the competitive educational system in Taiwan, I probably would never have made it through.  You see, in Taiwan, you have to test well to get into better schools, and the best of the best students get into the top schools based on test scores.  It’s basically a stack ranking system that begins in the very earliest of school experiences.  I don’t think I’m a total slouch in the grey matter department, but I’m by far one of the worst Asian students that ever was.  Given my lack of capacity for learning in a structured schooling environment, I probably would have exited the educational system for a profession that did not require my brain.

Fortunately for me, we in the US live in a society where opportunities abound to give second and third and fourth chances.  While a horrible classroom learner and incredible un-studious slacker, I managed to get good enough SAT’s and GPA ((Asian Slacker SAT=1275-ish and GPA=4.2-ish)) to get into a number of small, liberal arts colleges including Pitzer, my alma mater.  Here, I had yet more choices, all of which I failed at from a learning perspective.  However, I excelled at the experience that was provided to me.  I was active in many ways including politics (one of my core college memories is single handedly inciting a protest march of almost 1000 students), team sports (this is when I learned how to ride and race a bike), and college programs (as a student, I was on the committee of 8 people who made professor tenure decisions).  Most importantly for my future, I was also skilled at the discussions that happen in liberal arts settings.  Ultimately, even coursework became less about how well I could cram for an exam, and more about sitting around a table with 5 other students and a professor and having a conversation about the book we read that week.  Structured learning out of a textbook was replaced by learning through thoughtful discussion, and this is really what a liberal arts education meant to me.  The replacement of having to be “book smart” for thoughtful and intelligent converted my capability to be in the workforce.

At the end if it all, what defined my ability to craft a future for myself, was the ability to have that discussion and analytically derive a point of view and opinion.  It was the ability to influence, convince, and sometimes concede that point of view.  Every Asian student I knew was supposed to be a doctor, engineer or accountant, but had I entered US college with that aim, I would at best be a middling in my trade.  If I was still in Taiwan, I would never have made it into college.  Any success I’ve had in my career initiates from that initial deviation from “textbook learning” to flexible social thinking.

Here’s what I’ve been pondering – there are many ways to get a person to a goal, but there are also a few fundamental problems.  First, we don’t always know what that goal is.  Second, the best path for each individual is also unknown.  Finally, we in Human Resources have continued to fail at providing performance and goal events that are meaningful at individual levels.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Talent Management has failed.  From HR to executive ranks, we complain about performance reviews with such a unified voice it’s sometimes the only thing we all agree on.  The problem is not that we fail to track goals and objectives, or that we can’t identify issues with how employees excel at their tasks.  The problem is that most managers do this once a year, and certainly not in real time.  Employee performance does not occur at a once a year interval.  it occurs every day as they are working on tasks that move our organizations towards strategic goals.  Their ability to move us slower or faster depends on the quality of direction we are able to provide them, and if we only do this once a year, we have completely failed.  Since we actually do only do this once a year, we indeed have failed – specifically, performance management programs have failed.

The solution is quite simple, real time feedback on work, goals and objectives.  Organizational strategy is not static, so why should the individual goals and objectives that employees have be static?  Indeed, if any level of objective should be as flexible as possible, it is at the employee level.  Our daily lives are not dictated by a year long striving for single-minded achievement.  Instead, we flex our activities to constantly changing micro-tasks that emerge along the way.  While the organizational strategy probably remains at least 90% constant through the course of the year, changing business conditions, sales, service needs, operational realities, and technology all drive adjustments on a daily basis.  Employees react and should be measured in their agility to manage these changes while still staying on the strategic path.  Setting goals in real time that reflect the realities of the day or week not only change how employees receive feedback, but it also changes the way we reward employees, and their ability to connect rewards with their own actions.

We’ve also failed at ensuring appropriate development occurs in meaningful ways through the talent process.  Basically, the path to the goals we just talked about are not clear.  Even if we are working on real time goals and objectives, the tasks and activities needed to get to effective achievement   Today’s conversation is all about “gamification,” but I’m not totally a fan of how HR has been applying gamification to learning.  We seem to have taken gamification too literally and have been trying to create games from learning activities.  This is not the holy grail.  What we should be doing instead is understanding the mechanics of game as they apply to the human psychology, and providing frameworks for employees to excel, achieve, and advance.  Basically, learning should merge with goal outcomes that provide paths to effective employee achievements.

Once again, the problem is that we treat learning as a macro activity.  You go to a class, and after a week of training, you exit that class with a supposedly learned skill.  But the basic framework is an assumption that you needed that skill to begin with, based on some large project plan, HR created career ladder, or some job description.  As with performance management, these courses often have nothing to do with a person’s daily activities.  What gamification should be (and is in the minds of guys like Bunchball) is a structured approach to funneling people through flexible tasks to reach an end goal.  If I want to teach someone how to create a report, a class is ok, but enforcing the necessary tasks and activities within the actual job is better.  Through gamification, an employee can advance through various levels from data queries to advanced analytics, all of which can and should be tied to those performance goals we just talked about as well as a real time rewards system.  Many organizations have separate social gamification and learning teams, but indeed these practices need to be fused together.  Gamification of tasks if not configured in the broader context of learning activities is asinine, as is continuing a single minded focus on 1 time, macro learning events.  As individuals, we learn not because we’re told we should acquire a skill, but when that skill is truly needed and used in our daily routines.  Once again, the theme of “real time” dominates effectiveness of results.

What is exciting is that in 2013, we might finally have the technology to fix our failures.  Real time performance management has arrived for the masses, and gamification is penetrating all the major social tools.  In 2012 we were still theorizing about this stuff from an HR context, but in 2013, the technology has arrived.  While I don’t know what the adoption rates will be this year, I do think that 2013 will mark a transitional point in our approach.  In the following years, I’m confident we’ll see a downward trend in traditional talent tools, and a markedly upward trend in social talent management (probably the 2 approaches combined together).

Back when I was 2 years old, the options I had for a successful career in my parent’s eyes was quite limited.  They would have wanted me to be an electrical engineer (seriously).  But clearly the path for me to get there was not quite as straightforward, and indeed, almost 40 years later we’ve all realized that not only did the overall outcome shift, but the path to get there for me personally was not what any of us would have predicted.  I could still have a good career, but I was not cut out to be an engineer, nor was I cut out to learn from textbooks in a traditional way, nor was captivated by the pursuit of straight A’s.  What did work for me was the ability to have an education that provided me with constant conversations and an approach to thoughtfully analyzing the world that took 4 years to teach.  If my parents could have set a path for me at birth, I would have gotten straight A’s, gone to MIT, gotten a PhD in engineering, and be some world renown dude with a hundred patents.  NOPE!  We have to flex, manage, and learn every step of the way.

Social Trust, Authority and Contributorship

There are three people who are pretty commonly in my car.  They will go unnamed.  One of them is pretty similar to me.  She always knows where she is, which way is north, and can get around pretty well.  The second has an idea, but has a tendency to say “left” when she really means “right.”  The last, has no idea where she is at any point in time, and when her opinion is offered, everyone else chuckles and goes in the exact opposite direction.  Basically, with passenger 1, you follow directions, passenger 2 you’d still be in the same state of doubt before and after the direction, and passenger 3 you know exactly where to go because that person is wrong 100% of the time.  (She really is that bad by the way.)

When we’re interacting with social enterprise tools at work, it’s quite impossible to decide who to trust.  In general, we’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of people that may be posting content to a particular group, and many of those are people we’ve never met.  There are a couple of things we have to count on.  The first is simply people we do know and have a degree of confidence in.  The second is what I’ll call “authority.”

In most social enterprise tools, we can follow, buddy or otherwise mark certain people.  The hope is that when these people interact with the social tool, we’ll automatically see the content they are creating.  However, if we counted on this alone, we’d miss an awful lot of content that might be genuinely helpful to us.  After all, if there are 300 people in a social group about Talent Management Process and you only know 25 people personally, then you’d be missing out on 90% of the content unless you go read everything daily.

So we get into authority.  Let’s say that everyone in that group of 300 people post on an equal basis (same number of posts and post frequency over time).  We’d have to have some way of measuring which contributors have the most useful things to say.  The way we measure this is by “likes” and comments back.  Basically if all 300 people each have 100 posts or comments, but only 10 people have 1000 “likes” or more, those 10 people should have a higher authority than the other 990.  Let’s also say that a different 10 people had over 1000 comments on their content.  Those 10 authors should also have more authority than the others.

If people’s content is “liked” then we assume some amount of value to that post.  Similarly, if someone’s content is highly commented, then we assume there was a value to the discussion it generated.  While the following rule is always true, we could think that likes infer that the person creates insight while comments infer a person who might be a data hub (or other similar hypothesis).  Either way, the combination of these and other factors gives us an overall authority rating.

At the end of the day, trust, authority and who is contributing to the knowledge of the business is all about employee talent management.  What we are actually identifying is who are the network hubs that allow people to find other people with information, and evaluating the information that is provided.  What we are also doing is incentivising the sharing of information so that nobody is a knowledge “hoarder.”  The reason social intelligence is so important to HR is it is one of the best ways of identifying the actual amounts of knowledge each person has.  Thus, the equation adds a quantification of knowledge to their skills capabilities.

Unlike in my car where I know everyone, this gives me an idea in social tools who I should trust and who not to.  At the end of the day, what it means is that the pure volume of content generated is not enough.  You really have to prove the value of your content through the interaction with your peers in the community.  Hopefully you don’t have people who chuckle at you and do the opposite.