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.)

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.

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.

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.

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

Systems Deployment for the 99%

Believe it or not, when it comes to personal technology, I’m not in the 1%.  Come to think of it, I’m pretty darn sure I’m not in any 1%, but that’s not quite the point.  I finally got a new phone after sitting around on my last phone for 2 years – it was ancient.  I’m quite pleased with my new phone.  My last charge lasted me 41 hours (weekday standard use), and I got 43 hours before that.  Last week on Friday, I got 26 hours out of a single charge that included 3 hours of a Google Hangout (video conference on the phone).  All in all I think it’s going pretty well.  I’m a Motorola guy – I like the build quality, I think Motorola has the best antennas in the industry, and I happen to be a Google everything type of guy making Android work well for me.  Basically, I can make calls on my phone, I can drop my phone, and I can use it all day.  What I’m not is the guy who complains about a phone not having 2 gigs of RAM, my -ability to custom ROM (completely modify the OS on the phone), and have a 2% better screen quality than the next guy.

When I go out and read the message boards about phones (as I did extensively when I was researching what to buy), the total amount of complaining about fringe functionality shocked me.  I mean, is it really more important to have a phone that you can fully customize than one that does not drop calls?  Do you really have to have 2 gigs of RAM on a phone that might be 5% faster for it, but you have to charge up every 8 hours?  I guess we all have our priorities, but I’m pretty sure that the guys who complain about this stuff are the 1%.  Most of us just want to not drop a call, not have to charge our phone every couple hours, and for the rest, if we can do 80 to 90% of every other phone, we’re pretty pleased.

This is the exact same problem when we select new technologies for HR.  There are just some people who seem to scream the loudest, and because of that, we happen to pay attention to them.  Rather than figuring out exactly what we need to be successful 99% of the time, we’re left chasing the minority exceptions.  And because those exceptions are screaming madly at us, we think they become part of the core requirement.  When it comes down to decisions about this or that, and whatever tradeoffs we have, we’ve often been led to think that 1% is a bit more important and urgent than it really is.

I’ve actually been an advocate for a while of forgoing the requirements gathering process and just having a set of use cases.  What is it exactly that we need to get done, what are the outcomes we need to achieve, and how do we measure that we have achieved them?  Sure there are going to be little things in there that need to be considered, but if we have a set of systems that gets us to an outcome instead of a set of requirements, then we can move on and figure out which system provides that outcome in the best way.  Often, we’ll realize that of the three systems that achieve the outcome, our next selection criteria is not the field and functional capability, but the user experience that is next in importance.  Really, outcomes don’t matter if users don’t use.  Then after all is said and done, if there’s still room for negotiation between a couple systems, the nitty gritty details come in, but only after we’ve decided that the system actually gets us to the right end state.

I don’t know about you guys, but my end state goal is to be able to make a call without dropping.  As a Verizon / Motorola guy, I have not dropped a call in probably 2 years, and I’m pretty sure I hit more cities and states than most of you.  All I’m saying is that I don’t need to chase the stuff that some people think is really cool.  My phone is there for a very specific purpose and if I can get that done 100% of the time, then I’m good to go.  Isn’t HR technology the same?

Strategy without Technology is Stupid

As of about 2003, I don’t think I could live my life without my devices.  Back then it was the blackberry and laptop.  Now it’s my Android phone, iPad and laptop.  If I lose my phone, I’m basically dead in the water – no contact with the outside world… I’m totally cut off.  When I’m waiting for the train, I’m reading my daily dose of news.  When I’m walking between the train and the office, I’m reading the last 5 emails that came in while I was on the train and keeping up to the minute.  When it’s after hours and I don’t know where I’m meeting my friends for dinner, I simply navigate to one of them using Google Latitude.  If you took all my devices away, I’m not sure I can return to 1999.

Here’s my pitch when I do an introduction to a new client, “I’m an expert in all things HR Service Delivery, but focus on HR technology.”  There was a time when this made sense.  I’m not sure it works anymore.  The point is that when we talk about HR Service Delivery, most of our services are now delivered through a technology.  We worry less and less over HR coordinator/generalist types who shepherd processes through for managers, and shared services people who make sure that calls get answered or paper gets entered.

Let’s face the facts about HR Service Delivery strategy.  Our employees and managers don’t actually want to talk to us anymore.  They are used to booking their own travel, entering their own time and expenses, looking up budgets in the financial systems.  Their personal lives are all about going to Amazon.com and their iPhones.  If their lives revolved around getting stuff for themselves instead of asking us to help them with a promotion, they would be much happier.

So why do we end up helping these managers so much?  Mostly it’s because more than half of the companies we work for have technologies that suck.  Yep, I said it… your HRT sucks.  If you really looked into your strategy (which probably has a lot to do with engaging employees/managers, making HR more effective/efficient, delivering better information… you’d quickly figure out that your HRT is actually the roadblock.  Put in something that is so easy to use that managers don’t have to ask you how to do something, and you’ll have happier employees who use the tools and get things done.

I’ve spent a lot of time guiding clients to their strategies, and also looking at the strategies that other consultants put together.  We all do the same things, we figure out where the business is and how we align HR to it, and then we figure out how to place technology to meet those HR and talent requirements.  It’s all a bit top down though.  What we need is a bottoms up approach that goes hand in hand with what we’ve been doing all along.  Figure out what the business needs from technology, but also what our employees want.  If we meld this together, we’ll find out that the technologies we deploy are more aligned with everything we need.

For 2013, it might be time to update my tagline.  “I’m an HR Technology specialist who is great at applying it to HR Service Delivery.”

 

Leveling the Playing Field

I’ve always wondered about the benefits of doping in professional sports.  Once, I read about a journalist who decided to dope just to find out if it really was that dramatic at providing performance increases, and not only was he stronger, have significantly more endurance, but he also seemed to start reverse aging (age spots on his skin started to disappear).  Indeed, the reported benefits of doping are staggering.  Even an average guy like me could probably ride my bike over 100 miles a day for days in a row without real problems.

Lance Armstrong is once again in the news for doping.  Many of us have been pretty sure that he’s been a doper all along, but the man “has never failed a drug test” so we just let it go.  For the particular drugs we’re talking about, there is no real way to test if the drug is in someone’s system.  Instead, they test for other indicators.  In the case of EPO, they test for a blood hemocrit level above 5.0 (whatever that means).  Basically, if you tested every professional racer, there is a good chance that 90% of them have hemocrit levels at 4.8 or 4.9.  Their argument is that they are not cheating, even though they are cheating, just doing it below the level that they would get called out for it.  Instead, they argue that they are just keeping themselves level with the rest of the playing field.

A few years ago I’m sure I argued that core HR was dead, and talent management was dying with nothing to take their places.  Let’s face it – core HR functionality has not changed in a decade and Talent has been a bit of a bust because all we’ve done is automated the old crappy stuff.  Today, I’m not going to argue that HR technology is dead.  I’m going to argue that the playing field is now level.  Now I want to see who is going to perform, and who is going to get left behind.

If we look around the HR marketplace, there is really good reason to be excited.  I’m not talking about new functionality in core or talent, but I’m talking about how everyone is creating new user experience, and doing it in different ways.  If we look at Fusion versus Workday versus SAP/SF Employee Central versus ADP Vantage versus (all the vendors who are pissed they got left off al already too long list), the theory and design of the experience is totally different.  What we assume about our company’s employees and managers will drive a selection, not what functionality works for us.

We are no longer in the era of “do I want PeopleSoft position management, or SAP’s?”  I actually get to make a decision that is based on my culture and how I think they will best use the application.  Do I have a bunch of engineers, or do I have a bunch of management consultants?  Do I have machinists or perhaps finance guys?  I’m finally at the point where customers and culture are the things that are important.  I finally get to make decisions based on company strategy, workforce and culture.

Functionality is dead because it is a level playing field – but HR technology is one of the most exciting places to be in a really long time.