The Cloud

Seven years ago, we started talking about social media in HR.  I remember this at a conference and nobody got it.  In fact, pretty much all the HR people said that it was a bad idea, it was not for the workplace, and it would just get us into trouble.  The concerns may have been justified at the time, and it was worth taking a less risky stance.

Five years ago, at another conference, social media was the big thing.  People talked about what we could do, how we would implement, and how we could network the organization and bring everyone closer.  But we never did it.

Today, we might finally have networks in most of our organizations.  There is the easy ability to look someone up on the directory and chat or just connect with someone in another part of the organization, but we are not really using any of the functionality for HR.  After all this time, we’re less excited only because nobody ever came to the plate and presented us with a technology option that just worked.

Here’s the thing – I’m really excited about all this interconnectedness because I start thinking about all the ways we could and should be applying the technology.  I’m sick of only talking about Yammer and Rypple (now for performance feedback.  Let’s do it real time, and let’s actually do it.  We thumbs up and down people (or their posts) all the time, but we as employees live in complete fear that negative feedback is going to screw one of our friendly relationships.  Let me tell you something, when someone is great, everyone knows it.  And when someone underperforms, that is also known.  But instead of the same conclusion the manager will reach during the traditional performace review, let’s pretend the employee had the opportunity to get positive and negative feedback throughout the year.  Let’s say that the employee had a chance to take corrective actions.

For the history of HR technology, we have not had the core capabilities to use social in HR.  Trying to plant social on top of SAP or Oracle was probably not going to lead us to success.  But everyone has new core foundations that can really enable this stuff, and I’m seeing that finally, HR technology has caught up with HR expectations.  Five years ago we were ready, but our foundational technologies just needed some time.  We were in contracts, or we just needed a few years to implement.  Now we’re there and the next generation of HR applications that are based on cloud and social can actually happen.


I Can Finally Buy My Dad a Smart Phone

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Social Taxonomies: Tagging versus Crowd Metrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

HR Social Media – A sytematicHR Case Study

I should probably congratulate the readership of this blog. For CedarCrestone’s annual technology survey, we created one of the largest populations of viable, usable submissions out of any social media outlet that the survey used. (Note that this post was written a few years ago and never published.  I was never going to publish this, but I decided to use this to promote Lexy’s upcoming webinar on the 2012 HR Technology Survey on November 6.) Viable and usable meaning that the submissions were from actual companies rather than consultants or other bloggers not in a position to answer the survey, and also sufficiently complete that the response had enough content to be included in the results tabulation.

I think that is pretty cool, and I think there are very good reasons this happens to be a good outlet. I ran a reader survey a couple years ago trying to figure out who you all are. To my surprise, there are relatively few bloggers and consultants among you. Instead, I found that the great majority of my readers are actual HR practitioners, and that over half of those practitioners were at a director level or above in their organizations. I will have to guess that most of my readers found me through doing a web search and linking here, rather than coming in through another blog. I say that since I don’t participate in the blogosphere, and therefore I don’t get links from other blogs that would give me much larger amounts of inbound traffic – bloggers don’t link to other blogs that don’t li back, and I’ve long had a policy that I don’t link to every HR blog in the world. ((I once had a list of blogs based on an automatic calculation of the sites I referenced the most, not sure if that is still active.))

There are 2 thoughts that I would like to point out. The first is a blogger issue and the second a reader issue. Regarding the regarding my own habits, I’ve already pointed out that I don’t really participate in the blogosphere at all any more. Overall, is means that my google page rank decreases as bloggers reading and commenting on each others posts makes up a huge amount of the active participation out there. I’ve never really cared what other bloggers think about what I write, this blog is not written for them. But part of the social media equation is that participation counts. If my early idea that you can calculate and quantify talent partly through observing page hits, authorship, and comment counts are ever viable, then this blog would probably rank much lower than another blog that gets fewer page hits but many more comments. There is a great value to the interactions because it multiplies the viral effect and reach of the content. If HR social media is ever to be successful, content owners have to be active participants in the environment, and I have been sorely unsuccessful on this front.

However, even if my readers are director level and up HR practitioners, and I value that population more highly than others, my readership is not a commenting, interactive group as measured by the blog. It has always killed me that I don’t have a large number of active commenters, but VPs and Directors may not be that type of group. As noted above, I don’t get many incoming links from other bloggers. What surprises me, is the number of inbound links that I never publish – those are like from corporate intranets that sit behind someone’s firewall. To be honest, I love those links and the comments associated with the link, it tells m that even though you are not commenting here, you are telling your internal HR departments about the value here. So it turns out that you guys are actually highly interactive, it’s just not visible on the public facing portion of the site. The fact that you guys got more viable and usable submissions from a single blog post about the CedarCrestone survey means a lot to me. Even though I never hear from you guys, I know you are out there, reading, asking your internal HR departments to read, and actively participating in your own way.

When it comes to HR social media, what it all comes down to is how well you collaborate with each other, and participation is key. Without it, there is no knowledge sharing and creation. While I’ve failed at collaborating with my fellow bloggers, it seems that my readership has generally succeeded in creating discussion and action outside of this forum. We have alternatively been excited and then skeptical about social media in HR, sometimes both at the same time. I actually wonder what the model for information sharing will be. If systematicHR is any indication, having thriving populations that are visibly active and commenting on the blog might be harder to accomplish. Content publishers (other bloggers in your corporate environment) will be active, but trying to reveal the hidden community that is actively reading is much more difficult.

In the past, I have advocated using the tagging system to quantify expertise by counting the comments and links. This certainly quantifies the participation from other content publishers, but does not discuss the overall value that content may bring. Over time in your internal environment, you’ll begging to have content publishers that become favorites for large populations, and being able to see hit counts in addition to comment traffic becomes critical. The problem with this is that you often need to go to two different sources. My first source is an aggregator where I can see all comments and inbound links from another site/blog. This shows me the active participation. But then I have to go to a hit counter to see the total reader traffic. There are actually websites that show both activity meters, but I have found these to be a bit inaccurate so far. The point being that metrics are problematic – like so many other reports, there are multiple sources that may need to be combined to get the measurements we really want.

Feedback and Calling BS in Social

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

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

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

<begin ADP response>

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

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

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

</end ADP response>

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

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

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

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

HR Technology Conference Reactions: Social Media Panel

I’ll admit.  I’m devastated.  Lexy Martin and Thomas Otter were both presenting at the same time as this session.  Had I the option, I would have pulled a Hermione Granger Time Turner thing.  You know where she goes back in time to take more classes?  I’d do that for these 3 sessions, but instead, I’m just a muggle.  (OK, enough of that nonsense.)

The panel consisted of Moderator: Kris Dunn (VP, HR, Kinetix ), Todd Chandler (VP, Learning and Performance, Helzberg Diamonds) , Ben Brooks (SVP & Global Director, Enterprise Communications & Colleague Engagement, Marsh Inc.),  Phoebe Venkat (Director, Digital and Social Media Communications, ADT).  As with my prior post, I’ll go with the same format:

Theme #1: File Centric versus People Centric. Perhaps this first theme is a bit obvious.  It really comes down to a definitional aspect of social versus where we have come from/are today.  There is nothing wrong with being file based, it’s here for a long time to come.  We operate in files today because that is how we store information and value.  Add to that we can easily search and tuck things away in a folder system, and we have a mediocre way to maintain information.  Thus, the next phase of evolution, if we are going to go social, we have to understand that the storage of prior information is not where it all is.  Instead, the generation of new information is paramount, and that comes from the exchange of ideas that social enterprise presents.  Thus, I call this a theme, but it’s really the starting point of the conversation – a definition of change.

Theme #2:  Email versus Social. If Theme #1 was a definition, perhaps Theme #2 is the problem statement.  Indeed, email is much more of a communication tool than a file storage tool as we all know when our corporate IT tells us we have gone over our 2 gig storage capacity.  The problem is that emails are so far from a real time production of value that it’s actually a barrier to the speedy creation of new insights.  Add that most of us also use emails for CYA and self preservation, and we quickly realize the major inhibitor that emails can be.  If we’re looking to protect ourselves and cover our tracks rather than provide new meaning to our jobs, this is a major directional problem for email.  So while social gives us productivity at the speed of conversation, emails are just too much of a security blanket for most workers to overcome in the very short term.

Theme #3:  Search and data mining. There are probably a couple aspects here.  The first one is about how we go about naturally doing our business today.  We’re organized in offices and cubes, or we go to meetings and sit at tables.  The interactions we have are largely based on who we see every day.  What is great about social is not that it allows us to reach past our normal daily interactions, but that it can help search for new contacts and encourage those interactions.  Sure we have emails, phone calls, instant messenger today, but with social we get to group ourselves logically based on something else other than location/job/department.  But we have to go beyond simple conversations.  The reason Facebook is not useful as an enterprise social tool is because you really can’t search the conversations.  Mining conversations for who is connected to who, what people are talking about, and how that impacts actual work and innovation is the key to creating value.

Theme #4:  Bad behavior. I remember 5 years ago when HR was just starting to enter the conversations about having social networks in the workplace.  Fully half of the conversations revolved around “bad behavior” or people just going crazy and doing/saying things they should not.  While you do have to set aside some rules of the road, you really can’t stop people from posting things.  Trying to moderate every comment would be absurd, and the consensus is that very little bad behavior actually happens.  The thing is, we should not have to create new social policies.  We already have them in place.  People also know how to behave already, and if they don’t, your managers should already be having these conversations.  This discussion presented one of the crowning moments of the conference for me (and I wish I could remember who said it).  “If you have a jerk, let them rise to the top so you can fire them.”  Another lovely quote, “HR… get over it.”

Theme #5: Creating change. Social for social sake is a bad idea.  You will get low adoption, and unless you are targeting your deployment to solving a real business problem, your audience will never really understand “why?”  Some of the suggestions revolved around polling the internal community for how your workers want to interact with each other, and then deploying solutions with the ability to say, “this is the tool you guys requested.”  A great example:  being one of the first at a dinner and not knowing anyone sucks.  But if you have a great host who is actively introducing people to each other, and contextually matching people’s interests, then you have really quick engagement.  The other interesting note that caught me off guard because it’s so basic, is not discounting the impact of faces and names.  If you think about Facebook, actually seeing faces is a pretty big part of how you interact with the tool.  There is a possibility that you see the face before you read the name, and that’s often how you engage with conversations.


Creating Information from Knowledge from Collaboration

It’s nice being a consultant.  People like consultants because we have a specific approach to a problem.  We talk to lots of people, look at lots of documents, conduct workshops.  Then we synthesize what we have learned and create judgments and opinions, and then we document everything to the nth degree.  Some people would argue we talk to too many people – but the value we bring is in developing a comprehensive and external point of view that is broad.  Some people would argue that too much (hopefully) documentation comes out of projects.  While most of my projects are boiled down to a 12 page powerpoint, there is usually a couple hundred pages of backup material and some really complex spreadsheets that prove my point.  At the end of the day, I can talk to as many people as I want, form whatever judgment I feel is right, and it’s all for naught if I don’t document it all.  2 years down the road, it’s just a piece of paper nobody looks at because nobody understands how the conclusions were made.  So I tend to document.

I say all of this because the process is important.  There is a flow between collaboration and exploration, to knowledge creation, to information creation.  We’ve been talking about knowledge management for ages.  Let’s face it – knowledge management has not necessarily worked out.  It’s an old topic that many people are sick of hearing about, but the truth of it is that we still don’t manage the knowledge in our organizations well.  Many of our organizations still have thousands upon thousands of documents stored in Sharepoint databases, but they are poorly versioned, not well cataloged, and hard to find.  If knowledge management practices of 10 years ago had panned out, we would have it all figured out by now.  Part of the problem is that we’ve changed technologies and user requirements rather rapidly, but at the core of the problem, we really didn’t understand what it was that we were actually cataloging.  Turns out, it was not all about knowledge management at all.

Let’s take a sample process.  If we are creating a business case, we create a task force or project team to investigate the problem, any risks, possible interactions, costs, etc.  Through this process, a significant amount of collaboration happens in the course of the investigation and discovery, after which some sort of decisions are made.  It is through the collaboration that knowledge is often created.  However, we can’t manage that knowledge that is created until the information is created in the form of the business case.  A good business case will document not only why we want to do something, but how, what were the risks and costs, and all the other components.  The business case, or the information we can catalog, is the output of the knowledge gained, that which we cannot catalog.

So we talk about knowledge management, all the while realizing that we can’t catalog what is in people’s heads.  We can only capture what they record – and this has gotten more interesting as we have gone from documents to blogs and wikis.  But the quality of that content is still in flux.  Do people actually record everything that went into their decisions?  Do they only blog about what is interesting to them?  If a high performer leaves the organization and they were a good documenter and quality blogger, how do you know that you still have all the knowledge they produced with they worked for you?

In today’s world, we talk a lot about how to create productivity gains from collaboration networks – and this is clearly important – it’s the starting point of knowledge creation.  We’ve spent years talking about knowledge management and how to catalog – and this is also important.  We’ve created knowledge bases that are not always optimized, but it’s a starting point.  What we have not done is effectively have a conversation about information and the quality of that information in the organization.  How do we actually make sure that all of our data is good data and that it’s complete?  Collaboration and knowledge is the starting point, but I think we need to start having a discussion about what is next.

The Technology Does Not Sell

Years ago, there is a motorola executive was speaking to a group of students. He asks the students to answer a couple of simple questions, “who among you owns a motorola cell phone?”. A small group of students raise their hands. He continues to as them, “who among you own a Nokia cell phone?”. The large population of remaining students raise their hands. They go on to discuss why the students own Nokia cell phones, and the executive explains how much better Motorola’s technology is than Nokia.

I should mention here once more that this was all years ago.  I now own a Motorola Droid 2 Global on the Android platform, after having owned the Motorlola Droid 1 and the Droid 2.  Absolutely love these phones.  I don’t know about you, but I have basically owned the popular cell phones of whatever era we were in (iPhone excepted since until very recently it was not available on my wireless provider of choice). I had that huge motorola flip phone in the late 90s, had the nokias like everyone else around the turn of the century, been given the blackberries by my employers, and I’ve been on the motorola droid for the last couple of years.

Phones are popular not because of their technology. They are popular because of what they do for us. Sometimes its the image. We all remember theMotorola Razer (or something like that – i didn’t own one of those) that everyone loved because they were small. We remember the nokias because at the time they were the simplest to use. We realize that many of us bought iPhones even though they were useless as phones in the US. The point being that the choices had almost nothing to do with technology. We sacrificed the ability to make phone calls on a phone so we could buy an apple product that had apps.

The point is this, if you have to explain why your product is better, your product has failed, and you will fail in marketing it. All too often, we deploy new HR systems and tell our clients (employees and managers) how great it will be that they have new tools and self service, only to find out that they hate the new system since they can no longer delegate manual tasks to their assistants – that we have actually just given them more work. We continuously fail in our change management programs for a large number of factors, but one of those facts is definitely hat we are trying to sell the wrong thing. It’s not about what they can do with the technology, it’s what the technology can do for them. (I am feeling like a Kennedy at the moment i suppose.)

In a perhaps more appropriate appropriate approach, applications like alert management must be acknowledged to put more activity on the individual manager’s proverbial table. Indeed, many a survey have shown that manager activity either stays the same or increases any time we give them more technology, but we keep advertising how much easier their lives will be. Instead, we should be owning up to the fact that their lives get busier and more complex, and that’s not a bad thing. The whole point of modern human resources is t hat we continuously get better at managing our people. What are our direct managers if not people managers? Sure, they have to manage activity and process, but it’s the people who have to execute those activities and processes. The technology enables managers to actually do their jobs better, and sometimes just to do their jobs. The fact that more work comes with doing jobs that they are supposed to have been doing all along is merely a byproduct of the technology. sure, you get more work, but now you can do it effectively. In the end, you’ll have happier people, they will stick around longer, have stronger capabilities, and you’ll look really really good.

Or, you can be like Motorola a decade ago when Nokia was cleaning their clock. Instead, give them something they can use, and understand easily. “It’s your job, dammit, and we’re going to make you better at it.” If we have to explain the technology, we’ve already failed.  Today, Motorola has transformed the market and you see Motorlola and iPhones everywhere, but not so much Nokia anymore (in the US).  Turns out that the technology is important, but it’s really about the experience.

Fusion HCM Website is Up

Just an FYI since this appears to be about the softest launch we’ve seen in ages.  Considering we’ve been waiting for Fusion for a while.  Here’s an FYI that the website is up and perhaps the software is in GA (but you’ll have to ask Oracle to confirm that)

The Lowest Common Denominator

I’ve been trying to sell people on the Google Android operating system for smart phones lately.  I’m not sure that it’s really about the Android versus the iPhone for me – more likely it’s the fact that I’m a long time Verizon user and won’t leave – since Apple is not currently available to me, I get the Android.  However, the user and market perceptions of the iPhone versus Android seem to be a significant difference in philosophy.  This is odd since both companies are basically known for ease of use (each in its own way).  Google is well known for the “single field search engine page finds all”, and Apple is well known for the “single dial does all” iPod.  But in the world of phones, Apple still caters to usability, and Google seems to cater to people who want more advanced ability to customize their environment.  Either way, until this latest departure, both organizations seemed content to treat all of their end users as idiots – and it worked.  They were able to bundle incredible functionality in a single element.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on demos of core HR platforms, a variety of talent management and learning systems.  It occurred to me that each category of software seemed to have varying differences of usability between their different types.  While my thinking is in no way complete since I have not actually seen that many vendors of late, I’m wondering if indeed there might be something to the following usability argument.

Core HR platforms have in general  catered to just the HR user community.  In effect, these are generally specialists and power users of HR systems.  Next in line, talent management systems rolled out HR technology to employee and manager populations, but most of the major interactions in the first couple of waves of TM were manager based.  These technologies really stewarded managers through employee, compensation and succession review processes.  Lastly, learning systems seem to be the most employee focused.  Managers have proportionally less interaction (compared to TM) while employees actively look up courses, participate in learning, and manage their transcripts.

My theory is that learning systems will tend to evolve the fastest when it comes to highly usable systems (again, assuming that legacy systems can adapt quickly, or newer platforms will already be there).  Basically, the more end users you have, the less room for error you have when it comes to creating simple transactions.  Lets say for learning, you have at least 5 times as many end users as with most core talent processes.  (I realize that many of you will want to tell me that employees participate in reviews and talent profiles, but come on, I think we can all admit that most TM processes are really focused on the manager in today’s world).  Similarly, core HR has about 20 times fewer users than TM and 100 times fewer users than learning.

Basically, what I’m saying is that we all complain about the usability of some systems.  Some vendors are burdened by legacy technology that they simply can’t get out of.  but other vendors who seem to be more capable of advancing usability have not.  My theory is that when we talk about core HR, vendors simply have not had to make systems significantly more usable.

Android versus iPhones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of us are Ants

Saratoga says that large organizations have an average of 7 to 9 hierarchical levels.  This means from the top to the bottom, there are 8 layers of management.  I’m going to make some assumptions and say that a lot of these organizations (based on the fact that they are mostly older, more mature organizations), are brick and mortars.  The fact of the matter is that while strict hierarchies and chains of command present easier access to good governance processes, I’m not sure they facilitate great connections.  Especially at the top levels of the organization, access to conversations can sometimes be quite restricted.  ((Reference to ants happened in an actual conversation))

I am reminded about hierarchies and access from sitting in the airport today.  Lately I have been getting a lot of LinkedIn activity, and as I sat there updating my profile, connecting to people at many organizational levels, and having conversations through the web, I thought about the juxtaposition of rigid hierarchy versus easy accessibility through Web 2.0.  Today’s world and today’s younger workers expect not only to be able to form networks at all levels, but they expect accessibility.

As we develop within organizations, there is probably a realization at some point that very few of us are going to get to that SVP and EVP level.  Most of us are going to stay “ants” for our careers, and that’s both ok and necessary.  But the way we work and shape the future of HR is going to be more about collaboration than rigid hierarchies.  The new model simply isn’t going to work with the old model.  We no longer believe we’re just worker ants doing the bidding of the hive.  We believe we all have ideas and we can contribute.

The problem with all of this is that we need to find a way to combine good collaboration expectations with good governance and decision making.  However, millenials don’t really care about the lines drawn between hierarchical levels, and the experience that senior executives have accrued.  Collaboration and access don’t correlate to good, sound decision making that is influenced by corporate strategy.  We need to find a balance between rigid hierarchies that restrict access and the ability for individuals to work in the new model.

Any thoughts?

Meaningful Experiences in Web 2.0

I’ve complained about information overload before.  As we get into lists and networks and blogs, and microblogs, we subject ourselves to information from increasingly diverse sources.  Some of these are annoying sources that we wish we didn’t have anything to do with (your nephew’s farmville updates on Facebook), while others are truly valuable if you could just keep up with them (that HR analyst that has 50 posts per day on Twitter).

I’ve also written before that I think that the value I provide will never be on Twitter – I honestly just can’t stay on top of it that often considering the work that I do for clients.  However, I do feel that I can provide value to my readership with longer, more thoughtful pieces like this on a more mainstream and “traditional” blog.  Personally, I basically have 4 sources of information and the same 4 sources that I use to connect with the Web 2.0 world.  These are this blog, systematicHR, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  The first two I use every day, the last two I use very little.

The point of this is that I have decided that it’s impossible to have any sort of a meaningful experience if I’m spread too thin across 10 different networks.  Yes, I’m registered on all sorts of social media accounts that I never check.

As an employee, you need to determine what the method is going to be right for you (facebook once a day? twittter 50 times a day?)  You also need to figure out what your goals are for participation.  Is it about career?  Is it about networking? Getting on the cutting edge?  Is it about increasing your own personal effectiveness or a team’s effectiveness?

The great thing about information overload is there is a solution,  While information overload is problematic for just about everyone, the problem is also the solution.  If you have many choices about where to go for information, then you have a more manageable environment.  People need to apply their time spent in networks with more thoughtfulness.

This is actually where it gets tricky.  We as an HR organization can help employees decipher what type of participation they should be having based on their habits and goals.  However, determining the overall set of Web 2.0 technologies to deploy within our organizations that will support the many types of interactions that are possible while not limiting the possibilities is a tight rope to walk.  The organization has to determine what the best methods are without restricting too many modes where people will find meaningful experiences.

You might automatically say that microblogging will never happen, but what about microblogging the town hall for people who could not attend the event live?  How about the opportunities to constantly update the project team in the week right before a major implementation go-live?  Based on the goals of employees, the goals of the organization and the culture that you operate in, there probably is a good answer for a set of Web 2.0 technologies you should deploy.  The answer however, is less around how you want employees to collaborate, and more about how you create meaningful experiences for those employees.  Without meaningful experiences, a collaboration environment never takes off.

Linking Communication Collaboration and Talent

There was a time when if you wanted to collaborate, the only way to do it was either walking over to someone and having a conversation, or perhaps you could call someone’s “secretary” and leave a message.  Then we got voice mail.  Then we got email.  We’ve been trapped in an email world for over a decade now, but it seems that the next shift is finally happening, and it is happening quickly.

In the early years of email, Lotus Notes occupied a leading space in collaboration.  Not only did Notes provide the ability to send messages and collaborate, but Lotus Domino, the engine behind Notes, allowed for the creation of some pretty sophisticated database, forms and workflows.  With all of this, it comes as no surprise that many organizations are still on Notes since they have so much legacy database sitting there that the conversion would be enormous.

However, even with that, most organizations have been using Microsoft Outlook for at least a few years now.  Collaboration has been the domain of email for so long now, and primarily that of MS Outlook and SharePoint that we have significant amounts of knowledge sitting in these systems.  Within emails that have huge amounts of passive and untapped knowledge and SharePoint databases that are usually  not indexed for future state technologies.

Organizations are quite underway for implementing Web 2.0 communication tools and for much of it, HR has been at the forefront (or at least involved) in these implantations.  Through these communications, we can mine data to get new insights into competencies and talent.

I mentioned Lotus Notes before because we’re going to have the same problems moving off of MS Outlook and SharePoint as we did moving away from Notes.  The next stage is already upon us with Web 2.0 collaboration tools such as text, IM, wiki, and blogs.  Not only are these categorized for indexing, but users can self tag knowledge, creating whole new taxonomies that more easier for mass consumption and not limited by corporate understandings.  But we have a decade of historical knowledge and collaboration data that is possibly lost, without any hope to be tied into our talent data.  Because these communications were never intended to be converted into useful metrics on our talent, we’re looking at a complete loss of any usability for it.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure anyone else is on the same page as I am, that all these Web 2.0 communications are ripe for use in talent measurements, let alone converting all of our past emails and legacy collaboration databases.  However, it’s important to recognize at the very least that all of these methods, both legacy and future state, hold significant amounts of high quality information about our talent.

Talent Particles in Action

Until tonight, I’ve never seen a lightning storm from above the clouds.  I’m not sure what percentage of lightning strikes actually are visible below the clouds, but this storm over Texas that I’m watching has a few lightning bolts per second all localized in a small area over the course of the last 5 minutes that we’ve been flying by it.  It’s pretty amazing to see this many lightning bolts for such a continuous period of time, and thinking about the total amount of electricity being generated is mind boggling.

Nobody really knows how lightning is formed, but the current theory is that as water molecules evaporate and float upwards into the sky, these miniscule water particles sometimes “rub up” against each other and trade electrons, thus forming electrical charges.  As this happens millions upon millions of times, and these water particles all make their way up into the clouds, eventually some event happens where the energy is released and a lightning bold is formed.

It’s pretty crazy to think that a couple of water molecules rubbing up against each other on their way up to forming a cloud is what triggers the release of a several million volt lightning strike, but it’s possible that is the root cause.  It does not take much, but the same thing is true with talent management.  HR spends a lot of time these days managing talent, producing knowledge, skills and competencies, and ensuring growth in our employees. 

Every employee gets a set of goals every year, so there are thousands of these.  We measure all sorts of leadership, behavioral and technical competencies on our employees.  There may be separate performance guidelines like MBO’s.  Incentive compensation may have their own set of requirements that employees are measured against.  I’m hoping your environment is not this complex, but suffice to say that we track a lot of seemingly insignificant attributes against a lot of employees.

At the same time, employees are interacting with each other, hopefully connecting in our enterprise social networks, and collaborating and learning through content they are generating.  All of this just creates thousands more small particulate interactions that we don’t even see or measure.  We have no idea which one of those advances is going to be the one that triggers the next major innovation or the next big sale.  What we do know is that we work on individual transactions that on a singular level, we can’t quite trace to these huge events.

At an aggregate level, we know that these particles create clouds and rain, so we can measure the cause and effect.  However, every once in a while, a lightning bolt hits, and when it does, we should not only celebrate the organization and it’s achievements, but we should also know that somehow, the root cause was the effort we put into managing our talent.

HR Web 2.0 Supply Chain

In most businesses, if the supply chain stops, everything stops.  Ford can’t make cars if they don’t have wheels, hospitals get pretty jammed up if all the CT machines are down, and most organizations wither away if the sales pipeline goes away.  You can view almost any portion of any business from a supply chain point of view.  In HR, we usually think of workforce planning and recruiting as the supply chain, and since we manage the “human resource” that makes perfect sense.  However, we also manage HR from the perspective of talent and competencies, and aside from headcount, the development of competencies through a systematic and technological approach is also a supply chain we should be thinking of.

Shifting gears, we use Web 2.0 to connect our employees, write and read blogs and wikis, and hopefully encourage internal knowledge sharing at the end of the day.  To do this, we assume that people are actually producing content that can be consumed by the masses.  This is the only way that Web 2.0 actually works as a talent building tool – people have to connect first, and then they have to share.  Unfortunately, outside of technology companies, many Web 2.0 initiatives fail not because people don’t connect, but people don’t share.

So back to the point.  If the resultant product is an increase in total talent within the organization as measured by competency and knowledge growth, which is created through an increase in volume of interactions in the Web 2.0 platform, it is reasonable to think of blog posts, wikis, or just questions people generate into the environment, as the supply chain.  The problem is that you don’t just “order up” blog posts and keep doing that into the indefinite future.  This supply chain has to be self sustaining.

If you are a technology company filled with computer engineers, this is easy.  You probably already have a culture of people who have some form of expectation that business is transacted in this way.  If you have a very young population, you are also lucky since Gen Y and most of Gen X thinks about their lives in a Web 2.0 way.  But if you’re a more traditional company, you probably have significant change management hurdles to go through.

Web 2.0 is not a set of training and communications material you send out, it’s really a whole new way of thinking about how work gets done and how you collaborate.  What might start as a simple goal for employees to make blog posts or a competition for the post that generates the most hits or comments is not actually a productive enterprise unless it actually creates a collaboration loop that addresses a problem.  Otherwise people are just writing for the sake of writing.  When it comes to change management, I take a phrase from the Herman Miller (sp?) Strategic Selling course called the “personal win.”  Employees will only participate if they are either receiving great value or if they are perceived as a person to go to when great value is needed.

The question is not how you get people to post, but how do you get people to be aware of the available value, or how you make people perceive themselves as leaders.  If you can’t do this, then you wind up with a pretty dismal looking supply chain.  No Web 2.0 activity means no sharing which means no talent growth through the Web 2.0 tool. 

(Follow-on question is if you guys even think that this type of collaboration is part of talent management the way that I do?)

Enterprise Digital Interactions

I know we don’t need any more buzzwords, but at the same time, HR and corporate organizations really seem to hate calling their internal blog, wiki, networking and collaboration tools “Social” media.  There is good reason for this as most organizations are not trying to encourage social behaviors at work, but professional networking, increasing connections, and sharing knowledge.  The tag “social” just does not work.  What it feels like to me is that these are just digital interactions within the organization, and that’s quite high level, but in addition to the word “social” I personally don’t like the word “media.”  To me, media is old school – it’s what I do consume when I pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV.  I know that in a strict definitional sense, media is exactly what blogs and wikis are, but media does not allow for the interactive nature of the technology.

A couple of months ago, I took a shot at defining Web 2.0.  It basically boiled down to this:

  • Web 2.0 helps us connect with each other
  • Web 2.0 helps us deliver content
  • Web 2.0 helps us receive content
  • Web 2.0 helps us organize content

To me, the key is in defining the “us” in each of the above four statements.  It strikes me that as I wrote these definitions, that “us” is ambiguous, and it is generally not HR as an organization.  Instead, each of “us” as an individual in the organization, whether we are representing HR or not, interacts with all of these technologies that help us connect.  This is important because we need to realize in a Web 2.0 environment, HR no longer pushes content out to the employee population.  If we have an environment that fosters blogs and wikis and networks and employee status messages, and anything else, then the environment is one where each individual chooses what to pull in to their own span of attention.

HR’s role in a Web 2.0 world is to foster our talent by increasing the connections people make and helping them find growth opportunities on their own through those connections.  But once we have enabled that, the employees are largely on their own to make it happen.  Our role in talent is to make sure that our total employee base has the right skills and competencies to accelerate the growth of our companies, and once we have fostered a culture that writes blogs and wikis and shares knowledge, that knowledge generates itself through the workforce, not through HR.  Our role in HR is to foster a culture where people are excited about continuous learning and have goals associated with learning and development, but it’s up to those individuals in a Web 2.0 world to actually subscribe to blogs and wikis in the environment.

Enterprise digital interactions is not a phrase I’m trying to use to replace Web 2.0 in any way – that would just be silly.  However, I think it better describes HR’s role in a Web 2.0 world.  It is a tool we can use as another enabler, but it is not our tool – it is the workforce’s tool, and we can only foster the right environment for them to want to use it.

Enterprise Web 2.0 and Personal Brands

I started systematicHR something like 5 years ago as a true weblog – a place where I could record my thoughts as I went through my daily reading and research.  More than 5 years after my first blog post that I never thought anyone would read but myself, systematicHR has really become my own personal brand.  It reflects a lot of who I am, what I’m interested in, but more importantly, it reflects what is in my head and how I think.  I have continued to contribute to the HR blogosphere since I think I have a unique point of view that is not widely represented in a space filled with analysts, vendors, recruiters, but not too many strategists connecting dots between all of that thinking.  Hopefully, you all have not decided that I’m delusional.

The thing about Web 2.0 and what I’ve decided to call Enterprise Digital Interactions (rather than “enterprise social media”) is that we’re assuming our employee populations are willingly going to participate and lend time to contributing content.  Certainly, we’ll have a hard enough time getting a large and diverse cross section of our workforce just to subscribe the the appropriate blogs let alone writing them.  Employees are used to the networks and connecting with other people by now, and some people are getting used to pulling data from the web and consuming what they want rather than what they are given.

The key to all of this is the personal brand.  Just like for myself, some (or hopefully many) people will take some pride at being able to share knowledge.  People like the fact that they came up with an original thought or a best organizational practice.  They like the community recognition that they are in some way, a leader.  And it just so turns out that people who contribute also tend to subscribe to more in the environment as well.  All of that leads to more comments, conversations and more interactions.

I know there are at least dozens of ways to help spur participation in the corporate communities, but personal brands seems to be a good, long term way to view employee motivation.  You can always get people to post a blog because it was on their list of goals, but you won’t get them to continue to do so unless they see the personal value to it.

Yelp and the Future of BI Search

I’m sitting (almost) next to a guy who works for Yelp.  He just did a pretty interesting tutorial to the person in the middle seat ((great seat buddies for once – how often does that happen?)) about some interesting features in Yelp.  I at least didn’t know about some of these, but the most interesting of which is a little click box above the Google map that displays the location of the search results.  What it does is allow you to define your own search area.  You click on the box and you can then drag an area within the Google map.  Yelp then returns only results within that box.

I have no idea how they have constructed their search engine (or results engine) to be able to narrow down searches by just a drag box in the Google map, but it’s incredibly cool.  In contrast, we in HR think it’s the sexiest thing that we can click on a slice of the pie chart and drill down into more detail for that slice.  All I have to say is that our current BI tools are nowhere close to Yelp’s results capabilities.

Think about it this way, let’s say I had a competency map (or some form of a tag cloud, reinvented for HR purposes), and could do simple selections and queries off of that.  How could we engineer searches and results for managers and people trying to manage internal mobility.

Right now, if we want new data, we have to ask for it, and someone creates a query.  Even then, the data is static and while we can drill through, we only get to drill through on established parameters.  We don’t get to create, redefine and reconstruct on the fly.

How is it possible that I can define my search results with a simple drag box when I’m looking for a place to eat, but even after spending a few $MM to implement BI, I can’t?

Now go and check it out on Yelp…