The Evolution of Standardization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Still Grappling With Data Security

Today I was going through airport security with my wife.  I got randomly selected for a screening, which consisted of wiping my hands with a cottonish fabric and sending it through the scanner that detects explosives or something like that.  After the screening, I commented to my wife, “so don’t all the terrorists know to not go to the gun range or handle their explosives within 24 hours of going to the airport?  It seems to me that this particular screen is really not a deterrent.  Any half intelligent terrorist worth their salt has got to have investigated TSA, right?  ((if I end up on some FBI watch list for this post, I’ll be both highly amused and highly irritated at the same time))

I’ve been trying to figure this out for ages.  You see, the problem is that even if you have stricter limits on access to fields and tables in your security setup, even if you limit the number of users to sensitive information, you should not assume that your data is any more secure from unauthorized sources.  All you have done is make it harder to access.  Now, I’m not saying that making it harder to access is not a worthwhile exercise.  It is.  But let’s be honest with ourselves.  Harder was not the goal.  Impossible was.

Pretty much every reporting engine in the world allows you or the user to somehow download the data.  Before we lay blame on the vendors, let’s realize that it’s our own fault – we placed it as a requirement in every single RFP, or we “ooh’d” and “aah’d” when they demo’d how easy it was to download to MS Excel.  Either way, we lose all control over data security once data is downloaded by the user.  Privacy controls are voided, confidentiality issues arise, and we have no idea where the data ends up.  Not that this is all our fault either.  People who have security access to compensation data for example should know better than to email that stuff around.

There are a couple of nice solutions though, but I’m not sure how perfect anything is since at some point most of our organizations need to have data stored or downloaded.  We could of course disable downloading, and every manager, finance person and HR practitioner would just have to pull up a dashboard and view the data in real time.  Right…  At the same time, I’ve been advocating that all HR decisions are based in facts and data, and I can envision a world where meetings get really dull when we gather executives around the table but were not able to prepare decks full of analytics beforehand.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your reporting data security:

  • Make sure managers are certified and trained regarding their data responsibilities when they become managers and every year.
  • Review your security access periodically to make sure sensitive data is being accessed by the right roles – some roles may no longer need the permissions over time.
  • Build a prominent warning at the top of reports when data is loaded to ensure that dissemination of sensitive data is a breach of security.
  • Scrub your reports frequently – you may find old reports that are run with sensitive data that is not necessary based on the purpose of the report.

This is just one of those problems I keep grappling with.  We keep giving managers and non-HR functions access to more data – I do believe the business requires it.  We want everyone to be able to make decisions in real time, but we don’t trust our partners fully either.  I’m also completely uncomfortable giving up and going with the idea that some data is just going to slip through or saying that it’s just a change management problem.  Anyone have any thoughts about what they have done?  Please ping me.

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.

Tweet 2: Standardizing user experience globally in #HR Service Delivery

Tweet 3: Your low population countries matter for HR service delivery too.

How To Give All The Wrong Answers

As per my last post,at the end of 2012, I was doing a family vacation in Taiwan.  Being with family for 2 weeks is quite an expose into mannerisms that each of us have.  I was particularly intrigued by my brother’s questioning of my mother.  My brother would constantly ask my mother things like “why are we going to [city_name]?” instead of “what are we planning to do when we get there?” and “how much time will I need to prepare the kids to sit in the car?”  Luckily, we had my mother there fueling the ridiculous line of questioning.  90% of the time, her answers had nothing to do with the questions he was asking.

  • “Why are we going to [city_name]?” “Oh, let me tell you, when I was growing up, I used to play with my cousins there.”
  • “Mom, why are we going to [city_name]?” “Oh, did you see that beautiful view over there?”
  • “Mom, can you please just tell me why were are going to [city_name]?” “Don’t worry, you will love it.  It’s beautiful there.”

There are two items I’d like to diagnose.  First, are we actually listening to the question?  Second, did we understand the question?

The first is fascinating to me because I’m not sure we actually are listening.  Many of our reporting organizations are pure intake, create, output engines.  We grab the data that is asked for, create the report and send it out hoping we got it right.  Basically, we are spec takers.  Second question follows right after the first.  Much of the time, we don’t know why report requesters want the data at all.  We could be asking ourselves why they want to know, and if the data we are providing helps them solve a problem.  If we are really cool, we could be asking if they are even trying to solve the right problem or not.

Here are a few questions you should explore when data requests come your way:

  • How are you going to use the data?
  • What is the core problem you are trying to solve for?
  • Are there other data elements or analysis that we have that can help further?
  • Are there other correlated problems that we should try to answer at the same time?

For all intents and purposes, this post is the exact corollary of the prior on how to ask the right questions.  The problem with being a non-strategic reporting organization is that if the wrong questions get asked, the output is doomed to be the wrong information as well.  But even works, sometimes the wrong question gets asked and we still give the requestor the wrong data back.  All this does is create turn – another report request, or bad data going to managers (who in turn trust HR a little less the next time around).

In the case of my brother, he asked the wrong question in the first place.  It would have been much more advantageous had he explained why it was important for him to prepare the children for the outing, have the right clothes, have enough food along, and maybe get them extra sleep.  I’ll never know if my mother would have given him the right information in return, “yes it usually rains on that side of the island, it’s 40 minutes away, and we will be in a friend’s house so they can’t get too wild.”  But the crafting if the right answer is a tight collaboration of both sides creating understanding of what the objectives are.


How To Ask All The Wrong Questions

At the end of 2012, I was doing a family vacation in Taiwan.  When I say family vacation, I mean not just my wife and me, but my brother’s family along with my parents, visiting all of the senior members of the family (an important thing in Asian cultures).  There is an incredible exposure of habits and an interesting (but sometimes undesirable) analysis of where my brother and I got those habits from.  I was particularly intrigued by my brother’s questioning of my mother.  Let’s just say that getting 2 grown sons, their spouses, and our parents together creates a certain amount of strife.

Let’s also just say that my brothers’ hauling around of two young children may have added to the stress – he really needed to understand the daily schedules and what was going to happen when.  Back to the questions: my brother would constantly ask my mother things like “why are we going to [city_name]?” instead of “what are we planning to do when we get there?” and “how much time will I need to prepare the kids to sit in the car?”  (more on my mom’s response in the next post)

The problem in the questions was not the question itself, but in the thought process.  All too often, we ask questions about what we think we are supposed to know.  We want to know about turnover, headcount, spending per employee.  This is information that is useful, but does not actually inform us about what our next actions are.  Being “strategic” to me means that we have a plan, and we are actively managing our programs towards that plan.  If we’re using data that just skims the surface of information, we have no ability to adjust direction and keep going in the right direction.

I’ve often heard storied about HR executives who go into the CEO office for a meeting to present data, and all they get are questions back that cannot be answered.  Some HR teams go into those meetings with huge binders (sometimes binders that I’ve sent with them), and those teams come out still not having answered the questions.  The problem is not with the data.  The problem is that the team has not figured out what the actionable metric is, and what the possible actions are.  No CEO cares about the data – they want action that ties back to what the strategic objective is.  In other words, why do they care?

Here are a couple things you can do to craft better questions:

  • Always think about the root of the question:  HR tends to analyze at the surface more than some other functions.  We have finance doing complex correlations and marketing doing audience analysis.  We’re reporting headcount and turnover to executives.  What kind of crap is that?
  • Be a child:  Ask why/what/how up to 3 times.  Why 1: “Why are we going to [city_name]?”  Why 2: “Why do I want to know what we are going to do there?” What 3: “What do the kids need to be prepared with?”
  • Take action:  If you ask a question that can be answered in such a way that you can’t take action, you asked the wrong question.
  • Create an intake form that customers can request through: make sure you ask the right questions here to ensure they think through the process and understand what they need.

Many of the organizations I consult with have some pretty robust analytics organizations.  When I dig under the covers, they are reacting to create ad hoc reports for managers and HR business partners.  Once a quarter they scramble to create a CEO report card to depict the state of HR programs.  This state is sad to me.  We should be doing deeper analysis and diagnosis on a daily basis.  If we asked the HRBP’s what/why that wanted data for, we’d probably find there is a huge amour of quality analysis being performed in silos that could be leveraged organizationally.


Social Trust, Authority and Contributorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Cedar Crestone HR Technology Survey: Create a Winning HR Function

All too often, I get an industry report to read and end up saying to my colleagues, “wow this is crap.”  Case in point, at the end of 2012, I got a widely read industry report that rated a halfway decent HCM provider’s payroll engine to be better than one of the major payroll outsourcers.  They stated that a vendor’s almost non-existent compensation functionality was a top pick.  Each year, I go through the CedarCrestone HR Technology Survey, and hope there is something wickedly out of sync with conventional wisdom.  Each year, Lexy proves why she is the queen bee of HR surveys and is meticulously above reproach.  I just can’t stand it.

What’s great about this particular survey is that it’s not just gathering data and spitting it back out at you.  I know we all care how many people are buying Workday versus Fusion versus Employee Central versus … this year.  I know we all are interested how many of us are still on premise with our core HCM.  That’s so not the point.  What Lexy does is far more interesting.  She takes all of this data and compares it to company profiles.  What’s the correlation of profitable companies to those people who are running Software X or Technology Y?  This makes up the part of the report I’d like to chat about.  Lexy published 7 habits, and I’m going to summarize so you’ll just have to ask CedarCrestone for the report to read the whole thing.

The attributes that defined successful companies were pretty much higher than usual revenues per employee, profits per employee, operating income and return on equity.  Pretty good measurements.  I’m not sure if CedarCrestone evaluates which is causal, but they do evaluate correlations, so in that sense, go after what you can control, which in our case is the HR side.

  • User Adoption – “If you build it, they will come.”  What a load of crap – wasn’t that some baseball movie Kevin Costner was in?  I don’t remember, but it certainly does not apply to HR technology.  Instead, we have to implement ridiculous change management strategies just to get our managers and employees engaged with us.  If not, we only hear from them when their payrolls are wrong, or to complain about the vacation policy.  The reality is that organizations who successfully implemented solutions, had good change management programs resulting in high user adoption also ended up being among the more successful companies.
  • Buying Habits and Governance – Governance always seems to play into things.  I’ve found that the few organizations that are great at governance tend to be awesome places to work, make good decisions, and have high employee engagement.  So I’m stretching Lexy’s observations here, but basically when I reflect on her finding that successful companies have more technology and spend less per employee, I almost immediately translate that into good governance.  How do you get to better utilization of what you have, and only buying what you need after all?
  • Technology Decisions – There was also a couple of themes that I translated into low maintenance overhead, but also the ability to use industry best practices.  It kills me when I walk into a client that is so highly customized they really don’t know what they are doing anymore other than accepting new requests and implementing full time.  Most of these organizations don’t even know why or what the business case is – they just do it.  Successful companies are correlated to low customization, which is also correlated to SaaS purchases.
  • Data – One would automatically think that successful companies are good with data.  It seems obvious.  The survey actually points out a couple of great tactical elements to get you there.  The first one was integrated talent management with your core HCM product.  Companies that were there tended to have a significant advantage than others.  The second was the utilization of mature business intelligence models, along with the deployment of that data into manager’s hands where agile business decisions can be made.

At the end of the day, HR just wants to be heard.  Interestingly enough, there are elements of shoring up our own house as well as focusing on outcomes here.  If we make bad decisions and have crappy governance, well that’s problem number 1.  But if we also have crappy user adoption and poor data, we’ve also lost the game.

Note – nowhere in this did we correlate functionality to success!

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.

Absurdity (Parental Advisory)

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

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

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

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

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


Fooling Ourselves

I’ve been watching with fascination over the last couple years as countires have rebelled against their governments (Arab Spring in 2011), and American citizens have condemned corruption, and congratulated the populous for rising up and forcing change.  It’s fascinating to me because we are so unaware of what has been going on around us for so long.  After all, we (as a country) have been supporters of Egypt for decades.  The United States has supplied and trained their military, given them aid in various forms, and we have very publicly acknowledged them as strategic allies in the region.  Apparently, The United States has never actually cared that a particular leader was corrupt.  I mean really, do a Google search for the now famous photo of Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein.  Uhh, yeah, Saddam was an ally too.  Oh, the guy we took out of Panama, Noriega, him too.  Actually, we were the ones who put him in power ((I think, but I’m on a plane and can’t actually do the quick research to verify this)).  I mean, come on, we’re all blind to the other side of the coin that we hold in our own hands?

I’m often surprised at the level of myth that is present in large corporate organizations as well.  “Oh, no, we can’t possibly expect to have most of our employee transactions go through the portal.”  Really, in 2011, you can expect it, and you can even demand it.  “Oh, no, we can’t outsource payroll, the displacement of control would be devastating to us.”  Guys, you still control the rules in the gross to net.  You really want to run printers and update your own taxes in the payroll system forever?  “Our CEO has demanded that we implement talent management in the next 3 months.”  Seriously, this is just the flip side, and you didn’t tell him or her that it’s a bad idea to slam a strategic system in?

I love myth.  Myth tells us about ourselves, our beliefs, and our culture.  In every myth, there is a grain of truth, a particle of reason that is steeped in the reality of our companies.  But often times, myths get blown out of proportion.  Deeply held beliefs that are there for so long that they only are a reality in the minds of the 10 and 20 year company veterans.  Unfortunately, those 20 year employees are usually not that current with the as is culture.

We as HR have indeed started to change.  Talent Management was honestly one of the biggest catalysts we have had, in conjunction with an ever improving ability to manipulate data through systems.  But I often think that the biggest obstacle of change are ourselves.  Talent was supposed to be a revolution, but 5 years or so later, all we have is a bunch of automated processes and new theories.  We need to be the HR leaders that force the issue, realize the former state was crap (even if we put it there and supported it), and the future state is where the game will be played.

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.

Managing Thinking, Managing Knowledge

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

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

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

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


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

Decision effectiveness

A few years ago, i had a custom set of wheels made for my bike. I had the rims specifically weighed and picked out of a set of about 10 rims. I had the spokes weighed and balanced to make sure they were the lightest ones. The spoke nipples (the threaded parts that are basically nut that the spokes attach to the rims through) were color matched to the paint on my bike. all said, the wheels weighed about 1435 grams. Not crazy light, but pretty darn light. And they were fairly aerodynamic having decently deep rims and bladed spokes to cut through wind. Being aerodynamic, they cut through wind pretty well, and being light, they accelerated and climbed well. But custom rims cannot be laced as tight as some of the manufactured wheels out there. The one thing I lacked was the stability that comes from an incredibly tightly laced wheel.

I decided to give up my beloved wheel set and get a mass produced one (ok, so I have not yet seen another set of my wheels on the road, but still, they are not custom wheels). They happen to be just as light, almost as aerodynamic, and insanely sturdy. There is so little flex in my wheels that on hard corners going downhill at 45 mph, I have absolute confidence in them and I know exactly what they are going to do. Nonetheless, it was a hard decision to make, to replace my perfectly good older wheels.

I’ll admit. Even I talk too much about governance and the structure and network it takes to have a good governance model. But regardless of the model, it is not about your governance model, its about the effectiveness of your decisions. Do you make the right decisions? How fast do you make a decision? How often do you execute your decisions as planned?

You can have a great governance model. You can be totally well informed about what goes on in the organization based on working groups that inform you about the state of HR. You can be well networked and statused. And with all of that, you can still make the wrong decisions or avoid making decisions.

I have seen organizations where the governance model was to include so many people in the decision that at the end of the day, nobody wanted to be accountable for the final decision. The group would reach a point of consensus so that if anything went wrong, nobody had to take accountability, and they were all both blameless and at fault. It was also an environment where when the group was close to consensus, if someone saw something was clearly wrong, nobody would stand up for fear of being the one having to be accountable for a different decision.  It was a governance model. It was inclusive, well networked, but it turned out it was a bad model. Either nothing got done, or often, the wrong things got done. When it comes right down to it, you need to be inclusive and networked in the governance model, but you also need to be able to react quickly and authoritatively when the circumstances call for it. You need to have accountability for the decision that is separate from accountability for the execution and implementation of that decision. And you need to have the ability and the willingness to switch gears in the middle when you realize that something is either wrong, or jut that something could be better.

I had. Perfectly good bike, with perfectly good wheels. I’m continuously amazed at the quality of my new ride. It feels smoother when i ride over bumps, more solid when I ride down a hill, but jut as light and aerodynamic. I was the right decision to make, even though it pained me to make it.

I Should Have Been A Rice Farmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nerves and Decision Governance

What makes us intelligent, able to make decisions based on our surrounding and pdictions of the future is not that we have an emmense amount of knowledge packed into our brains. Rather, what makes us different as human beings is that we have a great deal of nerves and nerve connections. It is these connections that is what makes us able to operate in. Different mode than the other animals around us.

Without these fundamental building blocks of connections, we would simply not be able to make the decisions we make. The same can be said for governance. Armed with only knowledge, we can make decisions based on some preferences, but armed with knowledge and connections through a network, we can make decisions based on probable outcomes.

I constantly see governance bodies that are made up of senior HR VPs who operate based on what they know as a senior body. Acting without the help of lower level working groups or sub governance teams, they don’t have the benefit of connections and networks that would help them be more successful.

Its not that we can’t make decisions ourselves, but that in complex organizations, just as in complex organisms, a single body simply can’t discover all of the nuances and have all of the information it needs on its own. In today’s businesses with multiple systems, multiple HR functions, business functions, divisions, political factions, etc involved, having appropriate inputs to help decipher what is really going on and deciding what decisions are actionable and important becomes critical.

And the fact of the matter remains: that managers and executives don’t really ever hear the bad stuff. People are actually afraid of poorly stat using their projects and functions, and often it’s too late for executives to act by the time they catch wind that something has gone sideways. While discussing projects with peers within governance sub teams, clear discussions can be had, and realizations that often the issues are more cross functional in nature rather than the fault of a particular person can be recognized.

Indeed, even our projects are so interdependent upon each other that governance sub groups and working groups are absolutely essential to the proper functioning of our programs. Take talent management for example. Thinking that performance can live in a vacuum can only lead to trouble. Functional processes must be coordinated with learning, compensation, succession, staffing, and others. At the executive decision level, they must integrate with the executives from the same functions to ensure that strategic level adherence is maintained.

Regardless of the topic, governance and decision making is all about coordination and networking. Its an impossibility to think in todays HR technology world that any of us can live on an island without others, but also that we can be independent of others and still have a complete understanding of our environment.

Merge, Outsource, Re-merge

Imagine this. You’re fixing your house, and you take down a few walls to reconfigure how the place looks – it’s a bit more open, you can see more, put more people in it when you entertain. While you’re at it, you decide to put new walls up – perhaps a new powder room where there wasn’t one before, or a new bar area. But the bar area never got used, and you didn’t install water to go to in so you could have a sink and forgot the wine rack, so you take it back out since it wasn’t what you really needed. At the end of the day, you’ve spent a whole lot of money trying to get what you wanted, and then didn’t get what you wanted.

The trend has been going on in business for decades now. Organizations acquire or merge, and then merge common business units and functions. What follows is counter intuitive: after the merge comes the re-piece mealing of the business unit or function. Basically we merge things together and then break them apart again.

We’ve really done the same thing in HR. Over the last decade and more, we’ve tried to figure out what can go into HR shared services. We’ve dropped payroll and benefits in there, then we added HRIS and call centers. The first steps were easy, we gave payroll to the ADP’s and Ceridian’s of the world, and benefits to the Mercer’s and Hewitt’s of the world. Then we went a step further and gave away our call centers to HRO, going ultimately to a state of letting someone else do the transaction processing for us.

We thought this was smart, and in many of the cases, it was. We reduced our costs, created scalability through our providers, and theoretically instilled better quality. But a couple of years ago, we had one of those “uh-oh” moments – we realized that we did it wrong, perhaps went too far, or just didn’t prepare the right way. It’s not to say that outsourcing was bad, or even that we outsourced too much. But it did make us realize that simply outsourcing doesn’t get you to the end state without a lot of work.

What we’ve done in the last couple of years is pull back some of the outsourcing and reintegrate the processes back into our shared service centers. We realized that there is lots of stuff in HR that can’t be simple handed over to an outsourcer and scripted. After all, we’re not talking about accounts payable and cutting checks – much of what we do is nuanced and no matter how many process flows or scripts you write, there is always another unique problem heading towards you just over the horizon.

The problem with HR outsourcing is not that they can’t do what they do effectively. It’s that we haven’t figured out where to draw the lines. We give away the core employee indicative transactions like personal data or job changes. Yep – those are pretty easy. But along with that, we group the complex international movements in with the job changes. Often these are high potential or succession candidates that are getting moved around because we’re actively investing in their development. Rather than simple job changes, we’ve moved people between countries and business units, and both they and their managers are senior people in the organization that expect a high quality transaction. Outsourcers seldom bungle the regular transactions, but given the complexities of other types of movement, dissatisfaction rates can be pretty high. So we bring the transactions back in, but it was not the outsourcers fault – they were probably good at the basic stuff, and we were supposed to be smart enough not to give away the complex processes that were important to us.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to go through another round of this pretty soon. Everyone seems to be thinking about service delivery models, but we’re still thinking about efficiency and cost rather than effectiveness and services. Sure, we can save $100M on paper, but in most cases it didn’t work the first time around. Are we going to make the same mistake again?

Serendipity versus Decision Support

Would I be where I am today if I had all the facts every time?  I’m actually confident that if it were up to me, I would be digging ditches for a living somewhere (not to demean ditch diggers).  Let’s face it, I started off all on the wrong foot.  Being an Asian American kid with a prodigy brother, I was definitely the stupid one (I’ll assume you’ve all read about the Asian “Tiger Mom” thing lately).  I was the kid who, at the age of 6, was told by my piano teacher to quit.  I was the kid who was told by my 5th grade teacher, “too bad you’re not your brother.”  I was the Asian kid who graduated high school with only a 4.2 GPA.  (All of that is true btw).  I was also the kid who by some miraculous stroke of good fortune, managed to get accepted to my first choice college.  Being of relatively low income, my parents were quite please when I got a significant financial aid package (nothing compared to the brother, who incidentally got into every single Ivy League – also true).  At some point in the summer, I was sent a letter from my college of first choice and informed that they would no longer be able to offer me the amount of aid that I required.  With quite a large amount of desperation, I called around to various colleges, and was re-admitted to my (I think) 4th choice school with the financial aid that I needed.

It was at this school (one of the Claremont Colleges in S. California), where rather than hoards of students in large auditoriums being lectured to (a system that had clearly failed me so miserably to this point), I was instead surrounded by classes of maybe 15.  OK, maybe 20 max.  Rather than being lectured to, we sat around a table and talked about the book we read in the prior week.  I sat around on committees where I was literally a vote as a student to decide whether professors got tenure or not.  Rather than simple learning, I began understanding.  I really do consider this to be the first of several unplanned turning points.  Listen, I’m serious when I say that I was not a good student.  But learning for me happened a different way than for most.

We often talk about analytics and how it changes how we operate in HR.  High quality data leads to high quality choices – and often times that is true.  But it is also true that we don’t always have all of the data that we need at any specific point in time – if we had everything we needed to know, we might make vastly different choices.

I’ll take succession planning as an example.  We know who the top 10 succession candidates are for top positions (hopefully).  We know when they will be ready, what their relative skills and competencies are, and how their strengths compare to one another.  But we don’t know which of them are going to jump ship and go to another company before the position becomes vacant.  We don’t know which of them are going to stop growing, regardless of our best efforts to continue developing them.  The best that we can do, is to invest in a pool of candidates, and hope that one of them, the right one, is ready when the time comes.

We use decision support and analytics to crunch the numbers for us, but at the end of the day, it’s still serendipity – it’s still luck.  The hope here, is that while analytics and decision support can’t be a perfect predictor, we can in fact “make our own luck.”  We can improve our odds at getting the best outcomes.  At the end of the day, it is not serendipity versus decision support, but a combination of the two that will make our best data work for us.

Core HR is not a Hub

I came across this quite a few years ago as we started to tinker around with core HR systems needing to integrate with more systems than just payroll and benefits, and as analytics engines started to take off en masse.  Back in the first part of the millenium as talent applications started to get a serious look from the industry, the idea was that core HR applications could be the system of record for everything.  While some philosophical disputes existed back then (and continue to be pervasive), I think we fairly successfully resolved that core HR should not be the system of record for everything.

The easy stuff is around transactional systems.  We would never assume that core HR would be the system of record for things like employee taxes or benefit deductions.  It’s unlikely (assuming point solutions) that you’d want anything but the talent systems to be the master of performance and scores since the transactions take place outside of core HR.  We’ve pretty much determined that the core transactional system is going to be the system of record for almost all data elements, and I think this is a good thing.

The problem is that early in the day, we had it easy from an integration standpoint.  We really didn’t have that many systems, and so you really had core HR data going outbound to payroll and benefits, and you might have had recruiting inbound.  There was little doubt that Payroll had the outbound file to the GL and all the other payroll “stuff” like NACHA and taxes.  Clearly, integration has gotten a bit more complex over the years.  Rather than the obvious choices we had a decade ago, I now get to hear little debates about whether all the data from TM should be sent back so that you can run reports, and so that all data can be interfaced to other areas from core HR.  The answer is a big strong “NO!”

There are a couple things at play here.  Let’s talk about analytics first.  The idea in today’s world is that you’re supposed to have a data warehouse.  Sure, this was aspirational for many of you 3-5 years ago, but if you don’t have one today, you’re flat out lagging the adoption curve.  A data warehouse usually has this thing called an ETL tool which assumes you are going to bring data into the warehouse environment from many sources.  Bringing data into the core HR system and then into the data warehouse is simply counter intuitive.  You don’t need to do it.  Certainly I have no objection to bringing in small amounts of data that may be meaningful for HR transactions in core HR, but bringing overt data in large quantities is really unnecessary.

Second, let’s talk about integration to other systems.  I’ll be the first to admit that if you have SOA up and running, you are ahead of the curve.  In fact, if you are in HR, you are at least 2 years of the curve, and maybe 3-5 years ahead of mass adoption.  The simple idea remains that integration should continue to grow simpler over time and not require the level of strenuous effort that is took in the past when we managed dozens of flat files.  However, I have a philosophical problem with trying to manage integration out of core HR.  The fact is simply that you are distributing information which core HR may not own.  The management and quality of the data cannot be guaranteed in a non-system of record, and your data owners for the element cannot be expected to manage data quality in 2 separate systems.

The whole idea of core HR as a data hub keeps popping up, and I see the whole discussion as problematic.  It stinks from a governance perspective, and it stinks from a technology perspective.  Well, now you know where I stand at least.