HR Technology Conference 2014: Global Payroll

If you read this blog, you know I like order and simplicity.  I want everything in one place.  My scale at home weighs me and integrates to my calorie tracker.  my calorie tracker integrates with my fitness tracker.  I know how many calories I’ve eaten, how many I’ve expended, and if my weight trend is on target or not.  It’s all in one app even though all the data gets entered in separate places.  This is the world I want for global payrolls, but…

Seriously, global payroll is such a PITA.  It’s just too hard to figure out how to get all of your payroll vendors on a single platform or even a single vendor.  Local countries want their own autonomy, but corporate controls want centralized reporting and GL integrations.  Because if the very disparate local compliance issues, it’s incredibly difficult to normalize much of the global payroll environment.  Here are a couple of quick vendor thoughts that have been coming into focus and reality for a couple years:

  • ADP Streamline.  I don’t quite understand this service, but Streamline can basically take ADP global payrolls and consolidate much of the payroll data into one place.  This allows for generally centralized reporting and results.  The weakness of this model is that it’s not in the ADP HCM applications and can’t do reporting that has HCM data in it (afaik)
  • Ceridian Dayforce Payroll.  I don’t remember the name of their product, but Dayforce HCM is basically able to take Ceridian global payrolls and dump things into the Dayforce application, again providing consolidated reporting.  The weakness of this is that it’s in Dayforce HCM, and not everybody wants to run Dayforce HCM.
  • There are other great global payroll vendors that I like (Celergo comes to mind) but I didn’t visit them this particular HR Tech, so I won’t comment.

The idea of having a single payroll vendor doing all of the work in one place is fantastic, but it’s really pretty mythical.  Not one vendor can cover the entire globe, and most companies will have a gap somewhere, even with the big vendors like ADP and Ceridian.  Most organizations will try to get to 2-3 vendors to cover the globe, and some of them use outsourced BPO arrangements like AonHewitt or NorthgateArinso to coordinate these services.  Either way, single consolidated global payroll data is either on multiple vendors, or you spent millions of dollars and years of time consolidating on legacy HCM like SAP or PeopleSoft.

The other observation I’d make is that most global payroll organizations have to stack rank their companies for who is going onto a centralized platform and who is not.  For example, most companies decide on an employee count threshold to determine if it’s worth moving them to Streamline; under 100 employees and the cost of adding a Streamline country may not be worth the ROI.  These smaller countries are often left to their own devices and more manual integrations.

All in all, global consolidated payroll is still a bit mythical, but the last couple of years brought significant capabilities where the major vendors now have the ability to consolidate more than they had in the past.  As country footprints continue to increase, maybe a single global payroll provider is not such a distant future.

The Evolution of Standardization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new HR Portal is not an HR Portal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread & Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global or Regional: HR Service Delivery Should Always Be Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Is Big Data An HR Directive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Dysfunctional Self Service

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Analytics!

I’m a nerd.  I get on my bike or I go for a run, and I’ve got my Garmin GPS running the whole time telling me how far I went, how fast I went, what my heart rate was, (ok I’ll stop the list well before it gets to 20 items).  I also happen to weigh myself 4 times a day.  I like to know how much I weigh, what my % of water weight is, how fat I am, etc.  I’m a total nerd and I like my data – lots of it.

When I get home from a routine Saturday ride, the first thing I do is download all the data.  The data by itself is interesting, but only for about 3 minutes.  The second thing I do is I trend the thing.  I’ll look at my ride side by side with the prior week’s and maybe several others.  Basically I’ll compare the stats and get an idea if I was slower, faster, more powerful, etc.  In other words, within a few seconds, I’ll know if I’m better or worse off.

The thing is, I really don’t care about that either.  What I really care about is that I was really slow up Mt. Tam, or that I got dropped on the way into Pt. Reyes.  It’s not that I care that I suck (that’s a given), it’s that where I suck tells me what to work on.  Sometimes, it even tells me that I didn’t eat enough (a common problem if you guys know me – yes, I’m neurotic).

In the last 15 years, most of us have gone from minimal data in our reports, to some pretty decent analytics and/or dashboards.  We’ve started moving away from the static and columnar operational reports and into trending and drillable analytics.  With these new reports, we’ve prided ourselves with the ability to tell our executives that “turnover is down compared to a year ago”, or “the cost of hiring in #BU has skyrocketed.”  It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood!

But I don’t want operational reports.  Neither do I want analytics.  What I want has almost nothing to do with the data.  I want insightfulness into the business.

Let’s pretend I go to the head of my business unit and tell her that turnover is up over the last 3 quarters.  “Crap,” she says.  “What is the problem and what do we do about it?”  Joe HR stammers and says, “looks like we have an engagement problem???”  Trends and drills are really nice things.  I know I’m lying, our managers really do want this stuff.  But they only want it because we’ve starved them for data for decades.  They really are only mildly interested in the data.  Just as I only look at my bike ride speed out of curiosity, I know that the number alone tells me zilch.  Just as knowing my average speed compared to last week tells me only if I was a little better or worse, ignores conditions on the road, and the environmental context.  What I really want to know is how everything fits together to provide an analysis that give me the insight to act and make a decision.  I want to know what to act on, when, and how to do it.

HR’s job in data is starting to transition yet again.  We’re moving out of the business (I hope) of creating trends and drills, and moving into the business of context.  So the turnover trend looked bad.  Now the questions is how we create a regression model around our data to figure out what the primary actors are for that turnover trend.  Maybe for once engagement only has a small contributing score to turnover.  Maybe what we didn’t know was that the leader told their entire BU that nobody was getting a bonus this year.  Perhaps the cause of that was actually some severe cost containment driven at the corporate level.  How about some good analytics here to compare the cost of total turnover to the cost of those bonuses?

At the end of the day, we have much cooler data.  I’ll give us that one (and the vendors especially).  It’s time though to stop being producers of just the data alone.  It’s not enough anymore.  Perhaps when half of HR were “generalists” a decade ago this was ok.  But we’re supposed to be partnered with the business now and we still can’t really diagnose what’s going on, let alone how to fix things.  Once again, let’s stop being producers of data and become analysts of data.  We need to start producing some insightfulness.

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!

Strategy without Technology is Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

HRaaS

Every now and then I think I have a thought that is pure genius. This is not one of them. Instead, every now and then I have a thought that simply entertains me for longer than it should. This is definitely one of those.

I have not yet figured out the appropriate pronunciation for this. It might either be HR-ass, or harass. Either way, the thought popped up in my head while pondering the wonders of HR outsourcing. I mean, if we think about HRO, all we are really talking about is HR as a service, right? You subscribe to a service whether it is payroll or benefits outsourcing, or technology and call centers. You expect that the vendor will keep up with best practices, update their technologies as needed, have the right staffing ratios as your organization grows (or not), and maintain all the service levels you have negotiated. It really does sound like HR as a Service to me. It is unfortunate that HRO organizations have not adopted the acronym however.

We talk about it as HR service delivery after all, so why do we call the relationship HR outsourcing? Sure we have outsourced the delivery of parts of the service chain to someone else, but at the end of the day, it really does not matter if the service is internally or externally delivered. It’s simply a component of HR services that our employees and managers expect to get from us. What matters most to us is that the employees get the best experience possible in a scalable and cost effective solutions. (ok, so they really don’t care about the last 2). I mean, let’s think about the value proposition that HRO gives us. They can scale better, they can add technology with more agility, and and they are supposed to be rurally good at executing their core.

So next time you have a HR transformation project that includes HRO, I dare you. No, I double dare you. Brand your project HRaaS. (come on, I at least got a chuckle out of you, right? I really prefer not to laugh alone.)

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

 

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.

 

Rules of the Road

Every time I go to another country, I’m amazed at how tame driving in the US actually is.  People here obey lane laws, there is a fairly strict code of right of way (even if half the drivers don’t truly understand it), and for the most part people are patient.  For those of you unbelievers, think about it this way: even though most of us roll through stops signs, if there is a 4 way stop, we’ll wait our turn.  Compare this to driving in other countries, whether in Thailand, India, Mexico, ah hell, let’s throw Rome in there for kicks.  Compared to the good ‘ol US of A, it’s utter mayhem out there.

Take for example the simple act of staying in your own lane.  In many countries, if you have 2 motorcycles or scooters hanging about, they are going to squeeze into the tightest spot possible.  There is a good chance they are not going to stop at signs and lights, but just roll through if there is any opportunity at all.  What ends up happening is the minor road anarchy that occurs means everyone is on the lookout, weaving, and dodging everyone else.

I’m absolutely convinced that a disciplined approach to driving actually yields not only more speed, but also less effort and increases in safety.  If you stay in your lane, perhaps you can’t squeeze 50 motor vehicles into a space the size of a dime, but you can be far less worried about what is going on around you.  Therefore, the elimination of risking killing those around you means significantly less stress (effort), far fewer accidents that will cause a full stoppage, and of course, the overall speed of the road increases from 30 miles per hour to 60.

The same goes for business process (y’all knew this as coming).  Mayhem causes stress, more risk for full stoppages, and actually slows things down.  Many of you will react with, “But we don’t have mayhem in our organization, we’re just not as disciplined.”  I’m here to deliver the bad news – that’s mayhem folks.

My first ever manager after college used to tell me the same 2 things over and over again:

  1. There is right and there is wrong, and there is a lot less grey than we thing there is.
  2. If it’s really right, it’s actually right 100% of the time without deviations.  Stick to your guns.

Ok, I might not be as sold on the idea that there is very little grey, but I certainly think we make exceptions far too often.  We allow our business partners to sway our processes, to have one-off reports, to feel like we have to be at their full service, beck and call.  We forget that the COE half seriously states that people are the most important asset in the organization.  We allow for “The Business” to make us feel that maximizing our processes around people and talent will get us that one huge sale.  But we forget that enforcing the discipline of our HR practices will yield larger long term results than just that one sale.

Mayhem is bad.  It one of those truths that is fundamental to our universe unless you are a physicist (when chaos is a cool thing).  But being disciplined is hard – to do what we know to be right, not deviate, and grow our HR practices takes true leadership and purpose.

 

Missing Steps

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

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

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

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

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

Real Time Activity Analysis

Not only am I a geek, I’m a workout geek.  The latest geeky gadget I’m lusting over is a Withings E-Scale.  For just $165, I can get up in the morning, weigh myself, stand on the scale for a few seconds, have the scale measure my body fat, lean body mass, hydration level, and a few other things, and then have all of this uploaded through the home wi-fi to the internet.  I can then go online and see the trend of all of these factors over the time that I’ve been using the scale.  ((I actually weigh myself 4 times a day when I’m home.  It’s a California thing.))  Heck, I already have all of my bike ride data online for the last 4 years – I mean, I can compare how fast I pedal the crank arms on my bike today versus 2 summers ago in August.  Adding some health statistics seems reasonable to me.  Since it supports 8 users, my wife can get the same data on herself, although I’m pretty sure she would not want to, and I would be the focus of much derision for months.  Overall, while my bike stats tell me where I’m getting fitter, the scale would tell me the nuances of my body that contribute to fitness.

If I can get all of this personally for $165, I’m trying to figure out why it feels like I don’t have access to this type of data as an HR professional.

  • Case management tools are readily available:  Call centers do it.  If I go to my HR call center, they are probably tracking the number of cases each rep takes, how long it takes them to clear a call, etc.
  • Transaction data is usually available, but takes some effort:  I suppose I could audit my database tables to see how many employee name change processes there are and exactly how long they are taking.  But it’s not like I’m going to make my data entry staff use an extra minute to create a case for a 2 minute transaction.  Adding 50% effort to a small transaction is rather silly.
  • Data would be pretty impossible to get in an automated way: I mean, how much time does my staff spend in department meetings?  Not project meetings or something useful, I mean department get togethers, communications for what’s going on in the organization.  I’m not saying that this is not important stuff, but I had to run an activity analysis once just to prove to an organization that some of their people were spending 5% of their time in department meetings.

All I’m saying is that I feel like I should have a much better handle on my organization.  If I want to measure effectiveness, we seem to have dashboards for that.  Similar to my example where my bike stats can measure fitness, our dashboards can measure performance, talent acquisition, turnover, etc.  But similar to how a scale would then measure the miniscule core details of why I’m getting fitter (or not), I don’t feel like I have a dashboard for that.   For another example, we track training really well, but I think most of us would acknowledge that learning happens outside of training, and we don’t track real learning activities that well at all.

We’ve come a long way in the last [number] of years.  I’m hoping that in 3 more years, we can look back at 2011 and think, “god I’m glad we have this stuff in (in 2014).”  But no matter how far we go in the next [number] years, there will still be critical gaps.

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?

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.

Web 2.0 for HR Call Centers

Call centers traditionally have a couple of major technologies sitting in them for HR.  We will usually have some sort of knowledgebase that contains access to policies, procedures, and prompts to all sorts of questions and answers.  At the same time, we should always have case management going on at the same time – the system that tracks employee inquiries and how we resolved them.

I’m not talking knowledge base here.  Knowledgebase seems already to be moving towards Web 2.0 technologies.  With things like tagging on the metadata layer, easy access to information is well within Web 2.0 capabilities.  However, I’m not sure we’ve really thought about Web 2.0 nearly as much when it comes to things like case management.  There seem to be a lot of hurdles to overcome, as people consider the problems Facebook has had with security, and people grapple with the concept of “social media” interacting with issues they consider private, we need to ensure that Web 2.0 does not  create more issues than it may solve.  Additionally, as cases in the system are escalated, workflows may not be as native to Web 2.0 systems as they are in traditional case management.

But let’s say we could use web 2.0 as case management.  After all, each case is just a thread with security permissions and some workflow attached to it.  It would be pretty easy to see a case getting logged and then the users (the rep who receives the case, the employee and then any escalation COE’s) would simply become subscribers to the case.  Any time anything happened to the case/thread, each subscriber would automatically be notified of the event.  All the notifications are built into web 2.0 even though “workflow” might not be.  Since you have the ability to “close” threads in almost all Web 2.0 communications technologies, you’d simply use similar functionality for closing cases.  if you wanted to escalate a case to a COE, you’d simply add that COE to the “subscribers” for that thread.

Now, obviously we would not call them “subscribers” “threads” and “notifications” but you get the point that the current Web 2.0 technologies are generally usable.  What we may not get are the robust workflow tools that we would have today.  Along with this go the task lists of things that are still on the “tickler file” of things to do.  However, I’m pretty sure that with the pre-existing base of Web 2.0 technologies, it would not be that much effort for a vendor to plug in some decent workflow and front end task lists.

All in all, we seem to talk a lot about how great Web 2.0 is going to be, how it will help us gather knowledge, innovate, connect and collaborate.  But there are other uses we have not thought of yet that will also simplify our lives.  Rather than having multiple applications for all of this “stuff” imagine a world where your collaboration tool was the same as your knowledg base and case management.  I’m not so sure it’s that far fetched.