The Decline of Corporate Elitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Over the Cloud

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

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

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

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

The point being… your employees and managers hate you.  

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

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

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

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

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

HR Technology Conference 2014: 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.

Common Sense KPI’s Gone Wrong

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

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

Employee Referral %:  

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

Employee Turnover %:

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

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

Time for the Annual HR Technology Survey

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

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

All respondents will receive an advance copy of the results in early October 2014. The first 100 respondents to complete all questions will receive a $5 Starbucks card. The 17th, 117th, and 1,017th respondents will receive a $100 Visa gift card in celebration of our 17th year. All who complete the Survey will be entered into a drawing for an in-depth Benchmark Service. used to be one of the leading blogs in terms of how many responses this website generated versus other blogs.  In fact, at some point we were the top blog, but we slipped last year.

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

The 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.

A Star Trek User Experience

One of my favorite all time scenes in movies is in Star Trek 4 (They Voyage Home).  Scotty and McCoy are hunting a local professor to get some plexy glass, and strike a deal to get it for free.  The deal?  Give the professor the chemical formula for “transparent aluminum.”  In order to do this, McCoy suggests that Scotty use the computer to show what they have to offer.  Scotty walks up to the Macintosh and expectantly says, “Computer?” to no response.  McCoy helpfully hands him the mouse and suggests, “perhaps you should use this.”  Scotty picks up the mouse and speaks into it smiling, “Computer?”  The professor finally says, “why don’t you just use the keyboard?”  Scotty grimaces and says, “how quaint!”  ((Dialog not accurate, I’m basing the whole thing from memory.))

We are entering the era where we’ll have people in the workforce that have a completely different experience with technology.  My oldest nephews all spend their evenings gaming with friends half a world away in real time, through voice, game and social apps.  In 20 years, there will be people who may not have had the need to type because dictation is so advanced.  (I’m continuously impressed with how well Google can translate audio into text)  Forget the fact that I didn’t have a PC until college and I used a typewriter in high school.  My newest niece (now 6 months old) will grow up waving her hands at devices or even having them anticipate her next need before she has to act.

I’m and old Gen X curmudgeon, but even I have consumer technology I would not have dreamed of 10 years ago.  My scale sends my weight and body statistics to the cloud via wifi every time i step on it.  This data syncs to my calorie tracker that I enter my daily food intake into.  Both of these sync to my daily workout data.  If I work out, my food app dynamically increases the allowable food intake.  At the same time, my phone is constantly updating what all my friends are doing and if anyone wants to talk to me.

Star Trek was not supposed to happen until the 23rd century.  From the personal technology perspective, we’re already surpassing the Star Trek expectations.  Sure, we’re not atomizing ourselves and beaming our bodies across the globe, but the communicator devices in Star Trek we mo better than the cell phone bricks we had in 1997.  Phones today do so much more than just being a “communicator” but the idea that all this stuff is sitting in the cloud doing things on our behalf would have been ridiculous a few years ago.

Here’s the point.  New entrants into the workforce just don’t get that we are sitting around running reports that have bad data in them.  They don’t understand when their manager fills out a form online that appraises their performance over the last year instead of right now.  They don’t get why we’ve banned Facebook from the network.  They don’t have any idea what you’re talking about when their team isn’t connected in real time all the time and they have to use email for everything.

We’re used to operating in a certain way in business because that’s the way we’ve been doing it.  We’ve let technology creep into our personal consumer lives and not expected work to be any different.  This new generation grew up with personal consumer technology and getting into the workforce is like going back to the 80’s for them – and they weren’t yet born in the 1980.

Our HR portals as full of link farms.  Our call centers are, well, call centers.  Policies and legalese written things that don’t communicate anything but what not to do.  Information retrieval is like finding a needle in a haystack.  We’ve all known that we hate this stuff for decades, but didn’t do anything about it.  But alt least we know how to use it.  To a Millennial, a link far is like weird old mysticism gone bad.  We need to recraft our technologies to make them social, real time, mobile, interactive, and just plain usable.  And we can’t wait for them to get used to us, because honestly their way is better.

Time to take a look at good old HR Service Delivery and realize it’s not good, just old.  Let’s redo the entire thing in an entirely new way.


An Unremitting Devotion to Strategy

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

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

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

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

Here are a couple comments:

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

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

Augmented Reality Onboarding

So I’m looking for a restaurant.  I bring up my phone, hold it up in front of me, and scan what’s around.  It tells me that 1.2 miles over that way there is a Thai place that is rated week, or 0.65 miles the other way there is a BBQ place that everyone loves.  I tap the screen and up come reviews.  I think that I’m headed to a pulled pork sandwich.

So it’s my first day on the job.  I’m lucky today – my cubicle, phone and laptop are all ready for me.  My manager takes me to lunch, and I get introduced to the team.  HR conducts orientation and I enroll in benefits.  Someone comes over and tells the the 10 people I should really meet at some point, and someone else drops 10 large binders on my desk to review.  Not so lucky after all.

Every manager is fully aware of long ramp up times for new employees as they adapt to a new culture, business processes, and team members.  For some roles, the ramp up period can be as short as a month, for other more technical roles 18 months is not unheard of.  Not only is there a need to decrease the ramp up period for productivity reasons, but the employee experience suffers as s/he struggles to navigate the new workplace.  While onboarding is the realm of HR practitioners, start-up and time to productivity is the realm of the manager, a well thought out social onboarding approach can integrate the two needs and accelerate tasks while engaging the new employee.  Tasks that happen informally in the current state of a business could be put to a “gamified” experience where new employees win points or badges as they accomplish a set of activities.  The simple activities could be making sure benefit enrollments are performed and going to the employee orientation.  But informal meetings, like having lunch with their manager and other team members, can be awarded.  Going a step further, creating a network of links in the internal social enterprise site can be encouraged, and getting to know other members of the staff beyond the employee’s core team will help the employee connect broadly in ways that may help their work in the not so immediate future.  Having a manager spend 15 minutes before their employee arrives noting who would be important to meet can make the employee onboarding experience less an outcome of luck and more a planned activity.

Gaming experiences can also be applied to onboarding.

  • Imagine if the employee could show up on their first day, download an app to their phone and take a guided tour of the office.
  • A new group of employees could be treated to an office scavenger hunt to familiarize them with people, places, and departments.
  • New hires could compete against each other in cross functional teams from different departments to get familiar with document management systems, company products and services, policies and procedures.
  • The mentoring experience could be converted to a series of interactions for which bot hthe new employee and the mentor can be rewarded.
  • At the end of the virtual onboarding experience, the employee has connected with their teams, people from other departments, they know where to find work related documents and administrative documents.

Onboarding and speed to productivity is something that most companies know is a problem, but continue to allow employees to grow in the organization organically.  Not only is there an opportunity to better manage the interactions that are known to create positive impact, but these interactions can be made fun.  An employee’s first day should be fun – it should be an expression of what the employee can expect for the rest of their career there.  It should be immersed in learning and discovering, accelerating the time it takes to bing productive and a full fledged member of the team.  SHouldn’t this one be a no-brainer?

The Endless Immensity of the Sea

“If you want to build a ship, don’t gather people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Saint-Exupery

Ok – so I don’t get out on the water that often, and I’m a cyclist so I tend to write about that.  As a cyclist, there are a variety of things I’m always thinking about.  I’m thinking about my weight a bit too often, I think about how my bike is working, I think about my form on the bike, and of course, how fit I am.  These are all things that I work on constantly.  Each component makes me a better rider if I can have small improvements in any area.  There is a joy to riding well, but that’s not really why I ride.  Climbing up Mt Tam in the bay area north of San Francisco, there is a descent off the back side that goes towards Stinson beach (Panoramic if any of you are in the Bay Area).  You start the descent in the trees, and it’s one of those nice, curvy, fast descents.  There is a point however that only lasts for 2 seconds when you break through the trees, and a scene of 180 degree views of Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you.  You have Stinson Beach below, blue sky above, and one of the most breathtaking views in the world.  Without all the little components of fitness, great bikes, etc, you can’t really do this ride.  But the ride is not about the component parts – it’s about that 2 seconds of pure joy.  We build things in order to increase our achievement and experience.  If all I did was work on my bike to get fit, I’d have been out of cycling years ago.  I spend hundreds of hours on the bike just for those 2 seconds.

When we deploy anything in HR (or really anywhere in our businesses), we do a fantastic job of crafting communications and training programs.  We are amazing at making sure people know what is going on and what to do.  We last think we are great about behavioral change – getting people to not only know what is going on and what to do, but actually wanting do it repetitively over time.  This is where we are wrong.  I’m not sure we are at all any good at behavioral change.  Changing behaviors has nothing to do with pounding people over the head with information, and forcing them to do new activities because the old way of doing things has been completely removed.  Yeah, we can get people to do a task or process by edict, but 100% compliance to the change does not actually mean you had 100% adoption or engagement.

What we often forget is the importance of audience analysis.  “What’s in it for me” changes not only with every population type, but with every person.  I’m not advocating that you go through and figure out what every manager in your organization wants when you deploy a new manager self service application, but it’s probably worth the time to spend extra time here segmenting the population to gain greater understanding.  Let’s face it, we are always rolling out processes and technologies saying that there will be a dramatic improvement of efficiency or effectiveness for our business.  We know intuitively that these outcomes only happen if our audience adopts and engages.

4 things you can do differently to improve your audience analysis:

  • Don’t wait until you have a major process or technology implementation to figure out your people: Chances are that you will roll out processes and technologies to your populations repetitively over the year(s).  What drives a population really is not going to change that much over the short and mid term.  Why not do the work up front and use the basic drivers every project?  Then all you have to do is connect those drivers to the specific project you’re deploying.  The first part of budget to get cut is the strategic change management stuff, so why not do that up front so it’s not part of any specific project’s budget?
  • Increase the segmentation of your populations: I hope you don’t think that managers are managers the world over.  There may be significant differences in wants and needs based on countries, business units, age, and any other number of dimensions.  Figure out dimensions drive difference in your organization and focus on those areas for each population.
  • Don’t forget to tie into the business strategy: How often do we connect the projects to the benefits, but we then forget to connect those benefits to the department, unit or business strategy?  Assuming that your employees are engaged to the business goal, this is easy low hanging fruit to exploit.  “It will make the transaction faster for you to process” is all good, but if you don’t point out how/why the manager is driving business outcomes, you’ve failed to maximize the change impact.
  • Figure out who your evangelists are: We’re pretty good at putting together focus groups of managers who can help us spread the word.  We use these people as advisors and they help us test.  But we don’t really have that much success with having them evangelize for us.  We’re afraid they won’t have time to get on a training webinar to talk about their experience (they can record a video and only do it once, you know) or we simply don’t plan far enough in advance to lever them during the deployment.  The truth is, employees and managers don’t really care what we in HR have to say – the 5 minutes one of their peers takes to talk to them is 100 times more valuable.
  • Nope – I really don’t expect that any of our change management activities will convert any business process into 2 seconds of joy, but we’re not even close to that.  For many of us, our change management activities are the pre-ride check of putting air in the tires and making sure the gear shifters work.  We’re not actually even riding the bike yet.  There’s a lot of improvement to be made.


Jocks vs. Nerds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get used to the fact that the nerds have won.

Bread & Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HR, Twitter and Osama bin Laden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking Like A Leader

On my recent Taiwan trip with my family, one of my uncles tagged along for much of the tour.  I really like this uncle as he is often quite interesting to talk to, and is an extremely smart guy.  He’s been retired for a while from his last job as the COE of a major electronics manufacturer, and now sits on the boards of several companies.  To say he’s smart is a but lame actually.  Chances are that the touchscreen you use on your phone or tablet were created by him – literally he is the patent holder.  So as usual when I see him, I’d try to engage him in any number of conversations from Taiwanese politics, the economy, history, the future of personal devices, etc.  Ultimately it occurred to me that these conversations seemed to be extremely short lived.  The extension of the conversations were quite long however, but always seemed to end up being about LCD touch panel displays.  At some point, I finally realized that it was all he either wanted to talk about, or could talk about.

Imagine this: you ask me a question about benefit plan strategy, and all I can talk about is benefit enrollment technology. (I do have my CEBS by the way, even though I never talk benefits).  Or if what you really want to know is best practices around transforming HR business partners into internal management consultants and I give you the pitch about how manager self service will free up time for you to work on that project.  It’s all good and sort of related, but really it’s not.  The problem is larger than random bloggers who have a one track mind though.  It’s not even a problem with HR technologists who do tend to be a bit “focused.”

I’ve spent years doing strategy projects from comp, HRIT, and service delivery organizations and they pretty much all have one guiding principle in common: the need to bring better value to the business.  We’re excellent at thinking about it, but we’re not so good at implementing it.  When we go to the business leaders we’ve promised ourselves to serve and communicate with better, inevitably, we fall back to the same conversations, “Here’s how we are restructuring HR to provide better service to you, our customer.”  It’s as if we think they care about our Talent Management project, or that we will be implementing new job codes.  These are just headache projects to them that mean more work they will need to bear in the short term.  At the end of the day, we’re trying to have the right conversations, but we’re are approaching them in the wrong way.  The end result is we just talk about the stuff we know, instead of the stuff they care about.

Here are some tips:

  • Approach every leader conversation not as an update, but as a change management conversation.  If you do this, you are less likely to talk about the details and dynamics of the project, and much more likely to talk about why the project is important for the business and how the decisions you will be making right now will positively impact the leader.  You’ll also be better positioned to ask the leader to make decisions if they understand the context of how it fits into her business.
  • Bring your guiding principles and strategy documents to every meeting.  Unless you meet with the leader every week, it won’t get redundant to spend 3 minutes at the start of each meeting revalidating the strategy and guiding principles.  It might be the best time you spend, drilling your leader with your core outcomes.  Without it, you risk a disconnect at the end of the project.  With it, you have a leader who will actively sponsor you if she continues to stay on board, and you’ll know this if you stay in front of it.
  • End every meeting by making your leader agree that they get it and you are on track.  If they don’t get it or think you are off track, make them verbalize this and why they think so.  Most leaders who verbally tell you good news consistently and repeatedly either believe it to be true, or will convince themselves out of sheer repetition over time. (that’s not cynical, it’s psychology)
  • Leave the project plan in at your desk.  Leaders only care about budget and timeframes if you’re totally off track and there is business impact.  Otherwise, just bring up the decisions that will be made in the context of pros and cons.

It’s totally human nature to talk about what we know best, and that is what we do every day.  But we risk sounding like a broken record that nobody was interested in in the first place.  What business leaders want to hear about is not our stuff in HR, it’s their stuff.  So long as we can figure out how to talk about their stuff, we’ll be in good shape.  I’m not so sure most of us are in good shape right now.

The Permanent Record

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

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

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

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


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.

Infographics Suck

I was riding my bike around Marin (north of San Francisco) this fall, it was a bit cloudy, grey and not as bright as usual.  Just the week before, I had purchased a new pair of lenses for my sunglasses, just for this occasion, and I was absolutely stunned at the difference it made to my ride.  I felt like I was seeing the road and the vistas for the first time.  Indeed, it was simply the first time I was seeing the views with a Yellow #20 lens.  The reality is that I’d done this exact ride dozens of times before.  I commented my amazement to my riding buddies, how different everything was, brighter, more cheerful, and happy.  But alas, it was just the Yellow #20 versus my usual middle grey.

The current world seems to be in love with the infographic.  Hell, I’m in love with the infographic.  They are pretty, colorful, easy to understand, present only the key pieces of information that you need.  In 45 seconds, every one of us can be conversant in a topic with a very defined point of view.  Well, actually, this is exactly the problem.  You see, while the infographic is a very valuable tool, we should all realize that it’s there as a precision marketing tool.  It is there just to provide a point of view, not a complete conversation.  Here are a couple of things you can do to combat “infographic conventional wisdom.”

  • Take infographics with a grain of salt – statistics are useful, but remember that there is a whole book called “how to lie with statistics.”
  • Question everything – we don’t always look at the source, nor do we ponder the alternative points of view when looking at these things.
  • Evaluate the publisher – if the infographic comes from a vendor, just remember it’s a marketing tool.
  • Rely on research – infographics will continue to be a good source for quick summaries, but research with full commentaries still outvalue the quick infographic by far.

So why am I writing this in an HR blog?  As buyers of HR technology and services, if we are not already flooded with infographics, we will be quite soon.  We love these things for good reason – they are so easy to use, and marketers know it.  Hell, I’ve been known to produce an infographic when I’m presenting a business case to a steering committee.  The problem is it’s too easy to take them without full context and conversation.  90% of the time they are a single point of view only, and an alternative vendor may have statistics proving why their own software is better in exactly the opposite direction.

This great infographic from











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.

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.