Applying the Cheat Code

I’m pretty hopeless in most games.  There are always levels, other people to compete against, and too many tasks to get done.  Inevitably, I run out of patience before I reach the top state, or I realize I’m not very good at the game and I just give up due to incompetence.  The wonderful thing about many games is the “cheat code.”  The cheat code often gives a specified commodity that might be useful in helping a player reach that top state.  The cheat code might come in the form of unlimited gold to but things, extra power for killing things, or even the ability to jump levels.  My only hope is the cheat code, the lame player’s way to the top.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could apply a cheat code in our work lives?  If there was one, it can’t possibly be as simple as a game where you just google to see if a cheat code exists.  In real life, cheat codes are incredibly hard to find, but perhaps they do exist somewhere.  In the world of technology deployments, we certainly know what are NOT cheat codes.

  • Lift and shift deployments.  Let’s say you have a user experience problem and you want to implement a new core HR system and have much better cloud systems that employees interact with.  The reality is that you will end up with a much better UX, but when your employees log into the new system, they are not going to be any happier with the experience if you did a lift and shift implementation.  Simply going in and changing the technology without any of the other foundational factors really does not help you.  It turns out that other factors like your process design, your portal and content management, and your approval chains are still an obstacle.  Let’s say for example an employee has moved homes.  The fact that they still can’t find documentation in the portal that tells them an address change is only the first step, and payroll/state tax changes might need to happen, or how benefit pans are impacted is still a problem.  Sure, getting into a more beautiful system might give them incremental happiness, but it’s not enough to overcome the significant shortcomings in your overall program.
  • Radical technology transformations only.  In addition to #1, many organizations do radical technology transformations and completely forget the amount of change management they will need, or they defund the change management work stream after the first change order comes in.  It’s always sad to see an organization that has spent millions of dollars implementing technology that users don’t adopt because there was a poor change strategy.  Often there is nothing wrong with the technology, or the processes.  But when a user finds something hard the first time because they were not coached on the new process, the repeat user is hard to come by.
  • Saving costs by changing your processes only.  At the end of the day, you do have to realize that your users really are dissatisfied with your technology too.  Yes, they do hate the process because it takes too long and involves too many people that don’t matter to the outcome, but the interface is terrible and hard to navigate.  I’ve seen company after company implement new processes on top of really old technology and then wonder why the end users still complain.
    The moral of the story here is that people (change), process and technology all matter, and it’s hard to have huge successes if you don’t transform all of these three components together.

The good news is that there actually are some valid cheat codes.

  • Cloud.  Wait, didn’t we just say that you can’t just do technology alone?  Yes we did, but the facts are that today’s best cloud technologies allow organizations not only to shift cost and headcount resources in a highly efficient manner by removing in-house technology management, but process design is simply so much easier than it was with legacy platforms.  We’ll still need to remember to have good change management, but cloud really also makes adoption easier since the UX is so significantly better than older platforms.  Compared to legacy on-premise software, cloud platforms accelerate people, process and technology components and serve as a game changing cheat code.
  • Crowd.  I’m not seeing crowdsourcing in HR yet, but I think it’s a major cheat code for whoever can figure it out first.  We have build such huge and costly infrastructures around shared services, but today’s social technologies combined with metadata/tagging structures have the ability to let end users manage their own inquiries with the corporate cloud.  Imagine the employee who moves homes and asks the corporate crowd what to do, and receives multiple answers from the crowds with links to the address change function in HR, payroll tax forms, and benefits enrollment.  HR now plays the content curator role rather than the source of all content.

The thing to remember is that these cheat codes only are available for a short period of time.  At some point, everyone else figures what the cheat code is and everyone has the advantage.  The early adopters can leverage an advantage for a few years, while laggers suffer higher costs, lower adoption, poorer UX, and slower processes for years to come.

Get Over the Cloud

I think it was back in 2004 that I was writing about “DavesNextMove.com.”  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.  DavesNextMove.com 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 Amazon.com’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.

SaaS Is Here: Get Over It IT!

There was a long time ago I could pretty much build my bike from scratch.  Yeah, I could assemble everything, that’s easy.  Putting on gears, lacing up spokes onto wheels, getting the brakes on.  I even used to pick out the individual ball bearings that went into my bikes.  Then came a day when the ball bearings got sealed into cartridges making them last longer, roll smoother and easier to maintain.  In a couple years, hydraulic brakes for road bicycles will be here.  The industry has gone past my ability to build my bikes from scratch.  I can still do most of it, but for the highly technical pieces, I rely on an expert mechanic.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with one of my clients about whether they should “buy it or build it.”  Really?  I honestly didn’t know those conversations even happened anymore.  I really thought all the conversations these days were about should we use SaaS or stay on premise.  I was reminded about this as I read the 2012 HR Technology Survey from Cedar Crestone.  One of the charts noted the differences between HR, IT and executive perceptions and challenges to move to SaaS.  Number 3 for HR and Executives?  Security and Data Privacy concerns.  Of course that was number 1 for IT.

I remember when I used to work for ADP a number of years back.  This is old school, but their tax service center was in San Dimas, California… quite at risk of a major earthquake.  It was in California for a number of reasons – primarily I assume because it gave them an extra 3 hours to file taxes in the U.S.  But while ADP’s state of the art tax facility was at major risk of earthquake damage, their backup facility was somewhere on the other side of the San Andreas fault in Arizona.  I remember talk about power lines coming in from all 4 external walls, just in case some guy with a backhoe ploughed through power lines on 3 sides by accident.

I also love conversations about data security.  Let me be blunt: unless you are Citi, Amazon.com, or Walmart, you probably don’t have an entire organization dedicated to data security and the upkeep of your SAS-## (whatever it is these days).  I’m sure you can do security well, but the chances you can do it better than the organization that does it as their core business, stop worrying about it.  Back to ADP for a moment – I remember always having a personal chuckle moment when a client or prospect said to us that they had their own tax accountants, and felt better about that than using ADP.  Guys, let’s be blunt again.  ADP has probably hundreds of tax accountants, and they are probably better than yours.

Just like taxes are not your core business, you probably don’t host servers as your core business either.  SaaS is here.  Get over it IT.

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.

 

Is Cloud The Way To Go?

So I had to upgrade my cell phone contract.  I used to be on this thing where I had a bucket of minutes and text messages to use, and now I’m on exactly the opposite.  I have unlimited phone and text and about 10 GB of data I can use every month.  It really points to a shift in how we as users of wireless devices are working.  Less and less of our days are spent actually talking to each other, and more of our days are spent collaborating through various mechanisms that involve data.  I will admit to spending an exceptional amount of time browsing news on my phone, looking through facebook updates to keep tabs on people, and using my phone for work emails.  Nobody calls me anymore, and if they do, I get my voicemails through data (I read my VM, have not listened to one in years).

One of the big questions these days is about SaaS and Cloud.  Should we do it?  Should we stay on PeopleSoft or SAP HCM?

The answer for SaaS is a definitive Yes.

At some point, be it this year, next or in 5 years, you are going to move to the cloud.  I’m not an opinion about your current on-premise strategy, and I’m not making a judgment of you if you disagree.  I’m simply stating a fact.  Let’s tale a look at the facts:

  • ADP: The actual development of the Enterprise HRMS client server product is probably severely limited.  I don’t even know if they sell it anymore.  We do know that ADP Vantage is what they are selling and developing.
  • Oracle / PeopleSoft:  We’ve all heard about applications unlimited, but for those who thing that in 2020 we’ll still be going to a PeopleSoft Track at OpenWorld, I think you really have to evaluate your reality.  The developers are all on Fusion.  Let’s say you are right and there is still a PeopleSoft product in 2020.  How long do you think it will have been since your last major product enhancement?
  • SAP: Well, there’s HAHA, and there’s SuccessFactors.  Either way, SAP kind of knows that they are pouring development resources into the cloud.  Same conclusion as with PeopleSoft – it will be around for a while, but that’s not the whole reality.
  • Workday:  It’s already in the cloud from the start – no discussion here.
  • Talent Management: It does not really matter if you bought Taleo, SuccessFactors, Cornerstone, PeopleFluent, (I’m going to get in trouble for leaving out 50 companies), you bought into the cloud long ago for TM.

I’m not really trying to change your mind on the cloud here.  It really does not matter.  If you are an HR technology buyer, you simply don’t have a choice.  The vendors and the industry are in the midst of choosing for you.  In just a few short years, all of your premise based HR technologies are going to cease or significantly slow their development efforts and fully shift to the cloud.  If you want to be on a product that will be continuously developed, that is where it will be.

Just in the same way I really don’t have a choice to stay on my old cell phone plan, the world is moving on when it comes to HR applications.  It’s time to move with it.

The Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

 

Leveling the Playing Field

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

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

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

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

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

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