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.

I Should Have Been A Rice Farmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

HR Technology Deployments

I love it when consultants come in and talk to you about all the things you need to do around an implementation.  Obviously your implementer is going to do all the normal things around table configuration and testing, but they often miss some of the bigger items.  When consultants come in to talk about the other stuff, they are usually not particularly comprehensive – they like to talk about change management.  Change management is a wonderful thing, but it still does not mean you’re going to have a successful deployment, no matter how good the change program is.  There are so many things that go into swapping your HR technologies out that missing any of them could spell disaster.

  • Foundation.  I don’t know why so little time is spent on the foundation of any HR system.  Whether it’s core HR or talent management, there are some pretty big foundation issues that you should be looking at before you even think about starting an implementation.  Whether you like it or not, half of your problem with your prior system was not the system.  Half of your problem was that you screwed up the foundation, and had you gotten it right, you’d never be moving to a new system anyway.  Either you messed up the organizational structure and after that it was all downhill, or your jobs never made sense, or your security was horrible and ultimately your own poor security decisions ended up in horrific data quality.  Perhaps you didn’t really think through competencies or goals well enough when you did your first talent management implementation because the talent market was so young that nobody really knew what they were doing.  Either way, fix it now before you configure tables, because your implementer really just wants to get values in the table and stay on time – not help you figure out what the right org structure is for the next 10 years.
  • Decommissioning.  Ok, there are easy parts and hard parts.  The easy parts are reports, interfaces and data conversion.  Heck, that’s just part of any old implementation.  Of course we’re going to convert those.  But wait, did you say we’re not converting history?  How long are we going to have to access the old system for?  Does that mean we’re running reports out of 2 systems?  Wait, have we done analysis around the downstream systems and not just creating interfaces?  Listen, if you’re changing the org structure (see #1 above), you had better prepare every singe downstream system (and downstream from the downstream system) to get ready for new values or structures.  It’s not just about an interface or a report.  What you are doing is going to have far reaching impact – especially if it’s core HR.  Last thing you need to do is mess up some random headcount report that goes to the board of directors just because it comes out of a system 2 interfaces removed from core HR.
  • Implementation.  This is obviously one of the things that will get covered.  Your chosen implementer is going to be all over table configuration, and they are motivated to be on time and under budget.  That’s really where the problems comes in – you want them to be on time and under budget, but you’d also like to think that they are going to be strategically minded and help you out with other things above.  90% of the time they are not.  The cost model that your purchasing people drove them to simply won’t allow them to help you out, and even if thoy could, do you really want a group of people operating in the weeds of table configuration to also operate at the highest strategy levels?  Usually not.
  • Change Management.  Can we please get away from thinking that training and communication is all there is to change management?  Realistically, the estimate you should be using for change management should be about 20% of the implementation budget.  That’s right, if you are spending $1M on implementation, you should have a $200k budget.  When things start to get tight, the first things to go are any real hopes for change management.  If you don’t get your audience analysis and change strategy right, all you’re going to have are vendor provided training and generic communications.  Listen people, the new technology is 80% adoption and 20% everything else in the equation of success.  If you want to be successful, don’t cut the 20% of change management budgets, cut $200k out of your implementation and live without a piece of functionality.

Sorry – am I ranting?  It’s not just implementation, table configuration and change management.  You can get all of those perfect and still have a bad outcome.  In order to get it right, you have to do all of the activities, including the ones that are not totally obvious at first, and including the ones that your consultants are not trying to sell to you.