Evaluating the Demo

I’ll admit that a while back (wow – are we going on 10 years now?) I was an SC.  You know – those guys from the vendors that the salespeople count on to demonstrate product during the sales cycle.  SC’s are a highly valued commodity.  They are highly trained product experts that must float between the functional world that many of the HR practitioners in their audience live in, the technical world that many IT people in their audience live in, and the sales world that they are part of.  I mean seriously, how many people do you know that can have a functional, technical and sales conversation all at the same time?  The best SC’s are truly rare, have extraordinarily hard jobs, and in my humble opinion are actually quite underpaid for what they bring to the table.

I was attending the HR Demo show in December (put on by the one and only John Sumser) and it was really quite interesting watching back to back to back demos.  It was even more intriguing to listen to the commentary and watch the twitter feeds at the show.  Personally, I watched 3 demos (I was only there for the first day).  Not in any order, there was a horrific demo of a terrific product.  There was also a middling demo of a middling product, and a terrific demo of a fairly poor product.  However, I’m not sure that the verbal or twitter commentary really reflected this.  Part of this is the varying degrees of capability in driving through to what the core product capabilities are from either a functional or technological perspective, and reading past the SC’s ability to sell (that is after all what they are there for).  Let’s face it, a 1-hour demo of a product is designed and probably scripted to show all the best that a product has to offer.  The best SC’s are going to show all the flash in a way that looks incredibly simple.  Even if the product is absolute crap (I’m not saying I saw anything that was), the sales job is to convince you that you can do everything you need to do within the product and that the capabilities are not only sufficient, but that you love them.

At the same time, the technologists in the room are looking around at the exact same demo and not listening to a word about functionality.  Instead, they are watching the screens, table driven values, background integration, web architecture and all sorts of other things that are not being explained verbally.  Thus, I can watch an incredibly dry presentation but still come out of it saying, “wow, that was cool” while the functionally driven people in the room might be saying, “wow, that sucked.”  Functionally, if we are talking about core HR, I’m going to say that the product capabilities of the best demo and the worst demo were within 5% of each other.  However, technologists and functionally driven practitioners are going to come out of a demo with different perspectives.  Unless you are an analyst or have a specific background, I’m not sure that you’re going to be able to pull together these perspectives in a single individual.  That’s why, even though some HR people get a bit tight, we invite very broad teams of HR, IT, Finance, etc to watch demos.

As a parting thought, here are a couple of hints when you ask questions during the demo:

  • When the SC says, “Our clients handle that situation by using this functionality over here” means that it’s a workaround.  No matter how good and convincing the demo was, it’s a workaround and does not really exist.  You should also be aware that many of the workarounds that SC’s come up with are totally legitimate, but that the implementation groups may not be aware how to implement them.
  • When an SC says, “We suggest that you handle the situation this way” means there is a band aid.  You might be exiting the application, or using a workaround, but be in no doubt that once again the functionality does not exist.

Engagement is Economic Theory

I was having a recent conversation with John Sumser where we discussed my need to be an engaged employee. Indeed, I’m that guy who is almost always engaged because I honestly love my work. I’m one of those unique people who actually find the world of HR and HR technology interesting. In general, I’m the typical, highly engaged employee. I generally overachieve, I almost always exceed my goals, my clients love me because I execute great work, on time, and usually under budget. However, we all know that our companies and our direct managers are also major influencers of our engagement, and I believe that one can be completely engaged with the work, but not the company. I can overachieve on client projects, but completely underachieve on internal projects when things in management go wrong.

One of the things I love about Sumser is that he is always the skeptic. HR has been talking about employee engagement for years, and we truly believe that we can make both our organizations better and our employee’s lives better by getting high engagement from them. But here’s another take on it. Rather than making our employee’s lives better, what we are really trying to achieve is to suck the additional effort and work time from them, with nothing in return. We’re not going to pay them more. They will do more work than the person next to them, but not get more benefits or retirement money. We all know that the linkage between performance and incentive compensation is pretty much broken in almost all organizations. Most of us also know that the complete “schmuck” sitting at the manager’s desk in front of us had the same opportunity to advance as the great manager next door to him/her, so development and career progression does not always identify the right person either. The bottom line is that I can be a middling employee and reap all the same benefits as the great employee.

I have a nephew working in IT at a retail company who takes great pleasure in the free lunches that are provided. Many organizations have offered this type of service in the past, and while it’s nice to save everyone $10 that they don’t spend on a sandwich at the deli, every organization also realizes that at $40k per year, the organization is saving $20 by keeping the employee working at their desk over the lunch hour.

Perhaps being a great employee provides me a marginal enhancement to gaining better rewards, but that probability does not make up for the additional effort I’m going to provide as an engaged employee. For those of us who work 70 or 80 hour work weeks, most of us are not going to double our salaries. But we do this because we either believe there is something in it for us, or because we love something about what we do. I think it’s perfectly valid for us to “sell” employee engagement as something that benefits the organization and the employee. But perhaps we should be honest at least with ourselves: at the end of the day we really just want our employees to work that extra hour without having to pay them for it.

5 Year Post

Can you believe it’s been five years?  I recently read my first post and actually thought it was an ok analysis of HRO vendors at the time.  Pretty funny to me how much things have changed, but also how much I’ve learned both through work and the blog.  I spent 2009 writing much less than I should have, but seem to have entered 2010 quite rejuvenated.  I’m pleased to say that I’m once again written out a few months as I used to do, and that my readership is growing once again after being a slacker for a year.  At any rate, I’m not sure how many others in the HR arena have made it this far, or who have written as much content, so it’s a milestone that I’m reasonably pleased with.

I don’t do a blogroll, there are far too many.  I do have a links list that references those whose posts I write about most frequently.  However, if I were ever to do an abridged blogroll, the below is it.  I know I forgot people, and I apologize.

I still pay attention to many of the people who inspired me when I started five years ago:

But also a whole new set of people who I follow on the blogs or twitter who have entered my scope (in the years after I started systematicHR) as content owners (although some of these have been content owners in a more traditional – non-blog sense for a long time):

I had originally said that I would stop writing at 4 years, but then 4 years came and went, and even though I was producing less, I just could not stop.  So I decided I’d get to 1000 posts and decide what to do, but I’m now confident I’ll keep writing after that milestone as well.  So long as there is content to write about, and as long as I feel that I’m doing it well, I’ll keep going.

So here’s to five years, and to my readers, and to all the people who inspire me.  Thank you.


The New Order of HR Existentialism

Thanks to Bill Tincup for bringing us the marvelous series of “what’s next by some of HR’s greatest thought leaders.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I love Sumser and am proud to call him a friend and mentor.  His entry into “What’s Next” actually did make me laugh out loud, on an airplane of all places.  Here’s a repeat of his thoughts, but many others on Bill’s site that are worth reading:

  • Job Boards Refuse To Sign Do Not Resuscitate Orders. The habits of job hunters outweigh the push towards social media. Job Boards find new lives.
  • Multiple Kafka Moments. People who wake in the new normal will write in their diaries, “On morning, as I woke from an anxious dream, I noticed I had been turned into an enormous bug.” The realities of an economy reset to 75% of the good old days will not sit well. Big mid-term victories for non-democrats.
  • Shrill Voices Proclaiming The Worthlessness of HR Grow Louder. The fundamental problem is that no one has figured out how to use social media effectively. The evangelistas blame the institution and call for revolution in the streets. The institutions yawn and demand variable pay packages.  ((Sumser, John, December 18, 2009.  “What’s Next by…John Sumser.”))

I’ll admit that it has been quite a few years since I have read Kafka (hey, at least I’ve read him),  but this is absolutely brilliant.  I remember after “2001” it took HR until 2004 to get their budgets and spending habits back.  HR technology and many other areas of the HR function not only lost momentum as the economy shifted south, but they also lost great ground.  I predicted that this downturn was going to be short enough and mild enough that organization leadership would continue to see HR’s core strategies as valuable and maintain investments.  Boy was I wrong.  The problem is that not only did we see budgets plummet, but I agree with Sumser that we’ve seen some of the good old days come back.  Those of us who were planning in 2008 see ourselves replanning in 2010 because our old plans no longer fit the new organizational realities and models going forward.  We have new mandates and have to execute them with 25% less budget.

I hope that proclamations of HR worthlessness don’t get louder.  But it is true that we just can’t figure out social medias.  Part of the problem is that as we exit the days of ERP and inhouse IT kingdoms, CIO’s seem to be grappling with figuring out how to keep pieces of that kingdom.  We are in constant battles with IT and other groups with who social media technologies should be owned by, and we don’t always know how to play nice from a collaborative standpoint when the owner of such topics and technologies is largely undefined.  Marketing can do their own thing with customer social media technologies, but we really have to control our own destiny in regards to employee, candidate and alumni experiences.

One last thing, Sharepoint is a good start, but please, nobody tell me that it’s the be-all-end-all of social medias again!!