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.

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.


HR Technology Conference Reactions: Talent Management Panel

The talent management panel at The HR Technology Conference was all about diversity.  Not diversity in terms of workforce, but the diversity in terms of approaches in deploying talent processes and technologies that different companies take in pursuit of their goals. With Jason Averbook hosting, we had Walmart (2+ million employees), Motorola Solutions (called themselves an 84 year old startup), Merck (single global system in 84 countries) and ETS Lindgren (900 employees). At one end of the table, we had 2.2 million employees and the other end we had 900. We had SAP globally, and we had Rypple/

Here are some highlights (not direct quotes in most cases):

Theme #1:  Ongoing feedback. When even Walmart says they need to deploy ongoing feedback for a workforce that is 2.2 million strong, this is something to watch.  Generally when we think of retail, we’re thinking about a population with a full set of competencies from some very senior talent to some fairly low paid employees.  Saying that real time feedback is important for the entire population is a big deal, where many of us would traditionally just focus on the top tier of talent.  ETS Lindgren said much the same and have experienced a huge jump in positive feedback.  They have shown that social can really assist in the engagement equation, but realize that the constructive feedback still happens either in private messaging or in the manager conversations.

Theme #2:  Focus on what matters. Having just said that you spread the wealth in Theme #1, there did seem to be a consistent theme around making sure that the roles that really drive revenues in your organization are the ones you focus on disproportionately.  There was a discussion about “peanut butter spread” and it seemed there was mass agreement where you provide some global focus, but your time is really spent managing the interactions with the employees that will impact your bottom line most directly.  I also want to do a theme 2.5 here.  Merck had an important call-out I think.  They are starting with a revamp of their job structure.  For any deployment be it TM, HCM or Social, if your foundation sucks, you are not going anywhere.  You can roll things out, and you might get adoption, but you won’t have great measurement.  Merck had this to say, “If someone allowed the choice of getting the basics right or deploying collaboration tools, I’d say to look at the foundation.” More on measurement later.

Theme #3:  Things still need to get easier. Walmart had a nice example with talent reviews.  They used to walk into a room of executives with volumes of huge binders.  Instead of that, they give everyone an iPad with the employee data preloaded.  This makes the discussion more dynamic and flexible.  At the same time, you can have significantly more data at your disposal compared to the volumes of binders.  This is an example where it’s working, but there are still areas where data minim does not work.  Motorola asked the question, “If I want a restaurant recommendation, I ask my friends on Facebook and get immediate answers.  If I need a best practice, there should be an app for that too.”

Theme #4:  Flexibility. This one goes hand in hand with ongoing feedback.  One of the companies stated that they will go without formal reviews and formal ratings.  WHAT?!?!?!  Not having reviews and ratings is an experiment that some have tried in smaller organizations, but I’ll be excited to see how it works in a socially based larger organization.  This theme is also about the social thread that would not stop coming up in this panel.  Most everyone seemed to have a social strategy that included not only conversations, but also some ideas of recognition.

Theme #5:  Data and analytics. We talked a bit about Merck in Theme #2.  I also liked the blended TM/Social/Analytics theme that ETS Lindgren brought up:  We want to know who is having conversations and about what at any given time.  If we can figure out what our talent is talking about, how to connect others, and measure the impact of quality interactions on our bottom lines, then we can also figure out how to invest in growing those specific conversations.  (tie in to Theme #1).

Theme #6:  Sponsorship. Motorola had this to say, “Our CEO has 2 jobs.  Managing the bottom line, and managing talent.”  ETS Lindgren had this to say, “Our Rypple tool came from the CEO.  We wanted to do something different.”  Either way you cut it, they had great sponsorship to ignite and create change.  It doesn’t always have to be the CEO, but if you don’t have top level sponsorship at all, you’re sunk.


Talent Evolution versus Revolution

If you just bought one of the new 3D TVs that have been on he market for a year or so, i have bad news for you. Its already old technology. Sure, 3D is brand new, and its going to be around for a long time. But wearing glasses will be gone in a year or two. The current set of 3D TVs out on the market utilize the simplest and most obvious form of creating a 3D image – it presents different images to each eye, simulating the different angles that the eyes wold usually visualize depth with. Whether this is done with glasses that shutter the image at high speeds, or glasses that filter images bed on horizontal and vertical filtering, it does not matter, you are basically presented with a different image to each eye. As I said, is obvious.

Now, say you could trick the brain instead of the eyes. Your eyes perceive depth based on different viewing angles that the brain then interprets into three dimensions. But the brain can also read depth based on the amount of time that it takes for multiple slices of depth to be received into the eyes. For example, when you look at someone’s face, the light rays from their nose are received before the light from their ears. While this amount of time is completely imperceptible, if you can create a an image of someone’s face that is received over multiple, almost instantaneous moments, you can trick the brain without having to trick the eyes. ((this is indeed one of the methods being used in new, glassesless 3D technologies such as television. Unfortunately the cost of production is incredibly high, uses up to eight cameras, as opposed to the two cameras necessary for traditional glasses 3D viewing.))

The point is that while 3D is the new wave of television viewing, and while the 3D concept does not change between current and future technologies, the actual technology is a huge leap of revolution, not evolution. We are using a completely different concept to simulate a three dimensional image, even though the end result is the same. But now we can do it in the foreseeable future without tools like glasses between ourselves and the image.

The same goes for talent management. The first round of talent management was pointed in the right direction. We knew that the end result we were going after was to acquire higher quality talent, develop them with more rigor, and retain the high quality talent for a longer period of time. Whether this was actually effective or just an automation of the process is debatable, but the end vision was clear.

Today’s vision of talent management end state has not really changed from what I described above, but the means are no longer process based. Instead, we realize that each of the individual processes must integrate with each other to create meaningful programs that we had not thought about years ago. Our cohesive talent programs are not based in technology or simple process flows, but the integration of multiple programs and the data they each individually provide tho the broader talent strategy.

We can view people all we want for performance purposes, but a performance view does not provide abundant talent insight to a pharmaceutical that needs to focus on senior scientists, or a services organization that needs to move high quality talent around the organization to grow the next generation of leaders. Simple talent management techniques and processes are good in what they do, but they don’t vision the specific end state of each organization without the input of many other areas.

Today’s talent management is not a simple evolution from where it was several years ago when the vendors led our thinking around what talent management should be. Todays talent management has finally focused on what we as organizations need to individually accomplish out of it, we have surpassed what the vendors could have provided as a generic basis, and leapt to new applications that are inwardly and uniquely focused on ourselves. We will continue to depend on our technologies to aide us in data, process and integration, but application of end state will come from within ourselves and our organizations, not from vendors. For years, the HR industry had depended on HR technologies like applicant tracking, then core HRMS, then talent management for diction. I think we have finally turned the tide, we have finally turned the corner and started creating for our own. That i the revolution.

Defining Mobility

Talent is actually pretty tricky.  We seem not only to have problems defining talent and talent application components, but we seem to not know what some of those components even are.  I’m no making sense yet?  As anyone what are the components of a talent suite and you’ll get different answers – even though we’ve been buying and selling talent applications for years now.  Performance, compensation, succession, talent acquisition…   All of these are wonderful, tactical, and transactional processes.  But talent strategies were supposed to bring us to a “seat at the table” but all of these components that people naturally associate with talent are just the core activities behind the strategy.

I think that most people are not actually getting to understanding and executing on the realities of the strategy yet, but hopefully we’ll be there in the next few years.  Certainly there is an increasing surge of corporate thinking around this, and one of the first things that HR is talking about is mobility.  Unfortunately, we don’t really know what all this is yet – and many people erroneously think it’s just around moving people around.  Well, actually, it kind of is about moving people around.

When I think about mobility, I start thinking about employee career plans, and performance plans, and succession plans.  These are all just components of data on the employee record, but they are all linked to employee development and learning.  They identify where employees want to go, but conversely where corporations what their employees to go.  Not only are employees planning for themselves in career paths, but we are also planning for them in succession plans.  Everyone in contributing in multiple directions to identify possible growth scenarios for each individual employee.

At some point, there is an actual event.  Some business unit needs a new GM, or a new organization/store/plant is opening somewhere and we need to fill it with leaders.  This is where mobility comes to the front of the talent process.  Where the transactional processes that occur within the traditional talent application modules stop, talent mobility takes over as an execution arm to actually move people into the previously theoretical development opportunities.  Talent mobility is where the rubber meets the road.  If you don’t have a mobility strategy and process, all of your development plans, succession processes and performance transactions are for naught.  In the end, if you didn’t do anything but post a requisition and hire someone from outside because you didn’t have the visibility in talent to run cross functional queries around internal needs and fit skills to requirements, you completely failed in your talent practice.

HR talent applications are great.  But as with core HR applications, they help us store data and execute transactions on data.  They don’t replace the inner workings of making strategy come to life.  Operational staffing plans and projections don’t always link up to HR’s position management or talent acquisition’s forecasts.  We need our own tools to integrate with talent suites and keep us on the path to realizing the practice of talent’s full potential.