Monday, January 30, 2017

HR Best Practice? Yeah, Right

From https://www.horsesforsources.com/blog/steve-goldberg

A memorable exchange I once had with a former HR colleague went like this:

Me:  “When Workforce Planning accounts for cascading gaps because you filled some jobs from within, that’s commonly viewed as HR best practice.” Colleague:  “Oh really,  Well I think best practice is simply the practice that works best!”

Borrowing a line from the classic movie Cool Hand Luke … his statement “helped get my mind right.”

So a suggestion coming out of my initiation into the world of practical HR thinking: Whenever you hear someone say: It’s “HR best practice”, perhaps you should ask if they’re following a blueprint crafted specifically for their organization and business context. And if they’re not, odds are that particular practice will come under some scrutiny soon, and perhaps shortly thereafter, the individual that architected the practice.

As With New Employees, Best is Mostly About Fit

Many of us were a bit taken aback when we heard highly regarded Zappos was generously paying new hires to quit if they were dissatisfied, and not just because it was likely deemed more cost-effective in the long run. The practice was in fact instituted mostly because the company’s brand is totally about “best customer experience imaginable” and this is so much more than a tag line. One of countless examples is that their customer service reps never use scripts. Genius, common sense, or both. You decide, but also think about whether this would work for a phone company. Fat chance as they say.

Elsewhere, a number of well-known large companies including LinkedIn, Virgin America, Best Buy and Netflix have started experimenting with unlimited paid time off. The rationale: time away from the job helped with employee productivity; e.g., by avoiding burn-out. Beyond that benefit, trusting employees not to take advantage of the company can make them feel – and therefore act -- like part owners of the business.  This practice worked for these employers, particularly when employees and managers discussed adequate coverage for key duties in their absence, but clearly it’s not a universally great fit. Consider the impact on an impending re-start of a nuclear power plant if even one senior-level nuclear or safety engineer was in urgent need of some downtime. “Adequate coverage” is in the eye of the beholder.

 Outside the realm of potential life and death consequences, however, innovative crowd-funding company Kickstarter abandoned its unlimited vacation policy when they thought it was sending some type of message (subliminal?) to employees to take less time off. So a creative HR practice designed to minimize burn-out was actually burning people out!

As in the aforementioned exchange with that colleague, best practice does indeed come down to what works in a particular business context; and when you’re talking about a new HR practice under consideration, desired corporate culture might be the #1 element to focus on. In high-tech startups, a very informal, “we’re one family” culture and typically doling out some equity are used to attract top talent. Arguably it’s also to compensate for a lower salary initially. By way of contrast, when was the last time you saw someone’s canine companion taking a stroll inside a blue-chip investment advisory firm?

Bottom Line: HR practices are “best” when they directly support both a company’s culture and their workforce strategies aimed at creating a great  customer experience. Let’s not be wedded to any particular best practice within the HR / HCM domain, as best practices are really tools to effectively manage an ever-changing operating landscape.

Why the Time is Right to Evaluate Predictive Capabilities in HCM Systems

From https://www.horsesforsources.com/blog/steve-goldberg

Every CHRO focus group or survey these days identifies “enhancing analytics capabilities” or “crafting a people analytics roadmap” as a top initiative. This of course includes analytics of a predictive nature, as these generally have the highest impact. It’s now time-critical for both HR execs and HCM solution providers to think about what type of technology capabilities are needed to support these initiatives, which, if successful, clearly help make the case for HR having that proverbial seat.
So we’ve decided to put a stake in the ground and evaluate what most enterprise software vendors are describing as their “early” capabilities and customer experiences in this area.
Many HRMS (employee life cycle) vendors cut their predictive analytics teeth around the retention risk area. Some of those providers have progressed to predicting potential to succeed in different roles, or factors that impact employee engagement and productivity. A few now forecast labor and skillset gaps and use that intel to optimize work schedules. One or two HCM solutions now even highlight potential compliance risks and recommend training to  mitigate those risks, or offer other examples of prescriptive guidance.
Is this the bulk of what HR leaders are looking for? Hardly, as any HR Tech vendor will tell you: “They are just getting started!”
One HR tech vendor exec we spoke with for this research said “the ultimate vision here is to predict all employee-related outcomes that materially impact business performance, understand why the outcome is likely, communicate why this insight matters, and determine and pursue the key actions needed.” As a destination point, it’s probably better than most.
2 key indications the time is now for getting this research out there::
·        A few of the larger HCM solution vendors weren’t in such a hurry to discuss their predictive capabilities. Yes, this can happen with emerging technology areas; plus getting a read on “customer and market readiness” perhaps requires soothsayers as much as product managers.
·        HR buyers’ interests seem to be out in front of what a large swath of the HR tech vendor community is delivering when it comes to these capabilities. This is not a dynamic observed very often. Vendors have historically done a lot of the pulling in this relationship.
Finding the “homeostasis point” where HR tech customers and vendors can both see and derive business benefit from moving the ball forward on HCM predictive capabilities keeps us moving forward with this research, underlining its sense of purpose -- and urgency!
Bottom Line:  The value of predictive analytics in major HR tech platforms, and understanding how providers’ plans are meshing (or not) with customer needs, will be covered in this first-of-its-kind research to be published in mid-February. We at HfS look forward to generating some lively discussions.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Change Management in HR Tech Deployments -- Lessons from the Trenches

From https://www.horsesforsources.com/blog/steve-goldberg

My preoccupation with change management can be traced back to when I realized that success on HR Technology initiatives was perhaps more a function of the organization being “ready, willing and able” to change (in the form of leveraging new technology) than anything else, including the virtues of any particular system. Now before some folks in the vendor community or others fascinated by shiny objects yell “blasphemy”, let’s remember that:
  • Any HCM system (aka HRMS) that‘s been successfully deployed in hundreds of similar organizations likely provides at least 80% of the major process-enablement capabilities a typical customer needs, plus many innovative people management features as well.
  • It’s unlikely that any HCM system will 100% match a buying organization’s business requirements, let alone their future vision around managing talent for competitive advantage.
  • Much of the gap between 80% and 100% can often be addressed through a combination of configuration tools, influencing the vendor to address in an upcoming release or product update (more frequent updates with cloud delivery) or inconsequential process workarounds.
Successful HRMS implementations are more linked to factors outside the chosen technology, and the #1 factor is (internal) customer-centric change management.

It took me some time to have the above epiphany partially because senior management and project sponsors at my first few employers generally assessed project success based on the system being delivered on-time, on-budget and stable. End-user adoption and business case realization were rarely on the project charter in those years. You could say this was fairly helpful to my HR Tech career at the time, but not so helpful to those particular organizations as a whole. 

As a result of inadequate attention to change management in the first few rollouts, very few folks outside the HR Department used the system at these companies, and worse, most line managers maintained their own spreadsheet with HR data and related update processes. They simply trusted their own, personally crafted low-tech data repositories more. These dynamics can cost companies millions annually. (Post a comment below if you’d like to see the math!) What was missing? All future end-users needed to be “ready, willing, and able” – a framework used by many change management experts.

"Ready” suggests the impacts of the change are understood, and sources of resistance and associated mitigation steps identified. “Willing” relates to the case for change being widely syndicated, tailored to stakeholders as needed, and reinforced through communications programs and executive support.  Finally, “able” suggests that relevant skills, competencies, performance measures and even corporate culture aspects are being put in place to execute and sustain the change.

Ready-Willing-Able: A Success Story
In one of my later HR Tech involvements, we went beyond understanding process automation requirements and spent considerable time with line managers discussing people management (not process management) issues that kept them up at night, how real-time access to high-value data would help them, etc. This time, we put “empathy for the customer experience” first. We also worked to overcome (beginning with acknowledging!) some long-standing disappointments with HR on the part of many consumers of HR solutions, services and programs. This was Design Thinking before the term was widely used, although empathy had been around for eons.

The team also figured out creative ways to give end-users (mostly line managers in this instance) a sense of control and ownership over the system and its data. One example involved hitting a “challenge button” about any data that line managers suspected of being incorrect. That opened a dialogue box for comments and auto-generated an email to an appropriate HR administrator requesting research and resolution. Quick turnaround was ensured through an associated SLA (service level agreement) process. 

The “black hole” of trying to resolve data issues with HR disappeared! 

That prestigious bank’s Chairman came into my office for the first time ever to congratulate our team on the crowning achievement for the HR Department, not just that year, but any year in his memory.  He heard that people outside HR were using the system, and regularly.

Combating Employee Disengagement from all the Change
Multiple generations at work with different personal drivers, automation changing the nature of work, achieving more with less, and the frequency with which businesses tweak their operating models or totally re-invent themselves are dynamics that won’t be changing anytime soon. These dynamics can lead to employee disengagement even without adding new “HR / People Systems” to have to learn and use. And disengagement can bring down even the best run companies. Investing in employees in ways that resonate certainly helps with the employee disengagement challenge; but empathetic change management is absolutely essential when the change is represented by something very tangible, like a new system.   

Bottom Line:  When end-users genuinely feel their work lives and perspectives are taken into full account, due to proactive change management, the prospects of broad HCM system adoption and even a stellar ROI are significantly higher.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

It’s a Database, So Why Not Keep VALUABLE HR Data in It?

The range of information managed in HCM Systems is quite impressive, and in most leading platforms, encompasses data relating to the 3 legs of the proverbial (HR data) bar stool: Administrative, Transactional and Strategic data. Administrative covers what’s needed for policy and regulatory compliance and core HR process support (on-boarding, payroll and benefits admin, etc.). Transactional covers the events in an employee life cycle (changes to job, organization, supervisor, compensation, etc.) or personal life event updates that impact employee benefits for example.

Strategic data covers … hmmm … maybe just see Administrative and Transactional.

Is this HR heresy?  Is it a yearning for the simpler days of Personnel Management when key business strategy decisions often excluded HR executives, HR/HCM systems largely weren’t used outside HR Departments, and Talent Management was a term reserved for Hollywood? No, it’s only a lead-in to a question I’ve asked myself over the years, namely: Are we missing something when we point to data tracked on HCM systems like performance ratings, compensation and job progressions, training courses taken or competencies displayed and say this allows us to be very strategic in managing human capital?

Yes we are probably missing something. It seems the data we track in these technology assets, while broadly useful, might sometimes be obscuring the real mission at-hand: The need to manage and provide ready access to WHATEVER people data enables a highly engaged and productive workforce, and the proactive management of business risks and opportunities … thereby creating and enhancing sources of business value and competitive advantage.

So What Needs to Change?

For one thing, let’s not forget the aforementioned mission at-hand. Let’s also not forget that employee engagement, retention, productivity – and business innovation and agility – are all HCM-related themes but they are NOT HR processes with routinely defined steps that can be system-tracked or enabled.  Perhaps just as important, these themes rarely have a single process owner with a budget (for enterprise software) that solution vendors can sell to. The main implication of this is that while HR Tech circles continue to espouse moving away from being too process-centric, and being more ‘desired business outcomes’ centric in our systems design and usage, the HR/HR Tech disciplines can perhaps be faster on the actual uptake of this.

3 Examples of (Non Process-Centric) HR Data Worth Tracking
  • Employee Value Indicators … present a broader picture of the employee’s value to the organization, far beyond performance ratings or competencies. These dimensions or data points might relate to referring candidates who became top employees, serving as a mentor to new employees, suggesting ideas that led to new revenue sources or operating efficiencies, or forwarding personal contacts that were great sales leads and became customers.
  • And speaking of competencies, how about Latent Competencies … those that employees possess that might be invisible to the organization, and therefore not leveraged, because they are not relevant to an employee’s current job function. These would be pretty handy when a major shift in business strategy is considered which has implications in terms of re-tooling the workforce. Also Competency Value Trajectory (or “CVT”) would be a simple way to note on the system which competencies are becoming more important to the organization due to impending business undertakings.
  • And finally, one that arguably qualifies as not seeing the forest through the trees, all the valuable data that could be tracked around Career Goals … including how an employee’s goals change over time, progress toward achieving them, and what the organization has done to support them. This way of driving employee engagement could fly by the positive impact of employee surveys or various (non-sustaining) forms of employee recognition for 2 reasons: Employees perceive their needs/interests as being important to their employer; and management decisions about leveraging their people better align with those needs/interests.
Bottom Line: HR Tech'ers should not forget about the virtually limitless potential of these platforms to house strategic, and often non-process centric data
A focus group I conducted a few years ago with a dozen CHRO’s addressed where HR Technology was -- or wasn’t -- making a difference in their organizations. The consensus was that managing the potential fallout from downsizings, or the people aspects of M+A's were areas where HR Technology was not playing a major role ... both obviously more about potentially game-changing events than defined HR processes.
As HCM system configurability and extensibility capabilities have achieved new heights in recent years, addressing these perceived (historical) system shortcomings have perhaps become a matter of customers doing a better job of defining decision support needs and related data capture processes, and simply leveraging their HR Technology assets better in general.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cognitive Computing in HCM:  Walking the Line between Cool and Creepy

Cognitive computing generally refers to having a system mimic the way people think, learn, solve problems or perform certain tasks.  In HCM systems specifically, the system leverages what it knows about us -- including our job, social network and interests – to yield solid benefits in areas such as social recruiting and social learning.

We are also seeing take-up of some newer entrants into using NLP (natural language processing) in the form of chatbots and intelligent agents.  Examples highlighted in my recent POV “Intelligent Automation in HR Services and Solutions” included an employee having a conversation with the system about an error on their timesheet that the system had the wherewithal to resolve … or the HR technology platform proactively pre-filling a timesheet based on items in the person’s calendar and previous timesheets.
So far, generally no controversy surrounding these type of cognitive capabilities … efficiency gains and better customer service without any apparent downside.  But what if a near-future incremental step in the cognitive HR tech journey goes something like this:

Employee:  Hi there, kindly initiate a PTO time off request for me for this Thursday and Friday after confirming that I still have the 2 PTO days to use.

HR System:  I can certainly do that sir, but are you sure you want to take 2 days off this week given you have a major project deadline next Monday, the project seems behind schedule, and as you know, you were late on your last major project deliverable?

Can we say C-R-E-E-P-Y?
The norms regarding leveraging these capabilities in the HR/HCM realm will likely not be established anytime soon.  We probably need a few high-profile lawsuits to be the catalyst, followed by consultants developing practices as quickly as they did for Y2K.  In the absence of this, it’s reasonable to assume companies will start to get feedback from employees and job candidates that they were put off by the intrusive nature of their HR system interaction.

Until such time, here are four cognitive capabilities in HCM that go beyond (or way beyond) intelligent HR agents and chatbots.  Some may still become standard HR systems capabilities and practices in the months or years ahead.  For the time being, this is arguably a matter of weighing business benefits (ranging from efficiency gains to improving employee satisfaction/engagement) against potential liabilities that could include a total distrust of using the HR system -- for anything!
·        Upon “clocking out” late one evening, the system notices that excessive hours have been worked by that employee in the last 2 weeks, and auto-emails the person’s supervisor a suggested communication advising the employee that … “the company values work-life balance, and they may want to consider getting back to a more normal schedule.”

·        The system recommends internal or external training courses to look into, or even a personal development coach, based on formal or informal feedback received (the latter from corporate social collaboration tools).

·        The system alerts a business unit head that a certain employee has initiated the processing of a leave of absence or early retirement, and identifies key “institutional knowledge” they possess (again based on formal or informal feedback) that should be transferred to other colleagues at the earliest.

·        A personalized, auto-generated on-boarding communication from soon-to-be team members who let the new employee know they have some things in common … e.g., school attended or outside interests or reside in same part of the city or birthday … and also expresses how excited they are to have them as a team member.  (Of course, in this example, the “sender” would receive it first and have a chance to modify.)

Bottom Line:  Cognitive capabilities within HCM systems will keep pushing the envelope, perhaps until lawsuits, governance issues or perceived creepiness get in the way.