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.