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.  Use case examples include 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. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

5 potentially game-changing HR Tech capabilities that seem to be missed opportunities for HR Tech vendors so far … from a list of 60+ I’ve compiled

1) Data-driven guidance as to when it’s best to fill a staffing gap by using a temp or contractor, training an incumbent, transferring or redeploying an employee, or hiring a new employee

2) Broad-based organizational readiness assessments based on a myriad of HCM factors

3) Comprehensive talent management for contingent (and other extended workforce) workers

4) Critical aspects of supporting the “HR-M+A life cycle”; e.g., harmonizing and standardizing comp and benefits plans and practices between the 2 companies, determining the optimal pace and scope of right-sizings, mitigating key employee retention risks, assessing cultural compatibility and identifying compliance risks during due diligence, etc.

5) HCM-related factors that are likely contributing to a trajectory change in key business metrics like revenue per employee, declining sales, slower product innovation, customer retention, etc.

Steve Goldberg
HR Technology Advisor

Monday, August 1, 2016

3 Critical but Often Overlooked Factors in HR Technology Selection

In my recent white paper "Cracking the Rubik's Cube on HR Technology Selection" an effort was made to give various selection considerations the attention they deserve. Factors such as each vendor's product investment patterns, range of personalization capabilities in the solution, partner ecosystem dynamics and several others were explored, along with associated implications for end-customers.

The impetus for writing that paper was the recent Sierra Cedar finding that roughly 40% of organizations with deployed HR Technology are looking to make a vendor/solution change; and the distinct possibility that HR Tech selection practices -- like some HCM solutions themselves -- were in need of modernization.

For one thing, the era of SaaS or cloud-delivered HCM offerings has arguably made feature / functionality checklists less important, as more frequent product releases and updates are now the norm. Why should an organization select technology that will power their talent management agenda and HR operations for years to come based on a handful of functionality items that, if the vendor is generally responsive, might show up in the product before that customer goes "live" or shortly thereafter?

In the few weeks since writing the paper, other important but perhaps similarly overlooked selection decision factors have come to mind. Three such considerations that organizations should keep on their radar during an HR Tech evaluation process are:

(1) How does the vendor's sophisticated HCM functionality impact downstream systems within the organization: As HCM solution vendors endeavor to bring innovative and often impactful capabilities to market to help bolster their differentiation claims, buying organizations should be cognizant of the fact that sophisticated capabilities have to co-exist or inter-operate with the design and behavior of other enterprise systems. As one example, a leading HR Tech solution allows for matrix and even transitional reporting structures (e.g., an overlap in reporting managers due to an impending retirement) so all relevant managers can participate in reviews, approvals, etc. These useful capabilities will likely be marginalized or potentially cause serious operational problems if other systems within the organization (e.g., financial systems) cannot handle such organizational structure nuances. One could speculate that the solution vendor that introduced these innovative capabilities knew exactly what they were doing ... i.e., giving customers a reason to replace their existing financial system with that vendor's new, unified HCM/Financial platform.

(2) Be careful not to over-emphasize certain selection factors based on disappointments with a past HCM vendor: When customers have had a disappointing experience with any solution or services provider, it often relates to issues such as a lack of responsiveness, having negative surprises in total cost of ownership or other perceived instances of misrepresentation. These experiences or lessons learned should remain on the radar when choosing a replacement system, but they are rarely as important as whether capabilities exist in the prospective new technology that will predictably drive business value and competitive advantage for the end-customer. The prioritization task is as important as any in the HR Tech selection process. Weights must be assigned objectively and without being unduly influenced by bad experiences or emotionality. Also keep in mind that these type of concerns can be brought into the contracting phase's resulting service level agreement.

(3) Degree of organizational readiness relative to degree of system sophistication: As more industry studies highlight the critical role that change management plays in realizing HR Tech business cases and achieving ROI targets, organizational readiness is being considered more often. This is clearly a major step forward. To progress even further toward positive outcomes, however, customer organizations are well advised to systematically relate readiness (e.g., new competencies needed, other initiatives contending for the same resources, whether process optimization should be addressed first, more support needed for the "case for change", etc.) to the sophistication of the solutions under consideration. Greater sophistication in a solution is certainly not a bad thing, but it often elongates the implementation and adoption cycle. Another consideration, therefore, is to not just define and frame roll-out phases by solution module or region, but also (or alternatively) by groups of system functionality having different "readiness dependencies."

Steve Goldberg, HR Technology Industry Advisor

Sunday, January 3, 2016

HR Tech Trends to Watch in 2016

“Nobody comes here anymore, it’s too crowded” is one of dozens of quotes from the former New York Yankees all-star catcher Yogi Berra who passed away earlier this year at age 90. The shelf-life and trendiness of many Yogi-isms will sustain due to their classically oxymoronic and clever nature.

Unlike Yogi’s quotes, which adorn many a wall and office desk, the factors that influence the appeal, stickiness, impact and longevity of industry trends are a bit more complicated to hypothesize about. In the HR technology domain, for example, some trends take longer to get adopted and explode than others, even when the expected business impact is comparable. Case-in-point: Contrast the take-up of mobile HR technology with that of predictive HCM or people analytics. Both of these trends get much attention, but degree of deployment and usage across organizations varies considerably.

Various operational dependencies can drive which trends take off or not. These include competencies on-hand—e.g., the ability to properly interpret and analyze data and build related frameworks in the case of people analytics adoption; and ability to expertly market a “case for change” if an HR transformation effort is in order. These seem straightforward, but trend adoption dynamics also extend to how the trend is being promoted, and by whom. A grass roots promotion by HR customers and professionals who are positively impacted by a certain trend, combined with effective marketing campaigns by vendors, is a surefire way of giving a trend legs that are both quick and sustainable.

Below are two trends I’ve excerpted from a new White Paper I co-authored entitled “HR Technology Trends to Watch in 2016.” The paper contains nine such trends that are poised to pick up considerable steam. To download paper:

Technology-Enabled Talent-Management Science: Sierra Cedar recently found that 39 percent of organizations were now involved in some form of talent-management analytics. Great news, but not a panacea, as the lack of analytics-related competencies (e.g., to define the frameworks, interpret data, identify predictive relationships, etc.) persists in most HR departments. That dynamic aside, we should expect to soon see HCM systems guide users as to where to look for relationships across their data ecosystem. Case in point: An increase in employee turnover might have the system highlight factors that have contributed to higher turnover in the past; e.g., a change in compensation or benefits, cutting back on management training, retirement or even restructuring activities that should perhaps not be counted as regular turnover, using less effective sourcing channels or more aggressive time-to-fill target metrics, etc.

Personalized Engagement and Retention Plans: With three generations working side-by-side for the first time, it is more critical than ever to personalize how employees are managed and through what rewards and recognition levers, basically to the extent of having personalized engagement and retention plans for all key employees. What each employee values in their work experience and career journey over time, in addition to personality tests and team culture or compatibility indicators, might soon become staples within enterprise HCM solutions going forward. Letting a high-potential employee be exposed to different parts of the business might cost almost zero, but, in the end, could be a more effective engagement driver and retention hook than a larger bonus for many.