Sunday, October 8, 2017

3 Things that MUST be Emphasized on HR Technology Implementations

1. The “what's in it for me” perspective of each category of user

HR Systems have been getting procured and successfully implemented for decades, but sometimes, neither the organization nor the products being implemented are totally ready. This of course can result in roll-outs needing to be revisited or halted mid-stream, essentially pouring some degree of financial investment down the drain. Organizational readiness can relate to other strategic initiatives that are perceived as more important, causing project resourcing challenges or distractions. It can also relate to new or improved skills or competencies needed in areas such as HR analytics, software release management or HR process optimization. And speaking of process improvements, another aspect of readiness is whether some or all of the HR processes being automated are flawed, and consequently should first be optimized before new systems are deployed.

Organizational readiness is one aspect of a broader and ideally “best fit” change management program that should accompany all strategic initiatives, including HR Technology deployments. The correlations between degree of incorporating effective change management into these projects and their eventual success (measured by user adoption or more direct business benefits like cost savings, efficiency gains and better talent management outcomes) has been well chronicled. And more broadly, HR Technology industry research firms like Sierra Cedar have consistently found that “HR organizations that support a Culture of Change Management are four times more likely to be delivering noticeable strategic value to their organization versus organizations that practice minimal to no Change Management.”

Of equal importance, there is also the fundamental change management principle of emphasizing the “what’s in it for me?” perspective of all those who will use or be impacted by the new system. This is a major part of assessing readiness at individual levels, and more specifically, must be in the forefront when developing and communicating the “case for change” -- a common phrase used within the change management discipline. Additionally, the reality is that new technology of all kinds are frequently over-sold by solution vendors with respect to the end-user experience, key capabilities, how they work with other tools, etc. Unfortunately this can cause these initiatives to then get over-hyped by project sponsors, making the “what’s in it for me?” angle that much more important to stress; i.e., past experiences with other technology roll-outs might have led to some residual cynicism.

Simply put, a compelling communications framework should be developed that enables all stakeholders and impacted parties (employees, applicants, HR specialists and business partners, line managers, executives, relevant external partners, etc.) to readily map the new enterprise technology asset to benefits they will personally experience, some of which are universal benefits like “saving time”, but others are more stakeholder group or even person-specific, such as helping to progress one’s career, or just perform better in their role.

2. The importance of end-users being in control of, and accountable for, data quality

Worldwide spending on HR software and related services will approach $20 billion over the next few years (“20 by 2020” is supported by many analyst firms covering this domain). This has been propelled by a confluence of significant factors including organizations jumping on the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) bandwagon, likely to avoid costly and disruptive upgrade cycles (associated with on premise-installed enterprise software), have more predictable spends on HR Technology, and benefit from the experiences and learnings of other customers -- since all are using the same version and flavor of the product in the cloud model.

SaaS is clearly not the only driver of market expansion. HR / HCM platforms and tools have evolved dramatically in areas such as analytics (including predictive analytics), offering much more intuitive and engaging (“consumer-like”) user experiences, adopting mobile as the predominant access and usage device, leveraging social capabilities and data in recruiting, development and employee engagement … and more recently, adding early-stage capabilities around AI, chatbots, cognitive computing, etc.   

Notwithstanding these significant advances driving the market, the biggest “Achilles’ heel” that continues to limit the range of business benefits from these investments in many customer organizations is inadequate attention to data quality. Therefore, a data ownership, accountability and integrity assurance plan MUST be a central part of every HR Technology rollout; and ownership should ideally be in the hands of the person who has the biggest vested interest in the data being correct!

Internal service level agreements or “SLA’s” can also help quite a bit in ensuring data quality, and frankly, avoiding a lack of confidence in the system when bad data is really the culprit. As examples, line managers and employees should be formally expected to update certain data elements that they own when particular events occur like a department transfer or address change, respectively; and the SLA metrics should specify a quick window for updating or initiating the transaction.

3. Finally, focusing on business drivers, how they might be changing over time, and how the new HR system will stay aligned

Successful organizations are usually very fluid, or to cite an over-used cliché, the only constant is change. When planning an HR Technology rollout, both planned and potential changes must be considered and factored-into the enterprise solutions being brought in; i.e., how scalable and adaptable is the software to a broad range of events and/or business decisions that might occur. Whether the change driver is a decision to expand into new markets, pursue a growth through M&A strategy, a move to outsource non-core functions, or simply invest more heavily in talent management programs, the software vendor’s current offerings and planned product roadmap must be evaluated against these possible scenarios to ensure on-going “functionality and capability fit.” In the absence of doing this, the shelf life of the new technology will probably be short-changed.  

Core HRMS vs. TMS vs. BoB's -- The Key Trade-Offs

The HR Technology landscape is filled with a lot of jargon, and frankly, most of it benefits marketing executives within HR/HCM solution providers more than those procuring one of these solutions. Some of the jargon is wrapped in acronyms such as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Systems or ATS (Applicant Tracking System). SaaS refers to the hot trend in recent years to “rent” vs. purchase HR software applications, typically through the cloud delivery model where every customer is using the same “instance” or version of the software. ERP platforms (e.g., in HR, Finance, etc.) are the technology platforms for running business processes and managing related transactions.

These systems include a data model, processing and workflow rules and end-user security permissions. ERP’s also interface or talk to other systems inside and external to the organization. Finally, ATS tools came on the scene in the 80’s and more recently offer innovations allowing more proactive and personalized outreach to both active and passive job candidates. ATS’s track candidates through the sourcing, screening and eventually hiring/on-boarding process; and now often include or plug into tools/technologies for video interviewing, social sourcing, behavioral assessments, job simulations and employee referrals.

 HR Technology “Category Jargon”

 Arguably the most important jargon heard in the HR Technology domain refers to the type of solution being discussed. We’re not referring here to functional solution types such as recruiting, performance management or learning solutions. “Type” in this case relates to the category of solution. Why is this so important? Well, it’s a great place to start a conversation with an HR Technology vendor, from which many other key questions should logically follow.

 For example, once you’re told a solution provider operates in the “HR-ERP” market or its alternative label, “Core HRMS “ (Human Resource Management System) space, you immediately know they offer a transactional HR platform and “system of record” for recording relevant data and enabling analyses around all events in the “hire to retire” employee life cycle. You can also associate this category of HR system with passing presumably validated data to systems used by other corporate functions and external service providers. Typical vendors mentioned in this category are Oracle, SAP SuccessFactors, Workday, ADP, Infor, Kronos, Ceridian, Ramco Systems, Zenefits, etc.

If, however, you were getting a presentation from a Talent Management Suite or “TMS” provider (popular vendors include Saba, Cornerstone OnDemand, PeopleFluent, Silkroad Technology, etc.), you won’t hear much talk about a system of record for employee life cycle events and transactions, but will likely learn about their best of breed, functionally deep modules that are tightly integrated. A TMS is essentially the coupling -- through various degrees of “tight integration” and through various degrees of offering a common user experience – of individual modules each designed for automating a specific HR process like recruiting, learning or performance management. The relative extent of tight integration and common user experience (look and feel) across the different modules is typically tied to whether all the modules were organically built by the same vendor, or whether some were acquired and are being brought into a common solution framework over time.

 The main difference between a Core HRMS or HR-ERP platform and a TMS are twofold: The former includes the system of record for employee life cycle transactions and is fairly broad in functionality; and the latter excludes the broad transactional HR recordkeeping but tends to offer deeper functionality for achieving best-in-class HR process design and support. Finally, Best-of-Breeds are simply the category of HR Tech solution where single or “point” solutions are offered for automating and enabling just one HR process area, such as the aforementioned ATS for recruiting automation.  

The Swinging Pendulum

Those operating in the HR Tech domain for some time likely know exactly what this section header is referring to, namely that many customer organizations go through “preference cycles”, which can take a few years or considerably longer before pursuing another HR Tech strategic path. Many customers will seek to consolidate disparate solutions from different vendors, and migrate to a unified solution from one vendor, after complaints from end-users about things like redundant data entry, having to learn multiple user interfaces or “TCO” (total cost of ownership) in general. On the other hand, a subset of HR Tech customers find themselves going in the opposite direction, again, usually after enough complaints from end-users. These organizations then pursue a strategy of deploying specialist or best of breed solutions, or solution suites. This direction is sometimes viewed as essential for handling HR process pain points that are not being adequately addressed by the incumbent, core HRMS platform, or perhaps to align better with HR process nuances needed by their business.

Pendulum swings can also result from factors not very related to the virtues or gaps of particular HR software products. Case in point: a new executive in the mix simply prefers another HR Tech solution or strategic approach based on their previous experiences.

Modern ATS’s (Applicant Tracking Systems) … What’s Changed?

Technology that automates and optimizes the recruiting process can certainly be confusing with respect to solution labels and categories. Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS’s can now find, source, proactively engage and evaluate the suitability of prospective talent, including those not “on the market” or passive candidates. The subset of ATS’s that include “Recruitment Marketing” capabilities can then be leveraged to stay connected to targeted talent, create communities of value to keep them engaged, communicate personalized messages that market an organization’s brand and culture, and track what types of communications and outreach efforts work best with different types of candidates and roles.

Really? Yes, really!
This is one of the main ways ATS’s (aka Talent Acquisition Technology) evolved in recent years. While a traditional ATS automates the application process for candidates, recruiters and hiring managers, and provides a repository to search for relevant applicants, it doesn’t allow you to market to your candidates. A CRM capability -- within or outside an ATS -- allows you to create a private talent pool and automate the nurturing of job candidates. The two tools serve different, but interconnected purposes and they complement each other. Today’s active candidate is tomorrow’s passive candidate and CRM functionality helps you easily deliver the right message, to the right people, at the right time.

Recruiters now utilize technology (sometimes included within an ATS platform) to go where potentially relevant talent is, and not just prominent social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, but also discussion boards, on-line forums and blogging sites where comments can be as useful as the posts themselves for identifying exceptional talent. Of course social media and mobile computing go hand-in-hand with almost all early-career job seekers and passive candidates, and with arguably the majority of mid and later-career talent as well. These are the vehicles for starting the engagement process with relevant candidates, but inherent system intelligence is often what closes the deal in terms of getting the best talent to consider a certain organization and/or role. It’s the system intelligence, a vital component missing from the first wave of ATS’s on the market, which guides the employer / recruiter on the best ways to engage with each person on their radar … what message will resonate and entice the most, across content, style, medium and frequency.

Additionally, the screening and interview process can now readily be technology-enabled with video interviews, sometimes built around validated predictive communication patterns; and these systems don’t stop delivering value when a hire is made, as analytics can now link job performance and retention back to sourcing channels and screening methods to highlight those that are most effective for different roles.
Navigating a Complicated Vendor Landscape

There are likely at least 15 Applicant Tracking System (“ATS”) purveyors with a 1% market share or greater, led by such established players as Taleo/Oracle with perhaps over a 30% market share, Brassring (Kenexa, IBM), iCims, Jobvite, ADP, SAP/SuccessFactors, PeopleFluent and Silkroad. Additionally, the landscape includes other relatively mature ATS offerings from PeopleSoft, Ultimate Software, Lumesse and Kronos … plus more recently launched recruiting solutions from HCM  powerhouses Cornerstone OnDemand and Workday. Additionally, several smaller operators are gaining serious traction such as Greenhouse, Lever, SmartRecruiters, HireBridge, ATS OnDemand, PCRecruiter and ApplicantPro.
And  rounding-out the broader solution category are the well-known brands with a heritage in job boards -- Monster, CareerBuilder and Dice … and the emerging recruitment marketing sub-category players Avature, Jibe, Broadbean, Findly, Smashfly, Talemetry, etc.

Obviously it’s a fairly cluttered and complex recruiting technology market; which is why it’s recommended that prospective customers go through the typically laborious due diligence process of mapping their most acute talent acquisition pain points and challenges to solution vendors with relevant capabilities – as tangibly demonstrated in product demo’s. Narrowing the field to a short list for detailed evaluation should then involve examining factors such as product investment patterns, efficacy of the vendor’s customer success model, pricing, proposed SLA frameworks, findings from customer reference calls -- and the sometimes (perilously) overlooked -- alignment of company cultures.

12 HR Tech Capabilities That are Changing the HR Domain

Talent management processes are about effectively recruiting, developing, evaluating, rewarding, retaining and otherwise maximizing the engagement and contribution of all employees. The role HR technology plays in achieving this has never been more prominent than it is today.
Eight to ten years ago, HR tech processes were automated but disconnected, analytics were available only to expert users through separate tools, different talent strategies per workforce segments were just a vision, and user experiences were anything but engaging.

Things changed roughly six years ago, when the two largest talent management software players, SuccessFactors and Taleo, got acquired by the two biggest HR-ERP or HRMS vendors, SAP and Oracle. This certainly opened up HR tech vendor R&D budgets to continue innovating outside of employee life cycle transactions.

Another innovation catalyst was capital infusions (via IPO, private equity, etc.) at leading talent management suite providers, like Cornerstone OnDemand, PeopleFluent, SumTotal Systems (now part of SkillSoft), Saba, Halogen Software, Silkroad, etc.

These factors, plus newer HR tech market entrants and continued momentum at mid-market players or payroll/workforce management-focused companies like Ultimate Software, ADP, Ceridian, Kronos and Ramco, lifted the market in terms of many higher-impact "TM" capabilities.

Yes, it can finally be said that talent management technology has reached maturity! So what are some of the newer talent management technology capabilities that have impressed us?


1. Year-round coaching can now be part of the performance management and improvement model.
2. Personalized rewards and retention schemes allow investments in employees to have maximum impact.
3. Culture fit and team fit can be added to the assessment of candidate and employee suitability.
4. Gamification is among the newer "hooks" that don’t just find but actually engage candidates. Engaging candidates, particularly passive candidates, is a winning recruiting strategy.
5. Job simulations have also been added to the recruiting toolkit, which not only helps with assessing candidates but allows candidates to realistically decide if they want to pursue a job with specific challenges. These can now be experienced, not just discussed.
6. Video interviewing, which may include embedded predictive capabilities, is now dominating the talent recruitment space.
7. The video medium is also getting widely adopted in learning, including video on-demand learning and social learning.
8. Social network analysis is the ability to identify who influences whom within the organization. This capability helps with change management, as knowing the "influencer nodes" is key.
9. Sentiment analysis/climate measurement – using algorithms against unstructured data in emails, for example (in the aggregate, not at the individual level, as that would breach privacy regulations) – is quite valuable in keeping a finger on the pulse of employee engagement.
10. Gig economy management empowers employers to manage non-employees and contractors – who often serve as an extension of the workforce – just like traditional employees, when appropriate.
11. Career pathing, a capability offered mostly by niche HR tech vendors, enables employees to work with their manager in progressing their careers. The system analyzes which job roles lead to other roles, how long the process might take, what skills might be leveraged, etc.
12. Prescriptive analytics can now guide managers about what actions to take to dissuade key employees from leaving, among other things.

The 12 trends above are parts of the bigger theme emerging in talent management technology: integrated talent management. Analyst firms like Bersin & Associates (now owned by Deloitte) have published research showing that when talent management processes, technology components and – less we forget – teams or departments within HR functions are meaningfully and integrally linked, the business impact is often dramatic. Focus areas such as employee retention and employee productivity (e.g., revenue per employee) are noticeably higher in organizations that achieve a high degree of talent management integration.

When the same core and leadership competencies are used to hire, evaluate and develop employees, a foundational level of integrated talent management has been established. Then, when the outputs of one process, such as performance management, automatically become inputs to other processes, like learning & development and succession planning, a greater level of talent management integration can drive major efficiency gains.









De-Mystifying AI, RPA, Bots and IoT in HR

There’s no shortage of buzz these days about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and RPA (Robotic Process Automaton), and the HR / HCM domain is quickly establishing itself as one of the most logical places in an organization to apply these innovative capabilities. This is because HR processes such as benefits administration, payroll operations, on-boarding, PTO and leave requests, time recording aspects, compliance obligations, policy explanations and other HR Help Desk queries are largely predictable and repeatable.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Placing HCM Stewardship Where it Belongs: Outside of HR!

In retail, capturing data in real-time at the Point of Sale (POS) leads to better stock replenishment and more informed customer interactions and experiences. Now take that same concept into business operations with HR and employees, where transaction or event participants similarly have the biggest vested interest in achieving maximum data accuracy and transaction processing speed.

The principles of real-time data updates and logical transaction ownership led to a lot of new Employee and Manager Self Service functionality in the early days of HCM systems. Let’s also remember, though, that self-sufficiency -- as in not having to deal with the occasional black hole that some HR Departments are identified with -- is also directly correlated with stakeholder or customer satisfaction.

All of this “transactional mumbo jumbo” can be boiled down to one phrase: Human Capital Management stewardship … and also perhaps one question: Where should primary HCM ownership lie? The “HR as necessary interloper to keep the company out of trouble” model hasn’t really endeared itself to many outside of those running professional HR organizations. So why keep “workforce management activities to drive enterprise value,” aka HCM, strictly in the hands of the HR Department?  No reason. It’s a stupid waste of resources – both financial and human.

HR adds the most value, by far, when it enables line managers to be effective stewards of HCM

How do you as an HR professional accomplish this?

(1) by truly understanding the business of your internal line manager customers
(2) by being a trusted advisor when it comes to HCM-related opportunities and risks (both -- not just risks!)
(3) by syndicating best practices, tools, standards and innovations related to HCM across the organization … whether an HR-borne idea, an internal customer’s idea or something learned at a professional HR organization’s conference.

Business leaders don’t just have P&L responsibility. They interact with their teams every day, in all situations, and they ideally have the “HCM acumen” to know what will drive employee engagement, retention and productivity … or conversely, what will impede these outcomes and how to mitigate those impediments.

Bottom Line: HR Departments must place a huge emphasis on line manager enablement, thereby shifting HCM stewardship to where it belongs – to team leaders, department managers, and senior executives. HR Departments should enable, or get out of the way.

Another “SRO” Crowd for an AI Presentation, But at a Payroll Conference?

A standing room only crowd for an industry conference’s AI session, something seen with great regularity these days. But it's actually from an American Payroll Association event in Orlando. You read that correctly.

While the payroll function and services market likely weren’t among the first AI or RPA candidates written on white boards in innovation labs, this obvious level of interest might suggest a “can’t see the forest through the trees” dynamic operating in some of those innovation labs. Back-office corporate functions such as payroll are in fact fertile ground for RPA and intelligent automation overall, given the preponderance of recurring manual tasks and transactions not dependent on person-to-person interaction.

Innovation labs are now on the case.

The speaker for this session called “Prepare Your Teams for the Future of Payroll: Robotics, Automation & Shared Services” was Brian Radin, President of global payroll services provider CloudPay and long-time entrepreneur in the HR Tech space as well. Brian immediately got everyone’s attention by factually reporting that the number of bank teller jobs did not decrease in the years following the introduction of ATM machines. Teller numbers actually went up due to shifting staff costs to support new, higher value services within retail branches, which ultimately allowed more local branches to open up, tellers in tow.

Using AI in the realm of HR operations, including cognitive computing and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) or bots, has been explored in my blog posts. Radin’s session focused specifically on AI’s current and future use in payroll operations, including via services providers like CloudPay.

Some Easy Questions, Some Hard Ones

Radin’s talk directly addressed some key questions about “AI in Payroll”; e.g., how can (or will) these capabilities help payroll clients spend less time on manually intensive, routine or recurring tasks, ones that machines can often handle with more alacrity? And are there other tasks where resourcing can be toggled between human and bot staff depending on availability? Here the presenter highlighted examples like data validations and checks pre and post-payroll run (payroll has quite a few of those), machines fixing errors or automating the consolidation of data, and of course, chatbots to answer recurring questions like “what is my accrued PTO?” or “when will I receive my first check?” (Questions which come up hundreds of times per year.) Allowing RPA tools to handle these will benefit clients of providers like CloudPay and any other vendor investing in these capabilities. And as far as highlighting a “resourcing agnostic” (bot or person) type of activity in payroll, the example given was using people or bot staff to train new staff.

One of the highlights of the session for me was listening to questions attendees were posing at the podium afterward, away from the large audience. One gentleman told Radin that training and re-skilling of staff were already going on in his company in areas where RPA would be heavily leveraged, but it sometimes provided only a year or so of “job runway” for employees until RPA would impact their next job. Then re-skilling would have to start again. Radin’s response was both admirable and accurate: “Re-skilling decisions in the RPA era is very much a work in progress.”

Machines that Do, Do and Think, and Learn

CloudPay’s VP Marketing, David Barak, elaborated for me after the session on Radin’s slide which highlighted these three different categories of RPA capabilities: “Do” describes the use of RPA to move and manipulate payroll data without human involvement, as one example. “Do and think” capabilities include the machine flagging and fixing hundreds of data issues pre-payroll run; and while “Learn” is an RPA capability in payroll processing that’s still being tested and improved upon (as with machine learning in most areas), it includes anticipating spikes in payroll processing costs based on time of year, business cycles, new regulations, etc. This information can then guide the customer in optimizing staffing levels.

Bottom Line: Payroll departments and services provider clients will increasingly benefit from emerging RPA and cognitive capabilities. It will probably be a few steps forward and a couple backward until something akin to a “human/bot hybrid resourcing homeostasis” is figured out – in general, and also reflecting specific customer contexts. Predicting how far / how fast with any precision, in any industry or discipline, is almost a total crapshoot. One thing we do know, machines are not nearly as susceptible to errors due to work overload or distractions.

The Latest HR Power Tool … IoT!

Now available in select “HR supply stores”: IoT (Internet of Things). Much like the double-edged sword nature of its companion power tools, IoT in workforce management can usher in unprecedented and significant business benefits, but only when the right capabilities are selected and potential risks and adverse outcomes are accounted for. 
IoT is a process in which people, machines, and devices are connected to one another via a single network in order to automatically exchange data without any manual involvement. IoT can, for example:
  • track the productivity of workers in the field
  • confirm overall fitness or fatigue when relevant
  • assign tasks based on the nearest worker
  • tie scheduling real-time to customer flow
  • offer real-time training based on an employee’s time on job, credentials or performance
All of this sounds pretty compelling, but a couple words of caution. The first word: Volkswagen, whose engineers illegally programmed IoT-like software to sense when the car was being tested during an emissions inspection, which then activated more costly equipment that reduced emissions. This resulted in a roughly $3B fine this year. Additionally, IoT solutions will generate lots of new, often very valuable data related to people and how they perform their jobs, and not every HR Department is adequately staffed to handle the current explosion of people data or supported by data scientists.
Cause for Optimism with Early Adopters of IoT in HR
While not many HR Technology solution providers are occupying the IoT market category just yet, one company caught our attention: Triax Technologies, and specifically with their “spot- r” solution for companies with workers in the field, particularly on constructions sites. Certainly, accidents are more common there. My briefing from Triax’ COO Peter Schermerhorn enlightened me that U.S. construction companies pay out $1 billion annually for claims related to slips, trips or falls; that the construction industry pays more than twice the national average for workers’ compensation insurance; and that an estimated $7.2 billion in fraudulent workers’ compensation claims are filed annually in the U.S.

spot-r by Triax provides data-driven, real-time visibility into construction operations and safety incidents, leading to an improved safety culture on site and can result in reduced insurance costs. Automatic, geo-tagged “slip, trip, fall” alerts improve response time to accidents and record surrounding conditions (temperature, height, location of witnesses in the area, etc.), self-alert buttons empower construction workers to stop working due to unsafe conditions and alert supervisors to hazardous conditions, and high-decibel evacuation alerts are included in the mandatory wearable devices used on many of the company’s pilot projects with customers. Peter also offered a glimpse into the near future when the company’s sensors will be used in new ways to promote safety and visibility on the job site. Imagine knowing in real-time where your workers, equipment, machinery, and tools are onsite and how they’re interacting with each other.
Who said technology innovations related to HR and workforce management usually lag other business areas?

Bottom Line:  As with all the other power tools (i.e., sophisticated capabilities) recently added to the HR practitioner tool belt, IoT’s potential to be a game-changer cannot be overstated, but neither can the surrounding considerations for avoiding possible misuse or sub-optimal deployment.

Monday, January 30, 2017

HR Best Practice? Yeah, Right

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?

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

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!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

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


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.