The Cloud Descends Upon Chicago – a HR Tech 2012 Wrap-Up

Hard to believe, but yet another HR Technology Conference is over and this year’s conference was the best yet. In what was the last stop in Chicago before moving back to Las Vegas for the foreseeable future, Conference Co-Chair Bill Kutik and the team from LRP Magazine Group pulled out all the stops to make 2012 a memorable experience for all.

The Highlights

This year’s conference was clearly the biggest yet.  With  approximately 4600 people at the conference between vendors, press, analysts, presenters and conference attendees, the show continues to grow larger every year.

This year was the first year the conference was located in the newer McCormick Place West building and nearly filled the space to capacity.  The facilities were top notch, a broad diversity of speakers brought a wide array of perspective that applied to not only larger companies but mid-sized and smaller firms as well.  WiFi was pervasive throughout the facility, enabling attendees to stay connected back at the office while participating in the show.

While walking the exposition hall floor it was clear that the unofficial theme of the conference was The Cloud.  Whether it was called SaaS, Subscription, OnDemand, or another variation of cloud computing it was well represented in nearly every booth and in the majority of the sessions I attended.

In addition to cloud, mobile was top of mind for all vendors.  As Josh Bersin correctly highlighted in his conference wrap-up the term mobile is a bit of a misnomer.  What historically has been thought of as lightweight user experiences for limited bandwidth connections on devices with tiny screens is no more.  The typical smart phone is 4″ in size and growing, tablets are becoming more pervasive, as is high-speed data connections via 4G networks.  As a result, the “mobile” experience is quickly becoming more feature-rich and equally (if not more) engaging than the traditional browser experience.  We’re quickly moving to the reality of a ubiquitous experience.

As buyers walked the show floor, they were bombarded with messaging regarding the benefits of the cloud –  frequent updates, rapid innovation, lower cost, and escape from reliance on internal IT.  There’s no denying the impact that Software as a Service has had on the Human Capital Management software market – as, HR was one of the early adopters of cloud computing along with their sales counterparts.

Amongst the numerous press releases and product announcements the central themes to be found were mobile, social, big data and cloud.  Recruiting, Talent, Payroll, and HR administration solution providers all focused on these two themes.  Even the largest non-software vendor announcement at the conference was about the cloud – Knowledge Infusion being acquired by Appirio to create the world’s largest cloud-powered HCM consultancy.

Oracle’s co-president, Mark Hurd was the featured speaker Wednesday morning – a big get so to speak, representing the senior-most executive from a large software company to ever speak at the event.   While Oracle has always maintained a strong presence at the conference, on the heels of several acquisitions in the HR domain (Taleo and SelectMinds) they demonstrated an even stronger commitment to the market.  Clearly they’re gearing up for a long, protracted battle with emerging vendors like Workday and others.

In Summary

After many years in Chicago, consuming multiple venues in town (including three different buildings at McCormick Place) the conference is moving on.   Next year will be in Las Vegas, its new home.

With record attendance, terrific facilities, and reasonable weather (by Chicago standards) this truly was the best HR Technology Conference to date.  With the bar raised extremely high, I’m looking forward to seeing how the show can top 2012.

Between now and next October the conference continues virtually on LinkedIn where the HR Technology Conference Group maintains an extremely active and lively virtual conversation.  Additionally for those on twitter, you can also follow along by searching on the hashtag #HRTechConf and following the @HRTechConf twitter handle.

Kudos to Bill and the rest of the team on another job well done.

Experience Matters!

Technology when you want it, people when you don’t

Several years ago the US-Based internet car insurance company Esurance launched an advertising campaign which highlighted the benefits of their service delivery model – a model based entirely upon choices.  The campaign had the tagline of “technology when you want it, people when you don’t” to emphasize the fact that everyone has a different optimal service experience and they weren’t purely a self-service organization.  With this campaign Esurance focused on the customer experience over the price of the coverage, the breadth of their geographic footprint, or other traditional points of emphasis in insurance advertising.

The concept of choice in a service delivery experience makes perfect sense in a consumer-based model, but does that same thought process apply in how HR services are delivered to an organization?    Over the years I’ve seen a variety of HR service delivery models which are generally predicated upon efficiencies gained by way of automating routine inquiries and transactions.  Broad-based assumptions are made which impact financial modelling, assuming upwards of 80-85% of all inquires can be accommodated by way of self-service.

After all the number crunching and analysis, there often remains large barriers to achieving the desired levels of utilization based largely upon the overall user experience of the technology and supporting capabilities.  This isn’t purely a technical issue, although the technical user experience is a large contributor to the experience. 

The Service Experience

Service experience is defined by technology, process design, logical structure to system data, the manner in which systems are accessed by users, the structure of the support model – phone, portal, in-person, etc.

A well designed service experience becomes an enabler of transformed business operations. Conversely, a poorly designed service experience can not only be a critical point of failure in the service delivery model but ultimately result in less efficient operations.

Getting to the Point!

When working to design new systems, processes, and/or operating models, maintaining a customer-centric (employee or manager) mindset in the design becomes one of the most critical success factors.  In order to deliver this optimal experience, keep in mind the following items:

  1. Include non-HR stakeholders in the overall design process by way of focus groups at a minimum.  Ideally you have business stakeholders embedded into the design team to help ensure the needs of the customer remain front and center.
  2. View efficiency gains not just from a HR perspective, but from the perspective of the employee and/or manager
  3. Design system values such as job codes, department codes, locations, etc to be meaningful to the primary user (which isn’t HR).  Use of “smart codes” should be avoided at all costs
  4. Make all solution design decisions as holistic as possible and replicate values across related systems.  This means that finance and HR have the same definition of items such as headcount, organizational structures, etc.
  5. Think about the future when designing processes and systems – be sure that design decisions don’t limit you in the future.

In the end success lies not in making something technically work, but in enabling the desired outcomes.  In order to drive user adoption experience matters.





Controlling Your Zombie Population

Imagine for a moment that you are the CFO of an electronics company and just learned that nearly 67% of your product inventory was either partially or completely at risk of becoming a warranty liability – meaning that it is already broken or close to being broken before the warranty expires.  In that circumstance, you likely would immediately seek to address the risk by addressing the at risk inventory and reassess your supply chain, raw material providers, component assembly functions, and your quality processes.

Additionally, stringent quality controls would be put in place to prevent at-risk product from entering inventory in the future.  To do anything different would expose your business to entirely too much financial risk, jeopardizing the ongoing viability of the firm.  Most Chief Human Resource Officers face a very similar situation, with 69% of the average workforce being either partially or completely disengaged according to a 2011 study of employee engagement by Blessing White Research.

A bit tongue in cheek, any workforce can be viewed in three distinct categories; fully disengaged workers (The Dead) , partially disengaged workers (Zombies) and engaged workers (Zombie Slayers).  The Dead population are those workers who do the bare minimum to get by, occupying a chair and collecting a paycheck.  The Zombie Slayers are those who are actively driving the business, pushing the envelope, making things happen – a population that can never be large enough for any company.  The rest of the population are somewhat in the middle – they do what they need to do, may go above and beyond, any may not even realize that they aren’t fully engaged – much like a Zombie may not realize that they’ve become the living dead.  You can easily identify the dead and the Zombie Slayer populations in your workforce, but the Zombies often are more difficult to spot.

As with any good Zombie movie, the goal is to either slay the Zombies or find a way to bring them back from the living dead .  To that end, after assessing the engagement levels of their workforce, many companies attempt to put in place programs which prove to be ineffective or worse yet aren’t funded.  The end result is often a Zombie population who is neither slayed nor “cured”, they simply maintain status quo, blissfully unaware that they have become the living dead.

Exacerbating the situation, companies will exclusively focus their engagement programs  upon the existing employee population.  This results in  little to no thought to the workers joining the company by way of external recruitment.  Failure to effective screen for potential Zombies is likely to result in growth of the Zombie population within your company.

What’s an HR Pro to do?

Employee engagement is the byproduct of competent people doing work that fulfills them for a company they admire.  Unfortunately there is no simple screening mechanism to identify a disengaged candidate.  It’s not a skill, competency, or behavioral characteristic which can easily be measured by way of a survey or assessment.  It can only be identified through personal interaction, careful screening, and an honest assessment by the recruiter as to whether the company is really the right fit for the candidate as much as whether the candidate is the right fit for the company.

While there’s no silver bullet so to speak, in recruiting candidates I’ve found those that perform the best and remain engaged satisfy three simple observation points:

  1. The work that the position requires addresses a personal need of the candidate – i.e. professional fulfillment, personal desire, etc.
  2. The candidate has a clear and realistic expectation of what the job entails and the operating environment of the company
  3. There is a strong cultural fit between the candidate and the company

If you as a HR pro are looking for ways to directly impact the financial performance of your company – look no further than your hiring practices.  Hiring a candidate based on the best set of skills, the lowest price candidate, or some other set of attributes which don’t address the three bullets above may result in growth of your Zombie population.  And unlike in the movies, Zombies in your workforce don’t eat brains, they eat profits.

Happy Zombie Hunting!



Why? The Most Powerful Word in the English Language

According to the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary the English language contains 171,476 different words.  Add to that number approximately 47,000 obsolete words which have all but disappeared from daily use.   In all, that provides us with over 218,000 different words in which to communicate, express ourselves, make a point, or otherwise interact with our fellow man.  With all those options available to choose from, its somewhat surprising that one of the most powerful words in the English language is a mere 3 letters long – WHY.

Typically when you think of a management consultant you think of a well-educated, highly experienced professional communicating in some sort of esoteric code – full of both buzzwords as well as high letter score words from scrabble.  Consultants immediately fall into this trap, partially in a way to validate to their clients that they’re well worth the high hourly rates they charge, and partially as a way to simply keep up with their peers who also choose to communicate using similar prose.  Having grown up in a Big-4 environment, I found myself doing the same thing out of fear more than anything else.  Fear of appearing simple-minded, fear of not fitting it, and fear of not impressing the partners I worked for.

With all the pressure to speak using greater numbers of complicated words, I have found over the years that one of the most effective ways to get impactful results is to rely upon this simple, three-lettered word.  Its elegantly simple, devoid of any pretense, and amazingly powerful in its ability to cut to the chase.

My four-year old son has mastered the art of using the word why.  While he uses it as a way to understand boundaries, question authority, and learn all at the same time, it has the amazing impact of forcing me to consider why things are as they are.  Absent any good reason that comes to mind immediately I find myself uttering the same words my parents uttered to me “because I said so”.

In ancient Greek culture Socrates was one of the most powerful minds of that time yet he didn’t author countless theories, wasn’t credited with amazing discoveries, and didn’t invent anything.  Rather it was the manner in which he engaged in dialogue to discredit ignorance which became the foundation of the Socratic Method – using questions and answers to arrive at a common understanding of what is correct and incorrect.  For Socrates it was not only normal to question everything but he felt it was his duty to do so.

In a business setting, the same thing happens.  While driving process improvement or transformation the simple act of asking “Why do we do this?”  or “Why is this necessary?” can help to cut through the clutter and get to the heart of an issue related to resistance to change. When you ask why, you quickly can determine what’s really necessary, what’s perceived to be necessary, and what’s simply a thinly-veiled excuse to resist change.

By simply asking why I’ve seen highly complex business processes dramatically simplify.  Asking the question of why can help to save money, avoid unnecessary work, and deliver a more positive experience for all.

When embarking upon any technology-related deployment, process improvement, or other initiative designed to help simplify, streamline, and/or enhance your work environment, remembering to slow down and ask simple questions can deliver impacts far beyond those of any technology.

Abandoned Properties

Detroit Public Library

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but it appears that the economy is slowly recovered from the depths of the worst recession in the last 75+ years.  Sales are up, earnings are up, fortunately the Dow and everyone’s 401(k) balances are up, and the employment picture is beginning to shake the off the cobwebs.  While many signs point towards better times ahead, if your neighborhood is anything like mine there are some signs of the toll the economy took on the housing market.

I live amongst many newer housing developments, many of which were incomplete as the recession really took hold in 2008.  As a result of the sharp drop in new home sales there were several developments that didn’t get started and others that remain semi-complete because builders went bankrupt, sales halted, and lenders stopped the flow of money that earlier fueled the growth in the housing market.  To compound the matter, many lost their jobs for an extended period of time, resulting in a skyrocketing foreclosure rate.  The visible remains of this situation are abandoned homes that seem out of place in a nicer neighborhood, unkempt lawns, un-shoveled driveways, and hedges in need of some trimming.

It’s been 132 days since I last authored a post on here.  And as much as I hate to admit it, some might believe that my “online home” here appears to be abandoned just like some homes in my neighborhood.  While I’m clearly not properly keeping up the property, I’m also not  quite ready to declare the property abandoned.

Why I’ve neglected my blog lately:

  1. Daily life has consumed more of my time than I have available.  While I can make various excuses as to what I’ve been spending my time on lately, I would prefer to be honest.  When I’ve had available time, I have chosen to focus my energies on other things.  Reconnecting with my family, catching up on the “Honey Do” list at home, and other personal commitments.
  2. Lack of creative energy to consistently write blog entries.  I am a confused Human Resources / Information Technology consultant who happens to have many skills of which creative writing is not one.  Writing doesn’t necessarily come natural to me as I’m much more comfortable with a dry erase marker and/or powerpoint.  I often speak in 140 character sound bites or in links to the works of others
  3. I create in different media.  I’m often still on twitter, linkedin, facebook, and other social media outlets.
  4. I’ll be out presenting more in the future.  I have sessions coming up in April and May with plans for more in the second half of the year.


One thing is certain – I will begin writing again, and likely somewhat soon.  I encourage you to keep an eye out for new content soon.  Meanwhile, trust me…payday loans online this is no abandoned property.



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Analytical Views on Analytics

The other day I was reviewing a press release from one of the numerous vendors in the HR Technology market which stated “the new release incorporates highly flexible analytics to deliver key business metrics business leaders are demanding”.   That quote (along with a very lengthy delay on the tarmac at O’Hare) got me thinking .  Can a HR Technology Vendor deliver meaningful analytics that business leaders are demanding?

What analytics exactly are business leaders demanding?

If I’ve learned nothing else in the 15 years I’ve been in this space, its that HR generally doesn’t know what business leaders are demanding.  Not to be negative, but HR has historically been viewed as a highly administrative function which serves a supportive role to the business.  Very few HR organizations are actually viewed as strategic business partners and have been able to successfully answer the questions that the C-Suite is really asking.  Those that have, generally can demonstrate the following:

  • Direct impact on talent-related programs and processes to top-line growth
  • Comprehensive understanding of which talent-related levers can be pulled to adjust the overall financial performance of the organization
  • How specific talent practices directly contribute to the levels of agility within the organization (effectiveness of core competencies, impact of development programs, bench strength in key roles, hiring talent beneficial to the organization not just people skilled to fill the role for which they applied, etc.)
  • What impact incremental investment in HR practices can have on top-line growth
  • Impact to both the top-line and bottom-line as a result of speeding up or slowing down hiring

Needless to say, being able to provide meaningful insights into ANY of the points above requires information which goes far beyond that contained within nearly any HR-specific application.  For a HR product vendor to claim out of the box business analytics is pure bunk, unless there is a data warehouse capability inherent in the solution.  Last time I checked,  other than the ERP-based solutions only one HR vendor that I am aware of really offers such a possible solution.  In all such cases, the use of a overlay analytics solution is necessary to deliver meaningful business analytics.  None actually do this native within the core business application.

What analytics do HR vendors provide?

While its highly unlikely that HR-centric solutions will provide meaningful analytics which answer the exact questions emerging from the boardroom, there are a multitude of rich, meaningful, and helpful analytics which can be produced.  These nuggets of knowledge, coupled with financial data can go a long way towards producing some simple, yet meaningful analytics such as:

  • Your time to fill metric combined with average revenue per employee per day (annual revenue / headcount / 365) demonstrates the opportunity cost associated with your average vacancy.
  • Turnover rate coupled with replacement cost (30% of annual salary is an average benchmark) can be used to speak to the financial cost of turnover.  This along with divisional or managerial level detail can help to pinpoint specific segments of the organization needing additional attention.
  • Combining individual revenue details for those in revenue-generating roles along with demographic information enable analysis of certain trends such as relationship between tenure and revenue, career path progression and revenue, managerial tenure and revenue generated, etc.  All great information to find ways of raising revenue and driving costs out of an organization.

These are just the tip of the iceberg.  Armed with financial data and an analytical mindset event the most basic HR information can be meaningful to your company’s leadership.  Moreover, by sharing the results of this type of analysis in financial terms HR can and will make progress towards a seat at the proverbial table.

No matter what the metric, unless it can be stated in a way that demonstrates impact to revenue or costs it will not be of use to the c-suite.  And as highlighted earlier, unless the application from which the analytics are generated contains financial information you’ll never be able to produce the rich analytics that your vendor would lead you to believe their new managerial dashboard delivers.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  I would welcome your input.

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