Churn Baby Churn!

Fish jumping the fishbowl

Earlier this week Talent Management Research firm Bersin & Associates released the findings of their latest study on the talent acquisition market, citing that nearly half of all surveyed companies are considering switching their recruiting technology vendor.  Let it sink in – almost 50% of surveyed organizations are looking to switch their talent acquisition vendor.  While the number itself is somewhat staggering, I naturally want to understand why people are looking to switch as much as how many.  The churn happening right now makes me think of the business of mobile phones and how people jump from one carrier to another hoping the service, phone selection, reception, price is better.

Just like the transformation happening in the mobile phone market, the talent acquisition market is in the midst of the largest evolution since the advent of the online job application.  Technology is radically transforming the way we search for jobs, the way recruiters source candidates, the way we evaluate and screen candidates, even the interview process itself.  Having a corporate job site an distributing your jobs to career boards like, Career Builder, etc isn’t even scratching the surface of what’s possible, yet that’s the extent of what most organizations are doing.

Savvy recruiters know the advantages of Search Engine Optimization (SEO),  Twitter has enabled recruiters to get the message out to the masses for little to no cost, and utilizing Facebook to attract and interact with candidates is quickly becoming the norm.  New vendors are emerging daily to address specific shortcomings with the market leaders in “edge” recruiting capabilities, and aggressive recruiters are pulling these capabilities into their organizations often faster than the company can react.

Which brings me back to the primary point regarding the industry churn. Why?  I’ll share my two cents on the topic as to why the number of companies switching vendors is so high:

  1. While there are a whole host of advantages to Software as a Service from a delivery perspective, one of the advantages in the sales cycle is a disadvantage in customer retention.  Barriers to entry and thus exit for customers are very low. Much like cell phone churn became much greater with the introduction of number portability (keeping your number when you change carriers), consumers can more easily switch from one vendor to another without substantial financial penalty.
  2. Many SaaS vendor contracts run 36 months in duration.  With the growth in economy in the first 9 months of 2008, many of contracts were signed at that point in time are coming up for renewal this year.  2009 and 2010 were down years from an economic perspective, which would lead one to believe that the lion’s share of the active SaaS-based talent acquisition vendor contracts are due to renew this year.


Why do you think this is happening?  Will churning from one vendor address the shortcomings that are driving everyone to look elsewhere?  Is technology really the problem or are vendors being saddled with baggage related to broken processes and poor change management activities during and after the implementation?  Next month Bersin is prepared to release the results of their Talent Acquisition Systems customer satisfaction survey – I’m curious to see why customers are looking to make the change and how the industry reacts to their findings.

What you your thoughts on the topic?  Please add your comments and join the dialogue.


Revisiting the HR Technology Conference

Last December, following the 2009 HR Technology Conference & Exposition I drafted an open letter to Conference Co-Chairman Bill Kutik with some changes that I thought would help to enhance his annual conference.  The post itself generated a fair bit of discussion in the industry as to additional ways to optimize the conference attendee’s experience.

Having just returned from the 2010 event, I am glad to report this year’s conference delivered tremendous value and information but also incorporated many of the suggestions posed by countless individuals who participated in the dialogue in the LinkedIn discussion. 

There were twice the usual number of shootouts, seven panel discussions, twitterstream boards all over the conference site, a social media session track, free WiFi, an extremely well attended welcoming reception, and an official Friday morning tweet-up.  Having access to more experts, more topics, and more networking helped me get more out of the conference.  In speaking with various attendees over the last few days I can say that they all agreed with my assessment as well.

Highlights from the 2010 Conference:

There’s an App for that (or one coming soon)

It’s been a long time coming, but the market has shifted towards mobile access to applications.  Whether this is through a mobile-optimized solution, emails formatted for today’s smart phones or apps that can be downloaded to a smart phone or tablet PC, the beginning of the end of the desktop PC is being felt.  Countless vendors either had or will be shortly introducing capabilities to enable productive access to their applications from a mobile device.  Examples of this are; time entry & approval, online vacation balance inquires, brief performance updates, and job interview feedback forms.  The list potential opportunities for mobile applications is seemingly endless.  Putting information in the hands of managers wherever they are can only enhance productivity – assuming the functions enabled via mobile applications are of value to those users.   

While WAP or mobile-optimized websites have been available for some time, there is a substantial shift towards more feature-rich Apps which could be downloaded to a smartphone like an iPhone or Android device.   The outstanding question I have is how mobile applications will operate in an “app-centric” world alongside customized, premise-based enterprise solutions.  I’ll dive deeper into this in a blog post in the future.

SaaS Reigns Supreme

As has been the trend the last five or so years, more and more vendors are shifting their solutions to the cloud and offering On-Demand capabilities.  Regardless of the type of SaaS solution being deployed (Single Tenant, Multi-Tenant), a delivery model which effectively controls the level of customization possible helps to enable the solution to extend to mobile devices.    SaaS-based solutions have enabled HR buyers to “jump to the front of the line” when it comes to technology-based initiatives given HR’s difficulties in gaining IT support for initiatives in favor of revenue-generating / customer-facing projects.  What started out as a delivery model to help get HR moving forward, has quickly gained acceptance not only for “point solutions” but is quickly gaining adoption within the Core HRMS domain as well. 

Consolidation Can be Good

I’ve often declared 2010 as the year of the acquisition – and it’s living up to the name.  In the month leading up to the conference there were three fairly large acquisitions and an IPO filing.  The talent management market is so fractured, and consolidation can only help to bring clarity to the market.   The real beneficiary is the HR buyer, as the consolidation has enabled them to focus on less options and eliminate some of the existing risk of their chosen buyer getting bought. 

Since the last HR Technology conference, there have been a number of companies that have been bought, sold, merged, etc.  The conference is a great place to learn about those changes, and how they can impact you and your business.

With all these good changes I only wish that I was able to sit in more of the sessions, meet more people, and speak with more vendors on the exposition floor.  I look forward to the opportunity to do just that next year at the conference when it moves to Las Vegas after a fairly long tenure in my home town of Chicago.

See you all in Las Vegas next October.

Shameless Self Promotion – See me at the HR Technology Conference

It’s almost September, and if you’re in the HR Technology market you know what that means – it’s nearly time for the annual HR Technology Conference and Exposition (September 29 – October 1, 2010).  In its 13th year, the conference is shaping up to be the best one yet.  With a packed agenda, top notch keynote speakers, and more panel discussions than ever before, the conference has grown to draw not just HR technology participants but HR executives, talent management leaders,  HR generalists and more.  Conference Co-Chair Bill Kutik is constantly looking to tweak the show to make it better year after year – and this year is looking to be a blockbuster.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending 6 of these conferences in the past and am looking forward to my 7th this year.  In addition to attending more than half of these conferences I have also had the good fortune of speaking twice before, in 2006 alongside then Vurv COO Amy McGeorge (now CEO of staffing firm Talagy) and then participating in a panel discussion on talent management hosted by Knowledge Infusion CEO Jason Averbook in 2007.  I’m pleased to share that I will be again make an appearance at the conference, as a panelist alongside a host of other very talented HR bloggers.  The panel, moderated by Kris Dunn (The HR Capitalist) will include well known bloggers such as Trish McFarlane (HR Ringleader), Laurie Ruettimann (Formerly of Punk Rock HR, now co-founder of New Media Services),  Michael Krupa (Infobox), and myself.  We’ll be discussing all sorts of HR issues including technology and social media.  The session is scheduled for Thursday, September 30th at 11:00 AM.

I can tell you all about how great the show is, but that’s been done to death by countless others here, here, here, and here.  All I can say is that if you are in HR or support HR in any capacity, don’t let the name fool you, this conference is for you. Do I have your interest now?  If so and you want to come, save $500 off the on-site registration fee just by being a reader of my blog by registering here and entering BRYON10 (all CAPS please) as the discount code.

See you there…..

Is Your Talent Management Solution Rotten To The Core?

Talent Management initiatives always start out with very high expectations.  Having a wealth of information on your employees enables more sound decisions on how to be leverage the largest asset you have – your people.  It seems so simple doesn’t it?  Yet time after time talent management initiatives have failed to live up to initial expectations.  Either you cannot get your employee information from a single core system, the data is outdated, you struggle with privacy concerns in certain parts of the world, or you don’t have a single source of data for security authentication resulting in separate user IDs and passwords.

“No matter what the issue is, the root cause is often the lack of a strong set of core employee data

Over the past seven years I’ve personally been involved in the selection and/or implementation of over two dozen Talent Management solutions both as a buyer myself and as a consultant assisting others through the process.  In nearly every project I’ve been a part of, access to a single, authoritative source of employee data has resulted in unforeseen delays and challenges.  In some cases it actually can cause a project to fail.

Vendors in the talent management space have developed amazingly robust, highly effective solutions that can help you solve big business issues.  They will show you all sorts of dashboards, metrics, analytics, robust talent matching capabilities, and even lay the groundwork for strategic workforce planning – highlighting the skill gaps between the workforce you need and the one you have.  Unfortunately, the ability to realize the full potential of these powerful technology solutions is entirely dependent upon the ability to source the appropriate data.

The challenge is generally two fold:

  1. Organizations don’t have a unified source of employee demographic information.  Larger organizations may have this data scattered across multiple systems, and multinational organizations may have more than one Core HR system, either separate in each country, region or line of business.  Additionally there is a very clear correlation between the degree of decentralization a company has in its operations and the likelihood of redundant HR systems being used throughout the organization.
  2. There is often a disconnect between how the Talent Management organization sees the organization of labor in the company and how the job structure is maintained in the Core HR System(s).  This includes lack of or inconsistent use of job families, proliferation of job codes to satisfy the desire to make the business card title the official job title, and plenty of other reasons.

Organizations that purchase a best-of-breed talent management solution often realize these challenges too late in the implementation that they are forced to make decisions that sub-optimize the deployment effort.  The result is what drives users crazy with things like redundant data entry, unsynchronized User ID’s and passwords, or job titles and/or reporting relationships which differ from reality.

To be fair, having a best of breed talent management solution isn’t necessarily the cause of these problems, but rather the tool which exposes this critical flaw that many organizations struggle with.  The same issues arise with a Core HR-based solution for talent management, except that there are often fewer surprises since there the number of locations in which core data can be defined is limited to one system.  The warts are more exposed and having a single solution for both core and talent management is less likely to result in a silo’d approach to the project – with Talent Management, HR Information Systems, and IT all involved.

My advice to all buyers in the market is to be sure that you take the time to fully evaluate the data structure and quality in your core HR system before you go too far down the path of selecting and deploying a talent management suite.  If you don’t heed this advice, you may never realize the value stated in your business case, and fulfill the promises that you’ve made to the organization when selling the idea of a solution internally.   Unfulfilled promises can quickly erode stakeholder support for an initiative and risk complete failure.

You Are The Company You Keep

While growing up I was often told that you are the company you keep, and as a kid I had a very difficult time both comprehending as well as following that advice.  As time went on and I matured personally I began to better understand it, but this was really driven home for me while in college.  As a freshman at DePaul University I made a decision to join a fraternity.

While I wasn’t necessarily the “fraternity type” and as a commuter-oriented college DePaul wasn’t exactly the typical college campus in which a Greek-letter organization would thrive, I opted to join regardless. Overnight I went from being classified as a freshman to being a “fraternity guy”.  People started making very specific assumptions about me personally – both positive and negative based exclusively upon my decision to join a fraternity.  Moreover, people made certain judgments and assumptions about me based on which Greek-letter organization I joined.  Certain fraternities had been labeled as “jock” or “party” houses; neither categorization well defined me personally.  I often had to work to overcome these categorizations.

Professionally this same lesson applies, with more impact than could ever have been realized as a child or teenager.  When someone reviews your resume, they are instantly making assumptions about you based on the organizations you’ve worked for in the past, schools you’ve attended, roles you’ve held, etc.  While a resume doesn’t get you a job, it does get you further in the process.

For example – when looking for a Senior HR leader, I would give more consideration to a candidate who has been in HR roles at Pepsi, and organization known for growing very successful HR talent than I would a candidate who worked for a smaller, less well-known organization.  Prior experience at a top consultancy is always a plus, as is attendance at an Ivy League University (or any other well regarded local institution).  A MBA from a top school will always get my attention as well.  Lastly, when researching a candidate I always look at their profile on LinkedIn.  If they don’t have a LinkedIn profile I have second thoughts about their candidacy.

Why is a LinkedIn profile critical?

I can give you several key reasons:

  1. People are less likely to significantly stretch the truth about their employment, responsibilities, titles, etc on LinkedIn.  Since often someone is connected to colleagues or managers at their current employer, there is an incentive to not stretch the truth as much as on a paper resume where its not likely seen by colleagues.
  2. Recommendations are easily accessible.  While I don’t give them much weight, the lack of recommendations often tells me a fair bit about the individual as well.  They either haven’t done anything worthy of a recommendation or are shy/afraid about asking for one.  In either case, I can be somewhat confident that they’ll struggle in a senior role.
  3. You can tell a ton about someone based on the other profiles that are most commonly viewed by others when looking at the candidate’s profile. Web traffic doesn’t lie – it tells me exactly what I want to know.  Do people look at other senior HR leaders profiles after reviewing the candidate’s profile?  Is that list mixed with C-level execs or is it more closely associated with analysts, receptionists, and other less senior roles?

What does all this mean?

In the job market, in the conference room, in the halls, and in the virtual meeting places of the world people are constantly making judgments and decisions regarding you and potentially your future all based on things or people with whom you are associated.  I’m not suggesting that you go and quickly unfriend a bunch of people on Facebook, stop following people on Twitter, and unlink with a large quantity of your contacts on LinkedIn.  Rather I’m suggesting that you evaluate what you’re looking to get out of each of those sites and be sure that your connections are aligned with your personal objectives for joining.   After all,  you are the company you keep.

Do you make similar assessments when reviewing someone’s information?  Please share your thoughts on the topic.

And for those who are wondering, the picture on this post is from the spring formal of my fraternity in 1994.  See if you can find me in it.

This is embarrassing

As a professional I strive to achieve as close to perfection as possible in my work.  I check, double check, and often triple check my work to look for anything that might later come back to haunt me or embarrass me.  One of my biggest pet peeves is spelling errors, yet in reviewing some of my old posts I can almost always find something that I missed before.  Another pet peeve of mine is formatting issues – where either the font type or size is inconsistent throughout a document.

While each of these and plenty of others can be prevented through more thorough review and an extra set of eyes, there will always be something that seems to slip through the cracks.  Yesterday my blog became a great example of how no matter how well you review and prepare, unexpected things can happen.

For some background, my blog is graciously hosted by my friend Lance Haun on his servers.  Lance recently decided to upgrade from one hosting provider to another for all of his online presence, including my blog (and a few others too).  Transitioning from one provider to another is actually a fairly straightforward process – well at least from my non-technical perspective.  Its a matter of configuring the new servers, cutting a new wordpress site/database for each blog on the server, copying over files from one server to another, and updating nameservers with your domain registrar so that your URL points to the IP address of the new servers rather than the old ones.   Monday night/Tuesday morning Lance and I coordinated our efforts to make this transition happen in a fairly seamless manner.  Late at night I updated the nameservers with my domain registrar – GoDaddy, and then Lance copied things from one server to another.  After the nameserver changes replicated throughout the internet, my new home should appear exactly as the old one did, with only a few hours of downtime overnight.  With the exception of a few minor hiccups along the way (not uncommon), we did everything necessary to move things over.  We validated the outcome and things looked perfect.

Or so we thought it was perfect.  Apparently when a new WordPress site is setup, a default blog post is created called Hello World.  This is then deleted by the blog author and the publishing begins fresh.  With a new blog this is not a problem, but with an established blog with multiple RSS feeds, apparently this post will get picked up and potentially replicated elsewhere.  This is what happened to me yesterday, with the Hello World blog post being published to multiple locations including Facebook, some sites that syndicate my blog, and to each of those who subscribe to my email blog feed.   To my readers, please accept my apologies for the erroneous blog post.

While this was a fairly harmless error, it reminds me of similar issues I’ve faced before as an ERP consultant, and when I managed HR operations for my previous employer.  No matter how detailed your plan is, no matter how thorough your testing is, now matter how prepared you are, things can and will always happen which are unexpected.  Has anything like this happened to you?  Please join me in sharing some of your more memorable technical “mishaps” by posting comments.