Saturday, December 13, 2014

10 HR Technology / HCM Systems Capabilities that Drive Value Creation

HR technology solutions have unquestionably come a long way in “technology attribute areas” like configurability, usability, inter-operability and lower cost of ownership. Fortunately for business users of these solutions, business benefits and impacts now extend beyond the virtues of the tool or platform itself … thanks to advances in facilitating workforce collaboration, leveraging embedded analytics, enabling more robust workforce planning, achieving a more integrated, cross-functional talent management model, etc.

That said, here are 10 analytics-related capabilities that many end-customers would say they are still waiting for --- particularly as it relates to true Line Manager Enablement. These capabilities are much more about managing Human Capital risks, problems and opportunities -- than about the automation of a standard HR business process.

1. Provide guidance as to when it is best to fill a staffing gap by using a temp or contractor, training an incumbent, transferring or redeploying another employee, or hiring a new employee.

2. Identify “enrolled employees” (good performers who could be excellent if they were more emotionally connected or engaged) and what actions/programs should be considered.

3. Identify “key employee retention risks” and viable options for stabilizing those situations … [Note: A retention risk might be someone in the last year of stock option vesting who is paid under market in a business unit with below-average engagement].

4. Highlight employees or business units experiencing a “trajectory change” in productivity, engagement, retention, etc., and business-related variables that could be causing the change.

5. Highlight instances where the value of certain competencies (e.g., consultative selling) are becoming much more important to the organization; and related to that, identify otherwise good-performing employees who may consequently need to retool, be redeployed or replaced.

6. Highlight key employee situations where “non-financial rewards” would offer a very favorable “perceived value-to-cost ratio” … [Note: Non-financial rewards such as assigning a coach or mentor, or allowing an employee to be exposed to different parts of the business also typically have a cost attached].

7. Provide guidance as to where to look for possible talent management-related reasons for declining sales, declining customer service ratings, longer product development cycles, losing more high-performing employees to competitors, etc.

8. Provide a broad and realistic perspective on “organizational readiness” for such events as a shift in business strategy, change in product / services mix, M&A transactions, etc.

9. Identify situations where changing an employee’s role, manager or business unit might convert that employee from a good to very good or excellent contributor.

10. Highlight where a particular HCM metric or KPI is “actionable now” … or if it’s more appropriate to investigate further (with related metrics) before taking action.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kotter's Book "Leading Change" and Overcoming Complacency

I was recently asked to recommend a business book to some colleagues, one that related to guiding companies on transformational initiatives. Upon thinking about business books that had made a lasting impression, a common theme emerged: They were all books that helped in navigating the reasons why many corporate undertakings, such as ERP journeys, might fall short of potential or veer off-course.

Realizing that a common topic explored in the various books coming to mind (e.g., Who Moved My Cheese and Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers) was that of organizational change management, the book "Leading Change" by John Kotter rose to the top as the obvious choice.

Leading Change was written around the same time the internet was taking off, but it’s still the most recommended and read book on change management out there because none of the ideas embedded in Kotter’s 8-stage process for creating major change have lost relevance or (practical) applicability.

While some of Kotter’s eight stages are labeled using fairly obvious principles of change management such as creating the guiding coalition (or core change management team plus enlisted change agents), or establishing a sense of urgency, it’s the layers of not-so-obvious but critical insights and implications that Kotter explores within each stage that make the book come to life.

Take establishing a sense of urgency for example … One of many memorable quotes from Leading Change is … “Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.” Kotter’s surrounding comments highlight that while senior executives are usually the key players in reducing the forces of inertia, it can also be a competent individual in a middle or lower level role that is equally instrumental in creating some of the conditions needed for an organizational transformation.

This point clearly ties back to Kotter’s stage about creating the guiding coalition, as diversity of roles, levels, personalities and organizational alignments are all essential for the change management team to effectively channel “case for change” messages back to the masses, and “reactions to change” back to the change team.

Finally, on the topic of combatting complacency with a sense of urgency, Kotter’s comments in the book about the downside of current or past successes, or a lack of a visible crises, or insufficient feedback from customers contributing to the complacency factor really resonate; and should help guide all those interested in coming out on the positive side of a change management effort.

Steve Goldberg, October 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

3 Things you should Never Shortchange when Embarking on an HR Technology Rollout

1. The “what's in it for me” perspective of each class of user; e.g., employees, applicants, HR specialists and business partners, line managers, executives, relevant external partners, etc.

Keep in mind that HR Systems have been getting procured and implemented for decades, and often times, neither the organization nor the products being implemented were totally ready. Organizational readiness can relate to other strategic initiatives going on that are perceived as more important; or perhaps there was a need to (first) change the HR processes being automated as they were deeply flawed. Moreover, historically, it often took several releases from HR software vendors, and responding to customer feedback, before usability and depth of functionality reached acceptable levels. These factors could certainly contribute to a “negative bias” against HR Systems across different stakeholders and end-users, exacerbated further by how aggressively systems in the past were promoted as the missing piece in truly leveraging a workforce for competitive advantage. These potential negative biases or lack of receptivity to embracing the new system can be countered by framing the business case and designing all end-user communications in the context of “what’s in it for me?” This is obviously part of a much broader Change Management framework and program.

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

According to industry research firm IDC, worldwide spending on HR software has now surpassed $5 billion USD annually, propelled in-part by organizations jumping on the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) bandwagon. SaaS-delivered HR solutions allow customers to avoid the costly and disruptive upgrade cycles associated with on premise-installed enterprise software, make for much more predictable spends on HR Technology, and also enable customers to more readily share their experiences from using the software - as the SaaS model generally means they will all be using the same version of the software. Arguably, though, outside of effective change management, the biggest “Achilles’ heel” that continues to compromise business benefits that could be achieved from these investments is inadequate attention to data quality. 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!

3. Focusing on business drivers, how they might be changing over time, and how the HR Technology platform or software suite aligns with those drivers.

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; e.g., 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 capability sets, or simply invest more heavily in talent management and employee retention / engagement programs, the software vendor’s current offerings and planned product roadmap must be evaluated against these possible scenarios to ensure on-going fit.

Steve Goldberg HR Technology & Transformation Advisor

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Applying Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule” to Advances in HR Technology (**Excerpt from my article being published on this month)

In Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 bestseller Outliers, the popular author known for his provocative assertions supported by memorable anecdotes and scientific research (some might say cherry-picked research) introduced the "10,000 hour rule.” The rule posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert and likely very successful at anything. Examples given connected people not often linked such as Bill Gates and The Beatles.

Let’s take a look at how something like the 10,000 hour rule might apply to the HR Technology domain and how it continues to evolve, but using the threshold of 5 years’ worth of “collective industry efforts” instead. But first we need an appropriate starting point for the 5-year cycle; and for the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to use a starting point of when most of the elements were in place within these solutions to drive the broad range of business benefits customers hoped for.

While HR Technology solution providers were purveying their offerings in the 70’s and 80’s, clearly these were not platforms for managing the strategic aspects of human capital management to achieve competitive advantage. Then between the 90’s and early 2000’s, a flurry of HR software companies were launched to tackle specific HR processes like Recruiting, Performance Management and Learning Management, but in more robust and innovative ways not evident in the HRMS / HR-ERP platforms dominating the market.

So, should we consider 2004/2005 the starting point for when offerings in the HR Technology space really started delivering ROI consistently, and creating business value aligned with customer expectations and budget allocations … and therefore start the 5-year “Gladwell-inspired clock” around then? Probably not.

3 main reasons for starting the 5-year clock several years later; e.g., let’s say 2011:

(1) It wasn't until around 2010/2011 when most of the specialized or best-of-breed HR solution vendors truly started evolving into Talent Management Suite providers, linking the various strategic aspects of managing human capital using integrated modules or solution components, and often a common data model. Solution vendors that built-out talent management suites through acquisition have invested heavily in recent years in integrating acquired assets and in user experience modernization / harmonization efforts to try to match a unified (usually organically developed) platform’s obvious advantages. These efforts are completed or near-completed for some, still a work-in-progress for others. Of course, an engaging, modern user experience and consistent, unified system architecture removes some of the bumps in the road toward broad-based user adoption of HR Technology – but not all.

(2) Citing just two of the many key research findings on customer satisfaction with these platforms and their ability to drive transformational change in managing human capital: Bersin & Associates reported in 2011 that average customer satisfaction with HR / Talent Management systems overall was the equivalent of a “C+”; and the Hackett Group in 2012 reported that 79% of executives were dissatisfied with talent management support … a telling stat given that by 2012, likely over 80% of larger enterprises were heavily invested in talent management technology. Both of these findings were likely based on product implementations occurring in 2009, 2010 and earlier.

(3) It was in 2011 that several like-minded and long-term HR Technology enthusiasts -- myself included -- starting writing and speaking about the elephant in the room: What it really takes to drive high levels of user adoption … and the fact that key elements of this picture had little to do with the 20-30% variability in functionality offered by different vendor’s systems. Moreover, perhaps even the now-ubiquitous emphasis on SaaS (Software as a Service) … although SaaS still encompasses variations, each with associated implications, consumer-like user experiences / systems of engagement, and the “big 3 HR Technology themes of the day” -- social, mobile and HR analytics / big data -- have to some extent kept the buying public from having the right perspective on user adoption.

So, what other progress has been made toward achieving much higher levels of customer satisfaction, expected business results and user adoption in HR Technology since 2011 (or 2 years into this posited 5-year cycle toward more consistent successes in this domain)? 6 words capture it: Much more attention on Change Management.

I’m not sure why it’s taken this long for research and analyst firms, industry influencers and many solution providers to shine a very bright light on the importance of Change Management in driving far more success and satisfaction in HR Technology; but frankly, after operating in this arena for 30 years, I’m thrilled it’s happening now … and we still have 2+ years left in the 5-year Gladwell-like cycle!

Why do I say it’s happening now? Some evidence:
- A prominent CIO Survey from 2012 concluded that … “of the top 10 barriers to a successful ERP journey, 5 can be addressed by developing and implementing a structured change management program.” This finding from one of the world’s largest consulting firms also highlights one reason why various boutique consultancies around the globe have achieved considerable success over the last 20+ years, even without employing thousands of consultants: These firms have an end-to-end focus (from readiness assessment to sustainability planning) on systematically managing change, clearly a major component in all enterprise technology initiatives. Clearly, appropriate communications strategies, tactics and tools, including sound expectation management, is a critical element.

- The annual Cedar Crestone HR Technology Survey is probably the most highly regarded out there. After presenting tons of findings related to technology and vendor capabilities and trends, the presentation of survey results at the 2013 HR Technology Conference netted out customer success on HR Technology rollouts not to system / vendor attributes -- but to Change Management!

By way of concluding this piece, let’s return to those white hot themes mentioned earlier and link each one to key “change management dependencies” that must be accounted for in order to leverage recent product advances across these themes:

White hot theme #1: Social collaboration tools in HR Technology; e.g., to allow employees to move around and up internally, pursue informal learning, identify and take advantage of mentors, provide and receive feedback on interactions and impact, etc. Change Management component: Career gatekeepers; i.e., managers must be receptive to hiring internals, not be concerned about having to replace people that move out, fully encourage mentoring and informal learning, and make the retention and engagement of top quality employees “job 1.”

White hot theme #2: Mobile computing in HR Technology – or “taps trumps clicks.” Change Management component: Bear in mind that while users of HR systems and information now clearly prefer mobile devices over traditional laptops or desktop computers, we’re still in the very early stages of highly strategic “people management capabilities” (e.g., planning capabilities) being rolled out on mobile devices. The point here is that managing expectations around what capabilities will be available via mobile / when is a must – for both vendors and customers. Additionally, keep in mind that while the mobile device provides much easier access to HR / Talent Management business processes, decision-support frameworks (e.g., analytics dashboards) and key people information in general -- all of these pieces being accessed via mobile devices should have first been properly optimized, well understood, and perceived / received as rational and reliable.

White hot theme #3: HR or Talent Management Analytics / Big Data. Change Management component: Perhaps start with the premise that anyone that has been a user of HR systems (or even its data) for several years might actually have a negative bias against these tools. Expectations have simply not been managed well by many organizations’ internal and external HR Technology protagonists, data ownership and integrity has often been neglected in rollouts, and purveyors of on-premise installed solutions historically had minimal skin in the game in terms of ensuring customer success and satisfaction once the up-front license fee was collected (of course, this has changed considerably for the better with the SaaS model).

Beyond these factors, leveraging HR Analytics starts with having data and metrics standards (e.g., how are terms like turnover defined and measured); and must also include an understanding of how different metrics and dials should be looked at together before potentially premature or misguided actions are taken.

Just 1 example ... other examples provided in the article being published on

Concluding that a metric indicating “organizational bench strength” for key roles is in good shape might require a second look to confirm that the same high potential or senior employees aren’t being mapped to multiple roles at the same time – or that all successor candidates aren't flagged as “ready now” (much better to have readiness levels staggered of course).

Steve Goldberg, HR Technology Industry Advisor