Light Bulb Not Candle

On December 9, 2010, in From The Vault, HRExaminer, by John Sumser

Light Bulb Not Candle

Today, we’re continuing our series that we started Monday Looking Back to See Forward. You can catch up on our two posts here with Looking Back and People Not Candidates.

What’s the state of innovation in HR and Talent Management today?

In May 2001 John wrote the article below Light Bulb Not Candle and made the observation that HR was seemingly stuck in an innovation bubble, constantly reinventing the wheel. Can our industry claim better today? I’d argue that you find three primary innovation paths in HR right now: social media, social media, and social media. Yet many conversations taking place about social media in HR are still remedial. Why do we accept this?

Of the likely innovators in 2001 John highlighted this opportunity: “Increasingly, we see a broad market opportunity from someone who comes in from left field. Large scale, data mining, direct marketing companies are, in some ways, closer to the solution than anyone in our space.”

In other words, import innovation from outside the space. Bring in specialists in technology or marketing and teach them what they need to know about HR so your end solution works. Indeed this has happened. Jobvite for example has arguably built upon what the original Jobster did by taking best practice web and social media tactics and bringing them to HR.

So what’s still missing in the innovation loop? I’d argue that today’s HR leaders should have enough web, social media and technology (fill in the blank) experience under their belts to propel them towards truly novel industry solutions. Can you name any that you feel meet that criteria? We’d love to hear about them. Drop us a comment on the post below or use our contact form to send us an email.

~ Julian, contributing editor


Light Bulb Not Candle

(originally published May 30, 2001)

Where do great ideas come from? Given the way that our industry is currently trying to move itself forward, you’d have to guess that everyone believes that innovation comes from reinventing the wheel. We see hundreds of entrepreneurial units trying to figure out how to add just one little corner to the round thing. At its worst, we see teams who claim to be able to get to round if they can add just enough corners.

There appear to be two broad streams: profiling and text search databases. Slowly emerging is a class of analytical tool that act as a strategic overlay on the profiling/resume management tools. Unfortunately, profiles, analytics and resume databases are just enough to tell you how bad the problem is. We can’t find anyone who is working on the next generation of the problem.

With deeply committed technical groups working furiously in the dark airconditioned development rooms, it’s surprising that there’s no intra industry collaborative forum. After all, the distinctions between ‘platforms’ are nearly inconsequential. Once the ‘perfect’ profiling, analytics, and database management tools are complete, we’ll have just enough tooling to understand that we’re in trouble. We ought to hurry up and get there (and, no, this doesn’t mean that HRXML is a good idea).

At its roots, the problem isn’t technical. And, that’s the rub. All of the current development efforts are so profoundly rooted in history that the possibility of real innovation is slim. No matter how hard you try to improve on the classified advertising model, it requires candidates who are in the market for jobs. No matter how much data you extract from benefits systems and payroll, it’s still all about traditional definitions of the firewall.

No matter how hard you try to reshape a candle, it will never become a light bulb.

Increasingly, we see a broad market opportunity from someone who comes in from left field. Large scale, data mining, direct marketing companies are, in some ways, closer to the solution than anyone in our space. Attracting and maintaining ready pools of potential talent involves touching lots of people who are not in our current systems. It means delivering real value to that group and building their loyalty in the way that traditional (non-internet) networks are built. It means knowing each individual in the network well enough to anticipate their moves. It requires experiments that take longer than a job board transaction.

Recruiting has become a strategic differentiator. As long as our industry only offers reactive tools, we will be guilty of dragging our customers to their extinction. What’s required is intense Research and Development in areas that currently get no investment.

We expect to see the rapid emergence of R&D project arms of key innovative companies. The projects will involve rigorous testing of alternatives and planned positioning of the customers. They will combine facets of marketing research and technical improvement. Along with the movement of supply chain management thinking and total quality principles, the legitimization of Recruiting Research and Development will shape the next five years of our industry.

 
  • http://twitter.com/incentintel Paul Hebert

    My guess – Social Network Analysis will be the left-field player that may just change the HR game. HR is about people and networks is how work through people gets done. Knowing how to analyze those networks is the killer app IMHO…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.letourneau Josh Letourneau

    Outstanding article, as always – well written and deep thought-worthy. The only area I’d disagree is the following:

    “Along with the movement of supply chain management thinking and total quality principles, the legitimization of Recruiting Research and Development will shape the next five years of our industry.”

    IMHO, it’s “Supply Chain Management Thinking” and “Total Quality Principles” that denote the very error that you’re describing. Here’s why: If all you focus on is improving the way you play the existing game (i.e. further automation and/or driving greater ‘efficiencies’), you lose the ability to think outside the game.

    If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that yesteryear’s management thinking (such as Six-Sigma, TQM, etc.) isn’t entirely applicable in today’s economy. As much as we’d like to think we can perfect the process, the truth is that human beings are not light bulbs. There are just too many variables when it comes to human behavior that we can’t account for and/or tweak.

    However (and this is a big ‘However’), it turns out that Barabasi’s research proves human behavior is not that unpredictable after all. It turns out that we live, work, play, etc. in “bursts” over short periods of time. In fact, this isn’t just human behavior . . . for more, I’d highly recommend Barabasi’s “Bursts” (following his recent book, “Linked”:

    http://www.amazon.com/Bursts-Hidden-Pattern-Behind-Everything/dp/0525951601

    P.S. I fully agree with Paul that SNA is the science we need to move beyond human-capital thinking (i.e. a focus on the “node” in the network) . . . instead of the overall network structure itself. As long as we keep thinking that people have great ideas (instead of great ideas surfacing from a web/network of interaction), we will continue to be oriented not necessarily improperly, but certainly not optimally.

    Josh Letourneau
    jl(at)knightbishop.com
    http://www.KnightBishop.com

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