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These days, things change faster than the jargon that describes them. For a couple of decades, it was the other way around. Marketing language evolved faster than reality.
It is much cheaper to make a marketing claim that it is to deliver a customer reality. That’s what fueled the acceleration of language that bore no resemblance to service experience. Today, our categories are strained as we encounter the new normal in economics, business and technology.
Take software. It used to be easy to understand what software was. Wikipedia says:
Computer software, or just software is a general term primarily used for digitally stored data such as computer programs and other kinds of information read and written by computers.
But that’s not really the whole story, particularly in the sort of software that businesses use (regardless of size).
Every piece of software comes with some amount of human support. If it’s from Google, the quantity of humans involved in the delivery of the software is microscopic. If it’s from Oracle, SAP, Peoplesoft or Lawson, just the opposite is true.
Over the years, ‘enterprise software’ became a secret code word for outsourcing. With massive teams that lived onsite, the enterprise implementation team patiently and casually took up the dregs of the customer organization’s work. It was impossible to tell the difference between the software and the team that implemented it. The work slipped off of the customers headcount and into the software supplier’s invoice.
One way of thinking about the Software as a Service (SaaS) revolution is that it is an attempt to restore the balance between the software you pay for and the people you get who support it. At the very least, SaaS is a way of clarifying where the software ends and the team that supports it begins.
It’s every bit as much a way of controlling spiraling costs as it is a way of delivering software. All of that hard to live with hardware maintenance and management is left to people who specialize in it. The very best SaaS providers keep costs in check by limiting customer alternatives to things that can be configured within the application itself.
SaaS is usually priced like a subscription charged at $X per employee. For that money, you get some level of software functionality and ‘account management’ (or customer support). For the most part, your options are limited to the things that the software can be configured to do. In some cases, the degree to which the software is ‘configurable’ is pretty all encompassing.
Last week, I spent an hour on the phone with the leadership of Caliber Point, an Indian HR Outsourcing firm. The leadership team is chock full of seasoned people with lots of enterprise implementation experience. I was fascinated by the fact that they billed on a per employee basis. I asked why they didn’t simply bill themselves as a SaaS offering.
Their answer was instructive. While the SaaS tool they’ve built is clearly the heart of their offering, they want to be known for the intimate service they deliver through their cast of thousands.
I felt like I was seeing an inflection point first hand. Since people are more flexible than software, why not lay the emphasis on the human component. It makes me wonder who competes with whom.
The new category is obviously called HRaaS.
Upon reflection, it’s really surprising that Recruiting as a Service (RaaS) hasn’t taken quick root in the culture. A service priced as a subscription, focused on helping the organization achieve specific staffing, retention and attrition targets is good for everyone. Recruiting shifts from a highly variable cost to something controlled and predictable.
The very few mentions of the RaaS concept really involve the idea of service levels and service quality, the surprising notion that Recruiting should be a customer centric discipline. That’s quite unlike the notion I’m suggesting here. “Recruiting as a Service” is an uninterrupted flow of Recruiting to a customer using a subscription model. Pricing would be on a “per head basis” just like other X as a Service offerings are.
The math is pretty straight forward. Number of employees times forecast growth in revenue times attrition rate gets you pretty close to the number of transactions. A properly written contract would make allowances for variations in growth and attrition. You might even imagine some bonus structure tied to revenue growth, profitability and targeted retention.
The really impressive aspect of this way of delivering recruiting is that the Recruiting Provider (I’m currently boycotting the use of the term RPO…it no longer carries a distinct meaning), is immediately incented to deliver the right performance. Contract reviews are structurally incented to review departmental attrition and retention. The role of hiring in corporate culture development would be obvious in the second or third performance review.
From a buyer’s perspective, having a recruiting function that is a predictable component of G&A spend while offering performance incentives that improve productivity is a sweet move forward from the status quo. Although it is not a uniform generalization, most hiring managers experience consistent disappointment with their recruiting providers, internal or external.
For Recruiters (especially those who see the discipline as an art form), the structure of real cost control and accountability is likely to provide a flowering of technique, simplification and improvements to the process. The RaaS model offers tight performance constraints at a system level. No more transactional focus is possible when the system rewards on a per head basis across the population.
I’m very interested in understanding your reaction to this idea.
Some times, more of the same makes for something really different. When that happens, it is called an “emergent property” of the system in which it happened. Or, it is simply called emergence. Emergence is defined with exceptionally clear detail in the wikipedia:
Emergence is the process of complex pattern formation from simpler rules.
This can be a dynamic process (occurring over time), such as the evolution of the human body over thousands of successive generations; or emergence can happen over disparate size scales, such as the interactions between a great number of neurons producing a human brain capable of thought (even though the constituent neurons are not individually capable of thought). The original term was “categorial novum” coined by Nicolai Hartmann.
For a phenomenon to be termed emergent it should generally be unpredictable from a lower level description. At the very lowest level, the phenomenon usually does not exist at all or exists only in trace amounts: it is irreducible. Thus, a straightforward phenomenon such as the probability of finding a raisin in a slice of cake growing with the portion-size does not generally require a theory of emergence to explain. It may, however, be profitable to consider the “emergence” of the texture of the cake as a relatively complex result of the baking process and the mixture of ingredients. (Wikipedia)
The article gives this example of an emergent property:
The complex behaviour or properties are not a property of any single such entity, nor can they easily be predicted or deduced from behaviour in the lower-level entities: they are irreducible. No physical property of an individual molecule of air would lead one to think that a large collection of them will transmit sound. The shape and behaviour of a flock of birds or school of fish are also good examples.
If this is making you scratch your head in bewilderment, read on. We’ll apply gross simplification to this elegant but confusing idea.
Most of us are really fond of a predictable world. 1 + 1 = 2. The ease and repeatability of the equation give us the illusion of stability. One of the most interesting aspects of our world is that sometimes,
1 + 1 = Rhinoceros
In other words, some times, more of the same makes for something really different. This is the case that the voices who decry the use of metrics in blogging are making. Somehow, Blogging creates a universe that ought not be measured lest the magic be taken away. If we measure our blogs, they say, evil will happen and 1 + 1 will only equal 2. That will be the fault of the people who wish to measure things.
There doesn’t appear to be much evidence that a cake changes texture when you measure it or that air carries less sound because you monitor its temperature. Emergent behavior happens whether or not you keep metrics on the basic stuff. In fact, you can measure the capacity for air to carry sound. That doesn’t seem to impair the air.
This is the deep end of a long argument. We’re not saying that there’s no magic to be found in blogging. There is. The more of it, the more interesting things get. There may well be emergent properties galore that come for the widespread use of interactive serial communications.
We’re also not saying that you can measure the magic. You can’t. The number of units shipped does not measure the joy a customer gets. A newspaper’s circulation is not a measure of its influence. The number of CDs sold doesn’t touch the number of hours of pleasure derived. The number of books sold is unrelated to the number of books read. And on and on.
You need measurement for conversation. It’s funny that the advocates of metric free blogging all point to the value of conversation. Metrics (or shared precise language) are a necessary part of any substantial conversation. Facts, figures and evidence (the stuff of metrics) make for long term shared conversations that are not arm waving.
They help you avoid passive aggressive behavior like “If you try to measure me, I’ll stop writing the blog.”
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Looks Like Training
Have you seen John Sullivan’s laundry list of the dissatisfaction with Recruiting? I whittled it down to a few strokes for the folks at Glassdoor. Recruiting is broken. The failure rate (50%) leaves only one possible conclusion: Recruiters embrace the crummy quality of the profession for reasons of job security. If Recruiters were delivering the goods, you would need many fewer of them.
This little tidbit of insight caused almost no response in the industry. No companies are forming blue ribbon panels to look into the waste and abuse. No performance audits are being conducted. The story passed through the world like a lead cow pie in the punchbowl. One splash and it sunk out of sight.
As much as I enjoy Dr. Sullivan’s rants and raves, fixing Recruiting seems like a bad idea. It sure isn’t interested in fixing itself. It’s a fundamentally flawed process that may as well be thrown on the junk heap.
Why not give the whole problem over to the training folks? By treating the input valve on the organization like a school enrollment problem, you’d line new employees up with the right people. They’d join the company in the hands of people who don’t abandon them after they’re hired.
Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning, web 2.0, and systems thinking. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. Full Bio
Description: This presentation by Jay Cross will address the following points about “Informal Learning”
- What is Informal Learning?
- What are the different ways people learn?
- Assess when and where Informal Learning is appropriate
- How do people ‘learn’ their jobs?
- Compelling reasons to invest in Informal Learning
- Examples on how to apply Informal Learning
Jay is introduced at 5:33 into the video.