HRExaminer v3.43 October 26, 2012
Table of Contents
I was talking with a colleague about the buzzword problem in HR Technology. Most of HR is discussed in a jargon that has been slowly evolving since the first personnel departments emerged during the depression. The language of job descriptions, merit increases, conflict management, skills and personality assessment all require some level of stability in the language.
As technology began to penetrate the HR Marketplace, buzzwords became a feature of product marketing. As a result, the language is getting sketchier and meaning changes too fast for anyone to be able to agree on anything. New ideas rapidly devolve to the least common denominator.
This is the way that great ideas like “talent pool,” “talent community” and “talent pipeline” have become shorthand for the more apt “email list”. It’s how “intimate and authentic communication” evolves to “modified and personalized direct mail.”
Software companies, particularly the giants, resist new features. They are uncomfortable with innovation. They hate risk. They are really good at stability. This is what their customers want, from a budgetary and cost standpoint. Predictability is the enemy of the new.
New ideas enter the market faster than enterprise providers are able to react. Pretty soon, all of the users are asking for the new feature. (In large software accounts, the users are rarely the customers and the customers are rarely the users.) There are very few tools that are useful for managing the problem. Caught between users and buyers, the enterprise vendors use marketing to solve the problem.
Here’s how it works:
- Great new idea emerges (let’s call it Using Social Media for Recruiting)
- Recruiters hop on board. Recruiters are always the first to use new technologies.
- New companies emerge to utilize the new services, many are variants on older ways of doing things.
- The professional pundit industry is awash in quiet rumblings about the lack of useful data. New technologies don’t have an ROI
- The buzz builds, conferences launch, support groups are formed.
- Bigger companies start to get threatened by the early traction smaller more agile companies find.
- Big companies start renaming existing functions after the new ideas. Mailing list management is a good one. It’s been called “talent management” and CRM
- All companies in the market can check off the fact that they have the new capability.
- The cynics survive and get promoted.
- Great new ideas emerge….
Having been in the workforce since the late 1980’s I think it is safe to claim I was around at the beginning of the technology revolution. Before personal computers. Before e-mail. Before the Internet was a household appliance. I even remember when the fax machine changed my life. Never again would I have to pay a courier to deliver resumes to a hiring manager!
It has been an incredible journey to participate in the evolution of the HR Technology market, witnessing the early pioneers like PeopleSoft blazing trails, the successes and failures of point solutions, and the expansion and consolidation of the talent management segment. Along the way a lot has changed. But for the better part of my 25 years, one thing has remained the same: HR Technology innovation has focused on helping employers.. HR technology implementations have been about reducing costs, becoming more efficient and increasing productivity, often at the expense of the candidate experience. In fact, no matter how much technology we throw at it, HR always has an excuse “we just don’t have the resources to keep up with the volume. “
Here is a quick history:
Applicant Tracking: As we entered the Age of Talent in the early 90’s, the early applicant tracking systems (ATS) were designed to scan and process resumes into a searchable database. This represented a huge productivity gain because we no longer had to manually sort, code and file. You would think it would free up some time to better respond to applicants. Instead, we used the systems to generate mailing labels to send acknowledgement post cards that explained we were overwhelmed with applicants. We apologized for the impersonal response, saying we would only call them if we found a match.
Email: When email systems opened up to the Internet, the ATS functionality expanded to allow automatic messages to be sent to candidates once a requisition was filled. You could even have the message vary based on what step the applicant had been tracked to. But when requisitions stay open for months and months on end, the job seeker is left in the dark. This is probably the biggest contributor to the proverbial “resume black hole.” The mailing label and post card system was better.
Career Portals: When web based career portals emerged, the opportunity for candidates to apply online eliminated the need for scanning resumes. Another huge productivity gain for the employer, but what did it mean for the applicant? It meant filling out long cumbersome online applications with pre-screening questions that are usually not very well written. Just because you can collect all of that data on the first contact, doesn’t mean you should.
But the times are changing. Over the last few years the plight of the job seeker has been in the spotlight and many companies are starting to make investments to improve the experience a candidate endures when applying for a job. There are several products and solutions entering the market with a mission to help employers improve the candidate experience.
Why the shift?
I think there are several factors at play here. There is the advent of social media and sites like GlassDoor.com that are creating a level of transparency employers can no longer ignore. The nature of Web 2.0 technologies is less about productivity and more about improving interactions. But ultimately it boils down to the fact that companies are starting to realize that the candidate is an important stakeholder and a consumer of the brand, just like any other customer.
Historically the sentiment has been that if a candidate wants a job they will go through whatever it takes to get it. Now, we are beginning to understand that if we piss them off in the process, there could be down stream ripple effects. Depending on the type of business, the impact can go way beyond your recruiting effectiveness. For many companies, the job seeker is also the consumer of their products and services.
At the HR Technology Conference in Chicago, we announced the results of the 2012 Candidate Experience Awards. During the awards process, we surveyed over 17,000 job seekers about how they were treated by the companies they applied to. One of the questions we asked them was how likely they were to share a negative candidate experience? 60% said they were very likely to share a negative experience with their inner circle. 22% said they would shout it to the world on social media.
I have often described the job seeker as the most underserved customer group on the planet and I think it still is. The good news is we are at a turning point. As my friend Gerry Crispin once said, “Corporations require a business case to invest in anything… even common courtesy.” But it won’t be long before there is overwhelming evidence that an improved candidate experience can bring a positive impact to the bottom line. And that is when all the excuses will go away and we will see real change.
The Privacy App
Privacy is the shielding of personal and behavioral data from people who find value in it. While there may be other people from whom the data flow is withheld, privacy is only interesting when the data produces value for the people who receive and manipulate it. The data simply does not matter to people who aren’t interested.
There are two things of value that we can exchange online: attention and the details of our data stream. Both things have value that is highest when completely current and decays over time. Last month’s attention is of no use in today’s transaction. Similarly, the details of my personal preferences age about as well as fish. If you want to target me, you need to be current.
A privacy app would be a tool that allows certain people and companies access to certain aspects of my attention and data in exchange for some sort of value.
Today’s frenzied privacy free for all is an historical anomaly. Like any early market, buyers find more value in their purchases than sellers do. Today’s free and easy access to personal detail and attention will be remembered as the wild west of privacy. Personal data flows with virtually no compensation to its owners, much like mineral rights in the early bidding for a large mining claim.
It’s not sustainable.
Ultimately, people will come to understand the value of their time and attention and a formal market will come into existence. People will be compensated for their attention and their relevant data flow. Pricing that bears some relationship to value will emerge.
The attributes are so complex that it will take an app to manage them. Privacy is better understood as a personal commodity that can be exchanged for goods, value and services along with the other personal commodity, attention.
Here are the elements a privacy app would need to consider:
- The Past
Historical data, like resumes or observable online behavior from earlier times, has a core value. Because it’s from the past, the data is easily inventoried and managed. The important thing about historical data is that it provides the context for present and future behavior. Its relevance to decision making in real time declines with age. For example, I earned a certificate in computer programming 35 years ago. That may create a foundation for some of my current preferences but is no more than a not-very-useful data point by itself
. Resumes (and other profiles) are an example of a type of data that is occasionally made current and then decays in value)
- The Present
My current behavior and preferences are driven by a combination of long term dynamics and my current circumstances. Understanding the state of my current preference set is of significant value to people and companies who want to engage in a transaction with me right now or in the very near future. The present is probably sub dividable into unique areas of interest. It’s not necessary (or even desirable) to disclose my online dating habits to a prospective employer. An app would have to manage my various data streams with a variety of levels of security. I may, for instance, want my current health care provider to have access to all of my health care data. I may only want to disclose the stuff that is relevant to the particular condition being examined. (An orthopedic surgeon has no observable use for my psychiatric profile).
- The Future
A range of predictable events, purchases and decisions are going to happen in the future. People and companies who wish to engage me in those conversations, when it’s relevant, will vie for access to indicators of an impending decision. Changes of job, housing, marital status, transportation device, consumer appliances and changes of those things in my family will trigger windows of availability in which I will be more amenable to intrusion than others. The people and companies who want to interact with me on these issues will be able to acquire the indicators and the follow on data flow in sort of a futures market that will be brokered by the app.
- CrowdSourced Data
My personal data flow is always complemented by a context of data that emerges from the crowd/network. Relative network influence, reputation assessments and performance evaluations are some of the components. This is one of the trickiest things for the app to manage since ownership of the data is less than clear.
- Health of The App and Vendor
The app has to be self monitoring and self bonding. If your privacy depends on this app being constantly updated (like virus software), public accountability
is a necessary piece of the backbone. There will certainly be competing app providers. Crowd sourced performance measurement allows the user to make decisions about the utility of the app since no single user is likely to be aware of all of the health problems of the app. Competitors in the market make switching possible if/when the app begins to fail functionally. Related to but distinct
from the health of the app is the health of the vendor. Is the company meeting its financial obligations. Is it’s balance sheet in good condition? Is it meeting its contractual agreements?
- Purchase and Licensing
This is the commercial end of the app. It controls the sale and licensing of one’s privacy data to the highest bidder and most relevant content providers.
Today, it seems like privacy has little or no value. Certainly, the big privacy miners (social media companies and resume data aggregators) have a vested interest in seeing the value minimized. The current status quo is unlikely to hold for a variety of reasons.
When public sentiment changes (and there is some evidence that a third of Facebook’s new accounts belong to people who manage one public profile and a second more private profile), it will change quickly.
As mentioned above, the value of personal data depends on its currency and predictability. All that it takes to change the market is for a meaningful subset to withhold data for a relatively short period of time.
That’s the window in which a privacy app will emerge.
In March 2012, we did a series on information privacy where we looked at:
- What information is and isn’t private before you turn on your computer;
- What information gets collected online;
- What laws protect privacy;
- What are the legal issues; and
- What is HR’s role in protecting privacy.
Seven months later, there has been lots of activity that affects online privacy, but no clear direction. Among the latest developments:
Twitter has partnered with a company to allow access to every tweet ever written for a fee. The government already has it because tweets are being archived by the Library of Congress. Until now, you could only search a rolling database of 3200 tweets per account.
Google is facing fines from the EU because its privacy policies fail to pass Europe’s stricter rules on data collection on users.
The Mobile Device Privacy Act was introduced in Congress to designate all data collected as “private information,” and require all data tracking and collection to be disclosed. So far, data privacy legislation has not passed Congress, probably because it is big business and both government and law enforcement also want the data.
At the same time, the House passed an extension of FISA that allows the government to obtain data and conduct surveillance of people without a warrant. The law has not passed the Senate yet, but probably will in the name of “security.”
Numerous states, including California, have passed laws that prohibit employers and schools from demanding social media passwords.
How to See Who’s Tracking You
Mozilla has developed an extension to Firefox called Collusion, that allows you to track the trackers, and see what sites are collecting information about your online activity. Collusion shows you what websites you contact, then what other sites start tracking you based on the ones you contact. The sites you don’t contact usually get access through retargeting based on cookies, or joint agreements with advertising companies that give all subscribers access to each other’s data. You will be surprised at how many there are, and how much money they make at it. To watch it work, see Gary Kovac’s TED talk on Collusion.
What Can You Do?
First, don’t freak out. Okay, freak out. Then figure out what information is important to keep private and what isn’t, and take steps to protect it.
Check Your Info. You already know to take care with financial and credit card accounts. But what about having your full birthdate and mother’s maiden name on your Facebook accounts? If your parents are divorced and your mom is a friend, chances are you do. Go through your social media profiles and look at the information that’s there. Assume that it is available to everyone. Then eliminate anything you don’t really need or want to be there.
Consider disinformation. Teenagers already have multiple social media accounts so that they can give certain people some information and keep it from others. The fundamental premise of data collection is that people will give accurate information. If you are not required to tell the truth, like on a job or loan application, is there any reason to give accurate information? If you don’t want some marketing company to develop a precise profile of you, then don’t give consistent information. They can collect all the information they want if the profile ends up being a Male or Female, Hispanic, African American or Asian, between the ages of 18 and 60. with an income of $5K to $150K. Disclaimer: I am not suggesting you give false information when you are legally required to give, or represent that you are providing, accurate information. I’m just pointing out that it’s not always required.
Don’t Trust Privacy Settings. Privacy policies and most “privacy” laws don’t require companies to protect your privacy or to keep your information secret. They mostly just require companies to tell you what data gets collected and whether they sell or give it to others. Go read a few privacy policies. My favorite is Skipity whose terms include:
We firmly believe that privacy is both inconsequential and unimportant to you. If it were not, you probably would not have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account: and you certainly wouldn’t ever use a search engine like Google. If you’re one of those tin-foil-hat wearing crazies that actually cares about privacy: stop using our services and get a life.
We agree with Mark Zuckerberg when he pithily opined “The age of Privacy is Over.”
1. We are the company that cares about your privacy. Specifically, while most other companies are concerned with protecting your privacy, we care about profiteering and violating it when expedient or useful.
2. You may think of using any of our programs or services as the privacy equivalent of living in a webcam fitted glass house under the unblinking eye of Big Brother: you have no privacy with us. If we can use any of your details to legally make a profit, we probably will.
3. We will track and log everything we can about all the dirty (and clean) things you do and like with cookies, GPS, secure connections and or whatever technology exists today or becomes available at any time in the future.
4. By using any of our services, you grant us permission to surgically implant a tracking microchip of our choosing in your body and sell all collected information to the highest bidder . . . and to all other bidders. You also agree to regular updates and reinstalls of said device entirely at our discretion for up to 50 years after the end of your natural life.
Make Informed Choices. Before you fill out that survey, fill in the blanks, check in on FourSquare, check out that shoe add, or check the “I agree” box, understand what information you are giving out and decide if you care. Also understand that your phone is a GPS tracking device and that it’s relatively easy to get information on where you are, who you are talking to, and what you are doing. So make informed choices about what information you put out in public.
What to Expect
Allowing people to know information about you is not necessarily a bad thing. I like it when Amazon suggests other books I might want to order by the same author or about the same subject. I often buy them. But the Facebook ads for weight loss, wrinke reducers and pole dancing lessons usually just piss me off. Facebook would argue if it had better information on me, I’d get better ads. (And if you want better ads, you can click on the ads and tell Facebook what you want.) But I don’t really want better ads either.
I don’t believe that laws, either through legislation or court decisions will ever be able to effectively handle the issue. This is because the process takes too long, and technology is changing faster than lawyers can introduce laws or file lawsuits.
I expect, in the near future, we will start seeing privacy software that either stops information from being collected or gives you the ability to see it and customize it. The only way to effectively deal with technology is to apply technology. Who needs privacy rights, when you can download the app?