HR Tech Weekly Logo

Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday at 8AM Pacific – 11AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes here.

HR Tech Weekly

Episode: 21
Air Date: May 21, 2015


This Week

This week John and Stacey discuss:

About HR Tech Weekly

Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday at 8AM Pacific – 11AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes here.

HR Tech Weekly Episodes

Audio MP3



Begin transcript

John Sumser:            Good bright and early morning to you. This is the HR Tech Weekly One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. I’m John, your host. Stacey is here in the pilot seat. How are you, Stacey?

Stacey Harris:            Hi John, very good, good morning and welcome to everybody. Good exciting morning, hopefully where everybody is at it’s shining a bit more than here in North Carolina. Other than that, we’re having a great morning.

John Sumser:            Didn’t you move to North Carolina for the weather? Aren’t you disappointed?

Stacey Harris:            I did, for sunshine. I’ve seen a little bit of it, but not a ton of it.

John Sumser:            Your big news is your annual survey is out on the streets.

Stacey Harris:            Yes, thank you John.

John Sumser:            How’s that going? What’s the story there?

John Sumser:            Actually we’re really excited. It just launched on the 19th, which is two days ago, three days ago now, on Tuesday. We had an immediate huge amount of people who participated in the survey, so we already have almost 800, 900 clicks into the survey, which is really great numbers for us. Usually by the time we’re done with the month, we get around 4,000 people who click on the survey. That usually gets [culled 00:01:30] down to a number of people who actually put usable data in it, so we’re off to a good start.

We’re excited this year because we’re not only doing more with the survey and providing more opportunities for people to have different paths to the survey, but more importantly is that at the end of the survey, people actually get something back this year immediately, which is a snapshot of how their data compares to last year’s data. That was something we added this year we’re excited about.

John Sumser:            What a great thing. How long is the survey taking place?

Stacey Harris:            The survey runs through 1st of July, so basically through all of June, and we will be sharing the data from the survey with our big launch at HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas. I’ll be sharing some little fun anecdotes throughout of things we’re finding. For example, it’s interesting, we already have a couple of hundred responses in the survey already that we’re just looking at, and we have a new question on learning on there. I was going in and seeing, we were asking people to rate their top learning priorities for their learning solutions.

What was really interesting is that of those groups right now … obviously this might change by the time we get all the data in … but of those groups right now, one of the second-highest rated items from a learning perspective was not only industry content, that was the first-rated, highest-rated one, but the second one was content creation tools inside their learning solutions. Just had a conversation the other day about someone saying that content creation tools maybe weren’t as big a deal for the market any longer. Initially at least, in the first hundred people who have participated in the survey, it is a big deal. Those are exciting things we’re going to see this year.

John Sumser:            Where was the idea that content creation tools aren’t important come from?

Stacey Harris:            We were talking, it was through the [GuideSpark 00:03:30] conversation, so me and you both visited Guidespark last week. We had a very nice analysts event. They’re a … I guess you could call them small, but they’re really not that small. They’ve 250 employees, they’ve done quite a bit of business in the last year in the area of benefits and employee communications industry, and their an organization that does video content development, and they were trying to decide how much of content tool they wanted to put into their existing process and discussion.

Some people were on the side of, “People don’t really need to upload too much of their own content, or they don’t want to at least create their own content in an environment like this,” and others … where I was seeing it as well, and I think you and I both had this conversation, that people want to be able to upload some of their own content if their going to be using platforms and tools like this. At least that was where the initial conversation was at.

John Sumser:            Yeah, I wanted to dig a little bit deeper. When you say people wanted to upload their own stuff, do you mean employees want to participate in the development of learning content, or are you saying that the learning department needs to be able to do that?

Stacey Harris:            In this particular context, we were talking about both, but I think in the context of how we’re seeing in the survey and the market as a whole, I think employees have expectations that they have some voice, and some way to put their own content into these environments. They have to get something back for doing that, but there is an expectation that we’re in a YouTube generation.

John Sumser:            What’s interesting about that to me … I’m certain that having tools for content creation is an essential component of having a vibrant company that’s able to learn, but the question about who is the arbiter of whether or not a piece of training material is accurate and acceptable, it becomes really interesting, because I don’t think that it’s the purview of the learning and development department to go understand how procedure X happens in department Y. You started to talk about a learning department, then that has participation in and approval processes with supervisory people all over the organization. Is that right?

Stacey Harris:            Pretty much, and I think that participation in approval processes is the piece that’s hardest for people to understand, that approval process. Because you see both spectrums of the process when you’ve been looking at social learning particularly for a long time, in the HR technology space. It’s a free-for-all, everybody now is able to put content up on the web or the environment that you’re developing it in. It has no checks and balances, other than peers like it or don’t like it.

Then there’s the other side of it where it has to be stringently reviewed by both a manager, maybe a learning group, as well as an HR management function from a compliance perspective, or a legal perspective. I’ve seen both of them, and I don’t think either ends of those work well. I think it’s some place in the middle, and that’s a hard thing, to find that middle ground.

John Sumser:            So if I wanted to find out about that middle ground, who in the world would I talk to? If I’m a 500-person company, and I want to understand how to get my arms around …The problem is, what makes a company a company is it does certain things certain ways, and doesn’t other ways. So somebody has to be in charge of understanding what that is and where that’s important. A free-for-all is exactly how you destroy the value that the company makes. So now I’ve got this workforce that thinks that being able to tell the guy next door with a video how to do his job is part of the deal, and I’ve got to wade through that to assert any way of doing things, without being so authoritarian that it shuts the communication process down.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            That sounds like a nightmare.

Stacey Harris:            You know who we should probably go to for most of this is probably your marketing department, because they’re dealing with it on a much larger scale from a consumer perspective right now. So you think about all of this supposedly authentic marketing and branding that’s going on out in the market, with the idea of, “Upload your content to give us your feedback.” All of that has a double-edged sword of being both positive and negative for organizations. The balance of what internal organizations have to figure out is, is it okay to allow different perspectives on things as long as there isn’t a wrong perspective?

Me and you were having this conversation last week, when we’re talking about how you work on the engineering elements of the plane that’s going to carry 200 people in the sky. There should be a wrong answer to some of those things, but if you’re talking about sales and customer relationship, is there many right ways to do it, and a couple of wrong ways to do it? That’s the balance that people have to find.

John Sumser:            I saw an interesting piece this week by a guy named Tim Sackett. He was making the case … it was a commentary on the Tom Brady Deflategate stuff. He was making the case that all leaders lie and cheat if they have to, which I think is [bull hawky 00:10:06], but he was making the case, and what was very interesting was that nobody called it out, and that this assertion that one of the elements of leadership is lying and cheating just stood there. It’s the wrong answer.

Sometimes you get a bad apple, and you get a leader who lies and cheats. We’ve all worked for those folks, but generally speaking, great leadership depends on honesty. That’s a kind of place where having a right and wrong answer is necessary, it’s just necessary, “No, we don’t tolerate that. No, sorry, wrong, we don’t tolerate that.” It’s really hard to exercise that level of corporate control in the contemporary media environment.

Stacey Harris:            To your point, because the conversation at GuideSpark started with the fact that they’re an organization that is focused on benefits. Now they’re going into onboarding communications, and they have other more compliance-driven communication areas that they’re focused on. Their goal was to provide some templates that people could start with, and then lightly customize, basically, from a communications video perspective. What you’re talking about is those big things that leaders have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, but then there’s a compliance and legal element too …

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            … to everything that HR and even learning on some level has to deal with on a daily basis. Does that also have to be controlled as tightly as we’ve controlled it in the past, and it seems that there should be a right and wrong in that. It’s compliance, there’s legal elements to it, but if legalities are different by state or region over a country, then that really mixes up the question of what’s right and wrong. Someone who puts a video up for what’s right and appropriate in the UK or German region may not be right or OK in the US region.

John Sumser:            Might not be okay or right in Louisiana or Indiana. We live in a crazy time, we live in a very crazy time where it’s almost like the beginning of the Civil War, where people feel free to behave in pretty extreme ways, and we have to figure out how to manage that inside of the organization. I don’t know, I think it’s a very very difficult time to be a leader, and I don’t think technology is giving us much help.

Stacey Harris:            No, and I would agree. It was interesting, another big event that’s going on this week is ATD, for any of those who were in the learning space before the last year or so would probably know it more as ASTD. I have not been talking to that group in the last couple of years, so I don’t know what the decision was to drop the ‘Society’ out of the ATD, which used to be American Society of Training and Development. The ATD … now … annual event, I was watching the tweets and the blogs and trying to get a gist of what they were covering, because they’re a pretty big event.

They were down in Orlando this year, and they usually have several thousand people participate in the event. It’s one of the largest learning events in the market. The only thing that came across in all the conversations that I was hearing was that learning leaders need to be focused more on developing themselves, that learning is a space where we are not doing enough development of our own leaders, that there’s not enough leadership taking place in the learning space, and there’s not enough focus on leadership development. I thought that was an interesting commentary on maybe not just the learning space but HR as well.

You said it’s a difficult time to be a leader. Is that causing people to go back to what they’re more comfortable with, compliance, regulations, learning technologies, those type of things, instead of stepping out and taking real thought leadership conversations forward?

John Sumser:            Certainly, it seems like it’s easier to be wrong today. When you’re wrong, there is this bizarre thing that happens with the new communications technology, where when you’re wrong, everybody gets to pile on you.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            So the public penalty for being wrong is extreme today. You can make a simple little error in 140 characters, and have it cost you your job.

Stacey Harris:            Yes, exactly.

John Sumser:            That’s the reality of the world today, and it is scary for people who have jobs. If you are a good organization person and you’re working your way up through the ranks in the course of your career, and every step forward is earned, taking a risk like having an opinion in public becomes a scarier thing then it ever was before, because in the same way that everybody’s got a chance to put whatever they think is the right dopey thing to put in the training system, they’ve got a right to articulate their dopey view of whether or not you’re right or wrong, and it has consequences in your life. So I can imagine that lots of people don’t want to say anything at all in public, and that’s the leadership problem rather than it being a developmental problem.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah, and is it impeding our innovation as well then? The other thing that came out a lot in the news this week is a big focus on various conversations around analytics and machine learning tools. Those have been in the news for some time, but you’re seeing them touted a lot more at the various events that we all go to, particularly from a research perspective. Are we hoping that the machines and the learnings from those and the analytic tools are going to be the backbone of the decisions, so we don’t have to feel that we’re stepping out there quite so much.

I think that’s part of the rise of why people want so much data, is it helps them with their stance in the space that we’re talking about, which is a good and bad thing. There’s positives on both sides of that, and there’s some negatives around it, because that means we’re expecting the content to be correct, that the intelligent decision-making to be the right answers for what we’re doing.

John Sumser:            I have yet to see a piece of machine intelligence of any kind in the HR learning and recruiting arenas that does anything interesting. Not one, not one. You cannot meaningfully predict whether or not that woman is going to quit her job in three weeks. That’s nonsense, the only way you can predict she’s going to quit her job in three weeks is if she gave you notice. If you need a machine to tell you that she gave you notice, means she’s going to quit. Anything other than that is a bunch of hypotheticals that create more work for people who don’t need more work. So I’m not seeing the value yet, I’m not seeing the value at all.

Stacey Harris:            The [Peirce Group 00:18:53] did an interesting … Peirce is a network that’s run out of New York, used to be an affiliate of the [IRM 00:19:00] organization, and we did a panel yesterday on HR analytics. We pulled that from the work that I’ve been doing on quantified organizations, a group of organizations … [Chris Salles 00:19:14], who I think you know from [Guitar Center 00:19:16], we had [Karen Caveney 00:19:18] from Dell, and [Terry Lucas 00:19:20] from Northwestern Children’s Hospital in Ohio. All three of them coming at this idea of HR analytics from a different perspective.

What I was fascinated by was that in all of their conversations about analytics and the idea of predictive, it wasn’t really any of the HR predictions that we’ve been talking about, like who’s going to leave and who’s the best succession-planning person. Most of the conversations that they were all having were about what’s going to impede performance? What’s going to cost the company more money then you might have thought? What’s going to impact sales numbers?

Those predictive analytics seem to be a lot more interesting to all three of them, because they’re things that their operations people were asking about, and they were actually able to start putting some numbers behind it. I don’t know your perspective on that, but I think what we’re giving in the predictive analytics space right now, which is who might leave, is not as interesting as the performance information.

John Sumser:            I’m familiar with all of those examples, and I think that’s what the future looks like. I don’t think there are any vendors who are heading in that direction, and that’s because each of those examples is unique to the business. You could not imagine a [SAS 00:20:57] tool that’s configurable, that allows you to do what’s unique to each of those businesses.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            So it’s a kind of software that more completely … software’s a big word for it … it’s a kind of system that more completely resembles what our [premier 00:21:20] systems looked like ten years ago. There isn’t anybody in that business. You talked about some amazing people. It takes amazing people to get the vision in place necessary to have human capital data derive revenue.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            Or its equivalent in the healthcare stuff that isn’t about driving revenue.

Stacey Harris:            It [has its own place 00:21:52] in a non-profit organization. Without the money, you don’t get to do the service, and so it’s not a matter of revenue, it’s a matter of enough profit to continue to support the business.

John Sumser:            Yeah, so I’m in favor of that, but I would never … because that’s not what anybody means when they talk about analytics, or I’d never call it analytics. People mean stuff like predicting whether or not Stacey’s going to be sick tomorrow.

Stacey Harris:            It’s [inaudible 00:22:29] interesting.

John Sumser:            There’s a big future in HR for using data to drive organizational improvement and performance in terms that people in operations and engineering understand, but it’s fledgling at this point, it’s fledgling.

Stacey Harris:            Two of the big stories this week that I’d pulled out, one was ADP launched their ADP data cloud, which is really another analytics tool, but it’s the idea that they’re going to aggregate the data from their 600,000 clients and 24 million employees they said they cover in their systems. Same thing, Skillsoft and SumTotal did their big annual event right now, this week as well, and they announced the second phase of their IBM Skillsoft big data work. Both of those approaches is the idea that we’re going to take data from across all of our clients, and with the IBM Skillsoft, that was a huge amount of clients.

I don’t have the total number in front of me, but we’re talking in the same range numbers as we’re looking at with the ADP, and Watson is doing that analysis for them. To understand, at least right now it seems like most of the conversation is that you’re going to use that data to do either benchmarking or analysis of things like learning paths that make the most sense, or learning tools that have the most impact for people. I’m not sure if that’s going in the right direction for analytics, but based off what you were saying, if they could turn that in the direction of operations, that could be some amazing data, but you would have to have enough operations data as well in there, wouldn’t you?

John Sumser:            You know what I think about best practice and stuff. This is a statistical juggernaut designed to help everybody be like everybody else.

Stacey Harris:            Yup.

John Sumser:            There’s nothing that’s worse for business than having my company run the way that your company is run. There’s nothing worse for business than that. So I’m not sure what these people are thinking. I think they have a lot of data and so somebody said, “Look at all that stuff, we could make some money there.” There’s certainly … P. T. Barnum was right, there’s a sucker born every minute, and so it won’t surprise me to see a certain range of people line up to be able to make their company like the company next door, but that’s not what the people who you have in your panel yesterday are [thinking 00:25:21]. [People you’ve had on 00:25:23] the panel are making their companies more completely unique.

Stacey Harris:            Yes.

John Sumser:            More completely effective at solving the problems that the company solves. This is one of my pet peeves these days, is that HR isn’t HR, HR is an expression of the company. To the extent that HR wants to be standardized, it’s appropriate in compliance areas, but that’s not where the value comes in HR. The compliance stuff is how you keep everybody out of jail. The value in HR comes from being able to make your team, your people, more uniquely productive than they could be in any other setting.

Stacey Harris:            I’m going to push back a little bit, because I agree with you on a lot of what you said.

John Sumser:            Please do.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah, [inaudible 00:26:15]. I agree, because I think the idea of best practices often gets warped a little bit. I’ve been in the best practices space for a long time. Probably the first conversation me and you had was, are there best practices, after I’d just delivered my long presentation on best practices.

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            I’m in agreement that too much benchmarking, too much looking externally can cause as much damage as it can cause good. I do think … to each person, they have to look at their own perspective on this … I do think there are some key practices that are important for industries or business sizes or groups of organizations, that are helpful if an organization is trying to make a decision on where they need to make big investments.

To me, those sometimes can be validated by external data, but I have to be very aware, and everyone should be, that this is a bit of a jaded topic for me, because obviously I do a lot of benchmarking, and have done a lot of benchmarking in my previous roles as well. I think there is, again, a place where certain organizations, certain groups of people, need to understand that if everyone is doing certain kinds of training, or everyone is putting in place certain types of compensation standards, and everyone in their area is doing these type of things, and their the one that’s not, they should have a valid reason for not doing it at least. They should know what their story is around that.

John Sumser:            So everybody is jumping off the cliff, and you decide not to and you need a valid reason for that?

Stacey Harris:            I think you do, yes.

John Sumser:            Really, really?

Stacey Harris:            Maybe not jumping off the cliff, but I don’t think all these people are jumping off the cliff. I think all these people are making business decisions to move something forward, and if you’re not going to be moving or you’re not going to have that type of stance on things, you have to understand why and you need to know what everyone else is doing. It’s a bit of competitive analysis as well.

John Sumser:            How about if we say this. It’s important to have a pretty good idea of how your competitors are beating you. If your competitors are beating you, then you should look at that area and see if they’re doing something smart there.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah, I think that was what I said.

John Sumser:            If they’re not beating you, why in the world would you look? So you can go backwards? So it starts with the business, it doesn’t start with the best practice, it starts with the business, and then if you’ve got … “Boy, every time I walk I have a limp, I wonder if there are any shoes that can help me with that?”, that is a logical thing to ask. If I don’t have a limp, why would I get corrective shoes?

Stacey Harris:            Yes, you have a point there, I would agree. It is the biggest companies, though, and generally the most successful companies that do a lot of benchmarking.

John Sumser:            Right, because they have a lot of money to throw around, and they don’t have to deliver innovation on a competing basis. The market penalizes them if they do more than six percent growth a year. If they perform with wild success, the stock price goes down because you can’t predict wild success.

Stacey Harris:            You can’t predict that, yeah.

John Sumser:            To keep the stock price up, you have to have mediocre performance, and if you want mediocre performance, use benchmarks.

Stacey Harris:            We’ll agree to disagree on that one [inaudible 00:29:57].

John Sumser:            We could do this for hours.

Stacey Harris:            We could, but we’re already at the end of our half-hour. I think we’ve had a pretty good conversation here. I’m looking at our list, I don’t think there’s anything that we’ve missed that we were planning to talk about today, so I think we’ve wrapped up the conversation well. Anything else you want to add today that we didn’t get a chance to talk about?

John Sumser:            No, but thanks for the argument, that’s the best part of this.

Stacey Harris:            Yes.

John Sumser:            Yeah, so here we go out the door. Thanks for checking in with us this week. It’s John Sumser and Stacey Harris, and you’ve been listening to One Step Closer. Have a great day and thanks for [inaudible 00:30:38].

Stacey Harris:            Yup, thanks everyone, bye.

John Sumser:            Bye bye.

End transcript

Tagged with:  
Read previous post:
2015 photo of Teela Jackson on
Business & Recruiting Leaders Rise Up: Quality versus Quantity

"There is no way you can have a competitive advantage and out-recruit your competitors on talent when you have commoditized...