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Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

HR Tech Weekly

Episode: 247
Air Date: January 2, 2020





Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.

John Sumser
Stacey Harris


John Sumser 0:14
Good morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly one step closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Hey Stacey. It’s phone call number 247 and the first one of the 2020’s. How are you?

Stacey Harris 0:28
I’m doing well and I can’t complain. It’s sunny out mid 40s here in North Carolina. I am home no travel plans for the first couple of weeks of the year. It’s a good way to start the year and I’ve been focused on writing and doing little binge reading and binge watching TV. So you know, those are great way to start the year off. How about you you’ve been doing anything exciting besides work?

John Sumser 0:48
You know, this is the dead spot in my calendar and I’m kind of learn how to enjoy having time off which I haven’t really made a habit of over the years. And so this was timeline was great.

Stacey Harris 1:02
Great to go back to work. Yeah, we have to figure out ways to do a better job of getting time off. I think almost everybody in the world these days them has the same challenge even outside the US. I’m understanding what is just finding it hard to disconnect from everything, right?

John Sumser 1:17
Well, it’s, you know, it’s only 150 years and I guess 165 or 70, now to slavery was outlawed in the states and as a general work habit, and seems to be still in vogue. So it’s not just employers have to learn how to do things differently. It’s the people who work there.

Stacey Harris 1:43
We all have to remember to give our site time and space. But this, as you said, is our first call of the year and so as we’ve promised everyone, we’re actually gonna be taking a look back a little bit on some of the big topics that came up in the last year and last decade and covering things that have happened that are worth maybe read assessing, and then talk a little bit about what we see happening in the future from not so much a prediction, but just where the market is heading based off of what we’re seeing right now. So that’s what we’re planning on calling or talking about today. Do you have any areas you want to start the conversation off with john? Because it’s a lot about, you know, 10 years, a decade, you know, all of last year and going forward? What do you think we should start?

John Sumser 2:26
Well, I’ll tell you that we were having a great conversation before the show. And the two things that we touched on that are interesting to me is, one is the broad perception by employees that HR technology is surveillance software. That’s something that you rarely discuss in the world that you and I inhabit. And the other is the different ways that automation is changing HR. So So we talked about the fact that instructional designer disappeared when micro content started To be part of the game. And we also talked about the fact that the role of the recruiter changed entirely as the result of job boards, burying organizations in resumes. So the job went from somebody who was a hard prospector and lucky find somebody to a team of people whose primary job is the big, great big power, less space come in whether you want to line up.

Stacey Harris 3:28
And I think what was sort of intriguing about our conversation is that they’re really tightly tied and connected more so than we think because as you sort of continue to remove what would be considered that middle layer or that that group of people who sort of have oversight while they’re actually doing a lot of specialist work that we were talking about instructional designers, recruiters, compensation analyst, those type of roles, then what you end up is that a lot of the information ends up in the hands of directly in the hands of managers who are making business decisions and who are making quick decisions for the organization, and then becomes a question of who’s overseeing the ethics and the privacy standards than the requirements that are necessary in this type of environment where we have so much freely available information. I need this conversation. They’re tightly connected based off of the way we’ve been talking about them.

John Sumser 4:25
Yeah, well, you know, the core connection is that technology is creating different ways to do things. And so so what we’re seeing even though you know, never really seen an article or or analysis, the talks about this, what’s happened is that the entire HR profession has adapted and adjusted to a massive flow of technology. And that was good preparation because the last couple of years have guaranteed that flow of technology is going to accelerate. Right and And so technology hits the functions differently. And there really isn’t a single way that HR has responded to technology in general, it depends entirely on the task.

Stacey Harris 5:14
Well, in this environment that we’re talking about, you know, the the idea that that technology has not only changed the work we’re doing and the tasks that we’re doing and the approach that we’re taking to the work, right, also changing the level of access, we have to information about everyone around us, you know, at multiple levels. You know, I think the conversation of what the value proposition for the person whose information is out there and available is as biggest conversation as privacy standards and ethics. I guess the best way to explain that is in a conversation with my kids right now about what they have available out there in the market on themselves is they don’t mind sharing all their personal information. If there’s some value, they’re going to get back to that you know, the right kind of advertisements The system information tools they want to leverage and use on a regular basis. But they also are very excited about and have high expectations that if they want to go, like incognito, which is the new term being used right on the Google environment, they can go and look for things or put their information out there in ways in which it will be considered anonymous. In the HR space, I think that a lot of the conversation has to shift away from the process and the tools and how we get our job done too much more of a conversation about if I’m doing this or if I’m getting this information. Or if I’m using this what’s the value to the person who is giving me that information or sharing that with me? So there’s no longer just about the process with companies but it’s also about the the relationship with the whether that’s employee or candidate or prospect or anybody in the organization that you’re working with the relationship with them and the value proposition of their data being involved in your in your work effort. I don’t know. It’s a long way. plane that doesn’t make any sense at all.

John Sumser 7:02
Think of what you just said is that the employment relationship is a contract. And traditionally the contract was simple. You come, you do what we tell you to do, we give you money, right? And the last hundred years that’s grown to include, we give you money plus healthcare, plus, plus, plus, plus all sorts of everything. But the fundamental equation, which was you come, you do, what we tell you to do, and we give you stuff was always the basis of the relationship. And now, when people come, they’re bringing a sort of a best cash equivalent or a monetary equivalent with them. That’s their data. And so what you’re saying is that this relationship that’s always been kind of a one way thing, you come, you do what we tell you to do. We give you money is now becoming a two way relationship where you come and you give us Your data and in order for us to get your data, we have to tell you why we deserve your data, do it. And so that’s a change of a substantive change in the relationship as well.

Stacey Harris 8:14
Yeah, exactly. Now, if that was a great way of explaining it, we have to explain what we’re going to do with it, why we need it and the value of it, and how much it’s worth was, and then a shame, then and we’re still going to pay you for your work effort. But even if you don’t do any work with us, right, like if you’re a candidate or a prospect, there’s still value in you interacting with us. Right. So So this idea that there’s thousands of people responding to every job role right now? Well, that’s all data gathering. Right? You know, I had a great conversation with a with a couple of of the analysts in the in the recruiting phase, and one of them, I think, had a different perspective than anybody else, which is that they felt that the candidate database and the recruiting database actually should be completely separate databases because of the data privacy issues across Well, that’s first time I heard, you know, usually, well, should they be integrated? Do we need them all on one platform, and we use a different CRM and connected to what’s going on with our APS, because there’s just newer technologies out there doing it. But this idea that they need to be separated because we treat them differently. And we should treat their data differently. It was a different conversation.

John Sumser 9:22
So I’d be interested in having that conversation in detail with somebody But could it is if the most interesting stuff that’s going on in recruiting involves realizing that people you’ve started relationships with are valuable, right, so that’s a lot of lot of emphasis are what they call silver medalist. Somebody who came in second didn’t get the job is somebody you want to talk to again? And so where do they live if you’ve got people who are in the game and people who aren’t in the game as the dividing criteria, the entire theory of CRM, Is that what you’re doing is you’re evolving relationships, right? And those those relationships that you’re evolving, you’re going to have different states of being. And so so I don’t know how you how you do it, you’re talking about, particularly if you start to manage gig workers in the same sort of datasets, because those relationships are ongoing. And so my guess is that it’s an interesting sales path here, but it probably can’t work over time.

Stacey Harris 10:31
You know, I don’t think I have a perspective either way, on this one, I can see some level of simplicity. Right. Right. And this was not a vendor who was actually someone who was in a sort of more of an analyst role. But even so I think, you know, the perspective was much more about dealing with how you deal with the data, you get what you do with it, but I agree, I mean, I think there’s a differentiation and what we consider an employee once you know, once they step over that line now, this point in time, our government has very specific guidelines, but what They consider an employee. But that doesn’t always fit the same, you know, definitely have. And so, yes, I think there is there’s some challenges there. But I also think there’s some challenge with the idea of data sort of being moved from one database into another database and the fact that you have to take the context with it and make it valuable. And what’s happening right now with most integrations is that we move data from one database to another database, but all we do is Mr. Gray, and the easiest, most common things to pull across, you know, the title of a person, the, you know, length of employment with a company, but it doesn’t give any context for why they’ve been with that company for that long, which the original database may have had. And so we lose a lot when we go from integration to integration without really thinking about how that and why we’re pulling that data over

John Sumser 11:44
to just to keep drilling down this little rabbit hole. The smartest tools out there for non people comes to mind but what they do is they monitor every single click and pause between clicks and choice as well. You starting to understand the candidate. And if you don’t make that part of the overall relationship with that person, as they pass through, working with you and out the other side of working with you, you’re going to lose enormous amount of value in the process. And so it really is just a question of time before we start being able to figure out how that historical data of the evolution of the relationship between the company and the person is tracked from the moment that there is a hint of a relationship to the moment that there is no possibility of the future really.

Stacey Harris 12:42
Yeah. Well, and it’s definitely I mean, if you look back at the one of the things I did for all this week, was to look back at some of the keywords that were popping up most often. And the notes that we have every week from our radio show, and a lot of you just talked about, I think it’s just that we’ve been grappling with this last year, right? ethic came up as one of the number one words it was mentioned in our in our radio notes across all of the entire year artificial intelligence, artificial AI anything and those that area right recruiting RPO, privacy, Canada, all things we just mentioned in this conversation. We also saw a lot of focus on health care and benefits and assessments deep they seem to come up on a pretty regular amount of time, payroll, payday lending, blockchain, micro learning, culture and engagement and platform. Those are sort of the words that pop the top when I analyze all of the things. Do you think that the conversation that we’re having here is sort of a microcosm of this entire year, which has been, I think, a confusing year for HR technology, which is, we have had to deal with the fact that we now have outstripped in some days, not only our current regulations, what’s happened on regular basis but our understanding of the role HR should play in its relationship with data and Ethics and responsibility towards the employee versus the businesses. All that’s been out pretty far length now with what the technology can do and does provide organizations today, right?

John Sumser 14:14
This is probably a great time for me to say if you’re listening, you might want to buy a copy of the latest HR examiner report on intelligence in HR tech, because this is the terrain that covers how does the data go together? How do you make sense out of all this? What are the real deep, profound ethical issues? Not the the tip top level? Alicia, so so thanks for the nudge.

Stacey Harris 14:47

John Sumser 14:49
yeah, I think I think a good way of thinking about this radio show is it’s a window on our conversation as we try to figure out the answer. Those questions that we use the news as a forum, we’re trying to figure out the lessons but but what we do in this half hour radio show is an ongoing focused exploration of how technology is changing the HR profession.

Stacey Harris 15:21
Very true. Yeah. And, and and i think changing major profession is, is forcing the HR profession to reassess its role inside the organization as well. Right, not just changing the job and the function. What do you think happens on a pretty regular basis with almost any job role and organization but, but really rethinking what is hrs responsibility inside of an organization? Right, like, What is the reason for it? To some extent,

John Sumser 15:51
I think I think one of the things that popped out this year for me was that you can’t really have a coherent proactive HR department don’t have a well thought out workforce development plan. That’s the sensible, you can’t you can’t have a great HR function. If you don’t know where you’re going, right? The only way to

Stacey Harris 16:15
give me a definition of what you mean by Workforce Development Plan, because I think that this term gets thrown up for Workforce Planning, right? What does that mean to you?

John Sumser 16:24
Well, so so I would use the term interchangeably. What I mean is a view of the future that allows you to understand sort of the shape of the workforce, there’s, there’s there’s been a lot of work put into the theory that you can tell exactly how many engineers you need in Cincinnati five years from now and that has never really worked very well. And there are emerging ideas about workforce planning, that are more like wealth management, portfolio management. So you Say, we’re going to, we’re going to need x, generally speaking, five years out. And so we need to invest in ways of developing our people so that they can be x or relationship for sources so that we can acquire that kind of talent. And it’s much more of a investment strategy than it is a precise numbers game. Right? So that’s what I mean by workforce planning or Workforce Development Planning is that you you have a clear sense of where you’re going. And you’re in the process of making decisions and instituting programs that help get a director.

Stacey Harris 17:41
I said, that’s a pretty good definition. But I must say that everybody, that’s something that I think our market has to has to do, almost on some level is define what a workforce plan is. And we’ve commoditized a lot of other thing performance management, what learning looks like the you know, recruit process. Those are not the same in every organization but very standardized. I wouldn’t say that we have standardized what workforce planning is, in fact, most organizations at this point.

John Sumser 18:10
That’s right. It may be that it’s not standardized. You know, so so if you think if the wealth management analogy holds home, you think about wealth managers, financial managers, you it’s a crapshoot, right. Hiring a financial manager is a complete crapshoot and, and you end up with somebody whose opinion about how to manage your portfolio. And that’s kind of where that’s kind of where we’re talking about it. So it might standardize in language, but but it seems unlikely to me that it will standardize in precise processes, like some of the other stuff has,

Stacey Harris 18:54
and we want to monetize the month, that could very well be and it might be that that’s the piece that makes every company Unique, a lot of the conversation for me this year has boiled down very much to the fact that through all the research that I’ve done here, cedar previous organization, that all the conversations that we’ve had each year is that HR when it’s done, and that is done in benefits to the type of organization you want to be, or the type of organization that has been defined by the executives and the leaders, as well as the employees at some level. And it’s not, if their processes and tools and all those things that we’ve standardized are great, but it is that 20% that you put into being very unique about HR and how it supports your very specific business culture and your very specific business outcomes that make all the difference in the world. And most of the time that is very different company by company, which I think that’s part of what you were saying is that there may be no standard way to do this in the market.

John Sumser 19:54
This is the DNA of the company, what is our talent and what’s it going to look like down the road is the heart of the company. And so so this is just to bring this back to the question it started with, which is what is hrs role in the company today? And it seems to me that it’s evolving from compliance to the camera care and cheating the primary value source,

Stacey Harris 20:25
and much more like a law that probably isn’t a good analogy and thinking much more like a zookeeper than a meeting, right. Some employees might feel that they are locked up in cages, unfortunately, but yeah, no, I mean, I think the the better way to, you know, probably is that the HR function as shifted from single sided sort of management focus. It’s also shifted from a single sided focused on employing well being as well, right? That’s a that, you know, in the earliest days, much of HR. I mean, going back to the 1700s 1800s, when we first started seeing even pieces of it, it was people who were sort of embedded in organizations to deal with things like child labor laws, make sure they were being held accountable. Do right. So it was a very different set. And then in the 70s, and 80s, we looked at organizations that were very compliance focused, based off of that, but also we’re focused on being a part of management and the fact that if you lay someone off, or if you were making sure that a management decision was put down, they figured out the processes, the tools and the compliance standards to get that to happen. Right. And we definitely, all of that has been part of our history. Mike, and you know what, I had a great conversation with my my father over the Christmas holiday about the changes he made in his own work environment. You went from working in a very large oil, refinery environment, being a teacher and he said, You know, there was no conversation in any of the transactions that he had with a At that point in time, he said, but then in his last three jobs, he said he’s had lots of conversations with HR, because there was conversations about where his career was going in the organization. And so just the transition to being someone who developed the organization, not just someone who mandates or manages what has been given to them, right is a very real and very important conversation for a year and a half.

John Sumser 22:26
Yeah, I think in some ways, you might think the live as a return to the roof in the 20s and early 30s. What the people in this kind of a function did is they looked at work and they assess work and they figured out how to time work and price work and measure work. And that was the heart of the HR function. We’re heading back there because automation makes you have to rethink all of the jobs in the company.

Stacey Harris 22:57
And it means that most of the work That was that has been done over the last several years will be automated not to lose the job. And we have this is one of the biggest example conversation that we just had is that all of this automation isn’t going to get rid of jobs, but it will require a very different workforce at the end of it because you’re getting rid of a lot of specialized roles. And now you’re requiring people who are able to understand and provide oversight, what the automated tools are now doing with their algorithms and machines.

John Sumser 23:29
Yeah, although I’d be tempted to say that you’re creating in one kind of specialization or another kind of specialization, right? So it’s not, it’s not like the specialized roles go away and all of a sudden, a bunch of liberal arts majors come in to do technical work. It’s it’s more like what used to be a full time job is now not really a full time job. So you need to be able to do something else. The poor function gets aka me the number of things that you need to be able to do In addition to the one bit of expertise is to have grows. And so it’s not a generalist in the way that people in the education establishment think about generalist, but it’s a generalist in the way that engineering might think about a generalist.

Stacey Harris 24:17
I will have to say, I am very happy to hear that. I don’t think anybody would want someone like me running every role within an organization, really, really bad idea.

John Sumser 24:37
You will find that that very clear notion percolating through the future work stuff. I don’t see people talking about that in the future where they talk a lot about the importance of generalists. And I think that’s largely because people who, who pontificate about work haven’t actually ever worked. Iran, Iran, I mean, if your if your job is your job like a job like you and I do, and this is really work, not, not, not in the way that somebody inside of a large organization, right, and so and so our view of what the future work is very different from what the organizational reality is going to be.

Stacey Harris 25:24
And I think that it also continues to push that we need to keep going back to not only the data, because the data has a lot of insight on this and provides a lot more here than I think that we can even imagine. But also go back to the people who are actually in those work environments. And then I think it’s exactly what you’re saying is that HR has to really look at every job again, and and re examine where that, you know, work is what the possibilities within that work environment. That really hard work to do that but that’s kind of up Care of work. conversation. is the place the taking place in every organization right now. I would.

John Sumser 26:06
Yeah, yeah. And it’s hard to do that when everybody is being terrified by these forecasts, the demolition of all work and replacement by people who don’t know what they’re doing.

Stacey Harris 26:20
It’s fear is definitely a thing that we tend to tend to go towards as human beings, there’s always a fear that change is going to have a negative impact on us. But if there’s any anything to come in everyone senses that, you know, if we’ve just look back at the last 2030 years, so I just captured days of the major things that happened in the HR technology era starting in 1940. The earliest one I found was that ADP was founded in 1949. went public in 1961, the earliest of the type of organizations that we track but doesn’t allow 10 years, we’ve had almost twice as many, I would say major industry events. That’s what I was kind of tracking was major industry events along with major sort of technology events that would have an impact on buyers or analysts or vendor communities, and places many in the last year, as there was in the first few years, and then definitely more than the previous decade before it right. And so every year, I think the speed of change is just going to continue to increase. And so the value proposition is to figure out how to work with that change and not fear because if we fear it, it’s not going to slow down and it’s not going to stop thinking and it’s not going to stop sort of reassessing and reach we’re going to re forming our world, but it will provide I think, very exciting new things based off of what we’re seeing coming down the road.

John Sumser 27:55
It’d be nice if somebody and and I’ve failed every You might fail at it. If somebody could say, Okay, here are the specific things you need to do to adjust. Right, I think I think that’s how you use all the clear problem is, is you show a specific path? And, um, I don’t see anybody doing that.

Stacey Harris 28:23
I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know if that’s possible, because I think every organization starts at a different point, right? One of the reasons why and the work that I’m doing right now and the writing I’m doing I, you know, I feel every HR professional has to know some bit of history about the HR technology market, because whatever their company is, that is at a very different point from where any other country or any other company is, and in this evolution of their own process, right. I don’t think the path of both have changed and of figuring out that you know, how best to address the workforce of the future and Figuring out how best to think about the processes and tools that they need an HR to support that. I would be hard pressed to there’s a standard way to do that.

John Sumser 29:08
Well, I think there might be, I think there might be, but it’s but it’s challenging. And the way that you do it is, the first thing that you do is you say HR is not about professional. HR is about the management of the most important part of any company. And in order to manage the most important part of any company, you first have to know what you’re trying to do. Right, right. And so and so. So what are the top five things to try and do and, and not we’re going to fix this burning problem tomorrow, but the top five things that you’re trying to do with the workforce over the next five years, right, and if the answer that then You have a, a roadmap for the planet for making technology decisions to help you do that stuff faster, better, cheaper or whatever. But it starts with a process where you have to figure out what’s important to you. You have to do that for your organization then with the organization. And what’s interesting about that is, is the organization doesn’t necessarily always articulate clearly what is actually important. Right? It’s one of the, one of the places where you could make a lot of improvement in HR right now is by by growing people in HR, who are capable separating what gets said from what gets actually done, and making some sense about expressing that as what the organization is trying to do.

Stacey Harris 30:52
I agree with you on this one. I think this is a big gap in the in the HR skill set right now, which is you know, Oftentimes will ask, you know, HR organizations, you know, what are your top priorities? And and then you’ll hear the comeback? Well, our businesses haven’t set their goals or processes yet. And I said, Well, you know, HR job is to really understand how your organization functions and what, how it sees its outcomes, and what is the financial metrics, the organizations holding itself responsible to, if you know that you should be as aligned to the businesses as they’re working through those conversations. But that’s not a place today, or oftentimes, it’s not even a business partner role today at all or used to talk about I mean, that was always a good thing to make sure you’ve got the data, the data and how to much more, I think what you’re talking about, which is filtering through what’s being said to actually what’s being done in some cases, or what’s actually how decisions are actually being made, which are two different things by many of these organizations, right?

John Sumser 31:53
That’s right. That’s right. Well, and what matters is really what gets said Well, the hardest part about the job of HR is that, you know, if you take the example of trying to figure out the problems with buyer bias in the hiring process, what gets documented isn’t where the bias what happens in the intelligent selection of candidates from databases, isn’t word bias, live bias lose in facial mannerisms, it lives in office design, and those in resource allocation, and it lives in promotion tracks, you know, and, and the great HR people can see that and can articulate what it is.

Stacey Harris 32:45
And I think the other side of that, which I think you’re right on, is that is that the database of the last place that it shows up right, it’s an important conversation, but it is in all those places you’re talking about, without a doubt, boy, end up in a data you have, right? So there is there’s that component of understanding how those two worlds are connected. But the other half of what we’re talking about is the role of HR, in some cases today has to be the mirror for the company. They, you know, one of the companies that I put on this list of major things that happened is no, no, when was the first I went looking designed it know, when the very first blackberry came out. Right. And, you know, it was wasn’t, you know, it was kind of what you expected. You know, I went looking and you know, it was 1992 was the first Blackberry, that was a phone that was somewhat usable, right. And then there were some, you know, 2002 was the first mobile phone that was that was usable in the BlackBerry environment. And so I was like, all right, you know, if we think about things like that, you know, was there a role for HR to be where the organization was that understand what leadership was strategies, but also be a mirror to say, Look, you’re Trying to get better. Mobile phone developers instead of doing design work or focusing on where the market is heading or understanding the newest technologies is hrs role, one of have a mirror inside of the organization to point out when the businesses might be heading down the wrong path. I don’t know the answer that and a lot of people would probably push back on that. But I think there’s a lot of places where there has insight and that

John Sumser 34:28
I think that’s exactly right. And this sounds like a great place to stop. And we should pick this back up next week. What a great conversation. Stacey, thanks so much.

Stacey Harris 34:38
Well, it’s a great way to start off the new year and hopefully, this will give everyone some things and ideas to ponder as they get started back at their work and next week, and we look forward to having more conversations like this.

John Sumser 34:52
Okay, thanks, Stacey. You’ve been listening to HR Tech Weekly one step closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. We might do this again in a couple of weeks as the 250th show. See you next week. Thanks for tuning in. Bye bye and thanks again Stacey.

Stacey Harris 35:08
Thanks, everyone. Bye.