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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: 248
Air Date: January 9, 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. This is our winter colds and flu edition. How are you Stacey?

Stacey Harris 0:24
Good morning, John. I appreciate you sympathizing with me. Sorry to everyone for the voice today but we are getting over the flu and the cold and all the stuff that goes with it. But we’re here and we’re ready to go with as far better than where at least I know I was at yesterday. I don’t know about you John.

John Sumser 0:40
Yeah, this has been such an interesting year and the timing of the holiday was such that it’s like everybody took a month off. It’s really wild things just ground to a halt, it’s at least three or four weeks now and they’re getting started back up. I imagine the airports will be crowded next week with business travelers returning to their time on the road, and you’re traveling next week to yeah?

Stacey Harris 1:04
Yes. Going to Atlanta, we’re going a little bit more on our database efforts that we’re doing this year. It was interesting because I think there were some people that oh, well, I’m gonna get back to work a little bit. But with the New Year’s falling in between the middle of the previous week, everybody kind of waited and then you sort of know that takes at least a day or two after you get back into the office, which was great this year, on the eighth right, seven days. And so we’re really into almost like you said, the middle of the month before people are really getting back to work this year and launch if I hadn’t gotten the flu, it would have been a nice little break and the flu actually forced me to take probably more of a break than expected but that’s okay. A couple of days. Rest is probably necessary after all the traveling that I was doing. I know you definitely need to get as well. I have a feeling this year is going to be just as busy though. There’s not a lot of new news, but I think we’re heading into what’s going to be a really as the turbulent is a good word. 2020 right. I’m seeing a lot of news being made around technology and concerns around technology, artificial intelligence heading into the new year all the big predictions about what’s going to happen with AI came across my desk this week. So yeah, a quiet start to what will be, I think a very good year.

John Sumser 2:14
Yep. So we’re going to talk a lot today about kind of where work is headed and the educational infrastructure to support where workers headed. And I wanted to get the conversation started this time by telling a story about the phone call that I have this week. A vendor who doesn’t really serve HR but is it and operations vendor to the demo for me and their product, you install the software on every desktop in your organization, and the product monitors employee usage of various app and when you have a problem in the app, the software pops up to give you suggestions about how to fix the problem or how to optimize your system. Then, as a part of the installation, they offer the capacity to do surveys of the desktop. So their story is that this is employee experience as done by it, that it should be in charge of employee experience. And so I kind of by the idea, I often wonder why HR thinks they should have dominion over the employee experience, because they just do HR stuff with HR is a relatively minor concern the day to day life of an employee. So we talked for a while and I asked them, don’t you think that employees who have your software installed on their desktops are going to think that the company is spying on them? And the CEO, the company said, Well, we don’t spy on people. And I said, that wasn’t really the question. I appreciate the fact that you don’t know grant that you don’t spy on people. But if you pop up on my desktop, I’m going to wonder how you got there and what you know about me, so don’t you think that people are going to think that you’re spying on them? And we went around and around in the sort of escalating thing where I’d asked the same Question I need to give the same answer. And I realized sort of at the end of the conversation that he had no clue that people thought his software was surveillance software. He gave me the standard thing that the vendors give me when they don’t know how to answer a question, which is we never hear that from our customers. He said, we never hear from our customers that this is a surveillance effort. And I thought to myself, wow, you’re filling out all of the it stereotypes I ever had about it, people not being able to muster the slightest bit of empathy. So I have this problem, which is, which is that a lot of the software that we talk about in HR tech sits on employees desktops, and is perceived as surveillance software. And of course, it’s perceived as surveillance software because that’s all the to the news is the fact that the software that’s on your desktop is finite. And I don’t think our industry understands that I think we might have understood This question a little bit better than the IT people do. But I was I was beside myself trying to figure out how to get this guy to see that what he’s taught his software did was not what is user stuff?

Stacey Harris 5:13
Well, I’m gonna put a stake in the ground here down on this one and say, This is exactly why I think HR owns the employee experience. I think there is no doubt in my mind that when he was done correctly, is more than just HR policies and procedures. And yes, there’s a small amount of the overall things that need to be done in an organization on day to day basis, but HR as an advocate of the employee, because yes, I mean, there’s no doubt that the employee experience is not just about what you think they should be experiencing. It’s about their actual perception of what’s happening inside the organization, right.

Unknown Speaker 5:47
And understand that,

John Sumser 5:50
but it gets you to the really interesting question very quickly you get to the will employees actually tell you the truth and you have everything that I see Does employee survey start with the assumption that what you get when you ask a question is an honest answer. And I think that entirely ignores the dynamic involved when I am the person who authorizes your paycheck and you’re not. There’s a power relationship there. That means it’s not always really very interesting to tell me the truth, just because I asked the question, and I’m not sure you ever can root that particular variable out of the conversation. So when you ask people, do you think we’re spying on you? I would expect the answer would be no, because what do you get for saying, yes, you get somebody to come and tell you. We’re not spying on you as you go, but what about all this stuff on my desktop when you’re behind a drink everything that I do?

Stacey Harris 6:52
Well, I think the other side of this though is some level of expectation with the current population to My story around this I think is probably a little more personal but a little bit more relevant of what I think is happening in the market is we got our my parents and Alexa show this year for the holidays. And, you know, my dad’s very leery about all this new technology but but he loved the idea of having things in his fingertips and helpful to remind them when it comes to doctors appointments don’t just the valuable tool for them. And for me to make sure that of being sort of happening in the household that needs to happen. But my dad and my brother were talking over top of Alexa right, you know, we’re having a conversation about shrimp that day, and then all of a sudden, true breakfast recipes started popping up. And my dad somewhat freaks out a little bit saying, you know, why is it showing me for breakfast recipes? I did not actually asking about shrimp. I was just talking about shrimp and I said, Yeah, but it’s always listening that and his perception of what the technology should be doing versus my perception was very different. And if you talk to my son, who’s the generation behind me, his perception is that everybody’s always listening. Technology is always monitoring you us to this other channels, what to do with that information, versus that it’s not valid. Right, that the perception that should ever not be monitoring you. I mean, my son’s perception is that every piece of technology they’re using and monitoring everything they’re doing. And so they have to understand that when they’re using it and how to better use it, knowing that information is that and in a conversation as well, which we having.

John Sumser 8:17
I think that when you talk about what’s the future of work, and where are things headed, this is an essential, essential element because if you’re always on camera, you’re going to behave like you’re always on camera. You know, and and, and people do not relax when they’re always on camera. People do not do a whole bunch of things when they’re always being monitored. Monitoring produces levels of anxiety, better new surveillance is a harsh word for the reality that you’re always on TV now. You’re always being recorded. You’re always being calls to monitor and it’s going to produce really interesting side effects and people figure out how to hack the system, because you have to decide to happen.

Stacey Harris 9:05
You Exactly. And I think the hack the system is the piece where my kids are at at this point, right? I’m sort of at a point where it is here. It’s just here. I just have to figure out how to run my life was always big monitors. My kids are at a point where they understood what the incognito mode meant in the Chrome browser much quicker than I did. Right and and what value it added to their searching capabilities and their ability to look for flights and things that I didn’t even realize, right. So those are the kind of ways they’re talking on a regular basis about how they’re using technology. And yeah, no, this is the world that we’re heading into.

John Sumser 9:43
This is the world that we’re heading into. And the privacy battle privacy battle is actually getting pretty interesting, as it’s sort of surprising that we’re not talking about it more in HR and HR tech, Apple is kind of leading the way and eliminating the possibility of being monitored. Right? They’re starting to ship software that inhibits tracking. And and that’s something that people like them for. Right. That’s this is something interesting and new now. So I think we’ll start to see that express itself in HR tech. But I really I don’t really understand how Yeah,

Stacey Harris 10:21
well, and the hard part about this, and this is the conversation I’ve been having with my children is in some cases, incognito is valuable. For things you’re trying to do. You don’t want to raise prices or you don’t want to look at stuff outside of your bubble. In some cases, it’s not you know, you want the right marketing stuff you want to have ad sent to that along with where you’re at, you want the right health information. And so your role as a consumer as a technology has become understanding the ways in which not just perception and psychology and nudges and all the things that go along with that work hand in hand, but then when you need to be outside of all of that and be a savvy enough. consumer of the world that you’re in, I’m in consumer of information in general, not just sort of buying products and stuff, but the consumer of the world and the data to know when you need to step outside of that bubble. And that’s an education process that I don’t think we’re doing very effectively with our next generation. Or if we are doing it, we’re not building it into work models that we have right now at all,

John Sumser 11:20
or we’re pretending that employees aren’t already doing this. I think that’s closer to the truth is that the idea that you allow people to know the things about you that help you and don’t allow people to know the things about you that hurt you isn’t particularly new. But now it’s technical, the idea that you don’t come to work and tell everybody about the fight that you just had last night with your wife or your husband. There’s not anything particularly wrong with that, even if, even if some software might label you as having lower engagement because you’re not fully transparent about your home. Why? You know, so people know how to self censor. And learning how to self censor technically is just the next thing. But it raises this question of how do you trust the data that comes out of employee surveys?

Stacey Harris 12:14
And I think it goes beyond that, because then it goes to how can you trust the insight that it’s providing back to people about what they should do and when they shouldn’t? This actually leads right into where some of our conversation started this week. So one of the things that you shared with me, john, and when the articles that we definitely put on the list to talk about this week was a great article called at work expertise is falling out of favor done by the Atlantic will post it on the notes for the show this week. But it was a phenomenal article that walked through how this case was particularly focusing on what was going on in the Navy. But what we’re seeing across the global market from an education and learning perspective of how we’re seeing that as environments become smarter and technology becomes more bedded in the in the tools that we’re using, whether that’s our ships or manufacturing environments, the goal is to create environments where we need less workers. And we have only a small amount of people who are running the entire environment than happening in manufacturing environments for many, many years was seeing it happen in some of the naval environments in this story, it didn’t happen in another environment. You’re seeing it happen in refilling days. The idea is that you don’t need a bunch of specialists you’re running around who are specialized in any one area. You don’t need so many people, but you do need a lot of what they’re calling generalists, who are able to select between jobs, do multiple things on in an environment and probably explained that poorly. But this idea of the technology and the environment being more honed to make us more efficient workers who can do multiple jobs assume as the technology is meeting all of our needs and knows everything about us and needs to know right?

John Sumser 13:51
Sure. So Margaret is imprecise here. Let me step two the Navy scenario. So the Navy is introducing a new class of frigate. And historically, a frigate has had a team of 120 or 30 people who manned the boat so that you could get everything done. The numbers were driven largely because individual people had individual expertise. And so they’re all these people. And now they want to make a lighter, faster, more agile battleship, and they want to staff it with 30 or 40 people. And when you do that the requirement for the expertise necessary to run the ship doesn’t decline when you shrink the size of the staff. So you still need the same level of expertise, but you have fewer people to do it with. So I don’t like the term generalist because generalist tends to sound like poets and artists and that sort of thing with the kinds of people the Navy needs to run this new kind of ship have multiple dimensions of expertise. They’re qualified and able to execute in different areas depending on the scenario that this The shift and so the staffing isn’t we need an organizational psychologist. So we have to have one full time. It’s we need organizational psychology. And so the person who does our HR also has to do our idea. We can only hire somebody to devote as it’s kind of a doubling down on their charities, rather than assuming that the technology will handle it. It’s a deeper kind of specialization where people have multiple non overlapping specialties.

Stacey Harris 15:30
That make sense. I think you’re correct in that I do think that there is a little bit of a different, they don’t need the same depth or level of expertise, I think they need to be experts in multiple areas. So you know, they know that the chef was also the person who was manning the top jack, who was also the person who was pulling in the rigging rights, which was generally each done by an individual person. So there is that do more with less concepts going on there. But I also think they were very clear in this article, but I think in a lot of organizations who are trying to work this way that it was valid. These are people who could learn on the job when there were problems, they figured out ways to do it. So these are very continuously learning model professionals who knew a little bit more about all those areas, but were not as deeply steeped as the original experts would have been. Because the technique, the engines themselves, for example, had a lot more capability of taking care of themselves, and they had in previous positions. So these were not the same boat. They were very different boats run with very different specs. And so I do think it’s a mixture of both the technology and the skill sets and how those two appearing together. I would add to that

John Sumser 16:34
you have the idea but these are sort of liberal arts graduates who can learn any subject that so in a way I think that’s what I kind of complaining about because they’re not these are technical people who are adept at mastering additional technical skills. And that’s not how I understand the term generalist generalist is for McKinsey consultant, you know, it disciplines bullshitter with a bag of tricks is a generalist. And that’s harsh, much harsh. And it’s more than that this being able to think critically is really, really important. And there are a lot of soft skills that are really, really important. But the kind of person who can be the chef and at the same time run the top of death of a ship with command and control over a big body of technology. This is not somebody who read a lot of poetry and undergraduate school.

Stacey Harris 17:29
Well, but I think that’s actually the the reason why this fits really well with our earlier conversation we were having about, you know, the concept of transparency and letting people know what you think they should know versus what they they need to know. And this next generation of workforce, what we’re going to find is that our education system probably hasn’t really prepared anybody. So what’s really happening in this new work environment, which is a highly technical, highly artificially intelligent, new support environment where they’re getting a lot of information thrown at them all at one. And when they have to make very important decisions that require some background and technology, some background and understanding where the data came from some background and thinking outside of the box, I use that term in the in the most non cliche way in the sense that because we’re now in a new era, are doing things the old way is not what we’re looking for, we’re looking for the idea that, you know, the ship is redesigned, which means you have to rethink maybe how you throw ropa window, which is one of the examples they gave in the story where before you would have always thrown it over hand and this time, you may be slingshot it out because this new design calls for different thinking. It’s just I think our new our education is just not preparing there. It’s either the idea that you have to be a highly technical and you know, your skill set from top to bottom do 1000 hours or 10,000 hours of training in the Daniel Pink kind of concept, right? Or you are this kind of blondes a gentleman to consider at the top level on think critically, there’s actually this middle ground road that we’re going to need In this next generation of professionals who have the technical skills also have these ability to flex and learn, and are continuously having to be retrained on an ongoing basis. That’s the burnout of that think about the idea that these professionals never really have a point at which they feel like they’ve reached the ultimate top right.

John Sumser 19:20
That’s right. And so one of the stories in the news this week, it’s early, and there’s lots of Recaps of last year, one of the stories is that the ed tech investment for 2019 was nearly $20 billion.

Stacey Harris 19:34
And this is the people who think that the way that we educate is broken, and that there is a technical fix to IT spend more money than all of the investment in human capital, maybe double the investment in human capital for last year, and so to recognize problem, but I don’t think that I’ve seen anybody who is offering a technical solution that assumes this kind of new worker who has multiple levels of expertise in the ability to move between those that the Atlantic article talks about? And I think that’s really the under that we’re going to have to face in this next couple of years is how do we retool our entire education model and our entire workforce support model right. It’s not just how we educate them and how we support them on the job environment where you have to have high level technical skills and the ability to slip back and forth between those technical skills and understand what you’re being given from the technology already what is covering underneath and when something break who’s the right expert to go to that kind of thinking that kind of constant about we were talking about magnet you know, in our job was building almost facing that’s a little bit right now, we’re never done learning. Every time we turn a corner, it feels like oh, we figured something out, figure out how this is working and you turn the corner and there’s a bigger mountain in front of you. This is going to require not just better education, but better support better Psychology and more understanding of the kind of burnout level that we’re going to get inside the work environment. None of that right now is being taught that I think at a deep level inside organizations, and yet we’re seeing it with a lot of the large global organizations struggling to get the right talent today. This is one of the big challenges. They can’t find the expertise because they they don’t have people developed in this way. And those who are are getting burned out so quickly, right.

John Sumser 21:25
So I think this is going to be an interesting transition. I want to drag you back to something that we’ve talked about a bunch of times over the years. And that is the way that people are getting trained to do this work is the playing video games. And so the idea that the educational establishment, which is an industrial model, we put out workers at a certain rate with a certain range of skills and stuff that just doesn’t work and you can’t fix it. It can’t fix it. It is archaic technology. And like every other time in human history, the problem is actually Solving itself. And so when you look at the mat amazing and the immense popularity of video gaming, what you start to understand this here are people who develop deep expertise and specialty areas and move from expertise, expertise gracefully over time, because that’s how video gaming works. Right? And so the real question is, how do you articulate the skills that video gamers have? And how do you start to qualify and certify them? And my guess is that gaming and professional video gaming is probably a pointer that nobody’s paying attention to.

Stacey Harris 22:37
I think that’s an interesting, you know, they’ll there will be some interesting correlations probably to man when we look back 20 years from now on 2020. And what came out of this environment is that we’re just starting to see now if you figure the first sort of gamers right, the first people who were who grew up on video games, which would have been my generation, we grew up with Oregon Trail and Cranston manner and Pac Man and all those kind of things as part of our everyday life and the next generation, which is your kids and my kids who really elevated that into what would be considered RPG gaming, which is much more of a complex world environment, strategic partnering multiple lines of, you know, expertise need probably are just at a point now where we can start to take a look at how those skill sets are matching up with this next generation of work requirements even by the organization. And I don’t know that anybody’s done that extensive job except for in a couple of areas. And there’s been some research done in the medical space where they definitely found that the eye hand coordination of gamers, and the ability to think quickly correlates very nicely with surgeon. And it was a bit of research study done there. There was a little bit of research studying it. And what’s funny enough is it’s my son who tends to bring this kind of research to my attention is that he had walked through the gamers capability in the current education system and how they’re less likely to actually do well in the current and environment in many cases, because of the way things they’re used to working more collaboratively, and they the current education system is not developed to work collaboratively. So there’s, I think, an opportunity to start looking back and start actually doing some of this research. The other side of that I think that you’re bringing up though is on our recruiting front, have we even begun to think about how you take those kind of skill sets it into consideration or start asking about those kind of things like gaming experience inside of our recruiting process? I don’t know. You can probably see more of that. But I have.

John Sumser 24:30
Yeah, it’s a great question. And we’re not seeing it yet. We’re not seeing the credibility that supported video gamers in reality translated into HR Tech at all. I don’t see it. I don’t see it. Whenever you encounter gaming it is the sort of gaming in HR technology tends to mean tricking people into doing stuff they don’t want to do. We became a part of things we gave a party that means it Sort of like Mary Poppins, it’s a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right? It’s not. It’s not celebrated as a skill. It is celebrated as a way to manipulate people into doing what they want to do to bring it back around to the surveillance conversation. And so, what a great way to start the year. It all starts with surveillance. It all starts with surveillance. Been a great conversation. Thanks for doing this, Stacey, nice way to start the year and I hope you feel better. Next week w`e’ll all be on the road again.

Stacey Harris 25:35
And we’ll talk everybody next week is a great start of the year. So

John Sumser 25:40
Yup, thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next week. Bye Bye now.

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