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: 25
Air Date: June 18, 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 morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser.

I’m John Sumser. Stacey, how are you?

Stacey Harris:            I’m doing good John. I’m doing quite well coming from New York City today with a beautiful view outside my window, so I can’t complain at all.

John Sumser:            Probably a beautiful expansive penthouse suite in one of the really swanky hotels?

Stacey Harris:            Oh [inaudible 00:00:44], no no. My room’s about the size of a closet right now, but I do have a nice view that goes clear out to the water, so I get a little corner view of the water. A penthouse suite doesn’t quite cover it I think.

John Sumser:            So what brings you to New York?

Stacey Harris:            Well, I had the opportunity to participate in the Employee Engagement Award. It was the first one done here in the US. It’s a program that’s run by Sift Media and Matt Manners Consulting Group, which started out in the UK. They were doing Employee Engagement Awards over there about a year and a half ago. Sift Media runs the HR Zone Magazine, which is electronic media magazine which actually is the primary supporter of the Employee Engagement Awards. They brought over to the states this year.

It was quite nice. We put out a great crowd … 100, 150 people who attended the events. We did the conference along with the awards ceremony here. In the UK they just have the awards ceremony, and it turned out very very nice. I think … I was here and then a couple of … Gina Kelly was here this week. Steve Lemme, I think. Is that someone you know John who I had the opportunity to meet, who I’d never met in person before.

There was a couple people here who were sort of in our circle of bloggers, talkers and analysts in the HR Tech base, but probably  most interesting was the winners of companies. There were companies here from South Africa, London, from all over New York. The winner of the … There was a lot of winners because they had different areas, but the big winner of the Employee Engagement Award for the year was the Ford Company, which I was actually … It was nice to hear. I know some people who work over there and I think they’re doing a really good job keeping communications and employee engagement in the limelight in that organization. It was a good event.

John Sumser:            What is “employee engagement” mean at a place like that? How would they tell if you’ve got it?

Stacey Harris:            Well, that was a big [crosstalk 00:02:58]. What is “employee engagement” and how do you go beyond the annual surveys? It’s a lot … They’re very similar and I know you’ve got a lot of, you were talking about on the performance management side. What is “performance management” and can we move it out of the old, traditional old days of doing it once a year?

I think organizations like Ford … Unilever spoke while we were there … Even Caesar’s Entertainment while we were there. For almost all those organizations, “employee engagement” is definitely a big part of their culture and focused on connecting to the outcome the organization’s trying to achieve. I know that often sounds like “OD” speak, right?

I mean these were companies that took “employee engagement” down to the level of “everybody in the company’s participating” and rewards programs, and rewards programs that are tied to customer satisfaction out from, by individual region and group, right? Rankings and ratings that came out on customer satisfaction … Everybody in the company’s held accountable from the top to the bottom in each of the environment [inaudible 00:04:09] entertainment.

Ford, I think, was really focusing on communicating what was happening in the industry to their employees, and being very transparent about it. To me, that was a big part of the idea of engagement, which is really making sure your employees understand that during what is probably one of the most difficult times in their industry, right, that they were all on board about what was happening, how it was happening, how they were managing it. That kind of made a big difference when all the other car industries were going through really, really massive issues.

To me it was more than just about what we traditionally think of as “employee engagement.” It was more about making sure your employees and you felt like you were all in the same boat and you’re all driving towards the same direction, with them having a say and them having some input in it.

John Sumser:            That’s fascinating. Fascinating, so the people who are winning [crosstalk 00:05:07].

Stacey Harris:            They’re winning. It’s just an awards program, yep.

John Sumser:            All sound like awful places to work.

Stacey Harris:            Awful places to work where everybody’s happy and chipper, is that what you’re saying?

John Sumser:            You know, I don’t imagine that Ford Motor Company is full of chipper people.

Stacey Harris:            I would agree with that. [crosstalk 00:05:32] not what’s part of it, yeah.

John Sumser:            Yeah, so now being engaged about your job in Detroit is probably a different story than it is in San Francisco because having a job in Detroit is kind of an engaging thing. The context of these things are … It’s just interesting to me that engagement excellence is coming from a place where high massive nasty unemployment is the norm. That’s interesting, don’t you think?

Stacey Harris:            I think it’s interesting, but I also think that it’s a testament to the fact that at least for many of these organizations that they understand that in their environments particularly, right, you know … It’s easy to get, to follow suit and to allow your employees to sort of be in the dark. Everybody around you is doing that, right? Everybody around you is taking cuts. They’re just sort of getting by. They’re … It’s easy to say “Well, we’re just in an industry that’s not going as strong as it should,” right?

I think the difference in a lot of these organizations, when you talk to both their leaders and the employees for the most part, is that there is definitely a mentality of “We’re, yes it’s tough. Yes, things aren’t going the way we want it. Yes, there’s an opportunity her to do better, right, but we’re transparent about it and we’re having the open conversation about it.”

That level of openness is part of what makes those environments so valuable, but I think, if I get at what you’re trying to say John is, are they more engaged because there may not be as many options in those environments? I don’t know if that’s quite the case.

John Sumser:            If you are looking to have your job will you say these things? “Oh yes, this is an engaging job. Oh yes, could you beat me some more please?”

Stacey Harris:            Well, but I don’t think these were all based off of “we’ve got good engagement force.” None of these people talked about “engagement force.” None of them, right? They talked about customer satisfaction stores going up. They talked about increases in profits when everyone else’s were dropping in that area, right? They talked about increases in the movement within the organization, right, which was opportunities for people to move in career growth.

I get what you’re saying, but I think it depends on how you’re measuring it. Maybe it goes back to how you’re measuring it.

John Sumser:            Well, it’s … I’m glad to hear that there’s more of this stuff going on, understanding what it takes to make people successful at work is a large part of the next frontiers of HR Tech. It’s great that they are … What was the most interesting story that you heard?

Stacey Harris:            The most interesting story I heard, well … There was a great keynote speaker, and of course I’m sitting here and cannot remember his name. His first name was Aaron. He did the Purpose Driven Work Environment, I think. You probably know the book maybe.

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            I think it was a very interesting storyline about the concept that people are looking for a purpose-driven work environment if obviously they’re getting their basic needs met. We all know that you’ve got to get your basic needs met, and that kind of thing rolls around the day. I think the more interesting thing for me was the amount of people that came up … We did a technology panel … That came up to me afterwards and said “It was good to have you guys talk to us without talking down to us.”

I thought that was a really interesting comment that there was more than one person that said that to me. Keep in mind that this was a room with 70%, probably, females who are in the communications sustainability phase, right?

I think that some of the other presenters they were struggling with were being a little too, sort of, placative about the topics and too … So I think that was sort of interesting just about the idea of engagement and that people want to have the honest impact about what’s really happening. They want data and they want to really have an honest conversation about it, both on the front of diversity when it comes to the issues of what you were just talking about. You just can’t say engagement is good just because people in the organization say  they’re happy. You’ve got to dig deeper, right?

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            The other side of that I think is that there was a lot of fear across the organization about the area of transparency. That was one that really sort of shocked me. I think we talk about transparency and data analysis and the HR Tech Base very freely and very openly. It’s an important component, right? It’s about getting these systems working, and in that environment transparency has a connection to the idea of people being afraid of sharing their feelings, their thoughts, their perspectives about a company for exactly what you said, right?

“Does that mean I might get fired?” There might be some backlash. There’s people who are sharing services. There are people who complete their engagements, have their husbands and their wives take the survey or write the comments for them so it doesn’t come out in their voice. I was really shocked about that kind of stuff’s still happening, so there is still issue within this environment about the area of transparency.

John Sumser:            Well, there’s so much to that. The fact that the typical first line supervisor is an untrained person who yesterday was the most successful of the people that today she’s supervising means the “bad man’s” of this is happening everywhere. Bad man’s includes the kinds of things that you’re talking about, and one of the things I find interesting about the whole engagement conversation is that it never notices that people are generally unhappy because their managers are bad.

You never hear a story of an engagement program that was successful because all of the managers were trained not to be Dilbert characters. If you want to know the whole engagement story, all you have to do is read Dilbert and it captures a large part of exactly what you’re saying, which is that work rooted in the idea that the boss is superior to the employee is probably seeing the end of a drug that it’s not going to die quietly. That’s the way things have been for tens of thousands of years.

Stacey Harris:            Even in the next generation model, right, where there’s less managers and less leadership, right … Because you’re sort of flattening the organization out and you’re giving people more autonomy. Are you also putting so much work on their shoulders that the autonomy is less valuable, right?

There’s a lot of conversation there about that this week as well is that more autonomy means more freedom, in many cases to mess up, and more freedom to mess up, depending on how the organization addresses that or handles that can be just as dangerous as anything else, right?

John Sumser:            Interesting questions, so what else is going on out there?

Stacey Harris:            The other thing that I think we really need to probably talk about and is probably on everybody’s mind right now … Well, not on everybody’s mind but I think that anybody who’s dealing with a contingent or contract work force base is that the music came out yesterday about the Uber commissions ruling.

California’s Labor Commission ruled yesterday you have to say that Uber drivers should be classified as employees, in California at least. Their statements were because they were vetting them … They set their rates. They were involved, and this is their quote: “in every aspect of operations.” This is based, I think, on a lawsuit from one Uber contractor employee … Determining on how you determine and categorize them. She wanted some payment for the use of the vehicle and some other things that she had [inaudible 00:14:46] and other type of things that go along with what you would generally pay an employee, and then there were some challenges around benefits and stuff too.

I mean, you’re obviously much more closer to that story than I am in California, John. What are you guys hearing about that? Are people generally surprised about the ruling, and what does that mean for the big industry in the Bay City area?

John Sumser:            If you want to know who was surprised and who wasn’t surprised, I’m going to guess that lots of money people in Silicon Valley are kind of surprised by the ruling, but the idea … It appears to be the case that you can’t actually make a living wage working for Uber. It seems to be the case that there’s a kind of a tax issue here which is … If companies like Uber are making their business model work by not paying the same taxes as everybody else is paying, then they’re going to get clamped down on. The idea that the contingent work force is sort of subject to government oversight, that’s probably just been a long time coming.

Stacey Harris:            Yep.

John Sumser:            We’re going to deal with the governmental perception of the contingent work force in a big way in the next 4 or 5 years because that’s becoming a critical component of how people make money.

Stacey Harris:            Do you think that, with what that impact’s going to have on HR … That HR’s going to have to deal with this dialogue, or is this more of a sort of enterprise business issue right now?

John Sumser:            I think most enterprises keep contingent work force management away from HR …

Stacey Harris:            That’s what I’m …

John Sumser:            … And treat it as material input to the product development process rather than a human resources-related issue. It’s going to be the case that lots of the work forces in a contingent kind of role, and if HR isn’t a part of that conversation, they become increasingly irrelevant.

I think you’ll see bright HR people trying to figure out how to have their hands in the middle of the contingent work force conversation. I think you’ll see the functional people in the organization go “We really don’t want those people in this conversation. They don’t get what we’re doing here,” much like the conversation that you and I are going to have about this, which is if you look at the question from the perspective of employees’ rights and protections instead of from the perspective of “is this making money” you’d probably get 2 different answers here.

Stacey Harris:            I think you’d get 2 different answers, and I think there’s also a bit of, and this is people looking at the work force contingent model, right? In New York the freelance writer, right, who finds that he can work for 6 different companies and make more money on a contingent basis versus the Uber driver … 2 different types of contingent models, and yet they’re sort of held under the same laws and regulations and tax breaks and tax codes and everything, right?

John Sumser:            Right. Don’t you think it’s kind of weird to assert that somebody who makes $10.00 an hour and somebody who makes $150.00 dollars an hour are fundamentally in the same game?

Stacey Harris:            I would agree, and I think that’s where the challenge comes in a bit is that we’re, and for HR professionals particularly, is that if they have to take ownership of this area … And I agree with you on the one fact that I think they need to, but I think they’re struggling with this wide range of contingent work forces that are sort of generally lumped into some very sort of stringent regulations and laws, right?

You’re talking anywhere from, as you said, sometimes 2, $300.00 an hour freelance workers right? 1099 contractors, those kinds of things, to want to be in that category … All they way down to what you’d consider someone who’s making less than minimum wage in many cases, and near that, to do work at that type of level when they’re talking about the fact that they’re not paying, you’re not paying, their taxes for them, right?

Do you, you know … Because I’ve had this conversation with a company up here this week about the fact that their HR group definitely does not track the contingent work force, but the vendor-management groups track the contingent work force. Part of that, in many cases, is because as you said now, it is seen as part of the sort of product and application, but is also a way to hide the cost of resources, right? I can’t get the budget for a full-time employee, but I can get a budget for a contract that goes through another part of the business.

Do you think that equates at all to what we’re sitting with the Uber issue as well, right? Could they have built this business if they would have had to hire everybody as employees the way we’re talking about?

John Sumser:            Could Uber have built the business if they would have had to hire everybody as employees?

I don’t know the answer to that, but if you ask the question “Could Uber have built the business without resorting to slavery as a labor management tactic” I think we would go, “Well, if they needed to have slaves do the business, maybe they shouldn’t do the business.” Maybe if you can’t afford to pay what people need to get paid … If you can’t afford to treat your people in the way that people need to be treated, maybe it’s not a problem with people needing to be respected and treated well. Maybe it’s a problem with the idea behind the business.

Stacey Harris:            Yep, and is that an issue that needs to go broader in the HR community, right? If the company can’t afford an employee, you know, what is that … Why are the funds being funneled in other areas, right?

John Sumser:            I think that is an area … I was talking to a guy yesterday who has been able to demonstrate statistically the relationship between people having too many goals and specific project failure.

Stacey Harris:            That sounds interesting.

John Sumser:            Yeah, well I thought of you … He’s an interesting guy, and he’s got a great tool for helping people be successful, but essentially what it diagnoses is the fact that people are overworked, and  predicts that stuff won’t succeed because people are overworked, but duh, right? Just duh? It seems like genius insight to people who run organizations with spreadsheets.

Stacey Harris:            You know, a big topic at this engagement event was about the idea that, you know, how you get more engagement to get people purpose-driven environments and more autonomy, right? One of the conversations was about the idea that we’re getting rid of levels of management, less management. Bosses are always the group of people who don’t know what they’re doing and they cause so many problems, but there’s a piece of me that recoils from all of that.

I also know that when you talk to most bosses, most managers, most people in any kind of environment where they’re trying to do projects or something … And really even on the front line, that everybody feels like there’s more work than they can get done. Is the idea, flattening everything, really going to give us more autonomy, right? I don’t know, or is it going to give us just more work?

John Sumser:            It seems to be that management theories are a pendulum rather than sort of an always moving forward thing. It just swings from one end to the other, so we’re back in the re-engineering phase that was 20 years ago. What happens after re-engineering is people heal from the damage and start to go back to the other extreme, which is … You sort of can’t have a highly informed transparent environment unless there are people in charge of consolidating and understanding the data, and we call those people “managers.”

If you get rid of the managers, I’m not sure how you get the really interesting integration of a business, so it’s weird that these 2 completely contradictory … You need more analysis so we’re going to get rid of all the managers.

Stacey Harris:            That’s my fear, right, is that you’re getting rid of [inaudible 00:25:10]. It’s interesting. I had an interesting conversation with the many Brits who were here for this event who can stay for many hours in a carbon bar longer than I can, but there was a … We were having a conversation about the marketing tools out, all very distinctly tailoring what you’re viewing based on what you’ve viewed in the past.

Everybody in the room was sort of being siloed, more so than they’ve ever been into a bracket, into their picture of the world. What happens when you want someone who understands different areas, right, or different concepts, when all they’ve ever seen is they’ve always been pigeon-holed in learning development. That’s the only content they’ve every been shown. That’s the world they know, and you want someone who understands learning and development and how it connects with HR. They’ve never been shown any side of it.

That’s really the role the manager’s supposed to play, to start giving you those experiences, those opportunities, right? If nobody’s watching out for that, then how does that happen, right?

John Sumser:            I agree. I agree. I think in the absence … You know, I’m used to the idea  that management is an effective part of how the organization operates. Without management, I don’t understand how you get things done. I don’t understand who it is that makes decisions about priorities. Overwork, another way of saying overworked is non-clarified priorities.

Stacey Harris:            Exactly, yeah. That’s a very good way of putting it.

The other 2 points that I pulled out for this week, and I don’t think either of them … They’re interesting good stories, I think, to talk about which is Courses on Demand Foundation. They announced their Impact Grant recipient and then there was sort of announced employee-choice awards for CEO’s.

The reason I pulled both of them out is there was similar stories across the board on this sort of idea of giving back to the community … The idea of CEO’s who were seen as positive and were viewed as important by their employees based on how they were quote unquote being ranked.

I thought both those stories were sort of connected with the fact that what people are trying to sort of say in work environments, do in work environments, is that we are giving back. We have CEO’s who are well-respected … That we have people in the organization that are viewed as … Who are engaged with what we’re talking about.

Do you think from an HR Tech perspective, the HR Technology side, that this idea of corporate responsibility, good leadership, is being captured in any of the HR Technology that we’re working with very effectively?

John Sumser:            I have to be so careful here. I’m looking at the glass door of this of great CEO’s. I love Scott Sheridan in software. He’s Number 5 after Mark Zuckerburg? What kind of list is this? Hold it. Coming in at Number 6 is the CEO of Monsanto. Hold it. These people are poisoning our children, and the CEO is the 6th best of CEO’s of the world.

Let me tell you, this is the triumph of the PR people. This has nothing to do with who’s good at what. This is complete horse pucky here, and you don’t have to look that hard to see it … That what happens in crowd source data things like this is that people who can manipulate the size of the crowd win. This has nothing to do with transparency or what actually matters. This has to do with how … Just like many of the employee engagement style awards.  What you’re really rewarding is the effect of this PR team.

Stacey Harris:            [inaudible 00:29:49] their ability to communicate and share information. Yeah, I agree with that, I think, depending on what you’re looking at as the outcome, yeah.

John Sumser:            I think that when you see these kinds of awards, what you’re really seeing is what happens when there are no more journalists?

Stacey Harris:            That’s a whole other topic [crosstalk 00:30:19].

John Sumser:            We won’t get into it today, but it may be that this right here is the problem that causes low employee engagement scores.

Stacey Harris:            It could be, but I also think that there is … The reason that I pulled these out particularly is that although you may not agree with the list … These are all good people in general in their own ways for people who are reporting and working with them, right?

What I was intrigued with was that all of this information is being tracked and being sort of reported as part of the HR dialogue, right? You want to work for a company. You want to be with a company. You want to participate with a company because of their brand on some level, right?

I know that we can understate the importance of that to the young kids coming out of university going into getting jobs … Even to the employees who are working everyday who may not be as highly engaged but they’re trying to put some statement on the work that they’re doing everyday, right, that it has some meaning to them. It’s the brand of the organization that they’re working with, right?

Maybe that’s something to talk about next week a little bit more is that how much does “brand respect” for what you’re doing or respect for the people around you play into the idea of engagement versus just the basics being met and the work being purpose-driven or engaged or whatever you want to call it, right? There’s that difference between “who I’m working for and what I’m doing” I guess is the big question.

John Sumser:            That’s a really interesting area to explore and we should do that.

Now, We have zonked through our allotted time this morning. It’s another blistering conversation on One Step Closer, and thanks for coming along Stacey. I will talk to you next week.

Stacey Harris:            Definitely, yeah. See you the same time, same place next week. Thanks everyone. Bye.

John Sumser:            Thank you. Bye bye.

End transcript


Tagged with:  
Read previous post:
Five links illustration on
Five Links: New Quantified Employee Tools

There's no escaping the fact that self monitoring (and company monitoring of those various selves) is a coming thing.