HR Tech Weekly Logo

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: 264
Air Date: April 30, 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 0:14
Good morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Hi Stacey. How’s the road treating you today?

Stacey Harris 0:24
Good morning, John. No road of course we are all still at home which is just fine. Of course it is a bit dreary and rainy here in North Carolina. So that always puts a little bit of a damper on the day. I think I was talking to friends out in Atlanta yesterday, they were getting pounded with rain and wind and it hit us last night and today. So how about you? are How’s the weather holding up in the shores of California there?

John Sumser 0:49
It’s summer, it’s been in the high 80s and 90s. And so if we weren’t stuck in the house we’d be being driven back in the house because you know, in California 90 is a heatwave. Under Oh, by the way under 45 is a cold wave.

Stacey Harris 1:06
Yeah, exactly. Well, we’ll let you come down for a little bit, you know, 102 degrees with humidity at you know, 99% we’ll let you tell how hot that get.

John Sumser 1:17
Right, right, right. I don’t understand, it’s uninhabitable where you live. It’s snows and it gets over 100. You guys who live on Mars you have to wear spacesuits just to get around so this new this new stuff that we’re getting used to with COVID where you have to wear protective clothing, it must just have a second nature to you.

Stacey Harris 1:38
Exactly. See. So, I have been some beautiful flower pictures from your partner Heather so we know that you guys are getting good flowers. Our flowers have already bloomed and then moved on for this part of the year we’ll be getting our summer flower soon. So things are all you know a little bit rain, a little bit of fun. It works out for getting outside once in a while. At least on your porch, but things are still going on in the business side of things. How is your week been this week? Are you guys doing anything exciting over at HR Examiner?

John Sumser 2:08
Oh, we’re publishing this really interesting series called Small Scenarios. And it’s Small Scenarios because I am totally persuaded that anybody who appears to have an answer is somebody you should run away from right now. It’s just not possible to understand what’s going on or what the other side of this might look like, because we don’t know what we’re dealing with yet. And so what we decided to do instead is create a series I think the probably be ten or twelve of these things. They’re two pages long, a page of narrative about the idea and a page of questions to think about. And there are topics like bereavement leave, which like many things in business, and in particular, in HR, it’s one of those things where the assumption is there’s a random business distribution of people who need bereavement leave and over time that produces a level of demand that you can satisfy without disrupting the workforce. And of course, what’s going to happen is that the demand for bereavement leave is going to explode. And as a leader of a company, you’ll be faced with having to tell people No. And so the question the question of how you do that is interesting. You and I were talking about this topic last week sometime and you mentioned that there will be an explosion and just an astonishing number of people who want to go to memorial services once the sort of lockdown is lifted, because you can’t get there. So lots of people have been buried or cremated without there being an actual funeral and so a ton of people who bought try walk as soon as the ban is lifted and as soon as you can get to the memorial service.

Stacey Harris 4:00
Yeah I know, it’s I’ve got two deferred funerals, if you want to call them that, right, or memorial services that I’ve already know that I will will want to go to because there were people who passed who were very important in my life. So yeah, those differed bereavements. Do your bereavement policies match that? Do they allow for that kind of extended timeline? Same way we talked about childcare or other things if you if you you know, have someone who’s in the hospital and you can’t go visit them, but they’re, you know, is there still allotments for for people in your family who need care who maybe are in an extended situation? So yeah, there’s gonna be a lot of areas where I think there’s more questions like you said than there’s answers. Right?

John Sumser 4:39
Yeah, and so some of the other topics in this series. We have one coming up on Monday called Hiring Einstein, which is about neuro diversity, hiring, in a labor surplus, and this week’s one is called MVP’s and it’s about rethinking who’s really important in the organization. Maybe it’s not the leadership that’s the most important end of the business. It’s a great thing. We have the I believe we’re going to have the head of the human capital school at NYU doing one of them. It’s an extraordinary little project. And the idea, again, is that having useful thinking right now and useful problem identification is more important than having big picture answers to things, right. And so for my money, the way you put together, the next iteration of the work world is more like building a mosaic, rather than issuing a paint by numbers thing that people could fill in.

Stacey Harris 5:40
I think that’s going to be an interesting way of looking at the world, which is that, you know, the idea that what we’re heading into will be a different approach to work, not just different work, there will be but a different way in which you have to think about how people work in your organization. Right and I think this is it. exemplified by what’s happening with the plans in various regions and in various, you know, states and even countries, which is how some countries are opening back up with very extended regulations around what every organization has to do with their employees, what kind of protection they have to have, what kind of distance they have to have, how the organization has to handle cleaning, we’re in other places here in the States, in particular, this sort of thing. Here’s some guidelines, here’s how you kind of should open up and those differences and how we think about how we have to serve, just prepare the work environment for opening back up again, I think are going to be just an example of the idea of how we’re going to have to change work itself. Right.

John Sumser 6:37
Right. And I think this extends, we’ll just sort of move to the new stuff. This extends to the territory that used to be called employee experience. And when a point experience was gathering momentum, the core notion was employee experience of people who work in office buildings. And cubes and that sort of stuff. And now the employee experiences more like how does it feel to be in the tug between your personal life and your work life? Right. That’s the heart of today’s employee experience. And it is not something that the company can control easily.

Stacey Harris 7:22
You’re referencing some of the language that we heard this week come from the SAP Success Factors analyst event that they did earlier yesterday, where they’re talking about their human experience management as their big messaging for the new application. And so you’re saying that we have to rethink the idea of the experience is what is what you’re here believing, right?

John Sumser 7:39
Yeah, because this is not stuff that’s within the control or understanding of the organization. One of the things that we’re learning is that the people who come to work for us are highly motivated and influenced by things that are beyond our control. And so the idea that you can provide an expense Without deeply accounting for the capacities and motivations of employees and the context in which they’re working, that’s silliness, right? And it’s a silliness. And it’s sort of a last gasp of the old way of thinking about work. The idea that somehow the right thing to do is to create a human experience platform. Really?

Stacey Harris 8:29
Well, I get your sentiment and I understand I mean, we thought I think, you know, give everybody an update, just simply there are some things in the news, one of them was SAP SuccessFactors Analysts update. Amy Wilson, who’s Senior VP of product design and David Ludlow, VP of product strategy and Meg Bare Senior VP of product and engineering and operations. All three of them were there on the call and he delivered most of the messaging, you know, in sa p have definitely been known for this onpoint with where SAP was at before the COVID crisis, right. I think they did. There. continuing to push through I think the messaging that they are creating a technology that is highly integrated with the tools that they’ve all sort of brought together that is focused on a good user experience from their perspective, right. And that and that the human experience management includes workflows, Process Management, the user experience, as well as data and analysis. And so I do think they’re taking into consideration some of what you’re talking about, I think it’s really hard in the face to accommodate what I think you’re talking about, which is that base in between work and home in an environment that is purely just for the most part on your screen.

John Sumser 9:40
So there’s a couple of things that I have an in basket full of people who had some evolving process in their development cycles, who are just pretending that the sky isn’t falling and moving their ideas from 2019 into 2020. And I understand that this is a very difficult time and that you need to keep people working and that you need to swim towards some goal. But the stuff is looking sillier and sillier to me as people, flesh out ideas that are old, you know, and that’s to go back to the small scenarios project that we’re doing. It’s a response to, you know, there’s a lot of people claiming to be experts about all sorts of crap right now. And almost always the people who are claiming to be experts about all sorts of crap have just tidy up the paperwork around their old ideas. So it’s like magic. I’ve got the solution to the code, it turns out to be the same old crap they’ve been selling for 1000 years. And so no, this isn’t this time isn’t like that. This time isn’t like that. And so the time to sit down and look and go, are we really serious about this? stuff. Cuz if we’re going to call it human experience management, and then you’re going to say, except it only really applies to what’s on the screen, well, then it’s just user interface design. And you’re trying to coin a press release where the concept of differentiate yourself without paying any attention to what the words you were using mean.

Stacey Harris 11:20
Yeah, I get where you’re coming. I mean, I think, you know, on some level SAP and successfactors My bet is and they almost were in a position where they needed to take a step back anyways and do a little cleanup work. So a lot of what they announced this week was things like their learning platform finally has their new user interface, right, that was one of the last holdouts in the old plateau platform and no more flash right which was a big deal and probably they’ve been trying to get rid of for ages. But they’ve included now high volume recruiting tools and evergreen requisitions, which are pretty standard for a lot of the existing applicant tracking systems and recruiting tool and so just rolling out I think some of the things that team absence calendar with by Time Off options and flex time options, all really important elements of a good HR math or good workforce management or good recruiting tool. The My sense is I think sa p just took the opportunity during this time to just sort of continue on fixing the things that needed to be fixed. Because I think what you’re talking about is a really hard thing to get to unless you have tools and data that can do a better job of really individualizing the conversation with the employee. And one of the things that when the last thing they mentioned in their update is that they are focusing now on a master data model, where basically that master data model which will be workforce master data model constitute a model a couple of other financial one will be across the entire SAP platform that’s huge for them. And it’s a difficult thing with the been challenged with because they have so many different applications they brought together vultures being the newest and you can’t get I think to what you’re talking about without some sort of a single data model that gives you a sense of what an employee really isn’t what they’re challenged with in a work environment and provides all the security so that it doesn’t, it helps them but it doesn’t provide an intrusion in their life if you’re giving them guidance and tools and user experience. Does that make sense, though? I mean, me?

John Sumser 13:15
Sure, sure, sure. You have to have the right pieces to do the thing that I’m talking about. But this really interesting question gets raised about Qualtrics, in particular, and that is, how much can you trust self reported data in today’s environment? You know, we’re going to see, I think the unemployment numbers are 30 million people on unemployment since mid March. And so that means that the end of April unemployment figures over 20% and then when the unemployment figure is over 20% everybody is anxious about their job. And when everybody is anxious about their job, and the power balance has shifted. So you know, six weeks ago, if you were an employee, you have all sorts of leverage that now If you’re an employee, you’re just hoping you’re if your income is compromised, the meaning of your responses to surveys is going to change, or vary. And so the whole idea about Qualtrics being embedded in stuff is that there’s some level of assumption that employees are going to tell you the truth when you ask them things about their work environment. And if you are just happy to have a job, your answers are going to be different then if your company is trying to figure out what they need to do to continuously recruit, you know, right, right. And so and so the whole premise here, which is that the foundational element is asking people questions, probably as a 2019 view of the world and may not be so useful going forward. And I recognize that there’s, again in the small sunos projects, a basic thing that we recognize is that you can’t have a big picture. And so maybe my critique here is Simple as pretending to have a big picture with there’s none to be had hides the fact that you’ve done great work making the thing more contemporary.

Stacey Harris 15:09
Yeah, the idea that the big picture actually overshadows sometimes the real work that you’ve done, I think we all do this in the HR Tech space, right? We try and put such a glossy picture on top of it to make it more of a palatable story when sometimes just the fundamental thing of being able to have evergreen job requisitions is huge for our company, right? Especially in an environment like Walmart or an environment like other large global manufacturing organizations right now who are hiring people at a pace that you that you can’t possibly keep up with that kind of little change makes all the difference. Oil right?

John Sumser 15:46
Yeah, so maybe the other way of saying this is the employee experience is an extraordinary big and important arena. HR’s contribution to the employee experience is minor and the best HR employee experience that you can offer is an HR process that’s so good that people don’t ever have to be in touch with it. It just takes care of itself. Right? And then they can get on to the real questions which have to do with the work that they’re doing and the people that they’re working with rather than job requisitions and timesheets and Benefits Administration, because HR is not fundamentally very important in the in the human experience process.

Stacey Harris 16:29
And I would say that if you’re trying to work towards that, SuccessFactors, particularly, I mean, one of the things that’s in their purview is the idea of these, I don’t know what they’re calling anymore, but these process and workflow pre-built tools that basically if you call off sick or if you’re out of the office for me, anytime all of your workflow automatically just gets flowed to someone else. You don’t have to take an action to do it. And I think the same thing with this evergreen requisition conversation or an email, like you said, you don’t have to touch it, if it’s just intelligent to know that this is what should happen. But those are hard things to bring out. To get people excited about when you’re talking about new technology, the fact that you make fewer people touch your system, right?

John Sumser 17:07
Yeah, well, you know, you keep saying this is so hard to do. But geez, these are huge companies that are supposed to be able to do hard stuff. This is not a start-up.

Stacey Harris 17:29
All right touche. I’ll take that. We do have some start-ups, we definitely have some start-ups to talk about. Actually, it was sort of interesting. I’m surprised that with all of the challenges we’re seeing in this work environment conversation, definitely in small businesses, we saw this week, a couple of places where there’s been some big investment in the SMB HR space, right one is a $16 million investment and Barcelona company called Factorial basically just an all in one HR automation platform. We also saw organizations like Bamboo HR continuing to increase their executive level investment by appointing new heads of marketing, Amy Frampton, who seems to have come from a great background of different technologies like Vulcan and smart sheets and Microsoft. These small, SMB based HR organizations are in the midst of an environment where the SMB market is being hit so hard right now, with the closing of businesses, does it surprise you, because you just set the big company should be fixing some of this, that we’re seeing more investments in these SMB based HR platforms right now in the middle of all this?

John Sumser 18:39
Well, the small to medium business market is where all of the blue ocean is. There are accounts in the SMB sector that have never had HR technology in them. And so everybody is aiming at the SMB sector from work day to the small startups that we’re seeing getting funded because that’s where the This now some of this thinking again, predates the crisis that we’re in. And it’s very clear that the price for venture investment is much higher than it used to be. And so it would be good to have better detail. What you really want to know is how much of the company equity did they have to sell to get this running? That’s where that’s where the difference is, right? So you could raise a lot of money, but the requirement for equity of exchange for the lot of money is where the real question is, and that is an ever aggressive the press releases that we see.

Stacey Harris 19:40
We also are continuing to see you know, the vendors ultimate and Kronos as well as ADP and others continuing to sort of give some insight into the work they’re doing to help support their customers all good stuff. But I was intrigued about this week is that we’re also starting to see some of the vendors talk about the tools they’re using. Or the tools are providing to help organizations reopen the workplace. And this is a controversial topic is the thing that you and I have talked about offline and online. But when you were in an environment like we are right now, we’re reopening could mean that you are putting someone at risk of contracting something like COVID-19. And in certain areas, we know that governors are even requiring that when people are called back to work, that they must go back to work, even if they’re at a health risk or loser unemployment status. What do you think about the conversation about how we’re going to have to reopen these organizations? And do you think something like, you know, toolkits from the Conference Board are going to be helpful in helping organizations do that?

John Sumser 20:39
That’s a tough question, right? Because the reality is, we don’t know what’s going on. And there’s every reason to believe that what happens when you reopen the workplace is you generate the next wave and pretty much all the experts say the next wave is going to make this wave look like nothing right that what we’re going to see As the result of bringing people back together is a huge spike in cases of deaths. And so and I don’t know, if you see the stuff about the sawtooth epidemic, where you open the doors, everybody gets exposed to the sickness grows, everything shuts down, the sickness declines, the doors get open, everybody gets sick, you know. And so the graph of the graph of deaths looks like this. And, you know, geez, you can’t just let the economy rot. You can’t, you can’t just let the economy run but but I’m going to say that people who go back to work under sort of government orders are doing pretty heroic stuff, and it’s got to be super frightening. And the reason that the governments are making the orders is to relieve the business owners of liability. And so they’re encouraging irresponsible decision making them the behalf of business owners if the business owners were responsible for the liabilities. associated with, for instance, bringing customers into your restaurant. You know, if it was like any other health department matter where somebody gets sick from being in your restaurant, they’re entitled to show you, when the governor says you have to reopen the restaurant, and then people come, you’re off the hook. And the government can’t sue the government for this sort of stuff. And so I think the idea that what we need to do is send a bunch of people out to the frontlines with the virus without preparation just because governor wants better stats. That’s pretty frightening stuff.

Stacey Harris 22:39
It’s really frightening and in all honesty, HR is in the middle of this. When I listening to a couple of the stories of these meatpacking plants and you know, some of the food preparation plants in the Midwest who were dealing with new hundreds of people testing positive, one of the things that kept coming up over and over again was OSHA regulations, OSHA requirements, I just kept running through my mind all the time that HR is held accountable, but OSHA regulations or requirements and what they are not firing in this particular case of because the CDC is being a little more wishy washy about what’s required, but companies can be a little less compliant, you know, everybody’s level of responsibility lowers, but as an HR professional, you’re still the person who’s saying, putting the email out that says everybody has to come in. Right. And that’s gonna be difficult as well. That means that you’re the last line on some level. And this is a point where I think we haven’t even begun to think about the impact that we’re going to see in both in the front lines and in areas where people are being asked to do things that they just don’t agree with in this particular case, because they know that that people are gonna get hurt because of it. Right.

John Sumser 23:40
Right. And there are a lot of things that really need to be sorted out. I’m noticing that companies are some of the big enterprise companies are delivering contact tracing tools, and it’s gonna surprise me if those things are allowable under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans Disabilities Act is super important piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination based on physical impairments, right, of mental problems. And so running roughshod over that legislation, because we’re scared and we’re in a hurry to get things back to normal seems like the beginning of real problems to me.

Stacey Harris 24:24
Well, and a lot of times, that kind of stuff doesn’t come to fruition until we get a case that gets run through the courts. That’s how most of our regulations get developed over time and the at least in the US market, even internationally, on some level. So I think I agree, I think there’s going to be a level of let’s try it and see how far we can get. And then let’s see what regulations will come out of someone pushing back, right. But we’re seeing that on the flip side as well. There are people who are now basically saying, Do you have the right to tell me to shut things down and there’s they’re putting that through the courts right now. So yeah, I think both the HR tech companies and the HR professionals are in the middle of this mix in a way that they may not want to be, but they have to be because they are the tool that generally and the and the department that generally is handling the conversations, right.

John Sumser 25:08
Yeah, so it’s a tricky time. And there has never been a time where having a good ethics process inside of the HR department has been more important. It’s gonna be easy to hurry up to get things open without paying close enough attention to the consequences of the decisions. The essence of good management and good leadership is to pay attention to the consequences of your decisions. So we’ll see how people deal with this new stress.

Stacey Harris 25:38
And I think we’ve ended where we started the conversation, which is good questions are the most important thing right now. Right? So.

John Sumser 25:44
Absolutely, absolutely. So thanks for doing this Stacey. Thanks, everybody for listening in. And you’ve been listening to HR Tech Weekly with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. We’ll see you back here next week. Bye Bye now.

Stacey Harris 25:57
Thanks, everyone. Bye

Read previous post:
Small Scenarios 3: MVPs

Heather Bussing, Michael Kannisto, and John Sumser continue their collaboration on Short Scenarios, a series of digestible papers that tackle...