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: 267
Air Date: May 21, 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.

Unknown Speaker 0:14

Stacey Harris 0:21
Good morning John. How are you doing in California? You guys getting some sunshine finally this week?

John Sumser 0:26
Oh, it’s a gorgeous this week and you know things are so quiet that our backyard which is on a busier street, we had 15 hummingbirds and 25 Blue Jays and all sorts of little brown feeders. It was like it needed air traffic control of the backyard last night.

Stacey Harris 0:47
Oh my that sounds like much nicer. Well, you can send some of the sunshine and some of the hummingbirds this way. We are under flood watches for the next few days here in North Carolina with rain for the past three days, but I’m assuming that we’ll come back out as it usually does. So the rain is good for all the tomato plants and green peppers that I planted this week. So

John Sumser 1:06
Yay. So how is confinement for you?

Stacey Harris 1:10
We’re starting to open up here in North Carolina. So we are at phase one of reopening the North Carolina. I’d say that the smaller communities, some of the larger cities like Durham have still kept a shelter in place and requirements in place. But what’s been really nice is Roy Cooper, who’s our governor has been very steadily sharing the stats and the science behind why and we are opening up certain things and not other things and what we are doing from a testing and analysis perspective, and that’s been very good for me personally, because it makes me feel a little bit less anxious about everything. So yeah, I mean, we’re starting to figure out what the next step was like in this COVID-19 crisis here in North Carolina. I don’t know are you guys starting to open things up a little bit in where you’re at in the California area?

John Sumser 1:59
Oh, there’s a little bit we’re going to be allowed to walk in the park this weekend. You know, so there’s a little bit and you know, we’ve been trying to move all of our spending so that it goes into the local economy and more of the local merchants are offering services where you can order and they’ll bring it out to your car. You know, but normalcy seems decades away from here.

Stacey Harris 2:30
Yeah, yeah. That was the kind of conversation the other day with one of our friends Trish McFarland, I was doing an update call with her last week. And we were both talking about, you know, the fact that everybody keeps talking about the new HR, the new normal, like it’s just around the corner, and that we think that there’s going to be a lot more time than I think we expect before we even figure out what’s going to stabilize right. But right now, we’re still in a lot of questions and answers and looking forward to what might be in the next few months. So I don’t think we get to a point where we’re saying, Hey, this is the new normal. I think we’re getting to a point where we’re just getting to the next level of questions that we might have. Right?

John Sumser 3:06
Yeah. And it would be kind of nice if it stayed that way. You know, a world run on questions, I think could be much more interesting than a world run on answers.

Stacey Harris 3:17
They would definitely fit you very well, John, I think I think it would be an area that would be a true social experiment. Can we run a whole world on questions for a while instead of trying to always feel like we have the answers, right, yeah, that would definitely be more interesting conversation. Right?

John Sumser 3:34
All that really means is being willing to let go of the answer that worked yesterday, in favor of the new and better answer you discovered today. And you know, we were having a conversation before the show about the difference between agile and flexible and, and while the term agile is getting used to mean something other than its core technical, agile software development methodology is where this starts in Agile software development methodology is a way of focusing very intently on the next step in the process and allowing the completion of the next step in the process to inform your decision about what comes after that, rather than assuming at the beginning of a project that you know what the answer is going in. And so rather than some great world for john, the people in software development are actively practicing a world where questions are as important or more important than answers.

Stacey Harris 4:33
Yeah. And I think the conversation we got into it, I think when we start talking about things that are happening this week in the market, it will probably bleed into that. You know, the word agile is definitely a word we’re seeing used all over the conversations around how organizations are going to address or handle the COVID-19 crisis management and then whatever will come after it. And I’ve had a bit of a reaction to that. I’ve been pushing back a little bit and some of the conversations I’ve had Having because the way the term is being used, and I think it’s really good that you define it and sort of where it came from, from that software development conversation, but I think a lot of people are using it in today’s vernacular, saying agile means that you’re able to shift from one thing to another thing, and oftentimes not the take into account what you might be losing by making those quick shifts that you can quickly pivot is another word that I’m hearing used with it all the time. And I think there’s an opportunity for us to really think about the world that we’re in. And as part of asking those questions, not assume that what we were doing was all wrong, either. And that there’s a mixture of taking forward some of the really constant things that we had in our work environments and immune places that we were dealing with addressing technical challenges or adoption needs inside of our organizations, and then figuring out how we can become more flexible as an organization versus to me That the word agile seems to be used in a way that that assumes that you’re just going to make a complete shift and forget about what came before it, right.

John Sumser 6:08
You know, this is one of those conversations remember when I still call these things that we’re building intelligent tools, but everybody else calls it AI. And I decided to do that because the stuff that was being sold wasn’t AI, you know. But the market became comfortable describing this array of technologies as AI, and so we stick with it. Right? We stick with it. The thing about agile is, without all of the underpinnings so if you just just walk around talking about agile and you don’t think about the consequences in technical death, for instance, which is a part of every software, every software operation that uses agile technology has an ongoing examination of their technical debt and technical debt is you commitment to maintain and improve processes that may be no longer relevant. But that’s part of the calculation in any agile development methodology. Right? And that kind of idea, which is what is our obligation to continue processes that we see better answers to should be part of the overall agile conversation if you want to call it agile, otherwise, it’s just anarchy. To know the reason for thinking about terms like agility is to bring some of the benefits of an engineering point of view inside the left data driven occupation, right? That’s the overall trend is to increase quantification so that you can make more precise decisions. And I guess what you’re saying about agility is that the speed of decision seems to want to be faster, but I wonder if that isn’t a carryover from the old days that speed is the critical measure. That’s an interesting question.

Stacey Harris 8:05
Speed is in this world that we’re living in speed can be as dangerous as it can be good, right? The fail fast idea, I think, which has been a big part of the growth of our economy for the last 10 years. Feels very uncomfortable in the current day.

John Sumser 8:22
Yeah, well, so a lot of that methodology was focused on finding deep efficiencies. And what we’ve learned in the last six weeks as they take us a decade actually adjust this for what we’ve learned is that efficiency is the enemy of business continuity. So when you get so efficient that all of your solutions are completely fragile and can’t tolerate an upset then you fail, you become efficient to the point that it’s avoided all of your effectiveness, and that’s the decisions that we’re making. So So I’ve kind of okay that there’s a rush To embrace agility in some of HR right now, because anybody who’s proposing that there are answers right now is an idiot. You have to make do you have to get some things done, you have to keep the business operating. But we still don’t know what we’re dealing with. We don’t know how long it’s gonna last. We don’t know, we don’t we don’t know what the world is going to look like. So the idea that what you would do is use that as the foundation for building a rigorous future. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. We need to see, we’re Christopher Columbus. We’re about to get to land. We need to see what’s on the land before we start declaring that we know where we’re building.

Stacey Harris 9:40
Yeah. And I think before we start throwing out all of the things we don’t think we’re going to need anymore. Right.

John Sumser 9:48
Right. Exactly. Right. Yeah. Yes, that’s exactly Well, that’s exactly right.

Stacey Harris 9:53
Yeah. You know, was the conversation that we were having, but I think it’s a conversation that almost every organization, I’m talking Talking to is also having at some level is this idea of both I have everybody working in home, why would I bring people back to the office? Right? I mean, I literally have had conversations with some people that are like, why is everybody going back to the office and others were? I can’t, you know, getting people back to the office is really critical. People are very confused about the right answers in these situations. And some of it comes down to risk. Some of it comes down to percentage of calculation of what’s needed versus what’s possible in virtual environments, but there is no right or wrong answers right now.

John Sumser 10:32
Well, we don’t even know whether or not distributed work works. If you go to Amazon and you try to buy an adequate desktop webcam camera. You can’t get one because everybody needs one, and the supply chains in a mess. So we haven’t even finished outfitting the people who are going to be on this distributed work experiment. So we don’t have any idea. We’re still talking to people in their pajamas in their bedrooms.

Stacey Harris 11:01
I resemble that.

John Sumser 11:04
Well, well, I’ve just I’ve just I’ve decided that that maybe that isn’t maybe the future is it eating at your desk in your pajamas? My best joke of the week is my grandmother used to lie in her Barcalounger and yell at the TV. And now I get paid to do it.

Stacey Harris 11:21
It’s true. Yes. 2020, the next generation yelling at a screen right? Yeah.

John Sumser 11:32
Yeah, my grandmother was a pioneer. Yeah.

Stacey Harris 11:38
Oh, I think we’re gonna take this on a rabbit hole here.

John Sumser 11:42
Okay, so what’s in the mailbag? Well, we, I’m so sorry about that.

Stacey Harris 11:49
It’s actually been quite a busy week. We’re heading Fast and Furious into I think what is the next wave of things people are talking about, which falls into what we were just talking about. This week. We had items do an acquisition of which is a NLP tool that I’m sure you have more insights on this than I do, but definitely focusing on the back end of the logic of some of the things that I sent us hoping to be able to do. We also saw that paychecks released another calling of the industry’s first real time payment solutions. They say this is different from pan demand. This is solutions to help small business owners manage cash flow so they can do real time payments. We also saw several investments, large investments going on this week. me okay, because many of you might know they’ve been around for quite some time as an HR helpdesk and HR services delivery solution. They raised 6 million euro to foster what is calling its international growth during the COVID-19 crisis, which we’ve talked a lot about how service delivery is a big part of the growth going on right now. But we also saw I have not seen this organization previously. This came from looking through some of the things that our good friend George Lopez put online, and he had mentioned a go one. It’s an enterprise learning platform that picked up 40 million dollars from Microsoft and Salesforce a couple other big investors. It looks like they’re out of the Australia area. I just thought this was really interesting. It’s much more of a content play, I believe. I do remember seeing a little bit about them when I was there in Sydney latter part of last year, but not having had a chance to actually look at the product or look at their tool, but it’s basically an LMS with content $40 million. They’ve got we’ve also got a series A investment for work vivo of $16 million. This is a they’re labeling it a employee communications platform. If you remember we’ve talked a little bit about that with a couple of other organizations like GuideStar looks like we’re starting to see more in that space. And tree to phi, which is another one of these employee assessment tools for hiring is getting a $12 million Series B funding. This one’s interesting because I guess it uses pictures or visual assessment. That’s a different take on some things. And then last but by no means least is a Cindy to an organization that has $7.5 million in series a funding with two type things that does which is in Ephesus pay equity in your organization. But also does organizational network analysis are two things that seem a little differentiate to me, but they sort of combine them together into single organization. So it’s a big busy week of investments and people sort of I think rethinking the idea of what’s going to be important in the HR space. At the same time. We’ve also have, I think, some really interesting brand conversations about HR. So if you get a little bit of time to talk at the end of it, we might want to add around things like Amazon having a VP who put out a big what I thought was a very targeted email after he left Amazon about how Amazon had fired some whistleblowers and some people who are trying to unionize the warehouse environment. And you know, what does that look like in today’s modern brand and work environments? Along the same lines, we saw Uber getting its brand hit a little bit this week because it laid off 3700 employees Via zoom conference call to examples of the kind of HR slash brand slash employment conversations we’re seeing come out of some of the largest and biggest organizations around the market. so busy week, john, I don’t know where you want to start with the conversation.

John Sumser 15:15
Well, there’s a couple of them that know more about the show. Let’s start with what makes me look good, don’t you think?

Stacey Harris 15:22

John Sumser 15:25
So, so iCIMS for people who don’t know iCIMS is the 900 pound gorilla in Applicant Tracking Systems. They are the predominant marker in the industry. They’re a very interesting company that has always claimed to not want to be a leader but be a service company. And so this acquisition of, which is an Irish NLP oriented matching company, is kind of a step away from that gravity and lo and behold, there’s a new CEO I spent a little time with Steve Lucas earlier this week talking about the shift in strategy, and they are getting furious and doubling down because the game changed, right? The game for applicant tracking systems really changed in February of this year. And now the question is, how do you make sense out of huge volumes of job applications? And so you need accelerated technology. No system has ever seen this volume of job applications before unemployment rate is I bet 30%. But it’s some ridiculous number, the 35 million people who’ve applied for unemployment benefits in the last six weeks, you know, so it’s, it’s, it’s a great. Exactly, exactly. And so all of those people are going to be looking for work. So if it takes sending your resume to 100 places, that’s three and a half billion resumes. being submitted to American industry.

Stacey Harris 17:02
And NLP John, just to remind the audience what NLP is, you’re talking natural language processing correct?

John Sumser 17:08
Yeah, natural and just the nutshell of natural natural language processing is every sentence, or every word or every utterance can be expressed as a math formula. And so you turn all of the language into math, and then you can do all sorts of math stuff to it. And that means you can find underlying concepts, you can look at stuff and extract skills, you can do all sorts of things. And it is the heart of great matching system.

Stacey Harris 17:38
While they’re going to need a lot more of that. I mean, we think that the last time we have this many applicants probably in the market even close to this many, which is which really, I think it was not nearly as many was in 2008 2009. Before we really hit any kind of machine learning or AI and the online system. Now we have almost double probably to what we saw in 2008, probably looking for jobs that will be hitting the market. So I think the idea of being able to handle that just through efficiencies, but not through some sort of AI, or some sort of tool that’s going to be able to read these environments rapidly will be really, really difficult. I think that’s what you’re saying.

John Sumser 18:19
Yeah, yeah. And so this is a great move, for iCIMS. The bottom line is it’s a great move for iCIMS.

Stacey Harris 18:24
What do you think about the idea of Paychex releasing their new real time payment solutions? You know, we’re talking a lot about the amount of people who are going to be hired looking for a job but there’s also a lot of people trying to hold on to the jobs they have but are struggling because they’re not getting paid on a regular basis or because companies had to put people on furlough be and wait till they get the PPP finances. Do you think that this will change how we think about just getting our paycheck on a regular basis in the market?

John Sumser 18:53
No. No, this is who wants to get paid every day. You can’t run a household budget if you’re getting paid every day. You get paid every day because you’re in such difficult financial straits that you have not, you’ve not got the ability to put any routine into your finances. And so it’s whatever percentage of the population that is that might be 30% of the population is in the situation that’s worse than living paycheck to paycheck. And so now you give them the ability to live day to day, but it seems to me that would increase anxiety levels. And so I’m going to guess that people don’t embrace this as rapidly as the companies that are selling it, my guess but.

Stacey Harris 19:40
I’m not sure I completely agree with you on that one. The idea of the fact that you know, you’ve been laid off, it’s been a month or two since you’ve been working and now you take a job and you want that job wants you to wait two more weeks before you get paid because their cycle is on them every two weeks cycle or a month because they they’re on a monthly cycle. I can see how somebody pools will become very valuable. And I understand what you’re saying about how they could put people into a lot of unhealthy situations to financially. But I also know that the opposite option of these are not good either for many of these people, so I think there’s gonna be ways that if organizations couldn’t figure out how to use them appropriately, there’ll be a value, but I get what you’re saying. Yeah.

John Sumser 20:20
Yeah. So these things are often trotted out as being focused on building healthy financial behavior and employees or being good for the health of employees. I don’t understand how that could possibly be. That’s just me. But you know, I’ve had a strong reaction to this idea for a long time and the earliest days, I don’t think paychecks is doing so in the earliest days, everybody was figuring that they would make their money by charging a fee. And so they were claiming to be better than payday lenders, but really, they were payday lenders who had been moved in house and authorized by the company. So as people started to figure that out, that stopped to be the way The business was being done. And now the idea is that they make their money off of the credit card transaction fees, because you can only get this as a debit card still fundamentally takes it out of the employee’s pocket.

Stacey Harris 21:12
Or takes it out of what they’re being what they’re paying to have a credit card and what they’re paying to have that accessibility right, depending on what their tools are that they’re using. Yes, yeah, because most people who are living in a paycheck to paycheck environment have a much harder time getting access to credit, right, as well, or places where they can get that credit adopted. So yeah, it’s a difficult conversation, I think to have and it’s even more difficult in these kinds of time. But I think that the vendors are definitely adding to what they think that we should be more options in this space. We’re just about a minute out. John, is there anything else you think we should be discussing this morning as we before we wrap up today?

John Sumser 21:48
No. How about you?

Stacey Harris 21:50
Well, I think this conversation about how you address your workers during this time and how you think about talent can be you know, epitomized by the story about the Amazon VP Tim Bray and his blog about what was going on inside of Amazon as well as the, what I would have to assume would be somewhat horrific articles going on about Uber doing layoffs over zoom that sort of all the other things going on with Uber. That was the headline this morning that I woke up to. So I think brand might be a conversation that every organization is going to have to take a second thought about before they make some of these employment decisions. The question is, will consumers and buyers basically pay their respects about what they feel about how organizations are doing and how they consume the goods and stuff? So it’s a conversation that I think many HR professionals families are struggling with right now.

John Sumser 22:43
Well, you know, just to bring this back around to the beginning, the idea that agile approaches to HR are fundamentally about efficiency and about being able to change what you’re doing as fast as you can. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Besides, not being What agile means it’s also not fundamentally an interesting idea because efficiency means you can’t do a certain range of things. Why do you suppose Uber fired 3500 people over the phone? Or however they did, whatever digital way? Yeah. Because there are no human managers involved in that process. Right. That’s the 2500 is the span of control of them to make the layoff announcement, and it would take 10 years to go have individual conversations with this 2500 people, right? That’s what that’s what being unconcerned about the consequences of efficiency gets you. And so my guess would be that while it’s bad for the brand, Uber didn’t have any choice, because that’s how they’re built. Yeah, 2500 hours in a week. That’s 75 people doing those conversations without interruption. That’s crazy. You can’t do that. Just yet. That way if there are no intermediate managers there, and I’m sure that’s the case. So it may be that if you want your Amazon stuff to be delivered to your house, and you don’t want to pay more for it, that the working conditions that the workers have to operate under is actually being decided by consumers. Yes. Right. Are you willing to pay 20%? More?

Stacey Harris 24:22
Exactly? No, I think that’s the conversation, and how much the brand have an impact or not. And to your point, how much will any of them pay dividends or not pay dividends in the next year when things start to go in a more positive direction? Will people who have been laid off by zoom meetings, be willing to ever come back to a company will we start to see if someone else give different options to Amazon, other people maybe start to think a little bit about the different ways that they can get their products if there’s an option for a little bit more employee friendly? It’s a risk every company thinks right?

John Sumser 24:55
Yeah, well, we should keep going down this little rabbit hole because here’s the here’s the question. If 25% of the population is unemployed. How long do you think it takes to get them back to work?

Stacey Harris 25:06
on five years? Anything? Question? Yeah.

John Sumser 25:08
Right. And so what’s really hard to get about this is it was a talent centric market, up to the 15th of February, there was low, low, low unemployment. And people have the upper hand and they could come and go from their jobs as they stuffed it. When there’s 25% unemployment. You don’t come and go from your job as you see fit. If you don’t get out you very carefully, make sure that there’s somewhere else for you to go. And with the large flocks of people applying for jobs, you have to figure out how to stand out in those places that you might want to go. And so I think people will tolerate all sorts of crap in order to keep the families fed.

Stacey Harris 25:53
I’m making a bet we’ll see if this comes true. I agree that that might be the case. And I shouldn’t say my I agree that that’s the case when you’re really looking at unemployment away. We’ve been talking about it. But I also think we have a generation of workers who were developed and grown on the idea of their own value to the industry, their own value to the market. This idea of talent management has been so popular in the last five years, 10 years. I’m wondering if that will play a role in how this plays out in the next five years. And maybe it might be a little bit different. That’s my take, but we’ll see if it happens. So

John Sumser 26:31
well, it’s a great conversation to keep open. And if we get to any answers, I will. I’ll be I’ll be terribly disappointed if we actually get any answers.

Stacey Harris 26:42
There we go. Well, John, this is been fun as usual.

John Sumser 26:47
Yeah, it’s nice. It’s nice to hear you laugh. Well we should, do we tell people about your new gig yet?

Stacey Harris 26:53
No, well. People should be aware that in the next few weeks, there will be an announcement nothing that will impact any of the research that I normally do with Sierra-Cedar. But yes, and in a week or so there’ll be some announcements about new exciting things that I’m doing as well.

John Sumser 27:10
Yes, you’ve been rightfully promoted to Queen of the Universe.

Stacey Harris 27:20
I wish. No! No, it will all be good stuff though.

John Sumser 27:24
Yep. You’ve been listening to HR Tech Weekly with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Thanks for doing this Stacey. And thanks for listening in everybody. We’ll see you back here next week, same time.

Bye Bye now.

Stacey Harris 27:35
Thanks, everyone. Bye

Read previous post:
HRExaminer Radio Executive Conversations Badge Podcast Logo
HRExaminer Radio – Executive Conversations: Episode #366: Ian Bailie, Managing Director, myHRfuture at Insight222

John Sumser speaks with Ian Bailie, a Director at Insight222 where he is the Managing Director of the myHRfuture Academy.