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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: 27
Air Date: July 2, 2015


This Week

This week John and Stacey discuss:

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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.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:            Good morning and welcome to HRTech Weekly: One Step Closer With Stacey Harris and John Sumser. This is our twenty-seventh show. How are you this morning, Stacey?

Stacey Harris:            I’m good, John. I’m good. Heading into a holiday weekend, so you can’t complain about that. Here in the states, they’re going to have the Fourth of July coming up in two days, and lots of exciting fireworks and good fun this weekend.

John Sumser:            How is it where you are? Where I am, the Fourth of July is the third of July. I can’t exactly ever figure that out, but…[crosstalk 00:50]

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. There’ll be a lot of events. Yeah. There’ll be a lot of events going on Friday night too, but I think here they’re also doing a couple events on Saturday which is the Fourth of July, so I think we’ll be safe enough to say that it’ll be a … I think that’s how the calendar is working out. I haven’t even actually probably looked … Yeah. Thursday is Friday. Yeah. That’s why.

John Sumser:            Have I ever told you about Fourth Of July in my little town?

Stacey Harris:            No. No. Is it one of those events that’s great?

John Sumser:            Oh man, so my little town has eleven hundred people, and that’s if you get all of the cardboard cutouts aligned in the parking lot. It’s a little tiny place, but it’s the biggest little hamlet in about twenty square miles. Inside of then twenty square miles, there are about a dozen little bumps in the road that have two or three-hundred people living in them, and on the Fourth of July all of these three thousand people, most of these three thousand people go down to the banks of the Russian River to watch fireworks at the annual Fourth of July parade. The Fourth of July parade is five or six floats, but in big air quotes floats, coming down the river and the betting every year is whether any of them will make it to the finish line. There is a family who’s had a float in the parade for a hundred and eleven years, every year for a hundred and eleven years, and have only gotten their float to the finish line of the parade once. (laughs)

Stacey Harris:            (laughs) Not good.

John Sumser:            This is not some big glamorous production. This is little people in little towns doing fun stuff and everybody gets wet and nobody takes the parade seriously at all. It’s really hysterical.

Stacey Harris:            (laughs) It’s the best part of, I think, small town America. Right? Right?

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            I know where I lived in Ravenna, they used to have a parade every year as well, and my favorite part of it was dress your dog up, right, Parade, (laughs) so there was this wonderful little parade of dogs with various sparklies and balloons and all that kind of stuff and that was the best part of the parade, right, so yes, I complete understand. There are some value [crosstalk 00:03:29] to living in a small town, yeah.

John Sumser:            We have St. Stupid’s Day Parade on April 2nd, and everybody comes out dressed like a gypsy, and they have people walking on stilts and stuff like that, and there’s a motley crew trying to outrageous each other.

Stacey Harris:            (laughs) My bet is that your outrageous in California is a bit more outrageous than ours was in Ohio. We’ll see. I haven’t been to any events here in North Carolina yet on the Fourth of July but I will give you an update next week when we talk on it. (laughs)

John Sumser:            You know you’re tempted to think that, but I gotta point out that this weekend the Grateful Dead are having their farewell concert and it’s not in California. It’s in Chicago. The highest concentration of people who are that level of exotic is in the Midwest. It’s not in California. It’s just that the people in the Midwest pretend that it’s not true.

Stacey Harris:            We just pretend that we don’t see it. We’re too polite to mention it, is what goes on in the Midwest. (laughs)

John Sumser:            Yes. Yes. There are many mid-westerners I know who were goths in a prior life you’d just never guess it.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. We won’t talk about how much black eyeliner most of us used, yeah. (laughs)

John Sumser:            (laughs) So …

Stacey Harris:            So speaking about interesting people, Sherm had their annual event this week. I think you guys had, William went, right? From Key Interval? Did anybody else you know? I know there was a lot of that we knew who went, but…

John Sumser:            Oh yes, I watched many of my friends and colleagues tromping through the desert heat in Las Vegas. I am baffled about what makes Las Vegas in July interesting to anybody. It was a hundred fifteen degrees on the streets there, so you couldn’t do anything but go to the event. I guess that’s why it’s interesting for the event.

Stacey Harris:            I was gonna say it probably makes for good attendance, yeah.

John Sumser:            Yeah. I didn’t heard a single interesting bit of HR Technology announcement come out through the week. Did you?

Stacey Harris:            No. No. Actually, I was kind of streaming through stuff today. I mean, there was fifteen thousand five hundred participants. That was the final number that I got off two different sites, who attended the event, so just a massive amount of HR presence in one space, without a doubt, but most of the news that I was hearing was about benefits programs, wellness programs, recruiting processes, RPO outsourcing, those type of things, which that might have just been the loudest voices in the blogosphere this week, which is very likely, but no big HR Tech announcements. No big conversations about any changes in the HR Tech space, at least that I heard, so I thought that was…You know, I’m sure there was some minor announcements, but nothing like what we hear come out of the October events this year. I don’t know if they were just quiet or if people we more focused on the process area. Usually you see a couple of big things come out.

John Sumser:            Yeah. Part of it is the expectations set. This is a marketing event. Fifteen thousand people sounds like a lot, until you realize that it’s barely one percent of the population of HR. Barely, barely one percent of the population of HR, and it’s a particular class of people who are associated with HR and they tend to be movers and shakers in their own little universe. This is like all the class presidents show up for a class president club, and that’s a great group. I mean, You get interesting things done with a group like that if you knew how to harness it, but it doesn’t appear that anybody knows how to harness it.

Stacey Harris:            Well, there was a little bit of other news this week, besides the SHRM event. I did pick up this week on the thirtieth that we saw the insurance companies Willis Group Holdings merged with Towers Watson. That was a pretty big announcements, at least for sort the HR consulting, HR implementation and the benefits space because now they’re gonna become Willis Towers Watson, but I don’t think that was announced around the SHRM event. That was just basically a merger. They’re going to take them to about thirty-nine thousand employees between the two companies. That was an interesting one, I think, because we’re seeing a lot of changes taking place in the benefits and in the insurance space and this is going to make a much larger organization, handling that very same topic.

Obviously, a lot of the announcements made by the Supreme Court last week, right as we were actually doing our show last week, I think is when the same-sex ruling came down along with the rulings around what’s happening as far as the….I don’t have that. I apologize…

John Sumser:            A.C.A.

Stacey Harris:            The other…yes, thank you, the Obamacare. I was going to call it, American, the A.C.A. announcement came down as well last week, so those two things, I think, really impacted benefits, wellness, what people are doing, as far as those things, but those are the biggest news points that I was able to pull out last week. Anything else you saw on your radar?

John Sumser:            Well, I think you could take those news points and then you add the consequences of the shooting in Charleston. You get a very interesting sort of reflection point in American history where civil rights agendas are advancing again and there is a, I’m sure that those, that the decisions and the shoots all polarized America in a way that’s going to make this coming election extraordinary, and the election will be extraordinary and civil rights will advance again. There are plenty of places for civil rights initiatives to move. We’re starting to see real movement in the rights of women for the first time in twenty five years and my guess is that we’ll start to flow down to the rights of children fairly quickly, so I think we are, nobody’s talking about this stuff, but I think we’re sitting at a time that’s as momentous as the sixties were, and what happened in the sixties, it was a generational change, and what’s happening now is a generational change, and it’s got all of this stuff to it, but these are the symptoms of generational change that we’re seeing.

Stacey Harris:            Well, and I think that the change isn’t just a, there, obviously, I mean, the most important aspect of it is all the social components, but for those of us who work in the HAR industry, it’s a huge impact on how we think about families and units and healthcare and benefits in our organizations and if corporations are going to continue to be the sort of stakeholder of all these things for many people and organizations. I think, that might change as well, as we start thinking about those changes that are taking place.

John Sumser:            Oh, tell me about that. That’s an interesting idea. What do you mean?

Stacey Harris:            Well, I think, one of the articles that I pulled up was that in the same sex marriage decision, you’re now going to, basically, alleviate some really big issues across HR technology environments, dealing with the fact that they had to define differently the idea of someone, whether they were married at a federal level versus married at a state level, and many of the largest corporations oftentimes just sort of blanket the idea that if you’re married federal level, you’re married state level, but not all, and now the systems are going to be able to be relaxed a little bit as far as what they have to track, because now it’s across the board. Everyone sort of has the same designation of marriage.

The thing about taking that concept as to what you were talking about, which is the idea that we’re going to give more rights in a lot of different places, we might start to rethink the idea of a family unit. Who gets covered under your benefits if you’re a multi-generational, multi-family environment within your household? Who gets covered under your benefits if you’re idea and definition of what a family is, if you’re family’s not here, but they’re located in a different country, as we’re seeing a lot of people dealing with in their life environment? How much of the employer is going to take on those benefits as part of their goal in trying to capture the right talent in an organization? That’s the kind of things that I’ve been hearing people talk about is that what’s the role of the employer here in the states with benefits, because benefits costs are rising and not just from a health care perspective. We’re actually seeing people are seeing more and more benefits programs being put in place…

John Sumser:            Yeah. [inaudible 12:26]

Stacey Harris:            Yes. Those are some of the things I think, and we, I just did a little analysis of our benefits data from last year in the survey, and it’s kind of evenly split between organizations that are trying to handle benefits on a technical basis in-house with a solution that they have that they’re leveraging, like a work day, or a SAP or ORC or one of those larger systems that have a benefits element to them [inaudible 13:53], or they’re leveraging an outsourcing model, and, I’m not sure, it doesn’t really seem. You couldn’t see a big jump in either one, but there was enough organizations sort of outsourcing it versus doing it on their own that it’s going to become, I think, a tackle for businesses.

John Sumser:            That’s interesting. I wonder. I wonder. My sense is that the ability of an employer to deliver benefits in the way that employers used to deliver benefits is shrinking and so the idea that what’s going to happen is that benefits are going to expand seems counter-intuitive to me.

Stacey Harris:            Well, I think that the definition of what is a benefit is also a challenge when you look globally. Outside the U.S., it’s less likely to be healthcare, but there is additional healthcare benefits people are adding on top of what would be state or local government healthcare, and then we’re also seeing, outside the U. S., a growth in other types of benefit programs, the wellness programs, the healthcare environments, those types of things that people are putting in place, so again the idea of what is benefits, so I don’t think they’re going to expand might not be the right word, but maybe morph into something different, into a different type of environment, I don’t know.

John Sumser:            Well, that kind of gets us to something we were talking about before the show that’s interesting to explore here and that is the topic of engagement. You were making some interesting cases that engagement might actually be something worth paying attention, and certainly, in spite of the fact that nobody shares a definition of what engagement is, it is becoming a primary topic in the C.E.O. rooms, if not in the heart of H.R. What do you think about engagement?

Stacey Harris:            Well, I think my perspective is that right now there’s been a lot of what I would call engagement bashing, which is a good way to put it, right, which is a lot of pooh-pooh-ing around what engagement is, if it’s of value, if organizations are investing in it, are they ignoring what’s happening in other places? I think engagement and paying attention to engagement is an important part of what organizations need to do and put in place as a total H.R. strategy. I think engagement is much more about the employee individually than it is about a concept or values or the approach an organization’s trying to talk at an enterprise level, in many cases, but I know, you had a different perspective on this, John. That’s where we were sort of getting into a little bit of a heated discussion.

John Sumser:            Yes. I think it’s fascinating that the emphasis on engagement arose in the heart of the depression. I noticed this morning that we’re now at 5.3% unemployment and happy days are here again, but when engagement started being a conversation, it was, in my mind, a question of how to get more work out people when you can’t give them a raise and all of their friends just got laid off, and gosh, lo and behold, you can’t people a raise and all their friends just got laid off and the workforce is kind of riddled with survivor guilt and a little hard to motivate and a little hard to deal with, because everybody’s scared they’re going to be on the next layoff business, so there wasn’t talk of engagement prior to the economic downturn. The…gosh, my mind is blank this morning, who’s…Gallup, the Gallup survey…

Stacey Harris:            Gallup, yeah.

John Sumser:            …found out engagement only started in 2005. The downturn happened in 2007, and the Gallup data wasn’t interesting or useful until 2008 or ’09, and so you have this big grounds for all associated with engagement, because, of course, the workforce was unengaged.

Let’s look at the definition. The definition of engagement that I see most often is the willingness of an employee to deliver discretionary effort. That’s the measure. That’s what engagement in practice. Do you buy that? Let’s start there.

Stacey Harris:            Well, I think the idea of, I agree that it’s how many organizations see it, but I think that that’s part of the challenge of the market right now is that I think that the idea of engagement shouldn’t just be about how much effort somebody is putting in because effort is not really, and discretionary effort is definitely not what you’re looking for in today’s age. It’s what we were looking for in the information age, when we were really dealing with the fact that if you worked a couple extra hours, you put in more hours in your day, you would get more information and you’d be able to do more stuff. It’s different in the age of manufacturing when they’re engagement was did you come in time, did you leave on time, did you do as much as you could, within those eight hours that you were given?

Now, I think today the idea of what we’re looking for in an environment is we want people who are innovative, who are creative, who are able to network and socialize and connect the world around them, and that has very little to do with your discretionary effort. What it has to do is how interested in and how much you value the work that you’re doing as part of the whole person that you’re creating for yourself, and I think that’s where we got into a bit of an argument, because I think that there’s a whole definition change that needs to happen around engagement and I think that’s what’s driving some of the conversation is that we’re changing, we made the shift from, oh, you’re just happy, that’s engagement. We went past that finally to, oh discretionary effort and I think we have to make a whole new change which is are you, do you feel that the work that you do is part of who you are as a person?

John Sumser:            Where are you getting that? I mean, that’s great. That’s great, but that’s a very interesting definition of engagement. Do anybody else think that that’s what engagement is?

Stacey Harris:            I will say, not unless you look at some of the most far-reaching and probably different concepts around engagement is, although there is a lot of work around purpose-driven work and the idea of the next generation focusing on organizations that are doing good and providing value to their community as well as providing profits, but there are some, I think, a limited amount of people that are saying that’s what it is, if I’m honest. (laughs)

John Sumser:            Okay, but to get started to have a discussion about it, because if we’re talking about your idea of what engagement could be, I probably agree with you about what engagement could be, but that’s not what it is, so I am stunned by the number of consultants wearing dark blue suits and like non-striped shirts talking about engagement, and they don’t mean what you’re talking about. They mean getting more work from people without paying them to do it. They mean something that’s significantly more manipulative than what you’re talking about doing. You’re talking about things that motivated the total quality [inaudible 22:45] where by giving people the ability to control the outcomes of the entire system that they operate in, you create a class of employee who feel and executes as if they were owners of the enterprise, but this particular thing, and I’ve never once heard anybody say engagement means more money for employees.

Stacey Harris:            No.

John Sumser:            Money isn’t the only thing that motivates employees, but it sure is a nice thing, and it is the essence of the social contract between people and their employers is money, and I don’t ever hear anybody say, the reason that engagement is good is that it helps employees make more money.

Stacey Harris:            I agree with you that there is a level of the money component that has to be built into any engagement story, because you have to at least have a level of financial and benefits that is adequate for the market or the industry or the region that you’re in, and I think every engagement consultant would agree with that, that you can’t start with engagement if you’re already underpaying or you’re already under, you’re offering less than benefits or less anything than the market that you’re within. I think what we’re trying is organizations that are offering that appropriate levels and then beyond, like what’s the next step [crosstalk 24:20], say money isn’t a problem.

John Sumser:            Who puts, hang on, hang on. There’s nothing appropriate about C.E.O levels of compensation, and there’s nobody who ever says that owners, as in people who write checks to buy stocks, should be entitled to an appropriate level of return. Everyone who’s an owner of the company, including this class of company called employees is entitled to maximize their return. That’s what ownership means. You can maximize your return, and if engagement is some form of ownership than employees aught to be able to maximize their return, not get somebody else’s definition of what’s appropriate. Don’t you think?

Stacey Harris:            Well, it’s hard to argue with that commentary, but I think you, but we also have to talk about the world that we live in today. Unless somebody’s going to go out and make some regulations or some mandates about what’s going to happen with C.E.O or Board or shareholders financing, the world we live in is not changing, particularly here in the States, at least…You know there might be outside the U.S. There might be some global changes coming, but in the States that’s something we can affect maybe through a larger social movement or through a larger government movement, but we just can’t affect it individually as employees other than by saying that…Right.

John Sumser:            Right, so stop pretending that it’s ownership, that’s all. You don’t have to do anything big.

Stacey Harris:            (laughs) You know, you know…

John Sumser:            Just stop calling it something that it isn’t.

Stacey Harris:            There is actually the definition that I think that we might actually be squabbling over. See, and I think that, and again, this is my opinion, so I’ll state that very clearly that ownership isn’t about ownership of the company. I think that ownership is about ownership of your career and your part of what you’re working on. That’s the piece that really is important in the engagement conversation if it’s done well, which is then every job you take, every environment you work in, ever place that you’re sort of part of, you own something about that environment and the work that you’re accomplishing, and not for the sake of the company. I mean, that’s always a great thing the company wants, but if you align it up right, what’s good for that employee will also be good for the company. That I think is the value proposition that were trying to head towards with engagement.

John Sumser:            Yeah, yeah, but most people work in companies in a city that has two hundred fifty thousand people in it. Where the opportunities for lateral movement between companies are low. Only about twenty percent of the population lives on the coasts, where this isn’t true. The rest of the population lives in the kinds of places that you and I live in and we don’t really have control over when it’s time to leave our company, when the company screws up and it’s time for a layoff because they botched their market, nobody comes around and says, boy, you’ve been a good owner, you want to stay? (laughs) They go, oops, we screwed up the forecast and we didn’t make what we thought we were going to make. See yeah. Right? That’s where ownership matters, when you have some control and you don’t have control, so I get that there’s belonging-ness, and you and I had a great conversation about fit, and that’s why fit is really interesting because it doesn’t have all this baggage of ownership and entitlement to it. It says, sometimes the relationship is good and sometimes the relationship is not good, and you’re responsibility buries me, so [inaudible 28:25]

Stacey Harris:            Well, and I think that the fit thing is part of it and that was a conversa…the piece that we had talked about. I actually think that people really do have a forever fit, but I think the other part of it is each individual has to have a perspective of what their own career is as well, and the company has to know what that vision is for them, so this is a much longer conversation that what we’ve got John. We’re a minute away from having to wrap up today, so I think we’ve gotten quite deep into this conversation. (laughs)

John Sumser:            Yeah, I know, but thank goodness. Thank goodness. It’s always wonderful to argue with you because we illuminate things by arguing…

Stacey Harris:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            It’s a fantastic, a fantastic thing that we have such solid differing perspectives on this question.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah, and I think it’s a place to start the next conversation. That’s the opportunity that we hope our organizations really think through is that there isn’t always a right or wrong. They’ll be different opinions, but hopefully, as we said, you can take it one step further. That’s the whole point of the show sometimes, so thank you John. It was a very worthwhile conversation today.

John Sumser:            Yeah, yeah. It was fun, as usual, and we’re heading to show number twenty-eight next week, so thanks Stacey and it was an enormous pleasure to be with you this morning.

Stacey Harris:            Thank you everyone. Have a good holiday weekend. If you’re here in the States, and if you’re outside the States, hope you’re also heading into a bit of a restful weekend as well.

End transcript


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