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Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

HR Tech Weekly

Episode: 282
Air Date: September 3, 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.

SPEAKERS: Stacey Harris and John Sumser


John Sumser 0:14
Good morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Stacey, how are you?


Stacey Harris 0:21
Good morning, John. I’m doing well. I am in North Carolina this week. The hurricane season has or at least the most recent hurricane has passed in this area and the sun is out this week. So I will take that compared to where we are have been at the last couple of weeks. And how about you? Are you home this week in a safe environment finally?


John Sumser 0:40
Yeah, the fire still rages on around around us but it became safe ish to come home. The evacuation warnings and notices were all lifted. And so we got back to the house Monday night after 10 or 11 days of being evacuated. And it’s good to be home. It’s nice to sleep in my own bed, the air is unbreathable. It’s like the worst industrial cities on the planet have better air quality than we do right now. It’s interesting to be in that and to come home and to have the air in the area so bad that it stings your eyes to have them open. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. This is just the sort of a taste of what global warming is bringing us.


Stacey Harris 1:27
Yeah, they were saying when I think that at least in the San Francisco area, considering you know, that’s fairly open to the ocean area and you know, a lot of wind in that area, but they said it’ll be about a month before this goes away from that area. So I don’t know how where you’re at compares to that. But a month of breathing like that seems very tough and difficult. So I think we get a lot of friends who are out there in that area who are all going through the same thing. Yeah.


John Sumser 1:50
Yeah. And California, you know, for all the years I’ve lived here I have loved coming back from anywhere to San Francisco, because the air so sweet. It’s so clean, and constantly being all of the bad stuff is constantly being blown inland by the ocean. Yeah, but with this particular fire, most of the fires are after the ocean and after me on the way inland, and this fire is between me in the ocean. And so the wind blows in and instead of clearing it up a bit, the fire burn more and makes the smoke deeper.


Stacey Harris 2:28
Well, we will keep hoping for better days, a little bit more rain, hopefully and just keep watching things. It’s scary. And it has an impact. I mean, that’s an area where a lot of the companies that we talk about and the people that we work with are at so I’m sure will continue to hear about it for quite some time. But I’m glad to hear that you and Heather are safe at home and at least it’s a step in the right direction.


John Sumser 2:51
That’s right. You know, this is me complaining. I live in Paradise and once in 25 years, it got a little uncomfortable. So I need to take all of the seriousness here with a bit of a grain of salt because this is an amazing place to live.


Stacey Harris 3:08
Well, I think, you know, there’s been a lot of it the last couple of years. And you know this is the second time this year alone, I think that you guys have had to evacuate. But like you said, you know, everywhere you live has challenges. I know, you know, we didn’t get hit this hard this year with the hurricane but Louisiana obviously did, in the most recent hurricane, and you know, there are many people who have lost their homes and even those who have lost their lives to it. And everywhere you were at, you know, there’s some sort of natural sort of disaster that is in your possible purview as a location, your organization’s. But a lot of the conversations we’ve been having this entire year, right has been how do you sort of live through whatever is going on around you, right, continuing to work continuing to make sure that the people that you love are taking care of continuing to make sure that the people that you work with are you know, in a place that they’re safe to work at. If there’s any conversation that’s going to be remembered from 2020 outside of, you know, pandemic and dealing with a lot of other sort of political and social injustice conversations that need to be had. The other one is probably about workplace safety. Right?


John Sumser 4:13
Well, you know, for my money, the way that we are headed is to a reprioritization of things in HR. It’s not going to be possible, as it was for many, many years to have an HR department whose primary question is other than safety. For the safety of the workplace, the safety of the organization, the safety of the individual worker is a foundational thing in the management of human beings in the organization. And in the transition from industrial work, it used to be the case if you worked in a factory, there was always a medical office on the factory floor because working in a factory meant you risk losing an eye or an arm or a hand or a leg but because it was a heavy process. Whatever the process was, so industrial HR often had safety as part of its function.


When we got to the information era, and companies started to be white collar service companies or call centers and those sorts of things, safety started to look more like do you have a policy about carpal tunnel syndrome? Then do you clean up spills when they happen? And so it took a lesser profile for maybe as long as 40 years. And now we’re back to what’s the fundamental thing that HR does. And I think it’s first safety. The organization has to be safe, the people have to be safe. Once they’re safe, then you can start working on health and wellness, which is how do you become flexible and active and adaptive at work? And then you work on development, which is how do you get better, right, and these are both organizational issues and individual issues. It’s like a ladder. You solve the individual question and it has some consequences and organizational level. And there’s the sort of feedback loop between the two so that the definition of wellness and health at my company might be different than the definition of wellness and health at your company because it’s suited to purpose. And then the next layer that is how do you develop the whole thing? Where’s the company going? And where are the individuals going.


So this is how you stack up the priorities of HR, and how you tell what’s the next most important thing to do. When there’s a safety problem. That’s the most important thing to do. when all the safety problems are at hand and being managed, then you can work on health and wellness. And so it works like a it’s not really a maturity curve. But it’s a series of thresholds that you have to meet. In order to develop a safe, healthy organization is capable of being adaptive and capable of learning new things, but you can’t learn if you’re worried about safety. Right? And so, what that means is we’re going into a time where you don’t get firm policies about a lot of stuff. And we have a lot of questions to ask, ranging from social justice to do we really understand the skills question. You know, that’s really interesting because there are a lot of people who have invested a lot of money in the idea that skills are complicated, and that there’s like this big assumption that it’s really hard to get skills, right. It might be the case that we don’t really understand the problem. So the example I heard recently was, which is the more complicated but stressful job, running nursing services in the emergency room or running housecleaning in a hotel? And it’s becoming clear that the housekeeping job is harder. It requires deeper skills, but that we have applied a classist lens to the work. And since lower social status people do the job, we assume that it’s not complicated. And it turns out that it may be it may be the case that somebody who runs housekeeping at a hospital is actually uniquely suited to run nursing services and housekeeping in a hotel is uniquely suited to run housekeeping or nursing services in a hospital. But because there is this class distinction between the styles of work, we assume the skills are different, and the skills may not be.


Stacey Harris 4:13
Yeah, no, it’s an interesting dynamic, right? Because I think there’s sort of two thoughts around this. First, going back to your conversation about HR’s role. You know, if you look historically, very early days, the 1900s even early generally, when HR was just a thought and the idea it was generally put in place inside organizations, the very first roles were focusing on safety and particularly child labor and health and safety inside of organizations. Then that turned into what later became known as the HR function. But extending what you’re talking about is this idea that HR’s role is to maintain the ongoing health and wellness of the organization and the professionals kind of like a Maslow’s hierarchy of sort of needs for the human being. The challenge in that sometimes is that there is a dynamic between, you know, is that the CEOs role to make sure that all that stuff is in place and HR’s role to sort of just manage it. And so I think there’s a bit of conversation to be had there, but I get where you’re going with it.


On the other side of it, the conversation about interchangeable job roles with the fact that skill sets maybe aren’t looked at as sort of transferable. That’s the term we tend to use in the learning and development space. Do you have transferable skill sets? Skill sets that are done in the housekeeping role versus skillsets that are done in the nursing management role? Are there things that can be used in both areas? And I think the bigger conversation isn’t so much about whether or not we lend a level of one skill set is better than another skill set, but that we haven’t really documented the skill sets that you need to run the housekeeping. I think it’s as much an issue of and again, it probably gets back to whether or not we think it’s important, but you have to know about the skill set and what that skill set is and document in some way. That’s the piece I think people are talking about as being very difficult. It can be done, but it seems to be one of those tasks that always get pushed back whenever things happen, like dealing with pandemics or the organization goes into financial challenges, those type of things. So yeah, I get where you’re going. But I think there’s probably a little bit more context to it from what I’ve seen, and we need to think a little bit more about how we define the jobs.


John Sumser 10:47
Well, so I am running down a road that’s probably three or four years ahead of things, but here’s what I’m seeing. The basic accumulation of an ontology of skills. Which is that there were 30 players who were doing it from Yvette Cameron’s blockchain based cross-industry thing to the heart of Workday’s operation. The way that people are collecting those skills ontologies is by examining job postings. And so if a, let’s keep on nursing and hospitality, if a nursing job description includes nursing specific language to describe the skill, and the hospitality job description include specific language to describe the hospitality skill, it’s impossible to tell from the language that they’re talking about the same thing. Yeah, it’s impossible to tell and all of the ontologies are built on this fallacy that the way it’s described in the job description constitutes a difference in skills, when it may just be that the way it’s described in the job description constitutes a different emphasis or a different lens on the same skill. We have no way of answering the question. But my thesis is that it’s a language thing and that the language reflects class and caste orientation and that the difference between the two things has to do with status. But it doesn’t have to do with the actual skills involved. And it’s a hard theory to disprove because the basic idea of skills inventories right now comes from not on the job analysis of what people do, but an extraction from job descriptions written by people who are immersed in talking about things in a certain way.


Stacey Harris 12:35
Yeah. And to sort of add to this picture, so I do agree with you, I think the job description conversation is probably the biggest issue in this. So we’ve got some data that we’ll be releasing a little bit pre launch of our bigger data set for Sapient Insights, Sierra-Cedar research this year. And one of it was looking at what data was missing during the COVID-19 crisis to basically make the decision to needed to make. And one of the top pieces of data that came out. There’s a lot of data that people needed, but that was updated and was available. So we have some data on that. But the pieces that were either not available or not updated, one of the top ones that people needed was listed as job descriptions. Which I think goes back to what you’re talking about? Is that when they have them, and there was a lot of people who said, yeah, we have them, but they’re not updated. They weren’t relevant enough to help make these decisions because they weren’t founded in reality, in some cases, right or hadn’t been updated or hadn’t been developed in a way to really understand the skills and I think that gets a little bit of what you’re talking about.


John Sumser 13:35
Yep. I’d say that that question that you’ve just identified, which is how do you get the job descriptions to match the jobs is now a health and safety issue. And it became a health and safety issue when, for me money, all job descriptions to one extent or another became invalid about the first of March this year. And what people do for a living today in many, many cases doesn’t really resemble what they did six months ago, even though it’s called the same thing, they go to the same place, they work with the same people. But, the medium of communication and the understanding of what constitutes a positive result, and the definition of who’s successful, who’s not successful. These things are all up in the air. And I was sitting in a vendor’s thing yesterday, and they were talking about their great how to run remote workforce training programs. And I thought to myself, Are you nuts? We don’t have the slightest idea how to run a remote workforce yet. It’s too soon. And to be teaching people, your BD ideas about what constitutes a good remote workforce, it’s almost criminal.

Because nobody can really answer your question.


Stacey Harris 14:54
Obviously, you were in a good mood yesterday. Poor vendor, right?


John Sumser 14:58
Oh no, I bit my tounge the entire time. Because there’s no use in having that conversation. That’s not helpful.


Stacey Harris 15:04
Yeah, because I think the thing is, is that what’s happening is that we’re all trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do. From researchers to, you know, Industry analysts to vendors, to even, you know, the HR functions and practitioners and leaders, the point about that it’s criminal, because you’re sort of making moves, right. And I get that I think there are people who are making quick moves and making comments about what they think their products, their tools or their organization should do without having the real investment in the time and the thinking that’s required to understand that the world has changed in a way that’s probably more dramatic than we are acknowledging. But I also think that there is a need to start to put some sort of definition to what that change is. I know, there’s been a lot of conversation about the fact that you know, we just don’t know what it’ll look like in a few years. But I think as human beings the desire to name it, the desire to put a box around it is so powerful and help us make more sense of the world. So I understand that the desire to make that conversation more categorical more practical.


John Sumser 16:07
Oh God, I wish I could fix everything to. But wishing that I can fix it and claiming to be able to are two really different things. You know, I don’t like it very much. I wish there were good answers. I really do, I wish I wish there were good answers all over the place, but there aren’t. And saying that there are is a disservice.


Stacey Harris 16:31
Agreed. Agreed. Yeah, especially if it’s been done in a silo without a lot of investment in time and thinking and getting the research and the data, put a little bit of chat in there about what would it be helpful to making some of those decisions? I would agree. Yeah, definitely.


I mean, the vendors that we’ve been working with over the last several months, I mean, I do think that most of them are really trying to take I mean, a lot of the small vendors I think, are rushing quickly to try and show the value they add in the market in this space because many of them are facing the possibility that they might not be here tomorrow if they can’t figure out the next model. But I do think the larger vendors have been taking a much more cautious view to this from what I’ve been sort of seeing in their outputs and their expectations. I’m not seeing anybody who I think is taking dramatic steps that are have been done without some real caution about how you think about work going forward and what people should be doing outside of it, and not for the fact that it’s just good business.


But I also think that they themselves have been trying to figure out how to balance things. I mean, the payroll industry right now is trying to understand what’s going on with this tax exemption thing that Trump just put out. You know, we’ve got organizations who are now seeing backlashes from their involvement in back to school work and the fact that that employees within the schools are the ones who are dealing with the bigger fallout from that. So I think every type of vendor is handling this very carefully. It would be my sense, who was who has a name and a stake in this.

John Sumser 17:54
OK, we’ll disagree a little bit but I’m not in the mood for stiring that pot just yet.

There are a couple of interesting things in the news. And the two that strike me as the most important to talk about are the HR tech conference and appointment of a co-CEO at Workday. Right? Those are big moves, and there are other things like Degreed continues to raise money. And the one that you were just on, which is people can’t figure out how to make sense out of this guidance to not pay payroll taxes.


Stacey Harris 18:29
Yeah, yeah. And all things I think are impacting our market in a way that, you know, each one of these news items, I think, is news because or more interesting news because of the environment we’re in in 2020. The conference. So for those who sort of follow the news, though, and the work that we do, obviously on a regular basis, every year in October, the HR Technology Conference put on by the LRP organization is generally known as the largest, at least from a vendor perspective as far as the amount of vendors who show there and the amount of surplus Who know of the event in person conference usually held in Las Vegas has been for the last several years, mostly in bet Las Vegas and sort of a meet and greet. We’re also the industry experts get together as well as many of the practitioners and leaders in the market was scheduled to be done in early October and they finally made the decision to move it to virtual. And they also announced speakers and so not to put too much a fine point on it. Both you and I were listed as keynotes. We also saw Josh Bersin on there. Jason Averbook, one of our good friends Stacie Garr. Tolondo, Tolbert, and the CHRO for Lincoln Financial Group, Lisa Buckingham. So an interesting list of eight keynotes to round out what is now a virtual session that they’re hoping will replace the in person event and I believe they’re really investing in a new platform and tools to make it more of a community event. That is my take on it. But John, you know, a lot of what we’re talking about here, we’re going to be seeing at this event, from a pandemic conversation to changing times to the new world of work, right?


John Sumser 20:01
Yeah, I think if you’re trying to make sense out of what’s going on with technology in the context of right now, this is going to be an extraordinary dive into the question. And because the crises, the various crises are hitting different companies in different ways, it’s harder than usual to say that there’s a single trend going on. You know, there’s this we talked about last week, the K shape to the economic divisions, and so companies that are primarily white collar, upper middle class companies are doing really well. And companies that are at more hourly are not doing so well. And their responses to technology choices are going to vary because of that. There isn’t a universal fix out there. It’ll be a great conference because it’s a place to see the broad variety rather than the individual perfect solution to everything.


Stacey Harris 21:02
Yeah, that’s the nice thing about these kind of conferences where it’s not. I mean, the vendor events are great as well for sort of what they offer, but a lot of times they’re very tailored towards the industries that the vendor themselves are more focused on. In this case, you get cross industry voices. And you know, I’m excited, you know, we’ll be launching the survey data there. But we’ll also be getting opportunity to talk a little bit about what we’re seeing as far as the user experience, which I think I’m interested to see. Because our survey went out right in the midst of everything, if the user experience around HR technology this year has changed at all because of what people were going through. So there’s no issue not only that, how are we using the technology and what technology we’re using, but no, how are we perceiving the technology within the midst of all this? So it’ll be a good event. I’m excited about it.


You know, in the midst of this, we’re also seeing this week, a new Workday co-CEO. So for many who follow the Workday organization Aneel has been the long standing company CEO And Aneel’s focus has been on growing the Workday environment to really focus on sort of enterprise organizations and expanding the platform conversation. Now if it was a it was a surprise, we’ve seen co-CEO models at SAP, we’ve seen in other large organizations, but to Workday announced last week they were promoting Chano Fernandez to co-CEO position. And it sounds like Chano is going to be handling a lot more of this operations things while it looks like Aneel will be focusing much more on the product area, on the HR marketing, some of those areas. And so it’ll be interesting to see how this works out because I think Aneel has always had such a very clear, distinct voice about what he’s expecting to come from the Workday environment. But Chano has got a great background. He’s worked for Infor, he’s worked for SAP. He’s been very global and his focus. That’s what he’s been running for Workday for the last several years has been their global organization. What do you think about this John, sort of a co-CEO model does this work in our organizations?


John Sumser 23:01
Well, I don’t know if it works at organizations. But I think it’s hysterical that anybody thinks that the Aneel can have a partner. Aneel is a force of nature. Aneel is an amazing, astonishing force of nature, but I can’t imagine a power sharing relationship with Him. And so so I don’t know how this works out in the long haul. But it’s an extraordinary challenge to do what they’re talking about doing. Because Aneel is so good at what he does, and I got the bag of popcorn out, I watch it from the sidelines. I think this will be funny.


Stacey Harris 23:39
I will have to say, hmm, this will be interesting, because I do think sometimes the burden of a CEO the sort of amount of effort that you have to lift on your shoulders can be overwhelming and often makes it harder to sort of drive a ship in a direction you want to drive it. I think a lot of it will come down to how clearly they denote roles and responsibilities and who owns what area so we’ll see If that takes, but I agree, I think everyone’s kind of gonna sit back and go, Hmm, okay, let’s see where this goes. But interesting.


We also had big news this week. I don’t know if it’s a big surprise, but Ultimate and Kronos finally came out with their name. So for those of you who also follow that Ultimate and Kronos, merged last year, or earlier this year had gone through the process of trying to do a name selection, to really get great presentation this week on that and walked us through and came up with the name, Ultimate and Kronos Group, which was not overly surprising, but I actually think that their acronym UKG, which is probably what they’ll be going by going forward will be a lot easier for people to sort of remember and it will keep the two brands together. So that is announcements probably worth at least mentioning this week as well. Any comments on that John? Or just make it easier to say it all at one time?


John Sumser 24:50
Well, this room tells you something about how important and challenging it is for these two companies to merge. I think by doing this, they become the second largest player in the space. That was the point of the original merger. And they serve different audiences with slightly different product sets. And when they made the presentation, they said, Oh, yeah, UKG is like BMW. It’s an acronym based company like ADP is. And you can, over time turn an acronym into a legacy brand. But it takes a lot of work to do that. And you have to figure out how to keep the identities in shape. And I think they set themselves out a great challenge. I don’t know that I think UKG, it doesn’t do a thing for me. But it doesn’t really need to, they have to build it into something that does a thing.


Stacey Harris 25:47
Exactly. Yeah. That was my take on it. Yeah, it gives them an empty vessel to build on and an empty vessel that doesn’t take away from their current environment. And we’ve seen a lot of really bad name changes, and a lot of them end up taking away visibility. I mean, we won’t mention them because some of them are still in business. But


John Sumser 26:08
Well we could maybe we should build them a new business model. [unintelligible]


Stacey Harris 26:15
I think there’s been enough historical from our previous shows will be able to know which ones we were had problems with. But But I think what UKG does is it doesn’t take away from anything that they were in gives them a vessel to fill up and I would agree they have a hard road to go to show that these two cultures can come together. I was pleasantly surprised by the announcement because they did walk through all of the work they went through to get this was not a quick a we made this decision. It was truly probably six months worth of work. I think they were talking about maybe three months, but still they had gone through international analysis. they’d gone through a lot of different options. They had had a poll from their employees that started the process. And so they’re I think they really went through a deep analysis of who they were to come back to what was the point that was probably pretty a good starting point anyways, so.


John Sumser 27:05
Yep, yep. And they’re going to learn, you know, the teams that are amazing. The teams are amazing. And they’re going to learn how to produce this consolidated joint message. And it’s great to understand that the private equity investment companies are willing to get behind the idea of spending money on brand. Private equity companies are not necessarily known for wanting to invest in marketing.


Stacey Harris 27:31
Yeah, no, I think it’ll be necessary in this case. And if they get it right, and they get the ability to connect their two systems in a more seamless way than we’ve seen with other mergers and acquisitions, I would say everyone else should be watching them very carefully. They will be a brand to reckon with, if they get it right. And that’s where that’s really what it’s gonna come down to.


John Sumser 27:50
Oh my goodness, the breadth of their insight into data about people in organizations is second to none. And so if they can get this right and they can get, they can get the basic data model done, then they have the opportunity to actually build the kind of intelligence into their systems that that Workday frankly dreams about, because they’ve got a broader range into the data. And when this all comes down, the data that matters is behavioral data and behavioral data looks more like payroll time and attendance and performance management than it looks like turning job descriptions and postings into skills ontologies.


Stacey Harris 28:37
Yeah, node without a doubt the workforce management component of this, if they can turn that into a sizable set of data that they can access. Now, it is worth noting that a lot of Kronos’ data is still in an on premise environment. But if they’re able to access that into their cloud environment, they will be a force to reckon with because they do have that kind of skills concept that I don’t think anybody else has that depth in so There’s other ones I think in the in the market who are also building on this. We’ve got Ceridian, we’ve got some really interesting stuff coming out even some of the Paycor, Paychex, [unintelligible] who are adding Time and Attendance into their tools as well. So nobody has the ability to sit on their laurels right now, I would say. So.


John Sumser 29:16
That’s right. There is an interesting thing, maybe you’re seeing it in the data already. But you know, on premise computing doesn’t work if the company is distributed. Right. And so there is probably a pretty big bounce for cloud oriented transitions right now in companies that have resisted that overtime because you simply can’t administer a remote distributed workforce from inside of your plant in the way that you can if somebody else’s running the data center.


Stacey Harris 29:50
Yeah, I’m doing the analysis right now actually, of this data, so I can’t give any exact numbers and I was expecting to see a lot of drop offs of the on-premise area. I have I have seen some shift, but not as big as I thought yet now I haven’t run the number. So it could be surprised once I actually run the numbers, because I’m doing a lot of putting comments and others into the fields. But yeah, I thought we see a huge shift from on premise to cloud this year. But we already did a pretty big shift the remainder 30-40%, it was removed from that range, right, depending on which application area you were talking about, if you’re in talent me and she was much smaller, if you were in payroll is obviously much higher. Those organizations that are on those are on them, because none of the tools out there could quite do what they needed yet. Right? Like they weren’t they The reason they hadn’t moved was not because it didn’t want to move them in case it was because the tools weren’t quite doing what they were eating. So it’ll be interesting to see if they are being forced by this shift here to make that move. That’s in the States, the United States internationally, though, I can already tell you, I think the international market was the biggest opportunity for jump anyways, to the cloud. We definitely are seeing more movement to the cloud more rapidly so that then I can already see in the data set. So I think that might have propelled the international markets to move faster because there’s a lot more people there who don’t have customized as much customized environments.


John Sumser 31:07
Wow, lot of interesting stuff going on. So another great conversation. Thanks for doing this. This was a particularly interesting, we’re in a particularly interesting time, I think. And by the way, congratulations on being a keynote at HR Tech.


Stacey Harris 31:23
Thank you, you as well, John.


John Sumser 31:25
Yeah. Thank you, everybody, for listening. We’ll see you back here same time next week, and thanks again for doing this Stacey. Bye Bye now.


Stacey Harris 31:33
Yeah, thanks, guys. Bye

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