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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: 288
Air Date: October 15, 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. Hey, Stacey how’s North Carolina?


Stacey Harris 0:23
Hey, John, we’re doing well. We’re in the midst of what would be our fall season here. So the trees are turning and the air is crystal with the smell of fall. So I can’t complain. Of course, that would mean I would have to walk outside my house and enjoy it. I haven’t done much of that I’ve been preparing for the upcoming HR Tech conference and the release of our big annual HR Systems Survey white paper, but we’re doing good here. And how about you? Are you getting a little bit of breath of fresh air things getting a little bit more normal there yet, or, how are you guys doing?


John Sumser 0:52
No, no. It turns out, I wasn’t expecting this, it turns out that this is tradeshow season. And I am so booked that I get up at six o’clock in the morning and I go to bed at eight or nine o’clock and don’t do much but work and try to give a little bit of food. Because it’s the busy season. It’s just the busy season. And it’ll be quiet in January. And so I forgot because of the pandemic that that’s the rhythm of the work here for me. And it took me a little off guard. But now that I’m in, I’m psyched. I spent a little bit of time yesterday setting up my room for the analyst room at the HR Tech conference. And I imagine I’m going to get to have 30 or 40 really good conversations that week. And so I’m psyched, I’m psyched. Things are taking a sort of semi intelligible rhythm that hasn’t been around for months, and months, and months. And that’s great.


Stacey Harris 1:53
It is definitely, the energy is up is that’s I think, at least what I’m feeling and which is what we get to feel a lot of the times around the time of season, which is nice. Right?


John Sumser 2:00
Yeah, yeah, the energy’s up. You know I saw something yesterday, or somebody said, I never thought I’d say I miss Las Vegas. And it isn’t that bad for me. But I do have this, there’s a regularity to the events in the industry, there was a regularity to the events in the industry and so you can sort of sount on seeing a certain range of people in certain places over time, you know, my sort of my office all these years has been on the road, in traveling with the pack of analysts that we traveled with and seeing the friends and companies and the HR Tech conference was always the place where that happened. And it’s interesting to not be doing it this year. There are people I’m really going to miss seeing.


Stacey Harris 2:50
Yeah, it’s been funny when I look back, and we see on Facebook, and particularly for me, but I think Instagram too, does a little bit of it. You see, though, what you did last year, at this time, things and this build with the Las Vegas and the events and the pictures from being friends and as a part of I think our Bible and actually what helps us you know, many people oftentimes ask me, you know, what our work is like and I said, You know what, we have colleagues, it’s just that they’re not colleagues within our individual organizations, oftentimes their colleagues that they’re spread across all the other research firms, the market, because we all travel and, and go to the same events. And so there’s a lot of ideas sharing in the hallways, in the between lunches. And even while we’re in sessions where we’re sitting in the back of the room, we’re very much like forum children sometimes do commenting on what’s going on around in the session. And I think that piece of it for me, I really had to artificially pull us together in some way. I’ve had to call friends and call people. I spoke to a shikara last week and I hadn’t talked to her for a while and and you know, I talked to a couple other people virtually via email to just be like I got a sense of what’s going on in the market. I think it’s part of why me and you talking every week has always been helpful for us. But I do think that that distance away from those people has caused a harder time to get their arms around what’s going on in the market. Right.


John Sumser 4:06
Oh, maybe. That’s an interesting question. I wonder, I don’t know that it’s been terribly difficult to understand what’s been going on in the market. This last year, everybody’s trying to go out of business. That means focusing on things that weren’t priorities the year before. Like how do you get people back to work, you know, and that’s where our practitioner friends all other images focused on that. Right. It’s that’s kind of the point of the presentation that I put together for HR tech, which is that hrs priorities have changed and they’ve changed dramatically, and it isn’t temporary. They’ve changed so that safety, you can’t have an organization today where the HR department is concerned about anything other than safety first, everything is after that everything and it may be you know, now getting people paid. That’s safety. Right? That’s financial safety. But the above and beyond that, it’s it’s very difficult part because we don’t know, still what an organization is if it doesn’t have people meeting at the heart of it. Right and we don’t do that the same way anymore.


Stacey Harris 5:20
No we don’t. And I think that the vendors in our space are trying to figure this out and the consulting practice firms and the system integrators, it’s been interesting, you know, actually, some of the stuff they want to talk about this week is a little bit of all of that everybody waiting into this conversation in a way that we call the future of work, but I don’t I don’t think that’s the right language. I think the future of work kind of feels like it’s about just innovation. And I think this is more than just an innovation conversation. It’s a shift in priorities, I think, as you were talking about, right. And that is definitely coming through in the data. Where the the, it’s interesting that the level of frustration with the with the technology is not as high as it was last year, right? There’s, it’s either the same or slightly lower this year, you see that in the user experience scores from our data this year. But there is a different a different level of commentary that we got on the report this year about, you know, the kind of things people are missing the gaps they’re having in their technology. And a lot of it has to do with the basic the reporting, the integration, the data, sharing the stuff that I think we oftentimes overlooked it for the sake of newer, cool technologies, right.


John Sumser 6:34
So I’m going to try to double back on what you said. So first, I don’t think we know what work is anymore. Right? We know, you went to the office, you did the stuff at the office, and then you came home. And you could tell it was work because you weren’t doing it at home. But you know, and there wasn’t a lot of standardization, because what constitutes the creation of value in an information world wasn’t really very well understood. So you could have the big consulting firms where people go to five or six meetings a day. And that’s value. And you have big engineering firms where if you go to a meeting twice a week, you’re wasting somebody’s time. And that’s value, right? And so this consensus about what work actually is was it there before the crash, and now we’re picking through the pieces trying to figure out whether or not there are standard ways to think about working when you don’t have the blessing of running into each other. And that’s a big change. And it forces you to look at the questions that I don’t know where I’ve been talking about for years, which is if your data isn’t clean, you don’t have anything. Right. So now what people are discovering is the building blew up, we’ve got the foundations of the building, we’re looking at the foundations of the building, oh, my God, they were rocking anyhow. And so the So the focus is on how do we get the data in order so that we can do the next thing? And that’s a safety question. It turns out that data integration, and data maintenance and data cleanliness at the core of the organization is inherently a safety issue. And Right, right, and we didn’t have to see it that way. Because people’s lives didn’t depend on the data being right. But now that we can’t pumped into the HR person and make that little correction with that little slip of paper on the long term extension of the old sneakernet. And we actually have to get it right as it goes in. And we have to have it right before we use, it means that payroll like precision is going to have to be applied to all of the data, the HR domain, and most people don’t like payroll levels of precision.


Stacey Harris 8:46
Yeah. And that’s a very good way of putting it you know, there’s there’s a lot of people I work with who are in payroll administrator or oversight role, and the work that I do on the board with iram. And, you know, I think I’ve seen them take some of these challenges a lot more, you know, the level of wired detail that payroll has to go through is so effective that I think this next step, as we’re going through this with the COVID crisis management models, and what that looks like inside of organizations feels like more of what they’re used to doing where everyone else is having a little bit of a forgot about it, because talent management has never been held to kill, why would I have to worry that much about what skills I have tracked inside my talent management system, right? Why is that critical? until you have to move an entire workforce from one job to another, then all of a sudden it becomes as critical as your payroll data. And that’s been an interesting shift to see, yeah.


John Sumser 9:39
Exactly. And so that means that the fluffy stuff on top and fluffy is is strong, but the development parts are the third priority, not the first priority, and they were the first priority for a long time. And it’s not that development isn’t important, but you can’t have development. You have safety of the workplace and the healthy workforce working there. And then you can have development. But until until you figure out the safety of the workplace of the health of the workforce, you get what we have right now, which is not enough ability to pay attention to relationships, even though all we seem to do is be in long meetings with other people. Isn’t that weird? It’s because relationships don’t happen at the conference table relationships happen in the halls. And we don’t have any halls.


Stacey Harris 10:33
We have no halls. But I think there’s been a couple of interesting topics this week about what that’s doing. There was a C suite survey that talked about how executives and employees are seeing this. There’s some big conversations about mental health around this topic. Gartner just did a big research study on this and what it’s like to be engaged. But you know, for me, I think back to a very personal event, I remember the first time I had worked remotely was when I was working back my early days and working for Bersin and Associates when it was a very small organization. And for four years, we had worked remotely as an entire team. And then in sort of like a three month period, we bought offices and moved part of our California team into an office environment. And it very quickly became those who were in the office versus those of us who were still in the field. In remote environments, there was a difference in what we were getting told what kind of information who got to go out to lunch, it wasn’t so much the remote work. Now, it was the difference between where people were having those conversations and where they were not. And so what I’d be interested in understanding is when the whole world is remote, are we recreating hallways and lunch environments by tailoring who we’re talking to and limiting where we’re sharing our information?


John Sumser 11:53
Well, this is I think we may have talked about this before. But Humanyze has done amazing work looking at the difference in a normal organization, pre pandemic, and post pandemic, normal, normal is probably a stretch. So let’s let’s say this is the average of a bunch of different companies over time, and not not characterize it as normal, but, but in the old days, an average employee had 2.9, close relationships and 42nd order relationships. So the 2.9 relationships were with people you spend more than an hour a week with, and the 42nd order relationships are the people you spend 15 minutes or less up with today, it’s seven close relationships, and 15. Second are the relationships. So so we’re spending much more time with specific individuals, and no time in the halls? Essentially? And so the question is, if that’s what’s happening, that the center of the network is getting bigger, and the edges of the network are getting smaller, is that a sustainable way to limit ization? And I think what we’re going to notice, you know, I always have a snarky thing or two to say about the difference between management and the people who actually do the work. And, you know, the people in management are concerned with accounting for things, basically, and the people who do the work are in charge of doing the work. And the people at the top in those close relationships at the center of the network. Think that they’re where the value is where the value actually happens is in the people you don’t have many steady interactions with. And part of the reason you don’t have those complicated reactions with them, is they’re doing work, that they don’t have time to give you an hour, they have time to give you five minutes, because they’re doing their jobs. But that’s where the work actually happens. Right? And when you don’t have those things, then you’ve got a lot of people who are talking about the work and nobody doing it.


Stacey Harris 14:12
I’m just envisioning a really good cartoon out of all of this John. I mean, it feels like it’s an office joke, right, you know, but you’re right. I mean, it’s when the Humanyze data is facsinating, and we’ve talked about the work they’re doing and I don’t think you’ve actually shared the numbers previously. And those numbers are fascinating, because the idea that you were creating a bigger small circle, but that small circle is still made up of a very similar group of people who are all probably managers or so and then your work environment is much more dispersed. It creates a really interesting dynamic there of not just communication requirements, but it also requires requires a different set of basically translating who is the skilled worker in your organization. I mean, I think that we thought our data that 60% of organizations who said they needed this data about critical skills, they didn’t have it. Like, who was the most critical worker in their organization? I should say. And so I think what you’re just saying is that I don’t think companies, even if they have the data may have had it correct. Like, it may have said that our management and our succession plans are high potentials. But in reality, when you realize that it’s actually your frontline workers in the grocery store, and who are your registered workers, that is your high potentials and this kind of environment, it changes the whole thing you’re thinking about, right.


John Sumser 15:34
Well so, so that is, I think that’s a string to tug on a little bit, I am starting to conclude that the very meaning of data changes with circumstances, right. And so I always, I always had this assumption that once it was in the machine, and it had been counted, and you could be charged with lines that go eternally up to the right hand corner of the of the graph, that the data was something that was like a solid object. And it turns out that what the data means depends on the circumstances that you’re looking at. And that data is way more elastic than I ever imagined. Part of the reason you need to clean is you can’t look at it till it’s clean. But once you’re able to look at it, it may mean different things in different settings. So the example I’m seeing here is when you make a forecast about somebody’s likelihood of leaving a retention forecast or flight risk forecast, every single flight this forecast ever built, has a factor for commute time. And you know, this is math, right? So when commute time goes to zero, the whole formula collapses, because you can’t multiply by zero, right? So it isn’t just, oh, it’s a little wrong. It’s like, the whole thing doesn’t make any sense, because commute time is part of it. And I’ve sat through in the last month 10 briefings where people use commute time as the example of why their stuff was okay. And I should say to myself, well, for a T shaped, it really is a case shaped economy now, and there are other people who can stay home and commute time doesn’t matter. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to stay with your company forever. And there are the people on the downside of the K whose worlds are getting smaller, whose work is getting harder, who don’t get to work from home. And commute time means even more to them because they’re being asked to work longer and harder. And it’s weird, right? So there was one variable, and you could make all sorts of assumptions about it. And then it turned out to be half wrong overnight. And I think that’s a characteristic of data.


Stacey Harris 17:52
It is. And I think what you’re saying is contact, every piece of data has to have a set of context with it. What was the situation when it was gathered? What is the situation now? And how have those changed? And I’m not sure I mean, I I will have to be honest, I have not done a ton of briefings with planning tools, especially on my list for next year to start looking at. Interestingly, I don’t know if you knew choros, over at SAP, he’d been there for about nine years to come from Oracle as well just reached out to me, he’s now over at anaplan and their HR side of things, and they’re growing a growing HR planning business over anaplan. And I was fascinated to just hear from him that, you know, they’re rethinking the idea of what that looks like. And I think that the next level of planning that we’re going to have to see come out of any HR technology or any kind of analytics technology has to have a tool that allows you to contextualize it in some way.


John Sumser 18:51
Yeah, but you know what, let me give you my favorite example is, which is engagement scores, you know that engagement scores are the highest they’ve ever been. And they’ve been on a steady climb since the 11th of March. And so if you just sat back and you said, Oh, engagement scores, hey, we’re doing really well. Everybody’s happy you look at the engagement score, you’d be making a tragic error in context, it turns out and nobody has this context yet. Turns out, let me give you some factors trapped in your house, hard to get access to resources, life under threat, lose somebody close or know somebody who knows somebody who’s died. That’s what it’s like to live in a warzone. And so I’ve started looking at the data about what does it mean to be in constant trauma, and we’ve been as a culture and as members of organizations encounter trauma, and there’s some very interesting things. The first normal response to to trauma is a heroic response and we’ve seen that and All the people in all of the organizations have worked just as hard as they can to try to keep things going, even though it’s been pretty weird. And it’s so much, eight months, however many months, it’s been since Monday, and people are burning out, people are burning up. And that’s the second stage when you have sustained trauma on a population is that the heroic time is followed immediately by a collapse. And then the building out after everybody has sort of peak burnout and hit the bottom, the way out is his grief. Right. And so it’s not anything like a V shaped emotional recovery. It’s it is a rise to extreme heights, followed by a crash to extreme lows, followed by a lot of hard work. And I that’s where we are, but couldn’t get that from looking at different scores and thinking, Oh, and gave the job. Right. So that’s a long way of saying I don’t know how you provide the context. I don’t know how you do that, because context changes.


Stacey Harris 21:06
Well, but I think that’s exactly what I’m saying is that context has to be a variable variable that we can change inside the system. And I think right now, it generally is that as pretty much a constant at one level or another, right, this happened in 1999. So I think that the challenge is that the new planning tools have to figure out a way to to allow you to change content. And we just haven’t figured that out yet. Because it does it has such an impact on the data. I mean, you know, and that’s the difference between a human analyzing the data and the system analyzing the data today, this human has the ability to hold multiple contexts in his head.


John Sumser 21:44
That’s great. So you imagine some sort of interface that allows you to go, huh, what if really high engagement scores is a really bad thing. That’s what you’re looking for a tool that would allow you to make that sort of analysis. You know, what if a Stacy’s stellar performance over the last five years, make sure exactly not fit to be the device? And look at it. That’s the question, what happens if the context changes? That’s good. That’s good. It would be great to have our machines to help us do that.


Stacey Harris 22:20
I think we’re ways off from it yet. But it’s also I think, a reason why we have to step back. And the machines have a place that we have to at this point in time in the technology movement, to make sure people are involved in every step of the process. And that’s I think the piece that we may be struggling with, I think in the market is where and when do insert the human influence in those conversations.


John Sumser 22:43
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s right. I think that’s right. Well, we’ve managed to not talk about any news today. I think this is a first.


Stacey Harris 22:55
We should make a quick note, we did have a Sage Analyst event this week, both you and I attended too. It was a really great event with some good updates. Maybe next week, we’ll touch a bit on that. We also have the HR Tech Conference next week that we’ll both be, or not next week, but the week after that, we’ll both be speaking at. So there will be some updates before that event, too. So a busy week, but maybe next week we’ll get to some of these bigger topics, or at least the things that are happening in the market here.


John Sumser 23:20
I think we should think about changing the name of the show to, We’re going to try to get to the news pretty soon…


Stacey Harris 23:30
It would be, you know, the news has its place, but sometimes when we’re going through a shared trauma like we’ve been talking about, you just need room to think about it. That’s what we’ve been doing, John, It’s really part of the grief process. Having been through it recently, myself. That’s what we’re doing. It’s analysis, good.


John Sumser 23:47
Good. Okay. Well, thanks for doing this as usual, Stacey, and thanks, everybody for tuning in. You’ve been listening to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. 288 shows Stacey. Thanks for tuning in.


Stacey Harris 24:02
Thanks, everyone.


John Sumser 24:03
We will see you back here next week. Bye Bye now.


Stacey Harris 24:06

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