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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: 45
Air Date: November 5, 2015


This Week

This week John and Stacey discuss:

  • Achievers open recognition API YouTube
  • The coming battle for interface primacy
  • CEB Acquires Wanted Technologies PR Newswire
  • Uber’s algorithm is more controlling than the real boss WSJ
  • Facebook usage changing, messaging apps growing
  • Google’s neural network wants to write your emails for you Gizmag

About HR Tech Weekly

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:                        (Music) Good morning and welcome to HR Tech weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. This is our 45th show. Good morning Stacey. How are you?

Stacey Harris:                        Good morning John, boy 45, that’s a pretty good number. I didn’t realize we had hit that high yet. That means we have been … we will be hitting 50 here in 5 more weeks, right?

John Sumser:                        Yes, we are closing in on the first year. It has been a really great experience.

Stacey Harris:                        Yeah, really. You’ve been on the road.

John Sumser:                        I have been on the road. I have been on the road and it’s starting to get worse. I was in San Francisco, and then Nashville and now I’m in St. Louis and I’m headed for Dallas and then Orange County, California. I feel like a carpet bagger.

Stacey Harris:                        We’ve definitely … We’ve switched I think our traveling schedules here now. Because I have been home and it’s been nice. I’ve been able to get caught up on emails and I’ve been able to get caught up on, at least starting to get some information out to people that have been desperately waiting for it. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re home for a few days. I do feel for you right now; I do know what it’s like to be on that road. We get a lot of conversations. Going to talk about people on the road and communications styles. There is a lot of good information to talk about in the next half hour.

John Sumser:                        Yes. In St. Louis, in St Louis I’m staying right down by the convention center and there is a shirt convention that has 50,000 people associated with it, that’s going on downtown. It’s really amazing you have never seen so many people in suits and ties and big beautiful hats. There are Bentleys and Rolls Royces all over the place. It’s a very well to do, very religious crowd and I haven’t seen a smart phone in 36 hours.

Stacey Harris:                        Wow.

John Sumser:                        It’s, it’s like a … [crosstalk 00:02:26]

Stacey Harris:                        The hats are my personal favorite there.[crosstalk 00:02:35]

John Sumser:                        The hats are amazing and its sequin city. At night when you walk down the street its flashes of sparkle everywhere. It’s wonderful.

Stacey Harris:                        Besides the really great people watching that you’re going through right now, are you there for any particular reason from the HR side? Are you there for a couple of events?

John Sumser:                        Yeah, I’m just here to hang out by the convention center and watch everything happen. No, I’m here for HR Evolution, which is a small, it’s probably a five-year-old event that has maybe 150 people who come to it. They are the new wave of thinkers of how HR works. I come every year just to watch the next class of HR leadership evolve. I’m also going to stop in and see the folks over at Equifax Work Force Solutions, which is at the very edges of HR Tech. It’s a good couple of day visit to St. Louis, Missouri.

Stacey Harris:                        You will have to give us all the details next week after you get through the event. Because I know HR Evolution always has interesting conversations. You were just at another event. The reason that you were … Was it the Achiever’s event, is that correct, that you were at?

John Sumser:                        This is event week. It was party favors and name tags I would be a billionaire in party favors and event tags. I went to the achievers conference on Monday. Achievers has a really interesting idea. The achiever’s idea is that, because Achievers is a recognition automation platform and they have a very, very strong capacity to change organizations by amping up the energy level inside of the organization. They do that in a very simple way. If you get everybody who works in a company to say ‘thank you”, to everybody else, the energy level goes up. The core of the Achievers software is a tool that allows you to change behavior by making everybody more enthusiastic. Now, that means that they’ve got this great software platform where people say nice things to each other, that is the essence of the platform. It’s a totally positive communications channel. What they’re realizing is that people like using their software so much that it makes it a useful place to introduce people to software that they don’t like using so much.

Achievers is coming to market with an open API that allows you to use Achievers as the starting interface for all of the rest of your software. I think it’s a great idea. In the places where rewards and recognition have a role in the culture then you can introduce people to other kinds of software through that interface and perhaps increase user adoption.

Stacey Harris:                        Interesting. I followed Achievers early on, on the talent management space and I’ve always thought they were generally on the edge of what was happening next, at least when it came to rewards and recognition. I know a few years back they talked about maybe even expanding the platform to meet a broader platform. What it’s nice to hear, and I think actually makes a great deal of sense right now is that they’re maybe coming to agreement, or at least a vision that they are more of a starting or entry point with an integration platform. I think that actually is really an interesting conversation to have in the market as whole. Are the administrative platforms that we have all been working toward getting better user experiences, will they ever get to the user experience that’s going to drive people to them? No matter how pretty they look or how simple they are to use, or is it the incentives that drive people to them? Do you need to be a rewards tool?

Do you need to be a place where maybe you’re going to get something that’s motivating you to access it, that becomes the driver for entering into the system? I think it’s a really great thing for Achievers to pick up. I’ve seen it done slightly by Benefits Solutions in some sense, because its where people will go because they have to. I’ve seen it done a little bit with some mobile communications type tools. I don’t know if any of those have really done it effectively as well as it looks like Achievers is diving into it.

John Sumser:                        It’s an exciting idea and we’ll see how it goes. It requires the … There is a coming battle for interface primacy.

Stacey Harris:                        Right.

John Sumser:                        Because nobody can learn 50 pieces of software effectively. It’s not just a single sign on, but a single interface is an important thing that’s coming and people are going to figure out how to get it for themselves if vendors don’t provide it.

Stacey Harris:                        Yeah.

John Sumser:                        I think this is the first shot in the single interface battle. You’ll be watching people fight over who gets to be the interface. It will turn out that that’s the work day business. Being the initial interface and that you can’t be everything to all people. You’re the initial interface and then you have open capacity so that your customers can choose the functionality that they want. That seems likely.

Stacey Harris:                        I think it makes a lot of sense. The other conversation, another place you said you’d had an opportunity to touch base was Deltek. They are more of a play on industry specific needs in this conversation. Which is still what’s driving people to come to the system? Can you talk a little bit about what you saw with Deltek and what they’re trying to do as well?

John Sumser:                        Deltek was not on my radar until they purchased HR Smart, this spring. It turns out that they’ve been nibbling their way towards HR technology for a long time. Deltek provides solutions for companies that are project oriented companies. Engineering house, advertising shops, other sorts of service providers, big consultancies. One of their key sponsors was one of the big accounting firms.

Stacey Harris:                        Uh hum. (affirmative)

John Sumser:                        Those places all manage human beings inside of the matrix rather than in functional organization. What you see is that the people in the functional organizations, the supervisors who are required to deliver the performance management review, don’t have any idea what their people do. They’re really not supposed to, it’s not their job to understand want their people do, it’s their job to be resource facilitators and getting their people to the places where they are needed. There is no way you can micro manage an employee who is busy working for a project manager on a project in another building or another state. You got to get the administrative work load done. The people who are the recipients of normal HR Technology are those functional managers who do performance evaluations and raise planning and that sort of stuff. In the areas where companies are big project management houses, that’s a really bad way to solve the problem. You notice when you think about all the people who have abandoned their performance management systems. They are all companies that do projects.

They are not companies that have functional organizations like a car company or a manufacturing company of some kind.

Stacey Harris:                        Yeah.

John Sumser:                        They are information processing project oriented operations. They’ve given up performance reviews because they don’t work in that setting. The Deltek initiative is to bring talent management tools and technology into the matrix and quite possibly we’ve have a recalling it talent management. You get the function done, but it doesn’t have the stink of HR on it.

Stacey Harris:                        One of my first experiences in talent management. Once of my first and best case studies was a company called Oceaneering. They were the organization out of Louisiana that actually helped cap the BP oil spill and all that. They were deep diving submarines and stuff, big project based organization. Oil and gas industry, but from the piping and supply side of it. Their whole talent management function initially was run by operations, because their whole … The whole operations goal was to get people with the right skills in the right places at the right times. That was truly their … That was the only job that operations had was to make sure these people had high levels of skills. Make sure they were on projects that optimizes them, which was all project based. Operations completely ran talent management and didn’t know what it was. They didn’t call it talent management. I think you’re … Their comments that maybe we shouldn’t call it talent management might actually go a long way with the operations side of any one running projects.

John Sumser:                        That’s right, that’s right. I believe that HR has a deserved reputation for being conservative decision making. When you get into the project world nobody’s got time for conservative decision making so there is always going to be friction with the HR people. It has nothing to do with whether or not HR is a good idea and everything to do with the cultural difference between functional and project organizations.

Stacey Harris:                        That actually brings up another topic maybe along this lines. There was a big article this week out about that was done by the Wall Street Journal, that was done on a New York University Study of the Uber algorithm, and how it is more controlling than a real boss might be. As a software platform it basically it tells the drivers, how … It does their performance reviews for them through their performance tracking. It schedules and prompts them where to be. It provides behavioral suggestions. It has pricing, what your actually going to be paid, wages, all that information. The conversation in the whole article, I thought was interesting in that it really brought up an interesting conversation up about Uber, maybe less about what we call an employee, or how we define an employee. More about the fact of who is the manager in an organization and who needs to be the manager. Are all these systems becoming the level of middle management if they’re done … If they actually have the right tools and data and algorithms to run? Do you think that’s along the lines of this John? Does that fit what you think they’re trying to do at Deltek a little bit too?

John Sumser:                        No, I don’t think that at all. Deltek they’re not looking to tell people what to do. I think you could take a bumper sticker away from our conversation today that says ‘predictive analytics is micromanagement’. Nobody likes micro management. The idea that micro management is what middle managers do is probably partly true, but nobody wants to work in places like that. Where the middle managers are micro managers. I think that what you’re going to discover is that the software helps us see quickly the difference between meddling and leadership.

Stacey Harris:                        There you go, yeah.

John Sumser:                        In leadership you do something different than tell people what to do next.

Stacey Harris:                        One of the side effects that came out of the Uber article which I thought was fascinating, was that the drivers got these notices that said go to a certain location you’ll get paid more money because this is in a high demand area. The system had learned that basically that if they didn’t incent people to go to a certain location they wouldn’t have enough drivers and yet once the drivers got there it was over, basically to many drivers where there so they didn’t basically get the higher rates that they were promised. What ended up happening, drivers were actually coming together as a group and telling everyone to not post where they’re located. So the system couldn’t game them. I think you’re exactly right. What we’re seeing happen with the automation in the systems could really go down this track of what is the worst of probably micro management. The worst essence of it.

John Sumser:                        Yeah.

Stacey Harris:                        On the other hand, if you’re looking at talent management system tied to a project management system that truly can elevate the role of the individual inside that system, that can make a real difference in both how the individual gets job opportunities and how the company can staff appropriately. If it’s done well. It could be, either side could come down as good or bad.

John Sumser:                        I think that’s right. I think that’s right. It’s what you do after you have the data that’s the question. When you bring talent management inside of a project organization, hopefully what happens is you make it possible for people to know each other better. What we we’ve been seeing about data engagement is people feel more engaged in their work when they know the people they work with.

Stacey Harris:                        Yeah.

John Sumser:                        If talent management can become a way that people get to know more about each other, that’s a big deal. That’s a big deal. We’ll see how they do it. They are certainly bright enough and well healed enough and focused enough and understand the project environment better than anybody I’ve ever met.

Stacey Harris:                        That will be an interesting one to watch..

John Sumser:                        Sorry?

Stacey Harris:                        That will be an interesting one to watch. One of the other things I thought was worth mentioning this week. Not really along these lines but sort of on the lines of turning what was more of a process based work and an insight work into a software area as well. CEB came out with an announcement this week that they have acquired Wanted Technologies. You know Wanted better than I do John. We talked about then just before the HR Tech conference. I was interested in the fact that CEB which is a corporate executive board, which is early days was the first foray into ‘we’re going to do just research, and research and some consulting around it and networking and we’re going to make a business around that”. Which over the last several years, with their acquisitions of assessment solutions and assessment tools and engagement tools have really gone down the path of ‘we are not going to become a software company’ at least as far as data gathering goes. Is that the balance that organizations are going to have to find?

That it’s a mix between research and insight and software that gathers that data to be able to come up with good information. I’m not sure that’s where CEBs is going to end up but is seems like that’s what their goal is, is to become a software company, with more data than anyone else at this point. Had you heard about that particular acquisition this week?

John Sumser:                        That’s been in various stages of happening for six months.

Stacey Harris:                        Uh hum. (affirmative)

John Sumser:                        The question about what is the corporate executive board now that they don’t just give best practice they sell best practices?

Stacey Harris:                        Yeah.

John Sumser:                        They’re not telling you that you might want to do ‘X’ they’re giving you the tools with which to do ‘X’. I think that’s more than a transition into becoming a software company. That’s going away from research that says ‘here’s the best practice’ to a position that says ‘the best practice is to hire us’. I don’t know that you can do that. I don’t know that you can do that. I believe that customers want to find separation between advice and product. You don’t see successful systems integrators selling the entire line that they’re integrating.

Stacey Harris:                        Yeah.

John Sumser:                        You don’t see successful implementation companies insisting their customers use a specific tool. That business of having an inherent conflict in your product line is often overlooked by acquisition hungry executives.

Stacey Harris:                        It’s going to be interesting to watch. I remember when they first picked up what was SHL, and the assessment tools around that. There was, at that point in time a big gasp in the market, which is can you talk about a best practice of doing engagement and assessments when your offering engagements and assessments? I think they are just going further and further into this space. We have seen this with other consulting first. This is definitely where Tyler Watson has gone. This is, you’re seeing in some sense Deloitte is offering some now, products and solutions in their own little space. Not the whole model as you’ve talked about though. You’re seeing it in some of the other consulting firms. Is there always going to be that tension between the fact that once you think you have the best practices it feels right to actually start to create the tools to do that?

John Sumser:                        That growth is a tricky thing. Smart executives always have challenging trouble coming up with ways to continue to grow their company.

Stacey Harris:                        Uh hum. (affirmative)

John Sumser:                        You might think of, does jump the shark mean something to you?

Stacey Harris:                        It does yes. Yes, I used to watch Fonzie and Happy Days in my youth. You haven’t quite gotten that far yet away from it.

John Sumser:                        This may be CEBs jump the shark moment. Because all of the rest of the consulting companies, and there’s a ton of them, are clearly aware that software companies have better valuations. They’re all struggling to become subscription oriented services and so they will follow suit doing things like CEB is doing. Because CEB looks visionary, but the problem is the product line compromises the core business. It won’t work over the long haul. CEB is very definitive about failing the consulting test. It won’t work over the long haul and CEB will have to disinvest themselves of these additional profit centers and stick to its knitting.

Stacey Harris:                        It will be something interesting to watch. We saw … One of the big conversations this week was about AHP tearing itself down to the smallest entity. Is that somewhat what we’re going to see happen with all these big aggregations of consulting and software technology as well? Down the road? The other conversation that we had John, that’s worth mentioning as we’re wrapping up here today was about communications. You had mentioned a Facebook article. Do you maybe want to talk a little bit about that. Because I have a couple of other articles that fit into that conversation coming from Google and other places today. Do you want to talk a little bit about what Facebook is doing and why you think it’s going to change some dynamics?

John Sumser:                        There are two pieces of Facebook news. One piece of Facebook news is that utilization of Facebook has dropped by almost 50% in the last years. This year 34% of Facebook users updated their status 37% shared their photos, last year it was 50 and 50%. People are using Facebook functionality less and messaging as the primary App in social media is on the increase. What happened with Facebook that’s most interesting to the HR and recruiting audience is Facebook made it possible for any member to communicate with any other member, in a way that hasn’t been possible before. There is a big fuss going on in the recruiting world because, if Facebook messaging tool that reaches everybody in Facebook is infinitely preferable to LinkedIn Mail, which doesn’t have great response rates. Facebook has taken a direct shot at LinkedIn most observable Achilles heel with this new messaging approach. I think what we’ll see is a pretty quick transition of dollars to Facebook from sourcing people. That will work until all of the sources in the world are using Facebook and that drives everybody away from Facebook and we’re on to the next thing.

Stacey Harris:                        Exactly. I was going to say … Part of the reason, and I’m not surprised the numbers are down on Facebook. As you gain more people, and people aren’t necessarily over time, you get that issue where there are just some people who don’t leverage tools like this but they sign up for it. I think the more important thing is that the younger generation, particularly which would be my son’s age, in the 20s and 16s and teens … I don’t know about your kids John, but they don’t use Facebook. They really have avoided it because their parents are on it and their Grandparents and their Aunts and their Uncles. It has become the community that they are trying to avoid as teenagers and young kids. Now, I’ve asked my kids where they’re talking, and most of the conversation, it sounds like, at least what they’re willing to share with their mother is on Twitter and Snapchat, which has their own challenges and issues.

I think there’s other tools that are growing rapidly for the youth. Is that going to be a challenge for someone like Facebook, or will they continue to purchase those applications and make that part of their ecosystem and start to build that in as well do you think? Is this going to be a model of ‘we’re going to have multiple communication channels and we’re just going to have to know where to reach people at’?

John Sumser:                        I think … I don’t know how this all settles out. I don’t have a picture of the long range future. For the last 25 years every time a new communications tool has emerged it’s gotten over used and junky and created the need for the next communications tool. I don’t see how that stops.

Stacey Harris:                        One of the articles that I picked up on, that I just was fascinated by was Google now, which I don’t know how many people have Gmail. I know a lot of people do, and I know you use Google a lot more than I do. Google is now putting in a neural network to compose email responses for you, Smart Reply. Which will read your emails and it’s not just a rules based engine, but an actual tool that goes in and looks at the context and basically gives each word an individual number and then that context is adjusted and read through. Have you, you use Google a lot more than I John, have you started using … Because they say it’s going to be available here later this week the Smart Reply on beta testing, yet?

John Sumser:                        Oh God, I’d love that. The sorting. When I get off the phone with you I have to go do 85 pieces of email each one of which requires a thoughtful answer. (laughter)

Stacey Harris:                        (laughter)

John Sumser:                        You know that will take me all day. That will take me all day, it’s a lot of work. If Google will answer my mail for me, I’m for it.

Stacey Harris:                        Okay.

John Sumser:                        The only thing I would like better than that is if it would send my mail for me too. All that I have to do then is just click on Google and get money. I would be happy to live in a world where it writes my email and answers my email. Hopefully it does that with other people who are having Google writing theirs. So Google just talks to Google and I get money. I’m for it.

Stacey Harris:                        Exactly, the future, Google talking to Google. As we think about the new locations for how to reach people, we are going to probably start to see questions like ‘did you really answer it or did your bot answer it?’. What does the difference mean whether you answer something or a bot answers something, do you like someone better if you actually type in your own answer versus a bot reply? That will become the next conversation.

John Sumser:                        Oh great, let’s have that next week.

Stacey Harris:                        Yes.

John Sumser:                        Maybe we can have our bots do the radio show next week.

Stacey Harris:                        We can maybe in time, yes. (laughter) Well John we have run through our 30 minutes once again, and you are off to a number of meetings and everything else this week. Will you be home next Thursday when we do next week’s call, or you will still be on the road then?

John Sumser:                        Actually, I will be on the road next week. We will have to swap some email about getting the scheduling right next week.

Stacey Harris:                        Okay, good.

John Sumser:                        Thanks Stacey, another great 1/2 hour. I’m sorry I hogged it today, but it was a good conversation I thought. Thanks everybody for listening into the 45th episode of HR Tech Weekly, one step closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Have a great day.

Stacey Harris:                        Thanks everyone. Bye.

John Sumser:                        Bye bye. (music)

End Transcript

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