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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 7AM Pacific – 10AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

HR Tech Weekly

Episode: 69
Air Date: May 5, 2016


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 7AM Pacific – 10AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

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Begin Transcript

John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly: One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser, with Erin Spencer sitting in. This is our 69th show, and we’re scattered all around the country. I’m in downtown San Francisco. Where are you, Stacey?


Stacey Harris: I’m in North Carolina right now. We’re dealing with the same rain I think that the Texas group got last week, so we are deluged by gray skies and rain, not quite as much, but we had golf ball sized hail yesterday. Erin, you’re out in Cleveland, right?


Erin Spencer: I’m in Cleveland, and it’s gray and rainy here.


Stacey Harris: Okay. Yeah, we’re all over the place today, John.


John Sumser: Yeah. Where’s the sunshine? I want the sunshine.


Stacey Harris: I think it has left the United States. It might be because some of our recent news updates? I don’t know, maybe it’s decided there is no sun left to shine.


John Sumser: Or it’s busy being shoved up certain pieces of the anatomy and-


Stacey Harris: Yeah.


John Sumser: -something like that. What’s in the mailbag, Stacey?


Stacey Harris: Well, we have some great topics this week. Actually, more than we might be able to cover in our half hour but we’ll see what we can get through. You went to two events this week. I’m off the road; I won’t be traveling for the rest of the summer, so everybody who I don’t get a chance to see, I’m sorry. You get to go to GuideSpark’s Analyst Event and a design conference this week so we’ll spend a little bit of time talking about both. I think they both had some common themes about communicating in the HR tech space. There’s an interesting article that came out this week about a lawsuit being held against PwC for discrimination against older job applicants and it looks like it’s a pretty … They’ve got a strong standing for this lawsuit.


They cite some other references of recent lawsuits and … that have been around this same topic. We also have and interesting story about Stripes, a small startup. This is an ink magazine and I always like getting some stories from ink magazine because they always really pull up some of those really unique, small organizations. The topic here really is about hiring teams. This is a small startup that has decided that they are advertising to hiring not just you but the team you want to work with, so we’ll talk a little bit about whether or not we think that is actually something that’s happening.


Is this just a fad that a small company’s trying to do or is this something that might make sense for larger organizations. If we have a little bit of time, there’s some great conversation we had about Walmart finding a thousand STEM workers, technology workers and science workers, working in their organization already and, in many cases, in their retail environments when they went out looking for … recruiting in this space, that they normally wouldn’t have gone to. Then we have an interesting story about Lowe’s and this is … They’re one of many but I think particularly they’re one of the largest in the market doing this right now is saving money on insurance. Offering higher-end, less option service … insurance offerings but offering free surgery on certain surgeries for all their employees; not just their corporate employees, but all their employees if they go to certain locations for their surgeries. They’ve basically got bundled packages that they’ve [built 00:03:51]. Lots of topics, John. Where would you like to start? Want to start talking a little about the places you visited this week and some of the things you learned and the events you went to?


John Sumser: I went to a fantastic conference called Mind the Product in Downtown San Francisco yesterday. It was 1,000 product managers generally from technology industries. Product managers are the people who run the intersection of the marketing requirements, generation people who figure out what the product is supposed to do and decoders that are supposed to do it and the user-interface people who make it look good. They’re responsible for these being cross-functional teams. The general category is design but what they really do is cause products to happen in large or small matrix organizations. What I found interesting is that they were more enthusiastic and more excited and more interested in what makes a great team and how does it work than anybody I’ve ever run across in HR in all of these years.


That’s because if you don’t get the team right, the product doesn’t get built. It’s not some theory about all teams should be happy; it’s what do we got to do to get this product built in the way that delivers the largest amount of value for our customer with the minimum amount of investment time and resources? It was astonishing. It was astonishing to see because they’re very up front. “A happy team gets more shots on goal,” they said. There wasn’t some debate about whether engagement is or isn’t a good thing and blah-blah blah-blah blah. A happy team gets more shots on goal. That’s pretty easy to understand.


Stacey Harris: Was thee any conversation at the event about what type of teams are more likely to have levels of innovation? Because that’s the other thing right now we’re dealing with in the market, right? Which is you can have a team that can produce what you ask it to produce, right? Building the right team to do that. What about innovative teams? Something that’s different to the market?


John Sumser: I’m not sure I know exactly what that means. In this case, most of the teams are trying to build things that have never been built before and so on some level, product design teams are all about innovation. They’re all about innovation. This isn’t this … In software, what can happen is the product design team can become a bureaucracy that just processes changes. I think you’ve seen that and I’ve seen that but these were largely product development rather than product maintenance. What they do is innovation. This is how you organize innovation. Happy, cross-functional teams.


Stacey Harris: Any Why’s with them you picked up besides just “have happy teams”? Any ways to make the teams happy that you picked up out of this session? Or was it more just about “Get the right team together”?


John Sumser: Well, they talked about overbearing administrative processes being one of the things that destroys teams. They talked bout an array of leadership styles that destroy teams. They talked about the importance of direct discussion of performance as something that can make or break a team. Yeah, what they’re talking about are the exact same topics that you hear about in HR and HR technology conferences, without all of the trying to apply it in places where it may not matter, stuff. It was extremely interesting. There were not cases of this works this way for this team and this works that way for that team. There was an underlying assumption that everybody is trying to figure out what’s required and then make it. It’s all the same kind of team.


Stacey Harris: All the same kind of team.


John Sumser: Yep, so it’s great. It was very refreshing.


Stacey Harris: If I understood what you were talking about earlier when we were chatting a little bit about what you said what GuideSpark’s trying to do … GuideSpark’s a benefits communication organization or has been for the last several years. It’s grown pretty rapidly and you went to their analyst event and they’re trying to cover repeatable communications, which is this concept that if everybody is, as teams, doing something of the same thing, there’s a lot of repeatable communications that happen in a company. Can you talk a little bit more about GuideSpark’s event, too? Did that fit with what you learned with the Mind the Product event or were those really, really different from your perspective?


John Sumser: It’s as if they were two separate universes, I would say. It’s very different because the product design people are very, very task focused. The world at GuideSpark … GuideSpark is a highly technical company in Silicon Valley, in the universe around the oracle plantation. What they do is make repeatable communications that are done over and over again. On boarding might be an example or benefits administration might be an example. They see HR as being divided into stuff you repeat and stuff you don’t repeat. They want to be the heart of a system that says the stuff you repeat should be repeated in your company and it can be repeated in the company next door. Let’s figure out how to do that.


In order to do that, they’ve done extraordinarily deep and interesting technical developments. They’ve got a real-time video editing tool that allows you to treat your video as a template and I’ve never seen anything like that or I don’t think there’s another product in any other universe that quickly enables you to shift as if it were a green screen elements of a video without having to have green screen involved. Like the gizmos you can wear in Google Hangouts that are digital overlays on your video image but better. Like that but better.


Stacey Harris: Just to make sure I understand what you’re talking about, if I understand, what they have is an authoring tool of their content and at the heart of it, any kind of repeatable content generally would be seen as educational content in any HR environment. Any sort of information that doesn’t change is usually information that you’re trying to train or educate people on, on a regular basis. These are authoring tools and I remember … because I went to the last year’s event; I didn’t go to this year’s event but I remember them talking about their authoring tool. It was similar to something like Trivantis or something like Lectora tools or even the older versions of [inaudible 00:12:14] but they have put some of their own, I think, twists on those industry-standard tools to make them a little bit more user friendly. They’re a newer version of Skillsoft, would you say, or do you think that’s taking it too far?


John Sumser: Tell me what you mean by that? Tell me what “newer version of Skillsoft” means to you.


Stacey Harris: Skillsoft made … I mean, basically the content creator, content catalog organizations made a great deal of money and a great, large business off of creating catalogs of standardized content that you would do minimal changes to … very minimal changes to … that you could roll out to everybody in any organization that was dealing with things like needing to train people on Microsoft or needing to educate people on leadership or needing to educate people on ideas around team development. If I’m understanding you, what GuideSpark is doing is they’re saying, “Okay, so now we’re going to make this a little bit more HR specific but it is still standardized content and we’re going to also make it a little bit more editable, only from a perspective of change the font, change the color, change maybe our logo.” That type of thing. Is that what I’m understanding?


John Sumser: Yes, but. This is all of that on steroids, featuring modular video that can be tailored in the way that you describe. They have a catalog of 2,000 sub modules of information. For instance, in the benefits conversation they may have 45 modules of information but you only are interested in 7 so the video package that you get only covers those 7 things. The video package that you get that covers those seven things is done in the branding of your company with characters of your company’s choosing, delivering messaging that can be tailored in the animation parts of the video to the very deep specifics of your brand. It’s much more configurable content than it is simply boilerplate.


Stacey Harris: Well, then that might be the real term, right? That might be the interesting change you’re talking about, is configurable content from an education perspective. I don’t think we’ve heard that term used in a very long time. They used to try to do it with the idea of learning objects but they were just still too much of … You couldn’t change what was inside that learning object. What you’re saying is that these are configurable inside the learning objects. Probably along the lines of micro learning, which is the new trend out there in the learning space. At the end of the day, GuideSpark is an HR company that might be the most innovative learning company that we have in the space right now, or at least getting there, right?


John Sumser: Its’ possible. It’s possible that that’s true. They’re having some challenges adjusting to the market. That said, it’s a very, very interesting play and there is a really great line which to describe what they’re doing.


Stacey Harris: A lot of what they’re tailoring their communications to, it sounds like, would be the millennial generation, right? Video, animation. A little bit more on the quirky side when you listen to some of their tools. We’ve done a lot of tailoring in our learning content; in our work approaches; in our style of recruiting these days toward the younger generation. There was this wonderful lawsuit, if you want to call it wonderful, being assessed against Pricewarehousecooper, or PwC, for discriminating against older job applicants. Basically, what has happened is that they’ve basically been accused of maintaining, through recruiting efforts, a taxation or auditing function that is on average 27 years old when the average tax law auditing role’s auditors are actually 43 years old if you look across all of those roles, across all companies in the bureau of labor statistics data.


The lawsuit was brought by a gentleman named Steve Rabin, 53, who is a certified public accountant, who was turned down for an accounting job at PwC. He’s saying there’s precedence in this where he is … there was also some lawsuit spread against Facebook in 2013 with a settled claim by California state agency on this topic. There was lawsuits brought against Google and Twitter and IBM, recently, lost a bid in November to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit claiming it lied about needing to downside so it could replace older workers with recent graduates. John, what do you think about this? I have a bit of a pet peeve on this space but do you think our focus on the millennial generation has caused this or is this just a single company issue?


John Sumser: Our culture, in general, favors youth over age. It’s a consumer culture. It may be that younger people are easier marks and so a consumer culture would prefer to have them as customers. That goes all the way into the workforce. If you think about how applicant-tracking systems are designed, they are designed to hire people who have never been hired before. They’re designed to move people into jobs that are first jobs and so there’s, I think, an extraordinary, structural bias in HR, in companies to favor young or younger workers. They’re cheaper. They work longer. They’re more likely to see the stupid things. It seems to me it’s natural that you’d favor hiring in that direction.


Stacey Harris: In your sense, PwC isn’t just discriminating on the end by saying that older workers aren’t what we want in our organization in general, maybe by the way we do our hiring practices, but they’re seeing the younger generation as a group of people they can take more advantage of, right? Not just that they’re better workers? That’s probably a really bad way to say that but-


John Sumser: Yeah, that’s awful. It’s really the culture. The culture favors the young. I’m not sure it hasn’t always been like that. I’m not sure that this is an unnatural thing at all. I believe that that trying to correct the focus on the young is a reasonable social justice agenda but I have the hardest time imagining a group … because all the people who run business are old white guys, right? Here, you’ve got these old white guys smoking cigarettes and drinking bourbon, sitting around the table going, “How can we steal some more money? I know. Let’s [inaudible 00:20:32].” I don’t think that happens. I don’t think anything like that happens. I think that’s a bit of craziness.


Stacey Harris: It’s cynical?


John Sumser: Huh? Cynical?


Stacey Harris: It’s a bit cynical? Is that what you’re saying?


John Sumser: Your grandmother is going to fire her kids. Yeah, no. That’s not really the thing. I’m sure there’s some [sharp 00:20:57] spreadsheets and I’m sure that age discrimination is a factor but I’m not sure it’s a conspiracy. I’m not at all sure that’s a conspiracy. It’s just-


Stacey Harris: Well, and I think-


John Sumser: When you go to control costs, you take out the stuff that costs a lot. How else would you do it?


Stacey Harris: That’s the challenge, right? The workforce is the most expensive cost, particularly in consulting firms like at PwC. I think that the opportunity oftentimes that we’re seeing in this conversation about technology-driven recruiting, is that sometimes technology mixed with what we think we want at and organization can create some outcomes that can be very, very scary at the end of the day if you look at them through that lens. That’s, I think, going to be the challenge for all organizations that are large and small who are leveraging technology and looking more at the type of person they want and maybe not the long-term outcome they were trying to get.


John Sumser: I think it’s really difficult and this is where reporting and analytics makes a big difference. It’s really difficult if I’m trying to hire you for a job and then I go try to hire me for a job and then I go try to hire someone else for a job, pretty soon I’m hiring all old people and, sorry Stacey, you’re old now.


Stacey Harris: I’m old. I know. I admit it freely. I hit that mark. I’m no longer the new kid on the block.


John Sumser: Yep, yep. It’s very easy to fall into patterns of habit that are not healthy for the company. When each, individual transaction is the focus of the work [that’s done 00:22:50]. I’m just taking a long way of saying it’s hard to see the forest for the trees so you can make mistakes at the forest level by doing a great job at the tree level. That’s, I guess, the most optimistic way to describe what we’re talking about, is that bias and discrimination can happen accidentally but that’s not a good enough excuse.


Stacey Harris: Yep. Well, another story that came out this week, which I thought was along these lines but not really … I mean, not as far as technically in looking at it but more so on the team base is there is a startup … it’s a small organization. This Stripe Engineering group announced a new policy that it is basically trying to hire teams of the engineers that work in their industry by hiring the teams. Basically, they’re putting out a notice saying that if you want to apply as a team, make sure to include all the resumes and all the CVs for each person that you want to … and what role you think they’ll play and what they’re applying for. A brief description of how well they know each other and how they work together.


They’ll give them a task to complete as a team, it seems, and they are hiring whole teams for this organization that is a fast-growing engineering organization. I know you put out on Facebook this article, as well. We both saw it about the same time. I thought this was brilliant and scary all at the same time. I could remember a conversation with the head of a very large media … Big, big media function saying that they were dealing with, probably about five years ago, with whole teams quitting because they would find a team of people who were developing a certain movie or game or something would all find that they could actually do better by leaving that company and contracting back or starting their own business or going some place else as a whole team. This is the first time I’ve heard about recruiting the teams like that. What do you think about this, John?


John Sumser: The term is [aquahire 00:25:02] and that means buying a company for the team or hiring the team. If you look at what’s happening with venture capital investing right now, which is that the number of deals is going up and the value per deal is going down, what you’re seeing is this model of selling teams to companies is expanding pretty rapidly in the technical area. It’s a great idea. There’s always the question of what do you do next and what do you do when the team leaves? You’re always held hostage to that but one of the reasons you pick a CIO or a head of IT anymore in a startup is because they have their network. They can bring their network to work and that’s just another way of saying that they’re bringing their own team to the new place.


Stacey Harris: Yeah, well and I have done this myself in many organizations. You all join and organization and, as Erin knows, we put the word out that we’ve joined an organization and all of a sudden we have people who come join us. This is just a ramped up version of that, right?


Erin Spencer: Absolutely.


John Sumser: That’s right.


Erin Spencer: Stacey, one of the things I know we talked about years ago was wasn’t it so sad that we were changing jobs that we couldn’t keep all of our friends. A least this is a way to essentially codify keeping all of your friends and then you know you have people that you know you work with that you like and that you know you can get along with. Most people don’t leave a bad job; they leave a bad boss. This way, you know you liked your boss, especially if you go with that team.


John Sumser: Yep.


Stacey Harris: John-


John Sumser: Go ahead.


Stacey Harris: I was going to say the other side of this was the other article that I thought … I just wanted to make sure that … There was also the story of Walmart finding a thousand … They were looking for technical workers. They decided that, instead of looking for technical workers, they were going to look inside their company. They were going to do a concerted letter to every employee in their company, even at the retail level, and say “These are the skill sets we’re looking for. Do you have them?” They got 1,000 replies back of people who fit the skill sets that they needed for their technology group for this STEM innovation function they were creating. This idea that hiring internally or hiring teams is a struggle, I guess, and that we’re going to see more and more unique ways of finding these people with skill sets that we’re looking for. Is this where recruiting is heading? Is this something it’s always been doing or is this something new?


John Sumser: I’m not sure it’s any of those things. When you hire somebody … Let’s say I’m hiring you to be the underwater basket weaver. What I’m interested in is can you do the underwater basket weaving job? That’s what I need to … that’s the pain I’m suffering. I hire you for that and you know what? Probably not all that interested in a lot of the other attributes of your life at the time that I’m hiring you for underwater basket weaving. It’s probably not a big surprise to find out that you’re good at other stuff. The question is how do you keep track of that? How do you remember and how do you know it so that if your needs change, if you’re like most companies today and something brand new happens tomorrow and you don’t know what it is, the question is how do you go back and look at your people differently so that you can see that the underwater basket weaver has a STEM degree of some kind?


Stacey Harris: Well, that’s the thing that, to me, really made a big … When I saw this article the first thing I said was, “Well, they had to send an email out for this. Why didn’t they have this built into a talent management system? Walmart’s [been one of the early 00:29:13] talent management system organizations.” Is this the failure of what everybody said was the talent management systems were going to be? That they have to still send emails out to get to this information?


John Sumser: Oh, you know the idea that somehow your talent management system is going to care more about the person that you’re trying to hire than you do … That’s stupid. That’s just stupid. What’s going to go in the talent management system is the stuff that’s relevant to the work that we’re trying to get done. What’s interesting is if you have a good inventory of all of the social footprint of all of your people, you could come to some of these conclusions because in that world, people are expressing what they want people to know. Inside the company world, they’re expressing what you want to know. What you want to know is are they good enough for the job because you don’t have time to know everybody on a deep, personal level. I think it points to a great opportunity, actually.


Stacey Harris: Well, it may be a great opportunity or through a lack of connecting the data points and so you still have to … the opportunity is still there to get some of this into a way that we can start to leverage it to individualize each person. I know we went through our half hour but just before we log off, right before we started today we got a quick email from one of the PR firms making some interesting news about Sage. Sage is one of the most well known ERP finance systems, is probably a better way to … finance systems in this space, particularly for mid market and small organizations.


It looks like Sage is investing in the next round of funding for Fairsell. Fairsell is a HRMS solution that is built off of and off of their platform. They’re going to, it looks like, Sage is committed to lead Fairsell’s next funding round and will acquire a $10 million minor stake in the business. It’ll maybe be worth opening up next week’s conversation to talk a little bit about this, John. We’re seeing some more names pop up that have been considered older brands of the finance and HR space that are now, I think, trying to take some leading roles, wouldn’t you say?


John Sumser: It’s time. The real generational change in technology is now happening [full bore inaudible 00:32:04] and older companies need to adjust their business models to remain in business. We’re going to see a lot of this stuff. We’re going to see a lot of this stuff.


Stacey Harris: Well, we can definitely talk more about that topic next week but it’s been an interesting conversation. We’ve gone from designing teams to communicating and education of the HR content to really covering all the stuff about is there such a thing as age discrimination? How does it happen? Why does it happen? Are we leveraging our talent management data appropriately when we look at hiring teams or finding the right people inside of companies? We’ve covered quite a gamut today in our conversation, John.


John Sumser: Yeah. It was great, as usual, and thanks for sitting in, Erin.


Erin Spencer: Thanks for having me, guys.


John Sumser: Until next week. It’s been a great show again. Until next week, this has been HR Tech Weekly: One Step Closer with Stacey Harris, John Sumser and Erin Spencer sitting in. Have a great rest of your day.


Stacey Harris: Thanks, everyone.

End Transcript

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