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HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Jason Averbook
Episode: 90
Air Date: April 3, 2015

 

Audio MP3

Jason Averbook is recognized as one of the top thought leaders in the space of HR, workforce and enterprise technology. Previously Jason was the Chief Business Innovation Officer at Appirio, which acquired Knowledge Infusion, the company he co-founded and served as CEO. He has also held senior positions at both PeopleSoft and Ceridian Corporation.

Jason brings with him over 20 years of invaluable experience helping organizations resolve common business problems through the use of innovative solutions. As one CEO has said about Jason, “He just gets it and can put it into language that we get.”

Jason has been a contributor to Inc., Businessweek, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CIO Magazine, HR Executive Online, Talent Management Magazine, NPR, SHRM, IHRIM, and other well-known publications. He was named as one of the World’s 10 Most Powerful HR Technology Experts by HR Executive Magazine.

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Transcript

 
Begin transcript

John Sumser:

Good afternoon and welcome to the HR Examiner Radio Show. This is your host John Sumser. We’re coming to you live today from beautiful downtown Occidental, California, the place where innovation got its real start in the great state of California. The sun’s out, the roses are in bloom, the camellias are littering the ground and it’s a great day to be alive here. Today we’re really lucky, we get to talk with Jason Averbook. Jason is one of the seminal figures in the evolution of HR technology, and I’m going to let him tell you about that story. Jason, how are you this morning?

Jason Averbook:

Hey, I’m awesome. I am in Beverly Hills, California today where I’m not quite sure that there’s as much greenery as you just discussed, but the sun is shining nonetheless. I’ve learned in my time here in California that we’re running out of water also. Maybe that’s a topic for another call.

John Sumser:

Yeah, I live right on the Russian River, and we’re worried. We’re worried. The Rushing River is one of the places where all of the water in L.A. comes from, and we’d like to keep some of it up here, but there doesn’t seem to be enough of it to go around.

Jason Averbook:

We will see. I think it’s interesting. Anyway, great joining today.

John Sumser:

Yeah, thanks. You’ve had this extraordinary, high profile career at HR Technology, which is place that we hold dear but most people have never heard of. How is it that you have become the equivalent of rock royalty in the HR Technology space these days?

Jason Averbook:

Sorry. Thank you for the compliment first of all. I think one of the things that’s really interesting about any industry or niche part of an industry is that you have people, and John I’m going to put you in this category as well. You have people who put their necks out to try to make an industry better, to try to make a community better. Really from day one that I’ve been in this space, that’s what I tried to do. I just tried to say how can we possibly take what we’re doing and make it better? I think that unfortunately I’ve had some situations in life where I didn’t necessarily know if I was going to live the next day, and because of that I take the attitude in life that you live every day like it’s you’re last and you should try to make life a better place.

That’s really all I do. Whether people see it as rock royalty or not, that’s a whole different topic. I love the concept of connectivity, I love the concept of connecting people. I love the concept of education. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a businessperson. All of that stuff together I guess is what makes it, as what you said, rock royalty, I like to think of it as just trying to give back to a community that has fed me and fed my family.

John Sumser:

That’s modest and modesty suits you. You’ve spent time, I believe the list is Ceridian, Peoplesoft, your own company, Knowledge Infusion, which you sold into Appirio, and now Marcus Buckingham. Marcus Buckingham by the way is now the consultant to Deloitte, so it’s a high end operation.

Jason Averbook:

You know John the funny thing is, first of all, I guess in today’s world that’s not that many jobs. There’s a story behind how it goes, and it’s basically I started my career in this particular industry on a fluke by selling notebooks to Controlled Data, and one day they said, “Hey, you’ve done a really good job selling us notebooks, would you be interested in selling payroll.” I was like, “Wow, I kind of think notebooks are cool, I kind of think payroll sounds boring.” They convinced me to do that, and from that point it’s been 20 some years of working in implementation, product strategy, product marketing, really doing the same type of thing, which is trying to figure out how to make technology change a function that’s one of the oldest functions in the world.

I tried it on the product side, and I said, “Wow, on the product side, it’s missing services.” Then I went to the services side and I said, “Wow, on the services side there’s a lot here,” but customers still don’t see the big picture. They think that technology is the answer to everything. Really what I wanted to do is join a company, which I’ve done in Marcus Buckingham now as CEO, to say I want to do both. I actually want to develop solutions and surround it with sustainable services to actually create a long term relationship and make the software secondary, but the relationship and the services primary.

Really if you think about it from my career standpoint, I’ve tried software only, I tried services only, now where I’m at is doing both simultaneously to see if that truly can make a difference.

John Sumser:

It’s going to be an interesting experiment. The street has for decades now rewarded software licensing revenues and punished services revenues in valuation, which has created some crazy situations where software companies are cut off from their R&D because they can’t afford to have customer relationships that are robust and maintain the stock price. You’re swimming against the turn by trying to blend those two things I think, do you agree

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, totally, which I love. Which call me stupid, but I love that. I think that from the standpoint of long term value, the long term value in relationship that you build with clients and the quote/unquote “stickiness” that we all look for that relationship, I truly believe that if you can create situations where your product is very scalable, which as we know in the software and the service world it is, and then you can actually create services that are scalable as well, that you have an amazing opportunity to even take that multiple that comes along with just the software side and increase it with value added services that you don’t consume in the same way that you consume a single statement of work but you consume them in a subscription model or a bundle that ties everything together, that in this case that ties together coaching, consulting, education, metrics, analytics as well as software to truly say how is an organization driving performance and engagement. That’s really what we’re up to.

John Sumser:

I know I’m only loosely familiar with Marcus Buckingham, and I’m going to guess that most of the people who listen to this that would at best think that Marcus Buckingham is some sort of a Las Vegas star. What’s the company about and who the hell is Marcus Buckingham?

Jason Averbook:

Great, great question. Marcus is an amazing gentleman, and I had the opportunity to meet Marcus at different speaking events but really got to know him about a year ago. Really where Marcus got his roots and where he really started to grow into this space is a background and studying in England, really focused around educational psychology and focused on selection and focusing on developing interviews, developing surveys that identify talents and people, and over time continued that work to the point where Marcus moved in to work at Gallup and Marcus was the individual along with Donald Clifton who actually wrote the engagement tool called the Q12, that a lot of people use when it comes to engagement.

Based on all of those surveys, he then wrote his first book which was called First Break All The Rules, which became one of the top one hundred best selling business books of all time. Since that time, also had continued to write books. First Now Discover Your Strengths, which was really tied into a Strengths Finder Assessment, Putting Your Strengths To Work, all the way along to the latest work, which is Standout, which is a brand new assessment really tied into helping you understand your strengths and helping people work towards their strengths versus their weaknesses.

Marcus is a data science guy at heart. That’s his background, data science, and he also is an amazing speaker. He’s turned that into a series of books, and what we’re doing from a Marcus Buckingham Company Standpoint now is taking all of that work and combining all of that work into a series of consumable services around coaching, executive coaching and education combined with a technology platform that is always on, that is mobile, that is tied to not just doing performance once a year, not just doing engagement once a year but always on quick pulse, quick check in, really driving engagement, focused on strengths. The research that goes into that is immense combined with the technology behind it that we’ve developed, which is immense.

It creates a really, really interesting offering that we have today about 1,300 clients using and those 1,300 clients range in size from two to three team leaders in an organization to thousands of team leaders in an organization, and that’s what’s really, really been interesting.

John Sumser:

You really came into your own when you started your own company. What’s it like to go to work for somebody else again? Go ahead.

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, no, it’s a great, great question. I always think you work for someone. You work for someone no matter what you’re doing. At Knowledge Infusion I worked for an industry. Right now I work for a board of directors, but that board of directors is such and the situation is such where I truly work for an industry here as well. We’ve been blessed too the way that we structured our funding. Early on, as part of me joining the company as CEO, we took a series of funding from a company called SurveyMonkey, and a lot of people have heard of SurveyMonkey, but the interesting thing about SurveyMonkey is Survey Monkey is all about data and science as well. Dave Goldberg, who is the CEO of SurveyMonkey, is very, very interested in what we’re doing when it comes to engagement, when it comes to data, and has made a significant investment in us to help us grow our business.

Some know and some don’t know that Dave is the husband of Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook and Facebook is one of our largest customers when it comes to executive coaching, executive development and things like that. Between Marcus, Dave Goldberg, Sheryl Sandberg, I feel like I’m working, John, in a space that’s really tied into how do I drive business success, not in a space that’s really tied into old school HR and HR technology, and to me that’s really, really refreshing, A, and B, it allows us and it gives us the lens to look through, which says you’re no longer developing software that’s tied to HR. You’re developing software and technologies and solutions that are tied to team leaders, business team leaders. Business team leaders who want to use these tools, business team leaders who want to get better. It’s not something that’s being pushed out from an HR standpoint, and from that standpoint it’s just wicked ass fun.

To answer your question, I don’t really feel like I work for someone any different than I have in the past.

John Sumser:

Got it. If you are moving beyond HR, who’s the customer? Who writes the check?

Jason Averbook:

It’s really fascinating. The person that writes that check in our business ranges from today I’m heading over to Manhattan Beach to a company that does automobile parts work and the person that bought our software there and bought our solutions there was the Vice President of Operations. The Vice President of Operations goal was really to drive culture and engagement in the company, A, and B, give team leaders the ability to understand exactly how their people are working. If I take a look at our work with Deloitte that you talked about a little bit earlier, our main customer there was the Chief Talent Officer who actually said, “I want to reinvent how we do performance management and engagement management since what we’re doing today from a business leader standpoint doesn’t work.”

I always look at it as two different branches. There’s the branch of the HR executive who’s really, really, really trying to change the way that the business works and how the business operates. Then there’s the business itself who’s basically saying, I think I can say this on your show, “Screw that.”

John Sumser:

Sure you could.

Jason Averbook:

I’m not going to continue doing performance reviews that don’t mean anything. I’m not going to really base my decisions on engagement surveys that are done once a year. I’m going to put in business tools that actually mean something to the business where the business totally buys into it and at the end of the day who’s measuring the usability and who’s measuring the success of the relationship with TNBC is not the HR department, it’s the business. I’d say seventy-five percent of our customers are the business writing the checks, not the HR function.

John Sumser:

That’s interesting, it cooled it here, the idea that the HR ghetto is somehow a central entity in the business is under some significant attack, and the interesting things that we’re seeing at [inaudible 16:47] are people who are transcending the two worlds of operations and HR to produce revenue.

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, and John I think it’s really interesting to me. There’s a part of me that just that goes back to what I said about community before where I feel like we’ve failed a bit, and I don’t really like that. I don’t like that feeling that we’ve failed and now the business is having to go around HR to do some of this stuff. At the same time, I think that this is going to add the pressure back into HR to say, “Wow, I guess if we don’t do something about this, the services are out there now where the business is, and we’re going to have to change our ways.” I think that it’s an interesting time for HR where the pressure is now to the point where before I couldn’t do this because it was too hard to roll up the technology, it was too hard to contract for services and things like that. Now it’s so much easier from a consumerization of IT and the consumerization of business where all of the sudden people are like, “Hey HR, you better get with this because if you’re not, we’re just going to continue to go along and figure out how to do this ourselves.”

HR is under attack in a way and I think HR will have to step up and partner with the business more, and I think that it’s going to help in the long term.

John Sumser:

I don’t know if it helps particular interests, but I do know that what we’re seeing very clearly is that there are these bright sparks of light, of people who are taking the data from HR and the data from operations and turning it into money, and that’s been elusive until now. It wasn’t really possible to do that. Today you can make HR a proactive generator of real value for the business and it doesn’t seem to matter what you call it. What matters is that you take the traditional HR data, blend it with operations and lo and behold you can actually start to have the right person in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, and every organization’s a little bit different how they’re doing it. For example, I just promoted someone in our organization to be our head of talents, culture and communications and that has nothing to do with HR. Now someone’s like, “Well yeah it does, that’s HR’s job.” I’m like, “Yeah, it is HR’s job, but it’s something that HR in most organizations don’t do, and it’s something that as a CEO of a growing company where the number one thing that will determine our success long term is going to be talent, that has to be right there at the table. That has to be right there at the strategy table.

It’ll be interesting. I take a lot of grief for this John. I’m a little bit in the camp of Ram Sharan that says HR is going to separate into two roles, the talent and strategy side and the transactional side, and I realize that’s not what a lot of people love to hear but I actually believe that’s the way it’s going.

John Sumser:

That’s a good topic for a longer conversation. To me, HR is a bag of cats and dogs and the idea that there are just two threads is simplistic because you’ve got outward facing folks and you’ve got inward facing folks and you’ve got the grapevine maintenance, which is a big part of what HR does that never gets called out as a specific function. It’s probably fair to say that HR is populated by the best political strategists in the organizations, and we’re not currently taking advantage of those capabilities because people don’t like to talk about that stuff.

Jason Averbook:

I would say also HR does a terrible job of marketing themselves.

John Sumser:

         Yeah, right.

Jason Averbook:

The stuff that they do do, if I can use that weird term do do, the stuff that they do do, people just see it as taking out the garbage and while it’s really, really important to take out the garbage, if they actually just took out the garbage and at the same time measured the impact of taking out the garbage on the business, all of the sudden people would be like, “Wow, this is a really strategic function. We just don’t realize it.”

John Sumser:

There’s something there. You’re in the business of changing the way that people do performance management. Why don’t you take a moment and talk about what the difference is between the old view and the new view and how you see it going.

Jason Averbook:

John, one of the things that I talk about in my book and one of the things that I talk about in most of my speaking is this whole concept of the measure of now. One of the things that we’ve been really good at in HR over time is measuring backwards. Looking at someone’s performance review and saying, “Hey, how have I been over the last year.” Put yourself in the shoes of the business leader, I’m a business leader. I get this thing where I have to fill something out, I have to figure out how to log in. Once I figure out how to log in, the first thing I see on the screen is the legal checker. I get scared to death because I’m scared about what legal checker is going to do to me. All of the sudden I’m trying to remember what my employee’s done for the last year. I type some stuff in. I share it with the employee. They get some sort of merit increase because that was the whole purpose of performance appraisals that were started was to give someone a merit increase for unions to be able to justify. Then I’m done with that process and then it ends.

It’s probably one of the stupidest processes in business, next to measuring how much it costs to make copies at the copy machine. It’s one of those processes that’s old, it’s dated, it doesn’t reflect how people think today. It doesn’t reflect how people live today, and it really ties back into a concept of an old dated HR function. Really where I’m trying to take the industry is that measure of now model, which basically says we know and there’s been so many surveys done on this that says engagement drives performance, period. If you have engaged people they’re going to perform better. By the way, it only makes sense. If you’re engaged in your marriage, I was going to say you’ll perform better. That’s probably not the right way to say that.

If you’re engaged in your marriage, now I’m turning red, you’re going to have a more successful marriage. If you’re engaged in raising your children, you’re probably going to have a better relationship with your children. If you’re engaged in your work, you’re going to do better at work. There’s not magic to it. In HR what we do is we measure engagement completely separately than we actually measure performance, and performance management has a history of being something that’s been managed by the holy trinity of learning and development, compensation and someone who thinks that they’re responsible for performance, and at the end of the day all it’s really done is served as a way to justify some sort of a quasi merit increase with the peanut butter spread model that doesn’t work anymore.

What we’re really working on and what I believe the industry needs to do, and there’s some great companies doing this out there as well, like the BlackbookHR’s and others who are truly trying to say, “How do we change this model? How do we measure in real time our people engaged? How do measure in real time whether or not people are performing? How are we helping to drive and engage conversations with team leaders?” I think that the holy grail of this John is that it starts at the team leader level, it doesn’t start at HR pushing something out.

If you have team leaders that say, “Hey, the way that we’re going to work as a team,” and by the way, teams are not necessarily tied to org structure. They could be tied to there’s a team of people that’s working on an HR tech conference but they don’t work for the same company and they’re definitely not all tied to all of these different areas, that’s a team also. The world works with teams, not with all of these organizational, financial base organizational structures. If we focus on that and we focus on transforming that, not only are we going to keep people at their jobs longer, they are going to perform better and our team leaders are truly going to value this process, versus if you look at the studies done they says, “Do team leaders value performance management,” ninety X percent of them say no. They say it’s a joke of a process that they can’t wait to get done with.

If you look at the dollars and the time they spend on it, organizations spend somewhere in the range of $40 billion a year in doing performance reviews. The question is are they getting that back. If you take the number of employees times how much time they spend on this, so the return that they get, the return might be HR being able to say how many threes versus fours, versus fives I have, that doesn’t increase performance. It’s really changing the paradigm, it’s changing the discussion and making sure that it’s, A, really tied from a real time basis, and B, that it doesn’t start at HR. HR is the receiver of the data to be able to understand how the work force is working, but it’s not a process that’s initiated from HR.

John Sumser:

We have just blown through our half hour, and just got to the edges of where the debate could have gotten interesting. We should find some time to do this again and cut to the debate the next time.

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, no, I’d love to do that.

John Sumser:

Yeah, because actually I disagree with you pretty strongly and it would be good to wander through that.

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, no, that’d be good.

John Sumser:

Do you have some conclusions you’d like to leave the audience with as we find our way out of the half hour?

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, the biggest thing for me John is just the focus on where I think the space is going, and that is that transactional HR systems, tools and processes, they still need to have happen and there’s not any doubt that those things still need to happen. What does need to happen, and this is nothing new, is that HR needs to continue to find ways to get better connected to the business. When I say better connected to the business, that’s through a combination of solutions such as non-technology solutions like coaching and education, but it’s also a set of solutions that are really tied to how do I actually give people tools, like email or like work tools, to help them drive their job and do their job better on a day to day basis. Not a week to week basis, not a month to month basis, but a day to day basis.

I truly think that the future of this space is there will be a set of vendors that will focus on this transactional side of HR, which is really, really, really, really important. Then there’s going to be a set of service providers, notice I didn’t say vendors, set of service providers that focus on how do I actually get more out of my people. Performance enhancing concepts, how do I get more out of my people? It’s yet to be seen whether HR steps up to really do that or whether HR is in the position of continuing down that transactional side.

John Sumser:

That’s great. Thank you so much. Now if people wanted to get a hold of you, remind them who you are and what’s the best way to get on your radar.

Jason Averbook:

Yeah, Jason Averbook and probably LinkedIn is the best way to get a hold of me, or you can follow me on Twitter, @JasonAverbook. I don’t tweet about food, I don’t tweet about what I’m eating. I only tweet about stuff related to this, so I’d love to connect with you all there.

John Sumser:

This has been great Jason. Thank you so much for making the time to be on the show this morning, and good luck. It must be great to be in Beverly Hills today.

Jason Averbook:

Hey, the last thing John is I’m ready for the argument any time. I really want that debate. I think that we could sell tickets.

John Sumser:

Okay, that’ll be fun. That’ll be fun. I’ll try to be in touch. I’ll have my people call your people and we’ll schedule a nuclear [inaudible 31:22] Jason. Good work. Thank you.

Jason Averbook:

Thank you so much for having me. Talk to you soon. Bye.

John Sumser:

It was great. Bye-bye.

End transcript

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