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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Jeanne Achille, Founder and CEO, The Devon Group
Episode: 340
Air Date: September 20, 2019


Join John Sumser at this year’s HRTech conference



Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

[00:00:13] Today’s Show is brought to you by the Human Resource Executive Magazine’s HR Technology Conference and Exposition held October 1st through 4th at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Join me and thousands of your colleagues at the world’s largest exhibition of HR Technology. Act now using the code HREX and you can receive a $300 dollar discount on your ticket.

Thanks. We’ll see you there. And by the way, don’t miss the Women In Technology segment.

[00:00:46] John Sumser: And Speaking of women in technology today Jeanne Achille who is the doyen of the HR Tech Women in Technology Summit and I are going to have our annual pre HR Tech conversation. Morning Jeanne, how are you?

[00:01:02] Jeanne Achille: [00:01:02] I’m good John. How are you? How are you holding up?

[00:01:05] John Sumser: [00:01:05] Oh, I’m on top of the world. You know, you know, I put the third annual sort of state of the AI in HR Tech report to bed about a week ago. It’s in the publishing process and will be ready for the reveal and HR Tech. I’m excited about getting a chance to do that
[00:01:25] How about you you are the center of the cyclone?

[00:01:28] Jeanne Achille: [00:01:28] You know, I [00:01:30] I seem to like the center of the Cyclone, but I want to go back to your report for a moment because I know that that has been a massive undertaking. Can you can you tell us a little bit about how many hours you put into that just in the discovery phase in terms of interviewing vendors
[00:01:46] John Sumser: [00:01:46] So 450 hours of interview and demo time on with a hundred and ten vendors followed by a quantitative survey 550 ish practitioners about where they are and what sorts of technologies that are adopting a pretty interesting good sketch of what’s to come. I think what’s to come is different than most people imagine and my co-author Heather rushing put together an amazing

[00:02:16] Sequence of steps to take to digest the kind of information that they I puts out. So she’s got a solid chapter in the report about what to do with probabilistic information. So we’re real excited. It’s the third and it’s the best to date.

[00:02:31] Jeanne Achille: [00:02:31] You know, I love that you’re doing not just the research but providing the actionable information
[00:02:37] You know what I think I think that’s what people are really thirsty for is, you know, there’s a lot of research out there of varying quality. I know that yours is always amazing, but it’s that road map in terms of you know, how do I put one foot in front of the other here as I navigate these really choppy and unchartered Waters
[00:02:58] John Sumser: [00:02:58] It’s a [00:03:00] fascinating time for hru. This this stuff which looks like just a wrinkled right now. There’s a lot of noise but figuring out exactly where to get started is still precious five years from now. This will be the heart of the business because we’re going to have all of the iot data running through our AI applications
[00:03:20] And so the way that the HR department in the company as a whole relates to its individual employees is about to change dramatically because everything is going to be measured.

[00:03:31] Jeanne Achille: [00:03:31] Yeah, yeah well and you know as we look at the upcoming HR technology conference so much of our focus is on AI but overall the matically it’s about the employee experience and you know having been in this category for a long time
[00:03:49] I can remember the promise of things like Employee Self Service and manager self-service a million years ago. So what do you see as the future of work when you look at that employee? Experience.

[00:04:01] John Sumser: [00:04:01] Well, it’s an interesting thing right my take is that the best HR is invisible? Right. And so when you think about what’s the employee experience what you’re really talking about is all sorts of things that aren’t HR and the first step in getting that right is making HR so completely invisible that people don’t have to think about it HR shouldn’t be a separate place that you go to. It shouldn’t be a separate experience and less. You’ve got some sort of a major problem. But if you have to get the normal junk associated with your work with learning and recruiting Performance Management those sorts of things. It should be just part of the environment
[00:04:45] It should be it should be anything but a discrete Standalone experience and I think we’re in the early days of figuring that out.

[00:04:53] Jeanne Achille: [00:04:53] Does that mean that HR becomes transactional versus strategic or you know, where is that place for those great HR people who are able to deal with those exceptions situations that take place in most workplaces I think their job is going to get harder.

I think their job is going to get harder and way more important and you’re going to see you know, we’re headed towards a time where the where the employees interface with HR is some sort of conversational interface and the idea that the first stop in the relationship between HR and employees is a human being is probably going to go away what that means is the people who are left to get all of the hard that the machine can answer. Yeah, so the job gets harder and harder and harder and and we don’t know yet how you’re going to train people who only get hard questions to work on. You know, when you train a generalist today, you put them on the easy stuff and as they Master the easy stuff you move them forward into harder and harder kinds of problems to solve [00:06:00] with more autonomy and we’re going to be missing that first step because the machine does
[00:06:07] Jeanne Achille: [00:06:07] John yeah, you know. Nail on the head in terms of the training aspect John because you’re right, you know, most of us who have come up through the leadership that you know climb the leadership ladder either learn from our mistakes or learn from a mentor or learned from having our feet held to the fire
[00:06:25] So you do remove that element that ability to really Shadow, you know, someone or take them through a training curriculum to learn these things.

[00:06:35] John Sumser: [00:06:35] Yeah, it’s gonna be a very interesting time. So hardly, I’m not sure that the the question is whether or not people in HR need retraining which is the story you hear right now I think that they may need a whole different kind of approach to getting the job done. And I think we don’t know what that looks like.

[00:06:55] Jeanne Achille: [00:06:55] Yeah, you know, I like to I like to think that it’s that HR is finally going to be appreciated and valued or for the skill sets that it always had but weren’t necessarily the ones that were being rewarded so I think I think this is a stay tuned situation. I think we’re going to find this to be a very interesting ride.

[00:07:17] John Sumser: [00:07:17] Oh I do too I do too and I apologize for. What have you been saying? I am so excited about getting to the women and HR Tech Summit that you’re that you’re pulling together talk about that a little bit

[00:07:30] [00:07:30] Jeanne Achille: [00:07:30] You know, I am too. I have to tell you I’m just like, you know, remember when you were a little kid and like it was the night before your birthday and you couldn’t sleep because he knew it was going to be a great day. I have that kind of exhilaration a better fourth annual women in HR Tech Summit
[00:07:46] We have an amazing program some of the half. Will best and brightest in the in the women in HR Tech category joining us on stage this year. And I think you know, I’ve taken a look at our pre registration numbers and I think we’re going to have another record-breaking Summit, you know last year and I know you’re just so busy at the show
[00:08:08] I don’t know if you got a chance to sit in but you know, we were in such an overflow situation at the women in HR Tech Summit. We not only had people standing around the perimeter of a huge huge Ballroom you. People were like camped out on the floor. So we’re going to have a similar situation this year if there’s just such an appetite for for these topics and especially, you know, the gender equality topic overall and and where that is going from A diversity and inclusion standpoint

[00:08:37] John Sumser: [00:08:37] So what I find interesting is that at the women in HR Tech Summit the closing keynote is by the people at Walmart who for my money are doing the most interesting AI implementation and it’s an all-female team. That’s a status

[00:08:54] Jeanne Achille: [00:08:54] is. It is astonishing and you know, I have I have to [00:09:00] tell you I have had the pleasure of prepping with these women as they put together their presentation and the supporting materials
[00:09:09] This is an amazing group as you might suspect. I mean given the scale of what they’re accomplishing at Walmart. It’s just mind-blowing. But a very very thoughtful intelligent group of women who have done their due diligence in terms of design. And also of course save the day in a number of instances from a production standpoint
[00:09:33] So I think that’s going to be a session that is an absolute must attend on Tuesday October 1st. And of course that’s going to run from 11:10 in the morning until 12 noon.

[00:09:45] John Sumser: [00:09:45] Well, I’m looking forward to seeing that one. If I were able to ask a question there. I would ask them how have they dummy proof to the system so that it doesn’t get them in

[00:09:57] Jeanne Achille: [00:09:57] trouble
[00:09:59] Well, you know, we we will be taking questions at the end of the session John. So swing by

[00:10:11] John Sumser: [00:10:11] So you’ve got that what else what else is happening in the summer?

[00:10:15] Jeanne Achille: [00:10:15] You know this year we’re taking a different approach but one that I think is consistent with the need to Foster collaboration between men and women in the workplace. And that is we’re going to have our male colleagues on stage with [00:10:30] us Ed several of the panels one in particular is on mentorship and we have the pleasure of three really really smart people who have run mentorship programs, but a blend of male and female
[00:10:44] Six and we have another really really interesting session that’s getting significant uptake. It is called mothers sons and daughters. So we’re actually going to have three panelists talk about their own experiences. One is a guy who inherited his business from his mother after working for her for a number of years
[00:11:05] Another is an individual in the industry who has worked with his mother in the capacity of traveling with her over the years because she’s a high-powered executive and he’s a high-powered executive and the third panelist is the mother of three young girls, and she’s going to talk about what. Doing to kind of raise them up, right
[00:11:25] So we have some really interesting content this year. We do. Of course also have what you would expect from a technology Summit and among our most popular panels will be the one on new technologies that support diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace.

[00:11:42] John Sumser: [00:11:42] Well, that’s great. So who’s doing that one

[00:11:44] Jeanne Achille: [00:11:44] So we’re going to have that one moderated by Chris have rilla. I know we both know Chris from person by Deloitte and so she will be moderating our panel and we’re going to be talking about things like pay Equity. We’re [00:12:00] going to be talking about creating a culture of speaking up without fear of Retribution and we’re going to talk about the different technologies that actually support some of these initiatives
[00:12:12] So I think under her guidance, we’re going to have a very interesting discussion with that panel.

[00:12:17] John Sumser: [00:12:17] I have another question there. I was I was in a Zender briefing with a bunch of analyst the other day and after four or five hours, I noticed the fact that there wasn’t a woman involved in the presentation
[00:12:31] And in the wrap-up session where you can ask questions, I looked around and I realized that the women analysts who were in the room couldn’t possibly ask the question that needed to be asked which was put on

[00:12:49] Jeanne Achille: [00:12:49] your team.

[00:12:50] John Sumser: [00:12:50] And so I asked the question but that gets are they get somewhat of a big issue
[00:12:56] I think which is how do how do you use allies to move? All forward because there are still every single day situations in which things should be questioned or asked are declared or reported that can’t be for reasons of safety or the politics of the situation or something like that. So you think that will get covered in this session

[00:13:22] Jeanne Achille: [00:13:22] Well, I hope so yours is some extent I think it’ll be covered over Italy but I have to be candid with you John. And of course, I’m at a different [00:13:30] point in my career than perhaps some of the people that were attending the session you were in we’re very grateful for allies such as yourself as we as we push ahead but the real issue is the words
[00:13:43] Do you have to come out of our mouths? We cannot sit there and be silent, you know Shirley Chisholm who was the first African-American woman elected to congress. I’m sure you’re very familiar with her her amazing amazing career. She said and I quote you don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining you make progress by implementing ideas
[00:14:07] And so finding your voice is a very important part of the gender equality equation. Finding your voice and saying what you have to say without fear of ridicule or some sort of backlash is something you learn to do over time and it’s like anything else. It’s like the first time your training wheels came off a bicycle and you rode the bicycle by yourself and realize you were doing it all on your own you have to just jump in the water and it will be cold at first, but you will be fine and if that’s a lesson that we can impart
[00:14:44] To our attendees at women in HR attack. And by the way, that’s not just our women attendees. It’s our men who attend women in HR Tech as well. And we do have quite a few of our male colleagues to attend. It’s really important that everyone’s voice be heard [00:15:00] and you know, I think actually as we look Beyond this as it is as as we look Beyond this in the workplace, it’s not just about gender
[00:15:08] It’s also about people who are disabled and people of color and you know, we could really go on and on. About how we need to Value diversity in our workplaces. So probably a long answer to your question, but obviously you’ve struck a nerve and that’s this is truly a passion for me and where I am at this point in my career
[00:15:28] John Sumser: [00:15:28] Well, that’s good. We can that we can have a much longer conversation about about how and when to evoke support from our allies and and I agree that it should be the case that that you don’t need that pry bar in the door. But sometimes still it seems to me that it’s a way to move things forward
[00:15:50] And so the question of how one uses allies to write if we wait for if we wait for normal attrition only be. Goodnight years until there’s pay Equity.

[00:16:01] Jeanne Achille: [00:16:01] Well, listen, listen, you know, I don’t want to leave our listeners with the impression that we can’t ask for help and that we shouldn’t have allies
[00:16:10] That’s one of the reasons I used the word earlier in our conversation today. Collaboration we all lift up when we support each other. So, you know, I think supporting my male colleagues in the workplace is just as important as getting their support on you know, on my end. [00:16:30] I think that breaking down those barriers or someone is uncomfortable or is even questioning the validity of what they have to share with the group even when they’re extremely experienced and you know, I know some of the folks that were probably in that
[00:16:44] Session with you are amazing people, but just the trepidation or the lack of role models with whom to identify, you know, I get phone calls from people who are call me up and say oh, you know, we want to work together and and I listen to them and while I’m listening to them I go to their website and you know, I see that the leadership team is comprised of six guys who I’m sure are all amazing, but there’s absolutely no diversity there and that that always causes me pause
[00:17:14] That makes me question how committed they truly are to a diverse workplace.

[00:17:20] John Sumser: [00:17:20] Well, so there’s much more than the women in the HR techs of it at the conference you have relationships with all the lot of people who are going to be making their Mark who’s got your attention. What’s interesting?

[00:17:34] Jeanne Achille: [00:17:34] Oh goodness
[00:17:34] Well, you know, one of the things I mentioned earlier was the employee experience. So I think that looking at topics like that. With these of the presentations by people who are actually in the trenches. There’s one that I’ve got on my radar screen, which is marked stelzner. I know, you know, Mark and of course, he’s the principal of I am a HR he’s doing a [00:18:00] session with one of his colleagues on the employee experience and if anyone understands this its mark because he’s been behind the scenes, you know doing some amazing Enterprise work over the years
[00:18:11] So I love to be able to sit. On those sessions that are very practical and are really talking about how to make this happen rather than something that’s you know more of a here’s what’s going to happen 10 years from now. I think it’s really important to keep your eye on what’s going to happen 10 years from now, but the reality is we are all measured order to quarter
[00:18:35] And sometimes even a you know more truncated time frame than that. So, you know, I like to like to bring it in a bit and and like I said about your research, you know, having something actionable that people can actually put into practice and feel good about is so important.

[00:18:52] John Sumser: [00:18:52] Yeah, it’s a big deal
[00:18:53] So we got stealth jurors employee experience session. Are you plugged into what’s going to be going on on the stage where they have like a kajillion startups doing short

[00:19:05] Jeanne Achille: [00:19:05] presentation, that would be our pitch Fest. And yes, I I have the pleasure of judging and and then I’ve been tapped to MC as well
[00:19:15] And so that’s always great fun because no pressure or are startups, but they. Up there and they you know, they pitched their great idea and we have expert judges who then determining moves on [00:19:30] to the next round and that’s a very very exciting session at HR Tech and of course because we have 30 participants
[00:19:36] It’s broken down into groups of 10. So you pretty much can catch one of the pitchfest sessions, you know from the show floor on a daily basis.

[00:19:45] John Sumser: [00:19:45] That’s amazing. So 30 startups and how long are the presentations?

[00:19:50] Jeanne Achille: [00:19:50] Oh gosh, they’re shirt. Now. You’re don’t hold me to this, but I’m going to say like three to five minutes
[00:19:56] I mean, it’s not a lot of time and I do remember that there is a bell that rings so you have to get off stage when your time is now.

[00:20:04] John Sumser: [00:20:04] That’s exactly the kind of thing that I’m doing in the second of the day. I sessions that I’m doing for the show. I have a group of four companies who I think are the most interesting companies offering a I related Solutions and they get seven minutes
[00:20:24] But they get seven minutes and then there’s a baseball bat involved,

[00:20:28] Jeanne Achille: [00:20:28] you know 7 minutes with you John your you see I always tell people you are biggest brain in this category. So I don’t know that could be kind of scary actually.

[00:20:39] John Sumser: [00:20:39] Well, you know one of the things I do to get people ready for this is we rehearse Italy we rehearse and we need to rehearse so everybody who’s there understands what it sounds like when you go to seven minutes and one second

[00:20:52] Jeanne Achille: [00:20:52] Oh, that’s great. That’s great. That’s uh, I’m looking forward to that one. I hope to be able to get to that one.
[00:21:00] [00:21:00] John Sumser: [00:21:00] Yeah, yeah, it’s good to know that there are great companies out there. It’s also good to know that they can answer serious art ball questions under Fire in front of an audience because that’s what you really want from the service people in your vendors

[00:21:15] Jeanne Achille: [00:21:15] Exactly. Exactly. Well, and of course we do have you know, our amazing Keynotes is here. We have Barbara. I’ve been just such a huge fan of Barbara Corcoran over the years, you know being a kid growing up in New York City. She’s a legend in these parts and has of course really raised her profile having been on Shark Tank
[00:21:35] So she’s going to be one of our Keynotes at HR Tech this year this
[00:21:39] John Sumser: [00:21:39] group who else is doing Aikido.

[00:21:41] Jeanne Achille: [00:21:41] Well, Josh person is going to be doing a keynote talking about how technology is shaping the new HR agenda. And then we’re going to have some key notes on the future of work. They’re certainly considerable discussion regarding the fourth Industrial Revolution at the show
[00:21:57] So, you know, as usual those key notes are very popular. We’re also going to have our ideas and innovators lightning round session that’s always very creative and very popular and count. The other thing that I love about HR Tech is as you said in the beginning of our conversation, there are thousands and thousands of HR professionals
[00:22:17] They are so what a great networking. Opportunity to compare notes make new friends, you know reconnect with with maybe former colleagues. So HR Tech is a terrific Community as well.

[00:22:28] John Sumser: [00:22:28] It certainly is and [00:22:30] if you’re new to the HR Tech World on the first day Tuesday the first at two o’clock after the women in HR Tech session is over
[00:22:39] I run a lengthy orientation to the conference that helps you develop a strategy for getting your needs met and showcases the things that you should. This is that process I invited anybody who’s listening to come and sit with me to think about what you really want to get out of the show.

[00:22:58] Jeanne Achille: [00:22:58] I think that level of pre-planning also is very important the show can be a bit overwhelming to people who are there for the first time and I also caution everyone to please we’re very comfortable shoes
[00:23:10] It’s not the time to make a fashion statement. It’s the time to make sure those feet are incredibly comfortable because you will do a lot of walking at this show.

[00:23:19] John Sumser: [00:23:19] It’s hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t seen this before what it’s like to be in an ocean of 450 or 500 vendors selling HR Technology Solutions
[00:23:41] It is disturbing it is so overwhelming that go into it with some very specific idea of what. Going to get out of it because you can get turned around 17 different ways all of the different things that people do to try to grab your attention.

[00:23:57] Jeanne Achille: [00:23:57] Yeah, I think the show does a really nice job of [00:24:00] categorizing the different offerings, you know, in terms of core HR versus Talent acquisition, you know, so I think that information is at the website that can be very helpful before you even get on the plane to Vegas to just get a sense of you know, where where your swim lanes are and that way
[00:24:18] Won’t be quite as overwhelmed. As you know, we’ve had vendors with Cirque du Soleil above their Booth. I mean this truly is a show. Yes.

[00:24:26] John Sumser: [00:24:26] It is. It’s an amazing thing. So you get one last chance to make one more recommendation. We are at the end of our half hour. So what’s the last thing that you want to be sure that people know

[00:24:40] Jeanne Achille: [00:24:40] I want to make sure that people look at your research John because I’m tasked with writing the show’s new product press release and I’ve been going through hundreds and hundreds of entries. I cannot begin to tell you how many flavors of AI there are of course, you know this already but for our listeners, It’s very important that they bone up on what a I truly means what it will mean to their business and what they should be planning for in the future

[00:25:07] John Sumser: [00:25:07] Well with that on the HR website, there are ads all over the place to pre-order the research it will ship on the first and there’s an early bird discount if you if you order it now, so thanks for reminding me to say that so

[00:25:24] Jeanne Achille: [00:25:24] nice.

[00:25:25] John Sumser: [00:25:25] So Angie not now it’s heads down till we get into the actual storm
[00:25:30] [00:25:30] Good luck and good luck. I know that your office. He you as

[00:25:34] Jeanne Achille: [00:25:34] well sir

[00:25:35] John Sumser: [00:25:35] is a swirl of activity for the next couple of weeks. And so I will see you in Las Vegas and I hope we see everybody else in Las Vegas. Thanks for doing this Jeanne.

[00:25:46] Jeanne Achille: [00:25:46] And my pleasure. Thank you John bye now.

[00:25:49] John Sumser: [00:25:49] All right, you’ve been listening to HRExaminer’s Executive Conversations and this has been our annual pre HR Tech show with Jeanne Achille, who is the doyen of all things HR Tech and the chairperson of the Women in HR Tech Summit, which happens on the first day of the event. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you back here next week. Bye bye now.

Join John Sumser at this year’s HRTech conference

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