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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: Chris Havrilla, VP of HR Technology and Solution Provider Research, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting
Episode: 351
Air Date: January 31, 2020




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

John Sumser 0:13
Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive conversations. Today we’ve got a juicy conversation lined up with Chris Havrilla who is, oh I don’t know, she’s the Vice President of everything that matters at Bersin by Deloitte. As the real blurb says Chris leads the HR technology and solution provider strategy and research practice for Bersin. But, Chris has been everywhere in the business, from recruiting to running internal HR tech projects at big companies. She’s one of the most well rounded players in the space and so it’s gonna be a fun romp today. How are you Chris?

Chris Havrilla 0:50
I am doing awesome. Thank you. How are you more importantly?

John Sumser 0:53
Oh, I’m on top of on top of the world and staying away from places where you can catch the flu

Chris Havrilla 0:59
Exactly. That’s probably a smart call.

John Sumser 1:02
Yeah, did you see that American Airlines canceled all flights to China?

Chris Havrilla 1:05
I did not see that. When did they do that? Like today, yesterday?

John Sumser 1:11
Yeah, this is kind of a serious thing. I think that’s the thing. I’ve never I’ve never heard of anything like that. So tell people who you are why you’re so special.

Chris Havrilla 1:20
Well, we’re all special. In our own, especially,

John Sumser 1:24
Alright I forgot, there’s a trophy in this for you.

Chris Havrilla 1:28
There is, you know I think the thing that makes me special is probably what you alluded to earlier. And it’s just I’ve worked in a lot of different ways and a lot of different places. And and so, you know, I just think it gives me my own unique perspective, but I have kind of been all over the place. My whole work history has been kind of a series of random twists and turns that seemingly makes no sense. But you know, I think at the end of the day, I realized I was solving problems, but I certainly started out kind of doing software engineering and being an IT person and and then it was a doer and a leader. And same thing within HR, right? I’ve done recruiting and sourcing and social engineering and traditional, you know, other HR disciplines usually all around talent though and being kind of a Doer and leader in that and ultimately just kind of married it all together, but been on the tech and HR and the product and the business side, kind of utilize it different ways around our function, but always trying to just drive change or transformation or innovation, whatever word of the day is, but it really has been more about doing stuff like that versus like operational, operational just leadership, right. It’s been usually around change.

John Sumser 2:40
So that’s pretty interesting, because I noticed here in the lengthy blurb about how amazing you are that you have a master’s degree with a concentration in AI.

Unknown Speaker 2:49
No Masters. No, it was just a bachelor’s degree. Yeah. No, I’m like the least academic person out there.

John Sumser 2:59
But still, it’s a long way from AI levels of tech to transformation and change management inside of HR. And tell me about that. How does that work?

Chris Havrilla 3:11
Well, you know, I write a lot about this in terms of just like how do we accumulate experiences and I think that’s really kind of what that was for me versus the climbing the ladder kind of thing or a lie. We always talk about hierarchies and lines and boxes like that really was never as much important to me as it was just, you know, I love solving problems like that’s what I’ve been if you look through every bit of my career, it’s really just been about that solving problems, but applying it into a lot of interesting ways interesting to me, right? You know, a lot of interesting places and for a lot of interesting reasons. So curiosity is always been kind of a big driver for me and I love the whole concept of of what ifs and and why not. And so when I was in school, you know, I started coding at the age of nine. I always loved tech. I always thought it was really cool, but you know, kind of would get bored with it. So I was like, what’s the purpose and back when I was in school, there was a big surge of AI was, you know, I’m dating myself because it was like back in the 80s. But everybody was talking about, you know, rule based systems and analytics and logic. And I realized, like, all of that data was stuff that just really, really turned me on, right, like I was, I was really stuck by that. And so they had this program that was only being funded in like 10 schools at the time. And it was by IBM, and, you know, it was in the form of what was relatively new back then, which was Mia. So it was kind of a, you know, computer science for business, right. And so there was a purpose, there were problems to be solved. Clearly, there was going to be a never ending with closer problems to be solved. And so that was really kind of why I did that. I was fascinated by a logic and the purpose and you know, what you could do with it and so it is kind of interesting. 30 years later to start applying some of it, but that’s what it was always about to me is what ifs and decision support. And you know, how do we think about things in a different way and and so it all makes sense in hindsight, but it looks a little chaotic and how I got here, but that was that was kind of the common thread.

John Sumser 5:17
So here you are, you are this technical woman who has grown to become a consultant about the deployment of technology in what might be the leading role in the industry in that slot. You must have screwed up something along the way. Can we a funny story about your career?

Chris Havrilla 5:36
Oh, my God, I have screwed up a lot of things for sure. I think, you know, when you try to stay on the edge of stuff that people haven’t done before you run into things a lot. So, you know, I think one of the funniest stories there was actually how I became a consultant. I literally got out of school and I was, you know, a junior software engineer and and i Yeah, I was probably about four or five years into my first job there. And I got pregnant. My husband, who was working at same company at the time got transferred to the other side of the United States. And so I thought, well, I’ll, you know, I will leave let me work from home. And this was like, early 90s, right? And they laughed, and oh, okay, well, that wasn’t the best approach. And so I resigned and they were like, Well, wait, you can’t do that. I was like, well, you guys just transfer my husband and I’m pregnant. Like, I can’t necessarily stay. And you won’t do this. So you know, I gotta move on. But thanks. And you know, there was really nobody to back up. You know, I hadn’t done a very good job of documenting things and there because it was always like we were constantly under fire. And so they had to bring me back as a consultant because I certainly weren’t going to set any kind of precedent or remote working and to do that had to pay me the going rate, which was twice what I was making. So ends up like being out of a job. And then all of a sudden, like a day later coming back and at twice the money, I got to work from home. And I was like, wow. And they were listening to me because I had to justify, you know, the cost of me and a consultant was born. So I think my whole career has been a lot of stuff like that, right? Just, you know, just a little bit of luck being at the right place and just going, you know, just taking it Okay, whatever I’ve got to deal with, let’s just do it. And so I wish I could say there was a lot of really methodical thought structured thought about how I got him, but it really has been just a series of comedic turns and O’s all along the way that I learned from so so.

John Sumser 7:44
So you’re, you’re a big muckety muck in the Deloitte Bersin universe. Now, what do you really do?

Chris Havrilla 7:50
No, I am one analyst in a team of amazing analysts, but my specific area is really yet again, kind of tackling a new role for me, or at least from a new angle, but I work for Bersin Deloitte Consulting, and I lead two practices. One is around HR technology. And the other one is or our solution providers in the HR tech space. Both are we have memberships and in both areas, and I just do, give it a strategy and research and advisory and play Industry analysts all around technology, or people who build it, sell it, consumers have it all with the angle of how do we kind of utilize technology to actually get outcomes. So it’s not just a pure play all about tech. Right? It’s really more about how do we take a holistic look at everything we’re trying to do strategy process people technology to get kind of the outcomes that we’re trying to do. So I spend a lot of time doing what when, why how are all of our members and employees as well?

John Sumser 8:54
So what are the big questions you’re trying to answer?

Chris Havrilla 8:56
Oh, boy, you know, I tried to answer for some foremost, just kind of what is coming, you know, trying to stay one to three plus years kind of in the future, and what should our members be thinking about kind of the Watson wise? And I think also with respect to technology, and both audiences that I kind of serve is really how do we do all these things that we’re hearing about and thinking about and talking about how do we use technology as a catalyst for the foundation of you know, and again, whatever word you want to use digital, or whether it’s change, transformation, innovation, reinvention, but you know, how do we work and how does work get done? And how does that change with this constant innovation and technology that’s coming out all the time, but you know, but for a purpose.

John Sumser 9:42
So part of what you do is help people think about developing an HR tech strategy. How does a company do that?

Chris Havrilla 9:50
You know, that was one of the big questions that I had to kind of set out to ask them you know, one of the things that I did was do a survey in the market around HR technology strategy, because I had very strong opinions about how to do it, and certainly had a lot of experience doing it. But I really wanted to find out how other people were doing it and seeing if there were other ways and came across a lot of really staggering information that I always suspected, but wasn’t really sure and that everybody defines tech strategy a different way. Some people think just having a picture of their environment is strategy, you know, what am I going to buy tomorrow? What am I going to put in next time you implementation has become a strategy, we kind of want technology to be this easy button. And so then I said upon a series of qualitative interviews, because it was interesting to me, what I found was, as I dug into the data, trying to find to some kind of evidence, backing on how, you know, there might be good ways to do a strategy. But you know, what I found was people were really going out and just trying to do technology and get technology to solve a problem and the implementation was kind of there. They’re focused. And then once we implemented Everything will be fine. So we found in our trends article or our trend study that there were a lot of people that had spent literally billions of dollars in HR tech and weren’t getting the value out of it. I think it was only 6% of our respondents in that massive survey said that they thought their tech was excellent and getting them the value that they wanted. And there was a little bit higher number that said they were satisfied. But what I found through qualitative interviews that we’ve been doing trying to talk to those 6%, or maybe the ones that were saying they were satisfied is there’s a good bit of apathy, and maybe even a little bit of jadedness about their technology. Nobody really expects much out of it anymore. So I built a framework that answers a lot of that question, but that was kind of a long setup to say a lot about you know, looking at things from a strategic bent in terms of where do you want to be, I’m always a big believer in start with what your target is, what your goal is, and then you kind of got to work backwards from that. You’ve got to understand business strategy, HR, your strategy and certainly your enterprise technology strategy. And how do you put all of that together to get to those targets, right. So let’s say it’s experience or productivity or whatever it is right? That has to be looked at. The other thing is taking into consideration all of the organizational influences that you have the cultures that you, you know, the culture that you work in the leadership, how they operate, you can do innovation and a lot of different types of cultures. But it looks completely different how you structure it. So giving people kind of a framework and guiding questions around how to think through all the organizational influences the strategy, and then I think where the big Miss has been over the last probably 20 plus years is a lack of doing the kind of the Process Excellence and the focus on experience and you know, looking at structures, but then also bringing in governance in a world where we’re constantly changing so much of our tech has been geared towards a very old way, a very old operating model of working. So how do we start to shift all of this so anyway, there’s a framework around that, but It’s really about now at that point doing the work and trying to rethink how people work and how work gets done and how technology plays a role in that. So like I said, we’re you know, we’re building out a whole lot of tools and frameworks and guiding questions and resources to try to support that how, so…

John Sumser 13:16
Well, that’s pretty amazing. So when you think about all that, what’s the role of AI in HR tech strategy?

Chris Havrilla 13:23
Well, I think it’s really how we use any technology as a catalyst for that change for that transformation. So I think it’s almost the other way around. What is our strategy in terms of how we utilize AI? What is it we’re trying to accomplish? And then what technologies can help us do that and how do we have to work with those technologies to get it done? But I you know, I look at that, like I do the other broad umbrella of technologies that are out there, as you know, again, you know, where are we today where we trying to get to, and I think where a lot of people make mistakes Is that they think about what’s desirable, right? The, you know, the big picture and everybody wants the world. And then there’s a reality, though about what’s actually feasible, like, what can we actually build? Right? Given our culture, given our constraints? Given all these influences and strategies? What can we actually build? what’s realistic? And what’s viable? What, you know, what can we profitably deliver on or at least justify the cost for in terms of the value that we get? And then how do we go about it? You know, how do we work smart? Not hard? And I think AI plays a, you know, an all the technologies that fall under that umbrella of you know, we’ve got my air quotes here around AI, but yeah, how do we use this and in really, any other technologies to work smarter, not harder and towards the goals that we’re trying to accomplish? So yeah, I think it’s more about what role does strategy play in whatever tools we bring in?

John Sumser 14:50
Well, that was a very long complicated non-answer, and so let’s see if I can…(laughing)

Chris Havrilla 14:55
I don’t think so. I beg to differ….(laughing)

John Sumser 15:00
Well, so you’re talking about AI as if it was a mature product, right. And you’re applying the kinds of standards to thinking about AI that are appropriate once the early adopter and visionary stage of things is done, but we’re not there yet. Right. And so the reasons for getting started in the early days of any technology are more about discovery than they are about retain. And that may be a problem with adoption in the HR segment. But the way the technology in general matures is not by immediately being able to declare a return on investment, but by producing value in the hands of people who are more able to tolerate risk. And so when I think about how you put AI in tech strategy, I think the thing that you’re doing is experimenting with the things that might be possible rather than knowing With some certainty that this is going to take you closer to a very specific set of outcomes, and

Chris Havrilla 16:07
I don’t disagree with that, but what I think is that we’re assuming that all this other technology out there is adopted well or occur in the US as well. I mean, even in any software that you configure, you know, can be wrought with ways to be leveraged, better, done better, that will continue to mature and have to be tweaked. And I mean, I had a dime for every time I had to go in and eat whether it was bringing new tech or optimize old tech because it may not have been done with strategy in mind and an end in mind. It could have been a lift and shift but you know, I kind of look at technology like that across the board. But I think to your point AI and what’s different about AI is you know, how that maturity happens. And you know, the thing that makes it probably, you know, a little scary there for a lot of people’s if they really, truly Don’t understand how it works. And they spend a lot of time building out some tools and resources to help people understand so that they know what they’re dipping their toe in and being prepared to do it in a way that still gets them towards their outcome. But AI or cloud or whatever, people aren’t getting an ROI out of it immediately.

John Sumser 17:20
You know, I guess I think that AI is at an earlier stage and that the issues are different. And there’s this thing that you’re going to wear knowing what it does. That’s exactly how you bought technology before I the problem with AI is there is an inverse relationship between explain ability and effectiveness. Right. So the easier it is to explain the “crummier” the output.

Chris Havrilla 17:46
Yeah, Agreed. Agreed, right. This is why education is so huge, right? If you know before embarking on this technology, it’s not a reason not to do it. It’s a reason to be even more focused and clear. And intentional about what you’re trying to do and what you’re going to have to do to bring that tech along. And not just the tech, right, whether it’s ethical issues, or how do we start to think about, you know, that explain ability, you know, to your point, everything is going to be very, very different for people and education is going to be key.

John Sumser 18:21
So this is a great question for you, because thanks for the grace with which he responded back a couple minutes ago. So here’s the question. I think that the use of AI might be likened to going fishing, right. And so when you go fishing, you get the bait and the hook of the pole in the line and you sit on the edge of the stream. And then while you can be very methodical about it, there’s a great deal of hope associated with fishing, right? Right. But why do you go fish you can fish because if you go and do that long enough, you can feed yourself and it’s got a productive outcome, but it may not look productive. live in the moment, and that’s what innovation and exploration really looks like anywhere is this deep curiosity that might be a rabbit hole that you didn’t really want to go down to, after all, what’s the role of that kind of work and a company’s HR tech strategy?

Chris Havrilla 19:18
I think the best answer to that, and I kind of built this in the framework, so you’re not going to want to hear the structured approach by which we do. Yeah, I think for me, and when I spend a lot of time on the edge of stuff like that, but pretty methodical on how I do it, you know, I use a structured approach in that, again, what is it we’re trying to accomplish? And at the heart of it is kind of design thinking, understanding what it is you’re trying to do, figuring out what people’s journey is around that. So there’s a lot of capturing data and and looking at what it is we’re trying to accomplish and what the journey would be to get there and then, you know, taking a defined problem and kind of coming up with a solution and There’s not always the same path for everybody. But if you use a structured approach to solving a complex problem, and you do it in a very focused and intentional way, where you’re not trying to boil the ocean, I think that’s about the only way that you can do it. I mean, there’s no best practice here. There’s no defined recipe for success, every organization is going to be different. All the things that they have to look at in terms of what’s their data, what are their processes? How do they make decisions? What happens when somebody or something can get negatively impact? And how do you build that in that whole concept of what do you want versus what’s buildable and what’s viable? You know, there’s a lot of things that you don’t, again, I’m using my air quotes around AI, there’s a lot of ground that can be covered in a lot of ways that things can go wrong. And there’s a lot of ways that things can ultimately go right. You know, you can solve for whatever your problem is, and then the value proposition is going to change, you know, but I don’t care if it’s cloud, if it’s AI, or any of these big buckets that we’re talking about is the one thing that people have to get ready for. Is that there’s a constant set of change and the problems will continue to shift and evolves and you won’t know what’s coming. Like your example with being in the boat and fishing can have all the proper technique, but the boat can turn over the reins can come in, what’s going to come? What is that next set of issues? And how are you structured and ready to deal with all of these things. And so education is key, I think a structured methodology about how you go about innovating or solving a complex problem is key and that willingness to be in that rocking boat while you’re trying to fish.

John Sumser 21:31
This has been such a great conversation. I wish we had time to do this for another hour or so because we’re sort of just getting started. Let’s do this again very soon.

Chris Havrilla 21:44

John Sumser 21:44
Would you take a moment and reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get hold of you.

Chris Havrilla 21:49
Absolutely. Chris Havrilla. I run HR technology and our solution provider practice at Bersin Deloitte Consulting. I can be found on the Deloitte site, there’s a profile page that has every way to contact me. So if you google Bersin and Havrilla profile or you can reach out to me on twitter at Havrilla. And then there’s a host of ways we can find to connect either on LinkedIn, Twitter, by that old fashioned phone thing, email, whatever.

John Sumser 22:17
Thanks, Chris. It’s been great talking with you this morning. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with Chris Havrilla, who is the head of HR and HR technology strategy at Bersin by Deloitte. Thanks very much for tuning in and we will talk to you next week. Bye Bye now.

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