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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: Dave Weisbeck, Chief Strategy Officer, Visier
Episode: 373
Air Date: July 24, 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. I’m your host, John Sumser and today we’re going to be talking with Dave Weisbeck from Visier. Welcome, Dave, how are you?

Dave Weisbeck 0:24
I’m doing well. It’s been too long since we’ve had a chance to connect, John. So I’m really looking forward to this morning.

John Sumser 0:30
This tells you something, longevity is an interesting thing. This is gotta be about the 400th one of these interviews that I’ve done, and the last time we talked was in 2014, I think.

Dave Weisbeck 0:42
Wow, it’s been too long.

John Sumser 0:43
How could that be? How can that be?!

Dave Weisbeck 0:44
I know! I think you’re gonna have to do some analysis of your data because I think we’ve talked – must have talked, you know, after then.

John Sumser 0:51
I just think we haven’t done one of these radio shows. I know we’ve talked since then, but we haven’t done one of these. I went back and looked hard because I was shocked. I was shocked at my sloth. Anyhow, take a moment and introduce yourself will you?

Dave Weisbeck 1:05
Yeah, happy to. So, Dave Weisbeck, Chief Strategy Officer at Visier. Most of my team knows I have a favorite joke, which is nobody knows what a Chief Strategy Officer does. Which is perfect for me. That means it doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I’m always you know, right on task. And as I say, that’s my favorite joke. It’s not a particularly good joke. So the wonderful thing is my passion is really analytics. Actually, my true passion is people analytic and really trying to help organizations figure out how to better use data around people to make their business better. So, it’s a good thing that’s my passion rather than humor, because as I say, it’s not a particularly good joke.

John Sumser 1:42
Not everybody’s heard of Visier, tell me about Visier.

Dave Weisbeck 1:45
Yeah, happy to. Somebody once told me, somebody wiser than me once told me, that when you look at any given company, every organization, there’s four fundamental things that they try to measure. Their customers, they want to know more about them. Whatever it is they’re selling, their products, they want to know more about them. Of course their people. And then we look at, you know, finances or the money, which is how we keep score. What has always stood out to me as particularly odd and weird is the foundational one, the one that’s most important of all of those for me is very clearly people. Because people are how all of the other things get done. We don’t have customers if we don’t, you know, acquire them to our people. We don’t have products and we don’t build them, design them in ideate and innovate them through our people. And yet it seems to be oddly the one that is least advanced, least furthest along, least adopted and, you know, widely used and pushing the forefront of you know, how do we make better decisions about our people?

Now, I think there’s really good reasons for that. Trying to figure out how to use data about people is not easy, and people are resistant to being measured. That’s the nature of who we are, we’re the gray, we live in the, we’re squishy we’re hardcore, hard to pin down when it comes to data. And our job at Visier is to change that. Is to allow people to make their business better. To make better decisions about their people. To create a better future through decisions that they make on their people by locking that information, that data, our mission is to try to make even that word analytics disappear so that people can really just think about making better decisions and think less about the tools and how do we create data? And how do we move it around by making that disappear so that it’s accessible and usable by everyone.

John Sumser 3:25
So Visier produces a tool set that you wish were’nt called analytics that help people make better decisions. Is that the upshot of that?

Dave Weisbeck 3:34
You would call it people analytics is the broad term of what it is that we do. But at the end of the day, we have tremendous amounts of data on people, all of these systems, processes that we’ve put in place have data on our people as exhaust falls out of those systems. The advantage that people can get is by using that data to make better decisions.

So the traditional stuff that we think about as almost always gets to things like retention, how do we not lose people? But how do we how do we hire better people can be the inverse of that. So the front end of the lifecycle, the tail end of your lifecycle. How do we hire cheaper? How do we hire faster? How do we hire better at higher quality? How do you measure quality of hire? If we don’t have the mechanisms to measure these things I don’t really know if we are better. And those are very pragmatic examples. But, customer loyalty or customer satisfaction that comes from an interaction, fundamentally that comes from an interaction with people, the customers interact not with a company they interact with people, and that is people data. How do you understand and measure the impact of your people as a connection to customer loyalty? That is a more advanced connection to a business outcome. It is an example of how we want to keep pushing forward, to allow people to really improve those outcomes of their business and looking at those aspects of people and connect it into health outcomes. Just training of your people, or the staffing levels and a ward in a hospital does not lead to better heath, whether it’s accidents or you know, patient recovery time. These are the types of things that are the real opportunities that we see. And certainly we have, you know, customer stories of people being able to do that successfully as well.

John Sumser 5:17
That’s interesting. The last time I looked deeply at Visier, I don’t think I really saw this but you are talking about directly tying people data to business outcomes. And that’s been sort of the Holy Grail. So you’ve made a ton of progress there iIt sounds like. How’s that jounrey been?

Dave Weisbeck 5:38
Yeah, I’m a big fan of Maslow’s hierarchy. For those who aren’t aware right you know the base of the pyramid is the core things we need for life. Air, you know, we have to breathe, we have to eat, we have to you know we need water. But as you move up and higher right, we get into things like self actualization pursue art, and you know, so there’s a hierarchy.

So, think of it like a maturity curve and in analytics on people we have something similar. You know, we start the journey of like, walked into the meeting. And, you know, we showed up with headcount numbers that said one thing, finance showed up with another set of numbers. And that’s kind of our air and water. But as we move up, we think those higher echelons of that maturity curve or the higher gains, picking in Maslow’s terms, is really got it got to expand your mind. And what is people data. Our systems that measure, you know, our sales, it’s people data. Our systems that measure, you know, the productivity of whatever we’re producing whatever our product happens to be. This is also people data, we have to draw connections to the things we traditionally measure about people to those other sources of people data. So that’s what we’ve been working on for a very long time here at Visier. Is to try to help make those connections. And so we’ve really brought together and federated all of the traditional sources of people data and been very successful at doing that. So that, yes, we can, you know, we can connect all those different disparate systems and your big global company, you got 100 different systems, we can help you with that. And then we can, you know, draw connections across our customer base to tell you how you compare from a benchmarks. But yeah, I think the holy grail, from our perspective is still to connect that data to something that is impacting things that the CEO is fixated on. You know is it revenue, or is it expense or is it customer loyalty? Is it, you know, is it operating efficiencies, is it you know, what is it that are your business priorities? That’s how you get real impact. And that’s how, you know, what we do from an HR discipline becomes far more important and strategic to the company.

John Sumser 7:51
Got it. So, this year has been amazing in the way that it’s galvanized the people analytics community to make a serious contribution to organizational insight during the pandemic, that I’m just amazed as I watch what happens. Why don’t you tell us a bit about that? How’s that going?

Dave Weisbeck 8:16
Yeah, so it was March 11th for us, when we decided we were going to do, you know, we have to try to be ahead of the curve on these things, you know is part it has to be in our DNA. In order for us to be a good company as it relates to thinking about the most profound questions we should be asking about people. We have to be an examplar. You know, a good example. March 11th, we decided as a company, we were going to do a dry run of everybody going working from home? And it turns out, we never went back to the office on March 12th. Around that same time, we realized as well that everybody else is having these questions and struggling. And so we said, we have to react. We have to help people these questions that they’re having. And so we created something that we named crisis management, Visier realized that what we’re going through as it relate to COVID is one crisis. But unfortunately, the world has more than one crisis in its history. So we said, okay, what are the key questions you’re going to be able to need to answer?

In the first phase of what we did was all about the tough questions that we had to, you know, it seems so long ago. But the tough questions we had back in March, Where is everybody? Are they all in safe places, are they in hotspots? Can they get home? We started to see the wave of travel restrictions hit. Should we allow travel? Well we didn’t have to make that decision. You know, governments shut down travel so we weren’t even allowed. And then we had to think about getting people home for their safety. So, phase one is really about a lot around making certain that we are doing everything we can to help people answer the questions about where their people are, are they in safe places? Can they be productive where they are, and those sets of questions.

At the same time, we kicked off a weekly forum because while we had spent a whole bunch of time thinking about these questions, in about a two week time frame, went from thinking about those questions, and delivering a solution for our customers that we stood up just as part of their subscription. So there was no fees. We just said, this is the right and best thing to do. So we’re going to provide this for you. At the same time, we realized we didn’t know all the right questions, and things were changing so fast, we had to help people by creating a forum for them to share best practices, you know, share challenges, so we could help to answer but quite frankly, we can’t answer all the questions. A lot of their peers had to answer those questions. And we set up that forum. We ran it every Wednesday morning, to bring together a diverse community and talk about various topics, you know, could range from really hard hitting ones that are more economic and the lifeblood of the, you know, given company through engagement and, you know, how do you keep people engaged and you know, in these troubling times. And we made it, wide open. We had people we would consider our competitors, we invited them and said, you know, there’s a greater need here. And so for me, that was one of my proudest points of what we did. It’s really creating that forum for people.

Our head of HR here at Vizier, Paul Rubenstein. Here’s a wonderful expression he likes to use to challenge us, which is to remember that leaders, one of the powers you have is the power to convene. And I think that’s why I’m proud of what we did here this year, is we use that power we have as a leader to convene the community to get together and say, what are those questions we all need to be thinking about. Now, to the crisis management solution that we created and provided the phase one, as I said, was all really about health and safety of you know, the workforce and, you know, keeping keeping the lights on in terms of basic productivity. It certainly transitioned into more economic story. And so we continue to evolve that solution we will make certain that we can answer tougher questions about you know, furloughing employees and you know, other things that companies had to face, as you know, the health fear turned also to an economic fear. And so and that continues today as us, you know, we tried to help companies who faced really both issues today.

John Sumser 12:06
So I think this is a case study. And it’s a case study of a company that pioneered a discipline. So you had to be leading customers in the very beginning. But, to accomplish what you’ve accomplished this year, you’ve had to sit back and let customers lead and aggressively let customers lead because eyes on the ground is what you need to solve problems, like the kind that we have right now. And that shift from market visionary to market facilitator is something that really bedevils companies who are trying to get to honest to goodness, big scale, because it’s a part of the evolution, but it’s a really, really challenging thing. And so congratulations on doing that. It’s an amazing accomplishment for my money.

Dave Weisbeck 12:07
Yeah, it goes a little bit to our DNA as well. One of the things that we’ve been here at the beginning of this Visier is this idea that when we think about analysis, most of us think of like a chart. And so we immediately kind of picture in our head. But at Visier it’s always been the question. If you can come up with a really powerful question. And there’s this wonderful Einstein quote, which is if, you know, if you gave him an hour to solve a problem, he spent 50 minutes of it thinking about really defining the problem. You know, coming up with the right question before answering it. And that’s always been in our DNA. And we often get asked, where do we come up with our questions. And it has to come from the community at large, not just our customers, but you know, everyone. So it is a proud moment for us that we were able to live up to our, you know, our own vision of, you know, the way this should work.

John Sumser 13:37
So, walk me through a couple of the success stories.

Dave Weisbeck 13:40
Yeah, there’s a few little anecdotes I can share. And then some, you kow, some maybe bigger impact ones as well. I’ll try. I’ll try to be brief. One of the first things that we saw is everybody suddenly moved up an order of magnitude of how frequently they were trying to analyze their data. Those who had some monthly process suddenly were weekly those who are weekly or daily, and those who were daily, were multiple times a day. So, it was really interesting to start to see that in our own kind of usage data that helps us to understand, you know, what people were using and how frequently.

The other thing that we saw was everybody started to put more data in and all that data was at one point felt like it was nice to have, was now suddenly mission critical. So we saw that, in particular, one of the first movers was in healthcare, as you would expect. And so they had these really tough challenges of trying to figure out, you know, how do we say we’re gonna have to create a ward, and that ward is going to have to be cordoned off. Who is going to be in that ward or the floor that we cordoned off, who is frontline and has exposure, who is back office and can support? But actually, we don’t have to worry and so these notions of contact tracing that we only think about now, all this from a healthcare perspective, they had to be way ahead of that curve. One of the interesting ones around data that everybody says it’s kind of impossible to get, skills data. And so one of the things that we saw happen is people said, well, we don’t have a choice. We have to get this information. And so let’s just ask people to voluntarily put it in and everybody told us that was impossible. Nobody will do that. Turns out in a crisis people, at least within a crisis, people will do that. So we saw these incredible movements.

But my favorites story as it relates to, you know, a company doing something amazing, of course I can’t say the name, but they’re a hospitality company that is a bit unique in that they really support events. You know, they have operations in every state, as well as Canada as well. And so, as you can imagine, from a hospitality perspective, you know, they’re dramatically impacted. That’s it, events are taking place, everything’s being shut down. They’re just not allowed to fundamentally operate. And so they’ve got some, like, can we survive as a business? You know, what do we do? How do we move forward? To the notion of how critical analysis of people and people analytics is, the vast majority of the decisions they made, where did they all come from, came from two people sitting together, staring at you know, the war room, you know, sets of data that were being provided by Visier in this case, and those two people were the CFO and the head of people analytics. And so they every day were running through war room scenarios, cutting data 100 different ways to try to do the best they could by their people. At the same time making certain there was a company at the end of this for people to come back to. But the part, you know, talking about furloughs and you know, and reductions and forces, maybe not the most heartwarming story, but the part for me that is quite heartwarming in this is one of the analysis that they did was also to look at how can we support through our workforce? Or how can we help our workforce to move into those roles and positions and companies that are actually having a tremendous shortage of labor? Because ultimately, there was no one size fits all answer to you know, everybody had to get real tight with their belts as it related to expenses around people, some industries took off and had tremendous shortages. So, can we keep them on the payroll or can we keep them on our benefits plan, but you pick up the salary? And so they did a lot of that analysis to try to move their people from where they were from a hospitality perspective to support whether it’s you know, some of the home delivery or whether it’s health care and try to really do as I say best buy their people. But also give back to society at large. And for me, that’s what makes it a really, really great story is that they weren’t just thinking bottom line, they’re also thinking greater good.

John Sumser 17:18
So there’s so much we could cover in this conversation. I think the next thing that I want to get to, that we might bounce around in a couple of different ways, is up till I call it Valentine’s Day, you might call it the middle of March, but up till whenever we fell off the cliff, the entire theory of analytics depended on regular historical data in which you could find and project and predict patterns, that was the game right. The game was, look at the historical data and notice how it’s changed. And today, we don’t have that, right. The historical data referred to a time that we may fondly look back on, but those bits of data have precious little to do with what’s going on today. And the routine operational baseline that’s necessary to produce the next layer of historical data, is some distance away. We don’t even know if kids are going to school in the fall or if we’re going to be allowed to travel for business routinely, or be able to travel for business routinely, all these questions are up in the air. And so we’re in a thinner environment for data. And I wonder how you think about people analytics in a world where there’s no baseline?

Dave Weisbeck 18:35
Yeah, one of the universal truths in life is that the correct answer to any question is, it depends, and all things are relative. In this case I think, the all things are relative perhaps applied. So, one of the things we’ve definitely seen, I actually had a good conversation with Jason Averbook not that long ago and he made this very impassioned point, which for those who know Jason, he’s very good at making very impassioned points.

John Sumser 18:56
Yes he is.

Dave Weisbeck 18:56
Around how all business plans have been scrunched up and thrown in, you know, the trash can. And so everybody’s looking at this really tight timeline around whether it’s information or data or decision making in general or plans, you know, if you got a strategy that’s longer than a month, you’re probably optimistic. So, that’s very true. And I think attaches to your point. So, I think one of the things that’s happened is that we’ve seen is a tightening of the trendline. Where a trendline in the past might have been, you know, in quarters. Now, we still want to see what is happening, what is changing. But, the trend lines are very much about change, understanding, you know, a pattern about which direction the change is going. But now our timelines have shrunk. So, what was historical perhaps in months, quarters or years is now historical in perhaps weeks. So, I think you’ve seen some of that change. I think you’ve also seen people looking at historical data from a different perspective. I know I went back and looked at directly to get a better understanding, is, 2008 – 2009. A timeframe I lovingly refer to as the “FinanceApocalypse,” and it is very informative of what we’re going through right now. And there are lessons to be learned. And it may not be a chart with a trendline. Although in this case, you can get some of that chart and trend line data that shows the diff, the changes in the labor market. And you can think about roles in a buyer seller relationship. You know, employer is selling a role, employee is looking to buy, you can play with that in either direction. But the point is, we have a fundamental shift of that relationship. And that is informative to hiring, compensation, because compensation at some level comes down to negotiating power between employee / employer. And so it is also true that those trends are still informative of today. It’s the old those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. And so I still think some of those comparisons are valid.

Now, you also get things like benchmarks that tell you what good looks like and you have to recognize that we have to set new benchmarks. And in this case, I think it becomes a question of time and a question perhaps of relevance. If your engagement has fallen so that is off by historical comparison is that a great concern and something’s going wrong with their business? No, it’s probably fine. Because look at the grand uncertainty and uncertainty leads to distress, which is going to impact your engagement. You know, if you’ve had to make reductions in force, you’re certainly going to have some expected feedback loops as it relates to engagement. So, from those who remain, so we should expect to these things, but we will have to, of course, refresh and reset, re-peg what those comparisons poinrts are. I mean that’s what we try to do from a Visier perspective is say, benchmarks really should be at the least quarterly if not more frequent. And so part of how we want to help with people analytics is get people off this kind of annual notion of benchmarks. We need a much more refined level. If the financial and Wallstreet can do a quarterly we need to be doing so in people analytics as well. And so again, it goes back and reinforces that point, but I think the timelines have crunched, so it almost feels like we’re in a weird spot where we’re either looking at things we might consider more history or things that we might consider more real time. But I think the weird path in the middle, which is let’s look at trends over two years, on that point I’d absolutely agree, those comparisons aren’t that helpful or relevant for us.

John Sumser 22:09
We’re about out of time today. I think you and I ought to have another one of these conversations and dig into the implications for diversity. And I’m seeing from the engagement measurement companies, a general notion that engagement scores are going up, and it’s directly correlated to layoffs. So when you have layoffs in your company, you should expect engagement scores to go up. And my sense is, that’s because you can’t believe the data at all now. So we should have a conversation where we get into those things coming up. It’s been a real treat. And I’m sorry, we don’t have an hour to do it today.

Dave Weisbeck 22:50
Yeah, I would love to come back and and pontificate more with you, John. It’s always a pleasure.

John Sumser 22:55
Okay. Yeah, well, let’s do that in August some time. Thanks for taking the Time to do this. And thanks everybody for listening in. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with Dave Weisbeck, who’s the chief strategy officer at Visier. Thanks for stopping by. We’ll see you back here next week. Bye Bye now.

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