Sense Making

On October 25, 2017, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

photo of hand touching tree in article by John Sumser: Sense Making photo by Igor Trepeshchenok

“In spite of (and maybe because of) the astonishing information abundance we face, our evaluative techniques have gotten increasingly primitive.” -John Sumser

It’s harder than ever to stay on top of the flow of massively conflicting claims about what works and what doesn’t. Various vendors make various assertions about the supremacy of their approach. Un-qualified terms like ‘best practices’ or ‘leading practices’ are used to disguise the fact that there is no deep research to support the idea in the first place.

It’s not possible to distinguish the truth from wishful thinking. In spite of (and maybe because of) the astonishing information abundance we face, our evaluative techniques have gotten increasingly primitive. It’s one of those paradoxes where the harder you push forwards, the further you go backwards. In HR Tech today, we wade through a swamp of claims and counter claims and make our decisions based on hunches.

(As a side note, it took a while to choose backwards and forwards over backward and forward. There is an interesting discussion of that topic in Stack Exchange that includes the line “it would not be possible to give any general rule that would be universally accepted” which seems particularly appropriate to this conversation. In HRTechnology, there are very few rules-practices that are universally accepted.)

Most of the operations charged with ‘analysis’ don’t really offer bias free or vendor neutral insights. The problem is exacerbated by the sheer volume of competing ideas and business models. For example, the extraordinary product being developed at is fantastic when the hiring manager knows what she is doing and risky when she doesn’t. The same problem is observable in referral products, sourcing tools, interviewing systems and so on.

When analysts evaluate that offering in a matrix that includes other specialty solutions with different focuses, it creates a false set of criteria. Worse, the answers are not helpful. When one solution solves a specific problem, it’s a disservice to say that it is somehow ‘the best.’

It’s like this everywhere there is technology. In the urgency to develop a winning formula for highly capitalized startups (venture, investment, incubation), investors are demanding a narrower and narrower focus. Many of the things coming to market these days look more like a function on a drop down menu than an app, a product or a company. Our attention is being channeled into smaller, more granular decision-making.

The tools themselves are more specialized. But, the people behind the products are rarely familiar enough with HR or Recruiting to tell. The big picture is receding from view. Meanwhile, the core functionality of individual products is more commoditized every day. It’s a crisis of differentiation.

I recently went through the process of comparing and contrasting about 50 companies who offer recruiting functionality without a heavy emphasis on the Applicant Tracking System. Their offerings were extremely similar. The differences were usually nuances.

Customers are bewildered (and starting to do the work in-house). The only people who are having a harder time telling the difference are the solution providers themselves. Using nearly identical tag lines, the companies act as if there no other players making the same claims.

This is what things look like at the birth of something new. Currently, it’s so confusing out there that reputable sources are starting to claim that the big players in technology are locked into place for life. The argument goes that the lid has been taken off the upward limits of company size. This, coupled with marketplace ecosystems (app stores) creates a level of potential lock-in.

That’s the sort of wishful thinking Silicon Valley indulges in when it can’t see though the fog. I think you’d be better off preparing for the fact that the next thing is close, we just can’t see it very well. Kind of like when the iPod/iPhone emerged.


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