SF in SF Stuff - by John Sumser - HRExaminer

Most goals don't convert into accomplishment by simply being assigned.

Success Factors Stuff

Have you noticed that most stories about a visit to a users’ conference are positive and upbeat. Maybe those banquet meals have a special happy chemical in them. If you took the stories at face value, you’d have to believe that all vendors have users with no problems.

Then you’d have to wonder why they have the meetings in the first place. Are they simply a party that features the introduction of the next release of shiny object? Are they just pep rallies that try to minimize the broad dissatisfaction with almost every HR vendor’s implementation and execution? Are we supposed to believe and report that those stormy and disagreeable courtships resulted in marriages where there’s never a grumble.

I got to the success factors users conference in San Francisco (that would be SFSF in SF) about 10 minutes later than I hoped. The drive from Bodega Bay to the city took two and a half hours and I’d budgeted two. I wanted to be in the conference room for the 8:30 roadmap presentation.

When I got there, there was a huge crowd milling around the halls. I thought to myself, this is fantastic, they’ve figured out how to get people networking before their second cup of coffee. I want to know how they did that. Since everyone was standing around in front of the closed doors to the auditorium, I assumed that there was an equally packed crowd listening to the roadmap story inside.

I started to panic. How was I going to get in? What had I missed? How was this little software company able to do such amazing things with social engineering?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

By the time I figured out what was happening, the doors to the ballroom opened to let the assembled crowd in. It was 9:15, 45 minutes after the appointed start time. The high tech production began without apology and with a few inside references to the parties the night before.

You couldn’t ask for a greater dissonance between a company’s brand and its performance.

SuccessFactors preaches the importance of execution built on great planning, personal responsibility and the cascading of objectives. If their core message is right, and they practice what they preach, execution should come off mostly without a hitch. And, when there’s a hiccup, this is the place where you’d expect transparency, grace and verbalized work arounds as a part of the remedy.

Apparently not.

Given the opportunity to personify the stated values of the company, the SuccessFactors team choked and did what most organizations usually do. They pretended that the really big screw up didn’t actually happen. The only way a participant could be sure that something was amiss was when the stuff (you know, the stuff that always flows downhill) cascaded into the first vendor presentation. The SuccessFactors team took their scheduled time with presentations and left the PWC presenters to deal with massive lunchtime desertions due to the mishap.

You’d want to think that the company that promotes business execution as a central value would know how to create a powerful reworking of the opportunity. Most goals don’t convert into accomplishment by simply being assigned. The fog of war always produces insight that causes the basic plan to be re-wickered. That principle is immortalized in the notion that stuff happens. (It’s still that same downhill flowing stuff). Anyone who sells this stuff ought to be great at doing it, wouldn’t you think?

That’s sort of what the street level grumbling about implementation is about across the industry.

SuccessFactors created the single most impressive shift in the HR conversation in the history of HR Technology. By focusing on business performance and its integration with HR functionality, they’ve created a market phenomenon and a new class of tool. The people who occupy the VIP seats in the SuccessFactors fan club are the sorts of HR people that many executives dream about – dynamic, sports enthusiasts with a take no prisoners, gogettum attitude.

The first customer speaker was an HRIT manager from an athletic clothing company (under armour). Big, boomy, forthright and wildly enthusiastic, he completely broke every stereotype you’ve ever had about HRIT people. He brought his team on stage to demonstrate the way they pump themselves up before tackling a project. Words escape me. The routine looked like a combination of squats and synchronized grimaces while the five team members did complex rhythmic clapping and chanted tribal things like “I’m all fired up.” (I can’t make this stuff up)

This is not traditional HR and there’s some reason to question whether this particular market segmentation approach has legs into the non-sportsy, female heart of HR. Yoga is a better metaphor there than competitive sports. But, SuccessFactors is on a roll. The momentum is big and you can’t argue (too loudly) with success.

At that roadmap briefing, the company unveiled a masterful move into the business of organizing people in the company. Adding metrics to everything (cobbled from data all around the organization using the expertise of the Infohrm team), the emerging SuccessFactors tool set will define industry standards for years to come.

The thing about Big Data is that it isn’t really a question of how fast the HR process allows you to pull down your pants. Most of the companies that provide analytics and metrics seem to think that HR Analytics means measuring the inside of the silo Instead, great measurement helps employees see how they fit into the big picture. It creates the opportunity to draw novel conclusions based on your perspective.

SuccessFactors is paving important ground in this area.

That’s not to say that the emerging collection of SuccessFactors tools is everything that Big Data can be in the HR arena. Just that the company is developing a novel vision that is more directly aligned with what a customer organization actually does.. At the pure product level, the SuccessFactors vision really differentiates the company. They seem to be moving to become the company that helps insert people information where it matters while giving people actionable business information when it matters.

There’s little question the the SuccessFactors’ commitment to “Mobile First” is resulting in ground breaking product ideas. During the roadmap briefing, the company demonstrated a mobile app that ties important and actionable work data to the administrivia that gets people paid. The stuff (there’s that word again) is significantly ahead of anything else I’ve seen so far.

They are demo-ing great (if somewhat incomplete) software. The newly acquired Jobs2Web team did an astonishing demo (I was pretty sure the presenter didn’t inhale for 7 minutes while he fast talked through his demo) and side stepped the fact that recruiting really isn’t an exercise in advertising spend and ROI on those dollars. While Jobs2Web is a useful model for SuccessFactors to build out, it is the smallest part of Recruiting and leaves customers in the position of having to work with real recruiting workflow providers.

In that sense, SuccessFactors hasn’t really fielded a comprehensive Talent Management system yet.

In a nutshell, the SuccessFactors users conference provided a glimpse of a company reminiscent of a successful High School football player. Supremely self confident, a little immature, sloppy in key forms of execution, astonishingly innovative, out of synch with the reality that doesn’t fit his vision, inspirational and admirable. Thoroughbreds have these same sorts of foibles.

The way you can tell someone is making a difference is that they have a clear view and make observable mistakes. Companies like that are more likely to have great success than those that don’t. All in all, SuccessFactors is on the right track.


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