All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

Who Can Deliver on AI?

For the last year and a half or so, much buzz has been generated in the HR world about artificial intelligence — how it will revolutionize business, streamline everything, take everyone’s jobs and force us to live in tiny pods, etc., etc. Chances are pretty good that you’ve been contacted by a vendor wishing to demonstrate how its AI solution will solve every last one of your problems.

But how can you determine whether the AI solutions those vendors are peddling are worth your time to investigate — or that the vendors have the capability to deliver what they’re promising?

The HR Policy Association hopes to bring in some much-needed clarity on this via a just-announced initiative that will pre-select vendors that have the AI capabilities necessary for helping the association’s members — 400 of the largest companies in the U.S. — meet their talent-acquisition goals.

HRPA is starting off the initiative with a “Request for Information” for software companies that are using AI to develop HR solutions. The companies will then be evaluated to determine whether they have the resources and expertise necessary for helping large organizations do things such as eliminating unconscious bias from recruiting or identify greater numbers of diverse talent capable of filling skilled positions.

“There is tremendous innovation happening today, yet there remains a lot of opportunity to build technology solutions that are responsive to the needs of large employers,” says Stephanie Lundquist, CHRO of Target Corp., who will lead the HRPA initiative. “We’re looking for companies who can automate HR processes, manage large amounts of HR data, identify skills gaps in the workforce and eliminate unconscious bias that can happen when making HR decisions.”

Lundquist, along with talent acquisition leaders from several other member companies, will review and evaluate companies selected for the process. Companies that make the cut will be included on HRPA’s pre-selected list, with the goal being to make it easier for HR and talent acquisition leaders at member companies to identify which vendors are worth their time.

Given all the AI buzz out there, this initiative seems very timely. Of course, very large organizations are far from the only ones interested in whether AI can help them improve their recruiting processes and make them fairer and more inclusive. And it’ll be interesting to see which vendors make the list.

Talent Trends: The Year Ahead

What’s in store for recruiters and talent acquisition leaders in 2018? Well, artificial intelligence and automation, for one thing. But if further talk of that makes your eyes glaze over, fear not — there’s more. For example, Korn Ferry Futurestep’s 2018 Talent Trend Predictions includes a lot of focus on the importance of “home,” as in looking for fresh talent in the home office rather than at competitors’ locations. It also means letting new hires work from their homes rather than making them go through a burdensome relocation process.

The KFF report, based on insights from experts from the search and consulting firm’s network of global offices, finds that — thanks to the scarcity of tech professionals — more companies will be “reskilling” and promoting existing employees into new positions rather than searching for outside candidates. After all, the experts note, current employees are known quantities who already understand the firm’s processes and culture. Meanwhile, more candidates are “opting out of moving for a job,” the KFF experts note, with employers responding by letting new hires remain where they are and work remotely. More companies are also relying on the gig economy to fill certain roles, obviating the need for expensive relocation packages.

Companies are also responding to an emerging need among candidates to “keep it real” — that is, give a realistic preview of what it’s really like to work at the organization. Doing this, the KFF folks say, helps candidates best determine whether they’re a good fit before they get too far along in the process, potentially avoiding early turnover and other unnecessary costs.

Another trend that will stay hot in 2018 will be treating candidates like customers, mindful that word spreads fast about bad experiences. The KFF experts say one strategy is for talent acquisition and marketing departments to work closely together to “monetize the candidate conversation.” This can include giving all candidates a percentage-off coupon for applying and giving them progressive discounts the further they make it through the hiring funnel.

And then, of course, there’s AI and automation (what exactly distinguishes AI from automation is an ongoing source of debate within the talent acquisition community). AI and social technology tools, for example, let recruiters “communicate in a hyper-personal way” with candidates while freeing them from mundane tasks, says KFF. Recruiters can use these tools to, for example, set up a “wireless fence” around key locations so they can identify and segment qualified candidates in specific geographies and target them with mobile messages or advertising. This can be especially helpful when entering a specific market with hiring events, as the systems automatically collect data from users’ mobile phones so they can continue reaching them with advertising after they’ve left the geo-fenced area.

As in previous years, talent acquisition and recruiting will no doubt remain the hottest area for innovation and breakthroughs within the HR space in 2018, and we’ll continue bringing you in-depth coverage of what it means for your organization.

HR’s Top Challenges for 2018

It’s been an eventful year, to say the least.

Mass shootings in Las Vegas, Sullivan Springs, Texas and elsewhere; a botched repeal of the Affordable Care Act and ongoing gridlock in the nation’s capital and, within the last two months, an almost daily drumbeat of sexual harassment allegations against leading figures in the entertainment, media and political realms — hardly any facet of American life was left undisturbed in an unusually eventful year in which it seemed abnormality in all things was “the new normal.”

A new survey from XpertHR  on the top 15 most challenging HR compliance issues for next year reveals that, unsurprisingly, current events are weighing heavily on the minds of HR leaders these days as they look ahead to 2018. Among their most pressing concerns is workplace violence: 45 percent of the 1,000 HR professionals surveyed identified preparing for, or responding to, an active shooter or workplace violence as very or extremely challenging. (In fact, concerns over deadly  workplace violence have given rise to new businesses dedicated to training and preparing employees for how to deal with an active shooter situation).

An emerging, patchwork crazy quilt of state and local regulations on marijuana legalization is also giving employers fits, with 35 percent of survey respondents feeling very or extremely challenged by managing employees who use marijuana medically or recreationally. Meanwhile, 32 percent cited addressing the impact of illicit substance abuse (such as heroin or opioids) in the workplace as very or extremely challenging.

“Just as with alcohol, it is lawful to prohibit an employee from bringing both lawful and unlawful drugs to work and use such substances on the job because of the risks drug use may have on the safety and productivity in the workplace,” says Beth Zoller, XpertHR’s legal editor. “Employers need to stay on top of federal, state and local developments as this is a rapidly evolving and changing issue.”

One of the headline-grabbing developments from earlier this year — the massive data breach that took place at Equifax — is illustrative of another top concern for HR going into 2018: protecting their organizations from cyber theft. Sixty four percent of respondents cited data security and the threat of a cyber breach as very or extremely challenging.

The legislative chaos in Washington is also extending into the workplace, particularly the uncertainty over healthcare reform, with 46 percent of respondents viewing the ACA as very or extremely challenging and 40 percent viewing ACA reporting as very or extremely challenging.

However, there’s an upside for employers now that a politically conservative presidential administration is in place, says Zoller.

“The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is sure to have an impact on labor and employment law cases and ensure a conservative majority in favor of employers and management-side issues,” she says. “The rollback of agency authority and more restrictive policies of the National Labor Relations Board and the EEOC will potentially have a positive impact on employers, who may be subject to less regulations.”

HR: It’s About Quality, Not Quantity

Most organizations are structured along the following lines: On one side you have the competitive differentiators — sales and marketing, product development, customer service. And on the other, you have compliance and cost containment — finance, legal and HR. The competitive-differentiator side tends to get the lion’s share of funding and attention — and that’s the side HR and recruiting needs to be on, said Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference Co-chair Elaine Orler.

“Talent is the only real competitive differentiator,” said Orler, who spoke during a session at the conference on future trends in talent technology. “That’s how we win.”

Too often, HR must scrape and beg for the money for implementing the tools, systems and resources to make talent acquisition faster and more effective, she said. It needs to reorient its mindset away from cost-containment to value-added, and have the confidence — and the data — to successfully present this argument to the C-suite so it can get the resources it needs.

“We need to have those straightforward conversations — that if we only have 30 days to find a candidate, we’re only going to come up with C-players,” she said. “We need to advocate for 40 days, and 20 percent more salary, for example, to fill that position with an A-player.”

Orler, who’s worked as a recruiter and technology consultant for 20 years and is now senior vice president for professional services at Talent Sonar, also discussed her predictions for what we can expect to see in talent acquisition during the next year and beyond. One trend will be “total talent management,” she said, in which organizations will need to take into account the growing number of non-employees who fill critical talent roles. HR needs to take ownership for the contractors, gig workers and temps who fill these jobs and help them develop their careers and skills, even though they’re not full-time employees, she said.

Another development will be the realization that machines are not going to take over after all — but millennials and Gen Z will, and HR needs to help companies adapt to the different way in which the younger generations prefer to interact with their employer, said Orler. “We’ve got five generations in the workforce now — that’s unprecedented,” she said. “We’ve got to address how to manage the mixed workforce, and technology will help us do that.”

Then there’s what Orler refers to as “Suite Play 2.0,” or the growing availability of “plug and play” talent applications enabled by so-called “partner ecosystems,” in which HR tech vendors share their APIs with other pre-approved vendors to make it easier for clients to install new point solutions on their platforms without going through all the implementation and integration headaches of yesteryear, said Orler. “This is going to make things easier and faster,” she said.

Finally, talent acquisition will increasingly be measured by quality, not quantity, she said.

“If I could ask you to do one thing, it would be to refuse to allow TA to be measured by time-to-fill,” Orler told the audience. “Time-to-fill only generates quantity. Measure quality instead — that’s how we can show that we’re on the value-added side of the business, not the cost-containment side.”

Vacation: All They Ever Wanted

If your organization is in the midst of planning its annual holiday party (and possibly stressing over what could happen during said party in this post-Harvey Weinstein era), then know this: Most employees would actually prefer more time off in lieu of a holiday celebration.

That’s according to a new survey from Randstad US, which finds that 90 percent of employees would choose extra vacation days (or a bonus) over a workplace holiday party.

Time off is a fraught subject here in the U.S., one of the few industrialized countries to not mandate some form of paid leave for employees. As we’ve previously noted, American workers take significantly less paid time off during the year than their European counterparts, much to the consternation of health and wellness experts who warn that too little time off can lead to burnout, stress and other health issues further down the line.

So just how much time off are Americans getting these days? The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans‘ just-released 2017 survey finds that, on average, salaried employees in the U.S. with paid-time-off plans receive 17 days after one year of service, 22 days after five years, 25 days after 10 years of service and 28 days after 20 years (this includes vacation, sick days, etc.). In terms of paid vacation days, salaried U.S. employees receive on average 12 days after one year of service, 16 days after five years, 19 days after 10 years and 23 days of vacation after 20 years of service.

Most employers let workers carry over their paid leave time from one year to the next, with 83 percent of employers allowing them to carry over some or all unused days in a PTO bank, while 74 percent allow hourly workers to carry over vacation days and 77 percent allow their salaried employees to do so. Approximately one in seven organizations let workers sell their vacation time back to the company for cash.

As for the upcoming holiday season, just about all (99 percent) of organizations that offer paid holiday time offer Thanksgiving Day as a paid holiday and 75 percent include the Friday after Thanksgiving as well. Just  under half (45 percent) offer Christmas Eve off as a paid holiday, but practically all (99 percent) offer Christmas Day off as well as New Year’s Day. And for some lucky employees, 13 percent of organizations shut down their operations and offer a full paid week of  holiday leave between Christmas and New Year’s.

The ‘Next Concept’ for HR

Starting January 1 of next year, the Northern California HR Association — one of the largest HR associations in the U.S. — will have a brand-new name: Next Concept Human Resources Association.

NCHRA CEO Greg Morton

There are multiple reasons for the name change, says NCHRA CEO Greg Morton. One of the most important, he says, is that the organization’s purview is moving far beyond its traditional base in Northern California/San Francisco Bay Area.

“We’ve got members in 23 states and three or four different countries, including Poland,” he says. “The HR profession is becoming borderless, and we want to support that and clarify that to the world.”

Formed as an independent organization in 1960, NCHRA became an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management in the later part of that decade. Last year, however, the organization decided to part ways with SHRM.

“I don’t want to bad-mouth SHRM, but we were finding that their focus on certain things was limiting to our relationship,” says Morton, citing SHRM’s controversial decision to stop supporting PHR and SPHR certifications in favor of its own brand-new competency-based certifications several years ago as one of the sticking points. Morton also says SHRM is heavily concerned with serving as a lobbying organization for the HR profession in the nation’s capital, while NCHRA’s focus is on continuing education for its members (which includes resources for those pursuing PHR and SPHR certificates from the Human Resource Certification Institute as well as the SHRM CP and SCP certificates).

With its new name, NCHRA wants to be seen as a source of learning amidst the big changes taking place within the HR profession, he says. Chief among those changes is, of course, the rise of artificial intelligence.

“We’re all going to be working alongside AI, and we’re going to need to know how to evaluate tech and use it for prescriptive means within our organizations,” says Morton. “The world of work is undergoing a ‘hyper state’ of change.”

With the name change, Morton also hopes to engage non-HR professionals, many of whom will need to be well-versed in HR concepts. “Our attitude is, anyone who’s looking to hire and develop talent — as a manager or an individual — is going to need those underlying skill sets,” he says.

These are challenging times for the association model, says Morton. Information that was once disseminated only to dues-paying members is now widely available via the internet, which means that associations need to come up with a new value proposition in order to stay relevant.

“The mid-1900’s association model is just not going to cut it going forward,” he says. “We’re looking to set a new trajectory here and we’re looking for like-minded associations to band together in figuring out how to better create a community for this era rather than 1960.”

M&As: Keeping Talent Long-Term

Mergers and acquisitions are hard, but post-merger success can be harder: Up to 90 percent of mergers end up failing, according to the Harvard Business Review. While mergers are complicated and the factors that can contribute to failure are many, one of the biggest impediments to success is when talented employees from both organizations decide not to stick around post-merger.

Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 Global M&A Retention Study finds that, while acquiring companies have been increasingly successful in retaining at least 80 percent of their employees who’ve signed retention agreements through the end of the retention period, only about half retain at least 80 percent of such employees a year after the retention period ends.

“It’s a tale of two results,” says Mary Cianni, WTW’s global M&A practice lead. “Acquirers have made good strides at keeping key talent for an initial period, but there’s room for improvement one year later.”

Companies are failing to use the retention period to capture these employees’ “hearts and minds” for the long term, she says. Retention bonuses — the primary financial award used by companies — are important, but are only part of the equation, says Cianni.

“Personal outreach by leaders, strategic promotions and employees’ participation on task forces are also beneficial and will pay dividends in the years ahead,” she says. Total rewards (learning and development and career opportunities for hi-pos, in particular) can also be key.

The report (based on data from 244 respondents in 24 countries) finds that companies which prioritize early communication with senior leaders — 24 percent of the acquiring companies asked senior leaders at their target companies to sign retention agreements prior to the initial merger agreement signing — tend to have better luck at retaining those leaders than those that do not.

Of course, culture is also important: Nearly half (44 percent) of the employees who left prior to the end of their retention period blame the new or changing culture of the combined organization as the reason for leaving. Other top reasons for leaving include being aggressively pursued by competitors (36 percent) and not liking their new role (25 percent).

“The most successful acquirers realize retention agreements can buy time, but not loyalty,” says Scott Oberstaedt, WTW’s director of executive compensation. “And by not using their arsenal of tools to build loyalty during what can be tumultuous periods, companies often lose talent that would serve them well in the long run.”

LGBT Employees Report Bullying

If you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employee, you’re 11 percent likelier to have been bullied in the workplace than your non-LGBT colleagues. That’s based on a new Careerbuilder survey out today which finds that two in five (40 percent) of LGBT workers say they’ve been subjected to bullying, compared to the national average of 29 percent for all workers. Of those, 56 percent say they’ve been bullied repeatedly.

What does this bullying look like? Sixty one percent said they’ve been falsely accused of mistakes they didn’t make, while 49 percent they were subjected to different standards or policies than other workers. Forty two percent said they were picked on for personal attributes such as race, gender or appearance, while 28 percent said belittling comments were made about their work during meetings.

The bullying of LGBT employees extracts an economic as well as a psychological toll. Consider a survey out earlier this year by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which found that LGBT employees working in the tech sector reported instances of bullying and public humiliation (20 percent and 24 percent, respectively) at rates notably higher than non-LGBT employees (13 percent. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the LGBT survey respondents said bullying contributed to their decision to leave their company. In other words, an industry that’s already strapped for talent is losing more people thanks to the insensitive jerks in their midst.

Transgender employees face some of the most blatant instances of bullying. Rachael Booth, a Navy veteran and a transgender computer programmer, said her company forced her to carry a bright red sign whenever she had to use the bathroom at work and hang it on the bathroom door, she writes in the recently released book To My Trans Sisters. If someone was using the restroom, Booth had to wait around while holding the conspicuous sign, she writes.

Here’s hoping that experiences such as Booth’s will soon be a thing of the past. Companies have made great progress over the years in treating their LGBT employees as equals, as evidenced by the Human Rights Campaign’s Rainbow Awards. But as the Careerbuilder survey suggests, there’s more work to be done.

Bersin: Massive Disruption for HR

Companies are living in a paradox right now: Brilliant new technology is flooding the workplace and changing business models, and yet, employee productivity and engagement levels are going down in the U.S. and around the world, said Josh Bersin during his closing keynote at this year’s HR Tech Conference.

“Within the last two years, 90 percent of companies have said their business models are under disruption by technology and the problem isn’t the technology—it’s the people,” said Bersin, principal at Bersin by Deloitte. Employees lack the skills to use the technology properly and companies can’t find the people who do, he said.

A big part of the problem, said Bersin, is “the overwhelmed employee.” “One of the most popular pieces my team has ever written is about this phenomenon,” he said. “Technology is doing things to us. It not only affects our productivity but our personal lives as well.”

Employees are being bombarded by emails and texts, at all hours of the day in some cases, and are suffering from FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” said Bersin. They’re stressed over which message to respond to first. All of this is undermining productivity and engagement. The solution, he said, is to find ways to help employees be more productive in the face of this constant change. But how?

The structure of work must be changed, said Bersin. The most cutting-edge companies, like Amazon and Cisco, are doing away with hierarchy and replacing it with teams. At Cisco alone, he said, 20,000 different teams are working on a variety of projects. What’s notable, he pointed out, was that none of this was reflected in the company’s HR database. HR departments—and the vendors that serve them—aren’t adapting their services and tools to support organizations that will increasingly resemble a network of teams.

“This really concerns me,” said Bersin.

Automation is also remaking the nature of work, with Deloitte research showing that 38 percent of companies expect to be fully automated within five years, he said. Seventy-seven percent of companies anticipate that automation will result in “better jobs,” while only 20 percent expect it will result in job reductions. More than 50 percent of companies plan to retrain their employees to work side by side with robots and artificial intelligence. The problem, he said, is that in 65 percent of those companies, HR is not involved in these efforts at all.

“My message is this: You guys have to be involved in the recrafting of work around automation,” Bersin told his audience.

The HR tech vendor community has plenty of tools to offer in this and other areas, with money pouring into the sector from venture capital funds, he said. “HR tech is now a hot marketplace—since 2014, VCs have invested $5.5 billion in HR tech start-ups.”

Meanwhile, more established vendors are investing heavily in making their core HR products more appealing to end users, with ease of use a primary objective. “We used to rate HR software on the number of features it had,” said Bersin. Now, he said, it’s judged based on how quickly employees can master it to become more productive.

The hottest area of investor interest is talent acquisition, said Bersin, with new funding and innovation making it “an incredibly dynamic space,” spurred by record-low unemployment rates that have led to “an arms race among employers to arm themselves with data and create a wonderful employee experience.”

Video interviewing is seeing some of the biggest strides in innovation, he said, with vendors like HireVue creating tools that “can capture a million data elements from one 15-minute interview.”

These tools can analyze candidates’ “micro-expressions” to determine, for example, whether they’re unsure about their answers to questions and assess their micro-expressions against those of the company’s top-performing employees, said Bersin.

Another area that’s seeing lots of disruption is performance management, with “continuous assessment” replacing the annual year-end reviews that Bersin jokingly referred to as “drive-by shootings.”

“I’ve been through around 46 of those myself, and out of all of them, maybe one was a pleasant experience,” he said.

A number of vendors are building tools for continuous assessment, coming at it from “a number of different directions, and the question of how to select the right one is going to be an ongoing challenge for you,” Bersin told the audience. The good news is that continuous assessment—although it can initially feel disruptive to employees—typically leads to increased engagement, he said.

Learning is another sector of HR tech that’s become a hotbed of innovation. “I’m heartened to see that after a period of stagnation, there’s a lot going on, especially in the areas of micro-learning and continuous learning,” said Bersin.

He predicted that the market for employee well-being tools and services “will explode,” noting that “well being” has been steadily trending upward as a Google search term since 2004.

“The idea of corporate well-being has been around for 200 years,” said Bersin. “But it was previously focused on things like safety and reducing insurance rates. Yet as we’ve become more overwhelmed as employees, we’ve changed the issue to be one about human performance—as in, help us learn how to be healthy and well and productive at work.”

“There could be an entire HR tech conference just on well-being—that’s how huge it is,” he said.

From people analytics to performance management, HR technology is being brought to bear on the employee experience, said Bersin: Giving employees the tools and knowledge they need to be productive and well in a period of sustained change.

“The bottom line is, HR tech is reinventing itself,” he said.

Are You Lonely Today?

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in society at large and the workplace, writes Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in the Harvard Business Review. Murthy, who served as Surgeon General in the Obama administration, cites recent research finding that 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely (a number that in reality is probably higher, he writes) and that many employees and half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their jobs.

It’s bad for the workplace and bad for our health, Murthy asserts in the piece, titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” During his work as a physician and as Surgeon General, he witnessed firsthand the ravages that chronic loneliness can have on people’s mental and physical health. “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness,” Murthy writes. Loneliness is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety, while in in the workplace it reduces task performance, limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision-making.

Humans evolved as social creatures, depending on the cooperation of others to help fight off predators, find food sources and create shelter. We’re hardwired for socialization, Murthy notes, but in today’s society opportunities for socializing seem to be ever scarcer. The rise of telework, short-term gigs and screen-focused work — in which we sit in front of computers for most of the day, often with headphones stuck in our ears — means it’s increasingly likely we know next to nothing about the people we work with or sit next to.

That’s not just a sad state of affairs; it’s harming productivity and innovation, Murthy asserts.  He cites research by Gallup that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work. People with strong work connections can handle stress better and enjoy better health,  he writes, while workers who feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher healthcare costs than low-stress employees.

What to do? Murthy cites an example of what he did during his time as Surgeon General, where he oversaw a fast-growing staff of people who didn’t know each other very well. To bring people together, Murthy instituted “Inside Scoop,” in which staff members would take five minutes during weekly meetings to tell their colleagues something about themselves. In one case, a former Marine officer spoke about his complex relationship with his father and how his children’s musical talents reminded him of his dad. “As he spoke, his eyes glistened,” Murthy writes. “I felt a deep connection to him in that moment and was inspired by his honesty and compelled to reflect on my own relationships. Even though we were close before, my relationship with him became even stronger that day.”

Small steps can make a difference in making a workplace feel more warm and hospitable, and less lonely, Murthy suggests. On a deeper level, he writes, an organization’s leaders can make strengthening social connections a priority by modeling this behavior through building stronger connections with other team members and examining whether a company’s culture and policies support the development of trusted relationships.

Murthy’s own strong bonds with his colleagues eased his path through the many difficult and stressful moments of his medical residency, he writes, and helped make him a better doctor. The stakes are high, he warns, for the workplace and society at large:

If we cannot rebuild stronger, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and society. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick and alone.”