All posts by Michelle Rafter

Adopting Freelance Platforms

As freelancers account for a greater portion of large enterprises’ workforce, human resources executives are adopting new technologies to streamline sourcing and paying gig workers.

Chief among those tools are cloud-based platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer.com that help identify independent contractors with skills and experience that match up to requirements for short- or long-term projects.

Companies can use the same platforms to handle onboarding and paperwork, set up project milestones, and pay people once work is completed and approved, according to speakers at a Thursday session titled, “Leveraging the Freelance Marketplace to Harness a Global Talent Pool,” at the HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas.

In the United States, 55 million people do some kind of freelance, gig or project-based work either full time or as a side hustle. Forecasts show half the country’s workforce will work independently by 2020, said Eric Gilpin, Upwork’s senior vice president of enterprise sales. “A lot of people do this as choice,” Gilpin said.

Freelancers know their skills are in demand, and they like being able to work from anywhere. Their biggest problem is finding clients, “and platforms like Upwork can help them market their skills.”

At the same time the freelance workers’ ranks are growing, large enterprises are looking to be more agile and bring on talent on an as-needed basis. Freelance platforms have been more than happy to play the role of digital matchmaker.

For most of the 31 years Rich Postler has worked at Procter & Gamble, the only approach he took to adding talent was hiring employees. But changing times call for changing methods. When P&G initiated a culture change to innovate faster, Postler, the company’s vice president of HR, global shared services and global information technology, launched a pilot to “borrow” talent only as long as it was needed.

Postler started working with Upwork and several other freelance platforms 18 months ago as part of that initiative. P&G continued to tap ad agencies and other third-party vendors for large, multi-million-dollar projects. But as part of a pilot project, the company gave departments permission to funnel smaller work to freelancers who’d been vetted and approved through platforms like Upwork.

The payoff was almost immediate. Using platforms to find freelancers cut the time it took to source talent for a project from 90 days to 4.2, Postler said. Not only that, in the first full fiscal year of the pilot, quality of the work rose 33 percent, and costs dropped 60 percent, he said.

Postler gives partial credit for such successes to creating a multi-functional team with people from HR, legal, labor relations and procurement to run the pilot and develop processes and controls around how the company uses freelancers and platforms. Bringing on freelance platforms won’t work, though, unless they are part of a larger strategic plan, and have executive-level sponsorship, he said.

Freelance platforms originally launched to support small businesses, but have been adding larger enterprises as organizations transfer responsibility for managing contingent workers from procurement to HR, Gilpin said. “It’s still 80 percent small and medium business, but also very relevant to large organizations,” he said.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

 

Start-ups Make Their Case

Human resources departments know they need to innovate. They know they need to make more workforce decisions based on predictive analytics. In both cases, they also know change means swapping out old HR applications for new ones.

Despite all that, many large enterprises are risk averse, which makes them reluctant to work with start-ups offering the kind of technology that could meet their needs. It’s one reason HR is years behind sales, marketing, accounting and other corporate functions in adopting new technology platforms, according to fast-growth HR analytics and recruiting tech start-up founders speaking Wednesday at a session titled “Start-up Spotlight: What’s New and What’s Next in HR Technology” the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas.

“Selling into HR is bizarre,” said Shon Burton, chief executive at HiringSolved, a recruiting and sourcing data aggregator tool.

Being more compliance-heavy than other departments could have added to the reluctance to embrace new options, Burton said.

But things are starting to turn around, he said. “You’re hearing CEOs talk about how they didn’t hit goals” and need to change up processes as a result, he said. “The need to innovate has outweighed the fear of new technology.”

Organizations are hungry for something new. But when HR buyers talk to a vendor, they want case studies, white papers and other formal sales collateral that start-ups might not have had the time, resources or longevity to create, said Elliott Garms, chief executive at Human Predictions, a recruiting analytics platform for the tech industry.

At most organizations with predominately white-collar workers, employees account for 60 percent to 70 percent of costs.

You’d expect those organizations to use technology to make their people practices more efficient, said Manish Goel, chief executive and co-founder at TrustSphere, a relationship analytics start-up. The hesitancy to work with relatively untried vendors could result from a lack of awareness of what’s out there, “and that lack of awareness is slowing down the rate of innovation,” Goel said.

Larger companies also have lagged behind in adopting new technology because of the logistical challenges that come with making changes that affect thousands or tens of thousands of people, said Kieran Snyder, chief executive and co-founder at Textio, an augmented writing service that screens employment marketing content for unintended biases that could turn off job seekers.

“But if your competitors are using competitive technology they will beat you for talent,” Snyder said.

If you’re ready to look at upgrades, Snyder suggested starting with well-defined pain points or targets you’re not hitting. “Pick one thing that’s important enough that it’s impeding the productivity of the team” to focus on, she said.

In the end, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the business problem you’re solving. “You have to deliver better outcomes, making things faster, better or more efficient,” Goel said.

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger on a new buy, be wary of vendors that can’t explain the measurable results you’ll get from using their service, start-up executives said. “The whole point of any of this tech is that it can make predictions,” Burton said. “If people aren’t willing to commit to you about the results you’ll see in your hiring pipeline, be skeptical.”

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

Thinking Like an Economist

Google’s pioneering use of data more than a decade ago to improve how the company found, engaged and retained employees helped popularize people analytics for human resources.

But you don’t need to be a tech giant to incorporate analytics into your hiring and HR practices, according to workforce industry economists speaking at a session titled “The Real Economics of HR Technology: Using Big Data to Drive HR Decision Making” during the HR Tech Conference on Wednesday.

In fact, employers that aren’t using analytics to improve recruiting and other aspects of people management put themselves at a distinct disadvantage. A tight labor market that is intensifying competition for workers, technological innovation, the evolution of how work gets done and changing labor demographics make it imperative to plan for the future, and analytics are the best way to do that, economists said.

“CHROs have to think like economists,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of ADP’s Research Institute. Not just CHROs, but the entire C-suite should be using data to understand how best to allocate talent resources to optimize their workforce and increase margins, said Yildirmaz, who produces ADP’s monthly employment reports and other research.

Smaller employers might not have the budget to hire a data scientist. But they can use analytics built into existing payroll, applicant tracking or core HR management systems applications to test hypotheses about workforce practices to see if the data that results bear them out, said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, the jobs and employer review site.

In addition to internal analytics, economists urged HR teams to track macroeconomic trends and use benchmarking and publicly available data for decisions and planning. When Glassdoor recently investigated changing benefits for its own employees, the company looked up academic research on organizational psychology. Instead of simply changing offered benefits based purely on costs, “we looked at the psychology of what people really care about that would drive satisfaction,” Chamberlain said.

In particular, panelists suggested organizations use analytics to track employees’ skills and matching that data against external job growth forecasts to identify types of skills or positions they’ll need to develop in the future to fill any gaps. Using analytics to pinpoint people for internal training gives employees a chance to grow, costs less than hiring from the outside and could create new roles within HR, such as learning managers, said Josh Wright, chief economist at iCIMS, a producer of talent-acquisition software.

Incorporating outside data sources into workforce analytics also makes it easier to show a hiring manager that a talent problem they’re dealing with isn’t specific to the company but a part of a larger trend, said Tara Sinclair, an associate professor of economics at George Washington University and senior fellow at the Indeed Hiring Lab. That, in turn, could help facilitate a discussion about aspects of the situation the hiring manager might be willing or able to change, she said.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

 

Improving Diversity Through Tech

HR technology vendors are adopting artificial intelligence and other new tools to help organizations deal with the seemingly intractable problem of improving workforce diversity and inclusiveness.

Panelists address ways HR technology can foster greater diversity. (Photo courtesy of Heather Bussing)

Both established technology vendors and start-ups have launched AI and machine learning-powered features or services that bolster customers’ efforts to be more inclusive, including masking job candidates’ gender, making language of job ads gender-neutral, and uncovering pay gaps, according to company representatives speaking at a panel titled “How HR Technology Can Foster a More Diverse, Inclusive Workplace,” held Tuesday in advance of the annual HR Tech Conference.

The advances arrive as companies in and outside the technology industry have come under pressure for failing to hire, retain and promote more women and people of color. They also come as protracted low unemployment has made it harder for companies to fill talent pipelines using traditional methods.

Circumstances are motivating companies to do better. “They get it’s an economic imperative. They’re reading the research. They get it’s not an option, it’s a reality,” said Patti Fletcher SAP/SuccessFactors’ leadership futurist for solution management.

Unconscious biases affect how companies approach recruiting or hiring. At any given moment, any one person’s thought process is affected by 150 of them, Fletcher said. But it’s asking a lot to expect people to account for unconscious bias without some type of reinforcement as back up, or what she called “rules without tools.”

To get around that, SAP/SuccessFactors identified nine key decision points where unconscious bias can affect a manager’s thinking about hiring, promotions and other key points in the talent lifecycle. The company used AI and machine learning to build decision-interruption nudges into its technology to make managers more aware of actions they’re taking.

Textio’s AI-based augmented writing program helps recruiters and hiring managers flag language in job ads that could turn off certain candidates. Johnson & Johnson saw a 9 percent increase in applications from women after the consumer products company began using the service, according to Charna Parkey, Textio customer service director.

An ADP service called Pay Equity Explore gives employers tools to analyze employee compensation data to identify inequities. With more companies interested in supporting gender identity and LGBTQ support networks, ADP is testing a separate service on its own employees that identifies sexual orientation in advance of offering it to customers.

“It’s a touchy topic,” said Jennifer Cambern, and ADP product management and global enterprise solutions vice president. “As we launch features around that, the need to aggregate and protect data is key.”

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.