Category Archives: HR Technology Conference

Just How Bad Are We at Engagement?

dv2171020Engagement was certainly on the minds of speakers and attendees at the recent HR Tech Conference in Chicago. (Here’s a link to the conference site, FYI, which already has information about next year’s event.)

From this session covered by Mark McGraw, Engaging the Talent of Tomorrow, to this one covered by David Shadovitz, What’s Driving Engagement, there seemed to be a lot of buzz about what’s working at some companies (especially in McGraw’s post), what needs to be happening in terms of technology, training and the treatment of employees (particularly in Shadovitz’s post), and a whole lot more.

One study released at the conference but not mentioned yet came from Saba, showing just how bad companies still are at simply carrying out the basics — not only in terms of engagement, but overall management tactics too. That survey, completed in August, shows most businesses are “not in tune with their employees’ perceptions of engagement, training and career development,” according to Saba’s release.

With so much attention being paid to the need for keeping employees engaged, retained and productive, you’d think most companies are at least asking for more feedback, or figuring out better ways to ask for more feedback. Saba says no, that is not happening much at all.

For the most part, the report says, companies do not have continuous channels for engagement and feedback because the majority of employees are rarely asked for their feedback — less than a few times a year. Other highlights of the August survey of 1,200 U.S. HR managers and employees include these two points, suggesting some troubling gender issues wrapped up in all this:

  • Sixty-eight percent of baby boomers and 61 percent of female employees indicated they were rarely asked for feedback, versus 56 percent of male employees.
  • At the same time, women were also less comfortable giving their input. The survey showed only 56 percent of women are comfortable giving feedback, compared to 63 percent of men. “This implies a statistical disconnect that needs to be immediately addressed by HR and learning teams,” the report says.

Another gem from the release:

“Based on these statistics and anomalies in engagement, it’s understandable why more than half of HR leaders (51 percent) and employees (52 percent) believe their organizations do not have a good employee-feedback process.”

In terms of initiating better training programs to keep employees producing and staying put, companies aren’t doing so good there, either. Only 22 percent of employees believe their organizations are very effective in providing easy access to training and development.

What’s more, 86 percent of millennials, often the highest flight risk in the organization, indicated they would be more inclined to stay at their current company if they were given access to quality training and development. So what’s the holdup here? As Theresa Damato, vice president of global marketing at Saba, sees it:

“While most organizations will agree that talent is their most important asset, [this] survey highlights the struggle many have in effectively engaging, assessing and developing their people.

“Organizations need to focus on the critical role continuous development plays in employee engagement and retention. They also need to find new ways to improve effectiveness of talent programs through more frequent and consistent feedback channels.”

And for the most part, she and others at Saba indicate, that is hardly happening at all.

Except, it would seem, in the handful of success stories — or at least stories of successful starting points and strategic approaches — shared at HR Tech.

My guess is, if we’re doing this bad at the feedback basics, then this engagement conundrum/roadblock is  going to be on the minds of attendees and the agendas of many conferences to come.

Citi’s Search for Innovation

There are plenty of tried and true ways to identify hot new HR technologies for your organization. Of course, you can attend events thinkstockphotos-489083454such as the HR Technology Conference and Expo, where this year more than 400 companies are demonstrating and sharing their solutions. Or you can read HRE, which regularly covers innovative new human resource tools, including its annual Top HR Products Awards.

But as attendees at an HR Tech Conference session titled “The Smarter Worklife Challenge: Transforming Software Selection to Drive Innovation” learned yesterday, HR leaders can also take a less traditional path.

Last fall, New York-based Citi, with the help of PwC, launched its first-ever Smarter Worklife Challenge, a competition aimed at uncovering innovative digital HR solutions, particularly those being developed by smaller entities that might not be on Citi’s radar.

As PwC Global Head of HR Disruptive Technology Bryon Abramowitz explained, Citi cast as wide a net as possible with the goal of identifying eight innovative solutions in eight different HR categories: recruitment, onboarding, real-time feedback and career development, training and mobility, connecting/social, predictive analytics, executive management and undetermined (essentially, anything else that didn’t fall in the other categories).

A total of 231 companies entered the competition by sending in a short three-to-five-minute video that explained the benefits and value of their solution. Judges reviewed the entries and selected 19 they felt deserved to go to the next step, which was to demo their solution at a one-day event held on Feb. 11 in the Tribeca section of Manhattan. All of them were assigned a coach, who helped them prepare their pitch.

“Many of the participants were small vendors,” Jeff Bienstock, global head of HR technology at Citi, pointed out. “But they were very innovative and creative.”

The competition gave these companies the rare opportunity to make their pitch in front of a company the size of Citi. Teams that made the final cut shared a cash award of up to $50,000, but as Abramowitz noted, the real prize was a contract with Citi, along with the feedback and experience they received as a result of going through the process.

To arrive at the final eight, Citi live-streamed the demos to potential users, who, along with those present in the room, rated them in real time.

Each winning vendor was also given an internal executive sponsor to help ensure funding and provide direction.

According to a press release issued by Citi, the Smarter Worklife Challenge award recipients included: Rocketrip (an employee-rewards solution), Infolio (a digital-workplace solution), Cooleaf (an employee-connectivity solution), Agolo (a business-intelligence solution), Butterfly (an employee-feedback solution), Yandiki (a people-management solution), HRIZONS (a career-information-management solution), GamEffective (an employee-gamification solution) and Starmind (an employee-choice award).

Of the final eight, Bienstock said, two decided not to move forward, two are currently in contract and the remainder are at other stages of the process.

What Caused the Shake-Up at Zenefits?

The news broke earlier this morning that Zenefits CEO Parker Conrad has exited the web-based benefits and payroll provider, and COO David Sacks is taking over his role. Conrad is also stepping down as a director of the company, according to a news release by the company.

(The company also named three new directors to its board this morning: Valor Equity Partners managing partner Antonio Gracias; TPG managing partner Bill McGlashan; and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.)

Compliance issues that have plagued the company apparently contributed to Conrad’s exit. Zenefits has also hit significant snags, including missing revenue targets and also in its dealings with regulators, according to numerous reports.

One of the most-often quoted lines of the day came directly from a memo by Sacks that was sent to all Zenefits employees, explaining the reasons for the change in leadership:

The fact is that many of our internal processes, controls, and actions around compliance have been inadequate, and some decisions have just been plain wrong. As a result, Parker has resigned.

The company has been on HRE‘s radar for a few years now, starting with our HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik, who first wrote about Zenefits back in November 2014, and included this interesting quote from the now-sacked Conrad:

[Conrad] Parker started Zenefits with one purpose in mind: “solving all the little headaches and annoyances that sucked up time for me at my last start-up; I get a perverse pleasure from stamping out each of these problems, one by one, for the next guy.”

Another HRE columnist, Steve Boese, wrote a short profile of the company and included Zenefits in the “Awesome New Technology”  session at the  2014 HR Technology®  Conference and Exposition:

Zenefits has the potential, in many ways, to significantly alter the way in which enterprise HR software is purchased and implemented.

Only time will tell whether today’s shake-up will help Zenefits unlock that potential that many industry experts — including ours — saw in them when they first launched.

Employees as Social Ambassadors

Though the 2015 18th Annual HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas is behind us now, and early plans are already under way for next 488576383 -- social mediayear’s conference in Chicago, one session from Las Vegas that didn’t get written up on this site deserves to be.

In a Tuesday (Oct. 20) afternoon session, titled Tapping Employees as Social Ambassadors to Strengthen and Grow Your Workforce, Laurie Zaucha, vice president of HR and organizational development for Rochester, N.Y.-based Paychex; and Joe Schaeffer, Paychex’s social-media program manager, double-teamed on a pretty interesting story about how their company turned its employee-engagement levels and employer-brand awareness around with social media.

About five years ago, the term “Paychex Proud” was a little-known theme of an internal company meeting, one intended to grow engagement levels — or at least start the conversation about doing so — but one that wasn’t getting enough attention.

That all changed in early 2014, when Paychex’s HR and marketing forces launched their first small-business jobs index by taking over the Times Square Nasdaq tower in New York and asking employees to do simple show-and-tells (postings that were then aired) on the tower about what made them “Paychex Proud.”

The effort, said Schaeffer, required a good bit of encouragement. Like in many companies, he said, “people didn’t even think they were allowed to go on social sites,” let alone submit posts during business hours.

But submit some did. And as more caught on, and saw the images of Paychex employees broadcast for all New Yorkers to see, posts started flowing in, resulting in 200 overall and reaching 300,000 users.

“The goal was to get that word out,” said Zaucha, “that people at Paychex truly do have fun, that we’re a fun place to work.”

Next on the agenda was the company’s 2014 Paychex Sales Conference, where Zaucha and Schaeffer and their teams were able to enlist the social-media posting energies of HR and marketing staff, and attendees — again, to tell their stories and champion their company as a fun place to work — to the point where, by week’s end, the campaign boasted 2.5 million impressions and more than 1,400 posts.

By encouraging postings about Paychex on all social-media sites, including even Pinterest, said Schaeffer, “we’re seeing our sales people actually becoming more educated about our company; they’re now following us on Twitter and it is a happening.”

Through these two efforts, not only have engagement figures skyrocketed (from 56 percent of people saying they were highly engaged in 2012 to 63 percent saying the same in 2015), but the company’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter followers have also multiplied exponentially.

“If you can figure out a way to harness the art of marketing [into your HR efforts] and have highly engaged employees,” Schaeffer said, “they really can be ambassadors for the company.”

 

HR Tech Conference in the News

It’s always a treat to see our hard work noticed by other media outlets, so it was especially rewarding to see the Wall Street Journal’s Digits tech and analysis section pick up on the recently concluded 18th Annual HR Technology Conference and Exposition® in a piece titled “Startups in HR Let Workers Have Their Say”:

Some 8,500 people and hundreds of vendors gathered in Las Vegas this week for the HR Technology conference, a show where companies like Workday Inc. and Oracle Corp. show off their big enterprise systems and commune with clients. It’s also where, if you look hard enough, you’ll get a glimpse of the innovations that could soon define the way we work.

The piece also notes that “conference organizers singled out one company trying to improve the perennially opaque process of applying for jobs”:

Great Hires, a “candidate-experience” company out of Oakland, Calif., tries to level elements of the playing field between job candidates and employers with a Web-based tool that gives applicants information about who will interview them, with links to relevant bios, blogs and social-media feeds. Great Hires also provides company information such as annual reports and employee testimonials, and prods candidates to submit feedback about the interview process. The features nod to the fact that hiring is a two-way decision these days.

But, the story notes that the jury is still out on whether large employers really want to hear workers’ unvarnished opinions, though.

“A lot of companies aren’t ready” for that level of transparency, said Josh Bersin, head of HR consultancy Bersin by Deloitte. And companies fear that anonymous feedback tools could be poisonous for workplace morale, an issue raised in a recent New York Times article about Amazon.com Inc.’s corporate culture.

Regardless of where companies land on the transparency spectrum, it’s gratifying to know we’re providing a much-needed space for such business challenges to be debated.

The Power of the ‘Open’ Organization

For Jim Whitehurst, one of the defining moments of his career came back in 2005 when, as COO of Delta Air Lines, he had to explain the airline’s strategy for re-emerging from its just-declared bankruptcy to a roomful of airplane mechanics who — as part of the company’s cost-cutting moves — would most likely be losing their jobs soon.

“I started off by telling them I was sorry,” said Whitehurst, who’s now CEO of Red Hat, the software company that makes the open-source Linux operating system, during the closing keynote at this year’s HR Tech conference in Las Vegas today. “Then I explained to them Delta’s strategy for how it would emerge from bankruptcy and what it would take for us to get there. It was the same speech I’d been giving to bankers in New York during the previous four weeks in trying to secure loans for us. But I’d never given it to any of our employees.”

At first, the mechanics sat in stunned silence. Then, they began peppering Whitehurst with questions: How could we get planes ready faster? How could we balance schedules to make this happen?

“These were really detailed, intelligent questions they were asking,” said Whitehurst. “So I went back to my hotel and the next morning I’m getting calls from people asking, ‘What did you do? People can’t stop talking about this.'”

He went and gave similar speeches to other groups of Delta employees, explaining the company’s turnaround plan and what needed to be done to realize it. Then an interesting thing happened: Despite the cutbacks and deferred equipment upgrades necessitated by the bankruptcy, Delta’s performance began to surge. It went from last place to first in on-time performance, and remained there for the next two years.

“All I did was tell people the context of what they needed to do,” said Whitehurst. “I tied the work they were doing to the overall strategy of the company and let them do what they needed to do to get the job done. This can be done in any organization.”

Whitehurst explains his philosophy in his new book, The Open Organization, which recounts his experiences at Delta and Red Hat. He believes the management structure of most organizations today is outmoded — it comes from a time when efficiency, not speed and innovation, was the top priority. But today’s managers must also be leaders, he said, and this can be enabled by technology. Most employees these days have much more education than did the workers of yesteryear, when the management science most companies still abide by was formulated. The top-down organizational structure is obsolete, he said.

So what should replace it? At Red Hat, a “bottom up” model is in place, where employees feel free to share their thoughts and disagreements with managers. “Red Hat can actually be a harsh place to work because of this, but constructive conflict is far preferable to a ‘terminally nice’ organization, where people simply avoid confronting the problems facing a company until it ultimately dies,” said Whitehurst.

Passion rules the day at Red Hat, where many employees have tattoos of the company’s logo, he said. Managers there are expected to be leaders, helping employees understand how their everyday work supports the strategy. “At Red Hat, we always start with ‘why are we doing this?'” said Whitehurst. “It enables managers to do much greater things.”

Finding the Right HR Tech Vendor

It’s a decision fraught with consequences: Which vendor will be providing your human capital management software? Choose wisely and you’ll look like a hero. Make the wrong choice and your CEO will be angry and you could be out of a job.

At the HR Tech Conference, George LaRocque, principal analyst at the Starr Conspiracy, moderated a panel of three HR professionals — two from large and complex companies and one from a smaller firm — who discussed the processes they undergo in choosing their HR technology vendors.

At Coca-Cola Corp. and PricewaterhouseCoopers, both companies generally require an extensive request-for-proposal process involving lengthy reviews and security evaluations before choosing a vendor for a large project.

“We’re a compliance-driven company and if we make a mistake there are big ramifications, so we do security reviews of vendors, whittle the list down and then test, test and test,” said Martin Burns, PwC’s direct sourcing and technology channel lead. The company’s RFP process can take weeks of preparation and involves input from IT, legal and procurement. None of the panelists said their companies used analyst firms in helping them choose vendors, with PwC and Coca-Cola involving procurement early on in the process.

Getting a hands-on feel for a product is crucial, said Kristin McDonald, Coca-Cola’s global manager for employee engagement. “We also have an extensive RFP process, but I really love to pilot new tools, test them out and see what they can do.”

At JW Player, a video technology company founded several years ago, the process is less formal. “I am the RFP!” joked Jillian Moulton, the company’s HR director.

Although Burns and McDonald both agreed that they often had an idea of which vendor their company would end up choosing even before preparing an RFP, surprises still can occur.

“The RFP can help you determine whether there are some things a vendor just can’t do,” said Burns.

Ease-of-use is a primary concern in evaluating software options, the panelists said, as is the quality of a vendor’s customer-support team.

“The salespeople from the vendor I ended up choosing brought along their customer-support people for me to meet, and that really appealed to me,” said Moulton, who said scalability was also important to her firm because it is growing quickly.

“There have been instances in the past when I’ve been promised something by salespeople that the vendor ended up not being able to deliver,” said McDonald. “So it’s important to talk to the customer-support people early on, as well as customers, and to play with the product itself.”

It’s important to keep in mind that in many cases, you’re not just buying software — you’re also buying a relationship with the vendor and its employees, said Burns. If the vendor is staffed by unhappy, disengaged people, that’s a warning sign, he said. “If your experience with the vendor doesn’t start off well, it isn’t going to get any better.”

It’s why on-site visits to the vendor are important, said Burns. “Trust and culture matters — go and meet the product-development people, see whether there’s high turnover or not, if it’s a good place to work. If turnover is low, that’s a good sign.”

HCSC Drives Change with Relationship Data

Social diagramming and relationship analytics at Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) was on a pretty fascinating display Tuesday at the HR Tech Conference.

HCSC Social-179275875Speaking on behalf of the Chicago-based, 14.7-million-member organization handling Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in five states, Steve Betts, HCSC’s chief information officer, told a very different kind of social-transformation story at his session, titled Why HCSC Thinks Relationship Analytics Are the Next Big Thing in Talent Management.

Looking to make hefty changes after he came on board about a year ago, he sought the help of Syndio — also Chicago-based — to, first, solidify his case for change and, second, determine his best drivers for that change through all the social-graphing relationship data Syndio could offer.

Key changes in the company’s scope, considered most crucial due to the fast-paced changes in the healthcare industry overall, were its needs to go from siloed teams to a highly matrixed organization, to go from a more traditional hierarchical structure to one with many points of interaction and to go from an organization with limited innovation to one that would be extremely focused on driving innovation with business partners.

“Essentially,” said Betts, “HCSC needed to change and technology was right in the middle of all of that.”

But not just any technology, mind you. What Syndio brought to the process was a robust and well-populated social-diagramming and graphing process based on employees’ answers to specific, academically validated questions that would then plant them on that diagram in terms of their strength of connectivity to everyone else in the company.

As Syndio’s senior vice president of customer success, Andee Harris, described it, “we combined the HR data and [our] relationship data to tell the full story of how work gets done at HCSC.”

Included in that “story” were pockets throughout the organization where departments were maybe siloed and autonomous, “and essentially not effective,” Betts said. The data also told him how people interacted, who they collaborated with, who had more meetings than necessary with no real leaders, who the “bridgers” were and who — all through crowdsourcing data — people went to for what.

Additionally, included in what the Syndio tool captured were several characterizations about each individual, as well as where they fell on the social-networking map — such as if they were collaborators, change agents, innovators, leaders and/or listeners.

Sentiment data combined with relationship data also helped pinpoint people and departments within the organization where support for the transformation would likely come and where more focused communication would be needed. “These aspects and characterizations could truly identify change agents who could help drive [this] transformational change,” said Betts.

The data, analyzed in Syndio’s cloud base, alerted Betts to key connectors in the company who might not have the skills necessary to drive the change he was looking for, but who could potentially bring the organization to its knees because of his or her social-connectivity strength.

“We were able to work with those people” for the good of the company and its goals, he said, “rather than let them go, which could have been devastating,” as opposed to highly successful in helping exact and promote the desired changes.

“We wouldn’t have known this without this data,” Betts said. “It really has helped me see who talks to whom, and how we interact — and how we should interact — across the states.

“It’s very addictive,” he added. “Very action-oriented.”

Leveraging Video at Delta Air Lines

220px-DeltaAirLinesHQAtlantaGAGetting from a pool of 800,000 job candidates seeking flight-attendant positions down to 10,000 is no easy feat.

But it certainly doesn’t hurt that cause having the right technologies in place. Just ask Chris Collins, vice president of global HR services for Delta Air Lines.

In a session titled “Delta’s Digital Transformation: Modernizing Recruiting to Align with Business Strategy” at the HR Tech Conference yesterday, Collins (speaking along with Mark Newman, president and CEO of HireVue) shared how Delta was able to use video-screening technology to trim its flight-attendant candidate pool down to 10,000 individuals.

Collins told attendees that Delta looks for five key attributes in the people it hires: honesty, integrity, respect, perseverance and servant leadership. “Every airline can replicate routes, can replicate airplanes … can replicate price,” he said. “But what they can’t replicate is people … and culture.”

At every stage of Delta’s hiring process, Collins said, job candidates are able to view (through their mobile devices) nicely produced videos showing what the flight attendant’s job entails. The objective, he explains, is to make the job real clear to those expressing interest in it and encourage some of them to take leave of the process.

Delta was able to further reduce the number of candidates through its use of HireVue’s video-based screening platform. Eventually, the very best candidates left in the pool were brought in for onsite interviews.

“It’s not a 30-minute ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ interview,” Collins said. “It’s a half-day experience. We do that because we want to know how you’re going to interact on a daily basis with those you’re going to have to serve.”

In all, Delta’s multi-step process serves as one more example of the power of video and the prominent role it can play to pare down a huge pool of candidate to something much more manageable (but still huge) and ensure that the very best candidates are the ones who ultimately receive job offers.

Debunking the Myths About Millennials

Nowadays, it’s pretty much impossible to attend an HR conference that doesn’t have at least one session focusing on the subject of millennials—and this year’s HR Tech Conference is no exception.

In her remarks during a session titled “Engaging and Retaining a New Generation of Workers at LivingSocial,” LivingSocial Senior Vice President of HR Colleen Wood (who co-presented with Adam Rogers, chief technology officer at Ultimate Software, the firm’s HR software vendor) debunked three “millennial myths.”

Myth #1, Wood said, is that millennials won’t do grunt work. Millennials at LivingSocial, she explained, are ready to prove themselves in any way possible by volunteering for pilot groups and becoming part of “tiger teams,” though many still want to be reassured that their efforts are going to a greater good.

Myth #2, she said, is they want the job on day one. LivingSocial’s millennials, she said, want to hit the ground running on day one and they use learning tools, such as LivingSocialU, on a daily basis to grow their skills in all areas—including those outside of their own professional job description.

Myth #3, she continued, is they want managers to do the work for them. LivingSocial’s open floor plan, she explained, allows millennials to collaborate with their manager at any time. “We try to make it easy for managers and employees to get together and collaborate with one another,” she said.

Wood noted that 28 percent of LivingSocial employees work remotely. “That means we have to give employees tools to keep them connected,” she said, adding that the company provides “virtual watercoolers” so remote workers can keep up-to-date on developments.

She pointed out that LivingSocial has also modified its recruiting strategy, including the way it crafts job ads, to attract the right kind of talent to the company. “We try to use words that capture the kind of culture that we have … and help people understand the kind of environment they’re going to be working in,” she said, citing words and phrases such as “attention to detail, competitive, energetic, competitive, taking smart risks and compassionate” as examples.

Wood also listed three key attributes that are at the heart of LivingSocial’s HR technology strategy and went into the firm’s selection of Ultimate Software: accessibility, usability and functionality.

At the end of the day, she said, HR technologies need to allow employees to focus on being successful at their jobs—and not get in the way.