Category Archives: HR Technology Conference

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.

 

Researching with Care

In today’s digitally connected world, HR leaders should tread carefully as they research and evaluate their technology options.

That was a recurring theme in a presentation delivered by Blackbox Consulting Principal Consultant Jonathan Grafft and Aptitude Research Partners Co-founder Madeline Laurano at a session titled “Research to Practice: How to Use Industry Resource to Make Better HR Technology Decisions” at the 2017 HR Tech Conference.

To be sure, the hunt for new technologies is fraught with danger.

“There are more and more vendors in the HR technology space,” said Laurano, adding that a report by the research firm CB Insights estimates that investments in HR technology have gone from $400 million in 2012 to $2 billion today. “That indicates a lot of new providers, a lot of new opportunities and a lot of confusion.”

Between the dozens of different analyst firms dedicated to covering human capital management and the hundreds of bloggers and vendors that do their own research, the process of selecting new technology can be extremely difficult.

Grafft said that the process needs to start with figuring out the problem you’re trying to solve.

Then, he said, the next step needs to involve collecting the information that’s going to help you solve your problem. “It might be research reports,” he explained. “It might be [talking to] colleagues in the space. It might be coming to HR Tech and talking to vendors.”

Laurano pointed to research her firm conducted last year that found word of mouth and reference calls with customers were the two sources employers trusted the most. “When I look at ratings or reviews, whether it’s to buy shoes or clothes, I look at what other people are saying,” she said, adding that the same is often true for those evaluating HR technology.

Both Grafft and Laurano advised employers to take a lot of the information out there with a grain of salt.

“Is your source a trusted analyst firm … or a vendor that’s trying to push a particular message?” Laurano asked. “You need to figure out where the information is coming from.”

Often, Laurano said, the information might be coming from someone with a relationship with one the firms.

HR leaders should look at multiple sources of information as they weigh their options, Laurano said. “Don’t just depend on one source.”

Laurano placed analyst firms in three buckets: Those that receive all of their revenue from vendors for writing a report; those that have a membership model and work with corporations to conduct research; and hybrids of the two.

In evaluating analysts, she said, it’s important to ask about their expertise, their knowledge of the space they’re covering and their business model.

At the end of the day, Laurano and Grafft said, you need to narrow the field of vendors down to a manageable number and be comfortable with the decision you ultimately make.

Salesforce’s Efforts to Engage

Most employers are looking for better ways to engage employees—and Salesforce is no exception.

Speaking a mega-session on Tuesday afternoon (“Building and Maintaining an Engaging Company Culture”) during the opening day of the HR Technology Conference and Exposition®, Salesforce’s Senior Vice President of Employee Success and Operations David Kingsley described employee engagement as the secret sauce for achieving the tech company’s principal goal of “improving the state of the world.” (You thought I was going to say something like generating greater profits or satisfied shareholders, right?)

Kingsley recounted the story of Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff, who learned about the concept of ohana—the idea that family, in the broadest sense of the word, are bound together—during a sabbatical he took in Hawaii. Benioff, he explained, has since made ohana part of Salesforce’s DNA.

As you might expect, Salesforce—which now employs about 28,000 employees globally—has made a concerted effort to leverage technology to better engage its employees.

While the world outside has become more app-centric, Kingsley said, employers are continuing to use the same playbook in the workplace. “Employees are asking, ‘Why can’t work be more like my personal life,’ ” he said.

Everything comes down to whether or not “we can create a better employee experience,” Kingsley said. He cited the way Salesforce previously onboarded new hires as a prime example of a process that was in disrepair.

“When you started working at Salesforce,” Kingsley said, “you received a printout with 17 IT tickets you had to submit on the first day that gave you access to all of the systems you would use. We’d say, ‘Here’s your laptop [and] here’s your Wi-Fi, now go online and stay there for an hour-and-a-half to fill out these tickets … .

“We were making the employees do the work on behalf of the organization,” he said.

In response, Kingsley and his team looked at the data to identify ways to streamline that experience and change it from being organization-centric to being employee-centric.

Later in his talk, Kingsley shared a related story of an employee who joined Salesforce three years ago. “He came in for orientation and his laptop wasn’t ready, his phone wasn’t provisioned and, worst of all, his boss didn’t know he was starting that day,” he recalls.

By the end of the day, he said, the employee sent an email from his personal account informing the recruiter who hired him he was resigning.

That email, Kingsley said, was sent around the globe with the subject line: “ ‘New World Record,’ ” referring to the fact that Salesforce had lost a new hire after just one day.

“That was our Apollo 13 moment,” he said.

Today, he said, Salesforce is using the cloud, social, mobile and the Internet of Things to create an experience in the workplace that mirrors the one employees are having outside of work.

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.”