Category Archives: HR technology

Say Hello to Your New Robot Boss

robot 1Earlier this month, HRE reported on the phenomenon of “de-skilling,” a term that’s really just code for “replacing employees with automation.” And while no one likes the idea of being usurped on the job by a robot, a new study suggests that some workers would be just fine with having one for a boss.

That’s what researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab found when they studied groups of two humans and one robot working together in a manufacturing environment. In fact, the authors found that human workers participating in their study actually preferred taking orders from an automaton, and that handing over the reins to a robot was the most efficient means of accomplishing the task at hand.

In this case, the task at hand was assembling Legos, in an experiment that replicated a factory setting. Only the human workers could put together the Legos, which had to be brought from a “fetch” station to a “build” station. While only humans could assemble the Legos, either a human or robot could fetch them.

“In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” said Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL, and lead author of the study, in a statement.

“We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.”

Gombolay and his team reached this conclusion by assigning groups of two humans and one robot working in one of three conditions. In the manual scenario, all tasks were allocated by a human. In another, fully autonomous environment, all duties were assigned by the robot. In the third, semi-autonomous setting, one human consigned jobs to him or herself, while a robot gave tasks to the other human.

The fully autonomous condition proved to be the most effective in terms of getting the job done, and the method most preferred by the human workers, who were more likely to say the bots “better understood them” and “improved the efficiency of the team,” according to the authors.

If this all seems a bit strange, and maybe even a tad scary, fear not. This MIT experiment isn’t the first step toward a workplace run by cold, lifeless cyborgs, said Gombolay.

Putting a robot in charge, as the MIT team did, simply means that tasks are delegated, scheduled and coordinated via a human-generated algorithm, he said.

“Instead of coming up with a plan by hand, it’s about developing tools to help create plans automatically.”

This algorithm, he said, can also conduct on-the-fly re-planning, enabling the instant development of an alternate schedule for a task if a new part arrives or a machine malfunctions, for example.

Down the road, similar algorithms may have utility for human/human collaborative efforts such as scheduling hospital resources; search-and-rescue drones; and even situations involving human and robot cooperation, in which the robot could aid with discrete building and construction tasks, Gombolay added.

Hmm. Such applications could very well be useful in some industries, and may still leave some work for humans to do in the future as well. Maybe we don’t have to cede total control to our new robotic overlords just yet.

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Transforming Learning Through Mobile

Of course, it only seems natural that Qualcomm, which produces the chips used in mobile devices, would be leading the way in the move to mobile learning.

168769841During yesterday’s opening-day morning keynote at i4cp’s 2014 Conference at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Tamar Elkeles, vice president of learning and organizational development at Qualcomm, shared some of the ways Qualcomm (which has 31,000 people around the world) is applying learning to mobile devices.

Elkeles advised those attending the conference not to get left behind. “Mobile is not a fad,” she said. “It’s changing how we live, how we work and how we play.” (In the world of learning, Elkeles’ insight and advice carries a lot of weight.)

As the next generation of workers enters the workforce, Elkeles said, they’re not going to put up with sitting through a training class. They’ll be entering the workforce having done everything on mobile. So they’re going to expect that’s how learning is going to occur at any employer they work for.

One interesting stat she shared: Ten percent of those between ages 0 and 1 are using mobile devices. That’s right, 0 and 1. True, she said, they may not know how to read yet. But, holding up a single finger, Elkeles explained that’s all one needs to navigate the world of mobility, even if it’s limited to launching a Disney YouTube video.

Another stat she shared: By 2015, more than 300 million pre-K-through-12 school children will have mobile devices.

Referring to those now entering the workforce as the App Generation, Elkeles said these workers are beginning to transform the way Qualcomm thinks about its culture. Today, it’s one-size-fits-one, with people wanting their information right away.

What’s the best way people go about getting information these days? Google Search, she said. “You don’t go to the HR person. You don’t go to the policy manual. You go to search.”

In light of that, Elkeles added, Qualcomm has eliminated thousands of webpages that can now be accessed on search.

Elkeles told attendees she doesn’t know where things are going, but “we’re definitely at the beginning of something that’s big, and we know it’s going to be very disruptive.”

Apps represent the future of learning at Qualcomm, particularly for areas such as:

  • Employee orientation. (Let them download the app, before they’ve even started.)
  • Leadership development. “Your executives are mobile employees anyway,” Elkeles said.
  • Mandatory training. (Every two years, a certain number of folks at Qualcomm have to get recertified on sexual-harassment training — so by putting the training on a mobile device, they can now do it at the airport.)
  • Audio/language training. Elkeles cited the example of Café Coffee Day, an Indian coffee chain that uses an audio app to teach baristas English-language skills.

Elkeles walked attendees through a few of the apps Qualcomm has created, ranging from the entertaining (where an employee can create a photo image that shows him or her standing next to the company’s CEO) to the bit-more-practical (and also the most popular) Qmap, which enables employees to find their way around Qualcomm’s main campus and other global facilities.

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Employers’ ‘Scariest Issues’ in 2014

I don’t know how frightened you are by all these. I do know you’re aware of each and every one of them. But I thought I’d share them anyway.

465250769 -- frightenedWhat intrigued me about this free downloadable list of the 11 (not 10, mind you) Scariest Issues Employers Face in 2014 from XpertHR is how cleanly they’re all packaged. And the list itself seems pretty accurate as well: medical (and, yes, recreational) marijuana in the workplace, same-sex marriage, technology in the workplace, healthcare reform, immigration and Form I-9 compliance, misclassification of independent contractors, minimum wage and overtime violations, curtailing background checks, emerging protected classes and curbing workplace discrimination, employee leaves and reasonable accommodations, and expansion of “protected concerted activity.”

Whoever put this together knows a little something about HR leaders’ sleepless nights, I’m thinking.

I also like the way each topic is broken down into two parts: “The Issue” and “What an Employer Should Do.” Hey, those are certainly two of the most important points we need to cover in our features and news analyses here at HRE.

The same-sex-marriage section was especially helpful, laying out specifically how United States v. Windsor (in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional) impacts employers:

Following this landmark decision, both the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor adopted a state of celebration rule, meaning that a valid same-sex marriage from another state must be recognized for federal tax purposes in all states. Thus, even if an employee resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, that employer must comply with IRS regulations regarding the tax treatment of employee benefits. The DOL has pronounced that in the wake of Windsor, same-sex spouses are now eligible for the same benefits and protections as opposite-sex spouses under employer health plans, retirement plans and other benefits covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Same-sex spouses are also entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if living in a state recognizing same-sex marriages.”

Kind of wraps it up nicely. The advice to employers is what you’d expect, and what we’ve written about, but it’s still nice to see it packaged concisely as well:

Accordingly, employers should review their employee handbooks, policies and procedures — particularly pertaining to discrimination, benefits and leaves — and make any necessary revisions regarding the treatment of same-sex spouses. Further, employers should know what types of same-sex relationship their states recognize, the tax benefits provided to an employee’s same-sex spouse or partner, and whether the state follows or departs from federal law under Windsor.”

Also helpful, and in one place, is a chart listing where every state stands on legalized marijuana, same-sex-marriage recognition, minimum wage (with each state’s wage listed) and adoption of Ban-the-Box (criminal background) legislation.

Again, you may not learn anything startlingly new, but armed with brief rundowns and good advice on each of these “scary issues” might help alleviate some trepidation.

I know I plan to hang onto it for some handy frames of reference.



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Measuring Outcomes Still an HR-Analytics Conundrum

Interesting post recently by Frank DiBernardino on The Conference Board’s Human Capital 459059493 -- measuring outcomesExchange site. Leads me to believe HR still has a long way to go in being able to apply meaningful metrics to its profession.

The problem, DiBernardino points out, comes down to a long-standing lack of agreement by HR leaders and analytics experts on what the measurable outcomes should be.

He quotes Ed Gubman, former executive editor of People & Strategy:

Our field — HR — has been pursuing better human capital metrics for a long time now, but despite some real creativity, we are hampered by lack of agreement on the big outcome measures. We have trouble getting metrics to capture mind share and popular usage because we have nothing comparable to finance’s ROI, net income and the like.  And, without accepted outcome measures, deep-dive, HR analytics leads us further into the trees without knowing where the forest is. Until we do these things, we will have sequoia-size measurement aspirations and sapling-size realities.”

Unfortunately, writes DiBernardino, “most of the contemporary approaches to human capital analytics do not effectively address [such] criticism.”

Here’s his description of what’s been going on so far:

Several prominent organizations in the analytics space describe a continuum that goes from anecdotes to descriptive metrics to predictive and prescriptive metrics. While worthwhile in understanding the relationship of the metrics, this continuum, by its nature, lacks a coherent context for a systemic, integrated, business-centered approach to human capital analytics. To make matters worse, all too often, many of the analytic projects are one-off exercises designed to solve a single problem. These problem-specific projects occur frequently, requiring the discovery process to restart again and again — a very inefficient, time-consuming and expensive approach.”

He also provides a game plan for improving this current inadequate state of HR analytics. He calls it his “RBI method … for all you baseball fans” … making sure your approach includes: Recurring human capital financial performance, Business-strategy alignment and Issue-driven situations. Worth a read to get clear on what those are.

And for a different take on the state of big data and HR analytics, read HREOnline‘s news analysis posted today, Jan. 7, here.

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Got Issues? Talk to Watson

The bleary-eyed attendees sipping their coffee and munching their pastries got a non-caffeinated jolt at this morning’s opening general session at HR Tech when Kenexa founder Rudy Karsan took to the stage and told them why he’s so optimistic.

“We are living in the golden age!” he said, a statement that might be viewed quizzically in this era of government shutdowns and economic and political turmoil. But that’s a shortsighted view, as Karsan went on to note how, in fact, the human race is much better off today than at any time in its history.

“Every positive metric has not only grown but accelerated in the last 50 years, while every negative metric is decelerating,” he said. Today, an average person has better health than a monarch did 100 years ago, Karsan noted. Rapidly growing GDP and plummeting illiteracy levels are being accompanied by innovations such as vertical farming, transforming cities like Munich, where a growing percentage of that German city’s fresh produce is produced within its boundaries.

The future will be even better because of innovations like cognitive computing, said Karsan. This led him to the main part of his presentation, which was a demonstration of how IBM’s Watson computer can help organizations boost employee engagement and productivity by rapidly answering their questions and helping them with their development. (IBM recently acquired Kenexa.)

“One of the best ways to engage employees is to give them access to information effortlessly, where and when they need it,” he said.

Watson can serve not only as a “knowledge concierge” to employees, quickly resolving concerns related to payroll and their employer’s philanthropic activities, but it can also help managers translate the findings of employee-engagement surveys into action plans so they can become more effective mentors and champions to their employees, said Karsan. It’s able to do this not only by supplying direct answers but also combing through the company’s informational warehouses and finding relevant documents and reports, he said.

In a follow-up interview after the presentation, Karsan told me that Watson is already live at clients such as USAA. “We do expect some bumps in the road as we deploy Watson to other companies — it’ll be no different than any other major innovation,” he said. “Look at the early days of the Internet.”

Speaking of the Internet, it’s important to note that Watson isn’t connected to the Internet; it hasn’t been programmed but instead is taught the domains it knows.

I asked Karsan whether having constant access to a service like Watson could risk employees becoming a bit lazy — what if Watson went down one day and they’d have to do their own research? “If you have the right person in the right job, laziness does not exist,” he responded. “The laziness trait gets expanded when you have people doing what they perceive as meaningless work. That’s why it’s important to put the right person in the right job in the first place.”

Karsan says he’s particularly excited by Watons’ potential impact on managerial and leadership development. “These are not hard sciences,” he said. “It’s more of an art form — there’s lots of communication and collaboration involved. Watson will give you a range of solutions, rather than a deterministic solution. Watson will not replace judgment. It will lend precision to a lot of the guesswork out there — it will let us replace guesswork with data and science.”

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An Ex-Vendor Shares His Secrets

Paul Sparta sold his company, Plateau Systems, to SuccessFactors a number of years ago (SuccessFactors was, in turn, gobbled up by SAP) and is now working as a consultant. Yesterday he took to the stage at the HR Tech Talks breakout session at the 2013 HR Technology Conference to deliver a disarmingly frank discussion of what vendors truly think of their HR clients — and what those HR clients should do to get the best service from those vendors.

“You are not all equal — ‘you’ being the customer, in this case,” he said. “But it’s not client size that drives a vendor to give them their best service.”

Sparta related the story of a friend who has the uncanny ability to get the best service at restaurants — regardless of how crowded and popular those restaurants may be. “People are always asking him, ‘What’s your secret?'” he said. “And he says, simply, ‘I pay them.’ ”

In other words, said Sparta, driving a hard bargain with a vendor may make you and your CFO feel happy that you got a good deal. But that initial glow will quickly fade as you may find your organization getting sub-optimal service and support, he warned.

Bargaining aside, HR clients should also work closely with internal partners such as IT and conduct due diligence in selecting a vendor as well. “If you’ve selected the wrong vendor, you’re in a world of … ,” he said with a grin.

Hounding a vendor to give you the very best economic deal you can get from them — even if it puts the vendor under strain — can often end up harming both parties, said Sparta. “Vendors will do bad deals — you can make them do a deal that’s bad for them, but the minute they’ve signed that deal, they’ll hate you.”

Instead, clients should research the fair market price of a service and, during negotiations, drive toward a fair agreement, he said.

Another client mistake: Pushing all accountability for a project’s failure onto the vendor. “There’s always two sides to every street,” said Sparta.

Clients should ensure their team has the necessary skills for managing a large project, partner with their IT counterparts — regardless of whether the vendor’s offerings are cloud-based or not — and ensure they have “project authority” throughout their organization so that the necessary resources and technology will be available to fully support the implementation, he said. Once you’ve done the work on your end, said Sparta, “feel free to hold your vendor’s feet to the fire for problems they’re accountable for — in fact, you absolutely should. But every vendor will remember when you kicked them in the teeth for something that wasn’t their fault.”

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Letting Candidates ‘Tell Their Stories’

Video interviewing technology continues to be one of the more sizzling areas of HR technology, with more than a few employers (Async Interview, GreenJobInterview, HireVue, Interview Stream and Montage, among them) touting their solutions at the 16th Annual HR Technology Conference® expo. (Check out a feature we ran on this category earlier this year.) So it only seems fitting that at least one session on this year’s program would be entirely dedicated to the topic.

The session, titled “Hilton Checks-in with Digital Recruiting Technology” and presented by Hilton Vice President of Global Recruiting Randy Moses and HireVue CEO Mark Newman, focused on how Hilton was leveraging 140788100HireVue’s video interviewing platform to improve its hiring process.

As a high-touch business, Hilton has been looking for ways to create a better experience for job candidates going through Hilton’s recruitment process. Moses noted that video technology has enabled Hilton to do just that.

Throughout his presentation, Moses referenced video technology’s ability to let candidates “tell their stories.”

Moses noted that Hilton was specifically using video technology to hire college students and veterans. In the case of the latter, Hilton announced in August Operation: Opportunity, an initiative that includes the hiring of 10,000 veterans over the next five years.

“A college student or veteran isn’t going to have two years of hospitality experience,” Moses said. “But if you give them a chance to tell you their story, and someone is telling you they’re in charge of 2,000 meals a day on a ship, don’t you think that person might be qualified to run a food and beverage operation [at one of our hotels]? Absolutely!”

To help achieve its 10,000 veteran goal, Moses said, Hilton established a program that awards a two-night stay for veterans interviewing for a job.

Moses noted that Hilton is also using the technology to put the “human element back into the onboarding process.” Through the videos, he said, team members are able to learn more about the new hire during those critical first days of employment.

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Hunting for Hidden Gems at HR Tech

I will be packing my bags and heading tomorrow to our HR Technology® Conference in Las Vegas, which kicks off Sunday night with a reception and Monday morning with Don Tapscott’s opening keynote. (I’m definitely looking forward to hearing Tapscott’s latest thinking on the principles behind “radical openness.” Some of you may recall he opened our conference four years ago.)

This year’s event is slated to break all previous records, both from an attendance and exhibitor standpoint. In addition, the press release distributed earlier this week points out that there will be a record number of new products unveiled there. (The release mentions 68, but there will no doubt be more.)

168769841As you might expect, the release includes some familiar names in its headline: ADP, Workday, Mercer, Ultimate, Paychex, CareerBuilder and SHL. But if you dig a little deeper into the copy, you’ll also run across a significant number of names you probably have never heard of. Just a few that were new to me: Blissbook, Bluewater Learning, Clear Company, Cuzie, Drumtalk, Herd Wisdom, HireFuel, Jostle, Prositions, Reppify, Spotlite, Vestrics and Ving.

(In that same vein, there were quite a number of unfamiliar names that entered our Top HR Products of the Year competition—the winners of which will be recognized at the Monday luncheon—including some that made our cut.)

I’m sure there are a number of ways I could interpret all these “fresh faces” (at least to me), but one obvious takeaway is that innovation continues to be alive and well in the HR technology vendor community. True, a significant share of it is occurring among many of the big players. But there’s unarguably a very healthy dose of it invigorating some of the lesser-known entities as well — vendors (some start-ups, some not) we may never have heard of, but perhaps ones we’d be well-served to better get to know.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about next week’s conference, which brings together everyone who has anything to do with HR technology (including almost all of the key influencers). They include the great line-up of keynoters, extraordinary panels and case studies and the HR Tech Talks (which are new to this year’s event). Then there’s the “Thanks for the Memories” party for conference co-chair Bill Kutik on Tuesday evening, with this being his last year in that capacity.

But for me, almost always near the top of the list is the opportunity to uncover some of the hidden gems (as far as solutions and tools are concerned) that are frequently on display in the expo hall and sometimes find their way into conversations. And if the line-up of new-product announcements at this year’s event are any indication, they should be plentiful in 2013.

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Cornerstone Aims High

Cloud computingAlthough the annual “June Gloom” season has brought overcast skies and cool temperaturs to normally sunny San Diego, the mood was bright inside the waterfront Marriott Marquis, where Santa Monica, Calif.-based Cornerstone OnDemand had invited members of the industry analyst and media communities to hear about its upcoming plans on the eve of its annual users conference. First quarter revenues, gross profits and bookings are all up by almost 60 percent compared to a year ago, the talent-management company says, its total number of users now stands at over 11 million and it’s poised to release new upgrades in mobile recruiting, video interviewing (in partnership with HireVue), cost tracking and background checks (in partnership with HireRight).

Given that SuccessFactors and Taleo — both of whom had acquired numerous HCM vendors themselves prior to being acquired by SAP and Oracle, respectively — are no longer independent, Cornerstone sees itself as “the only best-of-breed vendor left” in the HR space that can do enterprise-scale work, said founder and CEO Adam Miller. Cornerstone itself doesn’t plan on being acquired anytime soon, he added, noting that this has raised eyebrows among some Wall Street analysts — “They ask, ‘What do the major vendors that don’t want to acquire you know that we don’t know?'” However, Miller said, “it’s hard to acquire a company that doesn’t want to be acquired.”

Cornerstone has developed a “diverse ecosystem” of partnerships between it and vendors such as Workday, and ADP, said Miller, in spite of the fact that — as in the case of Workday and ADP — some of those partners are also potential competitors for the same business. “That’s why we maintain a diverse set of partners — because we know some of them could decide to compete with us instead,” he said. It’s developing similarly extensive partnerships around the world in Europe, Asia and Latin America, he said. These partnerships are crucial not only because they help Cornerstone reach potential customers in vast geographic areas that its relatively small sales force otherwise couldn’t, but because of the wide variation between the U.S. and most other countries when it comes to things like talent management and cloud computing.

“The U.S. is 95 percent hooked up to the cloud; while Asia and Latin America are much less so — maybe 25 percent,” said Miller. Within Europe, the U.K., France and Germany have made big strides in cloud adoption while other countries — particularly in southern and eastern Europe — continue to lag. China represents a particular conundrum, he said — although many Chinese companies are receptive to the possibilities of the cloud, they insist that all data must be hosted within China itself.

Meanwhile, “talent management” has different meanings beyond the borders of the U.S.: For example, while American vendors tend to include learning in the mix, in Europe many HR people consider “talent management” as referring specifically to succession planning, said Miller.

Despite these differences, companies around the world are dealing with similar demographic trends, said Vincent Belliveau, Cornerstone’s SVP and general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa: aging workforces, generational differences, a globalizing economy, talent mobility and skills shortages in crucial areas.

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Panel Members Share Tech Experiences

Expect the unexpected.

That was part of the advice given by a panel of three HR professionals—led by Amitava Chatterjee, associate partner, strategy and transformation, travel and transportation, at IBM Global Business Services—who discussed challenges with implementing various HR systems at the HR in Hospitality® Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

medfr06751Peter Wilde, hospitality consultant and former managing director, Townsend Hotel and Preferred Hotel Group, shared his experiences with Logi-Serve; Debbie Brown, VP, HR at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, focused on Workday; and Michael Janninck, VP, compensation Americas at Hilton Worldwide, addressed SuccessFactors.

While their goal was the same—to achieve sales, service and operational excellence—they mentioned different reasons for selecting the technology, such as flexibility,  scalability, the need for a single eco-system or one-stop shop or converting text into multiple languages.

The takeaways from their experiences were equally as diverse. Wilde suggested piloting the technology at one property before rolling it out to other locations. Also, educate end-users about its value and gather support from senior execs so they “have HR’s back.”

Janninck offered more suggestions, such as ensuring that the technology fits within your culture and is intuitive, requiring minimal or no employee training. Lastly, solicit feedback and ideas for improvements from employees at the property level.

Brown mentioned the importance of selecting a strong partner, for both the RFP and implementation process. Don’t rush through the process, she added, “or you’ll pay on the back end.” Although Workday was fully implemented last May, she said, “It’s not a bed of roses, people are still complaining about it. You would be surprised at how hard change is.”

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