Category Archives: HR technology

The Hiring Games: Recruiters vs. Computers

When sizing up job candidates, should hiring managers go with their guts, or put their trust in technology?

A team of researchers sought to answer that question in a recent study, in which they proposed a test for assessing whether companies should rely on hard metrics such as job test scores or grant managers discretion in making hiring decisions.

For fans of the human element in hiring, the outcome was not good.

“[The study] definitely suggests that more decision-making powers should be given to the machine relative to the humans,” University of Toronto professor and report co-author Mitchell Hoffman told the Washington Post.

Hoffman and colleagues obtained a dataset consisting of 300,000 hires at 15 companies that use job tests for low-skilled positions such as call-center workers and standardized test graders, according to the Post. The authors measured how hires were initially assessed, whether a hiring manager overruled a low test score in order to bring someone aboard, and how workers performed later in their jobs. Testing not only improved job tenure by 15 percent, but introducing human intervention to the hiring process was also associated with “significantly worse results,” the Post noted.

And, while workers chosen for their performance on the computer test didn’t wind up being much more productive than those brought in by a hiring manager, they weren’t less productive either. This finding suggests that “recruiters weren’t even making a worthwhile trade-off between a worker’s effectiveness and longevity in the job,” the Post’s Lydia DePillis writes.

Computer-based tests that help foretell a would-be employee’s performance are certainly not a new phenomenon, and, as DePillis points out, such assessments are “getting better and better at being able to predict someone’s suitability for a given job.”

Given this reality, she asks, “Why do HR people still think they know better?”

DePillis asked that question of Julie Moreland, senior vice president of strategy and people science at PeopleMatter, a Charleston, S.C.-based workforce management software provider.

In Moreland’s estimation, “about a third” of hiring managers don’t put enough emphasis on the results of this type of assessment.

Part of what PeopleMatter does, of course, is develop job tests and offer software designed to “make it easy to see who your best-fit hires are,” according to the company’s website. So you could argue that Moreland is supposed to say that HR departments should be leaning more on technology to make good hires.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s off-base. And she also offered up an explanation for what may be happening when hiring managers’ instincts steer them wrong.

“From a human perspective, we like people who are like us,” Moreland told the Post. “They’re not thinking about the job, they’re thinking ‘I can work with this person, I relate to them.’ It skews their logic. Anybody that says they do not have bias in their interview is not being real.”

There’s some truth in that statement. And, while there’s still plenty of room in the hiring process for old-fashioned intuition, it’s certainly fair to say that fancy algorithms and sophisticated computer machines can help make the job easier.

“What true [HR professionals] realize is they’ve taken something and made [hiring] more efficient,” said Moreland, “and therefore they can spend more of their time on strategy rather than interviewing.”




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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 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.

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What’s Disrupting HR Tech in 2015?

It’s become something of a regular occurrence at the HR Tech Conference: Josh Bersin’s release of the top 10 disruptions in HR technology for 2015.

ThinkstockPhotos-181659273Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, put “consumerized” HR technology at the top of his 2015 list of the latest HR technology disrupters.

“Not long ago,” Bersin said, “technology for HR was simply for HR professionals. But today, more and more of the tools, whether they be in recruiting, learning, talent management, benefits and engagement, are now being put into the hands of employees—and the success of these tools is gradually determined not so much by whether HR uses them, but whether employees use them.”

“In the last year or two,” he said, “the growth of apps and mobile as a platform is undeniable.

“The other thing you have to remember is that employees are volunteers now,” Bersin said. “If you roll out a piece of software and the employees don’t use it, you can’t push it on them.”

The other nine disruptions on Bersin’s top 10 list include:

“Breakthrough areas of mobile applications are coming in the next year and will likely include engagement and feedback systems.”

Other disruptions include ERP providers emerging in the talent-management segment. “ERP vendors are now catching up as credible, effective providers of comprehensive talent-management technologies to support recruiting, learning and a host of other people-management tools.”

Built-for-the-cloud providers redefine HR functions. A new and disruptive “third wave” of talent-solution providers is emerging with products that are consumer-like in ease of use, very inexpensive to buy, and built for mobile and the cloud.

Feedback and culture management emerge as new software categories.

Reinventing performance and goal management with feedback and check-ins.

Learning experience middle ware strives to integrate content from everywhere.

The introduction of new predictive analytics vendors and solutions. A range of new vendors are emerging that offer everything from identifying employee flight risks to startups that can attach sensors on employees to help determine whether a new office layout is working or not.

Demand for technology services continues to rise, despite the growth of cloud computing.

As the pace of innovation accelerates, employee engagement becomes critical. “The market moves from licensed software to cloud-based systems to mobile technologies This new wave is all about engaging employees in a simple, compelling way,” Bersin said.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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The Next Step for Wearable Tech

Wearable technology has been receiving a lot of attention in the press lately.

ThinkstockPhotos-126914550Just last month, FitBit—by far, the current leading provider in the field of tracking devices—scored a major client win when Target announced it would be giving its 335,000 employees a free Zip, the firm’s clip-on device retailing for around $60. Wall Street apparently was pleased by the news: FitBit’s stock price jumped as much as 22 percent following the announcement.

So I guess it isn’t terribly surprising to see wearable technologies quite visible at this week’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Orlando, Fla. Right?

Just a few steps away from the conference registration desk, FitBit employees were distributing complimentary devices to attendees who agreed to sign up for a charity competition. (Full disclosure: I picked up my first tracker on Wednesday, strapped it on my wrist and joined a team designated “MS Mercenaries,” though I’m clearly not contributing to our tally sitting here writing this post.)

I probably should also mention that FitBit did a similar competition at our Health & Benefits Leadership Conference last year and will be doing it again later this month at our HR Tech Conference.

I also counted at least three sessions dedicated to the wearables topic on the opening day of the Benefits Forum.

One of those sessions, titled “Wearables: A Believable Future or a Passing Fad,” featured David Spierer, president of human physiology at Wellness Science LLC, a New York-based data-intelligence company that focuses on wearable-tech validation.

Spierer shared his insights and perspectives on the phenomenon, including some of the drawbacks employers ought to factor in as they evaluate and implement these devices in their organizations.

Sustainability and accuracy continue to be two major hurdles facing device makers, he said.

According to Spierer, wearables have a life span of about five-and-a-half to six months before the novelty wears off and they end up in a drawer, he said. Either that, he said, or they break.

Still, the appetite for these devices is unarguably huge. Spierer said they’re shipping at a rate of more than 21 million units a year—and some predict that number could rise to 150 million a year by 2018. So people clearly want them!

Spierer also emphasized the need for better validation.

He specifically pointed to manufacturers’ claims that these devices can measure calories, when the only way to accurately measure caloric expenditures is to wear a mask. “Carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen have to all be measured in order to get a true reading of caloric expenditure,” he said. “These devices just do an estimate.”

Yet despite such limitations, Spierer predicted that further innovation lies ahead for the technology and the future is promising.

By integrating the sensors with a complete system, he said, people will be able to do exercises at home and then send that information to their physician.

Spierer also predicted that the devices are going to become increasingly “invisible” and “personalized,” citing companies that have already added them to their clothing and are incorporating them in jewelry such as earrings.

He also expects the technology to get a lot smarter. “They’re going to be context-driven,” he said. “They’re going to know when it’s raining, what holiday it is [and] what your routine is during the day.” And they’re going to start to talk to other devices (for instance, the wearable on your wrist will be able to talk to your phone in your pocket).

“How great would it be if you were walking home with your groceries, the wearable senses your heart rate is going up, the smart lock on your front door opens … and because your sweating, your air conditioning goes on?” he asked.

I’d say pretty great—especially on a day like today, when temperatures in Orlando reached around 90 degrees.

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Report: HR Really Is Becoming More Strategic

Back view of businessman

Back view of businessman

We’ve all been hearing and talking about HR professionals becoming better strategic leaders and business partners for years, so there’s no real surprise here.

But in this report from the Cranfield Network on International Human Resource management, in collaboration with the Society for Human Resource Management and the Center for International HR Studies in the School of Labor Employment Relations at Penn State University, we do have new numbers. And they’re worth noting.

The report, Human Resource Management Policies and Practices in the United States, outlines the results of a survey of almost 700 senior-level HR practitioners in organizations with 200 or more employees.

It finds HR is more often on an organization’s board of directors or executive team and taking sole responsibility for major policy decisions than in years past.

Specifically, in terms of leadership, 70 percent of responding organizations said HR has a place on the board now, compared to 63 percent in 2009 and 41 percent in 2004. Also, two-thirds of responding organizations (66 percent) said they have a written HR-management strategy. As the report states:

“The HR department appears to be moving away from working jointly with line management in terms of where the responsibility lies for major policy decisions across a whole range of HRM activities such as pay and benefits, recruitment and selection, training and development, industrial relations and workforce expansion/reduction.

“In most cases, there has been an increase in either the HR department taking sole responsibility for these activities or line management taking responsibility (but at a much lower absolute level), with a concurrent reduction in the number of cases where both parties collaborated on the activity led either by HR or by line management. On average, line management is most active in the area of training and development, and least active in establishing pay and benefits policies.

“This trend implies that HR and line management roles may be becoming institutionalized, with each party focusing on its own responsibilities. The increasing regulatory environment may be playing a part here, with firms needing clear guidelines around responsibilities to ensure compliance with regulations and standards.”

This last sentence certainly underscores what we’ve been hearing lately as well!

The report also confirms the use of technology as a foundation for increased strategic HR leadership, with 83 percent of organizations using HR-information systems or electronic HR-management systems and 67 percent using employee self-service options.

Interestingly, according to the report, HR departments remain involved in the development of business strategy, either from the outset or through consultation, although their involvement has declined slightly (ranging from 80 percent in 2004 to 78 percent in 2009 to 76 percent in 2014/15).

Also, interestingly (and it’s hard to pinpoint what’s behind this), there was a decrease in the percentage of HR departments not consulted when the organization was going through a merger, relocation or acquisition between 2004 and 2009 (8 percent in 2004 and 4 percent in 2009); however, in 2014/15 the percentage returned to 9 percent, a level similar to that reported in 2004.

On a more positive note, though, the report states …

” … more than one half of HR departments report that they are consulted from the outset in such situations, which has remained stable since 2004 at 54 percent to 61 percent (depending on the type of organizational change), an indication that HR continues to be involved in processes vital to the success of organizations.”


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KPMG Acquires Towers Watson’s HRSD Practice

On the heels of its recently announced merger with Willis, Towers Watson said today it has sold its HR service delivery business to KPMG. Towers Watson’s HRSD helps clients integrate their HR-related processes with technology and provides consulting services in those areas, and has operations and clients not only in the United States but China, the U.K., Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition marks KPMG’s sixth transaction in the HR space within the past four years. The other five transactions include KPMG’s acquisition of Equa Terra, Optimum Solutions, The Hackett Group’s Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning Practice, Zanett Consulting Solutions and the Workday practice of Axia Consulting.

Towers Watson’s HRSD practice has been heavily involved in Workday implementations for its clients, according to a statement announcing the acquisition from KPMG. As part of the acquisition, KPMG will continue to support Towers Watson’s HR Service Delivery and Technology Survey and its associated forum, the company said.

Towers Watson will be shifting its focus to growing its proprietary HR software business, said Max Caldwell, TW’s managing director of its data, surveys and technology business.

Mark Spears, KPMG’s global head of people and change and leader of its global HR center of excellence, said in a statement that the acquisition “significantly increases our capacity and ability to serve our global clients in all geographies.”

“Our capabilities and experience fit very well into KPMG’s strategy and organization,” said Mike DiClaudio, global leader of TW’s HRSD practice. “We are excited to continue helping HR leaders improve the quality and efficiency of the services they provide to their organization.”


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