Category Archives: HR technology

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.

Cutting Costs or Watching Workers?

“Managing by walking around” is an old expression describing one no-frills way that supervisors can keep their finger on the pulse of the workplace: By simply strolling around the office to check in on employees and the status of the projects they’re working on.

Managers at British banking and financial services firm Barclays are apparently taking a different approach; one that saves them the steps and instead relies on technology to keep tabs on workers.

As Bloomberg recently reported, Barclays has installed devices that track how often bankers are at their desks, using heat and motion sensors “to record how long employees are spending at their posts,” and providing managers with a multi-colored dashboard that shows which workstations are unoccupied.

The devices—called OccupEye, and made by U.K.-based Cad Capture—also enable supervisors to analyze workspace usage trends, and weren’t intended to be used for monitoring people or their productivity, according to a Barclays statement emailed to Bloomberg.

Rather, they’re designed for “assessing office space and usage,” according to the bank. “This sort of analysis helps us to reduce costs, for example, managing energy consumption, or identifying opportunities to further adopt flexible work environments.”

I can’t help but wonder if Barclays employees are a bit skeptical about the purpose of these devices. While the bank says “there have been no official human resources complaints,” managers were “peppered with queries when investment bank staff in London discovered black boxes stuck to the underside of their desks in recent months,” according to several Barclays employees who spoke to Bloomberg on the condition of anonymity.

Employees at other British companies, however, have made their feelings pretty clear upon discovering the same sensor systems in their workspaces.

Last year, the Daily Telegraph removed the OccupEye devices the same day they were installed there. Originally intending to keep the sensors in place for four weeks as part of developing plans for making their offices more energy-efficient, the British newspaper immediately scrapped those plans when its employees (and the country’s National Union of Journalists) complained of feeling like they were under surveillance while at work.

Such concerns aside, Bloomberg found at least one other British bank, Lloyds Banking Group, using sensors similar to those in place at Barclays, with an eye on cutting costs by eliminating extraneous office space.

“It’s important to keep office and working space under regular review,” Lloyds spokesperson Ross Keany told Bloomberg. “While we use motion sensors in some of our sites, we also make sure to engage colleagues and seek their feedback on what would work best.”

Soliciting employee input seems like a smart move in this situation. These types of tools might truly be intended to trim office space, cut back on energy use and, ultimately, save money. Still, it’s not hard to imagine workers—in any environment—feeling just a bit like Big Brother is watching when these sensor systems are put in place. We’ll have to wait and see if U.S. employers begin to adopt similar technology, but—if the Daily Telegraph rollout is any indication, at least—careful and continual communication with employees would be advised throughout the process.

Who’s Afraid of Automation?

Despite all the hand-wringing over automation’s potential to displace scores of hard-working humans, it seems that a majority of employees are actually ready to welcome our new robot overlords.

In fact, just 14 percent of U.S. employees say they’re worried that automation will take their job away someday, according to new research from Atlanta-based Randstad North America.

The 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research study polled more than 5,300 workers, with 76 percent of respondents saying they don’t fear automation. Nearly one-third of employees (30 percent) said they think artificial intelligence and automation will make their jobs better.

This optimism seems to be at odds with how some have described the prevailing employee sentiment toward robotics in the workplace.

In a May 2017 HRE feature, for example, Laura Maechtlen discussed the “Chicken Little-type thinking” she often encounters in discussions about automation’s impact on the future of work.

“There’s just so much fear about people being replaced,” said Maechtlen, a San Francisco-based partner at Seyfarth Shaw, and co-chair of the firm’s diversity and inclusion action team.

That fear isn’t well-founded, she told us, adding that automation should be seen as an opportunity to augment an organization’s talent, not to supplant its employees.

This recent Randstad poll certainly suggests that employees are getting more comfortable with the concept of artificial intelligence and automation, and many would be willing to take part in additional training to maintain their current job status. Overall, 51 percent said they would be happy to retrain in order to develop and update the skills needed to work alongside AI—provided that they were being paid the same or more than their current salary.

“It is evident from our research that not only are workers not afraid of losing their jobs to automation, they are more than willing to retrain to leverage the efficiencies and benefits of artificial intelligence and robotics in the workplace,” says Linda Galipeau, CEO of Randstad North America, in a statement.

“These sentiments should be welcome news for companies as they seek greater adoption of automation to drive productivity and innovation,” says Galipeau. “As we have known for quite some time, the success of organizations in the future will depend greatly on their ability to strike a balance between valuable human insight and interaction with technology.”

While AI is “becoming a reality” in the workplace, this influx of automation “doesn’t make human skills less valuable,” Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad North America, tells HRE.

In the future, says Link, an organization’s success will depend on its ability to enable humans and AI to function collectively and collaborate effectively.

“Companies and HR leaders owe it to both their companies and their employees to play an active role in communicating and teaching the skills needed for the future, as automation moves into the workplace,” he says.

“This can encompass anything from training programs that focus on upskilling employees’ strategic, problem-solving skills—expertise that AI doesn’t necessarily possess—to providing employees with incentives to develop these skills on their own time.”

Solve a Puzzle, Get a Tech Job

British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover announced yesterday that it would be recruiting 5,000 people this year, including 1,000 electronics and software engineers.

While that announcement alone may not seem worthy of inclusion in the esteemed pages of the New York Times, how the upscale carmaker is conducting this recruitment process certainly is: The paper reports the carmaker “wants potential employees to download an app with a series of puzzles that it says will test for the engineering skills it hopes to bring in.”

While traditional applicants will still be considered, people who successfully complete the app’s puzzles will “fast-track their way into employment,” said Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors of India. Applicants are invited to explore a garage belonging to the band Gorillaz and assemble a Jaguar sports car. Once they complete that stage, they are confronted with a series of code-breaking puzzles.

The Times notes that the carmaker’s recruitment effort is “unusual but far from unique,” adding that increasing numbers of employers are using alternative methods to hire workers. The story goes on to cite Marriott hotel and a British communications agency as other examples of organizations changing their recruitment techniques to keep up with the pace of change in today’s marketplace.

“The nature of jobs is changing, and what we should be looking for is changing,” Barbara Marder, senior partner at Mercer, a consultancy that specializes in human resources and has a stake in Pymetrics, a company that makes games for recruitment purposes, told the Times. She added that such games had not been in use long enough to provide ample data on their effectiveness. Still, she said, they could be more useful than traditional tests and interviews.

Games offer additional benefits, she said, explaining: “They’re very attractive in attracting candidates and keeping the short attention span of millennials. That’s not an insignificant challenge.”

 

Biometrics and New Privacy Concerns

A recently filed class action suit in Illinois could be the signpost for “a new employment law frontier,” according to at least one law firm.

As recently reported by Holland & Knight, a class action suit pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois centers around the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008 to prohibit the gathering and keeping of individuals’ biometric information without his or her prior notification and written permission.

In Baron v. Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., et al., the plaintiff alleges that the supermarket chain violated BIPA by failing to meet the legal requirements to obtain and retain employee fingerprints the company used for timekeeping purposes.

Holland & Knight attorneys called biometrics an “emerging area” of employment law, as more employers begin to use the technology to log employees’ hours. Damages available under laws such as BIPA make this fertile ground for class actions as well. For each violation of BIPA, a prevailing party may recover the greater of actual damages or $1,000 for negligent violations of the Act, the attorneys note, adding that plaintiffs may recover the greater of actual damages or $5,000 for “reckless or intentional violations.”

With legislation comparable to BIPA already on the books in Texas, and states including Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington considering similar bills, employers would be wise to tread carefully when and if they introduce biometrics to their places of business.

“Laws like BIPA will become more relevant to employers and of increasing interest to the plaintiffs’ bar as the use of biometric data, such as the use of fingerprints or thumbprints for timekeeping purposes, becomes more prevalent in the workplace,” according to Holland & Knight.

“With the increasing awareness of such laws by the plaintiffs’ bar, it is important that employers using or considering the use of biometric data in the workplace ensure compliance with any state or local laws governing the use, retention and destruction of that data.”

Report: HR is ‘Behind the Curve’

New research from the Hackett Group finds that many HR departments are lagging when it comes to helping their organizations deal with talent shortages in key areas, and — due to a lack of resources — sufficient progress likely won’t be made anytime soon.

The report, The CHRO Agenda: An Urgent Need to Close Large Gaps in Talent and Technology Capabilities (registration required), is based on survey results from executives at 180 large U.S. and foreign companies, most with annual revenue of $1 billion or more. It finds that HR at many organizations lacks the ability to fully support key enterprise goals such as adapting talent-management strategies and processes to deal with changing business needs, address talent shortages in critical areas, manage change more effectively and develop agile executives fully capable of leading in a volatile business environment.

HR leaders at these companies don’t suffer from a lack of ambition: The report finds that they’re planning to address issues such as talent-related change and strengthening their organizations’ HR tech and information capabilities and organizational structure and processes. However, their departments are held back by limited resources, with the number of full-time equivalent HR employees expected to decline by 1.4 percent this year on top of a decline of 1.3 percent last year and budgets that are projected to decrease by an average of 1.6 percent, compared to a reduction of 0.3 percent in 2016.

“The consistent finding here is that most HR organizations are simply too busy fighting fires to get out in front on strategic issues,” says Harry Osle, Hackett’s global HR advisory leader. “In many cases, they are in reactive mode, with too much on their plates and an inability to say no to work that does not allow HR to become more strategic.”

HR must change this mindset if it’s ever going to deliver strategic value, he says. “To build a true leadership position within the organization, it is essential that HR find ways to more effectively manage and prioritize its service portfolio, adopt proactive demand management techniques from IT and make headway on transformation and improvement in key talent areas.”

Hackett finds that HR organizations are planning to “dramatically increase” their mainstream adoption efforts in several digital technology areas, including cloud applications and Software-as-a-Service, social media and collaboration technologies and advanced analytics.

Getting Under Employees’ Skin

No, this story isn’t about a new and unpopular workplace policy sweeping through the nation’s workplaces.

At least not yet.

The Associated Press is reporting today on a Swedish company that turns its willing employees into “cyborgs” by inserting microchips into them:

What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

Epicenter’s co-founder and CEO Patrick Mesterton told the AP the move will bring a heightened sense of ease for workers:

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” he said. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”

According to the AP, the small implants use Near Field Communication technology, the same as in contactless credit cards or mobile payments: “When activated by a reader a few centimeters (inches) away, a small amount of data flows between the two devices via electromagnetic waves. The implants are ‘passive,’ meaning they contain information that other devices can read, but cannot read information themselves.”

The technology is not new, of course, but it has never been used to tag employees on a broad scale before, and the AP says Epicenter and a handful of other companies “are the first to make chip implants broadly available.”
Way back in 2006, however, colleague Mark McGraw tackled the topic of tagging workers:

Cincinnati-based private video-surveillance company CityWatcher.com recently embedded silicon chips in four of its employees, as the company tested the technology in an effort to control access to a room where it holds security video footage for government agencies and police.

The dime-sized chips, manufactured by Delray Beach, Fla.-based VeriChip Corp., were implanted into the employees’ arms, says Sean Darks, CityWatcher CEO, after the company explored various types of biometric applications such as fingerprint and handprint identification systems. CityWatcher turned to radio-frequency identification chips, a less costly alternative to typical biometric systems, to “make security improvements,” he says, and eliminate the possibility of employees losing or misplacing proximity cards or other forms of identification.

RFID chips are inexpensive radio transmitters that emit a unique identifying signal. The chips are commonly used for tracking merchandise in transit, but they can also be implanted in pets to identify them in the event they’re separated from their owners and can be used in humans for medical purposes — to link patients to their medical records in emergency situations, for instance.

However, CityWatcher’s implementation of RFID is the first known case in which U.S. workers have been “tagged” electronically as a way of identifying them, and is likely to add to a growing controversy surrounding RFID , predicted as one of the next big growth industries.

Not everyone McGraw talked to for the piece was excited at the prospect of having more workers walking around with chips inserted under their skin.

“Whether or not implanting  … chips in humans becomes a common workplace security measure remains to be seen,” said Liz McIntyre, a critic of the technology and the communications director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, a nonprofit group focused on consumer privacy issues.  “This is just the beginning,” says McIntyre.
Eleven years later, though, that trend is apparently still in its beginning stages, as the only progress seems to be in the chip’s size shrinking from a dime to a grain of rice, not in expanding the number of companies using such technology.