What Shouldn’t Stay in Vegas: Takeaways from HRevolution and HR Tech 2011

October 12, 2011

Things are finally beginning to settle down after a busy and exciting week in Las Vegas. I had the privilege of attending my first HRevolution ‘unconference” event on Sunday, then participated in all of the goings-on at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition, along with HRchitect colleagues Matt Lafata, Tiffany Appleby, John Hinojos and Brandie Hurtado. Here is a collection of the major takeaways gleaned from conference sessions, vendor briefings, booth conversations, and random interactions during those four days:

  • Thanks to Bill Kutik, David Shadowitz, and LRP for continuing to run a great event – every year execution gets better.
  • It was a stroke of genius to team up with HRevolution to hold their unique format the day before – this was a great example of collaboration that really added value. Thanks also to Jeanne Achille and Devon Group staff for their management of the Press Room – quite a feat given the number of analysts, vendors and briefings that they had to coordinate!
  • Kudos to the event sponsors who did their part to make life easier for attendees – from food to parties to wifi, it was all noticed and appreciated (though I wasn’t able to squeeze in one of those coveted chair massages—bummer!).
  • HRevolution is a unique interactive format that everyone should experience at least once – trust me, you’ll want to go again. The emphasis is on dialogue, interaction and small group collaboration to advance the HR function – a very refreshing change from the usual passive “talking heads” conference experience. Congratulations to the HRevolution planning team (Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, Crystal Peterson) for making this happen!
  • Energy and activity levels set new highs – perhaps the change of venue to Vegas had something to do with it. One of the best things about HR Tech is the number of parties that take place after formal show hours that enable the interactions to continue. In Chicago this required significant cabbing to get from party to party. In Vegas, it was all at the Mandalay Bay – a significant plus. Regardless, the energy level and “buzz” in the Exhibit Hall was noticeably up from last year, doubtless fueled by the large number of vendors and new product announcements.
  • Mobile & Social were front page – Workday and PeopleFluent led the way with very impressive demonstrations of iPad apps, and it is clear that tablet PCs have the potential to enable significant adoption of manager-driven HCM processes. However, as Joel Cheesman pointed out during his opening keynote at HRevolution, the vast majority of “rank & file” employees and candidates do not use tablets or smart phones – therefore, organizations must develop a more pragmatic strategy for communicating and interacting using SMS (texting), especially for particular job categories, industry segments, or geographies.
  • Customer feedback on vendors is pretty grim – lost in all the buzz over cool new technologies and product announcements was a warning message to the vendor community – service and support are not meeting customer expectations. The clearest example of this was during the Talent Management panel, where over 72% of text poll respondents gave vendors a grade of C, D, or F on the quality of service & support – and only 5% gave an A grade. Unfortunately, these scores continue to be in line with other research (e.g., Bersin & Associates “2010 Talent Management Customer Satisfaction Survey,” CedarCrestone’s “2011 HR Systems Survey”), indicating little response from vendors on this issue. Panelists indicated three main failings from their TM vendors –  1) Vendors are not keeping commitments made during the sales process – therefore, customers need to beef up SLAs and take a contractual approach to ensuring their needs are met, 2) Vendors need to improve the process of gathering business requirements to ensure that their solutions are more configurable and meet the needs of a broader cross-section of companies, and 3) Vendors tend to overstate their global capabilities – in the words of one panelist, “Don’t say your app is global just because it has global customers.” HRchitect first pointed out the importance of vendor service and support in our 2008 report “The Suite Life of Integrated Talent Management,” and we hope that vendors take this feedback from customers as a serious call to action. The fanciest technology in the world means very little if a client does not feel they are getting the support they need in order to make the vendor solution work.
  • HCM implementations are just plain hard work – this message came through loud and clear in multiple customer sessions. Regardless of the technology, a project team needs to execute the basics in order to be successful:
    • Knowing the business – not just the business, but the models that drive the business
    • Knowing the workforce – demographic and cultural variations
    • Knowing the key jobs and the characteristics of top performers in those jobs
    • Clean, accurate data – there must be processes to cleanse the data in the first place and keep it clean
    • Change management, change management, change management – critical to ensure user adoption – consistently under-budgeted in most TM implementations
    • Strong project management is critical – every HCM implementation needs a leader who has the vision, can communicate it to stakeholders, and can keep all the moving parts on track
  • The HR Tech show has become overwhelming – the sheer size, number of vendors and activities has reached a point where it is easy for attendees to be bewildered by all the similar marketing messages and vendor claims. In the weeks leading up to HR Tech, many HRchitect clients asked if it was advisable for them to go. We told them to attend, but cautioned them that it was very likely that they would be overwhelmed, and that they should talk to us after the show to recap what they had experienced and help them separate “fact from fiction.” To a person, these clients came by our booth and validated the overwhelming nature of the show.

So, how was your experience at HR Tech? Whether you agree or not with what is written here, please comment on this post. If you were bewildered by all the messages and options and want some help sorting it all out, please let us know. We’d be happy to talk with you before you make any decisions about HR technology purchases, changes or upgrades. In the meantime, we are already looking forward to HR Tech 2012 in Chicago!


Be Careful What You Measure: The Tale of a Boy, a Car, and a Camera

October 4, 2011

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you are well aware that the are of HR metrics, measurement and analytics has been receiving major attention from all those participating in the HCM marketplace — and with good reason. Without determining outcomes and the metrics needed to properly measure them, it is very difficult to determine whether or not your HR program investments are actually making a difference to your organization’s bottom line. However, the road to determining the right measures can be a long and winding one, due to a wonderful old maxim called the Law of Unintended Consequences. As outlined in Wikipedia:

The law of unintended consequences is an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Akin to Murphy’s law, it is commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.

Here is an illustration, fresh from the pages of Hanscome family life, that demonstrates how measurement can lead you to results that you are not necessarily expecting — so pour a cup of your favorite beverage, sit back in that comfy chair, and read with me…The Tale of a Boy, a Car, and a Camera.

My eldest son Nick turned 16 this past July. To his great joy (and our great relief), he passed his driver’s license exam on the first try, and entered the ranks of the driving public (I kept hearing Martin Luther King shouting “Free at last! Free at last!”). After several years of having to find rides with older friends or (the Horror) having to be transported by a parent, he finally had the flexibility (using our 3rd vehicle, a Hyundai Sonata) to arrive and leave whenever he wanted, and meet up with friends at a moment’s notice. The transition was nice for us, too — since it simplified our increasingly complex transportation schedule (work, younger brother Ryan’s 7th grade sports, meetings, etc.). 

This happy situation lasted all of two weeks – until The Camera arrived. Encouraged by our insurance company and a positive reference from neighbors with slightly older teenage boys, we enrolled in the Teen Safe Driver program. The concept is pretty simple — our insurance carrier paid to have a camera installed behind the rear view mirror of the Sonata. The camera is triggered by any abrupt actions (e.g., turns, sudden stops) and records what is going on in the cockpit as well as the road ahead. Any incident is uploaded for analysis by a staff member trained to diagnose the situation, assign severity “points” (1-9 per incident), and suggest alternatives. Every week we are sent by e-mail a link to an on-line dashboard that shows us the total number of points and enables drill-down to the recordings of the specific incidents so that they can be discussed and resolved (does this sound like an HR manager’s dashboard to anyone else?). The program has been statistically proven to reduce accidents in the first year of driving, so it seemed like a no-brainer. Silly me…

We expected some negative reactions due to the obvious “Big Brother” aspect of having one’s driving monitored – however, this was exacerbated by the size of the camera, which was much larger than we expected. It was pretty obvious and intrusive, and resulted in a lot of questions and uneasiness from anyone riding with Nick. What made it worse was that none of his friends were part of this or any similar program; at this stage of “trying to fit in,” this is the last thing he wanted to have happen. “Well, this too shall pass,” we thought, expecting resistance to fade after a few weeks, and better driving habits to develop after a few weeks of getting used to the system. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks the number of points on the weekly report card dropped to near zero, under the goal of 5 points per week. We had achieved success, right? Well, let’s not be so hasty with that conclusion!

You see, what we discovered after some in-depth conversations with our son was a real issue with how success is being measured by this particular enabling technology. Nick was getting a better score because he had learned how to drive in such a way as to not trigger the camera recording – slowing his turns a bit, and making sure he didn’t make any sudden stops. Good things, right? Perhaps – but what would happen if he was coming up on an intersection, and the light suddenly turned yellow? Would he step on the break and slow down quickly, probably triggering the camera? Or might he continue on through the intersection on the thin edge of running a red light because there would be no change of speed and thus no “camera incident?” Conversely, what would happen if a driving situation required him to quickly accelerate in a turn to avoid being hit from behind? Would the desire to avoid triggering the camera cause him to hesitate for a split second and result in a collision? Unfortunately, we had fallen victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Hopefully the parallel between this situation and what we could all potentially experience with our HR measurement efforts is pretty clear. How many performance management or compensation programs end up incenting participant behaviors that don’t end up improving the bottom line? Apocryphal stores abound of call centers that wanted to reduce the time spent on individual calls to improve the calls per rep ratio, but neglected to focus on call outcomes — which resulted in reps rushing through calls to get their ratio up, which reduced customer satisfaction, because conversations were being concluded before the support issue was truly resolved.

The moral of The Tale of a Boy, a Car, and a Camera is…make sure you think through what you are measuring and how you will measure it; otherwise your results may be far different than what you expected, and not what you want. When defining HR metrics and analytics it is best to take a collaborative, team-based approach that involves stakeholder interviews, and plenty of working sessions where multiple brains can try to anticipate as many potential outcomes as possible. Pilot implementations with small employee samples are also great opportunities to discover and resolve many unintended consequences. By adopting this approach you will definitely increase the chances that your HR measurement efforts will achieve the results you intended.

How did our sad tale end? It hasn’t…yet. Nick wants the thing out of his car ASAP. We’re considering that option…and others…so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what you’ve experienced  in this arena– what you started measuring, how it turned out differently than you expected, and what you did to get things back on track.


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