Process Automation Run Amok? A Traveler’s Tale

May 25, 2012

This is my first post in awhile, due to multiple business and personal factors, some of which will become evident as my tale unfolds. As a longtime HCM technologist, I’m generally a fan of automating processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness wherever possible. However, there are times when automation can go too far. I recently experienced this firsthand in the wonderful world of business travel, and I hope that my “tale of woe” has some lessons learned that can be applied to our world of HR Technology.

As a longtime Northwest / Delta user, current Platinum Medallion member, Million Miler, and native Minnesotan, I almost always fly out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP). However, due to my 13-year-old son Ryan’s AAU basketball tournament Mother’s Day weekend (I know, spousal points off for that one…;-) in the Des Moines area, I made a reservation to fly out of DSM  through MSP to LAX on Sunday, May 13 to make a Monday morning client meeting in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, my mother passed away (unexpectedly swiftly) due to pancreatic cancer on Friday, May 11, which required me to stay home to make funeral arrangements. In the midst of all the chaos of schedule and transportation changes, I thought it would be a relatively simple matter to modify my reservation to simply get on the MSP->LAX leg of my scheduled flight. I was sadly mistaken. Although the change fee would be waived due to the circumstances (with proper verification, of course), I was informed that I would have to in effect rebook the fare, at an additional cost of $733 (more than doubling the cost of the original ticket). I spent over three hours talking with various service representatives on the Delta Platinum Service and Customer Care lines, to no avail. Everyone said they were unable to do anything about the situation. In the end, the least costly option was for me to purchase an additional one-way flight from MSP->DSM for an additional $411.80. I had to leave my house at Noon, fly down to DSM, immediately get back on the same plane, fly back to MSP, and then wait for the MSP->LAX flight.

In addition to being out the cost of the extra flight, I spent four additional hours of travel time on Mother’s Day, which impacted not only me, but also my family in the aftermath of my mother’s death. Words can’t adequately express how frustrating, ridiculous and nonsensical this whole situation was to me. So, after some thought, I wrote a complaint letter to Delta, which included the following paragraph:

 I would like your perspective / rationale on how this situation was handled. It seems clear to me that your automated systems have run amok, as it appears that no one had the authority to override such an obviously stupid situation. If this was a case of unwillingness rather than inability on the part of your service staff, then I might feel even worse about your airline.

Let’s step out of the story for a moment, and draw some parallels to our industry and organizations by asking the following questions:

  • How do your employees and managers feel when they interact with your technology-enabled HCM processes? Is there any ability for various levels of authority to override workflows when the outcome is “just plain wrong?”
  • Do you have escalation levels clearly defined, so that an employee or manager can appeal an outcome and have the matter quickly discussed and resolved?
  • Are those in the “chain of command” empowered to do what is right for the “customer” (e.g., the employee or manager), or are they hamstrung by technology and/or policy – “I’m sorry, but the system won’t allow me to…”
  • Does everyone on your team have a clear idea of who their customers are, including goals, needs, and expectations?

So, how did my sad story end? Kudos to Delta – less than 15 hours after I submitted my compliant, I was contacted by an Executive Customer Care Rep (read – Tier 3 support). Along with a profuse apology, I was refunded most of the cost of the extra leg that I purchased, and received a travel voucher towards a future flight. This at least somewhat compensated me for what I had experienced, although it clearly would have been a much better solution to have avoided all the extra travel in the first place.

In my view there are some clear lessons from this tale that can be applied to our daily lives in HCM technology:

  • System support of HCM processes need to be flexible and include the ability to override “normal” outcomes in order to account for special situations. Override ability should not be indiscriminate (that would result in chaos), but only be given to certain critical roles.
  • Clearly define escalation levels for all major processes, so that special circumstances can be evaluated and resolved in the shortest time possible.
  • When an outcome occurs that is clearly wrong and stupid, own it – respond quickly and do what is necessary to make things right. Then, evaluate where you might make process and system changes to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.

As always, I look forward to feedback and additional insights from you – comments are always welcome!


2012 HCM Technology Implications

January 25, 2012

Note: On December 14 HRchitect conducted its traditional year-end WebMingle. Matt Lafata (President), Ron Hanscome (VP HCM Systems Strategy Consulting) and John Hinojos (VP Consulting Services) spent a lively hour discussing major HCM technology events that occurred in 2011 versus what we predicted last December, and delivered a fresh set of predictions for 2012. Part 1 reviewed major events of 2011 and how our predictions panned out, and Part 2 covered what we expect will happen in 2012. This post will wrap things up by discussing what HRchitect believes this all means for companies looking to invest in HCM technology solutions over the next 12 months.

When all is said and done, 2011 was certainly an eventful year for the HCM marketplace. The frenetic pace of merger, acquisition and investment activities has certainly validated the strength of the market, along with strong organic growth experienced by many vendors. Fundamentally, the HRchitect team views the following as the major HCM market implications that every potential customer needs to consider in order to increase the chance of a successful outcome:

  • Even though consolidation has reduced the number of vendors, the complexity of decision making remains as high as ever – following all of the moves/adds/changes can be a time consuming, bewildering experience for those who follow HCM providers on an intermittent basis. In many cases, all of the market activity has only traded one kind of complexity (number of providers) for another (product & technology integration, product strategy). Current and potential users of HCM technology will get significant value from guidance provided by those who regularly follow the twists and turns of this market.
  • Implementation timeframes have become somewhat extended – there are many factors driving this, including disruptions due to acquisition (changes in vendor product strategy, exodus of implementation resources), extended configuration/design phases as customers struggle to include leading-edge features (e.g., social, mobile, analytics), and greater than expected change management activities. Potential customers should take this complexity into account as they build cost estimates for their implementation plans.
  • More than ever, potential customers of HCM technology solutions need a robust framework for selection decision making – with every vendor marketing their “latest & greatest” features, it’s important for customers to understand what is most important to their business and HR function, and to have a methodology for ranking vendor solutions. HRchitect provides a “Decision Drivers” framework that our clients use for this purpose – access a white paper that outlines this methodology here (Note: registration required for download).
  • HR is still recovering from the downturn – the impact of 2008 and the uneven recovery since then has definitely affected the HR team in most organizations. Staff cutbacks have forced many HR teams to do more with less, and run a “bare bones” operation that is focused on getting processes done instead of gathering and analyzing information to drive business decisions and outcomes. It will be critical for those implementing HCM technology in 2012 to allocate some headcount to establish and extend the metrics framework to deliver information of value to the organization.
  • Strategic linkage is critical – any potential purchaser of HCM technology needs to start with their organization’s business strategy, goals and objectives, and check the HR strategy for alignment. Only then can an HCM technology strategy be developed that supports the overarching HR strategy, which will then support the business. HCM project teams must understand the business at a deep level in order to make this happen.
  • Be careful, integration can be a real “gotcha” – with all of the acquisition activity there are fewer HCM vendors that deliver an organically developed integrated application on a single platform. Recent acquisitions will take between 18 and 36 months to be completely integrated into the vendor’s main platform. Make sure that your evaluation process tests the extent of integration that exists between modules, as well as the robustness of integration tools for 3rd party and enterprise applications. Remember also that project teams typically underestimate by at least 15% the time and cost required to integrate all the products needed to deliver seamless HCM processes – so build some cushion into your project plan.

We hope that you found this series of posts valuable as you move ahead into 2012. We’d love to hear about any questions or comments you may have, so fire away!

If desired, you may access the full audio of the WebMingle here. You can also find some very helpful supporting content (white papers and vendor summaries) here.


December WebMingle Recap, Part 2 – What’s Ahead for 2012

December 28, 2011

Note: On December 14 HRchitect conducted its traditional year-end WebMingle. Matt Lafata (President), Ron Hanscome (VP HCM Systems Strategy Consulting) and John Hinojos (VP Consulting Services) spent a lively hour discussing major HCM technology events that occurred in 2011 versus what we predicted last December, and delivered a fresh set of predictions for 2012. Part 1 reviewed major events of 2011 and how our predictions panned out. This post will cover what we expect will happen in 2012, and Part 3 will discuss what it all means for companies looking to invest in HCM technology solutions over the next 12 months.

Economics and Demographics – Critical Issues for 2012

  • Last year began with signs of economic recovery, which triggered a lot of spending on HCM technology, as organizations released budget to address some long-deferred investments. However, we saw a slowing of activity during the summer, due in our opinion to uncertainty about the strength of the recovery and some concerns over a double-dip recession combined with the normal vacation season slowdown. Activity picked up again somewhat as we moved into autumn, and it appears that many organizations are planning for strategy, evaluation/selection, and implementation projects for HCM technology in the first half of 2012.
  • Mixed messages about the economy (e.g., better housing and manufacturing data versus concerns over country debt levels in the European Union and the need for a longer-term solution there) may lead to spending reductions in the last half of 2012, as firms may choose to ratchet back spending if there are too many warning signs.
  • There is lingering impact from the economic downturn that began in 2008 – many “Baby Boomer” workers are postponing their retirement plans, and now plan to stay working for the foreseeable future. This means that there is significant participation of three generations in the workforce, with a fourth now beginning to enter.
  • Having four generations in the workplace will definitely strain HCM processes and technologies for most organizations, as each generation has different perceptions, expectations, and needs. The biggest gap will likely be from “digital natives” who want to leverage their social networks as a part of their job, perform HR processes on their mobile devices, and demand a leading-edge user experience throughout.

Trends to Watch in 2012

  • The overall Human Capital Management software market will continue to consolidate, but at a slower pace – there has been so much activity in 2010 and 2011 that the pace has to slow down somewhat, as there are fewer attractive targets left standing, and vendors have to pause and digest their purchases. We believe that further acquisition activity in 2012 will focus on ITM suite vendors “rounding out” their solutions by purchasing point solution vendors. The pace of acquisition could remain (or even accelerate) if the economy takes another hit, resulting in smaller privately-held vendors becoming distressed properties at attractive prices.
  • Marketing and development efforts around ITM suites will continue, but shift focus – vendors did a great deal of “missionary” marketing in 2009-11 to educate potential customers on the value of ITM. That work has paid off, as most buyers now have a fundamental understanding of ITM. We believe that vendor marketing over the next few years will focus on showing the market how leading-edge capabilities (e.g., social, mobile, communication/collaboration, analytics) can add value to core ITM processes.
  • Niche and ITM suite vendors will maintain their feature/function lead – much like 2011, we expect the gap to generally remain constant during the year. Vendors will invest in improving the overall user experience of their applications, as this is increasingly a critical success factor for end user adoption. Another general area of investment focus will be support of more sophisticated metrics and analytics. We also expect to see more attention paid to working with customers to enable better support of workforce planning.
  • ITM vendors will increase their investment in social, communication & collaboration capabilities – after several years of marketing hype and frenzy, solid proof points of value emerged in 2011, even though large-scale end user adoption has lagged behind the buzz to a considerable extent. Recruiting will continue to lead the ITM functions in adoption with social sourcing and candidate relationship management, but the incorporation of collaboration capability into performance management (performance “notes” and multi-rater feedback), career development/ succession planning (community feedback on strengths/opportunities), and learning(tracking informal learning events) should all see increased usage in 2012.
  • Mobile enablement of ITM processes has become the next frontier of marketing and end-user adoption – after a year of tremendous hype around mobile (particularly focused around the manager role) highlighted by the release of Workday and PeopleFluent iPad apps in Q311, we believe that 2012 will be the year of execution. We expect to see some effective pilots as well as larger scale implementations by the end of the year. Many vendors are choosing the cross-platform approach of utilizing HTML 5 over supporting specific mobile platforms; this will increase their ability to efficiently roll out mobile apps, with the downside of not being able to leverage each platform’s specific user experience functions.
  • Organizations will continue to try to rationalize their application portfolio by implementing ITM suites – the trend in 2010-11 was that the vast majority of organizations strategically embrace the ITM suite concept; however, actual suite purchases lagged due to the lack of a fully integrated set of equally functional applications. In the end, organizations (particularly in the enterprise market) are less willing to ‘trade off’ functionality in one component of ITM for the sake of integration. Market consolidation of ITM suite vendors and concrete plans for integrating acquired functionality should increase the average number of modules purchased per ITM suite in 2012.
  • SaaS has become the preferred method for ITM deployments – although some organizations (less than 2011) still want the option of on-premise deployment, we expect that over 75% of ITM deployments will utilize some form of SaaS in 2012.
  • The linkage between Performance, Learning, Succession and Career Development is increasing in importance for ITM – the change to this area for 2012 has to do with the growing need for robust career development/planning processes in many industry segments; this function also needs to leverage the rich data contained in a centralized talent profile. All four of these functions will feed the talent profile, and help drive “Talent Review” or “Talent Pipeline Planning” processes.
  • Organizations are increasingly trying to satisfy multiple types of recruiting with a single solution – this trend continues from 2011, especially in the desire to unify professional and hourly recruiting onto a single solution. We also expect some leading firms to include the contingent workforce in their definition of a holistic recruiting solution, due to their desire to use their contingent workers as a potential talent pool.
  • Talent Profile data (including competencies) has become the centerpiece of ITM – we expect to see more organizations deploying a centralized talent profile in 2012. As well, there will be a continued expansion of data beyond traditional skill / competency information to include such elements as career and geographic preferences, education, work experience, performance / potential ratings, and performance review results. The robustness of the talent profile has now become one of the critical factors driving selection of ITM Suites as we move into 2012.
  • The quality of vendor service and support remain the key to long-term customer satisfaction – solution feature/function and cost are weighted very heavily in ITM selection projects. However, wonderful inexpensive capabilities are of limited value if you are not able to partner effectively with your solution provider. The quality of the vendor’s service and support must be factored appropriately into any ITM selection project. Customer panel discussions throughout 2011 indicated that this area needs to be improved to meet expectations; it remains to be seen whether ITM vendors will make the long-term investment needed.

Stay tuned for Part 3, which will discuss the implications for any organization looking to purchase and implement ITM technology in 2012. You may also access the full audio replay of the WebMingle here.


December WebMingle Recap, Part 1 – 2011 in Review (How Did We Do?)

December 21, 2011

On December 14 HRchitect conducted its traditional year end WebMingle. Matt Lafata (President), Ron Hanscome (VP HCM Systems Strategy Consulting) and John Hinojos (VP Consulting Services) spent a lively hour discussing major HCM technology events that occurred in 2011 versus what we predicted last December, and delivered a fresh set of predictions for 2012. This blog post will focus on reviewing what happened in 2011. Part 2 will cover what we expect will happen in 2012, and Part 3 will discuss what it all means for companies looking to invest in HCM technology solutions over the next 12 months.

Major HCM Technology Market Events
2011 proved to be a very busy year in terms of acquisition; at last count 23 transactions or announcements occurred, signifying a huge influx of capital into the HCM technology marketplace. Of that total, the HRchitect team highlighted the following 6 transactions for discussion:

  •  SumTotal buys GeoLearning (January), Accero and CyberShift (July) – this set of acquisitions signaled SumTotal’s intent to move beyond its enterprise learning roots into the midmarket with GeoLearning, and ultimately provide a holistic solution that includes integrated talent management (ITM), core HRMS, and workforce management. However, the organization faces quite the challenge integrating its five learning platforms and Softscape (purchased September 2010) with the latest purchased applications.
  • Taleo buys Cytiva (April) and Jobpartners (July) – increased Taleo’s penetration in the midmarket with Cytiva’s SonicRecruit solution as well as providing a stronger foothold in Europe with Jobpartners recruiting and ITM solution.
  • Peoplefluent buys Aquire (April) – a prime example of investment in analytics by the ITM market, Aquire’s significant capabilities in analytics, org charting, and workforce planning are now being leveraged in the context of Peoplefluent’s ITM suite.
  • SuccessFactors (SFSF) buys, is bought, and buys some more – leading ITM suite vendor adds LMS capability (formal and informal) via the April Plateau and March Jambok acquisitions. In perhaps the biggest deal of the year, on December 3 SAP announced its intent to buy SFSF for $3.4B (a very robust valuation that validated interest in the ITM market). A few days later, SFSF announced it was acquiring Jobs2Web in order to add social recruiting and candidate relationship management functionality to its recruiting offering.
  • Technomedia buys Hodes iQ – an interesting move by this niche learning-focused vendor to add the Hodes recruiting functionality. Technomedia has a presence in Canada and France, and this purchase may help them to expand their footprint both functionally and geographically.
  • Kenexa buys Batrus Hollweg – this November acquisition of a leader in assessments for the hospitality segment highlights Kenexa’s goal of deepening their already robust assessment capabilities, a key enabler of ITM for many organizations.

In addition, the past 12 months included a number of funding transactions that further highlight investor interest in the overall HCM market in general, and the ITM market in particular:

  • SilkRoad Technologies raised $40m in November 2010
  • Cornerstone OnDemand executed an oversubscribed IPO in March 2011 that raised $137M
  • LinkedIn went public May 2011, raising an eye-popping $4.3B (21 x estimated 2011 revenues)
  • Jobvite announced in May 2011 that it had raised $15M in Series C funding
  • Kenexa conducted a follow-on stock offering in May 2011 that raised an additional $79M

The Crystal Ball Review – HRchitect’s Predictions for 2011

  • Market consolidation continues – this one was accurate as far as it went; however, the continued pace and size of activity went beyond our expectations, with the SAP / SFSF serving as the capstone of a very eventful year.
  • The link between integrated Performance Management, Succession Planning and Learning will increase for customers – we saw some increased interest in linking these processes together to improve the effectiveness of ITM, as well as some purchases of integrated enabling technology; however, adoption was somewhat slower than we expected due to the uncertain economy and the difficulty of change management in organizations.
  • There will be increased adoption of integrated Performance Management and Compensation to Support Pay for Performance Programs – We have seen some evidence of direct linkage in our client engagements, but not as much as anticipated. Clients are looking for it, but vendors haven’t yet delivered easy to use, robust capabilities. Delivering truly impactful pay for performance programs takes a lot of work – and many organizations are not able or willing to accept the increased workload.
  • There will be increased convergence of the ITM Suite and HRMS – several core HRMS vendors have delivered enhanced ITM capabilities in 2011. The most visible example is Workday, whose three 2011 releases featured expanded performance management, succession planning, and compensation functionality. Ultimate Software continued its focus on the right level of capabilities for the midmarket, and now provides recruiting, onboarding, performance management, and compensation modules.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) continues to gain popularity – the momentum shift to SaaS clearly continued for ITM, but there was also a strong increase in SaaS deployments for core HCM and Workforce Management (WFM) applications as well.
  • Customers will not upgrade existing ERP legacy apps without investigating SaaS alternatives – HRchitect consultants experienced this in most evaluation projects; however, while SaaS was certainly considered, the uncertain economy resulted in less budget for ‘rip and replace,’ causing many organizations to stay the course with their existing ERP-based HCM solutions. Some went the route of the least expensive upgrade, while others chose to wait and only apply bug fixes and compliance upgrades, looking to re-assess the situation in 2012.
  • Niche and ITM suite vendors will continue to maintain their feature/function lead – this proved to be an accurate prediction overall; however, there were some core HCM vendors that took a big step forward, such as Workday with its ITM-focused releases, and Lawson software with its integration of the Enwisen acquisition for HR portal and Onboarding. However, Lawson’s subsequent purchase by Golden Gate (PE firm) and merger with Infor has resulted in the exodus of some key talent, and has raised doubts about its product investment strategy moving forward.
  • Mobile will play a big role in HR technology in 2011- certainly mobile enablement was one of the major marketing focus areas for vendors, with all the associated hype of early solutions. Actual adoption was pretty limited, but we expect to see more reality hit the marketplace in 2012.
  • Web 2.0 collaboration and social software tools will see increased usage – actual adoption was significantly impacted by generational workforce differences, as well as the impact of change management programs in user organizations – the overall result was less pervasive use than we expected.
  • Linkedin usage as a recruiting tool will increase – our actual experience with clients revealed that more organizations and recruiters are now using LinkedIn as the primary way to gather information on potential employees. LinkedIn has also announced several partnerships with recruiting technology vendors in 2011 to improve the integration between their applications and LinkedIn.
  • The application user experience will differentiate ITM products and impact adoption – almost every ITM engagement in 2011 focused on the user experience as a critical selection criteria, reinforcing the notion that great functionality is not adopted if it isn’t easy to use.
  • Increased vendor focus on customer service/support is critical to customer satisfaction – most trade show events that we attended in 2011 included some form of customer panel. Without exception, panel attendees gave their vendors less than stellar grades, and called for them to “up the ante” on service and support. The question is, are the vendors listening?
  • ITM solution price points will rise after the “dust settles” from vendor consolidation – in many respects the dust is still settling, given the pace of acquisition activity. Therefore, we saw continued price pressure due to economic conditions and competitive selections.
  • ITM vendors with holistic solutions that drive business results will gain share versus technology-focused providers – HRchitect clients certainly focused on both tangible ROI projections and qualitative benefits in their selection projects. Vendors have responded with more robust support of business impact justification during the sales process. In the end, the pace of consolidation (every major vendor trying to get to a more holistic solution) made it difficult to validate the accuracy of this prediction. Rest assured, however, that this remains an area of high interest to all current and potential users of ITM technology.

Hopefully you found this look back at 2011 to be interesting and useful. Part 2 will cover our predictions for 2012.

To listen to the show in its entirety, click here for the audio archive.


HCM technology user experience: Despite SaaS, still a long way to go

November 4, 2011

One of the best things about October is the release of results from the annual CedarCrestone HR Systems Survey. The 2011-2012 iteration is the 14th edition, the survey has been ably led since Day 1 (that’s right, 14 years) by Lexy Martin, who has managed to maintain the continuity of data and analysis over three different organizations (first The Hunter Group, then Renaissance, and now CedarCrestone). This data (along with Lexy’s perceptive interpretation and insights) has always been made available for free – an amazing gift to all stakeholders in the HCM technology marketplace. You can download a copy from the CedarCrestone website if you don’t have one already. I have been digesting the survey results over the past couple of weeks; this is the first in a series of intermittent and irregular posts on my key takeaways from the data.

The first thing that really jumped out at me was the data collected on the major perceived advantages of SaaS – reduced HRIT/IT staffing, faster time to innovation (easier to be on latest product release and quicker time to implement), and a better user experience that drives adoption and value. Although the overall data certainly supported these perceived SaaS advantages, I want to focus on what else the data is telling us – in particular, about the state of the User Experience (UEX) for HCM technology. Let’s take a look at Figure 14 (page 10 of the white paper survey summary PDF):

Source: CedarCrestone 2011–2012 HR Systems Survey, 14th Annual Edition

  • Overall, the survey responses support the perception of a better UEX for SaaS applications (2.3 versus a 2.0 for licensed apps). Although the difference seems small at first glance, converting the numbers to a 100 point scale results in a 67 for licensed and a 77 for SaaS – a full ten points, which is significant in my view. The difference is not surprising, given the dated user interfaces that are currently in place at many organizations – especially if an upgrade to a newer version with UEX enhancements has been deferred (common in the current economic environment).
  • On an absolute scale, the improvement of SaaS over licensed applications is disappointing compared to the ideal UEX defined in the survey (“3 – Excellent, intuitive, user centered design, effectively promotes use”). Converting to a letter grade, If 3 is an “A plus”, the licensed app score is roughly equal to a “C minus”, while the Saas overall UEX was a “B minus.” I don’t know about you, but as the parent of two teenage boys, I’m really not happy with either of those grades on a report card! Even though the user experience in SaaS HCM apps is viewed as being significantly better, that doesn’t mean that we have arrived – there is still much work to be done to deliver a truly great UEX.
  • Looking at the ratings by HCM function, it is interesting to see that respondents did not uniformly rate SaaS UEX as superior to licensed apps. In fact, Time & Attendance, Compensation, and Succession Planning showed slightly better ratings for licensed apps (although none scored above a “C” grade). On the flip side, the biggest differences were in HR Management/Record Keeping and Business Intelligence, where SaaS scored .3 better than licensed – two areas where UEX has historically been the least effective and difficult to enhance for licensed apps.

How should these findings impact your current HCM Technology implementation? HRchitect believes that the User Experience should be one of the fundamental criteria that drive an HCM Technology selection – and here are four “Rs” that will help ensure a good result:

  • Recognize that replacing your licensed HCM app with a SaaS offering does not “automagically” guarantee a great UEX. What it will likely do is provide a measurably better starting point for what will hopefully become a good or even great UEX in the future – through your own efforts, vendor improvements, or some combination of both.
  • Realize that all SaaS applications are not created equal – each has developed a specific tool kit for configuring and personalizing the application, and each has been built with particular UEX design assumptions. Some vendors began with html as the basis for the UEX, while others have progressed to Flash or other tools. Now the latest subject of conversation is HTML 5, which may allow some vendors to “leapfrog” current tools. It is crucial to understand where each vendor in your evaluation is at, as well as where they are heading in the future…therefore…
  • Remember that UEX will continue to be a moving target over the next few years – all vendors will be working to improve it, UEX SMEs will continue to research and report on the latest successful approaches (many gleaned from the consumer side a la Amazon), and organizations will continue to experiment. Taken together, this conglomeration will steadily improve the UEX of applications – although I believe the progress will continue to be incremental rather than revolutionary.
  • Resolve to focus on UEX when choosing your next HCM technology. Become one of your organization’s knowledge resources and advocates for UEX. Be sure that you get the right information during the selection process (by RFI, RFP, demo, or due diligence), so that you can determine what principles are driving the UEX, what UEX expertise is resident on the vendor development team, and the extent to which the delivered UEX can be configured to meet your organization’s requirements. Doing this will give you a good idea of your starting point as well as what you have to work with once you begin implementing the new solution.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or perspectives you might have on this topic – just add a comment or contact me directly. Stay tuned for some additional posts on other results of interest from the CedarCrestone survey.


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.


No More “Best Practices” — A Plea For A Semantic Revolution

September 12, 2011

Note: Most of the content of this post was originally published in the December 2009 / January 2010 issue of the IHRIM.Link magazine (at that time the flagship publication of the International Human Resource Information Management Association – click here for more information on this really useful organization and its publications). Even though some time has passed, I continue to suppress a nervous tic whenever someone uses the term “best practices” in my presence. So, I guess it’s time to get on the soapbox again…;-)

I’m sure many of you are gearing up for another busy fall HR Technology conference season, and whether you are attending ERE Expo this week, getting ready for HREvolution / HR Tech “conference combo” in Vegas, or checking out the annual conference(s) of your Human Capital
Management (HCM) vendor(s) of choice, chances are you will hear the term “best practices” being thrown around like those big fish at Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle. It might have been an invitation for users to share best practices for using social tools to recruit talent, a vendor demo claim of embedded best practices in their software, an industry analyst discussing talent management best practices, or a consultant outlining their methodology for helping clients implement best practices…whatever the situation, it is clear that everyone is on the best practices bandwagon, right? Wrong!

Those who have worked with me at various points in my journey through the HCM  technology landscape are very aware that use of the term “best practices” is a longstanding pet peeve of mine. Simply put, I believe that the term is at best unhelpful and misleading, and at worst can actually hamper an organization’s journey towards more efficient and effective HR processes. With apologies to friends and colleagues who have heard this all before, here is my brief manifesto for why we should not use the term “best practices,” and why the phrase “leading practices” more accurately describes what we are all trying to accomplish in the realm of HCM.

So, what’s my beef with the use of the term “best practices?” My concerns break down into three major areas:

  •  First, the implication of “best practice” is that there is only one way to optimally perform a given task or process; as an end-user organization you must find that best practice and implement it, otherwise you are a “loser” and not functioning optimally. As a vendor, all I have to do is find the best practice for a given function and code it into my software, and Voila! – my application includes embedded best practices. Unfortunately, this view does not reflect the reality of the world of HCM. My experience as a consultant indicates that there are many different and equally successful ways to optimize HCM processes, and that a single “best practice” that cuts across geographic and industry segments simply does not exist.
  • Second, the term itself encourages the tendency of many organization leaders to look for a “magic bullet” that will quickly solve all of their problems with a given HCM function. I’ve been involved in many projects over the years where the desire to quickly fix a problem led to chasing after the latest technology “fad,” and ultimately the selection and implementation of a new solution that addressed the specific issue. However, the end result did not ultimately improve HR support of the business, because the gains in the specific process were mitigated by the lack of integration of that solution to other HCM technologies, or because the best practice operated in  isolation from the other critical processes. I regularly work with organizations where this ‘magic bullet’ mindset has resulted in a patchwork of ‘best of breed’ point solutions that don’t work well together…and of course, the latest ‘magic bullet’ is an ‘integrated talent management suite’ with embedded ‘best practices’ and functions that work together seamlessly. The reality for your organization is that HCM is a web of interrelated processes – things are always more complex than they seem, and a true ‘magic bullet’ (despite marketing hype to the contrary) doesn’t exist.
  • Finally, the notion of “best practice” implies that a single way of doing things can be adopted by an organization “as is.” Differences
    in culture, geography, organization structure, and leadership philosophy don’t matter – “According to [insert expert here], Company ABC has best practice performance management and this is how they do it, so let’s put that in place here by the end of the year.” The corporate landscape is littered with examples of failed attempts to implement a given best practice, because it was adopted with no consideration of the fact that every organization is unique. Attempts at benchmarking with similar organizations (whether the variable is size, industry segment, geographic reach, etc.) to find the right fit have generally had limited success, precisely because it is so difficult to match some of the less tangible factors. I strongly believe that any HCM practice that is delivering good results for one organization must be carefully analyzed to determine how it can be tailored and adapted for the new organization, rather than simply adopted out of whole cloth.

Because of these issues, I strongly advocate the use of the term “leading practice” instead of “best practice.” “Leading practice” is more inclusive, and recognizes that there are many ways to deliver optimized HCM processes, and that no single combination of HR science, process and technology works for all kinds of organizations. Using “Leading practice” also helps defuse our inherent tendency to look for the “magic bullet,” as it recognizes the complexity of HR processes and the need for thoughtful, holistic analysis that leads to more comprehensive solutions. Finally, the notion of “leading practice” is a broader approach that opens up an organization to consider multiple methods used by other firms, enabling the building of a process that may incorporate elements of several different processes to arrive at a ‘best fit’ solution.

Hopefully I’ve made a strong case for you to remove “best practice” from your lexicon and replace it with “leading practice.” If so, here are some suggestions for finding and implementing leading HCM practices for your organization:

  • Get to know your business – and I mean, really get to know it. Take the time to understand the current state of the organization, current and future business strategies, management and leadership philosophy, and demographic/generational variations by location and geography. All of these nuances will help shape the analysis of which tools and processes are ‘best fit’ for your firm.
  • Leverage your networks – talk to colleagues in your industry as well as others (you never know where good ideas might come from). Don’t neglect other sources, as consultants, vendors and industry analysts may have access to company case study information that will prove valuable.
  • Take the time to think it through – you need to balance the need for speed with the fact that your organization has limited capacity for change. Taking the time to really analyze what your firm needs (including thinking more broadly beyond the specific issue to be addressed) and developing a robust set of business requirements will make all subsequent project phases much easier.
  • Take nothing at face value – whether it is process redesign, vendor evaluation or customer references, dig deeper. The devil is in the details, and asking the deeper questions now will save a lot of heartache later. Remember that demos are designed to do one thing – sell  software. When in doubt, ask more questions until you are satisfied with the answers.
  • Don’t forget internal marketing and change management – no matter how wonderful the new leading practice is, you will  need a comprehensive plan to “sell” it internally and manage its successful adoption.

So, there you have it – will you join me in this modest semantic revolution?

No more “best practices!” Viva “leading practices!”


Winning the HCM Technology Budget Battle Part II – Going Granular

September 2, 2011

My first post on this subject encouraged HCM technologists to “think big” when building a justification for new or upgraded enabling technologies:

Saving time or reducing paper for a relatively small number of HR staff will not garner much interest from the C-Suite. Instead, think about how your enabling HCM technology will affect broader segments of the workforce, and thus truly impact the bottom line of the organization.

While this statement is absolutely true, it was not my intent to minimize the importance of including process-based efficiency and effectiveness gains. In my view it is necessary for a project justification/rationale to contain a mix of strategic and “tactical” savings in order to give senior leadership the most complete view of ROI possible. The critical factor here is to again focus estimates of even tactical savings on broad segments of the workforce in order to leverage the larger numbers impacted by the change. Take the following example involving the performance appraisal process at an organization projected to begin 2012 with 5,000 employees:

This model “goes granular” by focusing on estimating the hours saved by both employees and managers as a result of implementing a new enabling technology for the appraisal process. Average population begins at 5,000 employees, with a projected annual growth rate of 3%. The next key variables are how long it currently takes the employee and manager to complete the average performance appraisal – the rigor of gathering these numbers can range from a simple estimation, to questioning a subset of the manager and employee population and averaging the responses, to doing a full time study on a sample population. Whatever the method, average hours per review are multiplied by the total population to calculate the total hours spent doing performance appraisals by each workforce segment. Remember that an employee is in essence reviewed “twice” – their self-assessment and the manager’s review – so according to the parameters entered above, managers and employees together spend 25,750 hours doing performance appraisals (5,150 *[3+2]). Since the new technology will be enabled during 2012 to review 2012 performance in early 2013, hours saved are calculated in that year.

The next parameters are the estimated time saved by using he new technology expressed as a percentage. As the example shows, organizations often see a greater savings on the manager side due to supporting tools that are used more by managers than employees, such as ready access to past appraisals, “writing assistant” tools that provide suggested wording based on rating scales and associated behavioral anchors, and the ability to easily choose remedial learning events tied to specific performance gaps from an integrated course catalog. The percentages are used to calculate the estimated hours saved, which are then multiplied by the respective hourly rates to arrive at a dollar equivalent savings.” The total savings for the five year period is estimated to be in excess of $1.1M for this one component of performance management.

Certainly all the usual caveats discussed in Part I apply here as well – all of the variables can be modified to better reflect your specific situation, the need to work with Finance to determine the definitions for direct versus indirect cost savings, etc. In the end, even if the dollar value of the hours saved is not considered in the rationale, the saved hours themselves have significant value, as they can be re-allocated to more value-added tasks. Certainly you could add to this simple model by reflecting the time spent by HR administrators and generalists and estimating savings there, as well as incorporating the time spent by multi-raters if that methodology is in use by your organization. The same general model could be tweaked and applied to any number of HCM processes – here are just a few:

  • Training enrollment (employees, managers and learning administrators)
  • Recruiting (hiring managers, recruiters)
  • Onboarding forms completion & provisioning (new hire, HR admin, payroll admin)
  • Compensation Planning (managers, Compensation, senior leaders)
  • On-line pay stubs / W-2s (employees and payroll admins)
  • Time entry automation (employees, managers, payroll admins, operations admins)
  • Labor scheduling / shift bidding / shift swapping (employees, managers)
  • Benefits enrollment (employees, HR admins)

Hopefully this example of a more granular, process-based approach to estimating your HCM technology project ROI will help you to build in the right mix of strategic and tactical savings, and thus better your chances of quick approval. As always, I welcome any additional thoughts and insights you might have – the more, the merrier!


HCM Evaluation / Selection: Decision Drivers, Part III

August 18, 2011

This post is the third in a series discussing decision drivers for HCM Technology software selection. Decision drivers are key decision making criteria (beyond feature/function) that are the cornerstone of effective HCM technology selections. Parts I and II gave some definition to the eleven additional decision drivers commonly used by HRchitect in client engagements:

-Vendor Viability               -Package Usability        -Cost/ROI

-Technology                         -Ease of Integration/Interoperability

-Configurability                   -Scalability                      -Service & Support

-Business Segmentation   -Global Capability        -Operational Effectiveness

It is critical for the client project team to gain consensus on the relative priority of these drivers as early as possible in the selection process; doing so provides an “anchor” that will help keep project team members from being inordinately influenced by a particular package’s “bells and whistles.” Therefore, a decision drivers ranking exercise is one of the early stage deliverables in HRchitect’s selection methodology.

The ranking process generally takes place during a short series (generally 1-3) of on-site meetings or conference calls. Once the team understands what is included in each decision driver, the concept is to divide the twelve decision drivers into four main “levels” for consideration:

  • Exclude – these criteria are not at all relevant to the business (e.g., Global Capability may not apply to a US-only retail organization, scalability may not materially affect a midmarket company)
  • Level 1 (Knock-out) — these criteria are so critical that they drive whether or not a vendor is even sent an RFI or RFP (e.g., Technology requirement is for a SaaS vendor, vendor must have HCM revenues in excess of $100M)
  • Level 2 (RFI/RFP/Demo) – these criteria are best assessed by evaluating vendor written responses and by viewing product demonstrations. All criteria in this level are weighted, usually on a 100 point scale.
  • Level 3 (Due Diligence/Purchase) — due to the need for the team in this phase to uncover more detailed information via reference calls, detailed financial discussions, and other due diligence tasks, there may be some initial Knock-out criteria repeated here. This level is also weighted on a 100 point scale.

Here is a generic example of how a project team might rank the decision driver criteria:

Because ABC Company is based in the US, the project team excluded Global Capability from further consideration. Next, they determined the Knockout crtieria (high level, but specific enough to drive the vendors to be selected). Level 2 criteria focused mostly on the capabilities of the software itself, with allocation of 100 weighting points. Finally, Level 3 criteria were defined — note the return of Vendor Viability and Cost, as more specific information is now available as a result of due diligence activities; note also that a number of other decision drivers appear here, as a more accurate assessment can be made based on the results of customer references.

This approach is typical of the majority of decision driver ranking exercises that HRchitect does with clients, although the base process is often modified to include more or less detail per the desires of the client project team. The most important thing is that there is some form of decision driver ranking process conducted as a part of any HCM technology selection, and that it be completed early in the project in order to keep the team focused on the most important selection criteria based on the needs of the organization.

Please contact me if you have any questions on the decision driver process, or want to discuss this topic in more detail. You may also access the slidedeck from HRchitect’s Decision Drivers webinar here.


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