Talent management technology has come a long way in recent years. I can still remember seeing a demo for a technology solution back in 2014 and the salesperson was so proud of the fact that I could copy and paste data into the system. By the way:

  • It wasn’t searchable.
  • You couldn’t run reports.
  • You couldn’t export anything.

There was no way to actually USE the data in there, but I could put it in if I wanted. Sigh.

Anyway, today I am sharing a really fun podcast interview with you, featuring a recent conversation with Carsten Busch, CEO of the Talent Management Business Unit, and Laura Fuller, Country Sales Manager US for Lumesse. In the conversation we not only talked about how technology has become incredibly user friendly and more employee-focused, but about some of the age-old talent questions that companies face every day, such as why managers are willing to hire an external candidate even when there are perfectly qualified internal candidates available to take the job. Carsten’s answer to the question was phenomenal and I was taking notes because it will be my new default answer to that common issue.

Additionally, Carsten and Laura talk about the shift in technology from the static, administrative-focused versions mentioned above to the talent-focused systems that Lumesse and other companies are developing today.

Also, at the tail end I mention how you can get one of my upcoming pieces of research entirely for free by signing up here for a webinar I’m doing with the team at Lumesse. Here’s the gist of what the webinar will be about:

The June edition of HR Magazine has a feature that focused on how some companies like Gap and Siemens are trying to create development opportunities that connect candidates and employees to the firms for a long period of time. The double benefit of this kind of development is that if businesses can drive retention, then they get the value of a more productive workforce for a longer period of time. This is the incredible value of talent mobility, and that’s the focus of the webinar and this upcoming piece of research.

I hope you’ll join us for that session, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast as well. It was a really fun conversation.

Recently I was interviewed by a good friend from SHRM’s Public Affairs team, Mary Kaylor. She asked me a few questions about the HR Technology Conference, and you can read it all here. What I want to expound upon here is the final question in the interview. I had to be succinct in my response to her but I think it’s worth a discussion. The question that spurred today’s discussion:

As technology evolves, what do you think the future of HR will look like?

My dream is for HR to be as savvy with its technological approach and focus on data as someone within the sales and marketing organization. Ask a marketer how a campaign went, and she can tell you stats about landing page visits, conversion rates, and more.

Ask an HR leader today how a particular program is running, and they will probably give you a blank look. Okay, they might be able to give you anecdotal information or even a basic piece of information, but they can’t drill down to the level of these other functions. I see this as a chicken-or-the-egg type discussion. Instead of waiting for solutions and support from the vendor community, HR leaders need to be demanding the tools and services to enable this change.

The more HR executives make data and analytics capabilities a requirement for their vendor partners, the more robust and mature those functionalities will become. HR in the future will be a technology-enabled, company-leading function that drives immense value through the people resources.

The Great Divide

One of the most striking things that hit me when I became a full-time analyst a few years ago was the divide between large and small organizations when it comes to technology. Small companies have limited solutions and budgets, often cobbling together free tools or going with the old standard for an HR system: Microsoft Excel.

There are companies that will budget something to get beyond 100% manual processes in areas like learning (training delivery/tracking) or recruiting (applicant tracking). But it’s still an ad hoc approach and is hard to prove value.

Other companies at the larger end have already reaped the rewards of that initial technology implementation (time savings, reduced admin burden, etc.) This often comes in the form of a patchwork of systems and solutions that don’t integrate well, if at all. For instance, I spoke with a friend at a large (20k+ employee) firm and the company is using five different systems just to manage end-to-end recruiting. In the words of my friend, it’s a “Frankenstein” approach to getting the job done, and it’s not even all that effective at anything other than creating frustration for users.

Smaller companies are getting into the tech game thanks to solutions like Zenefits, but it’s still just a piece of the overall HR puzzle and doesn’t solve some of the challenges around integration, data, and decision-making.

One of the areas I’ve been keenly interested in over the recent months has been the slew of small to mid-market solutions that are serving the HR community with a variety of technologies and services. I’m going to be meeting with several of these firms this week at the HR Tech conference and hope to get some good insights about how they are helping to bring these smaller firms along.

The big suites are too complex for small companies. Just like paper and manual work don’t scale up beyond a hundred or two hundred employees, the massively complex systems offered by the large providers can’t scale down to fit the process needs of a small firm (assuming we ignore the price).

My Vision for HR

I want to see HR leaders being as intentional about technology as their counterparts in other areas of the business. Marketers are smarter and faster because of their technology. Why can’t HR see these tools as enablers of performance as well? As I said before, the HR function of the future will be a technology-enabled, company-leading function that drives immense value through its people resources. I don’t think tech is going to replace people any more than processes will replace people. I think it’s going to help us to deliver greater value to the workforce and to our employers over the long haul.

What are your thoughts? How has your firm used technology to support HR? If you haven’t, why not?

Last week I had the chance to speak with a local HR leader. She was lamenting her company’s hideously awful HR module that was an add-on to the company accounting software. The firm paid plenty of money for the module, but it is ineffective, inefficient, and virtually useless. It looks like it was coded/developed in 1993, if that tells you anything. There are no reporting, searching, or other core capabilities that would make the system a valuable tool to help improve the HR team’s service delivery. So I told her to stick with Excel for a while longer until they can convince the CEO that they need real technology. A while back I wrote about a very similar topic: how consumer demands for technology are shaping what we and our employees want in our workplace technology.

Consumer Trends and HR Technology

When we asked global participants in our recent Employment Value Proposition survey whether their HR technology makes life easier by providing access to relevant information to help employees manage their career, the response was a dismal 13%. About one in 10 companies believes HR technology is truly making life easier for employees, and that is a problem, because employees have high expectations for the technology they use.

hcm technologyWhen it comes down to technology selection, there are a wide variety of inputs that help to drive the decision. Some of them are very specific, revolving around cultural or business-oriented requirements. Others are larger in scope, affecting virtually every company that is evaluating technology. The two global trends that are having the greatest impact on technology selection today are consumer-driven demands and personalized recommendations.

Consumer-Driven Technology Demands

The release of the first iPhone in 2007 was a leap forward in delivering a delightful user experience. Since then we’ve seen an increased number of companies focusing on usability as a key driver of selection decisions. The apps, video content, and social capabilities of the smartphone era have enabled users to be more productive. These tools enable users to achieve more in less time, helping them to fully realize the value of technology like never before.

And now those expectations extend to workplace technology as well. Your employees are accustomed to personal computing experiences that are intuitive, engaging, and user-friendly. They now expect their work environment to provide technology of the same quality and fidelity, whether mobile or desktop.

Personalized Recommendations

Users have become ac­customed to visiting Amazon and other online retailers for their shopping needs, and one thing these stores do very well is offering personalized recommendations based on browsing history, previous purchases, and other online activity. Bought a purse? They will offer you a similar one, or a complemen­tary item. Purchased a food item? The site can help give you recommendations based on what other similar us­ers liked.

This concept applies to talent technology in the form of guided experiences. Employees appreciate hav­ing a personalized experience with technology without it feeling too scripted or forced. The benefit here for business leaders is less time spent walking users through the software or tailoring it to each individual’s needs. It’s a win-win for both parties and helps to keep users engaged.

The Technology Outlook

When we look at satisfaction ratings for technology, whether learning, talent, or HR, we see a definite trend. Companies are not particularly happy with their existing technology. Just 19% of organizations say they are very satisfied with the quality of their overall technology environment, according to the 2015 Brandon Hall Group EVP study.

It’s time to look at your technology options not just as a means to an end, but as a method for engaging your workforce through multiple touchpoints on a regular basis. From the applicant tracking system, onboarding tools, and performance management platform to something as mundane as an address change, you have the opportunity to create a great experience for your employees with your technology.

Consider your existing HCM technology. Would you say it provides an engaging experience for employees? Why or why not?

Technology is everywhere in the workplace today, but one of the biggest problems for many companies is integrating the various systems they have. If you have a favorite performance management system and want that to feed into your company’s learning management system so you aren’t duplicating entries and potentially messing up data, good luck. That’s a big reason why so many organizations go with suite providers (companies that offer multiple modules–performance, compensation, learning, talent acquisition, etc.) I had the thought recently just how absurd this would be in the real world, and that was the foundation for this post.

hr technology integrationA human example of technology incompatibility

There are ten people sitting in a room working furiously. Nobody speaks to each other.

When a business problem arises, each person has a different solution, because each only has a piece of the overall story.

Oh, and each person has a different method/preference for interacting.

  • Bob only accepts conversations in batches between 2:00 and 3:00am on weekends so as not to interrupt other activities.
  • Anything you say to Mary will immediately overwrite what others have said to her on the same topic.
  • Charles only speaks a rare language that requires a $150/hr interpreter to translate.
  • 30% of what you tell Floyd is immediately forgotten and requires you to re-tell him again.
  • When you ask Carrie to look something up it takes her half an hour and what she finds is completely irrelevant.
  • Nobody ever interacts with Jamie and nobody is sure why he is there, but then again nobody has ever dared to ask.

There are consultants for hire whose sole job is to attempt to help each system to talk with one another. It takes forever and costs a lot of money, and even when it works you’re mostly disappointed.

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See how crazy this analogy is? We wouldn’t let this happen with people in the workplace, but with technology this is unfortunately an all-too-common story. We have all of these amazing technologies that help us to do things in more efficient ways than ever before, but the whole integration thing is holding us back.

I’d love to hear from some of you that have different technologies in the workplace that need to “talk” with each other. How were you able to solve the problem? Or do you just work around the issue instead of addressing it, because it is easier in the short term?

I was talking with a friend last week about technology–specifically the kind we use in the HR, payroll, and recruiting space. His organization is using an awful tool that costs quite a bit of money. It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t make data easily accessible. And it’s become a running joke that any basic business need will require yet another $20k+ module just to meet that single need. It sounds like they are in the perfect place to be considering other technology, right?

And yet he and I both know that they are not going to make a change any time soon. Despite the availability of various “HR modules” within the system, he uses a point solution to handle recruiting needs and an Excel spreadsheet manage employee data. At some point he’s going to have to move to something else, but he and his organization are just part-way into the HR technology maturity curve. Here’s a look at the curve (in my opinion) and how technology is normally put into place.

The first steps

Diving into HR technology doesn't have to be scary

Diving into HR technology doesn’t have to be scary

One of the first steps most companies take in terms of HR technology typically comes with recruiting. Adding an applicant tracking system to eliminate manual job posting, tracking of candidates, and collaboration with the hiring team. Using a piece of recruiting software (like Recruiterbox, for example), can drastically change HR’s role in the hiring process from administrative to strategic.

I can still remember the before and after look at my recruiting practices when it came to technology implementation. When it was all manual, I was just trying to keep the mass of information organized enough to pick anyone competent and qualified. When we transitioned to using an applicant tracking system, I was able to then spend more time coaching hiring managers, screening candidates more thoroughly, and onboarding new employees.

Another common first step is in payroll. Again, it can be an opportunity to change from very administrative (did we get that person’s dependents right?) to a more strategic focus on compensation, variable pay, and other important elements that fall through the cracks when you’re spending several hours a week reviewing pay stubs.

Next up: performance/learning

Depending on the organization, as they grow there is usually a focus on automating performance management, learning, or both. For instance, when I worked for an organization with heavy regulations around training and staff certifications, our primary system (even before having a good HRIS) was a learning management system (LMS). In another organization, I campaigned regularly for a performance management solution to help alleviate the burden of continuously growing performance management paperwork. This is often seen as less strategic and important than recruiting or payroll, which is why it’s not at the top of the list in terms of implementation priority.

One area I’ve seen grow of late is the set of companies offering performance feedback/employee engagement solutions based on simple surveys and quick “pulse” feedback gathering. These are very easy to implement and don’t require all the trouble of the typical performance management solution.

The later stages

The deeper into this maturity process the company goes, the more likely it will select a suite to consolidate vendors and ensure a uniform data set across the various platforms (learning, performance, compensation, etc.)

One area I’ve been very interested in of late involves the difference between companies that pursue point solutions to solve various problems and those that snag the suite to combine each area. A few questions that have bounced around in my mind:

  • Which type of organization has better performance?
  • What factors play into that overall technology selection choice?
  • Are organizations using data better if the systems are integrated than if not?
  • What about the specific benefits highly targeted point solutions offer that the big suites do not?

What are your thoughts? Where are you in this HR technology maturity curve? 

One of the recurring conversations I had during the first day of the HR Technology Conference revolved around using HR technology tools to solve business problems. The issue with that, says Michael Rochelle, Chief Strategy Officer at Brandon Hall Group, is this:

HR is a buffet of broken processes.

Applying technology to a misaligned strategy, poor tool selection, or inefficient process isn’t going to magically solve anyone’s problems—in fact, it’s just as likely to make it worse.

When we recently did research on talent management systems, more 27% of companies were actively considering switching to a new system or provider. Consider for a moment how many of those companies might actually have the right solution, but they don’t have the right processes in place to support it. Or the opposite could very well be true: the company doesn’t have the right processes or technology in place and needs to make a change to one or both.

How do you make sure that you’re in alignment?

Click here to read the rest of the article on the Brandon Hall Group Blog

Last week I was talking with a friend who is the Director of HR for an eleven million dollar company. They are trying to find an applicant tracking system to replace their current solution, and he asked me for some advice on where to start his search. He spent several hours looking around the web, scouring Google, and checking in with friends (hence the call to me). After all of that searching, all he had was a headache from the various frustrations he met during his search. While the experiment is quite informal, I think it’s an interesting peek into the mind of your average customer.

Why he’s changing platforms

He has been really happy with the applicant tracking system his company is using, but they have slowly started “premiumizing” the basic features he has come to rely on to get his daily work done. Bit by bit it was an acceptable nuisance because the basic price fit his budget and it was a tool the company had used for three years successfully.

We all know the truth, though. Businesses change. Products change. That’s part of life.

However, the new pricing model is built not on how much the system is used from a recruiting standpoint (number of applicants, job postings, recruiters, etc.), but on how many employees the company has. My friend is having trouble making sense of why that is the driving factor of the price when it isn’t relevant to the duties of a recruiter.

To be blunt, he feels slighted by the company that he has put his credibility on the line for, because he now has to request additional funds to purchase another system, train hiring managers to use it, and find out how to import legacy data into the platform.

I’m certain the new prices are going to fit some customers well, but it isn’t something that he can fit into his budget, so he’s on the hunt.

Lack of pricing information

Like pretty much every business decision, one of the initial hurdles is budget-based. In other words, can we afford it? However, even a simple question like that is virtually impossible to answer in a cursory review of some of the applicant tracking websites out there. Here are some of the questions that surfaced:

  • So how is this pricing model determined again?
  • How much will it actually cost? Is there a setup fee? What’s the annual cost? Is there a discount?
  • The website says “free trial,” but I have to give them a credit card number to test it out—I don’t know if I trust them enough to give them that information just yet.

Lack of feature description

The next priority is feature set. Will this do what we need it to do?

  • The website doesn’t have any screenshots. I need to see the user interface to see if it’s going to be intuitive for the recruiting team, hiring managers, and candidates.
  • It lists a key feature I need, but it doesn’t tell me what tiers the feature is available for.
  • I’d really like to see a demo or video tutorial, but all of that stuff is locked behind a sales rep. I don’t want to get on someone’s telemarketing list—I just want to look at the application.

Do your potential customers a favor

Have someone who is unfamiliar with your product visit your site and the sites of two or three of your competitors. They need to be looking for standard information: pricing, features, etc.

Without prompting or leading them, allow them to try and see how quickly they can find the information they are seeking and track how long it takes to do that.

If they have trouble finding the information, then a change might be necessary. Don’t do it for me–do it for your customers.