It isn’t a new idea that computers, mobile phones, websites and wearable technologies can be built in ways which influence your behaviour or causes you to think in a new way over time. While one could argue that this is akin to brainwashing, when used appropriately it can be very beneficial to end users as well as system owners. Just think how your smart-phone or Fitbit health band has altered your behaviour without you realizing it.
The idea of “persuasive computing” was first coined around 1990 by Standford University researcher Dr BJ Fogg. Much of his current work centres on teaching technology developers the psychology of behavioural change, and how to facilitate behaviour change via their technologies. Hello, isn’t this what HR people are supposed to be good at given that Psychology is the foundation of most HR professionals education? It begs the question as to why HR software vendors have not built their solutions with more “persuasive computing” thinking which could motivate end users to behave in a way that would benefit themself, HR and the organization.
Most HRIS vendors have developed visual dashboards, alerts and many use gamification techniques to encourage end users to do things, but in my view these are largely fear based design principles rather than motivational ones. These vendors are wedded to the “principle of standardization” ~ that a system process should be applied consistently to all users irrespective of their current habits, behaviours or motivation level. We need HR software that takes an individual’s current state as a base-line and uniquely “shapes” the HR software to suit that user. In the process of “shaping”, the end user is more likely to react in a particular way, do things suitable to their current state of behaviour & motivation level all while providing HR with a platform to influencing future behaviour of that individual.
BJ Fogg makes a great point that we cannot do complex things when our motivation level is low. Likewise we have windows of opportunity to do hard and complex things when our motivation level is high. SaaS HR tools in particular gather a lot of important Meta data that could quite easily be used to measure a users’ current state of motivation or other states of mind. When a users motivation is low for example, the HR system should “reshape” to encourage easy activities, while taking advantage of times when the end user has high motivation to get more difficult and perhaps more things done, while at the same time facilitating behaviour change so that these hard tasks become easy over time and can be done when motivation is at a lower level.
As HR people, our goal must be to think outside our rigid and standardisation boxes. To much of what HR achieves in our organizations are “feats of compliance” rather than value adding benefits. This is because we are standardisation-centric rather than employee centric. I would much rather a line manager do HR tasks that he or she is motivated to do, which add real business value and develop correct habits which facilitate personal growth in effective people management than forcing a person to comply to something because “HR says so!” – technology can help us achieve this.
There’s a greater role for HR software than simple process and transactional efficiency. For a tool that has so many components linked to people behaviour, we need vendors who understand persuasion and behaviour change though technology to come to the party.
Original article written for Inside HR Magazine April 2015
The analytic functionality of modern HR software is meaningless without the right interest, creativity and skill of HR leaders.
You wouldn’t be wrong if the first words that sprung to mind as you read the title were “analytics” or “big data”, as they represent two of the three main components that drive HR system intelligence. Big data is really just a term that represents the massive amounts of information we create and collect in a myriad of digital systems such as email, collaboration tools, HR transactional, talent and payroll systems as well as our online social media activity using tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others.
Nobody really knows exactly how much data we collectively create. Whatever the volume or source, it’s really irrelevant, save to say that every individual in the workplace is creating a significant amount of data on a daily basis that could be extremely useful and valuable in the delivery of business- and people-related goals.
The data, however, is largely meaningless unless we firstly recognise what it is, know what value it will offer our organisations, and are able to apply analytical robustness in a creative and strategic manner to the raw data. Many will be familiar with the movie Moneyball, which highlights the power of using data and analytics to make business decisions regarding sportsmen. It’s now pretty common for top sports teams to measure a specific series of data points for each of their team members. They do this to ensure they invest in the right players from a hiring perspective, through to performance optimisation, risk (injury) management and termination.
This brings me to the third component which drives HR system intelligence – the human factor. While modern HR systems can be set up to provide historic, trending and predictive answers in a quick and consistent way, it takes people to ask the right questions, apply rigorous and causal measurement standards and to interpret the results correctly. System intelligence is far more than a set of logical technology sequences with a sexy user interface; it is a reflection of how the human aspect is applied to data interrogation.
What Moneyball also underscores is the need for absolute focus, commitment and trust in the analysed data. The real-life success of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, which the movie is based around, would not have happened if the right person, who loved and understood the data, was not part of the equation. This is important for HR functional and technology leaders to understand – HR analytics is not an activity you can simply add into your HR generalist’s job description. It’s a contributing factor to why HR departments have not been overly successful with their foray into the world of data analytics.
It’s good to see many HR system vendors actively embracing analytics directly in their HR software. Some provide fairly basic historic and trend analysis through online graphical reporting. Others are providing instant or embedded analytics that display results in a dashboard or by simply hovering your mouse pointer over an icon. More recently, we’re seeing diverse data and complex analysis engines being integrated into HR systems. These offer statistically valid predictions related to employee risk such as likelihood of resignation, best career move and ways to improve engagement.
The provision of complex analytic functionality by HR vendors is important; however, the HR system will not appear intelligent without the right human interest, creativity and skill. As tough as this may sound, your HR system’s perceived intelligence is a reflection of your HR leaderships’ views of data and analytics rather than the system-specific functionality. As we edge towards a completely digital work environment, HR leaders must address their role in future decision making through data intelligence.
HR system intelligence & HR implications
- HR system intelligence relates primarily to its capacity to collect, analyse and represent data in a predictive manner such that it contributes to business and people decision making.
- Just as sports teams have realised the value of people analytics in winning, HR must accept that there is significant business value to be gained by properly analysing HR and related data.
- HR vendors will provide standard analytics in their solutions. These are useful, but should not be confused with the analytics that are unique to your business and HR drivers.
- Data analytics is a specialist role that requires specific skill, a passion for finding answers in complex data and the ability to convey strategic messages from the results.
- There is a direct correlation between your HR system intelligence and the level of interest in data and analytics from your HR leadership.
Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.
Most of the time, if you ask any HR leader to explain how HR technology is contributing to the achievement of business goals you get a somewhat perplexed expression, supported by an eloquent explanation which suggests it’s being conveniently ignored because it’s too difficult or not practical. Alternatively they reference the vendors marketing rhetoric which promise share-price improvements that would get Warren Buffett excited!
But HR is changing
It’s moving out of the administrative and transactional mould that has defined it for decades, and whilst the transition is often very slow and painful to watch, there are many organisations whose executives are maturing in their understanding of the unique value that HR functions can offer, and their direct contribution to business goals and strategy achievement. HR professionals can’t hide behind the mystique of psychology anymore; they need to show direct linkage from what they do and the outcomes it creates, including the role of HR Technology.
HR leaders are far more business savvy too, they will rattle off their business goals, they are succinct in articulating the meaning of value for their organisations, they understand cost, growth, quality and risk drivers, and they are familiar with industry and global issues, opportunities and constraints. So what’s the problem – why are so many HR leaders resistant to show how the performance of HR Technology has or could advance the business objectives and strategies?
Addressing the problem
Some of the answer to this question may lie in previous bad experiences with “template” measurement frameworks such as the Balanced Scorecard. These tools are often introduced as off-the-shelf “best practice” which generally lead to disappointing outcomes. It’s the one reason that I loathe HRM software vendors pushing a “best practice” mantra. HR leaders wrongly believe the hard work related to measuring their HR Tech value contribution has been done for them. It can never be true – your objectives, environment and how you want to achieve your business outcomes using HR Technology are absolutely unique. You need to do the hard, detailed work yourself.
Another reason is simply lack of know-how and practice. Most HR professionals have a social science background which engenders greater qualitative rather than quantitative focus. That’s not an excuse of course, learning how to build a causal-effect model which shows where HR Technology is leveraged, is not difficult~ it just takes some practice and adherence to some basic principles such as:
- Making sure your selected measures are strategic and aligned to company goals
- Not making assumptions about the cause-effect relationships. You need to test it and prove its validity
- Setting realistic targets, not everything needs to be 100%
- Having clear ownership of the measure. Someone who is passionate about achieving a business outcome, and is constantly tweaking the framework
- Being practical – don’t overcook the requirements or the data needed
- Telling your story. Contextualize the results and explain what it means in business terms
By way of a simplified graphical example, I recently had the opportunity to help a client think through a cause-effect model for “Innovation” – one of their strategic business objectives. The HR director wanted to explain how their HR technology was directly contributing and supporting this objective. When we finished the model, it became very easy to explain how this would be achieved. A key learning for the client was to link the HR Technology to “drivers” rather than the performance areas.
I’ll point out again that proving the “cause-effect” (performance areas in graphic below) is critical to establishing credibility. For example, my client had to validate that “Empathy for client’s needs” really did cause “Enthusiasm & Engagement” in their environment. Once that was established the drivers for performance were identified and agreed, and HR was able to determine which HR Technology was required and how it would be used to deliver measurable outcomes.
Of course there is a lot more work and involvement from other business functions behind this simple graphic, but hopefully it’s apparent that with some careful thought and focus, the real value of HR Technology can be measured and explained. Your next business case for HR Technology funding should be much easier to achieve if you have this in place!
photo credit: All rights reserved by shellydelight – Flikr
updated March 2016
It started as a jovial discussion with some office colleagues about the “Meaning of Life” – that yet unanswered question which has plagued human kind since the beginning of our existence. Naturally we considered all unconventional opinions such as that of Monty Python,
“Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,
“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything = 42”
and to the more serious, such as concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl’s resolve to “Having a sense of purpose that keeps your eyes on meaningful goals ahead” and general theological views which purport “To love and serve your god, and love and serve others”
But it didn’t take long before the flavour of the conversation became focussed on People…. more so the people in the workforce. We found ourselves asking a singular and fundamental question:
“WHY DOES HR EXIST?”
It’s a profound question that may have been asked before, but probably not simply answered.
In trying to answer the question our natural HR instincts lead us to describe HR activities – you know, the tons of things HR gets involved with in-between “Hiring & Firing” such as recruitment, talent development, learning, administration, workforce planning, comp & benefits, strategy etc. We raised our discussion to a “People Impact” and “Value through people” view which got us a little closer, but we were still unable to reach consensus on the proverbial question.
I reached out to my good mate Lyle Cooper, who likes to ponder difficult HR questions. He reminded me that “No person has been able to absolutely define and therefore control human behaviour”- he makes it a life-rule to run as fast as he can from anyone who claims to have a definitive answer about people, culture, life, afterlife etc.
Lyle’s point really goes to the heart of social (or human) sciences, the basis for much of what HR does, in that they are not perfect sciences. No matter how hard we try, we are not going to create the perfect performance management environment, a perfect engagement model or the ultimate user experience.
And it was this point that reminded me of the ongoing debate among mathematicians about the answer to the mathematical statement 00 (zero raised to the power of zero). The arguments as to whether the answer is 1(one), 0(zero) or indeterminate are excruciatingly painful to read and understand (especially if you are not a mathematician like me).
But while there are extreme views, most mathematicians agree that 00 = 1 is preferable, as it is more useful than the alternative choices, leading to simpler theorems, or feeling more “natural” to mathematicians.
“The choice is not “right”, it is merely nice”, is resoundingly similar to the “lack-of-evidence” and “soft & fluffy” disputes HR finds itself embroiled in.
So, while not perfect in any way, my response to the question “WHY DOES HR EXIST?” is “00 “. It fits perfectly with mathematician’s dilemma. Business functions and HR professionals are unlikely to ever agree on a common reason for HR’s existence, but by accepting 00 = 1, HR professionals are able to move forward. HR will make validity concessions, builds faulty frameworks, creates imperfect processes and design software to support an imperfect business environment – and that’s okay!
One day we may find that much of what HR is doing is wrong, in the same way many mathematical assumptions may be questioned if and when someone conclusively proves what the answer to 00 is. But until it’s proved otherwise, let HR execute its stuff…its time to stop focusing on the equation!
HR is imperfect!, but so is mathematics (and therefor finance, procurement and operations management) – the next time someone challenges your HR framework, assumptions or software choices, be sure to remind them that the meaning of HR = 00.
Rob Scott is the Global Lead: HR Strategy and Innovation for Presence of IT, A global HR,Talent, Payroll and WFM consultancy.
written for and originally published in Inside HR magazine (Feb 2015)
Despite the simplicity and effectiveness of new SaaS tools, maximum value will only be realised by making fundamental changes to key areas in business, writes Rob Scott
You could be forgiven for thinking the relative simplicity and user-friendliness of modern HR SaaS solutions need less business transformation effort to embed them effectively into a HR and business environment. The oft vendor pitch of having a newly acquired SaaS HR solution “up and running” in a very short timeframe is very appealing to buyers, particularly if they’ve had prior ERP project experiences encompassing flashbacks of complex and error-prone planning, designing, testing and cut-overs etched into their long-term memory.
However, the lure of a swift, pain-free and cost-effective implementation can mask the very real need for a transformed business environment that supports the new SaaS HR solution. The HR SaaS value and business benefits won’t be achieved by simply switching on the software – this is insufficient and must be augmented by making fundamental changes in at least six key areas. The honeycomb below portrays the facets of effective HR SaaS value creation, and as you can see, there is more than “simplicity” at play.
What’s different about HR SaaS?
I am often asked whether HR SaaS solutions are the same as older on-premise solutions, but “just in the cloud”. While functionality is often similar, the principles behind SaaS design, delivery and value creation are fundamentally different and will require a different approach and focus to on-premise projects. As you read the honeycomb elements (see graphic) the obvious “cloud dilemma” is the disparity between the time to implement the SaaS solution (usually four to 12 weeks) and the time required to transform the business. The latter takes much longer and requires careful and advanced planning.
Ownership: On-premise HR solutions are generally owned by the IT function because of the inherent technical complexity and association to hardware; however, HR leaders are becoming the primary SaaS buyer and must therefore take primary accountability for the solution. For many HR lea
ders this will be foreign, but the ownership change is a key driver of value creation.
Skill: HR functions must build system administration (configuration), data management, project management, analytic, social media, mobile and gamification insights in order to appreciate, manage and leverage the capabilities of modern HR SaaS systems. These are not complex skills to learn and should ultimately become standard knowledge areas for all HR staff.
Behaviour: Modern HR SaaS solutions are designed around regular interaction and collaboration with other employees. These are not transactionally dominated systems, but rather tools that remind, inform, connect, advise, analyse, predict, gather, share and enable people’s effectiveness in unique ways. Interventions will be required to activate these new behaviours.
Relations: HR must actively co-ordinate relationships between the CIO, IT function, marketing, finance, the vendor (who owns and houses the software) and external support services. These relations are both strategic and operational in nature and dependent on the new HR skills noted earlier.
Practices: Gone are the days when you apply updates to your HR system annually. SaaS solutions are automatically updated three to four times a year, meaning HR will be accountable to lead a review (with support from IT and others) of new functionality and determine if and how it will be used. SaaS solutions offer “choice”, and HR must think beyond the concepts of standardisation as a best practice.
Leadership: Executives and senior managers dictate organisational maturity. Without the right level of maturity in place, HR is often fighting an uphill battle of acceptance, which will result in SaaS tools being sidelined and unlikely to return business value.
SaaS tools are in many ways a saviour for HR. The simplicity of these new solutions is offering organisations great opportunities to rethink people engagement and value generation using modern technologies. HR must step up and embrace this with understanding and commitment.
HR SaaS: what you need to know
- SaaS HR software solutions are fundamentally different from earlier on-premise solutions and require new business transformation initiatives to get maximum value.
- SaaS HR solutions are much simpler to set up and use, however, this simplicity and ease of use should not cloud the important business environment changes required to support these tools.
- Taking ownership and accountability for the HR systems is no longer technically biased, it has moved to a functional level predominantly, which must be led and co-ordinated by HR.
- The IT function remains important for technology strategy, integration, standards, security and quality control of all systems, but HR must be accountable.
It’s been 3 years since the HR TECH world witnessed the SuccessFactors and Taleo acquisitions by the largest ERP vendors, SAP and Oracle – these were deals that fundamentally changed the global HR, Talent and Payroll technology landscape, including the role and relationship of the vendor and implementation partners(Si’s) with clients.
The battle for dominance among the then newly adoptive parents, SAP and Oracle, the ever-popular Workday and a host of other best-of-breed HR SaaS and cloud products centered around the lucrative 3 year annuity contract. Vendors and Si’s stripped out all but the bare necessity costs in order to live up to the reputation that SaaS was an easily justifiable ROI.
While the vendors have been focussed on maintaining their data centres, building and deploying updates and new functionality as well as executing competitive selling strategies, the SI’s have re-jigged their implementation approaches and staffing models. Certainly the last few years have been underpinned by tough business transformation for vendors and Si’s. For many service providers in this space, their attention has been split between their internal changes and the ongoing needs of their clients. This may come back to haunt the vendors and SI’s.
Keeping profitable from selling SaaS solutions is very different from that of ERP. If you needed 2 to 3 long-term ERP project to keep you business profitable then you now need 6 to 9 times more SaaS projects to achieve similar revenues and margins. That’s tough and the real issue is that the effort required to sell a SaaS deal is not commensurate to the implementation time – it still takes significant time.
2015 is a year of reckoning in many respects with quite a number of annuity deals which were struck in 2012 up for review. What will the client retention rate be for SAP, Oracle, Workday and others, and what is an acceptable benchmark? Salesforce.com is a SaaS stalwart with a retention rate of +90%, so perhaps we should expect similar scores from the HR SaaS players. I have my doubts – some of my intel would suggest some vendors are closer to an 80% CRR (country specific).
Ultimately the client will decide to stay with a product/vendor based on their experiences with the SaaS product, vendor and SI’s as well as any broader technology objectives and strategies. While ERP implentations provide lengthy on-site opportunities to develop deep and trusting relationships and easily positioning the next piece of work, the SaaS approach doesn’t. If the vendor and/or SI have been the proverbial ‘Hockey Stick’ and not actively and regularly engaging with their clients through high quality 24/7 support programs, continuous improvement initiatives, thought leadership exposure and robust future design and strategy workshops, then they are at risk of loosing clients, and deservedly so.
Time will tell.
There is a direct relationship between organisational maturity levels and the value derived from HR systems, writes Rob Scott
Clients often ask me what the primary influencer is when selecting new HR software, and are generally surprised when I respond that they should first ask their executive management team what they really think of their HR department and what current and future expectations they have of this function.
The executive view is generally very telling, and while there are many factors which influence the selection of HR software – including key business drivers, people focus areas, industry challenges, budget availability and existing vendor relationships – one overriding influencer, and one that is rarely applied sufficiently, is the impact of organisational maturity. Your maturity level is a direct result of how your executive team defines and drives the concept of value (including people value) through the business. It is also the lead indicator of what the HR function will succeed at, and hence the likely value an organisation will get from an investment in HR software.
Your views of people
I like to think about HR software as a mirror. It generally reflects the reality of management’s view of people. In many cases, I see HR departments being blamed for “poor service” and “terrible software” – and while HR incompetency may be a contributing factor, the real issue is often a misalignment of what the HR function does and what the organisation needs in relation to its maturity level.
Some organisations see people primarily as a cost, whereas others see people as a means of producing broad financial and societal returns. While there is no right or wrong position, what your organisation maturity level reveals is the true “expectation” executives have of employees. It also frames any value they would assign to proposed HR initiatives and tools.
According to the Maturity Institute’s framework (ARC) there are nine other “pillars” aside from how people are viewed that when measured together, determine an organisation’s stage of maturity . The “stage” effectively shows the current limit of HR’s value and expectations.
Aligning to maturity levels
When a company has a low level of organisational maturity (e.g. stage 1 or 2), it is unlikely that senior management would regard the HR function as strategically influential, nor see significant benefit in introducing solutions like performance management, career & succession and analytics. In this scenario we often see HR managers using a “stick” approach to drive process compliance with line managers, but few managers actually derive any business value from these HR tools, because the executive team fundamentally don’t see the need to use them to execute their goals. At a maturity level of four or five, there is a completely different expectation of people by executives who understand the importance of these tools to create business value.
The argument against using maturity for software selection is tied into the “HR best practice” and “best practice technology” belief. Stories of engaged employees, massive cost savings and improved shareholder value are the typical rationale provided by software vendors to buy all their software. I am yet to meet a vendor who is prepared to accept financial accountability if the “best practice” they want you to buy does not work.
Aligning your HR software selection and purchases with your maturity level will give you the greatest opportunity to succeed in HR and build credibility at the executive level. As you improve your maturity level, the need for more strategic and sophisticated HR systems will become obvious and support from executives will easily be attained.
HR systems and organisational maturity
- There is a direct relationship between your organisational maturity level and the value you derive from HR systems.
- HR systems are like a mirror – they reflect how your organisation views people. When people systems are in disarray, it is often a sign of a low organisational maturity level, not poor software or process.
- When HR managers and executives understand and accept what their maturity level means, the role of HR and expectations become clear to both parties.
- Improving your level of organisational maturity is the real catalyst for HR to become a strategic influencer in your company.
Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.
There is significant value to be derived from HR evolving people practices into a modern digital environment, writes Rob Scott
Compared to traditional on-premise or ERP HR technologies, true SaaS technology has fundamentally shifted the business discussion from one focused on getting HR technology to work effectively to an emphasis on how HR can generate business value through people. While not dismissing the value that many companies continue to derive from traditional on-premise HR solutions, there is no denying the comparatively long and often complex journey traditional HR systems demand in order to achieve the desired outcomes.
Time saving and agility: important ingredients
Executives are realising the long-term impact and financial advantage of effectively managing their people value chain. Together with emerging workplace trends such as remote working, ad hoc team creation, social collaboration, project orientation and hyper-specialisation, the luxury of having time to build solutions to support these new work environments is quickly diminishing.
The workforce itself is changing. It’s a more flexible workforce that is fast becoming a collection of diverse, specialised individuals who have different contractual relationships with a company. And there is an expectation that the tools they use to be productive are simple, yet effective – integrated in a way that supports collaboration and is accessible from anywhere on any device. In a recent survey conducted by Microsoft, 31 per cent of employees said they would be willing to spend their own money on an app if it made them more effective at work.
The last thing an organisation wants is to be held back by software that absorbs a great deal of time and takes even more effort to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace and workforce. The need for agility and swiftness are two critical elements for future business competitiveness, and for these reasons, SaaS HR software is being recognised as a supportive catalyst.
We are moving to a digital work environment rapidly, and mechanisms such as social tools, mobility and gamification are providing the platform for enabling HR to step up to a strategic analytic and evidence-based advisory role. While many ERP tools are bolting on some of this digital capability, the underlying technology and design of these products have not been built with a digital framework. True SaaS HR products have been completely rebuilt from the database objects to the user interface and fundamentally support and integrate with digital design thinking.
HR needs a new set of skills
HR professionals, particularly those from a social sciences background, have generally been reluctant to build personal skills and knowledge in technology. In many respects, this has limited their ability to be effective in driving traditional HR technology projects. New SaaS tools have largely solved this problem because of the simplicity in how these tools are set up and maintained. SaaS tools have fewer configuration and modification options than ERP solutions, which in my mind is a good thing for HR. Too often, ERP tools are redesigned at great cost but with little business benefit.
I believe there are other complementary areas where HR functions can build competency and expertise. First, social intelligence – understanding how social thinking is introduced into business and HR strategies and enabled through digital technology. Second, analytic intelligence – making sense of lots of new people-related data that will be created as the digital work environment evolves. This includes data from wearable technology and from everyday objects that are connecting to the internet (internet of things). Analytic intelligence will have a strong predictive focus rather than a reactive statistical slant.
The next three years open up a window of opportunity for HR to evolve people practices into a modern digital environment. There is significant value to be derived, and HR must now become self-sufficient in making this a reality.
Key SaaS trends for HR
- True SaaS HR software is quite different from ERP products. When you pull back the covers, the underlying design is geared to support a digital HR environment.
- Modern organisations no longer have the luxury of extended time to redesign their HR solutions – SaaS tools offer agility and simplicity.
- Now is the time for HR professionals to take ownership of HR software projects with no need to be intimidated by a lack of IT knowledge.
- News skills for HR in social and analytic intelligence are critical to understand how software will create people value.
Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.