Talent Management

So HR is imperfect!, but so is mathematics – get over it!

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:


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.

Do HR Systems Need A Sexy UI?

UI graphicMy Scottish heritage drives me  to blurt out “Och Aye!” ( meaning oh yes) on this one ~ why shouldn’t our HR systems with all their new-found business support enjoy the best presentation on our desktops, tablets and smartphones? There are so many creative advancements taking place in the UI ( user interface or more accurately, human-machine interaction)  world that it is easy to be charmed by their mystique and the experience they take you through ~ but while the demos might look great, we need to consider the practicalities of using these tools on top of what (in many cases, but not all) are essentially HR solutions with a traditional data model design. Naomi Bloom has been a lone voice for a while on the realities of trying to make an old HR technology architecture perform new tricks, versus the benefits of a system designed for purpose. It’s the classic “Lipstick on the Pig” scenario when you introduce modern UI principles on top of an old back-end.

Take for example “kinetics”, the tools that emerged to support gaming consoles like the Wii and Xbox. It basically detects your body movement and converts your movement into system commands. So how practical or effective would this be for an HR product? – probably not at all is my guess given that HR systems are not fundamentally designed to leverage that form of input and neither is it practical to capture text in that way. A technology company in Lithuania offers a kinetic interface for online banking solutions, well all I can say is it hilarious to watch the actor swinging their arms around to transfer money from one account to another. Can you imagine a new  employee casually walking  past an in-progress performance assessment using the new HR kinetics ESS tool – the arm-swinging manager and employee may send him scuttling to find a new employer.
The big buzz word in UI design is “Experience” and it’s driven by the multitude of consumer applications that are leveraging everything from Voice, Gesture, Eye-tracking, Multiple-touch, Movement, and more to create a memorable and different ways to capture and deliver information or results. Golden Krishna a senior UI designer from Samsung is promoting the “No Interface” approach, which will learn about your preferences and create an interface that is unique to your style. We are already seeing some of this thinking emerging in Google predictive products (Like Google Now). The advancements in this space are increasing at a rate of knots, to the extent that it is unlikely that HR business application vendors can keep up as part of their normal product development cycle – they will need to decouple the UI capability from the remaining solution architecture elements.
So while many HR systems are stuck with their traditional data models, the useful and feasible UI enhancements, particularly those on mobile applications, should focus on turning the HR data into embedded analytics and decision making support as well as greater portability of the HR business processes. There is a lot more that HR vendors can do to make these elements a greater user experience  with richer functionality and content without the need to leverage the latest UI gimmicks.
HR Vendors who have built their products with a user process mindset (rather than a data model) will have greater short term opportunity, especially in the ability to directly interact with employees, to leverage newer UI developments. But while it is tempting to vigorously exploit these, vendors must ensure they don’t inadvertently create new complexities in HR systems which reduce usage and start corridor sniggering.

Influence vs Environment : an HR Employee Value Proposition

I’ve never done it before! – sat on an idyllic beach, looking out over the deep blue sea, working on my laptop. Well her e I am in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Kuwait, sitting under an Arabian tent, scattered with Persian carpets and low, comfy couches, looking out over the calm Gulf waters, intermittently spoilt by a large oil tanker passing by (and reminding me of the riches of this region)

Amazingly I’m not on Holiday either – but have a few hours to waste before heading off to the airport for my 15 hour flight back to Sydney. All of this got me thinking about the importance of the work environment – Here I am being highly productive (done 2 presentations, answered some mails, reviewed a client document and managed to write this blog), spurred on by something that is causing me to feel almost euphoric . Would I have got so much done at the office? – Definitely not- too many distractions and people. Would I have done as much sitting at my home office – More than the work office probably, but still would not have felt as relaxed and keen to do more as I am at the moment.

If I were a Talent director, considering my Employee Value Proposition, then recreating this relaxing influence (note I said influence, not environment) would be a real winner. Imagine having staff feeling so relaxed and highly productive – the creativity and energy would be mind boggling.

We’ve all heard about the Google work environment – is this an example of a relaxing influence (which is what I am experiencing) or a relaxed environment (spatially inviting and culturally aligned to a sense of freedom). I think the two (influence and environment) are different, although I concede that the immediate environment has an important role. Knowing a few people who work at Google – they love their work environment, but after the mystique fades, they are not significantly less stressed or more productive that people I know who work in highly structured and rigid organisations.

Perhaps this has been a moment in my life that “The Planets all Aligned”; I hope this is not the case, because I would love to have this happen to me every day. I don’t know the whole answer, but perhaps it has something to do with me being able to create an experience that suited me – maybe organisations need to provide a framework for operating that allows people to create their own experience. Food for thought – I do know that next time I’m in Kuwait – I’ll be back under my tent with my laptop.