HfS Network
Steve Goldberg
Research Vice President, HR Technology and Workforce Strategies 
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The Latest HR Power Tool … IoT!
July 03, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

Now available in select “HR supply stores”: IoT (Internet of Things), one of the five tools discussed in my latest POV - “The HR Power Tools 6-Pack for High-Impact Service Delivery.” Much like the double-edged sword nature of its companion power tools, IoT in workforce management can usher in unprecedented and significant business benefits, but only when the right capabilities are selected and potential risks and adverse outcomes are accounted for. 

IoT is a process in which people, machines, and devices are connected to one another via a single network in order to automatically exchange data without any manual involvement. IoT can, for example:

  • track the productivity of workers in the field
  • confirm overall fitness or fatigue when relevant
  • assign tasks based on the nearest worker
  • tie scheduling real-time to customer flow
  • offer real-time training based on an employee’s time on job, credentials or performance

All of this sounds pretty compelling, but a couple words of caution. The first word: Volkswagen, whose engineers illegally programmed IoT-like software to sense when the car was being tested during an emissions inspection, which then activated more costly equipment that reduced emissions. This resulted in a roughly $3B fine this year. Additionally, IoT solutions will generate lots of new, often very valuable data related to people and how they perform their jobs, and not every HR Department is adequately staffed to handle the current explosion of people data or supported by data scientists.

Cause for Optimism with Early Adopters of IoT in HR

While not many HR Technology solution providers are occupying the IoT market category just yet, one company caught our attention: Triax Technologies, and specifically with their “spot- r” solution for companies with workers in the field, particularly on constructions sites. Certainly, accidents are more common there. My briefing from Triax’ COO Peter Schermerhorn enlightened me that U.S. construction companies pay out $1 billion annually for claims related to slips, trips or falls; that the construction industry pays more than twice the national average for workers’ compensation insurance; and that an estimated $7.2 billion in fraudulent workers’ compensation claims are filed annually in the U.S.

spot-r by Triax provides data-driven, real-time visibility into construction operations and safety incidents, leading to an improved safety culture on site and can result in reduced insurance costs. Automatic, geo-tagged “slip, trip, fall” alerts improve response time to accidents and record surrounding conditions (temperature, height, location of witnesses in the area, etc.), self-alert buttons empower construction workers to stop working due to unsafe conditions and alert supervisors to hazardous conditions, and high-decibel evacuation alerts are included in the mandatory wearable devices used on many of the company’s pilot projects with customers. Peter also offered a glimpse into the near future when the company’s sensors will be used in new ways to promote safety and visibility on the job site. Imagine knowing in real-time where your workers, equipment, machinery, and tools are onsite and how they’re interacting with each other.

Who said technology innovations related to HR and workforce management usually lag other business areas?

Bottom Line:  As with all the other power tools (i.e., sophisticated capabilities) recently added to the HR practitioner tool belt, IoT’s potential to be a game-changer cannot be overstated, but neither can the surrounding considerations for avoiding possible misuse or sub-optimal deployment.

Another “SRO” Crowd for an AI Presentation, But at a Payroll Conference?
May 25, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

This standing room only crowd for an industry conference’s AI session, something seen with great regularity these days, is actually from last week’s American Payroll Association event in Orlando. You read that correctly.

While the payroll function and services market likely weren’t among the first AI or RPA candidates written on white boards in innovation labs, this obvious level of interest might suggest a “can’t see the forest through the trees” dynamic operating in some of those innovation labs. Back-office corporate functions such as payroll are in fact fertile ground for RPA and intelligent automation overall, given the preponderance of recurring manual tasks and transactions not dependent on person-to-person interaction.

Innovation labs are now on the case.

The speaker for this session called “Prepare Your Teams for the Future of Payroll: Robotics, Automation & Shared Services” was Brian Radin, President of global payroll services provider CloudPay and long-time entrepreneur in the HR Tech space as well. Brian immediately got everyone’s attention by factually reporting that the number of bank teller jobs did not decrease in the years following the introduction of ATM machines. Teller numbers actually went up due to shifting staff costs to support new, higher value services within retail branches, which ultimately allowed more local branches to open up, tellers in tow.

Using AI in the realm of HR operations, including cognitive computing and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) or bots, has been explored in my blog posts and also a recent POV. Radin’s session focused specifically on AI’s current and future use in payroll operations, including via services providers like CloudPay and over a dozen others to be profiled in my HfS Blueprint Report “Payroll-as-a-Service: 2017” (published this July).  

Some Easy Questions, Some Hard Ones

Radin’s talk directly addressed some key questions about “AI in Payroll”; e.g., how can (or will) these capabilities help payroll clients spend less time on manually intensive, routine or recurring tasks, ones that machines can often handle with more alacrity? And are there other tasks where resourcing can be toggled between human and bot staff depending on availability? Here the presenter highlighted examples like data validations and checks pre and post-payroll run (payroll has quite a few of those), machines fixing errors or automating the consolidation of data, and of course, chatbots to answer recurring questions like “what is my accrued PTO?” or “when will I receive my first check?” (Questions which come up hundreds of times per year.) Allowing RPA tools to handle these will benefit clients of providers like CloudPay and any other vendor investing in these capabilities. And as far as highlighting a “resourcing agnostic” (bot or person) type of activity in payroll, the example given was using people or bot staff to train new staff.

One of the highlights of the session for me was listening to questions attendees were posing at the podium afterward, away from the large audience. One gentleman told Radin that training and re-skilling of staff were already going on in his company in areas where RPA would be heavily leveraged, but it sometimes provided only a year or so of “job runway” for employees until RPA would impact their next job. Then re-skilling would have to start again. Radin’s response was both admirable and accurate: “Re-skilling decisions in the RPA era is very much a work in progress.”

Machines that Do, Do and Think, and Learn

CloudPay’s VP Marketing, David Barak, elaborated for me after the session on Radin’s slide which highlighted these three different categories of RPA capabilities: “Do” describes the use of RPA to move and manipulate payroll data without human involvement, as one example. “Do and think” capabilities include the machine flagging and fixing hundreds of data issues pre-payroll run; and while “Learn” is an RPA capability in payroll processing that’s still being tested and improved upon (as with machine learning in most areas), it includes anticipating spikes in payroll processing costs based on time of year, business cycles, new regulations, etc. This information can then guide the customer in optimizing staffing levels.

Bottom Line: Payroll departments and services provider clients will increasingly benefit from emerging RPA and cognitive capabilities. It will probably be a few steps forward and a couple backward until something akin to a “human/bot hybrid resourcing homeostasis” is figured out – in general, and also reflecting specific customer contexts. Predicting how far / how fast with any precision, in any industry or discipline, is almost a total crapshoot. One thing we do know, machines are not nearly as susceptible to errors due to work overload or distractions.

A Heavy Dose of Transparency: Impressions from the SAP SuccessFactors Influencer Summit 2017
May 03, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

The SAP SuccessFactors Influencer Summit, held in California recently, was an opportunity to see up-close-and-personal how the major HR Tech vendor views the concept of transparency, as not all players in this space view it the same way. It was, in a word, refreshing. Mike Ettling, company president, set the tone early by reminding participants what the company committed to the year before so they can be held accountable. Presentations were also ”open kimono” about execution areas they want to be better at in the next year, sharing many plans in detail - not just product plans and strategies (staples at such events) but spending hours on areas like delivery, support and even data centers (partly under NDA due to being within the earnings quiet period).

Throughout the event, speakers offered bold and somewhat surprising statements, and not always ones that blanketly served the software vendor’s interests. Ettling, for example, stated, “no one will be logging into HR Systems in five years time”. Other executives highlighted some subtle aspects of digital disruption; e.g., “it’s all about cloud adoption” (implication: not product adoption), and “trust is central to everything we do” (a great word for a company you’re taking a major journey with, and one which conveys product quality without saying those words).

As to Ettling’s proclamation about what is essentially the “no platform HR Tech platform” in five years, it led to a discussion of one of the company’s product strategy pillars, “Conversational HR.” The concept is to enable your employees to use interaction channels and platforms such as Slack, plus HR bots and “intelligent services” that connect and predict application actions and are embedded into daily work. Intelligent services are designed to transform HR operations through targeted analytics and machine learning, and cutting across relevant business processes. They were announced in August 2015 and there are 40 predefined intelligent services today; e.g., change of manager, employee department or job. This results in delivering a user experience that’s outside the traditional walls of both system modules and singular HR processes, and also involves linking HR and non-HR data. Also of note, SAP SF is now integrating Slack with its Continuous Performance Management functionality so employees and managers interact around, versus execute a process.

Improving the customer experience

The emphasis on usability and the customer experience was evident throughout; e.g., it’s fairly unusual to hear targets like this from an HR Tech vendor: Unlimited scalability, 99.9% availability and 80% of support cases resolved within 2 days. And the company has learned more about “attention to detail” in the mobile experience from its collaboration with Apple. I was also impressed with seeing plans to bring the customer support function into the digital era and make it a more engaging, tailored experience; e.g., by using such mechanisms as guided answers and even a tool for customers to easily schedule 1-to-1 “expert sessions” at a mouse click.

A “Peer Match” capability is now also being leveraged by the base. This is the company’s direct, peer-to-peer connection tool that allows SAP SuccessFactors’ customers to connect and share experiences with their counterparts within other SAP SF customers, from implementation to best practices to thought leadership. More than 227 “advisors” have self-registered and have made 200 connections in short order. Frankly, actively participating in a customer community (and sharing lessons learned for example) is one of the major benefits enjoyed by HR Tech customers of the cloud model, as you are on the same software instance and version. One other example of the customer experience focus is the new Digital Boardroom soon to be in production. It is touch-(boardroom) screen, dynamic, visual, based on multi-sourced data, and SAP SF’s HR Department was the design partner.

Fast take-up of newer capabilities

Continuing the theme of transparency, we learned that 260+ SAP SF customers have enabled or are using Continuous Performance Management: real-time coaching, feedback and learning even though it was more vision than seamless product capability when it was launched just two years ago. That is changing.

And beyond the vendor’s continuing product emphasis on candidate relationship management, internal mobility, better mid-market penetration and removing gender bias in decision making, two other interesting takeaways:

  1. The “marketplace” concept is catching on in the HR Tech space, as now another vendor is making it easier to find and inter-operate with 3rd party apps that are innovative or focus on a specific area of HCM functionality. It’s a great marketing / PR tactic, as current/future competing products probably won’t find their way to the marketplace. 157 apps are available today.
  2. Diversity really does matter to SAP SF, as highlighted in the anecdote shared about a developer asking: "How come in the org chart a blank image (for a vacant position) is always a man?", thus bringing about a change in the vendor’s org chart.

Outstanding questions

While the presentations and sessions with experts and customers provided considerable information and insights, I’m left with a few additional questions:

  • Shouldn’t HR Tech vendors also be transparent about their product roadmap prioritization process, not just the roadmap itself?
  • How can change management be done effectively when you’re so focused on reducing deployment times?
  • Will SAP SF’s support of more flexible organizational structures cause similar issues that Workday customers experience when interfacing HCM with 3rd party Financial Systems?

Bottom Line: For more than 10 years, SuccessFactors has emphasized cool, innovative features, an engaging, consumer-like user experience - and in more recent years, rolling out a Core HR System and additional Talent Management components (e.g., recruiting and learning). Now, by also addressing issues like diversity and biased decision making, and by embracing and executing on the Conversational HR vision, SAP SuccessFactors is poised to weather uncertain times in general, and maintain its top-tier market position.

Half of today’s enterprises are exploring or already benefiting from AI in HR – time to get with the program
May 01, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

The intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and personalization in HR / HCM offers the opportunity to significantly elevate service delivery, and therefore employee and manager satisfaction and engagement. It also highlights the looming challenge of getting the mix right between human and machine or “bot”-based HR. These critical topics were discussed during our recent Digital HR webcast.

The evidence? Our annual “State of Operations and Outsourcing” study of 454 major global enterprises, conducted with KPMG, just revealed that 52% of enterprises are already evaluating, piloting or implementing robotic process automation (“RPA”) solutions for HR processes. HR executives: Like it or not, the new world of HR Tech automation has arrived, and you need a definitive strategy to deal with it.

How are enterprises approaching RPA in the HR domain today?

Source: HfS Research in conjunction with KPMG, State of Business Operations 2017 N=454 Enterprise Buyers

We already know that “science” has for years been leveraged in the recruiting domain in the form of assessments that predict the best talent, culture fit, leadership potential, retention likelihood, etc. And with the initial wave of HR chatbots or digital HR assistants converging with many new personalization capabilities to further enhance the user experience, the range of potential use cases linking these two themes for enterprise benefit is only limited by one’s creativity and understanding of operational HR.

Here is a small sampling of what HR Tech buyers will likely see from their vendor partners, and in many cases, sooner than one might expect. HfS Research just published a detailed POV (point of view) with more examples under the categories listed below. It can be accessed here.

HR Tech vendor Beta / early release capabilities

  • Slackbots: SAP SuccessFactors is now testing “Slackbots.” These chatbots use their new technology partner Slack’s messaging tool within a performance review module to manage various process-related communications and tasks. HR Tech vendors like Zenefits and BambooHR, popular with smaller and medium-sized businesses, also integrate with Slack.
  • Sourcing bots: Crowded Inc. is a startup sourcing technology provider with a bot that asks questions of software developers applying for a job, and uses their responses to complete an application vs. making them type in the information themselves. TextRecruit is a California startup with a recruiting chatbot named Ari that organizations can use to field questions from job seekers. This allows recruiters to prioritize questions from actual candidates. Finally, Fama, founded in 2015, uses natural-language processing to scan news stories, social media and deeper web content for indications of a higher-than-acceptable risk profile in candidates.
  • Heavy usage bots: And multiple new chatbots from global ERP and HCM platform company Ramco Systems, and one from Boston startup Talla, are designed to respond to various, typically predictable and common employee HR questions and issues in real time. And if appropriate, the new (digital) HR staff initiates an approval or notification process. Bot-driven PTO-related interactions seem popular with both software vendors.

Right around the corner

  • HR admin chatbots: Extending the heavy usage bots theme, this category refers to Q&A capabilities using text messages and messaging applications (e.g., Slack), in concert with AI (e.g., natural language processing and machine learning), to manage many of the routine questions that come into HR, Payroll and Benefits departments every day. These include “I joined last week, when is my first check?”, “Our baby is due next week, how can I adjust my Benefits coverage?”, and “How do I know if a planned leave of absence is eligible for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) coverage?” These chatbots accept and answer questions in a flow of natural language and provide links to appropriate forms, workflows or content.
  • Highly personalized onboarding experiences: Given that mentors and courses don’t address much of the social side of getting acclimated, the convergence of personalization and AI will soon lead to having particular colleagues being alerted to welcome the newbie because they have a college or town of residence in common, or the same former company, or similar interests or career goals. This capability should be right around the corner given that all the relevant data is available between the corporate HRMS and tapping into pretty standard social media.

Likely a bit further out (2018/2019)

  • Reporting line and team member matching: HR Tech platforms can also be expected to make recommendations about who someone should report to, or which team they should join, based on analyzing where that employee tended to be most successful in the past, specifically from a behavioral, personality type or cultural compatibility perspective. Anyone who’s been in the workforce for some time knows there are certain types of bosses – and teams -- that bring out the best in them, and others that do not.

Further out still?  We shall see

  • Span of control alerts: An “HR” or organizational design issue that occasionally surfaces for C-suite residents is the span of control of their direct reports and one level below that, as it can get unwieldy at times. Compounding this, what if there was higher than average employee retention risk in the particular department where a manager’s span of control (number of direct reports) was already way above average? If the HR bot could let the senior manager or C-level executive know all this, it would be an example of the Bot leveraging two things: KPI info on desirable span of control for different roles, and as above, one of the humans on the HR staff for complementary consultative support around viable options.

Bottom line

Continuing advances and the obvious momentum building within the Digital HR (including AI in HR) arena highlight three important calls to action: (1) the need for a very symbiotic relationship between human and bot HR staff; (2) the need for crafting a vision for this relationship “asap” and (3) the need to bring together HR Tech customers, vendors and representative end-users, along with HR practitioner and corporate culture experts (and ultimately, perhaps legal advisors) to start developing best practices for this new and exciting frontier.  

Don’t Look Now but Payroll Services Providers are Embracing Digital -- and their Sexiness
April 13, 2017 | Steve Goldberg


A product strategy executive at ADP recently told me ”employees generally spend more time picking out a color TV than they do selecting their Benefit plans.” At that moment I knew the conversation would be different than any of my previous chats about payroll services. After all, I’ve never known an organization that cited a well-run Payroll operation as a major source of competitive advantage. In contrast, achieving only modest (e.g. 4%) upticks in employee productivity, perhaps from focusing more on improving employee engagement, can be a pretty big deal. The math: A 2,000-employee company that goes from $150,000 revenue per employee to $156,000 (or a 4% improvement) generates $12 million in new value ($6,000 x 2,000 employees).

Payroll Services in the digital age is where “intelligent automation” and the constancy of innovation empowers and enables all participants and customers – ergo, makes them more engaged and productive. And for newer readers of HfS fare, we basically define intelligent automation as moving from legacy technologies to a more on-demand environment that enables (as warranted) plug and play solutions/services, cognitive/AI elements, impactful analytics, highly engaging user experiences, mobile taps over mouse clicks, etc., often based on design thinking and always involving genuine customer advocacy.

To cut to the chase, my new Blueprint Report “Payroll-as-a-Service: 2017”, being published this July, will delve deeply into how Payroll Services are being transformed based on the best that intelligent automation has to offer. The Report will examine where this market is today and where it’s going, include actionable guidance for services buyers and providers, showcase innovations that are driving real business value, incorporate customer perspectives from around the globe, and of course, utilize our “As-a-Service Winners’ Circle” evaluation framework to separate market leaders from high performers and high potentials – replete with service provider analyses.

Readers wanting to see who offers great pricing for tax filing and reporting services should look elsewhere, but for those interested in digital capabilities in the form of impressive chatbots (for maximum responsiveness), benefit plan cost/benefit optimization and financial wellness support at the individual level, other types of “personalized value adds,” predictive and prescriptive guidance for managers, and other capabilities which take routine tasks out of the daily life of Payroll staff and its internal customers, we will have you covered.

Bottom Line: Payroll Services providers are jumping on the digital bandwagon with gusto, and the results belie that long-time characterization of Payroll not being sexy.

Placing HCM Stewardship Where it Belongs: Outside of HR
March 29, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

In retail, capturing data in real-time at the Point of Sale (POS) leads to better stock replenishment and more informed customer interactions and experiences. Now take that same concept into business operations with HR and employees, where transaction or event participants similarly have the biggest vested interest in achieving maximum data accuracy and transaction processing speed.

The principles of real-time data updates and logical transaction ownership led to a lot of new Employee and Manager Self Service functionality in the early days of HCM systems. Let’s also remember, though, that self-sufficiency -- as in not having to deal with the occasional black hole that some HR Departments are identified with -- is also directly correlated with stakeholder or customer satisfaction.

All of this “transactional mumbo jumbo” can be boiled down to one phrase: Human Capital Management stewardship … and also perhaps one question: Where should primary HCM ownership lie? The “HR as necessary interloper to keep the company out of trouble” model hasn’t really endeared itself to many outside of those running professional HR organizations. So why keep “workforce management activities to drive enterprise value,” aka HCM, strictly in the hands of the HR Department?  No reason. It’s a stupid waste of resources – both financial and human.


HR adds the most value, by far, when it enables line managers to be effective stewards of HCM  

How do you as an HR professional accomplish this?

(1) by truly understanding the business of your internal line manager customers
(2) by being a trusted advisor when it comes to HCM-related opportunities and risks (both -- not just risks!)
(3) by syndicating best practices, tools, standards and innovations related to HCM across the organization … whether an HR-borne idea, an internal customer’s idea or something learned at a professional HR organization’s conference.

Business leaders don’t just have P&L responsibility. They interact with their teams every day, in all situations, and they ideally have the “HCM acumen” to know what will drive employee engagement, retention and productivity … or conversely, what will impede these outcomes and how to mitigate those impediments.

Bottom Line: HR Departments must place a huge emphasis on line manager enablement, thereby shifting HCM stewardship to where it belongs – to team leaders, department managers, and senior executives. HR Departments should enable, or get out of the way.

Saba's Acquisition of Halogen Software Helps Their Customers Achieve the Illusory 'A' Word
March 10, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

This roughly $300M deal, expected to close end of June, doesn’t only have the potential to positively impact the HCM agendas of 4,000 combined customers worldwide between the two talent management players. It also has the potential to lift the HR Tech domain overall. How can this deal possibly achieve something that the much larger HR Tech deals done by SAP and Oracle didn’t?

For one thing, SAP buying SuccessFactors and Oracle acquiring Taleo were motivated in large part by accelerating a transition to the cloud, and secondarily, by the ability to leverage best-in-class Performance Management (SuccessFactors) and Recruiting Technology (Taleo) at the time. Elsewhere, IBM acquiring Kenexa gave it a nice beachhead from which to eventually launch other HR services and solutions. In short, these deals arguably benefited vendors more than they helped customers achieve better HCM-dependent business outcomes.

The Saba - Halogen Software deal opens new routes to HCM optimization

We suspect many forward-thinking HR technology customers will want to take advantage of the combination of a world-class LMS (Saba) and a top-tier Performance Management solution (Halogen) in ways that extend beyond performance review and coaching outputs feeding employee learning and development plans. These talent management “meat and potatoes” capabilities are there. The “kicker” is the combined ability to address today’s unprecedented rate of change, the explosion of corporate social tools, and just-in-time learning.

And this leads to the often-illusory goal of “organizational agility.”  

Saba + Halogen together could enable a bottom-up, employee-owned and initiated way of quickly addressing whatever performance, behavioral or skill gaps are most relevant at any point in time. Saba has robust capabilities around informal learning and social collaboration tools (even social network analysis functionality). Put it together with Halogen Software’s flexibility to support many different performance management models, and you go beyond that “meat and potatoes” passing of performance management process outputs to actionable learning plans. It’s a whole new level of execution that ties together professional development, employee engagement, individual / team performance and business results that include improved organizational agility.

Take the example of a mid-level professional being moved from an individual contributor role to one of managing a project team, add-in that the vacancy was unexpected, the project is behind schedule, and there aren’t many other resourcing options. The new project manager can immediately start marshaling peer and team member feedback, coaching and mentoring, broader community or social network support plus other internal and external resources to make this resourcing dilemma a much more manageable issue. Now multiply this unexpected, unplanned scenario by dozens company-wide.

When you can mitigate risk to sustain momentum on key initiatives this way, you have the essence of organizational agility.

Bottom Line: This new pairing of HR Tech players might be the answer for many organizations that are too often held back by their lack of organizational agility.

3 Reasons Why You Should Care About Our New Blueprint Market Guide: “Predictive Capabilities in HCM Systems”
February 22, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

When HfS Research community members check back here later this week they will have access to my first major research effort for HfS since joining late last year: “Predictive Capabilities in HCM Systems”. This Blueprint Market Guide includes trends, themes and related implications for both buyers and solution vendors, an evaluation of these capabilities within 9 HRMS or HR System of Record vendors, what to watch as this emerging area continues to evolve, and – of course – our recommendations for driving business value and ROI from these capabilities.


The aforementioned 3 reasons are:

  1. Surprising trailblazers … such as some of the HRMS players blazing the trail for other vendors to follow (aka our High Performers group) are probably not who you’d expect; e.g., none of the top 3 rated vendors on these specific capabilities are in the top 3 from a market share perspective.
  2. Insights … as well as market intelligence that will likely make you say to yourself “Hmmm, I haven’t thought of that.” As just one example, there are very logical reasons why a number of the 9 HRMS vendors covered selected ‘predicting flight or retention risk’ for their initial foray into this product investment area, but also some not-so-obvious reasons. Among the latter ilk, the “consequences of being wrong” are probably not as severe as with a number of other examples of predictive HCM use cases (actual and hypothetical) highlighted in the Report.
  3. Recommendations … including why investments from both vendors and customers in this exciting product innovation area should arguably be ratcheted up, and ways that both parties can do that and start reaping corresponding benefits while proactively managing risks and costs.

Bottom Line: This first-of-its-kind industry research from HfS will shine a bright light on one of the most promising advances to hit HR Tech since on-premise, client-server deployments went the way of the dinosaur

Yes, the costs to hop onboard are not insignificant, but you can perhaps start with an economy ticket (modest investment) and then go further into this realm when business impacts are obvious. In time, HfS believes they will be, and early adopters often hold onto competitive advantage once they have it.

Why the Time is Right to Evaluate Predictive Capabilities in HCM Systems
January 31, 2017 | Steve Goldberg


Every CHRO focus group or survey these days identifies “enhancing analytics capabilities” or “crafting a people analytics roadmap” as a top initiative. This, of course includes analytics of a predictive nature, as these generally have the highest impact. It’s now time-critical for both HR execs and HCM solution providers to think about what type of technology capabilities are needed to support these initiatives, which, if successful, clearly help make the case for HR having that proverbial seat.

So we’ve decided to put a stake in the ground and evaluate what most enterprise software vendors are describing as their “early” capabilities and customer experiences in this area.

Many HRMS (employee life cycle) vendors cut their predictive analytics teeth around the retention risk area. Some of those providers have progressed to predicting potential to succeed in different roles or factors that impact employee engagement and productivity. A few now forecast labor and skill set gaps and use that intelligence to optimize work schedules. One or two HCM solutions now even highlight potential compliance risks and recommend training to mitigate those risks or offer other examples of prescriptive guidance.

Is this the bulk of what HR leaders are looking for? Hardly, as any HR Tech vendor will tell you: “They are just getting started!”

One HR tech vendor exec we spoke with for this research said, “the ultimate vision here is to predict all employee-related outcomes that materially impact business performance, understand why the outcome is likely, communicate why this insight matters, and determine and pursue the key actions needed.” As a destination point, it’s probably better than most.

2 key indications the time is now for getting this research out there:

  • A few of the larger HCM solution vendors weren’t in such a hurry to discuss their predictive capabilities. Yes, this can happen with emerging technology areas; plus getting a read on “customer and market readiness” perhaps requires soothsayers as much as product managers.
  • HR buyers’ interests seem to be out in front of what a large swath of the HR tech vendor community is delivering when it comes to these capabilities. This is not a dynamic observed very often. Vendors have historically done a lot of the pulling in this relationship.

Finding the “homeostasis point” where HR tech customers and vendors can both see and derive business benefit from moving the ball forward on HCM predictive capabilities keeps us moving forward with this research, underlining its sense of purpose -- and urgency!

Bottom Line:  The value of predictive capabilities in major HR tech platforms, and understanding how providers’ plans are meshing (or not) with customer needs, will be covered in this first-of-its-kind research to be published in mid-February. We at HfS look forward to generating some lively discussions.

HR Best Practice? Yeah, Right
January 25, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

A memorable exchange I once had with a former HR colleague went like this:

Me:  “When Workforce Planning accounts for cascading gaps because you filled some jobs from within, that’s commonly viewed as HR best practice.” Colleague:  “Oh really,  Well I think best practice is simply the practice that works best!” 

Borrowing a line from the classic movie Cool Hand Luke … his statement “helped get my mind right.” 

So one suggestion coming out of my initiation into the world of practical HR thinking: Whenever you hear someone say: It’s “HR best practice”, perhaps you should ask if they’re following a blueprint crafted specifically for their organization and business context. And if they’re not, odds are that particular practice will come under some scrutiny soon, and perhaps shortly thereafter, the individual that architected the practice.

Many of us were a bit taken aback when we heard highly regarded Zappos was generously paying new hires to quit if they were dissatisfied, and not just because it was likely deemed more cost-effective in the long run.  It was mostly because the company’s brand is totally about “best customer experience imaginable” and this is so much more than a tag line.  One of countless examples is that their customer service reps never use scripts.  Genius, common sense, or both.  You decide, but also think about whether this would work for a phone company.  Fat chance as they say.

 As With New Employees, Best is Mostly About Fit

Elsewhere, a number of well-known large companies including LinkedIn, Virgin America, Best Buy and Netflix have started experimenting with unlimited paid time off. The rationale: time away from the job helped with employee productivity; e.g., by avoiding burn-out. Beyond that benefit, trusting employees not to take advantage of the company can make them feel – and therefore act -- like part owners of the business.  This practice worked for these employers, particularly when employees and managers discussed adequate coverage for key duties in their absence, but clearly it’s not a universally great fit. Consider the impact on an impending re-start of a nuclear power plant if even one senior-level nuclear or safety engineer was in urgent need of some downtime. “Adequate coverage” is in the eye of the beholder. 

Outside the realm of potential life and death consequences, however, innovative crowd-funding company Kickstarter abandoned its unlimited vacation policy when they thought it was sending some type of message (subliminal?) to employees to take less time off. So a creative HR practice designed to minimize burn-out was actually burning people out!

As in the aforementioned exchange with that colleague, best practice does indeed come down to what works in a particular business context; and when you’re talking about a new HR practice under consideration, desired corporate culture might be the #1 element to focus on. In high-tech startups, a very informal, “we’re one family” culture and typically doling out some equity are used to attract top talent. Arguably it’s also to compensate for a lower salary initially. By way of contrast, when was the last time you saw someone’s canine companion taking a stroll inside a blue-chip investment advisory firm?

Bottom Line: HR practices are “best” when they support both a company’s culture and its workforce strategies designed to create a great customer experience.

Let’s not be wedded to any particular best practice within the HR / HCM domain, as best practices are really tools to effectively manage an ever-changing operating landscape.