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    I'm an HR Rock Star? Really?

    Well, the Creative Chaos Consultant seems to think so. Flickr - themechanism

    Head over the the CCC blog to see my interview on HR Technology, teaching HR, The HR Happy Hour Show, with a bit of barbecue mixed in.

    Thanks, CCC for the interview and for putting me the the 'Rock Star' category.

    Hmm, maybe I need to don the costume and makeup like Gene here from now on....


    Let the users help themselves

    If you are in a mid to large size organization that has implemented either Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, targeted Human Capital Management (HCM) applications, or really any enterprise-wide IT solution it will not have taken long to realize shortly after implementation you were faced with a rash of questions, issues, and problems that were discovered by the end users of your applications.Flickr - Jaydot

    I know, you prepared detailed end-user instruction manuals, or even video tutorials.  You held numerous forums, demonstrations, and hands-on training sessions.  Maybe you even anticipated and posted a 'Frequently asked Questions' section on the company intranet.

    You thought you had all the possible scenarios covered in your rigorous system and user acceptance testing.

    But of course, once the system was subject to more widespread use, beyond the project team, conference room pilot, and the pilot department or division, you started running into issues, questions, bugs, and use cases that you had not anticipated, nor tested for prior to go-live.

    And so, like in almost every major enterprise implementation before yours, you feverishly spent the first few days/weeks/months getting patches, updating user procedures, adding more and more items the the FAQ list, and generally fighting fires to keep the system running, and close the books/pay the employees/send the files to the bank, etc.  Honestly, even the very best implementations that I have worked on have to go through this insane stage, where the hours are long, the list of issues is enormous, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems very distant.

    But eventually, the issues die down, the urgent problems are resolved, and soon, you as the implementor arrive at that place where you are sort of in limbo, kind of on standby. Not implementing anything new, because the organization is still trying to digest all the changes from the go-live, and still dealing with issues and questions from the user community as they arise.

    After a while the questions and end user feedback starts to morph from 'This does not work' type questions, to 'Can the system do this' or 'I wish we had the ability to do that' type inquiries.  And typically as the system gets rolled out to more and more users and locations, and members of the project 'core team' either leave (in the case of consultants), or move on to other projects, the connection between HR or IT and the end user community tends to weaken, and at some point the questions, problems and issues start to increase.  Attrition, job rotation, and normal turnover all conspire against you, the 'super' users you could rely on may no longer be there, and soon you find your user guides, FAQs, and tutorials are not enough to keep up with the increased number of questions and issues.

    And if you are like most organizations that I have been around, you respond by updating the manuals, FAQs, and tutorials. Maybe you hold more training sessions for the new users. You address the help desk calls one at a time, until you feel like you have stabilized the system once more. 

    But what if instead of repeating the same pattern over and over again, of users finding issues, and asking questions of the project team or IT, you give them the platform and opportunity to help each other?

    Instead of each individual question or problem  flowing from the user  to the central help desk, or support analyst, and back again to the user, usually via e-mail, what if you had the users enter all the questions in a shared question and answer forum, or even a wiki?

    Larger organizations have hundreds, if not thousands of users, the chances are pretty good that most specific issues have been previously encountered by someone else in the user community.  Creating user forums with different sections for the various components of the application (Payroll, HRIS, Self-Service, etc.), that are accessible to all users, searchable, and monitored by the support team can be a great way to reduce time to resolution, lower support costs, and build a stronger, shareable body of organizational knowledge that potentially will also ease the transition of new users of the system. Additionally, you can include specific sections for enhancement requests, or for desired changes to the system or the underlying business processes.

    This 'users supporting users' model has had quite a bit of success and publicity in the consumer spaces, most typically with tech goods and services like computers, home electronics, and popular consumer software.  Why not leverage the concepts with your internal enterprise users?

    Have you deployed end user support forums for your community of users yet?  I would love to hear some case studies.


    Social Network Analysis and HR

    Note : I decided to include some content and discussion questions on Social Network Analysis in my HR Technology Class for the first time, and as I was writing the introduction to the topic, it seemed only sensible that I post it all here as well.


    What is Social Network Analysis?

    In the last 10 years or so scores of research papers and several books have been written on the subject of Social Network Analysis (SNA), which simply stated is the study of how information flows in organizations, with whom are employees most connected, to whom do they turn for information or advice, and identifies the roles individuals and departments play in the overall social network of the organization.

    It is a way of quantifying the answers to questions like:

    "When faced with a complex problem, who do you typically ask for assistance?"

    "Who would you turn to when discussing a new or innovative project?"

     "Who are you most confident will give you accurate and truthful information?"

    Why study Social Network Analysis?

    Why is Social Network Analysis important for the HR professional?  To help answer that question, lets take a look at two charts.

    First, the organization chart of a division of a typical company:

    Source - Saba/HCI - Tapping the Power of Social Networking to Manage Talent


     And then the Social Network Analysis diagram for that same division. For example purposes, assume that this is an 'Information' network analysis. That is the connections in the diagram represent requests for information needed to perform a person's job requirements.

    Source - Saba/HCI - Tapping the Power of Social Networking to Manage Talent

    The key conclusion from the analysis of the SNA diagram is that while employee Mitchell occupies a relatively low position on the 'official' organization chart, she is central and highly connected in the SNA diagram. Many, many employees turn to her for information in the course of performing their jobs. Generally speaking, Mitchell is more more crucial to the overall efficiency and operations of the organization than say, Avery who is higher up on the organization chart, but on the periphery of the SNA diagram. This is just one, really simple example of the value and insight that you can gain from Social Network Analysis, but even this simple example is powerful, and helps illustrate the importance of SNA to the organization.

    How can HR leverage Social Network Analysis?

    There are several important aspects of Social Network Analysis that can be leveraged by Human Resources departments.

    1. Organizational Design - If the SNA reveals a lack of communication and information flow due to too strict adherence on formal organizational hierarchy, some re-design may be in order to try and help facilitate more cross-organization communication

    2. Succession Planning - SNA can assist tremendously in the identification of key employees, ones that either have a central, highly connected role in the network, or that serve as the primary or only 'connector' between different departments or offices. HR would likely want to take steps to insure that an adequate succession strategy is in place for these individuals, who are not necessarily 'high' on the official organization chart.

    3. Job Description modification - sometimes SNA reveals certain individuals are 'too connected', meaning there are far too many demands on their time, and too many other folks in the organization looking for their insights.  Many times this leads to bottlenecks, that can disrupt the flow of information and ultimately detract from productivity. If this situation occurs, HR can assist in an intervention to modify the position roles and responsibilities, removing or re-aligning certain duties to promote a better balance, and hopefully reduce the information bottlenecks.

    4. Training and Development - SNA can help identify and analyze the makeup of the networks of the organization's top performers.  It could be that the structure or patterns of high-performer networks could be replicated to others in the organization, potentially leading to increased overall personal and network effectiveness. HR can be instrumental in developing learning opportunities to help educate the workforce on these approaches that top performers utilize.

    5. Internal Social Networking technology - Conducting a thorough SNA for an organization typically reveals areas that need improvement, either a need to increase collaboration and communication overall, desire for better inter-departmental processes, or more widespread organizational changes. Internal or corporate social networking technology is one tool that can be brought to bear to attempt to address these challenges.  Platforms ranging from internal microblogging, blogging, wikis, activity streaming, or more robust platforms that encompass all of these functions are becoming more common in organizations, and HR departments, armed with information from the SNA, should be in an excellent position to drive these efforts.

    Additional Resources

    If you are interested in reading more on Social Network Analysis, I recommend the following two books

    The Hidden Power of Social Networks - Rob Cross and Andrew Parker

    Driving Results Through Social Networks - Rob Cross and Robert Thomas

    In addition, Jon Ingham at the Strategic HCM blog and Mark Bennett at Talented Apps frequently write on these topics.

    The topic of Social Network Analysis, while not exactly new, is getting more and more attention, and new tools and technologies to assess and improve internal networks are emerging all the time.  It is an important area for the HR leader of today to become more familiar with, and to leverage in their quest to improve organizational performance.


    HR Happy Hour - Episode 5 - Why HR?


    Why HR?

    Why did HR folks choose to go into HR in the first place, and why do they stay?

    Any why is almost every HR department something like 75% female? (Not complaining, just saying).

    These questions and more will be answered on the next Episode of the HR Happy Hour set for Friday, July 17, 2009 at a special time 8:00 PM EDT, 5:00 PM PDT.

    This week Shauna Moerke (your favorite HR Minion) and I will take your calls, address these burning questions, and hopefully have a few laughs.  There are no 'official' guests booked, so plan on calling in and bringing the knowledge.

    To listen to the show live go here - HR Happy Hour - Episode 5

    The call-in number is 646-378-1086, if you want to come on the air, be sure to press '1' on your phone.

    The show can also be listened to live using the widget below, and shortly after the live broadcast will be available for download and on iTunes.


    I hope you can join us for 'Why HR'?


    Why is it so hard to apply?

    I was not planning to write another post on online application processes and Applicant Tracking Systems, but yesterday a post by Laurie Ruettimann at PunkRockHR (and the ensuing comments) on applicant frustration with online corporate application processes I thought calls for a more lengthy comment than I cared to place on PunkRockHR.

    Besides, I did not want to cloud up the lively debate going on about which place was worse to work for Taco Bell or Del Taco. Flickr - Majiscup - Drink for Design

    The gist of the issue is candidate frustration with the tedious online application processes of most companies, and the fact that in a wide-ranging job search, the job-seeker is frustrated entering more or less the same information over and over again (in slightly different formats) on numerous corporate job sites.

    Laurie expressed the desire for a sort of 'universal candidate profile' that job-seekers could set up once, and leverage throughout most online application processes, perhaps using Facebook Connect or LinkedIn in some fashion for authentication.

    It is a great concept, and I'd like to offer a few reasons why a 'universal profile' does not yet exist. By the way, I do know about ResumePal, which does appear to have most of the features that were discussed, but has not really gained much headway in the market.

    Barriers to the Universal Candidate Profile

    1. It already exists, it's called LinkedIn

    LinkedIn has about 21 Million US based profiles. How could a new 'Universal Profile' platform get very far competing with what LinkedIn already offers job seekers.  Free access, ability to connect with thousands of recruiters and HR professionals, (the Boolean Black Belt says 5% of all US profiles are recruiters or HR), networking with affinity groups, and lots of job opportunities listed throughout. Every recruiter I know uses LinkedIn to source and research candidates.  I am not saying LinkedIn is perfect, or even easy for a less tech-savvy candidate to navigate, but it has enormous size and influence certainly scaring off potential competitors. 

    LinkedIn certainly has the muscle to get behind initiatives to build out its profile to support more of the concepts of the Universal Profile, but that may not really be in their strategic plans.  One commented on the PunkRockHR post correctly pointed out the ATS vendor JobVite does allow candidates to include their LinkedIn profile on their job application, but that is only a benefit if you are lucky enought to be applying for a job with a JobVite customer. And, the company still will typically require a resume, cover letter and other fields above and beyond the LinkedIn profile.

    2. Attracting enough candidates to a new Universal Profile

    Face it we are all pretty much overwhelmed with online accounts, networks, user names and passwords. Without an incredibly compelling argument, (one click to find a job listing, two clicks to apply to any company), a new Universal Profile System is going to have major problems attracting enough candidates to survive. No candidate will want to invest much time and energy creating and maintaining another online profile without a realistic expectation of some unique benefits.

    3. Integration with corporate Applicant Tracking Systems

    This may be the single largest barrier to widespread adoption of a Universal Candidate Profile.  There may be 150 - 200 different ATS on the market.  Granted, the Fortune 1000 probably cluster around the largest 10 or so vendors (Taleo, PeopleSoft, SAP, Kenexa, Oracle, etc.), but realistically a small percentage of job seekers target only super large firms.  As Meg Bear pointed out in a comment to the original post, HR-XML standards have been developed to facilitate this process, but for numerous reasons have not really gained much momentum in this area.

    Corporate ATS range from really, really simple and straightforward, to incredibly complex.  Developing a standard methodology to allow all these disparate ATS to connect to the Universal Profile and have the Profile automatically populate the necessary information on the Corporate ATS is a daunting proposition. Again, ResumePal seeks to solve this, but as yet has not seemed to grab the attention of the market.

    4. Corporate Motivation

    This is closely related to Reason 3.  Essentially, the vast majority of corporations would not place 'Modify or upgrade the ATS to support the Universal Profile' very high on a list of HR Technology initiatives. In a labor market where applicants for most positions are plentiful, many HR, recruiters, and hiring managers are already drowning in resumes.  Projects that can be partially interpreted as leading to even more applications, are not likely to be well received in corporations. In fact, I have heard more than a few hiring managers profess that they like to keep the online application process cumbersome, as applicants that 'stick it out' and complete the process demonstrate some level of commitment or desire to want to work for the company.  In a way, the difficult application process is the first (and sometimes only) pre-screening that takes place. Until the economy improves, I would not expect corporations to be all that interested in the Universal Profile.

     5. Compliance Reporting

    This may seem like a minor issue, (and one that candidates certainly don't care about), but almost all US companies have strict EEO and affirmative action related compliance reports that must be fild periodically. Applications that flow from the Universal Profile to the corporate ATS would likely to be augmented or enhanced in some manner to facilitate the preparation of these reports.  And that is not really something candidates would want to do, they have already completed the profile, they would be unlikely to then go to the ATS to fill in yet more data.

    These are just a few of the reasons that came to mind today when reading the original post and comments.

    I will have to write a follow-up post that attempts to describe what I think might be a better way forward for applicants and corporations alike, but honestly with the complexity and sheer number of ATS on the market, and the above described corporate barriers, there are no simple answers.

    Do you have any ideas to improve the experience at the macro level for applicants and corporations?