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    Entries in HR Tech (236)


    New Technology for Human Resources

    Later today I am heading to Washington DC to attend and give a brief presentation on HR Technology to the WTPF - The Business Forum for Washington area Human Resources Professionals,  at their annual SOARS day.

    I am really excited and appreciative for the opportunity to present, the only downer is that the WTPF event is also the start of the HR Technology Conference in Chicago.  (Anyone looking for me in Chicago, I promise I will get there on Wednesday night).

    The subject of my talk at WTPF is of course HR Technology, and rather than bore the audience with tales of delivery models, maintenance fees, and competency modeling across talent processes, I thought I would talk about some interesting, new, and yes fun technologies that HR professionals might use in their own departments, and broader organizations.

    Some of the technologies I will touch on during the session:

    Sociacast - an activity streams tool for the enterprise, similar to FriendFeed but not as nerdy sounding

    Socialtext - wiki-based platform that has expanded into micro-messaging

    Shareflow -  a Google Wave-like tool for aggregating and collaboration

    UserVoice - A classic customer and employee feedback tool that is easily embedded on websites

    Rypple - tool for getting and receiving feedback, built around the idea of improving individual performance

    VanillaForums - simple forum solution to capture ideas and comments from employees with a minimum of complexity

    Ideascale - harness the ideas and innovations from your employees, allow the 'best' ideas to surface

    And of course what 'new Tech' presentation for an HR group would be completed without mentioning social networking, so I will give the requisite 'Twitter is fantastic' bit.

    If you are at the WTPF event, be sure to say hello. Many thanks to the WTPF for having me, the last time I was asked to speak at such a classy event it was my brother's wedding, and let's just say that speech did not go over too well.


    The Week to Talk Technology

    In the HR world, this is the week the Technology gets top billing.

    The HR Technology Conference in Chicago runs from this Wednesday, September 30 through Friday, October 2.

    I will be attending with the aim of seeing as many interesting technologies as I can, talking with tech leaders and visionaries about the current state and future directions of workforce technology, and arm wrestle a few folks to come on the HR Happy Hour show.

    Mark Stelzer at Inflexion Advisors and Laurie Ruettimann at PunkRockHr offered there takes on what they are looking for and expecting here and here, so I figured I would offer my two cents:

    I am offended by massive technology projects that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, take a year to implement, and leave the users angry, frustrated, and dreading their forced interactions with the systems.

    I am deeply offended by massive technology projects that cost millions of dollars, take many years to implement, and cripple organizations under their weight for years to come.

    I want to see solutions that can do the following:

    1. Solve an actual problem that matters to the actual employees and users of the technology.

    2. Do it quickly, efficiently, and gasp - in a manner not reminiscent of a root canal.

    3. Work and work well in the shortest possible time from when they are purchased. 

    4. Support not only the massive, global Fortune 1000 company, but the 117-person small business that  has 1.5 HR employees buried under piles of paper. I want to know what your solution offers them.

    5. Show how what you make empowers employees, contributes to their individual success, and helps enable them to perform.

    Show me all that, and you have a fantastic technology.

    I look forward to the show, and meeting lots of folks for the first time. If you see me there, be sure to say hello.


    Why Technology?

    I am getting ready to head to Chicago later this week for the HR Technology Conference, a three day extravaganza of all things workplace and technology and I started thinking about the reasons why technology is implemented in organizations, and the key drivers for the executives that write the checks and give the go-ahead for big tech projects.

    Cost reduction - Process 'XYZ' costs us too much today, lets apply a technology solution that will reduce 'XYZ' cost.  A solid reason in many cases, but if cost reduction is the sole or primary objective of the technology project, it will have limited effect, and it certainly is not all that interesting.  Lots of outsourcing deals are done on cost reduction alone. So HR Technology vendors that pitch primarily on cost reduction may be successful, but they too probably are not all that interesting. Have you met very many really fascinating accountants?

    Compliance - HR knows all about the demands (certainly in the USA) around compliance.  Whether it is payroll, benefits administration, EEOC regulations in the recruitment process, it goes on and on. And truly it seems there will be a continuously expanding set of demands on HR for 'required' reporting and disclosure.  Compliance sucks, it is a pain in the neck, and your CEO demands that HR places a high priority on it, since he/she does not want to end up on a perp walk one day. Compliance is REALLY important, but also not terribly interesting.

    Efficiency - Spin this as 'improving productivity' or 'doing more with less'. It usually comes down to this type of discussion : We have to perform activity 'ABC', and it takes too long, we make too many errors, or not enough employees actually complete the process.  A great example in HR is the annual employee performance review. There are plenty of technology solutions that can be applied to performance management issues to increase participation, ensure consistency, and speed up the process. Certainly these are all important, and if you believe in the strategic value of the process itself, then clearly simply improvement to the process can drive organizational value.  Vendors that offer technologies to support process efficiency typically also enable the next and more important reason for implementing technology.

    Performance - I am not just talking about individual employee performance (although that is the critical element that supports everything else), but rather overall organizational performance, and the support necessary to execute the business strategy. Technologies that assist HR in attracting the best talent, ensuring that employees are aligned with and fairly measured on critical organizational objectives, have access to great resources for training and development, and finally drive compensation and rewards appropriately are probably what most great HR leaders are looking for.  In the last few years technologies that also facilitate, enhance, and improve employee 'connection' and workplace collaboration are on the radar of HR leaders.  These technologies, when chosen carefully, applied creatively, and managed effectively can lead us to the final aspect of technology in the workplace.

    Fun - How many workplace technologies just suck the life out of employees? From bad interfaces, to redundant steps, and arcane language bad HR technology can drag down the organization.  The best and most exciting new technologies do more than automate, they improve and add value, AND engage users on a whole new level.  Technologies that benefit individual employees as well as the company are the ones that are the most interesting and compelling today. Work has changed, no one (hardly) stays in one place very long, tools that employees see as enhancing their personal effectiveness, skills, and value are in many ways the future of HR Technology.  Systems that move beyond 'Doing my job better, faster, cheaper' to 'Making me better, smarter, and more connected' are the ones I want to see at HR Technology this week. What is more fun than growing as a person and as a professional?

    If you are at the HR Technology Conference this week, be sure to find me, I look forward to meeting as many people as I can.


    Six Million versus Eighteen Thousand

    According the the US Small Business Administration in 2006 (the last full year data is available) in the United States:

    Number of firms with more than 500 employees: 18,000

    Number of firms with less than 500 employees: 6,000,000

    Think about it, there over 300 times as many small businesses in the US as large ones.

    In the HR Technology space at times the news and commentary tends to be dominated by the vendors that cater the the top end of the market, those 18,000 or so big firms that have the most employees, the biggest budgets, and (typically) the most hierarchical and elaborate structures and decision processes.  I get that, it makes sense for vendors, consultants, analysts, and pundits to chase that market, heck, that is where all the money is. I have spent most of my professional career in that space as well, either working for giant companies, or working for myself and consulting at giant companies.

    But I think today the small market is really the place to be.

    To me, inside the six million small companies is where the the most exciting innovations are going to happen. Flickr - The Geekery

    And the technologies and vendors that are most interesting to me are the ones that are accessible, lightweight, and inexpensive enough to be in the reach of say a 150 person company with one or two HR professionals on staff.

    Solutions like Rypple, The Resumator, Socialcast, EffortlessHR, PbWorks, Shareflow, Kindling, and Brainpark to me are incredibly interesting and dynamic. These solutions (and scores of others) can be brought to bear by the average HR professional in the average small organization and can make an almost immediate and important impact.

    I care about what is going on with the Oracle, SAP, and Workday.  I'd like to see Oracle Fusion delivered sometime before I retire. When and if the entrenched ERP vendors fully embrace SaaS and produce solutions that are more flexible, easier to manage, and are less reviled by their giant corporate customers are very important issues for the overall HR Technology industry. I get that.

    But to me the real fun is watching what the new breed of HR Technology vendors are bringing to the table, and how the small business can exploit these tools to maybe one day rise from the ranks of the six million to the eighteen thousand. Personally, I enjoy connecting with and trying to assist HR pros at these smaller organizations.  Ironically, while there are scores of technology solutions out there that cater to the small organization, there are very few independent sources for unbiased advice and assistance with small business focused HR Technology.

    What do you think?

    Is it more fun to be one of six million, with a real chance to make an impact, or to be one cog in the wheel at a giant organization, but with at least a chance to be a star on the big stage?


    The Essence of Technology

    I saw a post on the User Interface Engineering blog about the 'Essence' of software program design. The key concept in thinking about the essence of a system is an understanding that a program is more than just processes and widgets. From the article:

    Interaction with a product is more than how it’s used or how it behaves. It’s about a connection between two sides. One side is the customer, but the other side is much more than a product or service. To many people, the character and essence of a product and its company are identical. So, what is the essence of your product?

    The post is in the context of software design but I think it also could certainly apply at a macro level to an organization or HR department, and I  suppose also at a micro level, to an individual's 'essence' of what they offer in the workplace. In HR Technology I think these concepts are especially important, as HR solutions typically impact the entire organization, not just the 'back-office' made up of power users.

    So how can a designer of HR software, or an HR Technology professionals in an organization 'loosen up' and show a bit of humanity? 

    Humor - Can you inject a bit of humor into the product, in the design, or in the user interface? If you can't or are not willing to really strive for humor, can you at least work towards a design that attempts to incorporate some fun into the experience? For powers users that spend the majority of their workday using the system, or for line managers that may only interact with the technology periodically, injecting Flickr - brian corsan element of fun to the process and design can go a long way towards increased satisfaction and adoption. While it usually is not appropriate to copy design and process flow from popular consumer sites, at least review the ones you enjoy using the most, and see what elements or attributes you may be able to re-purpose into your HR Technology solution.

    Personality - It has been said that for software companies the culture of an organization permeates the software the company designs and markets. Since so many organizations purchase HR Technology solutions from the same dozen or so vendors, how can you ensure that the design and look of the solutions you deploy to your employees adequately reflect your culture? Take a look at a few large company recruiting sites, chances are you will find some that look and feel almost exactly the same since the largest companies tend to all buy ATS solutions from one of the same half dozen vendors.

    We did an an experiment in HR Technology class that showed the job search pages for Neiman-Marcus and Delta Dental are almost exactly the same and many more of these examples can be found. Don't settle for the vendor 'template' unless you are comfortable with a bland interface that lots of other companies use.

    Emotion - How does your technology solution actually make your users feel? Angry, confused, frustrated, or perhaps bored? Users want to feel good about their work, and for many information workers the way the systems they must interact with all day are a primary driver of this feeling.  Strip away all unnecessary elements that can detract from the user's ability to complete the task, get the information, contribute to the knowledge store, etc.  If possible, allow more experienced users the ability to bypass 'extra' steps, and help text or tutorials once they have demonstrated a level of proficiency.

    Connection - The very best designed technologies can foster a sense of connection between users and the organization.  This can be done with the incorporation of 'social' tools in enterprise systems, (tools like instant messaging, tagging, or real-time collaboration) are one way to develop connection, in this example with other people.  Alternatively, a sense of connection to the system can be enhanced by empowering  the users with increased ability to customize the interface according to their own needs, presenting lists of frequently used functions in more prominent positions, and giving more visible and auditory feedback throughout the process. Think about popular consumer sites like Amazon or Ebay, that 'remember' what you have been interested in in the past, and automatically present you similar choices on your next visit. 

    Many HR Technology solutions are getting more sophisticated, fancy, and full of the latest in design elements to make the interface more attractive, functional, and fun. That generally is a good thing.  But that may not be always what is needed, as many data intensive, high-volume functions might be better served with a simply, bare-bones design reminiscent of the old green screen days.  The key point is to evaluate the HR Technology systems you use, or are considering in the context of who will actually use them, and the impact the design will have on these users, whether they be managers, staff, or candidates.

    What great HR Technology design examples should I be checking out?  Hit me up in the comments.