HR & Innovation

Lots of innovation is popping up in HR. But, the innovation may be springing up because of the actions of job seekers and employees but not the creators of HR software. In this four part series, we look at the impact these innovations are having on HR processes; how mobile, social, video and other tech is changing HR processes; and, what vendors need to bring to the upcoming HR Technology Conference in October.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

Part 1 of 4

The old HR Processes are irrelevant, long live the new, varied, dynamic processes


Some of the most amazing revolutions in software seem to occur in the HR arena (yes, human resources). That sector alone sported more cloud-based applications sooner than maybe any other. It also was where a number of multi-tenant applications debuted, too.

Innovation is changing though. Virtually every technology sector has been challenged to adapt to cloud, social and mobile capabilities. Now, technology firms must adapt to a second trinity comprised of analytics, big data and in-memory database computing. I even see two more trinities coming over the horizon, too.

With these changes, we’ll see most every business process impacted. I covered the implications of these changes in an address two weeks ago in Washington, D.C. as part of the American Accounting Association conference. But, for now, let’s focus on HR (and not accounting).

HR processes are where you see the impact of many of these changes. Don’t believe me? Look at how a process like campus recruiting looked a few years ago. 

Traditional Campus Recruiting Process Flow
Traditional Campus Recruiting Process Flow - Courtesy of Baker Tilly

Students still signed up on paper-based interview schedules. Employers may have pre-screened them. Employers showed up on campus to conduct first-round interviews. Then, employers disappeared for a few days/weeks while they contemplated which lucky recruits would get a coveted invitation for an in-office interview. More paper, more interviews and more travel ensued. Eventually, someone might get hired and some data got keyed into an HR system.

I've documented a number of business processes (not just HR) and can state that technology is changing/impacting most every part of every business. Now, the campus recruiting process looks like something no old-school HR executive can recognize. 

Process Picture2
Campus Recruiting Process Today - Courtesy of Baker Tilly

Students are using all kinds of non-HR applications to see what their social presence contains, what their friends think of potential employers, what interview questions other interviewees got, etc. The new process flow is absolutely powered with lots of mobile applications powered by cloud-services and knowledge rich external data.

Employers are using a lot of non-HR/ERP tech, too. They’re scanning Facebook to see what each candidate is all about. They’re looking at how socially connected the candidates are and whether or not the candidates have posted questionable content or behavior online. They use virtual interviewing technology like HireVue and skip the campus interviews altogether.


Lots of external innovation is inserting itself into HR processes and businesses can’t stop it from happening. Like in the campus recruiting example, people/recruits will continue to use the technology and information sources they want to use. It’s the BYOD phenomena on steroids. Businesses think they can force employees not to use social media at work or only use a BlackBerry instead of an iPhone. They are fighting a losing, maybe unwinnable, battle. Customers, suppliers, job seekers and more will keep introducing scads of new technologies, new data sources and new applications to businesses.

So, when I attend this year’s HR Technology Conference in Chicago, I will do so very differently than in previous years.  I really like this show because there usually are 200-300 HR vendors present demonstrating their wares.  I generally get briefed at this show by 1-2 dozen vendors every year but instead of them driving the content of the conversation, I want to turn the tables. See Oliver Marks piece regarding the show. 

If a vendor wants to brief me, then I want to hear about how they are embracing the new HR, social, mobile, analytic and other technologies being spawned daily. I want them to bring me old and new process maps to show exactly how their product fits in the new world. I want to know how their solution will remain relevant.

I don’t need to know the following though: “Brian, we just hired a new sales executive for the Mid-Atlantic region responsible for our vending machine sub-vertical”  or “We now support a 5-digit pay deduction field” or, the too common “Hey, come check out our new user interface”.

To help that process along, I’m providing a fair bit of detail in the subsequent posts in this series. Hopefully, these ideas will inspire companies and bring excitement and energy to the posts I write after this show.

 (please keep reading for #2 of 4)


Part 2

Where’s the Video in HR?

We need a new word to describe the cell phone and smart phone. A telephone is essentially a device that facilitates a verbal, non-visual conversation between two or more people. Smart phones can add data and computing to the mix. But the modern, mobile device, when powered by a 4G or better network, can do full motion video to full motion video meetings.

Business processes were never designed for the video world. I want to hold my mobile/smart device in front of a misbehaving washing machine and have a technician with the manufacturer see, hear and fully understand the totally of this machine’s failure. I want that person to walk me through the repair I should make. And, if I need to, I’ll move the phone so the remote tech can get a better view. Customer service processes are not ready for video as is much of retail. But, they’ll change pretty soon or fade into the sunset.

In HR, I’m not sure HR people or vendors are ready for video either. HireVue has an interviewing app that job seekers use. A number of questions are given to a job seeker who then uses a webcam to respond. The process makes short work for both the employer and job seeker. It’s efficient, to be sure.

But, couldn’t and shouldn’t video be used in performance evaluations? How about in exit interviews?

Video is present in some remote learning applications but it seems that video is kind of pigeon-holed there. Video will become much bigger in HR soon but are you anticipating it?

Is your HR department ready for the day an employee records some miscreant’s harassment on their cell phone? Wouldn’t you rather have them upload the evidence to your HR software and not to YouTube? Oh, that’s right, there is no place in most HR software to receive, catalog, process, etc. video like this.

Why are job descriptions in text format only? Wouldn’t workers find a video version more engaging, more useful?

So, for all you vendors coming to the HR Technology Conference, tell me where video fits in your product roadmap and your new visions for HR processes.

(please continue to part 3)

Part 3

The slow moving progress in HR analytics


Analytics in HR are a big discussion item but their development to date is clearly still in Version 1.0 land. Some solutions are less evolved than that and some show promise moving forward.

To begin, some firms have the cheek to call a 9-cell grid that compares performance to salaries their ‘proof positive’ that they have an analytics application. I’m not impressed with that on several fronts.

First, the ‘application’ is something businesses have done for years on paper or with a spreadsheet. Second, the ‘application’ is relying on transaction data found within the HR system. I call that basic reporting not analytics. Third, the ‘application’ fails to include information from other, probably non-structured, data sources like social media.

Let’s run with this further. If I want to know who TRULY is a high performer, wouldn’t I want to look at their social relevance score/map? Could it be that the most sought after person in the firm for answers, content, etc. is someone whose boss does not recognize their total value to the company? Or, why doesn’t the ‘application’ look at what outsiders say about this employee? Is this the person that key suppliers want to collaborate with?

Analytics that only look at existing, mostly compliance or accounting transaction data, miss a lot and cannot provide real insights. And, it’s INSIGHT that analytics should be delivering.

Previously, I’ve written about a couple of HR analytics firms. Visier is one.   Evolv-OnDemand is another  . I’ve discussed Ultimate, too.   Another firm is Talent Analytics.

Talent Analytics is exactly what its name suggests. They are a Boston-based firm with key personnel from the excellent supply chain analytics firm OpenRatings (now owned by Dun & Bradstreet).  Talent Analytics seeks out companies that already possess lots of quantitative data on its workforce (think assessments, salary data, bonuses, social relevance, etc.).

What makes their approach different is that they do their own assessments of workers/executives and compare these insights with the HR data firms already possess. They aren't just trying to crunch existing HR and ERP data to death in the hopes of maybe/possibly turning up a new insight. No, they bring their own assessments and analytics to the mix.


They might discover, for example, that the reason some employees are less engaged, thinking of leaving, etc. is that they really are a better fit in a different position instead of the one they're in now. Most analytics products I've seen can't do that because they are simply designed to plod through pre-existing data or because the analytic tool provider lacks the imagination and innovation to build more than a tool set.


As HR/HC analytics continue to evolve, the providers of these solutions MUST bring something new and additional to the table besides a technology that just crunches data. Whether it's a proprietary assessment exam (like Talent Analytics), third party data or aggregated benchmarks, truly rich and powerful analytics are less likely to emerge with a tool that gets its data exclusively from the usual suspect data sources.


The evolution in this case comes from a vendor moving the center point of HR analytics beyond that where many vendors see it. A new perspective is essential in innovation and in seeing HR problems in a new, more informed light.


If you think this isn't such a big deal, pay heed to this: 55 consulting firms use this software at clients as it helps them complete change management, M&A integration, restructuring and other people-based projects. For a small firm like Talent Analytics to have quietly collected an impressive roster of high-end consultancies as its partners (and so early in its life cycle) is either a testimony to the power of the product or the connections of its founders. I believe it's the former.

So, when I go to the HR Technology Conference, I want to hear from vendors that are really powering through the analytics opportunities out there. I want to hear how analytics are being targeted to solve someof HR’s and business’ thorniest issues. I want to see how HR is using analytic insights to drive huge strategic advantage and outsized business outcomes. Let’s see vendors bring this to this show.

(please continue to part 4)





Part 4

Let’s have an HR social and see what kinds of new things happen….


When most folks write about social technology intersecting with enterprises, they mostly cover it from the enterprise perspective. They often neglect the rest of world that will read, forward, etc. the blogs, tweets, Facebook comments, etc. that social media users generate and share.

Were a business to diagram their HR processes they would see that employees, recruits, recruiters, and many others are creating a rich tapestry of social content and interaction that surround HR processes.

Job seekers are using all kinds of social media to gain insights into employers, interview questions, corporate culture, etc. Some use networks to create inroads into targeted employers. Job seekers also use web apps to help them assess their own web/social presence. They want to know how they’ll come across to potential employers. If they find anything questionable, they might be able to repair some of their reputation damage before a potential employer finds it.

Smart employers are using similar technologies to learn about job seekers, current employees and former employees. Have you thought to use social media (e.g., LinkedIn) to see where former employees went after they left your firm? Did their next career move match what they told you in their exit interview?

Smarter employers use social relevance maps to see who (in their firm) are the most sought after and respected persons for key answers. They also want to see who is the most disengaged, too. They incorporate social feedback into their performance feedback. And, they’re careful to vet the input they find.

A few months back I did a big piece on how Ultimate and Yammer have the potential to do great things here. But, I want to hear of more firms embarking on more cool HR/Social solutions.

I want to see where social solutions fit in all kinds of HR processes beyond talent acquisition and performance management. I want to see new uses for the data in these huge unstructured information stores.

But I also want to see firms support multiple process flows, each supporting different combinations of technology and users. Some job seekers will be social mavens while some may be less empowered. Some job holders are technology rich and others lacking. Some job seekers prefer old-school technology (e.g., paper resumes and USPS mail) while others do everything on their smart phone. What I’m saying is that one process flow and one technology approach for a given process is insufficient today. Vendors must design multiple mechanisms for people to interact with their technology and the technology of others.

Bottom line: show me the inspired innovation that breaks out of the 1-process-flow-for-all mentality that has dominated HR tech for decades. I’ll be waiting….


So, if you’re an HR technology vendor and I haven’t scared you off, I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about pitching me at the upcoming HR Tech Conference. And, to show you that I use the new technology, too, I’ve created a set of qualifying questions for you to complete on video pre-conference (thank you HireVue). I’m going to help you prep for the interview by providing the interview questions below. You just need to submit your video responses and be ready to schedule our briefing time.


Interview questions:

  1. What did you learn when you created your first two process flows: one for the way people have done this HR process for years and the other for how they are/will do it going forward?
  2. Describe a cool new use for social and mobile technology in your new process design?
  3. Did you consider how a non-business user (e.g., job seeker) might interact with this new process using new technology (e.g., how many non-HR web sites might a job seeker consult?)? How did your perspective change? What will your products do differently now?
  4. Describe a cool new use for video and analytics in your new process design?
  5. Where will unstructured data get plugged into your processes and solutions?
  6. Why will your re-imagined solutions prevail in the marketplace?   


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