VC investment alters the HR technology landscape

hr_investment_bargraphBillions of dollars invested in HR technology companies have created a handful of new and reborn one-size-fits-all HCM vendors who made a big splash on the HR scene throughout 2015 and 2016. Not to be outdone, niche HR specialist vendors have upped the ante with some very compelling niche products targeting recruiting, performance, learning, compliance, and social collaboration. Choice is always a good thing for HR departments. How does all this investment in HR technology companies change the way HR executives think about using technology within their operations? 

To best-of-breed or not to best-of-breed? That is now the question.

There is no question that current thinking leads HR executives toward single-vendor-fits-all approach for HCM over using multiple best-of-breed niche software providers. The best-of-breed approach may gain favor as convenient and reliable data exchange service to core HR platforms mature. I’m seeing this trend occur with SMB accounting and sales automation providers now supporting data exchange to financial institutions, POS, fulfillment services, lead sources, and even benchmarking data. I expect the HR space to follow suite making a best-of-breed solution approach more viable for HR executives to consider in the future.

A new category is born—The Social Workplace.

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all well-positioned to Socialize the workplace. Social tools at work have the potential to reinvent tracking time, electing benefits, performance management, training, and coaching. This goes much deeper that LinkedIn or Glassdoor—think Facebook, SharePoint, and GoToMeeting combined. In fact, Facebook is already in the game with Workplace by Facebook (https://workplace.fb.com/) launched in late 2016. Gaining access to the employee’s wallet will be the holy grail for Social Workplace vendors, and HR is positioned as the epicenter to be the gatekeeper and policy maker for this new category. I’m concerned that many HR executives are too overwhelmed with day-to-day workload to properly address this opportunity. So, jumping into bed with Facebook may be convenient but not in their companies’ best interests. There are so many issues to consider: security, privacy, data ownership, productivity, etc. It’s HR’s ball to carry right now, and I’m hopeful that HR executives prioritize their time so they can lead the charge to carefully, thoughtfully, and safely deploy Social Collaboration in their workplaces.

Regulations grow exponentially; strategic outsourcing is HRs only hope to keep up.

With all good intentions government continues to burden companies with new reporting and regulation. With the expansion of E-Verify, EEOC, health and welfare laws, efforts to curb tax refund fraud and change tax brackets, the coming compliance burden continues to grow. We’ve learned from the ACA that new employment laws can be anything but a routine and predictable compliance job during their initial rollout. Already understaffed HR departments should strategically outsource these duties to specialists because when you bake in the true cost of doing the work yourself, outsourcing is truly more affordable and reduces compliance failure risks at the same time.

On premise software bites the dust.

Technology investments have favored Cloud vendors exclusively since investors like the advantages of the Cloud business model with shorter development cycle times, a single code base across the customer base, a streamlined support experience, and out-of-the-box integrations with third-party vendors. These things are all made possible by the Cloud software business model. The Cloud business model also does away with version upgrades costs and aligns customer and vendor interests around a stable and compelling product version which reduces the demand for support. That benefits both parties. Vendors are rewarded with lower costs and clients are rewarded with a better product and lower total cost of ownership. As most software vendors exclusively align their products to cloud deployment, on premise software becomes a relic of the past.

The billions of investment dollars in the HR technology space over the past five years has created new choice for HR departments. HR executives should look to outsource the increased burden of compliance to leave them bandwidth to focus on strategic technology investments such as Social Workplace tools and Human Capital Management software. Arguments will still be made for a single vendor solution, but a best-of-breed approach may gain more favor soon. Either way, HR needs to exercise caution with adequate due diligence in the vendor selection process. Don’t pick a vendor solely on technology demonstrations. A vendor that is too focused on feature-packing and super growth and not enough on customer service can be a nightmare to deal with. Nothing can make up for bad partner choices and failed implementations. The cost, aggravation, disruption, loss of time, and negative hit to your reputation as an HR leader is unrecoverable.

HR Cloud 9 requires a great ecosystem

woman_cloudHR Cloud 9 is being in a state of perfect contentment with your HR ecosystem. Getting to HR Cloud 9 isn’t a trivial matter, and it isn’t about choosing one vendor to handle everything. The choices you make when building out your HR ecosystem will either form your utopia or nightmare. To get to HR Cloud 9, consider how your ecosystem will fair in the following areas. If you do, you’ll be well on your way to Cloud 9.

You want intimate customer service experience that is highly accessible and feels like an extension of your staff. Vendors that strive for an intimate customer service relationship take customer service to a different level. Service personnel staff have relevant up-to-the-minute information such as sales orders, setup documents, and all service history. Each and every service staff member has the requisite and relevant industry and product expertise to be knowledgeable and helpful to customers. Customer service people who are empathetic and highly value the voice of the customer. They are reliable, interchangeable, efficient, and effective in resolving customer service issues and exceeding customer expectations. This is more than just responding quickly. Each customer exchange is a seamless, predictable experience, and a customer is never asked to retrace or rehash a service issue. And for those issues that require more than a few days to achieve resolution, service staff clearly communicate timelines and resolution expectations to mitigate misunderstandings upfront.

You want software designed the way HR people think and works the way it’s expected to. Great HR software is built with the end user in mind. The HR user experience should mirror the way HR people think and work. The manager experience should complement the managers’ work and work day. The employee experience should be designed for casual use and promote communication and feedback to encourage engagement and recognition behaviors, which lead to happy workers. Don’t settle for clunky and hard to use. There are way better options today. This applies to HCM and more. Today, the Girl Scout’s Digital Cookie™ app[i] is used by Girl Scouts to “gain new business and social skills in an entertaining and engaging way.” Your HR Cloud 9 needs this too.

You need speed and accessibility because lack of speed and accessibility kills productivity. Review service level agreements for reasonable up-time guarantees and response time measures for all major application functions. If you require access at remote locations or via mobile devices, verify that your solution supports those forms of access. Most cloud vendors use a shared infrastructure of web servers, applications servers, and database servers that are accessible via the public internet. Many cloud vendors do not offer exclusive use to a single organization, so performance can be impacted by what other users are doing at any given time. Don’t get bogged down by poor performance; it’s a real drag and a time suck.

You need to be sure that the vendor’s solution “box” of capability is big enough for your needs. A single code base is another key tenant of modern HCM systems. A lot of Cloud providers have application policies to customize look and feel and even some parts of the customer experience. So, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every customer is stuck with the exact same user experience. But it does mean that code customization for the unique need of a single customer is not supported. Keep in mind that mature solutions tend to have a bigger “box” of capability that allows more organizations to be easily supported by the product. Choose solutions that meet your needs today and for the near future.

You need an evolved reporting capability that shields end-users from complexity. Modern HR Cloud software solutions are built on large data repositories with comingled customer data because this is most efficient and affordable for them. This multi-tenant design requires programming to separate customers logically and adds complexity to data reporting. Techniques like de-normalized database views and metadata layers facilitating intuitive data relationship, grouping, and summaries go a long way toward enhancing the productivity of a reporting user. Ultimately, the best approach eliminates all reporting complexity by abstracting the data relationships from the end-user altogether. This yields point and click report definitions, grouping, and summaries in the most user friendly format available and ultimately makes the reporting function available to a greater cross section of your organization.

You need good support for system integration, data imports, and data exports. Supporting the data needs of the various executive that an HR department services means getting data in and out of the system in a secure and efficient manner is an essential requirement. Employee loads, time imports, carrier feeds, G/L files, and published web service integration points are just a few examples. Don’t get painted in a corner with cloud solution that doesn’t meet your integration requirements.

Achieving the perfect ecosystem for your HR function could mean multiple vendors.[ii] Look for each of those vendors to provide an intimate customer service experience, fast and reliable access, flexible software capabilities that meet your current and future needs, a user experience that mirrors the way people work, and reporting and data extraction that don’t require a programmer to use.

Choose your partners wisely and be on HR Cloud 9.

This blog was written by Richard Cangemi, Chief Executive Guru at PeopleGuru™. This post may not be copied or published without permission.

[i] Girl Scouts. Digital Cookie 2.0. GirlScouts.org. Retrieved from https://www.girlscouts.org/en/cookies/all-about-cookies/digital-cookie.html (accessed 18 August 2016).

[ii] Fosway Group Limited and Decebo®. (July 2015). Integrating the HR Landscape on the Cloud. Retrieved from http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter_articles/misc/Integrating_the_HR_Landscape_on_the_Cloud_(Jul_2015).pdf

When you dance with the gorilla, it is the gorilla who decides when you stop

A disagreement between ADP®, one of largest payroll processing companies, and Zenefits™ a self-described startup that recently raised $500 million at a $4.5 billion valuation has now been escalated to the court room. This disagreement centers on the method that Zenefits™ used to gain access to ADP®’s payroll system without specific authority granted by ADP® to do so.

ADP® says: “On June 4, we disabled Zenefits access to ADP’s RUN small business solution due to unusual and alarming demand for data from Zenefits far out of proportion to the number of clients who have allowed them access to our system.”[1]

Zenefits™ has made a very public display of itself on social media outlets accusing ADP® of acting in bad faith and succumbing to fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In this squabble with ADP®, Zenefits™ has garnered some high profile endorsements including a couple of A-list celebrities.

So, you might ask how Zenefits™ got itself in this sticky situation.

1)      Their promise of delivering disruptive technology is somewhat misleading. The definition of disruptive technology is one that displaces older technology.[2] But Zenefits™ doesn’t own a payroll platform as a part of its hub-and-spoke business model[3]; its strategy is to leave customers with their existing payroll company such as ADP®.[4] But payroll is arguably the core hub technology covered by its service designed to administer HR, payroll, and employee benefit plans. Can Zenefits truly claim to be a disruptive technology without control of the core technology underlying its service? Is piggybacking on top of third-party payroll providers without control of the core technology too risky to be viable as a long term strategy?

2)      Zenefits™ is wanting to eat ADP®’s lunch and dinner by keeping the higher margin brokerage commissions and leaving ADP® with the lower margin payroll revenue. There is way more revenue per employee and margin in selling health insurance than in payroll.It’s no secret that payroll companies are looking to brokerage services as an area for future opportunity. ADP®’s (and Paychex®’s for that matter) benefits brokerage constitutes almost all of its current growth. Consider the fact that a 4% brokerage commission for a typical employer sponsored health insurance premium of $8k and $24K a year represents $320 to $960 in annual revenue per employee while fee revenue for payroll is just $90 per employee per year. And selling insurance has only a handful of customer service administration events per year while payroll has weekly (or even daily) customer service events per year to manage.

3)      When you dance with the gorilla, it is the gorilla who decides when you stop. Zenefits™ needs ADP® to play nice since ADP®’s payroll is the core technology to its hub and spoke service model. And ADP® knows it and is prepared to play hardball. The ADP® website states: “We have never integrated with Zenefits™ in any sense and have never authorized their method of extracting data from our RUN payroll system. They gained access to our systems by convincing clients to give them administrative access to our platform. Despite having many legitimate ways to integrate with ADP properly, Zenefits™ chose an unsecure and indirect approach.”[5] ADP®’s statement is likely vetted by their legal team and therefore sound and given ADP®’s size as the entrenched incumbent that does not bode well for Zenefits™ getting their way anytime soon.

Our industry—the HR, Payroll and Benefit Administration space—is extremely competitive and technology-driven with complex compliance requirements. It takes a lot of hard work, intelligence, deep understanding of the law and customer service to make it in this business. And it takes lots of effort to convert clients from one Payroll company to another. I know why Zenefitswould want to leave the hard-part—the Payroll part to someone else, but I also know that there are no shortcuts in life. To become a disruptive technology leader in our space, I believe that you need to own all of your core technology so you control your users’ experience without the risk of someone or something pulling the rug out from under you and your customers.

So, this move by ADP® is not surprising at all. ADP® is simply a business that is protective of its customers’ assets and its future growth opportunity within its client base.

[1] ADP.com. The facts about ADP & Zenefits: Response to the claims made by Zenefits. http://www.adp.com/zenefits/downloads/The-Facts-About-ADP-and-Zenefits.pdf

[2] Zenefits has stated that it is a disruptive technology company. Zenefits | Disrupt NY 2013 Startup Battlefield. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KporpXG0XK8

[3] Inc.com. “Instead of charging for software, the idea was to do a hub-and-spoke model. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201503/liz-welch/hr-technology-with-benefits.html

[4] In an article written in the March Employee Benefit Advisor, Parker Conrad, CEO of Zenefits, openly stated Zenefits does not want to get into the payroll game. He says: “The reason is that payroll is really complex and there are really high switching costs. We’d much rather just be connected to everyone in that space and be friends with everyone in that space.”

[5] ADP.com. The facts about ADP & Zenefits: Response to the claims made by Zenefits. http://www.adp.com/zenefits/downloads/The-Facts-About-ADP-and-Zenefits.pdf

Trademarks in this blog post are the properties of their respective owners.

Before you hire that old pro

It’s really not about ageism. It is simply that a great attitude and passion to succeed trump years of experience and perfect qualifications every time.

Most recently with a sluggish economy, I’ve seen more expert candidates apply for jobs in the past year than ever before. And you’d think that would be a good thing, right? A perfect match between a job seeker’s past work history and the job requirements seems like a perfect hire. But I’ve witnessed seemingly perfect job candidates become under-performing employees. I’ve seen this enough times that a seasoned candidate is now a red flag. My best hires have almost exclusively been individuals who viewed their new job as a growth opportunity and worked very hard to be successful. And my more memorable worst hires have been those who seemed heavily qualified but yet fell short of expectations after being hired.

So why do these seemingly seasoned hires fail to thrive?

#1 reason – hiring managers are so focused on the technical match between the candidate’s past experience and the job requirements that they shortcut or deemphasize the rest of the recruitment evaluation process. It is huge rookie mistake, and I’ve made it myself. We become so enthralled by the possibilities of hiring the hit-the-ground-running, take-me-to-the-promise-land job prospect that we overlook the candidate’s shortcomings in terms of organizational cultural match, willingness to learn, and overall attitude.

#2 reason – our expectations are too high for the seasoned veteran’s performance. The seasoned veteran is short-changed on job training and knowledge transfer. The idea is that they really don’t need it, right? They already know what they are doing. Just look at their résumé. That is just wrong because different companies have different ways of doing things, and you can’t assume that a seasoned pro will be able to translate 100% of his/her skills from one company to another.

#3 reason – we undermine peer support. We position our seasoned new hires in a way that threatens peers and coworkers. They then gather no support and are left to die on the vine. Seasoned hires are often viewed as a threat to job security within a department or organization, so it is imperative that you ensure that each new hire is embraced and socialized adequately.

#4 reason – our seasoned new hire can carry some unwanted baggage and can be difficult to manage. I characterize these overconfident hires as overzealous in their contributions and opinions, unwilling to learn, and often lacking motivation or drive. I’ve seen and heard it all from this group. From “been there done that, so I’m not going to try it again”, “it’s worked my way just fine for 25 years” (whether the new hire is 25 or has 25 years of experience), or my favorite is the “I do not need to be told by some 20-something how I should be doing my job”. Organizations only thrive when teamwork, knowledge transfer, and learning are part of the work environment.
So how can I avoid this? I can’t just disqualify a seasoned pro. That wouldn’t be fair or even legal.

Here’s what I’ve decided.

Balance the technical match of skills to job requirements more evenly with assessments of your job candidates regarding organizational cultural match, ability to learn and adapt to change, leadership qualities, etc.
Carefully evaluate every candidate’s individual motivational factors. The best hire will often have something to prove. He or she is motivated to do a good job and be noticed. Access what will drive each of your candidates to perform, and this should help you more wisely choose who to hire.

Don’t always hire the smartest guy in the room, especially if that person is convinced he or she is the smartest. A better candidate is the one that demonstrates the ability and willingness to learn. These skills will serve your organization better longer term than any accumulated knowledge that a candidate may seemingly have.
The next time you are considering hiring a seasoned candidate, I recommend sticking to a balanced evaluation process that does not over-emphasize the technical needs of the job and being mindful of the need to support your seasoned new hire with the same training and internal support as your other employees.

Consumerize or Die

Expectations of how simple and easy-to-use enterprise software should be are rapidly changing. iPhone and Android devices are so easy-to-use and common that they are raising the bar on how easy-to-use enterprise software applications need to be. And this in my opinion is a good thing.

It’s high time for enterprise software vendors to simplify their applications in the same way that the iPhone and Android have been simplified for consumer use. A mad rush to one-up the competition and add features or functionality has left us with bloated corporate applications. ERP, HR, training, CRM, and payroll applications seem to be more of a patchwork of screens and reports than a flowing portal to corporate information. Software vendors who wish to thrive in the future should take note and make some major investments in changing their software and their thinking in the following areas.

Simplified User Experience

Most corporate end users have been exposed to well-designed consumer software. Is it too much to expect corporate applications to have self-evident user interfaces that are fast, convenient, and functional? Or applications that are built for lay people and not only techies? Kludgy interfaces need to give way to intuitive and easier-to-use ones where information flows from a single point of data entry to secure storage and then to all places that are authorized to consume the information. In other words, I should enter a person, place, or quantity in one and only one place, and the software should handle the complexity of storage and access behind the scenes.

Data flow and real-time access

Offline and batch integrations just won’t cut it anymore. Onboarding an employee in payroll shouldn’t require a batch to run for the employee to be hired in benefits or time and attendance. Instantaneous access to real time information is the only acceptable norm for enterprise systems. Web services have existed for many years to provide for secure information exchanges so there’s just no excuse for offline batch information transfers. Corporate data flow from the information owner to the information consumer can happen immediately. Anything less is just not hip enough to be considered current.

Mobile-First Strategy

Data access should be 24/7 and from any type of device with a minimum of hassles. Often the most convenient option for a user is access via mobile devices. Application users may opt to use the full-site option where mobile functionality doesn’t exist or if it is more convenient to use the full site. To satisfy users’ expectations, enterprise software vendors need adopt a mobile-first strategy and accommodate the convenience of mobile access by careful planning and skilled development of their applications to leverage the strengths of mobile devices. Leading vendors will focus efforts toward mobile use wherever it is practical and will provide full-site options for functionality that doesn’t lend itself to smaller screen formats.

Unfortunately for enterprise software vendors, much work has to be done. It’s just not a matter of cut-and-paste or an application of “lipstick on a pig” to make my suggestions a reality. This effort will require much user interface rework and tradeoffs will have to be made between features and simplicity. In the end, vendors that make these investments will be rewarded with less demand for support and, even more importantly, happier end users.

So, enterprise software vendors: get onboard with simplified software, real time access, and a mobile-first strategy or become obsolete because soon your customers will expect nothing less from you.

Are you ready for a storm of cloud-based software?

Knowing the right questions to ask when buying anything is essential. Sourcing cloud-based software is no exception. Cloud software can be tricky to evaluate because it’s bundled as a service to eliminate complexity. As a result, vendors are conditioned to provide little or no transparency to buyers. We are all too familiar with what happens when we make assumptions, right?

When you evaluate cloud software, break down each part of the service bundle and consider it individually. Here are tips to help you avoid a storm-cloud-based software solution.

Be sure to understand how the infrastructure is managed.

Cloud-based software is most often a shared infrastructure similar to the way we share public highways and bridges. This is called a multi-tenant configuration. The challenge is that heavy traffic and congestion at certain times can be a fact of life. Just as public transportation is not always suitable or convenient for transporting wide and heavy loads or private secure cargo, cloud-based solutions may not be suitable or convenient for supporting every unique business requirement. Larger and more sophisticated organizations can still make use of cloud solutions because the most sophisticated cloud vendors optionally support dedicated virtual machines for database, application, or even web servers. These configurations can eliminate many of the typical limitations of a shared infrastructure. If you need this today or in the future, choose a vendor that has the flexibility to customize the infrastructure to meet your needs.

On the infrastructure side of the cloud service, you should consider the following points before buying:

  • Will the vendor support a private connection with guaranteed bandwidth to eliminate traffic and congestion from other clientele?
  • What additional layers of security protection are optionally available?
  • How is the service updated for new functionality and compliance?
  • What are the intervals for applying maintenance releases and updates?
  • What are the service-level guarantees for uptime that are provided by the vendor?
  • What are the security policies for protecting your information from malware or other threats?
  • What level of reliability and redundancy is built into the service infrastructure?
  • Can the service be optionally configured to support dedicated hardware, virtual instances, or even in hybrid environment for companies with unique business needs?

Gauge how the system is going to perform in real life situations.

This one could really zap you if you’re not careful. Thoroughly evaluate performance, or you could be dead in the water and loosing revenue. Think in terms of your peak usage times or peak season and then make sure your cloud vendor understands your needs and can keep up with the influx of system activity that your company and others may need the cloud infrastructure to support. Get performance guarantees in writing.

Evaluate the functionality to be sure that it will serve your business needs.

Most of us instinctively think in terms of the web front-end functionality for this new cloud software we’re getting. But it’s not enough to just evaluate this piece alone with cloud solutions. Cloud vendors bundle the front-end that you see with the back-end functionality that you can’t see or touch. You need to know what is going on behind the scenes so you can ferret out what might be missing. Ask questions like:

  • What devices, OS’s, and browsers does the vendor support?
  • What level of customization can be supported to adjust the product to more closely match your requirements?
  • Can you manage the customization or is this only handled by the vendor? How are customizations supported?
  • How are integrations with third-parties handled?
  • What about single sign-on or items like active directory integration?
  • How do you access your data or even download your data for safekeeping?
  • What functionality is not real-time and subject to scheduling?
  • How are alerts managed?
  • What are your options for reporting and analytics?

Understand the true cost of using the cloud service.

Take the time to truly understand the pricing model and your true costs. Don’t solely rely on the sales proposal and estimate provided by the vendor. Find out:

  • How is the pricing incrementally adjusted for growth or shrinkage in the use of the service? Is it adjusted based on transactions or number of covered users or not at all?
  • How is data storage and bandwidth consumption managed? Are limits imposed or do charges kick in at certain thresholds?
  • What pricing guarantees can be provided to ensure that your price continues to be fair down the road?
  • Does the vendor offer a scaled down use of the service after cancellation? What are the charges for this usage?

Check out the bricks and mortar behind the cloud service.

What services are available conveniently and affordably from the vendor? Don’t assume. For example, PeopleGuru’s payroll cloud service bundles services for ACH origination, garnishment processing, check printing, new hire reporting, and federal-state-local tax filing with a dedicated account management team but many of our competitors don’t. Clients that are used to these traditional payroll outsourcing conveniences that switch to a cloud service without a bricks and mortar support operation have the unique challenges of staffing up to support these functions in-house. So, be sure to understand what services your cloud vendor is offering:

  • How is the vendor’s support operation structured?
  • What level of support is provided during your implementation process?
  • Does the vendor have a structured process for guiding your through the implementation?
  • What tools does the vendor provide to facilitate data conversion into their product?
  • How is training delivered?
  • Are self-help tools available?
  • Is technical support immediately available when you need it, or do you have to wait 48 or even 72 hours for a response to an email?
  • Will you have a dedicated account management team and an escalation point of contact, or will you have to wait in a call queue to get the next available representative at a call center?
  • Did you check two or three client references?

By considering the infrastructure management, real life performance, functionality, true cost, and bricks and mortar, you’ll avoid storm-clouds and will be able to identify the best cloud-based solution for your organization’s unique needs.

Super size me Service, please!

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, “Super” is defined as being “of high grade” or the quality of “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” Merriam Webster’s online dictionary also defines “Serve” as “to be a servant.” So, really “Super Service” can be said more powerfully as: extreme servants delivering excessive service.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could super-size service like you can super-size your lunch and transform your company culture to one of extreme servants delivering excessive service? This is certainly a dream come true for many growing companies. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to get to Super Service standards. It is possible however, over time to position your company to Super Service by adopting the following, mostly simple (one not so much), recommendations.

Know the needs and service history of all of your customers.

Starting with the sale, continuing through setup, onboarding, and then ongoing with continuing service, it is essential to document your customers’ service needs and open issues to be able to super serve your customers on a consistent basis. At Mangrove, we use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to store relevant customer information such as sales orders, setup documents, etc., and then document customer encounters to create a customer profile with the institutional knowledge that is essential to serving our clientele with Super Service. When we engage a client, our service person can quickly review the CRM and determine the background information for important customer handling clues, such as: Has the recently called for a similar issue? Is someone else already working this issue? What out-of-the box service commitments do we have with this customer? This CRM allows us to perform as a united team and to collaborate toward developing and sharing a full understanding of our customers’ service needs and service history.

Communicate service expectations clearly and concisely.

In many cases service failures occur when the customer expects one thing, but your firm is doing something different. To be a Super Service organization, you’ll need to consistently manage your customers’ service expectations by documenting your service commitments and then sharing those documented commitments with teammates so you’ll effectively collaborate toward exceeding service expectations as a united team. With every customer exchange, a Super Service organization takes their obligation to communicate an understanding of what the immediate key service objectives are, develop and then communicate a plan to meet those objectives, and then arrive at an agreement of how success will be measured for achieving the previously defined objectives. This protocol of establishing an up-front agreement takes the guesswork out of service and ensures success, as long as you follow through with timely performance of your agreed-to service plan.

Measure your performance and how customers perceive your performance often.

Internal and external measures of your company’s performance are essential to maintaining Super Service levels and to making appropriate changes to improve service levels that aren’t making Super Service grades. At my company, Mangrove Software, we use a variety of tools to measure our performance including monthly department-level score cards, which objectively report our performance against our defined internal service levels and external customer surveys that help us gauge how our customers feel we are doing.

It’s not enough to just fix problems. Do something for the customer’s trouble.

The timely fixing of a customer’s complaint is essential to good service, but it’s just not enough to qualify for Super Service. To be a Super Servant, you must mend the relationship and rebuild trust that has been damaged by the service failure. Often the customer accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for services failures, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.

Follow up.

A few days after the dust settles, follow up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of being valuable to your firm. The intention is to convey these few things in this email and phone call:

  • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided, if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
  • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
  • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

Learn from your failures.

View every service failure as an opportunity to learn how to provide your clientele better service. Many customer service issues are symptoms of issues elsewhere in the organization and can and should be avoided with some planning and better, more concise communication. Empower your frontline service people to document service failures and then hold your leadership team accountable to identify the root cause of the service failures and create the needed policy, product, documentation, and/or service changes required mitigate these issues and keep them from happening again.

Put your money where your mouth is.

This is by far the most difficult recommendation to implement, but it is the one that can have the greatest immediate impact toward culturing Super Service. Give your customers control over a portion of your fees that will be earned by you based on your service performance, and then directly align your service team’s compensation with customers’ payment of these at-risk fees. This concept of having some percentage of your fees at risk where your firm earns its keep based meeting periodic measures of service-levels and/or quality expectations forces your service team into some important Super Service behaviors. For this program to work, your service team must define service expectations with the customer upfront and then manage to them with periodic and meaningful performance reviews with the client. This alignment between your customers’ expectations, service needs, and service, along with customer-controlled incentives to serve, is a very powerful tool toward being Super Service organization.

Hiring – Separating the posers from the performers

The Urban Dictionary defines a poser as a person who habitually pretends to be something he or she is not. The Free Dictionary defines a performer as one that is able to carry through to completion.

Chances are that if you have hired enough people you have made your fair share of hiring mistakes. I’ve had my own personal frustration with a candidate (or two) where after in-depth interviews and reference checks the candidate still didn’t pan out as expected. The candidate turned out to be a poser. And the current job market has both overqualified and under-qualified candidates stretching the truth and posing to compete for the few available job opportunities.

There’s no question that bad hiring is an expensive mistake. The U.S. Department of Labor pegs the cost of a bad hire as up to one-half of annual salary. And that doesn’t count the potential impact to customers, coworkers, missed deadlines, and morale.

So what is a hiring manager to do? How can we identify the posers from the performers? To start with, you can use the following hints to separate the poser from the performer during your initial screening of candidates.

Posers versus Performers

Posers Performers
Answer with rhetoric and hyperbole in an attempt to redirect the emphasis from their lack of experience or knowledge regarding the subject at hand. Cite real world examples of similar job experience and knowledge regarding the subject at hand.
Are heavily coached on interviewing skills and immediately ready with slick, rehearsed answers to expected questions. Make deliberate and thoughtful responses that exhibit passionate answers with in-depth analysis and problem-solving skills.
May have resumes that are heavily decorated with associations, certifications, and memberships. Tend to be more selective with their time and resources and only hold certifications and memberships that directly relate to job performance.
Self-label to guru status, go-to person, or top-performer without providing the insight into how they reached their current level of success. Tend to be more modest but exhibit a strong interest in their field of expertise and the trials and tribulations of becoming successful.

Interviewing should only be considered one tool in the hiring process. A rigorous evaluation with a well-defined process and assessment criteria is your best defense to identify the poser from the performer. At minimum, I recommend the following:

  • Encourage candidates to qualify themselves with job listings that advertise rigorous selection and testing requirements.
  • Document the job requirements in terms of skills, experience, interests, special qualities, and educational job requirements. Evaluate each candidate in terms of his or her match to these requirements, and use the same process and assessment criteria for each candidate.
  • Don’t rely entirely on interviews. Candidates generally want a job offer so they’re apt to tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • Assess cultural fit not personality or likeability; diversity is always a positive influence in the workplace.
  • Narrow down to a small pool of candidates and then enlist the help of an external testing service to validate your assessments and final choices before extending offers.
  • Finally, make all employment offers contingent on reference checks and completion of a 90-day probationary period.

I believe that a disciplined hiring approach that favors performers over posers will greatly increase your chances of selecting candidates that become happy and successful long-term employees.

The Social HCM

With more than one billion active Facebook users already, social networking is strong and getting stronger as literally hundreds of millions of new users join a social network this year.

Unfortunately, business adoption of social networking hasn’t extended much past the marketing department. Business has made its social network investments targeted toward gaining more customers and selling more products or services. Companies are behind the eight ball in their use of social network tools within the workplace and aren’t taking advantage of social networking’s potential to reinvent how workers connect, collaborate, and learn in the workplace. These tools can ultimately improve profits and promote a happier and more engaged workforce.

The modern dispersed workplace needs “social.” Business suffers with fundamental communication issues ranging from misinterpretations and assumptions to lack of follow-through, privacy issues, and inadequate distribution of vital information.

A workplace social network solves these problems because it redefines communication in fundamental and convenient ways. We now connect with friends and family and share multimedia content, update statuses, and check-in at familiar destinations—all paradigms that didn’t exist ten years ago. These new paradigms take social media beyond its entertainment value and improve communication in ways that benefit the sender and the recipient, making social media the most convenient means for sharing information. With such a dynamic shift in people’s communication preferences, why has business been so slow to adopt social networking tools for its workforce? This is for one simple reason. Current social collaboration products simply mimic the features of consumer products and lack the game-changing benefits needed for organizations to adopt them. Businesses will adopt a workplace social network when the products transcend novelty and entertainment-value to become an actionable tool for communication and vital business decision-making.

Human capital management fused to a social network is what is needed. The social graph inherent to the Human Resources function is the foundational element for building a “socially networked” workforce. This Human Resources function, once made socially-aware, can be used to identify, predict, and facilitate many of the actionable aspects of Human Capital Management to drive substantial productivity gains and cost savings. I refer to this game-changer as Social Human Capital Management or Social HCM for short.

A few of the productivity gains and cost savings that can be expected from a Social HCM are as follows:

Speed information flow and decision making.

A social network with its diversity of relevant connections increases communication and collaboration. When employees communicate and collaborate they are more careful and thorough in their thought processes, and in turn they develop better plans. Better planning improves speed, quality, and execution. Agility shortens the cycle of innovation and learning, and these are the keys to establishing a competitive edge and profits.

And it doesn’t stop there. Social HCM distributes actionable events, polls, and notifications, all within an easy-to-follow and familiar interface for information consumption. Users need only to look in one place for all relevant actionable items, such as time off requests or other items needing review, action or approval. Define and schedule favorite informational reports and event notifications to be delivered to your stream or to others as well. And keeping tabs on the whereabouts of your subordinates is gracefully managed by following check-ins and status updates from your direct-report workgroup. A manager can offer his employees instant feedback or tag items for future reference. As feedback from manager to employee is more frequent and conveniently indexed, the chore of managing performance is minified, and reviews can be conducted more accurately and more often with the most relevant content and feedback organized chronologically, by good or bad, or even by competency.

Improve relevancy and avoid Information overload.

The social network is an intelligent design with an intuitive framework for managing the high volume of information that workers face today. Replacing e-mail as a primary business collaboration tool will accelerate the benefits of the social network since the social network allows you catch what you need from the flow information, when you need it, without having to consume the entire river of information. Documents, multimedia files, ideas, and experiences can be exchanged privately or to entire departments, locations, workgroups, special project groups, or private communities. This flow of information can be tagged and retention periods defined so that relevancy for future learning remains high. Like, view, comment, share, alerts, along with tagging activities for follow-up—these concepts are intuitive ways for information consumption and exchange that are adopted from the consumer social network and optimized for use in business. The end result is relevant information accessible like never before–from your desktop browser or mobile device.

Promote employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” ― Tom Peters.

Recognition is a very effective and often underused form of motivation. Ask any HR professional and they’ll say that a recognized worker is more likely to be a satisfied and long-term employee. Social HCM both automates and provides for ad-hoc distribution of frequent, consistent, and fair public recognition to those employees deserving such recognition. Connect social badging metaphors to HCM’s traditional award and points tracking capabilities, and you’ve removed the chore of managing and assigning points for redemption of gifts or other company rewards.

Speeding the feedback loop between project stakeholders and contributors is essential to ensure that projects remain on track. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?”Communicating status and milestone updates regularly to the stakeholders and contributors is one way that Social HCM helps teams stay connected, engaged, on-track, and held accountable for their individual and team productivity. These are the very teams that are most likely to take pride and ownership in their work and perform better.

Increase compliance and utilization of intranets and self-service.

How do you get highly distracted employees to focus on quality initiatives, complete paperwork, read and follow important corporate communications, and respond to surveys without making them feel badgered and controlled? You provide simple and intuitive means for employees interact with the company by adopting the social network metaphor. Punching time clocks gives way to check-ins, status updates serve to update project milestones and project members, pay stubs are securely delivered to an employee’s stream, and events like open enrollment are simplified by virtue of the familiar easy-to-use interface—all of this making these tasks feel more like entertainment and less like work.

Improve knowledge transfer and business continuity.

In businesses, data is typically recorded and information is filed. But what happens to the great percentage of information that resides in the minds of employees? How do those in need of learning connect to those who can teach? For all businesses, it behooves them to establish a dialog before a vast amount of knowledge walks out the door as millions of baby boomers retire and their replacements lack essential core competencies. Social HCM can be the critical resource used to facilitate mentoring and sharing of organizational knowledge. Its metaphor both motivates and reinforces appropriate and responsible corporate citizenship as the social network promotes convenient, open, and transparent communication—the type of communication that is so much less likely to be ignored.

Social HCM will find its way into businesses as HCM software vendors fuse the social network metaphor to Human Capital Management. The virtues of this combination will be just too compelling of a technology for businesses to ignore.

Leading the horses without having to make them drink

High performing teams are led and not managed. A horse when led to water should drink on its own just as a performing team when led with vision should achieve its stated goals.

Traditional managers are dinosaurs. Today’s younger workforce isn’t responding favorably to old school management techniques. They expect to be constantly informed, engaged in problem solving, recognized, and empowered through a common vision and goals. They just don’t respond to direct orders or micro-management techniques. The newer worker gravitates toward teamwork and collaboration and favors constant communication. That’s not to say that every tool of traditional management is obsolete, but proper leadership is the essential ingredient for a fully engaged modern workforce. Leadership is the bridge to productivity, loyalty, and ownership. Without leadership, you risk a disengaged workforce that is marginally productivity, with high turn-over, and very little commitment to the stated objectives.

Consider the attributes of the old school management philosophy versus those of a leadership model.

Management Model

Leadership Model

Manage: Submissive to one’s authority,   discipline, or persuasion. Lead: Guide, direct, or influence.
Manager: An old-school boss who focuses activities on   tracking, reporting, and controlling their direct reports’ individual   behaviors and contributions. Leader: A visionary who recruits, influences, and   motivates highly-productive, collaborative teams that are focused on   achieving a shared vision and common goals.

It’s been said that you have to be born a leader. I disagree because I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with a handful of natural leaders and a few who I personally witnessed mature into leadership roles. I have also been privy to a few failed efforts that resulted from a lack of leadership. So, I’ve seen both sides of this coin and benefited greatly from my experience.

There are lots of opinions on what makes a great leader. Some might say it requires eloquent public speaking, great personality, or even good listening skills. It is my opinion those attributes are certainly nice to have but won’t make for a great leader without the following eight qualities of leadership.

1.       Evangelize the vision, and light the fire within, not under them. Be the focal point for the vision. Inspire, motivate, and keep your messaging simple, realistic, and concrete. It is imperative that followers buy-in to the plan and how it will benefit them and the organization.

2.       Is your vision relevant? You should validate your vision periodically for relevancy to your organization, the market opportunity, and customer needs. You don’t want to lead your followers down a dead end or else they won’t easily follow you again. As Yogi Berra best said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.” Be sure to validate that your assumptions haven’t materially changed in a way that requires your vision to be revisited.

3.       Empower, coach and co-create. The focus should be on developing the right behaviors and achieving great results. Lead your followers through the decision process and allow them to arrive at a solution that they have crafted. Resist the temptation to waive your magic wand and just fix it.

4.       Keep your ear to the ground. Assess periodically if you have the necessary buy-in and sponsorship to make the vision a reality.

5.       Walk the talk. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Set a great example and use your behavior to reinforce your vision and the corporate culture that you embody. As a leader your actions are studied often, and your actions can be an opportunity to communicate, inspire, and empower. There is nothing more demotivating to followers than a double standard.

6.       Recognize and celebrate success. With success should come public celebration—it’s not necessary to have blow-out party, but you need to recognize your successes. The thrill of success is contagious. So often, great leaders assign the full credit for success to the team and take personal responsibility when thing go wrong. Never chastise failures, but instead study them for the purpose of not repeating the same mistake again. Avoid assigning fault to individuals as this process is counter-productive and de-motivating to your followers.

7.       Raise the bar. Great organizations constantly improve since maintaining the status quo while your competitors are improving is a recipe for ultimate business failure. What happened to Circuit City, Borders Books, and Blockbuster?Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Red Box took market share and forced them out of a leadership position. And great leaders promote high achievement. High achievers expect to be constantly challenged or they become bored and go somewhere more challenging. So either raise the bar, or go the way of Circuit City, Borders Books, or Blockbuster.

8.       Leave go. Lastly and most importantly get the right people involved then inspire them with vision and get out of their way.