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

Dark clouds of vendors are hanging over us

Do you listen to who uses your software?  Are you really listening to those who are responsible for the success of the project and your product? Or have you completely deprioritized your existing clients’ needs due to the constant push for new customers and revenue growth? Are you slamming customers onto the software without regard to their unique needs and befuddling and disappointing stakeholders and end users with lack of tangible results from their investment and hard work? Are you forcing new clients to compromise core objectives to accommodate overly optimistic go-live dates? Do you feel compelled to be a jack-of-all-trades and showcase feature parity with competitors hijacking your development roadmap leaving your product a mile wide and inch deep?

In my experience, the answers to these questions are now too often “Yes,” which is a strategy that is short sighted and sure to backfire. Bloated, hard-to-use software, rushed implementations, and low user satisfaction rates are not a recipe for success or growth. They are the recipe for failure. Cloud software vendors need to rethink their priorities and focus on change in the following areas.

Feature parity and one-upping your competition consumes development pipelines.

Rebalance priorities from adding new features to simplifying user experience.

It’s so easy to get caught up in a feature parity race and checking all the boxes on RFP responses that you completely neglect making the experience intuitive and creating the mobile-friendly experience that users desire. Your priorities are skewed toward taking orders while the needs of an existing, loyal user base are missed. The software gets bigger, more bloated, and harder to use. Users’ reject the software because the added features actually take them backward not forward. This alienates your users and lowers customer satisfaction. That consistently results in client losses over time.

Conversion of data in and out of the system is way too hard.

Step up to the plate and provide tools to make transforming data to and from your system fast and easy. 

Do vendors make it is hard to extract accurate and complete data from their system so they can’t easily be fired? Is conversion of data into a new system overly technical where it requires the use of expensive professional service resources just because the vendor wants the professional service revenue? Cloud based systems are often inherently inefficient and time consuming for data entry. Getting data into the cloud has been the Achilles heel of the industry. Vendors that do nothing to assist their users with data conversion features leave their customer between a rock and a hard place.

There is little focus and no vendor commitment to achieving the users’ desired outcomes and process improvement opportunities are ignored.

Truly engage as a partner ensuring that customers desired outcomes are fully met.

Once you’ve signed a contract with your cloud software vendor you’ve now begun a race to the finish line. Why is that? What is the rush? Is it because the vendor needs the client to go-live to recognize the revenue? Understanding user needs and business needs and then tweaking the software to meet those needs adds time and complexity to an implementation project. It’s faster and easier to ignore the uniqueness of each customer and conduct a vanilla implementation. Vanilla is what some Cloud software vendors push.

The result is an initial implementation with many missed opportunities for process improvement. Simply moving your current way of doing things over to a new system without thoughtful consideration of how the new system can be leveraged to improve things will likely perpetuate existing problems and inefficiency.  It is shame for Cloud vendors to railroad and marginalize users this way. It is not just a common courtesy, it is an obligation, for a vendor to ensure that their clientele isn’t hurried through implementation so that each client can get the most of their software investment.  As some claim Einstein said1, and as Rita Mae Brown wrote in Sudden Death, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”2

Cloud vendors would be smart to wise up and address some serious strategic problems that stem from their insatiable desire to add new clients at the expense of taking care of the ones they already have.

1 Becker, Michael. (2012 Nov. 13). Einstein on misattribution: ‘I probably didn’t say that. Becker’s Online Journal. Retrieved from http://www.news.hypercrit.net/2012/11/13/einstein-on-misattribution-i-probably-didnt-say-that/

2 Brown, Rita Mae. (1983). Sudden Death. (pp. 68) New York: Random House. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=QJj9VqInFyUC&pg

The Corporate Psycho

psychoThe Corporate Psycho is an individual who systematically lies, coerces, intimidates, or otherwise instills fear in coworkers in the pursuit of power within an organization.

Hiring this person is your worst nightmare. They look great on paper and maybe their references even check out, but you will wish—no you will pray—that you didn’t hire them. And once part of your team, the psychopath will systematically and maliciously agitate and sabotage the efforts of coworkers.

The Corporate Psycho is a predator and you are its prey.

The Corporate Psycho has a self-serving agenda with no moral compass. They systematically oppress individual contributions with the intent to disrupt productivity and foster malcontent. They are deceitful and insincere in their relationships and communications. Once inside your department, the Corporate Psycho will destroy the quality of your work life and relationships by undermining the key ingredient to a functional workplace: TRUST. Once in the throes of chaos created by the Corporate Psycho, coworkers lack trust and confidence in each other. Finger-pointing and assessment of blame thrive. New challenges and problems surface, and nothing seems to work like it used to. Even the things that were easy are now hard. Productivity drops, deadlines are missed, quality suffers, negativity thrives, absenteeism skyrockets, and most good people move on to greener pastures. And then your department suffers more as it is placed under the microscope of upper management. That was the Corporate Psycho’s plan all along: to create the chaos and then take advantage of that chaos.

What makes the Corporate Psycho so treacherous?

They are psychopaths and very skillful liars, and they believe that their views of the world are more enlightened than others. They have total disregard for people and treat them as a means to end. They befriend only as a means to gain information and power and then use this information to disrupt order and promote their own agenda. Once the workplace is in chaos, they win over vulnerable leaders by promoting an insider’s view of how things really are going in-the-trenches. Only they are misleading leaders with lies peppered with just enough truth to seem credible and actionable. And the cost of the Corporate Psycho is substantial.

With an adult population consisting of 1% to 2% psychopaths in the general population,1 you are very likely to encounter a Corporate Psycho in your ranks. Consider the following outcomes directly attributed to an onboard Corporate Psycho:

  • Less engaged workers are less productive. The Gallup organization estimated that an average of 18% actively disengaged employees cost the economy as much as $450 to $550 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness and other low morale issues.2
  • According to Cornerstone OnDemand, good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee.3 Replacing employees is expensive and for skilled workers can easily exceed $10,000 per hire.

How do you defeat the Corporate Psycho?

The key to defeating a Corporate Psycho is to recognize the agenda early and to disrupt any maniacal plans.

Recognize the warning signs. Identify potential Corporate Psychos by their telltale traits. This person may appear to fit in at first, but then you will begin to notice the signs. It won’t take long for this person to gain trust and set their plan in place. Assess whether this coworker is working on a separate agenda, refuses to follow protocols, is overly negative, or two-faced and insincere in communications and dealings with others. Ask yourself:

  • Does this individual proclaim to be a rigid follower of protocol but in reality is not?
  • Does this person seem overconfident and display a superiority complex with others?
  • Are they willing to do whatever it takes to ascend in the company?
  • Is there a general disregard for others’ contributions?
  • Does this person take credit for others’ work?
  • Does this person generally take issue with authority?

Once a suspect is identified as a potential Corporate Psycho, govern your behavior accordingly.

Don’t be bullied. The Corporate Psycho needs your help to promote an agenda, so don’t be a victim. If you suspect you are working with a Corporate Psycho, don’t accept advice or share information, unless it is a requirement of your job. Keep your distance. The inner workings of your job and the difficulties of your workday should be kept between you and your boss. Be sure not to put the Corporate Psycho in a position to fight battles on your behalf with your supervisors. They will not represent your best interests. And resist the temptation to get baited into negativity directed to the company or other coworkers.

Document everything. When dealing with a suspected Corporate Psycho, document every exchange with this person. Keep a log by writing down the time, place, and detailed notes so you can reconstruct the substance of your meeting. Remember, this person is a psychopath – he/she will not expect you to document your interactions as they view you as too “weak” to foil their plan. When things get chaotic you’ll be glad you documented because you will be in a position to justify your actions with your supervisors.

The Corporate Psycho thrives via a web of backchannel and under-the-radar relationships and information. The most successful of which appear to be sincere, charming, smart and engaging communicators. They systematically instill fear, mistrust, and incite negativity with the goal of making you believe that they are essential to survival in the new world order. Your high standards and moral compass are the best way to rise above any chaos created by the Corporate Psycho. Because ultimately we all need the confidence and trust of our coworkers workers to be successful. As Warren Bennis said, “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”4

Footnotes

  1. PsychVisit.com. “Course and Prevalence of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy” http://www.psychvisit.com/conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder-psychopathy/5-course-antisocial-personality.html (accessed 23 Nov. 2015).
  2. Susan Sorenson and Keri Garman. “How to Tackle U.S. Employees’ Stagnating Engagement,” Gallup, 11 June 2013, http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/247/high-cost-disengaged-employees.aspx.
  3. Cornerstone OnDemand, “New Research Exposes the Hidden Costs of ‘Toxic Employees,’” 31 March 2015, https://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/news/press-releases/new-research-exposes-hidden-costs-toxic-employees.
  4. Robert Tucker, Innovation is Everybody’s Business: How to Make Yourself Indispensable in Today’s Hypercompetitive World (Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2011), 157.

Before you hire that old pro…

Featured

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

Most recently with an economic recovery underway, 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 to avoid this? One 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.

Taming the monsters inside us

An awful lot is written about security from an Information Technology perspective, so we are pre-programmed to think that security means firewalls, encryption protocols, password policies, tokens and the like. Unfortunately, organizations are most at risk of theft and fraud from those that have intimate knowledge of their inner workings. We often don’t hear about these events because they are perceived to be embarrassment to the victimized entity.

Over my career, I’ve seen a number of situations where organizations have unwittingly put themselves at great risk for internal or even customer fraud. I’ve also been privy to some clever (but misguided) attempts that have failed miserably.

And I’d like to share a few of these past situations that have left an indelible impression on me.

I’ll start with the Canadian felon who duplicated a legitimate client refund check and then proceeded to issue hundreds of duplicate checks off this account. Then there was the controller that embezzled cash by processing refunds to inactive client accounts and redirected the refund deposits to his mother in-law’s bank account. Another incident involved an accounts receivable clerk that literally cashed hundreds of customer checks into a duplicate company account that she fraudulently opened in her name only. I was once exposed to a situation where a payroll manager cleverly voided federal tax deposits and then transferred those exact funding amounts to her own bank account. I should also mention the former Human Resources manager that used his still-valid payroll login credentials to change employee net pay bank account numbers to fund anonymous electronic payroll debit cards. Not so long ago, an IT worker retaliated against his soon-to-be former employer by posting all employee salaries on multiple bulletin boards at work. And finally, the data processing technician who gleaned bank account numbers from a payroll export file and then made payments to credit cards online using those stolen account numbers.

The common denominator in all of these situations is an insider. Well thought-out internal security protocols and procedures are our best defense against this type of fraud.
Here are my recommendations to be protected against being defrauded by the monster inside us.

Be ever vigilant with your cash and cash accounts. Reconcile bank accounts frequently and separate the reconciliation responsibility from those who processes payments or create client accounts. Use online banking access to match checks, electronic payments, and deposits to your accounting system daily. Require two signatures and/or electronic authorization for all checks or transfers greater than a threshold amount. Place blocks on your accounts so only authorized third-parties can debit funds from you. Use positive pay banking features, and flag unknown transactions and investigate them immediately. Good internal controls and procedures are the best deterrent to internal fraud. These basic steps will not only reduce your exposure to fraud but they’ll help you identify it really quickly when it happens so you can mitigate your damages substantially.

Separate Duties. I’ll say it again for effect. Separation of duties is essential. For example, never-ever-ever have the person who receives the money and credits the client accounts also produce your client billing. Client setup and termination should never be handled by the person that collects and posts your money. The person who reconciles the bank accounts should be different that the one that makes journal entries into the accounting system. You get the idea here: Separate duties so one accounting function provides a built-in audit to the other accounting function.
Expire access to systems and facilities prior to terminating employees. Termination can trigger retaliation and drama. Don’t put your company at risk for embarrassing post-termination drama. Get your ducks in a row prior to letting all employees go by terminating their access to all systems, collecting all their company assets, and ensuring that their access to facilities is limited.

Treat your payroll vendor like it is giving away your money. Just because you’ve outsourced your payroll doesn’t mean that you are safe from fraud. Make sure you separate the duty of changing account numbers from the person that reviews account number changes. It is a good practice to audit direct deposit account changes prior to processing each payroll. Also verify all third-party deposits. Review all manually entered checks, adjustment checks, and voided payments. Ensure that appropriate security is setup so sensitive information like salaries, social security numbers, and account numbers are available on a need-to-know basis. Limit those who can create output data or exported reports with sensitive data. Interface and export files should be encrypted at the source before they are downloaded or transmitted. A good payroll vendor will provide features such as warnings and detail reports to make these audits and verification steps fast and painless. If your payroll company doesn’t support these important features, then get a new payroll company.

The above recommendations are not intended to be exhaustive. The examples should make you think and assess your fraud risks and create a plan to mitigate them. Disciplined audit and security protocols are a great deterrent to fraud, and that deterrent may just be enough to tame those monsters inside your 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.