By Dave Crisp
High tech requires high touch, and vice versa.
This notion continues to be reinforced as we move into an era where more analytics are required for successful HR management and more leadership is required for better numerical results in every area. The two simply have to be integrated to be effective.
I had the opportunity to attend an eye-opening conference put on recently by Salesforce.com. It may have been the largest Canadian conference yet on social selling and HR. (Salesforce.com, incidentally, must be doing OK since its providing free registration and lunches for more than 3,200 people in just one of several cities it visits.)
The state of the high-tech/high-touch connection in HR was further put in perspective in a discussion with a number of senior HR consultants and advisors the following day.
Naturally the focus of the conference was on Salesforce.com's products, but a range of associated vendors were also showcased who piggyback on their offerings and platforms, including Deloitte and Accenture that, among others, have substantial units that specialize in installing the systems, if one can call the modules that.
Companies have and will continue to come and go in the analytics integration field, but Salesforce.com stands out as pulling together the widest range of modules of cloud software and applications I’ve yet seen. (See http://www.salesforce.com/crm/editions-social-enterprise.jsp for a quick overview.)
The pieces all reside in the cloud — software as a service, online, by subscription — so "installation" boils down to setting the parameters that fit your organization. It's a pretty rapid process. Everyone talked in terms of weeks to get set up rather than the months required by in-house installations of software. A few observed this creates a challenge since users take a lot longer than that to get their heads around how to use the new systems and capabilities suddenly dumped on them.
Of course, anything you think of buying into in this area requires some serious evaluation of cost-benefit ratios, but the demos are riveting and the prices being thrown around were startlingly low (at least for start-up). Subscription costs have to be looked at in terms of not only (what else) the staff they might replace, but the improved results one should expect — an intangible guess that will assure a few early adopters and plenty of skeptics, no doubt.
Most attention-getting were the interfaces for a lot of the system pieces. Chances are few organizations would attempt to install all the elements and those chosen would likely be staged so users could learn to use some parts early while adding more later. The aim, as the Salesforce.com site says, is “Social Enterprise.”
The overriding focus in look and feel seems to be to make all modules somewhat like a Facebook interface on the user facing screens — with a heavy emphasis on sharing of information, rapid connection and communication and storing of useful notes. This gives it a very "human high touch" capacity not seen in many other integration methods.
The fact users can exchange and share information easily (knowledge management), can communicate with each other and their bosses through instant messaging, set objectives either publicly or privately and designate who gets to see what means a lot of social learning will be required, which in turn means a serious role for HR leadership in designing who has what access and how the systems and information will be used.
The capabilities went so far beyond what I used to dream of in terms of making dashboard information readily available to individuals and business units. I was struck by how much more one could likely do with these tools that users, and even the developers, haven’t yet thought up.
So when we talk about leadership from HR, it is shared leadership with line management and staff, all of whom are going to have opinions pro and con the new capabilities and how they are used. Just how creative a team could get remains to be seen and would certainly be something one would want to assess before signing up, but it showed good possibilities rather than clear, measurable, fixed uses. If you install these, hang on for a ride.
The key puzzles for HR are how people will actually use the analytics and social media-style applications beyond their surface functionality. (More on this in future posts.)
Simply by making the right information appear on dashboards, one solves a great deal of the analytics puzzle by having the systems behind the dashboards do the number crunching. If a manager can view her people's attendance records, compensation, benefits, bonuses, performance measures and ratings, objectives, career aspirations, training taken and training needed with just a few clicks, or even assemble all the key indicators on a single screen, HR can begin to seriously follow what is most useful, what helps managers manage and staff work more effectively, and discover what more might be needed.
Moreover, users can become knowledgeable and offer innovative suggestions as well — ones that have a chance of being implemented instead of the usual response from the old days that we’ll have to ask IT, fill out an extensive needs analysis, wait until the next budget cycle and then be told there are other priorities for scarce IT dollars.
Of course, it won’t all be quite as easy as it looks. But I think it’s safe to say HR systems have turned the corner with some of this stuff. What an interesting learning curve awaits.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
Sadly, as I burbled on about these possibilities with the senior HR group I mentioned, their focus immediately shifted back to today’s hot problem for each of them — finding talent in the toughening market, reviving a lost pay equity program to meet regulators sudden demands and finding the solution to a thorny termination problem. That's all that small businesses (98 per cent of the economy) is interested in, they assured me.
Once more I suspect we’ll enter the new era facing backwards and end up surprised when we get bitten in that sensitive blind spot. Someone else will implement this stuff and catch up will be the order of the day in HR unless we pay attention.