In such a divisive political environment, I wasn't sure there would be much to agree on at the Infor Federal Forum in Washington D.C.
But from get go, Infor CEO Charles Phillips and guest keynoter David Aguilar set the tone; the federal government has a recruitment and talent problem. Sometimes the "talent" problem is also a hiring volume problem.
1 thing everyone here agrees - federal gov't has a talent, recruitment + retention problem. And many public sector orgs also #InforFedForum
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) April 6, 2017
Aguilar, the former director of Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), knows that issue well. The CBP must replace about 2,200 people a year. The latest hiring mandate pushes that number up - by an additional 5,000 CBP agents.
That led Aguilar to make the point that human capital management is just as important as Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and should probably be considered as part of EAM (EAM was a big focal point of this event as Infor claims market leadership in helping organizations public and private manage complex physical assets).
But talent is not just about filling essential seats. It's about hiring the right people so the recruitment effort isn't a fail. It's also about the limits of technology. Infor talks convincingly about the cloud value proposition these days, but people and process still make or break tech, a point made on the executive panel by Jon Holladay, Former Chief Financial Officer at USDA:
Jon Holladay addresses cloud hype: technology won't fix gov't innovation by itself. We must address bureaucratic processes. #InforFedForum
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) April 6, 2017
The problem of public sector recruiting
The demographics of federal government employees raise the stakes. As Infor's Wayne Bobby noted in his opening remarks, 90 percent of federal government employees are over the age of 30. And attracting young talent - well-versed in digital technology - is not exactly a public sector strong point. On the executive panel, Calvin Turner, Director of the National Finance Center, fleshed out this problem:
We have lots of individuals who are at the point where they can retire today - walk out today if they choose to. That means we have to have an effective succession plan to get those folks in with the appropriate requisite skills to be able to succeed. It is very, very difficult within the federal space to hire competent individuals to do the jobs we need.
Changing roles and tech advancements make the HR problem harder. Turner:
The evolving jobs we need to [recruit for] are being done very differently than they were 10, 15, even 5 years ago. One of the challenges for us is to figure out: "What does that competent employee look like? How do we get them in? How do we using the current technology, the current tools we have, the current occupational questionnaire, going through the reviewing of the resume... How do we get people in?"
Holladay agreed. He put out an impassioned call to create the kind of environment young talent will want to work in:
Jon Holladay's call to take handcuffs off creatives + pioneer new tech, not just being "guardians of tech" got applause here #inforfedforum
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) April 6, 2017
After his keynote, I asked Aguilar if there was tension between hiring great talent and just filling slots - given the amount of positions a department like CBP has to fill?
Absolutely. Look, any executive within an organization that is charged with what CBP and ICE right now are charged with is going to be cringing. Because at the forefront is a mandate to get the individuals that they need. With a time crunch, though, and in the absence of technological support that'll help you filter out, it's going to be very difficult. And that recognition is there.
That's why Aguilar is an advocate for the right HR tech:
To the degree that we can bring in capabilities of software technology, integration, networking, correlation of all these things that need to be taken in to account, [we need to] jump at the opportunity.
From hiring-by-emotion to hiring-by-data - the role of talent science
Let's face it: talent management software has been around for a while now, and these talent and recruitment problems haven't gone away. But I heard a different type of enthusiasm for what you might call next-gen HR software. One Infor product in particular got mentions by the panelists: Infor Talent Science. An offering from Infor's Dynamic Science Labs, Talent Science seemed to match the panelists' concerns about not just hiring - but smart hiring.
Turner told us how it all started:
When Jon was the CFO, one thing he challenged us to do was to think differently about how we actively evaluate and assess whether someone is qualified or not.
That meant looking beyond HR competencies to culture fit.
What we recognized we had to do was to find competent individuals who not only understood HR, but whose personalities would fit within our organization to ensure they would be successful.
Turner found that Talent Science presented a fresh approach:
Jon had some conversations with Infor. [He told us], "Hey, there's this organization out there that does psychological profiling to help you better predict whether someone who comes in and is qualified would also be the right fit."
This fits with Turner's push for a more strategic HR:
The next evolution for us in HR and shared services is to be able to build up that human resources capacity and capability, so that we can have a model that would work well and be replicated throughout the organization. We think that the psychological talent science piece is one component of it.
Holladay quizzed the audience:
- How many folks in here ever hired someone that you think is a great candidate, and six or eight months later, after you've invested a lot of time and energy in them, they move on and go to a different job?
- How many people have picked somebody they thought was the best candidate in the world, they got the job and you discovered they couldn't do the job? We've all had that pain, right?
Naturally, almost all of us raised our hands. When Holladay demoed Talent Science for the first time, he asked himself a new question:
What if part of the problem is we're asking for the wrong person for the wrong job?
Now you're moving from hiring-on-emotion to hiring-on-data:
This is a data-driven approach. This isn't an "I feel" emotion. This is a way that I sit down, I take the people in my organization who are the top performers, and I see what skill sets they're utilizing and bringing to the table and what their aptitudes are - what makes them a good fit. Then I try and find candidates who have those similar qualities and skills for the jobs I'm looking for.
"We put them in a job they really hated - and wondered why they left"
Holladay told the audience that Infor Talent Science helped them to determine that there are three different types of accountants they could hire, and, for example, the "internal controllers" find the "reconcilers" job too numbers-oriented:
It's mundane; they don't like it; they move on. We were trying to hire everyone to have the highest level skill set, and then we put them in a job they really hated - and wondered why they left. The data that came back told us that we needed to be smarter about who went after.
Alas, Holladay's team ran into that classic government problem - a new candidate in office, and in their case, a hiring freeze. So they weren't able to push into deeper analysis at the employee level they wanted to do next. During my talk with Aguilar, he told me it was likely that the CBP would be giving Infor Talent Science a close look:
The outcome we're looking for is getting the right people at the right time in the right place in order to get the right job done... From what I'm seeing with Infor specifically is that there is the ability to evaluate, to assess psychologically, the 39 points that we've got, so that when an individual is placed or accepted for a job and placed, it's a much better fit for the type of job that we're looking to fill.
The wrap - is a more strategic HR possible?
Infor is no stranger to HCM. They have a comprehensive cloud HR suite - err, CloudSuite, and 5,000 HR customers globally. But I'm not surprised the next-gen Talent Science offering stood out. When you check the phone-based candidate profiling tools, you can see this is many galaxies away from green screen payroll processing:
Infor's case will be even stronger as more customers get further along with Talent Science, and can speak to results over several years of recruiting (and, hopefully, reduced attrition rates and higher job satisfaction scores). I don't think anyone would claim that data/cloud/UX tech is going to solve all the problems that ail the public sector. Aguilar spent some time documenting the serious problems of global instability we now face; that's not easy for CBP or any federal agency to cope with.
But the prospect of better HR software for a more strategic HR definitely resonated with the attendees I spoke to. Turner raised the difficulty level further, by citing a very unlikely role model for HR processes: Amazon.com.
One of our challenges is to build in an HR process that is like Amazon.com. The HR shop would be the user experience, an executive management level reporting experience... If I want to go in and exercise career ladder promotion on such and such a date. I do that, I'm done. I get something back the way I do when I order on Amazon that says, "Here's your confirmation number, and this action should be effective by Friday."
That's a very ambitious way of thinking about HR. It should keep organizations - and vendors - with their hands full long after the next election cycle.