Folks, if you're weary of enterprise keynotes, you're not alone. It seems like virtual event keynotes just boiled down the grounded keynote to a leaner version, with all the flavor of branded rawhide, a pared-down essence of vendor self-love, awkwardly shoehorned with some digital transformation spices - that's some tough beef jerky to gnaw on!
Imagine my surprise then at Sage Intacct Advantage, when the Sage People keynote, Managing Your Workforce with Agility and Reslience, was a frank and graceful assessment of today's HR predicaments, and what needs to change (You can register for free and catch this keynote, and most of the event content, on replay - the live content wraps on October 21).
HR tech and the new way of working - a help, or a hindrance?
Let's be honest: Sage People keynote speaker Paul Burrin, VP, Sage People at Sage, had good reason to turn his keynote into a product-laden pitchfest. Perhaps the biggest story of Sage Intacct Advantage 2020 is the "horizontalization" of Sage Intacct from its cloud financials core. As Brian Sommer explained in his pre-event opus, Sage People's cloud HCM is a big part of that story (see: Sage's mid-market evolution - insights on how Sage Intacct, People, and X3 are converging).
But to my surprise, Burrin didn't go for the product pitch. Instead, he kept it real - with a call for change to HR leaders. Burrin got that ball rolling with his guest spot in the general keynote, where he explained that if companies want to become "people companies," the automation of HR must have a human side: It's about "getting much more focused on employees, and the employee experience."
However, the pandemic provoked a new HR agenda: instead of the overhyped "talent wars" and hiring for growth, Burrin called upon HR to focus on employee well-being - keeping people engaged and productive. Granted, he's not the first HR executive to say that, but then he added:
Is [HR] tech really helping, or is it actually a hindrance to working in this new world?
"Are we managing well-being effectively?"
Burrin says that companies are easing back a bit from crisis mode. They are asking the next-step questions:
- How do we make sure that there's ongoing safety and well being for employees?
- How do we ensure that we've got effective homeworking that people can remain productive, and that we're creating the right ongoing employee experiences in this new work environment?
These may sound like obvious questions, but they are not. Burrin is taking a position here. As I documented in this week's Enterprise hits and misses, some employers are pushing hard to get workers back to the office - spin-doctoring their safety concerns.
We have figured out how to work remotely, but perhaps not how to look out for our people. Burrin:
We've learned how to work remotely and online. Many of us are still trying to ensure that we've got the right work/life balance... We're managing a whole range of often conflicting requirements, in terms of personal time and well being.
That means organizations have had to build in new levels of flexibility, and be thinking about how they engage with their workforce in very different ways.
Burrin didn't gloss over what work is like today:
By the time we get to the end of the week, we're pretty much all exhausted, simply because we're in back-to-back meetings day after day, from the moment we sit down at our desk, right through till the end of the day and sometimes longer into the early evening - or sometimes it's a very early morning start, depending on having to work across different time zones and that sort of thing. Other issues include people feeling burnt out or discouraged.
Then he mentioned the "D" word we need to talk about more openly:
And in the worst case, people starting to feel depressed about all of this.
It comes down to this:
Are we managing well-being effectively?
Defining HR agility - how do we get there?
Not so fast, though. Let's say HR wants to address this expansive definition of their role. Well, good luck with that. Unfortunately, stale/rigid/disconnected HR processes are not going to provide a way to do that. Burrin laid out HR's core challenges in this slide:
So how does HR become more agile? We can get in trouble with the word "agile," used (and often abused) in so many different contexts. Burrin's take?
Agility we can think about in a couple of ways. The first is looking at this from the point of view of applying agile principles to HR and business management, in order to achieve better performance. HR agility, on the other hand, is more about running HR and businesses in a quick, nimble and frictionless way.
Essentially, what we're trying to do is just figure out, are there other ways, better ways of doing things to enable us to be more responsive, adaptive, and be able to flex quickly, as circumstances dictate? Now one can think about this in terms of applying agility in HR.
As Burrin explained it, applying "HR agility" has two aspects. One strikes me as principles, the other as policies or processes to change. Burrin cited the example of improving employee leave policies. I would add the managing COVID testing or office-by-office capacity management to that list, as companies experiment with phased office re-openings.
He laid out a number of tactics for applying agility to HR. One standout for me? "Responding quickly to changes with fact-based or data-informed decision making." Burrin:
How do we respond quickly to changes? And how do we do that with fact-based information? Knowing that we've got data to support that, that's really critical, because in many smaller and mid-market organizations, if the information is actually scattered across things like spreadsheets, or different types of files and documents, it may be very hard to get the sort of information that's necessary in order to be able to manage that particular situation.
And that's about as close as Burrin got to a product pitch. But he also emphasized that we need to move beyond management HR to self-serve HR. It's only through self-service HR that we can get to that accurate source of HR truth we need for planning and reporting. In the Sage Intacct Advantage general keynote, Burrin put the steps like this:
- Managing the new workforce experience - how do we keep connected? We need an employee-focused HR approach.
- A self-service portal where employees can keep their info current - and ensure the HR system of record is up to date.
- Once that's in place, then you have the potential for workforce visibility across the organization, for dashboards, reporting and planning.
Burrin's final keynote topic was the difficulty of forward planning when so many variables are unknown. What HR leads really need, Burrin argued, is to embrace "scenario thinking." Example: he presented three different pandemic scenarios, each with different implications for HR:
Though I appreciated the absence of product pitches, we are, after all, at a Sage Intacct user event. I'm sure some Sage Intacct customers are eager for more product specifics. Eventually, these approaches must be embedded into Sage People and Sage Intacct integration. Details on that, however, will have to wait - except for those Sage customers in the Intacct-People integration beta. When I asked Sage if they had a target date yet for the general availability of this integration, they told me they've committed to 2021, but the exact timing is still being sorted.
The fact that Sage People (formerly Fairsail) runs on the Force.com platform is a plus for Sage, which already has deep experience integrating Sage Intacct with Salesforce - probably Sage Intacct customers' most popular third party integration, at least from what I've seen. For a deeper Intacct/People dive, definitely head towards Brian Sommer's piece.
As I'm wrapping this, the show is only halfway through, so I won't issue any verdicts. Day one had some technical issues, and the general keynote was a bit awkward at times. But I did like Sage Intacct's willingness to just put their execs on webcam and make it work.
But if Burrin didn't really push product, is that a marketing fail? I don't think so. Our remote workforces may be productive, but that doesn't mean we're well. If only more vendors treated their keynotes as a way to let us see a human side, and talk about workplace issues we all have a stake in.
End note: a couple things that are important to the Sage Intacct show that weren't covered in Brian's piece were the GL outlier detection news, and Sage Intacct's emphasis on Budgeting and Planning. If you're interested, I shared customer views on those before the show in Customers weigh in on budgeting and planning in 2020, and the impact of the intelligent GL - a Sage Intacct Advantage preview. Also, you can browse the Sage Intacct product news releases.
Updated 9am US PT October 22, with a few tweaks for reading clarity.