The HR tech event season preview - time to address analytics and recruiting problems

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed September 16, 2016
Brian Sommer has an analytical chip on his shoulder - so what's new, you ask? Well, HR tech event season is upon us, and Sommer has some issues - issues he wants vendors to address. During a recent podcast, we hashed out a few, including the problem of HR analytics, recruiting software myopia, and HR's struggle to claim a boardroom seat. Here's some highlights.

HR tech event season is almost upon us, with debates on the future of work (and robots) sure to follow. Who better to vent topic preview spleen than diginomica contributor and notorious event crasher Brian Sommer? After Sommer blew a fuse at the Acumatica analyst event, we taped two podcasts, the second of which is HR tech review - problems in analytics and recruiting.

I tried to get Sommer wound up as we whipped through a 13 minute rapid fire of HR tech hot topics, from problems in analytics to shortcomings in recruiting software. And: when will HR earn its strategic seat at the boardroom table? We better purge the demeaning "head count" jargon first. Here's a few quotables for each.

The problem with HR analytics

Sommer sees a fundamental problem with how HR vendors are approaching analytics. The spark for Sommer's ire is the sidebar of a recent HBR piece, Talent: Why People Quit Their Jobs. Sommer:

There are a lot of analytical tools in HR that help predict who might be at risk for leaving an organization.... Let's say Jon Reed has cashed in all of his stock options, and he's used up all his vacation days. He's updated his Linkedin profile six times this month when he didn't update it once in the whole last year or two. (Editor's note: Jon assures us he hasn't updated his LinkedIn profile in at least a year). Those are the indicators that Jon might be actually thinking about leaving and going to look for true love elsewhere with another employer.

Sounds good Brian. So what's the problem?

The problem with this is is - and the article points this out too - is even if you get a job, what is an employment manager supposed to do with that knowledge? By the time analytics figure this out, it's too late. This article asked, "When do people start thinking about leaving their employer?" Because that's what the analytics aren't getting right today... In most cases, it's too late do something about that, and create an intervention.

So what's a better approach?

A lot of people get real introspective at key birthdays, like when you turn thirty. You look at yourself as you turn forty or fifty, whatever it is, and you go, "Hmm, you know, I really haven't been the world beater star that I thought I was going to be when I joined this company." You decide, "I need to get my act in gear and do something different about that."

Wouldn't it be nice if a company and a management team or HR group actually knew like, "Oh, you're going to be turning 38? Maybe we should start having more conversations with you about your career. Where does it go? What kind of training do you need? Where do we have you on the succession plan or the leadership pipeline?" So that by the time you do turn, say 40, you're not worried about your career. You now see it's back on track, it's where it needs to be.

Sounds like a call for "intelligent career intervention" - before anyone touches their LinkedIn profile. Sommer:

Correct. It preempts that. That's the problem with the HR analytics right now. They're looking at data points that won't result in a lot of change. It's probably going to creep out a bunch of people when their boss comes walking up and says, "Hey, I noticed five minutes ago you just updated your Linkedin page again. We need to have a talk."

Recruiting software falls short

Let me guess - Sommer also has a fight to pick with recruiting software? Yep:

I'd love to see the recruiting vendors actually solve the "war for talent." Because right now, their way of solving it is to process more resumes - to broaden the net wider. I think the [recruiting] technology out there right now is reprehensible in its limited scope and capability. It's not doing anything to actually solve these war for talent problems.

Jon, you were in the HR business in a prior life. I bet you haven't gotten an inbound request in ages where somebody wants you to get back into that business have you? You know why? Because that information's probably on the bottom half of your resume. Most companies only look at what you're doing today. They assume that all people are one dimensional beings, that they only have one role in life: to do the job that they're currently doing. That is a horrible misuse and misunderstanding of what recruiting should be all about.

Better recruiting means a new approach to hiring and training

Sommer concedes this isn't just a technology problem. Companies need to radically change their views on talent pools and training as well:

If recruiters and recruiting technology were smart, they would look particularly at older workers. Anybody who's l35 or 40 years old can probably do multiple different things - if the company or recruiting technology were smart enough to go look at what those are.

But that means a shift from tunnel vision hiring to cultivating talent:

What's really going on is there is a labor pool out there, and the smart companies find ways to capture the best people within that talent pool. They hang on to them as long as they possibly can. What's missing here is that companies think they have no responsibility to train or develop talent. If that's the case, then they're almost doomed to always be short people and short skills.

Bad jargon alert - when will HR earn that strategic seat at the boardroom table?

Sommer thinks HR will always limit itself when vendors use demeaning jargon:

If I could just leave you with this one thought, when you ask me about why companies are not willing to make investments [in training], generally those are the types of companies who don't refer to human beings as people, or employees. They call them "bodies." Or "butts in seats." I find those terms offensive beyond belief. It speaks volumes to the rather uninformed way in which they are approaching workforce issues. It's one of the reasons why those are going to be companies still griping and moaning about, "We still can't find our talent," you know, to fill their spots.

So can HR earn it way into the boardroom?

I don't know if it's a chicken-and-the-egg thing, but there are some very strategic thinking and brilliant chief HR officers I have run into. There are also a whole bunch that are very tactical, transactional-oriented people. If you want the seat at the executive committee, you have to walk in the room with something of value to the committee itself, to your other peers on the executive team. [Brian then mentioned a new tool he's seen that can help HR officers bring value to the boardroom. He promises to share more details with us later - I'll hold him to it.]

The (quick) wrap

During the podcast, we went further into age discrimination and the inability of HR software to gracefully handle both employee recruitment and contingent labor. I'll embed that below. We ended the podcast with me wishing Sommer good luck at the HR events - and good luck to those vendors who have the chance for... delightfully frank conversations with him.

Sommer has also written in detail on the HR retention and attrition analytics problem. Meantime, if you're gearing up for the HR tech event season, Naomi Bloom's inimitable HR tech event survival guide may come in handy. Happy headcounting!

You can also download the podcast or grab it on my Busting the Omnichannel iTunes page as soon as it updates there.

End note: quoted text has been tightened and tidied from the podcast for readability.

Updated, September 16, 10pm PT with a few tweaks for clarity.

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