Mile-wide-inch-deep: Why HR Tech ends up as, “much ado about nothing”

Let me begin by saying that, HR is working hard.

Working hard to pivot. Working hard to become digital. Working hard to keep pace with the Millennials and Gen-Z. Yet, all that hard work, ends up as, “much ado about nothing”. Allow me to explain.

To be fair, in the last 10-15 years or so, HR in India has invested resources in technology. However, the approach HR and service providers have traditionally taken is:

  1. Do-a-bit-of-everything: Typical HR-Tech solutions try to address everything from recruitment, performance management, compensation to training with one “end-to-end solution”.
  1. One-size-fits-all-employees: The only way a solution can address such varied functions en-masse, is treating all employees just the same; i.e. assuming that all employees want the same things, work in the same way, are motivated similarly – and therefore must be managed the same way.

This has led to the generation of mile-wide-inch-deep HR-Tech solutions, offered by biggest players in the market. And for sure, these have made the task of “management” of employees convenient. However, the fact that we have forgotten the core purpose of HR-Tech (an “experience enabler”) and traded it for convenience – is the root of HR-Tech – with all the hype around it – becoming a case of much-ado-about-nothing.

In his white-paper (a highly recommended read), Josh Bersin, argues that while the use of technology systems by employees has increased in the US – the output has only marginally improved. And this is while employees are working longer hours, taking fewer vacations and being stressed – if the burgeoning corporate spent on well-being programs (USD 40 Billion per year) is anything to go by. The story back home is no different, given Indian employees switch more jobs than any other country, and nearly 50% of employees admit to experiencing stress at workplace.

I said it in my previous blog, and I will say it many times over. The idea of “managing employees” simply doesn’t work. Employees expect a certain experience from their workplace. And if they don’t get it, they have the choice to move. A choice, that they are increasingly exercising without any qualms. Gone are the days when employees aspired for a long-service award. We live in the age of portfolio careers.

If HR’s core objective is to enable employees’ experience, such that they work to their best potential; and if the core objective of HR-technology is to enable that goal – then clearly things have failed. Infact, I will go a step further to say that, even as HR has realized the need to change its approach, technology is coming in its way. Clearly, the investment, efforts and brouhaha around HR-Tech, in its current avataar, are simply much-ado-about-nothing.

“Okay we get it – but what is the solution?”  You might ask.

To start with, the solution is not, to shoot the messenger. Technology is only a tool. The success or failure of it, depends on how it is used. As I see it, we need to go back to the drawing board, and flip the two aspects of the approach, I mentioned in the beginning.

  1. One-size-fits-all ..to.. Each-employee-to-his-own

Improving technology, begins with changing the underlying assumptions. In our case, it is the underlying assumptions about what employees want.

Raghav may be willing to work for a lower pay, provided he can have flexi-time to take care of his kid. Harini might want a higher take-home component to be able to pay for her mortgage. Further, each of these employees may have different needs at different life stages. Further , Harini learns better by watching e-learning videos. Raghav learns better by talking to peers.

If we want HR-Tech that will enable Raghav, Harini and many others like them – we need to begin with acknowledging that they don’t want the same things.

  1. Do-a-bit-of-everything ..to.. Do-few-things-well

As a natural outcome of acknowledging that each employee wants a different experience, we will have to dig deeper into each HR process and deliver it to the employees individually, in a manner that suits them. This requires a shift from mile-wide-inch-deep solutions to feet-wide-mile-deep solutions, where specialists dig deep into each HR sub-function, brought together by platforms that enable interoperability.

I wish I could say that Dockabl is a pioneer in this kind of tech approach. But the truth is, this kind of approach has been staring right at our face every morning – in form of a Google screen. Google in itself does not solve any of our problems. But it brings together all the solutions out there. Or, take Facebook, which does not create any of the Farmville or Candy Crush Saga we love, but simply hosts them.

So, we are not pioneers. It’s just, that we are the first to recognize the potential of something that was out there for everyone to see (but got missed in plain sight) – and bring it to HR. But I am happy today, as an HR person more than anything else, that players such as Workday, SAP, Oracle are warming up to it – maybe slowly, sometime shyly, perhaps reluctantly – but surely; happy that they are moving to “open platforms” that will allow specialists like Dockabl to provide feet-wide-mile-deep solutions.

Finally, and at the cost of repeating myself, I will say something – that we keep reminding ourselves at Dockabl every day. A reminder, of the fundamental assumption which is at the heart of our product design. In the words of Shakespeare in his play called (well!)  “Much Ado About Nothing”..

A line we remember about every employee we design Dockabl for…

“Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”

Why Ongoing feedback Is The Way Forward For Your Startup

The term ‘performance management’ has seen many evolutions over the years in the corporate world, but what does it actually mean? And how applicable is it as a one-size-fits-all model, especially in a new world filled with start-ups and non-traditional work environments?

These are two complex questions, so let’s take them one at a time.

The role of performance management

 

Feedback is the lifeblood of performance. It sounds straightforward. You tell employees how they can improve based on what you (and others) have observed, and voila. Change is there.

Not exactly.

That’s the simple scenario but rarely is it the case. The meaning of performance management itself is based on several components:

  • Behaviour
  • Outcomes
  • Skill-sets

These can be complicated individually, and together, even more. You could be seeing certain behaviour that are keeping employees behind, like procrastination. Or there might be projects where a team member wasn’t performing well. They might be missing certain skill sets that are keeping them from progressing. A simple change could help evolve in their position and equip them with knowledge on how to improve and progress within the team.

However, taking all of these disparate pieces and trying to cobble them together is difficult. Which is why performance management has seen a lot of shifts. How do you address all of these things effectively, and with impact? Ideally, you would be able to talk to colleagues right then and there, as soon as you spot whatever it is that needs fixing…but that doesn’t happen. By the time feedback is delivered, that moment is long gone so it takes more time to see a change.

In an earlier post, We wrote about the diminishing role of management and there’s a particular phrase that bears repeating:

We have all heard the cliche, “don’t measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree”. Yet, we implement this cliche with religious zeal through performance management systems, every year, around the world.

Rather than making feedback, and thereby broader performance management more individualized, it becomes standardized. This version of performance management doesn’t end up working for employees. But recognizing their individual strengths and weaknesses does. It’s about showing employees, in real time, about what’s going well and what isn’t. For feedback to be effective, it needs to be timely and tailored.

Examining startups in this context

 

Taking on the second question, performance management takes on more importance in the context of startups, for a variety of reasons.

Startups function differently from conventional corporations as they are made up of smaller teams of talented (and often young) professionals. Within these teams, management experience itself can be varied in these settings, which makes employee feedback and morale that much more critical.

Sometimes younger team members might be put in a management setting they are unfamiliar with (and therefore struggle with delivering employee feedback) or might be managing employees with more experience. Or there might be more experienced senior managers who struggle with the start-up setting and delivering feedback in a more meaningful way since they are more used to different performance management methods.

In either scenario, I think the role of ongoing feedback takes on more importance because it is experience-agnostic. Rather than adhering to older, stolid ways of feedback, there needs to be a shift in thinking.

There is more focus on multiple milestones rather than big accomplishments. By rewarding their employees for making incremental progress, they can nudge them towards the overall goal and encourage them to ‘level up’ at every step of the way. This form of structuring and delivering feedback is beneficial, both for employees and management teams. 

By utilizing this interactive (and rather fair) form of appraisal (constant feedback), managers can benefit from a less time consuming and more cost-effective way to manage employees. It becomes a collaborative process between employee and employer, and it sets up expectations well. Either employer/manager or both employee and employer can begin setting up objectives and goals for the employee, which can, in turn, help him/her perform better. This is due to the fact that it lets employees know the goals they need to reach as well as the quality and quantity needed to achieve them.

It is also worth noting that, if both employee and employer decide on objectives together, the probability of meeting those goals can be much higher.

So what difference does ongoing feedback make?

 

Simple, because feedback involves two parties: employee and employer. Rather than siloing feedback, this allows smaller teams to grow together. Remember that earlier phrase about not teaching fish to climb trees? It applies here. This form of appraisal opens up the process into a dialogue and a real conversation. Instead of expecting employees to adhere to the same standards, treating them as individuals opens up a new realm of professional development that has true impact. 

While it might seem daunting to start a system of ongoing feedback, I can tell you firsthand, the individual employee approach works. I’ve seen it time and time again in different circumstances, and for start-ups, in particular, this form of performance management is far more effective and meaningful – both for employees and employers.

 

Is your startup struggling with delivering feedback that provides real value for employees? Our Feedback module can help. We’ve created a simple system that allows co-workers to receive and provide timely help by sharing development insights. By linking it directly to a project, skillset or behaviour, feedback can have a real tangible impact on professional development. Learn more here.

 

 



Fill it, shut it, forget it: Why the very idea of ‘Management’ is all wrong

“Human Resource Management”

“Talent Management”

“Learning Management”

“Performance Management”

Meet the corner-stone of how people are dealt with in organizations, i.e. management. Even the top business schools around the world are dedicated to this one cause. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I went to one of them. But here’s what I want to say today, without qualms, and from the bottom of my heart:

If we care for how businesses can create value using their human capital, we should scrap every trace of this thing called “management” from organizations, and drown it in the deepest ocean known to man.

Now if that seems a little extreme, bear with me for a while. I hope you will soon see the point.

Take for instance performance management. Every working professional has suffered it. What is the yardstick “successful” performance management system? That it is “standard”. We have all heard the cliché, “don’t measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree”. Yet, we implement this cliché with religious zeal through performance management systems, every year, around the world.

You see, management is nothing but a “set of transactions”. We need to pay employees, so let’s define a philosophy, process and policy, i.e. set of transactions – whether or not they suit the context or employee need. Similarly, we need to hire people, so let’s have a fixed selection process irrespective of the fact that different candidates may need to be assessed differently.

Problem is, our idea of “management” assumes that “one size fits all”.

But if we look around, the employees have changed. People might choose to work with start-ups at 1/4th the salary. A decade or so ago, people focused on career, money and a stable job. Today they are seeking learning and a meaningful experience. Job is just a by-product. There is no way we can create experiences that make sense to each individual with the current idea of management – which prioritizes efficiency and standardization above personalized experiences.

I was in a conversation with a senior leader in one of blue-chip companies. We were talking about the kind of people who are joining start-ups like ours (@Dockabl). He said,

“Sanjeev, I want talent like you have, but we don’t know how to attract them”.

This is someone from a blue-chip company telling the founder of a start-up. No, I don’t feel smug. I feel sad.

Sad because the answer is not all that difficult. And there are companies who are already practicing it. In Asian Paints, when they find an employee not doing well – they don’t simply discard him/her in the bell curve. They ask 3 fundamental questions:

·      Have we put him in the right place?

·      Have we enabled him?

·      Have we created the right experience for him?

The company practices “putting the fish back into the water”, not judging it for climbing a tree.

Another example is that of Sapient. That is one company I have almost never heard any employee crib about their HR. I happened to meet someone from their HR team at a conference and asked her what they were doing differently. The answer was simple. “We are focusing on individual aspirations”, she said.

Now we might ask, how do we enable individual aspirations, without a standardized management system, while dealing with large numbers?

Fair question.

Let me give the example of a Google screen. How does it look? Is it loaded with features? Or, is it plain and simple? It is the latter. Yet, Google offers a world of tools to you. But it does so, without over-whelming you – and it gives you, what you need, by understanding you. So, your Google screen over time, will work differently for you, than it will, for me.

In my interactions with business and HR leaders over years, my sense is that many do realize that the traditional management methods have failed. However, they are still stuck with the inertia of using tools and systems, designed for the erstwhile management style. While the philosophy has changed, the systems have not.

I was speaking on a panel, at a conference, recently. I asked (rather poked) the audience:

Don’t you think the technology we use for people, within organizations, are like glorified excel sheets?

There were about 150 HR professionals in that auditorium and everyone got laughing, nodding their heads vigorously. We know the problem. We also know the solution. In an age where user-experience is the king, organizations cannot afford to turn a blind eye to it, when it comes to the tools used for their own employees.

There used to be this Hero Honda ad when I was young.

Fill it. Shut it. Forget it.

For far too long, we have dealt with employees like that; i.e. creating a management system once, and forgetting about it, even after the context and employee expectations have changed.

Employees are taking cognizance of the changes in the world. And they are taking charge of the situation. It’s high time, organizations wake up, and do the same.

Digital-divide between workplace and home, no one is talking about

Have you seen those sci-fi movies, where the characters keep moving in and out of parallel universes? That is almost how office-going people are living today.

One of those universes is outside the workplace. Here you can run a good part of your life on the phone. You have choice. You can expect speed. If you don’t like, so much as the look of an app, you can simply discard it. In this universe, your experience matters.

The other universe exists inside workplaces. This one feels like a time travel, 10 years into the past. It is difficult to figure out the login to the tools and navigate the complex and unpleasant interface. Not to mention, you can access it solely on your laptop and sometimes only on your office network. If you happen to work remotely, on field or client site, then your woes just increase. The entire thing takes so much effort that you avoid it for as long as you can, until HR serves its last stern warning. Your experience as an employee? No one cares.

We talk about the digital-divide between urban and rural areas. It is an irony how we suffer that very divide, every single day, between the technology eco-system an employee experiences inside workplaces, and the one they experience outside it; while we pat ourselves on our back for being technology-driven, innovative companies. It is not surprising that a KPMG study on the future of HR, found that only 40% of HR leaders admitted to having a digital workplan in place.

However, we will not get away with this for much longer, for one fundamental reason; that is, the employees of today are driven by experiences. There used to be a time, when people selected companies based on the brand name, stability and such factors. Today we select companies based on the kind of experience they will give us on a daily basis. Earlier, we relied on official websites for information on the company; its revenue, global presence.

These days, hardly anyone gets on the website because those are no longer the criteria for deciding on a workplace. We get on social media and read comments of ex-employees; we get on Glassdoor; we read comments and posts of the company leaders on LinkedIn – and follow the very hiring managers who interviewed us. This is because we care for our experience within the organization. Today a local start-up offering great employee experience may be preferred over a global brand. I have travelled across the country to hire from colleges. Over the years, I have noticed a distinct shift in the way youngsters perceive companies, based on how digitally enabled the selection process itself was.

My colleague and co-founder of DockablSamarth, wrote about the millennials not willing to play along the status quo of talent management systems. Millennials and now Gen Z, are surely the torch-bearers of seeking a better digital experience at workplaces. However, today the oldest millennial is already 38 years of age. All earlier generations have adapted to the digital eco-system outside workplaces, just the same as millennials. Therefore, I believe that the expectation of a better digital experience exists among all cohorts of employees.

Finally, the talent eco-system itself has shifted. Workplaces operate in the gig economy, where portfolio careers are becoming a norm and frequent job changes are no longer considered blotches on the resume. Employees, especially key talent, have choices and they are not hesitant to exercise it. CHROs must factor in this talent risk and the associated cost, while ignoring the digital experience of employees.

The digital divide between workplaces and outside it, is real. If organizations really care for talent, they must seriously consider bridging this gap. And for that, CHROs will need to step out of their alternate universes and step into the parallel world the employee lives in.

Using data to improve performance and productivity – and balancing it with employee privacy

Talk of “Big Data” is everywhere – but the field of HR is one of the last few holdouts that isn’t rapidly using analytics to improve processes. Talent Management programs (specifically performance reviews, appraisals & employee recognition) still rely on inputs from very few people; it’s either just the immediate boss or the boss plus 2-3 colleagues. Add the recency effect (ref. Samarth’s last piece) and it just compounds these problems.

This is going to change quite rapidly because the startups that use data analytics to help their clients have started looking within and realised that they could be running a much better, faster & stronger organisation through the power of analytics.

An employee stands to gain control over his career, through the use of technology and data in performance management. Now, let’s look at how better use of data will help organisations:

  1. Improving employee recognition and review systems by adding more data points and contributors. Data will allow a 360-degree view in ways that have been impossible till now. A good system that allows for recording of immediate feedback will make appraisal systems more reliable, transparent and trustworthy.
  2. Driving hiring and career decision-making. Data-driven insights will enable decisions on promotions, career progression, skill set enhancement, critical talent retention, culture fitment and value alignment. These are “riddles” that will be demystified with the power of analytics.
  3. Identifying star performers. Ensuring that organisations identify A-level talent, ‘the stars’ who drive the company forward, is vital to success. In the words of Aditya Berlia, Co-promoter of the Apeejay Stya Group, “A-level people work faster, they have a fast learning curve, they’re more productive, they’re the most committed, and they have the biggest impact.” Data based inferences will help an organisation improve the selection capabilities, i.e. identify and onboard more star performers from outside & within the system.
  4. Integrating different systems to build one common view. People Management in large organisations is highly fragmented – recognition, employee engagement, performance management, comp & ben etc. sit with different teams for the required expertise and focus however, they end up becoming silos of operations. A seamless platform would present one view of the organisation with multiple inputs to answer questions such as, “Who deserves my ‘Performer of the Year’ award?”
  5. Making the company more productive and dynamic, focusing more on solving problems in an agile manner than on building hierarchies and departments. Once employee data is readily and clearly available to managers across the organisation, they will quickly assemble teams for projects based on skills and project requirements, rather than building a hierarchical structure around it.

Technology will have a significant impact on the structure and organisation of the workplace of the future; a topic for another article because it needs a deeper dive.

Wait, so much data – what about privacy concerns?

Yes, that’s a lot of data, and we’ve seen in the recent past that people aren’t exactly super careful with others’ personal information (Mr Zuckerberg, we know you’re reading this, and yes, we’re referring to you. Also, we’ve already bought those blue shoes – you can stop showing us their ads now.)

Awareness of privacy norms is increasing and as an increasing number of millennials join the workforce, the expectations that their personal data is safe with the company is paramount. The organisation of the future will have to balance the need for transparent & accessible information-based system with the employees’ expectation of privacy. There will also be legal requirements & compliances and of course, a major data breach will be extremely painful for a company’s reputation. But first and foremost, it’s about basic respect for personal information! So how should companies look at securing data? Here are some simple guidelines:

  • Treat data as a liability, not an asset. An employee’s medical and career history isn’t the employer’s to use as he sees fit; it must be handled very carefully. Collect only what is needed; keep only as long as required and anonymise where individual information is not core.
  • Secure everything. No passwords in text files. No confidential information stored in Microsoft Excel. Strong data encryption. A strong firewall.
  • Restrict access on a need-to-know basis. The HR and Accounts team shouldn’t have open access to everyone’s complete info; there should be processes in place to allow access and access should be logged.

This is more a cultural shift than an IT exercise; privacy and security should be a habit, not a once-a-year mandatory training video that everyone plays in the background while checking Instagram on their phones. Over the next few years, we’re going to be collecting, processing & analysing much more data than ever before. It is our colleagues’ right to ask that we keep it safe.

If you are interested in implementing a cutting-edge talent management system, Call us today!