Technology Insights: HR Tech That’s Not Really For HR

The most important theme I detected in HR technology this past year is a shift from HR focused applications to business focused applications.

Traditionally, HR Tech was about helping HR do its work — for example an applicant tracking system to help recruiters or a learning management system to help the training department—and in fact, that hasn’t changed. The vast bulk of HR technology is about helping HR professionals do their job.

However, there is something new: HR applications focused primarily on the business.

Processes HR is not directly involved in

Take an award-winning product like Halogen’s 1:1 Exchange. The 1:1 Exchange enables a conversation between a manager and employee about goals and development. The secret of this application is that it does everything it can to make that often uncomfortable conversation productive.

For example it arms the manager with a good question to kick off (e.g. “What isn’t working right yet in the organization?”) and provides them with basic but essential data for the conversation (e.g. what are the employee’s goals?). It even prompts manager to have the conversation now, not some day when they happen to have time.

It’s a great tool, but what really struck me was that it was about a process HR professionals are not directly involved in. This is centered around managers talking to employees about achieving results.

Another example is BetterWorks which is really a manager’s tool for setting goals, cascading them down through their department, and then tracking progress on those goals. I can imagine a business manager getting this for their department without even recognizing that this is somehow related to HR’s performance management process.

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Technology for appraisals and surveys

Perhaps the biggest point to note is that for a manager, performance management is a day-to-day activity focused on getting the work done; for HR, it’s an annual cycle focused on appraisals — and that’s a big difference. I still think performance management is an HR process, but Betterworks thinks firstly about the manager’s needs not HR’s needs.

And, here’s just one last example: CultureIQ. This is basically an employee survey company. That may seem like pretty standard stuff, however HR is used to companies coming out of an “employee satisfaction survey” history. In other words, they grew out of an HR focus.

CultureIQ is coming from a “high performing org” history; that’s more of a business focus. Despite the different origins the two paths converge in many ways, however it’s worth flagging, once again, that we have HR software not focused primarily on HR.

What is interesting?

  • Whenever I see these products I always tell vendors they may have an easier time selling direct to managers than trying to sell through HR. The HR function has a terrible reputation for being unimaginative and difficult when it comes to innovative products. Why is it that HR finds it so much more difficult to say “Yes, let’s try that” whereas a line manger could see the value in a couple of minutes?

What’s really important?

  • HR has important work to do in delivering services to the organization: filling vacancies, monitoring leave, providing training and so on. However, the bigger impact will be if HR plays a role, off to the side, in helping manager’s do a better job of managing talent. 

John Boudreau frames this as helping managers make better decisions about talent. Creating conditions for the company to manage talent effectively is quite different from providing services; the business oriented software I highlight here is about creating those conditions.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought Indeed.com for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.

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