The Best #HRTechConf Ever?

 

“Somewhere in the world is the world’s worst doctor. And what’s truly terrifying is that someone has an appointment with him tomorrow morning.” – George Carlin, American icon.

Logically, that has to be true.  Not all are created equal, so one of them has to be the worst.

Thinking about this year’s HR Technology Conference, back in the neon mecca of Las Vegas this year, brought me to a similar place.  Of the first fifteen years, not every year has been equal.  The show grows each year, the speaker lineup changes, the venue has shifted.  Plenty of moving parts and improvements means not every year is created equal.  So in this case I wondered, which one is the best?

I’m partial to 2010, my first trip.  If you’ve never been, the palpable air of information and futurism is astounding.  I really can’t say how many sessions I attended (though I recall a couple with stark clarity) as I was reeling from the Expo Hall.  As a practitioner, it was like a dream come true.  Every question had an answer.  Usually more than one.

Need help figuring out how to get your systems to integrate without manual data loads? Check.

Want a way to put your organizational arms around remote workers and make sure they know you value them, even those across the ocean?  Doublecheck.

Payroll management got you down, and you need a new way to track activity to get everyone paid? Mega-check.

Need a case management system to help organize your tribal knowledge and treat your employees like you are paying attention to their needs? MOTHERFLIPPING CHECK ALL OVER THAT.

Astounding for the young and old.  201o was the year I decided going to HR Tech was a great idea.

 

2011 was pretty great.  My first time at the show in Las Vegas, where the glamor and the glitz seemed, somehow, just right.  I was able to see the way the space evolved in just one year.  The cutting edge ideas had gotten left behind, and we were in a new place already, just twelve months later.  Things that seemed to be made of magic last year became old news, and the mobile world was proven to be the next great frontier.  That was also the first year Paul Smith and I threw together our much loved (if only by us) Swag Video.  Good times to be sure.  Add in the addition of HRevolution as a pre-conference event, and the week was staggeringly awesome.

But the thing I took away that has stayed with me is that the difference from one year to the next was amazing.  2011 was the year I decided going to HR Tech once wasn’t enough.

 

2012 was my first year attending as a member of a vendor team.  Working with Dovetail Software allowed me to see behind the scenes, to understand just how much effort goes into putting on a show of this magnitude, and how much all those vendors care about making the right impression.  Yes, there are some that pour money into ginormous displays and booths, and they are amazing.  But there are even more vendors that know this is the show when it comes to sharing your passion with the HR community.  This is the place to take your labor of love and show it to the world.  This is the time to put yourself on the line, be willing to brave the crowds of those just trying to grab as many free tchotchkes as possible without making eye contact, all for the opportunity to change the world.  And the world does get changed.

Attendees who have never seen the other side have no idea of the work behind the scenes from the conference team as well.  Anyone who has seen Bill Kutik on stage likely thinks him as stoic and unflappable as the Buckingham Guard.  Those who have tried to grab him in the hallway for a five minute conversation know he is in constant motion, churning through the event and the schedule to make it a grand show.  But even then, we rarely see the work done by the HRE team months in advance and all through the show to keep the trains running, the coffee flowing and the magic spinning.  Never for a moment doubt there are mountains being moved to make every moment valuable for attendees and vendors alike.

And yes, Paul and I reprised the Swag Video.  Great fun had by all.  Year two of HREvolution, cementing it as a ongoing addition.

Seeing all of this was an eye-opener.  2012 was the year I decided I wouldn’t miss HR Tech ever again.

 

And 2013?  Maybe the best year ever for the show?  We’ll find out.  Why might it be?

More new tech.  More vendors.  More attendees.  The best tech Expo Hall you’re likely to see all year.  Plus, this is Bill Kutik’s swan song.  And if you know anything about Bill, you know that he’s not going out on anything but an Eddie Van Halen level screaming guitar solo high note.  I don’t have any special insight into what’s on tap. Just read the website and you’ll know everything I know.  And that will be enough. And as the incoming arbiter of all things technologically relevant, Steve Boese, prepares to take the con, we get to enjoy the only year of having both of them involved in putting it together.

How could you possibly miss that?

And if it helps, as a friend of the show you get the chance for $500 off the registration price.  Just use the Promo Code LEAN13 (all caps) when you register online www.HRTechConference.com to get $500 off the rack rate of $1,895.  But don’t wait too long.  Vegas is the land of cheap flights and a thousand hotels, but they do get filled up.  So get yourself taken care of.

Oh, and leave a comment or drop me a note if you are coming.  If it’s your first time, and you can find me, I’ll buy you coffee.  Seems like the least I can do!

Early Thoughts on HR Tech 2011

I suppose “early” is a bit of a misnomer for the start of day two (three, if you count the pre-conference goodness of HRevolution), but we still have two full days to go.  So much more to see, but here’s a few thoughts from inside the bubble.

The Power of Vegas

Much as the island was more than just a location in Lost, Las Vegas has served to set the pace on the conference.  Late nights coupled with early mornings have meant more time overall with friends, vendors and customers.  In most settings, being out late means you show up late.  Las Vegas isn’t geared that way, and if you don’t roll in as breakfast is being served, it will indeed look at you disapprovingly over its coffee.  Couple that with the grand plan of keeping you inside the building at all times while never wanting for anything, and you have a supercharged environment for sharing and collaboration.  I suspect the planes home will be filled with tired bodies and full minds.  Sounds nice, right?

The Power of the Hall

Once again, the Expo Hall is the highlight of the show for me.  Don’t get me wrong, the sessions are ridiculously good, as always.  But there is no doubt that if you put a booth up for HR Tech, you either bring your best or you get ignored.  There are so many creative, engaging booths in the hall that a table with a fishbowl for drawing just doesn’t attract the eye.  The newly re-branded Starr Conspiracy brought the heat in the form of a pristine Airstream trailer in their own private national park.  Sonar6, who received a hypo full of love for their giant cardboard box went even further with their giant cardboard box and modeling clay, setting out 400 pounds of creativity and asking everyone to play.  Games, interactive sessions, photo opportunities and more fill the hall.  And those that don’t step up are forced to step aside.

The Power of the People

There are no better opportunities to mix with the best and brightest in our profession.  What’s great about this particular event is the cross section of areas that are pulled in.  Sure, you can go to SHRM and see some great HR leaders, but you don’t always see the technology leaders at the same time, and certainly not in large doses. And when they are together, you don’t usually get the additional components of marketing and social media savvy with it.  With HR Tech, you get all of them.  It’s a bit of a tragedy I think, since we really need to keep these functional leaders and tool designers in lockstep.  Having this type of interaction every quarter would shake the world, but isn’t a realistic dream.  So we settle for the annual mind meld, and then hopefully take what we learn and go shake our own trees.

There’s more, don’t worry.  Lots more.  If you aren’t here to see it, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

HRevolution: Why I’m Going. Again.

Way back in April, I had the pleasure of gathering with some of the brightest people I know in Atlanta for HRevolution.  It was my first time in attendance, and exceeded my every expectation.  Great sessions, great networking, great location, great cupcakes.  No swag, no dead zones in the agenda, no wasted time in this one day event.  I returned energized, ready to dive into new projects, and with a pocket full of new connections.

That’s not to say, of course, that I had no regrets.  I had one.  A big one.  It ended.

I’m not sure HRevolution would work as a two or three day event.  I’m not sure you could keep up that level of energy and intensity for more than a day.  But the event left me wanting more, as great events do.  And I was resigned to the idea that I would have to wait a full year or more to get another dose of the good stuff.  That’s not meant as a slight toward the other events on the calendar.  They are great, but different.  You’d have to be there to understand.

When the announcement came that there would be a second HRevolution, I was excited.  When I heard it would be connected to the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas, I offered to buy my ticket on the spot.  Then I started calling people who missed the first one.

The agenda has been posted for HRevolution and for HR Tech.  They are both ridiculously good.  I am already starting to struggle with how to divide my time.  But not attending?  Not an option.  If you haven’t gotten your ticket yet, or if you aren’t sure you should go, think about this:

  • We are far enough out that airfare will be affordable.  But not for much longer.
  • Vegas is famous of providing affordable hotel rooms at the last minute.  They hate for their rooms to be empty.  You can make it happen for less than you think.
  • You can probably make your investment back at the roulette table.  And by “probably” I mean “some probability greater than zero.”  But still, how often do you get that chance at other events?
  • You know somebody who can save you some scratch.  (That would be me.  Get over to the HR Tech site and use LEAN11 as your coupon code to save $500.  You don’t even have to give me a cut.  But you could.  If you want.  No pressure.)

These are two of my favorite events, and I get to enjoy them back to back.  I may never be the same again.  I hope to see you there!

On My Way Back Home -> HR Tech, 2011


The 2010 HR Technology Conference in Chicago was, for me, nothing short of life changing.  And I don’t mean that in the hyperbolic “that was the best latte ever!” way.  I’m using “life changing” in the literal sense.  How?  Gosh, I’m glad you asked.  As we get closer to the 2011 HR Technology Conference (in Las Vegas, no less), here are the ways you can expect this year’s show to impact you:

People

The networking opportunities at this thing are ridiculously good.  There may be an initial thought that the show is populated with all the HRIS geeks from across the country.  Not so, my friends!  The way the space has evolved, you get a much larger cross section of attendees.  You’ll see those geeks, yes, plus vendors, pundits and celebrity impersonators.  But there are a few other groups you may not have thought about.

  • HR Executives, trying to understand what is out there and how far behind they really are.
  • Trench HR, trying to improve their own skill set.
  • Social media junkies and voices that will be sharing what they see and what it means.  Get to know them now, so that you can get highlights of the sessions you aren’t able to attend.
  • HR tech celebrities.  OK, that may sound silly.  But once you spend a little time in the space, you will quickly realize that the title rests easily on the heads of those like keynoters Jason Averbook, Naomi Lee Bloom, Jim Holincheck, John Boudreau and Bill Kutik.  Best yet, they are actual people who are more than happy to share what they know, be it in session or in the hallway.  Add to that the Q&A sessions with Lisa Rowan, Josh Bersin and Paul Hamerman, and you have an unparallelled opportunity to ask questions to the people who know the answers.

Thought Process

Seeing the new technology that was either delivered or close to being delivered last year was an eye opening experience.  Too often, we develop technology myopia, limiting our sight to the tools in front of us.  We forget how many smart people are working to build really cool applications to make HR, and therefor your business, run smoother.

I’ve spoken at times about the two key roles of HR, as I see them, being talent management and keeping people out of jail.  I think most HR professionals would agree, though, that we get distracted with paperwork, filing, administrative tasks and a host of other time stealing minutiae.    Seeing the inroads new technology has made in eliminating those demands will both lift your spirits and give you hope for the future.  OK, that may be a bit strong, but that’s what it did for me.  Seriously.

World View

It is easy as an HR professional to forget about the reach of our community.  Attending HR Tech 2010 opened up a whole world outside of my office walls.  I’m not an attendee of the SHRM national conference, so this was the first time I had the chance to spend a couple of days trading stories and ideas with other like minded professionals.

As I mentioned in a recent video post, none of us are breaking new ground on a regular basis.  There is always someone to learn from, someone’s experience to leverage, so crumb of wisdom we can distill from others, if only we take the time to seek it out.  Those people will be in Las Vegas in October.  I can’t tell you how many questions I was able to answer just by asking the people I met last year.  It made a huge, tangible impact on my work this year.  I can’t wait to see what I learn this time around.

Finally, there is the issue of inspiration.  I get geeked up being around passionate people seeing and doing things that they love.  And I’ve yet to find a better collection for those positive vibes than this conference.  Just as a point of reference, here is my wrap up post from last year.  I’m proud to say I worked on all of these targets and made significant progress, thanks in large part to the people I met in Chicago.

One last thing…

My gift to you.  Well, OK, Bill Kutik’s gift to me to give to you.

Getting development dollars in your budget can be tough.  Once you have them, you want to make them go as far as you can.  So while HR Tech is, in my humble opinion, worth every penny, you don’t have to pay all of them.

As a friend of the show, you can help yourself to a pretty significant discount.  Just use the Promotion Code LEAN11 (all caps) when you register online to get $500 off the rack rate of $1,795. The discount expires September 19, so don’t dally, OK?

There is a great brochure you can download if you want to know more about the show.  Or just take my word for it and go resister with that shiny new discount.  I hope to see you there!

 

How Self Service Fails

From the Internets…

I read a post yesterday from Mike Brace at EV World entitled “Engineering Can Be Sooo Frustrating.”  In it, Mike opined on a few things, including the lack of “support resources” from other functions…

It was hard to suppress how bad I felt when I told my wife that I missed the 10-day window to renew my annual Flexible Spending account that our corporate insurance has set up for us. Without an Office Manager to keep us on those things that we didn’t do 5 years ago (but now have to) I failed to remember it myself. With HR, Accounting and Payroll down to the bare minimum number of employees (needed to keep the department open) more and more of their duties and responsibilities fall on me to see them through.

Cry me a river…

Now, I’m sure there are some knee jerk reactions from the HR world to this.  It’s not your job to hold his hand.  It’s not your responsibility to make sure he takes care of his benefits.  It’s not your fault if he is too preoccupied with other things to keep track of open enrollment when he is the one getting the tax benefit.

You have other things to worry about.  You are under pressure to reduce operating costs, not to mention headcount.  You are trying to leverage technology all day long to get people paid and keep them productive.  You don’t have “operational” process, so you have to lean out the transactional stuff, which means leaning hard on self service.  You aren’t just an administrator, you are a strategic partner who has more to offer than reminders about the employee’s responsibilities to their family needs.

And that is all true.

Except when it isn’t.

Like it or not, HR is a service organization.  And whatever other pressure you face, you have to remember why you are really there.

We recently talked about SIPOC charts.  I mentioned that there is value in thinking about your customers before you start to redesign a process.  This sounds like a great example of process design that missed something.

If your customers are living in the real world, where we all do three jobs and no one is ever caught up on their email, are you designing your enrollment process specifically to their needs?  Or are you building one that will shorten enrollment and reduce your processing cost 5%, regardless of the needs of the front line?

The key to great processes

They start with the end in mind.  And that end is the customer’s goal, not yours.  Define success from their perspective and work backwards.  Because if build something new, faster and cheaper, but the customer hates it, you failed.

From the Archive -> Engaging Leaders in Project Management

A callout to a post from last year, for those who might have missed it.  We will be talking more this week about executive leadership and project ownership, so this will be an important foundational piece for the next few posts.

When you oversee a large number of projects, one of the most telling, and yet blindingly simple, metrics you can track is closure rate. For every project you successfully complete, how many die on the vine? If you’re using a defined methodology (DMAIC, PDCA, stage gates, etc.) you can drill down further and see what your fallout rate is at each point.

The next step is to ask why. It’s likely a systematic issue, as I’ve encountered repeatedly in the past.  And the system that falls apart most often is ownership.  The song goes something like this…

“Betty, you are a high potential, high performer.  We’d like you to get some project management/Lean Six Sigma/TQM/cross functional experience.  Please find a project that would interest you!”

***Time passes***

“Betty, you are a high potential, high performer, and we’re going to promote you!  Your project?  Oh…um…well, no worries.  We’ll find someone else to run it.”

***Time passes***

“Hey, whatever happened to Betty’s project?  Did anyone finish that?”

We look to our developing leaders to make a difference and drive projects.  In reality, though, the only way to really deliver value from a project is to have someone at a high level who cares about the result to make sure it is achieved.  In that spirit, here are a few simple methods I’ve found to help get those leaders engaged…

The leadership team picks the projects

Ideally, projects are driven by strategy.  As your business objectives are drilled into action, you should have a clear line that tells you how each project aligns to overall goals.  Each one should have a defined deliverable, and failure to execute should mean the risk of failing to meet the business goals.  If this puts a leader’s bonus at risk, so much the better.

Projects look for team leaders, not the other way around

Project leaders are chosen AFTER the projects.  Unless you create a project that is so good it can’t be turned down, you shouldn’t have to dig up development opportunities.  Being choosen to lead a mission critical project team should be an honor and a reward, not a burden.

Part of being a project leader is exposure to the leadership team

Project leaders report on progress to their leadership team.  Obstacles are openly discussed, and the team breaks them down together.  Open reporting and discussion breeds engagement with leaders, with then breeds expectation of results.

Leading a project should not be something you do alongside your “day job”

Just like any other quality/management system, these projects should be part of how you do your job, how you make it better, and how you deliver your results, not extra work on top.  When it becomes a second job, you start to lose your best team leaders.

If you are a team leader, make sure your projects are coming from the right place.  If its too late for that, then spend some time marketing the potential impact and make someone on that leadership team care about your project.

Why Don’t HR People Get Metrics?

I have some posts from the archives that I’d like to share this week.  This post was originally published on October 27, 2008.  Enjoy!

I’m work with some very talented HR people, very good at what they do and very passionate about their jobs. But the one thing that I have found they all have in common is their lack of understanding or passion about identifying, driving and publishing metrics.

I thought this might have been a limited scale problem in my first HR role. We had recruiters who had no idea their cost per hire or days per hire (and didn’t care anyway). Headcount reports that weren’t trusted (and weren’t accurate, either). Little to no energy put into tracking our performance, with a few exceptions. (I might note the exceptions were the members of the team who were consistently seen as the top performers. Sadly there were not enough of them to move the pile forward, and the resistance was never overcome.)

I spent a good deal of time this month talking about metrics, why they matter, and what makes a good measure of performance. For me, it’s not about the “obvious” things. I don’t care about the number of positions we filled this year, the cost of training materials or number of benefits applications processed in a week. What matters to me are predictive measures, which is where we start to lose people.

So we hired 100 people this month. Fine. Why? Did people leave or are we growing? Let’s say they are replacements. Find out why. Find the measures that will tell us people may leave soon, not that they have left. Low engagement scores are a good one. Percentage of performance reviews completed on time is better, since it gives us good insight into the manager’s effort in engaging their direct reports. How about management turnover? How does that impact overall churn for a group? If it’s a high correlation, we know that we need to spend extra time with a team that just got a new head.

Why track participation rates in benefits? Is that a good predictor of retention? Future costs? What happens if you want to change a benefit? How many people will be impacted?

Too much money spent on a training class? Who is in it, and what impact do they have on the future performance of the company? What’s the historic change in performance for attendees? (Yes, HR sometimes needs to care about job performance outside the department.)

Any other good predictive measures being used out there?

I have some posts from the archives that I’d like to share this week.  This post was originally published on November 13, 2008.  Enjoy!

HR Technology Doesn’t Matter To Me

Shouldn’t matter to you either.

Now I know this is an odd thing to hear from someone who just gushed about the great HR Tech conference, and who has more than just a little geek in him.  But I believe there is a very simple order of operation when it comes to developing the HR practice.

People.  Process.  Technology.

In that order, and in that order of importance.

You cannot build your technology strategy until you know the process you are trying to support and improve.  And you can’t effectively implement or improve your processes until you understand the needs of the people who will be using them.

That said, there is a fine line that has to be navigated between understanding your audience and being a slave to their whims.  Vague feelings of concern or the ever present scope creep are your enemy.  You will need to pull out the stick and make command decisions on occasion.  But the technology itself shouldn’t be the driver.

Once you know what your people need, and what the process needs, choosing your technology answer should be relatively easy.  Don’t underestimate it, but don’t be afraid of it, either.

Engaging Leaders in Project Management

When you oversee a large number of projects, one of the most telling, and yet blindingly simple, metrics you can track is closure rate. For every project you successfully complete, how many die on the vine? If you’re using a defined methodology (DMAIC, PDCA, stage gates, etc.) you can drill down further and see what your fallout rate is at each point.

The next step is to ask why. It’s likely a systematic issue, as I’ve encountered repeatedly in the past.  And the system that falls apart most often is ownership.  The song goes something like this…

“Betty, you are a high potential, high performer.  We’d like you to get some project management/Lean Six Sigma/TQM/cross functional experience.  Please find a project that would interest you!”

***Time passes***

“Betty, you are a high potential, high performer, and we’re going to promote you!  Your project?  Oh…um…well, no worries.  We’ll find someone else to run it.”

***Time passes***

“Hey, whatever happened to Betty’s project?  Did anyone finish that?”

We look to our developing leaders to make a difference and drive projects.  In reality, though, the only way to really deliver value from a project is to have someone at a high level who cares about the result to make sure it is achieved.  In that spirit, here are a few simple methods I’ve found to help get those leaders engaged…

The leadership team picks the projects

Ideally, projects are driven by strategy.  As your business objectives are drilled into action, you should have a clear line that tells you how each project aligns to overall goals.  Each one should have a defined deliverable, and failure to execute should mean the risk of failing to meet the business goals.  If this puts a leader’s bonus at risk, so much the better.

Projects look for team leaders, not the other way around

Project leaders are chosen AFTER the projects.  Unless you create a project that is so good it can’t be turned down, you shouldn’t have to dig up development opportunities.  Being choosen to lead a mission critical project team should be an honor and a reward, not a burden.

Part of being a project leader is exposure to the leadership team

Project leaders report on progress to their leadership team.  Obstacles are openly discussed, and the team breaks them down together.  Open reporting and discussion breeds engagement with leaders, with then breeds expectation of results.

Leading a project should not be something you do alongside your “day job”

Just like any other quality/management system, these projects should be part of how you do your job, how you make it better, and how you deliver your results, not extra work on top.  When it becomes a second job, you start to lose your best team leaders.

If you are a team leader, make sure your projects are coming from the right place.  If its too late for that, then spend some time marketing the potential impact and make someone on that leadership team care about your project.

Driverless Cars

No, they aren’t coming. They are already here. Thanks again, Google!

How did this happen without us noticing? How did it fly under the radar for so long. Why weren’t we invited to conference calls, coffee sessions, brown bag lunch-and-learns, town hall meetings, fireside chats, webcasts, status updates or project reviews? Where was the change management?!?!?!

When it comes to culture changes, this will be a big one. We’ve been waiting for driverless cars since well before Phillip K. Dick brought them up. We aren’t getting our jetpacks, hoverboards or flying cars, but this is a step in that direction. So why has it been done so quietly?

There’s a lesson for anyone who runs projects or is involved in large scale technology rollouts. It’s OK to play your cards close to the vest. There is nothing wrong with waiting to talk about the next big thing until you know it works. You don’t need to start broadcasting your intentions, your updates, your timelines on day one. Know what you are building and know that it works before you bring it to our attention.

Change management and communications are critical, no doubt. But so is your credibility in changing the world. Knowing when to share and when to work quietly can not only build your reputation, it can protect it as well.

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