Post Chronology

August 2016
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Speaking Engagements

Predict and Prepare sponsored by Workday 12/16

The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #171, 2/15
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #160, 8/14
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #145, 1/14
Workday Predict and Prepare Webinar, 12/10/2013
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #134, 8/13
CXOTalk: Naomi Bloom, Nenshad Bardoliwalla, and Michael Krigsman, 3/15/2013
Drive Thru HR, 12/17/12
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #110, 8/12
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Business Value," 5/3/12 Audio/Whitepaper
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Predict and Prepare," 12/7/11
HR Happy Hour - Episode 118 - 'Work and the Future of Work', 9/23/11
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #87, 9/11
Keynote, Connections Ultimate Partner Forum, 3/9-12/11
"Convergence in Bloom" Webcast and accompanying white paper, sponsored by ADP, 9/21/10
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #63, 9/10
Keynote for Workforce Management's first ever virtual HR technology conference, 6/8/10
Knowledge Infusion Webinar, 6/3/10
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Predict and Prepare," 12/8/09
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Preparing to Lead the Recovery," 11/19/09 Audio/Powerpoint
"Enterprise unplugged: Riffing on failure and performance," a Michael Krigsman podcast 11/9/09
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #39, 10/09
Workday SOR Webinar, 8/25/09
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #15, 10/08

Keynote, HR Tech Europe, Amsterdam, 10/25-26/12
Master Panel, HR Technology, Chicago, 10/9/012
Keynote, Workforce Magazine HR Tech Week, 6/6/12
Webcast Sponsored by Workday: "Building a Solid Business Case for HR Technology Change," 5/31/12
Keynote, Saba Global Summit, Miami, 3/19-22/12
Workday Rising, Las Vegas, 10/24-27/11
HR Technology, Las Vegas 10/3-5/11
HR Florida, Orlando 8/29-31/11
Boussias Communications HR Effectiveness Forum, Athens, Greece 6/16-17/11
HR Demo Show, Las Vegas 5/24-26/11
Workday Rising, 10/11/10
HRO Summit, 10/22/09
HR Technology, Keynote and Panel, 10/2/09

Adventures of Bloom & Wallace

a work in progress

Women In Tech, ‘Firing Line’, And Naomi’s World

And We Still Need A "Village!"

And We Still Need A “Village!”

Some of you may know that I started my professional career in 1967 as a programmer trainee at then John Hancock Life Insurance in Boston.  I was part of a trainee class that was made up primarily of new grads from Ivy League universities with degrees in such diverse fields as linguistics, sociology, anthropology and, in my case, English literature with a minor in natural sciences (cobbled together from the courses I had taken when my planned major was physics).  Our class was about half and half, young men and women.

It wasn’t long before I learned that the women were all being paid $139 per week while our male colleagues made $152 per week for doing precisely the same work and with precisely the same credentials.  If you know me at all, then you know that this early evidence of gender bias and income disparity did NOT sit well.

When I asked then Personnel (long before it became HR or acquired even more fanciful names, like central casting or associate relations, and before the supporting software went from payroll to HRIS to HRMS and on to today’s HCM) about this disparity and bias, I was told by the nice Personnel lady that those male colleagues would soon be family breadwinners whereas I would be leaving to raise my family or, at best, sharing my attention between child-raising and work.  That too didn’t sit well with my feminist soul, and I left John Hancock as soon as I’d gotten enough training and experience under my belt to make that a sensible move.

That truly was what women of my generation faced when we began to enter the professional workforce in large numbers in the 60’s, but I never imagined we would still be fighting those battles now, a half century later.  Gender bias and income inequality in the workforce, particularly in my world of enterprise software, may not be as bad as it was then, but it’s bad enough that we’re still talking about it.  I’m not a researcher or an academic, and you should turn to them for an accurate assessment, country by country and job type by job type, of where we stand now.  But what I do know from my own work experience is that, across the enterprise software industry, there are very few women in CTO, CIO, chief architect, head of development, and other technology leadership roles.

In this latest “Firing Line with Bill Kutik” conversation, I share my thoughts on why so many of my programmer trainee classmates didn’t get to the top of their field, what I did to face down the barriers on my career path, and some things we could be doing — right now — to improve the situation.  I hope you’ll watch the video when you have a moment, but I also hope that you’ll get out there and do whatever you can to fix this imbalance.

Since this is my blog, and a place where you can comment, I’d like to speak directly to my colleagues about two challenges for which there just wasn’t time in our Firing Line format.  First, there’s no way to get to the top of any field, technology or otherwise, without making huge personal sacrifices.  And that goes for those who aspire as well as those who become their life partners.   For every woman (or man, for that matter) who is capable of and interested in becoming a chief architect or CIO or head of development, there’s a long tough road ahead, many obstacles to be overcome, and decades of long hours and tough choices.

No one can manage all of this and raise a family and have any quality of life unless they’ve got a “village” to help them, and not all of us are fortunate enough to have that village in place when we want to start a family.  Whether that “village” is a group of friends, a spouse, and/or family members, the reality is that you’re going to need their help, their understanding, and their active support if you’re going to pursue the highest levels of tech leadership and raise a family.

In our case, the choice not to have children wasn’t difficult, and it was the right one for us.  It made it much easier for each of us to take on heavy travel job opportunities and to pursue them aggressively.  But there’s simply no way that I could have had the last 15+ years of the career I wanted, especially once I developed the mobility challenges of which some of you are aware, if my husband Ron Wallace, like a knight in shining armor, hadn’t come to my aid.  Even without children, it takes a “village.”

For a growing number of women in today’s HR tech leadership roles, their life partners are taking on, like Ron has done, the at home responsibilities so that they can pursue their careers and, perhaps, raise a family while maintaining the required heavy schedules, including travel schedules, that our field requires.  In other cases, parents are stepping in to help on the home front so that both partners can pursue their career ambitions.  Some couples earn enough early on to afford full-time, live-in child care or other such arrangements, while others patch together an assortment of child and home care arrangements to enable both careers to progress.  Toughest of all, and those for whom I have the greatest respect, are the single parents carrying the full load of breadwinning, child and home care.  And while salaries in technology can be quite generous, they can be much less so on the bottom rungs, in the many adjunct roles that don’t require quite as much education, and when that single parent cannot manage full-time work.

Over the years, especially once my own career was well-established, I’ve been that friend who held the fort for a colleague (although not when it comes to small children because I’m totally incompetent until they’re completely sentient) at a client site or on a deliverable when I could do it and they couldn’t.  And, for close friends and family, I’ve been their patient advocate even lifeline as they went through the hell of serious medical treatments.  Yes, it does take a “village,” and you can’t start early enough to build and nurture that “village” against your future ambitions.

Second, there’s something else that we touch on in the video but didn’t have enough time to explore fully, namely the role played by personality in reaching the top of whatever heap you choose to climb.  Call it grit, perseverance, resilience, strength of character, or sheer determination to describe that collection of KSAOCs which enables some people to just keep moving, to pick themselves up when they’ve been knocked down, to refuse to be limited by the assessment of others, and to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.  I don’t know the right words to describe these behaviors, and I don’t know why some people develop them while others, even siblings, do not.  But I do know that all the women in my experience, who have made it to the top of anything, have these qualities in spades.

Others may have suspected this about me, but I didn’t discover these qualities until my first career dreams went up in smoke.  I went to UPenn to become a nuclear physicist but discovered, pretty early in my education there, that I lacked that special intellectual gifts which were required to move beyond learning the proofs of even advanced physics to positing and solving what had not yet been proven.  I remember very well that awful day when I knew that my dream wasn’t achievable, and you won’t be surprised that I had a couple of good cries while grieving for what was lost.  But then I picked myself up, got some input from teachers and advisers, did some research, and figured out where to go next, all while working nearly full-time to pay my living expenses.  There were still some zigs and zags before I landed at John Hancock as a programmer trainee, and many more bumps and lumps from then until now, but somewhere inside of me is a voice which just won’t take no for an answer.  Many of you have that voice too, and I urge you to shut out the din and listen to it.

Please do watch our video and let me know what you think.  I’ll try to respond personally to all of your comments on this post, but you can also reach me directly at  And I know that Bill would be delighted to hear your feedback on his “Firing Line” series, where you can comment and share after watching our video.

Home Remodeling, Moving To SaaS, And Life Lessons

Familiar Vendor Is NO Excuse For Short-Cutting Due Diligence!

Familiar Vendor Is NO Excuse For Short-Cutting Due Diligence!

In the last year, I’ve relearned a valuable lesson in vendor research, short-listing, evaluation, selection and management, and it’s been a very painful, expensive, and embarrassing lesson for someone who should have known better.  Yes, there’s no fool like an old fool, especially when we let our good intentions and personal relationships get in the way of VERY aggressive and methodical due diligence.

But this old fool will not be taken in again to this extent because the most important lesson relearned from this sorry experience is: at the very first sign that a vendor doesn’t cherish your business, so long before they’ve failed to deliver as promised, it’s time to end the deal.  But let me take you back to the beginning of my sad little tale to demonstrate how the best laid plans of even an experienced project and vendor manager can lead her down the garden path of unmet expectations, failed delivery, vendor “divorce,” and starting over.

In mid-2013, we decided that our wonderful home, designed by us with an architect in 1997, built very well in 1998 and Q1 1999, now needed a thorough refresh and some enhancements.  Aging infrastructure, our changing (lifestyle) requirements, new technologies and innovation of which we wanted to avail ourselves, and just the wear and tear of happy usage added up to our need for a fairly complete refresh.  We had a pretty good idea what needed to be done, but we certainly needed both design and execution help to move with confidence and a workable level of impact on our “day jobs,” from the 1997/98 version of “Casa de Ranas” to a 2016 version of same.  After all, an experienced consultant like me should value using outside experts when venturing into territory outside her areas of expertise.

After some research and reflection, we decided that we’d prefer to work with a design firm which would take full responsibility for the various projects, including the selection and management of all subcontractors, and a firm which had the in-house capability to source and select the kinds of fabrics, furniture, flooring etc. which fit our taste.  It turns out that most of the higher end homes in our part of Florida are done in a faux Mediterranean style with myriad shades of beige as the prevailing interior design color, a design preference for gigantic furniture better suited to giants than to Ron and me, and a minimalist approach to the décor (except for really stupid things like having twenty decorative pillows on the master bed which have to be removed and rearranged daily).  But our home is more cracker/Florida vernacular (which is well suited to the climate) with lots of bright colors, modestly-scaled eclectic furniture, tons of art work and object d’art (nothing minimalist about Bloom & Wallace), and nary a beige in sight.  So we really needed a design firm that got it!  So far, so good.

What should have happened next, as I’ve advised every corporate client I’ve ever had, was for us to educate ourselves pretty thoroughly about the interior design firms in our area that might have the capabilities of interest to us and then to narrow that list with a heavy dose of due diligence (designed of course for the type of vendor with whom we were planning to partner).  But that’s the opposite of what we did, to our great regret.  And before you fall off your chair laughing at our foibles, how many of you have (foolishly?) stuck with or plan to stick with your incumbent vendor when moving from on-premise HR technology to true SaaS without reviewing carefully your other options?

Instead, we homed in very quickly on a leadership team with whom we had a longstanding relationship, who claimed that they could meet our needs and be a good fit for our home, style, scope of work, and budget.  Yes, they had had a few customer satisfaction and other business hiccups in the past, but their showroom and design studios (their user experience?) were gorgeous.  Yes, we neglected to do full-scale reference checking, but these folks had been in business for years, were a major player, had tons of brand recognition and awards (don’t get me started on the zillion awards claimed by every HR tech vendor) and of course this wouldn’t be possible unless they delivered as promised most of the time.  Do you see a pattern here?

Well, the rest (as they say) is history.  The project began with good intentions all around and a lot of hard front-end discovery and design work, for which we paid on a time and materials basis.  We liked the designer, and she was knowledgeable and capable.  At first, we had her attention, but as the project progressed, 0ther projects with greater dollar value, prestige, brand-building potential increasingly captured her attention.  Responsiveness slowed.  But we were still in the design phase, when it’s often difficult to quantify how well things are going even though your “tummy tells you” that all is not well.  But the bigger problems emerged — as they always do if you even get that far on a project headed for disaster — when it was time for this firm to execute.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but we saw it all — crummy quality, ridiculously long elapsed times, mismanaged subcontractors, and more.  A custom piece estimated at six months max (think “custom” extension) was delivered after fifteen months and wasn’t what we expected.  Re-upholstering was a comedy of errors, with fabrics ordered, delivered wrong, ordered again, delivered wrong, ordered again, etc. and then a good bit of poor quality results attributed to having their contractor speaking only Spanish when the design team didn’t.  And did I mention that they lost Ron’s favorite reading chair, finally fessed up to that loss, then found it torn apart for re-upholstery long after we had put a hold on that task.  Of course there were some excellent subcontractors, but a few questions quickly revealed that they were performing well in spite of the communications and scheduling failures of the prime.  Ouch!  And the worst part of all of this was my own sense of guilt, of feeling totally stupid, for getting us into this mess in the first place.  Boy, can I understand why HR tech customers, having made too quick a decision to stay with their incumbent, are loath to admit that they’ve made a mistake.

By mid-2015, I’d gone from guilt over my own stupidity to anger at this vendor, and we stopped all work with them.  But they still had work-in-process to which we were hostage, so I had to use every diplomatic KSAOC to work our way out of this without losing the value of that work-in-process.  And even as I was nursing them along, we had to start over, researching other providers, creating a short list, conducting serious due diligence, selecting a new interior design firm, and bringing the new firm up-to-speed.  That last point meant spending a lot of money to re-cover ground with the new firm that we had already covered with the familiar firm.  And we also had to spend money to fix some of the shoddy work done by the “fired” vendor.  Then there’s all the time we lost, first because the original vendor performed so SLOWLY, and then because it takes time to onboard a new vendor.

The new, much more carefully selected vendor is doing a great job, there’s visible progress at “Casa de Ranas,” and we should be pretty much finished with master bedroom and bath, entry, wine “cellar,” the living room part of our great room (our house’s center is one very large room, without walls, whose kitchen, living room, dining room areas are designated by the cabinetry and counters which wrap around the kitchen) by the end of the year (to include some architectural work with lighting and a new gallery-style hanging system for a growing collecting of artwork).  Next up will be the kitchen part of the great room, for which the design work is nearing completion, key materials are being reviewed, and kitchen contractors are being vetted.  Needless to say, the “fired” vendor is none too pleased, but they are behaving rationally.

Our remodeling project vendor management mistakes have cost us about a year and a half and a good bit of moola, but there are no significant downstream implications since Ron and I have managed to stay married despite the stress of having no living room and of my guilt and frustration.  Not so lucky are those who make the same kind of mistakes when selecting HR technology vendors.  Breaking up is much harder and more expensive, the downstream implications can include career death, and there are very real impacts on your organization whose ripple effects can be felt for years.  So please do re-learn from my mistakes without having to make any more of your own.

Annual Reprise — Father’s Day Thoughts: Remembering Jack Samuel Bloom

[When I wrote the original version of this post for Father’s Day 2010, I never planned to update and then reprise this post annually.  But as each Father’s Day approaches, my sense of loss increases.  With no family members of my father’s generation still living, my own sense of mortality grows. 

I so wish my Dad were still here to share with me and my sister the laughter and tears of everyday living.  And, now that I can afford to do it, with my time and not just money, I would so love to spend more time with him, hearing the stories of his childhood as well as of mine. 

Ron and I have large paintings of our two fathers above an archway in our home built for this purpose, and they are very much with us in spirit.  They lived at opposite ends of the country, could not have come from more different backgrounds, and they only met a couple of times.  But I know that they are very happy playing pinochel together wherever they may be now. ]

My father, Jack Samuel Bloom, was in many respects quite an ordinary man.  Being a father wasn’t his thing, but he became a terrific friend once I was old enough to hold up my side of that friendship.  Of far greater value than any assets (f he had had them) that he might have left me, from Dad I inherited:

  • his ability to tell a good story, to make a point while making you laugh;
  • his commitment to active friendship, the kind of friendship that does what you need done even when you don’t know you need it;
  • his intellectual curiosity, the kind that had him reading the entire World Book Encyclopedia from A to Z;
  • his belief that any day on which you wake up is already a good day, that the gift of life is too precious to waste; and
  • his habits of meticulous book-keeping, calendar-keeping, and commitment-keeping.

From my Dad I also inherited his love of reading and the sheer joy of opening a new book.  Later I discovered that for me, being rich meant being able to buy any book I wanted to read and never having to browse in second-hand bookshops unless I was looking for treasure.  Jewish families like ours, in the early 50′s, bought their children a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia, one volume at a time on a payment plan that they could scarcely afford, so that their children would be better educated than they were.  I remember my Dad reading that encyclopedia from Aardvark to Zebra, even the boring bits (and there were many such), and perhaps that’s where I also learned that reading some books was about more than having the pleasure of meeting their words.

My Dad taught me to swim almost before I could walk by carrying me on his back as he swam from the gentle shores of White Sands Beach, in Old Lyme, Connecticut to the floating raft in the waters of Long Island Sound.  I’ve loved swimming and being in and around the water ever since.  I have no fear of the ocean’s waves and can still feel his support whenever I’m over my head.  But I can also remember his advice when it came to swimming in open, choppy water:  “keep your mouth closed.”  Words to live by in many of life’s “choppy water” situations.

We buried my Dad on my 50th birthday.  He spent just a few days in hospital, having not been ill before his unexpected collapse just as I was about to deliver a presentation at the 1995 SAPPHIRE conference in Phoenix.  To my Dad’s funeral came many hundreds of people we didn’t know whom he had helped, quietly, without ever being asked.  In his retirement, he had “adopted” older members of our synagogue who needed rides to doctors’ appointments, help paying their bills, or just an hour’s companionship.  Without the financial means of major philanthopy, he found the means for active philanthropy, through the gift of his own time and caring.  By the example of his life, I learned the true meaning of tikkun olam (literally “fix the world,” but interpreted in my family to mean that we must leave the world a better place than we have found it) and tzedakah (literally philanthropy/charity but interpreted in my family to mean that we must share our time and resources with others).  Taken together, and they really are two sides of the same coin, tikkun olam and tzedakah were the foundations of my Dad’s quiet and quite ordinary but principled life, and I’ve done my best to live those same values.

By the time I launched my own business in 1987, the cost of long distance calls, so daunting when I first left home in ’63, were much more affordable, and I called him most days in the late afternoon even when I was onsite with clients (which was most of the time in those early days).  Those calls always started with:

  • Dad: How’s business?
  • Naomi: Business is great.
  • Dad: Are your clients paying their bills on time?
  • Naomi: Yes, they sure are.
  • Dad: Are their checks clearing the bank?
  • Naomi: Absolutely.

When you know that those early clients were firms like Bank of America, Hewlett Packard and International Paper, something my Dad certainly knew, this ritual opening to our calls goes from being merely odd to very odd, unless you also know that being a small retailer all his life shaped forever my Dad’s view of Accounts Receivable.  In the family business, Bloom’s Photo Supply, there were no angel/seed/VC/PE investors, no generous lines of credit, and no one to fall back upon if cash flow was mismanaged, so careful attention was paid to the creditworthiness of every customer.  And in those days before credit cards became ubiquitous, when retail payments were either cash or personal check and commercial payments were almost always by company check, knowing if the customer’s check had cleared the bank was the critical step in cash management.

From there we’d go on to the events of his day and mine, and to what was happening across the Bloom family, in the larger Jewish community in which I grew up, and around the world.  I don’t remember my Dad ever calling me — long distance calls were for emergencies only among his generation — but I know he loved my calls because he reported on them to the group of men with whom he ate breakfast early every morning at a local deli.  And I loved those calls too because, for a few minutes, the stresses of my being a grownup were relinquished to my Dad’s always calm voice.

I’ve always said yahrzeit for my Dad at the appropriate times in our Jewish calendar, and I think of him every day, but I miss him especially on Father’s Day.  If you’re lucky enough to still have your Dad, don’t wait for Father’s Day to call him.  And if you are a Dad, the gift of your time, of your self, of living your principles so that they become a part of your children’s inheritance is so much more important than anything you could ever buy them now or any money you could leave them.  Now back to that meticulous book-keeping, calendar-keeping and commitment-keeping that are a major part of my inheritance.

Grand Passion Is Essential To Both Great Wine And Enterprise Software

Hunter Valley, Australia

Hunter Valley, Australia

Ron and I spent mid-Feb to mid-March 2016 traveling in New Zealand and Australia, spending most of our time visiting with much-loved friends in both countries who we see far less often than we’d like.  Although we have tons of modern ways to keep in touch, there’s just no substitute for being there, being together, hugging and laughing and strengthening bonds which distance and time zones do challenge.

But we also included in this trip some intense wine tasting in the Hunter Valley (not far outside Sydney) with a terrific specialist guide, Grahame Richards, during which I had quite a aha moment (but then you’d expect something to happen if you’d tasted 30+ wines between 10:00 AM and when you sat down for a late lunch).  I found myself seeing real similarities between the wineries and wines I enjoyed/respected/loved and the software vendors and products I enjoy/respect/love.  But I needed to let those thoughts settle a bit — and let me revisit them when entirely sober — to see if there’s really an aha here, and there is.

What stands out from the many wineries we visited and the wines we drank, what produced the aha moment, is that they fell into two very distinct groups, one of which reflected a grand passion and the other of which was very ho hum.  Not surprising to those of you who know my work, I tend to see software vendors and their products in two equally distinct groups, but first let’s talk wine.

The ho hum group of wineries and wines were professionally and, in most cases, competently managed by folks for whom this was a business (so not a grand passion).  Their wine production was focused on varietals and blends which their market research and agricultural studies suggested would be the most profitable from their particular terroir.  Often they were owned by professional investors whose own market research led them to launch one of these ho hum operations as a money-making proposition.  And although their young tasting room staff were pretty enough, they were also pretty much clueless.  In general, these ho hum wineries produced wines which were vin ordinaire, often overpriced but usually with terrific branding, a snazzy Web site, and a lavish tasting room.

And then there were the wineries and wines we loved, which I’ll call the grand passions.  At these usually quite modest tasting rooms, we found ourselves speaking with family members or winery partners who had devoted their lives — and not just their working lives — to building great wineries and wines.  Very knowledgeable folks in the tasting room, often the vintner him or herself, really wanted to talk about their wines and about our enjoyment of them, about their terroir and it’s implications for the wine, and about our preferences as we tasted.  They often had made special wines in a particular year or as part of an experiment which defied the market research and agricultural studies, turning out really wonderful wines which fit no established marketing category.  When I checked their Web sites, they weren’t fancy but did offer the important information, and they rarely had professional investors (although some did have wine loving angel investors).  But what these wineries and their wines has in common was the quality and customer-centricity that only comes when owners with a grand passion for wine are in control of their operations.  And these owners most often had deep roots in the Hunter Valley, had spent their whole lifetimes around grapes and harvests and winemaking, and while profits certainly mattered, they were much more about making great wines.

But what does any of this have to do with enterprise software?  Just about everything.  At least in my neighborhood, at the intersection of HRM and IT, there are two distinctly different groups of vendors which, along with their products, also can be described as ho hum or grand passions.  The ho hums may be founder-led, but they’re VC-funded if starting up or PE-bought if they’re a little longer in the tooth and not self-sustaining as a public company, and that founder may have gotten involved in HR tech not because of a lifelong passion for it but rather because their market research suggested that we’re “ripe for disruption.”  When you visit their booths at a major HR tech show, it’s not uncommon to find that the booth attendants have no idea about our industry’s history, about the architectural underpinnings of their own products, or even about the products’ functionality beyond the script they’ve been given.  Yes, many of these firms have been named by branding firms, have well-produced Web sites, and are clever at marketing (particularly at generating buzz via social media).  But when you dig more deeply into their products, it’s not uncommon to see that they’re repeating mistakes of past designs and business decisions, but with the requisite commitment to mobile first and “cloud.”  Nothing is harder to sit through than a briefing with one of these firms, be they startup or well-established.  CEOs who know nothing except how to manage professionally, products which have learned nothing from the past 40+ years of HR tech and are not outstanding in any way, and business decisions grounded only market research, spreadsheets, and focus groups (necessary but not sufficient) with no leavening of experience or passion.

And then there are the vendors whose leaders have a grand passion for improving the business of human resource management via breakthroughs in technology enablement, vendors whose products lift my spirits because they’ve taken our collective learning and made a leap from the past to a well-positioned future.  Great object models and architectures, functionality which appreciates the inherent complexity of work and workers but doesn’t foist it on users, business decisions which are customer-centric, employees who know what they’re doing and why they’re there, and business results which have staying power.  Yes, some of these grand passion businesses fail, just like any other type of business, but when they succeed, they really do change our world.  Interestingly, many of the most successful grand passion HR tech vendors and products were born in conjunction with a generational change in technology, but that’s by no means a requirement.  And these companies need not be founder run if the culture and succession planning are strong enough to ensure continuity and competency of passionate leadership.  Walk the floor at a major HR tech show, and you’ll meet some of these CEOs and senior leaders, and their conversation isn’t all sound bites and carefully rehearsed marketing messages.

All very interesting, perhaps, but where does this take us?  Since I’m neither a buyer nor seller of HR tech, and I answer to no one but Ron, I’m quite free to follow my grand passions in HR tech.  But if I’m going to urge others to do the same, I’ll need to update my blog posts on how I evaluate vendors and products to reflect these insights.  I’ll also be testing these insights at vendor analyst days, at the major HR tech shows in Chicago and Paris later this year, and during as many briefings/demos as I have time to take.  And I’ll be sure to keep up my consumption of grand passion wines.  In vino, veritas.

From Human Resource Management To Worker Management Or ???

Blog -- RobbyBox1BigIf you’ve read even a few of my posts, then you know I focus pretty consistently on an issue that lurks, quietly but dangerously, waiting to sabotage our best efforts to achieve improved organizational outcomes through improved workforce performance.  The villain of this piece is the sloppy, inconsistent, ill-defined and rampant misuse of terminology.  The English major/natural science minor within me screams every time I hear or read someone misuse the subjunctive.  But my psyche screams even louder when colleagues who should know better use talent management or engagement or SaaS or analytics to describe whatever ill-conceived or outdated idea or product they’ve got on offer this week.

But where to start to save humankind from sloppy terminology?  The colloquial vocabulary for many to most of the important concepts at the intersection of the domain (formerly known as?) human resource management (HRM) and the domain (still widely known as!) information technology (IT) is so imprecise that I could make myself and you totally crazy trying to unravel that muddle.  No entirely sane person is going to read the 3,000+ pages it has taken me to do so in my magnum opus, although a really surprising number of you — and you know who you are — have already done so or are doing so as I write, and I thank every single one of you.

When I began blogging, WAY back in November, 2009, I thought that the best place to start, to rid my world once and for all of sloppy, or worse, agenda-riddled terminology, was, as always, to begin with the results we’re trying to achieve, working backwards from business outcomes to figure what must get done, how, when and by whom, in order to achieve those results.  In my professional life, the results we’re trying to achieve are specific organizational outcomes through what we used to call effective human resource management (HRM).  But now, with the introduction of autonomous, even general purpose (or at least broad purpose) robots into the workforce, we simply must find a new term to describe the management of a workforce that not only includes employees and contingent workers of all flavors but also those darn robots.

I’ve  used HRM (HCM being a much more recent and talent management-oriented term) since about 1980 to describe the subject matter domain, HR to describe the function, HRMS to describe the collection of software (ideally, truly integrated) which automates the bulk of administrative HRM while creating the essential foundation for TM, talent management (a much newer term).  Given the always critical importance of integration across HRMS and TM, I have also used HRMS/TM to describe that integrated core suite which is central to effective HRM at every organization.

For me (and it’s central to every annual release of my HRM Business Model “Starter Kit” since 1995), the workforce has always included both employee and non-employee workers of every type, schedule and duration, and the HRMS/TM should always have addressed the entire workforce.  But now, with humanoid robots entering the workforce, HRM etc. aren’t big enough terms to cover what’s really work and workforce management.

I’d like to change our collective vocabulary from HRM to WFM (workforce management), but that abbreviation has been in long use to describe the functions and software that manage scheduling, time and attendance, and related processes.  Could I repurpose WFM to a much broader use?  Probably not given the marketing $$ committed to its traditional meaning.  So what’s a language precisionist supposed to do?

Work and workforce still apply as long as we consider workers to be both human (so employee and non-employee or contingent workers) and non-human (so humanoid robots, which could be acquired, maintained and accounted for as plant and equipment but to which many of the work and workforce-related processes (e.g. scheduling, development and onboarding as well as off-boarding) and object model (e.g. robots must have one to many KSAOCs and have their work defined in terms of duties and responsibilities) can be applied).  No, I haven’t gone off the rails.  We clearly need real care with our vocabulary as we expand greatly the notion of worker, and I’d really like to use WFM for this purpose.

The HR community was VERY slow to address properly, to include within the HRMS/TM, contingent workers in all their flavors, and we can’t miss the boat on robotic workers.  Since vocabulary shapes thinking, as anyone who’s studied multiple languages knows, we’ve no time to lose in straightening out our vocabulary for the extended definition of workforce and for the related management processes.  But, in the absence of a better term, I’m going to use worker management (WM).  Therefore:

WM is a business domain, a collection of processes and business rules whose purpose is to help ensure long-term business and organizational success.  WM is about planning for, organizing, acquiring, deploying, assessing, rewarding, leading, coaching, supporting, informing, equipping, retaining, and developing a high performance, cost-effective workforce.  It is also about nurturing the growth, usage and value of the organization’s intellectual capital and personal networks.

What a mouth full, and there’s more.  WM isn’t just the work of a central/local/3rd party WM department.  While a WM department and WM professionals may still control the strategy and design of WM, WM execution is increasingly in the hands of managers and leaders (who may themselves be non-employee workers and/or robots) at every level and the increasingly technology-enabled, self-sufficient workforce.

The bottom line?  The purpose — the expected organizational results — of WM are to maximize the performance of the organization’s workforce and the leverage from its intellectual capital and personal networks toward achieving the organization’s stated business outcomes.  If we could get all of the organization’s work done and results achieved without any workforce, we wouldn’t need WM.  But we can’t, at least not yet, so we do.

Workday’s 2015 Tech Summit: What Hasn’t Been Reported Widely Enough

There’s been a ton of great coverage out of Workday’s 2015 Tech Summit, a preliminary list of which I’ve included below and to which I’ll add as others bring their coverage to my attention.  But having attended this well-run event and after reading the coverage below and more, I was struck by how little attention was paid to what I considered to be two of the bigger takeaways from this event.  Of course, every well-run vendor influencer day leaves me gasping from information overload, and my true analyst/media/influencer colleagues do a better job than I ever could of capturing all the relevant details, which is why I don’t do many such event reports.  But now that the dust has settled on this particular influencer event, I thought I might add a little color commentary.

For me the first big underreported takeaway is the fact that not one single line remains of the original code in Workday’s platform.  Let me repeat, not one single original line of code remains in Workday’s platform.  That’s because the original design provided for changing out whole services, whole blocks of code, for new or rewritten services, adding entirely new services and/or removing no longer needed ones, replacing custom code with commercially available code, to include both open source and acquired code, and so much more while the software is in flight.  That’s right, while in full production, with new customers being added all the time, the folks “in the basement,” which is how Workday’s chief architect referred to his own work location, have been updating, refreshing, replacing, rewriting, re-everythinging their applications platform (not to mention the applications themselves, but that’s an entirely different story as discussed below) without any disruption.

So, to the question I always get from financial analysts: “won’t Workday have to replatform soon, just because of all the technological and other changes that have occurred in the past ten years, and won’t that replatforming be a costly, error-prone, disruptive, black hole?” the unequivocal answer is NO.  To my very technical colleagues who attended the Tech Summit and may have yawned about this because they know it’s no biggie, let me just say that I nearly fell off my chair and needed a 2nd confirmation (that’s confirmation, not resuscitation).  I don’t presume to know how this is done, but I’m blown away that it has been done without anyone being inconvenienced.  So much for the FUD around replatforming.  And although Workday again said that they have no immediate plans for unleashing their platform in the way that Salesforce does — per Workday, and I agree (not that my opinion on this matters), this is an entirely different business for which the time is not yet right —  it’s nice to know that, if and when they decide to go in that direction, they’ll be doing so with an always fresh, always evolving platform.

For me the second big but underreported takeaway is the high degree of object model and framework reuse which, along with the underlying architecture’s definitional development environment, are creating a real competitive advantage in better time, cost and quality to market.  Do you remember the punditry from the learning community when Workday announced they would be building their own learning application?  Of course that’s a major undertaking, but when you look at the amount of reuse across the objects they already had, those they were building for their student applications, and those needed for learning, the amount of reuse suggested that this major undertaking would be cut down to size.  We saw the same thing happen when Workday announced they would be building a recruiting/staffing application, and with the same results of rapid time-to-market, no cast of a thousand developers, plenty of global and compliance coverage, and so on.  And every time they look at an application type which lends itself to a framework, so to a generalized but systemic architectural solution, from work books to grid computing to the latest spreadsheet motif, it becomes clear that they’re building additional platform capabilities that can be unleashed across the entire applications suite.  I’ve always cringed when hearing enterprise software vendors pounding their chests over their huge development organizations because I know from my own programming days just how hard it is to create anything elegant and lean in such organizations.  Thus, I’m naturally biased toward finding ways to reduce the amount of code needed to birth and maintain applications.

Now some will say, and perhaps correctly, that what I’ve described here is the norm among enterprise software vendors, but it’s not been the norm in my experience.  Do I need to get out more?

Partial coverage of Workday’s Tech Summit*

Workday – 2015 Tech Summit Update” from Saugatuck’s Bill McNee.

Has Workday ceded the cloud platform to Salesforce and Microsoft?” from Phil Wainewright of Diginomica was actually written before the Tech Summit at which the whole issue of platforms was discussed quite thoroughly.

Progress Report – Workday Tech Summit – Good Progress, More Insights, Less Concerns” from Holger Mueller, which includes link to his Storify of the Tech Summit twitterstream.

Workday, North by Northeast” from Vinnie Mirchandani.

Workday HCM Growth Forges Expanded Partnerships with HRO Providers” from Nelson-Hall’s Gary Bragar.

Workday Tech Summit 2015 – fighting talk as CEO thanks Oracle” from Dennis Howlett of Diginomica

Workday Works Wonders on Platform for HCM” from Mark Smith of Ventana

Workday Tech Summit 2015” from John Sumser of HR Examiner

* If I’ve left out your terrific coverage, please drop me a note at naomibloom at dot com.

Disclosure:  Workday has been a client but my attendance at their Tech Summit was on my own time with Workday covering the bulk of my travel expenses.  I was compensated by Workday for being a panelist on their annual Predict & Prepare video broadcast earlier in the week of the Tech Summit, a participation which is totally free of Workday content review or control.

A Bloom’s Christmas: Inventory Management And Retail Retold

[I’ll get back to writing about #EnSW, especially #HRtech, right after the New Year, but my recent strolls down memory lane have been part of my celebrations and reflections on turning 70, something you only get to do once.  I also hope to make a lot more progress in the New Year on freshening my blog’s look and feel, not to mention mobility; freshening our home’s look and feel as well as functionality after firing everyone’s nightmare of an interiors firm and retaining a whole new team; and freshening Naomi’s look and feel, but that’s a much longer story.  But before we get to 2016, here’s the last reflection, for 2015, on my childhood in the 50’s.  And if you think you’ve read something very similar before, you’re quite right.  And you may read an updated version in the future. 

I learned so much about business, absorbed it through my pores, as I worked at Bloom’s Camera (later, Bloom’s Photo Supply and then just Bloom’s, Inc.), lingered at my grandmother’s kitchen table after Friday night Shabbat meals where all the important decisions were made for that business, and was then apprenticed to all the other small businesses run by various relatives.  I went on buying trips to New York for the fancy ladies wear shop run by one aunt (they used to model the dresses at high end shops), learned the uniform business from another aunt, and was taught the basics of the Borscht Belt hospitality business by a great cousin.  By the time I got to my MBA program, cash flow, supply chain, human resource management and more were already baked into my world view.  So, with Christmas just around the corner, I thought you might enjoy a retail merchant’s Jewish child’s perspective on this holiday.] 

Bloom's Camera Catalogue Circa 1950

Bloom’s Camera Catalogue Circa 1950

On Christmas Eve, my Dad’s retail camera shop closed early, and we knew we’d have him with us all that next day.  Really just with us, even if he were too tired for much conversation after working the very long hours of the retail Christmas season.  New Year’s Day was for taking inventory, and it was all hands, even my very small hands, to the wheel.  But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were really special.  Time alone with my father (of blessed memory) Jack Bloom was rare and precious.  He ran a modest camera shop with his brothers Paul (who passed away in early January, 2015, just after his 99th birthday and who has entrusted me with finishing his memoir) and Herman (who also published several “romantic” novels under the name Harmon Bellamy).

When I was really young, my Dad left for work before dawn and rarely got home before I was put to bed.  Friday nights were usually spent having Shabbat dinner, with all my Bloom aunts/uncles/cousins and even great aunts/uncles (those without their own children), at my grandmother’s house.  After dinner,  Dad went off to Schul with his brothers.  On Saturday mornings, we were all off to Schul, but we were orthodox so my only male first cousin, Elliot got to sit with his Dad.  The store was open on Saturdays, so my Dad, in spite of the Orthodox prohibition against working on Shabbat, went from schul to work on many Saturdays, especially if they were short-handed by employee illness or vacations.  Summer Sundays were for golf in the mornings and family time in the afternoons, often spent visiting family who lived far away.  In those turnpike (yes, before there were highways, there were turnpikes) days, the trip to Hartford, less than thirty miles away, took well over an hour.  But on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we didn’t go visiting; we stayed home so that Dad could rest, and that meant me sitting beside him as we watched TV (once we had one) or read from the World Book Encyclopedia.  My Dad was a great reader, something my sister and I have “inherited” from him.

In the run-up to Christmas, everyone worked long hours, and it was rare to see my Dad during December except when I was working at the store.  My cousin Ronni (of blessed memory) and I, from about age seven, ran the strange machine in the open mezzanine above the shop floor that took addresses on metal plates and transferred them to labels for the Christmas mailing of catalogues (like the one pictured here) and calendars.  Long before it was fashionable for small businesses, Bloom’s Photo Supply was into direct marketing, and we carefully collected the names and addresses of every customer and caller, all of which were entered in the perpetual address files that my Uncle Herman kept.

Sitting in the mezzanine, Ronni and I bickered over whose turn it was to load the metal plate (not fun), load the next item to be addressed (not bad), or turn the wheel (most fun) and discussed what we saw going on all around us.  Excess inventory, the bane of every retailer then and now, was a major topic, along with fanciful ways of getting rid of it profitably.  We also took careful note of anyone who appeared to be shoplifting, quickly reporting any irregularities with arranged signals to the salespeople on the floor, and our eyes and instincts were sharpened by experience.  Even today, on the rare occasions when I’m in a store, I can’t help but notice such behaviors.

While I can never be sure, I think those conversations with Ronni must have been the origin of my now famous story about the invention of Christmas as an inventory management scheme.  In that story, the wise men were retail merchants who saw in the humble birth of Mary and Joseph’s son a solution to the already age-old problem faced by retailers everywhere of how to ensure that the year ended without extraneous, highly unprofitable inventory.  This is one interpretation of the Christmas story that my Christian Wallace family had never heard until they met me.

By the time we were ten, Christmas season found Ronni and me, the two youngest Bloom cousins, helping behind the counter after school and on weekends, ringing up sales, selling film and other simple products, dealing with shop-lifters rather than just watching for them from afar, recording those sales in the perpetual inventory files kept by my Uncle Herman (there never was nor ever will be again a filer like my Uncle Herman!), and generally learning the business.  Everyone worked during the month before Christmas, including our mothers who were otherwise traditional homemakers, and by Christmas Eve, we were all exhausted.  But the lifeblood of retail is the Christmas shopping season — always was so and still is — so our family budget for the next year was written by the ringing of those Christmas cash registers.  To this day, whenever I’ve agreed to a client project or speaking engagement, I can still hear, ever so faintly, that old-fashioned cash register ka-ching.

My Dad was buried on my 50th birthday.  My cousin Ronni, just four months younger than me, died in her mid-thirties.  Cousin Elliot, Ronni’s older brother, and the only male Bloom cousin, took over the business from our fathers when they retired, built it into something completely non-retail but VERY successful, and sold it 15+ years ago.  But if you’re ever in Springfield MA, you can still see the four story mural of long gone camera and photographic supply brands on the exposed wall of Bloom’s Photo Supply’s last retail address, on Worthington Street, just up from Main Street.

For me, sitting in my usual place at the keyboard, Christmas Eve will always be special.  Years after my Dad retired and I had a business of my own, we talked daily, with me updating him on my business in response to his questions.  You can’t fail to hear the ghosts of a retailer’s Christmas past even as my very non-retail business thrived.  ”How’s business?” “Business is great Dad.” “Are your clients paying on time? “They sure are, Dad.” “And are their checks clearing the bank?” “Absolutely.”  This Christmas Eve, I’d give every one of those checks for another Christmas with my Dad.

To all my family, friends and colleagues who celebrate the holy day of Christmas, may you and yours enjoy a wonderful sense of renewal as you celebrate the great miracle of Christ’s birth.  And please pray hard, on behalf of all mankind, for more peace on earth in 2016 than we’ve had in 2015.  And at the risk of offending those who support him, please pray that Donald Trump launches himself into a galaxy far, far away.

Reprise: A Great Miracle Happened Here!

Chanukah 2015 HR Tech Wishes For 2016

Take Your Chances, Win Some Gelt

Take Your Chances, Win Some Gelt

Have you ever played the Chanukah game of spin the dreidel?  With or without the modified rules derived from “spin the bottle?”  Did you know that the four letters, one on each side of the dreidel, make up a phrase that translates to “a great miracle happened here.”

Chanukah celebrates the miracle of freedom, a celebration not of a military victory (although there was a pretty big deal victory associated with the holiday) but rather of the miracle of G-d’s attention to the details of everyday life.  Although the celebration of Christmas often falls in the same period of the Gregorian calendar as does Chanukah, and although we Jews may have added the tradition of gift-giving to Chanukah rather than listen to the cries of disappointed Jewish children, these holidays couldn’t be more different in their origins and application to modern life.

But both of them celebrate the fact that a great miracle happened here, where here is in Bethlehem for Christmas and Jerusalem for Chanukah.  So, in the spirit of this miraculous season, here are the 2016 “miracles” — and I use that word intentionally because I think it would take divine intervention to achieve them — I so wish to see in our neighborhood, at the intersection of IT and HRM:

  • The end of marketing speak in our industry, of calling everything you’ve got SaaS or cloud or social or integrated or analytics or automagical etc.  Can you just imagine how much easier it would be for buyers and customers if there were no more “painting the roses red?”
  • The end of chest beating by industry executives, of hyping their own accomplishments in hopes no one will ask too many questions, and of disrespecting the competition in loud voices and with known half-truths if not outright lies.  Do these folks realize how much they sound like this Presidential campaign’s worst candidates?  Prospects and customers would much prefer that their vendor executives tout their customers’ accomplishments and customer satisfaction scores.
  • The end of whatever atmospherics discourage so many of my young women colleagues from aspiring to be and then becoming chief architects, heads of development and CTOs.  I know these problems start minutes from the womb, and our industry can’t fix all of them.  However, our HR leaders can do everything in their power to level the recruitment, development and advancement playing field and to ensure that the organizational culture is welcoming to women in tech roles.  As for what our IT leaders can do to help, they can make their work groups gender-neutral in every respect, from the jokes and anecdotes they tell to the respect they show for differences in styles of communication and engagement.  And yes, this is of particular importance not only to me but to every employer who can’t afford to waste half of the scarce tech KSAOCs.
  • The end of bad HRM object models.  We know how to do this right, or at least some of us do, and it’s way past time that the mistakes of the past were relegated to that past.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me to review relatively new HRM software whose designers haven’t bothered to study the sins of HRM software past.  Even if you have a gorgeous, easy to use, and truly efficient UX, we can’t do succession planning without the granularity of position, and we can’t do talent management without a robust, multi-dimensional understanding of KSAOCs.
  • The end of bad HRM enterprise software architectures.  For example, how could anyone design true HRM SaaS that doesn’t provide for cross-tenant inheritance (e.g. so that you can embed and maintain a single set of prescriptive analytics, with their content and advisory material, then inherit it across all relevant tenants — i.e. those which have signed up for this service — with appropriate modifications by geography done once and then used to modify, by geography, that decision tree of inheritance)?  And how could anyone design true HRM SaaS which doesn’t express all of its business rules, from workflows to calculations, via effective-dated metadata?  And, what’s even more frightening, there are folks developing HRM enterprise software who aren’t even thinking about these issues.
  • The end of bad HRM enterprise software development methods.  I’ve been a strong proponent of definitional, models-based development since the late 80’s.  My commitment to writing less code goes back even further.  So it’s little wonder that I’m stunned when I hear enterprise software execs calling attention to their thousands of programmers when they might be able to accomplish even more with fewer developers and better development methods.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture, and it would really be a miracle if we woke up on the last day of Chanukah to find that all of these wishes had come true.  But even more important, although it has absolutely nothing to do with HRM or IT, I hope the miracle of good health (mental, physical, and financial) comes through for all of us.  And may the lights of Chanukah be a beacon of hope for all mankind in 2016.

Reflections For Thanksgiving 2015

Classic Windowsill Tzedakah Box

Being both Jewish and American presents me with two major opportunities each year (so on Rosh Hashanah and now on Thanksgiving) to reflect on how very fortunate I am to live in this amazing country and on what I can do to make it and myself better.  For all the problems we’ve got, and they are especially daunting at the moment, we are so very blessed to be here.  Yes, even in the midst of terrorist attacks and the threat of further such attacks (and I count here all the ordinary crazies with guns shooting up their communities), in the face of growing zenophobia and the anger in our public discourse whose angriest voices claim their own deeply religious values, and with all the other challenges faced by each of us individually (I’d put aging on that list) and collectively (and here goes climate change, inequality of opportunity, even the drought in many of our richest agricultural areas), I am going to count my blessings.  But that’s not all.  Due to a 2011 Facebook entry by Ron’s first cousin Barbara Wallace Schmidt, I’m also focused on the giving part of this so American holiday, and that’s where I’m going to start.

Having grown up in an orthodox Jewish home (well, modern orthodox), I learned from a very young age that philanthropy (tzedakah) isn’t about extra credit.  It’s an obligation.  The window sill over our kitchen sink was the home of five or six tin boxes, called pushkas, into which my Dad deposited his pocket change each night after work.  Periodically, a representative of one of the charities that distributed these pushkas would stop by to collect them, have a cup of tea and something sweet with the lady of the house (who rarely worked outside the home in those distant days), and leave a bright new empty box to be filled up again.

And then there were the naming opportunities.  Maybe we Jews didn’t invent this concept, but we sure as hell perfected it.  There’s not a tree in Israel or a toilet stall in a Jewish nursing home that doesn’t bear a plaque with the name of the donor whose funds paid for it.  With my dimes, brought every week to Sunday school (Hebrew School after public school was on weekdays, and then we wrapped up all that learning plus on Sunday mornings), I must have filled dozens of folded cards with enough slots for two dollars worth of dimes that could then be turned into my very own tree in Israel.  Every time we passed a stand of trees on our 2014 travels in Israel, I couldn’t help but think that somewhere among those trees were my very own.

It’s been more than a half century since I saw my Dad empty his pockets into those pushkas and I put my dimes (which I would have preferred to spend on candy) into the “plant a tree” card, but I remember them like they were yesterday.  The Hebrew term for philanthropy is tzedakah, literally fairness or justice, and we learned it young and continuously where I grew up.  Ron and I have been hugely blessed, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to be able to make our year-end donations to support the organizations to whose missions we’re most committed.  One thing we’ve learned about donations is to concentrate our efforts rather than see them pissed away with a few bucks here and a few bucks there — something you too may want to consider doing.

And lest you think that all philanthropy is equal, Maimonides offers a hierarchy of giving, with the first item listed being the most worthy form, and the last being the least worthy.  I find it interesting that the most worthy form is to help a person in need to become not only self-sufficient but also to join the circle of tzedakah in their own right, not unlike the later Christian notion of teaching a man to fish.  Translated from Maimonides:

  1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
  2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
  3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving in sadness (it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity).

Although the term tzedakah was never mentioned, the first hour or more of Marc Benioff’s keynotes at Dreamforce are a paean to the power of tzedakah.  And his 1-1-1 approach to corporate philanthropy should be the mantra of every business, especially those run by folks who would like to shrink our government sector.  If everyone and every business put tzedakah at the top of their priorities, then much more of what the right hates about government could be done by the private sector.  So yes, this is a call to everyone, but especially to my Republican friends and family members, to give until it hurts — of your time, your capital and your annual profits — in the spirit of Marc’s 1-1-1 philanthropic mantra.  I don’t know Marc personally, but I’ve often wondered if his Jewish upbringing shows in his views on philanthropy.

I think that this view of giving, of philanthropy, of tzedakah, is the flip side of the Jewish notion of success.  We believe (at least those of us who haven’t gone so far off the rails as to believe their own press releases — but that’s another story) that your successes are not solely of your own making and that one should not take too much credit for them.  As it happens, we are all either blessed or cursed by the circumstances of our birth and by the good or bad fortune, the mazel, that has accompanied our journey through life.  Born in the US?  Mazel.  Born healthy, intelligent, and loved?  Mazel.  Wanted and raised by two reasonably together and prepared parents?  More mazel.  Managed to get through school, university, life-to-date without dread diseases, terrible accidents, loss of your freedom or life in civil unrest?  Pure mazel.

What you build on top of all that good luck through your own hard work, careful choices, and perseverance is absolutely yours for which to take credit, but it’s important to remember just how much of what we become, of who we are, and of what we have is just plain dumb good luck.  Thinking about life this way, as a three-legged stool (the good fortune of our birth, the good fortune of our lives, and what we ourselves accomplish through our own efforts) of which we only control one leg, makes clear why tzedakah is an obligation for those of us whose stools have three good legs.  Knowing that so many such stools have two wobbly legs explains why I’m on the progressive side of the political divide.

And now for the thanks part of this post.  My list doesn’t change much over time, but my appreciation for these blessings has grown so much over the years.  For those of you who haven’t started your list, here’s mine for Thanksgiving 2015:

  • Ron Wallace — if you haven’t met The Wallace, you’re in for a treat.  He’s smart (and never flaunts his far greater intellect than mine), beyond funny (especially when doing those imitations of all the satellite systems he helped design), kind to everyone even when they’re not, 150% behind me in everything I do, an enthusiastic dancer (even though my best dancing days are in the rearview mirror of life), able to design/fix anything electronic/mechanical/plumbing/etc., infinitely patient, very slow to get anywhere close to angry, doesn’t complain no matter how ill/uncomfortable he is, shares my love of travel/adventure/British mystery DVDs/boating/theater/the list of shared interests is very long, understands my need to “fly” solo at times, never asks me what anything costs (knowing I won’t go overboard even when we’re buying me great jewelry), likes many of my friends and is happy to have them travel with us, has provided full infrastructure support so that I could pursue my dream career and other interests, still a hunk after all these years (Ron went through college on gymnastics scholarships), and thinks I’m the best thing that ever happened to him.  What more could any woman want?  Most important, because aging comes to all who get this far, Ron has made it possible for me to keep doing a lot of what we love to do by pushing the chair when my increasingly unreliable legs can’t go the distance.
  • Friends and family who are also friends — I value friendship above diamonds, and those who know me realize that’s high value indeed.  No one gets through life unscathed, NO ONE!  And it’s your friends who not only share your triumphs but will also see you through the really tough times.  And I can tell you that, as you and your friends get older, the tough times increase, and you need each other more than ever.  Friendship isn’t something I take lightly, and I expect a lot from those in my inner circle.  When that call comes, when a friend is in need or in crisis, real friends drop everything, show up, and do whatever they can to alleviate your distress.  But even casual friends ease our way when they lend a hand, offer a referral, or just ask how we’re doing.
  • Good health, great health insurance, and the smarts to manage my own healthcare — Ron and I have watched the whole health care reform discussion with just one point of view: everyone should be as free from worry about their health care costs as we have been, even as we’ve battled a growing number of expensive health issues.  I can’t even imagine having to fight with an insurance company in order to get what Ron needed when he was diagnosed 10+ years ago with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  The bills were enormous and would have broken even our generous budget if not for great coverage.  And I’ve had so many joint repairs that the staff at the surgical center know me on sight, and that’s only the beginning of what aging has done to my llambada.  But thanks to Ron’s NASA career, we’ve had the same kind of private insurance our Congressmen have, converted now to our supplemental plan while Medicare is primary.  We’d like to see everyone have this level of financial protection and peace of mind, but what do we know about health care?  For the record, Medicare is income adjusted so I’m paying a ton for it, and that’s entirely fair, but I’d love them to add a few higher brackets so that Mr. Ellison was paying even more.
  • My career, clients and colleagues — I’ve had an amazing career run.  I got in on the very ground floor of the use of computers in business and am still able to contribute.  For those of you who are worried about your own career, and who isn’t with robots coming to replace many types of workers, please take heart.  There’s always opportunity for those who talented and willing to work their butts off, invest in their KSAOCs, and do the heavy lifting.  To all the colleagues and clients from whom I’ve learned so much, I’m very grateful for the opportunities and hope I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten.  And I’d like to say a special thank you to my much younger colleagues who have welcomed this digital immigrant with open minds and helping hands.
  • The accident of my birth — I come from pioneer stock.  My grandparents were refugees (aren’t all Jews?) from a shtetl in Lithuania.  They came to the USA at the turn of the 20th century to avoid conscription into the Czar’s non-kosher army as well as to escape the pogroms.  Like every American except our Native Americans, we’re all refugees of one sort or another, even those who think they’re special because they came first or brought some wealth with them.  Were it not for my grandparents having the courage to leave the familiar behind, to make what was then quite literally a trek across Europe to get bilge (they thought steerage was first class) passage to the USA, to arrive with no English and just the bundles they carried to a gentile America which was still quite hostile to Jews, I would never have had the opportunities that so many of us take for granted.  Were the founders of our country legal immigrants?  Hell no!  They were conquerors who killed off the indigenous population after having only survived that first awful winter because of the kindness of those very natives.  Were your ancestors legal immigrants?  Probably not.  Were my grandparents legal immigrants?  I haven’t a clue.  Perhaps that explains my own support for addressing our current immigration issues with humanity and a real respect for those who are following in the same path as our collective ancestors, seeking refuge from poverty and/or repressive governments, seeking a better life for their children, seeking a chance to work and live free from religious/political/economic/ethnic persecution.
  • Our military and first responders along with their families — Freedom isn’t free, and democracy isn’t a birthright, so count your blessings that you’re here.  And thank those who never rest so that we can, those who work the midnight shifts in emergency rooms, those who keep your power on and your news reported.  There are so many who won’t be having as peaceful or comfortable a Thanksgiving as you and I will have.  My thanks to every one of them.

Although Thanksgiving isn’t really a religious holiday, I think it’s prayer-worthy.  So here’s mine for all of us.  Life is short, fragile and amazing, so live large and purposefully while you can and out of respect for all those whose three-legged stools have always had one or two broken legs.  G-d willing (now we’re back to mazel) we’ll live long and prosper and be the life of the party at the old farts home.

Prepare Your Questions For #HRTechWorld and #HRTechConf

If you don’t ask the right questions, you sure as hell won’t get useful answers!

It’s HR technology conference season, and we’d better get our act together if we’re going to get the maximum value from our time spent at Carnac In Bloomthese conferences.  That means knowing what questions we’re trying to answer before we’re bombarded with vendors, consultants, pundits and blogging fools telling us that whatever they’re selling is the answer to our not-yet-formulated-clearly questions.

That’s why I published the original take of this post on 9-12-2011, just in time for the 2011 HR Technology Conference, and I’ve been doing almost annual updates ever since.  I keep finding myself wanting not only to update the questions but also to provide my thoughts on the answers, and that’s a black hole from which I may never extricate myself.  Nonetheless, I’ve included a few answers so that you’ll know (as though there was ever a doubt) where I stand.

For 2015, I’ve done a thorough update and added more of my own thoughts on the answers to these questions.  So what you’re getting here is a mix: lots of questions with my current thoughts on the answers to some of them.  But please note that this is really intended as a “starter kit” of possible questions rather than a definitive list.  Please feel free to use my questions as a starting point, but your own questions should be much more specific and complete.  And of course what matters are your questions, so there’s no time to waste.

As always, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should presume that I have worked with many of the major vendors in our space whether they are mentioned or not, that my thinking is certainly informed by the smart people with whom I work across the vendor/thought leader/influencer communities, and that I have strong biases (on full view across this blog) about what constitutes great HRM and great HRM enterprise software.  Given my already stated plans to wind down my consulting practice, I’ve clearly stepped over the “trying to be ecumenical line” and cast caution to the winds with my answers to some of these questions.

Some combination of these questions almost always has been the impetus for that first call/email/DM/whatever to me from a global HR executive or their IT partner, and they also permeate the online HR technology conversations.  Unfortunately, it usually takes a broader planning effort to make sure that sir/madam HR leader isn’t playing that loser’s game of whack-a-mole in resolving these types of questions.  You know that game:  no sooner do you put one question to rest than two more rear their ugly heads, and soon you’re entangled, not unlike Gulliver, by a hairball of these issues.

Unfortunately, unlike my good friend and fellow Enterprise Irregular  Ray Wang, there are no Naomi clones.  Just this solo consultant who’s been trying to save the world from crappy HRM and HR software for more years than most of you have been alive.  And while I’ve been a pretty productive and hard worker, there were never enough hours to support every HR exec who called about their always interconnected, whack-a-mole HRM delivery systems issues.  So I have referred a lot of business to capable colleagues, suggested useful reading/conferences/discussion groups/etc., and helped as many as I could directly.

Knowing the questions is the first important step toward getting good answers regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or getting (hopefully great) 3rd party advice.   Toward that end, and presuming that you have studied my methodology for strategic HRM and HRMDS planning, here’s my list, updated as of 10/14/2015, of the HRMDS questions that have given rise to so many of those requests for assistance — as well as my thoughts on some of the answers — in no particular order.  Please note that, in the Talmudic tradition of reflection and analysis in which I was raised, for topics I consider to be of particular complexity and/or importance, the same topic is addressed with multiple questions to explore it from different angles.  You’ll also note that I start with the foundations of your HRM delivery system, HRMS/TM.

  1. Can we afford to/should we upgrade our licensed, on-premise ERP/HRMS?  In almost all cases, my answer is a resounding NO.  However, you might be the one in a thousand for whom this is still a sensible course of action, perhaps using 3rd party maintenance, at least until the newer true SaaS ERP/HRMS/TM (yes, with truly and deeply integrated talent management capabilities because core HRMS and TM are inextricably intertwined) have matured sufficiently for your industry/geography/business requirements.  But if you do plan to wait, please keep an eye on the future because it’s racing toward you, and use this time wisely to rethink every aspect of your HRM policies/practices/data and coding structures/processes/business rules/etc. for the current era and to clean up you ratty data and coding structures for the future.  This preparation will help you to move as quickly as possible when you’re ready to move to true SaaS.
  2. Can we afford/manage the integration of separate talent management applications?  Here too, in most cases, my answer is a resounding NO.  I’m not talking here about niche add-ons which extend talent management, e.g. sourcing tools, video conferencing, or course creation, but rather about the core applications which make up an integrated talent management suite.  Here too you might be the one in a thousand for whom this is still a sensible course of action, and for the very same reasons and with many of the very same caveats as in #1 above.  When you develop object models for talent management, the sheer number and complexity of the interconnections are revealed, and it is those interconnections which argue for more rather than less integration of the resulting applications and business processes.  That said, some TM processes are less interconnected than others, so there are options here if — IF — you study carefully those interconnections.
  3. Are we better served by getting our talent management capabilities already integrated with our system of record’s (SOR’s) foundation from our SOR’s vendor than by piecing together/layering on a variety of separate talent management applications, no matter how supposedly integrated they may be?  Yes, but only if that so-called integrated talent management software from your SOR vendor is really integrated rather than glued together with some complex set of marketing-speak “integrations” across disparate object models, architectures, and underlying assumptions about HRM.  With so much M&A across the HR technology industry, not to mention separate development efforts at the same firm, many brands now own a hodge podge of HRM software, including talent management software.  While many of these applications may be quite good on their own, most are not integrated in the deep, profound way that’s only achieved through organic development of an HRMS/TM suite based upon a shared set of object models, architecture and development environment.  But, and it’s a huge BUT, organic development doesn’t necessarily produce great software.  So we need both deeply integrated and great HRMS/TM.  That’s the ideal, but all manner of approximations and combinations may work for you depending on your current HRMDS and your overall HRMS/TM strategy.  Here too, modeling the domain leads to an understanding of what it is about core HRMS and TM which are inextricably intertwined and where there are less interconnected areas.  But please note:  if you plan to embed predictive analytics, calculated on the fly across a wide range of HRM processes and delivered “point of sale” to decision makers along with the related and actionable advice, you’d better ensure that all of these are resting on a common object model, with a common approach to effective-dating etc. so that your analytics aren’t a house built on sand.
  4. Are the so-called integrated talent management capabilities from our SOR’s (system of record’s) vendor truly integrated or are they in some stage of being interfaced and given a more or less common user experience?  This is where those “killer” scenarios (and do search my blog on that phrase to find many posts covering the actual scenarios) come in along with your vendor’s own documentation.  If there are integration processes/documentation/roadmaps etc., then you know a priori that you’re not dealing with the deepest level of integration which is only achieved during an organic build.  Should you care?  That depends entirely on where you need deep integration and where perhaps you don’t, and this is another great question best answered via using your own vision of HRM.
  5. Does our system of record’s (SOR’s) coding structures/data granularity/data accuracy/data-entry style self service/processes/business rules/etc. support talent management at the level we need?  Let me say for the umpteenth time that you can’t do succession planning (executive or more broadly), position-based staffing, position-based organizational design (or even great org charts), workforce planning at any level of granularity, and so much more in TM if you don’t include a reasonable understanding and implementation of position in your coding structures.  No pain, no gain.  Organizations which continue to implement new software on top of outdated processes, data and coding structures, and business rules are fooling themselves.  Yes, you’ll be able to deliver analytics of some flavor to mobile devices, but you won’t have valid analytics or know if you’re even asking the right questions.
  6. Are the right capabilities available in our SOR and/or have they been implemented properly?  So many of the ERP/HRMSs implemented with the help of major SIs were customized within an inch of their lives, often at the customer’s insistence — “we’ve always done it this way” — thus becoming a nightmare to upgrade.  And with that huge sunk cost, on-premise ERP/HRMSs are going to have a long tail.  But there’s a potentially huge opportunity cost to not having up-to-date capabilities, of not being agile in the face of business change, of not being able to attract and engage workers with a consumer user experience, etc.  That opportunity cost can and must be measured as part of making the business case for staying on or moving off of your current SOR; use only TCO (total cost of ownership) at your peril.
  7. How can we bring our data entry-style self service into the mobile and social world?  The bad news is that if you don’t build it, they won’t come — or they’ll sidestep everything you provide in favor of the consumer apps they know and love.  Today’s workforce, especially those special folks with scarce KSAOCs who fill the key roles driving business outcomes, expect high quality technology enablement of their business processes, to include a consumer grade (but industrial strength) user experience.  And they vote with their feet.  In some cases you can upgrade a legacy on-premise HRMS or even an older standalone TM application with a new user experience, but that can often look like putting lipstick on a pig.  So beware the shiny mobile thingy that doesn’t address the fundamental issues of having modern data structures, processes, business rules, etc.
  8. If we’re running on an ERP/HRMS, should we upgrade in place, implement that vendor’s next gen (when it’s ready, and whether or not it’s more or less next gen than we need), mix and match, or consider the options from other brands?  I think I’ve already answered this, but let me say it one more time.  Whatever else you consider, it’s absolutely necessary to take a hard look at all your options and not just those from your incumbent.  This will be a new implementation even if you stay with your incumbent’s next generation, so you might as well take a look around before you make these decisions.  Just because it’s time for a divorce, however civilized, it’s absolutely NOT the right time to jump into bed with the first person who asks.
  9. Will our smaller, primarily domestic, totally focused on HCM and still independent core HRMS vendor(s) be able to make the needed global, regulatory, architectural and functionality investments needed in their products to support our growing business?  Will they be around long enough and with sufficient resources to deliver on mobile, social, global, analytics, gamification and so much more?  This is an easy one because facts are facts.  Just look at the track record of M&A in our industry, and you can see how many once independent players are now owned by aggregators, including private equity-funded aggregators.  And while many of these products are still around, with some getting decent levels of maintenance investment, I believe it’s now clear that the weak are not going to inherit the software kingdom as we move aggressively to true SaaS.
  10. Lots of our vendors are describing their latest products as SaaS.  How would we know if that’s true? Why should we care?  Please, please read my posts on these points (just search for “true SaaS” to get them all) before concluding that if it’s hosted and subscribed you’ll be just fine.  Those of us who’ve been around for a while remember very well what happened when then PeopleSoft put “client server” on the tips of every prospect’s tongue.  Suddenly, every mainframe era HRMS vendor was declaring their product client server by coming up with definitions than even some of those vendors couldn’t say with a straight face.  Anyone remember screen scraping?  The whole debate about two-tiered vs three-tiered vs n-tiered?  The bottom line was that you needed to start over, with a clean sheet of paper, in order to design truly client server software, and the same is true with SaaS.
  11. If our current vendors aren’t true SaaS as Naomi has defined it, are they likely to be viable long-term?  Are there other workable definitions that make sense for some vendors?  Sure.  For example, one major vendor, Oracle, has a very different view of true SaaS than I do, and they have the long tail of their installed base plus almost unlimited resources to ensure that their point of view has legs.  However, you should still educate yourself, if you’re a PeopleSoft or even EBS HCM customer, about the real compare and contrast between Fusion HCM and your other options.  And that said, do read my posts on the business benefits of true SaaS as I define it to be sure that you’re going to get those benefits via someone else’s definition of same, no matter the size of their marketing budget.
  12. Is it the right time to make the leap to a newer, SaaS generation of integrated HRMS/TM which are still building out talent management functionality and global capabilities?  It’s clearly no longer a question of whether but of when.  All the major vendors of licensed on-premise HRMS/TM are moving as fast as their legs can carry them to the cloud (regardless of whether I agree or don’t with their definitions) as well as to build out their cloud offerings, so they clearly are betting on a SaaS future (again, whatever their definitions).  And there could be substantial $$ savings which would argue persuasively for a sooner rather than later leap.  But our timing may be linked to an energizing event, e.g. the arrival of a new CIO who’s experienced with true SaaS and was brought in to move us there faster and/or the arrival of a giant bill from our vendor for extended support of an aged HRMS.  Frankly, many of the leading organizations have already moved or are in high gear to do so very soon, so it’s well past time to get started.
  13. Should we stick to our older on-premise ERP/HRMS and add one or more talent management applications on top?  With what approach to interfacing and/or integration?  Forget integration if you go down this path as the best you can do is a great job of two-way interfaces.  But if you must stay where you are for core HRMS — see above for potential reasons — then by all means figure out how to fill the gaps with interfaced talent management applications.  The key to making this work is to really understand the limitations of and maintenance workload associated with these interfaces so that your expectations are in line with the reality delivered.
  14. What types of social technology capabilities should we consider for HRM? Across our organization?  Unleashed within what processes?  I’m a big believer in use case-based unleashing of a rich assortment of collaboration tools rather than just providing those collaboration tools and expecting customers to do the unleashing.  One reason I feel this way is that results-oriented collaboration can degrade quite easily into time-wasting social noise.  Another is that to achieve meaningful collaboration requires a full rethink of all the incentives and barriers to human collaboration, e.g. job descriptions, performance goals, and organizational designs.  Seeing collaboration embedded within HRM processes, like the ability to add video “sticky notes” wherever you’d like or opportunities to rate proposals/suggestions/ideas/interactions/etc. and add relevant commentary, enrich the whole HRM experience while improving group decision-making.
  15. Should we be looking for social tech within the foundations of our HRMS/TM unleashed where we want them or looking at specific social apps?  Not to sound like a weasel consultant, but the correct answer is both.  Fundamental collaboration tools — embedded, user-created video content; discussion forums and threads; LinkedIn deeply connected to all worker/applicant KSAOC profiles and so much more — don’t all need to be built because many either open source or commercial capabilities can be made a part of the HRMS/TM foundations.  But whether built or bought and deeply embedded, there are considerable use cases for embedding a wide range of collaboration tools into the foundations of all HRMS/TM software.
  16. Is it better to provide social technology capabilities that are specific to an HRM process or to provide broad access to those capabilities across HRM with a build it and they will come approach?  See comments on 14-15 above.
  17. What policies are needed to balance the value of social and mobile technology, including “Bring Your Own Device” (so BYOD), with protecting our intellectual property, personal data privacy, and organizational productivity? 
  18. Is it better to provide mobile technology capabilities that are specific to an HRM process or to provide broad access to those capabilities across HRM?  What’s this I hear about “mobile first” design, and why is that better?
  19. Even as we’re automating the hell out of HRM, are there still obvious HRMDS targets for outsourcing?  Of course there are, so are we doing as much of this as makes sense for us?  Subscribing true SaaS is a form of outsourcing but here we’re referring to outsourcing an entire HRM process where the provider delivers the results to an agreed service level.  I’ve long thought that background checking and US tax filing were obvious candidates for outsourcing to specialist providers.  Global payroll processing and distributions also requires very specialized in-country capabilities in which many to most organizations shouldn’t indulge.  Other great candidates include KSAOC assessment development and administration, US benefits administration, and those other regulatory processes, like garnishment management, which aren’t deeply interconnected with core HRMS/TM and which do benefit mightily from economies of scale.
  20. What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data?
  21. What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to provide embedded, actionable analytics?
  22. Are there areas within the HRMDS that just don’t make sense to do any way other than via tightly integrated components?  Here core HRMS comes immediately to mind, and increasingly I believe that core TM requires tight integration with core HRMS.
  23. What impact would using best-of-breed solutions for specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data?  You also have to consider how analytics, particularly the quest for embedded, predictive analytics with advisory content, will work if various components are on different object models, with different approaches to effective-dating, etc.
  24. Our ERP/HRMS is described as licensed/on-premise, and we’re paying 22% of retail in annual maintenance.  Are we getting enough value to justify those annual payments?  You might want to follow the legal proceedings of Oracle vs Rimini Street to gain real insight into the reasons why so many customers are looking at other, lower cost options for the maintenance of their aging core HRMS.  In many to most cases, I don’t believe late adopters of SaaS are getting enough innovation in their on-premise core HRMS to justify such high annual maintenance fees.
  25. Will our vendor’s next generation be free to us because of those annual maintenance payments?  Are they essentially giving away their cloud software, at least for a time, or providing major discounts in order to keep us in the family?  There’s definitely some deep discounting going on by long-established vendors to retain their customer base as they transition to cloud, but there’s no shame in taking advantage of such discounts (always presuming there’s nothing ugly hidden in the fine print) if that vendors cloud products are the very best for your organization.  But don’t be lulled into thinking that you won’t have a new implementation if you stay with the same vendor or that you can avoid a full-scale product and vendor evaluation to ensure that your incumbent vendor’s offering is the best fit for you.  No pain, no gain.
  26. Are there alternatives to making those on-premise maintenance payments?  Are their other sources for basic maintenance, especially if we’re on an older release?  The answer is yes, and the options are many, but please do read the Oracle vs Rimini Street court documents.
  27. Will our talent management software vendor(s) survive and prosper?  What’s at risk if we’ve bet on a vendor that gets acquired?
  28. With all the consolidation going on in talent management, how can we determine if our vendors will be acquirers or be acquired?  Does it matter?  It does matter, and you have some important homework to do.
  29. Is it more important for us to get talent management right than to invest further in our administrative HRM foundations or will poor administrative foundations cripple our talent management efforts?  This is one of the central questions addressed in any competent strategic HRM and HRMDS planning effort.  Please see above for some useful links.
  30. Do we really have to build/maintain the whole data warehouse apparatus just to get obvious analytics?  To support actionable analytics at the “point of sale” (i.e. embedded in employee and manager self service)?  The simple answer is no with the big IF you’re running on an integrated HRMS/TM platform that does the heavy lifting for you.  And that’s pretty much where you need to be because the whole data warehouse thing is so yesterday.
  31. Why can’t our payroll provider (yes, we outsourced that years ago) support the variety of workers, work roles, work schedules, total compensation plans, and other practices that we’re now using or need to use?  What are our options here?  The good news is that there are payroll providers which can address modern requirements.  The bad news is that there aren’t many depending always on the geographies you need to cover.  And no matter what they say, those providers cannot overcome the limitations of their software platforms without a ton of manual workarounds (which can of course be automated separately, but that’s by no means ideal), so perhaps it’s time to do a completely new assessment of both your needs and the capabilities of the best of today’s payroll outsourcers — especially of what their software actually can do and with what architectural and object model robustness that software operates.  Yes, you’ve got it, I’m an object model and architectural bigot.
  32. What about our global payroll requirements?  We’ve got large populations in a few countries and very small populations scattered everywhere else?  Should we handle this ourselves?  Do NOT try to handle all of this yourself.  If you’re really concentrated in just a few countries with sizeable populations there and just a scattering of folks elsewhere, you might be a great candidate for using the true SaaS (but be sure that it really is true SaaS) payroll from your core HRMS vendor if they cover those key countries and then one of their global outsourcing partners to do the rest.  Or, you could outsource the whole thing to one of a very small number of providers which is set up to do this well and at a reasonable cost.  But for those organizations with significant populations in many different countries, perhaps with growth where you already are and more countries coming, you’re going to have to do a very careful assessment of capabilities needed versus costs because even the most capable providers differ in what they do best, where they do it best, and how they will price what you need.  As of this writing, there is no global payroll provide using a single true SaaS payroll engine to service every country on the planet and with feet on the street in every country, so ALL of them are piecing together some combination of their own robust capabilities with those of owned in-country providers running on different (usually lesser) technology and 3rd party in-country providers over which they have VERY different levels of control.  My own bias, assuming they have the capabilities that you need, is towards global vendors with the greatest control over their supply chain because that’s your best insurance policy.
  33. And what impact will the coming changes in health care, talent management, social learning, robotic workers, globalization, HR technology, workforce diversity, executive compensation caps, government-inspired and/or -led growth programs, [you name the issue] have on our aging, too many moving parts, never implemented well and/or too expensive to maintain HRM delivery system — and on our ability to deliver the HRM outcomes our organization expects?  
  34. We seem to have a disconnect between our administration and strategic HRM data — could that be the result of disconnected systems, data definitions, organizational responsibilities, HRM business rules, etc.?
  35. What changes should we be making in our HRM policies and practices to support a more social, mobile and global workforce?  Won’t our software vendors provide these?
  36. I keep hearing about social/mobile/global/embedded analytics/the importance of integrated talent management/[you name the hot topic here], but these capabilities seem to be add-ons at added cost etc. from our primary vendors.  Is that right?
  37. How do I push more and more responsibility for HRM to managers and to the workforce without having a whole range of compliance/productivity/decision-making problems?  How do I provide these users with enough embedded intelligence to enable effective decision-making?  To enable correct and timely HRM transactions?
  38. Every time I ask for a briefing on the current state of our HRMDS, my eyes glaze over from the complexity and detail.  How do I know if we have more moving pieces than we need?  If we have the right pieces?  If we’re spending the right amount to achieve our needed outcomes?
  39. How can we keep all the pieces well playing together?  How much bailing wire and chewing gum does it take to keep everything running?
  40. Our CEO asked me if we have the HRM capabilities we need to help the organization deliver improved business outcomes.  Frankly, I haven’t got a clue.
  41. How can I find enough resources to invest in strategic HRMDS components when everything’s being starved because of the black holes of administrative HRM, including compliance, which really don’t drive business outcomes no matter how well-done they are?
  42. Cloud/smoud — my CIO is deadset against it but all the hot new software is built for it.  What do I do?  I could be flippant and say just wait for your CIO to be replaced, but that’s not very helpful.  Perhaps you could provide your CIO with selected readings?  Show him/her what true SaaS applications which are already in use — and yes, you’ve already got some, perhaps a lot, of SaaS in your organization — are delivering for the business.
  43. I know we need analytics, but which ones?  My team has proposed 217, all of which sound interesting and potentially relevant, but what I really need are the half dozen that would tell me how we’re really doing?  One of my favorite metrics for linking what HRM does to organizational outcomes is to calculate the average contributions to revenues and profits of each FTE worker (so both employees and contingent workers).  In a for profit organization, increasing revenues and profitability are central to both survival and success, so why not start there?  Going deeper, you want to highlight those aspects of HRM which drive revenue and profitability per FTE.
  44. Social sourcing sounds wonderful, and everyone’s doing it, but is it really applicable to our need for [place your scarce KSAOC list here]?  I’m a big believer in social sourcing, using public services like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to broadcast opportunities and research potential candidates.  But, and it’s a big BUT, the power of such broadly-based communities works best for those who have built up considerable street cred within these communities.  If I tweet a link about job opportunities in the HR technology industry, there’s a huge probability that likely candidates are among my followers.  But if I tweet the need for a nuclear physicist for a faculty position at MIT, there’s a much lower probability that my followers will include likely candidates.  Building a positive and useful presence online, for yourself and for your organization, takes time and a ton of effort.  If you intend to use such presence as a sourcing mechanism, there’s no time to lose because it will take considerable elapsed time before you’re ready to source effectively in this way.

And now for a few of my personal favorites, those calls for help for which I can no longer provide anything more than an hour of conversation and referrals, just for laughs.

  1. We subscribed the software, signed up for a three year lease, and we’ve been given our own tenant.  We’re expecting to load our own data, but it seems to sit there waiting for us to tell it what to do.  Is that right?  Doesn’t it come loaded with “best practices?”  We budgeted for a “vanilla” implementation on that expectation.
  2. My global head of talent is telling me that we must get all of our talent applications from the same vendor in order to get the deep process and data integration that he tells me integrated TM requires.  If we do that, buy everything from a single vendor, will it really truly scouts’ honor be fully integrated?
  3. The last guy who’s able to maintain the extensive COBOL code we used to create our highly customized Cyborg/Genesys/Tesseract/Integral/MSA/[put your favorite truly over-the-hill essentially payroll but now doing everything imaginable application brand here, and with full knowledge on my part that all of these brands are getting some level of quite sincere regulatory support and other updates from their current owners] has gone out on emergency long term disability, and we never did get him to document that code.  Help!
  4. My predecessor insisted that we needed an enterprise-level ERP/HRMS.  Four years and millions of $$ later, we’re not implemented, the SI (systems integration) leader (the new one, his predecessor was promoted) tells me that we don’t have either our organizational structure nor our jobs defined right to meet the analytical requests I’ve made of the system, the release we’ve been implementing seems to have been overtaken by the vendor’s newest release (and that’s the one that has the improved user experience that we really need), and now my new golfing buddy (who’s a partner at another SI) suggests that what we’ve selected is gross overkill for our 500 person, entirely US-based call center business for which our financials are moving “into the cloud,” whatever that means.  When I told a trusted HR exec colleague about all of this, she said don’t make another move until you talk to Naomi.

All laughs aside, these are really tough questions, all of them.  And you know that I’ve addressed a lot more, along with my thoughts on how to answer them, across my blog.  When you put these questions into the context of a specific organization, of your organization, answering them is worthy of your best efforts.  So “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” then delve into the details to develope their own answers.  If you are facing any of these questions, please do your homework and don’t be flimflammed.  And please do take full advantage of the upcoming #HRTechConf and #HRTechWorld (where I’ll be doing two sessions which may be of interest) conferences to help answer your questions.