Carnac the Magnificent
[ I published the original version of this post on 9-12-2011, just in time for the 2011 HR Technology Conference, and I did an updated edition for the 2012 conference. I had planned to do another updated version for the 2013 HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas and the 2013 HR Tech Europe Conference in Amsterdam (which by now you all know are not connected), but then I found myself wanting not only to update the questions but also to provide my thoughts on the answers -- and boy was that a dark hole from which I'm only beginning to extricate myself. So what you're getting here is a mix: lots of questions with my current thoughts on the answers to some of them.
As always, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should presume that I'm working or 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 -- but not the rest of my business, not by any means -- I thought I'd step over the "trying to be ecumenical line" and cast caution to the winds with my thoughts on some of these questions.]
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 bad HRM and bad HR software. 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. With the winding down of my consulting practice this year, there’ll be a lot more of those referrals. But 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
Carnac In Bloom
Toward that end, and presuming that you have studied my methodology for strategic HRM and HRMDS planning, I thought you might enjoy my list [updated as of 10/27/2013] of the HRMDS issues that have given rise to so many of these requests for assistance. Some combination of these issues almost always has been the impetus for that first call/email/DM/whatever from a global HR executive, 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 issues. You know that game: no sooner do you put one issue to rest than two more rear their ugly heads, and soon you’re entangled, not unlike Gulliver, by a hairball of these issues.
So what are the issues? In no particular order, but now with some of my thoughts about the answers:
- Can we afford to/should we upgrade our licensed, on-premise ERP/HRMS? In most cases, IMO the answer is a resounding no. However, you might be the one in many for whom this is still a sensible course of action, 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.
- Can we afford/manage the integration of separate talent management applications? Here too, in most cases, IMO the answer is a resounding no. But here too you might be the one in many 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.
- 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 is really integrated rather than glued together with some complex set of “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, 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.
- Are the so-called integrated talent management capabilities from our SOR’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 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.
- 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.
- 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 TCO alone at your peril.
- 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.
- 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.
- Will our smaller/weaker but still independent core HRMS vendor(s) be able to make needed regulatory, architectural and functionality investments in their products? 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Is it the right time to make the leap to a newer, SaaS generation of integrated HRMS/TM which are building out talent management functionality very quickly as well as their 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 take themselves to the cloud as well as to build out their cloud offerings, so they clearly are betting on a SaaS future (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. Okay, enough with the opinions or this will be longer than anyone will read. You’re on your own from here folks.
- 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?
- What types of social technology capabilities should we consider for HRM? Across our organization? Unleashed within what processes?
- 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?
- 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?
- What policies are needed to balance the value of social technology with protecting our intellectual property, personal data privacy, and organizational productivity?
- Should we be looking for mobile capabilities within the foundations of our HRMS/TM unleashed where we want them or looking at specific mobile apps?
- 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?
- What policies are needed to balance the value of mobile technology, including “Bring Your Own Device” (so BYOD) with protecting our intellectual property, personal data privacy, and organizational productivity?
- Are there 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 so an agreed service level.
- Are there areas within the HRMDS that just don’t make sense to do any way other than via outsourcing? Background checking, tax filing, payroll in countries where we have small populations, development of generic learning content and/or KSAOC assessments come immediately to mind.
- What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data?
- What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to provide embedded, actionable analytics?
- 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.
- 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?
- What impact would using best-of-breed solutions for specific HRMDS components have on our ability to provide embedded, actionable analytics?
- What are the characteristics of an HRM process that lend themselves to either tight or loose coupling with our core SOR?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Will our talent management software vendor(s) survive and prosper? What’s at risk if we’ve bet on a vendor that gets acquired?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?” So embedded in employee and manager self service?
- 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?
- 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?
- Are there truly global payroll providers whose capabilities are integrated and priced well?
- And what impact will the coming changes in health care, talent management, social learning, globalization, HR technology, workforce diversity, executive compensation caps, government austerity 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?
- 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.?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- How can we keep all the pieces well playing together? How much bailing wire and chewing gum does it take to keep everything running?
- 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.
- 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?
- Cloud/smoud — my CIO is deadset against it but all the hot new software is built for it. What do I do?
- 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?
- Social sourcing sounds wonderful, and everyone’s doing it, but is it really applicable to our need for [place your scarce KSAOC list here]?
And now for a few of my personal favorites, those calls for help that I can no longer provide, just for laughs.
- We bought the software, signed up for maintenance, and have it loaded on our computer. 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.
- 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?
- 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!
- 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 precessor 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 got a bunch 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. I’ll look forward to adding your questions to my collection above, so do send them to me.
This comes to you from the Hilton at Heathrow Airport. We’ve had a wonderful sojourn in England — such a civilized country, especially when you’re far away from any large cities — but it’s time to get back to work. And since I know I won’t have wifi on the flight across the pond tomorrow, please excuse my attempt to get this done before we leave.
If you’re anything like me, from the time you arrive in Las Vegas and/or Amsterdam (and yes, The Wallace will be with me in both places), it will be:
- non-stop vendor/industry meetings,
- exhibition hall booth visiting (I make a valiant effort each year to stop at everything single booth, but especially the US show (with no connection to the Amsterdam one) has gotten so large that many of these visits are flybys – no disrespect intended),
- session attending,
- session delivery,
- intense but wonderful hallway exchanges,
- time with valued colleagues and long-standing industry friends,
- an occasional meal and more than an occasional drink,
- tweetups and meetups,
- our annual Brazen Hussies gatherings, and more.
I have just celebrated my 68th birthday (it was 9/24 in case you want to plan now for next year) and am basking in the afterglow of another year well-lived. Living large, personally and professionally, honors those who never got this far, and the number of loved ones who didn’t grows longer with each passing year. One of the byproducts of aging that’s rarely discussed is how many friends and family members you outlive, and each one of those losses really hurts.
As I’m finalizing my own preparations for these conferences, I thought you might enjoy a few tips from my personal list. And like all good twitterstreams, please read from the bottom up:
#HRTechConf bonus tip: This is where I had planned to suggest that you read my entire blog, from 11/9/2009 forward, but that seemed really pushy. Instead, just read those posts that are relevant to your purpose in Las Vegas and/or Amsterdam. I can’t help but encourage you to focus on the posts that discuss what’s happening in HRM software that’s just out of sight, what you should be looking for “derriere le mirroir.” What you don’t know can cost you dearly!
#HRTechConf tip #10: Get #HRTechConf and #HRTechEurope 2014 on your calendar and in your budget now. With Steve Boese taking over Bill Kutik’s impresario role for the US show, I’m sure we’re in for some surprises. But I’m counting on Steve doing a bang-up job of continuing the tradition of great session topics and presenters which has made the US show the absolute best in class. And Marc Coleman and Peter Russell will be one year further along, in 2014, their own show’s growth and learning curve. Ron and I are already planning for next year, and I hope you will do so ASAP.
#HRTechConf tip #9: Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen because sharing questions, ideas and experiences with colleagues is the point. Bring your list of the folks you follow most on Twitter and make it a point to meet them. Come to my “ask the expert” sessions and hit me with your questions. And do feel quite comfortable approaching almost anyone about anything reasonable; it takes a village, and that’s HR Tech all over.
#HRTechConf tip #8: Bring a swag carrier if you’re flying in or plan to carry your #Monster home in your lap. Ron can’t imagine coming home from #HRTechConf in Las Vegas without a new monster, and who’s going to tell him that we’re overrun with them here at HQ? And if you’re a vendor doing some swag planning, we love: umbrellas (the rainy season is on right now, and you can never have too many), interesting stress reduction toys, cuddly creatures (why doesn’t anyone ever give away big stuffed alligators), shoe bags (those soft ones in which you pack your shoes when traveling), towels (all sizes appreciated), t-shirts (medium for Ron, XL for me — embarrassing but true), but please no more vendor-branded iPad covers. The risk of meeting with Vendor A with your iPad wrapped in Vendor B is too high.
#HRTechConf tip #7: Leave room in your schedule for serendipity and for nature breaks — well at least nature breaks. I’ve met some amazing women during those nature breaks; I can’t speak for what goes on in the men’s room.
#HRTechConf tip #6: Attend as many sessions as possible. I do because they’re excellent, and at Bill’s show there’s NO sales crap allowed. Woe be it unto any vendor who tries to slip a sales pitch into their session because the Kutik has both a loud gong and one of those long sticks with the curved ends they used in vaudeville to pull bad acts off the stage. Organizers of the Amsterdam conference, which is really still a startup, are working hard to ensure that program content is as free as possible of overt selling from the stage, and I’m quite prepared to support them in this effort with my collection of noisemakers.
#HRTechConf tip #5: Don’t try to attend > 3 vendor parties after a long first day of sessions. I hate missing all those great parties, but my party all night and work all day years are behind me — and behind many to most of you. Save at least a few brain cells for the second day of sessions; you’ll thank me if you do.
#HRTechConf tip #4: Plan your conference in advance. With what vendors do you want to schedule extended and/or private demos? Make those appointments now. What attendees with whom you share specific issues/vendors/industry concerns/etc. do you want to meet? And if you’re all on the same true SaaS product, you won’t have to waste a minute asking each other what release you’re on! Do that outreach and arrange those meetings now. Pick your sessions and, because there are too many good ones for just one person, find a buddy with whom you can divide and conquer. Better yet, bring a whole team to these conferences and cover the ground.
#HRTechConf tip #3: Carry a water bottle and refill it every chance you get. Convention center climates are designed to dessicate, and they never have enough refreshment stations. I could suggest that you bring a flask, but we HR people would never make such a suggestion.
#HRTechConf tip #2A: Assume that the convention center will be too cold/too hot/too drafty/too whatever, and dress accordingly. We’ll be overrun with executives from across the industry, buyers and sellers, so you may want to lose the flipflops, cutoffs, and anything that reveals parts of you that I’d rather not see. Here I’m showing my personal biases, but business casual does not translate in my book into anything lower down the sartorial scale than clean pressed jeans, a similarly clean ironed t-shirt with at least short sleeves, most of your tattoos tactfully covered, and shoes. Of course, these suggestions only apply to the granddaddy of HR technology shows, the big Kahuna, in Las Vegas. Our Continental colleagues lean toward business formal, as in dark suit and tie. Hmm….
#HRTechConf tip #2: Wear your most comfortable walking shoes. There will be few places to sit except in sessions and long convention center distances. Yes, I know that my younger female colleagues will want to show off those Manolo platform spikes — the latest in fashionista circles — and I don’t blame you, but be sure you’ve got a suitably designed male colleague at the ready to carry you after the first hour. Having done my fair share of spike heel time, I’m convinced that there’s a direct connection to my now arthritic joints. It doesn’t matter what shoes I’ll be wearing as I flash by on my magic carpet. And speaking of that magic carpet, we finally found, in an English antique shop, a suitable horn.
#HRTechConf tip #1: For vendors of greatest interest, do your homework in advance, preparing the mental scenarios that you’d like to see, so that booth time is hands-on demo time. And be sure to spend time on the floor checking out some of the newer/smaller vendors. There’s a ton of innovation going on in our industry, and it isn’t always on offer at the flashiest booths. In spite of the heavy industry consolidation, The Kutik tells me that there will be more booths this year in Vegas than last, and I for one am not very familiar with some of the smaller European vendors for whom Amsterdam is their chance to shine.
Before I post this, I wanted to mention one other great suggestion that’s not entirely mine. In Las Vegas, be sure and tell Bill Kutik how much you value all he’s done for our industry by organizing these fantastic town meetings. He’s worked his butt off to make sure that our time at these conferences is the highlight of our professional year, and it shows. You should also follow my lead in wishing Steve Boese well and pledging our support as he picks up the maestro’s baton for 2014.
As the years in front are increasingly outnumbered by the years behind, it’s a wise person who takes stock of what they’d like to do/see/experience/learn/etc. during those years in front and how and with whom they would like to spend their precious time. And today, we begin the Days of Awe, that time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we Jews are commanded to take stock, to address our own shortcomings, and to rededicate our lives to higher purpose. We are also commanded, during this period, to resolve outstanding earthly issues before we seek atonement during Yom Kippur for our spiritual ones.
So, with Rosh Hashanah starting today at sundown, amid a dismal set of global and American challenges, it seems like as good a time as ever to do a little extra reflection, analysis, list-making and rededication. Have we done as much as possible during the last year to serve mankind? Have we used our capabilities to the max in benefit of not only ourselves but humanity? Have we dealt honestly with our family, friends and colleagues in both our personal and business dealings? Are there acts of kindness which we should have committed but whose moment we let pass without action? The list is long of all the ways in which we may or may not have lived up to our potential, and so is the list of commitments to improvement that we should be making for the New Year.
To my Jewish friends, family and colleagues, “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem,” may you and yours be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet year. And to all the gentiles in my life, I wish you exactly the same, even if you’re working off a different calendar. We can but pray that 5774 will be the year when mankind grows up.
As I get ready to host Brazen Hussies events, speak at and attend the 2013 HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas and the (not related) European HR Technology Conference in Amsterdam, I’ve got some surprises up my sleeves, to include announcing my latest professional resolutions. There’s nothing more motivating when you really want to keep resolutions than announcing them to a few thousand colleagues, many of whom will tweet/blog/chat/generally call out your accomplishments or lack thereof. Since I plan to report just before the 2014 conferences about how well (or not) I’ve done with my 68th Bday professional resolutions, I thought I’d build momentum for their accomplishment by committing to them publicly — right here and now:
1. Spend as much time as possible, online and IRL, with the Enterprise Irregulars – when I was honored with membership in this group in 2009, little did I realize at the time what a powerfully smart, knowledgeable and generous group I would be joining. I’ve learned a ton from the @irregulars this past four years, so much so that at times my aging brain goes into overload. We’ve celebrated each other’s triumphs and tribulations, dissected each other’s thinking (and I do mean dissected),and plotted how to improve enterprise organizational performance through best practices in all things tech. But I’ve never been more proud of this group or honored by my membership in it than in how they rallied to support my decision to wind down my consulting practice.
2. Blog more often — I had such good intentions when I began my blog 11/8/2009, but life has truly gotten in the way quite a bit over these four years. Since I can’t even consider retirement until I’ve said everthing I have to say about HRM, the HRM delivery system, HRM software and vendors, HRM outsourcing and providers, and many more professional topics of interest, I’ve just got to do a better job in 2014 of finding time and focus to blog.
3. Travel less on business – business travel, no matter how productively you use your time on the road, is a giant time waster, good eating habit destroyer, and exercise routine disruptor. After more than forty years on the road, I know the price paid by family and friends who don’t see you enough, community needs that you can’t meet, wardrobes that never get replenished except in crisis mode, and household responsibilities that get only barebones attention. While I love seeing clients, vendors, conference attendees in situ, and speaking face-to-face with as many in our profession as possible, I think it’s time to open up the conference room at Casa de Ranas for more such meetings and encourage everyone to consider southwest Florida as a choice locale for their conferences/meetings/etc.
4. Go deeper and push harder in support of HRM SaaS InFullBloom — I’ll write more about the sea change that’s picking up steam every month in HRM software, but what’s important about what’s happening is that, unless we educate everyone involved about the importance of great HRM SaaS (as opposed to old data/process design and architectural crap dressed up in new clothes, as happened all too often as we went from mainframe to client server HRM software), the opportunity of this moment will be lost. HR professionals must drive business outcomes by distinguishing between pretty UIs and profoundly important technology enablement to better HRM decisions by managers and workers. And HRM software professionals must know how and when to reinvent themselves and the software they create and support.
5. Take better care of myself — last but by no means least, this is truly the most important resolution. Now this might see an odd entry on a professional resolutions list, but there’s no way to get this far without a few scars, without a little slowing down of the machinery. Every time I read about colleagues doing triathlons or similar forced death marches, I cringe. But I also envy their energy and accomplishments. Swimming is my favorite exercise, and I used to be quite a good open water long distance swimmer. Now it’s laps in the pool, not just for the exercise but also because it’s where I do some of my best thinking. I don’t think I can get any taller, but I’m hoping that with more time to take better care of myself, I’ll improve my overall health.
Wow, just writing up those five resolutions was exhausting, so imagine what actually accomplishing them is going to take! Back to 2014 vacation planning, because I’m going to need them. And in case you were wondering, your gifts are due by September 24th.
Bill And Me And HRTechConf Makes Three!
I’m writing this as Ron and I are in New England visiting my family and both childhood and university friends. One of our visits is to North Haven Island, off the coast of Maine and only accessible by Ferry (assuming the seas aren’t running too high). I’m told we’ll have at least limited cellular service, and our B&B advertises wifi, so I’m sure I’ll be able to finish and post this wherever I am.
But it’s not all lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer at Bloom & Wallace (you might play the music while reading the rest of this post). A quick look at my calendar and todo list are enough to frighten anyone, but that’s what comes of trying to pack two years of living — professionally and personally — into every calendar year. The good news is that 2014 is going to be different.
Meanwhile, 2013 is already a record breaker. It does my heart good to see so many major HRM enterprise software vendors and outsourcing providers hot on the trail of bringing correct object models and Blooming architecture to their increasingly true SaaS platforms. Yes, metadata frameworks, proper multi-tenant architectures with inheritance and systemic effective-dating, and position-based and KSAOC-centric object models are just some of what’s taking root in our collective garden — although there continue to be far more weeds than I would like. And all of this will be a topic for discussion and “killer” scenario vendor demos in Vegas. These positive developments are just one of the reasons that I thought 2013 was the right year to make some big changes at Bloom & Wallace.
The 2013 HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas
is going to be terrific. It will be Bill Kutik’s last year as co-chairman of the show, and that is reason enough to get your butt to Vegas. But there’s so much more. As my farewell gift to Bill, I proposed and then helped Bill cook up a whole new format for our important Tuesday morning generation session. My real gift to him — and hopefully to you — is playing second banana to his hosting of the first ever HR Technology “Tonight Show.” We’ve got an amazing guest list, with (in strict alphabetical sequence so that you won’t be looking for hidden meanings in their order) Leighanne Levensaler, Pat Milligan, Brian Sommer, and John Sumser. These are four big, creative thinkers and articulate even amusing speakers about HRM and HR technology, and they were chosen for that reason alone. But rest assured that I’ll have a few thoughts of my own to contribute to the discussion, not to mention having a surprise or two for Bill up my sleeve.
If you read my post about big changes at Bloom & Wallace, then you know that 2013 is the last year I’ll be doing my very favorite “Ask the Expert” session at HR Tech (unless Steve Boese, our new conference co-chair, let’s me call it “Ask the Expert and a few of her favorite thought leaders who’ve come along to back her up”). The timing couldn’t be better for my topic: ”Should you spend one more dime on legacy vendors/products/data or process designs?” It’s absolutely time to revisit not just the terrific innovation going on at the periphery of our HRM processes and systems but also at the very core of those processes and systems — our foundational HRMS with integrated talent management platform along with their data and process designs. For many of us, it’s well past time that we took a fresh look at our business needs as they are now, with social, global, mobile, analytics, and so much more demanding our attention, and created an HRM delivery systems strategy for the future. So do bring your questions and your snark-o-meter to my session. Along with the business model changes at Bloom & Wallace has come a noticeable reduction in my never substantial inhibitions, so I’m sure we’ll bring down the house.
There are a ton of other great sessions scheduled (you can download the entire program here), and the exhibit hall will be crammed. I’m making as much time available as possible to attend those sessions and, as I do every year, to try and do at least a flyby at every vendor booth — although Bill tells me that, with more exhibitors than ever, there’s no way, even with The Wallace’s help, I’m going to get to every booth. I won’t even try to summarize the program because our impresario, Bill Kutik, writes the best marketing copy ever for this show, and you can find all of it at the conference Web site right here. But hot topics for me this year are all things analytics, Lexy Martin’s survey results, and getting real about enabling HRM processes with collaboration (aka social tech), and robotics — yes, robotics. Just as we’ve wiped out a ton of jobs with information technology, many more will be eliminated via the increased use of robotics, and all those robots must be spec’d (requisitioned?), acquired, onboarded, deployed, upgraded (developed?), and eventually retired/replaced/terminated.
Since I know that all of you are HR Technology Conference enthusiasts, there’s no need for me to do a laundry list of all the reasons why everyone who is anyone in our industry will be there with flags flying. But to make it a little easier for any of you who haven’t yet registered and made your travel plans, have I got a deal for you! Just use the Promotion Code BLOOM13
(all caps) when you register online at http://www.HRTechConference.com/register.html
to get $550 off the rack rate of $1,795. This is the largest personal discount available from anyone (only fair since I have presented more times there than anyone) and it doesn’t expire until the conference ends on Oct. 10. That said, hotel rooms are already running out, so you have no time to lose. And with the money you’ve just saved, you should have no problem paying for a rock bottom airfare with a little left over to send me a birthday card (Sept 24th, so it’s coming right up) – or not.
The Kutik is beside himself with glee over the early registration numbers, the show floor will be bursting at the seams in spite of vendor consolidation (did you know that new HR tech companies are hatching as quickly or more so than older ones are disappearing?), and I’m sure that hotel rooms (at least the discounted ones) will be filled to overflowing. Come to celebrate Bill’s last show, to see me playing 2nd banana (yeah right!), to attend my last solo “Expert Discussion Session” (always fun because it’s all about your questions — that’s the entire agenda), and to say hello to The Wallace as he conducts his usual swag patrol looking for more stuffed toys and stress reducers. Do say hello to Ron; we’ve got him convinced that everyone knows The Wallace. So please do join me and everyone else in Las Vegas – it’s an absolute MUST. Use the discount code yourself and share it with your colleagues, but use it quickly to have any hope of getting a hotel room.
Auntie Mame — My Heroine
Wrapping Up My Consulting Practice, Starting My Next Career Chapter
[For those of who got an early draft, please do read the final as I've updated it considerably based on your feedback and some late-breaking next chapter developments.]
One of my absolute favorite actresses of all time was Rosalind Russell. She died of breast cancer in 1976, so many of you may never have seen her during her career. She was amazing. Battling a number of health issues, including very painful arthritis, she achieved a body of work that makes the portfolio of most actresses, including the big names of today, pale by comparison. Drama or comedy, on stage or on screen, there was no one else like her — and no actress since has so captured my heart.
When she played the lead role in Patrick Dennis’ “Auntie Mame,” a movie I’ve watched at least a dozen times, she inspired me to be an Auntie Mame to now two generations of nieces and nephews rather than to emulate the more conventional women of the era, the women of my mother’s generation. And when her autobiography was published the year after she died, its title, one of the most memorable lines from “Auntie Mame,” became my words to live by: “life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving.”
Those words, and what they really mean, have guided many of my life’s choices, including those of my professional life. Aim high, take a chance, be passionate about what you’re doing, work your butt off, savor the opportunities, and appreciate just how fortunate you are to have more options than most people will ever enjoy. All this and more are wrapped up for me not only in her autobiography’s title, but also in the story of her life. Here was a woman who stayed married to someone she really loved, managed a substantial career, lived with serious health issues, and knew when to adapt, when to let go, and when to move on. I’m no Rosalind Russell, but I’ve learned a lesson or two from her life. And I’m still learning.
I’ve been on the road pretty much since I began my professional career mid-1967. I’ve tried hard to stay current, to generate fresh ideas, to figure out where we’re going rather than just dwelling on where we’ve been, and to make sure that every hour committed to a client was the very best hour I could deliver. I’ve had an amazing run, accomplished much of what I set out to do when I founded my solo practice in 1987, and I’m pretty optimistic for at least some parts of our industry. But making every client hour your best hour requires staying on top of everything that’s happening globally across HRM and IT, and at their intersection. It means being on point from early AM to late PM. There’s simply no way to digest, analyze, develop a point of view and explain all of this as quickly as our always on/always commenting culture expects of anyone who holds themselves to my impossible standards. At least not without working and traveling at a truly killer pace. As for what we euphemistically call “thought leadership,” that takes large amounts of quiet time as well as lots of time spent learning. And “thought leadership” is central to the type of consulting that I have enjoyed most.
While all of this has been going on, I’ve been trying to have a life. Traveling for pleasure, sailing (now trawlering) with Ron, investing as much time as possible in relationships with family and friends, actively supporting the causes and philanthropies that are important to us, reading voraciously, loving live theater, and so much more — but with my work life always taking priority. Always! Like so many of you, my life’s journey is littered with missed family gatherings and important life events, as well as far too many “worcations” (my own invented term for vacations which were overtaken by work). And like you, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel torn among competing priorities or when I didn’t wish for longer days/weeks/months/years. But in the real world, we do not get longer years, or as many years of youthful invincibility as we would like.
Life’s Banquet Awaits Me!
And that brings me to “Naomi’s Next Career Chapter!” I always said that, when I no longer wanted to keep up that “killer” pace, to do what it takes to deliver every consulting hour to my own neurotically high standards, I would do something else — and so I am. With a huge thank you to all my clients and client teams, and to the many colleagues who have supported not only my consulting work but also my lifelong learning efforts, this consultant is ready to shift her priorities from flat-out, hands-on, workaholic consultant to industry observer, commentator, writer, speaker, mentor, moderator, facilitator, advocate, agent provocateur, strategic advisor and Board member.
Surely you didn’t expect me to walk away from the industry I’ve helped shape and the 24/7 career I’ve loved? Au contraire! But I do want to give myself the gift — and what a luxury that is – of entering 2014 (not to mention 2015) without having every minute booked a year in advance and a mile long todo list which will never get done. So while I’m keeping an open mind, here are some preliminary thoughts on the next chapter, on the types of opportunities that will fit:
- On the pro bono side, I’m honored to be a Fellow of the Human Resources Policy Institute at Boston University, and I have just agreed to take on a similar role for the Candidate Experience Awards. Closer to home, I’m working on an initiative to build a non-profit organization to deliver shared administrative services, and not just HR-related services, to our local non-profits so that more of their limited resources can be focused on their missions.
- I love writing and may well continue my blog, but if so it’s focus and mix of posts will likely broaden over time. Many would say that’s been happening almost from the beginning, and no one seems to mind, but I’d love to apply my growing interest in watercolors to illustrating some of those posts.
- Once I have time to breathe, and assuming I keep writing posts of interest, I’ll probably review the whole subject of blog sponsorships. While I was consulting across the industry, I didn’t feel comfortable taking sponsorships, but without those potential conflicts of interest, this deserves revisiting. If that’s something in which you’re interested, November would be a great time to contact me.
- As for compensated speaking/thought leadership engagements, I’ve done a fair number of keynote addresses in my time, along with a wide variety of panels/podcasts/Webinars/videocasts and whitepapers. I’m sure I’ll be just as selective in the future as I’ve been in the past, but I may well have the luxury of accepting more international opportunities. One type of compensated session that I won’t be doing, after this year’s HR Technology Conference and the European HR Technology Conference (please note that these are in no way related), has been a personal favorite: the open-ended, bring any question you want, “ask the expert” session, unless of course I’m allowed to bring some “expert” buddies along to help out the old broad.
- Perhaps most exciting are the opportunities to support directly vendors and products which I think are best-in-class. I’ve always been comfortable promoting ideas in which I believed and citing vendors and products which met or didn’t meet my take on these ideas. Now freed of the ecumenical responsibilities of a consulting practice, I’ll be looking more closely at strategic advisor and Board roles. Maybe it’s even time to introduce an InFullBloom HR technology badge.
I owe so much of what’s been accomplished these many years to the clients who believed in me and the client teams with whom I have worked. I’d love to thank every one of you again personally; I hope I did so properly at the time. Some of you, especially in the early years, took a great leap of faith when I came around with my strategic planning methodologies and software design models and architectural preferences. Since I got hooked on all of this at my very first job out of UPenn, I’ve done my best to advance the practice of HRM via the enablement of great technology. On balance, it’s been well worth the effort, and that effort will continue.
I don’t remember a time when there were so many revolutions (or whatever you choose to call them) happening around the world, so many uprisings of ordinary people against the behavior, policies, strictures, etc. of their governments. Yes, I know that some of these involve millennium-old sectarian or ethnic hostilities burbling to the surface as long-standing strong men lose their grip or are driven from same by foreign intervention. And some of are the result of countries, created out of thin air to meet the needs of colonial powers, which produced very strange bedfellows, not unlike some of the recent developments in our own industry :-)But whatever’s going on, let’s not forget that revolutions are messy, given to wild swings of popular opinion, and often needful of help from others at critical junctures in order to avoid the worst possible outcomes and perhaps, just perhaps, to arrive at more positive ones.
Our own revolution certainly was messy. We owe a great deal to the perhaps less than altruistic help we received from the French at a critical juncture. And our democracy, our efforts to “form a more perfect union,” remain a work in progress these hundreds of years later.
Today we celebrate our independence. We thank those who sacrificed and are sacrificing right now to protect us from “enemies, foreign and domestic.” But we also rail against our government, yell at one another over the really huge differences in how we see the issues of the day, and yes, we take to the streets to protest. It was street demonstrations and protests of every flavor that ended segregation, brought about many of the civil rights we hold dear, ended the war in Viet Nam. We’ve also taken to the streets to show our support for one another at times of crisis. And while most of our demonstrations and protests have been peaceful, and our laws support our rights of assembly, we all know that even here the line has been crossed, that violence has never been far away, and that civility has sometimes been lost to the anger of the crowd.
Ms. Liberty Greeted My Grandparents
Today’s world is far more complex than when we fought our own revolution and even more complex than when my generation was determined to integrate schools, increase civil rights, and end the war in Viet Nam. None of these messy, loud, in the streets demands for freedom and democracy and civil rights and so much more were played out on Twitter or YouTube. The whole world may have been watching these later events, but they were doing so via nightly news cycles with professional journalists not much given to hyperbole — unlike today’s infotainment and so-called news channels. I can just imagine with what histrionics CNN’s “Situation Room” would have reported the American Revolution.
Our Founding Fathers had the gift of time and privacy to debate and consider, write and rewrite, our Constitution and so much more. They were highly educated men — yes, all white, all men, all from similar backgrounds with similar educations — who gave us an amazing foundation by taking the road never travelled before in the creation of a new nation. Can you just imagine how difficult it would be to birth the USA now, in this always on/always connected/real-time world? I for one am very thankful, on this Independence Day, that we were lucky enough to have our own revolution under cover of primitive communications. With all of these points in mind, I’m prepared to cut those who would follow us into their own version of multi-cultural democracy a little slack.
The Manchurian Candidate Goes Silicon Valley
[Updated 6-30-2013 after having a little time to digest this week's overload of Oracle deals and read/listen to many other perspectives. Whatever else may have been said by those much smarter and more in the loop than I am, it remains very clear that everyone involved in these deals is trying to shore up their own weaknesses without giving away the store and that, where NetSuite , Salesforce and their CEOs are concerned, the ties that bind them to Mr. Ellison and Oracle have always been and continue to be VERY substantial.]
After two intense days, a real geekfest with clients, and then catching up on the info tech happenings so far this week, I’m exhausted. Yes, we’re all buried in Oracle announcements, and it’s astonishing how wild is some of the coverage.
Oracle’s partnering with Microsoft is interesting (you’ll have to check out the relevant press releases, news conferences, etc. for yourselves as I’m racing to get this up and so skimping on the citations), but it has only moderate relevance to our neighborhood at the intersection of HRM and IT unless you’re an HR tech vendor making technology stack and/or cloud deployment choices.
[6-30-2013 -- And if you are such a vendor, be very afraid of all these folks (Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and NetSuite) because they are in bed with Oracle's Fusion HCM applications. Oracle wants to co-opt you as a partner or put you out of business, if not immediately then over time, across the middle to larger to global enterprise markets, public and private sector. Yes, although there's so much going on here that has nothing to do with our little corner of the IT world, but this is a huge power play from a leader whose philosophy is domination.]
But Oracle partnering with Salesforce and further with NetSuite, and putting Fusion HCM front and center in both announcements, now that’s something that really catches our attention. So I’ve been reading the coverage, checking the jungle drums and actually contemplating all of this while trying to plan trips to Israel and India.
Across the coverage, here’s some of the livelier possibilities (summarized in my own words with a few opinions but definitely inspired by what I’ve read) that have been suggested:
- Has Salesforce thrown their ecosystem partners under the bus, and not just the obvious Workday, but also such vendors as Vana and Cornerstone OnDemand? [6-30-2013 -- I do think that anyone who has built HR-related products on the Force.com platform, except for the lowest end of the market, will now be up directly against the Oracle Fusion HCM marketing and sales machine. I also think that Force.com will not be re-architected to add the effective-dating, effective-dated metadata framework, systemic applicability and a number of other InFullBloom architectural behaviors, for which some of their partners might have been hoping, in favor of encouraging use of the Oracle technology stack and development environment.]
- Has Salesforce effectively said that their own development platform, to which some very good in-house folks and an entire ecosystem of development partners have committed their careers, is no where near as good as what Oracle can give them? [6-30-2013 -- see above.]
- Could this really be about Oracle taking over Salesforce as well as NetSuite (eventually — let’s not run afoul of regulatory or market queasiness on such a deal), meanwhile playing off against each other the putative hopes of those two CEOs of becoming Larry’s successor (with Larry laughing all the way into the richest of rich retirements)? [6-30-2013 -- There are many ways to influence the competitive behavior of nominally independent partners, and it's fair to say that Mr. Ellison's "influence" over NetSuite has ensured, to this point, minimal direct competition between the firms and no badmouthing. I think we can now be confident that Salesforce will be influenced to "do no harm" to Oracle, which is going to be very difficult indeed. Every Workday deal, with Salesforce at least a mute reference as long as they're running on it, does Oracle harm. Even worse, how does Salesforce continue to push their differentiators when their new best friend represents everything against which they've been differentiating. My guess is that Mr. Benioff will be under tremendous pressure to limit Workday's footprint at Salesforce and, over time, to reduce it in favor of Fusion HCM applications. As to whether either or both firms eventually will be acquired, I think the answer is yes, but having an opinion on this is really above my pay grade.]
- Is this more about the usual infrastructure plays and much less about PaaS and applications? [6-30-2013 -- I'm increasingly of the opinion, again above my pay grade, that the answer is a resounding yes. If the momentum toward non-SQL, non-Oracle, non-relational databases, propelled by their use in enterprise and consumer applications, were to continue, this is NOT good for Oracle's historical competitive center, the so-called Red Stack. With these deals, Oracle moves to become a much more visible creator of Red Stack clouds, and that's where the IT spending growth will be as in-house data centers continue to shrink at all but the very largest organizations.]
- Is this really about Oracle’s fear of Workday and/or SAP and a mega-effort to cut them off at the pass? [6-30-2013 -- There are much bigger fish to fry here vis a vis Oracle's play to be/remain the "arms dealer" to as much of the cloud as possible, but in our little corner of the enterprise technology landscape, the answer is yes, especially to Workday. With SAP, I think it's more about the combination of running their on-premise and SaaS apps on HANA that has tweaked Oracle. So many of SAP's customers do run today on Oracle that any significant movement there to HANA would hit Oracle where it hurts.]
- Has HANA so upset Larry’s view of what’s fair in love and database war that he’s determined to rid the planet of HANA by getting out in front with his own cloud and then in-memory alternatives? [6-30-2013 -- yes.
- Are Marc and Zach, not unlike the Manchurian Candidate (not the remake but the original, in which a super scary Angela Lansbury played the Larry role), mere puppets whose early Oracle training was part of a many decades long plan for enterprise technology dominance (in all honesty, the Manchurian Candidate tie-in is entirely my own reaction as far as I know)? [6-3-2013 Of course I didn't mean this literally, but there's clearly a simpatico, perhaps built up from previous togetherness that has been unleashed.] or
- Is this just “cloud” cover for Oracle’s drubbing in the markets after a not great quarter, a lot of cloud action set in motion when Oracle realized that their current financial and business results would be disappointing? [6-30-2013 -- I really don't know how far in advance of announcing poor financial results a firm as well-managed as Oracle would have had a sense that things weren't going as well as they'd like, but I do suspect that this week's deals were more about addressing a broader and more strategic set of downward pressures on all the firms involved than about the exigencies of any one quarter's results. That said, there was a slight flavor of these deals, which may well have been some time in the making, coming together quickly so as to distract attention from near-term business results. Whatever else was happening, all the firms involved but especially Oracle got far more coverage out of these announcements than they could have bought.]
There’s been a ton of terrific coverage from bloggers/reporters at (and this is just a subset) EnterpriseIrregulars, Diginomica, ZDNet, Constellation, IDG, AllThingsD, Appirio, InfoWeek as well as from the financial press and individual bloggers, so I know you’ll find something for everyone in the many different views expressed. As for me, I’m just beginning to develop a point of view on what all of this means, but I’m sure we’ll understand these developments a lot better when they move from press releases and news conferences to actions on the ground. In the meantime, I’ll probably have nightmares again, something that happened after I saw the Manchurian Candidate when it opened in 1962.
[Full disclosure: Workday has been a recent client as have been several competitors, including Infor, ADP and Ceridian.]
Istanbul Was Constantinople…
Are you able to speak fluently a language other than your native one? Two such additional languages? Three? Four? Five? If you’re an American, you’re mostly answering no.
How many of my American colleagues/followers are able to deliver a quality professional presentation in a language other than their native one? To participate in a business meeting in a second language? A third? More? More nos?
And what about the senior executives of US-headquartered organizations? How many of them are comfortable conducting business in other than American English? Of even having a traveler’s basic grasp of two or three languages besides their native one? Yup, no again in most cases.
But ask those same questions of our European colleagues/followers, or those from many other parts of the world, and the answers would be quite different. The sad fact is that many of my American colleagues/followers haven’t even mastered proper American English, let alone a second or third major language. It makes me crazy when so-called educated Americans have only a limited grasp of grammar (which should include knowing when and how to use the subjunctive, my personal obsession) and of vocabulary (e.g. using incentivize when provide incentives works just fine or orientated rather than the already available oriented.)
English May Dominate In Business, But Not In Everyday Life
But this post isn’t about my personal language obsessions nor about the lack of multilingualism among my American colleagues/followers. Rather, it’s about the incredible demand for and availability of multilingual front-line staff we experienced in our travels. And I’ll use just two examples of wait staff to shame all of you who need it into expanding your language skills.
When our cruise was interrupted by the Danube floods, our boatload of passengers was bused to Budapest where we were booked into the Hilton at Castle Hill instead of staying on the ship as planned. Along with our group, the Hilton became a refuge for other disrupted travelers as well as their regularly scheduled tour groups. So at the fabulous buffet breakfast the next morning, there were a dozen or more languages being spoken by the guests, and Hilton managed to have at least one wait staff person on hand who could speak every needed language. Many of the (mostly young) women wait staff spoke three or more languages — I heard them because I was being nosy! — and did so with at least enough facility to make themselves understood and to understand their guests. Clearly language KSAOCs are a big deal at the Hilton Budapest, and scheduling the right language KSAOCs for that day’s mix of guest languages without having more wait staff than are needed depends on have a highly multilingual wait staff on call.
But the Budapest Hilton was not an outlier. In Vienna, we stayed at the Intercontinental, and I observed the same phenomenon. At both breakfast and dinner, I couldn’t help but notice young women wait staff (not the highest paid job and certainly not one that, in the US, usually demands heavy duty language KSAOCs), early twenties at most, moving from German (their local language) to English (for us) to French, Spanish, and even some of the Cyrillic languages, which we found impossible even to pronounce. So impressed was I by this facility, that I “interviewed” one young woman about the requirements for getting a wait staff job, and not just at a major hotel, in Vienna. “Well, you must speak English, of course, and at least two other non-German languages, ideally one oriental one.” Right! Very sobering to know that I wouldn’t qualify for a wait staff position in Vienna.
So what’s my point? Our European colleagues and their educational systems have a huge leg up on the US when it comes to preparing their young people for a global economy. Ordinary young people are learning English, Chinese, and more from the earliest years of primary education, and language education is both expected and accomplished. Is that true for their American counterparts? Growing up in the 50′s and early 60′s, we studied Latin or Greek (required to get a college prep diploma) for at least two years plus a Romance language (which were a much bigger deal then) for at least four, and the best universities required this. Clearly that’s not the case today, and more’s the pity.
Learning another language early in life, as I did (to be sure, they were Yiddish and English), develops a facility for learning more languages as you go along. But it also improves a range of cognitive KSAOCs as well as our ability to think more globally. For example, in Spanish one says “to take” a decision rather than the English “to make” a decision, and this difference in language reveals a difference in culture and the way in which people think about collaboration and about arriving at a decision. Yes, it was sobering to know that I couldn’t qualify as a wait staffer in Budapest or Vienna. Could you?
Istanbul Was Constantinople…
In my first update from this amazing trip, I highlighted what we saw as outstanding performance by the concierge at The Ritz Carlton Istanbul in rescuing us when we got caught in the violent Taksim Park protests at the start of our vacation. But the logistics of that rescue were small potatoes compared with the logistical challenges faced by and stepped up to by AMAWaterways when their entire European river cruising business (and that of every other river cruising company plying these waters) was disrupted by raging floods across Central Europe. As I’ve said many times, you can recognize great HRM in the behavior and performance of front line staff, and AMA’s front line staff performed magnificently in the face of Mother Nature’s fury.
Budapest’s river boat docks, frontage roads and more were under water.
We learned about the flooding very early in our journey, and I was following developments online, but our Captain and onboard cruise manager also kept us very well-informed. They said, early on, that they would let us know if there might be any changes to our itinerary as a result of the flooding, but this developing story moved very quickly from “might be” to “would be” changes. Upstream from us on the Danube, lots of river cruises were being disrupted and/or cancelled, and then it was our turn.
We were supposed to stay on the AmaCerto until we reached Budapest, but Budapest’s docks and surrounding streets were going to be too much under water, from the worst Danube flooding in 400+ years, for us to dock there safely. And as we saw when we got to Budapest, where many ships were stranded, they were so surrounded by water that the only access to them was by dinghy. And many of those cruise ships were still there as I’m writing this because of the lost dockage and lack of clearance under the many bridges.
Our ship’s captain didn’t want to take AmaCerto any closer to Budapest than the last major docking site he knew to be safe — so Novi Sad in Serbia — and safety first is what’s expected from the Captain. But with many different groups on board, all with different plans once we had reached Budapest, and with some of them expecting to continue upstream on AmaCerto past Budapest and on to Prague and beyond, that one decision — secure the ship at Novi Sad — had tons of ripple effects. And that’s when great HRM really matters.
Enter an amazing cruise manager, Sebastien Leroy, a responsive and capable headquarters staff (and keep in mind that we were only one of dozens of AMA ships whose itinerary and that of their passengers were being disrupted at exactly the same time), and an onboard crew who rose to the occasion. For AmaCerto, the decision was made that we would do our scheduled Belgrade touring, then go on to Novi Sad in Serbia where we’d end the cruise portion of our trip. After a day of touring there, and I truly loved Novi Sad, plans were made (so tour buses and tour guides engaged on zero notice, AMA cruise managers on leave flown in from all over the world, hotel accommodations arranged, group meals ashore planned, etc. etc.) for us to do an overland bus trip to Budapest (with touring and a great lunch stop along the way), stay one night in Budapest (where they cleared the Hilton on very short notice for a large group of us with another group going to another hotel), enjoy associated touring and an evening event, and then continue on with our planned extension program to Vienna. And did I mention that Sebastien was doing a good bit of this rearranging while we were in the Iron Gorges of the Danube, a truly wild area where not even satellite-based wifi did more than provide sporadic bursts.
No big deal in terms of changes for us, but lots of changes for other members of our cruise’s guest list, and I have to give a major shout-out to AMAWaterways for taking great care of all these changes in their plans. One such guest, an amazing senior (and you know that’s anyone 80+ since 60 is the new 40) from Australia traveling on her own, had planned an extension tour of Turkey, so all of her intermediate plans had to be remade — and AMA handled their end of this beautifully. I’m hoping that her travel agency, which had planned her independent travel after the cruise, did as good a job.
Those of us in the enterprise software business know full well how difficult it is, in the middle of a go-live end-user implementation or vendor product release, to have to make a major change in the software at the last minute. Ripple effects, unforeseen consequences, disrupted workforce schedules, communications challenges, and so much more must be handled quickly and correctly lest the end result be dissatisfied customers, many to most of whom are communicating online with friends/family/colleagues about every little bump in the road. Great project managers know that they must build up a vast reservoir of positive karma, of great relationships with colleagues across the organization, so that they’ve got chips to call in when all hell breaks loose. And great HRM is the enabling fabric which holds an organization together and lets it perform well under those conditions.
Watching the AMA AmaCerto team, and especially our cruise manager Sebastien, work through all the changes, get everyone going in the right but new direction, not lose any luggage or passengers or tempers in spite of several nearly all-nighters, I was reminded of the best project teams of which I’ve ever been a part. And I know that we’d have had a much less positive experience with such a major disruption if AMA didn’t do HRM well every day. The proof of their HRM policies was in how the entire crew of AmaCerto worked together to minimize the impact of the Danube floods, clearly beyond their control, on all of us. And it was clear that our cruise manager, ship’s captain and ship’s hotel manager had built up enough karma to make it all happen.