Talent in the Cloud: Revolution or Devolution?

548px-Karl_MarxCarmen Hudson recently shared an article about the future of hiring, referencing Elance’s new private talent cloud:

The cloud cuts out waste and that’s why people love it. Companies and individuals call upon storage space in the magical ether as they need it, without spending a penny more than they use. Gone are the days of servers idling half empty in a building, barely used hard-drives cluttering up desks. Everything becomes more efficient, organizations get leaner, the fat is trimmed.

But what if the fat that the cloud cuts out isn’t machine fat at all? What if it’s human fat?

I’m not talking about Fitbit making you fitter or some freaky new plastic surgery in the cloud procedure. I’m talking about applying the principals of the cloud to managing the human workforce. Imagine, instead of just drawing on servers and processing power on an as-needed basis, companies also draw on people that way. A workforce that operates like the cloud, swelling and shrinking at a moment’s notice.

The way organizations are using people in their organization is changing, and it is diverging with two radically different paths and two different promises.

One ideological path takes us away from humans as resources into something of an organizational alignment. Finding people and teams with shared ambitions, moving toward a common goal. The other further entrenches people as resources, to be bought like any other good. Plug and play and if one resource burns out, replace it with another to meet your objectives.

Funny enough, both promise freedom and progress and play with the idea that business ambitions are simply a collection of human ambitions. They just try to go about solving for that reality in a different way.

I don’t have anything smart to add in here other than to acknowledge that this, more than many of the other articles I typically read on the subject, made me think about what work in the future might look like.

The Cost of Availability and Transparency

41nqCuMzvDLI’m on my fourth wedding ring (I’ve only been married once though). I’ve lost a lot of things really important to me (my favorite Portland Trail Blazers hat is in the back of seat pocket 17C on an American Airlines flight, if you ever find it), but the ring thing is always most embarrassing.

Personally, I’ve loved the feel of tungsten carbide rings since my buddy Sam got one when he married. So I got one too, from a traditional jewelry store. I lost that one a very short time later in the Columbia River just north of where I live now. I went to Zales to get a second one only to have it crack. Of course, I went back to them only for them to tell me I should’ve bought a protection plan (for a year old ring that was nearly as hard as a diamond?). Clearly, it was defective but they wouldn’t take it back.

Given that I had spent a few hundred dollars on rings and because my head was hot due to me not getting my cracked ring replaced, I searched for tungsten carbide rings online. And I found out my favorite retailer has them and they are a fraction of what I paid in the past. So after I lost some weight to the point where my ring no longer fit, I didn’t hesitate to go back to Amazon again for ring number four.

I honestly should’ve known better, too. I bought my wife’s engagement ring online in 2004, sight unseen. Why? Because the price was unbeatable, seller’s reputation was impeccable, and the return and resizing policy were awesome. Didn’t need any of that by the way because I nailed the purchase and size.

The reason I bring this up is because transparent pricing and availability is one of the last big disrupters in the enterprise software space. While businesses don’t necessarily shop like consumers (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing), the way that people are evaluating enterprise software is beginning to shift. I’ve heard of well-networked HR pros pulling RFP’s from other HR pros for the vendors they are shopping.

People always want to challenge me on this, too. People always negotiate big purchases! Really? Because the Costco Auto Program doesn’t exist. Because sites like Zillow don’t exist. Oh, and I guess Salesforce doesn’t just do this, right on their stupid website?

I’m not saying somebody is going to pull out their Amex Black Card and put their ATS purchase on it through a web portal (though, they could and they might in the future), but I am telling you that the RFP process is garbage and that someone is going to come in some day with all of your pricing in the region and demand the least lucrative deal on the planet.

And you’ll probably say yes, if only because you want to crack into the mind of an HR pro that comes to the table that prepared.

Laurie Ruettimann had a good post about this and the whole thing is worth a read. Here’s the pertinent quote:

But there is a new generation of human capital and HR professionals who have graduated from top-tier labor programs, have a strong relationship with their colleagues in finance and procurement, and will start evaluating human resources technologies differently. And there are new sales and marketing professionals who have stopped condescending to their clients and now assume that human resources professionals are “educated buyers” with a greater understanding of how technology works.

Someone in your segment will dictate the cost of transparency and availability. If you’re not enabling your buyers to make better purchasing decisions, someone else is. Either that or information availability for buyers about the market is already well beyond your expectations.

Personally, I’m just glad I don’t have a wife who knocks me every time I lose, break, or grow out of a ring.

Life Outside the Cloud

I’ve always been a pretty open book online. Toward the end of May though, something happened that changed that whole perspective. I wasn’t ready to share what happened and I honestly don’t know if I ever will be. But it consumed my mind for months and every time I sat down to write something other than client work, that’s where I got stuck.

Look, I’ve been writing for awhile. Writer’s block has a fairly formulaic way of being overcome. This was different. But weeks turned into months and I never got out of it and I didn’t feel motivated to push it. Outside of posts that I felt were important to get out, not much else happened.

So, what could I do? Well, here’s what I did:

  • I’ve lost about 15 more pounds since many of you saw me at SHRM
  • I moved twice, once in Seattle and now, I’m in Richland, Washington
  • My wife got a promotion, and is still awesome
  • We climbed to the top of Mt. St. Helens with my family
  • Enjoyed one of the most glorious summers in Seattle with lots of time spent with friends and family
  • Did awesome work at The Starr Conspiracy

As soon as I let go the anxiety I had about not writing anything in this blog for weeks at a time, I finally got over the hump. It feels good to be back on the blog and looking forward to sharing more serious takes down the line.

The 2013 HR Technology Conference Discount Code Post

HRT Letterhead

For the last few years, one occasion has marked every summer: an email from HR Technology Conference co-chair Bill Kutik asking me, almost too politely, to post something about the show and to give you a discount code. So if you came here for the $500 off discount code, go ahead and use REHAUL13 (all caps) when you register. I don’t get anything for it, unfortunately.

Now why should you attend the conference this year?

Well, if you have never been and you’re interested in HR technology, this is a conference you have to experience at least once. It’s a show, in every sense of the word, for those affected by HR technology.

That’s not to mention that Las Vegas should be the permanent location of the show and you can’t legitimately reason with me on this point. The fact that you don’t have to go to Chicago and pay a pretty penny a night for a hotel strangely isolated from one of America’s largest cities is the big selling point. If you want to stay at the conference hotel, great. But if you don’t, there are plenty of other great options close-by plus great nighttime entertainment of all stripes.

What I continue to enjoy about the conference are the collection of people I end up seeing again or meeting for the first time at this conference. That, along with the content at the conference, has noticeably improved every year for the last four.

If you have already gone, especially to these last few, you probably know what to expect and whether you’ll be coming. If so, I hope to see you there.

I would also be mistaken if I didn’t mention that this is Bill Kutik’s last run as co-chair of the conference and the first for Steve Boese, who will continue to take the conference to great heights.

Lastly, if that wasn’t enough, come a little early for HRevolution and get an up close, personal view of some of the movers and shakers in the space outside of the stuffy confines of the big show.

I can’t wait for Vegas and I hope to see many of you there. If you’ll be there, make sure to send me a note so we can high-five.

Yes, I Would Like to Buy Your HR Software, Solution, Platform, Technology Suite

People ask me what’s the biggest change from being an editor at a trade publication to being an editor at a marketing firm. Topically, there aren’t many differences. When you’re writing for content marketing, you want readers to take notice. And HR people want information about the issues they are facing in their jobs. Stuff that will help them today, and yes, hopefully get them thinking about buying your wares.

Of course, how I deliver those words are anything but the same.

At ERE, we delivered information a couple of different ways. Primarily though, that would be through a blog post of some sort or maybe doing a podcast or video. For bigger pieces of information, we would deliver that in a conference session or a webinar.

At The Starr Conspiracy, we do a greater variety of pieces. Some of them you get to see, like when we get to work on white papers and webinars for the firm. Most of the time though, you won’t know it’s by us. I know, weak.

The biggest change though isn’t the types of pieces I’m writing but the terminology that I’m now using. I’ve been illuminated to the differences between a solution versus a platform, a suite versus software, and when to use the word technology (hint: every time). There’s an HR technology élite that care about these terms deeply (along with other terms like SaaS, cloud, architecture, and big data).

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. It clearly does, at least to some folks. I’m a stickler for words.

I’m also not so sure most buyers care as much about these terms, though. For example, if I call an applicant tracking system a platform, would a customer just assume that other technology providers could build on that platform or, at the very least, have a well-documented API that has applications built for it? Does it matter to the end buyer or are we just talking features, benefits, and typical “What’s in it for me?” type of questions?

I know the price tag here matters as well. After all, if a vendor you’re spending $5M with can’t manage to describe themselves consistently, you might be a little worried about what’s underneath the hood. If it’s a $5k beta test though? I’m thinking you get a little wiggle room.

Despite all that, I think I manage to keep the words uncrossed enough to make sense. The good thing is that in my heaviest writing assignments, I’m not usually worrying about software, solution, platform, technology or suite terminology. I’m trying to think of HR issues, especially recent ones, that we can help people with.

As you can probably tell, that’s probably a good thing too.

#Talent42 and the Value of Focused Conferences

logo“Some of my closest friends are technical recruiters.”

That was my response to someone who asked me why I showed up at Talent 42. And for a guy who doesn’t do conferences, who doesn’t report news, and who doesn’t interface with practitioners on a day to day basis, I can see why my attendance was perhaps a bit odd.

In reality, there was much more to why I showed up:

  1. It was in Seattle
  2. It was put on by two of my favorite people in Seattle
  3. A bunch of people I like were attending and speaking
  4. There was valuable content, even for a guy like me out of the trenches
  5. I’m always interested in trends

That last one really struck me about Talent 42. The idea of these focused, niche events is what I was interested in being a part of. Would it continue the tradition of last year’s great event? Would it fizzle, either by doing stuff that was already done or trying to expand beyond its original scope? Luckily, it did not disappoint.

And really, when you compare it to the last show I went to (SHRM), the difference is night and day. The sessions were smaller but the content was picked through with a fine-toothed comb. It was clear that when they picked content, they asked themselves one question: would this help technical recruiters bring more people into their organizations?

If the answer was no, it didn’t make the cut. That’s an important distinction.

At larger shows like SHRM, you can have anything. Anything. Like Dave Ramsey giving a clearly stock speech to a room of HR practitioners. I’m sure he is a good guy but he didn’t belong at any HR conference. But somebody made the argument for him to be there and since the subject matter was so broad, you could include him and most people wouldn’t blink an eye.

Talent 42 is miles different. It’s full of real advice from people who have done the work. Building in-house coding academy? Dude, I think I could figure this out myself now. Mark Tortorici teaching about the technology these guys and gals are recruiting for and Marc Hutto on how to do telephone research for people who don’t answer their phones.

I wish I could have made it to the second day because I heard the roundtable discussions were really a hit (alas, I was moving). I also missed Glen Cathey completely which made me a sad panda.

This is also why I’m looking forward to this fall’s SourceCon (in Seattle as well). Again, a niche conference that you can ask yourself a simple question when programming the agenda: does this help source new people into organizations?

If you are a technical recruiter who missed out on Talent 42, I’m sorry because you’re going to have to wait another year for the next one. If you want a conference that you’ll get some actionable items to take back to your office tomorrow, Talent 42 is the best one for those who recruit technical talent. If you want to network with a bunch of HR practitioners who have no idea what you even do and pick up some swag, well, I have a few conferences to recommend. Just don’t miss this one because I will see you there next year!

Owning My #SHRM13 Experience

I just got back from SHRM’s annual conference.

That’s what I wrote a week ago on my flight home before turning off my computer and getting some much needed rest. Thanks to a pending move (yeah, again) and some backlogged work, I’m just now getting back to thinking about the conference.

I spent very little time in sessions (only hitting a few), I spent a little more time in the social media lounge and press room (mainly to catch meetings), and I spent most of my time on the expo floor hall. I’ve been to SHRM annual as a practitioner, a speaker, and a member of the working press, but never someone deeply interested in the marketing side of the industry.

I’ll spare you the whole marketing fails that happen at every conference I’ve been to ever other than to say that this is the lowest hanging fruit in the whole world. If you can find the people in your organization who can work a booth and get a half-decent location in the hall, you’ll win.

Between swag grabs, ultra-aggressive dudes that scan your badge, and running into people who are stopped looking down at their phone, there was actually a lot of interesting things going on.

I know us bloggers like to get cynical about things like trade shows. Believe me, being to one like SHRM encapsulates and magnifies all of the bad shit that everyone in this industry complains about. And by everyone, I mean everyone: practitioners, vendors, organizers, and press alike.

But I had more than a dozen meaningful conversations with people I probably never would’ve met if not for SHRM. When you wear The Starr Conspiracy shirt, HR ladies (and some dudes) will approach you out of nowhere and ask you about it. Once I told them about what we do and my background, I ended up directing more than my fair share of people looking for particular solutions. I stuck around and listened to pitches by sales reps who were 60 days into their stint at a vendor. I wandered and criss-crossed the expo floor looking for something that stuck out.

Other than a few clever booth constructions, nothing really did though. That’s a view of a guy who has been to a lot of shows though and pays ultra-close attention to the leading edge of HCM. Take it with a mountain of salt.

What stuck out to me about this SHRM is that I made it my own. I set out with particular goals (to meet certain people, to meet new people I didn’t know, to talk to vendors I’d never spoken to, and to learn more about buyers and the people who influence them). I had a great time. And I told my colleague Emily that I want her to come with me next year. Not just because she’d be fun to go with but also because it would be great to experience SHRM through someone else’s fresher eyes. I got a taste of that with some new friends I met wandering the halls and that’s what I’ll take back with me.

Fad Diets and Facing Reality

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been on a long, slow journey to becoming a less chubby dude. Last fall, I topped out at 260+ pounds. This wasn’t the heaviest I had been but it was pretty close. Prior to hitting my max, I had tried every fad diet that allowed me to continue eating meat (and tangled with a few that made me reduce meat input significantly). They all seemed like sound approaches. 10-20 pounds might come off, but in a few months, the diet would collapse.  I would end up traveling or visiting some place that made strict diet requirements impossible to follow and would fall back into old eating habits. I would be back to square one soon enough.

I’m not a dietician or a medical doctor but that’s not good for you.

So when I posted a while ago that I had lost significant weight (as of this writing, down 43 pounds over 8 months), it seemed surprising even to me. I had three holidays at various families in the winter, a vacation to Hawaii, and I traveled for work. I managed to continue losing, on average, 1-2 pounds a week.

What changed? A couple things:

  • I kept track of how much I ate and how I felt — I committed to doing this using an app called MyFitnessPal to let me easily track calories. 
  • My brain was reprogrammed pretty quickly — Using this app consistently, I could estimate most meals pretty easily in my head after a few months. Proof being, I didn’t use the app at all in Hawaii and afterward? I lost about a pound. Same with travel and the like.
  • I started moving — I tried couch to 5k but I’ve been sedentary for so long, it was pretty pathetic and painful. Slowly, I’ve been able to jog longer and further distances while increasing my stamina. Hiking distance and hills has helped the stamina as well.
  • I started lifting heavy things — Since I work from home, I spend conference calls where I’m not required to take notes lifting up random things. My stool and heavy things within easy reach of my desk are all targets. When I make it to the gym, I slowly build strength doing that though it hasn’t been a huge priority at this point.

The whole goal has been to simply slowly adapt my habits so that I know things like: how full I should feel, what foods give me energy and help me think, and how often I need to be active and what sort of things I can do. It seems like basic stuff but when you’ve been ignoring it for more than a decade, it is a new feeling.

When people ask my secret, that’s literally it. Listen to real science on the issues, keep track of what you do, and listen to how your body feels. Eat well and exercise regularly. Also, clean behind your ears. It works.

Yet, I still drink coffee and energy drinks. I still eat bacon and cookies. I still like beer, wine, and some good rum or bourbon (though, not as much anymore). Now, I surround those things with mostly good choices while avoiding overindulgence.

The toughest challenge hasn’t been the diet or getting back into exercising though, it was the realization that there is no real shortcut for this. I could go faster, if I cut more calories, or ran more, or lifted more. But there is no shortcut to losing 80 pounds. There is no shortcut to getting back into running, hiking, or playing basketball after so many years out. It’s humbling and motivating to know how long it took to get to this place and how hard I’ve had to work at it. The rewards and regrets of easing off a decade of unneeded weight (and everything associated with that) is finally hitting home.

I’ll BYOD if You BYOB

Bring your own device (or BYOD) is all the rage. Device policy and administration is beyond my pay grade. For that, you can talk to Steve Boese. What I can tell you is that there are a couple schools of thought when it comes to thinking about employee wants and technology from the HR perspective:

  1. Screw these guys. We pay them good money, they get to heft around an eight pound ThinkPad and a locked down Blackberry.
  2. Screw these guys. We don’t pay them good money but they are still our employees and have to do what we say. Drop that three year old tech on them!
  3. BYOD stands for buy your own device, right? It can’t cost more to administer these different devices than it does to purchase them.
  4. We should subsidize the purchase? Hell, for that why don’t we just buy them what they want (within a certain group of choices) and retain ownership of it?
  5. We bought brand new computers in 2009! We don’t have them budgeted for replacement until 2014.

This conversation drives me crazy. This is the raging debate about bringing your own device to work?

How about this: why don’t you pick the policy that actually increases the performance and satisfaction of technology users in your organization?

Maybe this seems like a common sense thing to you. I hope it does. But too often, HR (and management, or finance, or whoever you want to assign blame to) break it down to a straight cost discussion or a political power discussion. This is dumb and I’ve dealt with it in the past, too.

For example, we had well paid developers doing programming on single 19″ CRT monitors (those big, boxy, tube monitors) when 22″ LCD panels were available for under $500 a pop. Why? Because buying new monitors was too expensive.

Ignore the stuff out there about huge productivity gains with multiple monitors. Or, take it with a grain of salt. The fact is, you don’t need huge productivity gains (or losses) to gain back an ROI. A very modest increase in productivity (we figured in our calculations to be about 5%, studies said that it could be much more) meant we were getting a return on our LCD purchases within a couple of months. Over the life of a decent LCD panel, it would pay itself off 12-fold in productivity gains. The same could be true of any device you purchase or subsidize so that the employee can be as productive as possible.

Even if it isn’t about performance, shouldn’t employee satisfaction also be a consideration? I’m not saying you have to change to a BYOD policy or a corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE) policy either. Some employees are just going to dig the equipment you provide and mandate they use (and sometimes, that equipment does kick ass). Some of them won’t care. But if it does matter and it does impact performance or satisfaction, isn’t it worth a more thoughtful consideration than disregarding out of hand an additional cost that is likely a pretty small fraction of the total cost of employment?

I don’t really care what you choose in the end. At all. But if you haven’t thought through more than just raw costs on it, I would urge you to consider all of the factors in play here.

What’s your policy on devices? Do you do BYOD or COPE? Is your CIO the tech overlord?