My Posts

The Present of Work at #HRTechConf

Being a human resources leader can be a slog. I know this on an intimate level, but to be fair, I haven’t experienced it personally for nearly a decade. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with some of the best (and yes, worst) HR leaders in the world.

For all the scorn that HR gets from everyone, I end up speaking to a lot of leaders who give a shit about their people and their organizations. They relish their role, something I could never square up with my own ambitions. On the flip side, when you’ve seen a leader run an organization in the ground on the people front, you appreciate the good ones even more.

So, I had a little patience when a vendor confidentially told me that the people he talked to at the HR Technology Conference didn’t get what he was doing to change the future of work for good.

They Just Don’t Understand

This vendor rolled out trope I’ve heard thousands of times: That talent acquisition is too advanced for an HR conference, that even recruiting leaders outside of the most progressive have issues understanding their vision for the future, and that in a perfect world, recruiting would never have to exhibit at an HR conference ever again.

I paused. There were a few things to untangle there. And there’s a whole post on whether talent acquisition belongs in close alignment with the rest of the talent management function (they do, by the way).

Here’s was the crux of my concern about this whole line of thinking:

  1. They had to have HR on board with their solution: Even they told me this. They were imagining a future that didn’t exist, and probably won’t exist for at least a decade or more.
  2. They didn’t understand HR buyers: They assumed they were idiots, yet I knew of a number of CHRO’s that had accomplished much more complex projects in recruiting, workforce planning, alignment, and development than what they proposed. We’re talking multimillion dollar initiatives. Their teams were there in spades.
  3. If people don’t understand your solution, that’s your problem: Look, most of the people you’re talking to are college educated. They can understand words if you string them together the right way and we’re not talking about quantum string theory or the multiverse here.

But maybe the biggest aha moment I had was that he — along with many other folks I spoke to on the trade room floor—were actually too future-focused.

The Future of Work Doesn’t Address the Present

Forever — is composed of Nows —

—Emily Dickinson

While I haven’t always beaten the drum of the future of work, I’ve been as guilty as the next guy of talking it up when I have, usually for the sake of eyeballs.

And look, it’s a lot of fun to talk about the future of work — the same way it’s fun to talk about destinations that you want to visit at some point in your life. It’s a lot less fun to research plane tickets, hotels, excursions, and the like to make one of those dreams happen. Travel shows are escapism for people who long for exotic vacations the same way listening to the future of work is for talent leaders longing for an easier way to get their job done.

No matter where you are in the workplace technology ecosystem, anybody with real budget has to get shit done today. There’s a lot to get done, too. It can be compliance or productivity. It can be development or planning. It can be inclusion and culture. It can be managerial. It can be strategic. It can be tactical.

If you’ve plotted yourself too far ahead, it’s easy for organizations to say not yet. In fact, it’s probably the responsible thing to do. There are a lot of problems for organizations to fix. Where does your solution fit and why should they care? Even if your message is about the future, how do you stop the escapism and get them thinking about how this actually happens in the workplace of today.

It’s More Than Buzzword Hate

Buzzwords are so easy to diss on. But it goes beyond that. These buzzwords are often thrown out there with no context for how they work, why it’s better, and why it matters.

In some cases, it’s not simply a language problem—it’s a function problem. When you dig into some of these “all too advanced” innovations, you find something more akin to vaporware. An AI solution only takes you as far as its creator’s ambition and talent.

Most buyers have done enough to see through that charade and it becomes problematic for anyone who latches on to the hot buzzword of the year. That’s not just bad marketing but it’s damaging to your organization if you do have a solution that actually has promise to impact organizations today.

Own the Present of Work

When I see an industry zig, I want a brave soul to zag. There are a lot of companies out there chasing the dragon that is the future of work. I saw companies talking about 2025 or 2030, just like they talked about 2010 and 2000 in years past. I don’t think I saw anyone talking about 2020, which is good since that’s a little over a year away.

I’d love to see a company that’s rooted in today with solutions for today. Some of those may not be sexy, but they may actually fix issues that exist right now. Ignore all the future proofing bullshit, after all, there is still a large contingent of buyers with software hosted on-premise.

And they are happy with it.

(That’s pretty weird)

Anyway, I’d love to get some organizations up to 2018. If I’m being realistic, I’ll take even 2015. There’s a market there that would be way more appealing than being just another buzzword has-been. Fixing problems of the present? That never goes out of style.

My Posts

#CultureFirst: The Labels That We Share and Wear

“Pick three.”

I scanned a table full of one-inch buttons with different labels. It was supposed to be a lesson in being vulnerable and honest — getting beyond job titles to talk about ourselves. Most of the descriptions didn’t fit me: Religious, middle child, conservative, queer… So I picked a description that may be obvious at first glance (straight white male), one that is not so obvious (introvert — though I tend to be more of an ambivert), and one that might provoke a reaction (carnivore).

The second person I met in the morning was wearing a vegan button. Of course.

We introduced ourselves and both of us somewhat uncomfortably laughed about the carnivore button. It was a weird description: I mean, no human is actually carnivore. I certainly wasn’t, I was eating a scone and some fruit for breakfast.

I told her why I picked it: My family has been in the meat business for three generations. I told her about Walla Walla and what its idyllic pastures and landscapes looked like, cows grazing next to vineyards. Okay, I embellished a little. She told me about her own struggle with becoming a vegan and the challenge of living that way in the south. She loves it there, though.

I’ve had conversations like this at conferences before but they usually involved alcohol as a truth serum. This one was happening before a 9:00 a.m. keynote. All thanks to a label that I chose for myself and pinned to my lanyard.

That was my introduction to Culture First, the first major conference put on by Culture Amp. Culture Amp has been putting on many smaller meetups for years and cultivating a community of over 40,000 members through their People Geeks initiative.

I’ll be honest, at times it felt like I was transported back to WorkHuman, an event that Globoforce, another technology company in HR, runs. It’s heavy on thought leadership and community, less on product — at least on the main stage. It doesn’t look like a user conference that a tech company would run.

That’s not a bad thing.

The refreshing honesty of the Culture Amp team—a willingness to tell people where they’ve failed and where they’re unsure of the evolution in this strange category that they play in—is to me a sign of enlightenment instead of weakness. Other companies substitute a lack of crystal ball clarity about the future with empty bravado and false promises. Culture Amp told their story, laid out a vision that was humble and open to change if and when conditions shifted. It felt true and it wasn’t limited to just their product.

And employee engagement, culture, feedback: It’s all changing.

That brings me back to the buttons and labels.

Categories in any market sector are necessary. Sometimes, they are a necessary evil, especially as a segment changes or evolves.

Culture Amp today describes their product as an employee feedback software. That’s the label that they share and it’s really a category that fits the market today. If you know Culture Amp, you probably know about things like surveys and reporting and all of that other fun employee insights. They’ve told you this. The same way I would tell you about what I do or my job, or maybe even the city I live in. But in a few years, that label may change or shift— or buyers can expect something else entirely.

But in times of uncertainty and change, business leaders need to look past RFP checklists and product roadmaps. Here’s what I want to know as a buyer of any software in this category: Do these people get me and what I am trying to accomplish and do I get them and their approach to solving these issues? Those are the labels that every company wears. It’s rarely stated but always there. Culture Amp focused heavy on wearing their labels on their sleeve.

Is it an emotional connection? For sure. Can it feel irrational? Of course! However, it also manifests itself in the way tech companies design and prioritize product development and releases, or how they offer services surrounding their product. That part is tangible and very rational.

A day with Culture Amp helped me understand the labels they embrace that don’t always translate to marketing messages or product sheets. It gave me a peek into a nuanced worldview and vision of the future of work and engagement that’s rare. Engagement and culture doesn’t begin or end with their product. They’ve embraced their role as a key piece that every organization must solve: How do you understand and embrace the employee voices at your company?

The broader market category they play in, employee engagement, is changing rapidly. Culture Amp clearly has the technical pieces in place to compete and evolve into whatever this category will become. But they also have the, in the words of Patti McCord, spirit to compete. I have a point of view about those shifts as well that I’ll be sharing at InfluenceHR.

It also gave me insight into myself and even forced me out of my comfort zone, at least for a little bit. Even if it made me a little hungry and hyperaware of my need for space.