HR Week 2010 – Focus on What Matters

Posted By on Apr 16, 2010

When I plan to cover a show, I try to go in with an open mind to ensure my prior bias doesn’t taint the coverage for those who are unable to attend. This one was particularly difficult for me as the sheer act of walking into the New York Hilton lobby floods me with memories of so much wasted time, money and space. You see this show used to be known as “HRO World”, the armpit of the trade show circuit that was sold to publication and conference juggernaut LRP in 2006. To say LRP was sold an empty promise is an understatement, but I have to hand it to them this year – they finally changed the format and content into a show I’d actually want to attend.

And although LRP is sun-setting New York HR Week, they themselves embody the spirit and theme of this year’s event. Despite my inability to attend all sessions, one resounding theme dominated the halls of the exposition, the clink of the evening receptions, the hushed whispers of session chatter and the demonstrative voices of the panelists and moderators – it’s a new world order so focus on what matters.

Life Matters

Our HR Week experience didn’t really kick into high gear until Tuesday morning. Yasha and I left our hotel at 7:55 am, allowing for five minutes of speed walking if we were to make our 8:00 am briefing.

At this same moment former Salomon Brothers employee Brian Fiore approached the edge of our hotel’s rooftop. We turned the corner. He jumped to his death. A victim of unemployment died as we strolled toward a conference on human resources.

It’s horrific for so many reasons and I still have unanswered questions. Some are personal (“What if we had left the hotel a few minutes later and he landed on us?“), some professional (“Why do we seem to do such a God-awful job caring for the unemployed?“), and others cultural (“Why is it we live in a world where asking for help is counter to our nature?“). I can’t answer any of them at this moment.

HR Matters

We didn’t know someone had committed suicide a hundred yards away and so began a day comprised mostly of HR vendor briefings. These were held with some of the market’s preeminent service providers – IBM, Mercer, ADP, etc. And if I could summarize one message from each, it would be this – HR vendors want to desperately know what you’re thinking.

Of course they’d like to ensure their product and service features align with your particular specifications. But more than that, I sensed a very healthy wake-up call that the billions of dollar poured into research and development are useless if they cannot tie these investments back to the issues that truly matter to HR professionals. And although it seems painfully obvious, many HR service providers struggle to really capture the voice of their customers.

So, if you’re reading this and haven’t briefed your key providers on your HR strategic planning, 2010/2011 initiatives, feature and functional requirements, etc., please take the time to do so. They are literally starving for content (and context) and would jump on a plane tomorrow to pick your brain for an hour. And if you’re like most HR departments, you’re so short handed that a fresh set of ears/eyes would be a welcome relief. Take them up on it and help one another succeed. It may not always seem like it but we are all in this together. Find a means to align interests and we will progress as an industry.

Recruiting Matters

Tuesday’s afternoon panel was hosted by uber-facilitator Gerry Crispin and included ADP Staffing Leader Tara Amaral, BASF Head of Staffing Dr. Michael Kannisto and Harris Corp VP of HR Jeffrey Shuman. All cited a variety of reasons for “remaking recruiting” (the title of the session), ranging from BASF’s concerns regarding employee age, diversity and professional growth to Harris’ recognition that American schools are churning out STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates at a fraction of the rate of China and other countries. ADP cited that they have seen more change in the last two years than the prior twenty. Think about that.

A few nuggets that struck me from the session include:

  • Candidates: BASF’s Kannisto noted that “active candidates are more active while passive candidates are more passive“. This, he felt, was contributing to the sense that fewer high quality candidates were coming through traditional means of recruiting while clearly unqualified candidates ignored the system filters (“Yes, you must have a law degree to be our general counsel!“) and applied anyway.
  • Help From The Business Units: All three had turned to non-HR/recruiting professionals to bring in fresh perspectives on serving the needs of their internal clients. When I asked why this was, BASF proposed that these fresh minds were unencumbered by “the way it had always been done” and offered more creative license to problem solving the recruiting/talent issues of the day.
  • Social Media: ADP cited recruiting 12-15% of their talent through new media and then blocking access to those same tools on the first day of work. This drew laughter, but BASF soberly added that, “Every day I get ten or more notices from attorneys on the risk of social media and I have yet to see the evidence.” Amen.

A final item I’ll leave you with is the notion of internal versus external recruiting. There was healthy discussion triggered by Monster’s Eric Winegardner surrounding the risks associated with internal candidates. His point was that the burden is on internal employees to make transitions happen themselves (speak with their manager, express interest, risk their current job, etc.), which drove a terrific quote from the panel – “I can quit by giving you two weeks notice but you want me to wait six months [for this internal position]?” I must say that internal candidate mobility is an issue I’d like to see explored in more detail.

Data Matters

Wednesday morning’s HR technology panel was moderated by Knowledge Infusion’s Jason Averbook and included (former) Capital One VP of HR Brian Gruber, Oracle HCM Fellow Row Henson, Mercer President of Human Capital Patricia Milligan and IDC Program Director Lisa Rowan.

Averbook pulled out his usual social media deck and demoed an iPad. He stated how LinkedIn and Facebook know more about your employees than you do and asked audience members to text their votes to a system he had integrated into his presentation. Sitting next to Bill Kutik and watching him fumble with cell phone text messaging was funny as hell. (And with no disrespect to Bill, the rest of the audience didn’t do much better.) Averbook made good points to an audience that clearly hadn’t thought about these issues in much detail.

When I entered the profession in the early 1990′s, “workforce analytics” was all the craze. We were going to put in these massive data warehouses, measure everything and change HR for the better. Nearly twenty years later, what’s old is new again, but this time it’s actually happening.

Oracle’s Henson cited that their most progressive customers were focused on business and predictive analytics. Mercer’s Milligan agreed, stating that she has seen clients, “think, problem solve and educate the board on workforce analytics“. Capital One offered a roadmap, suggesting you first get your data in order, then emerge into metrics and finally end with workforce analytics – great thoughts from a non-HR guy that brought his analytical chops to the profession.

In my mind, Oracle’s Henson stole the panel when she appropriately concluded that, “it’s not about counting heads; it’s about which of those heads really count.” (She won my heart when she later suggested that companies open themselves up to social media, a nontrivial statement for the 40+ year industry veteran.) IDC’s Rowan also captured panel sentiment with the feeling that HR should clearly outsource all the transactional pieces so that they can focus on talent issues and what Mercer defined as “taking people out of jobs who are not good talent leaders.” A double amen to that one.

What Matters To You?

If you’re still reading, thank you. As you can probably sense, I did find this conference to be quite helpful and thought provoking. And as an seven year attendee of this show’s predecessor, I cannot say the same for any of my prior experiences. We used to sit in the bar and lament the fact that we’d, “never do this &(%#ing show again!“, only to begrudgingly return the following year. But let me tell you something. This year was different and I’m glad I went. However, this is the last year of this format so you missed a gem.

That being said, you still have a chance to participate. Do any of the thoughts above resonate with you and your organization? Do you believe the panel’s comments on recruiting and metrics are market leading/lagging? And what about our unfortunate jumper? As usual, please share your thoughts below and let’s keep the conversation going.


  1. Glad you liked the HR Executive Forum, Mark. I did, too. A terrific collection of senior executives, and the two best panel moderators in our world, Gerry Crispin and Jason Averbook. I’ve been using them at the HR Technology Conference for years, including this September’s. I don’t program the Forum, so I don’t know that it won’t be repeated in some location next year.

    But why should I and the other more mature members of the audience you mocked know how to text? I don’t have any children, and the people I deal with professionally use whole words, sentences and paragraphs in their communications with me. And their cell phones to talk. Imagine that!

    Besides, when did you last text on a traditional cell phone, rather than a smart phone, with the necessity to hit some keys up to four times to get a number, which is what the poll required? Have some sympathy for those with lesser personal technology than you do, Mark, same as you did for the poor jumper, rather than making us objects of derision.

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  2. @Bill Kutik – I would love to see the Forum come back in 2011 so please let me know if I can either help make that happen or simply serve as a doting attendee. And you’re probably right Bill, my seemingly harsh laughter was likely uncalled for, but after a week of daily Bill Kutik love-in emails (see I felt a need to restore balance through derision and mockery. I’m a weak and petty man. :)

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  3. So glad you mentioned the Starr Tincup media barrage of last week, Mark. Just for the record, I didn’t ask them to do it; I didn’t pay them to do it; and I can’t give you a fully coherent reason why they did do it.

    However, strictly business, Starr Tincup is a marketing agency aimed squarely at HR technology vendors. So what better way to display their creativity and wicked sense of humor than to apply it to someone most vendors know?

    You only saw the five e-mails?!? Lucky, you missed the 40 unique tweets last week which went out several times each. My favorite was:

    “Bill Kutik doesn’t wear a watch. HE decides what time it is.”

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  4. @Bill – My favorite was “When Bill Kutik does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.” :) Hilarious.

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  5. Mark,
    Thank you for for the great post and tweets!
    This was the first year that we included the HR Executive Forum in HR Week. We do plan to continue the Forum as a stand alone event. We are thrilled with the feedback and will update you on dates and location when we finalize shortly.
    Best Regards,
    Rebecca McKenna

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  6. Thanks Rebecca and I’m thrilled to hear that the Executive Forum is continuing. Please keep us informed and thanks for your hospitality!

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