The 2007 Strategic E-HR Conference Maximizing the Value of HR Through Technology

February 28-March 1, 2007

March 6, 2007

Event: The 2007 Strategic E-HR Conference: Maximizing the Value of HR Through Technology

Date: February 28-March 1, 2007

Where: Coronado Island Marriott, Coronado, California

Lasting impressions while crossing the Coronado Bridge a final time, leaving behind what the locals refer to as Mayberry-by-the-Sea (not to be confused with The New York Times’ infamous headline of across-the-bay neighbor San Diego as "Enron-by-the-Sea" during the city’s infamous pension-fund crisis of 2003).

One panelist mentioned in passing that all the parts must fit together to make HR technology work. Indeed, there were plenty of parts versus a targeted theme throughout the two-day conference. Dan Hilbert of Valero talked of how HR execs must sell the C-suite on adding value to the company before addressing "touchy-feely" stuff like technology; Gary Morlock and Julia Cain of Qualcomm gave a nuts-and-bolts look at in-house HR technology; Disney’s Jane Bemis discussed the challenges facing the Mouse House as it implements a centralized HR strategy at a very creative yet very decentralized organization; and Randy Goldberg of Hyatt Hotels dug into recruiting the tech-savvy Y Generation.

In short, the conference mirrored the assessment of taking different parts of E-HR and making them work. The conference didn’t play straight into anyone’s wheelhouse from start to finish but instead shuffled across a bunch of topics. No single magic solution, but plenty of what, when and how. Presentation assessments varied as well. There was praise for Patrick Murphy's first-day talk on succession planning at Caterpillar, but Freddye Silverman’s Day 2 case study of Cendant’s breakup and the inevitable HR fallout left one attendee wondering why the presentation was included. Silverman focused on breaking down a conglomerate with 90,000 employees into four smaller companies and the technological challenges created by a spinoff.

Day 2: March 1, 2007

Authoria president and CEO Tod Loofbourrow arguably made the conference’s defining statement when he asked, "Which would you rather use, an iPod or SAP?" Loofbourrow added that HR technology is dull and cumbersome. "Why can’t business software be fun to use? We’re all also consumers. Why not make it exciting for line managers to use?"

Hyatt’s recruiting tools are answering that call, Goldberg said. To recruit Generation Y—which overwhelmingly job-hunts online—an interactive Web site is a must. Hyatt is doing it on the cheap too. It spent just $2,500 on job boards, primarily using the free ones. Hyatt has put that savings back into its own recruiting and HR system, which includes U Tube—Hyatt’s version of YouTube—a contest for employees to create and post videos about the Hyatt work experience.

Quote of the day: Consultant Freddye Silverman on Cendant’s breakup—"When it was announced, people were skipping down the halls singing, ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead,’ then later realized those corporate flying monkeys weren’t so bad after all."

On the block: Tod Loofbourrow’s advice when assessing an HR technology vendor—Look at a broader suite; about 80 percent of the niche vendors in just one or two silos are probably for sale.

Coolest sample job applicant/online employee: One of Randy Goldberg’s PowerPoint slides revealed Wonder Woman is seeking employment at Hyatt. No word on whether she’s looking for a position in HR or in the World-Saving Department.

Hint of the day: From tech consultant Louis Vuong—Make your job postings RSS-readable. Job boards need to be afraid of that.

Term of the day: Helicopter parent—a parent who constantly hovers over their kid to keep them safe.

Conference notes, Day 1: February 28, 2007

Among the first questions asked of opening-day presenter Rob Bernshteyn was perhaps the simplest yet most succinct of the conference: How do we make HR technology easy and uncluttered?

A broad question for sure, but the SuccessFactors VP quickly boiled it down with an example of how one company rolled out its system slowly, then evaluated the results in three-month increments. It was simple and intuitive, and employees bought into it, he said. "You don’t want to boil an ocean; do it in a layered effect."

Yet as long as HR is in a survival mode, contended Freddie Mac’s Andy Suh, it will never evolve. Technology is the key to efficiency, which will drive HR’s effectiveness. Suh added, albeit a bit sheepishly, that Freddie Mac is using PeopleSoft 8.0. "It’s old," Suh noted, "and not user-friendly."

Suh was likely taking notes as Dan Hilbert of Valero Energy revealed ways to get buy-in from the C-suite to upgrade HR technology. Touchy-feely doesn’t work, said the former venture capital exec. HR needs to be data-driven. "I see with the eyes of business. Talk supply chain; use models and metrics they understand." That point was driven home after a tragic refinery accident at Valero’s Amarillo, Texas, plant that injured 19 people and cost the company some $1 billion. Just weeks earlier Hilbert’s staff had assessed that the plant was grossly understaffed and presented its findings to executives.

"Once they realize the business is at risk and that you know that, they’ll give you the tools. I can’t be effective being reactive; get me in the planning process."

While C-suite buy-in may have occurred at Disney, frontline workers were a different story. Centralizing HR technology in a massive organization like Disney, said Jane Bemis, has been a struggle. Even basic issues like updating who is working where drew just a 6 percent response from employees. "Overall I’m glad we did it," she said, adding the understatement of the conference: "It’s a big transition."

Maybe it’s that no-nonsense Midwest work ethic, but Patrick Murphy of Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar said 94 percent of its 36,000-member workforce is actively engaged in and sees the benefit of HR’s career development plan. Caterpillar in 2001 instituted Six Sigma to move its succession planning from intuitive to fact-based, he said. With a mere 3 percent attrition rate and an aging workforce, Murphy noted, "If we don’t have a way to measure [succession planning], it’s a waste of time."

There are some obvious technology problems when a company goes on an acquisition spree the way Boeing Co. did in the late 1990s. Steve Meyer said the company added 75,000 new employees—about 30,000 of whom were engineers—when the aerospace giant bought McDonnell Douglass, Hughes and Rockwell, among others. It was like operating with seven different business units, Meyer said. He noted that Qualcomm chose to take all its HR technology in-house, while other large firms have outsourced it entirely. "Boeing chose a hybrid. They all have to fit together. Processes drive systems, and technology is the tool."

Quote of the day: Boeing’s Steve Meyer with a bit of aerospace humor—"When you say it’s not rocket science, well, it actually is to us."

Coolest imaginary job applicant/online employee: Disney has Mouse, Mickey; Mouse, Minnie; Robin, Christopher; and White, Snow on the payroll. British actor Hugh Grant’s mug appears as a Caterpillar staffer, although he goes by the alias George Doe. Need to keep Peoria paparazzi-free, after all.

By the numbers:

u1 big happy family at Qualcomm’s HRIT group.

u4 generations in today’s workforce.

u33 percent increase in HR outsourcing in the next three years.

u80 percent of the problems at a company are caused by 20 percent of the people employed there.

Term of the day: Flight deck—Boeing’s clever name for a dashboard.

—Rick Bell