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Transforming Work

Yvette Cameron, a speaker at the upcoming 2012 HR Technology® Conference, will explore how social tools are changing the way work gets done.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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Social tools have touched pretty much every area of HR technology. So it's not surprising to find that it's also starting to transform the way work gets done.

At this year's HR Technology® Conference in Chicago, Yvette Cameron, vice president and principal analyst for Constellation Research and founder of NextGen Insights, will shed much-needed light on how a new generation of work-management tools are beginning to change the HR technology landscape.

It's an area Cameron has been closely following.

Human Resource Executive® Editor David Shadovitz recently spoke to Cameron -- who previously held senior positions with Saba Software, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and JDEdwards before becoming an analyst at Constellation Research -- about the current state of social tools today and what lies ahead.

I understand you're going talk about work-management tools as a part of your presentation. How would you define these tools -- and how are they changing the way managers and employees get their work done?

For the first time, technologies are becoming available that better align the way people naturally work and think. As humans, we're social creatures. Until recently, technologies didn't really support that. A lot of the processes that we use in our business applications are about automating paperwork, as opposed to really fostering collaboration [and the] rapid discovery of information; getting to the people, content and the knowledge that's needed to get work done.

Many of these new tools incorporate a social or collaboration component. They're about surfacing the activities of individuals and enabling them to get to information and help more quickly.

Project and task management are at the root of many of these work-management tools. They give us ways to manage my daily tasks . . . and ultimately feed into the development and delivery of the goals we're given.

As an employee, I often would reach out to co-workers, looking for contacts or sources. Any number of sources internally or externally could help me achieve that. What's emerging today are technologies that enable this to happen. I can now post a message that I'm working on a task or project. I can pose a question out to a community or the enterprise and say, "Hey, who has skills and experience on this topic? Who knows about this?"

That's from the employee's perspective. From a manager's perspective, it's about encouraging my team to communicate; broadcasting what they're working on; and soliciting feedback, kudos or suggestions. It further accelerates the completion of tasks and goals -- and improves the final outcome.

In terms of rolling these technologies out, what are some of the key barriers that stand in the way?

There are quite a few barriers. One is HR's lack of engagement -- lack of recognition of the importance and growth of these tools. IT can be a barrier, too.

I was recently at a conference, speaking to a room of 150 IT leaders. We were talking about these emerging technologies -- and the consensus was that, while they recognized they were out there, they were still struggling with how to control [the way in which they'll be used].

My message to the IT organization is, "Stop being a gatekeeper and become a business partner. Help organizations and HR make better technology decisions."

Though maybe not a barrier, I think a final challenge is getting IT and HR to come together and use these tools to help the business make better decisions.

If the two aren't able to come together, the business loses out on a lot of the opportunities related to data analytics. Imagine all of the tasks, interactions and data associated with managing your projects and goals. It's a lost opportunity if you're creating silos of information and not harnessing the data from a broader enterprise perspective. Frankly, these tools are easy to adopt. It often can be done without IT knowledge, but you're [not taking full advantage of them] if you're not coordinating [your efforts] with key players in the company.

From the description of your session, I see gamification will be part of your presentation. What kind of impact is gamification having on HR?

Gamification means many different things -- everything from a leaderboard to things like [the website/app] Foursquare.

Just as I don't like the term social, I don't like the term gamification. Both of them imply something frivolous and outside the business world. But that's hardly the case.

Some people don't like to set goals and targets for themselves. Others, including myself, do. I'm always playing games to see how quickly I can complete a task -- or how many responses I can get for a blog post. The gamification that you might [set] up for yourself or your peers is really just an extension of how we work.

I'm starting to see more HR vendors begin to even gamify the employee profile. If your profile is 50-percent or 90-percent complete, you'll achieve this particular badge. It's a great way to incent behaviors.

Gamification is clearly [here to stay]. Companies, though, have to be careful about where they use gamification and be careful not to over-gamify things. You don't want to end up driving wrong behaviors. For example, you don't want salespeople spending more time publishing content than closing deals.

What areas of HR are fertile ground for applying gamification?

I'm struggling to think of areas where it doesn't make sense. Everything from a mundane profile update to internal mobility [makes sense]. Gamification doesn't always mean having badges and bright colors. It's also about providing statistics and analytics that can drive better behaviors. It could involve more intelligent searches. Or better engagement.

OK, let's talk a little bit about analytics. Do you feel HR is making progress in that area?

We are teenagers when it comes to analytics; there's still quite a bit of growing left to do. I am pleased that, as an industry, we are making progress with technologies that enable better insight into analyzing the workforce. We're now starting to see the truly predictive capabilities [of analytics].

Today, there are algorithms and data that are being drawn upon from one or more systems that are getting us much closer to true predictive analytics.

Mobile and social [technologies are] driving volumes of information unlike anything we've seen before. The technologies are now there that allow us to do some much better analysis of that data.

It's really an exciting time. I'm looking forward to social data being woven into the workforce analytics in a much more aggressive way. I believe social data is going to transform many of the common metrics that we're using today.

Do you feel members of the vendor community are responding with meaningful solutions?

Many are. But for some HCM vendors, they're still working through the strategy of combining business processes with social tools to better align [their solutions] with the way people operate. In some cases, vendors are abdicating their analytics responsibility to third parties, at least for now. I was recently on a call with a vendor that was doing some excellent work incorporating social [technology] into the DNA of its application, yet it lagged in analytics. Now, with the help of a partnership, [it's on its way to delivering that capability].

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Earlier, you mentioned mobility. How important is mobility to HR?

First, I think organizations and HCM vendors that think of mobility simply as a deployment device are missing the boat. I see that attitude about 50 percent of the time in the conversations I have with organizations and vendors.

Mobility is much more than just that. It's really a strategy for your organization. I think it's incredibly important for HR to be engaged with IT and with the senior leaders of the organization to determine what is feasible and appropriate for their organizations. There's a lot of concern, obviously, around privacy and security, especially in areas like healthcare, where you have [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act].

I think it is also important that we recognize we are a virtual and mobile world of workers -- so the ability to perform our work on different devices is important.

Some processes lend themselves very well to mobile, such as recruiting and performance. Many technology vendors have already enabled those processes on these devices.

Much of what we see today is around enabling desktop processes on mobile devices. What's coming, though -- and what you're just starting to see -- is the leveraging of mobile capabilities in new ways. Location-based services. The ability for me to not just update a project or a task, but to say, "Were I to visit the Boston office [from] California, who is here in the Boston office who can help me with a particular question I have or a task I'm working on? How can I find people in proximity to me right now to help me with this project?"

It's a whole new way of thinking and working that's now supported by mobile capabilities. In the past, you'd have to send an email out to the Boston office and say, "Hey, I'm here and I have this question." And then hope people are reading their email.

I mentioned the idea of checking in, [using] the Foursquare concept applied to a physical locality. You can start applying that to projects and tasks. Rather than just saying, "I'm checking into the Boston office," I can now say, "I'm checking into this project."

What are the greatest pain points for HR leaders when it comes to introducing social technologies into the organization?

In the context of introducing social into the business, a lot of the pain points facing HR surround getting beyond the hype of social and down to the real business value of social technologies. Many [HR professionals] are concerned that there will be wasted time and that there will be inappropriate content shared through social networking and greater transparency. HR leaders often say they feel that it's the right direction, but that they're not really sure their organizations are ready. So, as I talk to clients, we spend a lot of time talking about how best to prepare the organization for the cultural shift. How do you overcome concerns over security in the cloud?

Companies are looking for stories. As humans, we're very social. But we also follow. So many companies are looking to overcome their fears and concerns by talking to others who have pioneered this.

Is there a single major mistake HR leaders tend to make when it comes to adopting these technologies?

From the social perspective, the biggest mistake is to adopt it without first having the strategy in place. What are you trying to achieve by embracing these technologies? How have you prepared your organization to support them?

I see organizations that have adopted [these tools] because they recognize that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the commercial version of engagement. But if you don't have a strategy that takes into account how these fit into your organization and what you're hoping to achieve from them, they can be a complete flop. It can actually introduce a lot of risk into your organization.

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