'Tonight Show' Parody Offers Up Some Predictions

In Johnny Carson mode, Bill Kutik hosted a first-ever -- and maybe only -- HR Tonight Show for the HR Technology® Conference Tuesday keynote, bringing in some key analysts with a lot to share.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013
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Combining some Las Vegas-style stage entertainment with some good information from long-standing HR tech experts, conference Co-Chair Bill Kutik broke the conference-keynote mold Tuesday as host of the first-annual (and maybe only) "HR Tonight Show."

Kutik -- who will be retiring his conference leadership role after this year's 16th annual HR Technology® Conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas -- spent a few minutes in a Johnny Carson-type monologue, complete with jokes (some good, some not so good), with his band Wrokday off to the side (the band was very good) and the show's guests off-stage.

Given the show's lineup -- tongue-in-cheek co-host and Ed McMahon counterpart Naomi Bloom, managing partner of Bloom & Wallace; Leighanne Levensaler, vice president of product management for Workday; Patricia Milligan, senior partner and regional president, North America, for Mercer; Brian Sommer, industry analyst for TechVentive; and John Sumser, principal analyst for HRxAnalysts and editor-in-chief of HRExaminer -- the show, fun as it was, was certainly not lacking in content.

Each guest got a turn to predict the future of work. For instance, said Sommer, "You haven't even begun to see what will be possible with video and immediate customer service in real time; the days of doing call-center stuff in bathrobes and slippers -- that will be going away."

Kutik, Sommer and Bloom agreed robotics and 3-D printing would also become a more standard way of working, changing forever the nature and needs for specific types of jobs.

Sommer and Sumser were in mock-heated disagreement, however, when it came to discussing the war for talent. Sommer says there is one. Sumser says there's not.

"I just interviewed a slew of HR executives," said Sommer, "and they'll tell you there are pockets of incredible tension out there around talent -- sourcing it and retaining it. There will continue to be pockets out there in extreme demand." countered that workforce participation is currently at an all-time low and "54 percent of the potential workforce is working; I don't see how that could be a shortage." He also countered what he called "the myth that there's a science, technology, engineering and math shortage; roughly one-fourth of STEM graduates are finding jobs and a growing number of STEM jobs are being done by non-STEM grads . . . where's the shortage in that?"

Milligan, who also works extensively with the World Economic Forum, added fuel to Sommer's fire by agreeing that, at least on a global basis, "we just can't get people with the right skills in [many] jobs fast enough."

There are "many geographic pockets out there where there are job needs and the educational response to meet those needs" is lacking, she said.

She urged panelists and audience members to "think of this in a global perspective, particularly in terms of getting higher participation of women overall."

But Sumser was in combat mode. "That's an equal-rights issue," he shot back, "not a talent issue."

Whatever labels are put on the current states of both global and domestic workforces, Levensaler said, change is occurring among her clients, in terms of talent and  the need for skills and training, and "HR technology needs to be more adaptable" to the change.

Getting Measureable Results from Social Media

If you feel your eyes glazing over when you hear yet another person rhapsodize about social media's potential to increase collaboration within the modern organization, Marcia Conner probably wouldn't blame you. Conner, a best-selling author and consultant on business collaboration, was the moderator of the Fourth Annual Social Media Panel at the 2013 HR Technology Conference.

"We're not going to hear any vague promises about collaboration here today," said Conner, who then proceeded to ask every attendee in the packed conference room to put down their smartphones and tablets and introduce themselves to the people sitting next to them. Once the buzz of (people actually talking to one another!) died down, panelist Tim Kelly, executive director of customer support for San Francisco-based healthcare-services provider McKesson, detailed how his firm was able to get real, measurable results from implementing a social-media strategy.

"We run a customer-contact center -- our employees are all using the phone, so it's easy to measure the results of initiatives from a transaction perspective," he said.

McKesson used a social tool to centralize its knowledge content to make it easier for call-center employees to quickly access the company's institutional knowledge and use crowd-sourcing to resolve customer problems. The results are easily apparent, said Kelly: Customer satisfaction shot up from 40 percent to 90 percent after the tool was implemented.

"We were able to sharply reduce the time our reps had to spend on the phone and dramatically increase same-day resolutions," he said.

From a crime-solving perspective, Jamie L. Roush of the Jacksonville (Fla.) Sheriff's Office explained how the department used social media to help resolve a fundamental problem: the lack of information-sharing between officers who worked different shifts and rarely saw each other, which potentially impeded solving complex cases and analyzing crime trends.

"When you have so many people working different shifts, it's a nightmare sharing information," said Roush, the crime analysis unit manager for the sheriff's office.

Once the office started using social-media tools that many officers were already using during their off-hours, the pace of information-sharing picked up dramatically, said Roush. The result was that previously existing silos of information were broken down as officers discovered the wealth of information their colleagues could share about communities and drug activities, she said.

At General Motors, an internally built social-media platform called Overdrive has helped the giant automaker cope with a sharply reduced HR staff in the wake of its emergence from bankruptcy, said Pete Ternes, senior strategist for corporate social-media communications at GM.

"Overdrive has more than 5,000 correspondences per month -- it lets our internal community answer questions and resolve problems," he says. "For example, someone posts a question 'How do I file for disability?' [and] within a very short time five people will respond 'Here's how I did it, here's what you need to do.' "

Social tools need to be approached carefully, cautioned Ternes.

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"When someone says, 'Hey, let's post a viral video,' don't do it," he said. "The point here is not to do something simply because you can or because it seems fun, but to know what you want to accomplish and how social media is going to help you accomplish it. Social should be part of your portfolio of solutions, not a novelty."

MOOCs, Mobile and LMSs

If you think the is dead, think again. The fact is it's alive and well.

True, there's been consolidation among the larger players in the LMS space, with some talent-management vendors "eating up" some of the smaller players there. But factoring in all of the smaller players, they still number as many as 600 today.

That was one of the messages delivered at a session titled "MOOCs, Mobile and the LMS: Learning Systems Strategies in 2013."

David Mallon, vice president of research for Bersin by Deloitte, noted the LMS experience is in a state of flux, thanks in part to innovations that are taking place in K-12 learning. Solutions, he said, from vendors such as BrainHoney, CoursePeer, Schoology and Blackboard are bringing new capabilities to that market and are slowly finding their way into the corporate environment.

"K-12 systems are user friendly, analytics friendly and statistics friendly, because they're built to drive outcomes," he said.

Many of these solutions, Mallon added, offer employers an excellent user experience -- something employers put a lot of weight on. Other differentiators include the ability to truly integrate with other systems (and not just bolt on) and the quality of the content that's being offered.

Despite the innovations taking place in mobile and social, Bersin by Deloitte's research indicates that these two factors aren't having a huge impact on buying decisions, with mobile being a bit more of a driver than social. Mallon said part of the reason social ranks as low as it does on the must-have list is because its adaption would require fundamental changes in the way learning and development is done, including the need for additional staff with different skills.

The consumerization of LMS technology is also become much more important to those shopping for a solution, Mallon said. "Why is it easier for me to find a friend from high school who I haven't seen in 20 years than someone in my company?" he asked.

Later in the session, Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, offered attendees an overview of Mass Open Online Courses -- and the benefits they bring to the employer community.

Bersin said "the concept behind MOOCs -- which he described as "a branded university that's put online and made available at a low cost" -- has been tried before and failed because things like video and bandwidth simply weren't there yet. 

The emergence of MOOCs, Bersin explained, is being partially driven by the high cost of secondary education today. "We unfortunately have priced higher education out of the market for many people around the world," he explained.

MOOCs, Bersin said, could eventually have a huge impact on the availability of content, an issue that continues to be a huge pain point for many employers.

Though still in their early stages, he said, MOOCs are delivering to employers a number of new capabilities, including the ability to track parts of learning that are being skipped and, in turn, accelerate the content.

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