Last month, I wrote on what not to miss at HR Tech World in San Francisco. And, I didn’t! And, I learned a lot. My overall lessons learned — Lesson 1: Unleash, disruption, and people aspects are more important than the technology. Lesson 2: People Analytics sessions were the most popular sessions! These are the themes woven through HR Tech World that most resonated for me.




While most attendees started their HR Tech World experience at the conference opening on June 14th, I went a day early to hear Unleash . First up for me was Master Burnett and Lucian Tarnowski, Brave New World speaking on applicant communities. Too many firms, when they get your job application, place your information into “solitary confinement” and you may not ever hear from the firm once you apply.  58% of Fortune 100 organizations can grab your job information in three clicks but then your applicant gets nothing back. It is clear that organizations need to unleash their applicant communities by having a purpose other than just getting collecting job applicants – perhaps you might also need to educate the applicants about how to prepare for a job with you.


Measuring Hiring Success with Jerome Ternick, Smart Recruiters started with the comment “you are who you hire.” The point of this presentation was to improve the ability of a firm to attract, select, and hire the best talent for every role, on demand, and on budget. So, measuring the return on investment of hiring success boils down to the need to:


  • Hire the best so measure quality of hire
  • Hire on time so measure whether positions are filled on time
  • Hire on budget so measure cost per hire


Ternick suggested ROI can be measured in terms of the negative impact of a bad hire, which is equal to one times the annual salary of a hire. So if each recruiter hires 50 people per year at an average salary of $100,000, the cost of a bad hire would be the number of bad hires times $100,000. It can add up. Measure well!


What Your ATS Cannot Tell You:  Ian Cook, Head of Workforce Solutions at Visier, began by reporting that today the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are more job openings than hires. Hiring is thus becoming a serious procurement issue. Stitching data together on applicants and their performance across a myriad of data sources to ensure the best hires is critical. For example, do people coming in through LinkedIn find your website sticky? Is it a successful source for new hires? You won’t know that until they begin to perform and add value. Your ATS cannot tell you that, but other data sources can.


In order to predict the long-term business impact of hiring, Talent Acquisition can no longer rely solely on the information from just the applicant tracking system (ATS). Recruiters and hiring managers need a comprehensive collection of insights from the full employee lifecycle — obtained by connecting disparate HR systems into one solution — to answer the critical questions that will improve the impact of recruiting on the business and allow them to identify and hire quality talent faster and more effectively.


It turns out that talent acquisition effectiveness yields higher revenue growth than any other HR topic whether that be onboarding, talent management, improving employee branding, performance management or leadership development.


I love learning something new and that came from the Unleash presentation titled, How Open Source Unlocks Innovation. The two co-founders, Ambrosia Vertesi and Lars Schmidt led a dynamic panel of HR practitioners, as they explored the growing need for learning agility and velocity in recruiting.


HR Open Source is a knowledge sharing community bringing open source learning approaches to the global field of HR and recruiting. Its intention is to transform the field of HR to become more impactful by democratizing access to progressive and innovative practices. Simply put, to make it easier for practitioners to access the peers, knowledge, and resources they need to thrive. At zero cost to the practitioner. Thus, sponsors are the way they fund this non-profit.  They achieve this democratization through providing practitioner-contributed case studies breaking down how to execute and measure specific talent initiatives, high-value no-cost resources and templates, a global community of practitioners committed to openness and collaboration, and events. They currently have over 3,000 members of a global peer network.


Highlight comments from the panel members for me were: “innovation stems from pain points of our customers.” Leela Srinivasan – Lever, CMO. Well, yes – address a customer pain never before addressed and you likely will innovate and impress customers! Craig Rubens, the re:Work Project Manager for Google reported he wants to see more substantive academic and practitioner collaboration to share scientific methods. Google has academics that come in to learn HR. He wants to see clever hypothesis that failed too. In my personal experience, business will drive this collaboration more than the other way around and Google is leading the way.


The group was asked for their sources of innovation. All agreed that several Facebook groups, such as the HR West Group, the Employer Brand Group, SIOP, and IOPsych are valuable along with the University of Michigan – positive business.


An underlying theme of this panel of practitioners, was that we have to give more HOW instead of WHY at conferences and in online forums. So HR OpenSource may be your one-stop shop for actionable tips and (free) resources that will help you stay ahead of the innovation curve and foster progressive practices in your business.


People Aspects are More Important than the Technology


This dynamic, often swearing Russian – Gary Vaynerchuk, was one of the two opening day key noters. Balancing the first keynoter, Peter Hinson who discussed the rapidity of technological change, Gary implored the audience to find your passion, don’t be afraid to fail, and people are more important than the technology, and we as HR technologists should know that and embrace it.


The conference itself, for me also emphasized people over technology. I was delighted to reconnect with cherished colleagues I’ve known for the past 30 years. I ended up reconnecting with friends and colleagues and having great conversations, not always on the themes of the conference. For example, a few girlfriends from the PeopleSoft heyday and I talked about the importance of practicing mindfulness. Two of the four of us in conversation are daily meditation practitioners. For me, it’s what gives me some balance amidst the furor of life with HR technologies. I wish that when I worked full time plus, I had been a more active practitioner.


It was wonderful to see and connect with Al Adamsen, China Gorman, Heidi Spirgi, Natalie Perdue, Catherine Honey, Michael Krupa, Stacey Harris (who took over my role as manager of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems survey that I ran for its first 16 years), Heather Bussing (thank you for the California pictures – hope the chocolate was a fair trade), John Sumser and a new colleague, David Green.




As one of the senior “HR Tech people,” I’ve been somewhat skeptical of disruptive technologies. When I managed the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, I carefully curated adding questions on the emerging technologies for their long-term potential enterprise-wide impact and not just for their impact on a single HR function. I think I did a pretty good job of identifying the ones with sticking power, with workforce analytics added in 2000, knowledge management in 2001, social media in 2004, mobile everything added in 2008, wearables in 2014. I missed one – work management — added in 2012 but I actually think that will be more impactful in the coming years.


The disruptive technologies discussed at HR Tech World had a lot to do with AI and robotics. My question about these is — are we even at the early adopter stage yet? Until we are, it’s hard to see whether organizations will see value in adopting and personally, I think you need adoption to get returns. Until these technologies have return on investment associated with them, I’m still somewhat skeptical about their adoption trajectory. Yeah….I’m punting here as while this was definitely a theme of the conference, I was not able to attend the right sessions to learn more.


People Analytics


For me, the two most valuable sessions were on People Analytics and both were standing room only. Marc Coleman and Peter Russell, and conference organizers – take note!


David Green, IBM, spoke on the six main trends of People Analytics during his session, Powering the Future of Work. While you may start a people analytics initiative within HR, you need to quickly:


  1. Make people analytics part of the organizational DNA. Sustainability starts by educating your HR Business Partners and your HR community and then moves to forging partnerships with influential stakeholders and analytics specialists and their key focus areas based on business, not HR challenges.
  2. Embrace new and emerging sources, including not previously used sources such as social media to get at social sentiment and email meta data to gain insights on productivity and more. The why behind embracing new sources is to get people to participate in providing their data willingly because there’s something in it for them.  A project at Jawbone highlighted data collection from wearables. They studied sleep patterns during product launch. The finding that sleep patterns were disturbed resulted in Jawbone giving additional leave to employees following a product launch – clearly something in it for them to participate!
  3. Discover new ways to analyze and democratize data. New sources are often unstructured text along with images, video, and audio. Analyst staff needs to be building new skills to understand how to integrate these data sources into their analytics efforts and put them into the hands of managers to help them help their employees.
  4. Enable the consumerization of HR. Many of us experience great consumer experiences already with the likes of Amazon. Personalizing people analytics with comparable user experiences to activities such as onboarding, career development, mobility, learning and, engagement should be on organizations’ to dos. Engagement activities should morph away from an annual survey towards frequent employee listening, augmented by people analytics. (There will be more on this to come from me in an upcoming white paper.)
  5. Focus on shaping the new organization. Change from a focus on the individual to a focus on teams as they get the work done in organizations. Organizational network analysis can help uncover how teams work together. (We recently highlighted a case story at Electronic Arts where its analytics team looked at the relationship between game output such as revenue and customer satisfaction correlating these results to attributes of product development, marketing and customer service teams. EA looked at team makeup such as manager span of control, promotions, tenure, etc. to determine drivers of success with the expectation they could replicate successes.)
  6. Emphasize ethics, trust and, privacy of your data. This topic is complex with companies facing different laws about data privacy and security, contentious in that just because we can do some analysis perhaps we shouldn’t and sometimes creepy as some data stories show how intrusive analytics can get into people’s lives. Again, organizations need to focus on WIIFE – what’s in it for the employee and not just for the organization.

David’s summary is worth a read that you can find here.


Madhura Chakrabarti spoke on Making People Analytics Part of the Organizational DNA based on early reviews of over 900 respondents to Bersin’s latest People Analytics survey. From this, Madhura discussed what predicts high impact people analytics:


  1. Strong core infrastructure providing the ability to collect and integrate data from many sources into one place for analysis.
  2. Sound data governance – clean, timely data using good definitions to get consistent data.
  3. Excellence in People Analytics team capabilities that also makes sure they have a career path
  4. An ingrained data culture
  5. Sustained customer (employee) engagement
  6. Deep alignment with the business

See her presentation here.


Attending HR Tech World in San Francisco was a bittersweet experience for me. I’m a native Californian who has just moved to the east coast to be close to my family who all live here. Visiting Fort Mason, an old stomping ground for me as a 60s hippie, brought back lots of memories. I’ve now replaced these with new ones focused on unleash, disruption, people over technology, and, of course, the importance and promise of People Analytics.


About the Author


Lexy Martin is Principal, Research and Customer Value, at Visier Inc. She is a respected thought leader and researcher on HR technology adoption and value achieved as well as builder of ROI models. Long-known as the originator of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, Lexy is now at Visier where she works closely with customers to support them in their HR transformation to become data-driven organizations. You can follow her on Twitter @lexymartin.