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Opinion

THOMAS OTTER: UNDERSTANDING HR TECH THROUGH PLANTS

Is your organization a sunflower or a cactus?

Thomas Otter

HR Tech through the power of plants

Unleash Your Technology Dr. Thomas Otter is a leading advisor for emerging HR tech vendors and their investors, guiding them to build better products and be more successful. Read his new column every month at UNLEASH.

  • Sunflower organizations have a strong focus on leveraging their core vendor and using edge applications to fill in gaps.
  • A daisy organization is likely to have best of breed, niche applications for recruitment, performance management, and learning.
  • Be transparent with vendors as to what you are. But avoid becoming a cactus or a dandelion. 

What sort of plant are you?

Understanding your organization‘s HR IT strategy through a simple metaphor. A botanical quadrant. 

I like metaphors. I inflict them on friends, family, and colleagues all the time. They help me explain things and hopefully make them memorable.

For about a decade I have used the metaphor of a sunflower and daisy to describe HR IT cultures and behaviors in organizations and HR tech vendors that sell to them.

Recently I‘ve added two more flowers to my model, and I‘ll use this article to introduce them to you, and how they apply to organizations. 

 In future articles I‘ll go into more details about the advantages and disadvantages of the archetypes. 

I‘m not a botanist, so I take some liberties.

Sunflowers (Helinathus) 

Sunflowers have big cores and relatively small petals.

Sunflower organizations have a strong focus on leveraging their core vendor and using edge applications to fill in gaps.

The base design assumption in these organizations is to check first if the core application can do the job, and only then to look at the edge if it can‘t.

An example of this would be an organization that uses the core vendor to do the LMS, but then buys a specialist vendor for LXP.  

Sunflower organizations tend to have strong IT departments and well-structured procurement processes. Integration into the core vendor usually requires a significant evaluation criteria.  

These organizations develop strong long-term relationships with the core vendor, and in many cases the niche vendors as short-term options until the suite vendor catches up.  

Daisies (Asteraceae)

Daisies have small cores and relatively large petals.

The organization uses the core system for core administrative processes but keeps the scope tight.

They spend more effort and budget and they seek innovative vendors to replace the suite vendor‘s capability where they feel it is not the best of breed.

A Daisy organization will have more edge vendors, and it will spend time working with them to innovate.

An example of a Daisy organization is likely to have best of breed, niche applications for recruitment, performance management and learning.

They make purchase decisions rapidly, and are prepared to discard applications aren‘t innovating.  HR tends to a have a strong say than IT in decision making.

So, which one is best?

There is no one right model here. But you need to know what you are.

If you take nine months to evaluate an LXP, then you are a Sunflower. If you can buy an LXP in two months then you are probably a Daisy.  

Look at your spend and focus, and understand the differences. Both Sunflowers and Daisies work really well as strategies, provided they align with your organization’s culture and broader IT strategy. 

Two anti-patterns:

The Cactus (Cactus)

Cactus has sharp pickles, and rarely has petals.

In this case, the organization is completely wed to the core vendor. They don’t look beyond the core vendor for any functionality, and they aggressively push away edge innovation, even if it would improve the business process significantly.

IT tends to completely dominate the relationship with HR; insisting on “one throat to choke“.

Often HR IT strategy is subsumed into the ERP strategy, giving no room to innovate.  

The organization essentially abdicates its HR IT strategy to the vendor and IT.  The organization builds walls around the HR data and processes, only giving access to a small user set. GDPR is used as a false reason to avoid all niche vendors. 

[Read more: THOMAS OTTER ON 10 THINGS HR TECH BUYERS NEED TO STOP DOING RIGHT NOW]

Usually what then happens is that local HR and line managers develop a shadow IT strategy, building all sorts of DIY apps in Excel or SharePoint, outside the prying eyes of IT. This usually doesn’t end well.  

The Dandelion (Taraxacum)

It is wispy, and the smallest of breezes means the dandelion disperses its seeds. 

In this case the HR organization licenses every nifty new startup out there, without really understanding why.

They jump onto whatever is hip that month. When you dig a bit you find that they have three or four applications doing the same thing, and they have lots of random pilot projects, but not many convincing deployments.

Rather than building strong relationships with a handful of vendors, they chop and change. Vendors never really know where they stand. One minute they are strategic, next minute discarded.  

The organization never really develops process or data consistency and wastes money buying tools that don‘t suit the organization. Any small financial headwind destroys the dandelion strategy. 

HR leaders: Your task

Figure out what sort of organization you are, and ask does your HR IT strategy reflect that organization?

Over time you may shift from Sunflower to Daisy, and back again.

Align your procurement, deployment, and integration strategies accordingly. Be transparent with vendors as to what you are. But avoid becoming a cactus or a dandelion. 

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