Monday, 10 April 2017 15:09

The Digital Transformation Elephant

You have probably have heard the often-told story about the blind men and the elephant. A quick reminder: several blind men surround an elephant trying to determine what the creature is. One blind man feels the elephant’s trunk and claims the creature is a snake while another blind man feels one of the legs and claims that the creature is a tree. Each blind man interprets the elephant differently depending on their narrow perspective. None of the blind men can put the different perspectives together to determine the true form of the elephant.

The same situation may happen with organizations undergoing a digital transformation. Neil Ward-Dutton writes about the four perspectives of digital transformation in a chapter written for Digital Transformation with Business Process Management (published by Future Strategies, Inc.). In a book chapter on using “digital threads” to drive lean startup models, Ward-Dutton describes how the senior leaders in an organization view digital transformation:

  • HR and Communication Leaders are focused on how social, mobile, and cloud technologies will increase employee engagement and engaging with the organization’s external audiences.
  • Marketing Leaders also use social, mobile, and cloud technologies to improve the organization’s brand and establish better customer relationships.
  • Operational Leaders are concerned with using digital technologies to refine business processes and enhance the products/service offerings.
  • Senior Leaders charged with overseeing the organization’s strategy are most interested in using the new digital technologies to create strategic advantages. The strategy leaders also look for new business models based on the digital technologies.

None of these perspectives are wrong or superior to the other three perspectives. The issue is there is usually no coordination between the perspectives. One example that Ward-Dutton gives is that a marketing department uses cutting-edge technologies to deliver personalized offers to customers. Unfortunately, the marketing department did not work with operations to build digital processes that can handle the increased demand. Customers become angry with the lack of products and services promised by the marketing department. The communication department is also surprised as angry customers turn to social media to complain about the failed promises.

In the above case, the digital transformation was used successfully – but in only one part of the organization. Without a coordinated effort throughout the organization, the advantages of digital transformation are quickly erased by the miscoordination caused by the lack of a shared perspective. As more organizations adopt innovative HR IT solutions, what are HR leaders doing to share their perspective with the rest of the organization? How are HR leaders working with the three other perspectives to make sure that the new digital HR solutions:

1. Fit in with the organization’s strategy?
2. Are supported by the organization’s operational processes?
3. Will support the organization’s brand and better serve costumers?

I have never heard how the elephant and wise men parable ends but, I have often imagined that once the blind men share their perspectives with each other, the true nature of the elephant will be revealed. With organizational digital transformation, it may be up to HR leaders to help stitch the different perspectives together for the most effective digital transformation of the organization.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

In Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, Michael Mankins and Eric Garton make the case that the competitive advantage for modern organizations lies in their workforce. When financial capital was scarce back in the industrial age, companies focused on optimizing their financial resources. Now, in the knowledge age, financial capital is abundant. However, innovative ideas are in short supply.
Where do the innovative ideas come from? The organization’s workforce. Specifically, an inspired and talented workforce that has the time to do the innovative work. Mankins and Garton demonstrate that organizations which optimize the resources of time, talent, and the workers’ energy are much more successful than other organizations. Think of the successes of Google, Apple, LinkedIn, and Netflix. Each of these companies works to reduce the organizational drag that wastes time, talent, and energy.

Organizational drag should be a familiar concept to anyone who has worked in an organization. “Employees find themselves wasting time on needless internal interactions, unproductive or inconsequential meetings, and unnecessary e-communications,” Mankins and Garton write. “The organizations gets in the way of getting things done. Not many of us can generate great ideas when we are trapped in thickets of meetings and bureaucratic procedures.” Probably the biggest contributor to organizational drag is the time wasted in handling electronic communications, meetings, and collaborating with other employees.

In the 1970s, senior executives could expect to receive up to 5,000 communications a year. In the 2010s, the number of communications grew to 50,000 separate instances a year. Time spent in meetings has also greatly exploded. According to a study by Bain and Company, in the average work week employees would spend the first three-and-half days on e-communications and meetings. The employee wouldn’t start his or her assigned work until Thursday afternoon.
What does this mean for the HRIT community? The bad news is that the digital workplace has just increased the organizational drag. Even the new collaboration technologies which promise to save time and make the workers more productive has become yet another barrier to getting work done. I remember when I first started using Slack. I was sold on the idea that Slack would replace the time sink that is email. Now, Slack is my new time sink as I must continually monitor several different channels in several different Slack teams while notifications keep pinging throughout my work day.

The good news is that there is a tremendous opportunity for the HRIT solution that reduces the e-communication burden while promoting productive meetings and collaborations across the organizational units. Solution or solutions that free up the wasted time caused by organizational drag while giving employees more productive time to create the innovative ideas that will give their organizations the strategic advantage to compete in the knowledge age marketplace. The ultimate goal, according to Mankins and Garton, is to transform the employees from merely satisfied to inspired. An inspired employee is two-and-a-half times more productive than a satisfied employee. The first step is to stop wasting the employees’ time.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

With the release of the new Samsung smartphone, another artificial intelligence agent, “Bixby,” joins the market already occupied by IBM’s Watson, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. According to the search engine, There is a Bot for That; there are over 300 registered chatbots. A recent Wall Street Journal article estimates that there are 30,000 chatbots to date. HR is one industry that is currently using chatbots for many HR processes from giving information about benefits to helping recruitment efforts.

Chatbots can be effective in saving time while providing a better customer experience. However, before building the chatbot, HR shops should consider these three questions:
1) What are the benefits to the users from using the chatbot? Just the novelty of having a chatbot is no longer enough. Why should the employees want to use the chatbot? Is the chatbot an easier way to perform a task than the current way that users complete the task? You need to demonstrate that having a conversation will be much better than filling an online form or using a mobile app.

2) What is the business case for building the chatbot? Closely related to the first question, what are the benefits to the organization from using the chatbot? Map the value stream of your HR process. Where in the value stream can a chatbot (or chatbots) save the organization time, money, and resources? Make sure to factor in maintenance costs and future development costs because some chatbots have become victims of their success as users demand more sophistication.

3) Will people want to use a chatbot? For some tasks, people may prefer to interact with a person rather than a chatbot – even if the chatbot option is quicker and more efficient. People may also enjoy taking their time with a task so, efficiency is not their first concern. For example, think about employees who are planning for retirement. Retiring employees often prefer having a conversation with a knowledgeable benefits officer as the employee explores his or her options. A retirement chatbot may be useful for help in filling out forms but, not as user-friendly in the initial discussion.

Chatbots can be a great benefit to the HR department. However, before committing the time and resources to building an HR chatbot, make sure that employees will want to talk to it.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Human resources departments are increasingly using chatbots to help answer HR questions such as compensation issues and how to plan for retirement. Chatbots are perfectly suited for these questions because of the recent advances in artificial intelligence technology. Today’s chatbots are becoming proficient at interpreting natural language questions, scanning vast amounts of data, and then constructing a response that best answers the employee’s question. Many of you readers had seen a chatbot in action when you watched Watson compete on Jeopardy.

HR departments need to use “information architecture” to organize the information contained in HR policies, guidance, and training materials to help make chatbots more effective. Information architecture, simply defined, is a set of practices and techniques for organizing a body of knowledge. As many of you know, HR has many topic areas such compensation, benefits, labor relations, and so on. You HR certificate holders know the hours of study and professional experience needed to master the HR body of knowledge. Without some logical arrangement, it would be almost impossible to respond effectively to employees about their employment responsibilities and rights.

Better responses are why the HR information architecture you construct for the chatbot is so important. The better you have your HR concepts organized, the better the chatbot can respond to questions. For example, when I worked at U.S. Office of Personnel Management, I started in the Pay and Leave Policy area. Before I began working Pay and Leave, I had a simple understanding of pay; if you worked, your employer paid you net wages after taking out money for taxes

After beginning my work in Pay and Leave, I learned that compensation was much more complex. There is regular pay, overtime pay, special rates pay, and pay for being in a combat zone, and associated concepts such as salary compression. Pay took on a very nuanced and complex nature. Before I left Pay and Leave, I created an onboarding document to help my successor understand the pay concept. I used information architecture principles to build the Pay onboarding document.

Think about your HR organization. Where is your HR information? Scattered about in various documents? In both print and electronic formats? If a new employee walked in with a question, how easy would it be to answer his or her question? What if you were a new HR employee and had to search all of the documents for the answer?

The HR chatbot is your new HR employee that is continually starting its first day of work. What kind of HR information architecture will you need to make your chatbot’s responses better and more relevant to your employees’ questions? Without a good HR information architecture, you will end up with a “blatherbot” – a chatbot that spouts nonsensical or, even worse, wrong information about the HR policies and guidance.

Chatbots are tremendously useful for improving the customer service provided by HR departments. However, make sure that your HR house of information is in order before turning on the HR chatbot.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Wednesday, 18 January 2017 15:30

Augmenting the Workforce with Chatbots

I’m an accidental HR professional. I started my government career as a paralegal and then moved into business management and project management. However, I have been an IT developer ever since I received a Commodore 64 for my fourteenth birthday. I have worked in two dotcoms and present at developer conferences on my latest prototypes in open source applications. I tell you this because I have come into HR through a non-traditional career path.

However, I believe the HR IT world is the most exciting and impactful place for technology developers. This is why I have stayed in HR (specializing in training and development) and even gained a certification as a Senior Professional in Human Resources and the Human Resources Information Professionals. I am a great believer in the potential for technology to revolutionize HR, to increase employee engagement, and to unleash even more potential from the workforce. I am especially optimistic about the increasing use of chatbots in HR.

For those who are new to chatbots, these are computer programs that use artificial intelligence to answer questions in everyday language. You may have heard of Siri or Cortana. You probably used a chatbot when you phoned a company and was asked a series of questions or you interacted with a chatbot when you texted a restaurant for a reservation. Thanks to cloud computing, incredible advances in machine learning, and the ability for computers to better understand spoken speech, new chatbots are being launched every day.

It is even easier to build chatbots. Recently, I played with two online services that allow you to build chatbots with almost no programming knowledge. The first service is [] where you can visually build chatbots through linking together modules that you can configure by dragging and dropping onto a canvas. has a free account and tutorials if you want to experiment with building bots. Pandorabots has a similar service in that it offers a free sandbox and extensive tutorials for building free chatbots. Once you start experimenting with chatbots, I believe you will find many uses for chatbots in HR.

For example, think of how you can enhance the onboarding experience through a chatbot. Once you have selected an applicant, but before he or she is onboard, you can send the welcome package along with a link to the chatbot. The chatbot can send reminders and tips to the applicant while answering any questions about material in the welcome package. Once the applicant has officially come on board and been through orientation, the chatbot will be available for follow-up questions. The chatbot can also send helpful workplace tips and HR reminders. The chatbot will collect statistics on the questions asked by the new employee and will do pulse surveys to measure employee engagement. All of these measures can be displayed in a dashboard to the manager so that he or she can provide additional support when needed.
Start building a chatbot today to determine how a chatbot can improve your HR processes.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

Thursday, 05 January 2017 15:53

Communication Tips for HRIT Projects

It is a well-known observation in project management that 90% of the project manager’s work is communication. As projects have grown in complexity and value, organizations can no longer tolerate having only 30% of projects be fully successful (as reported in the Standish Group’s 2015 CHAOS report []).

In the past three years, I have examined the concept of project management communication in both business management research and communication research. There are many definitions for project management communication but, these definitions can be placed into one of two general models. The first model is the “transmission model” which you may know as the “sender-message-receiver” model. I create a message and then transmit this message through a channel (written, verbal, email, etc.) to you. Depending on the amount of noise in the channel, the message may not be completely transmitted to you. The major assumption in the transmission model is that if you receive the full message, you will fully comprehend the message.

In contrast, the second model of project management communication argues that understanding emerges because of the relationships and interactions between the project team and stakeholders. This is the emergent model of project management communication. The emergent model incorporates the transmission model but adds the dimension of “understanding” to the sending and receiving of information. Under the emergent model, project managers test that his or her message was understood and not only received.

Understanding is especially important in HRIT projects because of the diversity of stakeholders and customers of the project results. HRIT projects have their set of concepts and jargon that can impede understanding between the project team and stakeholders. In my experience, there can often be the illusion of understanding at the beginning of the project but, this illusion is quickly discovered midway through the project. At that point, correcting the miscommunication can be expensive.

So, how do HRIT project managers and project team ensure understanding among stakeholders? In my work, I have used human-centered design (HCD) techniques to create and reinforce understanding. Although some HCD techniques can take days or even weeks, there are several quick methods that can be instantly used to create and test understanding. My first technique, “Rose, Bud, Thorn,” only requires a stack of sticky notes and a few pens. During a meeting with stakeholders and the project team, I will ask the group to write down (one thought per a sticky note) the current benefits of the project – the “Rose.” Then, the projected benefits of the project result – the “Bud.” Finally, the participants will write down the current and future challenges to achieving project success – “Thorns.” I have the participants post their roses to three separate areas on the walls and then the group examines the sticky notes for common themes and concerns.
Creating and testing for understanding in project management communication can only take a few minutes but will aid greatly in ensuring that the project manager is communicating effectively for project management success.

Blog author: Bill Brantley
Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

HR analytics has been firmly established as a necessity for HR departments both large and small. Every day there are new vendors, consultants, and software companies that will provide all types of analytics to help you engage employees, strategically plan your workforce, improve your recruitment efforts, and optimize nearly all of your HR processes.

However, with this increased demand, finding skilled HR data analysts has become difficult. There is a shortage of data scientists and data analysts overall and even a more severe shortage of data professionals who are conversant with HR. There is some argument whether it is easier to hire data professionals and then teach them about HR rather than teaching HR professionals about data analysis. This article will not provide a definitive answer to the argument. Rather, the purpose is to give you tips on how to inexpensively train HR professionals in data analysis. Whether you choose to hire data professionals and train them in HR or not, having your HR staff conversant with at least the basics of data analysis can only help both HR and data professionals work more effectively together.

So, how do you start training your HR staff in data analysis? I suggest a three-step process using freely available software and training resources culminating in a practical capstone project. I have set this up for small organizations and government offices so; you can rest assured that this is a well-tested model which is easy to implement and track.

First: download and install RStudio (the Open Source version []). R is an open-source statistical package that is widely used in the data analysis community. There are plenty of free online training sites and free books that will take your users from a neophyte to an accomplished data analyst. RStudio’s website lists many free online courses []. Another great site is the videos on the LearnR YouTube channel [].

Second: use these online resources to help your staff train themselves in statistics and data analysis. A great place to start if your HR staff needs a refresher course in statistics is the interactive multimedia “Online Statistics Education” online book []. Once your staff is ready, they can then work through the numerous free data science courses available on “Big Data University” []. What I especially like about Big Data University is that it has a badging system which is a great incentive for your staff and a good way for you to track their progress.

The final step in the process is the most useful for the organization and your employees – create a capstone data analysis project that will be applied to a real organizational need. In fact, I suggest you may want to create the capstone project while the staff is going through steps one and two. If the HR staff knows that they will have to demonstrate their newly-acquired skills soon, this will help focus and energize their training efforts. With just an investment of time, you can quickly create data-savvy HR staff.

Over the years, the relationship between HR and Finance departments has suffered from misconceptions of the role and impact each plays in an organization; limited understanding of administrative pressures (Sarbanes-Oxley or Safe Harbor), and general mistrust of one another. Look at what Shari Caudron had to say in a 1996 (that’s 20 years ago!) article written for the Business Finance magazine:

“In far too many organizations, warring adversaries is exactly what the [Finance and HR] departments have become. Separated by sky-high functional silos, finance people typically think HR folks take up space that should be reserved for more valuable professionals….Human resources specialists, on the other hand, think the finance department is filled with a bunch of pencil-necked bean counters whose sole enjoyment in life comes from saying “no” to every requested project.”

Think about your organization. When a manager asks the question below, do you get two completely different perspectives?


Is this how the HR and Finance relationship will continue in perpetuity? What can be done to bring the two functions closer together? To learn more about what steps to take next, consider registering for Wednesday’s IHRIM webinar, “A Marriage Made in Heaven: Enabling the Partnership between HR and Finance” presented by Catherine Honey, Executive Director of People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young.

In theory, the HR and Finance functions should share a common goal, that of driving business outcomes (financial improvement, competitive advantage, risk minimization, etc.) by optimizing how investments are made in sourcing, developing, and retaining talent. The CFO may wear many hats in pursuing that goal, from devising budgets to advising on strategy and measuring the results of those investments. From my experience, HR leaders rarely lead headcount budgeting and planning but are responsible for setting, executing, and evaluating the talent strategy.

Wednesday’s webinar will illustrate whether we are making progress towards strong collaboration. Citing the results of a global survey of 550 CFOs and CHROs in 26 countries, and supplemented by in-depth interviews with leaders in both functions, highlights of the research that Catherine will cover include:

  • Why CFOs and CHROs have better relationships at high-performing companies than those at organizations falling behind
  • The organizational characteristics (size, global reach) and talent issues that influence the likelihood of stronger partnerships
  • Business metrics most commonly influenced by closer ties

Diving into these topics in more depth, Catherine will also share the four attributes that set high-performing companies – those with strong HR/Finance relationships – apart.

While I am not in a position to give away the answers here, I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of the attributes relates to the wider adoption, and greater use, of workforce analytics as a tool to rigorously assess talent performance and productivity. Better collaboration can also feed the strategic workforce planning process, with CFOs actively engaging in discussions of talent supply and demand.

The webinar concludes with ten steps that both CFOs and CHROs can take to improve their relationship.

Registration closes on Tuesday night, so please sign up now to join the webcast.

The Workforce Analytics Forum has ended and I was delighted with the quality of presentations, audience interaction, and enthusiasm for HR’s role in using data to inform talent management decisions.

Let’s start with the Data Heroes Analyst Challenge…we kicked off the morning with a Mixed Martial Arts “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” introduction (I highly recommend that you search for a video of it) before launching into the challenge.

We had three data/software/visualization experts (Alan Bainbridge of Intermountain Healthcare, Nery Castillo McIntyre of San Disk, and Michael Grimm of Intengis) spend all of half an hour crafting algorithms, images, and stories based on a 37,000+ person dataset. What they did in 30 minutes I couldn’t do in 30 days!

The audience had the opportunity to witness how the three pivoted the data, determined what issues to focus upon, built graphics and, in turn, presented their results. Questions came thick and fast – on the tools being used, the choice of storyboards, and what would happen if only 35, rather than 30, minutes were on the clock.

In a photo-finish, the winner was….Nery Castillo McIntyre. He raised the Belt of Champions (again, search for the video) and will enjoy the fruits of his labor for all time (or at least until IHRIM’s Annual Conference in 2017). Thank you to all of the participants, who were very graceful in accepting my limitations in transitioning visuals from laptops to big screens.

Other comments of reference in the subsequent thought leader presentations:

  • Let’s feed our leaders some questions to consider – don’t expect they know where to go next
  • Data is the price of admission – if we bring data, we get the opportunity to ask questions about future priorities
  • If you tell me [insert urban legend], I can myth-bust that for you
  • I don’t know what to do with this data (said the manager)
  • If there is no burning platform, how do you make the case for analytics?

Thank you to everyone involved in the Forum. Am signing off and heading overnight to Detroit....

Written by Mick Collins

Today, IHRIM hosted its second Workforce Analytics Forum of 2016. For those not familiar with the events, they offer:

  1. Collaborative Networking: Rather than your typical 1-to-many mega-conferences, they purposefully keep the audience small, offering attendees the opportunity to interact with each other, meet the presenters, and get solutions to their own challenges.
  2. Real-World Examples Bolstered by Academic Research: Case study presentations from some of the world's leading experts on workforce analytics supplemented by academic thought-leaders (consistent with IHRIM's rich heritage of university partnerships).
  3. New Technologies: Innovative thinking in analytics is often driven by technology vendors and consultants. For example, the Data Hero Analyst challenge features analysts and vendors using modern technologies (plus Excel) to visualize workforce data in front of the audience.
  4. Content for Beginners and Seasoned Practitioners: New to workforce analytics or in it for the long haul? The Forum features a mix of simple frameworks for attendees to adopt while going deep on statistical modeling.

Today featured presentations from several top-notch analytics experts (specific names can be found in the program). Some of the most interesting comments by presenters included:

Analytics Strategy

  • Leaders pay me for good (HR) intuition – I want to make sure that intuition is backed by data
  • Any firm can buy the data analysis they need; what’s important is that HR connect the data to the internal consumer’s question
  • In choosing between improving our analytics sophistication or our alignment with the business, we chose the latter – it’s a bigger bang for the buck
  • We avoid high cost/low impact analytics projects “like the plague”
  • Analytics will become commoditized over time – attrition models are increasingly the same, from company to company
  • Our job (as analysts) is to put leaders in a position to raise their batting average

Analytics Execution

  • HR analytics is one of the top 3 capability gaps in HR (the others are Leadership and Culture/Engagement)
  • With a small team, we need to democratize analytics and deliver self-service to the front lines
  • Change management is under-utilized as a role in my analytics team
  • Approaching analytics with a glass half-full mentality helps smooth its adoption (optimizing success>reducing unfavorable outcomes)
  • Selecting the right methodology (decision trees, random forests) is important
  • When visualizing data, eliminate as much clutter as possible
  • There is almost no variable that, when changed in real-time, will change the leader’s decision
  • Turnover rates don’t matter – turnover pain does

The Forum continues tomorrow with the Data Hero Analyst Challenge and several more presentations…

Written by Mick Collins

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