The number of women taking leading roles in HR tech companies increases every single year. They break stereotypes, pushing the horizons and, despite all the challenges, build great products and groundbreaking HR technology companies, shaping the new HR tech world.

Today we announce our new series, “Women Leaders Speak”, in which the most influential women in HR tech will tell us about their roads to success and share their visions, fears and perspectives.

Our first guest is Linda Ginac, the founder and CEO of TalentGuard, a leading global talent-management software company.

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Linda and Frank, her husband and the best friend

HR has been burned before by vendors who have made big promises and failed to deliver.”

 – Linda, what do you think this year will bring to us in respect of HR technologies?

– The talent management landscape is changing. Employees want more than pay and benefits as rewards for a job well done. Career growth and varied experiences are key factors in job satisfaction. This year, we are seeing more demand for artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and consumerization of the user experience. Companies are asking TalentGuard’s software to dynamically and automatically recommend personalized career tracks based on personality assessments, employees’ aspirations and all talent management data maintained not only by our application but by all that participate in the talent management ecosystem.

They want an easy way to pose workforce questions and have our software predict the impact of various decisions. A whole new level of user interaction and mobile friendliness will be paramount in HR tech.  We are moving beyond simple user interfaces to stimulating user experiences and vendors must factor that into their development cycles to delight and engage users.

– Your passion for technology and innovation is the foundation of your business. But the fact is that digital HR solutions are not used as much as vendors would like them to be. Why do you think technology is something that scares HR professionals?

– I believe there are many factors that make it difficult for HR to adopt technology. Firstly, most HR staff have plenty of experience of recruiting, onboarding, annual performance appraisals, payroll, and benefits, but little if any experience with high-impact talent management theory and practice that focuses on employee development, career-path enablement, and engagement. There’s an HR knowledge and skills gap that vendors often must fill. We spend a great deal of time teaching prospective buyers how to buy HR tech. The HR buyer knows they need something, but is often not sure what that something is or how to buy it.

Secondly, they’ve been burned before by vendors who have made big promises and failed to deliver. Most vendors fall short of delivering on promises of ease of deployment and time to value. The industry is rife with examples. TalentGuard is an exception but it still creates an impediment to sales that is sometimes challenging to overcome. Often, the gun-shy buyer wants a free trial or “an out” in case things don’t work out.

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Thirdly, consumer applications have set the bar high on usability. Few vendors have created products that are easy to use for both the end user and administrative power user.

Finally, HR often does not have its own budget. While we are teaching HR staff what they need and how we meet their needs, they are scrambling around behind the scenes convincing their peers with budget to spend it on HR tech.

– What should companies of all sizes consider when evaluating HR technologies? 

– We recommend that companies spend ample time clearly defining their use cases to gain clarity on what they need from the software based on their goals. We train our sales team to use this approach in every engagement.  You will often hear them saying, “Describe how you envision the sequence of events unfolding in your company and the manager’s or user’s involvement in the process.” Document the use cases so that they are understood by the customer and the team, and use them for two purposes: 1) to assess what the software can handle today, and 2) to begin the process of documenting new product requirements for future development.

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Linda (in the center) and her team

“Companies haven’t executed on the number one driver of employee engagement – career development.”

– You have extensive experience in performance management. How has it evolved since you started, and what are your perspectives for the future?

– The focus used to be on the rear-view mirror, looking at activities that have transpired over the year and giving a rating. Today, the focus on performance and development feedback is real-time as it happens. Many companies have shifted to a “no ratings” model, but I predict that companies will circle back to a combination of ratings and feedback because the feedback-only model will crumble. Many of our clients were excited to get rid of performance ratings, but after their first performance review realized it was a disastrous decision. Using only feedback, managers experienced much more difficultly dispersing rewards and struggled to defend why one person got a 4% raise and another received only 1%, especially when the person who received a lower percentage had more quality feedback.

To top it off, the vision that managers and employees would have more informal conversations about performance fell flat on its face. Both hours spent and the quality of conversations declined significantly.  A combination of feedback and ratings and remaining forward-looking is a more effective model to increase individual and organizational performance. Another major shift has been toward competency-based development. Catch the issues early and provide appropriate training, mentoring, and coaching either to help an employee get on track or to facilitate a change in roles.

– Employee engagement is a hot topic nowadays. But what are the weakest points of companies in terms of engagement from your perspective? Maybe you can give us some examples from your practice.

– Companies have not successfully executed on the number one driver of employee engagement – career development. Career development is often misguided by serving up an electronic catalog of learning resources or promoting the completion of an annual individual development plan. This approach does not promote engagement. A learner-focused approach (encompassing skills development, education, experience, and coaching) that supports a company’s need for integrated, continuous development of people will better meet a company’s future workforce requirements.

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TalentGuard has relentlessly focused on three goals since its inception and has introduced the first career pathing software in the market to help companies benefit from the results of improved engagement. Firstly, companies must enable employees to build meaningful self-directed career paths and experience job-enhancement opportunities aligned with their personal skills, goals, purpose, and aspirations. Secondly, companies must empower leaders to coach and nurture employees through practical career conversations as they navigate the corporate lattice. Bringing employee engagement and leadership empowerment together makes an organization more agile, credible and better aligned with its workforce.

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For a leading healthcare company seeking to reduce employee turnover, their vision was framed around a new promise – the company valuing employee growth. Leaders continually reinforced the message that they needed to demonstrate commitment to employees first before they should expect employees to be loyal and committed to them. With this new focus, the company developed several new key performance indicators. This massive shift led to dramatic results with a reduction in turnover by 45% the first year – creating capacity to service more clients with higher levels of service and reduced costs.

About the first crush and the entrepreneur’s spirit

– What was your biggest challenge as a CEO?

– Like other startups, we’ve struggled with funding and hiring the right people. But when I removed the noise, it always boiled down to timing as my biggest challenge. Nothing ever happens on the ideal timeline. Timing is something you have no control over and as a startup everything is on the critical path that never perfectly aligns with other people’s timelines. Timing of investor money hitting the bank when payroll is due. Delayed timing of receivables when important bills must be paid. Accelerated development cycle times because a customer must hit a major deadline or else. As a startup CEO, I’ve been forced to learn how to live in the grey area and do it without constantly stressing out. Staring at the grass won’t make it grow any faster.

– Do you remember the first money you earned? What was your first job? 

– Growing up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in a low-income family, I took a job selling newspapers at the age of 11. Billy the paperboy was heading off to college and had to pass on the job.  I knew the exact route because I used to follow Billy around the neighborhood. You could say he was my first crush. The challenge was that Billy had one of the biggest routes with more than 75 newspapers delivered every day before the break of dawn. The paper route manager was concerned that I would not be able to carry the load (physically) and he was right. So I did what any entrepreneur would do. I solved the problem by using my younger brother’s little red wagon to pull the load. With the money earned from my first week on the job, I spent the day at Whalom Amusement Park and went on the old wooden rollercoaster 15 times in a row.