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

We spoke with Terri Gallagher, President of Gallagher and Consultants, a workforce strategy solutions company, about the most frequently demanded HR solutions nowadays and their use in companies, the quality of technologies, and the readiness of organizations to manage a big disruptive change.

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“No Fluff” Within the Implementation Process

– Today’s workplaces are being transformed by technology. Terri, you help the companies build a new workforce technology ecosystem and have a deep knowledge of the situation. How would you describe the level of using HR tech in companies of all sizes?

HR leaders are definitely being asked to step away from traditional roles of risk management and collecting yearly performance reviews (which are also on their way out, but technology platforms are revolutionizing that process). They are being asked to be a strategic player at the table and an advisor, to navigate new technologies, manage employee expectations, and ensure the organization has a productive and happy workforce.

I have an example of HR having to put together a business case to implement technology with hard ROI and no fluff. They used the word “fluff” because HR was being perceived as not being able to talk about what the true return is.

The type and the level of tech that HR is using depend on a priority and adoption standpoint.

There is increase usage and embracing of artificial intelligence – bots reviewing résumés, looking at social platforms, they have experience and use algorithms to determine capabilities for a role.

Another big technology for HR is digital recruitment/talent acquisition. That’s really critical, across companies of all sizes. Recruiting is time-consuming and costly; there is LinkedIn, and then there are technology platforms that enable virtual recruiting, and virtual interviewing/testing technology.

There is also another priority for different HR organizations. Candidate experience is actually really hot right now. A lot of companies are looking at a feature to effectively and systematically help recruiters track micro-stages in the hiring process to ensure each candidate receives a thoughtful experience.

Digital workplaces and digital workforces is another important technology that describes how people work and the way they relate to each.

And the last one is big data, people analytics – from operations and management and talent acquisition and performance. According to 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends, only 8% of organizations believe they have usable data and only 9% believe they have a good understanding of the factors that drive performance. Data and visibility close that gap.

“The Quality of New HR Tech is High but Productivity Has Not Caught Up”

– In your experience, what are the most frequently demanded HR solutions nowadays?

The world is definitely mobile. Everyone is talking about mobile and it is very important, especially for the young generation.

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So, the mobile capabilities are very important. A lot of companies are scrambling to adapt their HR systems accordingly. In some cases, they may create their own apps that offer workers streamlined access to basic HR functionality, such as submitting timesheets or expense reports. And another big thing is when companies are ready to replace existing HR systems, they may look for vendors that offer mobile apps as part of their core services.

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The other thing HR providers are really looking for is end-to-end talent management solutions that meet the requirements of large, complex organizations, because they have many really different solutions in place. They are looking for one solution that covers recruiting, learning and performance management. And for total talent management systems, including the gig or contingent workforce is important. Or at least HR is looking for something that was designed with open API and can cooperate with different solutions – that’s really important.

The field of predictive analytics is huge right now and it continues to grow. Predictive analytics is likely to become one of the most important features in HR technology platforms over the next few years. Even though many HR organizations have been slow to adopt people analytics, a wide variety of vendors offer impressive capabilities in that area, including the ability to identify “toxic” employees that are not performing, recommend training, predict attrition and unplanned absences, and highlight the promotions and transfers most likely to produce high-performing employees.

Another type of HR solution is any technology that enables a wider net for talent. HR is looking at a systemic solution that helps them to hire: recruiting networks, AI and platforms that scan social networks to find résumés and passive candidates.

Another solution is the learning market – “learning experience platforms.” They focus on delivering a “learning platform” and not just a “learning management platform.” Platforms that are going to enable more advanced training, in other words, they are places to go to browse and learn, and not merely to register for courses.

Performance management solutions help a lot. Annual performance reviews are really ineffective. It is not fun to walk into the office and find out that for six months someone has been unhappy with your performance. So, HR uses technologies for more dynamic team management, allowing day-to-day interaction between a manager and an employee and finding out how you are doing: surveys, development plans and bi-annual or annual surveys are on their way out.

As a member of Talent Tech labs in NY, a startup incubator for talent acquisition technology, I see a lot of funding go to technologies that expedite the interview/recruiting process (sourcing, screening, onboarding) as well as enhancing candidate experience and perception of your brand.

And the two biggest trends worthy of funding are:

Candidate experience, which we talked about. That enables candidates to have a good experience on the site. I mean, if you don’t have a job, some sites offer résumé training, you can go to LinkedIn and receive some coaching things like that.

– And another trend is the interviewing recruiting process, the source that streamlines onboarding. It is a tactical transaction allowing recruiters to be more strategic.

– What can you say about the quality of new HR tech?

I think the quality is high and it is continuing to evolve, but as stated earlier, productivity has not caught up. I think the challenges are with any implementation, understanding how to define processes and requirements. And a lot of clients have trouble detailing workflow and entity relationships with other systems.

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I come across clients all the time who have had WorkDay or some other HRIS system implemented but do not have the aftercare/support needed. They don’t understand the technology or how to integrate it into their business fully once implemented. I see a role as an “after care” specialist to provide support post-launch to help them leverage functionality and features and integrate them into their day-to-day life. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing what to “turn on.” In a lot of cases, after implementation is done, the team that does the implementation leaves and the client  really doesn’t  know how to use their new technology

Minimal functionality is understanding the requirements and meeting them first. If you promise analytics, make sure it’s clear how to navigate the technology to get to them

“The Investment Decisions the Organization Makes for its HR Technology Will Impact the Company for Many Years”

– What can you say about the correlation between investment in technologies and strategic business priorities? Do companies analyze what solutions they really need to meet their goals?

HR transformation is a priority at a very high level. The organization of the future is a top priority for companies. The biggest thing from a cost perspective is prioritizing what solutions they need first, addressing legacy systems, and talent recruitment. I think that one of the challenges is that a lot of HR organizations are behind the curve in addressing key enterprise issues, including talent alignment, skill shortages and organizational change.

While most HR execs also recognize the potential value of digital transformation for the HR function, few believe they have the resources and capabilities in place to executes. The consistent finding here is that most HR organizations are simply too busy fighting fires to get out in front on strategic issues. In many cases, they are in reactive mode, with too much on their plate and an inability to say “no” to work that does not allow HR to become more strategic. If HR is truly going to deliver strategic value to the organizations, it must change this mindset. HR has to find ways to manage more effectively and prioritize its service portfolio, adopt proactive demand management techniques from IT and make headway on transformation and improvements in key talent areas.

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Ultimately, execution and simplicity will be the key to leveraging these technologies to step into this new world of work and take your business to the next level. The innovative HR leader will be at the helm along with the right technology partners. HR’s new role for organizations is about building the business case and driving user adoption for several types of technology platforms that cover the full lifecycle of talent strategy. Everything is changing, and quickly – including the types of technology HR professionals use, the experiences those systems deliver and the underlying software designs – making many of the traditional HR systems purchased only a decade ago seem out of date.

– What can you advise companies that are going to implement new solutions?

– The first thing is to gain a better understanding of the buying process. The process for evaluating and purchasing HR technology is a critical one for HR leaders to master. The investment decisions the organization makes for its HR technology will impact the company (for good or bad) for many years to come – perhaps even decades. So, for HR Tech, we plan to dig a little deeper into important elements of the buying process.

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Get feedback from the business. What are their biggest pain points?

– Include technology and ensure legacy systems and compatibility are covered. You would be surprised how many implementations fail because this step was skipped and someone spent $20–30 million on a solution and they didn’t understand the integration points with legacy systems, etc. So many systems have been brought to their knees by this.

– Looking at an iterative approach, based on prioritizing deliverables and challenges can be a solid choice, and less disruptive to an organization. So, the next question is, what do you tackle first?

– Take care of some near-term pain points, such as recruiting, data or retention, to build consensus from the business.

– Hold the providers accountable: get the requirements right.

– Often, HR tech projects can fail – or at least fail to live up to expectations – not because of flawed technology or a lack of good intentions, but because the organization didn’t invest in making the change work.

So, putting down the money is one thing, but being willing to spend the money is definitely taking the time to understand the requirements and bringing the right people to the table at the beginning to make sure that everything is well.

“Go Out to the People Who Are Using HR Technologies”

– How can you evaluate the readiness of managers and other members of the teams to adopt new HR tech?

I can say that people are ready to embrace some of the efficiencies but they are not ready to have big disruptive changes. And that’s normal.

I think of two ways to navigate that. The way to evaluate that fear is to go out into the field and reach out to the people who are using technologies to find out where the pain is. If it’s strong enough, they will be committed to a solution. And the second factor is being able to make sure that all these people who are not technically savvy get the right training from the technology providers. I had a client who implemented a large HRIS system but they weren’t trained properly – I mean the documentation and online training provided to this client did not match screenshots of the actual solution. It was not handled well: it was sloppy and unacceptable.

The talent shortage is real, and HR managers have challenges finding talent who can work with the technology, so they turn to training and other options to prepare non-IT people.

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Another thing you can do to navigate this is to make sure that all these non-IT people do their homework and educate themselves. A huge part of succeeding with HR technology is knowing where to start, and that’s where educating yourself about the HR technology market and landscape factors in.

And you need to understand that, with modern, cloud-based HR technologies, the implementation in many ways is never really “done.” The initial “go-live” date still can – and should – be recognized and celebrated by the project team and the organizations, but in many ways that milestone is only the first big step in an ongoing process.

– What is your biggest challenge when working with companies that are going to transform or remove their current solutions?

I think the level of adoption and engagement is not keeping up with the technology evolution that is occurring and they need guidance. There is definitely a lot of resistance to change. Technical changes can be seen specifically as threats by employees who envision that their roles within the company will be replaced by a machine or computer that can do the job cheaper or faster, which may be why they are moving away so slowly from low-value tasks.

Really technology is elevating the role of HR employees, removing transactional activities and enabling the humans to operate at a high level: strategic thinking, planning, relationships. Untapped talent, human capability and capacity are constrained by spending time doing things that computers can do better.

Also, not understanding how deeply integrated legacy systems are, not listening to the business or spending the time to go into the field to the people using current solutions or who need a new solution are also major challenges. Getting the right requirements from the right people is also really important. I see a lot of decisions made with C-Suite that do not include enough people from the field.