Business person analyzing financial statistics displayed on the tablet screen

Ultimate’s Move Toward Predicting Success

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of data and analytics. I’ve built my career around them. But data and analytics can be tricky things. While we think of math as a subject where there is only one right answer, when we talk about math that describes, correlates, and ultimately predicts outcomes where human beings and human organizations are involved, things get complicated. True predictive analytics requires deep expertise in statistical analysis, and technological horsepower to make it fast and usable. Which is why Ultimate Software’s announcement of its acquisition of Vestrics is of interest.

I’ve followed Vestrics, and CEO Brian Kelly, for many years now. Brian has been at the forefront of the HCM analytics trend since his days at infoHRM (acquired by SuccessFactors in 2010). And Vestrics, under founder Gene Pease, had created not only a tool that could provide the analytical heavy lifting, but presents its capabilities in a way that allows non-technical users to tease out the elements of their human capital decisions that are having the greatest business impact.

So why is this acquisition a big deal? Ultimate is showing its commitment to moving organizations beyond data reporting and correlation, and into a realm where business users can gain insight into the business impact of their talent decisions. And while lots of companies talk predictive analytics, it’s important to look at what they really mean. This is not straight line forecasting where you look at the past and assume documented trends will continue within a margin of error. This is causation based on true regression analysis – enough to give post-traumatic flashbacks to anyone who suffered through freshman stats class. And while Ultimate began investing in analytics and its own data scientists several years ago, this acquisition will accelerate their analytics capabilities.

It’s also a big deal because of its reach. According to data from Aptitude’s 2016 Workforce Management study, just 38% of organizations have some level of predictive analytics solution in place. Another 41% want to add this capability to their HCM arsenal. With over 3200 customers, Ultimate’s reach could bring true predictive analytics to the mainstream. Our study data found that less than half of organizations use workforce data when solving business issues, building teams, forecasting revenue or evaluating learning. The power of this matchup to bring workforce data into the business more broadly has huge potential impact – and integrates analytics into the work stream where they can be used in the moment, versus a stand-alone analytics solution.

Of course, as I always caution, tools are only as good as their users, so education of organizations and leaders in using the power of predictive analytics will remain crucial for Ultimate. Analytics success depends on both technology and expertise.  In the mid-market where Ultimate plays, scaling such services can be difficult. Ultimate already has over 400 customers using their UltiPro predictors for retention and high performers.  The work Vestrics has put in to make powerful analytics more usable to the non-technical user may help mitigate that issue. And certainly the ability to further tap into Ultimate’s customer base as a platform to bring this capability to the forefront will be exciting to watch.

Lonely young man shot from behind at subway station with blurry moving train in background

A Glimpse of the Future at Cornerstone

We are in the heart of the busy spring conference season, and last week one of the companies I got to spend time with was Cornerstone OnDemand. Cornerstone continues its impressive growth trajectory, citing more deals closed in 2015 that its first 11 years. It’s one of the last remaining standing talent management providers, so it’s worth taking a look at where they are progressing.

Learning will always be at the core of Cornerstone, and if you’re a regular reader of my blog you know I’m a big believer in the DNA of companies. But it’s turning the corner to being a true, full capability talent management platform. There were five key product introductions (or re-introductions) this year, bringing the total to 21 products, though CEO Adam Miller groups them into four suites – learning, performance, recruiting and analytics. Here’s a quick look at the highlights.

Edge – Edge was discussed last year, but this year the power of the Edge marketplace was on full display. The onstage demo showed the speed and ease with which one could procure, integrate and begin using complementary technologies. My colleague Madeleine has previously discussed the difference between a marketplace and market hype, and Edge is clearly beyond the hype.

Link – This is best described as Cornerstones step towards the core HR space, though they were very clear to stop short of calling themselves an HRIS. But they do now offer effective dating and organizational charting, which may be enough to support the core HR needs of some organizations.

Analytics – This was a hot button topic in the analyst discussion. First of all, Cornerstone introduced its View, Insights and Planning products to build on its current reporting capabilities. View is all about data visualization and dashboards. Insights is focused on evolving analytics to both predictive and prescriptive analytics (more on this in a moment). And Planning is Cornerstone’s Big Data workforce planning solution. All of these products play an important role in building out the Analytics suite, but the conversation around the use of predictive and prescriptive analytics drew boisterous debate.

The idea of truly predictive analytics is moving beyond straight-line forecasting to help both individuals and organizations make decisions around prescriptive learning, or career paths, or succession. Prescriptive analytics moves beyond what is likely to happen, to what organization should do based on that information. But it’s important to remember that there is a big difference between using analytics to recommend a learning course and making a hiring or succession decision. One of the most important things Cornerstone can do is not only provide insight and analytics, but utilize its learning heritage to make sure that individuals and managers know how to use this information properly, and put it in the context it requires.

It’s important to remember that predictive and prescriptive analytics do not abdicate managers and leaders of their responsibilities around decision-making, they are simply a voice in the process. And organizations need to be careful in understanding the quality of the data that goes into the models as well as how to use the output. No matter how sophisticated the tool is, without those obligations being fulfilled by the user, it will never be as effective as it could be. And as a partner, Cornerstone can play a critical role in advising its customers in this area.

Cornerstone continues to work hard on building out its full capabilities, and is making the most of its position as one of the last independent providers standing. By depending on their heritage of learning to make sure that the appropriate adoption of their new solutions occurs, it’s easy to see the trend of customer success they have enjoyed continuing.

clock face

New Rules: Redefining Overtime

On Tuesday afternoon the Department of Labor released its final rules on overtime as a part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which will go into effect on December 1. The basic gist of the rules is that anyone working 40 hours or more per week at a salary of less than the threshold amount is now eligible for overtime. The salary threshold of $47,476 is slightly lower than what had originally been proposed, but still impacts over 4 million workers. And it is nearly double the previous salary threshold, meaning that detailed tracking of hours worked will be more important than ever for most organizations. So what does this mean for employers, employees, and HR technology? Here are a few thoughts.

Employees – there are a couple of possibilities for employees. For some it may mean that time in half will be paid and their weekly paychecks will be impacted immediately when the rules go into effect December 1. For working the same hours that they were before, their paycheck will get bigger. However, they may not see much of a change in their paycheck, but see a reduction in hours as organizations seek to avoid not only the overtime threshold, but also the possibility of being required to provide benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And some may see a cut in both pay and hours if organizations go to a strategy of keeping everyone under the cap, though this strategy may have other repercussions for organizations.

Employers – if employers weren’t already prepared to be tracking hours and handling reporting for ACA, they had better be ready now. Organizations that offered benefits to their full-time workers were in compliance with ACA roles, but if the salaries for those workers are below the thresholds or near them, they will now need to start tracking hours and reconsidering pay policies for these full-time workers. Organizations also have to carefully consider how their strategy for handling the overtime rules may impact their employer brand. It’s a situation where it may be easy for companies to be penny wise and pound foolish, scrimping on overtime for current employees but making it harder to recruit future employees.

HR Technology – no matter what strategy organizations undertake, they will need technology to help provide them with the data and information to make informed decisions. And they will also need technology to help them communicate around these decisions. The first part is likely to be the more common approach, and it will be important for organizations to have the time tracking capability and the analytics capability to model and forecast the implications of their decisions around the new overtime rules. But no matter what those decisions are, using the right tools and strategies to communicate to their workforce the impact of this decisions will be of critical importance as well. Expectations are everything – even if the information is disappointing, it’s better if it’s not a surprise. (As an aside, the Department of Labor website on these changes is quite well done and features an extremely informative video – a great example of the type of communications I have been discussing recently.)

The last decade has seen some of the most sweeping changes to labor regulations in history. We will need to see even more in the coming decades as the shift continues to a gig economy and freelance labor market. Employers, employees and HR technology will all be challenged to keep up, and keep the lines of communication open.

HZMB Bridge

A Platform for Change

Never fear, this is not a political post. It is, however, a look into our future as employers and employees. I had the opportunity to spend time with GuideSpark last week at their analyst day, and their innovations around communications, and the implications for today’s organizations were intriguing.

If you’re not familiar, GuideSpark was founded in 2008 and primarily focused on creating engaging, customized videos to help organizations explain benefits choices to employees. The premise was that an educated employee as decision-maker would increase benefit adoption and satisfaction because employees knew what was available to them and how to use it. Over the past several years, GuideSpark has been working on building an innovative communications platform to support employee understanding of other complex processes from benefits to financial wellness, and now talent management as well.

Central to this platform are technology breakthroughs that allow for the creation of customized, flexible, and most importantly cost-effective video content. They have now surrounded this critical capability with a complete platform that will allow organizations to create, manage, distribute and measure employee communications content. Madeline and I have both spoken frequently on the need for better employee communications. And the fact that organizations to understand and segment their employees the same way they do their customers. The GuideSpark view of the communications platform is a key tool to helping organizations act upon this critical strategy.

I also had the chance to meet many key executives, and clearly video, design and measurement are in GuideSpark’s DNA. CEO and co-founder Keith Kitani comes from an eLearning and design background, having sold Presedia to Macromedia in 2003. Recently they also brought on Pritham Shetty, formerly of Adobe where he was responsible for big data, content, audiences for Adobe Digital Marketing Cloud and Adobe Primetime. At the same time, they were joined by Ammiel Kamon, formerly of Kontera where he was responsible for product development within their Brand Intelligence suite. Applying these perspectives to the world of HR and employee communications seems to be helping them rethink some fundamental challenges organizations face in connecting with employees to drive compliance, understanding and engagement.

The user conference that followed on the heels of the analyst event further highlighted these critical challenges, as mentioned in my previous blog. But it is exciting to see some critical innovation happening in this important area. Aptitude Research will be exploring this critical area of employee communications later this year, but GuideSpark is clearly one to watch in this growing space.

Tin can

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate


I had the opportunity last week to present the latest Aptitude Research findings on employee communication technology at GuideSpark’s Engage 2016 event. This research included data from over 350 organizations collected in February of this year. And it probably won’t surprise you to find out that the current state of employee communications is pretty sad. According to our data:

  • Existing providers aren’t keeping up – only 39% would recommend their current employee communications technology provider;
  • Companies don’t know what works – Only 1 in 4 measure the impact of their communication efforts; and
  • Many have given up hope – 46% are not even reaching their employees with basic written communication

Despite the many challenges that organizations face when it comes to getting the attention of their employees, top-performing organizations understand the value of communications and are looking to new platforms to help them take a multitouch, multimedia approach. In fact, 70% of high-performing companies are adopting employee communication technology strategies to help improve productivity and reduce turnover.

There were many great examples of this approach shared at the conference, but my favorite was articulated by Rick Merritt, SVP and CHRO at OSI Systems. As he put it, “employee communications require consistency in message and variety in format.” People want choices about how they receive information, and organizations need to maintain compliance and consistency. And many are looking to technology to help them manage this growing complexity and are looking beyond single function tools to true communication platforms.

Regardless of the tools or platforms organizations use, there were a few key communication takeaways from the research to keep in mind:

  • Ensuring employee communication occurs requires a shift in not only the tools, but the skill set and strategy for HR leaders. It can no longer be about broadcasting information, but opening a dialogue.
  • Expectations are everything. Communication is really about setting expectations. No matter what your business strategy, your performance management philosophy, your organizational culture, people are more comfortable when they know what to expect. And they can align behind efforts when they know what’s going on. Communication should be all about setting the right expectations in both directions.
  • If you open a dialogue, be ready to reply. In addition to tools to facilitate dialogue, organizations need to make sure that they are ready to execute on everything they communicate. This means thinking through how the organization is structured, and the responsibilities managers have to ensure communication has occurred.
  • When offering choices around communication tools, be personal, but not creepy. Communication requires a certain level of permission, and employees might feel that a video personalized for their role or career stage is helpful, but benefits recommendations referring to personal health details might be uncomfortable. Know where to draw the line – and realize it may be different for different people.

True communication is difficult, and George Bernard Shaw famously said that “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has occurred.” But with new tools to manage and measure, successful organizations are hoping to solve that critical problem.

Mind Map Team - Illustration

Automation vs. Experience – What does your Technology Deliver?

There’s a reason we worry about Robots taking over our jobs. There are lots of things machines and software are so darn good at. Automation has made HCM processes – from scanning through resumes, to tracking performance over time, to issuing paychecks – faster, easier and more accurate. Efficiency is good, and we need automation. But it’s no longer enough.

Organizations are catching on to the fact that their human capital technologies need to operate on two levels. They need to be powerful transaction engines for administrative users. And they need to deliver engaging experiences for employees at every level of the organization. These are very different views of the role of technology, and we’re seeing an explosion of what we have begun calling Experience Technology.

This Experience Technology comes in many flavors and we highlighted several of them with value propositions around communications, engagement, feedback and measurement, including BetterWorks, Glint, GuideSpark and Hyphen, coverage of HR Tech last fall. Traditional players like Ceridian and its spin-off Lifeworks are looking at delivering wellness, perks and engagement. Kronos has partnered with Google to rethink employee experience. And just this week Navera announced its foray into the Experience Technology space as well, focusing on not only employee communications, but usage feedback for HR practitioners to help them evolve policies and programs.

There is a TON packed into this “niche” space in the HCM Technology Landscape, ranging from engagement benchmarking to wellness programs, benefits selection, performance feedback, employee analytics and more. Every company mentioned above has a unique position on how they can deliver on the promise of Experience Technology. So I am pleased to announce that this fall will be publishing our Technology Index Report on Communication and Engagement solutions, to help practitioners understand the space, and distinguish among the differentiators of all of these unique players and what they bring to the table. This is no apples to apples, or even apples to pears technology space, and we endeavor to sort through and help organizations ask the right questions so they can deliver the right employee experience. I’m excited to delve more deeply into this space, and look forward to taking you along for the ride.

RIP tile


The Request for Proposal (RFP) and its cousin the Request for Information (RFI) have long been the gold standard of technology procurement. But do they still make sense in this evolving technology world – particularly for human capital management? That’s the topic of our latest publication RIP, RFP: Technology Selection Gets Personal.

Just 8% of organizations in the study rated the RFP or RFI as influential in the decision process – less than a third of the number of organizations that rated the results of a Google search as influential. When a process is less influential than website copy, one has to question why we’re still undertaking it. It is important to make sure that you cast a wide net when it comes to understanding the world of available technologies. And it’s important to try and make meaningful comparisons. But there are infinite combinations of functionality today that a traditional RFP cannot account for. The Aptitude Research Human Capital Technology Landscape highlights the growing complexity and variety of solution providers available and is one way to help organizations discern who has the capabilities to support your organization’s needs. But the RFP is a rather blunt tool with which to dissect this complexity.

Maybe it’s time to evolve for we mean by RFP. Maybe it’s time to initiate a “request for partnership”, opening a dialogue in a new way, rethinking the demo process, rethinking the sales and negotiation process, to ensure that organizations get the right match. A match for not only the technological capability they require, but the support, expertise, and service they need to truly get a return on their investment. The report makes a few suggestions on how organizations can rethink the selection process, but we’d love to hear from you as well. Is the RFP dead? Should it be? Let us know you think.

Business person analyzing financial statistics displayed on the tablet screen

Please Go Away. Often.

There is a travel agency near Harvard Square that for years had a sign out front that said “Please Go Away Often”. I always think about that sign whenever I am leaving for or returning from vacation. It’s important to go away, often. But it’s getting harder and harder to do so.

I just returned from a week of vacation and was struck by how many more people were connected to devices on the beach than I had ever seen before. Wi-Fi was widely available across the resort we were staying at, and people of all ages and nationalities had their devices close at hand most of the time. And my husband and I were no exception, until we made the choice to disconnect. For the first three days, I willfully disregarded my phone, tablet and computer (which admittedly I had brought with me…). And even after that I held screen time to a minimum. I could’ve checked in with my team and my clients. But I chose not to, for a couple of reasons.

  1. Everybody needs space. I love working with Madeline and Ryan. We are a small but mighty team, and we have chosen to work together. I love my clients. I’m lucky enough to be able to make choices about who I work with, and I choose to work with smart, driven, innovative people. But we all need room to run and to think and to have experiences separate from the people we work with. It makes you more interesting and interested, and especially when you lead a team, it builds trust that you know there’s nothing they can’t handle without you.
  2. It’s good to remember you’re not that important. The world keeps turning when you go away. People figure things out without your advice. Some “urgent” items actually wait for your return. I’m not suggesting you ignore the truly important things, but it’s good to be reminded from time to time what really is important. It’s rarely the email on your phone. It’s usually reconnecting with your family, with yourself, with your place in the world. People say you don’t regret the meetings you miss; you regret the time you didn’t spend with people you care about. I hope I don’t have to find out whether or not that’s true if I make the right decisions along the way.
  3. Vacations are fun. Like, real fun. I have fun at work all the time. I’m a nerd who thinks a new data set to dig into is actually fun. I enjoy the writing and research I do. I have fun with colleagues and clients, many of whom are wickedly funny and clever. But vacations are REAL fun – like being splashed by waves on a sailboat, snorkeling with stingrays, drinking umbrella drinks and dancing all night kind of fun. It’s good to remember how to have fun.

Vacations and willful disregard for email get a bad rap. But there will always be more work to do; we will never be caught up. So at some point you just have to say, to yourself and to your team, please go away. Often.

App, Social media, fumetti

Engagement – Delivered Just-in-Time

I’ve never particularly liked defining engagement in terms of personal happiness or filling a gap in someone’s soul. Sometimes being in an engaging work environment helps fulfill those needs. But what engagement really means to me as a business person is, are individuals – including myself – engaged with the activities and behaviors that drive business results? As a manager, I can’t fulfill someone’s life, or make them happy. I can’t do it as a friend, daughter, or spouse either – that’s just the way human beings work. But as a manager, I can help align actions and priorities. And when people feel that their actions and priorities are valued by those around them, that they are part of working towards a common goal, lo and behold you plant the seeds of engagement.


So what does this mean for work environments like retail, where someone may or may not spend their whole career with you, but when they are on the clock, they directly impact your customer experience and revenue generation? I’m taking part in a webinar next week exploring these issues, but in preparation got me thinking about how to translate this type of engagement definition into the retail space. One concept that may translate is the idea of “just-in-time engagement”.


Make no mistake; just-in-time engagement is not about only engaging people when they are right in front of you. Just like the concept of just-in-time inventory, in order to have the right product show up at the right time, you need to build strong relationships and share both information and reward in order to keep the entire process running smoothly. Just-in-time engagement is about rethinking what engagement is in order to ensure that your employees show up on time, for the right shift, work hard and treat customers well while they’re there, and feel enough loyalty to keep coming back the next day. And it’s about finding the right mix of flexibility, information and opportunity to make this a reality.


If you are interested in learning more, click here to register and join me on March 24 at 2 PM Eastern to hear about Six Ways to Improve Employee Engagement, and critical strategies for utilizing your HR technology to deliver on the promise of just-in-time engagement.


Multi ethnic business people

The New Conversation

One of the founding principles here at Aptitude was the idea that there needed to be a new conversation around HCM technology. SaaS, mobile, social – all of these elements and more have not only changed how we deliver and consume technical functionality, but the role technology plays in shaping process and creating user experience. To start to get at this new conversation, we have just published two new pieces of research called The Human Capital Experience Economy and The HCM Technology Landscape. You can head over to Madeline’s blog post for more on the Experience Economy, but I wanted to share a little bit about how we are looking at the HCM technology landscape.

Because of new delivery models and the proliferation of integrations between various systems, organizations often wind up with a hodgepodge of functionality internally. And even when they begin to automate or replace solutions, understanding the capabilities of providers bring to the table can be difficult. For example, someone looking for a hiring solution may have vendors that offer a single point solution, an integrated talent acquisition suite, or an ERP. They may all deliver the functionality the organization requires, but there’s a bigger conversation around how these providers fit with the rest of their IT architecture and point of view on talent in talent technology.

Our technology landscape is designed to help organizations navigate this new technology conversation and help with three critical challenges:

  • Audit current technology. Often organizations have capabilities in place they aren’t even aware of, or are not using it in the most effective way to support their strategy. What technology capabilities do you have in place today? What capabilities may be a part of solutions you already own, but are not making use of? And where are the gaps in functionality?
  • Bring clarity to a complex and crowded market. There are point solutions available for every box in the technology landscape, and their infant combinations of bundled solutions. Some are truly integrated in a single platform; some simply live under the same logo. But by understanding who offers what, organizations can make better informed comparisons and help match offerings to their needs.
  • Build the technology strategy to support talent strategy. As illustrated in Aptitude’s Human Capital Experience Economy model, technology and services help operationalize strategy. By understanding the capabilities required to support your strategy, and mapping those to solution offerings, organizations can build the right infrastructure to deliver on business need.

This landscape is a living landscape. Who knows where technology will take us, or business requirements will push us. And there likely to be other uses for the model as well. But it’s a place to start the conversation – and isn’t that what we’re here for?