When Standard Is Not Enough

Technology, which is often seen as this century’s golden child, can also kill competitive advantage. We all tout the benefits that can come from technology — from efficiency to effectiveness in analyzing our data to the “nth” degree, which ensures we measure every nut and bolt that our technology spits out. But while this technology era is truly the golden era for HR — and more importantly for workforce technology — and we can truly measure and monitor the workforce to drive new business results like never before, the same tools that promise all of this value can also make us incredibly lazy.

As the evolution of cloud-based computing has become the norm when selecting talent management technology, so has the practice of implementing the vendors’ built-in best practices. The theory that the software can’t be customized continues to be touted as the biggest advantage since the birth of the computer. For those who have boxed themselves into a corner writing custom code and spending millions of dollars modifying vendor software, the thought of no customization is a sigh of relief. But maybe we as an industry need to land somewhere in the middle.

Where we should customize technology is the parts of our business that will create a competitive advantage. We can use delivered software for things for which it is perfectly acceptable to be just OK at. At the point where we start to put our signature on our technology where it drives competitive advantage — both by putting more money into business process transformation and in the configuration of these tools either through their delivered capability or custom apps — we will truly achieve the power that tools such as the cloud bring us in today’s world.

Let’s take a simple performance management form, or as most are truly deployed, a performance appraisal. We want to transform our business process to do true performance management that shows value and increases performance, not just the once or twice a year “check the box,” “thank goodness we are done” process. To do performance management with a business outcome focus, we must bring business data into the performance management process.

In a hospital, it might be time through triage. In a hotel it might be customer satisfaction or occupancy percentage, and in a marketing function it might be converted leads to opportunities. These business measures should be part of the performance management process, but as we know, vendors do not deliver this capability in their standard performance review processes. Can you configure the software to store this data? Maybe, but can you report on it and truly understand the impact the workforce is having on the business? The answer is no.

Whether it be the aforementioned performance process or other talent management processes that are the lifeblood that a competitive, skilled workforce should bring to an enterprise — such as recruiting, succession, learning or compensation — it is important to realize and recognize that standard software may not be enough. We have to think of our talent management programs like we do about operating systems such as iOS or Android, and begin to explore the apps that we can put on top of them to drive this hidden business impact we have been searching for as long as the HR function has been in existence. A concept like “applification” of the talent management function might be right around the corner.

This applification could manifest in apps that can be developed through platform-as-a-service programs like Force.com or Heroku that extend the capabilities beyond delivered functionality from vendors and allow you to put your signature or competitive differentiator on the process to meet business needs. We have a ways to go to achieve this concept, but it is around the corner. If you are looking at talent management technology to be more effective today, this is something you should explore immediately.

In the long term, your enterprise signature on talent management technology will determine the winners and losers in the war for skills in the market. Are you ready?