HR Tech Day 3: Techies Talk Culture

Most so-called technologists will sit you in a room and tell you that there is always — always! — a tech-centric way to solve a business problem.

And for the most part, the products on display at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition here in Las Vegas hold water in that regard. Need a better way to view and organize how you compile data about your people? There's an app for that. Want to streamline social recruiting by having postings apply to different sites at different times? Tech has got you covered.

So you can imagine my intrigue this morning during a panel discussion put on by Glassdoor when the topic of company culture inevitably came up.

As an editor, bringing up culture as a topic is usually followed by an eye roll. Not that I don't believe in the value of company culture; I certainly do. I, for one, would not be working where I work if it weren't for the fact that Human Capital Media Group's culture is aligned with what I value in an employer. 

I roll my eyes when talent practitioners constantly answer HR strategy questions with "company culture" as the solution for every problem.

Tech is seeing this demand and trying to get in on the action. 

Without mentioning specific technology providers — because, frankly, I may have only witnessed a sliver of them on the conference floor — there are a number aiming to use technology to track real-time employee satisfaction sentiment. While most organizations are used to using an annual survey to get answers on satisfaction and culture, these vendors have created ways to collect inputs from social media (both of the external and internal variety) that computes qualitative employee sentiment in real time.

For instance, I talked to an Oracle executive yesterday who mentioned the capability of technology that could instantly measure how well a CEO's blast email to an entire company announcing an organizational change is received. 

While such a development is impressive, I wonder if it is actually solving the culture problem. Ask any talent executive and most will tell you culture isn't something to change overnight. These things take time — lots of time.

So say you do track the sentiment of a CEO email in real time. First, who is sitting at their desk ignoring the myriad of other talent challenges to produce analysis of such a thing? And, second, what is a CHRO supposed to do with that information in the moment? 

Say the email is received poorly. Does the talent executive react by advising the CEO to try again? Should we schedule a town-hall style meeting immediately? 

The last time I checked, culture is a comprehensive body of values built over time. Therefore, couldn't a once-a-year culture survey paired with everyday, grassroots culture evaluation driven by purposeful human qualitative conversations by business unit suffice to measure and make a case for culture change? Could such conversations happen over social media? Sure. But is the data collected any different than the sample of conversations had in an office environment? I doubt it. 

Maybe I'm wrong. But while I'm certainly impressed with the new tools and capabilities HR technology has given practitioners, sometimes I wonder if the cart is constantly being put before the horse.

Are technology providers actually producing tech capabilities that are needed to solve relevant business problems here and now? Or are practitioners wooed by the ideal capabilities these technologies would bring if their companies were prepared to implement them and use them properly?

I mentioned this idea in my blog yesterday. HR analytics is clearly important, needed and relevant. The technology vendors have produced is excellent. But do companies have consistent and reliable data to input into these systems so they can actually maximize their value?

Culture is driven by humans. Technology can play a role, for sure. But let's not forget that technology is simply a foundational tool. It's like a level sizing things up — not the hammer putting the nail in the wall.