This is an unpopular vision of the near future for those working in People / HR / Talent. We have long been fed the idea that technology is the key for people working in the field to attract, analyse, test and develop their candidates and employees. Suggestions point to a market of c $400 billion, with over $2 billion being pushed into the sector over the last two years. Investors clearly see huge value in the market and are keen to perpetuate the view that tech will serve to improve the way we work in our function.
So if this is the case, why are so many HR and Talent professionals frustrated with the state of the market? Additionally, why do so many people in the field keep looking for the silver bullet and what can we do to find a better way?
At a very basic level, HRtech needs to augment your capability, not replace you, so that you can spend your time working on things which add value. To fix things, we need to start by understanding the current problems with HRTech and how it’s used.
We’re not using our systems well
Technology and HR are reluctant bedfellows. HR teams have been notoriously bad at using technology to cover cracks, buying solutions which are shiny instead of fit for purpose and being sold a dream that technology will automatically provide the data they need to prove their value. People and Talent teams need to step up to the plate and learn that the outcomes from their tech usage is what leaders and boards are seeking. Dashboards alone will not cut it.
What can we do? Learn what the problems are, come up with solutions to solve them, then choose the right tech solution to speed up / augment that solution.
The rise of the copycats
With all that money sloshing about, it inevitably leads to many companies being created who will sell you a dream. However, with so many solutions around, it can be easy to get distracted by the newest solution and their promises. Too many solutions are being created which merely copy others on the market, and don’t look to solve underlying problems. The Video interview space is a key culprit here. Video interviews alone do not solve the problem of objective, effective assessment. Solutions like HireVue merely add, not remove complexity. Zoom and Hangouts are just as effective for live interviews, and recorded CVs? Those merely bias against introverts…
What can we do? Take the time to assess the market as well as your problems. Just because $$$ are being invested in a space, don’t just buy a product to fix something which isn’t a problem.
Who is the end user?
Typically SaaS solutions are sold to the key HR stakeholders and the CFO. This causes two main problems:
The people being sold to are not the internal admin level users, for an ATS this may be a hiring manager or for employee engagement, a line manager. These people can add a lot to the buying process. Find a useful user to tear down the solution who will use it, but is not you.
The end user of HRIS solutions in particular is your employees, not your HR team. Is holiday bookable via mobile web? Do they make you download an app? Is the UX good. Think about these things from the perspective of that user group before purchasing.
What can we do? Consider different user groups, adjust decision making accordingly.
Every organisation is different
SaaS software is traditionally built as just that - software as a service. It’s created for conformity, with pricing and features created to serve three core markets - SME, Mid Market and Enterprise. It’s designed to be off the rack, with the assumption that its feature set should be split accordingly. However, when it comes to talent attraction or People ops, organisational complexity is not split accordingly. Some of the smallest companies I work with have challenges like a fully distributed workforce, or more mature requirements in people analytics or people assessment. Conversely, there are far larger businesses who are happy with simplicity or merely need to hire 5 people a month, not 500. This leads to big blurred lines of expectation for People / Talent teams and challenges for companies building the software.
What can we do about this? Think about both stage appropriate solutions whilst also considering what will scale. Ensure you are solving problems, not creating them. Try to avoid buying complexity you do not need.
Platforms vs Point Solutions
When selecting software packages for your business, you’re offered the pricing differential mentioned above, however, there is increasing complexity coming to the market through the package vs point solution.
The theory goes that a great platform solution provides a single source of truth data platform, with additional features covering everything from job adverts, candidate pipelines, 360 feedback, time off management and people analytics. This sounds great right? One place to find everything for you, your leaders and your employees.
The platform solution works well for SaaS businesses, locking you into a solution at significantly increased pricing which covers everything. But for you, the user, it simply creates a lock in which forces you to comply with their approach to everything people related. As mentioned above, every company is different, so if that’s the case (and it is, come on) then we should be looking to find the best solutions to every problem.
This way merely fosters groupthink and gives companies license to offer mediocrity in their feature list (imagine if every company was hoovered up by a solution only offering OKRs, we would all have to use them and no-one would have a chance to find a better way).
How do we solve this? Just like in software engineering, we need a stack.
A tech stack is not without its own challenges - multiple logins, employee comms needing to be on point and then software connectivity - are their APIs up to scratch to allow the right connectivity? I promise you it’s more than worth overcoming these to help solve the problems.
So what works? The HR tech stack for growing businesses
Quite simply, it’s better for us, People and Talent professionals, to seek out the right solution to solve the right problem. A Workable combined with a Peakon, a CharlieHR and a Personably is significantly more powerful and cost effective for an SME or Mid Market business than a Workday to cover applicant tracking, HRIS, employee engagement and onboarding.
This is not to say these are the best products for you, or that you should buy them, you need to work out what features are required to solve the problems your business faces.
So if you are splitting out your HR tech into specific fields, which solutions could be worth exploring? Thankfully, I have a handy list for you! Additionally, you can check out our DBR survey on what others are using and their enjoyment, helpfully collated by Matt Buckland’s excellent blog
Workable - An excellent choice for small to medium businesses looking for a solution to engage hiring managers and easy to use for Talent teams. Simple but effective reporting and a great ‘sourcing’ tool in People Search
Lever - Pitching itself a touch higher up the chain, but with many fans in the SME space, with great connectivity and automation features. Integrates with a lot of other products, focuses a lot on nurturing candidates through a CRM if that’s your bag.
Greenhouse - Very much the culprit when it comes to SME - Enterprise bloat. From personal experience, it takes 3x the amount of clicks to do the same task vs Workable, so not great for the user. However, it has very powerful reporting and some people love the depths of customisation.
TeamTailor - An up and comer from Germany. A nice simple solution for a small business. I haven’t used it however, so scaling capability is unknown.
Smart Recruiters - A good all rounder again, but starting to move a little too close to platform over point solution for my liking. Does a good job on workflows and a big integrator however, so worth reviewing.
(Bonus article on bad reasons to choose an ATS here)
HackerRank - It does a job, but realistically, just build your own tech challenge in house to get a real understanding of what good looks like for your role.
Codility - See above, I still don’t see much value in it.
Personably - A very useful tool, great at integrating, makes managing your onboarding flow far easier, but still won’t build your first day deck for you - so keep your expectations in check.
HRonboardme - Adds in easy contract management, very interactive for the end user (employees) and simple to set up. Integrations need some more work.
BambooHR - Becoming more bloated. A good central store for employee data, but so is a spreadsheet, they will sell you employee reviews and an ATS, but neither are as good as you would like them to be.
HiBob - A good option, super helpful customer support, works well through your middle growth phase and looking to integrate more. HOWEVER - worryingly close to a platform move, too much focus on extra features has meant it’s core job of managing people isn’t done as well as it should be.
Peakon - The market leader when it comes to employee engagement. Rigorous scientific theory, easy to use for managers, anonymous. Works best from 50 people+
Glint - Recently bought by LinkedIn, similar feature set to Peakon, but do you want your full employee data near LinkedIn’s servers… I’ll leave that decision to you!
Lattice - Good, but needs a lot of team buy in. Focuses on the conversations which is great, but quite prescriptive when it comes to scoring. I.e. the scoring is against team / company not the individual vs themselves.
Small Improvements - Does reviews, 360s, goals and 1:1s, which is verging on a bit much, but you can pick and choose the features, which is a nice touch. A great graphical representation of performance management, which I am a big fan of - less quant more “Manager to employee perspective gap”.
7Geese - Only does OKRs mixed with performance, so worth reviewing if you use them. If not, don’t start using OKRs just to fit the platform.
I will have undoubtedly missed a bunch here, but have also deliberately left out a lot of solutions which focus on bloatware or simply are not up to scratch. My thoughts above are my own, based on assessments I have made previously, and may not be fully up to date. The above should act as a starting point for choosing solutions!
Blend technology with expertise
So, to summarise my lengthy round up of the state of HR tech and to solve the problems we all face as People and Talent professionals when using this technology, we need to do the following:
Buy the right solution with the right features for the right stage
Watch out for unnecessary products / copycats which do little new
Assess solutions with the true end user in mind
Be wary of platform mediocrity
Remember that there is no silver bullets
Use technology to free up your time to truly add value to an organization
Finally, if your people, talent or startup leadership team is struggling with tech choices right now, we at The People Collective are often available to help audit your current setup and suggest the right solutions for you. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org