Ultimate Software's Blog https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com Thoughts on Putting People First in the Workplace Fri, 20 Jul 2018 14:24:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 A Culture of Real Inclusion https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/diversity-inclusion-work/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/diversity-inclusion-work/#comments Thu, 21 Jun 2018 10:00:45 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1464 Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has hit the mainstream and moved beyond the realm of HR of late, in part due to many highly publicized cases highlighting the persistence of inequities in the workplace. In fact, D&I is increasingly becoming a component of companies’ employee-recruitment and customer-branding strategies. Businesses promote their D&I statistics to candidates in […]

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diversity & inclusionDiversity and inclusion (D&I) has hit the mainstream and moved beyond the realm of HR of late, in part due to many highly publicized cases highlighting the persistence of inequities in the workplace. In fact, D&I is increasingly becoming a component of companies’ employee-recruitment and customer-branding strategies. Businesses promote their D&I statistics to candidates in online recruiting solutions, noting the percentages of employed women, African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented employee groups, while those organizations that do not must answer to candidates who want to know how diverse their potential workplaces are. Progress has been made.

The problem is that these statistics focus on diversity, which is fairly easy to tally up. Inclusion, on the other hand, is harder to measure and prove, yet is just as important a component of D&I. One without the other is only half-baked.

A workforce of diverse individuals can show that a company is committed to creating a well-balanced team or has an openness to people’s differences. Inclusion—the feeling of belonging that comes about when employees are treated equitably and are free to bring their authentic selves to work—indicates the company welcomes their ideas, perspectives, and opinions.

Tremendous business opportunities are available to companies that value the contributions of all employees, whether they’re gay or straight, black or white, American or foreign by birth. The more extensive the diversity of people in an organization, the greater the possibility of generating unique ideas and innovating.

While diversity is valuable to the business, due to government regulations and the social conscience of business leaders, many workforces have become diversified. Energy now must be put into creating cultures of inclusion.

These thoughts were top of mind during a recent lunch discussion I enjoyed with a colleague I deeply admire, Viv Maza, Ultimate’s chief people officer. Viv has been the heart of the company since its inception in 1990, when the workforce consisted of four people in two cubicles and not the 4,300+ employees we have today. While inclusion is a buzzword today, Viv has always been using the word—long before she was part of Ultimate’s founding team.

Viv agreed with me that diversity and inclusion are two different things, yet many companies tend to lump them together, believing a diverse workforce is an inclusive one.

“Inclusivity is one of our core principles at Ultimate,” said Viv. “Since day one, my job has been to take care of all our people, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. This is deeply embedded in my DNA and defines who I am.”

As the mother of two gay children, Viv has a personal connection to the need for all individuals, LGBTQ employees in particular, to be fully themselves at work as they are in life. “When someone comes out as gay, telling their parents or their employer, they’re so nervous,” she said. “I recall this one employee who came out to me. I told him that being openly gay didn’t change the dynamic of the special person he was. I wanted him to be as comfortable with himself as I was with him.”

Viv pointed out that the company has many other talented and gifted employees who are gay, but not all of them are out. “The decision to come out, of course, is up to them, but I can promise them that this is a safe place of belonging for all our amazing people,” she said. “We value each and every person’s contributions, regardless of their differences. In fact, we cherish their differences.”

Viv’s feelings about inclusion extend to other aspects of personal self-identification. She recalled a job interview with a young woman last year that mentioned her previous employer had fired her because she had purple-colored hair. “I told her purple hair looks amazing and if that is how she defines herself, bring it on,” said Viv. “Twenty years ago, we might have questioned her choice. But this is a new age in which things that weren’t acceptable at work are now seen as liberating. Work cultures used to be so conformist. Today, they’re dynamic, and that’s a good thing.”

Viv’s point resonated with me. I’ve come to see corporate culture not as a fixed set of standards, but as a living, breathing, and evolving entity. When a new person joins a team, the culture of the group changes and expands, enriched by the new person’s experiences and perspectives. If the individual feels he or she has to conform to the dynamics of the team, the group suffers the loss of the person’s unique viewpoint. The new employee might feel uncomfortable expressing a novel thought or a different opinion without fear of embarrassment or, worse, humiliation and eventual exclusion. Yet, all it takes is one extraordinary idea to upend the status quo and move the business forward.

We’ve always prioritized and valued our remarkable culture at Ultimate. We all know that an optimal culture reflects an organization’s strengths and reinforces its brand, reputation, and ability to attract the best people and deliver industry-leading solutions and support. But what exactly is an “optimal” culture?

One way to find out is by assessing the reality of an organization’s culture today, as well as where the organization’s culture might go in the future depending on key decisions and strategies. I refer to this as “Culture Casting,” and it has three components, the first of which is to take an honest appraisal of the current culture—casting a bright spotlight on it.

The second component is to identify the culture’s “cast of characters”—the different people within the organization—to understand what drives them and what impact they have on the culture. Are they detractors or promoters? And the third component is to project and communicate a vision of the ideal culture the organization wants to have in future. It is particularly important to include employees in the vision of the future to ensure the discussion is authentic and realistic, and addresses perception gaps between leaders and employees.

What does this have to do with inclusion? Certainly, by knowing each person, their perspectives, and their perceptions in a scalable fashion, the organization can ensure their contributions are accorded equitable weight and value, with respect to what is most important to the organization itself. Without this understanding, inequities and biases come into play and can erode inclusivity in a culture.

As we finished our lunch, Viv commented about a future in which every employee feels their unique selves are making a difference in their shared journey to designing innovative solutions and providing meaningful service. “Labels are meaningless,” said Viv. “What’s crucial is to create an environment where people feel safe and supported to be who they are.”

We are beyond fortunate to have her as our Chief People Officer!

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Equity at Work: “No Excuses,” Please https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/gender-equality-at-work/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/gender-equality-at-work/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2018 13:53:08 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1303 As a mother with a daughter entering the workforce, I wonder if, and hope that, she will receive career opportunities on par with what men in the same job will receive. I try to be optimistic, but the reality is that statistics on the inequitable income of women in the workplace are staggering. They also […]

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equity workplaceAs a mother with a daughter entering the workforce, I wonder if, and hope that, she will receive career opportunities on par with what men in the same job will receive. I try to be optimistic, but the reality is that statistics on the inequitable income of women in the workplace are staggering. They also strike to the heart of an issue that is much deeper than pay. Still today, in many organizations around the world, women are not treated equitably when it comes to promotions, access to leadership positions, and, worst of all in my opinion, having their voices heard. Their ideas and perspectives are all too often not given equal standing with the views of men, adversely affecting their career progress. Don’t get me wrong. There are companies that value people equally and serve as great role models for what can be. I’m fortunate to work for one!

According to a 2016 study from McKinsey & Co., more than 75% of CEOs list “gender equality” as one of their top 10 business priorities, yet women are less likely to receive a promotion or be on a path toward leadership. U.S. companies promote men at 30% higher rates than women during their early career stages, and entry-level women are significantly more likely than men to have spent five or more years in the same role, the study states. Take the practice of “skipping” giving women a merit increase when they are on maternity leave because they are “not present at work, so why give them an increase?” This is more common in countries with extended maternity leave benefits, but in happens in the United States as well. That practice alone can result in women being paid 10% less than men over time if they have two or more children!

There are other unsettling facts to consider. For example, women attend college at higher rates than men, yet they earn less. Men working in financial services firms receive double the bonuses received by women in the same businesses. And women account for two-thirds of all national student debt, in part because pay-equity gaps make it more difficult for women to pay off their loans.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Gender inequity is systemic, and although getting better in some sectors, remains a serious socio-economic issue. What’s truly disturbing is the message this sends to young women and girls—that no matter how hard they try, no matter how well they excel, they may never get their fair due in the workplace.

These thoughts were top of mind as I sat down to chat with Martin Paz, a respected HR leader in the healthcare field, about his daughter Dana, who is close to receiving her master’s in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. It’s a profession that requires topnotch mathematical skills and practical experience. It’s also a career heavily populated by men.

Through a colleague, I was introduced to Martin, who grew up in South Texas in the 1970s and witnessed the corrosive effects of racial discrimination firsthand. He used the experience as a form of fuel in a relentless drive to better himself.

“I was constantly reminded in middle school and high school that I was different,” said Martin. “I developed a very competitive attitude. To play and excel on the basketball team, I had to determine how to overcome a height disadvantage. I simply would not allow myself to make excuses. If you think you can’t achieve something, you won’t achieve it.”

Martin passed on his “no excuses” mantra to his three children. “If homework need to be done, or music practiced, we said ‘go get it done—no excuses,’” he said.

As the kids got older, he and his wife encouraged and supported them to push past their comfort zones and take on more challenging levels of achievement—academically, artistically, and physically. “Obviously, we loved them above all else, but we also had very clear expectations of their behavior and accountability,” he explained. Martin also shared a great story about when the family watched the Disney animated film Mulan. In the movie, Mulan’s father, a leader in the Chinese military, becomes ill. Mulan, the young protagonist, wants to fulfill her father’s obligations, but as a girl in the patriarchal regime, she is technically unqualified to serve. So, she impersonates a man.

The key word here is “impersonates.” “In saving China, Mulan does not use brute strength as a man might; rather, she deploys her cleverness,” said Martin. “In our discussion of the film afterward, I emphasized this feature to my children.”

Martin, as many of you do, strongly encouraged his children to explore their interests. Dana was creative, intensely curious, and very hands-on. She loved to make and do things that required organization and following detailed directions, such as craft, sew, woodwork, bake, and play sports. “Or do whatever her older brother Jordan was doing,” said Martin.

These skills extended to her aptitude in math. Martin was concerned that, in high school, teachers would not treat her math skills with the same attention they provided boys with the same skills. He instructed Dana to sit up front in class, ask questions, and express her opinions.

Ultimately, Dana caught the attention of a high-school physics teacher, Dr. Danielle Kayal, an industrial engineer and mentor, who recommended she consider a career in engineering. She took the advice, subsequently majoring in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Last summer, she interned at SpaceX, one of the companies founded by Elon Musk. When Dana graduates from Stanford this year, she plans to land an engineering position at an advanced, cutting-edge tech company. “My hope is that they look at her broad practical experience and technical bona fides, not her gender,” Martin added.

I hope so, too, and I’m optimistic. The world needs people like Dana who don’t let the statistics on workplace inequities drag down her ambition. The world also needs companies that speak out on the issue of gender-based imbalances and then walk the walk, as does Ultimate. With close to half of our managers being women, it’s something we take very seriously.

There is simply no excuse—work performance and pay should be judged on how well we leverage our skills to the benefit of the organization, irrespective of our gender.

I hope this is an issue we continue to think about and tackle as a society, not only today on Equal Pay Day, but every day moving forward, until we’ve ended the pay gap for good.

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Shattering Stereotypes and Ceilings Along the Way https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/shattering-stereotypes/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/shattering-stereotypes/#comments Wed, 07 Feb 2018 15:03:31 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1232 Women in the world of business have long complained about barriers to their professional advancement. So have many minorities (and justly so). While there are laws that prevent discrimination with regard to job promotions, these career obstacles often are hard to prove, much less enforce. Many companies make it seem like the sky is the […]

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women glass ceilingWomen in the world of business have long complained about barriers to their professional advancement. So have many minorities (and justly so). While there are laws that prevent discrimination with regard to job promotions, these career obstacles often are hard to prove, much less enforce. Many companies make it seem like the sky is the limit for all smart, hard-working employees but instead some of us bump up against an invisible obstruction designed to preserve the generally male-dominated executive status quo.

I’m referring, of course, to the “glass ceiling.” Nearly 40 years after the metaphor was coined in a 1978 speech by Marilyn Loden, author of the book, “Feminine Leadership, or How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys,” the glass ceiling remains firmly in place, discrimination laws aside. A 2017 survey by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org of 30,000 men and women employees indicates that while both genders want to be promoted in approximate percentages, women are 18 percent less likely on average to actually receive one. This gap is even more pronounced for women of color.

“Women fall behind early and lose ground with every step they take (in the workplace),” the study states. Since women are underrepresented in line roles at every level of the corporate pipeline, by the time they reach the level of a senior vice president, they hold a measly 21 percent of these positions. “Since the vast majority of CEOs come from line roles, this dramatically hurts women’s odds of reaching the very top,” the researchers comment.

This lack of advancement is especially staggering for women in technical roles. According to AnitaB.org, the representation of women technologists declines by 50% from entry to mid to senior and executive levels. At this rate, researchers maintain that it will take 100 years for women in technical and non-technical roles combined to reach parity with men in the C-suite!

What is most bothersome to me is the message the study sends to young women and girls about their chances of becoming business leaders—not tomorrow or next year but in this century! So, I’d like to share a remarkable story of a customer I met who has blown up the glass ceiling with grace and aplomb! Few women have gone as far as Kim McWaters, who began her career more than 30 years ago as a temporary switchboard operator at Universal Technical Institute and has served as the company’s CEO and chairwoman since 2003, overseeing more than 1,880 employees today. Universal Technical Institute is a publicly traded nationwide provider of technical education for students seeking careers as automotive, motorcycle and marine technicians—what used to be euphemistically considered “guy jobs,” but now include many women.

Kim recently shared her remarkable journey with me. The irony, if that’s the right word, is that she had no big dreams of someday running a big company. As a favor to her uncle, she took a part-time summer job to operate the switchboard at Universal Technical Institute. She was 20 years old, a single mother needing the income to feed her one-year old son. “What I learned as a receptionist is that I liked helping people solve problems,” Kim said. “My job was essentially to coordinate someone’s needs with someone else who could assist them.”

Most of these needs came from students and their families. Gradually, Kim learned who in the organization could best handle each caller’s specific issue. “In a matter of weeks, I became very familiar with the entire organization; I got to know each person’s functional area of technical expertise,” she said. “More importantly, I learned that a business is like a village; to succeed there must be close interdependence. Every single person in a company is important.”

The summer she learned this, Kim also found meaning in Universal Technical Institute’s purpose. “Every three weeks a new group of students came in,” she said. “These were people who weren’t particularly successful in the traditional academic setting. Most lacked self-confidence, walking in with their heads down. By the time they graduated, the transformation in them was astonishing. The reason was our world-class facilities and equipment and especially our people. Everyone here is committed to changing people’s lives through education.”

I asked Kim what she thought about the fact that so many women eventually collide with their organization’s glass ceiling, knowing she had successfully worked her way up the ranks at Universal Technical Institute from the switchboard through admissions, customer service, marketing, and operations before blasting through the glass ceiling to become CEO. “Shortly after I became president, I launched an initiative called Breakthrough Performance, where we brought every one of our 900 employees at the time offsite for three days and nights, stripped them of their titles, and asked them to act like consultants in helping us make the company better,” she said. “We empowered them beyond their titles to provide constructive solutions.”

Kim learned that this was how the company should always be run. “Every employee must have a voice and every voice must have equal weight, irrespective of the person’s role, gender, nationality, and so on,” she explained.

I also chatted with Kim about the 2016 Gallup study stating that women leaders were better than men when it came to engaging employees, resulting in lower absenteeism and turnover, and higher productivity and profits. Was this consistent with Kim’s experience as a leader? “I generally believe that women are more nurturing and empathetic (than men) and are better able to tap into others’ talents,” she replied. “Women have a different way of motivating people to accomplish their goals. On the other hand, I also feel that some women can be very crippling to other women in the workplace because they’re trying to survive in a male-created business world. That’s changing now.”

I asked Kim to elaborate. “For one thing, many women now realize they don’t need to program themselves to act like men to become successful business leaders,” she said. “The extreme male traits that have made men successful don’t necessarily work for us because we’re different. Women also are learning that their feelings and emotions are positive characteristics in motivating others in the workforce. We’re able to be successful leaders because of our many dimensions.”

I couldn’t agree more. Female qualities are equally needed to manage today’s highly diverse workforce. Young people of myriad nationalities and cultures are self-defining their sexuality and gender. Women must simply refuse to believe it will take more than a century for women to match the number of men in the C-suite. We cannot wait. As Kim has proven in her life and work, everyone can have a chance, but we need to create more of them for women and minorities in order to level the playing field.

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2018 HR & HCM Technology Trends: Three Forces Reshaping the Future of Work https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/2018-hcm-trends/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/2018-hcm-trends/#comments Wed, 10 Jan 2018 14:58:31 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1219 Rapid advances in technology—from the distributed computing reality of the  Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI) to increasing workforce fluidity (as described in our 2017 Trends Blog)—are combining to reshape today’s workplaces. In addition, there are some broad cultural trends that are impacting HR technology, pushing us well beyond the automation of traditional […]

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2018 hcm trendsRapid advances in technology—from the distributed computing reality of the  Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI) to increasing workforce fluidity (as described in our 2017 Trends Blog)—are combining to reshape today’s workplaces.

In addition, there are some broad cultural trends that are impacting HR technology, pushing us well beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks and redesigning performance management processes, to rethinking the way we manage employees.

First, AI is everywhere, but not without its challenges (for example, machines learning from biased data)—so its newest incarnation will have to be focused on not just mastering the science of AI, but also on the art of collecting better, more accurate data. Cloud-based AI, machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition, and virtual reality experiences have already been changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication—and we’re going to see more application of these technologies in the workplace in 2018 and beyond.

Second, hyper-personalization—from designing your unique, one-of-a-kind Nikes, to M&Ms with personalized messages, to online shoppers for clothes and groceries that remember your preferences and customize recommendations for you—is coming to employee management in 2018, and HR must help its managers lead with a higher degree of personalization and understanding of each of its direct reports.

And, finally, with technological advancement comes the risk of becoming removed from the “messy” human work of fostering belonging and shared purpose for our teams. Creating and maintaining an inclusive culture requires knowing a lot about people, empathizing with them, and sustaining that commitment long term. Current diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts need to be redefined and updated to bring ongoing positive change for people organizations.

With this in mind, I believe there are three pivotal trends that must be of interest to HR and senior business leaders in 2018, each interconnecting with the others to transform the near-term future of work.

Megatrend #1: People-First Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning and Human Intuition Combine Forces

In 2018, businesses will migrate from AI focused on automating tasks formerly performed by people to more complex AI technology that augments and amplifies human intelligence and capability. This next evolution of AI underlines the assistive role of the technology to enhance human performance, by allowing people to scale and undertake more rather than replacing human skills and experiences. The application of AI in the world of HCM reinforces the role of human intelligence in solving problems individually and collectively.

People-first AI means organizations and managers using machine learning to better understand what motivates employees, how to more effectively recruit and retain talent, and how to improve on the employee experience at work by using both their own skills and knowledge combined with the near-instantaneous analytical power of AI. This type of AI supplements the work that HR and managers already do, rather than replacing them—for example, by alerting managers to increasingly negative sentiment in employee feedback from one particular office that may have a morale issue, or by suggesting ways to reword a job posting to be more inclusive.

Megatrend #2: Hyper-personalization: Individualized Leadership Replaces “One-Size-Fits-All” Management

An astonishing 95% of people want to feel whole at work—free to be their authentically unique selves. Prior corporate leadership models frequently embraced a rigid, hierarchical “command and control” structure based on an employee’s perceived skills and capabilities, or encouraged managers to manage everyone on their team in the same way in order to be perceived as fair and equitable. Today’s workers prefer a culture in which leaders seek to develop the whole person, with a deep understanding that one-size-fits-all management is not an effective approach—and that different people need different styles of management to best motivate them. Some employees prefer public recognition and others prefer a private thank you or a handwritten note. Some employees thrive in complete autonomy while other employees work best when they receive confirmation from a manager or co-worker on each step of a project.

This obligation to lead and develop the whole person at work requires that leaders understand the needs, motivations, concerns, challenges, and goals of people in many dimensions. Leaders must nurture the cognitive and emotional development of people, beyond the typical physical-wellness offerings of many organizations, to help their people achieve meaningful, purposeful, and productive work and careers. The most effective managers will be able to flex and adapt their personal management styles to the individuals they manage in order to help their employees put forth their best effort and succeed at work.

Megatrend #3: Humanizing Work: Breakthrough Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Modern Age

A workforce culture in which all people can feel they belong and be themselves—and one that taps into the most powerful combinations of talent and experience—requires a broader consideration of the tapestry of human diversity, and a mind shift from compliance-driven D&I models. Many organizations recognize that human diversity generates unique perspectives that foster greater innovation, sustainability, and cultural competence. But today’s D&I must go farther than categorizing and measuring to more broadly recruit for differences in opinion, experience, lifestyle, and background, and to also ensure concrete actions and follow-through to drive progress.

Rather than consider D&I merely as a must-do initiative or a socially responsible action to become an employer of choice, modern diversity, equity, and inclusion will apply advances in virtual technologies and neuroscience that allow organizations to move beyond the talk and numbers, to evaluate and overcome unconscious bias in the entire work experience—from recruiting to performance management to pay equity—to help companies create workplaces that are truly inclusive beyond traditional categories of diversity. Impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion effort requires attention on individual, team, and company levels—not just looking at an organization as a collective whole, but analyzing and assisting the company at all levels and providing concrete guidance beyond just static reporting—to result in better business performance.

These three Megatrends—people-first AI; individualized leadership; and  diversity, equity, and inclusion—intersect in powerful ways. For instance, people-first AI is an enabler to leadership that is tailored to every person individually, allowing leaders to break out of the one-size-fits-all approach to development, and ensuring employees remain engaged in their work, feel good about their place in the organization, are physically and emotionally healthy, and are able to collaborate freely, openly, and confidently.

People-first AI also empowers leaders and organizations to gain an entirely new understanding of people and how their diverse perspectives come together to solve business problems. This new technology is poised to help organizations create more innovative and effective teams, as well as understand and respond to the needs of their diverse customers.

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Previewing the Top-Three HR and HCM Megatrends for 2018 – #12DaysofHCM https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/previewing-top-three-hr-hcm-megatrends-2018/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/previewing-top-three-hr-hcm-megatrends-2018/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 11:00:47 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1209 As we wrap up an innovative 2017, HR technology is well on its way to expanding beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks. Cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition, and virtual reality experiences have already been changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication. Looking ahead, there are three pivotal […]

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artificial intelligenceAs we wrap up an innovative 2017, HR technology is well on its way to expanding beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks. Cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition, and virtual reality experiences have already been changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication.

Looking ahead, there are three pivotal trends I see impacting HR professionals, business leaders, and the workforce as a whole in 2018, each interconnecting with the others to transform the near-term future of work:

  • Artificial Intelligence: From AI to A2I (Augmented and Amplified Intelligence)
  • Hyper-personalization: Personalized Leadership
  • Humanizing Work: Breakthrough Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

Stay tuned for an in-depth analysis of all three, and insight into how organizations can remain ahead of these HCM trends, coming soon to Ultimate Software’s blog.

Ultimate Software’s #12DaysofHCM is back by popular demand! For the rest of the week, we’ll continue recapping some of the most talked about topics from 2017, and previewing what’s ahead for 2018.

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The Reengineering of the Workforce https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/reengineering-workforce-fluidity/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/reengineering-workforce-fluidity/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:03:44 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1156 The transformation of the workplace—relinquishing many of the entrenched work and leadership structures that many companies and HR leaders hold dear, such as org charts and hierarchical management roles, in favor of promoting more fluid ways of people working—is a sea change that, unfortunately, has not gained widespread momentum. Many companies understand the value of […]

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workforce fluidityThe transformation of the workplace—relinquishing many of the entrenched work and leadership structures that many companies and HR leaders hold dear, such as org charts and hierarchical management roles, in favor of promoting more fluid ways of people working—is a sea change that, unfortunately, has not gained widespread momentum. Many companies understand the value of workforce fluidity, but they struggle in their resolve to make it happen.

Workforce fluidity is an all-encompassing term I coined to describe job fluidity, organizational fluidity, and identity fluidity. Job fluidity describes a workforce where people are not tied to or identified by a specific job description; rather, they flow among initiatives and supervisors to maximize their contributions. Organizational fluidity accepts the reality of how work gets done these days, generally through collaborative efforts with diverse minds and skills coming together. And identity fluidity encourages new levels of self-definition and expression, with the knowledge that feeling safe in our authentic uniqueness will foster innovative ideas.

These tenets of workplace transformation stand in sharp contrast to yesteryear’s rigid organizational structures, regimented ways of working, and uniform definitions of what constitutes a leader. Certainly, those ways made perfect sense in the post-Industrial Age, when small shops gave way to large, unwieldy business organizations with a need to control the labor force. The use of divisions, departments, and jobs based on a person’s specific expertise ensured that work was appropriately doled out, supervised, and completed.

The problem with this static structure today is that it clashes with the dynamism of the global business environment and the current needs of people in the workforce. Thanks to distributed technology advancements, today’s business is conducted in real time. Layers of management and delegation authority slow down the required speed and flexibility of work.

At the same time, employees are increasingly being asked to participate in different projects and other initiatives under different supervisors. Titles and job roles seem almost superfluous in this multi-skilled, multi-task setting. Yet, most companies are still stuck with org charts, trying to shoehorn these modern workforce realities into an inflexible hierarchy.

Why is this the case, and how can HR become more nimble and lead the necessary change? According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders from 140 countries, 88% of respondents say building the organization of the future is an important or very important issue; yet, only 11% understand how to do it. To get a better sense of why this is the case, I reached out to Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Josh began by recounting his own workforce trajectory. “When I joined the workforce out of college in the late 1970s, I was given a job description and title and told how much I would earn,” he recalled. “My boss told me what to do and wrote up my performance appraisal at the end of the year. The goal was to stick around and get a promotion to buy a house, have kids, and retire in comfort. This workforce concept was based on the old industrial-scale model, which is now a disadvantage for companies, as it slows them down from reacting quickly.”

Josh’s view is affirmed by Deloitte’s survey. Only 14% of respondents believe the traditional hierarchical model involving jobs based on a person’s expertise in a specific area is effective. “It’s pretty clear to me that just about everything in organizational management needs to be reengineered,” Josh said. “The ways that work gets done are fundamentally changing, with leading companies moving to a more agile, collaborative, and flexible way of working. Instead of a hierarchy, there is more of a network organizational structure.”

When asked for an example of this work type in action, Josh pointed to the now-common practice of forming a team of people from across the organization to take on a specific project. “People are collaborating with others who are not from their business area, lending their unique expertise and experiences to the task at hand,” he said. “They jump on and off such projects on a routine basis. Yet, in the background, there still is the hierarchical work structure that has little to do with reality.” I wholeheartedly agree and would add that, as a result, people’s work is often evaluated by someone who isn’t seeing the whole picture, also removed from reality.

Today’s new ways of working are good for companies, increasing employees’ sense of purpose, engagement with their work responsibilities, overall productivity, and personal happiness. People feel more in control of their lives. Hopping from one initiative to another also puts them in close proximity to others who have different talents, increasing everyone’s range of skills.

Best of all, people are able to coalesce around what is most important in business—serving the customer. “Instead of focusing on efficiently executing the same task over and over, employees are empowered to make the customer happier,” Josh said.

What will it take for more companies to let the sea change happen? The first step is to realize that workforce fluidity is already underway. The digital transformation of business is a powerful undercurrent tugging the organization toward more fluid ways of working.

Once this reality is accepted, business leaders can make the most of it, and HR agility can truly take hold, ushering in a more fluid, inspiring, and modern workplace. Some of Josh’s suggestions for navigating this shift include creating mission-oriented project teams composed of individuals from marketing, sales, customer experience, and other functions, and empowering them to make decisions that benefit customers. To that, I would add the need for empathy—the capacity to sense how people around you in the workplace feel about their work.

True leadership entails the ability to unite people in a shared purpose. Work that is personally fulfilling will always be a motivational force that creates organizational health and success.

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What is the Best Way to Lead? https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/great-leadership/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/great-leadership/#comments Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:48:40 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1126 What are the traits of great leadership for the future of work? It’s a question I am often asked by audience members during my varied speaking engagements. It’s a great question, since leadership—like everything else in today’s blistering pace of change—must be dynamic. Leaders must evolve as employees do, to direct organizations that operate and […]

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leadershipWhat are the traits of great leadership for the future of work? It’s a question I am often asked by audience members during my varied speaking engagements. It’s a great question, since leadership—like everything else in today’s blistering pace of change—must be dynamic.

Leaders must evolve as employees do, to direct organizations that operate and are managed differently. I’m referring to the movement in many companies toward project-based teamwork involving both full-time and non-permanent employees, tasks performed on a mobile “anywhere” basis, and the positive trend toward employee inclusiveness, in which each person’s self-defined uniqueness is seen as the asset it is. (See my related post, Are You Ready for True Workforce Fluidity?) Certainly, this is not your grandfather’s business to lead.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, companies were often run with military precision. During World War II, 10 high-ranking management theorists were recruited by the U.S. Air Force to enhance operations. When the war ended, Ford Motor Company snapped them up. They inserted the military’s “org charts” into Ford’s structure, creating divisions, departments, and jobs based on a person’s specific expertise. This ensured work was appropriately doled out, supervised, and completed. Other companies soon incorporated similar structures across the industrialized world.

As one might imagine, leaders of these businesses were akin to military generals. They commanded the organization from the boardroom, rather than the war room. This structure was right (for the times) and proved its merit. American companies quickly became the best in the world. And then the Internet, smartphones, the cloud, cognitive computing, and the Internet of Things burgeoned to seriously change things—democratizing decision-making and communications.

So what is today’s definition of “great leadership”? To draw a clearer picture, I turned to the source of the last century’s business leadership model—the military. I asked Lieutenant General George Flynn, now retired, for his perspective on the subject.

Lt. Gen. Flynn enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration and the Commanding General of the Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia. He is an advisor to Ultimate Software and many other corporations, and is a brilliant resource on leadership strategy.

You may know Lt. Gen. Flynn as the inspiration for a book by the best-selling author Simon Sinek. Sinek had interviewed him to learn more about the Marine Corps’ style of leadership. He boiled it down to these three words—“Officers eat last.” Sinek was so taken with the response he named his book after it (Leaders Eat Last). I recently sat down with George to ask what he meant by his comment.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he said. “If you treat your team as the most important resource in your organization, they become committed to you and the purpose of the organization. It shows your respect and the fact that you care so much about them that they deserve only the best. And that includes eating first, beginning with the most junior officer and ending with the most senior officer.”

He added, “That’s the ‘cost of leadership,’ as I explained it to Simon.”

This leadership philosophy seems at odds with today’s corporate guidance. Few CEOs know the names of employees other than their direct reports. Many of them eat with other senior executives in a separate part of the company cafeteria and have large offices away from the rest of their employees. Certainly, this is not an “officers eat last” approach. Rather, it suggests rank—people separated based on their perceived value and contributions to the success of the organization. There is a shift happening in some companies where CEOs are forgoing offices for shared office space, and the impact is significant for employees. As George put it, “Whoever is leading must form trusted relationships with those being led.”

Our discussion moved on to today’s millennial workers. George commented that this generation of employees tends to demand more from its leaders. “They want to know the ‘why’ before they buy into the project,” he explained. “When they believe in the value of what needs to be done, they’re very giving of their time and effort. They’ll go the extra mile if they understand the purpose behind the tasks and believe in that purpose.”

Without this understanding, millennials (really all employees) are more likely to search for new employment. To keep them, leaders must ensure they have meaningful work that leads to the development of new skills. “Millennials need to be trained and empowered to take risks on behalf of the organization, to progress in their careers,” George said. How can today’s business leaders, particularly those at the helm of large, far-flung organizations, ensure full buy-in from the “troops”? George responded that there are specific times on any given day when a leader can demonstrate valued leadership. “We call them ‘defining moments,’” he said. “The moments differ, but examples include how the person makes a difficult decision or handles a mistake. Word of mouth quickly spreads to form an opinion about the leader.”

These opinions are the basis for following the leader. “In my experience, I’ve come across three levels of leadership,” said George. “The first is when people follow you because you’ve been given the authority to control them. The second is they follow you because they trust you and will, therefore, take risks for you. The third level is they follow you because they believe in you and your mission. At that level, they’ll make personal sacrifices for you. Down deep, all people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

I couldn’t agree more. When we feel we are part of something important led by a leader we believe in, work becomes much more than just work. It becomes part of our purpose and identity.

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We’re All Biased, But We Can Get Better https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/implicit-biases/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/implicit-biases/#respond Thu, 06 Jul 2017 12:09:52 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1043 Like many people, I do all I can every day to value people for their character and contributions, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, age, gender, national origin, cultural heritage, sexual orientation, disability, and size or shape. But, probably like many of you, I still have work to do to truly know and be aware of […]

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Like many people, I do all I can every day to value people for their character and contributions, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, age, gender, national origin, cultural heritage, sexual orientation, disability, and size or shape.

implicit biasesBut, probably like many of you, I still have work to do to truly know and be aware of my implicit biases—the stereotypes that affect my assumptions and actions in an unconscious way. As a longstanding champion of diversity and inclusion, I realize we are probably better at the diversity part than inclusion, which is much harder—after all, eradicating implicit biases to make all employees feel they belong and are valued equally is incredibly tricky and important.

With diversity, companies can tally up their triumphs, citing the percentages of different types of people they employ. Inclusion, on the other hand, is less tangible, but even more important in creating a great workplace culture. If people sense that others are judging them because they are “different,” this adversely affects their freedom of expression, ability to collaborate, and overall work engagement and productivity. In short, people begin to second-guess themselves.

Implicit bias is not full-out racism, sexism, or any of the other bad –isms. We all are susceptible to rash judgments that have no basis in truth. They’re hardwired into our DNA. We do our best to ignore them, but they’re frustratingly resilient, coloring our decisions in ways we may not even realize.

This point came home to me in a recent discussion with a colleague, Jarik Conrad. Jarik is a deep thinker and eloquent speaker, who is African-American. He’s got firsthand experience being on the other end of implicit bias and far worse prejudices. He also has the wisdom and a great sense of humor to recognize his own implicit biases. Growing up in East St. Louis in a largely African-American community, Jarik was a basketball standout. “If two kids came up to us on the court wanting to join us in a game and one was black and the other white, we’d always choose the black kid since white boys can’t jump,” he told me laughing. “Then, I played basketball in college and realized white boys really can jump.”

Jarik tells this story on the speaking circuit and it always gets its share of laughs. Then he explains what it has been like to be a talented, articulate, smart person in a black body. “It’s the first thing anybody ever recognizes about me,” he said. “The same thing happens to other people, based on their gender, sexual orientation, religion, and so on. Our intelligence, skill sets, humor, work ethic, and other productive personal aspects take a back seat.”

Deborah Dagit knows the feeling. A former chief diversity officer, Deb is a little person. In 2013, she opened her own diversity-consulting business because she was “plain fed up,” she said, with people not seeing her as she truly is. “When I interacted with an employee who’d never met a little person before, they couldn’t get through the shock and awe of the experience,” she said. “It just made the day exhausting to have to educate others about what it is like to be a little person.”

Why are we all so bewildered by others’ differences? Jarik has studied the phenomenon. “The brain has a default mechanism that recognizes someone different as a potential predator or adversary, which sets in motion our `flight or fight’ response,” he explained. “When our brains are not aware of others’ differences, we experience an implicit expectation that they are just like us.”

This makes great sense, but it does not let us off the hook when it comes to doing what is necessary to train our brains accordingly. “The only way to teach our brains not to experience implicit biases is to spend significant time with others who are different from ourselves,” Jarik said.

Deb agreed. “Spending time in conversation and engaged in projects and tasks with groups of people who are different helps many people become more comfortable with each other’s differences,” she said. “But you need a regular diet of such diversity-immersion experiences. It’s not a `one and done’ thing to authentically appreciate and cherish each other’s differences.”

These are excellent strategies. Another is to continually gauge how your diverse workforce actually feels about their work experiences, with special attention paid to their supervision by managers and team leaders. We turned this idea into an opportunity to help organizations via Ultimate Software’s UltiPro Perception™ solution, leveraging advanced natural language processing and machine learning technology to really listen to and understand employees.

Most organizations rely on the annual (and massive) employee engagement survey to take the pulse of employees, but by the time the findings are produced, the results are dated. At Ultimate, we’ve developed a timelier and smarter way to understand people’s emotions—soliciting employees’ open-ended feedback on their work interactions via regular and easy-to-complete feedback. Powered by Xander™, our underlying “People First” artificial technology platform, UltiPro can tease out specific cultural themes, as well as deterrents and recommendations, for immediate action. Even good managers can lack communications skills. The problem is they don’t always know it.

As Deb and Jarik would agree, self-knowledge is crucial to creating a work environment that is authentically inclusive. Now that I better understand my own implicit biases and their origins, I plan to spend more time with people who appear different, training my brain to appreciate others’ extraordinariness as extraordinary, because at the end of the day, that’s what has always driven me… people, amazing people.

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Navigating the Complexities of Listening to the VoE https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/listening-voe/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/listening-voe/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 10:00:20 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1000 The reality of having five generations in the workforce is upon us, as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce. At over 74 million strong and growing, these post-millennials “digital natives” are poised to become the largest working generation yet. They share many similarities with the millennials, but also have their own unique set of […]

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The reality of having five generations in the workforce is upon us, as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce. At over 74 million strong and growing, these post-millennials “digital natives” are poised to become the largest working generation yet. They share many similarities with the millennials, but also have their own unique set of expectations and assumptions they bring to work (see my LinkedIn blog post about truly communicating).

I travel quite a bit, and I always come away from my many conversations with HR and business leaders with incredible, and often poignant, examples of the new reality of working with the changing workforce. I am continually made aware of how a simple slight can have lasting implications for many people in the workplace, and how significant it can be to simply hear a person’s concerns and respond to them.

When discussing this at a recent presentation to HR leaders, an audience member affirmed the importance of listening to your employees, recounting a recent exit interview they conducted with a valued employee. The employee said, “I asked a question and never got a response. I just wanted a response. I could have handled the answer either way, but I never (even) got a response.” Sounds simple enough; we all get busy with the flow of work life and may assume that not responding will be taken as a sign that we don’t yet have an answer or are busy. But it could just as easily be seen as a sign that the person and question don’t merit a response—and clearly our assumptions can be dangerous, as this HR leader found out.

Another instance is related to feeling whole and safe at work. In Ultimate Software’s 2016 study about satisfaction at work, 95% of respondents said “the ability to truly be themselves” is directly tied to their satisfaction on the job. Six out of 10 people said that feeling emotionally unsafe at work would cause them to quit—on the spot. I heard a story of how one long-time employee had made all the difference for a transgender colleague by being vocal, and even protective, in his acceptance of the employee’s change in gender.

That same week, I was asked by a customer about how to handle fluid gender identity when current U.S. EEO compliance reporting requires either male or female identification (learn more in my post about workforce fluidity). I was glad to let him know that, at Ultimate, we provide our employees and our customers voice and choice with configurable technology, to provide them with local flexibility while ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Listening, rather than dismissing the request as an edge case, not only made our customer able to support his employees better, but also demonstrated that if HR supports one person in an unusual situation, they will support everyone in more commonly occurring scenarios. The key is to listen and act.

This is the kind of stuff that led many of us to get into the work of HR and people leadership, and is why it is so critically important and meaningful for organizations to be prepared for the conversations they will be having with their employees in the coming months and years. It’s why, at Ultimate, we have an initiative to truly listen to the “Voice of the Employee” (VoE) and follow through with action, and it’s why we are repeatedly ranked as a Best Company to Work For.

Leaders are often told their people are their priority, though in the bustle of the day to day, that can be lost. But be assured that, for the employees, a conversation that may seem less than critical to a leader can mean everything…even a reason to leave.

 

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Predictions for 2017: Serving People with Emerging HR Technologies https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/hr-technologies-serving-people/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/hr-technologies-serving-people/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:00:49 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=893 Thriving in our rapidly changing and increasingly disrupted modern business environment will require organizations to both recognize major cultural shifts (see my blog post about Workforce Fluidity) while taking advantage of incredible new technologies. In this post, I explore a few of the potentially most impactful emerging and maturing technologies that are gaining traction in […]

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Thriving in our rapidly changing and increasingly disrupted modern business environment will require organizations to both recognize major cultural shifts (see my blog post about Workforce Fluidity) while taking advantage of incredible new technologies.

In this post, I explore a few of the potentially most impactful emerging and maturing technologies that are gaining traction in the realm of HR and will transform how HR and business leaders serve employees in 2017 and the coming years. Note that, regardless of the technology, putting people first is a must in 2017, as your people grow increasingly comfortable explicitly telling you, their employers, about their expectations of working within your organizations.

Augmented Intelligence, Human-Machine Interfaces, and Ambient HR Enter the Scene

People-first, people-centered, inter-connected technology that augments us. 

I’m not a huge fan of the newest buzzword, AI (Artificial Intelligence). It has negative connotations, evoking the deadly HAL or marginally useful benevolent robots, as well as the idea that insights from AI are somehow “artificial” or less than true. I prefer the more apt “augmented intelligence,” which is simply technology that mimics (not replaces) human cognitive processes, augmenting and extending human thought processing capabilities in terms of speed and volume data crunching, even avoiding putting humans in harm’s way.

“Ambient HR” refers to a future in which the ability of HR professionals to listen to the voice of employees (VoE) is increased by using distributed data collection touch points (think Google or Amazon Dots). These future technologies will help us advance beyond today’s latest “text-to-meaning” advanced natural language processing and machine-learning algorithms to uncover not only what employees are saying, but also how they feel about topics such as people practices, work environment, and leadership. In essence, allowing HR and managers to be in more than one place at a time, learning about the sentiment and “health of the organization” through distributed data-collection interfaces that capture human interactions with each other and with their surroundings.

The aggregation of cognitive-capable distributed technology will transform HR from traditional, mechanical systems of management that rely on people to selectively provide feedback in the industrial economy to an even smarter, augmented, context-aware human ecosystem.

The true benefits of these technologies will become most apparent in its ability to extend what a human could realistically do, hear, and process. We will literally be able to be in more than one place at a time, gathering input about how people feel and measuring the emotional health of your team—something a single leader could not possibly physically accomplish! This actual (albeit virtual) contact, and the ensuing insight, is invaluable for workers who crave more frequent and open communication.

Today’s workers want their leaders and organizations to hear their concerns, be open to more communication in the context of their work, and provide greater purpose and meaning in their work. (Refer to our 2016 research for more on this topic.) Such smart technologies as augmented intelligence and distributed technology that extends beyond mobile in the cloud have unleashed extraordinary possibilities for people at work.

The Configurability Imperative Serves All People

Nimble, flexible solutions that support the way people really work.

People are increasingly rejecting the traditional binary constructs of self-identification and a new vernacular is taking hold in the popular culture that is making its way into the workplace. This makes system configurability an absolute must for modern organizations, who must accommodate new definitions of how employees identify themselves so people can be true to themselves at work, as they are in their lives outside of work.

Also, as teamwork replaces “command and control” workforce structures, new work paradigms are emerging that center on more fluid notions of work, jobs, and the people who perform them. Being able to come together as a working group, having the organization acknowledge that grouping, and even being able to reassemble the same combination of successful colleagues, becomes a work imperative beyond simply tagging an individual’s work-group affiliations for identification.

Finally, gig economy employees will make up more than 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. These workers will have more flexible and virtual work schedules—a necessity in a global workspace with 24/7 connectivity—and fill short-term assignments. Preparing organizations will require new, more extensible systems of helping manage people and work, bringing together knowledge of people and work systems—long silos of information in different technology solutions.

The Rise of Virtual and Augmented Reality Experiences

A “day in the life” gets real.

Wouldn’t we all love a crystal ball that we could look into to see what we are getting ourselves into? That is quickly becoming a reality—actually, a virtual reality.

Less than five years ago, virtual reality experiences were prohibitively expensive for organizations, other than gaming companies that could commercialize the experiences on a big scale. Today, creating a virtual reality experience is not only affordable for organizations (school districts are beginning to use virtual reality experiences to help elementary school children explore different careers), but it is an excellent way to connect with more tech-savvy candidates who want to be certain they are joining an organization that values technology (a recent study we conducted with  The Center for Generational Kinetics showed a third of U.S. workers would quit a job if their company used legacy technology).

If virtual reality changes how we see the entire world around us, augmented reality can change how we interact with it, blending reality and virtual reality seamlessly. Job candidates could be encouraged to see themselves in “their new office” while exchanging texts with future co-workers they are connected with on LinkedIn…all before they have accepted the job, helping to cement the deal.

So, why not share a virtually real “day in the life” of the work experience you offer your employees?! It could make all the difference in getting that key person to join your team.

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