Blogs by Marc S. Miller

“Big Talk” gets results in “Modern Love” – why not use it for HR Technology initiatives?

Your friendly HR technologist (me) needs to get a life – I decided. 

Everything I read recently generates some kind of connection to my life in HR Tech. 

Even the regular Sunday NY Times – Style Section column – “modern love”. Yes, I read it. Why not?
So, recently the column was written by a middle age man (Tim Boomer) – could be a fake name? – newly re-entering the dating scene and lamenting about the difficulty he has with “small talk”. 

“After my trip, I was eating steak at a Boston bar, still mourning that the woman I thought I would marry, Alejandra, had broken up with me. I’d met her five years earlier, and she was, in every way imaginable, an inspiration to me. She was the woman who taught me about love. 

Next to me at the bar was a couple on their first date. I could tell because their conversation reminded me of those awkward exchanges you have with co-workers’ spouses at Christmas parties. They opened with a discussion about their commutes to the bar. They both lived within a 10-minute bus ride, and they managed to stretch out this topic for 30 minutes. 

Next up, the weather: In Boston it rains sometimes, and they had both noticed this. An hour in, they turned to the really deep stuff. One was a teacher, and the other knew a teacher. How could they be destined for anything other than true love? 

O.K., so I may have been directing some of my brokenhearted anger at them, but all I could think was that I wanted no part of this game. If being single meant having to partake in this kind of conversation, I’d rather pass. How could I go from the deep connection I had with Alejandra to discussing bus schedules and weather patterns?” 

He continues: 

“With this in mind, I decided to approach my re-entry to dating with a no-small-talk policy. Not that I would insist we talk only about heartfelt subjects; ideally, there would also be plenty of flirtatious joking and witty banter. I simply wanted to eliminate the dull droning on about facts and figures — whether it’s snowing or raining, how cold it is, what we do for work, how long it takes to get to work, where we went to school — all those things that we think we have to talk about with someone new but that tell us little about who the person really is. 

Why can’t we replace small talk with big talk and ask each other profound questions right from the start? Replace mindless chatter about commuting times with a conversation about our weightiest beliefs and most potent fears? Questions that reveal who we are and where we want to go?” 

Admittedly, it seems to me that this approach is not always mutually desired by the interacting parties. 

A common complaint according to the author: 

“You can’t ask “Big Questions until you know the answers to the small ones, you need to know the facts to know where to dig deeper.” 

All this angst, got me thinking. 

Let me try to translate this concept into my sphere of influence: that of the need for HR technology support to make HR a strategic, value- added business partner in an organization and the efforts of HRMS software providers to help a company do so. (And to make a sale). 

I think in our industry there are typically four groups of people that require a mindfulness of THE BIG TALK. And, at the same time, they must also conduct the appropriate level of “small talk” for building a business partner relationship. 

In my analogy, “small talk” is defined as lots of chatter, less meaningful findings, conversations of little consequence – except for establishing an early common ground. Small talk therefore, in of itself, will most likely miss any underlying issues and will certainly not uncover any important decision drivers that might be in play that are the driving force behind a company’s stated initiatives. 

The four – what I call – “Big Talk Seekers” and their objectives are the following: 

1 – The CEO, CFO, and CIO
2 – the Senior Leadership of HR – the CHRO or the SVP and whoever is the Executive Sponsor of a project effort to improve a company’s use of HR technology in any shape, manner or form.
3 – The HR Technology Evaluation Team
4 – The HR software provider – the vendor of a potential new HRMS. 

Here then are the “BIG TALK” subjects that must be openly stated, documented, communicated and understood by all appropriate stakeholders for each of these 4 BIG TALK “seekers”. 

1 – For the CEO, CFO or CIO – the top C-Level executives that typically involve themselves directly with HR management and HRMS: 

The Big Talk discussion must be targeted to inform the senior HR Leadership of the EXPECTATIONS of the C-level / Board of Directors for the overall function of Human Resources. A significant example: The CEO informs HR of the documented goal or mission of HR’s needed responsibility to build and maintain the most knowledgeable Talent Pipeline. Or, the CEO’s mandate to HR to more effectively leverage or improve on HR/payroll/Benefits technology and to pointedly use that technology to improve efficiencies while reducing headcount.
All this giving the message to HR executives (and staff) to be in alignment with the overall corporate goals/mission and vision – at least for the foreseeable future. Also, it is good politics to keep any and all C- level executives informed of the progress of HRMS activities related to any forthcoming expenditures and potential new or expanded vendor provider relationships. 

2 – For the Senior HR Leadership: 

Their goal is to make sure the HR function is in position to achieve a balance of meeting data administrative responsibilities (including the onerous regulations from ACA – as one troubling topic) and being able to provide meaningful “information” that leads to actionable programs that are consistent with what they heard from the CEO or C-Level executives or Board members. These programs today, are most likely inclusive of Talent Management and Learning Management as well as an improvement of overall employee communications. These topics always seem to appear on SHRM’s list of top ten issues for most of the last few years. Additionally this must include onboarding and employee engagement – especially for the purpose of attracting and retaining the Millennial workforce and building a robust pipeline of talent. 

Secondly, HR executives will be (or are) charged with making sure the in-place or soon to be replaced HRMS components are the most prepared to provide support and improvement to any new programs and initiatives – most likely in Benefits Administration and Talent Management. The HR technology must be able to offer ESS/MSS (employee self service, manager self service) to the workforce, as it is expected by the workforce, and if not in place will make attracting and retaining of new workers much more difficult. 

In my realm then, the final piece of a needed BIG TALK dialogue deals with the potential HRMS provider candidates. 

3 – For the company’s HRMS Evaluation Team: 

The same BIG TALK dialogue must be voiced by the HR Tech evaluation team- to the HRMS provider. 

4 – The HRMS provider’s use of BIG TALK: 

What should the HRMS provider who is seeking the new business be doing? – and what BIG TALK topics must be voiced.
First, the Vendor team – getting ready to “sell” and demonstrate their products capabilities must : 

  • LISTEN FIRST. The sales team must, at all costs (in my opinion), gain an understanding of the BIG TALK topics emanating form the Senior level and then listen to the further “drilled down” upon needs voiced by the HR Technology Evaluation Team. 

  • If the HRMS provider is not hearing any BIG TALK beyond “we would like to see your system”- function by function” the more effective vendor MUST ask the following types of questions in order to gain BIG TALK traction and to guide them in presenting their functional features as a solution to any “pain points” i.e. operational difficulties, or weak or missing desired functionality. 
Some of the BIG TALK questions:
  • Where is your organization heading re: headcount?/growth?/operating locations?/Global footprint? Etc. 

  • What is driving your decision to see a new HR Technology? Why now? Where do you feel that you are most lacking in supportive technology ? in what processes and functions? 

  • Where or why has your current environment (or vendor) been less than satisfactory? 

  • What new programs do you want to implement within the next year? Where do your want the HR function to be in the next 1 to 2 years? 

So you get the picture? The BIG Picture? 

The above are indeed BIG TALK issues. They need to be surfaced BEFORE any scripted or traditional demonstration process. In fact – the demos should be driven by the “points of pain”. 

Yes, still needed is the ability for the vendor’s Sales Team to build TRUST, and to be seen as very congenial – and oriented to helping the company (prospect) in support all their efforts in improving the positioning the HR function. Yes, a human to human, interpersonal, positive connection is needed. That must come and should be noticeable and it is in ADDITION to having the BIG TALK discussions. So, caring and a dose of appropriate “small talk” interactions do have a place in the process. 

Another point; at the time of conducting the on-site product demonstrations, I believe that although costs and fees are usually among many decision factors, they are not needing to be discussed until later in the evaluation process. Vendors should assume the prospect has at least an idea of the potential costs – and therefore, if kept in the mix – have sufficient budget in place (especially if helped by a competent consultant). However – most often the prospect is unaware of exactly when monies need to be disbursed and that, in of itself, can lead to a more trust building discussion. 

A personal peeve, HRMS providers: please try NOT to do this:
start the demo sessions with a Powerpoint about your company and your success/growth rate including the showing the inevitable slide full of client logos. At this point –no one sitting in the room really cares. The Evaluation Team can read all about this in your leave behind collateral. 

Rather, talk a “client success story”. Do your homework – find an a client in a similar industry or with a similar point of pain and discuss how your features and functions and support helped eliminate all or some of that pain. 

So, although not a romance – feelings do come into play, effective listening is critical to the relationship – some chatting occurs – and like all “modern love” – the outcome may lead to a solid partnership. A “date”, achieving mutual benefit, strong understanding between 2 parties, encompassing bi-directional BIG TALK” should go a long way in building a long term meaningful relationship. 

Happy Dating.

Marc Miller
January 26, 2016
(almost Valentine’s Day – by the way). 

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