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Q&A with John Sumser: How DNA Sequencing, Big Data Will Change Who We Hire — and How We Think About HR

Cornerstone Editors

Technology can be overwhelming. It can also be enlightening. Take the fact that women earn less than men. That's true, but the glass ceiling isn't to blame, says John Sumser, editor-in-chief of HRExaminer Online Magazine and a principal of Two Color Hat, an HR advisory firm. Here, Sumser describes how technology is challenging HR to think differently about common assumptions — and how it will inevitably impact who gets hired and why.

Why do we feel so overwhelmed by technology?

Eric Schmidt [Google's executive chairman] once said, "Every two days we create as much data as we did from the dawn of civilization to 2003." People want to make the most of the technology, but can’t make sense of it all. For example, most people download 40 apps for their smartphones, but only use five of them. Plus most people have smartphones that are more powerful than the technology that put the man on the moon.

Technology is becoming more powerful than the human brain. What does this mean for recruiting?

HR has to be able to tell the difference between a person and a machine. If I come to work for you with my iPhone and all the latest business analysis tools, I can use that data at my fingertips. But what about the guy from Harvard with a 4.0 who doesn’t have all those tools? How can you tell in a world where the real advantage is access to information, not educational credentials, who is the more valuable hire? You can’t tell the difference between me and my phone or me and the data that my computer provides me.

What skills will HR employees need to learn to be able to adapt to the data overload?

People in HR should take four or five advanced statistics classes at MIT, which are online for free. With all of the data comes the requirement that you’re able to understand what it means from a statistical perspective.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the idea that the amount of time people spend at the same job is declining, and we’re moving toward a freelance economy. If you don’t have a college education, statistics show that you’re going to hold your job for about 18 months. That's 73 percent of the population. The other 25 percent, the college educated, have been staying at their jobs longer and longer for the last 25 years. That’s not a freelance economy — that’s an economy where the middle class has been gutted, where the people who don’t have the ability to process information are being penalized, and where the economy is moving from hard goods production to service production.

Here’s one that hits closer to home. The average woman’s salary is 87 cents for every dollar a man makes. What that doesn’t tell you is that the vast majority of that difference is composed of the jobs that are almost exclusively female professions like teaching and social work, where the wage is lower than the median wage for a man in all jobs that men hold. If you go into any workplace in America, there’s not a statistical difference between what men make and women make. The difference is in in the distribution of jobs that women take and men take. You can’t solve that as a workplace issue, even though it sounds like you can if you say, "Women make 87 cents on a man’s dollar."

What’s the most radical change you think HR will experience in the near future?

DNA is going to find its way into the workplace. There’s a genetic snippet of how well you process oxygen, and if you don’t have it, it’s impossible to be a sprinter. Then there’s a gene that the military looks at to select front-line soldiers, called the warrior gene, which controls how long you stay mad about something. The army tries to get people who stay mad for about 12 hours, but if you have someone who stays mad for 12 hours running a candy store, that’s a bad decision. It’s probably against the law to make that decision right now. There’s not a talent management system that I know of that can import and understand genetic data. It’s going to be very interesting, and nothing like people think it’s going to be.

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Alexander Mann Solutions wins Cornerstone OnDemands sponsored categories at the TIARA 2020 Talent Solutions Awards

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Alexander Mann Solutions wins Cornerstone OnDemands sponsored categories at the TIARA 2020 Talent Solutions Awards

Here at Cornerstone, we absolutely love to hear inspiring stories and share them far and wide, especially when they are about talent management! We were recently headline sponsors of the TIARA 2020 Talent Solutions Awards. These annual awards, hosted by TALiNT International, celebrate excellence across the RPO, MSP and Talent Solutions marketplace, and recognise the wonderful ways companies are demonstrating exemplary growth, innovation and leadership. For 2020, it was the usual great awards with a bit of a difference. As we know, everything has now moved online – even this year’s Convergence! But this didn’t seem to impact the TIARA Talent Solution Awards at all. Despite not being able to celebrate face-to-face, the event was filled with laughter, engagement, and most of all, lots of fun! This year, we also supported the Best Use of Technology Award as well as the Overall Winner. The winner – triumphing in both categories – could not be more deserving, and so we duly wanted to pass on our huge congratulations to Alexander Mann Solutions! Alexander Mann was awarded the Cornerstone OnDemand Best Use of Technology Award for their brilliant ‘Find Your Fit’ technology solution. The platform offers users personal preferences and assisted future growth through interactive videos, personalised one-to-one calls, and a dedicated platform to match skills with current roles within the organisation. The solution had 1,200 employees enrolling within just six months of implementation and is continuing to improve every day. Find Your Fit helps employees to understand how their organisation functions better, including the areas that are growing the most rapidly. In turn, this helps employees to develop the skills they need in order to take advantage of these developments to enhance not only their personal career progression, but overall business performance. After all, businesses don’t innovate, people do! The judges commended this entry for “the clear way in which an innovative technology solution clearly delivered in results”. The judges also applauded Alexander Mann for demonstrating customer care by really listening to client’s individual challenges and using inventive technology solutions to help design a custom built solution that helps to support the overall internal career options and pathways available to each organisation. The award was accepted virtually by Stephen Gordon, Recruitment Tech Lead at Talent Collective/AMS. In addition to being awarded Best Use of Technology, Alexander Mann was also recognised as this year’s overall winner of the Talent Solutions Awards. Chair of Judges, Jim Richardson highlighted that “the overall winner is based on the organisation that consistently demonstrates excellence and innovation across all of its activities”. Both Peoplescout and Guidant Global were highly commended by the judges for their brilliant work, but ultimately, Alexander Mann took home the award for demonstrating consistently high standards across all areas. Jim Richardson added that although Alexander Mann has the resources to support many initiatives, it has still managed to deliver consistently on large scale and complex global projects. This is a phenomenally impressive achievement that all of us at Cornerstone also wish to say a huge congratulations for! The other winners and nominees from this year’s TIARA Talent Solutions Awards have highlighted more excellent work and brilliant stories across the recruiting sector and HR community. For the full list of winners, check out the TALiNT International’s September/October 2020 edition here.

Blog: Why HR need to lead the agile change journey

Blog Post

Blog: Why HR need to lead the agile change journey

It's been going on for a while now - the shift towards more agile and flexible companies that quickly can adapt to the fast-changing times of today. Organisations that are unable to make this move are gradually losing competitiveness and finding it more difficult to prove themselves against smaller and faster players. Those who recognise the need and are able to create new conditions for the business, in the form of new structures, will survive and flourish in tomorrow's economic reality. Agile HR can be viewed from two different angles; How HR should work together within the HR team and what / how HR should deliver value to the business for which they exist. All HR processes that are part of Talent and People Management will be different when you start working agile, and each of the processes have their specific tools and working methods. Here we will look at HR from a more general perspective, to get an overall understanding of how the HR role, and the corresponding deliverables, change in a company that wants to increase its business agility. The goal is to focus on creating better workplaces through the development of teams and individuals, throughout the whole organisation. Small and medium-sized companies are easier to change, as they have less hierarchical structures, and often a more decentralised business, where everyone has an ability to make the decisions that need to be made, locally rather than centrally. The larger and more complex a company is, the more systems, processes, and structures there are that cannot be easily and quickly changed. Although it is possible to change a department in the organisation, some issues might remain that forces the department back into the central structures. This happens because it is not possible to isolate a specific part of the business. You can compare it to an attempt to change a rubber ball. It changes when it is being squeezed, but when you let go, it quickly returns to its old shape. However, there is one functional department in most large organisations that can influence all the other parts at once – HR. In many large companies, HR controls; ● Leadership programs and development ● Change management ● Organisational development ● Employee engagement ● Employee training and skills development ● Rewards and bonuses ● Recruitment ● Goal setting and performance reviews ● Long term mix of employees All these processes or areas flow through the entire organisation. These are the structures that can support, or prevent, a more radical change towards a more agile company. It all depends on HOW we work with processes and programs. They can be developed in a way that, paradoxically, prevents performance and commitment. Or they can optimise performance and employee satisfaction. HR struggles with criticisms, it is accused of being some kind of "organisational police", which hinders performance and commitment by implementing Talent management processes in a way that was intended to increase the same. This needs to change. HR has been in the back seat for too long and now it is time to take responsibility for a change in how to support the organisation. Because it is about people, and relationships between people, this is the key to how the company performs as a whole. It is the system that fundamentally needs to change, not the people. We do not need to do more things or implement complicated frameworks and methods. Instead, we need to understand how we can make it easier for people to make their best contribution to the company, by providing supportive structures, instead of hindering structures. It is through more experiments and by trying different working methods, that one can find the best path for each organisation, and each team/individual. Here, the agile principles and the agile mindset serve as a guide. Agile tools and frameworks work sometimes, but not always. The only way to continually improve is through constant learning, which also means that we sometimes fail. Companies that learn faster than others, and turn that knowledge into new ways of working for employees, but also new products and services for external customers, gain a competitive advantage and will be the winner of the future. HR has the power and the ability to design the structures that aim to either support or make it harder for employees to contribute in creative and innovative ways. If HR sticks to the old, traditional ways of working, the consequence will be rigid and non-agile organisations that use inefficient systems and processes. HR can either hinder or support the change, so HR must show the way. By providing opportunities for alternative and more agile working methods, and by focusing on value creation and value flows for the internal and by extension also external customers, HR can lead companies through changes that no other department is capable of. The next blog chapter will dive into HR's changing role.

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