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Mar 16, 2021
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14. Chief Research Analyst, HRRI
14. Chief Research Analyst, HRRI
Jeff’s guest is Mark Vickers who is the Chief Research Analyst and Data Wrangler at the HR Research Institute which is part of HR.com, the largest HR social networking and resource site in the U.S. Jeff and Mark discuss what major strategic business research leaders should be paying attention to, including artificial intelligence and performance management. They dive into a conversation about what AI looks like through a performance management lens. Mark shares how research indicates performance management should be used less to formulate compensation or weed out weak performers, and more to help employees learn and grow within an organization. Jeff and Mark discuss whether organizations should use numerical ratings in performance reviews, what the research says about how work processes have changed over the past year. They have an insightful conversation about AI’s effect on both automation and augmentation in the workplace.


Intro: Duration: (02:01)

Opening music jingle & sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Hi everybody! I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital a GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. I'm excited today to talk about the data. I'm talking about major strategic business research that leaders should pay attention to. My guest today is Mark Vickers, who is the chief research analyst and data wrangler at the HR Research Institute or HRRI.

HRRI is part of hr.com, which is the largest HR social networking and resource site. I believe in the U.S. maybe even more than the U.S. I will hear about that from Mark. Over the past four years, Mark has helped HRRI establish a leading-edge HR research service that has produced over 100 major reports along with infographics case studies and other products.

It sounds like Mark's been very busy. He regularly presents research findings via webcasts virtual events, live events, and podcasts like what you're listening to today. Mark has worked in the fields of business research and communications for most of his career, starting at the HR Institute at Eckerd College, and then at the Institute for corporate productivity, Nielsen media, and Bersin by Deloitte.

And by the way, Josh Bersin has a great podcast as well. If you search Spotify or Apple podcasts for the Bersin Academy or Josh Bersin. He's got some fantastic content. And lastly, Mark graduated with honors from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he continues to live. Welcome, Mark.

Mark Vickers:

Thank you, Jeff. A pleasure to be here.

Topic 1. Who or what inspired you to go into business? (02:02)

Jeff Hunt:

Well, it's great to have you on the show and I like to start our guests with a common question. Take us back to the beginning of your career. And share with our listeners who, or what inspired you to go into business. And in your case, ultimately become a researcher.

Mark Vickers:

Total serendipity. Honestly. So I started as, a teacher, and I did teach abroad and I taught in St. Petersburg. I was teaching kids GED courses and mathematics and things like that. And I just got to a point where I wanted to try some new things. Kids will wear you down after several years.

And I thought, well, I'm going to go back to Eckerd, which was across from where I was currently working. From which I graduated a few years previously. And I went into their HR department. And just looking around for what might be around. And there is this job for researchers that had to do with HR.

And I thought, well, I'll give that a shot, I'll go interview. I ended up doing an interview with a personality, Jay jam rock. I don't know if you know. Jay Jeff, but he's been in the HR field a long time. He's a very personable guy. He's very much a character. And I got the job and I started working for Jay and professor, bill Pyle at the time for their research Institute, they had, basically a think tank that was devoted toward fortune 500 companies.

Basically, they would put together what we used to call environmental scanning. And we would just look at everything across the board related to not just HR, but social demographic topics, and try to synthesize them into binders. So, we have put together, like, I don't know how many binders or worked for a year, but like 30 in any given year.

So we're really cranking stuff out. And then HR professionals would put them behind them and they'd have a whole bunch of big binders, you know, to show, how much they knew about this stuff. This is a little bit pre-internet. And then once the internet hit, everything changed, it went online and of course the whole world change.

So, we were doing this just a little bit before the internet and kind of as it was getting going. So, that was my, we were working out of a trailer and I would go in there and work late nights and sometimes sleep on a sofa. And it was, it was good. It was a good, a young man's thing to do. And I just learned a ton by doing it.

Topic 2. HR.COM (04:37)

Jeff Hunt:

Really cool. Yeah. So tell our listeners a little bit more about hr.com. I mentioned it in your intro, but you know, how many total members does hr.com have? Maybe what's the primary value proposition.

Mark Vickers:

Debit Graft is just the motivating force. She started, hr.com quite a few years ago. And she just knows so much about the organization.

And I think it's the world's largest social network for human resource professionals. And we have, I think something in the area of 1.3, 1.4 million members. You can get a free membership by going to the website. We also have some paid memberships by getting a free membership, you can access all the free material.

There's tons of stuff. The reports that we do, if you're a free member, you can access those reports and download them via PDF and things like that. They're typically sponsored reports. So, the companies sponsoring them, want you to read them. We want you to read them because we're trying to. Our tagline is to maximize human potential.

So not just trying to maximize the potential of HR professionals, which we try to do very strongly, but to help them maximize the human potential of all the people that they're serving within their organization.

Topic 3. Disruptive trends in the years to come (06:04)

Jeff Hunt:

Pretty valuable resources. It sounds like. So, tell me about, you have the benefit of living and breathing the data every day. And what I'm curious to learn from you, Mark, and I believe our listeners would be also is about the top two or three most significant strategic possibly even disruptive trends that we will see in the world of work in the years to come.

Mark Vickers:

Man. That's a big question, Jeff. All right. How much time you have? I'll try to answer that fairly. It's the same way, but you know, a year ago we would have answered the question differently, right? We didn't know about the pandemic when I was working for the I4CP its super corporate productivity and the HRI.

We did write about pandemics as a possibility. But we'd never experienced a major one like this, but we were forward-looking future thinking and we knew it was a possibility. And I remember writing like trend Watchers. We call them and putting those out to people, but then we've actually experienced one.

And this has just been a major event. Recently we did a research report on changing work arrangements and we found out that virtually well. Let's say 75% of the HR people we asked about said that their work processes had changed dramatically over the last year. So dramatic changes of work processes.

We also asked them about culture and not as many said that our culture changed dramatically, but like I can't remember what the number was, 25, 30% strongly agreed that the culture was changing. So it's been this enormous change. So, the pandemic has spurred it. But remote work and flexible schedules have just taken off over the last year.

We're also asking them to look forward, and this is not going away. According to the people we're talking with, they think long after the pandemic has gone. A lot of these changing work processes the changing cultures, flexible scheduling, remote work hybrid models of remote work and in-office work are going to stay.

So things just. Radically shifted. Those are not going to go away. So that's, that's top of mind for everybody. And if some of you are thinking, well, give it six months, we'll be back to where we were before. That's not what the HR people are thinking. Most of them. It's here to stay. Another thing that's happening obviously is artificial intelligence.

We're seeing artificial intelligence being embedded in HR systems. Constantly and they're getting better and better sometimes dramatically. And what's also happening is AI is affecting the world of risk and cybersecurity these days. So, for example, you know, you've heard about deep fakes where you can just have a look like you have a person speaking on the screen, that person may not exist, or that person may not be actually saying what they're talking about.

So identity. Is a big topic these days. We don't know where that's going to go with the future. What we do know is that artificial intelligence is here to stay. It's not up to change HR software which is dramatically changing in many cases, especially changing things like talent acquisition, it's changing things like onboarding, it's changing learning and development quite a bit in order to personalize learning. So those things within the HR function, artificial intelligence has changed a lot, but also it's just changing the way people are working and how they're doing the work. Another piece of research we did ask how quickly are job roles within your organization changing. So the structure of your job, how quickly is that changing?

It's changing very, very quickly. And it depends upon the organization, but HR, people are looking at these things. They're trying to figure out how they're going to keep up. With changing job roles, how to connect human capital with artificial intelligence. So, people do their jobs differently and more productively.

So, these are some of the other things that are happening.

Topic 4. Artificial Intelligence at work (10:34)

Jeff Hunt:

Well, I'm curious to hear more, a little bit more about the artificial intelligence piece and how that may come to fruition for businesses. Especially in pragmatic terms and not only for leaders and executives to leverage, to improve workplaces, to improve productivity, to improve even culture, but speak for a minute too to employees who sometimes approach this topic of AI within their corporate realm, from a place of fear, because they don't know.

How employers may end up using AI in ways that they're unaware of, or may not necessarily benefit them. So do you have any thoughts on that?

Mark Vickers:

Yeah a lot of thoughts and nobody really knows Jeff. I wish I could be Cassandra and tell you exactly what's going to happen. But basically, obviously, in the transportation industry, we stand to see a lot of changes.

If AI-powered transportation really takes off. Then you will see a lot of jobs lost to that particular functionality, but that may be, some people think it's going to happen very quickly. Some people disagree, but even within the HR community, a lot of people think AI means automation and sometimes it does, right?

Sometimes maybe you can automate a cab service or something like that, but for the most part, and I think HR people are starting to understand this. It really means augmentation rather than automation. So let's say you have a customer service employee. They're probably not going to go away, right?

They're still going to need to talk to customers. Salespeople are still gonna need to do all the things they're doing, but they'll be augmented with more and more sophisticated artificial intelligence. So that let's say, somewhat what someone calls their name comes up on the screen, but at the same time, the artificial intelligence will feed valuable information to that person in real-time.

And maybe it will that just tell you about the things that they've been doing, things that are perceived as their needs, they may be recording things. And as it records, other things will pop up and say, well, maybe you'd be interested in this, or maybe this is information that would benefit you.

So it's really having the artificial intelligence augment what another employee is doing. And this, I gave that example, but there are so many other examples. I do a lot of writing and editing and things like that. Well, there's artificial intelligence now that they're finding can write nonfiction pretty well, pretty quickly. So, you know, it stands to change. Some of what I do, but journalists do and business writers do. And the way that to synthesize information, which would take longer than previously. So there's a lot of really advanced and sometimes frightening things out there. And it really depends upon the utilization.

So I could talk more about how it's applied to learning or, talent acquisition, but I'll stop.

Topic 5. The evolution of performance management. (14:04)

Jeff Hunt:

And what about if we extend this conversation over into performance management for a minute, I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of AI in performance management. And of course, I run a performance management software company.

So, we have a unique and distinct interest in this topic, but I'm interested not only in what we're going to be seeing with AI and performance management in the future but also share a little bit with our listeners about just the evolution of performance management in general.

Mark Vickers:

Sure. It's a fascinating topic. And we've done quite a bit of lunch to the research over the last four years on this topic. And I just got off a call with advisory board members. So these are very much experts on this that were helping us put together the newest survey for this. So, obviously, performance management goes back to the performance appraisal and they tended to be once a year type of interviews with your manager and it was more cookie cutter and a lot of people hated it.

And a lot of people didn't see it as actually improving performance. Some people thought it was doing it exactly the opposite, in recent years. And there's still some of that skepticism of performance management. And sometimes it should be there depending on how an organization does it.

But clearly, there's been a lot of movement toward more continuous performance management, not just appraisal to distinguish those two things. So maybe organizations are still doing their annual appraisal or semi-annual appraisal, but there's a lot more emphasis that we're seeing on just continuous feedback loop, and strengthening performance by having good conversations with employees and sometimes AI can help mediate some of those.

Feedback and communication. AI is getting pretty good at doing some of those things. So that's one possible usage of it, but also it's affecting the productivity and performance of employees themselves. Performance management is less and less seen, from our research. It's less and less seen as something that is used to, for example, establish compensation rates or a weed out.

Weak performers, some of those things are more old school, I'm not saying that doesn't happen. But increasingly is looked at as the way in which you can help employees learn and grow within organizations. So it's, it's very much increasingly tied to L&D, it's tied to engagement, it's tied to employee experience.

Everybody's talking about employee experience now. So as the paradigm HR paradigm itself changes performance management changes. That doesn't mean that it's changed overnight. There's still a lot of skepticism about whether performance management ratings, for example, actually accurately reflect employee performance.

And some of that skepticism is coming from the HR people who have. Are using, or even designing some of these things. So, we're in the process of making this happen. But I do think performance management is also becoming more team-oriented as opposed to individual-oriented. It's sometimes it's hard to discern the difference between what an individual is doing versus what their team is doing.

And very few people have a job that is just depending upon them, everybody's very much dependent upon the ecosystem and the teamwork within their organization. So I think performance management is changing to reflect that as well.

Jeff Hunt:

Do you see numerical ratings? You mentioned those, and I'm curious about this because I'm curious as to if you see those going away? When we do implementations, we're seeing fewer and fewer. Companies actually use numerical ratings. Now it's still very prevalent, but in our space, oftentimes what we see as challenges around the ratings, because you may have someone that is a very high performer in terms of overachievement on their goals, but nobody can get along with them.

So, are they really a 3.0 or 3.5? And then sure, of course, you have Raider bias, and you have recency effect. You have all sorts of problems associated with that, but. In your experience or with what you're seeing will ratings eventually disappear? And then what will we do with the data? How are we actually gonna, yeah, that's the paradox where organizations.

Mark Vickers:

I wish I could answer that question, Jeff, but I think what's happening is that we're still doing appraisals.

We're still doing gradients in many companies, of course, you're looking at them I think along with a different number of variables. It's not quite as linear as it used to be. You know, you've got behavior, you got values you have whether you're meeting your goals or OKR or whatever you're using within your organization.

So, I think they're more, multi-dimensional even where we are doing appraisals. Obviously, they're not strictly top-down like they used to be. Increasingly, you know, we've had three sixties for a while, but I think they're becoming more widely adopted. But I think that maybe the ratings are less important than the conversations, you know, the ratings are still there.

I don't know that they're going to go away. But just the constant conversations, how to teach managers to be better at interacting with employees. Our research shows that HR professionals are kind of skeptical of some of the performance management skills of managers, and maybe they're skeptical of HR people as well.

So I'm not saying that one or the other, but even HR people think they are not delivering enough training and development to managers to do that job well. So there are some of these things, I think it's becoming more human-focused, a little less, appraisal liquored scale focused, all that, all that kind of thing.

So yeah, I don't know if that helps, but yes, just some takeaways.

Topic 6. What data should we mine? What should your organization look at? (20:24)

Jeff Hunt:

It's great information. And so let's shift a little bit on the data because a lot of the work you do is in kind of the macro space, right? So, you guys are doing these massive research studies. You're coming up with all the trends, building out reports so that organizations can better understand what's going on.

When you look at those smaller companies, small to medium-sized companies, and you turn that focus inward. Do you have any thoughts for leaders about what sort of data they should be trying to mine internally? We were just talking about one way to mine data, which is through performance management, but there are also many other ways like surveys or pulse surveys. What things should they be looking at?

Mark Vickers:

I think they should be looking at multiple things. You don't want to rely on one instrument. Assessments are clearly here to stay. A lot of companies are, are using assessments now, when they're doing high volume recruiting, especially. When we're talking about, smaller and midsize organizations, they don't always have the same.

Resources to purchase these huge systems that do investments in all kinds of different assessments. So they have to pick things, really select what they want to work on this year. They can't cover the whole, whole gamut. So I think one of the things you can use is something simple, like an MPS survey to kind of get a feel for how employees are seeing things, whether they would themselves.

How they reflect on the company, would they, would they recommend the company to friends and peers and things like that. So that's, that's a relatively simple way to get an idea of how employees are feeling about things. So that's one, and you can leverage that once, you know, kind of what they're thinking about.

Then you can start to focus on some of those specific areas. Now there are automated tools, there's sentiment analysis. And we were talking about artificial intelligence, some of those things. Not all that many companies are using things like sentiment analysis, which is a natural language tool where you can have an AI in the background, sort of reading through emails.

You know, not spying on you, but just try to get an idea of how the company, as a whole, is feeling about things. So that's kind of what I mean by my sentiment analysis. I think that's sort of an up-and-coming tool, but it may not be a tool that a small midsize organization uses. So I think just conversations with people, you know, exit interviews, stay interviews are super important in order to get a feel for how people are feeling about the organization and then try to address those issues within the organization.

So if you're finding there's a trust issue between managers and employees, then how do you build trust? What is that going to take? How do you derive better conversations between managers and employees? It's difficult in this remote work environment, right? So, you kind of has to work at it differently and maybe harder than you did 12 months ago.

Jeff Hunt:

It's interesting because we have all these data points and this great information, and yet it seems like it always comes back to the human element, the relationships, the conversations, the trust, the culture, the core values. Would you agree with that?

Mark Vickers:

Yeah. It's all, it's all about humans and the end. And we try to I think we don't do it with evil intentions or anything like that, but we create these bureaucracies and structures, and sometimes we want to be fair, right? We want to be consistent, but you can't take the human element to fix things. It's really. Really important.

Topic 7. The risk of not taking action (24:11)

Jeff Hunt:

Yes. Have you read the book Humanocracy? It's actually a great read that speaks to exactly what you're talking about. So, thinking about these smaller companies, maybe small to medium-sized companies that are looking at their own data points, isn't it risky.

If they try to go do a data capture or run a survey or get information. And employees know that they're doing that, but then they don't take action on that information?

Mark Vickers:

Yeah. I mean, it's a common failure. If you don't think you're going to act on something and maybe you shouldn't ask the question. But employees are often nervous about answering questions, honestly.

That's the other part, you know, if they feel like their answers, aren't anonymized effectively. Sometimes maybe you want a third party to intervene to kind of protect them, protect who they are. So they feel more trusting about, answering things in an accurate, reliable way, forthright way.

So, it's not easy, you talk about these things and they sound easy sometimes when we first say that, but when you get down into the nitty-gritty, there's a lot of things to think about.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, no question. I like to equate it to, if you're going to do a survey or a data capture and you don't do anything with the information, it's kind of like the farmer doing the harvest and harvesting this bumper crop and putting it in the barn and letting it rot. You're losing out on all this incredible value.

In fact, A lot of times it can have a counter effect because employees will see that you've done that. And then you don't do anything with the results. So, they think, okay, I've invested all this time and helping to provide this information, and then you don't do anything about it. So.

Mark Vickers:

And I think we've all experienced that, right? We've all been in a meeting where somebody's gathered your feedback and everybody's been really nice. Everybody is drinking coffee, eating cake making everybody feel good and months go by and nothing's changed. Right? You gave them all this feedback from your heart and nothing changed. And then you grow very cynical about the whole process.

So you're right. You, you can't, you can't ignore that feedback. You have to act on it to some degree.

Topic 8. Lightning round questions (26:36)

Jeff Hunt:

No question. So let's move into some lightning round questions. I'm going to ask you questions that you haven't heard. Give me top of mind responses. You don't have to think there's no right or wrong, but we'll see where we go with this. Okay. The first one's super easy. What are you most grateful for?

Mark Vickers:

I'm grateful for my health right now, given everything that's been happening. No question. And my family self. I should really distinguish everybody that's close to me.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, no question. What is the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career?

Mark Vickers:

Don't help people too much. Don't micromanage folks let them learn on their own. You have to be kind of a safety net out to allow people to make huge mistakes, but people are going to make mistakes and they learn from mistakes. And it's hard to find that balance.

And I think I didn't allow people to make some of the mistakes they needed to make. So trying to find, you know, how much leeway you give people has been a challenge. I think it's a challenge for any manager, but I've learned that at least it is a challenge. And I have to be thinking about that.

Jeff Hunt:

That's a great piece of wisdom right there. Who's one person you would interview if you could living or not?

Mark Vickers:

I'd love to interview one of the founding fathers of the United States. Let's go with Ben Franklin. Just to see what they were thinking because so much of what they did was just phenomenal. And yet, so many of the mistakes they made really come back to tutors to haunt us as a country, but as a world too.

So it's, it would be really interesting to talk to some of those folks and try to get their perspective on things.

Jeff Hunt:

That'd be a fascinating interview.

Mark Vickers:

Yeah. I would love that one.

Jeff Hunt:

Do you have a top book recommendation you can give our audience? Any books that you've read recently or that over your career that you really think highly of?

Mark Vickers:

Yeah. You know, I'm reading, I want to make sure I got the title right. Which I may not. Ministry of the future, which is a science fiction novel. And it's sort of about what may happen as a result of global warming. And it's very interesting because it's not just about that topic. It's about people.

It's about, organizations and how people relate to each other and how large groups of organizations, including nations, corporations, and things like that, relate to one another. So I found that a very interesting topic. So that's a piece of fiction I would throw out there.

Jeff Hunt:

So what's the single most important thing you would want our human capital listeners to take away from our talk today.

Mark Vickers:

I think the most important thing is to look at the data about human resources but to keep. An open mind, and an open heart, and sometimes to do what you really believe in your heart is the right thing. Even if the data is a little iffy on something. So for example we were talking about performance management.

So maybe you're going to read something that says, you need to have people do a survey every year week or something like that. We have to think about that in terms of your own organization, is that going to work for us? Does that fit our culture? Interrogate the ideas and don't just go with somebody saying this is the right thing to do. You have to think it through and feel the context for what it is.

Jeff Hunt:

That's great wisdom. And it also kind of concludes everything with the critical element of making sure that we're inserting the hearts or the human element in the data that we are both capturing and leveraging for trying to make change internally right?

Mark Vickers:

Right. Absolutely. Yeah. You can't lose the human in human resources.

Jeff Hunt:

No question about it. So yeah. Well, Mark, thanks so much for coming to the show today. It was a pleasure to have you.

Mark Vickers:

Thank you, Jeff. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Hunt:

You bet.

Outro (30:58)

Closing music jingle/sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Thanks for listening to the show this week. We release a new episode of Human Capital on the first and third Tuesday of each month, I would really like to know what you thought of this episode, send your comments to humancapital@goalspan.com. Human Capital is produced by GoalSpan, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends, thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — 14. Chief Research Analyst, HRRI
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