Podcast  /  Work Minus Destructive HR Tech with Mitch Zenger

Work Minus Destructive HR Tech with Mitch Zenger

The current state of HR tech is focused on a hierarchical organization structure that doesn't exist in most companies. The tech can help you identify top performers but it destroys the teamwork in the company. There's a pressing need to change the way we measure performances and how you reward and recognize people so as to make teamwork dramatically better. Mitch Zenger explains how to do this effectively.

What we learned from this episode

When we reward, recognize, and promote individual contributors who are destructive to the team, it can ultimately destroy a company. Instead, we need to be able to measure who are the ones that lead great teams, make people feel included, make people feel like they belong on that team, and then ultimately, drive the creativity and the productivity of that team and the results they get.

The current generation of workforce doesn't want to log into 15 different tools to do different parts of their work. They want to go to one place and it needs to feel consumer and they also need to feel like they have more control.

What you can do right now

If you're in a leadership position, you need to understand the stress behind people's voice, encourage them, and form a personal connection. Leaders need to figure out the problem of isolation in the workplace and to get people to feel more connected together.

Key Quotes

Work is not individual contributor roles as much anymore. Work is now knowledge workers, people working in teams, people working together building really complicated products and solutions for customers.

As a leader, you need to think more about, “I may need to get rid of that one individual, even if they're great, if they're destroying the rest of the team and focus on how do we make teams and teamwork that much better.”

Today, our guest is Mitch Zenger. He is an HR tech adviser and analyst and this is Work Minus Destructive HR Tech. Hi, Mitch. How are you?

I’m doing really great. Thanks for having me.

We’re very excited to talk to you. Why don’t you start off just telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in this?

So, my background really has been in consulting for many years, working with lots of companies, either delivering results, putting teams together. More recently I’ve been focused on building great teams in the technology sector, recruiting either consultants or outside contractors for jobs. And as a result, really seeing a lot of the problems that people face. So, now, focusing a lot of my efforts on some of the changes that need to happen in the HR tech space and giving my ideas of new things that need to come.

Let’s get into it. HR has seemed like it’s gone digital overnight in some ways, just like right away. Everything had to be flipped over to all these digital systems. Tell us about the current state of HR technology and where we are right now.

I look at the state of HR tech and it’s focused on an org structure that really doesn’t exist in most companies anymore. It’s focused on this hierarchical structure where we’re out there trying to differentiate individual employees, try to find out who our high potential people are and compensate them. And sold directly to HR leaders so the leaders themselves are the ones that are buying these solutions and it’s really split up into different functions. So, recruiting is a customer, learning is a customer, development, the recognition people, compensation people. And so, with that is a very different set of needs and it really doesn’t all come together very well.

Do you feel like there are too many products out on the market? They don’t do enough? They do too much? What would you say?

I think everybody’s trying new products on the market. So, I think there’s a lot of start ups. There’s the big players that are out there, the work days, NSAPs, and everybody else. People aren’t that happy so they’re trying a lot of new stuff to do recognition or feedback or pull surveys. So, I think the data now is the average customer I think a year ago I heard it was nine different tools in a company. I think it’s now gone up to 11 or more in a mid to larger size company. So, think about that. I’m an employee or something working and I’ve got to open up 11 different applications to give feedback, respond to surveys, do a recognition, whatever. I mean, that’s crazy.

And that’s just within HR, too, right?

Well, it’s HR and all the employees that are using those tools.

Amazing. So, we’ve titled this episode Work Minus Destructive HR Technology. So, why do you call HR tech destructive?

Great question. So, the key I think is that the technology is destroying the teamwork inside of a company. So, what I mean by that is we have technology that’s trying to identify who your top performers are so that you do your nine box, who’s my high pose, and all of that. That’s great. But what that ultimately does is destroy teamwork. So, what I see a big change that needs to happen is your HR tech stack needs to focus on how do we get people to work better together as a team and with each other rather than differentiate that. And so, I think what usually happens is performance management and the compensation conversations come together and with that creates just massive conflict inside of a company and that’s what I think needs to change dramatically going forward.

Do you feel like in some ways that HR tech is doing the opposite of what it was intended to do?

It’s not making things better. So, if you look at all the engagement survey results that go on inside a company, it’s been flat for years because I think there are people trying to do good things to make companies better, but at the same time, our systems destroy all the positive and throwing out ping pong tables and free food doesn’t make a great, happy company and make people work together and be better teams. You’ve got to change how you measure people and how you give rewards and recognition to really make teamwork dramatically better and that’s what I don’t think any the tech stacks are doing right now.

Let’s talk more about the difference between a team and evaluating the performance of a team versus taking all the individuals and saying, okay, who’s the best? What’s the difference that the managers need to think about between assessing individual team members and assessing the team as a whole?

Great question. I think what managers need to think about is how do you measure teamwork? How do you measure somebody’s ability to influence and coach and get along with everybody else and support unique skills and strengths of each other on a team? And that’s very different than, I mean, I’ve seen some great employees who are incredibly destructive to teams. And if we reward and recognize and promote those people, ultimately, it can destroy a company. So, we really need to be able to measure who are the ones that lead great teams, make people feel included, make people feel like they belong on that team, and then ultimately, drive the creativity and the productivity of that team and the results they get.

So, HR tech seems to be so complicated now. What’s driven that complication?

I would say the complexity is the people developing the solutions are selling to different organizations or functions of HR. So, they’re creating a solution for the person that manages the learning development portion of an organization or they are creating a solution that’s focused on goal setting or compensation or other things. And so, with that, it doesn’t come together and it doesn’t connect and so we end up with the 10+ different applications.

Let’s come back to the idea of managers and teams and assessing individuals that are there. As a manager, I want to look out and there’s going to be some very tangible things I can measure to say, okay, how good is my team? And there’s going to be some more intangible ones to say, okay, how is everyone’s contribution on those? Let’s start with the tangible things and tell me what you think tech can really give a lot of insights in that is going to be difficult for an individual human to assess. So, let’s start first with what is a good role for technology when it comes to evaluating team performance?

I think the technology needs to track different components of performance and team performance. So, I would break it up in two. You’ve got the behaviors and actions and the abilities that people have, what their strengths are. The technology needs to be able to measure that and motivate that. People need to be able to create their own personal goals on the strengths and skills that I need to develop and then the technology needs to track results. So, here’s the team objectives and the goals and right now the hot thing is OKR, objectives and key results. And here’s what we want to deliver and how these align to the corporate strategies and stuff like that. And technology needs to do that both for individuals and how they align and also for teams, how the team projects align to what the corporation wants to do. And then I think the newcomer to all of this is this whole well-being push. People feeling happy, good about themselves, taking care of themselves, having work life balance. And I think your HR tech needs to be able to track that, monitor that, reward and recognize that, etc., all connected together rather than being run as completely separate functions and tools across the organization.

What’s an example of something that technology can do to track something like well-being and work life balance?

Great question. I think examples would be doing questions around just a post survey question are people balancing work life? Are you taking time for your family? Are you disconnecting? I’ve worked with consultants who literally gotten so ingrained into a project. They’re spending 20+ hours a day not sleeping to the point of complete exhaustion and that doesn’t work for a team long-term. So, you need to be able to have people connect with each other, support each other, saying, “Look, there’s a limit to what you can do and my feedback back to you is take some time off. Take the weekend off. Take a break and go out and go walking, etc.” And wellness tools actually can track that and measure that and just the fact that you measure it then shows that the company cares about that and supports you balancing that across your life.

Let’s go deeper into this. If I am a manager, let’s say I have a dashboard of all sorts of metrics that somehow technology has registered for me, one of which is how often somebody logs in, how many hours per day they’re putting in. What are some of the other things that I want to see on that dashboard to be able to make an informed decision about, okay, based on the metrics I’m seeing, this is how I feel like my team is doing right now.

I think the current key metric that people are looking at these days is net promoter score, this whole NPS thing, and I think you can have net promoter surveys around how much people think I would recommend our company but I think you can also do net promoter scores for teams, like how much would other people want to be part of the team that I’m on or even a function or group or department within the company. What’s the net promoter score of the finance department or this division or something like that? And if you can create a survey process that can track that and then give leaders the ability to say, “Hey, look, people aren’t happy or they don’t want to be part of my team,” that I think can lead to huge results and changes in the way we think about motivating people to work effectively on teams.

When we talk about net promoter score, do you feel like that’s more of a judge on that person who’s in charge of that, the team leader? Where does it switch between them and the entire team as a whole?

So, I think you can do net promoter score both on an individual basis, team basis as well as in a leader of the overall organization. So, for the organization, it’s how much would I recommend this company to my friends or family and then you can flip that around and say how much would I recommend you to be a part of another team or some other team that I would want you to work on. And if people don’t want you on their team, so to speak, proverbially, that’s a problem and company needs to address that and me as an individual needs to think about how do I play better together on teams because that’s the nature of where work is going. Work is not individual contributor roles as much anymore. Work is now knowledge workers, people working in teams, people working together building really complicated products and solutions for customers.

Now, Mitch, a lot of times on our show, we have guests that talk about AI, we talk about automation. When it comes to actually evaluating team performance, what are the human aspects that are probably not going to be overtaken by technology anytime soon at least? What are those things that humans are always going to be good at when it comes to evaluating team performance?

I think it’s the human emotion and relations. I mean, technology can’t figure that out. I think it’s getting a little bit smarter at being able to understand stress inside of people’s voice but the reality is you need leaders who encourage and have that personal connection. I think you got a lot of people in this “gig economy” who work by themselves and they’re feeling a lot of isolation. And so, leaders now need to really see that as a problem and figure out how do you get people to feel more connected together.

What about HR tech as becoming more of a consumer product? Do you think it’s headed that way where it’s going to be just as easy to use as any other software or will it continue to be very specialized and only for people who really deeply understand it?

Absolutely think that it needs to go more consumer or at least have that consumer feel. The workforce is being inundated with younger generation who have the expectation that technology interface should be just like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, Snapchat, and should be really simple to use. So, they don’t want to log into 15 different tools to do different parts of their work. They want to go to one place and it needs to feel consumer and they also need to feel like they have more control. I see a big issue right now with data, data security. There’s all these wonderful things going on with some very large tech companies around data privacy and I think there’s going to be big changes from an employer data point of view and who owns and controls that.

Well, let’s get deeper into that topic. Obviously, HR tech, you have a lot of data and a lot of extremely sensitive data that you want to make sure to keep private. What are the concerns that the company should have about where the tech is going? Who’s going to own this data in the future? How much can you use the data you have about employees? What are your thoughts about that?

I will make a bold prediction and say that in 10 years from now, the majority of HR tech data is going to be owned by the individual, just like you think of your Linkedin profile and you own your proverbial resume out there, I think the same thing’s going to happen for HR tech data. It’s going to be owned, you may not have created all the data but who you share that with, how it gets distributed, and how it’s controlled is going to go into your hands as an individual. It’s inevitable. Most people aren’t talking about that and thinking about it that way. I think we have the security technology. I won’t throw out the blockchain term but that’s the technology that will drive this ability to take this data with you. And people don’t work for the same company throughout their career. So, you don’t want to work for 10 years really hard, do great things, and then the second you leave, you literally throw it all away and you really can’t even verify that you did any of those things because, I do a lot of background check on employees, all I can ask is did this person worked there and that’s it. I can’t even say were they good, bad, anything. Most companies won’t share any of that information because of legal problems.

That’s a very interesting concept to think about a universal system for seeing performance, for seeing HR instances. How else would that work that I can just take my profile in a sense of all the things I’ve ever done and how would that differ from what’s there available on Linkedin right now?

Well, I think the problem with Linkedin is all of that data is still created by the individual. Where I see performance management going is here’s what everybody else has said about me and confirmed about me. What am I good at? What are my strengths? What goals have I accomplished? Obviously, you have sensitive data you can’t sit there and say I worked on this exact project and launched this and some of that’s obviously got to remain private. But the core strengths, capabilities, results that somebody’s done should be owned and be transferable across your career because then you have the motivation to actually care about making that data accurate, and so, you’ve got this intrinsic motivation going on, “Hey, I want to build my reputation because I want to use that to find my next job inside the company I work for or even outside the company that I work for because it is transferable and can go anywhere.”

I really like the idea. It’s really powerful when it comes to it. Mitch, tell us what are our managers out there not thinking about that they should be just to close us on this thought of as we think about Work Minus Destructive HR Technology. If I’m sitting there managing a team, maybe I’m not even in the HR space, what’s something I can do to further this to get to a better future of work?

I think what I would conclude is you need to think a whole lot more about teams and how, with the proliferation of technology, how do we get this technology to help our teams accelerate this idea of belonging, supporting each other, helping each other, interacting better together and not displaying this passive aggressive, destructive behavior because I’ve seen way too many examples in my career of great individuals destroy massive projects because they’re just thinking of themselves. And so, as a leader, you need to think more about, “I may need to get rid of that one individual, even if they’re great, if they’re destroying the rest of the team and focus on how do we make teams and teamwork that much better.”

Well, Mitch, tell us where people can go to stay in touch with you.

Connect with me on Linkedin Mitch Zenger on Linkedin. They can also, I’ve put a Linkedin group together, HR tech for teams, would love to have people join the conversation. I’m making it wide open so please join that conversation. And look forward to connecting and sharing ideas.

Mitch, love the insights. I learned a lot from this episode and I’m sure everyone else did, too. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Thanks for your time.

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