HR Technology Q & A with Cecile Alper-Leroux


The 2017 Human Resource Executive 20th Annual HR Technology Conference takes place October 10-13 in Las Vegas.  As a 2017 HR Technology Conference Insiders Blogger, I interviewed several human resources and technology experts to get their perspective on how technology and trends are impacting the HR profession. 

Cecile Alper-Leroux is an internationally sought-out speaker, thought leader, and visionary on HCM trends, hot topics, and global strategies. Passionate about people and technology in the workplace, Cecile has dedicated her life's work to helping companies design the best possible experience for people at work so they can achieve great things. A seasoned economic anthropologist, she loves uncovering micro-cultures within organizations and helping leaders and HR professionals effectively respond to evolving workplace dynamics, trends, and opportunities. Cecile is currently Vice President of Human Capital Management (HCM) Innovation at Ultimate Software where she writes and speaks extensively on the changing worker and workforce.


Q. Metrics are important to illustrate the impact of HR transformation on the larger business goals and traditional metrics may no longer be relevant. What is one metric that’s important that HR should be focusing on in today’s fluid workplace and why?

A. That would have to be engagement… truly knowing what is going on with your people and the company as a whole. To really understand what people are thinking and feeling. And I think good metrics go beyond traditional engagement surveys, as these are often outdated before the metrics can be useful. There must be a multi-pronged and multi-perspective approach to any viable engagement metric. Understanding people and what motivates them is HR’s expertise (at least it should be) and HR leaders need to demonstrate a command of what is happening with people and why it is relevant to the business.

I recently interviewed a Canadian CFO. He talked about how the role of the CFO is changing to encompass more people strategy responsibilities. He has HR reporting to him, which is unusual for a CFO. His management team and Board want to know answers to questions like “Is this business really returning the results we expected?” … “Is the capital we deployed paying off as anticipated?” Those are resource allocation decisions. They really want HR to play a strategic role here. He told me, “Leaders can’t think of just what the company needs. They also need to consider what the individual needs.”

This CFO considers a critical metric, related in part to engagement, is turnover – understanding why and how it affects the business. Sometimes there is a misconception of who departed on a voluntary basis and who was involuntary. Unless we really understand what drives people, we can’t get a handle on turnover, so measuring engagement goes hand in hand with turnover. Ultimately, HR needs to make sure the company has the right people in the right place - today and in the future - so it can execute its business strategy. And employee engagement is key.


Q. When HR is looking to achieve buy-in for technology purchase decisions, what aspects of HR transformation do executive stakeholders find the most compelling?

A. HR Transformation includes investment in new technologies that build leadership capability and a deep understanding of people from workforce analytics – both of these are critical to business success and hence are compelling to executives. Especially, tools like predictive analytics that help business leaders look into the proverbial crystal ball to better anticipate talent needs to meet business needs. It can help proactively manage labor and talent strategies, in areas that might affect the company’s ability to achieve its targets. HR transformation increasingly supports a democratization of decision-making and personal development… ensuring people have tools that help them accomplish more with less, and to better more accurate ends. And of course the most successful transformation initiatives require new levels of organizational transparency and having a pulse on your people… ensuring work and communication are staying on track, which means having capabilities for measuring, monitoring, and acting on employee feedback as effectively and unobtrusively as possible.


Q. Beyond streamlined processes and cost savings, what is one way that HR professionals can communicate the larger value of HR transformation supported by HR technology?

A. The most compelling argument for HR Transformation is to make sure it’s cast as Business Transformation, with HR sharing its deep understanding of the business. HR Technology has always been about automating processes but we have to rethink why we invest in HR technology – automation and reducing paper are great, but not transformative… Augmented intelligence and machine learning allow us to change the game, to deeply understand people and how their attitudes impact business success – its up to HR to make that connection for the C-suite. While company leaders are evaluated on hard measures like revenue, manufacturing efficiency, product quality, and timeliness, etc., nearly all the problems they solve are, at their heart, people-related problems. At the end of the day, it's the people who run the business. HR needs to work directly with the people operating the business to understand what they need in order to succeed and explicitly demonstrate how the HR technology investment changes the game for the business, enabling them to have more performant and more engaged people and teams. HR also needs to show how HR Transformation and supporting technologies will help address the organization’s greatest strategic pains and opportunities. And they need to communicate that story in language they understand—the language of data metrics, relatable case examples, and business outcomes.


Q. What tips do you have for how HR can build better alliances with the C-Suite through data, terminology, timing, or by speaking the language of finance executives? 

A. The best HR people I've worked with have great business acumen, often having been part of operations, sales, customer support, etc. HR must start every conversation with a clear understanding of what is important to the business and how people impact or are impacted but business requests and decisions… we must talk about the business. How will this HR program or proposed action impact business results specifically? What is likely to happen if we’re not proactive? If a fire is starting somewhere, you want to extinguish it before it burns uncontrollably. Even better if you can predict that it is likely to happen, and then prevent it from ever happening altogether. HR is in position to do this today like never before, with augmented intelligence, workforce analytics, and predictive tools. Most executives love data, almost as much as they love to succeed… knowing this and speaking to it boosts HR’s credibility. Use data to help CxO’s see the need for change, and to make these connections between key HR initiatives and investments, and business outcomes.


Q. The HR technology industry is fortunate in having many incredibly successful women in leadership roles. How can employers create an environment and culture for women in technology to thrive?

A.  It takes much more than just hiring enough women and even goes beyond hiring the right women… it requires cultivating an environment as free from bias as possible and a culture that recognizes that leveling the playing field does not mean “equal” or the same treatment. Women come into the workplace with clear and empirically documented disadvantages. Leveling the playing field requires a change of reference and perspective for all employees so you must proactively create experiences that challenge biases and the status quo.


Q. What advice can you share with women in technology for managing and developing their own careers?

A. You are the future of management and leadership in technology, but the road will be long and difficult. Don’t allow yourself to be disrespected, and don’t let the negative experiences crush you… move on, keep your focus on your goals, and share results and own failures. Also, work to improve your emotional intelligence; think about acknowledging emotions, recognizing they are there, and moving on to success. Become extremely knowledgeable about the business you are in, the people you serve, etc. That is the language of executives and if you are the only one speaking it in a room, you will be heard. Be fearless, because you will need to be!


Cecile Alper-Leroux will speak at the 2017 HR Technology Conference on the following dates:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017: 9:30 a.m. - 10:20 a.m. - Women Leaders in HR Technology

Wednesday, October 11, 2017: 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - Quantifying Financial Value of HR Transformation: Speaking C-Suite and Business Leaders’ Language




The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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