HR Technology Q & A with Ultimate Software Chief Technology Officer Adam Rogers

Adam Rogers serves as Ultimate Software’s chief technology officer, overseeing the company’s product strategy, development, and delivery via cloud computing. Adam joined Ultimate more than 20 years ago, and since 2002, he has led the company in its pioneering efforts to deliver HR and payroll solutions via Software-as-a-Service. As part of those efforts, Adam and his team have been recognized by Forrester Research and other leading IT research firms for Ultimate’s development of best practices in agile software development. From May 1997 to July 2001, Adam held various positions in Ultimate’s research and development organization, including director of technical support and director of web development.

 

MK: Ultimate Software recently conducted a multi-year study that asked more than 1,000 American workers, managers and executives about the true motivators of today’s workforce. What statistic from the study did you find most surprising and why?
AR: There were several aspects of this study that surprised me, primarily in terms of how strongly the respondents felt. It’s common sense that people want their concerns to be heard, for example, but a staggering 75 percent of employees reported they would stay with an organization longer if their employer simply listened to and addressed their concerns. In fact, they said it was the most important thing their employers could do to retain them. This is crucial business intelligence, especially considering employee quits have outpaced layoffs at a two-to-one ratio for almost a year. Imagine the financial and cultural impact of a 75 percent reduction in attrition!
I was also surprised by technology’s substantial impact on employee satisfaction, which is directly tied to both engagement and retention. Almost 100 percent of respondents agreed that access to modern technology directly affects their satisfaction at work. Additionally, one in three respondents reported that they would actually quit their jobs if their company used outdated software.
I’ll be sharing new research from the second phase of this study at HR Tech 2017, offering greater insight into the key drivers of positive employee experience and the disparity fueling the manager-employee perception gap.

 

MK: Employers will need to shift their focus to many critical areas in their workforce – and their technology investments – to build stronger managers, leaders and coaches. What is one area that you feel is most in need of attention? 
AR: Enhancing communication between employees and their managers should be a top concern for all organizations. Two-way communication directly impacts trust, engagement, retention, and satisfaction, and companies that receive regular employee feedback have turnover rates about 15 percent lower than those with no channels for feedback. When you improve the communication between managers and their employees, the results are better leaders, stronger teams, and improved relationships. Fortunately, technological advancements have made this process incredibly simple and stress-free.

 

MK: New HR technology no longer looks to automate, but to improve the employee experience. How is the latest HR technology helping organizations to improve the employee experience?
AR: It’s difficult to define the employee experience, but we know it depends on a multitude of factors, including access to up-to-date technology. Using the latest technology to alleviate tedious, time-consuming tasks absolutely contributes to a positive employee experience, as evidenced by our research findings.
What’s even more exciting is how advanced analytics can improve employee experience in the present and future. With predictive analytics, today’s leaders can forecast an employee’s performance as well as their risk of leaving the company. This foresight empowers leaders to act proactively, taking steps to address concerns and find solutions before they negatively impact the employee experience. Prescriptive analytics further support managers during these difficult decision-making events, suggesting possible next steps based on what’s worked well in the past. These solutions are constantly learning and improving, resulting in more effective leaders, increased communication among teams, and an improved overall employee experience.

 

MK: There’s been an explosion in real-time feedback technology for performance and engagement. Why are these pulse-based systems becoming a critical substructure for businesses in terms of talent management and retention?
AR: Traditionally, many organizations have relied on annual performance reviews to provide feedback on performance and gauge employee satisfaction, objectives, etc. While this process is effective at comparing performance with pre-stated goals, its prolonged timeline is a concern, as is its tie to salary discussions. Too much can change in 365 days, and few employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns when they’re simultaneously asking for a raise.
Pulse-based systems track employee sentiment on an ongoing, regular basis, using advanced natural language processing (NLP) technology that’s capable of recognizing a litany of workplace themes and human emotions. Managers receive in-depth data about what their people are saying, but also what they’re actually feeling. Employers can then compare these real-time results between managers, departments, tenure, or locations.
As we’ve already discussed, two-way communication and acting on employee feedback are key drivers of employee satisfaction. I think the gold standard is to have regular one-on-one chats with each employee, building that relationship and immediately addressing concerns. But this isn’t always possible for organizations to enforce or scale, particularly during periods of growth. Luckily, these sentiment-analysis surveys can actually detect emotions with better-than-human accuracy, and thanks to their advanced monitoring and tracking capabilities, they’re quickly becoming the new gold standard when it comes to talent management.

 

MK:  As technology continues to evolve, what are your predictions for what the future of HR will look like? 
AR: As technology continues to evolve, HR’s role will become increasingly strategic. For most organizations, human capital is the most significant cost, as well as the most important revenue driver. HR is not simply an administrative function, nor is it one facet to consider out of many—usually, prioritizing effective people management is the most important route executives can take to improve organizational success.
I see HR becoming more ubiquitous, employee-centered, and leveraging the latest consumer technologies. Recruiting and engaging with new talent will become increasingly socialized and aided by technology, with advanced algorithms suggesting potential candidates who may not have been considered previously. Once hired, leaders will emphasize training, rewards, technology, and frequent feedback to ensure talent is well cared for and satisfied.
Performance indicators will hold both leaders and their people accountable, removing bias when it comes to promotions and salary increases. Predictive and prescriptive functions will continue to redefine the industry, from identifying top performers (perhaps as early as the interview process!), engagement, and retention risks, and regularly applying these insights to inform leaders’ next steps.
Finally, I foresee artificial intelligence (AI) impacting nearly every level of HR, as well as the increased adoption of mobile devices in the workplace. Career development will become even more crucial for HR departments, establishing new roles to help manage technology and improve organizational outcomes.
I imagine HR roles will become more specialized and technical, incorporating skills in technology, agile development, and traditional HR functions. The employee experience will continue to be a major focus for HR professionals—rather, the entire executive table—and leading HCM solutions will continue to blur the lines between service and technology.

 
Adam Rogers will speak at the 2017 HR Technology Conference at the session Multi-Year Study Results Revealed: Surprising Drivers of the Employee Experience on Wednesday, October 11, 2017: 1:15 PM – 2:15 PM