A Vision for HR Technology with Ultimate Software's Cecile Alper-Leroux

Sep 5, 2018 6:03:06 AM / by Mary Kaylor

Cecile Alper-Leroux is the VP of Human Capital Management (HCM) Innovation at Ultimate Software and an internationally sought speaker, thought leader, and visionary on HCM trends, hot topics, and global strategies. An economic anthropologist with more than 20 years of experience worldwide, Cecile has dedicated her life to helping companies design experiences that enable all people to achieve highly purposeful and productive jobs. She is passionate about the extraordinary transformation of the work environment and the vastly more human-centered ways of building meaningful careers. A recognized voice in the HCM industry, Cecile has been featured in Forbes, HuffPost, HR Magazine, HRD Canada TV, and The Wall Street Journal.

Hear Ultimate Software's point of view on the Human Capital technology landscape, how it sees HR technology as an enabler of business success, and its ideas for what the future of work will look like and how workplace technologies will evolve and advance to help create that future. You’ll gain a better understanding of how to align your HR and workplace technology strategies with where the future of work and workplace technology is headed.

As an HR Technology Conference Insiders blogger, I conducted a Q & A with Cecile Alper-Leroux to learn more about Ultimate Software's vision for HR technology:

Cecile, As VP of Human Capital Management (HCM) Innovation for Ultimate Software, what excites you most about the future of workplace technology?

There’s a great deal that is exciting about the future of workplace technology. The possibilities that present themselves with a broad range of AI technologies are already forever transforming our work, our interactions, our potential to scale and achieve incredible things. The most exciting aspect of these new technologies is our ability to better understand and democratize that understanding of people at work and in turn create incredibly personalized, inspiring and productive experiences for people at work! But as with all technological advancements, there is the risk that we lose sight of the true and cumulative impact on people. 

That is one of the reasons that at Ultimate Software we are passionate about AI and technology, and we are even more passionate about people, always. We are so serious about this that we have created an AI code of conduct that ensures that we always put people and their experiences first. It is undoubtedly true that in a digitally transformed world of work, people will not have to perform mundane and repetitive tasks, but some people may like repetitive work and so we have to ensure that we don’t remove those opportunities completely, or we will lose people and their motivation – we need to ensure that technology serves people, can read what is happening with them and their interactions (human to human or human to machine). I believe there is great potential in RPA to save us unnecessary work, but I’m most excited about cognitive AI that augments our abilities and amplifies what we already do well, and taking it a step further, we need to get beyond systems of automation, engagement, and insight to create systems of interaction – in which systems can reach out to people and , anticipate their needs at work and help them reach new heights. 

What should HR be thinking about as they prepare for future of work and workplace technology?

Short answer: HR needs to play a much more intentional and active role in preparing people for the future of work. And to date, we aren’t being creative enough. I see so many organizations leaving upskilling and reskilling completely up to employees rather than guiding and leading those efforts. Without taking an active role, how will organizations ensure they will have the right people with the right skills for their own future success? HR also needs to require more human-centered technology experiences to understand, augment and amplify what people do at work and focus less on automation and transactional technology. There is a place for the former, but it shouldn’t be our primary driver for investing in technology anymore.

The question HR and business leaders should be asking themselves is: How can our organizations reimagine themselvesto both; succeed in world of rapid change and frequent disruption and provide meaningful and consequential responsibilities for people? Companies will be forced to replace their current organizational paradigms of flat, hierarchically structured work responsibilities with fluid and collaborative engagements in which people co-create new products, experiences, and services in a shared future. This calls for less focus on transactions and more efforts to bring people together. I think HR naturally needs to broker these connections and interactions within the workforce – as catalysts and change agents. I am a huge fan of involving people more directly in these changes by having a say in their reskilling, future roles, and work—and giving them access to their own data—something we don’t do enough of today. 

How are tech trends such as AI (artificial intelligence) and NLP (Natural Language Processing) impacting HR and changing the way HR makes decisions about business strategy?

Workplace technology advances are – for the first time, really – giving HR the insight and tools to put people first. The big opportunity for HR in the Augmented Era is to make business personal. Combining humans and machines to deliver meaningful value at scale through each individual engagement over time, exponentially improving the employee experience. We’re undergoing a seismic shift from the one-to-many, one-size-fits-all, episodic organizational practices of the past, to a world of work that features an infinite number of highly personalized, consumer-grade, employee-centered touch points. Powered by AI and machine learning, HR can now convert data on individual preferences and intent into well-timed, relevant, meaningful engagements at every moment of every day. 

Futurist Jacob Morgan says, “Work is a Relationship, not a Contract.” I agree. AI and emerging technologies can and should enhance our relationships with each other, with our work, and with our employers. In the Future of Work, the central organizing construct of HR will be people, not jobs. You fill jobs and vacancies, you fulfill people’s goals and dreams. From the employee’s perspective, the ultimate relationship is one that enhances their ability to create and control their own destiny. HR’s first and most important role in the Future of Work is to help people achieve their personal dreams and goals better than they could on their own or elsewhere.

How should HR be looking to align their HR technology with Diversity & Inclusion and employee engagement efforts? 

Diversity and inclusion are two different things, yet many companies tend to lump them together, believing a diverse workforce is an inclusive one. Both are critical to employee attraction and engagement and I’d add a third: Equity. Candidates increasingly want to know how diverse their potential workplaces are. And they want to know that the company treats people fairly and welcomes their ideas, perspectives, and opinions. Inclusion is the feeling of belonging that comes about when employees are treated equitably and are free to bring their authentic selves to work.

Technology can help companies achieve this kind of workplace and do it at scale, with better accuracy, and in a more sustainable way by guiding people to take the right actions at every step. For example, smart D&I solutions are geared to spot and address unconscious bias. It’s been proven that, left to their own instincts (and often without recognizing it), leaders will hire in their own likeness. It’s human nature. Technology can override this human ‘default setting’ and force a recognition that other candidates may be as or more qualified, so they get equitable opportunities—an intervention that can apply throughout their employment experience. There is an opportunity for bias to creep in at every decision point: when hiring someone, choosing when and who to promote, how to compensate them, etc. Smart technology can integrate bias detection into everything we do. When we remove false barriers to achievement and engagement (bias, discrimination, conformity, etc.), people rise to their potential.

We also can measure engagement like never before, going beyond anecdotes to see what people are really thinking and feeling. We can use data to alert us to yellow flags – identify negative trends before they become a major problem for the organization. Be proactive vs. reactive in our approach. Test hypotheses before committing to potentially ill-fitted actions.We can process thousands of comments in seconds, allowing HR to analyze complex data sets, trends, and insights, from large pools of data across divisions, populations, work groups, etc. At the same time, we can capture hyper-personalized insights on every individual in our workplace enabling us to truly, deeply understand what motivates them, engendering a much more effective form of highly individualized leadership. 

HR leaders continue to use technology for business transformation. How has this changed the skills HR leaders and departments must possess?

For decades, HR has lamented about not getting a seat at the proverbial table. HR can’t wait any longer… we have the people data at our fingertips (or at least the ability to) such that it’s time for HR to call the meeting!! No one knows, cares about, and understands people better than HR does, or should if they’re doing the right things. HR is uniquely capable of helping their organizations design work experiences that enable people to achieve highly purposeful and productive jobs. And, we now have the tools, the insights, and the data to prove it. 

The future for HR will focus on applying what we know about people from our studies of brain science and the humanities, aided by technological advances, to elevate people at work and in our communities at large. In the Future of Work, HR will act as People scientists – taking a more active role in understanding people deeply and turning that insight into action and experiences for our people. This requires that we embrace amore holistic, scientific understanding of people via cognitive science, social networks, organizational psychology, anthropology (my field of study!), neurolinguistics, and more. 

HR will also need to practice Network Science. In the industrial economy, the workplace was seen as relatively static and predictable - If you did this, you’d get that. Today, there’s a recognition that the workplace is a living organism comprised of unique human beings – each bringing their gifts to the whole,diverse in their own right, and ever-changing based on the interaction among them. HR will be called to measure not just individual “performance” and not just final outcomes, but also team dynamics, conditions, the path along the way, and key motivations.

Ultimate Software has been on Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list for several years and has even been at the top of the list. How is Ultimate Software’s own HR department using technology to be a “best place to work” now and in the future?


Ultimate’s motto is “People First” and that philosophy permeates everything we do… we are also fans of drinking our own champagne in terms of using our newest AI solutions and pioneering new practices.

We were recently recognized by Fortune for our “high-trust culture” that offers meaningful work, abundant opportunities for career development, extraordinary benefits, and an overall positive employee experience. While it’s nice to get the external recognition, we have always prioritized and valued our people and our culture. We know that when employees feel safe and whole at work, they will design more innovative solutions and provide remarkable service to our customers! But we never stop listening to the voice of our employees to ensure we don’t lose our edge. One way we do this is by actively measuring our employee experience, which is actually a leading indicator of employee engagement. We use our own AI-based sentiment analysis, NLP and machine learning engines (all part of our Xander AI Platform) found in UltiPro Perception, to collect employee feedback on an ongoing basis to better understand the experiences, challenges, dreams, and more of our people. Perception understands underlying emotions people may not be expressing directly; it assigns a numeric score much like a Net Promoter Score. We just shared our latest results on Twitter: our Overall Engagement was 6.4 (on a 7-point scale). Our Xander-powered solutions help us identify potential issues before they escalate and impact our culture and we also use our predictive analytics to help our leaders identify flight risks, giving them the opportunity to intervene and address employee concerns before it’s too late. 

By combining these and other advanced tools with our own HR expertise, we believe we make smarter decisions, with betteroutcomes for our UltiPeeps. And we’ll never stop striving to improve because it’s in our DNA to put people first.


Thank you, Cecile and we look forward to learn more during your session at the 2018 HR Technology Conference:   Vision for HR Technology: Ultimate Software | Friday, September 14, 2018: 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM


Mary Kaylor

Written by Mary Kaylor

Mary Kaylor is the Public Affairs Lead for the Society for Human Resource Management. She is the Managing Editor of the SHRM Blog and the creator and producer of #Nextchat, a leading global Twitter chat on the HR trends and all things work. Her career in communications spans from technology and workforce management in the telecommunications industry to external affairs and public relations. An HR Technology conference blogger since 2015, you can find her on Twitter at @SHRMKaylor.

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