Lisa Rowan is Research Vice President for IDC responsible for global research on human capital and talent management software and services. Her research addresses developments in human capital and talent management applications, human resources consulting, and HR outsourcing services. Prior to joining IDC, Lisa held business development, product management and marketing positions in the human resource software and services markets. She holds an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University.
Lisa, you are indisputably the doyenne of global HR research. Tell us about your career journey and what led you to your current position as Research VP at IDC.
It is a long and circuitous journey to the HR analyst industry on my part. I am not sure anyone in my generation of women ended up doing what their educational background prepared them for. That has everything to do with the fact that in the 70s the career options were minimal for women. In college, I can only recall one female friend who was in the business administration program. Tech careers and business careers were uncommon choices for women. Most of my female friends, myself included, either looked to a career in teaching or nursing.
Your career started at one of the bedrocks of the computing industry: DEC. How has enterprise computing changed since those days?
I want to start out by saying that DEC was truly a place for opportunity and why I sought them out as an employer to begin with. I had heard from friends that it was a place where one could grow. That proved to be true for me in that I had a progressive boss who sponsored me for a programmer training program. I went from his administrative assistant to a programmer in a matter of a year.
The ability to grow in a career was not the only way in which DEC was progressive. We were on a company-wide email system in 1981. We had workstations running mosaic on the World Wide Web before anybody else in the industry even knew what we were talking about. And we had what was called VAX notes – – a social platform that ran the gamut of subjects from tech support on operating systems and personal topics covering jogging to baking. It was ahead of its time.
In terms of enterprise computing, there is not much new under the sun. Is it true that you have more computing power in your cell phone than a whole computer room full of rack systems of the 60s and 70s? You bet. But that just means that computing power is cheaper than it has ever been.
Interestingly, in addition to an MBA, your educational background includes training in art education. Does this creativity play a role in your research?
I mentioned earlier about women going into a limited set of careers back at the end of my college days. I was planning to be an art teacher but luck or bad luck would have it that there were insufficient available positions such that I never got the job – too many applicants.
But creativity always has a place. I think even when analyzing a set of survey results, there is room for a different way of looking at those results that may yield an entirely different viewpoint.
As for being an art teacher, I always joke that I don't like to show my full presentation deck ahead of time because people read ahead and draw conclusions too early. I say don't pass out the crayons until you want the kids to draw.
Our Women in HR Tech Summit showcases the accomplishments of women in tech. Do you think it’s easier or harder to achieve gender parity in tech today?
Is it easier for women to rise in HR technology than it was in the 70s? Definitely. But that is not to say that it is easy. There are still hurdles and I applaud all of the women that the Women in HR Tech Summit showcases. While there is much to be celebrated, there is much more to be done until we achieve true parity. We mustn't settle for anything less.
What’s the one thing that frustrates you the most in HR technology?
I am frustrated by companies that feel the only way to adopt new technology is to customize it to match precisely how their internal processes operate today. Instead of customizing the technology, organizations need to take the time to examine how their processes work. Are the latter as streamlined as they could be, is there room to follow a more standardized methodology? In the long run, adapting the process will be a lot less time-consuming and costly than the alternative.
What’s your advice for new entrants to the workplace?
Be fearless and take risks. If an opportunity presents itself grab it. It is okay to make mistakes and much better to go forward with no regrets. At the same time, make sure you have time for yourself. Try to strike that balance where your life has enough time for your friends, family, and avocations.
The other thing I would say is that your first job may not be what your career turns out to be. Keep those eyes open to the possibilities.
Last question: if you could have lunch with three people in the HR industry, who would they be and why?
Other than my old friends in the industry, I would have to say that I would like to spend time with the heads of HR for a couple of companies that I see as truly a cut above in terms of their corporate culture. One would be the head of HR for Wegmans supermarkets, another would be the lead HR person at JetBlue Airways, and the last would be the lead HR/people person at Zappos.
Why those three? I have been a customer of all three and I note that one thing they have in common is that they all empower their front-line employees to do whatever they have to do to satisfy the customer. They also have exceptionally happy employees. I'd really like to hear how these companies were able to come to a consensus that doing so is good for business. I think that is a lesson that every company needs to learn.