Podcast: ServiceNow’s Paul Davies on Data, Tech and HR



Mark:               Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Paul Davies, the senior vice president for HR Business Partners at ServiceNow. People talked about encouraging transformation, but Paul’s actually done it. Before joining ServiceNow, he was head of People Operations for GE, where he also worked as employee experience leader. We’re going to talk about the changes he’s seen and the changes he’s seeing now on this edition of PeopleTech.

                        Hey, Paul. Welcome.

                        Let me ask you just one specific question about ServiceNow, which is what exactly is it you do in the HR space?

Paul:                 From a ServiceNow perspective in the HR space, we are focused very much on two things. It’s employee workflows, so all of those transactions that happen naturally between employees, managers at a company or an organization. And we’re also focused on HR case management. So those cases that may be opened by employees or managers that get dealt with by a shared services type organization is also part of the platform that we use.

Mark:               We’re switching gears a bit. People have been talking about data in HR for a number of years. Has it really penetrated the area? Is it seriously being used by HR departments, or is this all just talk?

Paul:                 I love that question. I have a hypothesis that we could be doing more, Mark, with the data that we have access to. And remember, HR teams around the world have access to a really rich set of data. My hypothesis is that sometimes we don’t ask big enough, bold enough questions, Mark. And what I mean by that is, it’s really easy to ask questions like, “What’s our turnover? What’s our diversity? What’s our promotion rates?”

                        They’re really simple math equations. But the power for me is in the questions. How do we ask bigger questions like, “Who will be the next CEO of ServiceNow 15 years from now, 10 years from now?” I honestly believe we have the answers to those questions in the data set that we have available to us. But many times we’re not asking enough questions to get questions answered like that.

Mark:               Do you think that HR tends to use data intelligently, or do you think a lot of departments are being shallow?

Paul:                 I think we can do a better job. If I’m thinking about my experience in different HR teams, Mark, I think we can do a better job of not just looking at the data but gleaning insights from that data. What does that data tell us? What’s the story that we need to be sharing with business leaders to make better decisions for the company? And then ultimately driving plans, it’s great to have the data, great to have insights, but so what? What can you do with that insight to drive better outcomes, more revenue, better margin, more market share? That’s the type of question and answer that we should be striving for.

Mark:               Do you think software providers, the vendors in the space, are giving HR all the tools that they need?

Paul:                 I think it’s come a long way. If I think back 20 some years, Mark, in my career, it was that data that I talked about before. It was headcount. It was attrition. It was, “How many classes has somebody taken from the learning platform?” I think what we’re now seeing is far more focused on actionability, turning insights to action so that an employee, for example, can take action based on their career aspirations. They can learn new skills, take on new experiences, take on different roles to get them closer to their career aspirations. For managers, how do they take action on their team if they have 10 minutes to focus on the most pressing people priority? I feel like the software vendors in the market today are helping managers make those, quite frankly, difficult decisions.

Mark:               You hear people talking about how the HR practitioners going to have to become smarter about data, learn their way around it more than they have been. Do you think that’s true, or do you think tools might end up being developed that simplify the task so the practitioner can get the data they need in a form that they can understand it?

Paul:                 I think the question here, Mark, is about data acumen, and should we in HR have better, more consistent levels of data in business acumen? I think the answer to that is yes. I think if I look at how we use data here at ServiceNow, a couple of examples maybe to make the point. We know, for example, that our most… Let me use a couple of examples here at ServiceNow. So one example is when our employees have queries of us in HR, they have the ability to go online in a portal, look for content, search for that content, they can access information through our NowBot, which is a virtual agent, or they can actually connect with a human, something that we call live agent. We know in fact that if our employees go through the live agent channel, we end up with a 90% customer satisfaction rate. So our employees are happy when they use that channel.

                        We also know, Mark, that when we ask our employees to wait longer than 60 seconds, we know that the customer satisfaction rate, how our employees feel about the service that our team provides, drops significantly. So with that data, Mark, we’re able to switch off the ability to move to a live agent. If we can’t answer that question quick enough, we don’t waste the employee’s time. We still capture the information they’ve given us, but we automatically open a case for them. So in many respects, we’re using that data to make a service decision very much like what many consumer customers always do, banking airlines. And so we try and replicate that same type of service mindset internally for our employees.

                        Then the second example, I’ll give you, Mark, on the other side of COVID, I think it was very emotional about what people’s return to office plans were. Where we started was actually with the data. With the data that we have, we knew where our employees lived, we knew where their local office was, so we’re able to leverage the data and to understand where people were, what the average commute distance was, what the average commute time was likely to be, and use that data to make an informed decision rather than simply using emotion to come to the conclusions.

Mark:               You obviously work hand in glove with your customers. That relationship at a company of your level, in customers of your level, it’s going to be a very tight and close relationship. But I was at a user conference last week, and the question that came to mind is, “Who’s further ahead in their thinking about all this, is it the providers or is it the customers?”

Paul:                 Look, I love that question. I don’t know. Let me give you my hypothesis. I think with an extensible platform, our customers can use our platform for many, many use cases that we haven’t dreamt up for ourselves and our other customers haven’t dreamt up. So they’re able to share those ideas, share those innovations with one another. And we love that. It goes to the power of our platform. At the same time, we are using our platform to innovate internally. So we internally innovate, we work out what works, we work out what makes sense for our employees, and then we’re able to move that to platform so that all of our customers around the world can leverage the benefits. Couple of simple examples, Mark. We now do goal setting on the ServiceNow platform, so we ask almost 21,000 people every year to set their goals on the ServiceNow platform. That’s not something that’s available out of the box on platform, but it’s something that we will be able to bring to our customers once we’ve worked out all the kinks on our innovation.

Mark:               ServiceNow talks a lot about employee listening, and I wonder if you could take me through your process of collecting and analyzing data for that path.

Paul:                 Sure. In terms of employee listening, there’s a couple of things that we do systematically across the company, Mark. One, we have what we call our employee voice survey. Essentially, our employee engagement survey, we do that annually across the company and listen to the voice of our employees. Last year’s survey, we had 90-plus percent participation, which to me signals that our employees care about how they feel about working here at ServiceNow. So we get great participation.

                        The second thing we do is, in many of our workflows, in many of the processes we ask our own employees to travel through, whether it’s a candidate coming through the recruitment process, a new employee coming through the onboarding process, we ask our employees at every step of the way how they felt about that step in the journey so that we are looking at their entire experience as opposed to just day one when they join us.

Mark:               I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask you this question. I assume you’ve been following ChatGPT. Is there a role for that or technology like that in ServiceNow?

Paul:                 ChatGPT is on everyone’s mind at the moment, and Mark, my take on this is, there was a time when machine learning and AI was the next big thing. There was a time when Chatbot was the next big thing. It just so happens, in my opinion, that ChatGPT is just the thing of the day, so there will be more and ongoing evolution in technology. I think, for ChatGPT, the thing that excites me personally the most is the ability for that type of technology to consume and consolidate a significant amount of data and present that in a really succinct way. I imagine that we could think about our employees in the same way. What is the headline of our employees based on information that we have available to us from internal systems?

                        We understand badging data, we understand email usage, we understand meeting frequencies, we understand people’s pay, how they travel through the organization. All of that data succinctly returned to us in a synopsis of what’s good or not for this employee can be really powerful.

                        I also think that if you think about case management, when a case comes into an agent, maybe you’ve had a 10, 15, 20-year relationship with an individual, whether it’s an employee or a customer. If you’re an airline, if you’re a hotel, imagine being able to quickly determine that this is one of your best customers. You could understand your customer so deeply that you could preempt their needs, “Hey, Paul, I noticed you travel with your spouse. Will this be a room for two people? Hey Paul, I notice you regularly travel on this flight with another person. Will that person be joining you?” These are all types of things that we can anticipate. Good for business, good for the individual.

Mark:               Paul, thanks very much for talking with me today. I really enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll come back.

Paul:                 Thanks so much for having me, Mark.

Mark:               My guest today has been Paul Davies, senior vice president for HR Business Partners at ServiceNow. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

Image: ServiceNow

Previous articleQ&A: Cornerstone OnDemand’s Chief Product Officer Karthik Suri
Next articleAs HR Becomes More Complex, HR Tech Stack Becomes More Critical