Q&A: Beamery’s Kyle Lagunas on Customers, Vision and Why HCM Tech Succeeds

HCM Vision

Before joining Beamery as director of strategy, Kyle Lagunas was a highly regarded analyst at IDC, Lighthouse Research, Brandon Hall, Independent Insights and Gartner. Now he creates programs to support Beamery’s product and commercial teams, and works with customers to develop their talent acquisition strategies. We spoke with Kyle soon after he took up his new position.

So you’ve made the jump from analyst to vendor-side. How did that happen?

I’d been on the analyst side studying vendor landscape and emerging trends in both tech and best practices for the better part of a decade. Analysts are very good at identifying trends, evaluating tech, exploring new solutions to longstanding problems, but we’re not really on the hook for solving anything. It’s more of asking the right questions and having good ideas—there was no real opportunity for me to do something tangible to move the industry forward.

.@KyleLagunas talks about #HRTech, balancing vision and usefulness and why we should 'meet users where they are.' #@BeameryHQ #HR #HRTribe Click To Tweet

I really think this talent space is cool. I like it. And here at Beamery—and this isn’t a plug, this is just me being honest with you—they’ve always impressed me with the fact that they thrive on both ideation and execution. They expect the best ideas to win. It’s not just, “This leader always decides how things go.” It’s that we all see what makes the most sense.

But then we’re also expected to execute on those ideas. We’re trying to find the best path forward for our clients because that’s the best path forward for us. The opportunity I have here is to sit at that intersection of ideation and execution, which is what I’d wanted to do as an analyst.  

It often seems like the industry’s thinking gets ahead of practitioners, the people who have to administer the software. And as self-service becomes more important, it often seems as if the industry prioritizes the employee over the HR department. What’s your thinking?

Kyle Luganas
Beamery’s Kyle Luganas

Well, I couldn’t agree more that the ideas are way out ahead of the operations. A lot of capabilities just aren’t being used.

We know vendors are investing millions in out-innovating each other, but how many of them are investing similarly in supporting their clients after they’ve made a purchase decision? How many of them are supporting clients, not just one year after they’ve gone live, but five or 10 years after they’ve gone live? You have this dinosaur of a product that hasn’t adapted because the innovation isn’t trickling down. The vendor’s chasing something new and the buyers are like, “Oh, let’s chase those new things.”

And I feel what’s enabling that is analysts, the media. We’re guilty by association, while we should be a check for vendors, saying, “Hey, you know what? That would be really neat. But you know what also would be neat? If you could get 90 percent adoption on your existing product. Let’s actually focus on value through utility, not just value through wow factor.”  

I haven’t really seen a lot of advocacy in the market for the practitioner, for the user, for the talent leader in a practical sense. It’s more of, “Let’s give them something shiny and new because we know that this is best practice” or whatever. But we’re still not solving fundamental problems.

I think that the vendor community across HCM—I noticed this in my time at IDC—was starting to catch on and realized, “Well, hell, we really need to be investing a lot more in client success. We really need to start thinking about how we solution our clients instead of just how to sell them.”

Well, you expect technology companies to be thinking far ahead. But it does sometimes seem as if they’re skipping the near to medium terms.

Oh, I know. I mean, where did the analytics conversation go? We didn’t even breach past early adopter for analytics, and analytics is the keystone to optimizing operations. If you don’t know what’s working and what’s not, how can you actively manage your programs? How can you actively manage your ops if you’re not really sure what’s going on? If your key performance indicators are either vanity metrics or efficiency metrics, that’s not really business intel.  

The analytics story is an interesting one. Everybody was out there talking about analytics, about how you had to incorporate data into HR, and everyone forgot that there were maybe five HR people in the world who’d been trained in data at the time. Is that kind of disconnect still out there?  

This was something Lisa Rowan and I were trying to drive at IDC. We did a long-term study on the adoption of analytics across the HCM function, and what we found was that there was no lack of tools. It was a lack of culture. There was no culture of analytics. Cultivating a culture of data is a lot more than just buying an analytics pack from SuccessFactors.

What’s interesting, though, was that all of the clients, all the software vendors I was working with… I was encouraging them to embed analytics into the workflows, to bring data down to the individual user instead of relegating it to a custom report builder or relegating it to these robust analytics dashboards.

If we want analytics to become a core component of HCM, then it needs to live where the everyday user lives. I always use the example of a recruiter opening up a new requisition in an ATS. You input a job title, a location and a salary range, and with those three data points you should be able to make a recommendation about whether this a competitive offer in this area. Can we predict whether this will be an average time to hire for us, a shorter time to hire because it’s a more competitive offer, or a longer time to hire because it’s an uncompetitive offer?”

Let’s shift gears and talk about experience. First of all, do you ever think the whole concept of experience is being overused? And, second, is there a danger that technology can end up watering down the experience when it’s not used properly?  

Technology can either enable or inhibit. [Before the interview] you asked about encouraging recruiters to send more text messages–would that really build a more personalized candidate experience? Carte blanche, no. Just saying “text everybody” might not actually create a more positive candidate experience. For example, if I heard out of the blue from a recruiter on my cell phone, I wouldn’t like that. That’s a little too personal.

But, matter of fact, some candidates do prefer texts. So, meet people where they are. That’s the theme that I would say is the most important in the experience conversation: ensuring that HCM operations and HR technologies are improving, optimizing experience—not inhibiting it.

I think that this conversation—this obsession with experience in HR tech—it does matter. It is real. I think the obsession is healthy as long as we realize the reason that employee experience and candidate experience have become such a problem is because we still haven’t not solved many of our fundamental issues. That we’re still not addressing some longstanding pain points. Instead, we’re chasing shiny new things.

Customer experience matters immensely to the business, right? Now people are realizing, “Okay, well, employee experience is either a truly competitive advantage or it’s inhibiting our ability to compete. Either our talent operations are optimized to positively impact our ability to win new business and enter new markets and innovate for our customers, or they aren’t.” That’s what I think is driving this. Companies that have really focused on customer experience know that the employee plays a huge part in that customer experience. You can’t prioritize one without accounting for the other. Customer experience and employee experience go hand-in-hand.

When companies are figuring out their HR tech strategy, do you think they generally prioritize the right things, or do they get lost in the bright shiny objects? Should they be paying more attention to the workaday stuff?

I think there remains this gap between identifying the best idea and executing on those ideas. I’ll give you an example: candidate experience. Nobody disagrees that we should try to do better with candidates, but how will we do that across an entire extended enterprise? What, specifically, do we need to change to ensure both meaningful and continuous improvement for candidates? We don’t get to that. Instead it’s like, “We need to improve candidate experience, so let’s get a new recruiting system.”

Well, if we have new tech but an old process, then we still have the same operational issues. We can change providers, but can we transform functions? We need to be thinking more about the latter. How do we not just adapt to new technology solutions, but evolve to meet changing talent dynamics?  

Think of companies that see there’s far more to this than just keeping modern, just staying current and staying on-trend—the ones who have a true north. They say, “we value our people above all and so we have policies. Our guiding light is we value our people more than anything.” And so, they might have a standard operating procedure for maternity leave, but if there’s a gay couple and they don’t have a formal paternity leave—well, let’s just give them the maternity leave policy. Who cares what we call it?

It doesn’t matter what tech you have in place when it comes to people. The question is, what’s your guiding light? What’s your true vision for the future? I think that’s what we need to spend the most time on, making sure that we’re keeping our eyes ahead from a strategy perspective and building a tech stack that supports that.  

The tech stack isn’t the end-all, be-all. It’s really the vision. It’s really the commitment that is the end-all, be-all. I don’t think we spend enough time ensuring that we’re optimizing for the future, from a vision standpoint. I don’t think we’re holding ourselves accountable for being the best talent function that we can be. Instead, I think we’re content to be good enough, or maybe resigned to be good enough, because it’s the best we can do with the resources that we have. That’s the sad reality for many, but I think that’s why we should aspire to more. Because if that’s our aspiration, then we execute differently and we’ll look at our resources in a different way.

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