When exactly should vendor selection really start? Is it ever just about vendor selection? Many times, employers should step back, rethink assumptions, and consider whether vendor selection even is the right path. Whatever ails their HCM or impedes them from achieving their vision may be traceable to something other than technology or whatever vendor may already be deployed.
This episode of the video podcast is a brainchild of sorts. It stems from a conversation at the HR Technology Conference & Expo with Brenda Laughlin and Brian Turk, managing partners at Enavrio. “Is technology vendor selection really just about technology vendor selection?” I asked. And here we are now, the three of us, on #HRTechChat to explore the answer to this seemingly circular question.
Enavrio is “a global consulting collective of the best and brightest HR and HR technology consultants,” Brian stated near the outset of the recorded chat. Working with independent contractors, freelancers and, also, boutique consulting firms, Enavrio has a front row seat when it comes to seeing how technology vendor selection plays out. When and why employers determine that they need a change in their HCM technology provider is a complex discussion with many layers and variables. The direction of their decision-making is fraught with pitfalls.
“Ideally, we have the HR strategy somewhat formulated, we know what the business is trying to accomplish, and we know how the HR strategy is linked to the business objectives,” Brenda said. “Today, technology is just an integral part of almost every strategy, every piece of HR. And to ignore the technology piece and have it as an afterthought is a mistake,” just as to reflexively “lead with the technology is a mistake, because oftentimes technology doesn’t even solve the problem.”
As can be imagined, our discussion meandered smack-dab into 3Sixty Insights’ own core focus: understanding the evolving decision-making process in enterprise software. For one, it’s important for buying organizations to advocate for themselves. When it comes to their needs, “it’s a little bit risky to completely rely on the vendor from sales to implementation,” Brian said. “Ideally, you have some way of owning that as the client and seeing it through as the client.”
Longtime viewers may recall that Brenda was a guest on the podcast in late summer 2021. Here’s a link. It was a pleasure to have Brenda back, this time with Brian to discuss an at once timely and perennial topic. Any organization rethinking its approach to HCM would do well to view this episode.
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Brent Skinner 00:00
Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to this latest episode of the HRTechChat video podcast. And with me today, we have Brian Turk and Brenda Laughlin, who are managing partners at Enavrio, which is an HR consulting network. And we have a very interesting topic today around selecting technology for HR, but welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us. Maybe share with our audience, just a little bit of brown around what a Enavrio does, because I think that will kind of set the stage for what we’ll be talking about today.
Brian Turk 00:39
Sure, Brent, thank you for having us in Enavrio is a global consulting collective of the best and brightest HR and HR technology consultants. We work with independent contractors and freelancers and also boutique consulting firms. And we work with end clients, we work with vendors, and we work with larger consulting firms.
Brent Skinner 01:04
Fantastic, fantastic. Yeah. And we’ve had a lot of conversations in the past offline around what Enavrio does, and I’m really impressed with your work. And, and Brenda, we’ve had you on the podcast before. And it was a great episode. And we’ll link to it when we make this one live. The topic today is this is it really just vendor selection. And this, this topic sort of sprang to mind sprung sprang. Sorry, when we when we met up in the hallway at HR Technology Conference, about six weeks ago now, I guess, maybe seven? And it just kind of struck me, you know, just what is entailed in this? Is it just about the technology? Or is there more involved? And we got to talking about it, we thought, you know, hey, maybe this is worth a podcast episode. And maybe we could start here. We hear a lot about, you know, digital transformation, or HR and HR transformation. And, you know, I’ve spoken lots of people out in the wild, and they say, oh, digital transformation comes first and HR transformation. And others say no, it’s HR transformation that comes first in digital transformation. I thought, Okay, what is this chicken in the egg? Question? Is it just is it rigidly just one way, like the use of the Oxford comma? Or do we have some leeway? What, what, what comes first? Or does it depend?
Brenda Laughlin 02:40
No, I’ll take that one. You know, I think it depends. And ideally, they actually are happening in pairs somewhat in parallel when you look at it from a from a big scale. Ideally, you know, we have the HR strategy somewhat formulated, we know what the business is trying to accomplish, and how HR, the HR strategy is linked to the business objectives. And we know what we’re headed towards or what problems we’re trying to solve. But ideally, they’re happening in parallel. Today, technology is just an integral part of almost every strategy, every piece of HR. And to ignore the technology piece and have it as an afterthought is a mistake. The lead with the technology is a mistake, because oftentimes technology doesn’t even solve the problem. So ideally, they’re happening at the same time, we’re figuring out what problems we need to solve what strategies we need to align with. We’re putting plans in place and the digital the technology piece of it is integrated into it at the same time.
Brent Skinner 03:51
Yeah, super interesting. super interesting. You mentioned that sometimes technology doesn’t even solve the problem. Not to put you on the spot. But do you have any, maybe a war story around that something sort of an interesting story that kind of exemplifies that?
Brenda Laughlin 04:10
Sure. Sure. I mean, we’re working with a client and not real, we’re working with a client right now. Great client, but you know, right away, they want to put in a performance management process. And they’re, you know, they’re more of a startup company with incredible vision and an incredible mission. But a performance management process really isn’t going to our performance management system is probably not going to solve the problem. Really, it comes down to, hey, what’s everybody’s job? What’s their roles, who’s going to, you know, what, really, it’s a lot around the role clarity around versus the system. And we have this over and over again, where companies will decide to implement a system and they don’t even know what they’re really trying to solve for or they haven’t backed up and said You know, what is it that we’re trying to actually accomplish? And is this going to solve it? Sometimes it’s the easy way or the fad, you know, that drives them to a system. But many times it’s, it’s not the answer, or it’s only a piece of the answer. So
Brent Skinner 05:17
that’s a super important point. And, you know, it gets down to this idea of also a little bit of a tangent, but, you know, we’re not solving for the discrete silos of talent management anymore. Right. You know, if you’re a vendor, and, you know, it strikes me that maybe the vendors play a role in this sometimes is that, you know, they, they will see a prospect or somebody that’s asking you, and I have this problem, and, okay, I have a performance management solution for you, or I have a succession planning solution for you. And that’s not the way to look at it. It’s, you need to kind of look deeper and, and just understand that it. Did it all blends today.
Brenda Laughlin 05:59
Brent Skinner 06:02
Yeah. What does enough to look for and its clients before beginning vendor selection? How do you start, like, once you’ve kind of figured out, we’re maybe skipping a step here, but we’ll get back to it. But when does the navio kind of say, Okay, we’re ready now to look for a vendor to help you kind of figure this out.
Brian Turk 06:26
Yeah, Brian, do you want to take that one? Sure. Yeah. And sometimes it starts by them saying, we’re ready to find a new vendor, and we want help with it. And then we have to sort of calibrate Where are you really, in the process? To your first question, which comes first, right. But in terms of the bigger picture working with clients, we look at what are the business drivers here? What is the business need? Does the business need to lead us to a system solution? Or does it lead us first to thinking through your process or backing up thinking through your strategy, turning that into process and program, then turning that into business requirements, and then turning that into technical needs, which can then inform what’s the right system, if we’re kind of, you know, picking up on Brenda’s point about, let’s look at kind of the process here. We want to know what the business needs first. And that need may not be a new system, they may know they have a problem, they may know they need a solution to that problem. And vendors oftentimes will lead with what they are as a solution. But really, we want to make sure that we’re digging a few levels deeper than that surface level problem to solution, and making sure that we’re matching the root cause to the actual technical capabilities that a system can bring. And yeah, sometimes that doesn’t mean that that we’re quite ready to pick a new system as of yet.
Brent Skinner 07:58
Yeah, yeah. That’s interesting. What, what do you think vendors are, in general, in terms of grasping this, and maybe, you know, taking a more consultative approach, when, when they’re in their first conversations? And as they grow their, their interactions with prospects? For instance, are they do you see them sort of understanding this and starting to take a more consultative approach? Are there standouts? We don’t have to name vendors, but are there some out there that are really kind of getting in? And, but is it mostly that they’re, they’re kind of behind? Is this a big area of need of improvement for the vendor side of things?
Brenda Laughlin 08:41
You know, and I don’t know that, I would say it’s an area of improvement, you know, if we look up the objective of the vendor, their objective is to sell their product. And so their salespeople come in with a very consultative approach and oftentimes make other suggestions. But I think, ideally, their goal is to sell the product, right? So they’re going to try to figure out how to convince you that their system is the solution. So that’s, that’s one of the great things about having a more of a neutral third party to help you through the selection process is that you can have somebody you can, you know, kind of an outside party that can say, hey, wait a sec. Let’s dig a little deeper into what they’re saying as your, you know, your solution or your problem and kind of help to facilitate that, I think.
Brent Skinner 09:30
Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. That’s, I’m glad you kind of clarified that. I’m curious in terms of in terms of the the employers that need something HR related to figure out something strategically and then eventually incorporate the technology. Where, what is it like when they when they approach you, for instance, you know, what kind of such like what is their state of being you know, is where are they? Is it a? Is there is sort of like a typical? Or is it? Is it across the board? Or what maybe what’s the ideal state of their being then they kind of like in person engage with folks like you?
Brenda Laughlin 10:17
Yeah, Brian, do you take that one? Yeah,
Brian Turk 10:20
I think we’re I can certainly speak to the ideal. I don’t know if the ideal matches reality, most of the time, but I think the ideal is that it’s a natural evolution of where they are as a company. And as a as an HR function within that company, where maybe they’ve outgrown the vendor that they’re with currently, or they’ve had some course of business that’s changed their requirements were their current solution doesn’t squarely fit with those requirements any longer. And it’s time to move on to something new. Now, that’s something new may still be with the same vendor, just a different products within that vendors umbrella, for example, maybe they’re moving from on premise to cloud, for example, or they have a small limited version, and they’re ready for enterprise could be something like that. But at the same time, you still may be looking at some outside vendors. But I think that’s the natural sort of organic combination of a vendor selection. Oftentimes, it’s a little more reactive than that in reality, but I think that’s, that’s the way that it should work. If everything’s aligning the way we want it to,
Brenda Laughlin 11:27
you know, and what we often find is that, there’s this saying, like the worst software is the one that you have now, and the best one is the one you’re going to, that’s really, really not the case, you find a lot of vendors who are a lot of customers who are just complaining about their current vendor, they just so many issues, so many problems. And when we work with a client, a lot of times we find that there really isn’t, it’s really not the vendor that it’s the problem. It’s how you set it up. It’s how you’ve grown and changed and not just your system. In the meantime, all systems have some challenges, and no system is perfect. So we try to we try to help the client actually figure out, do they actually need to move to a new system? Or is it that we just need to go in and figure out what are the really the pain points and the things that are working and fix that and that can save them a ton of money. And as ton of time and change management? There are times where you have to move, right? Because the vendor is obsoleting the product or you know, but many, many times, it’s just like, Oh, we’re up for renewal, and we hate our system. Let’s go out to bid for a new one. And that’s not the right answer.
Brent Skinner 12:48
Yeah, yeah. You know, the, that what you said, you know that the worst spinner is the one you have in the best one is the one you want. That, that holds true for lots of things in life. I couldn’t help but chuckle inside when you said that, because it is kind of like a perception thing. Have you ever had a situation where you were you really just helped the client just reimplement the existing solution? Because, because, well, I have a little story to share. But, uh, but I don’t want to, you know, any, any situations like that?
Brian Turk 13:28
Oh, yeah. Of course. And the you know, that there are different ways that this can come about. But oftentimes, you know, clients have awareness that maybe they didn’t knock it out of the park on their initial implementation of a new product, right, or even if it’s not the new product, but they’ve had it around several years, they know that there are capabilities that their system has, that they have not unlocked, or that there’s something they’re not quite doing right. Sometimes they don’t have that awareness. So you know, I did work with an enterprise consumer products company that was in that bucket of, we have these five or six pain points that our system just isn’t delivering what we want it to, and we really need to look at, you know, other potential solutions out there now, at the size that they are, you can narrow down the competitors to a fairly small list in terms of, you know, complexity and capability. And it’s a fairly major decision to change from one platform to another at that size. And so we took a very close examination of what they were doing and their processes, a very close look at the system’s capabilities, thinking outside of the box a little bit both on how they were conducting their processes, how they were articulating their requirements, and then some of the functionality in the system where there were some configuration options that aren’t necessarily commonly used, but they’re available, and maybe just not well publicized or well discussed. And we were able to address those five or six pain points for the most part, not 100%, but no systems gonna address what you’re looking for as a business 100% of the time. So it is definitely possible.
Brent Skinner 15:24
That’s super interesting. It’s almost like conducting discovery for them. Yeah, helping them. Yeah, yeah, I, you know, I have a, somebody that I spoke with in a previous life and ever spoke with more recently in terms of HR space, and they’re, you know, this, this absolutely happens all the time, you know, and it can be, it can be kind of bad, where were the solution, in this case, I won’t name the vendor, obviously, or the user, but it’s a very well known and HCM suite, and it was just, it was, it’s known for for being sort of streamlined and clean, right, and it just was implemented wrong, it was implemented entirely wrong. And it’s got this point where the perception is on the on the user side that whenever something goes wrong, oh, that’s, that’s Susan, XYZ, again, you know, just not not working. And it’s, and it’s the person that works there. Now that I know, who’s an HR leadership, he happens to have used that same system elsewhere and loves it, because he knows what it’s capable of doing. And so, you know, there’s, there’s these situations where you just go in, and you just wonder, how did that happen? And I’m just, you know, not because, you know, the vendors, the vendors have so much to do, they have a lot on their plate, you know, and, and in this is not in this is not a knock against any one vendor, you know, it’s more of a sort of an industry challenge. But, but I just, you know, I just think that there’s, there’s a, there’s a something that happens between the close of the sale, and it’s handed off to implementation team, and then eventually the customer success, or maybe that’s concurrent, I don’t know, where things go things kind of fall apart. Often.
Brenda Laughlin 17:12
They do they do, you know, I think what happens oftentimes is customers purchase a system met, sometimes they don’t, they just don’t understand what it entails to actually set up the system from an internal capability, the decisions they’re going to have to make, how they’re going to make them, you know, how they’re actually going to do that. A lot of times, they just haven’t really thought through who they put in charge and making those decisions. They haven’t tested, they haven’t, it, there’s a lot to the process. And so just being ready as a customer is a big piece of it. And then it depends on who you select as a partner, and who you are, or the vendor themselves, if they’re doing the implementation, what the knowledge is of the person that you’re working with, and how you know, what the consultant or the consulting team that you’re working with, how they can facilitate you through those decisions that help you as a customer set that up? It’s, it’s not an it’s, it’s much harder than then a lot of customers go into, you know, into what this takes to actually set all that up. So, yeah, yeah, totally one person is to blame the vendors not to blame the partners not to blame the companies not to blame. It’s, it’s a combination of all of them, and it to get it right. There’s a lot.
Brent Skinner 18:35
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You know, I know of one vendor where and having been on the vendor side, myself, I know that, you know, and this is not the vendor I’m talking about, look at my professional bio, say, oh, that’s what I’m talking about. But, you know, there’s, there’s often sort of a lot of vendors, I think they and I heard this somebody put it this way, we don’t, we don’t expect we’re not expecting salespeople to act like anything else than salespeople. And what that means is, you know, there’s often there’s often kind of like a form that the salesperson will be expected to fill out at the close of the deal you know, so that the next team when the hand off, they have all the information they need to a good implementation, do it as it was sold to them you know, so it reflects you know, their impression of the system and all this and you know, and the completion rates on those can be quite a quite atrocious because sales that’s not what salespeople do is fill out forms that someone has closed in sales. The deal is done, you know, they’re on to the next one and, and so I know of one vendor where they, they just, they don’t expect the salespeople to be anything other than salespeople. Instead, they have like a forensics team. That goes like they have like in their customer success. Group, they have no they have like for As a team that goes in there, and actually interviews the salesperson, like, you know, so they just, and they kind of go in there and figure out everything. And so they are, you know, it’s a little bit extra, you know, labor expenditure, frankly. But it but it really pays off because those implementations end up going, as you know, not all the time, there’s still problems, but it much higher rate of success for this into the presentations in terms of reflecting what the expectations were when, when the when the prospect signed, signed on the dotted line became a customer. I do love that.
Brian Turk 20:34
Yeah, yeah. I do love that concept. I think it is a little bit risky to completely rely on the vendor to carry forward, what your needs are, from sales to implementation. Ideally, you have some way of owning that as the client and seeing it through as the client. Without things getting lost in translation, we do look at ways for how can we have a through line, working with clients from the initial kind of HCM strategy, visioning, to business needs to technical specifications and selecting a vendor to actually configuring and implementing with that vendor. And when you’re doing the selection, it takes the form of let’s make sure everyone’s on the same page regarding what the functionality needs to be to specifics. And make sure everyone’s really aligned. And when everyone’s not really aligned to that we’re able to prioritize and collectively agree on what our needs are. First and foremost, there are tools out there, one that we partner with is called Olive. And that facilitates that process of collaborating across stakeholder teams within an organization. And then it helps carry that through line forward. And you can have vendors essentially fill out their responses to each of these requirements. And of course, we all do this with, you know, RFPs. And we have spreadsheets, and I’ve seen a million different ways of doing it. But it can get really messy and it can get lost along the way. So something like this, that’s a sort of a centralized, standard consistent way of tracking that sales process through even implementation and testing, even through training. So you can say, here’s what the seed of this requirement was. And now we’re actually testing a configured system to make sure that we delivered on that promise case by case. And that’s where I think, again, if you can do that as a, if you can do that as a customer, then you have ownership of the processing that way.
Brent Skinner 22:44
Yeah, that’s that that’s huge. And you know, and because a lot of customers, you know, not all the time, but often it’s the first time around the rodeo, when it comes to selecting a solution and then and then implementing it and everything. And, you know, and if you don’t want to be wet behind the years, when you’re gonna think things will go wrong, you know, that didn’t have to go wrong. And, you know, and it drastically increases the chances of, you know, of having a sort of a botched implementation or something that’s SubD suboptimal compared to what you were promised and envisioned and expected. And, you know, we’re reasonable and expecting. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You know, going back to the, you know, the, the thought around, you know, how do folks sort of, how do you find where are they, when they first engaged with you sounds to me, like, sort of disruption or friction sort of prompts them to reach out to, to folks like you, and hopefully, it’s you guys, because you’re the best obviously. But, you know, there’s, I just makes me wonder if there’s, if we’re ever going to get to a point where people this is sort of the proverbial thing, you know, are people ever going to get more reactive, scummy, proactive? as a, as a matter? Of course, will that become the norm? And I don’t know, maybe we’ll get there some time. But any thoughts around that? You know, just sort of this seems to be very reactive when they reach out to folks like you, and that makes sense. But any thoughts?
Brenda Laughlin 24:25
Yeah. You know, our hope is that our, our goal, ideally, we’re engaged with a client firm, a long term partnership, where we’re continually working with we have consultants in with all sorts of different domain expertise and we can help them with the maintenance, you know, the kind of their continuous ongoing needs. And so then, you know, if we’re proactively looking at what’s going on and that it just goes a lot better. And so for any client out there, wherever they can have sort of a proactive view, have a partnership with, with consultant with a consulting network. With other, I think that’s going to I think that’s going to help you in the long run. So many times, it’s like all the needs just stack up. Yeah. And they just stack up. And then often it’s like, Well, Brian said this earlier, like, we just want to reinvent the whole HR function. Right? And we shouldn’t have to do that. Right, it should be sort of an ongoing transformation with an continuous improvement, where Yeah, we’re gonna have some major changes that come along. But if you’re, we’re continuously working on it, it shouldn’t be like, you know, it shouldn’t be like, hey, you know, I’ve eaten like a pig for all this time, and I now have 100 pounds to lose, right? We should be exercising every day and making those small improvements, taking our vitamins. And so then, yeah, we might get a little chubby over the holiday season. But it’s not a like a major transformation that has to happen. And I think, ideally, that’s how we would look at our HR strategy or trends, our systems and so forth. And so yeah, we’d love it when we can have those long term partnerships. Brian, you have anything to add?
Brian Turk 26:26
I think so. I think there’s I’m thinking through why, why is it that way, oftentimes, with clients, why did they have this, we only reach out when we’re in enough pain that we’re driven to do that. I think our engagement model is potentially a solve for maybe one of the root causes there, I think one of the root causes is, if I’m a customer, and I know that I’m going to have to, when I engage external consulting, it’s going to be an engagement, it’s going to be a commitment, it’s going to be a commitment financially, it’s going to be commitment of our time and resources. And we have to think it through really carefully and seriously, because it’s not going to be a small commitment. In order to get real expertise. In the traditional consulting model, oftentimes, we have to sign a fairly sizable contracts, and got ourselves locked in to do something with that effort. And with that investment, and there isn’t always enough pain to do that until there is and the way that we work is more flexible, and agile, we have a flexible and agile workforce. We work with people who want to do their best work and don’t always do their best work, engaged 40 hours a week for several weeks or months on end with one specific client. Sometimes it’s a work life things sometimes it’s kind of how they prepare, sorry, prefer to organize their own work. So we match what they want, versus what customers want. Sometimes customers want something that isn’t an all in investment for the next three 612 months, they maybe need some spot consulting, some advice, maybe just a few weeks, maybe just very specific technical problems that they’re looking at, maybe they want some strategy, framing, but it doesn’t need to be a big transformation that lasts over several years. And we can deliver on those without being too invasive. Because we have a model that adapts and flexes with the customers need by way of how we engage our experts in our collective.
Brent Skinner 28:48
That’s, I’m really glad you brought that up. Because sometimes the need is this isn’t the right word that surface, but it’s more it’s pinpointed. It’s, you know, it’s not, it’s not necessarily a lot a longitudinal need. Right. And, and by the same token, you know, what I’m hearing or the other side of the coins, what I’m hearing is that, you know, yeah, people will probably continue to come to you because they’re, you know, the pain, you know, the pain gets to a point where, okay, we need somebody but then the idea is okay, that’s how you came to us. But, you know, now you’re Can you can if you want to or need to be with us long term so that the next time there’s a, you know, we can catch that pain before it becomes too painful. Right? And becomes and, and I like your analogy with, you know, sort of, you know, maintaining a healthy weight, you know, you know, you’re not gonna just you know, fast for two weeks because you got way overweight, you know, this is a no so it’s a marathon and, you know, the process for you guys is you know, it’s iterative, you know, that transformation HR transformation should be iterative. And, you know, it should be managed and at a pace that it should be kept at a pace that’s manageable, right? And it’s not, you’re not going to transform like, Whoa, we’re transformed that doesn’t happen. only happens in you know, cartoons. Yeah, really good stuff, really good stuff. And any anything, any sort of last thoughts to add here?
Brian Turk 30:31
Alright, keep going back to a keep going back to vendor selection absolutely has its place. It’s not always the first right answer. And, you know, in another quick story I can recall is when I was brought in to a client who was dissatisfied largely at the user level, and they were having frustrations with even just too many clicks to do this, I can’t get this information to that information, they kind of had already made up their mind that they were going to switch vendors, when I was brought in. I tried to convince them not to bigger picture, their customer success team had kind of burned some bridges and the financials kind of didn’t make sense. So, you know, they were justified in the end in doing that, but if they were just looking at a features and functionality perspective, their problems were solvable. And we did solve them for the ended up being 18 months before they finally implemented a new system, which I also helped them with, but I mean, you know, technically, they could have kept their old one and been perfectly happy with it, all the other factors aside, so I just emphasize that if you’re if you’re just looking at a vendor and hoping they’re going to solve all your problems, then it’s probably going to result in some disappointment. dug into a little bit deeper before you get there.
Brenda Laughlin 32:00
Yeah. Yeah. And I would just add that, you know, sometimes vendor selection is the answer, right? You do need a system. And when you do need a system, you want a thoughtful process, you want a third party, if possible, to help know, help navigate all of the different vendors out there help you with knowing where the right research is, you know, we love to plug some of our people into Brent’s research, right, we love to plug them into other research that is out there on the different systems and how clients have used those systems and where the successes have been. And we love so and we’d love to use all of our automation tool who can really, really help streamline the process and help as you go into implementation. So, you know, if you’re, if you’re actually going to move forward with vendor selection, and you know, that’s the right thing, then look and see, there are ways to make it simpler. It doesn’t have to be laborious. And I also, I also love to say like when you go into it, let make sure you don’t have any regrets. And you know how going through the process correctly can ensure you don’t have regrets?
Brent Skinner 33:13
That’s right, no regrets. I love it. Thank you so much to you both for joining us today. Really appreciate this. This has been a really interesting think illuminating conversation. So thank you very much.