The Boston #isolvedRoadShow Episode of #HRTechChat with Guest Geoff Webb

Last week, just before the morning’s program commenced at the Boston stop along the 2023 #isolvedRoadShow, this episode’s #HRTechChat video podcast guest Geoff Webb and I met for some impromptu “green room” time and joked that it was too bad the camera wasn’t rolling. Never fear, however: I plan to build on that very interesting discussion soon with a dedicated blog entry….

Following the conclusion of last Thursday’s itinerary at the Courtyard by Marriot, Geoff and I sat down for this episode of the podcast — recorded “in concert, so to speak,” from the Road Show floor. And this may be the right time to explain just what the 2023 isolved Road Show is, because it relates directly to the conversation captured here. A multiple-city trek that executives and others at isolved are making to reach as many of the vendor’s customers as possible, the Road Show is isolved’s vehicle to deliver an important, timely message to HR leaders and their teams: it’s possible to stop spinning your wheels under a mountain of administrative work and become strategic, laser-focused on the all-important employee experience. And you can get there one step at a time.

Geoff shared a metaphor for all this, the Red Queen Effect. In Lewis Carroll’s 19th century classic Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen teaches main character Alice the underlying subtext and metaphor of running faster and faster and, yet, staying in one place.

“When you think about what that means to an HR organization,” Geoff said, “I think it’s very, very appropriate. We see HR teams being asked to do more and more and more, to react and respond to changes in employee expectations and to change to the needs of the business. And, of course, there’s just a relentless drumbeat of new legislation, new laws, new compliance requirements, new mandates, and so on. So, of course, what they’re doing is have to run faster and faster, just to stay in the same place.”

The gist of the Red Queen’s lesson is to work smarter, not faster. Species evolve to evade falling prey to predators. These same predators then evolve to catch these same prey anew. Each draws on the same innate imperative, and HR can evolve, too. HR can stop running faster and faster just to stay in one place. With this deliberate, intentional shift in thinking, HR will see many desirable benefits over time. Their evolution will lead them to more gratifying work that organizational leadership will recognize as strategic. The best part is, just like biological evolution occurs in tiny steps, so does HR evolution. HR presses forward and upward in gradual increments — easily mastered, effective steps.

Geoff is a repeat guest on #HRTechChat, by the way, and you can view a previous episode featuring him. In the midst of doing well over 60 for 2023, isolved is serious about its Road Shows. Those into math will recognize right away that this means at least one city every week this year. Yes, the isolved team is busy, and we at 3Sixty Insights enjoyed the opportunity to join them and host this episode of the podcast.

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Brent Skinner 00:00
Well, hello there, and welcome to this episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast. We are here in Boston with isolved. At their Boston stop along the 2023 isolved Road Show. How many cities are you going to?

Geoff Webb 00:17
So this year, we’ve got planned 51. But we’re already at the point honestly, where they’re going really well. So that number is already creeping up into the 60s. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t go more than that, which is keeping us busy, right? There’s a lot of road shows to fit in to 52 weeks.

Brent Skinner 00:34
Yeah, last time I checked to see if you’re keeping track, it’s a 52. Week, this year anyway, this is Geoff Webb, VP of solution strategy here at isolved. And we’re here to talk about something really interesting. And, but first, Geoff, if you could just maybe introduce yourself a little bit to our viewers.

Geoff Webb 00:54
Yeah, absolutely. So again, my name is Geoff Webb, I lead the solution strategy organization at isolved. And really, the job of myself and my team is to constantly be looking at the direction that HR is headed, and how things like technology and services can be brought together to not only improve the sort of the day to day life of HR practitioners by reducing their work and bringing more information to them, but really transform the way that HR operates within a business and really take it from very much an operational function to something that’s much more strategic and transformative overall. So I get a great job, I do a lot of this sort of stuff and a lot of conversations with HR professionals too

Brent Skinner 01:32
Yeah, you know, I know that is really sort of the dream or the aspiration of so many HR people out there is to move away from the tactical and sort of the reactive stuff every day and really becoming more strategic and people focus to become the, the people heroes that they want it to be. And we have an idea today that that kind of encapsulates this, and it’s a really interesting one is called the Red Queen effect. And what is the Red Queen effect? Jeff?

Geoff Webb 02:01
Yeah, so first of all, it’s a it’s a reference from Lewis, Carroll, and Alice Through the Looking Glass. And it really, it comes from actually a lot of the sort of perspective on evolutionary biology, which is the idea that, you know, predators and prey constantly evolving in conjunction with each other and in competition with each other. The reference really is the Red Queen tells Alice, that you have to run faster and faster just to stay in place. When you think about what that means to an HR organization, I think it’s very, very appropriate. We see HR teams being asked to do more and more and more like to react and respond to changes in employee experts expectations and to change to the needs of the business. And of course, there’s just relentless sort of drumbeat of new legislation, new laws, new compliance requirements, new mandates, and so on. So, of course, what they’re doing is they’re, they’re doing exactly that they have to run faster and faster, just to stay in the same place.

Brent Skinner 03:03
And that’s interesting, you know, what’s going through my head is, who are the predators and who are the prey in this situation. And Nate, maybe that’s not a road, we don’t want we want to go down right now. But in any event, yet running faster and faster to stay in the same place. And I know that this is a lot about the HCM maturity model as well, then you move along and move on from operational like this, give me basic, I think to the I forgotten all the ones you’d want to get to engagement at the the right, sort of progressive or enlightened end of the model. But how can an HR department How does an HR department know that it’s running faster and faster to stay in the same place to do they even know? Yeah,

Geoff Webb 03:46
I think what we see is, you know, when I talk to a lot of HR professionals, there’s kind of an understanding that the pressure keeps mounting. And I didn’t find that. So many of them are just swamped with the day to day tasks. We run regular surveys. So we survey ourselves, we survey, HR leaders, and we survey employees across the US we did pretty regularly to so that we can stay in touch with how you know the day to day realities of life for these organizations. We ran a survey of HR leaders, it was about 500 US based HR leaders relatively recently within the last couple of months. And I think we’ve literally just published it. But 40 Something said low 40s by 41 42% said they are literally spending half to almost an entire day, simply answering the same questions doing the same things. And when you think about the pressures that are on an HR organization, and HR leaders, and yet, what are they doing, they’re spending almost the whole time just going through the same things. What’s my payroll, how do I book a vacation day what who’s you know, who am I beneficiaries for the how do I enroll in this same questions over and over again? And yes, they you know, you try and sort of minimize that there’s a lot of cut and paste and Here’s how you find that thread, it still has impact on those teams. I had a story. I was talking to a HR leader yesterday. And one of the challenges they had was the employees know who all the HR department is they know them all. And so what they would do is they would have a question, and they would email it to everybody in HR. And everybody in HR was running off to go find the answer. So not only was it one, was it a question, eating the time of one person, it was actually eating up the entire department, there was like, they’re all rushing to go find the answer to this question. And it will be the same set of questions over so to answer your, your sort of your question directly, I think there’s a combination of a sort of an emotional sense of, we’re drowning in the day to day, and then there’s just hard statistics that show that HR teams are, they’re not falling behind. But what they’re doing is they’re just like, very much the Red Queen, they’re having to go faster and faster and work more and more simply to stay, to some degree on top of all of the requirements and requests that they have. And I think when you have those conversations with HR teams, it really does resonate, there we go, that’s us. And that, that is that that’s what we’re having to do,

Brent Skinner 06:08
you know, having been in the HCM space for a while myself. And I think about the state of the art of software for HCM. And I think about what that enables and facilitates versus what you’re describing this. So after you said 41, or 42% of them are spending almost their entire day doing this stuff. And I think to myself, you know, this is this is an old reference, but stop the insanity. Right? What is it you know what the other thing is? I to be just to be funny here, you know, I could actually see myself before I got into HCM, which was many years ago, I could see myself blasting an email to everybody in HR with the same question hoping I would get the question get the answer back as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t do it today. But what what do you think is the the the the impact of every single HCM conversation, by the way, always leads back to AI these days, and we’re not going to disappoint you today. But what kind of roll this AI have to do with this, because it seems in terms of running in the same place, and just as just to keep up with things and and now we have AI in the next How can AI help with this? And yeah, and how does that affect? You know, just the the overall calculus in terms of paying attention to and stewarding the the employee experience?

Geoff Webb 07:28
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think we definitely think it’s almost impossible to talk about any sort of intersection of business or just daily life and technology without, at some point AI popping up, it becomes you know, it’s almost it’s so prevalent, and I think has had in the last couple of years, has become so ubiquitous, it’s It’s everywhere. It’s very visible, I think, even before they’re No, so taking a step back, even from the sort of the AI precipice. Doesn’t, that just feels like that, right? There’s a huge amount of value in just even basic, you know, core technologies, before you get to things like machine learning, and then ultimately AI and on just helping HR organizations deal with the challenges, I think what we see is, you know, this is a journey that that organizations go on, and it’s something we talk about a lot is how do we help our customers and partners go on the journey, right? It’s not about painting a picture of something in the future that’s theoretically possible, it’s about this get concrete about the journey. Before then I think technology, HCM technology, broadly, can just do things like you can aggregate information into one place, and then it can use those, you know, their single source of truth, to automate the basic day to day stuff, booking your vacation, a vacuum on my payroll, you know, it’s just doing that just automating those sees, has huge impact way in advance of the potential for AI, which I promise I will come to. And I think what we see is it’s it’s that capacity to, to automate, and to be a single source of truth, that then helps HR organizations and HR practitioners step back from that, you know, that constant running on the spot. And that what that does is it unlocks their capacity, then focus on stuff that’s more important on the human aspects. It’s always the interesting part of that technology can unlock the ability to be more human, and they think AI becomes you know, it really sort of accelerates that it’s the rocket booster that really puts that that sort of trend into orbit.

Brent Skinner 09:34
But you’re absolutely correct. And it is really an incremental a game of incremental ism there, right? Because this is not about just sweeping taking away of everything that was holding you back all this tedious work, and then all of a sudden your strategic fully strategic, right? It’s just this is a game of attrition, you’re you’re losing some of that inefficiency slowly. And that’s actually Good thing, because you’re learning over time how to be more strategic, and you’re not sort of thrust into a, into a situation where you have to be suddenly completely strategic you’re learning along

Geoff Webb 10:13
the way. Yeah, I mean, you, you know, when you build a house, you start with the foundation and a solid foundation is what you build on. And I think the capacity of like, even the core HCM technologies, to provide that foundation for growth for any HR organization is, is still relatively untapped. Even even today. Even though there’s a lot of HCM technology out there, there’s a lot of opportunity to, to just utilize that and then get to the real power of machine learning and AI.

Brent Skinner 10:42
Well, the other thing that you mentioned just now, which is really interesting is that we have, you know, have a lot of large organizations, some large organizations, they still have sort of clunky HCR, HR processes and all this, but some of them are very mature, and they’re each own. But you always, you’re always going to have small companies that are that are sort of cropping up in there, they’re just getting a handle on their operational HR. And so there’s always going to be that need to kind of go from, from nothing to something. Yeah, which is super important. In every small organization, as it grows, gets to a point where, where it just, it can’t go on any longer. Right. I think about I was reading the other day at I remember, I don’t remember where but I learned about this economist named herb Stein who talked, he had his famous quote, and it’s, it’s pear, I’m paraphrasing it, because there are a few different versions of it, but it’s, you know, what can’t go on, will stop. And, you know, and that is something, you know, you hear in various capacities. But that’s something for HR departments to, I think, to internalize this idea that, you know, in a way, that’s almost that’s almost hope for them, right. Yeah,

Geoff Webb 11:50
I think so. I think so. We, it’s like any of these changes that occur in, in business process, you know, in, it just don’t seem the human condition, right. I mean, you look at psychologists, and we build, you know, as human beings, we build a model of the world we carry around in our heads, and how do I understand how to do this, I believe in those things. And usually what happens is you one tends to think of that changes there as incremental changes, right? That Oh, little changes over time and gradually change my opinion of this. And that, actually, that’s not what happens, right? What happens is that you reach this point where the the weights of change that you’re required to internalize forces a crisis of re sort of re evaluation, and your your worldview changes dramatically. You sort of this is great, this is great. Wait, this is terrible, right? Oh, this is terrible. This is great. Now I can live with it. And that, I think that applies so much to that very, very human occupation of managing people. And I think advice, especially to HR departments, and I think what’s coming is exactly what you’re saying is, we are reaching that crisis, and it’s not gonna be a bad crisis, right. But that creates a crisis moment of a forced change. When we go we have to do something different. You can’t just hiring another person, or you know, doing working somewhere else, we isn’t going to change the the fundamental underlying drivers of change it going back to AI, I think AI will absolutely be an agent of change in the way we think about delivering what we have to deliver back to the business and you’re right, it’s, it’s a moment of change. It has, it goes until they calm and then we have a change.

Brent Skinner 13:25
Oh, it’s a moment of urgency, right. And it’s in we’re in we’re in a spot right now, where I it’s really interesting, we’ve, we’ve we’ve measured the success of business in a certain way for so long. And not to say that it’s wrong, because it’s not wrong. But we’ve learned over time, I think and in the end, there are smarter people out there naked to academia, and whenever that probably a fault this for longer than I have, but we’re no longer looking at the success of business as narrowly as, as what can be, you know, quantified in a or calculated for an accounting spreadsheet, that’s only piece of the puzzle. Right. And, and what’s interesting about this is sort of elimination of inefficiencies in HR. It’s important at the same time for for organizational leadership, and HR leaders and these organizations to remember that, okay, the goal here is not only to get rid of the inefficiencies, it because we’re more than that as an HR department.

Geoff Webb 14:26
Yeah, great. Great. Yeah, I think, you know, there’s a sort of dawning of awakening of understanding really, around what really drives successful businesses and you’re right, but you can only you can measure and define success any way you want. But what I think six genuinely successful businesses are doing is they go yes, we have revenue goals, we have market share goals, we have profitability goals. They kind of have to be that because that’s the, you know, the sort of the oxygen that feeds a business that can but it’s how you get there. That is so in quote now and the how is so defined by the experience and the commitment of your employees. So that success has become a case of, we’re going to be successful, but we need to maximize the value of the employees we have, we need to look after them. So they stay, because if we’re investing in them, that becomes really part of why they stay with us. And walking, you know, really enlightened businesses are realizing is, shockingly, the employees are incredibly valuable. Like, that’s what we see drives for diversity. It isn’t just some altruistic, you know, it’s good thing, right, we should have diverse organizations. But what businesses realize is, wait a second, if you have a diverse workforce, they bring all kinds of life experiences, they bring all kinds of perspectives, they bring value, simply because there is diversity in there. And so that’s a great, that’s a good way to reach those goals. If you are enabling your employees to have a good work life balance, they will deliver more, they become more productive. That’s a good way of reaching the goal. So to your point, I think, yes, you need to sort of achieve those, you know, sort of mechanical, numerical metrics, but the path to get there is what’s defining successful organizations because they will continue to be successful in the future. And that path is the road that is being built based by modern HR organizations that are focused on all the things we’ve been talking about.

Brent Skinner 16:19
You’re absolutely correct. And we were talking about this earlier this morning, and you gave the really good analogy of, you know, when you get to the goal, you achieve the goal, but you, you know, you had to throw all the furniture and cut it up and put in the woodstove right

Geoff Webb 16:32
there, then you can’t do that more than once. Right?

Brent Skinner 16:35
Exactly. And it’s really interesting, because you have, you have goals, you have the ultimate, the, I’ll call them the, the ultimate goals, although I don’t think that’s really the right word, especially the connotation of it, but you know, to make to, to generate the greater revenue or to, to, to to improve the bottom line, bring all that but, but we were talking earlier also about the process, you know, what, what does it feel like getting there in, in the psychology of reaching a goal versus the psychology of working toward a goal? Yeah. Well, it just, will you go ahead. No, I

Geoff Webb 17:12
was I was gonna just agree, I just could not agree more, right? That, that we, we tend to, you know, human beings, we tend to think of in terms of goals, right, I need to be able to do this, if only I could, you know, get to drink an extra liter of water a day, or if only I could. And we tend to think of a goal that we set ourselves, though reality is what defines human beings and what makes us productive and interesting and connected and engaged. And, you know, happy isn’t the goal. It’s exactly what you said, it’s the path to the goal. It’s the, it’s the achievement in the process that really fuels us. Because I guarantee when you get to that goal, you’ve set yourself another goal.

Brent Skinner 17:49
And looking just just to give HR departments that may feel like, Hey, man, we’re really operationally we want to get there. But just to give them sort of something to look forward to aspire to, you know, this is super interesting stuff and thinking about creating an organization that’s that sort of perpetually, like always, in reaching the goal. Load night in a very positive, we’re always working toward the goal mode. And that that, to me, seems to be the not to be too funny or too cute, but the actual goal,

Geoff Webb 18:21
right? It is, it is it’s the journey, that ultimately, is what defines you, because it’s the journey, it’s that it’s striving towards a common goal is the very thing that knits people together into a community that knits submits knits engagement that makes people feel connected to business goal, is this right? Yeah, you want to go towards that goal. But the it’s the process, and how you gather the defines that and how you manage that getting? And I think that actually, interestingly, brings us right round to where I think AI and machine learning can start to and will start to be a much bigger part of how businesses think about the the management of people again, it’s it’s interesting that, that that technology could potentially unlock us again, to be even more human in our day to day.

Brent Skinner 19:06
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. This has been fascinating, just absolutely fascinating discussion. I know, we could go on and on and on. And we have not previously. But we want to keep the podcast to to a digestible length. So in any event, thank you so much, Geoff.

Geoff Webb 19:25
Thank you!

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