Episode 14: How to Transform HR to Drive More Business Value (Interview with Jill Larsen, Chief People Officer at Medidata)
The lens on HR continues to intensify. McKinsey talks about the G3 the group of three Executives at the top of the company the CEO, the CFO and the CHRO. But how does a CHRO partner successfully with a CEO and the rest of the executive team?
That's the topic for this week's episode where my guest is Jill Larsen, Chief People Officer at Medidata on how to transform HR to drive more business value. Jill has over 20 years experience in senior HR roles in companies like Cisco, EMC and SunGard. So she is ideally placed to talk about how the role of the CHRO has changed.
You can listen below or by visiting the podcast website here.
In our conversation Jill and I discuss:
The key responsibilities of the CHRO in our Modern Age and how these have evolved over the past years
The digital transformation of HR and how to bring the rest of the organisation with you along the journey
The changing skills requirements for HR professionals
We also talk about how you can harness technologies to support this change and transformation
And like with all our guests, we look into the crystal ball and ponder what the role of HR will be in 2025
This episode is a must listen for anyone working in HR or Business Leaders who want more from their CHROs and people functions.
David Green: Today, I'm delighted to welcome Jill Larsen, Chief HR Officer at Medidata to the Digital HR Leader podcast and video series. Jill, thank you for coming.
Jill Larsen: Oh, thank you for having me. It's great to be here.
David Green: You're in New York.
Jill Larsen: I know I'm in my home away from home.
David Green: You haven't had to come too far.
Jill Larsen: No definitely.
David Green: Can you give a quick introduction to yourself and your background and your vision for HR.
Jill Larsen: Sure so I have 20 plus years of experience in HR. I started my career in recruiting as a recruiter. Moved into TA leadership at startups during the .com boom. Went to SunGard where I was running HR for a bunch of Divisions. They went from public to private. So I got to go through that big LBO with KKR and all these PE firms.
I ran... I became a CHRO for RSA. We were bought almost immediately by EMC ended up staying there for five years. I moved from the CHRO of RSA to the COO of HR for EMC, did a lot of data and operations and some of the transformation work there too. And then I moved to Cisco where I was a head of TA for five years, completely transformed the recruiting organisation.
I also had workforce planning, D&I for a little while. And then I also ran HR for our Consulting business, which was a 14 billion dollar business with 13,000 people, and I'm now the Chief People Officer of medidata.
David Green: Okay. Wow, so and actually its 20-year career in HR. You've probably seen quite a lot of change. How has HR evolved over that years and also the role of the CHRO as well?
Jill Larsen: Yeah. I mean it's, it's really evolved. I think and the early parts of my career. I was a sole HR person in many of these startups and you know, you just sort of were the chief cook and bottle washer. So you were doing recruiting and then you are also dealing with boards and VCs and really arrogant Executives and things like that.
Just trying to really stand up companies and then you know, I think we've moved now from HR. My first set of transformation was really in SunGard where we had to take 32 Performance Management systems and go to one. So when you have all these startups and entrepreneurial organisations, you put them together and you actually have to organise them that was sort of my first foray and I think you're seeing a lot more now when I went to EMC and started doing some of the COO work, it early data, you know even just rationalising the data between HR and finance and whose head count reports, which unfortunately, you know, 15 years later, we're still arguing about is who's headcount number is correct? But early days on predictive and then early days on employee experience, at EMC and really starting to think about great place to work and what's the kind of culture you want to have.
And then Cisco was was a really massive transformation. And so what I'm seeing in the market now, especially a lot more around AI, machine learning, how do you start to leverage tools? But unforutnately I think a lot of the HR organisations really aren't ready for it. The IT organisations aren't and so the role has really evolved to new operating models.
I just stood up an AI business for our company, trying to look at totally different executive comp models. Retention is different, people care about social, they care about Community now, they care about other things that didn't used to be an attraction element for candidates.
And so just the entire role has evolved pretty significantly and some roles have gone away and then some are really... There's a number of roles that are emerging in HR as well.
David Green: Yeah, like People Analytics, employee experience, all those sort of stuff that we talked about. And in terms of... It seems, certainly in the time I've spent in HR that it's become more important to an organisation as well, which I guess then if you're running HR suddenly the visibility and the lens intensifies on the work you're doing as well.
Jill Larsen: Yeah. I just saw a statistic that 65 percent of CEOs say that people issues are like the number one or number two things that they think about. So even above revenues and customers and the things that CEOs normally do. I think Talent has really taken a top role. So I think for CEOs, especially, and for the HR sort of the organisation as a whole we just have a huge opportunity here to really elevate ourselves and to be strategic.
I think what's challenging in that is that many HR organisations don't understand why they should do that. Maybe don't have the Business Acumen to do that. Maybe don't have the stakeholders that want them to do that. And so, rebranding the function itself, I think is a critical part of what we need to be doing now, if we really want to be relevant and this whole digital industrial transformation.... This whole transformation that's going on right now. It's moving very quickly in the function, and it's really different.
David Green: Yeah, it's interesting because we hear a lot of stuff about HR getting a seat at the table, bit of a trite statement to be honest but McKinsey talk about the G3, the CHRO or Chief People Officer, CFO and the CEO.
How does that relationship actually work? You know, what does the board expect from the CHRO? How do you partner with various members of that board?
Jill Larsen: Definitely. I mean, so we're metadata, we're a 2500 person company we are co-founder led. So I have a CEO and a president who are best friends and share an office.
So, for those that are in these... There's actually a lot of these types of situations, and so it's really the four of us, my CFO and then myself and our dynamic is we talk a lot about the operating model of the business, we talk about how we're going to grow and scale the business.
We talk a lot about obviously the people issues of the business and then really much more strategically around, whether there are acquisitions we want to do. Are we doing well with the ones that we've done, very data-oriented conversations, so they're people but they're grounded in data, which I would say is probably a change for many CHROs especially is that it's expected that the CFO isn't the only one coming with data that you are also coming and leveraging that to have a much more strategic conversation.
But I think from a board perspective, the boards are really looking for a little bit of checks and balances as to, they're very interested in the people elements. So medidata, I present to the board every quarter. I have a number of different presentations that I do, most of them are around, what's going well with our people strategy, we do sucession and talent once or twice a year.
And then also what we're doing with CSR, which has really elevated. So once a year, we do a CSR and D&I, we call it inclusion and belonging at medidata. So we do that as well with the board, but they're expecting a real understanding of executive compensation. How competitive are we to our peer group?
They expect me to be able to understand our peer group and challenge that with our external compensation consultants, there's governance requirements. I have to be the eyes and ears as does the CFO a little bit of checks and balances with the CEO.
So, I think the whole concept of seat at the table. It's a little bit different depending on which organisation you are. But I always, expect a seat at the table. I just sit at the table, I don't...I think there's just this thing now where we just need to assume that we have relevance and importance and stop trying to prove that we do because it's just you can't run these businesses if you don't have a great talent strategy, so I mean to me it just seems like we don't need to be talking about that anymore. It's kind of like inclusion and diversity. I don't think we need to keep talking about all the companies that are more profitable because they are. Now it's just what are you doing to do it differently.
So that's kind of the way I think it's evolved.
David Green: It's a bit of courage thing, isn't it? Because HR maybe for too long has been a receiver of instructions. Whereas now you can actually help inform strategy, make the decisions about... Help make decisions around mergers and acquisitions, help make decisions about where you might want to locate because you've got the talent data to actually show which city should we be hiring these sorts of people.
Jill Larsen: Right. I think that's the other thing is that there's just so much information available now so I can look at available Talent pools if we're thinking about opening an office in Tokyo and I can say things like well in Japan, you know, it's tenure for life.
So, do you know that you have a total addressable market in Japan that's going to grow so that if you hire a hundred people there, you know that you really can't unless you shut the office down. It's very difficult to restructure so you have to be really thoughtful in that country. Germany, France, you know, works councils there are some places...
So we have all that data now, we didn't use to have that data. I still think that it really depends on the organisations. Some CEOs really want to leverage that, others don't. Some CEOs don't want their boards knowing much and that always puts the CHRO in a challenging position, so... I think the thing that's interesting now is that HR practitioners are really going to have I think more choice, they're going to know how to be more selective about the types of companies that really are people-centric and where they can learn versus the companies that are a little, sort of retro and not really evolving.
And is that really going to work well for your career?
David Green: So we're nearly into 2020, only a few months away...
Jill Larsen: It's a little terrifying...
David Green: ...Terrifying. So we talked a little bit about it. But if you look at the key responsibilities, what are the key responsibilities now the Chief People Officer for the 2020 or to the 21st century and beyond really?
Jill Larsen: Sure. I mean, I think it's a balance of, obviously the talent strategy is significant, the partnership with the leadership team is really critical. If you're going to be successful. Being able to think about succession planning thoughtfully, how you're motivating and growing your talent as part of that Talent strategy.
Your inclusion and diversity and CSR so really what are you doing both to improve the representation in your company, grow it, but also actually think about giving back and customers are asking for that now so that's critical for many. And there's a lot around, the less sexy parts of this role which are the compliance and the risk and cyber security and those sorts of things making sure that you really are doing the right things to protect the company. So I think those elements are important and then obviously, I talked about talent strategy, but talent attraction and that experience and culture of the company is becoming more and more important and a lot of it is driven by the employees and the different, you know demographics that we have now so many generations in the workforce and I know that's always been the case, but I think there's such diversity now between these Generations that technology has really created, that it makes it a little more challenging for a CHRO and how do you really effectively communicate and connect the CEO and the board to the company, to the employees because they all sort of think about things a different way and they all use different communication channels
David Green: And I guess employees are more demanding now, they want the consumer like experiences at work, obviously that normally falls on HR to create those experiences working with the business and then tying that I guess to business outcomes.
Jill Larsen: Right. I mean this whole concept of on-demand and you know, you have your mobile device and you press the app and something shows up, whether it's your groceries or car, whatever, and then you go into work and you can't find... There's no apps and you're trying to navigate PCs and things that just feel really antiquated. It puts a lot of pressure on both IT organisations and HR organisations because we're always the last place that the money gets spent. And so I do think to your earlier question around what's the future looking like? I do think there'll be a lot more investment in the function of HR because it's now expanded into so many places like data science and the whole experience and culture and brand and, all these other elements and I think that that's going to allow us to have a lot more impact and potentially a little more investment. But that's the biggest challenges that to digitise HR. You're really just trying to catch up.
David Green: And I suppose that may be a good measure of an effective Chief People Officer or CHRO. Are they the ones getting investment versus some of their peers?
Jill Larsen: Exactly and I think a lot of that will also indicate whether the company really is more forward thinking, a lot of companies say they want to digitise or we're not a hardware company anymore. We're now a SaaS company, but they aren't really subscription at all, so there are ways to look at that, but I think that's really a good measure is what's the impact?
Both in an investment and the power of that investment because I know a lot of great CHROs that don't have very large budgets, but they do a lot through, influence and partnerships and pretty creative ways.. tin cupping as we like to call it to get some executive sponsors and things so some of the more creative CHROs have had a massive impact and that would be a way to measure it.
David Green: So we talked a little bit about the relationship with the board and the leaders running the business. HR leaders are Business Leaders as well of course, what about the rest of the organisation? How do you bring the rest of the organisation with you? Sometimes HR with you as well, I guess and does the business even want HR to change?
Jill Larsen: Yeah, I think for the employees I do think it's about communicating as frequently as possible. We do a lot around brand. So the strategy that we have at medidata has Five Pillars and we have little icons for each one. And so whenever we do something, we try to be very thoughtful about which communication channels so we're not just shooting emails because everybody especially when they see it's from HR, they don't always read it and so, we think about, can we use Slack?
Can we use our intranet? Are there other ways that we can do this and then branding and then tying it all back. So I present at every one of our town halls. I blog a lot, I do podcasts a lot within our company. I'm out in the field a lot. And so I think for employees it's making yourself really accessible so that people feel that they can come and approach you.
We did have yesterday, there was an announcement that there's an intent to acquire us. And I just hosted pizza parties all over the globe and had Executives, you know, last-minute had Executives and we just answered questions and it really went a long way for people to just come out and talk and kind of share their angst and some of the things that was going on.
And so I think by doing that and being honest that I don't have all the answers yet. We're really working through it. We know this is top concern. We just wanted them to know that we care for them and wanted them to know that we knew they were... They would be curious but also cautious and so I thought that went a long way.
So those are kind of examples of how you bring those employees along but there's a lot of pressure in the system now to do that. There's a lot of tools to do it too, but you really have to understand your audiences and how do they like to communicate? You have to understand how well-regarded HR is and so there are a lot of leaders that really understand the relevance of it.
And there are a lot of leaders that like to delegate their work to HR. So, the talent stuff is you and this issue with recruiting is you and so there's a lot of accountability and teaching accountability at the leadership level. Sometimes you have to navigate depending on what type of organisation you really want to have but I'd say overall, they'll always be the skeptics on HR.
We rebranded HR as the people team at medidata because we're a 20 year company, 20 year old company and HR was always the policy police. They were the ones... "The Gatekeepers" the ones aligned with leaders who fire everybody, I mean, it's just one of those things and so we've really turned it around in the last year and a half and changed how we engaged and went to self-service for a lot of leaders to be able to do things themselves and it took a little while because as much as they say they want to do things themselves, they really would rather us just all do it for them. So there's that journey too where it's a little bit of teaching leaders. We forget a lot of times that leaders come from the same demographics as our employees and so....
A lot of leaders don't understand some of the cultural things that are happening or the cool things that are happening with some of their populations. So it's hard for them to connect on Slack or they wear suits and everybody else wears jeans, you just see a lot of those dynamics in different companies.
David Green: I suppose, let's be honest a lot of people in HR don't understand things like people analytics or employee experience. How can we expect the business to understand it? If we 're not communicating well enough.
Jill Larsen: Absolutely and I think there's a lot... And obviously this is one example of just trying to do digital learning, new types of capability building for the new roles in HR.
I think it's fine if HR practitioners don't know. I do this all the time, you've seen some of my presentations, I've seen yours. On AI, I always define what AI is because I know there's one person in that audience who came just to see what it was all about and they'll never raise their hand that they don't know what it is, but I think we should always assume that there's a lot of varied capability in the audience and I do think in this field of HR if you're going to be relevant in the future and have fun doing some of the really cool work because I think HR is really in this awesome intersection right now with the function, but you've got to be learning, you've got to be reading there's so much information out there. You just got to carve out some time to do it and and really just be connecting going to those conferences or reading the books, following people.
I follow you and it's fun to see some of the different stuff and I get connected to lots of other people by doing those types of things. And so I just think people have to be brave.
David Green: It's curiosity isn't it...
Jill Larsen: Yeah, you have to have curiosity if you're going to be in this function because there is so much happening that's going to change the way we think about peopl,e the way companies can actually accelerate and generate revenues and it'll be a lot harder to keep people because it won't... It will no longer be that you have to stay at a company.
It already has changed. You don't have to be at a company for three to five years. And so how do you really connect? And so I think the great HR practitioners are going to be the ones that figure out ways that really make the company sticky so that employees want to stay because that's their best population to work with. They'll recruit better. You know the same exciting people that want to be part of the culture.
David Green: So we've talked about curiosity as a skill that we really need to try and imbue within all our HR professionals. What are some of the other skills and capabilities that the Chief People Officer is now looking for more of in HR? And you can go across hard and soft skills.
Jill Larsen: Sure, I think for for myself, it's a blend of having folks that are strategic and really understand business consulting. It is a lost art of being able to consult and actually influence and do change management. There's also some element of negotiation and conflict management because HR and the role requires that there are some checks and balances and so you do have to say no sometimes to Executives who really don't expect you to say no and so the ability to do that I think is critical. I think analytics and storytelling around data is critically important. So as you're looking at things what is it telling you? What trends is it telling you? I would take the curiosity even more on how do I connect the dots around disparate parts of the portfolio of HR and this data in HR. So where am I? Who are the people that are most likely to leave my company? How do I know that? Are there certain leaders that have higher turnover rates? Why is that? Is that a leadership intervention issue? Is it a recruiter issue? What are the things? And really just taking a look at having some baseline metrics in your business thinking about that.
And so I think for HR, there are a lot of specialty roles. I still think that compensation is going to be an area of specialisation. Benefits may be more in the international realm than I'd say in the US but wellness and some of the places we're going there. CSR has become a real specialisation there's a lot of possible strategic elements of that for the HR function. Recruiting I think is really interesting and is changing a lot because you've got all these sourcing tools now out there. I think the sourcing role is probably really going to go away and it'll be automated in a lot of ways. That's going to take a little bit longer with language processing and things but I think it's going to happen. And then I think the role of the recruiter really is going to be... It doesn't matter if these tools can find you if you get inundated with five emails, you're not going to care. If you don't answer emails, you still need a human to find you and then get you to come in the door or show up for the virtual meeting or whatever it is.
So I think every part of the HR function is evolving and so for me, I really look for a blend of... I need a couple people on the team that can go from strategic to tactical. So that is a really really tough skill to find especially in business partners. I need folks that are phenomenal at team building and nurturing.
I've got a couple of those on my team. Knowing who you are as a CHRO and then complimenting yourself with people that are stronger than you and areas that are just not your natural tendency. And so I think every CHRO has a little bit of a different flavour on tha.T and then I think visualisation and the brand element. People who can really help us think about how do we use media and the employee stories to really think about our thought leadership. So kind of a blend of those skills. Learning is a really interesting area for us, lots of digital learning, thinking differently about how much... People don't want to sit now and go for 2 days some place. They want to be able to do it on their own time. They want to do it on demand. A lot of your traditional Learning Management folks don't know how to do that. And then the last thing I would say is org design and operating models. A lot of companies are moving towards, as a service, managed service, consulting-led subscription.
They're very complicated models that have a lot of implications to them and there aren't a lot of great practitioners out there who really understand the nuance of that. How do you design new organisations? And then how do you effectively do the change management of actually reorganising? You lose a lot of people that way if you don't do it thoughtfully and the pace of change is going to require....
I mean pretty much any company if you talk to I talk to lots of CHROs, we're all dealing with this where we're reorganising, we're upskilling we're re-skilling leaders, we're all transforming, we're all digitising. So the skills are really changing.
And the HR technology realm. I think there's a real opportunity for specialisation there for folks that really understand APIs and have multiple HRIS' and ATS experience and can really think through how do do we look at that ecosystem? How do we partner with our IT organisations and the CIO. CIOs have a lot of power now in many organisations to make decisions around HR technology. So partnering and collaborating is critically important.
So that's just in, I'm sure there's many more, but those are like big big elements for how I think about my team.
David Green: What's interesting is a lot of what you talked about there is it's taking away... As obviously technology comes in and takes away more or some of the more repetitive work within HR. It seems like consulting, influencing, stakeholder management all these things are becoming ever more important. Which is quite different perhaps from traditional HR roles which have been quite silo-based. So, you know, I'm an expert on recruiting. I'm an expert on learning. You still need an element of that subject matter expertise, but it looks like it's more broader now and that consulting, piecing some of this stuff together.
Jill Larsen: Yeah. I really believe strongly that there are these hybrid roles that are emerging in HR and you always heard that term of like HR generalist, but I don't like that term but I do think that there are hybrid roles like Talent Advisor, People Consultant, replacing those HR business partner. What does that mean? It just doesn't make any sense. It's a term we use and it really makes absolutely no sense.
And so I just think that you're going to see a lot of change there. I think that the groups that are most at risk right now are the ones that are in the entry jobs like the recruiting coordinator, the schedulers, the benefits administrators. A lot of those roles have been virtualised or outsourced and so the entry points to HR are actually changing and it's kind of unclear.
This is something I've been doing a little bit of thought leadership and writing on is just what are these entry points now and do we need to be thinking about different ways to be grooming these folks of the future for HR because all the entry points I can think of, Recruiter, Coordinator to Recruiter or Sourcer to Recruiter. Those aren't going to exist anymore.
And so are they coming in from the business? Are they coming in through brand and marketing. So really thinking through... Or do we have to build it? Do we have to build more entry points? More HR programs within the schools that really are talking about looking at those things we just talked about.
David Green: When we spoke last week, you walked through a couple of examples of some of the projects that you've been involved in and I think what that really did is illustrate how HR is changing and the depth and the breadth of what we're getting involved in. Can you walk through a couple of those examples from last week? I think listeners will be really interested.
Jill Larsen: Definitely. So one of the things that... One of the missed opportunities, I think many HR organisations have is around CSR and many of your customers are grappling with lots of different things. They're grappling with diversity issues. They're grappling with Talent issues. They're thinking about how to move their talent, how to know who the talent is, how to deal with analytics.
I think CSR is a really easy connector that has nothing to do with we want you to be my customer or that sort of thing. I think it's a really nice connection point for HR organisations. We are very mission-based at medidata. So as a company we focus on clinical trials and we really focus on the whole patient life cycle and how do we get drugs to market faster so that we can create healthier lives for people. So the mission of that is so connecting for our employees. So we do a lot of storytelling around that and folks that had cancer, employees that have cancer and things and what that's been like in the trials that they've been in and we actually created a talent management program called the social innovation lab and what it does is it allows high potential or key talent within our company. We do these cohorts of 10 people. And they actually work on a social problem having to do with our mission.
So last year the problem that they really focused on was drug repurposing. So in clinical trials, it takes seven to 10 years to get a drug to market and when a drug gets to Market only about 10% of them are effective but they actually are drugs that could be effective for other types of things. So a heart disease drug could actually help with chronic pancreatitis, for example, because those populations have some similar types of side effects and symptoms.
And so in Europe, you can do this a little bit more easily than the regulatory environment in the US and so we actually partnered with Cures Within Reach and focused on a drug repurposing around chronic pancreatitis and actually did all the work, did the business case, did the plan. We had a couple different cohorts doing that and actually just went in front of the National Institute of Health and I think we're actually going to be able to do something around drug repurposing for chronic pancreatitis in the UK.
And so we have three more now going on. With a number of different organisations around chronic pancreatitis, around diversity in clinical trials, which is a huge issue. And then I think the third one is really around how do you get more folks connected to clinical trials, we're actually using our software to build a platform for the University of Pennsylvania.
And so I've got different key talent working on those and a number of the people that participated actually have been promoted in the last 12 to 18 months. So while that may or may not be, you're the data guy, it may or may not be a real trend what it tells me is that it's a phenomenal program, it connects with our mission, it teaches a lot of different things to our employees and it has a wonderful benefit for our patients.
And so it's just one example. At Cisco we did that this work around the Talent Cloud that many many companies are still trying to address. Which is how do you find the skills and talents of your internal employee population to create gig economies to get a lot more flexible. So people can actually do more on-demand working if you will.
It's still a challenge for many companies, but leveraging technology and data and learning to be able to help people navigate their own career. That's been a labour of love for me and something that I still feel strongly passionate about. We tend to do a great job bringing people into the company and then once they get there, we just let them sit there. We just think they should be navigating their own career. We don't make it very easy for them to do it.
David Green: And I guess it's that trade-off of data for benefit which I know was one of the purposes of the Talent Cloud
Jill Larsen: Absolutely and letting people just connect, so connecting to experts. If I want to be a data scientist who are the data scientists in the company? Just making it easier for people to just actually build their own communities because I think it creates a lot of collaboration and teaming especially within larger companies.
So those are just two examples.
David Green: Great examples.
Jill Larsen: Yeah, thank you.
David Green: I know you're passionate about HR Technologies. And I know you've been involved actually in helping a couple of startups by being advisor. What excites you most about some of this technology that's coming in.
Jill Larsen: Oh, yeah. I think I think there's a lot of areas in HR that are ripe for simplifying and automating and digitising really horrible processes and such and so I get excited about things.
So one of the groups that I'm working with this company, Envoy and they've really helped digitise immigration. So, you know, there's a lot of angst especially now in the U.S. Around, Visa processing and all that. So we just sort of outsource through their portal everything having to do with that.
They've got a law firm. It's very employee conscious and it actually takes a lot of the administration off of my team because there's so much around posting and doing all the requirements for the process. And so that's one example of a place it's just really easy.
It's an adjacency. It doesn't really take a job away per se. It just simplifies so I can use people differently. I think a lot around, employee sentiment, employer relations is one that some of that first tier stuff some of the things around benefits administration, where can I find those things? So using chatbots and different types of tools there.
I think what starts to get really interesting around sentiment is how you can start to tie sentiment to other parts, things like, efficiencies and productivities and teams that are failing and leaders that probably need some intervention and that sort of thing and I would say the other place we're looking is actually in one of the people I think you're going to have in the podcasts.
Is really around something like pymetrics where you're looking at personas like a sales account manager. For example. How am I thinking about the most successful folks in our company around that? And then am I really screening for that at the front end and what type of behavioural things could I think about to make sure that someone really, you know sales people are really good at selling recruiters and selling leaders.
So how do I know that they're really successful? And are there better ways for us to get better outcomes with those hires? So those are just like a couple of places. I mean, the the whole TA space is really exciting right now, learning is really cool. There's some really awesome stuff out there right now with digital learning and and and tying that with collaboration and building these cohorts which I think for the HR Community, especially, really makes it easier and safer for HR practitioners to say they don't know certain things and be able to find answers or have you built this type of program before? And people are willing to share whereas in the past people have been really crazy about that. And I think we feel like a lot is in the public domain now, so.
I talk about my people strategy a lot for medidata and people are always taking pictures... Don't you care that people are taking your people strategy? And I'm like no, my people strategy is... there's nothing special. I mean, I think it's special but there's nothing that I think is proprietary about it.
It's more the how we do it and how we executed. But I think there's more willingness to share and lots of cool tools to do that.
David Green: Yes, certainly in the space that I'm in, People Analytics, people actively want to collaborate. They learn from each other because it's a quid pro quo. It's interesting you talk about learning because obviously learning really is shifting, this kind of one size fits all and it's got to be in a classroom on this time.
You see people now talking about all the stuff around micro learning and different formats in which we can learn as well. I mean, are you seeing some of that in medidata?
Jill Larsen: I am. I actually went to a.... It's called Pure 150. It's just this organisation and I went to NBC and I saw how NBC does their learning and it's really cool.
There's lots of like fun toys and silly things but there are these snapshots that they do and because they are a Media Company, so if you want to give feedback you can learn how to give feedback in like a two-minute, you know sort of sound bite. And I know all the practitioners who teach this for a living for a lot of money will be like, you can't learn it in two minutes, but the reality is is that these generations that are coming... I have 15 year-old twin boys, they don't want me to teach them anything. They don't.. They can learn music online. They can learn how to fix a car in a YouTube video. I mean it's crazy. And so that's the sort of framework and the Paradigm they're really used to and so we have to start building learning that way because that's how they learn.
They're not going to want to sit in a classroom. They're not going to sit two days and do that. So I think those things are going to be demanded by employees that they want that balance and they want to learn when they're ready to learn and in these small kind of sound bites and so it's really changing the way we think about learning.
I think it's a really exciting time,
David Green: Well you've just inspired me, I'm going to spend 15 minutes a day now. Getting my French better.
Jill Larsen: There you go. I think it's a great idea. I may have to do that to since the company buying us is from France. So yes....
David Green: Any concerns around some of the direction in HR technology at all?
Jill Larsen: I still think and this is something you could probe a little bit with Frida from pymetrics, but I still think there's a lot of opportunity for bias in AI. I still think some of the people that don't understand how to actually build and think about machine learning may be building things in or making assumptions about data telling you something that isn't really a trend and if you build your entire model around that there's tons of examples of recent, you know, just robots and questions that had to be shut down because it didn't know how to handle certain things and I think we're still in that learning place and so I'm a skeptic and I know... I talk to a lot of the AI tools especially the small HR technology vendors who are... You know, it's hard. It's hard to be scrappy and get revenues and they all want to talk and I'm the buyer. And I just say to them a lot. Like I really question, the algorithms that you're using and how you build them. And if my company... I think we're, medidata is probably 60 something percent male or maybe it's a little bit lower than that.
But if you're basing your decision making around that type of demographic and if you know three out of four leaders are male, am I really asking questions that are not going to discriminate against women or minoritie. And we really have to be looking at that and I know that's something Frida especially is passionate about but a lot of folks in this AI space. I mean, you guys deal with it all the time are very concerned about it, but you have to be careful about it because I've had a lot of vendors come up to me and say oh no, I've got a tool that can knock people out who are not good for your culture. I get crazy when I hear that because I think it's really impossible for a company to say you have one culture. I mean we're 2,500 people we're not that big but I could tell you we probably have six or seven if not more different cultures in our company.
We have values that are very similar and our mission the North Star for us, but I get nervous about that because I sit there and I think well, what did you knock out and I'll never see that so I know Recruiters can't get to all the slate but I'm not sure that's totally the best answer either unless you can really prove to me your algorithm understands what our culture is and I can't even if I can't even totally define how I would screen for that. I wonder how an algorithm could do it. So I just I have concerns about that and I think that it's safe to be both curious and skeptical because you could make decisions and put something in that actually doesn't tell you what you think it tells you and there are a lot of examples of that and then there's a lot of examples of amazing tools that are like massively effective and innovative.
You just really have to understand it. You have to talk to people who know it and just make sure that you are really a thoughtful buyer.
David Green: I suppose as you said it's around checks and balances. Testing, validating and maybe using this as not the whole answer but in concert with people. Using the data and the algorithm and actually support that with people as well so... But yeah, I think you're right. There are some interesting claims.
Jill Larsen: Yeah. Well, it's interesting what that just made me think of though when you say, validating. That's really not a core skill set of the HR organisation. It's going outside of HR. We always think in HR that we know everything that all the employees want so things like bringing in other organisations and doing, cross-functional pilots and sandboxes is just not a real natural way of thinking and that's been something we're really working on breaking even in my team is, we did this whole onboarding thing and, they didn't ask any of the the teams, the leaders to come into the session. And we're in the session saying well, this is great about how HR thinks we should do onboarding but isn't it the leaders that actually receive all these employees and the impact of the onboarding and I mean just the look in the room and it just never occurred to them and I just assumed they were doing it.
So I think those are the learnings is that HR has to kind of look up and ask different groups and really be willing to listen to the feedback because there will be teams that think we don't do things well, and we have to be open to that because we probably don't do everything well, it's impossible to do everything well.
But if we're open to it and we can learn and we can partner together. We should be more effective in those things. But it just struck a chord when you said that because like well, where are they teaching that in the HR function?
David Green: Yeah. Yeah, and it's yet another....
Jill Larsen: You know, if you have a data science team or something maybe, an analytics team but...
David Green: And I suppose the other balance with AI. If there's bias already in the process and it's mainly manual as long as the AI isn't worsening that, which it shouldn't do. It should at least reduce the bias... But again it's all about the validation and everything else.
Jill Larsen: Yeah, and you just can't start with the tool. I think a lot of mistakes that HR practitioners make is I'm going to buy this tool and this tool is going to fix all these things and really what it is is what business objectives are you trying to drive?
And then how are your processes, you know, how do you look at the entire workflow of that, the stakeholders and that the journey maps and that and then is there a tool or augmentation that will make this a much better outcome. But you have to do that kind of business case work and the design thinking and stuff at the front end because if you don't you're going to buy a tool and you're still going to have your other problems. You'll solve one, or maybe not even.
But the tools in and of itself are not the solution to HR strategy.
David Green: You've got mindset, process, strategy, everything else that goes with it....
Jill Larsen: people.
David Green: Which leads us on to the final question. This is a question we ask everyone on the show and and you can take this wherever you want to take it.
Where do you think the HR function will be in 2025?
Jill Larsen: Oh gosh, I'm not sure that the HR function will just be one thing. I had a really interesting conversation with somebody yesterday about myself and they said you know, you don't really fit a mold and I thought about what they said because you know, I do M&A and I've done operating models and all these different things, technology and analytics and, people and talent, recruiting and it's interesting because I think that the function itself is probably going to bifurcate a little bit. I think the whole employee experience and brand piece may land with marketing or marketing may even... Parts of marketing as it has in many organisations may come more towards HR. I think the whole CSR element in some places is outside of HR that might come to HR but I think things like data, analytics, AI.... may sit, in other parts of the organisation and I was at an interesting Boston CHRO event last week. We had a little board session about this and we talked about companies and there were some CHROs there that said that they are working with their Finance team. They are working with their data science teams, and they they pay for them to focus on some of the HR element.
So they chose not to be experts because every time they showed up at the table and said they were experts the conversation was everybody trying to dissect the data and they can never get to the credible conversation. And so I just say that because I don't think the CHRO or the HR function is going to look exactly the same.
I think there'll be digital components. The technology may sit with the CIO and not with the Head of HR. That still remains to be seen but I think there's a lot of places where HR is starting to move upstream and move into other types of roles like the COO and those kind of things and vice versa, you know.
You've seen companies put Business Leaders that have no HR experience into the people piece because they want more ties to business outcomes. So I think a lot of that's evolving but I actually think the function is going to get really interesting with new jobs and really new opportunities for folks.
And so I think it's a really exciting time to be an HR.
David Green: Yeah. It's certainly an exciting time. Jill, thank you very much for being a guest on the show. How can listeners stay in touch with you?
Jill Larsen: Oh, yeah, so I'm on Twitter. I'm at at ChicTalentDiva, which is really just meant to be ironic for anyone who knows me. I'm none of those things. And I'm also on LinkedIn and so those are probably the two best ways to get in touch with me.
David Green: People can see you, you speak at quite a few conferences.
Jill Larsen: I speak a lot. I'm going to be on some panels at HR Tech in October and I've done Unleash and I'll probably do Talent Connect this year too and Work Human so I'm doing a lot of them.
I love to do them because I learn a lot too and that's what I would just say, people should be constant learners. You just have to really... It's an exciting time. So even us in the CHRO jobs know that we don't know all of it. So...
David Green: Lifelong learning and what a good way to end it. Jill, thank you very much.
Jill Larsen: Thanks so much David.