The Difference Between Biased and Informed

A few years ago, my HR Happy Hour Podcast partner Trish McFarlane and I delivered a presentation at SHRM’s annual conference titled “What Did the HR Tech Salesperson Say? Demystifying HR Technology Selection and Implementation, in which we discussed ways for HR leaders and professionals to conduct HR technology research. This presentation was meant to serve as a guide and resource to help HR folks make sense of the myriad HR blogs, social network updates, LinkedIn posts, podcasts, Twitter chats, crowd-sourced review sites, and traditional and independent analyst reports as they try to conduct research and due diligence with respect to HR tech purchase decisions.

Now, just a few short years after that SHRM presentation, there are now even more sources of advice, opinion and information out there about the HR technology market place overall, as well as individual HR technology solutions. As is the case with just about every kind of product or service you can think of, there is a proliferation of information that can seem overwhelming at times. Just think about how tiring (and potentially confusing) it can be to scroll through hundreds upon hundreds of consumer or user reviews of a restaurant on Yelp, a hotel on TripAdvisor, or just about anything at all on Amazon.

While the market for enterprise HR technology solutions does not function exactly like some of the consumer product and service markets that I referenced above, many of the same information dynamics are at play.

For any given HR tech solution category or individual solution, there are analyst reports, vendor-provided content and information, vendor-sponsored information, customer references, peer and word-of-mouth opinions, crowd-sourced review site data and even personal experience from using a given solution or a vendor in the past.

But which sources of advice are good advice, or at least, relatively better than some of the competing alternatives? To answer that question, I took a shot at breaking down the various sources of information and advice on HR Technology solutions using a simple but probably familiar 2×2 grid concept.

On my grid I called the X axis “Informed” and the Y axis “Biased.” Each axis ranged from a value ranking from low to high.

The “Informed” axis is simple to explain: Some sources of HR technology opinion and data are likely to be much more informed about the true nature of a given product than others. The vendor sales staff probably knows more about the product’s functions than, say a random connection on LinkedIn who may have used the product nine years ago.

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The “Biased” axis, however, is a little more complex to sort and evaluate a source of information using. That same vendor sales person is certainly going to be pretty biased in favor of his or her product. That is to be expected. But how about a vendor sponsored report or white paper that is written by an industry analyst or influencer? The report could be somewhat biased based on the nature of the relationship between the vendor and the analyst or writer.

And what about more formal, “official” sounding reports and rankings that have familiar sounding names like quadrants and waves? Often these are produced by organizations who at the same time they are producing these widely-read, (and depending on who you ask), influential industry analyses, also have advisory and other financial relationships with some or many of the HR technology vendors themselves. So what is the potential for bias, even if it is unintentional, in these sources of HR technology information? It’s tricky.

Lastly, (and not because it is the last source of HR tech information), what should HR professionals make of the newer crowd-sourced business technology review sites such as G2 Crowd, which recently released details of its collected HR tech solution user ratings? What should HR professionals think about using the Yelp or TripAdvisor paradigm for much more complex, expensive and important organizational decisions compared to choosing a restaurant or a hotel for a vacation? That is tricky as well.

But the larger, and more important point is that any source that you, as an HR pro, uses as an input into your research/decision process needs to be evaluated and scrutinized carefully.

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Lots of industry “experts” and influencers aren’t really that expert — they either never have actually bought and implemented HR solutions in organizations themselves, or haven’t done so for a really long time. Some HR tech consultants purport to be vendor solution agnostic, but might only have a chance at scoring some billable work from your organization only if you select a specific vendor’s technology with which they have aligned. And lots of people with blogs and Twitter accounts have no idea what they are talking about.

With all this in mind, this year at the HR Technology Conference, several true experts will be on hand to try to take some of the mystery out of what can often be a highly difficult, opaque and challenging process of learning and researching the HR technology market. Madeline Laurano of Aptitude Research Partners and Jonathan Grafft of Black Box Consulting will present “How to Use Industry Research to Make Better HR Technology Decisions.” And Mark Stelzner will lead an expert panel titled “Market Intelligence: How Objective and Subjective Tools Are Impacting HR Tech Selections.”

These sessions, as well as the many other educational sessions, demonstrations, and discussions at HR Tech are designed to help HR professionals gain some tips, tricks and insight to help you better understand the process and the market. And that should lead to better HR tech purchase decisions and outcomes.

Steve Boese, HR Tech Conference chair
Steve Boese
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at [email protected]