Jason Averbook Exposed!

Does anyone doubt Jason Averbook is one of the top two thought leaders in our HCM community? Okay, Josh Bersin, you’re the other one.

If you’ve attended the HR Technology Conference & Exposition® or another conference on the subject (is there another one?) you’ve heard him present–and probably loved the clarity of his vision (and his language) about the current and future intersection of HR strategy and technology.

Maybe you remember his truly cutting-edge boutique consultancy Knowledge Infusion, which starting in 2004 caught and rode the talent-management wave before anybody? Or his Version 2.0 company, Leapgen, which is bringing lots of the old band together, plus many new players (most notably Gartner’s former top HCM analyst Jim Holincheck as VP of Advisory Services). It’s showing hockey-stick growth of clients after only 18 months.

If you’re at least middle-aged, you may even know he is yet another PeopleSoft alum now at the top of HCM after working during the company’s glory years in the ‘90s. Note, he left before the Oracle acquisition to cofound KI.

Jason’s first book, From Now to Next, is being used in 19 university courses. The second one is printed, not officially launched, but Amazon is selling it. The title has the link. Still, before commenting on it, there’s something you don’t know about Jason, whom I consider a very good friend and a mensch.

KI sponsored The Bill Kutik Radio Show® (available on iTunes) for seven years at considerable cost without asking for anything in return (cf. mensch) because he thought the content was good for the community. All he wanted was to be the guest on the annual holiday show, the year’s lowest-rated episode. And a couple of others.

Nevertheless, because my fundamental belief is no good deed goes unpunished, I am dropping a dime on Jason. Namely, that he started his professional life as what the enterprise software industry once derisively nicknamed a “Demo Danny or Demo Dolly” while at Ceridian in his home town of Minnynowhere, Minn.

Nowadays, the job is known under a variety of euphemisms, including “pre-sales consultant” or “solution consultant.”

Enterprise HCM software does so many different things with so many different modules that salespeople can almost never demo it in detail. And certainly, never show specific functionality that prospects request to see on the fly, when it’s not in the scripted demo. Besides, their primary job is to make friends with the prospects. (I ignorantly thought their inability shameful when I first started writing about the business nearly 30 years ago, but now I understand it completely.)

So, when a selection committee gets seriously interested in a vendor and wants to dig really deeply into its product, a Demo Danny or Demo Dolly is dispatched from HQ to meet with them and run the software through its paces. Often for hours, sometimes over days!

This is the best early job in our software business.

The reason is demo people have to learn at least one software system, as well as the total HR function, in excruciating detail. Plus, they talk with hundreds of HR practitioners a year, learning about their daily challenges as well as their hopes and fears. The current head of HCM products at Workday did at least two stints as a Demo Dolly, one previously at PeopleSoft. Enough said.

Jason has been adding to that base of knowledge for 24 years. Particularly at KI and Leapgen, where his favorite thing is sitting down with befuddled big company CHRO’s and helping them think through their problems–not just with their technology, but with the strategy that the technology should enable–and help them create their own vision of the digital future.

Now with the publication of his second book, The Ultimate Guide to a Digital Workforce Experience–Leap for a Purpose, you can read what he’s been telling them!

Admittedly, many of you have heard some of it before in his truly worldwide conference presentations or his numerous webinars. He and Josh will be in India during the August monsoon season for conference presentations.

Or in his continual “infusions of knowledge,” as he used to call them: his monthly live video discussions (often with Leapgen co-founder Mike Brennan) called Leap Chats (with call-in questions!) or the one-week-old OurTimeRadio, live daily at 12:30 pm PT. Jason is a voracious communicator, but I give the daily show six months tops! Too much work.

I suppose Jason’s approach could be described as “adaptive reuse,” most often applied to abandoned railroad stations turned into expensive restaurants. Or post offices turned into even more expensive hotels. Okay, maybe that term is too fancy: some of the material in the book is simply recycled.

But when you first heard the material, who had time to write it all down or to think about one idea before the next one came winging by? And how useful were those notes the next week, really?

The value of having so much of his latest thinking organized and on paper, where you can whip out your yellow highlighter or slap a Post-It on some pages, is terrific. And one of his gifts as a communicator is that the newest member of the HR department can understand what he writes, as well as the CHRO who may skim some of the basic stuff.

Jason has wisely done what I urged speakers to do for 16 years as I prepped them to present at HR Tech (though he didn’t learn it from me): Give the audience something they can act on immediately back at the office. In short, takeaways!

He has done just that by concluding every chapter with a list of takeaways, either action items or insights to think more about. Which means you can cheat (mostly yourself) and not read the entire slim 169-page volume. Just peruse the 34 takeaways, pick your favorites and go back to read the chapter with the details on them.

While I certainly don’t recommend you doing that, the ugly truth is who has time to read books anymore, if you have a day job and don’t commute on public transportation? Here are some of my favorite takeaways, not that I didn’t read the entire book:

  • Don’t move forward until you realize a digital workforce experience is more than just HR technology;
  • Everything starts with a strategic vision and launching the strategy is just a start;
  • Beware of the Shiny Object Syndrome, like rushing to buy “AI”;
  • Change the mindset;
  • Break and rebuild; and
  • Encourage the transition from system adoption to employee addiction.

I would never suggest missing the HR Tech Conference and Jason and nearly 100 other speakers there. But if there’s just no budget to register, fly to Vegas and rent a hotel room, get a copy of his new book and spend those three days reading it.

Especially if you are at the top or the bottom of your HR department. His book is an education in the HR function and the technology selections that should come after creating the strategy that will get you to the new digital workforce experience.

Bill Kutik
HR Technology columnist Bill Kutik, as chairman emeritus, is at the 22nd Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in Las Vegas, Oct. 1-4, 2019. Watch Kim Billeter, the new Americas Lead for EY HR advisory group (PAS), discuss the question: Why is Cloud adoption taking so long? Just six minutes for the current video episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik®. Bill can be reached at hreletters@LRP.com.