Further info and resources from my website

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Learning Management: 3 years on and Cornerstone still beats Workday

It was exactly three years ago, almost to the day, that Workday launched its long-awaited Learning module in an attempt to plug the last hole in its integrated HRIS offering.

At that time I was advising a Swiss-based company in their selection of a new global HRIS tool and as part of that exercize I was regaled with a first peek at Workday Learning. At the end of the demo, my client, the global VP of HR, whispered into my ear, "That's all they offer? Why pay so much for so little?" I whispered back, "Agree. You can get much more from YouTube...for free!"

A great admirer of Workday's since its inception, I was underwhelmed by what I saw. Basically, it wasn't much more than  the ability to post videos, index them based on a limited set of criteria such as recommendations or availability. The enrollment  process was very basic. Nothing on a full training  or budget management process without which no decent multinational would even consider changing its LMS (Learning Management System.) Considering how strong the other Workday modules are, especially Core HR and Compensation and even the recent addition then of Recruiting, there was nothing Cornerstone, the undisputed Learning leader, had to worry about, I told myself.

Three years later, have things improved markedly? Has Workday narrowed the gap with Cornerstone? Not even by a nano-inch. Workday Learning far from reaching maturity is nowhere to be seen: Apart from the odd customer, you never come across anybody willing to use it. You never hear of consultants trained on Workday Learning or on companies looking for Workday Learning resources. Why would they since there is no interest on implementing what for all intents and purposes is an empty shell? Better spend time, resources and effort interfacing Workday Core HR with Cornerstone whose offering can reach into every single nook and cranny of an LMS project.

Even Workday itself uses for its own learning...Cornerstone! If they can't even drink their own champagne (or eat their own dog food - have your pick of what metaphor is more appropriate) this  clearly signals a resounding failure on the part of a vendor that has gone from strength to strength since it was founded almost 15 years ago.

Hasn't time come to reach the logical consequence: Pull the plug on a dud and...make a bid to merge with or acquire Cornerstone. The two companies share a similar culture, are both based in California (although Santa Monica and Pleasanton are not exactly next-door neighbors), are similarly acknowledged as the leader in their core offering and enjoy enthusiastic loyalty from their customers. Definitely the best of both worlds. Should it happen, you heard about it here first!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Hell on Earth: How mankind will be wiped out

Flying from Barcelona, I landed in Paris  at 4 pm last Thursday, on time to be apprised that the city I've known since my birth had broken a record: 42°C. Half an hour later this record was itself broken when we reached 42.6°CFrance’s crumbling infrastructure was in full display on the RER line linking the two city airports as service was interrupted for several hours, and when it resumed the absence of air conditioning and Saharan temperatures meant several people fainted. 

A taste of things to come.

Like most, I always wondered how civilization would come to its end.

You read it here first.This is how mankind will be wiped out: steadily rising temperatures until life becomes untenable on Earth. Our only hope is to find another planet we can move to and screw up in turn. 

Hopefully, by then I would have "shuffled off this mortal coil", to quote the immortal Bard's words. 

Carpe planetam, one feels like adding. While it lasts. 

The blogger is a great admirer of Hieronymus Bosch, whose works in Madrid's Prado Museum have delighted him for the past three decades 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

#StopBullying: Naming and shaming companies that use bullying as a management technique

How ironic that it it was on May Day, International Labor Day (except in some exotic countries such as the U.S. of A.) that an article was published in French satirical weekly, Le canard enchaîné, denounging bullying by employers. This is a great piece of investigation as it provides concrete examples of how a French multinational, banking giant BNP Paribas (BNPP), sets about mentally torturing the employees it wants to get rid of on the cheap (a screnshot of the French-language article is provided below.)

For non-French readers, here's a recap of the most egregious acts of such a lovely management practice:

  • Stopping inviting the employee to key meetings 
  • Demoting employees and erasing them from the organizational chart
  • Whereas other same-rank employees have their own office, sending the bullied employee on "open-space exile" 
  • If the employee happens to belong to a minority, let them know in no uncertain terms diversity (at least of their kind) is not welcome
  • For those who still don't "get it",  cutting the variable compensation they were entitled to: when you realize that, without your annual bonus, your compensation has been reduced by half, you usually start packing.

Nothing new under the sun, you might say. Nine years ago, almost to the day, I published High-Tech Planets: Secrets of an IT Road Warrior, where I denounced  such corporate shenanigans by the French subsidiary of an IT multinational. Actually I even dedicated my book to the vicitms of such corporeate behavior. How sad to see that such a practice continues unabated.

Does it?

In the case of BNPP, it is unclear that the bank reached its objectives of saving on layoffs. Unlike a decade ago, employees can now initiate legal action with greater chance of winning and some BNPP employes did just that quite successfully. After taking his case to court, the employee whose bonus was refused ended up getting €150,000. The one who was demoted was compensated to the tume of €351,000. As for the employee who was let go because of his sexual orientation the court awarded him a  whopping €600,000.

Which beggars the following thought: Wouldn't it have been better for BNPP to do the decent thing? There is nothing intrinsically wrong about reductions in force if current business circumstances so dictate: have an honest communication with affected employees and, if they have to be let go, pay them what they are owed. Same thing for low performers. Don't wait until the end of the year and the start of the appraisal process to "discover"somebody has been performing poorly throughou the year. If you do, it's the manager than who should take  the rap, not the employee. Find out why the employee is unable to reach their objectives (maybe those are unrealistic) and, if push comes to shove, and it becomes impossible to  retrain them/get them another position in consonance with their abilities, then sure let them go...compensating them as the law dictates.

Before this virtuous behavior becomes ingrained in corporate life, I'm afraid many more employees will go through hell, some even committing suicide (I had such a case in my book - a star in the company who was left no choice but to take their own life), many more court cases and newspaper articles will emerge, more naming and shaming will be necessary. 

Yes, name 'em and shame 'em. 

Last year it was #MeToo denouncing sexual harassment. This year it's #StopBullying.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Fighting political corruption - Brazil vs France


I recently came back from one of my regular stays in my home away from home in Brazil. On the very day that I arrived in Rio de Janeiro there was only one headline news topic: Former president Michel Temer had been arrested on corruption charges. (During my last stay in December my Copacabana neighborhood only gossiped about another fallen leader, former Renault-Nissan head Carlos Ghosn, whose swanky Nissan-owned penthouses, just a couple of blocks away from mine, was being searched and confiscated.)

I couldn't help compare the situation in Brazil with the one I left behind me in France.
As the below diagram shows, Brazil isn't shy about firing its leaders or putting them behind bars when caught rend-handed. There is little doubt that there is more corruption in Brazil than in France but then why is there more tolerance in France? Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post denouncing France's Real crimes, Fake justice when former President Chirac was condemned to 2 years in jail but...never set foot in one!

Like Lagarde, Juppé was rewarded for committing crimes: President Macron just nominated him
to the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. Yes, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you:
he who is going to ensure people uphold the country's top law is himself a convicted felon. 

Could it be that this old, wealthy "democracy"'s political system is so rotten at the core and despises its citizens to such an extent that it doesn't even pretend to have a clean justice system? I am more and more inclined to think along those lines based on facts such as those summarized below. Actually, if you wonder why I put "democracy" between quotation marks it is because i stopped  a long time ago to believe in representative democracy and, 7 years before the Yellow Vests movement took France by storm calling, among other things, for direct democracy I advocated the exact same thing in my blog post on DirDem vs RepDem as I called the old and new political system.

The lesson one can draw from this situation is that, contrary to appearances, a young, chaotic, developing country such as Brazil can teach those most established so-called democracies a lot. It always makes me laugh to hear "First" World leaders pontificate and give advice to their "Third" World counterparts, oblivious to the Biblical injunction that before seeing the mote in others' eyes, they should remove the beam in their own eyes.

(Other blog posts exposing the shortcomings of the French political system include, in addition to the ones mentioned above, the following:
- October, 2018: The Increasingly Undemocratic French Constitution
- May 2017: Thoughts on the French presidential election
-May 2012: Good riddance, Sarkozy!)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Of cars and HR software: Metaphor-based HRIS tips

Remember that great song "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" from that wittiest of musicals, My Fair Lady? Well, for the past couple of decades that I have been in the HR technology industry, I have been asking myself a similar question: Why can't my HR software be like a car? Throughout my career I have peppered my articles, presentations and meetings with car metaphors to drive the various points I was trying to make. (Here's the scene from the 1964 movie with Rex Harrison singing, well more like uttering, the song.)

You'll find hereafter some of the most frequent ones. Note that most would apply to enterprise software, not HR only; however, since I am an HR technology person through and through, you'll hardly be surprised that's my focus.

System Evaluation
This is the oldest car-metaphor case I can recall, having used it for at least 20 years. In the latest 1990s when I started out as an HR system analyst-cum-consultant spending most of my time advising French companies on which HR system to select, I would use this metaphor quite often. Actually so much that I put it early on in my book, High-Tech Planet. Here's the relevant excerpt of the metaphor which I still use to warn my clients off including ever single product specification whim that might cross their mind just because "it can be useful."

Having four wheels on a car rooftop is certainly useful in case the car were to turn over; but since no car maker offers that, it would be a waste of time to include that feature in a list of requirements, especially when every business process is now available in a computer system developed, sold and serviced by countless companies. Delphi Tech was one of such companies. Actually, it was more than just one of them. It was the biggest, the largest, the best-known one: indeed, as Dick claimed, Delphi had to a large extent created the business of corporate software, or at least contributed to its development. It was, as Dick would say, the Rolls-Royce of computer systems.  (High-Tech Planet: Secrets of  an IT Road Warrior, 2010 edition, p. 3.)

I also warn against using SIs (system implementers) as selection advisors for obvious reasons: SIs tend to focus on one or two systems; many, especially the boutique ones, are actually one-trick ponies. If you only have experience driving one or two cars, you will only recommend those ones. Or using research firms like Gartner who have limited, if any, HRIS implementation experience. This is like recommending a car based on several great features, but forgetting to ask the prospective buyer whether they can drive.

And beware overkill: When famed French soccer club Paris-Saint-Germain bought Workday, considering their small headcount and limited resources, it was clearly like buying a huge bus just for you, your wife and your two kids. Or like buying a Lamborghini to avoid walking on your driveway to your mailbox and back.

Finally, I strongly advise against falling for what I call the "critical capabilities" trap. If you only focus on these, you are likely to overlook other useful aspects and not be able to really pick the system that is best for you. Such an approach is as smart as when buying  a car to look only at the number of wheels and car paint. Three cars can all have the same features (tires, automatic transmission, air conditioning), but when you use them you will know which one is better. 

Product Design
As someone who spent a big chunk of his career in product strategy and management roles (at PeopleSoft and Fidelity Investments' HR Access) I am still amazed at how HR system  vendors make a point to diverge on fundamental design choices. If SAP decides that one process will require different screens, you can be sure that Oracle would prefer to have just one screen (albeit a long one obliging the user to scroll down endlessly) while Workday would probably prefer to have several tabs on the same screen. This can be very confusing for users who, as part of their daily HR tasks, have to toggle back and forth between several HR applications. Wouldn't it be nice if they were all designed along similar lines? 

Just imagine that if Ford puts the brake pedal to the left of the accelerator, so Renault puts it to the right. If BMW  uses a steering wheel to enable the driver to move the front wheels, so everyone else must use levers and sticks and chains. T
here would be almost no learning-curve effects either from a manufacturing or a usability perspective. And yet, HR software vendors do exactly that, which is quite insane, especially when you know that the musical-chairs game so prevalent among software executives means it's basically the same folks who oversee products across companies. 

Change Management
What many end-user companies are still grappling with as part of their new HR system implementations, especially in the cloud, is the right mix between configuration and training which now goes by the fancy name of change management. As I often tell my client, redoing you car's body and changing the engine would be of little use if the driver is incompetent. If you never learned to drive, buy a BMW and then crash it into a wall , how is that the car maker's fault? 

And when a client insists on implementing the same inadequate process again and again, I warn them against reinventing the flat tire.

HR System Implementation
There are many companies that in their move to cloud HR adopted the approach whereby they start with the low-hanging fruit of talent modules before, like an afterthought, implementing Core HR. More often than not, the added complexity doesn't make up for the lower risk. Core HR is your HRIS engine, without it your global HRIS simply won’t work. It is like trying to drive without a steering wheel: you’re not going to go far.

Cloud/SaaS HR for the dummies
Surprising as it may seem, there are still many corporate executives involved in on-premise-to-cloud transition projects who are still struggling with the cloud concept. This is where I probably make the most of the car metaphor. Starting at the evaluation stage, I warn my clients about  dinosaur vendors like Oracle who try to make us believe that they can tweak on-premise PeopleSoft into a cloud offering. It's like saying that if you affix wings to a car and add  a pointed nose along with powerful reactors, and find a way to hide the wheels, you can turn a car into a plane. It just won't fly - in more sense than one.  

Or putting a new body on a  30-year car. Would you fall for that?

If you still decide to take the risk to adopt half-baked products, then be prepared to fork out the funds needed to have onboard several consultants for a long period of time and whose function will be to fix the inevitable bugs and issues that are bound to arise. Remember that when the first automobiles came, owners needed to hire a mechanic full-time because those first cars had a bad habit of always breaking down.

For those who can't wrap their head around capex and opex (that's capital and operation expenditure to you) I explain that Saas is like leasing a car versus buying it. When they compare that with the millions they used to pay upfront just for the honor of being an SAP or Oracle customer, these executives' eyes brighten up immediately.

One car metaphor I used a lot when the cloud model arrived, and less so now as the cloud has gone mainstream, aimed at helping users to understand the key difference between traditional ERP (on-premise) and the cloud (SaaS based.) In order to convince the pro-ERP camp I explained to them they can't stop progress.  When automobiles arrived, they coexisted for a while with horse-drawn carriages before these got ditched because everybody saw that cars were faster and more practical. As an early advocate of the cloud model, against Oracle's (in)famous scorning of the cloud, I am glad to see that I eventually was vindicated by the market. (See my Jan. 2011 article, "Can software dinosaurs reinvent themselves as cloud-based vendors?")

One concept that, surprise, surprise, dinosaur vendors  try to push is the hybrid system of on-premise + SaaS system supposed to work in perfect harmony like hybrid cars. I debunk it by pointing that it's like saying, "Oh you don’t like the engine in your car, no problem, we can remove it for you and attach the car to two horses instead." Really!

Another fallacy about hybrid HR systems is that customers are led to believe that it's the best of two worlds. Come on! Will you really buy half of a Porsche and couple it with half of a Ferrari? 

SaaS, a relatively new concept,  is often confused with BPO (outsourcing the full process, be it payroll or recruiting.) When a client tells me they are not sure whether they should move to a SaaS  vendor or a BPO one, I tell them they are mixing things: First of all, you have to analyze and make a decision whether you want to run your full process inhouse or out. And only then can you decide, if inhouse, whether Saas or on-premise; and, if outsourced, then what vendor. In car terms, it is like saying, " I’m tired, I can’t walk to work, so I’ll invest in either a bike or a car." Well, they are two different tings, you should be either comparing bike/motorbike or motor bike/car but a bike vs. a car doesn't make sense. Like the proverbial apples and oranges.

Of second-hand cars
Of  course, no car metaphor would be complete without the time-honored used-car example. When Oracle provides its prospects with heavy discounts to adopt Fusion, I remind them that you get what you pay for: If the price of a second-hand car ("used car" to most Americans) is too good to be true, it's probably because it is neither good nor trueAlso, you buy a second-hand car if  you’re a good mechanic (in HR technology words, you have enough in-house skilled resources), because then you can fix it. Otherwise, you’re on your own: Compare this with the first-automobile and mechanic metaphor a couple of paragraphs before.

I could spend gazillions of pixels and tire your eyes out of their sockets decrying software sales tactics (the object of my aforementioned book.) One particular tactic which I recently saw  on a global HRIS project with payroll outsourcer ADP was when the vendor stated they were willing to bid with SAP SuccessFactors Core HR (Employee Central) but on the condition that my client bought two payrolls from ADP. 
I shot back at them, "How would feel if your car dealer offered to sell you a car only if you accepted to also buy two bikes?"

Vendor Management
Despite the Buyer Beware motto, customers  are entitled to escalate issues, especially when a promised feature is not working as touted in sales demos - or, worse, is not available. However, I find it misguided from some customers to focus on minor issues while not seeing the bigger picture. It is akin to buying a car that is  bigger, nicer and faster and yet spend an inordinate amount of time on small imperfections. As in life in general, you should choose your battles wisely: know which ones are worth fighting, and which ones should not be launched.


This is the latest in an HRIS Selection & Implementation Tips series. Previous posts included:
- April 2018: Cloud HR Implementation Tips: Focus on Migration
- Jan. 2016:  Pricing and Contracting with Your Cloud Vendor: Tips and Tricks
- Jan.2013:  An HR leader's Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

(The fact that the blogger-analyst-consultant has been spending the better part of the last year and a half on implementing a new global HRIS for one of the world's largest car makers is obviously a cute coincidence, since I have been using these metaphors for two decades now.)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The French Constitution at age 60: Sadly, increasingly undemocratic

The scary situation where 30% of the people's
will has been cancelled by politicians
French presidents have only three objectives they relentless pursue from the moment they are sworn in, to the moment they leave office :

- Leave at least an imposing monument for generations to come to remind them by;
- Have a celebrity be (re)buried in the Pantheon (even if against their wishes);
- Change the Constitution.

Current President Macron wasted no time to have a Pantheon burial (Simone Veil) and is busy leaving his mark on the Constitution (I cringe at the thought of what architectural eyesore he will bequeath us when he lives office in 2022 - I hereby  predict that like his two direct predecessors he will fail to be reelected.)*

Of course, the preferred way for politicians to change the Constitution is to do it themselves - and among themselves -  feeling that the nation's basic law is too important to be left to citizens to make a decision. And yet it was those same citizens (or at least their parents and grandparents) who approved it when the 5th Republic was introduced exactly 60 years ago. A basic democratic principle is that what the people have decided can only be changed by the people. Not in undemocratic France (and other mock democracies, by the way) where politicians confiscate the people's right to decide on the law of laws.

One thing I learned when I went to law school is referred to as the hierarchy of norms whereby a decision at a lower level must comply with a decision from a higher rung in the legal hierarchy. The rationale being that the farther away a decision-maker is from the sovereign people the lower in the legal hierarchy the decision is. Thus, from the lowest rungs to the highest we'll have the following:

- a cabinet minister's decision (usually known as a decree) has to comply with the law, because a minister is appointed whereas a law is made by Parliament which is elected (in other words, lawmakers are just one degree removed from the people whereas government ministers are two degrees away from the people.)

- Members of Parliament can only pass laws that comply with the Constitution, because lawmakers (known as deputies in France) are only the representatives of the people (of course most politicians believe and behave as if they were the people's masters, not their servants.) 

- The Constitution is therefore the highest law in the land since it has been voted on directly by the people themselves. Sadly, the basic democratic tenet that what the people have decided can only be changed by them directly in a referendum has been slowly but steadily eroded in the last 60 years with politicians deciding on BOTH laws and the Constitution.

It is therefore a travesty of democracy that those who pass laws are supposed to comply with the Constitution when they can change the latter at will. What's the point in having a Constitution then? Just say that politicians are all powerful and can decide on what they want when they want. Not markedly different from the Ancien Régime.

The shrinking democratic credentials of the French Constitution

In the 1960s there were only two changes to the Constitution: one was made in a referendum (it dealt with the way the president should be elected), but for the other one, Parliament decided they would handle it. The 1970s and 1990s saw more than 10% of the Constitution articles amended: not a single one with the people's vote. The 2000s saw this democratic deficit reach new heights: 9 changes, only 1 referendum. Particularly scandalous was the EU-inspired Lisbon Treaty which was rejected by French citizens in a  referendum. What was the President's reaction? Sarkozy ignored the people's will and had the shamefully supine French Parliament rubber-stamp his decision in a 2008 Constitutional amendment. **

If Macron has his way, another 10% of the Constitution will be changed and considering his low approval ratings he is not going to risk a referendum. We will then reach the worrying situation where  30% of the people's vote has been cancelled by politicians.

Let us hope that either opposition politicians (in the case of a Parliamentary vote) or the people (in the case of a referendum) defeat Macron and stop this undemocratic spiral. A Constitution is the paramount social contract, it is the basic pact that binds society together. As such it cannot be amended on a regular basis (the way laws are) and can only be done by the people themselves.

French presidents should heed other countries with similar political systems, such as Spain and the US. The former celebrates this year the 40th anniversary of its Constitution which has been left largely unchanged since 1978. As for the US, it has amended its 250-year-old Constitution fewer times than France has in only 60 years. That tells you that there is something deeply wrong with the French political system.

LEAVE LADY CONSTITUTION ALONE! She is a respectable lady who doesn't need to have more scars inflicted on her by shameless, self-serving politicians

*It is noteworthy that the last two presidents left in disgrace failing to get a second term. The last but one, Nicolas Sarkozy, failed to get reelected, and the last one, François Hollande, having to live the  unprecedented ignominy of not even being able to run due to his abysmal approval ratings, themselves due to his disastrous record.

**I have more respect for British politicians who, although they were against Brexit, once British voters made their decision in a non-binding referendum, they decided to abide by what the people have decided. In France, politicians despise voters and don't even hide it.

The blogger has written several posts on the French political system: 

-April 2017: "The French presidential election: Going  blank"
-May 2012: "Good riddance, Sarkozy!"
-Dec. 2011: "Real crime, fake justice: Chirac gets 2-year suspended jail sentence"
-June 2010: "Sarkozy, la France c'est moi!"
-March 2010: " Obama and Sarkozy: A Tale of Two Presidencies"

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cloud HR Implementation Tips: Focus on Integration and Migration

 Most discussions on implementing a new HR system, which for the past years has meant a cloud-based one, tend to focus on the functional side of things, that is business requirements as covered by a single system. Discussing what processes will be re engineered or moved as-is, what system to evaluate and select or even how to overcome change resistance are often considered as nobler than the nitty-gritty  technical aspects usually referred to as “integration”, although I prefer interface since that is what it is: interfacing to third-party.

In the brave new world of cloud systems, the assumption touted by most vendors has been that the integration conundrum would be solved by the native vendors in a much more satisfactory way than it was in the dinosaur era of traditional ERP. Well, nothing is farther from the truth if only for two simple facts:

1. In my 20-year experience of the HRIS world, I have yet to seen a company (and certainly not a global one) using a single platform for all its HR needs. 

2. From time immemorial HRIS vendors have each had their own data model and despite all the talk about convergence that is still the same basic reality. 

So, how should you go about integration when embarking on a new HRIS project? First you need to realize that there are several tasks/phases that make up implementation activities. This post will focus on the ones mentioned in the title: Integration and Migration. Second, these two tasks tend to be considered as "technical" but the business impact is such that it would be counterproductive for SMEs or the business side of things to relinquish full control

Deciding what is in scope and what is out is one of the most challenging issues in any HRIS project. If you overindulge yourself you may bite off more than you can chew, a recipe for disaster. But leaving too much out (Recruiting*, Payroll, Time Management*) means interfacing to all these different systems and that's where the big headache starts: How to make different systems with different data models talk to each other in a meaningful way?

Particularly vexing is the situation faced by many companies  which have never had a single global HR system of record and whose users realize that moving to the cloud means having, at least, two systems where they previously had one: the old single HR-cum-payroll system now becomes a modern, cloud-based HR system interfaced to payroll. Where I used to create my positions, hire employees, define their compensation, and produce their payrolls in one tool, now  I have to do it using two user experiences. Toggling back and forth between two tools may be considered by many as a step back.

To ensure user adoption and minimize risk, pay particular attention to the following:

  • What data to move to the new HR tool and what should remain in the legacy tool (see the below table for help on deciding which is which)? You can decide that structural data (organizations and jobs/positions) stay where they are, but employee data are moved to the new tool: analyze the pros and cons of each carefully. Particularly wrenching is when the new system offers some data or feature that your local tools cannot accommodate and in order not to break down what has worked fine for so long, you have to let go of a feature you were hoping to use (and loved in the demo when you evaluated vendors.)

  • What direction should the flow go? Is your new tool going to be the master for all things HR? Will some data be updated in the legacy tool and fed back into the HR system of record? Will some process flow change directions over the course of the project? That could be useful to minimize risk but it is bound to add to complexity.
  • What am I to do if my legacy, local tool is better at some feature than the new one? For instance, in my local tool, in the Address section, I have a City field with a picklist (often the result of heavy customization) , but the new tool doesn't offer a list of values to choose from (welcome to the wonderful SaaS world!) If a user misspells a city name or use a local one (say, Köln instead of Cologne) the downstream  system won't recognize it and will throw in an error: no address means no employee. And if this employee is a manager all the workflows that require his or her approvals will be stuck. The business impact of such a situation can be quite serious.
  • How often do you expect to send data via the interface?  Once a day? Several times a day? Once a week? This is hardly an academic issue. If you update your employee data several times a day, you may want to just send the most recent file. Some interfacing tools allow you to send just what has changed (the "delta" file in our jargon), while others will send the whole file. 
  • A far from unimportant question is whether you will interface straight from the new system to the legacy tool or whether you will go through a third tool in between. I have worked on several SAP-to-cloud conversion projects and often the customer would rather retain a mini HR master that would be fed from the new HRIS and, in turn, would feed the downstream system (both HR or non HR such as finance or expenses.) The advantage of such a scheme is to lower the risk and the interface complexity since you focus only on one type of interfaces and don't have to rebuild all the other "pipes."

Since I'm writing this piece having dummies in mind, I may be stating the obvious for many but I am still surprised at how many people confuse the two terms and activities. Although the two may overlap they are fundamentally different: both relate to sending data from one tool to the other, but they do it at different phases of the project: Migration is about loading data before you go live (it is therefore a one-off exercize) whereas Integration sends data on a constant basis after Go Live.  

As with Integration, some major decisions have to be made, carefully weighing thepros and cons of each:

  • The first one is about history: I have spent countless hours/days/meetings with stakeholders to analyse and explain history decisions: Many users, loath to leave their comfort zone, expect to get in the new systems all the contracts an employee has ever had, all the jobs he's ever held etc. Technically it can be done, but it is complex and expensive, so you have to explain to them that the costs far outweigh the benefits, and that it is better to just load active employees and the most current job, or at least not going back more than a year. But, again, analyze your business carefully: if your business has high seasonal turnover, and the regulatory environment in the country/ies you operate in, require you guarantee that full seniority is maintained, then you may have to load terminated employees as well.
  • A key aspect is the source of the data: If you already have a global HR system of record (think Oracle or SAP) much of your data will most likely be stored in that legacy system (although not for all your countries, some smaller ones may be outside.)  The good news is data conversion from one tool to another is much easier to do than from multiple sources. The bad news is that in reality SAP and Oracle (both EBS and PeopleSoft) are ancient technologies, and often do not hold a lot of local data: For instance, they may hold your permanent employees, but temporary employees are managed in the local tools. You will then have to migrate them from these ones: multiple tools means added complexity, cost, energy and ...time, that commodity so precious in any global HR system project. Hard decisions to make here, based on the real (not perceived) value of having, say, banking details in one single global system or in local ones: if your employees are used to self service then the former makes sense; if HR will continue to update it directly, then it can remain in the  local tool.
  • A key part of the Migration exercize is to validate that the data has traveled safely, hence the importance of checking it. Remember GIGO? Garbage In, Garbage Out? If your data is w in the source system, it is highly unlikely it will arrive cleaned in  the target tool. Do yourself a favor and clean up your data in your upstream tool.
  • I have written a lot on system evaluation, and this is where bad decisions made at that phase will impact your implementation: If you have been negligent or ignorant about your business, and not realized how much historical data you will need,  you may be in for a big surprise when you reach out to your vendor (systems integrator) and are hit with the additional costs of a change request. So, as in anything else in life, the earlier you think about all possible options, the better it would be. Of course, many customers make the buying decision with scant regard to implementation and  live to  be sorry at their shortsightedness.

As you can see from the above examples, the impact of misguided integration and migration decisions can hamstring your business quite significantly. Undervalue these twin sisters at your own peril. To paraphrase a well-know expression, Integration and Migration are too serious issues to be left to IT: HR, as the face of the business, should own it and pay particular attention to it in order to maximize chances of success. 

*The blogger positively hates the New Age terms of Talent Acquisition and Workforce Management

**The blogger, in his Advisor/Consultant/Project Managercapacity, is currently busy with the post-design phase of one of the largest Workday projects in the world for which he has been clocking in an impressive amount of frequent-flyer miles. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Land of the Morning Calm: Tips on implementing a global HRIS in Korea

Last year when I spent several days in Shanghai gathering the requirements for a client as part of an HRIS evaluation exercise, I realized this was the easternmost place on Earth I had ever reached. I am gratified to announce that I just beat my own record by spending a week in South Korea's sprawling megalopolis, finalizing an amazing global tour as part of the implementation of one of the largest HRIS projects in the world. This post aims at sharing some of my thoughts about one of the Asian dragons as well as provide tips on how to include a Korean subsidiary in a global HRIS project.

Hierarchical society
Korea's society will come across to first-time visitors as a very class-conscious one, not in the traditional British sense where one's place is determined by birth, but by the merit-based place one occupies in the corporate world. I was  struck by the constant bowing that takes place: whereas in the West people shake hands when they meet, in Korea, you take a bow, with the person occupying a lower rung in the social pecking order bowing lower - When you meet your company's CEO your body's basically at a 90° angle.

Small wonder then that your global HRIS will need to track the various statuses, grades and levels an employee enjoys throughout his employment life cycle (make sure you carefully identify which ones apply to the person and which to the position.) Just like Germans love to be addressed by their titles (Doktor and Professor have to be included in the name section of your HRIS) Koreans use their professional gradess as part of the name when addressing each other. "Good morning, Mr Lee M32"  - Bow. "Hello, Mr. Kim L11" - Deeper bow.

It was therefore quite revealing that in the workshop I ran, when we covered the list of dependents (to be used for benefits purposes), the value "Sibling" was found lacking. "We should have Elder or Younger Brother/Sister" I was told. And, of course, in this most deferential and hierarchical of societies expect your workflow to include several additional approvers as  it travels up and down the hierarchy.

Finally, make sure when you organize meetings, especially workshops where decisions need to be made, that you mix equals with equals. Should you have participants belonging to different rungs on the corporate ladder, you'll find out that subordinates will almost always defer to their superiors, never contradict them, thus preventing you from getting a full picture of the situation.

Gyeongbokgung Palace.
A haven of peace in the hustle and bustle of downtown Seoul

Strong culture of service and duty
Koreans will go to great lengths to do their duty and ensure the service they provide is first notch. Of all the countries I covered while I crisscrossed the globe none did their prerequisite homework so thoroughly and conscientiously as did the Korean team. I took the subway one afternoon and must have gotten my fares mixed up because, on the way out, I swiped my card but, after a shrill beep, the turnstile remained stubbornly stuck while a few Korean characters in scaring red danced on the small monitor. I must have looked confused or lost, or simply obviously foreign in this racially homogeneous society, because a rider stopped by, embarrassingly explained that I had insufficient credit  and then swiped his card to top me up. The turnstile opened as if by magic. I insisted  to pay him what I owed him, but he'd have none of it. "I just did my duty to a fellow human," he said. Try that in Paris or New York!

HR and Technology
South Korea (or, as it is known officially, the Republic of Korea) has gone through dizzying changes in the past few decades becoming an advanced economy, with efficient public transportation, technologically savvy (I'd even say obsessed) with a high mobile-device penetration rate (you know you're on a Seoul street when pedestrians walk with their eyes glued on their smartphones.) A global HRIS would have few issues rolling out its self service features to a nation whose mobile devices have become an extension of its citizens.

Although Korea has a vibrant democracy (they recently impeached their president on corruption grounds- a first for the country, while France is still considering whether to prosecute a former president on similar charges), there is one thing it shares with China: social media and other tools that we take for granted in most of the world are largely absent in Korea. Don't message anybody on WhatsApp -  you are unlikely to receive a reply. Facebook and Uber don't fare any better, either, as Koreans rely on homegrown tools. Global HRIS vendors face an uphill battle to penetrate this market with only a handful of mainly multinationals adopting Workday, SAP or Oracle, midmarket businesses remaining largely impervious to them, in the absence of good localization work. To take one example, none of the SOW vendors provide the controls needed for Korean address formats.

Going lunar - not lunatic
Taking a break from a punishing
schedule of global HRIS workshops
Reminiscent of a requirement I saw in Saudi Arabia, Koreans use a dual calendar: Western and lunar. By way of consequence, employees will display two ages: the one they have according to a Western calendar, and the one based on a lunar calendar. Make sure your global HRIS can handle this seemingly puzzling requirement. Some allowances are paid depending on the lunar date, and if you feel like wishing an employee Happy Birthday, make sure it's the lunar one, not the Western (or "Sun" one as I heard it referred to.)

Compensation and Payroll Interface
Since it is most likely you'll be interfacing your Core HR tool with a Korean payroll (none of the three global HRIS vendors - for whom I coined the acronym SOW - has released a Korea cloud-based payroll), figuring out where to place the cursor between Core HR (Compensation) and Payroll will be quite a challenge. Just ask Samsung Electronics, embroiled in its attempts to interface local payroll PDSS with one of the SOW vendors.

Vibrant modern culture within a traditional society
Adhering to a deferential culture (where women tend to play a submissive role), proud of its history and traditions (I strongly recommend visiting the royal palaces in Seoul such as Gyeongbokgung Palace pictured here), Korea's modern culture punches above its weight. Korean filmmakers have made a name for themselves on the map of world cinema: A recent Korean movie I enjoyed is The King's Case Note, part-historical drama (set in the Joseon era), part-thriller (Sherlock and Watson -style), part-comedy. What has become known as K-pop is now all the rage: Is there anybody on planet Earth who is not familiar with the the catchy tune of Park Jae-san "Psy" 's Gangnam Style? The song takes its name from the trendy Gangnam neighborhood, south of the Han River where yours truly stayed at the Sheraton (loved the beautiful Joseon-era chests of drawers on display on every floor.)

Although Korean script is traditionally based on Chinese ("Hanja" script) , the most common script ("Hangul") is alphabet-based  with characters representing vowels and consonants, and written left to right. Many Koreans write in mixed script, meaning that your global HRIS will need to cater to both.  Note that "Korea" is the Western name: Koreans refer to their country by a different name, which itself differs whether you are in the North or the South. Land of the Morning Calm is an old nickname for the country.

Food and Coffee
Unlike the Japanese and Chinese, Koreans love their cuisine quite spicy with side dish kimchee having pride of place at any Korean meal. I was surprised when I visited a friend to see that most Korean apartments come with a kimchee fridge, specially designed to ensure the delicacy is kept in optimal temperature. The coffee addict that I am was more than exhilarated to discover the pervasive café culture. I am hardly exaggerating when I say that at every other street you cross in Seoul, you'll find a coffee place, most belonging to Korean franchises with names such as A Twosome Place, Angel in Us Coffee (sic), Tous les Jours, Paris Baguette, Hollys Coffee, Tom N Toms coffee (I cringe at the missing apostrophe for the latter two).

Overall, I enjoyed my Korean experience tremendously (pace the dreadful traffic jams.) I would gladly come back, hopefully flying airline other than Korea Air: Despite the constant bowing by the pretty all-female crew, I found the experience quite underwhelming. The business class on the Airbus A380 is inferior to the one on Air France and, of course, nothing to be compared with best-in-class Emirates.

NOTE: All pictures taken by the consultant/blogger and remain the property of Ahmed Limam who is hereby asserting his copyright.

(This is the latest in a series of wide-ranging articles focusing on a single country. Previous posts:

July 2017: Romania: Between HR technology and childhood memories
July 2016: Middle Kingdom: Musings on Chinese HR, technology and the country
Nov. 2014: Of Switzerland, the country, its HR practice and technology landscape
June 2013: Thoughts on India, its HR/technology space 
Dec. 2012: My 20-Year Affair with Spain  - with more than 10,000 views it is one of my most popular articles
Aug. 2011: Brazil Rising: Thoughts on HR, technology and an emerging giant )

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gartner's HR Magic Quadrant: A (Strong) Rebuttal - Updated Sep. 2018

The 2017 edition

For someone whose HR technology career includes a couple of years as an analyst with a Gartner-like outfit (Paris-based CXP), I keep an eye out for what Gartner, IDC, Forrester and a flurry of new analyst entrants produce. Apart from some comments in LinkedIn discussions, I hadn't dedicated a full post on these research firms. Gartner's latest Magic Quadrant dedicated to cloud HR gives me the opportunity to share some inconvenient truths (some of which I already aired in my book, High-Tech Planet : Secrets of an IT Road Warrior.)
There is a lot in the report that I agree with because it is simply common sense or knowledge, just like if Gartner were to state that water boils at 100° C I would agree with that. But that doesn't mean that I do not disagree with a lot, too. And there are quite a few findings that are misleading, inaccurate, odd if not altogether bizarre. And some astonishing omissions.

Methodology-wise, Gartner is guilty of equating mid-market size in the US with Europe. As anybody who has done any market research would know, SMBs tend to be larger in the US vs Europe. The cloud definition misses out completely the private-cloud variant (Oracle recently renamed theirs Cloud @ Customer - which I always found an oxymoron.)

Speaking of Oracle, one can only wonder that it is put so close behind SAP SuccessFactors (SF) when all empirical research shows it should be closer to Ultimate which, in many respects, should rate higher than Oracle, anyway. Gartner then commits the unforgivable crime of belting out features like a good parrot without discussing their value. Why? Oracle Work-Like Solutions is a good example of vaporware, nobody’s interested in it but because Oracle stresses it in its Analyst Day presentations Gartner dutifully presents it too. Why can't Gartner be honest and tell us that customers licensing it (never mind actually using it) are few and far between?  Because  Gartner takes money from vendors, so it is not free to write what it wants.

The 2018 edition

Sep. 2018: 
Oracle’s vision better than Workday? (Last year it was SAP which was ahead of Workday - see below) The company that (in)famously pooh-phoned the cloud before scrambling to tweak  Fusion to have it hosted? (Remember that I coined faux-Saas in Oracle’s “honor”) So, Oracle displays better vision than Workday, the vendor that in less than a decade has managed to win the hearts and minds of HR? Laughable. How can the new Fusion Recruiting module gets such accolades when NOBODY is live on it? I have been involved in more HRIS evaluation exercizes than most of you have had hot dinners, and no HR user has ever expressed any admiration at Oracle’s HR vision, especially not in the cloud. Gartner just buys all the marketing crap that Oracle sends its way, lock, stock and barrel and delivers it to us with no critique whatsoever, just like the customer numbers that Gartner hasn’t audited: but if a vendor claims they have 2,000 customers, then it must be as true as Holy Writ. Preposterous.

Why doesn’t Gartner tell you that more Oracle PeopleSoft customers move to the cloud with Workday than with Oracle Fusion (which Oracle wants you to believe is true cloud by slapping the moniker cloud on it – which Gartner dutifully obliges.)

Putting SAP ahead of Workday on …Vision? Is Gartner deranged? Who in their right mind can countenance such an absurd claim: Workday with its single line of code, true SaaS offering, revolutionary UI, workflow, reporting, same-platform payroll, pionnering Community. And SAP is ahead? With SF? Completely silly.

SF Employee Central (EC)  figures are not accurate: As usual with these mainstream analysts, such figures are accepted from the vendor's mouth, lock, stock and barrel - not verified. I am on record for being very critical with vendor-provided figures, but Gartner considers them like Holy Writ. Also, to mention "EC payroll" is, again, just parroting the vendor with no critical thinking: There is no such think as EC Payroll but good old SAP Payroll, just like there is no such thing as Oracle HCM Cloud but just  a rebranding of  Fusion, which is available on-premise as well. I can understand the vendor trying to mislead the customer, but the analyst doing it, too? How shameful! Gartner clearly makes a lot of money from SAP and Oracle, and being in their pay it has to put lipstick on their pigs.

Sep. 2018: As for SAP, Gartner aids and abets vendors in their well-trodden path of misleading customers, when it parrots the false claim of SuccessFactors’ “supported payrolls for 42 countries”. As I have denounced SAP for so long, that is BS, pure and simple (can BS be pure?) We the cognoscenti know it is just good ole SAP Payroll hosted and interfaced to SF. GARTNER: stop lying to customers by feeding them false information. You have just become an extension of vendors’ marketing organizations.

Very odd to see Talentia and Ramco which I NEVER ran into in any bid having pride of place (well, sort of) in this report. Just because you need to put a logo on your fancy diagram, doesn't mean that you should make up analysis. Ramco has no meaningful presence in either the US or Europe, which represent the lion's share of the global HRIS market. Shouldn't be there...yet!
Sep. 2018: Other examples of absurd findings: Ramco having 40 payrolls! Really? Only SAP (on-premise), after several decades, was able to provide that many localized payrolls. Not even PeopleSoft, for so long the best HR system around, was able to get close. Workday, PeopleSoft’s successor, has barely managed a couple of payrolls, and Gartner wants us to believe that Ramco, with limited financial and human resources vs Workday (or Oracle,) has been able  to produce so many payrolls. Puh-lease!

Same thing with Kronos whose only claim to HRIS fame is that it is the Time Management leader (I positively hate the term “WFM”), but it doesn’t have the footprint to be considered  a suite. Where is its global HR Admin (or Core HR)? And yet Gartner says it is one of its criteria, as it should be. Cornerstone has much stronger credentials to feature in the report than Kronos since it has a (light) Core HR offering. And yet the Santa Monica-based vendor is nowhere to be seen. As glaring omissions go, this one is simply bizarre.

Meta4? The zombie vendor? If you consider Meta4 as a cloud vendor just because its offering can be hosted, then why not have PeopleSoft? It can also be hosted, and is as much on life support as Meta4 is. But Gartner takes money from vendors, so it is not free to write what it wants. The shared vs public cloud is not as meaningful as the private cloud (Cloud  @ Customer as Oracle calls it) which doesn’t even get a mention. I wonder why. And of course, as is usual with those pseudo-independent analysts, many figures are given, not verified. Very sad when analysts become an extension of vendors’ marketing departments.

Echo-chamber mentality
Mind you, there are times when a vendor dares produce a truly independent analysis. A couple of years ago Forrester wrote about the low customer uptake of Oracle Fusion. The vendor immediately retaliated by cutting all funding. Since then Forrester has been toing the line. As with Gartner, you can't bite the hand that feeds you. Forrester's latest report is a case in point where it becomes almost indistinguishable from Gartner's. Lesson learned, you might (and can) say.

Along with many others, I have been demanding of Gartner & Co to commit not to take any paid assignment from vendors and avoid making money from them. But they refuse to put an end to this inherent conflict of interest and therefore lose in credibility and ability to produce unbiased analysis. It is a disservice to user organizations to make them believe otherwise.

Sep. 2018: Great minds think alike. Independent analyst Shaun Snapp from Brightwork Research just published a cogent analysis documenting Gartner's inherent conflict of interests.

Another weakness of this type of analyst reports, is that since most of these analysts have NEVER implemented an HRIS, they completely ignore the issues related with implementation. What’s the point of selecting the best HRIS in the world if you can’t find resources to implement it? Or they are too expensive? Or the methodology is fuzzy? Or the SI ecosystem is half-baked? Or building reports or maintaining workflows is too  cumbersome? Or if change management leads to customer rejection? Nothing whatsoever in the Gartner report. This is like recommending a car based on several great features, but forgetting to ask the prospective buyer whether they can drive. Largely pointless.  I checked the LinkedIn profiles of the analysts involved in the report: the "stars" (Hanscombe, Lougee, Poitevin) and most of the others have ZERO to little cloud implementation experience. And yet here they are pontificating about something they have limited knowledge of. How reassuring.

Check out my analysis done with my own two ten fingers, with no paid assignment accepted from any vendor and you'll see the difference: SOW -  A Comparison of 3 Cloud HR Vendors: SAP, Oracle and Workday.  I firmly believe that there is a lot to be said for critical thinking, lack of bias and independence. 

The blogger/analyst/consultant is continuing his World Localization Tour as part of one of the largest global HRIS projects in the world. After Brazil last week, he is now in Argentina presenting the prototype to HR representatives from several Spanish-speaking countries. NEXT STOPS: France, Spain and Turkey.

NOTE ON BUENOS AIRES: For anybody currently in the Americas' most beautiful capital city, I strongly recommend Fuerza Bruta, a terrific Cirque du Soleil-like  show at the Centro Cultural de Recoleta. And, of course, enjoy the amazing architecture, large avenues (9 de Julio is the world's largest avenue with 18 lanes), numerous parks and the world's best meat. If you are staying near Avenida Corrientes (Buenos Aires' answer to the Big Apple's Time Square) as I am, Chiquilin is a great option. I will later dedicate a full-length post to HR technology in Spanish-speaking Latin America (already done it for Brazil.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Romania: Between HR technology and childhood memories

The blogger at age 8
wearing a traditional
Romanian costume
Two historic events are taking place in Romania this month. First, King Michael will celebrate the 90th anniversary of his accession to the throne, a record for any monarch in history*. Sure, he lost it 70 years ago, but post-Communist Romania returned, if not his crown, at least his palaces (I am staying just a few blocks from his Bucharest home, Elisabeta Palace), castles (you should visit lovely Peleș Castle) along with full honors and titles (move over, Elizabeth II, your 60 years on the throne are kid's stuff.) The second memorable event is that yours truly is launching from here the first of a worldwide series of HR localization workshops for one of the largest cloud HRIS projects in the world.

Romania has always been close to my heart. That's where my mother's family hails from, and where my Paris-born mother grew up, separated by the Iron Curtain from her Paris-residing mother for 20 years. Amazing at it may sound, between the ages of 2 and 21, my mother never saw her own mother, growing up in the most beautiful region of Romania: Transylvania (known as Ardeal in Romanian.) Dracula's region is indeed not only the most beautiful from a landscape perspective, it is also among the most ethnically diverse areas in Europe: Romanians (the majority) live next to Hungarians and Germans, and almost every town in Transylvania has a Romanian, Hungaria and German name (In another record, Romania recently elected as president a member of the German minority, thus becoming the only country in Europe whose leader comes from a minority group!) Many cities are medieval jewels, in particular what is known as the "Saxon towns."

I spent many a lovely summer in Transylvania in my teen years, enjoying the food (see below), fishing in the Mureș river, trekking through the Carpathian mountains, bonding with the extended Romanian family: cousins galore from Geoagiu de Sus to Teiuș and Alba Iulia, the old capital where 99 years ago the country was reunited, as well as Cluj-Napoca where my mother started university and Bucharest where cousin Felicia lived and where my mother and I  had to hide from the building's Securitate man since we were "foreigners."

Sun of IT rises in the East...and women too!
It is therefore with great pleasure that I always come back to Romania, although now it is more likely to be to Bucharest on business than Transylvania, although the latter's capital, Cluj-Napoca has become a major IT hub, rivaling Bucharest. Many large multinationals are taking advantage of the good infrastructure and education, competitive salaries and tax structure and Romanians' linguistic abilities, to set up engineering and shared service centers. Many of my international clients have consolidated shared HR operations from either Cluj or Bucharest. As an employee, if you have a question about your vacation balance, send an email or pick up the phone and your request is likely to be handled by a Romanian.

An even more remarkable development is that an increasing number of women developers are to be found in Romanian-based IT centers: latest figures show that almost 30% of the tech force in Romania is female. Much higher than in Western Europe or the United States. Communism doesn't have much to recommend it for (my family lost land acquired through hard work when the monarchy was overthrown) but at least it pushed women into science and engineering jobs, resulting  in the amazing stats I just mentioned.

HR in Romania
Although Romanian companies can elicit their share of complex rules (especially when allowances are dependent on absence/time data or extraneous factors such as outside temperature several days in a  row), in comparison with other countries I know well such as France, Italy or Brazil, Romania is a model of simplicity.  For instance, whereas France has a good 20 different types of labor contracts, Romania has, for all intents and purposes, only two: fixed term or unlimited term (permanent.) Temporary employees are not common either, reminiscent of Italy who banned it for so long. But post-Communist Romanian governments have clearly embraced pro-business labor laws, simplifying the tax code (both individual and corporate income tax is a flat 16% rate), getting rid of the quaint labor booklet or cărtea de muncă (similar to Brazil's carteira de trabalho) and overall making life much easier for employers and (some) employees. Although the dreadful and dreaded bureaucracy of old hasn't entirely disappeared, the current situation clearly has nothing to do with the olden days of the command economy.

HRIS vendor market
The Romanian HRIS market can be divided into two groups. Tier-1 vendors cater to the local subsidiaries of multinational groups and large Romanian companies (including utilities such as Romgaz and state agencies such as the Romanian Central Bank). Amazing how history tends to repeat itself, although with a twist: A decade ago I worked on the Oracle localization effort for Romania, leading a workshop in Bucharest; and now here I am running another localization workshop in Bucharest, but this time on the customer side. Tier-1 vendors include the usual suspects we know, with SAP on top (the only one with full localization including payroll) and Workday the #1 cloud HR vendor with limited localization (and the need to improve its Romanian translation).

...and their lei

Tier-2 vendors cater to the other Romanian companies: smaller in size but more numerous. Charisma and Wizrom are top of the pack, with Charisma the payroll vendor used by many multinational subsidiaries.

Culture and the rest
View of Bucharest's Royal Palace from the blogger's
room in the landmark Plaza Athénée hotel
My favorite hotel in Bucharest is the Plaza Athénée (now part of the Hilton hotel chain): in Communist times my mother would book a room there when we visited Bucharest since as a "foreigner" she was not allowed to stay with her cousin (the local authorities in her hometown, though, turned a blind eye - after all, they all went to school with her!) I continue the family tradition in this grand hotel, whose heyday was in the 1930s where glitterati, royalty, diplomats, and spies made of the Paris of the Balkans (as Bucharest was known) their HQ. It faces both Revolution Square (where hated dictator Ceaușescu's fall started) and the Royal Palace. The Old Town and most sights are within walking distance.

Romanian cinema has rapidly become one of the most dynamic in the world winning prizes in major festivals. I strongly recommend   Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu, Cristian Mungiu's at times disturbing Behind the Hills and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Many of Communist-era movies are forgettable, but I would single out the exceptional World War I drama Forest of the Hanged.

Romanians have produced great writers: Eugen Ionescu wrote Englezește fără profesor ("English Without a Teacher") in Romanian before he moved to Paris, Frenchified his name and wrote a French-language version which became La cantatrice chauve, a masterpiece of absurdist theater and the longest running play in French history (it just celebrated its 60th anniversary, playing every single day in the same tiny theater in the Latin Quarter in Paris). During the 30s, like all Romanian aristocrats, Princess Bibesco had a preference for the French language and wrote what is still amazing prose. Although many other good Romanian writers are only available in Romanian, Mihai Cărtărescu's amazing Nostalgia is available in English and I strongly recommend it. Transylvania-born Herta Müller writes in her native German (although she is fully bilingual), mainly about life in Communist-era Romania: for her efforts, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The blogger, at age 10, with his mother in a
photographer's studio in Aiud, Transylvania

Speaking of languages, Romanian is a linguistic oddity: the only Latin-based language that maintains noun cases lost since Roman times, and with a strong Slavic influence. In other words, if you speak Russian and Italian, Romanian will be easy to learn. My favorite Romanian word? The joyful "lalelele" which means "the tulips."

Last but not least, Romanian food has to be sampled: often hearty, it relies on local produce, has some similarities to dishes found elsewhere in the Balkans. Many meats are served with mămăligă, similar to the Italian polenta, a type of mashed corn. I cannot eat eggplant purée, sarmale (meat in vine leaves)  and ardei copți (roast red peppers) without thinking fondly of my childhood summers where we grew those vegetables in the garden (water came from...a well! it was cold, clean  and delicious). Sweet cozonac and ișler (the latter, a Transylvanian specialty that reminds me of the Latin American alfajor)),especially when served with a shot of vişinată should round off your evening brilliantly. 

*King Michael holds another record: He is one of the  few monarchs in history to have both preceded and succeeded his father on the throne.

Next destination after Bucharest: Casablanca, Morocco. 

(This is the latest in a series of wide-ranging articles focusing on a single country. Previous posts:

July 2016: Middle Kingdom: Musings on Chinese HR, technology and the country
Nov. 2014: Of Switzerland, the country, its HR practice and technology landscape
June 2013: Thoughts on India, its HR/technology space 
Dec. 2012: My 20-Year Affair with Spain  - with more than 10,000 views it is one of my most popular articles
Aug. 2011: Brazil Rising: Thoughts on HR, technology and an emerging giant )

NOTE: All pictures are by/from the blogger and therefore copyrighted.