Nothing Succeeds Like Success(Factors) - Part 2

Part 1 of this series introduced SuccessFactors, a public provider of software as a service (SaaS) talent management solutions. My post first analyzed the vendor’s evolution from its traditional People Performance realm to the seemingly more opportune Business Execution (BizX) province.

Then, I talked about SuccessFactors’ multiple product editions to satisfy companies of all size and detailed the two core modules of the SuccessFactors BizX suite of applications: Performance Management and Goal Management. These core modules serve as the foundation for the BizX application suite, as visibility into employee performance and organizational goals are the necessary basis for other activities, such as recruiting, learning & development, compensation, and succession planning. 

Other BizX Solution Suite’s Main Modules

Centered around the realms of Business Alignment and People Performance (mentioned in Part 1), and Team Execution (which is the most recently added pillar of BizX, to be discussed shortly), SuccessFactors BizX solutions are designed to be easy enough for anyone to use, but powerful enough to uncover the critical insights that help drive business results. While available as standalone, the modules are tightly integrated with other modules as required.

In fact, the appeal of managing the entire company’s execution and workforce with one solution is a major differntiator for SuccessFactors. The list of other BizX offerings (modules) that have been available for some time is as follows:

  • The Compensation Management module helps enterprises establish a pay-for-performance culture by facilitating the processes of merit pay adjustments, bonus allocations, and distribution of stock-based awards. The module also includes a variable pay management component that takes overall organizational and department performance into account in making individual compensation decisions. (My colleague Sherry Fox’ recent blog post provides a great analysis of how to create astute compensation plans.)

  • The Succession Management module provides real-time visibility into an organization's talent pool from senior executives to individual contributors. This allows customers to plan for staffing changes by identifying key contributors (kingpins) throughout the organization and providing current profiles and readiness rankings for each candidate. This process enables customers to proactively develop and assure the readiness of employee talent at all levels. This module feeds into the recruiting module, allowing customers to source candidates from within their company.

  • The Learning and Development module aligns employees' learning activities with their competency gaps to achieve key goals. This allows companies to avoid costly, non-strategic training programs while facilitating the attainment of skills required for current and future job requirements (and to foster employee retention). (Again, as a side note, Sherry Fox’ blog post provides an in-depth analysis of e-learning and available offerings.)

  • The Recruiting Management module streamlines the process of identifying, screening, selecting, hiring, and on-boarding job applicants. SuccessFactors touts that this module delivers the best hires, given its integration with the suite, usage by HR departments and the business, and addition of social sourcing and hiring. The idea here is for hiring managers to be able to identify talent gaps and then initiate the process of creating hiring requisitions based on organizational needs. These detailed hiring requisitions can automatically be passed through a company's internal approval process and routed to the appropriate internal or external recruiters. Candidate resumes and job requisitions can also be collaboratively commented on and developed in the company’s social media offering.

  • The Analytics and Reporting capability provides visibility into key performance indicators (KPIs) and talent data across the organization. Executives can access global views of the entire organization's performance data, including goal status, performance review ratings, and compensation in real-time. This capability offers insights into critical performance management trends through intuitive dashboards that summarize results while also linking to underlying data, which can be exported to spreadsheets for additional offline analysis, if necessary.

Recent HR Management Forays

The recently added Employee Central module provides a single point to manage human resources (HR)-related employee information, enable employees to collaborate and share information across the organization, and empower business leaders to leverage key talent insights to make better business decisions. This single global system of record ensures a deeper understanding of employees for making strategic talent decisions.

Employee Central is also a foundation for workforce planning. Some key capabilities include core HR data management and process automation, HR reporting and compliance, and rich aggregate employee profile information. The module aggregates employee profile information, such as work experience and educational background, and stores it in a centralized master data repository that can be accessed at any time by authorized personnel. When more of SuccessFactors modules are used, the richness of data on each employee builds up in their employee profiles.

In addition, collaboration tools such as (metadata) tagging, badges and directory search, and talent search aim to put key talent information at the fingertips of managers and executives. Each employee's information can be easily accessed via an intuitive employee directory with search capabilities. Employee Central allows users to create relevant tags making it easier for anyone to identify employees based on work-related activities or functions.

Some Nice-to-have Capabilities

The 360-Degree Review tool supports the collection of feedback from an employee's peers, subordinates, and superiors. Once collected, the feedback can be aggregated, providing a comprehensive view of an employee's strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement. This capability allows for an insightful and comprehensive assessment of employees, resulting in a better understanding of competency gaps and development needs, both at the macro (company) and micro (employee) level.

The Employee Survey tool provides management with actionable insights to help them separate perception from reality in what matters most to employees. This capability provides managers with a fast and efficient way to fine-tune initiatives, solidify workgroup alignment, take the pulse of their teams or quickly gain perspective on employee engagement, satisfaction, and other relevant employee data. SuccessFactors’ Business Transformation Services team often works with customers to help them interpret the survey results and recommend actions to ensure overall organizational success.

The Stack Ranker tool lets managers quickly assess and create a visual and intuitive stack ranking of their teams across detailed criteria, in real-time, to identify top and lower performers. Whether performing talent reviews or ad-hoc assessments, Stack Ranker gives managers a tool to optimize their teams by, for example, enabling them to target limited rewards to top employees that deserve extra recognition, or quickly identify under-performers to let go when faced with difficult layoff decisions.

The Calibration tool helps ensure that the company’s compensation practices are driven by objective and reliable ratings. If managers do not rate employees consistently and do not differentiate between employees, the company should calibrate ratings to make the right talent and compensation decisions. The module aims to make the calibration process less laborious and more effective.

Some Proprietary and Third-Party Content

Moreover, the BizX application suite incorporates proprietary and third-party content that is tailored to a wide range of business roles and industries. This content provides customers with valuable insights and information to increase the effectiveness of their performance and talent management initiatives. For example, Successfactors has proprietary libraries for competencies, goals, job descriptions, skills, surveys and wage data, and other nifty content such as:

  • Writing Assistant, which helps eliminate "writer's block" and facilitates creating concise and meaningful feedback for employees (with its library of useful phrases and paragraphs) during performance appraisals and 360-degree reviews (feedbacks)

  • Coaching Advisor, which enables managers to proactively provide relevant coaching and support for their subordinates based on identified competency gaps

  • SuccessFactors Coach, which integrates coaching and mentoring into an employee's daily routine

  • Interview Question Library, which helps hiring managers interview effectively and facilitates a standard approach to talent assessment and selection

Most Recent Developments

The year 2010 was the year of SuccessFactors’ shopping spree. In early 2010, the vendor acquired Australia-based Inform (formerly Infohrm), a provider of predictive analytics and workforce planning solutions, and the social business software maker CubeTree. These capabilities supplement the vendor’s core business execution strategy (and the related BizX solution suite) and position the company for further innovation.

Both technologies have already been integrated into the BizX Suite, with resulting analytics and collaboration modules and capabilities (e.g., Metrics Navigator, Workforce Analytics, etc.). For its part, SuccessFactors has developed other business execution-enabling modules internally, such as Workforce Planning, Goal Execution, Strategy Deployment, etc.

Powered by Inform's technology, SuccessFactors has added questions-based analysis and predictive modeling capabilities to its BizX Suite to empower organizations to answer the top 100 most critical human capital management (HCM) questions proven to impact business results. The offerings’ benchmarking capabilities and the content that goes with the metrics allow companies to assess their readiness to execute their strategies, forecast the impact of their business decisions, mitigate risk, and take action accordingly. For more information and opinions on the acquisition, see related blog posts by Naomi Bloom (the Enterprise Irregulars)Mark Smith of Ventana Research, and Larry Dignan of ZDNet.

Social Talent Management

Further, the integration of CubeTree's technology now enables companies to easily collaborate across all roles, departments, and geographies, thus increasing productivity and simultaneously strengthening the alignment of day-to-day work with corporate goals and objectives. SuccessFactors is hoping that its 8 million users (with 63 million goals, 14 million reviews, and 2.7 million career development goals) will use CubeTree within BizX to collaborate by region, departments, and geographies.

The general idea is that workers will use new collaboration tools such as microblogging (with up to 200 characters per entry) and document updates (collaborative commenting) to work toward the goals and objectives the company tracks. One of the first integrations was to provide a way for companies to view resumes in an activity stream. Each resume in an employee profile may be viewed with comments added in the document.

CubeTree is envisioned as a social network for the entire enterprise, with the capability for knowledge workers to collaborate on documents in a bottom-up manner. Another apparent synergy between the two offerings (i.e., BizX and CubeTree) could be in the area of learning & development processes and content management.

In summary, CubeTree’s communication, collaboration, and groups & projects capabilities form the Team Execution realm. As mention earlier, this is the third pillar of business execution (BizX), in addition to Business Alignment and Performance Management (explained in Part 1).

Somewhat similar to’s strategy with Salesforce Chatter, SuccessFactors intends to continue to offer CubeTree as a standalone product with one of the best data feed systems and usability in the market. The standalone product would focus on adoption within large enterprises. On the other hand, there is an integrated CubeTree solution within BizX with a single rich user profile, single sign on (SSO), integrated user provisioning, common user interface (UI), etc.

Calculator in the Cloud

Most recently, SuccessFactors quietly acquired YouCalc, an on-demand service out of Denmark for performing in-memory analytics that are able to pull live data in real-time from other systems across multiple applications, including Google Analytics, MailChimp and Via proprietary technology called Live Forms and Live Analytics, data is updated in real-time and shared with the core systems that hold the information. This means that there is no need for customers to maintain a data warehouse.

The resulting Calculator in the Cloud capability empowers business users to perform analysis of real-time data for insight and predictions. It was designed to analyze all of the data in the BizX Suite as well as pull in data from third party cloud-based applications.

SuccessFactors’ Calculator in the Cloud will be integrated into the BizX Suite, and will enable users to create ad-hoc analytic mash-ups from multiple systems such as financials data from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, sales metrics from a customer relationship management (CRM) system, or customer satisfaction stats from a call center sysytem (the data need not necessarily come from SuccessFactors' software).

The new Calculator service will allow users to conduct on-the-fly analysis of their business, including "what-if" scenarios using a combination of metrics, such as employee satisfaction rates crossed with the current backlog of sales leads. For example, the technology could allow companies to align an employee’s goals and performance and instantly see what managers will have to pay their employees in bonuses. A business using the software could simultaneously check out sales figures, give immediate info for how much cash is on hand, sift through stats from its website, and rake through data from third party cloud-based applications.

All in all, executives can track the execution of their strategies by using the Calculator in the Cloud to look at the alignment and results of workforce, financials, and sales in one place The feature will be initially available to a limited number of SuccessFactors’ customers on a free trial basis in early 2011. For more information and opinions on the offering, see the related blog post from mark Smith of Ventana Research.

The final part of this blog series will analyze SuccessFactors’ strengths and potential challenges. In the meantime, your comments, thoughts, suggestions or individual experiences with talent management and business execution solutions are more than welcome.
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