By John Sumser
There are not very many people on the HR landscape with 20 years in the spotlight. Debbie McGrath, a scrappy Canadian entrepreneur, has been building companies and harnessing technology since the late 1980s. Today, she runs the largest online destination for HR professionals, HR.com.
In 1989, Debbie founded the CEO Group. The company delivered job fairs and career events around Canada. It built and delivered its own Applicant Tracking System. The CEO Group powered most of the major job boards in Canada at the time. It was a highly successful, highly profitable, visionary enterprise. 10 years after she founded the firm, she sold it to the Washington Post (and what would eventually become BrassRing — today’s Kenexa).
In our conversation, I marveled at the fact that she’s been in a visionary’s job for 20 years. “Whenever you’re in a tech space that’s pushing the envelope,” she said, “Visionary is a survival skill. It’s not a ‘nice-to-have’ luxury, it’s a question of staying afloat.” McGrath, on of the few women who are technical visionaries on our space, pooh-poohs the notion that constant improvement is anything other than good business sense.
Once she left the warm embrace of the newspaper industry, McGrath got to work on HR.com “I wanted to build a destination site for HR people where they could find a safe, trusted environment, share best practices and build a thriving community of people who help each other.”
McGrath is extremely proud of the way her team approaches technology. “We’re using technology to improve and develop a community. It requires constant experimentation. Most of our users only see the limited pieces that they spend time with. Our work involves optimizing the experience for large numbers of people (around 300,000) who use the system in vastly different ways.”
We talked about the factors /component/option,com_jcalpro/Itemid,28/extmode,flyer/date,2263-11-01/”>cialis dosage 40 mg that drive traffic and participation on HR.com. “People come to our site to learn, to showcase what they know or to get specific pieces of information. When the economy is sound and job security isn’t an issue, we’re an information resource for the industry. As insecurity creeps in, our community goes ‘heads-down’ to learn more about their jobs and profession. Soon, they’re demonstrating their knowledge in our public forums. There is no better job security /component/option,com_jcalpro/Itemid,28/extmode,flyer/date,2263-11-01/”>cialis dosage 40 mg than an industry-wide reputation for knowing your stuff. We provide a platform for these three facets of an online social network.”
I wondered of the trend was just a function of a rough patch in the economy. Debbie believes “that the trend is here to stay. Job security form a single employer is a fleeting memory. You have to be constantly improving, constantly learning to keep pace. It’s a great time to be HR.com”
This summer, the HR.com team is released a new version of the community that includes Facebook and Twitter integration. The new release greatly simplifies (the hardest thing to do in user interface design) the experience. They are experimenting with Twitter and Facebook feeds for audience development.
McGrath is extremely proud of the way her team approaches technology. “We’re using technology to improve and develop a community. It requires constant experimentation. Most of our users only see the limited pieces that they spend time with. Our work involves optimizing the experience for large numbers of people (around 300,000) who use the sytem in vastly different ways.”
We explored the macro trends that are driving today’s HR marketplace. “Of course, the economy is the dominant factor. We’ve seen an enormous amount of downsizing but I think we’re hitting the bottom. Things will remain thin for a long time to come. That said, globalization coupled with attention to cost means that higher level execs will be getting involved in lower level decisions. This means that applications will start to be standardized across the company…no more isolated outposts of many instances of different tools.”
“One of the fundamental factors is going to be remote work. More and mere, companies are going to want to get work done by the best possible workers, regardless of location. Management will cease to care where as long as it gets done.” McGrath, who sits on the board of Kronos is a staunch believer that remote work can produce dramatically higher levels of customer satisfaction.
I asked McGrath what she thought about the ongoing debate between advocates for single database solutions (suites) and integrated best of breed solutions. “I think you’ll see some of each flavor. The dynamic that matters is making the installation consistent across the enterprise.”
She went on to discuss Web 2.0 (“the industry says it’s there but it isn’t. No one is really building for the user yet”) and Workforce Analytics (“great idea but no one is buying it yet. If the data is crummy – and it often is – the analytics are awful.)
Each topic I posed, she swatted gracefully, like a seasoned tennis pro doing warm ups. McGrath, confident in her role as industry leader, sets a remarkable example for other professional women to follow.Visit her at HR.com