For anyone who really cares about HR, January 14, 2005 will be a black day. On that day, as many as 6,000 PeopleSoft employees will be terminated by the corporate equivalent of Darth Vader, the Oracle Corporation. There are three reasons why that day will live in on in HR infamy:
- As many as 6,000 of the founders, pioneers, and ardent supporters of HR technology may leave the field forever.
- A cold, hard “results over people” culture will triumph over the superior people-centric culture of PeopleSoft.
- The field of HR will enter a freeze period that will stifle HR’s overall growth and image.
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I’ve had the opportunity to work with both Oracle and PeopleSoft, and although both have their good points, when it comes to nurturing and supporting the HR profession PeopleSoft has clearly been the biggest contributor. The loss of this company and its flagship product will not only impact the growth of HR technology but also negatively affect the field of HR itself. Here are a few of the ways it will impact critical HR areas, including recruiting, metrics, reporting, and self service. 1. Say goodbye to a cadre of HR founders and visionaries. There’s little argument that “bad boy” Larry Ellison cares little about HR as a profession. HR isn’t a prime function within Oracle, nor is the HR suite a primary product within his enterprise-spanning empire. In direct contrast, PeopleSoft started as a firm focusing exclusively on HR. I would argue that its initial installation at HP was the beginning of the modern era of HR technology. Even people at the “evil empire” would have to acknowledge that the initial employees of PeopleSoft were visionaries and that they should be labeled as pioneers within the HR community. They were heroes in the sense that in addition to their product innovations, they supported HR professional organizations, they developed HR programs at universities and they frequently gave talks about the future of HR and technology. In fact, they helped lead the transformation of HR from a slow-moving overhead function into a dynamic contributor to business success. In direct contrast, Oracle has been almost invisible in HR, except in the sales field. They have done little for the general good of HR and they certainly contributed no visionaries to the profession who could be considered equivalent to PeopleSoft’s Roe Henson or Dave Duffield. Given the consolidation within the HR space, it’s likely that many of these former Peoplesoft employees may leave the HR space permanently, to the detriment of our profession. 2. A great people-focused culture will be absorbed by the dark side. Anyone who’s ever worked with Oracle notices right away that their culture is different than almost any other. Many describe it as a harsh environment where everyone works like they were, in essence, an individual contractor. Incredibly long workweeks are the norm; little emphasis is placed on teamwork; and leadership considers HR has a secondary function (“If you don’t develop software or sell software, tell me very slowly what you do around here…”). Oracle hates criticism and it has a well-earned reputation for attempting to annihilate its enemies. In contrast, the PeopleSoft culture is one of the most people-focused cultures on the planet. If you have ever had a chance to visit the PeopleSoft campus, you would find the ultimate HR-centric culture. Prior to the merger, people and people issues came first at PeopleSoft. Teamwork was everywhere, and a high degree of employee involvement and engagement was obvious. Unfortunately, this role model culture will soon be lost ó a loss not just to one company but to everyone who thinks corporations should put people first. 3. The field of HR will enter a freeze period. PeopleSoft began and remained an HR-focused company. Its focus is obvious both in its name and in its products. PeopleSoft was a driver of innovation in many HR areas, including the integration of all HR functions and strategic HR analytics. In addition, PeopleSoft helped guide HR professionals in understanding the role of technology in making HR a business partner. They also helped the HR profession learn how to build a business case for additional resources in HR. “Black Bart,” on the other hand, sees little value in building HR as a profession. It is buying PeopleSoft for its customers, and as a result, HR is losing a valuable facilitator of change. The people at Oracle will undoubtedly be focused on integrating their product and the remaining PeopleSoft workforce during the next year or more. The net result of all this integration and transition is that HR professionals within corporations that utilize or are considering the PeopleSoft product will be also be distracted with their own concerns about the PeopleSoft product. These distractions while undoubtedly mean that little progress will occur within HR technology, recruiting technology, and the development of metrics during this messy transition. As to what the new Oracle/PeopleSoft product will look like, I can only speculate, but it’s highly unlikely that it will either focus on HR or provide any exciting new innovations in the next few years. In the same light, the HR profession and its professional organizations will undoubtedly get little leadership or economic support from the distracted Oracle. Conclusion January 14 will be a sad day for the HR profession. Not only will we lose some of our most influential leaders, but we will also lose a model corporate culture and the momentum that we have built up in the development of HR and its related technology. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done at this point. Oracle is an organization that’s focused on sales, so there is little chance that they will accept or even consider adopting the important role as key leaders in the HR profession as PeopleSoft leaders did. Their massive cost-cutting efforts will undoubtedly cut out or reduce support for HR professional organizations, universities, HR white papers, and speaking tours by HR thought leaders, which helped build and drive the HR profession. Mark your calendars, because after January 14, it will be a quagmire at best or a steady downhill slippage for HR technology. If you have friends at PeopleSoft, give them a call and thank them for all that they have done. In my book, they are and always will remain heroes.