A brief history—and big future—for the Baker’s Dozen.
By Elliot Clark
In 2007, when this company, SharedXpertise Media, LLC, acquired HRO Today Magazine and HRO Today Global Magazine, we inherited the franchise known as the “Bakers Dozen” rankings in a number of verticals within the HR outsourcing marketplace. As we now approach the 10th anniversary of HRO Today Magazine, we look back at the evolution and forward to the next stage of this now widely watched ratings system.
The first thing I wondered when I began this article was simple: What was the etymology of the phrase “baker’s dozen?” We inherited the name when we acquired the HRO Today title. I was told by the first publisher of HRO Today, Jay Whitehead, that it was because the lists typically included 13 top companies and that there were historically 13 loaves in a “baker’s dozen.” That explained why HRO Today used the phrase, but what is its origin?
I found my answer on The Phrase Finder, a website dedicated to such linguistically delightful trivia (www.phrases.org.co.uk). It turns out that the term “baker’s dozen” referred to the regulation of the bakery industry by the British crown and a law, enforced by King Henry III, regulating the price of bread according to the price of a measure of wheat. To ensure that 12 loaves had the requisite weight (or wheat ingredient), bakers got in the habit of including a 13th loaf as a way to definitively meet the minimum. If a baker gave a short measure, he could be publicly flogged.
I do not think the original publishers of HRO Today who picked “13” as the number of providers to be listed understood the implicit irony in using a term that harkens back to regulation of an industry—much less one attached to the potential of a public flogging for undelivered service.
Now, we really do not want to flog bad providers (we cannot speak for their customers), but we did want the exceptional providers to get recognition and public accolades for their positive outcomes. Of course, we have been threatened and offered all manner of inducements by some providers to ensure they are on the list. The ones who are most likely to threaten us are the providers that have not made the given list as one of the top providers in their service area of the HRO industry.
But, you see, we do not decide who is providing top service and we do not rate them. You do.
The history of the HRO Today Baker’s Dozen began shortly after the magazine was founded in 2002. The concept was simple: List the top players in a number of service areas that are critical to running HR as a business, attracting and retaining talent, and providing employee services and HR support to operating business units. The purpose was to help the practitioner readers (more than 20,000 of whom hold a VP or Director title, according to our most recent HRO Today Magazine reader survey) an opportunity to select partners. While the concept was simple, there were several different methodologies, and most of them were subjective. Among these original selection systems were the editorial staff just picking who they believed were the best or asking providers to rate each other on questionnaires.
Although potential clients did look at those early lists, there was clearly a market need for a methodology with higher credibility among both the providers and practitioners. Yet I remember being asked during my career as an executive in an HRO provider how my old firm achieved its annual ratings.
In 2007, when SharedXpertise purchased the magazines, we reviewed the rating process and undertook a significant overhaul to improve the science, objectivity, and credibility of the ratings. We converted all of them to web-based, customer satisfaction surveys and worked to develop algorithms and a methodology that would allow us to rate providers on three indices. These indices included what they provided (breadth of service), their capacity experience (size of deal), and their performance (quality of service). By 2008, all of the HRO Today Baker’s Dozen lists using were customer satisfaction surveys.
Today we survey thousands of HR leadership-level executives in six key service areas (last year the universe of respondents exceeded 3,000). We have been told that the HRO Today Magazine Baker’ s Dozen Customer Satisfaction Survey ratings are often discussed by HR executives and procurement teams in the course of an RFP for services in each of the service areas we rate. Also, in every issue in which we publish a survey, we include a full disclosure on the methodology—though we do reserve disclosing the details of how specific questions are rated or the algorithm. We do disclose the importance of the three indices in the overall rating, but not the formula. We know that transparency leads to credibility, so we maintain this high level of disclosure.
As we look back across the history of these ratings and we see the increasing adoption of them, it underscores their need to the community. We also recognize our obligation and responsibility as “honest brokers.” Some of you know that we have stood up for our editorial integrity and in one egregious case had a potential legal threat that was ultimately dropped. We pledge to continue delivering these scores without influence by providers.
The great news is that all but a few providers are very respectful and supportive of our work and recognize our independence. We do need input from the broader community on the next evolution. In an attempt to get the best feedback available, we have begun a dialogue with different specialty committees of the Human Resources Outsourcing Association (HROA) as potential advisers on some of these improvements. We look forward to that collaboration.
No rating system is perfect, and we seek to continually improve and update our surveys based on the changing times. However, we are proud of the franchise and have more than 10,000 surveys in a normative database at this point. We produce great research and great ratings. We know that the market recognizes it, and we know that the voluntary support of the HR practitioners in taking time to complete a survey makes this possible. More importantly, you are advising your colleagues and they are advising you on which players are best to meet your needs.
As we look to the future and have grown confident in the quantity and quality of data, we intend to make the HRO Today Baker’s Dozen Customer Satisfaction Ratings more central to other aspects of what we do. At our upcoming forums, we will do just that. The forum schedule thus far is as follows: the 2013 HRO Today Forum in North America (April 30 to May 2 at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia); the 2013 HRO Today Forum APAC (May 22 and 23 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore); and the 2013 HRO Today North EMEA Forum (to be held in mid-November in London). At these events, we will be holding track sessions aligned to the Baker’s Dozen surveys. At the start of each track, we will have a selection of the top providers on a panel discussing what it takes to be a key partner. We will also be working with HR buyer attendees who are entering a procurement cycle to arrange meetings with these providers. Our goal is to make excellence on the survey a first step to bringing buyers and top sellers together in the cloistered environment of an event focused on quality of partnership. If you are a practitioner/buyer interested in arranging a meeting with a provider or a group of providers at any HRO Today Forum, please contact Kim Gilliam at Kim.Gilliam@SharedXpertise.com to get on the list.
We cannot express enough the appreciation we feel to the survey respondents, the support from the providers and the overall community for helping to make the survey-driven ratings system a success. We hope that is has proven valuable to both buyers and sellers in the course of sourcing and building partnerships. We look forward to continuing to work with all constituencies to make this more insightful and intuitive and make it even more integral to the buying process.
Our goal is to provide our readers with the very best information on all the aspects of managing a world-class human resources department. No HR department in any organization today can function without the benefit of great partnership relationships. We hope that you have found the HRO Today Magazine Baker’s Dozen Customer Satisfaction Ratings valuable, and we look forward to seeing you at our events, where you can use them as one of your guides to meet providers.