What happens at HR Tech, doesn't stay at HR Tech

Richard Barry
August 1, 2020

The annual HR Tech Conference is big, its really big. I mean physically – its the area of 7 rugby fields, there’s over 5,000 attendees, around 450 vendors and more than 75 presentations covering all the latest trends, delivered by senior executives from some of the world’s leading organizations. It’s promoted as being the world’s largest HR tech expo and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in any way at all.

I always look forward to this particular conference as it provides something of a benchmark for us in terms of where we are with our thinking and software development program. However this year, by far the biggest positive takeaway for me was the apparent realisation by many vendors of just how important people are in the whole equation. Wow, who would have thought! This is something we place a lot of focus on at Aotal and regularly talk at length about ‘Human Technology, as in technology is the enabler but in reality people are the true source of competative advantage and enduring productivity. It seems that the penduluum is now fortunately swinging back to where it always should have been with many presenters advocating that we put people first. Examples of interest include:

Beneath the flood of new and exciting tools, companies are still most importantly comprised of individuals, each on their own unique journey. Renowned corporate talent and HR analyst Josh Bersin set the tone in his opening keynote by reminding everyone that the HR industry of the future will rely on people using new tools and technologies to empower and equip them to simplify and/or solve numerous business challenges, whether they result from the ever-changing regulatory environment, evolving workflow processes, supporting the ever-increasing mobile/remote workforces, or enhancing individual productivity. He suggested the even though the average cost of HR technology per employee has skyrocketed to US$300 to $400 per year, it had failed to significantly increase overall productivity and that this was something that needed to change. He predicts the employee experience; AI and team productivity will continue to take the spotlight as the current trends blooming in HR over the next 12 months.

Companies no longer just want people who are great at their work. They want people who are great to work with. Klaus Unger, Director of HR Technology for the Mayo Institute, shared that even in a tight employment market, talent leaders are placing increasing focus on soft skills. You may be great at your work, but if you’re not able to collaborate successfully with others, you potentially won’t stay in a role all that long.

The AI hype cycle is most definitely at its peak. Michael Krupa, a Senior Director in the Office of Inclusion and Collaboration at Cisco, observed that this year there was a big upswing in the number of conversations and solutions focused on AI. Increasingly, successful solutions are focused on using AI to solve real problems — not just in using the right buzzwords. There was also much excitement and enthusiasm at the opportunity to ‘put the human back into HR’, in other words AI should help humans flourish, not diminish the overall human value. So we can now all relax safe in the knowledge that AI won’t take away all our jobs, it will actually just allow us to do our jobs better.

Software is a great enabler, but great People will always be needed to deliver that human touch Felicia Jones, Senior Manager for HR Business Transformation at Capgemini, noted that there are just some parts of the hiring process where machines are simply not going to cut it. ‘Maybe software can help you comb through a list of qualified applicants, but the best person to make the final hiring decision is, well, a person.’ Tying it back to the AI discussion there is a belief that AI in talent acquisition is not going to replace the recruiter. It is creating an opportunity for the recruiter to focus on more value-add activities further down the recruitment pipeline. There were plenty of examples of AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants enabling HR professionals to shift their focus from administrative to higher touch, more value added and strategic activities.

The impact of employee burnout on productivity and retention. Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO, Thrive Global and co-founder of The Huffington Post discussed the epidemic of stress and burnout in the workplace, often enabled by technology, which results in billions of dollars of lost productivity every year. She looked at how HR technology can be merged with the latest strategies and tools around health and well-being and shared the latest on her program designed to enable both companies and employees to move from ‘surviving to thriving.’ She shared examples of leaders in business, sports, media, entertainment, and technology who are proving that taking care of themselves, far from detracting from success, enhances overall productivity and creativity.

I also really enjoyed the Talent Acquisition Trends: Asking the Tough Questions session featuring:

Kelly Cartwright Head of Recruiting Transformation at Amazon

Gail Blum Manager, Talent Acquisition Operations at NBC Universal

Allyn Bailey Recruitment Capability, Adoption and Transformation Manager at Intel Corp

They explored some of the big questions in talent acquisition and debunked some of the myths around talent acquisition trends. One of their key takeaway messages was that in a rapidly changing market don’t get sucked in by hype, hyperboly and flash sales pitches and/or promises. Equally, not all that shimmers and shines is gold so don’t get distracted by what might appear to be cool, trendy or topical. The most exciting takeaway for me was Allyn Bailey’s comment that she felt the biggest opportunity facing the HR sector right now was the possibility of enhanced collaboration and connectivity between various HR technologies in an effort to solve the massive age old problem of integration and accessing new technology. She was very hopeful the industry might soon discover a way to join the dots between best of breed technologies so she could finally have choice between them and the possibly of trying before she buys. Needless to say we caught up afterwards and I introduced her to Talent App Store and I’m still not sure who was more excited out of the two of us…

All in all an amazing conference with some fantastic conversations and experiences that I look forward to further sharing with you.

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