Our Top 6 Insights from HR Tech

By Heather McArthur

This year’s HR Tech in Las Vegas was packed with analysts, thought leaders, HR technologists and vendors – all looking to discuss what’s next as we enter 2020. As never before, employees are front and center in the conversation. We’re seeing data that enables more personalized engagement and experiences and experiencing technology that deepens our capabilities and facilitates career development, growth, and mentorship.

Here are six key insights: 

1. Move HR tech into the “flow of work.” Create “action platforms.”

“We’re not building software for HR but building software for employees,” Josh Bersin explained in his keynote. As one of the most talked about sessions, Bersin reviewed the new HR tech focus that’s seeing a shift from systems of engagement to improving the work experience with systems of productivity. “The economy is growing, productivity is not. Employees need intuitive tools that they’ll actually use.” This means optimizing productivity, resilience and teams to make work better. 

 “What are the management philosophies that are trending? Growth, development, performance management, highly diverse talent practices, that’s what senior leaders are talking about. While employees are saying, if I join your company what am I going to get out of it for my career?” How do we build more facilitated career growth in the company, and have it be employee, manager and organization driven? How do we think of HR tools at “action platforms” that allow managers to take action driven by  performance assessments, data, experience and processes.

2. Curate the optimal set of experiences. People want to reskill and reinvent.

Ravin Jesuthasan opened his keynote with a clear rallying cry for the audience:  “There has never been a better time to be in HR.” HR’s Golden Age, he asserted, has arrived as HR is now firmly strategically at the table, making decisions about the technologies that are orchestrating a new ecosystem of work.

What will that look like? Engaging beyond transactions, HR will be shifting its mandate from being a steward of employment to a steward of work. By curating “the optimal set of experiences for all types of talent,” Jesuthasan said, the focus will shift from pay and benefits to one of learning and development. In a world of constant change, employees want and need to remain relevant.“Reskilling and reinvention is at the heart of the new world of work. Skills will be the currency of the labor market. Frictionless access to reskilling opportunities will become a basic social need and expectation.” 

3. Organize companies through teams and teams of teams. 

Marcus Buckingham’s keynote highlighted research from his new book, Nine Lies About Work, where he unpacked the lies that pervade our workplace, including ‘people care which company they work for.’ “No they don’t,” Buckinham asserts.“The research highlights how people join companies but quit teams. In fact, the biggest driver of differential engagement is whether or not your work on a team. Teams matter around the world, regardless of work.” 

He concluded with recommendations, which included: Make team joining the most important part of onboarding. Make regular work more like gig work (more about what you love to do).  Build tools and content to support team leaders. And make engagement a real-time, leader-led initiative.

4. Shift the focus from engagement to experience. Look for interaction points employees have with HR, managers, teams, peers and your organization overall.

In Ron Hanscome’s session on the Emerging HR Tech Trends from Gartner’s Hype Cycle, he highlighted the move from 2015-2016’s focus on engagement to today’s collection of employee-facing applications. Applications that are specifically designed to influence and improve the employee experience and organizational culture overall. 

“People ask, why can’t my work environment be as easy as amazon? Digital workspace and environment, coaching, learning and career development all have an impact on leadership and the employee experience.”

5. Lead with a digital first mindset. Answer the question of “why” not “how” first.

Jason Averbook, the CEO and founder of LeapGen, delivered compelling insights around the importance of putting in people solutions and not just technology products, “Jeff Bezos of Amazon has an empty chair in every meeting to represent the consumer. In your HR leadership meetings, put an empty chair to represent the employee.”

He advises organizations that are bringing in new technology to have a vision roadmap to get alignment, create the right mindset, understand what your people need, and reimagine processes with the employee in mind. This will help ensure you’re creating a frictionless, natural experience that people will engage in.

6. Make it easy and intuitive for employees to connect, share, and learn from others. Leverage technology to help people make meaningful connections. 

On the final day, Jeff Weber Instructure’s EVP of People and Places, participated in a session focused on Ideas & Innovators. Weber highlighted research from the Harris Poll that found 77% of employees feel alone in their career development and pointed out how “Mentorship does not have to be hard if technology is used to create meaningful connections.” 

With the right tools, you should use the data you have. “Put employee’s skills in social context for organic matching. Facilitate conversations. Teach mentoring skills. And, see how mentorship is being used to promote development.”

In the end, HR Tech gave attendees a better understanding of all the tech options available to meet their needs. It also delivered on its promise of insights from thought leaders not just on the future of HR technology but what the future of work holds. In a competitive job market, where attracting and retaining talent is top of mind–it’s interesting to see how the discussions centered on the employee and not organizational needs. By bringing it back to the individual, it does become all about creating cultures where personal experiences, connection, trust, and employee development thrive.  

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