3 Things about Digital Transformation

October is traditionally HR technology month.  2 major conferences with accompanying expos, and chances to see what new functionalities the major companies have lined up, as well as some of the newer, start-up tech businesses.

For all the bright shiny new things, there are 3 things about digital and back office transformation that I think often get lost in the chatter.

  1. Technology needs to replicate the experiences people have in personal lives. Often mentioned but operationally the intuitive, responsive, convenient and app-like functionality seems harder to find
  2. The need for HR leaders to understand that technology is a change. For workers all new, or remastered technology and processes are an organisational change. They way they do their jobs, and often their responsibilities, change and they need need to be supported.
  3. New technology and working practices might be seen as necessary, and cost effective, but new processes need to be efficient and streamlined, should work seamlessly, produce actionable data, and not be done for the sake of it. There needs to be a purpose.

Here’s me telling the guys at Oracle what I mean…


(Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast)

#HRTechEurope – We’re All Millennials Now!

Last week’s HRTechEurope conference and exhibition spanned 2 full days of interesting content and thought provoking presentations, 1500 delegates and lots of fun. There was a blog squad of 21 leading to a range of views and insights as we digested what we heard, and there is definitely some variety in the follow up blogs.

For me the HR takeaways were about flatter and faster workplaces, with greater personal responsibility and a different kind of leadership, offering seemingly less secure employment. The 20th century definition of employment may not be helpful for addressing the way work is transacted in the 21st Century. And as networks of influence and knowledge shift power from the institution to the individual then reputation will become an important currency. All of this requiring a mindset that we may not be used to finding. And its millennial!

Too much is happening too quickly. Technology is transforming customer and employee expectations and several industries are experiencing challenges to the way they operate. The need for agile and flexible structures was referenced by many speakers, as was the writing of Frederic Laloux on reinventing organisations. And Tom Fishburne’s alternative org chart got an airing in presentation slides…


How can workplaces keep up with the pace of technological change? “The new normal isn’t technology, it’s speed” said Peter Hinssen “if things move fast then hierarchies are dangerous“. His “work is the brief period of the day where I have to use old tech” slide (above) was one of the most shared images from the event and the concept of today’s workers as time travellers illustrated this well, but maybe even the most agile organisations might struggle to keep up. The reliance of adult workers on email and the phone (50% of business comms) is at odds with experiences of the future workforce, for whom they make up around 5% of communication.

Peter’s main message was about networks, for information and knowledge – “We’re still building companies with old fashioned structures…we need networks where information is shared. If a brand doesn’t speak the language of its network it will die” Network vs hierarchy was pitched as fluidity vs rigidity, with HRs role as enabler of the network.

Change requires more than technology though. “Social tools can help but can’t change the organisation alone” said Lee Bryant in an afternoon keynote. They do make new structures possible though, relying less on visionary leaders, whilst organisational change is not a technology project and more about continual improvement – “Change shouldn’t be top down, or something that only happens every 3 years, but it should be agile, gradual and on-going

Continuous improvement was also a theme underpinning a new approach to performance management. “Do you have confidence in the performance data within your organisation?” asked Heidi Spirgi. 1 hand was raised out of an audience of over 300. The new approach is based on leaders having frequent strengths-based conversations over the course of the year “what are you working on and how can I help?“. There is a shift from purely delivering feedback to regular coaching whilst performance ratings are becoming a thing of the past, with research indicating that 61% of a performance rating its a reflection of the rater not the ratee.

In another session on the performance appraisal, Armin Trost asked who was the customer – employee, manager or Board? He berated those who tried to set objectives for 12 months when they didn’t know what would be happening in their business the next month, whilst also observing that what usually starts out as an appraisal about performance usually ends up being about the person.

Rachel Botsman closed the event with a look at the Collaborative Economy. Rich in positives – “using technology to allow trust between strangers“, “untapped value of assets through collaborative models that enable empowerment efficiency and greater access” – she said the next phase for this technology would be about ‘unlocking the value inherent in human potential‘. Work was being ‘consumerfied‘ with new app Wonolo being showcased in a video – a collaborative platform for basic low skill, repetitive work.

Rachel had questions for HR. The 20th century laws for classifying workers is no longer relevant for new working models. Is the future of work not just about flexibility and empowerment, but also precarious, with no benefits and no guaranteed income? She called it the murky side of the sharing economy. The personal ratings element within this technology is interesting though with personal reputation and a kind of ‘peer capital’ becoming the new currency of work – from institutions to individuals.

The showcasing of Wonolo interested me. I’ve long thought that this kind of technology will impact staffing agencies and this was the closest yet. There have always been threats to agencies – job boards, in-house teams, social media – but this is different. The business needing a basic skill is directly in touch with the person offering the skill. The fact they connect, and the worker has a rating, covers validation, certification and availability with the pay rate set. Once these scale then things could get interesting.

So what about millennials?

I took part in a panel discussion, chaired by Andy Campbell from Oracle, about them. We heard research on what they want from the workplace – and the list could have been what the over 50s want from the workplace. or what 30/40 somethings want if they didn’t have childcare costs and associated expenditure. We heard about their aspirational employers of choice – Google, Apple etc – yet these are purely based on brand perception. Most look fun but don’t necessarily offer the flexibility, opportunities and rewards that we heard earlier the millennials want.

Employer branding didn’t start with the internet – there have always been aspirational employers of choice. Step back in time and Virgin, Marks & Spencers, John Lewis, BBC, NHS, British Airways and a plethora of banks, consulting firms and advertising agencies would all have topped those lists for older age groups.

Whilst the socio-economic, cultural and family factors that have influenced the values and aspirations of millennials during adolescence may have been different from previous generations (though not those growing up in fluctuating economic times) their mindset towards technology, change, personalisation, consumerfication, instant gratification, speed and opportunity is something we all need to share in the future world of work.

And if its a mindset, and not a date of birth, then we’re all millennials now.

HR and The Technology Issue

The recent 2014 Global HR Trends Report from Deloittes told us four things about the HR community’s views on Technology and Analytics:

  • They are rated as urgent issues
  • Of the 12 most urgent trends they are the 2 with the highest capacity shortfalls
  • They are 2 of the top 6 trends with the highest capability shortfalls
  • Amongst HR and business leaders Talent and HR Analytics was the area in which they rated their businesses least ready

And there’s more. One of the most significant emerging trends was that of the ‘Overwhelmed Employee’ creating it’s own need to simplify processes and create a streamlined, consumerist user experience.

Technology, and the resulting data, are major issues for the HR profession…issues that they feel unprepared for, with low capability and knowledge.

How can this be addressed?

With this question in mind I’ll be heading along to the HRTechEurope spring conference this Thursday (27th March) to see what the great and the good of the industry have up their sleeves. Many sessions will be about change and how to manage it within the organisation, the role technology plays in talent management and the need for developing HR skills.

I’ll be interested to see if the shortfall in capacity and capability gets a mention.

If you’re an HR professional and want to come along too then there’s still time to book. As a reader of this blog you can get a 20% too by using the code BL20 when you book.

Look forward to seeing a few of you there, and also bringing you my summary of what’s being said…

Myths and Learnings at #HRTechEurope

Euan slide

Latest stop on my Autumn Tour of Discovery (previous stop Vegas, next stop Manchester) was Amsterdam for HRTech Europe, a two day HR Technology exhibition plus conference with content stretching from talent management, data analytics and technology to building social businesses and the future of work and learning. The event attracted upward of 1500 delegates across the two days and logistically was focused around a central exhibition hall with auditorium attached and breakout rooms upstairs. The networking sessions and coffee breaks also took place around the central hall which created a lot of buzz and energy, rippling through the whole event.

There were some top notch speakers from the US as well as a few from Europe – I have some sympathy with those who feel that we could have done with stronger representation from Europe on the main platform, but the important thing for me is that the speakers have something to say that makes me think and can back that up with research, case study or some clear rationale.

Here are four of the main talking points that got me thinking…

Organisational Nakedness

I’ve used the expression before but, just as in Don Tapscott’s opening at HRTech in Vegas, this was a noticeable thread running through many of the main sessions dealing with collaboration, sharing, connectivity and the new social openness, particularly those from Prof Costas Markides (London Business School) and Euan Semple. The talk was very much about people not processes. However much a business may try to resist the urge to embrace social collaborative platforms, their employees, customers and partners – their advocates – are almost certainly using it…and will expect to communicate openly. This exposes the organisation, its structure and values, to wider scrutiny – are they ready for it?

We’re all Technologists, Sales Professionals, Marketers and Recruiters Now!

Jason Averbook said that we’re all technologists. Daniel Pink said that we’re all sales people with everyone having persuasion somewhere in their role. And we’ve known for some time that every employee is potential marketer, recruiter and source of referrals – they represent the company, its internal culture and proposition, to everyone who knows them. In the new world of work we’re all ambassadors for our business, role, skills, products and services – having said that we probably always have been, but now we’re much more visible. There is also an expectation of multi-skills, adaptability and resourcefulness that will drive the future workforce.

The Importance of Mobile is UNDER Hyped

For possibly the first time our customers/clients and our current and future employees have better technology than the business…and this leads to greater expectations. ‘The importance of mobile is UNDER hyped‘ said Dan Pink at the start of his masterclass. Most people keep their smartphone within 3 feet all day and night and expect to communicate through variety of channels at all times. If you lose their luggage they’ll write a song and/or make a video. If you treat them badly they’ll resign in a spectacular way.

When they interact with technology they expect it to do what they want it to do in the easiest, simplest and quickest way – ‘solve my problem and make me feel good‘ as my old boss Felix Wetzel used to say – and they have little time for a process that is difficult, obtrusive or leaves them in the dark about what’s happening.

Customer and employee expectations are heightened. Whether they are using it to apply for a job, or book leave, or to buy your latest product, the technology we use in our businesses needs to deliver an experience to the end user that matches theses greater expectations.

The Manager of the Future

I had two really interesting and insightful conversations with Dr Katherine Jones from Bersin by Deloitte about management, the future of work and the future of HR. I’ll write more about them in a different post, but one thing that really intrigued me was when she talked about the opportunity for managers to take over many of HRs responsibilities.

Currently we tend to promote people who do a good job to manager level, but what if employees are empowered and responsible for their own workloads and careers? Then we would be looking for people who could develop, counsel and manage – different competencies requiring different promotion criteria. I remember Daniel Pink saying ‘human beings don’t engage by being managed or controlled but by self-direction‘ and also how ‘control leads to compliance whilst autonomy leads to engagement‘ implying that a different approach to management was required. I could also sense this need for a shift in emphasis when he spoke of how cognitive skills were becoming increasingly important – ‘Analytical skills are necessary but not sufficient. Artistry, empathy, imagination and conceptual now more important‘.

Costas Markides also spoke of the need to embed your values in the hearts of your workers, much like a family. Tomorrow’s managers will need to inspire as well as develop.

Many of the conversations that I had around the event indicated a clear shift for job seekers from looking for jobs to looking for work. People who may be joining your team or business may not be doing so for long term prospects but to help you complete a task or project. This will require a different kind of management and engagement.

So what about the HR myths?

Well, they came from Josh Bersin, during his session on the datafication of HR. During the section ‘Applying Science to People Decisions‘ he debunked 5 Workplace myths. Each one solid gold!

  1. People from top universities with good grades are high performers
  2. Training and education reduces loss and fraud
  3. Customer service will increase client retention
  4. People will leave their jobs if we don’t pay them enough
  5. Our leadership development process will work around the world

I was blogging from the event on behalf of RC Euro – check out the posts that I wrote for them…

Once again I noticed an increasingly important role at the event for bloggers – there were more than 20 – encompassing vendors and speakers in an attempt to reflect the full range of content and solutions available and give some insight behind both. With 61% of HR professionals seemingly looking to change their technology within the next 18 months practitioners, vendors and bloggers are very much part of the same conversation.

There is an appetite for a richer and more in-depth level of online event coverage – will be interesting to see how this develops at other events over the coming months, and how it translates to UK conferences. The HRTech Europe event moves on to London in March 2014 and will be back in Amsterdam for October 2014 – I’m looking forward to seeing how the conversations develop.

(Image from Euan Semple presentation)

#HRTechConf – 5 Observations From Across The Pond

HRTech panel

Recently back from Vegas having attended my first HR Technology Conference in the US…a three day extravaganza of exhibitors and demos, content and parties, and most importantly, connections and networking.

I was lucky enough to have an access all areas blogger’s pass so here are some of my random thoughts on what stood out for me as a first time attendee…from a UK perspective, obviously!

1) Its Huge. The Expo was larger than anything I have seen in the UK and the press room alone was big enough to hold a one day conference! Massive scale but still with a personal touch as everyone I came across took the time to network, get to know you and talk enthusiastically about their particular area of expertise/interest.

We’ve all walked round expo floors dodging glances from slick sales people manning the stands and looking to collect business cards and email addresses to help them spam you with messages and calls. I wasn’t sure how this one would go but have to say that every exhibitor I spoke to wanted to engage in a conversation (OK, maybe it was my accent) and talk you through their product, usually displaying a real passion and pride in what they do. That may be because my inbuilt anti-sales radar kept me away from the others.

2) Bloggers Count. At this event bloggers are important. We had our own room, sponsored by Dice, and numbered about 30. I remember Rob Jones writing about how having blogger as opposed to a sales prospect’s job title on his badge at CIPD11 elicited a more ambiguous approach from exhibitors. Not here. Most businesses wanted to engage the bloggers and tell us about their tech and what it could do. They seemed to see us as important conduits of their message. They scheduled meetings with us, made sure we were at all the parties and receptions, sought our views on trends and generally saw us as a valuable, and influential, channel…something UK event organisers should take note of. I really appreciated, and learned from, time spent with Glassdoor, RoundPegg, Success Factors and MTM Recognition.

The impression I got was that bloggers were seen as an important part of the conference and an important link for exhibitors and speakers.

3) Swag and Parties. From some of the blogs I had read covering previous years I was expecting to need an extra suitcase for all the swag on display – I’m a sucker, I really did think there would be t-shirts with slogans like ‘HR chicks/dudes do it better’ ! As it was, amongst the stress balls, pens and flashing party specs I will make use of my Cornerstone on Demand shirt proudly proclaiming that I’m a Millennial at Work (I took a survey, honest) and my limited edition ‘Seize the Night’ Virgin Pulse launch one. Not forgetting my SumTotal iPhone/iPad charger, Glassdoor lip salve, mints and torch/bottle opener key ring, Technomedia USB, Broadbean beer cooler and many more!

The parties…well, I’ve shared what I need to on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter! There were many of them, often 3 or 4 on at the same time, offering part networking and part fun. No expense spared either. My top three were courtesy of Reputation Capital/Blogging4Jobs/Technomedia, Jobvite and Virgin Pulse/Starr Conspiracy. If you really need reasons to go to this conference then the parties are as good a good place as any to start!

4) Content. The actual conference part provided me with a mix of great, good and average. The keynotes from Don Tapscott and Jason Averbrook were excellent. The panel sessions were good value too. Some of the breakout presentations were less insightful though – maybe I was spoiled by attending HRevolution the day before as there was certainly more energy, ideas and insight at that event than in some parts of the larger conference. Will be interesting to see how this shifts with Steve Boese now at the helm of HR Tech.

Of course the real big noises of the content show were that perennial fave ‘talent management’ which jockeyed for overuse with the younger rising star ‘big data’. For me both are default terms that cover for a lack of more interesting conversations…would have been good to have a deeper dive into both these areas particularly with reference to the end user. We heard how both Amazon and LinkedIn know more about employees than their employer does but no real insight as to the relevance and impact of this.

For me the three most interesting, and encouraging, technologies at the event were about sourcing & candidate identification, using social reach and conversations to provide something a lot deeper – Dice’s Open Web, and two emerging businesses that didn’t exhibit but were certainly active participants in the conversations – eitalent and entelo.

5) Connections and Conversations. This was a huge part of the conference experience and one of the strongest. Some really great conversations and insights were shared, with the opportunity to have face time with many people who are often just avatars on a social networking platform, being a particular highlight. It’s difficult to put a value on this kind of interaction, but I know that this part made the whole trip worthwhile for me.

As you may have gathered, I enjoyed the experience. The interactions, insights and social aspects were hugely important. Technology is an enabler, a delivery platform that is now embedded in almost every action that HR and Recruiters take on a daily basis. From payroll to on-boarding, rewards to succession planning every professional needs to understand how technology can help deliver an improved and enhanced service, and experience, to current, past and future employees, managers and directors.

This event was a great place to start – I’m planning on coming back next year!

(Image from Trish McFarlane)