#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.

Looking for Collaboration and Simplification at #HRTechEurope

The conversations around HR, recruitment, technology and the future of work move on to Docklands next Tuesday and Wednesday as HRTech Europe rolls in to Town. Always one of my favourite events, the mix of practitioners, theorists, commentators, suppliers and collaborators usually makes for some lively dialogue, great networking and thought provoking takeaways. And I’ll be part of an awesome (and I don’t use that word lightly) blog squad who will be helping to try and make sense of it all for everyone following online.

For those working in the people space, technology is posing some interesting problems and exciting possibilities. The recent Human Capital Global Trends report, along with other recent workforce overviews, have all flagged up findings such as:

  • People analytics has the second highest HR capability gap
  • Increasing investment in technology is not being matched by investment in the people and processes that would gain maximum benefit
  • 70% employees say that technology has changed their role or career in the last year
  • Using technology/new devices is ranked as the second highest training need by employees
  • Identifying and implementing the right technology is only a priority for around 20% of HRDs
  • Half of HRDs see their work environment as complex, and another 25% as very complex.

Are we being overwhelmed by an inexorable onslaught of automation and robotisation? Or do we just need to step back and take stock of the opportunities on offer?

I think there are a few strands here, most of which will be aired at HRTech next week by speakers as diverse as Peter Hinssen, Rachel Botsman, Lee Bryant, Nick Holley, Costas Markides and Euan Semple.

Some of the questions on my mind looking ahead to the event:

Should we be leveraging networks more? Peter Hinssen will be looking at networks of intelligence. Maybe customers and employees can provide some of the inspiration.

Is collaboration a choice or a necessity? I’ve been hearing about HR collaborations with IT and finance over analytics and data. I’m thinking this needs to become the norm not the exception.

How should we define performance? Most would agree that the yearly, school report style assessment of past performance isn’t fit for purpose, but what’s the replacement? Ongoing dialogue and continuous learning, with flexible goals, may be more relevant, with collective feedback. Do we have the culture, and leadership. to bring this about?

How do we define leadership? A culture? A collective mindset? Agile and flexible, future leaders need to be change agents comfortable with spearheading organisational change.

If responsibility for personal, professional and career development is now with the employee, what’s the future for the L&D function? I’ll be joined on the blog squad by some learning professionals, who will no doubt have a view!

How can we make work simple? Businesses may be facing increasing complexity but passing that on to the employee will reduce effectiveness and increase stress. Only just over half of companies have some kind of programme in place to help simplify work processes and practices – we clearly need to do more.

And then there’s the Millennial Mindset. I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion (along with Jo Dodds and Perry Timms) on ‘Employing the Millennial Mindset‘ chaired by Oracle’s Andy Campbell. It’s Tuesday at 3.30 on the main stage and we’ll be answering questions that you’ve all asked – you can start submitting them now through the hashtag #OracleAndyAsks. Come on, it’s about Millennials…you know I’ll have something to say!

One of the main concerns over technology is how intrusive it’s becoming. The 24/7/365 always-connected working environment, with more responsibility being shifted to the employee, can have a serious impact on wellbeing. I recently took part in a panel discussion for ADP on people and technology. here’s the video for the part of the debate on technology and wellbeing – I’m hoping to hear more about this on Tuesday and Wednesday…

HR Tech is coming to Town…are you ready??


#HRTechEurope – HR Is Dead! Long Live HR!

Me & OracleOscar

My previous two blogs previewed the HRTechEurope Spring Conference and Exhibition , which I duly attended last Thursday.

It was a fun day with exhibitors offering lots of swag and jellybeans, stormtroopers and a robot – you can see a somewhat blurred picture of yours truly with OracleOscar above – and I was rather excited to win cinema vouchers in a prize draw from Oracle too. Thanks guys! The conference content ranged from why HR is doing it wrong to how tech can save the day, with a final call of ‘HR is dead, long live HR’.

My friend and co-blogger for the event Doug Shaw has offered his thoughts on some of the morning sessions so in this post I’ll look at the afternoon, and in particular two well received and thought provoking presentations from visiting US commentators – William Tincup and Jason Averbook.

In my pre-event posts I was mainly concerned with capability – does HR have what it takes to really grapple with technology and use it to create the kind of experience that employees want, and produce the data that helps decisions rather than fills out barely read monthly reports.

Getting it Right

William Tincup was looking at the process of buying HR software from the angle of getting both satisfaction and success. His presentation was thoughtful and well structured, taking HR professionals through the sales and implementation process. I often get the feeling that there is a reticence within the community to truly challenge the salesmen and account managers from the big vendors, as if the complexities of technology are off-putting. It’s their budget, but not their own money I guess, so maybe due diligence is glossed over.

William gave a simple plan through the 7 stages of the process – product, sales, negotiation, implementation, training, adoption and support – with 5 or 6 questions at each stage that need to be asked and answered.

Some of the key ones for me:

  • What reports and features are really important to us?
  • Do I feel like I’m being over-sold? Did the demo meet or exceed expectations and have they done significant work in my sector?
  • Who owns the data? Am I giving up things in the negotiation that are important to me?
  • Can I meet the implementation team before I sign? How will we manage change and communicate it to all employee users?
  • Will all users be trained the way they want to be? How will new users be on-boarded?
  • How will we get users to ‘love’ the new software and how will we know if they don’t?
  • How will vendor support handle help desk items versus things that are broken?

There were two things he said that really nailed some of the issues that I think HR has with technology…

Good software doesn’t fix a bad process, it just highlights how bad the process is.

A feature is not a feature unless users use said feature.

He also urged people to ask vendors how they make their money as the answers can be very illuminating. This is excellent advice but I wonder if it might be too confrontational for many within the HR profession? The whole process of acquiring technology is a major investment for the business which has to be done well – and needs to be approached with the professionalism and determination that such a major investment requires.

Facing the Future

The closing keynote was from Jason Averbook. Closing presentations can often feel slightly lack lustre – the space many be partially empty, exhibitors are dismantling stands, some people have already left and others may be suffering from information overload – but Jason played it just right with a fast paced, high impact session.

I’ve seen him speak before and do like his style and thinking. A couple of presentations earlier in the day had lacked pace and verve, giving the Impression that the speaker had delivered them before, but Jason’s was different to the one I had seen last Autumn and, importantly, showed a progression in his thinking.

The message I took away was simple – things around the workplace are changing and HR can’t deal with new challenges by doing what it’s always done, it’s going to require a shift in attitude and thinking.

There are many examples of this. Our expectations of technology, and in particular the user experience, have shifted immeasurably. When employees use our internal software, or complain about it, they aren’t comparing it to what went before but to the experience they get from Amazon or Apple. When something changes – be it interface or new application – they expect it to be seamless, just like downloading a new app. He showed the video I’ve embedded at the end of a 4 years old’s reaction to having to use IOS7.

Innovation, and the impact of technology, is more than a redesign of payslips and needs to culturally shift the way we do things. HR has to lead this, to know what differentiates the business – new systems don’t drive differentiation.

There was talk of the changing work practices, how some jobs are beginning to disintegrate into a series of tasks, and workers to perform these tasks are being crowdsourced. ‘Do you know how you manage contingent labour in your business?‘ he asked. Some of that contingent labour may also be working for 4 or 5 other companies at the same time – potential for disruption that HR needs to understand.

One important point is that away from the workplace we don’t phone call centres or help desks to buy something online, download a new app or integrate a new Facebook function. We work it out for ourselves or search for the solution online – either video or on a blog. A lot of employees will expect to do this with their HR systems and processes, to self-solve. Do you have that in place?

There were many more examples of how shifts in technology, expectations, workplace strategies and staffing arrangements are shaping how our people feel about the business. The need for real time data (not historical surveys) in areas such as performance illustrates the importance of information in helping solve real business issues, not being inward facing or merely a tick box exercise.

The final summing up was that HR as we know it was probably dead and that a new HR approach, driven by technology and evidence (data), will be developed. People no longer want hand holding; they need to know that the information is there when they need it and that they can access it when it suits them. They don’t want self service; they want direct access.

This summary caused much debate and consternation amongst both the attendees and people following the Twitter threads from afar. The conversations and debates that it prompted were still going on a day later.

Which sounds to me like exactly what a good conference presentation should do – explore ideas, prompt and provoke thinking and conversation that helps us to make sense of an evolving landscape that will require new attitudes and solutions. It was also good to see Jason get involved in the online chat personally.

Something that I had observed in the morning was that none of the the early speakers had a social media presence, yet the HRTech event has a very good social outreach. Those morning presentations, as Doug’s blog had pointed out, seemed to be a tad lacking in depth and rationale whereas both Jason and William Tincup demonstrated a good understanding of the issues that HR professionals face and reflected this in what they said. Maybe it’s no coincidence that they are very active on social channels and this almost certainly helped towards their engaging and insightful presentations.

Reports of the death of HR may be an exaggeration, but there are certainly some interesting conversations to be had about adapting to meet future challenges.




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…

4 Questions About Talent and Technology

It’s nearly time for the HRTechEurope Spring Conference & Expo. I’ll be heading in to London on March 27th joining HR and Recruitment professionals, tech specialists and fellow bloggers to try and find out what’s old and what’s new, what we need and what we don’t.

It’s currently tough out there in the world of HR when it comes to talent acquisition. On a daily basis we’re fighting wars, covering skill shortages, putting a sticking plaster over long term people development and tearing our hair out over how to create the workforces our businesses need to face a future of growth and accelerating technological development.

Or so it seems. Rarely a day goes by without another report, white paper, survey or opinion piece on the huge challenges of creating the future workforce. They need to be highly skilled and motivated, locationally and contractually flexible, and ready to hit the ground running.

But this isn’t a perfect world, and people aren’t disposable goods to be chopped and changed. Instead of the constant and seemingly frenetic rush to get the best right now let’s look at some longer term issues that short term talent acquisition strategies may be covering up…

Are You Looking Everywhere?

By everywhere I mean everywhere. As I recently wrote for Monster, there’s a lot of talent right under your nose that you’re probably overlooking. Most probably…

  • Current employees who have skills and strengths that you haven’t recognised and can adapt to new challenges
  • Alumni who have moved on, had different experiences, gained knowledge and progressed
  • Candidates who have applied before and were not a good match then, and are now probably nestling in a black hole in your ATS hiding their very relevant talents
  • And remember, all the above have friends, collaborators and alumni who may be right

Is Your On-Boarding Good Enough?

We all know that if something’s going to go wrong then it will more than likely happen in the first 2/3 months so are your on-boarding and induction processes up to scratch? Is talent seeping away from the business because you’re not making the most of it when it first arrives? Think back to good people who just didn’t seem to work out with you and look at why. There may be a recurring theme.

Are You Growing From Within?

The people you’ve already invested in should be the first choice for new roles. My first job was within a medium-sized accountancy firm and we had PAs to Partner who had started as filing clerks (OK, you don’t get many of them any more) and accounting assistants who had originally joined in a clerical or admin role. The partners constantly tried to invest in developing the good, loyal people they had rather than demotivate and lose them by going outside. Do your people really feel that they have a future with you?

Have You Created the Right Environment?

To nurture talent you need a nurturing environment. One where people aren’t afraid to try and fail as part of the learning experience, and aren’t rewarded purely on achieving KPIs that preclude the opportunity to collaborate, innovate, share and provide feedback.

If the solution to filling new positions is always to go external and throw money at someone who’s performing at a competitor then this will become a self fulfilling modus operandi which will be difficult to break. And dangerous too as top achievers in a business usually benefit from a support structure and culture that enables them to do their best; there’s never a guarantee that they would achieve the same results in a different environment that offered a very different structure and culture.

There will probably be a lot of technology at HRTechEurope that can help enable this, but first it needs a mindset. A commitment to doing something fresh, an openness to new ideas and approaches.

Because to keep fighting the same mythical wars and keep moaning about shortages and expect to get different results would be insanity. Right?

(Image via SAP.info)

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)