“Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, expunge the dead weight of our past”
This quote (from Michael Simkin’s hilarious Detour de France) captures just about perfectly the revolutionary yearning amongst delegates as the HR Tech World Congress descended once again on the cavernous Palais de Congrès for a barnstorming two day spectacular.
Marc Coleman, Peter Russell and the HRN team continue to pull rabbits out of hats and this latest show might just have been the best HR Tech World Congress yet in what has been a rambunctious five years.
As has become customary, here are my key takeaways from the show:
#1 We live in interesting times…
Many of the keynote speakers presented a chilling vision of the future. Dr. Daniel Thorniley’s business outlook and take on the ensuing political volcano that is following in its wake made the prospect of an evening listening to the back catalogue of One Direction seem appealing in comparison. Vivek Wadhwa’s forecast of the devastating impact of technology on jobs was also disturbing, even if the advances he described in healthcare and clean energy will be much welcomed. In short, we need to get used to uncertainty, disruption and a whole lot of change – not least within the organisations we work for.
#2 Bureaucracy, your time is up
Gary Hamel provided a suitably high-octane (and extremely loud!) start to the conference, diagnosing ‘Bureausclerosis’ as the chronic malaise affecting many of our organisations. Hamel argued that it was “time for bureaucracy to die” and claimed that eliminating it would save the OECD $9 trillion and result in productivity more than doubling within a decade. Whilst Hamel’s rhetoric is in danger of sounding too close to a silver bullet, there is no doubt that the way we run our organisations needs to change.
#3 Looking for inspiration on new organisational structures?
Hamel cited start-ups as the fulcrum of where creativity, innovation, autonomy and employee passion flourish, but that these qualities typically diminish as they scale and bureaucracy begins to infect every pore of the organisation. Hamel referenced his own preventative resources as well as citing Haier and WL Gore as two examples of companies that have taken steps to avoid slipping into the bureaucratic equivalent of Dante’s Inferno – see this excellent article summarising Hamel’s speech in diginomica. Further inspiration came from Dominic Price of Atlassian, who outlined his company’s values (I particularly like ‘Don’t f*** the customer’ and ‘Open company, no bulls***’) and left us with access to the Atlassian Team Playbook. Finally, CEO Frédéric Mazzella gave an inspiring account of how BlaBlaCar scaled to become a unicorn whilst retaining (and at the same time evolving) the core culture it had as a start-up.
#4 How can the empire strike back?
HR Tech World stalwart Costas Markides delivered the final Star Wars themed keynote, offering seven tips in how the established players (the empire) can strike back successfully against the disruptors. Everything he suggested from creating the ‘right’ sense of urgency, seeing disruption as a threat and an opportunity, having two strategies (one to defend the core, one to attack the disruption), thinking like an entrepreneur, disrupting (as opposed to imitating) the disruptor and creating the right organisational environment all made a great deal of sense. However, the most important piece of advice from Markides was his call to act not dither when disruption visits your door.
#5 The Lifetime Achievement Award goes to…
Josh Bersin, and well deserved it is too. Josh is the number one influencer in HR bar none, and amongst numerous accolades, much credit should go to him for the light he has continually shone on the field of people analytics as it has emerged from the fringes into the HR mainstream. Josh was presented with his award by fellow A-list influencer Jason Averbook on the eve of the conference and reminded us all that he will be around helping HR to steer the right path for some time yet.
#6 The importance of Smart Data and Analytics in HR’s future success
Speaking of analysts, David Wilson unveiled the findings from the annual research the Fosway Group conducts in partnership with HRN/HR Tech World. The full findings, which provide a European lens on the transformation of HR, are here. Perhaps the most interesting revelation (for me, at least) was that HR believes that the top lever for its future success is high-quality data and analytics, with 92% of respondents rating this critical or very important. With the tête-à-tête between Josh Bersin and Naomi Bloom revealing that ‘no-one is investing in HR software now without analytics’…
#7 …People Analytics has well and truly arrived
“What are the rest of you doing?” asked an incredulous Patrick Coolen of the delegates who had not raised their hands to acknowledge that their organisations had started or were considering starting building people analytics capability. I had the privilege of moderating the Smart Data track on the first day of the show, and it ably demonstrated how some organisations are doing some amazing work in the field of people analytics:
- Business focus – Jana Brown described how TIAA had laid a solid foundation for future success by building its people analytics capability around the needs of the business.
- Tackling productivity – In a session where there was standing room only, Dawn Klinghoffer of Microsoft spoke about how her team are correlating employee productivity data with engagement and performance to influence management strategy at the tech giant. (See also my interview with Dawn on the HR Analytics journey at Microsoft)
- Solving real business problems – Patrick Coolen described a number of examples where the HR Analytics team at ABN AMRO has provided insights on the people factors impacting customer satisfaction and loyalty, revenue and growth. (See also my interview with Patrick on the HR Analytics journey at ABN AMRO).
- Reducing cyber security risk – In a fascinating case study, Vasilis Giagkoulas and Ben Hawkes from Shell described how they identified the people characteristics that predict a cyber security incident and then developed a targeted awareness campaign to maximise effectiveness and reduce the number of incidents. (See also my interview with Esther Bongenaar and Vasilis on the HR Analytics journey at Shell).
#8 #disruptHR woes again – time for a ‘People’s Vote’?
In my last two round-ups of this show, I’ve called for the disruptHR competition to be moved to the main stage. I was wrong (it happens occasionally). The location and timing of the disruptHR competition in Paris was perfect, and in an absorbing contest Ireland’s Tandem HR Solutions just pipped Peakon, Intervyo, SoAmpli and Headstart to win the €15,000 top prize. I still believe that inclusion of a ‘People’s Vote’ would be a welcome addition. It would be interesting to see how often (or not) the delegates and judges were in accord. Other disruptHR vendors that caught my eye were TI People, CultureScope and Beamery. Check out Faye Holland’s invaluable disruptHR series for a truly compulsive read.
#9 The ones I missed
With 12 breakouts plus disrupt HR running concurrently, it was impossible to see everything I wanted to. From the feedback I’ve heard, five I am particularly disappointed to have missed were presentations from the aforementioned Jason Averbook and Josh Bersin plus Nick Holley, Ian Bailie and the in-depth workshop with Vivek Wadhwa. At least I can console myself that with the pace of technological change, I’ll probably have my own army of clones to attend every breakout concurrently next year. For now, I’ll just rely on…
#10 …Slideshare to save the day
Many of the decks presented at the show have already been loaded on the HR Tech World Congress Slideshare page, so I suggest you get over there. Perhaps, HRN may consider filming some of the speaker presentations at future shows and releasing them at a later date via the HRN Blog – just an idea.
#11 CLOSING THOUGHT: HR, your organisations need you like never before
Whether it’s leading the charge to drive out unnecessary bureaucracy, implementing steps to improve employee productivity and engagement, incorporating the mindful use of advanced technologies and analytics or being the custodians of company culture, organisations need their HR functions to step up like never before. It is a momentous time to work in HR, but one that requires creativity, bravery and a willingness to accept and embrace change. From what I saw in Paris (and indeed elsewhere), there are plenty in the HR profession who seem willing to take up the challenge.
#12 Finally, a big hand to the HRN team
I don’t how they do it, but this conference keeps getting better and better. A big hand and hat tip to Marc Coleman, Peter Russell, Rita Vass and the whole HRN team plus effervescent emcee Johnny Campbell too. With three shows next year in London in March, Amsterdam in October and for the first time across the other side of the pond, San Francisco in June, HR Tech World continues to go from strength to strength. Long may it continue, even if San Francisco probably doesn’t have a clue what it’s letting itself in for!
About the author
David moderated the Smart Data track at the HR Tech World Congress in Paris and is a long-term member of the Blog Squad. He is a respected influencer, writer and speaker on people analytics and the future of work. He was recognised as Best Writer at the 2015 HR Tech Writers’ Awards, and was awarded one of ten LinkedIn Power Profiles for HR in January 2016. David’s role as Global Director, People Analytics Solutions at IBM enables him to help clients apply an analytical, insight led and business outcome focused approach to their talent strategies and people decisions. Connect with David on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter and read his blogs on LinkedIn, ERE and HRN.