10 key takeaways from HR Tech World Spring

UNLEASHCulture2016 03 21
10 key takeaways from HR Tech World Spring
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All roads led to London last week as over 2,000 delegates congregated at the cavernous ExCel for two days of debate on the future of work at HR Tech World Spring.

As we have come to expect, Marc Coleman and the HRN team spoiled us with a packed agenda, more tracks than the London Underground, inspiring speakers and flawless production. I even spotted a couple of Oompa-Loompas mincing around the conference floor. Did anyone see Willy Wonka? Answers on Instagram please.

Moving swiftly on, here are my 10 main takeaways from the two days:

  1. Digital is changing everything…

The pace of change has never been so fast, yet will never be so slow again. The digital revolution is changing every single business model and the ramifications of this were clearly articulated by most of the speakers on the main stage. The excellent Peter Hinssen convincingly argued that companies need to focus not just on today or even tomorrow, but also the day after tomorrow otherwise they may find that they cannot transform fast enough. Given that over 50% of the Fortune 500 have disappeared since 2000, this seems sound advice to me.

  1. …and that includes HR

Josh Bersin applied the digital revolution to HR as he walked through Deloitte’s recently published Global Human Capital Trends report. His key message was that the traditional way in which companies have been organised, managed and led is no longer fit for purpose. The implications of this for HR are significant and arguably entail a complete refresh of how the function operates, how it delivers services and the way in which it engages with the business and its employees.

  1. The perfect storm?

In a typically energetic performance, HR Tech World favourite Jason Averbook enthused that digital should be soon as an opportunity rather than a threat by HR. Averbook argued that focusing on and achieving an optimal blend in three areas: people, process and technology, will set HR up perfectly for Workplace 2020. Certainly placing equal emphasis on employee experience as we do with customer experience, developing strong change management skills and (finally) embracing a data driven approach will all put HR on the right course to navigate the storm.


  1. Are our leaders up to it?

In a passionate and powerful opening keynote, Simon Sinek lamented that too many leaders get it woefully wrong. Sinek explained how bad organisations and leaders are hazardous to employees because they induce the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, bad leaders are literally killing their people. As leadership models and organisational structures evolve, the winning companies will be those that have leaders who can adapt and put employee experience and wellbeing at the forefront of their strategies.

  1. People Analytics – heading for orbit?

Judging by the popularity of the Smart Data track, recent studies by IBM (see CHRO Study) and Deloitte (see here) suggesting that adoption of people analytics is increasing are right on the money. Those delegates seeking inspiration found plenty to choose from as speaker after speaker explained the benefits their organisations had reaped as a result of the work of their people analytics teams. The impressive stories told by Patrick Coolen (ABN AMRO), Ben Hawley (Unilever), Ian Bailie (Cisco) and Bart Cools (AB InBev) particularly resonated. Patrick’s assertion that creating insights through people analytics is not as important as then actually using those insights was perhaps the key lesson for delegates to take back to their organisations.

  1. Employees as consumers – the changing world of employee engagement

Speaking of analytics, the shift in measuring employee engagement annually to continually was a common theme that threaded the conference together. Employees have adopted a consumer mindset and organisations will have to apply similar effort to what they already do with consumers. Analytics is the means to generating the insights that will enable business leaders to take appropriate actions to not only optimise employee experience but consequently customer loyalty and profitability too – see my recent blog Designing Employee Experience for more on this.

  1. Diversity and inclusion as an indicator of business success

Bersin squeezed a lot into 45 minutes including a section on diversity and inclusion. News that studies show that inclusive companies statistically outperform their peers will hopefully inspire many others to follow in their wake. There is still a long way to go as Martha Lane Fox highlighted in her inspirational conference closing speech. Of the many worrying statistics she highlighted here are two: i) over 90% of investors, owners and developers of the Internet are male, and; ii) that bastion of modernity – the House of Lords, has a better record on gender diversity than the tech sector. Gulp.

  1. Move the #DisruptHR competition to the main stage and include a ‘People’s Vote’

Once again, the #DisruptHR stage and competition was one of the conference highlights and a clear illustration of both the level of investment in and the exciting nature of the HR Tech space. I still feel that the #DisruptHR competition should take place on the main stage, as well as perhaps including an opportunity for delegates to vote as well. Would the judges and delegates be in accord? Maybe HRN could consider this for Paris? In any case, well done to the wonderfully named #DisruptHR winner – Arctic Shores (see below).


  1. Exciting HR Tech to check out:

HR Tech continues to be an exciting space and a number of products caught my eye, particularly these five:

  • TrustSphere – provides relationship analytics that help organisations unlock the power of their employee networks
  • Arctic Shores – games-based psychometric assessments provider and winner of the #DisruptHR competition
  • SmartRecruiters – next-gen talent acquisition platform, which shined during the presentation of how the platform had helped Lyst – kudos to founder Jerome Ternynck and Matt Buckland, Head of Talent at Lyst
  • HR Onboard – Australian based employee onboarding platform
  • IBM Kenexa Talent Insights – if you will forgive my self-indulgence, the clamour at the IBM stand to see our Talent Insights predictive analytics solution means it warrants a place on this list.
  1. HRN ExCel(s) again

Finally, the conference wouldn’t be possible without the organisers. So a note of thanks to Marc, Peter and the HRN team for putting on such a fabulous two days once again. As I wrote after Paris, the HR community can certainly take inspiration from HRN’s approach. 21st Century HR isn’t about playing it safe, it’s about being bold, taking risks and experimenting. I’m looking forward to Paris already. See you on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on October 25th and 26th.


About the Author

David is part of the HR Tech World Blog Squad and 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, or follow him on Twitter.

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