10 takeaways from HR Tech World London 2017

UNLEASHScience Tech2017 03 30
10 takeaways from HR Tech World London 2017
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No one stages a show on HR and the Future of Work quite like Marc Coleman, Peter Russell, Rita Vass and the HRN team, and once again the confluence of superb speakers, eye-catching visuals and booming electronic dance music created a heady mix at London’s ExCeL arena.


Here are my ten takeaways from another barnstorming event:


#1 Innovate or die


HR Tech World is renowned for the quality of its keynote speakers, and once again the show didn’t disappoint. Sir Ken Robinson (he of the 44m views for his Ted Talk – Do schools kill creativity?) kicked off proceedings with a stirring speech, laced with self-deprecatory humour and mercifully containing only a few PowerPoint slides. With the average life span of companies shrinking, those that fail to innovate will simply not survive. So, why do so many companies hinder rather than cultivate creativity? Sir Ken’s ideas on how to create the right conditions to foster continuous creativity and innovation need to be embraced by leaders (otherwise it won’t happen), but HR can certainly play a key role here. As Sir Ken said, “in the end it’s all about HR – in schools and business – it’s about the people in the end”.


#2 Be brave, be bold and be smart


My favourite keynote of the show came from the ever-reliable Jason Averbook, one of the nice guys of HR and also a monumentally inspirational speaker (also check out his exciting new venture LeapGen). Jason extolled a new mantra for HR: be brave, be bold and be smart – embrace technology, don’t leave it to the IT department, and use it to help shape consumer-like experiences for your employees. Not only did most people I spoke to after Jason’s speech leave the room feeling ten-foot high, they also believed that they had found the inspiration needed to create the right conditions for creativity set out 24 hours earlier by Sir Ken. As Jason said “if we are brave, bold and smart we work in the most exciting place in business – HR”. In the UK and Europe, we are going to need all of these qualities in the next two years…


#3 The elephant Brexit in the room


It took precisely 90 seconds for the show’s MC, Google Dave (aka Dave Hazlehurst), to mention the B-word, as he opened HR Tech World on day 1.  This is a blog about HR technology, analytics and the future of work, so I don’t want to focus too much on the UK’s version of the elephant in the room. Nevertheless, as closing keynote Dr. Daniel Thorniley chillingly explained, the outcome of Brexit, which will now unfurl over the next two years with the invoking of Article 50, has potentially massive implications for HR. If nothing else, the next 24 months promise to be an interesting if somewhat bumpy ride, meaning more than ever we need to make better decisions…


#4 Smart data and people analytics is hot


Perhaps with Josh Bersin’s recent comment that “Analytics is no longer a ‘good idea’ for HR – it is now mandatory” at the forefront of minds of delegates, there was standing room only for much of the two days in the Smart Data track, which I had the honour of moderating. Certainly, some of the most outstanding work I am seeing in HR is being powered by data and analytics. All of the presenters had compelling stories to tell, but if I had to pick out five, I’d plump for:


  • Merck (Anna Lena Fritzsche and Piotr Bednarczuk) – A highly impressive account of their HR transformation and people analytics journey.
  • Raiffeisen Bank International (Klara Jappelova)– Engaged employees to re-design the bank’s performance management system
  • Adidas (Pranav Chadha) Demonstrated a dynamic self-built reporting and visualisation tool for talent acquisition that enables leaders, hiring managers and recruiters to check progress and promote key strategic initiatives such as diversity and internal mobility
  • EY (Daniel Murphy) – Increasingly sophisticated use of engagement data to drive business and employee outcomes. One highlight being the finding that those business units that take action on the insights are the ones that then have the biggest improvements in business outcomes and employee engagement scores.
  • ING (Camilla Björkqvist) – How the bank has built the foundations for long-term success for people analytics with a robust approach to data management, governance and security. Camilla also walked away with best job title of the show: Chief Data Officer, HR. You’ll see more people with this title over the next few years.


#5 The next wave of People Analytics?


Continuing the Smart Data theme, HR Tech World confirmed that it is becoming increasingly clear (to me at least) that growth in people analytics is being accelerated by three developing trends: i) the desire to consumerise and personalise the employee experience, ii) emerging sources of data such as wearables, social media and collaboration platforms and email meta data, and iii) AI and cognitive technology. These elements were on the wish list of many practitioners I spoke to and certainly advertised by many of the vendors exhibiting at the show. Personalising services for employees such as onboarding, learning and mobility all require data and analytics at their core, as does understanding and taking action on employee sentiment as well as cultivating collaboration amongst teams and networks. Perhaps it is the focus on employee experience that will ultimately drive wider adoption of people analytics. I certainly hope so.


#6 disruptHR excites again


As usual the #disruptHR zone was a hive of activity as the new kids on the blocks jostled for the attention of investors, analysts and potential buyers alike. Congratulations to Textio and CEO Kieran Snyder for their triumph in the hotly contested #disruptHR competition, which they won with a record score. Textio is a great product, but it is three years into its journey and has a significant amount of funding, which leads me to suggest that perhaps the competition could be split into two: one prize for the genuine start-up, the second for a company like Textio that is further on its journey. For more detail on the runners and riders that raced the #disruptHR course check out Faye Holland’s excellent article.


#7 Lots of Shiny HR Tech to check out


Strolling around the conference floor, it was hard not to be struck by the burgeoning nature of the HR Tech market, the increasing omnipresence of analytics and machine learning and a focus on understanding and improving the employee experience. Five products that caught my eye were: Workometry, Headstart, Predictive Hire, Peakon, and Crunchr. Also, if you please forgive a moment of self-indulgence, it is clear that the introduction by IBM of Watson to the world of HR has really captured the imagination of the market.


#8 The ones I missed


The joy of HR Tech World is that with 11 tracks running concurrently there is plenty to see, but I haven’t yet worked out how to be in several places at once. This means that I missed sessions with the likes of Nick Holley, Catalina Schveninger, Katherine Jones, Bill Boorman, Marta Domanska and Kevin Blair.   Fortunately, I can catch-up with some of these (and so can you) on the HR Tech World Slideshare page. Thanks also to the likes of Dave Millner, Andy Spence, Gareth Jones, Barry Flack, Charu Malhotra, Faye Holland, Kate Graham, Andrew Marritt, Jason Averbook and last but not least the show’s superb MC Dave Hazlehurst – the conversations we had and/or the Tweets you shared meant that I almost felt I was able to be in several places at once.


#9 Get well soon Marc


Many will know that at the time the show was kicking off, HRN’s head honcho Marc Coleman was undergoing a delicate operation on his back. Wishing you a speedy recovery Marc, and rest assured your team did you proud once more. Looking forward to seeing you back on your feet when HR Tech World lands in San Francisco on 14-15 June.


#10 A word for London


A fabulous two days was dampened on the final afternoon of the show as word spread of the atrocity in Westminster. Obviously, my sympathies go out to everyone caught up in and affected by this terrible incident. It highlights the troubled and uncertain times we live in, and perhaps if there is a link to the world of work even more reason why those of us working in HR should create great experiences for our employees. Be brave, be bold, be smart and be safe.


About the Author


David moderated the Smart Data track at the HR Tech World Congress in London 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.


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