Two days, 3,500 delegates, more tracks than the Gare du Nord and several cellar loads of Bordeaux’s finest. There was a whiff of revolution in the air as HR Tech World Congress stormed the barricades in Paris last week. The cavernous Palais de Congres was the host to the conspirators looking to drag HR kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
At times, the venue did its best to quell the revolutionary zeal with its myriad of passageways and signage creating a labyrinth that puts Hampton Court infamous maze to shame. For those still trying to find room 212, this blog is dedicated to you!
Without further ado, here are my 12 key takeaways from the two days:
- A dose of Smart Simplicity sprinkled with Gallic humour…
…is the ideal start to a Parisian conference. For the second consecutive year Yves Morieux of BCG kicked off proceedings. Whilst his message didn’t deviate too much from 12 months ago, Morieux’s plea for smart simplicity in a complex world really resonated. Citing the falling productivity in most major economies – in spite of technological advances – Morieux focused on the rising levels of disengagement in the workforce. Whilst I’m not convinced that he evidenced causation to this correlation, Morieux’s formula of leadership plus cooperation plus engagement seems like a sensible place to start.
- The digital and social revolution will radically change HR and HR Tech
Bounding onto stage looking like a member of a Sigue Sigue Sputnik tribute band, self-proclaimed ‘Digital Prophet’ David Shing made up for his late arrival by delivering a blitzkrieg of information on the social and digital revolution in our midst. If half of what Shing forecasts comes to pass then HR and HR Tech should brace itself for unprecedented radical change especially as if nothing else – as sagely observed by Matt Alder on Twitter – he demonstrated the key juxtaposition between what is going on in consumer tech with the moribund dullness of enterprise tech.
- The revolution in recruitment is already underway
Disruption and change were key themes in the iRecruit track over the two days, with one highlight being the demonstration of how artificial intelligence and robotics have been deployed within the recruitment process by Wipro to make over 20,000 hires per annum. The effervescent Bill Boorman provided another highlight with a stripped down (no slides rather than no clothes; phew) synopsis of the impact technology and data is having on recruitment. One fascinating insight was Bill’s view that New Zealand is 3-5 years ahead of the US and Europe when it comes to recruiting tech and how they are using the likes of DocuSign, Slack and Trello instead of the usual suspects when it comes to talent acquisition.
- Listening is THE key skill for leaders
From one famous beard to another: The much heralded appearance of Sir Richard Branson – quite a coup by the organisers – was somewhat stymied in my view by what seemed an overawed and one dimensional interviewer. Nevertheless, the man who signed the Sex Pistols did manage to get in a number of soundbites. My favourite was Sir Richard’s assertion that listening is the key skill for leaders. Sad then that so many leaders are dreadful at it. As Yves Morieux remarked in his opening keynote, if leaders don’t provide value they subtract value and when they do this you should subtract leaders.
- Traditional annual engagement surveys and performance reviews are absurd
Listening to the pulse of the organisation was one of the themes of Josh Bersin’s assertion that the employee engagement and feedback market represented a new category of HR software. The usually diplomatic Bersin was verbose in his view of the absurdity of traditional annual engagement surveys and performance reviews as he outlined the emergence of feedback apps, text analysis and pulse surveys. One new tool worth checking out in this space is Workometry, who were the source of high levels of interest in the #DisruptHR zone (see below).
- HR can be magic (seriously)
The conference closed with an immaculate performance of 21st century magic from Marco Tempest. Just as I was wondering what rabbits HR could pull out of the hat, Tempest explained how the third core element of magic – secrecy (advanced tech and psychology being the other two) – had morphed into collaboration and open source magic in the 21st Century. This resonated because…
- …the future of HR could be open source
For years the Holy Trinity of HRIS giants have preached the virtues of the single platform and one source of truth. It always sounded like a load of codswallop laced with oodles of compromise and expensive implementations and so it has transpired. IBM’s Open HR initiative is creating waves and open source is not confined to HR tech either. Ambrosia Vertesi and (the sadly absent) Lars Schmidt’s open-source approach to talent strategy at Hootsuite garnered a lot of interest amongst the HR Tech World cognoscenti. Check out the #HROS homepage here.
- Adoption of People Analytics may be slow, but it remains inevitable
Josh Bersin (yes, him again) recently asserted that the growth of People Analytics – like the vast majority of business trends – will be exponential rather than straight. This may partly explain the slow adoption of what will surely become a staple part of HR’s diet sooner rather than later. Judging by the standing room only of the Analytics track in Paris, lift-off could be about to come soon. The highlights of this track were Patrick Coolen of ABN AMRO (see next takeaway) and Volker Jacobs of CEB’s belief that the barriers of adoption can be summarised as the three C’s – Criticality, Capability and Credibility.
- With People Analytics, why not start at the top of the pyramid?
This was how Patrick Coolen started off his compelling story of how HR Analytics has made a visible difference to ABN AMRO. Coolen proceeded to tick off the three C’s outlined by Volker Jacobs by establishing how first he and his team understood the critical drivers of each business function within the bank. Patrick also demonstrated the collective capability inherent within his team and external partners such as iNostix to perform a variety of statistical analyses. Finally, the credibility of Patrick’s HR Analytics team is such that business leaders now regularly come to him with the challenges they face in the hope that insights lie waiting to be uncovered in the data.
- The #DisruptHR competition should be elevated to the main stage
As usual the #DisruptHR competition was one of the conference highlights (check out the runners and riders in Marc Coleman’s excellent preview here). The final five were put through their paces by an esteemed panel of judges including the ubiquitous Josh Bersin, Bill Boorman, Jason Corsello and Jerome Ternynck with the winner emerging as Clustree (see next takeaway). A recommendation for next year has to be elevating the #DisruptHR competition to the main stage it deserves. Here it would have been the perfect warm-up for the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.
- HR is awash with exciting tech
As #DisruptHR and the wider conference hall testified, HR Tech is an exciting place to be. A number of products caught my eye, but the five that really resonated – including three from the #DisruptHR zone – were:
- Clustree – the victor of the #DisruptHR competition is a predictive analytics solution, which leverages big data, to help HR make informed decisions and focus on their core business: people.
- Workometry – allows businesses to draw deep insight from thousands of employee feedback statements – across multiple languages and in real time – using text analytics and machine learning to give clients the confidence to target actions effectively and quickly.
- iCube – OWEN (Organisational Web of Evolving Networks) is a network analysis platform that helps organisations manage change, drive engagement, enhance performance as well as enable rapid innovation.
- Appical – A previous winner of the #DisruptHR competition and a testimony to its influence as evidenced by its continued strong growth, Appical is an onboarding tool aimed at getting new employees productive and engaged as soon as possible.
- OrgVue – An old friend but one worth highlighting again, OrgVue enables better insights to consolidate and visualise data from multiple sources and is an invaluable tool to enable HR analytics, organisation design and strategic workforce planning.
- HRN pulled it off despite a few glitches
It was quite a bold step for HRN to shift their flagship conference from the comfort of its longstanding home in Amsterdam to Paris whilst nearly doubling the number of delegates. But they managed it – despite a few glitches – and Marc, Peter and the team deserve the plaudits and success for pulling off the heist. The HR function should certainly take a leaf out of HRN’s book as 21st Century HR isn’t about playing it safe, it’s about being bold, taking risks and experimenting. Not every initiative will succeed. Get used to the occasional failure, but stay the course and you will succeed more often than not.
See you in London in March for the next chapter in a tale of two cities!
Part of the HR Tech World blog squad, David works with organisations to design talent acquisition programmes that drive growth and competitive advantage. He is a strong advocate of HR and recruiting functions taking a more data driven and evidence based approach and is a recognised commentator and influencer on the burgeoning people analytics space. Connect with David on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, and read his regular blog posts on Recruiting, Analytics and the Future of Work.