After a two-year sojourn in Paris, HR Tech World returned with a bang to its spiritual home in Amsterdam for its biggest show yet and a rebrand to UNLEASH!
With 12 stages running in parallel, it has become increasingly impossible for a single person to write a comprehensive ‘key takeaways’ of this superb event. So in the spirit of the community that UNLEASH imbues, I’ve decided to opt for a crowdsourcing version. Therefore, I’d first like to thank the following for contributing to this article: Jason Averbook, Faye Holland, Gareth Jones and Andy Spence. You can check out their collective thoughts at #8.
First things first, the new name – UNLEASH. I like it. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s loud. Just like HR Tech World. Marc Coleman has often spoken about the show creating the impetus and inspiration for companies to unleash their people. The world we live in now and the world we will live in the future makes this increasingly important. HR Tech World is the best conference on the planet about tech and the future of work. UNLEASH promises to be even better.
The overwhelming theme of the show, just as at HR Tech World in San Francisco, was the need for companies (and by extension HR) to put their ‘people first’ and harness technology to humanise (and personalise) the employee experience. Like many speakers, Peter Hinssen implored HR to think like marketing and create bespoke experiences for employees. This is a huge opportunity for HR and providing that ethics, trust and transparency are placed at the fore, we really can create better and healthier work experiences for our employees.
As the proponents of Thrive and the Overwhelmed Employee discussed mental health in the workplace in front of a packed and captivated auditorium, I was struck that the topic is thankfully no longer taboo. The main message I took from Arianna Huffington and Josh Bersin’s discussion was that wellbeing and performance go hand in hand. Arianna’s keynote was immensely powerful and clearly resonated with many people. One person I spoke to aafterwardwas inspired by Arianna to rebook an earlier flight the next day so that they could get home in time to see their young child before bed. That’s what I call impact. Josh’s earlier keynote had highlighted the explosion in HR tech related to wellbeing, which inspired me to tweet that employee health and wellbeing should be a core responsibility of HR – so far that Tweet has had over 250 likes and retweets. The next challenge for HR is not only to own employee health and wellbeing, but also to prove through analytics that it translates to business performance. That is the only way to make large organisations and investors wake up and smell the coffee.
My favourite keynote of the two days came from Josh Bersin, who just seems to get better and better. No one except Josh can cram as much content into 30 minutes and still bring the trends he describes to life with powerful and relevant examples. Josh’s assertion that it doesn’t matter what HR tech you buy if it doesn’t improve the employee experience really resonated. I was especially interested in what Josh had to say about people analytics, which he described as going ‘mainstream’ and how coupled with organisational network analysis is helping companies unlock insights into productivity, networks and collaboration. With analytics being central to initiatives to digitise HR and personalise the employee experience expect the discipline to move from the periphery to the core of the future HR function.
On the subject of people analytics, the Smart Data track I moderated was once again immensely popular with standing room only throughout the two days. I presented research (see here), which highlighted that the readiness of European headquartered organisations regarding analytics in HR is behind that of the rest of the world. I was at pains to point out that this did not mean that there weren’t clear examples of excellence in Europe, which was ably demonstrated by Patrick Coolen (ABN AMRO), Esther Bongenaar and Tashi Erdmann (Shell), Camilla Björkqvist (ING) and also Carsten Knaut (Qiagen). There were also excellent examples of how people analytics is being used to improve recruiting at Footlocker (Alexis Trigo) and Jumbo (Jennifer Kors). Finally, Daniel Murphy’s presentation of how EY has proven how teams with high employee engagement have better retention and business performance was particularly impactful.
Daniel Thorniley’s keynote on day 2 was crammed full of humour, but was also decidedly scary. The picture he painted of our political leaders stuck in a damaging vortex of austerity, floundering organisations obsessing about the bottom line and the rise of populism would provide an excellent script for Blade Runner 3. Unfortunately, much of what Thorniley described is not science fiction but painful reality. His description of hedge funds clamouring to replace employees with robots in our major organisations is typical of the self-interest that exists amongst this dubious group of people. If any function in our business is going to stand up to this folly, surely it is HR? Is this asking too much? Maybe, but if not who?
Apart from his creepy robot doppelgänger, closing keynote Henrik Scharfe painted a much more positive picture of what the future of work could hold. Whilst he conceded that 50% of work today will be automated in the near future (even if 85% of us still think it will affect other people rather than ourselves), Schrafe argued we still have a choice to make a better world. I definitely preferred Schrafe’s optimistic vision of the future to Thorniley’s!
As indicated at the start of this article, here are some key learnings generously supplied by Jason Averbook, Faye Holland, Gareth Jones and Andy Spence. Thanks to the four of you for contributing. If you were in Amsterdam and would like to add a takeaway, please do so in the comments section below.
Gareth Jones (follow on Twitter @garelaos)
Jason Averbook (follow on Twitter @jasonaverbook)
Faye Holland (follow on Twitter @FayeHollandUK)
Andy Spence (follow on Twitter @AndySpence)
The StartUp Zone was buzzing once again with lots of exciting new tech vendors exhibiting their wares. The ones that stood out for me were:
For a full summary of the companies in the StartUp Zone, check out Faye Holland’s excellent series here.
To Marc Coleman, Peter Russell, Viki McCann and the UNLEASH crew. To Rita Vass, Leah Narodetsky and Kat Khramova for booking me as a speaker and for once again moving the bar even higher with an outstanding program. To the ebullient Jason Averbook for an immaculate performance as MC of the Future of Work stage. One of the tricks of being a great MC is to actually care about the delegate experience, and no one does this better than Jason. Hat tip too to the other main show MCs – Johnny Campbell and Bill Boorman; sadly I didn’t spend much time in either the HR Tech or iRecruit stages but by all accounts you both did a superb job. Indeed, the one session I missed that I wish I hadn’t featured Johnny in a judge’s wig adjudicating between Nick Holley and Josh Bersin as to whether Big Data was guilty as charged. This could only happen at an UNLEASH conference!
Finally, for more on the show in Amsterdam check out the UNLEASH site as well as the UNLEASH Slideshare page for all the presentations from the event, as well as this handy collection of links by Kate Graham. See you in London on 20-21 March 2018.