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March 31, 2014 / Mervyn Dinnen

#HRTechEurope – HR Is Dead! Long Live HR!

Me & OracleOscar

My previous two blogs previewed the HRTechEurope Spring Conference and Exhibition , which I duly attended last Thursday.

It was a fun day with exhibitors offering lots of swag and jellybeans, stormtroopers and a robot – you can see a somewhat blurred picture of yours truly with OracleOscar above – and I was rather excited to win cinema vouchers in a prize draw from Oracle too. Thanks guys! The conference content ranged from why HR is doing it wrong to how tech can save the day, with a final call of ‘HR is dead, long live HR’.

My friend and co-blogger for the event Doug Shaw has offered his thoughts on some of the morning sessions so in this post I’ll look at the afternoon, and in particular two well received and thought provoking presentations from visiting US commentators – William Tincup and Jason Averbook.

In my pre-event posts I was mainly concerned with capability – does HR have what it takes to really grapple with technology and use it to create the kind of experience that employees want, and produce the data that helps decisions rather than fills out barely read monthly reports.

Getting it Right

William Tincup was looking at the process of buying HR software from the angle of getting both satisfaction and success. His presentation was thoughtful and well structured, taking HR professionals through the sales and implementation process. I often get the feeling that there is a reticence within the community to truly challenge the salesmen and account managers from the big vendors, as if the complexities of technology are off-putting. It’s their budget, but not their own money I guess, so maybe due diligence is glossed over.

William gave a simple plan through the 7 stages of the process – product, sales, negotiation, implementation, training, adoption and support – with 5 or 6 questions at each stage that need to be asked and answered.

Some of the key ones for me:

  • What reports and features are really important to us?
  • Do I feel like I’m being over-sold? Did the demo meet or exceed expectations and have they done significant work in my sector?
  • Who owns the data? Am I giving up things in the negotiation that are important to me?
  • Can I meet the implementation team before I sign? How will we manage change and communicate it to all employee users?
  • Will all users be trained the way they want to be? How will new users be on-boarded?
  • How will we get users to ‘love’ the new software and how will we know if they don’t?
  • How will vendor support handle help desk items versus things that are broken?

There were two things he said that really nailed some of the issues that I think HR has with technology…

Good software doesn’t fix a bad process, it just highlights how bad the process is.

A feature is not a feature unless users use said feature.

He also urged people to ask vendors how they make their money as the answers can be very illuminating. This is excellent advice but I wonder if it might be too confrontational for many within the HR profession? The whole process of acquiring technology is a major investment for the business which has to be done well – and needs to be approached with the professionalism and determination that such a major investment requires.

Facing the Future

The closing keynote was from Jason Averbook. Closing presentations can often feel slightly lack lustre – the space many be partially empty, exhibitors are dismantling stands, some people have already left and others may be suffering from information overload – but Jason played it just right with a fast paced, high impact session.

I’ve seen him speak before and do like his style and thinking. A couple of presentations earlier in the day had lacked pace and verve, giving the Impression that the speaker had delivered them before, but Jason’s was different to the one I had seen last Autumn and, importantly, showed a progression in his thinking.

The message I took away was simple – things around the workplace are changing and HR can’t deal with new challenges by doing what it’s always done, it’s going to require a shift in attitude and thinking.

There are many examples of this. Our expectations of technology, and in particular the user experience, have shifted immeasurably. When employees use our internal software, or complain about it, they aren’t comparing it to what went before but to the experience they get from Amazon or Apple. When something changes – be it interface or new application – they expect it to be seamless, just like downloading a new app. He showed the video I’ve embedded at the end of a 4 years old’s reaction to having to use IOS7.

Innovation, and the impact of technology, is more than a redesign of payslips and needs to culturally shift the way we do things. HR has to lead this, to know what differentiates the business – new systems don’t drive differentiation.

There was talk of the changing work practices, how some jobs are beginning to disintegrate into a series of tasks, and workers to perform these tasks are being crowdsourced. ‘Do you know how you manage contingent labour in your business?‘ he asked. Some of that contingent labour may also be working for 4 or 5 other companies at the same time – potential for disruption that HR needs to understand.

One important point is that away from the workplace we don’t phone call centres or help desks to buy something online, download a new app or integrate a new Facebook function. We work it out for ourselves or search for the solution online – either video or on a blog. A lot of employees will expect to do this with their HR systems and processes, to self-solve. Do you have that in place?

There were many more examples of how shifts in technology, expectations, workplace strategies and staffing arrangements are shaping how our people feel about the business. The need for real time data (not historical surveys) in areas such as performance illustrates the importance of information in helping solve real business issues, not being inward facing or merely a tick box exercise.

The final summing up was that HR as we know it was probably dead and that a new HR approach, driven by technology and evidence (data), will be developed. People no longer want hand holding; they need to know that the information is there when they need it and that they can access it when it suits them. They don’t want self service; they want direct access.

This summary caused much debate and consternation amongst both the attendees and people following the Twitter threads from afar. The conversations and debates that it prompted were still going on a day later.

Which sounds to me like exactly what a good conference presentation should do – explore ideas, prompt and provoke thinking and conversation that helps us to make sense of an evolving landscape that will require new attitudes and solutions. It was also good to see Jason get involved in the online chat personally.

Something that I had observed in the morning was that none of the the early speakers had a social media presence, yet the HRTech event has a very good social outreach. Those morning presentations, as Doug’s blog had pointed out, seemed to be a tad lacking in depth and rationale whereas both Jason and William Tincup demonstrated a good understanding of the issues that HR professionals face and reflected this in what they said. Maybe it’s no coincidence that they are very active on social channels and this almost certainly helped towards their engaging and insightful presentations.

Reports of the death of HR may be an exaggeration, but there are certainly some interesting conversations to be had about adapting to meet future challenges.

 

 

 

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