Top 5 Themes at HR Tech 2017

Las Vegas had a different feel last week – for obvious reasons. But as Conference Chair Steve Boese told the attendees Wednesday morning, the human spirit is very much alive through the support and generosity of the HR Tech community who have expressed united concern and monetary support for the victims and families impacted by the shooting.

Indeed, the theme at the 20th edition of the conference was about celebrating humanity, putting people – our employees – center stage in an era when technology innovations continue to accelerate at a rapid pace. Beyond the smoky slots, florescent lights, and heightened security, vendors worked on their messaging, confident that their talk tracks would rise through the noise.

Here are the 5 major themes from HR Tech:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Perhaps the loudest buzzword was AI, but there seemed to be varying definitions as it relates to HR technology. Essentially, AI reduces the amount of time a customer has to spend in the software and increases the value the customer gets out of the software. But ultimately, the limitation of AI is the humanity void.

“The latency of artificial intelligence is the distance between what the machine thinks is real and what’s real,” said John Sumser, principal analyst at consulting firm HRExaminer. “The whole premise of artificial intelligence is that you can figure out a culture and install something that has to do with the culture. But decision-making varies (based on market changes) and every time you hit one of those points, the AI has to go back and learn again because AI is a digital employee. … [AI] is lazy, literal, will only do what you tell it to do, and will only know what you told them. [AI] can’t think outside of the box.”

Diversity & Inclusion
It’s not enough to check off the diversity box. The importance of inclusion and belonging has never been more at the forefront. “Diversity is the what, inclusion is the how, and diversity doesn’t work without inclusion,” said Rita Mitjans, chief diversity and corporate social responsibility officer at ADP.

Rita was joined on “The Business Value of Diversity & Inclusion and the Role of HR and HR Technology” panel by Michael Krupa, senior director at Cisco, who added, “A common problem is that companies can show diversity data, but they don’t show insights.” Which is how the work gets done.

Companies that demonstrate diversity within teams (and not siloed by departments) tend to perform better, so much so that cross-functional inclusion has become a business imperative. Inclusion is about culture – and is the true measure that values exist in an organization. “Our investors want a diverse board, diverse executives, and through the ranks,” said Michael. “Everyone’s voice should matter.”

Employee Experience
While the session was titled “The Role of HR Technology in Driving Employee Engagement,” it was clear from the outset that employee experience is the nirvana of true culture change. Globoforce VP of Product Strategy Grant Beckett discussed research Globoforce co-developed with IBM that defines the employee experience, and how engagement is no longer enough.

“If someone is highly engaged but is not having a good experience, they are frustrated,” said Grant. “The win is engagement plus experience because that equals a passionate workforce. … Unlock the power of your entire workforce, not just the managers. Teams are the future. Bring the whole crowd in to support a workforce culture.”

“At the basic level, people need to feel respected,” said Steven Hunt, SVP of HCM research for SAP Success Factors. “They want to be cared for as a person. And they want the work to be meaningful.”

Wellness
The wellness vendors keep multiplying. But the difference over the last few years is the inclusion of data science to support measurement.

Surprising? Not really. But the presentations and conversations about data science were numerous. Correlating performance to wellness – from length of vacations, hours of sleep, to how many steps someone takes in a day – to illustrate the reduction in healthcare costs was a common theme.

Meaningful Work
People want a reason to go to work, to give their whole selves. Laszlo Block, advisor and former SVP of People Operations at Google, said it’s imperative for companies to put their employees at the center, providing a culture and a mission that inspires discretionary effort.

While Laszlo’s keynote charted a path to innovative success, the human element was a common thread through each of his points. “Make work better through science, machine learning, and a little bit of love,” he said. “That’s critical for innovation to happen. You need to connect people with a mission and tap into their intrinsic motivators. … Workers need to feel trusted and given a voice.”

Did you attend this year’s HR tech conference? What were your key takeaways?

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