The 'NextGen' of HR Influencers

What will the "NextGen" of HR leaders look like? Panelists from the new "NextGen Influencers" session at the upcoming HR Technology Conference ® share their insights on HR, HR technology and the changing nature of influence in the organization.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013
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Workplace influence can often be a difficult concept to assess, or even understand. Even the basic definition of "influence" is not always universally agreed upon. But let's start with a simple definition, or an assumption really, about the nature of influence and proceed from there.

"Influence" is, at its core, the capacity to have an effect or to drive a change on the character, development or behavior of someone or something. Character, development and behavior are all important elements or aspects of the people in our organizations, and ones that human resource leaders, when at their most effective, can leverage for organizational competitive advantage, and to help colleagues reach their personal career goals.

Influence in and by HR emanates from multiple sources. It comes from the HR technologist who implements and deploys a new software program enabling just-in-time and on-demand learning for the organization. Or the analyst who concisely and accurately assesses the practices of leading companies and helps you understand how and where they fit in for your organization.

Finally, influence is seen in the shape of the modern, enlightened and polished HR executive who understands how social media, collaboration and technology are combining to transform work and workplaces. Yes, influence comes in many forms and from many disciplines, and with that in mind, the HR Technology Conference ® has assembled a top-shelf panel of "NextGen" leaders who truly embody the new reality of how influence works.

In advance of the conference, slated for Oct. 7 through 9 in Las Vegas, HRE interviewed three of the members of this first-ever "NextGen Influencers" panel, all remarkably accomplished and diverse industry leaders who are influencing the HR profession and market from different perspectives. Jarret Pazahanick is a managing partner at EIC Experts, and a recognized and respected global expert on enterprise-level HR technology; Trish McFarlane is the director of HR at Perficient Inc., and a popular writer, speaker and industry thought leader; and Madeline Laurano is research director for human capital management at Aberdeen Group, where she applies her deep industry knowledge of both technology and process to illuminate leading and soon-to-be leading HCM practices.

First off, congratulations on being named one of the participants in the HR Technology Conference ®'s inaugural "NextGen Influencers" panel. That is really a fantastic honor and a recognition of your outstanding work in the human resource industry. To get things started, can you share a little about what brought you to HR, or to working with HR technology? What makes the field compelling and interesting for you?

Pazahanick: I fell into working with HR technology after a previous career in the grocery industry but have enjoyed having a front-row seat and seeing how HR and HR technology have evolved over the past 15 years. It is great after years of HR being considered a back-office and mostly administrative function to see it develop into a key strategic area for many of the best-run companies in the world, as well as be one of the hottest areas in enterprise software.

McFarlane: I knew early on that I wanted a master's degree in human resources and to be an HR practitioner. I met the HR leader at the company my father worked for and, when I learned about her job, I was hooked. Spending a majority of my career at PricewaterhouseCoopers was a great way to get exposure to and experience with all areas of human resources. It wasn't until my time at Fleishman-Hillard Inc. that my interest in HR technology grew. I credit the CEO, Dave Senay, and the company for inspiring me to learn more about digital technology. That is what fueled my interest in technology and in using social platforms for HR and business purposes. It remains compelling to me because there is always some new twist on the technology [front]. And I love that it makes networking and collaborating globally accessible in ways it never was before.

Laurano: My first job out of grad school was as a research analyst for Linkage Inc., an organizational-development firm. With a degree in international relations, I had very little knowledge of HR or HR technology but was tasked to write a book on how Fortune 500 companies were managing a global workforce. Some of the themes that emerged from this study included succession planning, talent acquisition, engagement and learning management. What makes this field so interesting to me is that these are still the same themes we focus on today, but the strategies and technology options have evolved and improved dramatically. Organizations are facing many of the same challenges, but today, they have a completely new set of tools and technologies to apply to these challenges.

Since the "NextGen Influencers" panel will take place at the upcoming HR Technology Conference ®, what do you see as one or two of the most important technology trends or potentially challenging issues facing HR leaders as they seek to best implement and take advantage of HR and workplace-technology solutions? What technologies are you seeing organizations having some immediate success with, and perhaps which ones seem to have failed to deliver on their early promise?

McFarlane: From a technology standpoint, HR leaders are dealing with antiquated systems and a lack of ability to secure funding for changing or upgrading systems. I think this brings great advantage to the small-solution providers for a couple reasons. Smaller or targeted solutions will succeed because their price point is lower and HR professionals will have an easier time securing budgetary approval for the costs. Small solutions are also a good way to make a faster, more visible impact. It is also easier to train an HR team on how to implement a single technology before they try to tackle a large HRIS solution. I also see particular success for tech vendors in the data-analysis arena. HR tends to have large amounts of data that can be daunting to assess. A data-analytics tool is a good way to begin cutting through the muck and see where the true issues are. It also allows HR pros the ability to give more strategic advice around where the people side of the business has been and is heading.

Laurano: I agree with Trish in that analytics is a topic that continues to be a challenge for organizations. Every solution provider seems to have launched an "analytics" solution over the past few years, yet organizations still struggle in this area. Additionally, career development has been an area of talent management that was ignored by most solution providers until now. We are beginning to see more innovative solutions that empower employees rather than employers and provide them with the skills and guidance they need to be successful at their jobs.

One additional trend worth noting is around talent communities. I think many organizations believe this is an activity for talent-acquisition departments, but there can be tremendous benefit to building these communities with existing employees, alumni and key stakeholders.

Finally, the talent-acquisition technology landscape continues to be one of the most complex areas of HR technology. Organizations have a difficult time navigating through the myriad of sourcing, screening, assessment, hiring and onboarding vendors. In many cases, they are spending an exorbitant amount of money on talent acquisition technology and seeing little results. This is a very exciting time in talent acquisition because there are a new set of solutions looking to improve the effectiveness of recruiting, align talent acquisition with business outcomes and create a positive candidate experience.

Pazahanick: Those are great points raised by Trish and Madeline, and I'd like to add to them one more fundamental technology trend: the shift of how HR technology solutions are being designed and delivered. There is no doubt that we are in the early innings of a multi-year shift from client server to multi-tenant Software as a Service for HR technology as there are a number of benefits for customers mostly related to standardization, mobility and usability. One HR trend that I have yet to see deliver on its early promise or hype is gamification and, for me, the jury is still out on how large Fortune 500 companies will embrace this area in the longer term.

The NextGen panel is titled an "influencer" panel, and you are all influencing your organizations and the practice of HR in different ways. I wonder if you could share some thoughts about HR's influence in the organization more generally, and how you see it evolving and changing. What would be one or two key areas where HR leaders and aspiring HR leaders can focus their energies and efforts to drive organizational success?

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Laurano: I believe one interesting way that HR can demonstrate influence is in driving the relationship between HR and procurement. This relationship is critical when thinking about a blended workforce consisting of regular full-time, part-time and contract or contingent workers. The benefits of a unified strategy for contingent and full-time employees include greater visibility, better compliance and cost savings. Yet, few organizations are able to bridge the gap between HR and procurement. The workforce is shifting and HR needs to respond by building partnerships with other areas of the business. Procurement is a good place to start, especially since 27 percent of an average organization's workforce is expected to be comprised of contingent labor in the next few years.

Pazahanick: I think true influence can come in many forms for aspiring HR leaders. We always hear about HR wanting a "seat at the table," but at this point, unfortunately, there is still quite a ways to go for the HR leadership at many companies. Successful HR leaders will have to show the value that true strategic HR can bring to their organization, and a big part of that going forward will involve choosing the proper HR technology and reporting solutions that can go a long way in helping them drive organization success.

McFarlane: I hate to say this, but I sort of have to agree with Jarret to a certain extent. HR leaders still have a long way to go in many cases. I believe you need to prove yourself as a business person first, and an HR professional second. Being able to influence the other business leaders in a company takes knowledge about the business and finance, and requires strong persuasion skills. Most great HR pros succeed because they are able to finesse a situation so other leaders are influenced. I encourage aspiring human resource leaders to get experience in as many aspects of human resources as they can. They should also seek out understanding of how their business makes money and how well it is doing. They also need to stay on top of technology trends, at a high level, so they at least know where the industry is heading. Lastly, they need to keep networking, be that through in-person events or via social-media platforms.

Any last words you'd like to share with our readers? Anything (a session, a person or a vendor) you are looking forward to seeing at HR Tech this October?

McFarlane: I am especially looking forward to the Cisco session about how they broke their HR department into separate parts -- one to develop and implement HR strategy and one to execute transactions. I think there will be some great learning in that session. I also see a need for organizations to continue learning how to implement workforce planning, so the session from Nick Garbis from General Electric on that will be perfect. Lastly, the Ben Brooks session on making HR sexy. Who couldn't use more of that? Seriously, I hope other HR practitioners and HR leaders will attend this event. There is so much to learn and the expo hall provides a great way to see and learn all about the latest HR tech products in one place.

Pazahanick: My biggest piece of advice to the readers is to stay informed and network with other customers, as it is important to be able to cut through all the vendor- and software-integrator hype that is out there. This will be my first HR Technology ® Conference and I have a long list of people I am looking forward to meeting for the first time -- but two who jump out at me are Naomi Bloom and Paul Sparta, both of whom are long-time HR industry influencers who I have a lot of respect for. Note: Both Bloom, who recently announced her retirement from consulting, and Sparta will be speaking at the conference.

Laurano: I will just be short and sweet. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in October and hope you will come to our session!

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology ® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. Send questions or comments about this feature to

For more information on the 16th Annual HR Technology ® Conference and Expo, to be held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, October 7 through 9, visit


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