Openness, Transparency Themes of HR Tech Keynote

In his opening speech, Don Tapscott points out that youth value speed, innovation and openness -- and are notably adept at sniffing out communication that isn't genuine.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013
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It's a brave, new, ultra-connected world, and companies that don't embrace the new principles of openness and transparency risk alienating millennial employees and missing out on key sources of innovation and revenue. This was one of the key themes of Don Tapscott's electrifying opening keynote at the 2013 HR Technology ® Conference, held this year at the sprawling Mandalay Bay Las Vegas resort.

Tapscott, author of the bestselling book Wikinomics and the new Radical Openness: Four Unexpected Principles for Success, spoke about how the end of the industrial age and the rise of social media is opening up new opportunities for enterprises to change the way they operate for the better. "This ain't your daddy's Internet," he cracked, alluding to the fact that interactive platforms like YouTube, along with smart mobile devices, have changed how consumers -- especially younger ones -- access the web. These users aren't passive recipients of content -- instead, said Tapscott, they're content creators and scrutinizers.

"Now these digital natives are coming into the workplace," he said. And they prefer not to use email, he added. "One young person told me 'Email is too formal -- I only use it for things like sending thank-you notes to my friends' parents.' "

Tapscott says today's youth value speed, innovation and openness -- and are notably adept at sniffing out communication that isn't genuine. "These kids have very good BS detectors because they've grown up on the web, which is full of BS," he said, to appreciative laughter from the audience.

Although many experts have predicted that the economic havoc created by financial meltdowns and regulatory failures will lead to long-term economic stagnation, Tapscott said he disagreed. "The future is something to be achieved, not predicted," he said. Today's economic upheaval is "secular, not cyclical -- the global economy is challenging us to rebuild our economic institutions on a new model."

Industries such as manufacturing, higher education and mass media are seeing the business models that have long served them well be upended in an environment in which people prefer to be active participants, not passive consumers, he said. By giving people easy access to whatever they want, Tapscott says, the Internet is upending this model and forcing companies in those industries to find new ways of engaging consumers or risk extinction."This is a time of great change, when all these collapsing institutions are creating a burning platform for change," he said.

This change includes previously unthinkable levels of collaboration both within and outside today's organizations, said Tapscott. He cited a mining-company executive whose firm was able to reap billions in revenue by sourcing experts via the Internet to help it locate gold deposits around the world. He pointed to large, established companies like Procter & Gamble, which now sources a big percentage of its innovations from experts outside the organization.

Seeding a culture of innovation requires openness and transparency, he said. "Think about opening up with your employees, tell them the truth," he said. "By doing so, you'll increase trust and encourage collaboration and innovation."

Tapscott concluded his presentation with a video clip taken in England of a flock of starlings participating in "murmuration exaltation": a stunning visual spectacle in which a vast flock of the birds fly together in a tightly organized cloud in the early evening as they search for a safe place to roost for the night. As Johann Pachelbels' "Canon in D Major" (perhaps better known as the theme from the movie Ordinary People) played in the background, Tapscott noted how the tightly organized flock was able to head off an attack by a predatory hawk.

"We can do some spectacular things through collaboration," he said, noting the widespread use of social media during the Arab Spring and other uprisings. "Hopefully, this smaller world our children will inherit will be a better one."

HR Tech's NextGen Speaks Up                                                 

The session - the "First Annual NextGen Influencers Panel: Getting Out from Behind the Baby Boomers" - brought to the table "admittedly, HR-tech experts with enough experience and expertise to hardly qualify as 'next gen,' " said Kutik, but perfect for carrying on the conversation. Panelists included Madeline Laurano, research director of human capital management for Aberdeen Group; Trish McFarlane, head of HR for Perficient; Maksim Ovsyannikov, senior vice president of product for SmartRecruiters; and Jarret Pazahanick, managing partner of EIC Experts.

So what were the takeaways? First and foremost, collaborate. Not tomorrow, but now. "Have collaborative networking going on with those analysts and professionals coming before you and after you," said McFarlane. "For me, in those relationships, they taught, but they also let me be the teacher. It's not like corporate life [of yore], top down. It goes both ways now."

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Another key to HR technology success going forward, panelists agreed, is to consider the users' needs - and only consider suppliers who consider the users' needs. "This should be a red, red light," said Ovsyannikov. "The entire industry will suffer if we don't refocus the buying conversation away from the buy itself and on to the user and the users' needs."

With that comes the question of what to believe, especially when new technology involves the integration of two or more systems. "What is the rational response when someone tells you the integration between two vendors is easy?" Kutik asked.

"Don't believe them," said Pazahanick. "The users are the ones who will have to be doing the heavy lifting."

All agreed more up-front education is needed on the employer end. Even as the long-standing experts have talked about the importance of knowing what problems you want to solve and what data you want to collect going in to any HR technology implementation, this must continue to be an imperative.

And with today's leading analysts -- Naomi Bloom, Jason Averbook, Josh Bersin and others - long predicting Software-as-a-Service and the Cloud as the future home of HR, this up-front education will need to include what going from on-premise to SaaS really entails. For instance, "companies will need to think about how to train their people on these" new applications, said Laurano. "HR really has a greater responsibility in a SaaS world."

All seemed to accept a world ahead in which on-premise technology gives way to SaaS entirely.

Dedicated communication strategies also seemed a communal imperative, "so all people impacted by a system integration or change see the wisdom of it going in," McFarlane said.

Equally important going forward, the panelists agreed, will be the inclusion of self-driven career-development tools in all HR management systems. "Career development," said Kutik, "is such a neglected area of HR technology."

Younger employees, Laurano agreed, "really do expect their employers to provide this type of tool.

These tools are coming, even ones that will help employees actually go out and find a new job."

And just as data shows that having such tools at their fingertips enhances engagement, added McFarlane, it follows logically that "employees who are more engaged actually stay longer."

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