Inside HR Tech Column's in Store in 2016

The major issues that will dominate HR technology conversations in the coming year include rethinking performance management, streamlining and automating of processes, and making better use of HR data.

Thursday, January 14, 2016
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I have started the planning process for the 19th Annual HR Technology Conference and Exposition® (Oct. 4 through 7, 2016, at McCormick Place in Chicago), and the most common question I get from people and organizations that have interest in the conference is: What will be the main themes of the event this year?

It is a pretty sensible question, I think. Each year, the event covers such a wide range of technologies and topics and, over time, many of the primary challenges facing HR and business leaders have changed and evolved as well. So the main themes of an event focusing on HR and organizational success enabled and supported by modern technologies should naturally evolve along with these business challenges and opportunities.

But let's get back to the question, the one I have literally been asked at least 20 times in the last few weeks. I am going to take an early shot at answering it, and, since the HR Tech conference is meant to reflect and track overall HR and business challenges, these are also the themes and issues that I think will dominate the general human-capital-management agenda in the coming year.

Rethinking Performance Management

In 2015, we saw a number of announcements from leading organizations such as Deloitte, Adobe and PwC suggesting a move away from "traditional" annual performance reviews and management and to more flexible, frequent and coaching-based approaches to employee-performance management. It seems likely that this trend will continue in 2016, with more organizations looking to revamp performance management processes and seeking to adapt existing technology solutions or acquire new ones that support this new direction.

The Evolution of Employee Engagement

Since 1879 (I am joking, but only a little), many organizations have struggled trying to improve persistent and consistent low levels of employee engagement. I expect this struggle to continue in 2016, but I think more organizations will move past focusing on the "end result," i.e., the engagement score, and look to more directly impact the key drivers of the employee experience that ultimately drive engagement. Translated to a process-and-technology perspective, that means an increased focus on tools for onboarding, benefits and wellness management and optimization, and more personalized learning and career-development technology. Improve these aspects of the employee experience and you will likely find engagement -- the aforementioned end result -- improving as well.

Streamlining and Automating HR Processes

No matter how far technology seems to have progressed, just about every organization still has opportunities to improve and make more efficient, including many of their HR and employee-administrative processes. Fortunately, many HR-technology providers are responding to this ongoing need with new, innovative solutions that help HR organizations in their continuing quest to simplify and automate these processes in order to focus on more important and strategic initiatives. Some of the most interesting solutions at last year's conference focused on administrative and compliance support -- including tools for immigration processing, I-9 management and ACA compliance. Expect to see a continued focus and further innovations in this area in 2016.

Recruiting and Retention in a Talent-Centric Economy

In the United States, the slow but steady economic and labor-market recovery from the depths of the financial recession of 2007 and 2008 shows little sign of reversing anytime soon. That means many, if not most, organizations' recruiting and retention will continue to remain top of mind for HR and business leaders in 2016. I expect to see further innovation aimed at helping organizations define and communicate their unique employer brands, and leverage external networks and internal communities to generate referral-candidate pipelines. I also expect better and more complete tools for reaching candidates on mobile devices. On the retention front, technology solutions that help to foster employee well-being, ongoing career development and skills augmentation will grow in importance this year.

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Making Sense and Better Use of HR Data

Finally, this year, we will see an increased focus across a wide variety of HR-technology solutions to take the next evolutionary step with data, analytics and information visualizations. While many HR technology solutions have developed better capabilities in terms of reporting, analytics and dashboards in the last several years, I expect to see even more powerful and usable solutions that leverage HR and people data for decision support.

This should result in more sources of information and insight for HR and business leaders that can be applied in a wider set of business contexts, e.g., when allocating salary increases and bonus pools across an employee group, determining the optimal mix of skills and competencies in a project team, and predicting the organizational impacts in terms of retention and attrition given a set of parameters. In short, I think we will make great strides in using data to help leaders make better decisions and drive better outcomes. 

So these are the five main themes that I see dominating conversations between HR and business leaders in the year ahead. While every organization's challenges and opportunities are unique, there are some common threads across HR and talent management, and recognizing them can help HR leaders make better decisions on strategy, execution and, of course, technology.

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE’s HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at


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