Inside HR Tech Column

Rethinking Talent and Technology

A visit to the Ultimate Software Connections customer conference highlights three areas in which HR leaders are -- or should be -- changing their approaches to talent challenges and rethinking ways technology can help.

Monday, March 14, 2016
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I recently spent a few days at the Ultimate Software Connections customer conference in Las Vegas, an event that continues to grow in size along with the company itself. And while the Ultimate executives shared several interesting insights around specific product-development initiatives, their perspectives and points of view on the most important challenges facing their customers -- by extension, HR leaders -- were far more interesting. Since I like to have my own opinions validated -- who doesn't? -- I was pretty pleased to hear that many of the themes and ideas being presented sounded a lot like some of the ideas I was writing and speaking about earlier this year.

Based on what I heard and saw, there seem to be three main themes that are emerging as top-of-mind for HR leaders this year: a change in the conversations around employee engagement, moving toward a concept of "employee experience"; the evolution and transformation of performance management; and a kind of "moment of truth" about the use and efficacy of predictive and prescriptive analytics in HR and talent management.

I'd like to break down and expand on each of these themes, and suggest some ways HR technology can be leveraged in each area.

From Employee Engagement to "Employee Experience"

One of the enduring truisms about work and workplaces is that, no matter what organizations have tried to do to improve employee engagement, it has generally remained at consistently low levels since the concept was first discussed. Despite significant time and effort spent in the last decade-plus to raise these levels, most of the traditional efforts and interventions have not been effective. For this reason, many organizations are attempting to change and reframe the discussion from focusing on a measurement that is really an outcome and to thinking about how they can improve the overall experience that employees have in their interactions with the organization.

From an HR-technology perspective, HR leaders can impact the employee experience by challenging their technology providers to create solutions that deliver positive experiences from a usability and capability perspective. HR-technology solutions should be designed around the people and should serve to make their jobs easier, help them to be more productive and, crucially, help them to discover and unlock their potential. Not until the person is the focus of the technologies can positive experiences with the technologies abound, leaders at Ultimate stressed.

The Evolution and Transformation of Performance Management

Performance management has been in the news a lot in the last year or so, with most of the conversations centering around announcements by several major employers (Deloitte, Adobe and General Electric, among others) indicating they would be moving away from "traditional" performance-management processes that produce the employee annual performance review and rating, and moving toward more modern, regular and less-formal performance-management processes. Naturally, with so many high-profile companies making public their intentions to -- if not scrap -- at least revamp the process, many HR and business leaders are taking note and having their own conversations about their approaches to performance management. I expect the conversations will be going on for the rest of the year.

When thinking about the HR technology that supports their performance processes today, the first thing HR leaders will want to do is assess the current solution's capability to be adapted to a different, more-frequent and coaching-heavy process, assuming their organization is moving in that direction. What about you? Can your current tool support a "rating-less" process? Is it set up to capture feedback more frequently, perhaps even multiple times per day? Does it have the ability to allow multiple participants in the performance process, such as peers, customers and even contingent workers? These are just some of the questions you need to consider. Bottom line, it probably is a good idea to engage your current PM provider in conversations about the future of the process in your organization.

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The "Moment of Truth" for Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics

For the last few years, most of the major HR-technology-solution providers have developed new and increasingly powerful analytical capabilities designed to help HR and business leaders make better-informed decisions. While the technologies have been advancing at a fairly rapid rate, the customer and organizational adoption of these capabilities continues to lag. One of the main themes discussed at the Ultimate event -- and in other conversations I've had with these providers -- is that they need to provide more tools, and perhaps even expanded service and consulting offerings, to assist HR organizations in the understanding and adoption of these analytic capabilities. In many ways, this is a similar theme to the employee-experience concept: Lots of people have spent lots of time talking about a more data-driven approach to HR and talent management, and in 2016, it is time to begin to see more success and ROI from these technologies.

For HR leaders who are currently working with their technology-solution providers, one of the keys to ensuring success with analytics projects is to make them less about assigning numbers to things and more about recommending actions that leaders and HR can or should take, based on the analytics. For example, a predictive analytic that describes a given employee's retention risk is an interesting data point, but the employee's manager might need to actually take some actions or interventions to attempt to reduce this risk. The number, by itself, does not do enough to make the analytic an effective predictor. Ultimate says it is developing some new capabilities designed to help translate the raw data into meaningful leadership actions that can help the manager navigate this challenge. This is where HR technology needs to move in order to begin to see more widespread adoption of data and analytics by frontline managers.

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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