Employee engagement, data and analytics, and recruiting and talent management will be major themes at the upcoming HR Tech Conference, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall.
By Steve Boese
As I write this article, I'm in the process of putting the finishing touches on the program for the 20th Annual HR Technology Conference > & Exposition®, which will be held from Oct. 10 through Oct. 13, 2017 at the Venetian Las Vegas. Creating the program for the HR Tech Conference is always a challenging but rewarding process, as working through literally hundreds of speaking proposals, participating in dozens of phone calls, and attending numerous events and conferences provides me with a valuable, interesting and, I think, unique perspective on the most pressing HR, HR technology and workforce challenges facing organizations today.
Looking back on my five years working on the conference, and a little bit further back to the conference's founding 20 years ago, I can't help but notice the incredible change and innovation that's taken place. The power and promise of HR technology have never been greater.
I've written before that we have entered the "Golden Age" of HR technology, with the capability, availability and affordability of HR technology solutions advancing in unison. Innovative start-ups, large enterprise providers continuing to improve their technologies, and the pressures of increased competition have all combined to create new and better tools for HR and organizational leaders. Nowhere is this "Golden Age" more completely on display than at the HR Tech Conference.
Specifically, I'd like to focus here on three important HR technology areas and how they will be addressed at this year's event.
Consistently, or perhaps persistently, aggregate employee-engagement levels or scores have hovered at around "30 percent engaged" for years. The stubbornness of the engagement problem is surprising, given the time spent and investments made (largely in the form of annual employee surveys and subsequent analysis of survey results) to better understand and successfully address the employee-engagement problem. Despite these investments, it seems as if HR often falls short of the mark. Something has to give.
Fortunately, in the past several years, two things have happened in concert that offer renewed promise that the employee-engagement conundrum can actually be cracked. The first is that progressive HR leaders have begun to think about the engagement challenge more broadly, moving past singular scores or levels on an engagement survey and framing the conversation around the overall employee experience.
The employee experience encompasses all the interactions between the employee and the organization. By assessing and evaluating the touchpoints of the employee experience (including those occurring in recruiting, onboarding, training, benefits and compensation), HR leaders can identify targeted opportunities for improvement, and make sure that HR interventions and investments can actually positively impact the employee experience -- eventually driving greater engagement.
Naturally, when HR and organizational leaders identify a new area of focus, such as the employee experience, new and innovative technologies are developed to help. Many of these, of course, will be showcased at this year's HR Tech Conference.
The employee experience will be explored at the conference in several ways. First, there will be a panel, moderated by employee-engagement expert Jason Lauritsen, featuring executives from some of the leading solution providers in diverse areas such as wellness/well-being, performance and talent management, total compensation and rewards, and employee feedback and recognition. They will address the fundamental question, "Can HR technology drive improved employee engagement?" This conversation will be an important one, as it will set the stage for additional content and discussions about how specific technologies and strategies are impacting engagement in today's organization.
Attendees will also hear from an HR executive at Cisco Systems, who will discuss the company's approaches to fostering its culture and driving increased engagement. In addition, they will hear from an HR leader at Echo Global Logistics, who will share technology's role in shaping an ideal employee experience, as the company experienced a period of rapid growth through acquisitions.
At another panel of HR executives from Nestle, American Express and GoDaddy, attendees will explore the part HR departments and service delivery models can play in the overall employee experience.
Finally, the increasing role of wellness in employee engagement will be discussed by a representative from St. Joseph's Health, which leveraged technology to help create an environment of well-being and a culture of health.
Data and Analytics
If I had to choose one HR technology area that's grown the fastest over the past five years, it would be data and analytics. Just a few years ago, when the topic of analytics was discussed at the conference, the conversations were really mostly about reporting, i.e., how technology was helping HR leaders extract data from HR and talent systems, and presenting that data in more user-friendly and visually appealing ways.
Basic kinds of reporting capabilities have quickly evolved into more complex (and ultimately valuable) analytics capabilities. Over time, as HR organizations have begun to improve their own staff's data and analytics skills (often by hiring people with math, statistics and data-science backgrounds into HR roles), they have increasingly sought out better analytical tools from their existing HR technology providers.
In 2017, the data and analytics conversations I am having are much more sophisticated. Concepts and topics such as predictive analytics, artificial-intelligence-powered recommendation engines to help make better hiring decisions, and big-data models that many of the leading HR- technology providers are making available to their customers are just some of the exciting and potentially powerful ideas that will be featured at the conference. In addition, some of the most innovative new technologies are in the running for the conference's popular "Awesome New Technologies for HR" session.
Here are just a few examples of some of the data and analytics content at this year's event. First, a shared-service leader from FirstService Residential will share its analytics journey. The company moved from basic data insights and reporting all the way to advanced predictive tools that empower and inform people management and talent decision-making.
Also on hand will be leading HR analytics expert Al Adamsen, who will moderate a panel of organizational-analytics experts from some of the world's leading companies as they connect technology and analytics back to employee-experience design.
Several sessions will also cover talent-analytic approaches for companies that are just getting started on the journey, and how to use data and analytics to better connect HR initiatives to business outcomes.
And finally, at the conference's first-ever "The Real Economists of HR" panel, on-staff economists from HR providers such as iCIMS, Indeed and Glassdoor will offer their personal insights on how HR leaders can and should utilize external data to improve internal decision making.
Recruiting and Talent Management
The third topic I'd like to address here is recruiting and talent management, or perhaps more directly, the impact of technology on recruiting and retention. (This has always been an important topic, but has become even more important in recent years.)
My past five years working on the HR Tech Conference roughly coincides with the end of the Great Recession, the reduction in unemployment rates and the general tightening of the labor market in the U.S.
As the economy has improved -- and the need to hire the right talent continues to grow -- recruiting-technology providers have developed a wide range of tools aimed at addressing the challenges of recruiting and retaining talent.
As attendees visit this year's exposition hall, they no doubt will be struck by the sheer number of recruiting-related technology solutions, particularly new and innovative startups that will pack the hall's popular Startup Pavilion. Why so many recruiting technologies, especially startups? Probably because recruiting remains a huge challenge for most organizations. Recognizing this, entrepreneurs are stepping up with tools aimed at helping. In fact, all this innovation has led to the emergence of new technology categories in the past few years. Concepts such as social recruiting, recruitment marketing and "work marketplaces" have emerged and evolved, along with new tools that power these processes.
Of course, all of these new ideas and technologies will be thoroughly explored at the HR Tech Conference. Leading recruiting-industry experts will be on hand to share their thoughts and experiences on how the best companies in the world are competing for and succeeding in hiring the best, most desirable talent.
Specific sessions include panels that examine the current state of recruiting-technology investments and implementation. More precisely, they will explore what works, and what may not work, when building a talent-acquisition-technology platform.
A talent-acquisition executive from St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital will detail how the organization is addressing the challenging hiring environment that characterizes healthcare, while a talent-acquisition executive from CBS will discuss how it's using its applicant-tracking system to engage all stakeholders in the hiring process, resulting in noticeable process improvement and better outcomes.
Of course, the latest recruiting-technology innovations will also be on display at the "Awesome New Technologies" session as well as at the 2nd annual "Discovering the Next Great HR Technology Company" contest.
Certainly, many of the HR and organizational challenges mentioned above are going to continue to be top of mind for HR leaders and employers for years to come, though perhaps not to the degree it was before, thanks to the innovation that continues to take place in the field.
In the past 20 years, the HR Tech Conference has come to be known as "The Town Hall Meeting for Everyone Interested in HR Tech" -- that includes HR and HR IT leaders, leading analysts and consultants, industry thought leaders and experts, and finally the leaders from leading solution providers, who all come together in one place at only one time each year to learn, share and network.
At the end of the day, organizational success through people (and supported by technology) is the goal all of us are seeking. Think of the HR Tech Conference in October as the event that can help you launch, improve or enhance your own efforts as you attempt to meet this goal.