That’s HR Tech World done for another year. It’s been busy, buzzy, loud (I’m looking at you Gary Hamel) fun and insightful. In a change of pace for me I decided not to do back to back conference sessions. Instead I cherry picked the talks I attended and spent more time in the expo and in meetings. I’ve met some incredibly passionate and dedicated HR profesionals all trying to make sense of their existing technology, new technology and their organisational context. The audience was made up of folk in pretty senior HR roles across medium-large organisations from right the way across Europe. There’s a lot to reflect on but here are some of the highlights.
Organisational structure is up for grabs
This year the millenial klaxon was replaced (for me at least) by the start-up klaxon. I’m not talking about actual start-ups (more on them below) but the number of times large enterprises seem to be encouraged to act ‘more like a start-up organisation’. I’m over simplifying of course but I heard this a lot and I’m not sure how helpful that advice is for a company with say 17,000 employees across 23 territories. I don’t disagree that the traditional hierarchy and org chart need to change, but trying to change a large organisation is going to be like turning the QE2. It’s not an easy or straightforward task. What’s more, I’m not convinced some of these unicorn start-ups a) have got it perfect anyway and b) won’t end up evolving to become more like the large enterprises they were originally disrupting. There was some useful advice from Gary Hamel about starting to eliminate bureaucracy including a nice case study about the NHS cutting through its usual layers of hierarchy as to get staff input on improving patient care as part of a massive change project. A crowd sourced change model which shows how even in the most complex organisations, innovation in how things are done and how things are structured is possible.
It’s a complicated area but remains a hot topic and I’m increasingly interested in how organisations start to shift their structures and strategies. Hamel referenced some resources that might be of interest at the end of his keynote. And Dr. Daniel Thorniley (who was brilliantly honest, dour and funny all at the same time – all with no slides whatsoever) promised some resources that I haven’t yet got my mitts on, but will share as soon as I do. This isn’t a subject that’s going away any time soon.
I love the disruptHR zone that HR Tech World hosts. Every year a raft of new and enthusiastic new solution providers show off their wares in an area of small, simple booths dedicated to the power of positive disruption. There’s everything from recruitment apps to wellness solutions, engagement software and new concepts around payroll. This year’s winners Tandem HR Solutions received great validation from the judges – oh and a cheque for 15,000 Euros – so should be one to watch. Read more on them here and on the other new providers via Faye Holland’s excellent blog posts.
Women in tech
It was great to attend the women in tech panel on the second day. Chaired by Kim Wylie of Google, the speakers included the legendary analyst Naomi Bloom, Workday’s Leighanne Levensaler and Dell’s Pascale Van Damme. I’m planning a separate post just on this session as it’s a subject pretty close to my heart. But it was engaging and lively and actually in a room that was way too small for the level of interest it generated. It was also good to see some men in the room too! More on this one soon.
Photo credit: HR Tech World app via Dorothy Dalton
The reality of HR in Europe
Full disclosure. This research was conducted by the company I work for, Fosway Group, and the organisers, HRN. But this research paints such a useful picture of HR in Europe. So much data that is available is US-centric but this takes into account the particular challenges of HR in organisations that are inherently multi-cultural, multi-lingual and widely dispersed. Obviously I’m bound to think this is interesting but the results from over 500 HR professionals are hard to ignore. The full slides from the presentation are online and make interesting reading.
The power of people
One of the over-arching messages from the keynotes in particular was that if people are allowed to flourish at work, organisations will perform better as a result – and HR can unlock this potential. It’s one of the reasons employee engagement remains such a hot topic. Times are tough for many organisations at the moment but making short-term cuts that damage your long-term relationships with your people can undermine your future success. Dr. Thorniley focused on the need to foster a long-term view that nurtures trusting relationships with your people. Because they provide the talent that will ultimately see you through the bad times. ‘Not enough organisations have HR in a strategic position’ posited Thorniley. Maybe if they did, an organisation’s people would be treated with this longer term view. It backs up the Fosway research that places the desire for HR becoming a strategic business partner at the top of its priorities.
It is also reflective of the many conversations I had with HR professionals who are automating ‘transactional’ processes and focusing much more on ‘transforming’ their function to become more strategic.
It’s potentially an exciting time to be involved in HR and to have a role in the impact of what HR can help organisations achieve. Having the right technology should play a key part in that and my next post will focus more on the different solutions I saw at the event. In the meantime, thanks to Marc, Peter and the indefatiguable HRN team. It was great to see them come together at the end of the event, demonstrating an organisational culture that many should be inspired by and could perhaps learn from.