Wednesday, October 09, 2013

2013 HR Tech Conference: #giantexpo #echochamber #wrongfocus?

I just finished attending the 2013 HR Technology conference in Las Vegas, something I've wanted to do for many years.

It was at a great venue (Mandalay Bay), well organized, and full of industry experts.  And vendors.  Lots and lots and lots and lots of vendors in an enormous expo hall.  I'm pretty sure the city I was born in could have fit in there.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  For anyone interested in recruiting products or HCM suites, this is the place to go to get educated.  Or sold to.  Ok, a little of both.

What about assessment, you ask?  Well, Hogan had a presence...I saw PAN there...but the floor was dominated by the big HCM vendors like SucessFactors/SAP, Oracle, and Workday (shown at the top, who had a great booth btw).

While sitting in a milieu of thought leaders like Don Tapscott, above on the jumbotron (one of the highlights--check out this video he talked about in the context of ease of collaboration driving social change), industry experts, and product VPs naturally results in some learning through osmosis, I came away feeling, to misquote Flynn Rider, "kinda like the color brown."  It took me a while to figure out why I felt that way, but it came from a place of personal disconnect.

See, much like putting lipstick on a pig doesn't change the fact that it's still a pig, you have to put gas in that fancy new car.  What the hell am I talking about?  Lemme 'splain.  Getting the right people into your organization is critically important.  You have to have the right ingredients to make that fancy cake.  You have to get the right people on the bus.  You have to have coal to make diamonds.  Pick your fav metaphor.

But that highly skilled, friendly, conscientious person you just hired ain't gonna go very far--certainly not as far as they could--without a focus on what happens after they start.  And it's here that I didn't see nearly as much tech innovation as we need.

Creating recruiting and employee tracking tools for HR pros is great.  We need those tools.  Particularly ones that don't make you go cross-eyed trying to figure out the GUI.  But here's the thing:  HR is a support function.  We exist to catalyze other functions.  Our product is a higher performing organization, and we get that through working with our business units.  This doesn't mean HR's not important or strategic, that's just reality.  So tech products should, at the end of the day, really be about program supervisors and managers. They don't have to be USED by them (although that would be ideal), but the goal should be to make their lives easier.

But you would think attending this conference that attracting the right people and getting their information into your HCM was the be-all and end-all of HR management.  Is recruitment and hiring the most important step of HR?  Quite possibly.  But it sure as heck ain't the only issue on my mind as an HR manager.
Let me share with you some of the biggest people challenges I've seen on a daily basis in organizations:
- getting employees to come to work (seriously)
- getting employees to do their jobs
- reducing bureaucracy so it doesn't take five years to hire or fire someone
- getting employees to work as a team and squashing negative gossip
- getting supervisors to pay attention to their people and, ya know, document it every once in a while
- getting HR staff passionate about HR
- getting HR and line supervisors to work TOGETHER to solve people problems
How much focus did I see at the conference on the above? Very, very, very little.  Maybe I was looking in the wrong places.  Maybe I was dazzled by the big sponsors.  Tell me I'm wrong.
Heck, maybe technology can't solve these problems.  Maybe these are examples of things that take face-to-face communication and won't be solved by "analytics" (by the way, if you attend this conference it is law that you use this phrase in at least every other sentence).

But I suspect there's a lot more innovation to be had here.  Ways of connecting HR and supervisors.  Getting HR jazzed about what they do.  Keeping employees engaged, or at least as much as we can.  THAT'S what I want to see.  That's what I hope to see in the coming years.  I fervently hope that we move away from talking about a talent shortage and focus more on making sure our houses are in order.     

Am I being unfair?  Most likely.  Were there products there that focused on things beyond recruitment, CRM, and core HR?  Sure, including a cool one that facilitates volunteerism.  But they felt like an afterthought.  Maybe the market gets what it demands, but I suspect it's just what's sexy.  Recruitment is sexy.  Progressive discipline?  Not so much.  But which one takes up more of our time?  Just like you don't want to hire too many pigs, you better buy some gas for that car or you won't get very far down the road.  That's what I need--more fuel.
So that's it, that's my perspective.  Next time I promise it'll be back to focusing on recruitment and selection.

By the way, a lot of people at this conference really need to have their hashtags and @ signs taken away, I think they're addicted.  At the very least they need to watch the Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake vid.