The 2017 edition of the HR Technology Conference – the 20th annual by the way – is now about two weeks away. This annual gathering, celebration, and showcase of all things HR technology related has quickly become one of my favorite HR events of the year, one I continually look forward to. I am admittedly a conference junkie and enjoy the opportunity to immerse myself and learn a few new things regardless of the topic, but the reason HR Tech has become one of my favorite, a definite on my priority list of must attend events each year, is that it really allows me to step outside my day to day and think differently; to think bigger.
Being an HR blogger, I do have the opportunity to wear a little bit of a different hat; to observe and comment on what’s happening in the HR world from a bird’s eye perspective. However, at heart, and in my day to day, I’m a regular HR practitioner dealing with the mundane and every day challenges that so many practitioners face. So when I approach a conference I’m looking for the overarching themes, but I’m also seeking insight into things that impact the day to day of the average practitioner. But not necessarily in the “today’s legal update” sort of way, more so in the context of “here’s what’s happening out there and how it may change the way you do your job.” And HR Tech allows me to do just that, in a way that’s even bigger than my own day to day. I get to hear about and think about things that may not have impacted me yet, but I know very likely will. It’s the perfect combination of big idea thinking meets the trenches.
Many things have changed in the 20 years since the inception of the HR Technology Conference, and have even changed a lot in the five years or so that I’ve been hanging around the event. At the same time, some of the themes haven’t changed that much in the past couple of years. In fact, as I looked back at my preview post from the 2015 event two years ago, the topics I touched on then continue to permeate the agenda this year. What I find interesting and what I honed in on is that although the overall themes or topics remain the same, the specific focus on them has shifted and evolved. So specifically, here’s what’s interesting to me this year.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in the Context of Bias
The application of machine learning and artificial intelligence to HR technology and HR processes has certainly been a big focus of the HR Tech agenda for the past few years. But what I’m finding interesting and seeing a little more often recently is a focus specifically on the idea of bias. And I’m seeing it in two different contexts – how AI can create/perpetuate bias and how it can help to mitigate it. It may seem counterintuitive that both scenarios could exist, but it’s something to think about. Bias is an innately human tendency and one that we should certainly want to mitigate in a quest for more diverse and inclusive workplaces, and machine learning/AI can certainly help in that quest by removing some of the bias that creeps into our assumptions and decision making. But it’s also worth considering that if the data and assumptions that are the basis for our AI are flawed, bias could continue to creep in. I’ll be interested to see how this discussion of benefits and limits of AI continues to evolve and how it will impact our HR processes going forward.
Technology to Drive Employee Engagement/Experience…But With a Targeted Focus
Engagement has been a hot button and buzz word in the HR space for quite some time now, and judging by the amount of times it appears throughout the agenda – it has its own presentation track after all – it’s still top of mind for many and not going away any time soon. Engaged workplaces are better, more productive workplaces, right? The problem is, engagement is tough to define and pinpoint, in my opinion. What engagement looks like can vary greatly from organization to organization and even within the same organization. I look at my own company (a large regional retailer) and “engaged behavior” at the corporate level looks different than it does at store level, and even looks different from a cashier to a manager. But I do think there are elements that are common threads in creating engaged workforces…things like company culture and open, effective communication. And I’m seeing these targeted elements as part of the engagement conversation more and more.
What’s also interesting is a shift in focus from “employee engagement” to “employee experience.” I’ve seen a similar shift in my own organization as we have moved from a focus on purely “customer service” to “customer experience;” recognizing that what constitutes the overall shopping experience a customer has is bigger than simply just the “service” they receive. It stands to reason the same is true for employees; there are many elements that contribute to an “engaged” employee and the employment experience they have. Technology certainly plays into it as there is increasingly more expectation that the work experience should mirror our lives and the tools we use outside of work.
We know there’s a ton of data out there and a multitude of insights we can gain from it. But despite talking about this for the past several years, perusing the agenda it’s apparent many of us still haven’t figured out exactly how to harness all of that data to form insights and to drive action. Furthermore, there now seems to be a focus on the limits of data and what it can’t do – the more “human” side of HR if you will, similar to my comments above about AI and bias. So now we’re seeing more of a balanced approach of how do we use data, machine learning, and AI to do the things that CAN be done by it and enhance our abilities to do the human things that it can’t. Going forward, I believe it will be the HR practitioner’s role and responsibility to find the intersection of technology and the human touch.
Women in HR Technology
The first annual Women in HR Technology pre-conference summit occurred at last year’s event, and it was such a success that it’s back, bigger and better than ever this year. I discussed this event specifically in an earlier post, but as a practitioner the idea of how we facilitate the promotion of more women into positions of leadership is of particular interest to me. And I firmly believe that the ideas discussed they relate to women in HR technology and technology leadership roles crosses over into numerous industries.
These are my interests, but regardless of what yours may be, it’s bound to be an information and idea packed four days.