Machines, Insights, and Team Leaders – #HRTechConf 2015

Another HR Technology Conference has come and gone….another year, another great show filled with ideas, predictions, and of course all manners of technological innovations, from the smallest start-ups, to the latest and greatest from the big, established players in the space.

I’ve commented in the past that what I enjoy most about this show is that it’s not just about seeing what’s new from a product perspective – all though of course that continues to be a critical part of it.  But it’s a conference that continues to evolve and offer not just new technologies, but also plenty of examples of exactly how organizations are using technology to solve real-world problems, as well as exposure to what may be coming and how that may impact how we do business.  And as an HR practitioner, that’s really, really important stuff to know.

A number of themes surfaced time and time again throughout this year’s conference, themes that we as HR practitioners need to be aware of because they are going to change the way many of us manage not only the processes in our organizations, but in some cases perhaps the role of HR in general.  So what were they?
Machine Learning

Call it artificial intelligence, call it machine learning….and although to an outsider it may sound a little Sci-Fi, the fact is mentions of it were everywhere throughout the conference.  Interestingly, when I look back at my wrap up of last year’s show, I talked about how we’re getting closer to a point when we’ll be able to feed data into machines, and get a compelling story or narrative back.  Well guess what?  A year later we’re there.  Whether it was machine learning providing predictive analytics (i.e. helping to predict the probability of a high performer leaving an organization), Marcus Buckingham’s example of algorithms being used to neutralize rater patterns and provide truer, less biased performance assessments, or technology assessing massive amounts of data from various, disparate sources and providing personalized recommendations for alterations to business processes, much of what we heard throughout used machine learning at its core.

 

Consolidation of Data & Actionable Insights

We’ve been talking about big data for some time now.  We all know it’s important.  The problem is, many HR practitioners have no idea what to do with it.  Many of us work for organizations that just don’t have data scientists on staff, and we certainly aren’t ones ourselves.  But what was discussed more than data itself this year was turning that data into actionable insights.  Solutions are now available that can consolidate the mass amounts of disparate, unconnected data that already lives in our organizations (payroll, performance, engagement, learning management), and make it talk to each other, synchronizing it and presenting it in stories that make sense and that can be acted upon.  Data and insights are becoming much more accessible for the typical HR leader, allowing us to take it and apply it to solving actual business problems and challenges.

 

It’s All About the Team Leader

Marcus Buckingham talked about the idea of team leaders being the true driver of organizational success, and thus the need for a shift towards tools and technology built to serve them, not serve the organization.  So all of this talk about machine learning and consolidation of data into actionable insights?  We should be deploying it at the team leader level to enable them to function more successfully in their jobs.  And not just that, but also aggregating data back up to assess what makes the best team leaders successful.  Convenience store chain Wawa shared some insightful case study examples about how they’ve used analytics to predict store manager performance based on business KPIs, and then used those insights to determine who should be sent to which locations to address specific business issues or problems, as well as using them to partner with learning & development to build success profiles.

 

What does this all mean for the average HR practitioner?

I believe these trends are an indication that we as HR leaders are going to need to shift the way we approach our jobs.  If machine learning and artificial intelligence can provide insights, then no longer is there an excuse not to leverage our data into analytics to help drive business outcomes.  And if those insights can be fed directly to team leaders, our job becomes stepping out of the way an enabling our team leaders to do their jobs.  It’s no longer about what “HR says we need to do,” it becomes more about how HR is partnering with the business and providing the tools and resources to allow our leaders to excel.  It’s about assessing the data and insights available about those team leaders to determine who is most successful, and build success profiles around those high achievers that can be used to replicate behaviors throughout our organizations.  As Eric Winegardner, SVP, Client Adoption & Sales Enablement at Monster Worldwide said in his “Ideas and Innovators” presentation, “We need to get back to the overlap of people, processes, and technology to improve the landscape of our organizations.” The three trends discussed are precisely points where this overlap happens.  It’s HR’s job to facilitate that.

A shift for many practitioners, no doubt.

 

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