THE one thing you need to do before you come to HRTech this year…

Nope, it’s not make sure you have your ticket! Or that you have your agenda worked out in advance (although that would be helpful!). No, i’m assuming you have those details all sorted and are, like me, already on your way to the HR Technology Conference which kicks off this Tuesday. I will be arriving early to attend the excellent pre event run by Bret Start and his team over at the Star Conspiracy – InfluenceHR – which kicks off on Monday.

So no, I’m not talking about logistics here; THE one thing you need to do before you come to HRTech?

Know what problem you are trying to solve.

Most of you are either in the market for new technology or you are looking for inspiration, advice and case studies surrounding technology in our space, whether thats looking at “whats new” or finding the friendly faces of others who have been through what you are looking to do.

Here in lies the challenge though. As energising (and tiring!) as it may be to immerse yourself in all thats new in HRTech, and soak up what others have done before, the answers to your problem are unlikely to be in the words of others in the conference or or in the marketing spell or demo’s of the vendors on the exhibition floor.

You see, your challenge, your “problem to be solved” is unique. Unique to you, your function, your company. Sure there are huge similarities between your ultimate challenge and that faced by xyz corporation who just happens to look a lot like ABC corp, for whom you now work. But the challenges, and ultimately the solutions, will be unique to your business. We already know this with finding talent – the attributes that denote success in a role, and define potential of human beings to succeed are unique to that role in that company. A great sales person in one software company does not make a great sales person in another.

Similarly, the answer to your distinct problem doesn’t lie in the comforting words of others and it certainly doesn’t lie in technology. It lies with you.

I have spent the last 20+ years working in technology and the biggest thing I have learnt is that technology is not the starting point. Defining your problem is. Sounds easy? Not so. Technology is so pervasive these days and the marketing around it so powerful, that our default position is that we often consider a “solution” to a problem as being a technology product.

Lets be clear; technology is not a solution. It is enabler. And whilst technology proports to offer transformative properties, it only does so if it is solving the right problem.

As an HR professional turned product person, I see so many people trying to tackle the issues in their business with a default to invest in technology before they have decided what the problem to be solved really is. They hear the terms like “AI and machine learning” and more recently “blockchain” and the next thing you know we are packing our bags and heading to conference heaven, budget number in hand and a determination to find a technology “holy grail”.

To really make the most of great conferences like HRTech, you really need to invest time, a lot of time, in pulling apart your situation and really deep diving to determine what problem it is you are trying to solve. What “job is to be done”.

Remember: As HR professionals you are also product managers.

Whilst you may not be pulling code together to build your own HRIS, or performance management system (although some of you are!) you will be pulling elements together – different bits of technology, ways of working, processes, people – into a solution that will hopefully transform whatever it is you are working on. Thinking like a product manager, and doing so with an agile mindset, will stand you in good stead for when you ultimately go looking for tools and other things to help you deliver on that promise you have made to the powers that be.

If you are from a large enterprise business and you have not spent several months (Yes thats months!) working with a core, multi disciplinary team, defining your problem to be solved though research, collaborative problem solving, storyboarding and lot’s and lot’s and lot’s of post it notes then you are not ready to source technology. Doing so, in my opinion, be premature.

Instead, if you have still work to do, then use the time to look beyond the hype and the buzzwords. Don’t ask the vendors what their product does, or even how it does it. It’s not at all relevant. Ask them instead what problems they have solved. The same goes for your peers. Their choices and outcomes may be interesting, and may create great keynote material, but they are of little relevance to you.

I don’t often recommend books but this one – Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen – is a great read and will position your mindset and give you lots of great insight into how to think problem first.

I shall be at the conference all week so feel free to ping me through one of the social channels or grab me when im walking the floor. See you there!