The Real World – #HRTechConf Edition

earthI felt like a double agent at last week’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition. My first assignment was to attend (fortunately!) as a member of the HR Tech Insider crew. I was there to tweet, blog, Instagram (Is that even a verb? It should be), talk, listen, evangelize, and stay up way too late each evening. I accomplished most every one of those items. Especially that last one.

Like any good counterintelligence provocateur though I had a secondary mission; for the first time in 3 years I was there as a practitioner. A potential buyer of HR technology. An actual user of the technology being peddled and demo’d. A reader of the white papers, attendee of webinars, and recipient of telephone calls from marketing departments after dropping my business card in fishbowls in numerous ill-fated attempts to win an Apple watch. (“Make sure to call her personally Bob! She’s got a fancy title!”) Oh…for the record? I won nothing.

Anyway, here’s how I landed in this HR version of a Tom Clancy novel. I was an HR practitioner/recruiter/leader for 20+ years in roles ranging from peon to HRBP to Recruiting Manager to Director to VP. I worked in industries ranging from social services to health care to petro chemical 3rd party logistics to gaming to banking. I toiled within organizations that had 100 employees and made my mark, hopefully, in companies with tens of thousand of global employees. After this illustrious cluster career I left corporate HR in early 2013, hung out my shingle, and became an HR Entrepreneur/Consultant.

Then, exactly 6 days before the #HRTechConf kicked off, I went back in-house. I started a new gig as a VP HR and, once again, headed back to the gaming industry.

Serendipitous.

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Naturally, having been back in the gaming industry for an entire week I was totally feeling it so one of the sessions I attended was “MGM Resorts International Doubles Down on Tech for Talent Insights” with Michelle DiTondo, SVP, Human Resources, MGM Resorts International and Dave Duffield, C-Founder/Chairman of the Board, Workday.

My new HR idol Michelle (seriously. she was amazing) led an engaging session. She told the story of how her team took an organization with 65,000 employees, spread across multiple geographies and multiple brands, and unified their talent, culture and people strategies. Her business case started and, let’s get real, ended with eliminating administrative clutter and nightmares and saving boatloads of money in the process. On the people side she built the case, in imaginative ways, that illustrated how managers would ultimately waste less time on adminstrivia crap and be able to get out on the floor with employees, guests, and patrons. The presentation ended with a chorus line of incredibly handsome MGM team members who streamed into the room and handed out swag. Pure Vegas.

MGM saved millions of dollars. MGM spent millions of dollars. But here’s a rant on these session after all these years at this conference; no one ever talks actual money. For once I would like to hear someone just straight out tell me “here is what we budgeted and here is what we spent.” I doubt that will ever happen though. One of the mysteries of the process. Saved for the negotiation phase when I’ve gotten down to the top 3 vendors for my ATS/HRIS/Payroll/Benefits solution. What’s a few zeroes amongst friends after all?

Well…a lot.

Look…I love heading to HR Tech and think every HR Joe and HR Jane out there needs to attend. I went the last few years not looking to purchase anything but I keep going because I love hearing the ideas. I want to hear what the developers are planning. I like the insight. I want to spot trends. I enjoy sitting, on plush comfy bar stools, with super smart innovators over a few margaritas at the Border Grill (you know … that place on the walkway between the Convention Center and the casino?). Yeah. That place.

Still… I often come back home realizing once again the tension that exists between the NYC/Silicon Valley/London/<insert any large global hub here> crowd and those of us here in the real world.

In the real world we have HR professionals who face day-to-day in-the-trenches realities. There are workplaces where a number of employees aren’t digitally connected. There are employees – and applicants – without smart phones and, believe it or not, SMS capability. There are companies that block not just some web sites (“if we open You Tube they’ll all be watching videos of cats playing pianos!”) but all internet access except their own intranet (last updated in 2001) and their health care provider’s site. There are managers and CEOs who could care less if their employees are connected, engaged or optimized for performance. Who make employees leave their cell phones in their cars every day. Or put them in storage upon entering cubicle land every day.

I’ve often thought it’s a matter of SMB vs. enterprise. It struck my brain again last week when, upon approaching several vendors, I was informed “well, we primarily focus on employers with a minimum of 5,000 employees. So………….” I get it; you make more money on a “per employee cost/license/fee” when your client has 12,000 employees as opposed to 500.

That’s OK. Because here in the real world, human resources leaders are pretty savvy at scaling up or scaling down based on conceptual understanding. Give us ideas and we can patch stuff together like nobody’s business. We all do it. While I’ve implemented full SaaS HCM solutions I’ve also run employee communication programs using post-it notes and bulletin boards that accomplished as much (maybe more) as any fancy dashboard or mobile program out there in 2015.

And that’s why, even if the majority of tech companies in attendance don’t want my business I’ll continue to attend the #HRTechConf. I’ll continue to soak up the ideas, learn the lessons, and suck up some wisdom at the margarita bar.

That’s the real world.

I consider technology the enabler of ideas; not the creator.

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