The 17th HR Technology Conference & Expo recently drew to a close. It was my third trip across the pond for this event and, as with the previous two, I left the event buzzing, hopeful and full of ideas. Whilst many topics and specialisms are dissected, debated and discussed there are often general themes that emerge. The great thing about being part of a multi-national, multi-talented blog squad is that we all find slightly different perspectives and themes from what we hear. Hopefully attendees are also able to take away a range of insights to help them in the day job.
First off we need to talk about the ‘D’ word. That’s D as in Disruption. Back home the online chatter was around the overuse of the word, leading to a fear that any technology able to be passed off as useful for HR or recruiting ultimately sells itself as being disruptive. Sure, I heard the word a few more times than I felt necessary, but I certainly didn’t hear it as much as it was being used on the digital conversation platforms. Of course one person’s disruption is another’s evolution/upgrade/new iteration. I quite like my IoS 10 but plenty felt it a disruption to their daily mobile experience. As others have said, real disruption can cause difficulty, uncertainty and often misery or unhappiness in people’s lives. So a mobile platform that lets you have a real time conversation with individuals in your ‘talent pipeline’ about tech issues of the day, with a view to getting them feeling warm and comfortable about your business, should maybe be classified as something other than disruptive.
Talking of warm and fuzzy feelings, there was a lot of love in the air in Chicago. Particularly the love that speaks its name in the form of employee engagement. It was there before the full conference had even started, as LifeWorks received most delegate votes in the ‘Awesome New Tech’ panel. A mobile platform that offers social recognition, instant gratification and a private social group for employees, the content element unlocking wellness (physical and financial), counselling and life coaching, and all offering the ubiquitous real time data and insights on engagement and motivation.
Showing employees you care, and that everyone else cares too, was a theme running through all the days. There was tech to enable pulse surveys, real time engagement platforms and analytics. In one keynote session Diane Gherson from IBM said that in future leaders would be evaluated on engagement, pulse survey and employee sentiment first, and performance goals second. The engagement and retention panel felt that leadership shouldn’t be about individual people but a group of managers with complimentary capabilities and skills.
There were a number of stats shared to back this up. Research from Globoforce, partnering with IBM, found that 52% of recognised employees were less likely to leave, and 73% would be more likely to above and beyond their role. They also rounded up research from Bersin showing 60% of companies saying that employee recognition was extremely valuable in driving individual performance, from SHRM indicating that 90% of companies using values based recognition report increases in engagement, and from Aberdeen group showing 12 times stronger business outcomes at organisations with sophisticated recognition practices.
Ultimate Software also shared research. When asked what was the number one thing they need to be aligned with to be happy working for a business, 55% said the people philosophy. In other words, how they treat their people. This put it way ahead of vision & mission, and core values, both of which are usually standard accepted norms for engagement and retention. In a another session they found 3 in 4 employees saying they would stay longer in a business if they felt their issues and concerns were being listed to and addressed.
So employee love isn’t only about the recognition, it’s about listening and talking, and acting on what you hear, showing respect and treating them well. In other words, it’s about creating an environment where people want to work - which was also the subject of an insightful and enlightening session run by my friend and fellow Brit Neil Morrison, from Penguin Random House. It was about putting the employee at the heart of the experience, personalising areas such as recruitment, performance and benefits. For example, letting people know what they would be assessed for at interview, so they can perform to their best, taking data points such as education out of the application process, and making performance reviews voluntary. As Neil says "If people don’t follow the process, then maybe it’s the process that’s wrong, not the people”.
Treating employees with respect and putting them at the heart of business strategy was a recurring theme. Personalisation also kept cropping up, evident in expressions such ‘Netflix for learning’ to describe how some companies were approaching L&D, and in the range of mobile platforms that seemed to replicate social networks.
Giving people functionality that mirrors what they use, and expect, from their personal technology is important if we want them to make best use of workplace technology. Make it easy and they will use it. If it’s different, and probably clunkier, it will seem like ‘work’ as opposed to something natural. But then, it might also make them think. Our instant reaction on a site such as Facebook is to ‘like’ everything we read, offer encouragement to our friends and share their experiences. So how does this translate to the workplace where relationships are different? Will the unthinking, gratuitous like become the unthinking, gratuitous recognition? Will people really share their 'bad day’ experiences? If we are going to use the data from sentiment analysis, pulse surveys and instant recognition platforms to assess employee wellbeing and motivation, and evaluate leaders, we need confidence that the data is robust properly reflects mind-set, attitude and performance.