I used to loathe conferences. As a lawyer I was obligated to attend to keep my license valid. They were sooooo boring. When I was a consultant, the conferences were hard work; I had to entice potential customers to buy our services. I did not like that at all.
But now that I am an HR professional, I get excited to go to conferences. Good forward thinking conferences cover topics I care deeply about and make me feel that I belong in HR and am part of the movement that pushes for change.
Last week’s HR Tech Europe conference in Amsterdam was definitely one I would call forward thinking. With its great speakers and topics, it inspired me, I learned new things and most importantly I got back in touch with my purpose for doing what I am doing. Here are some highlights (and some not so high points) I’d like to share.
Day 1 –
Keynote speaker Yves Morieux – Boston Consulting
Yves really woke us up. After showing stats about the productivity and engagement crisis in our companies he asked us bluntly "what the hell have you been doing in your HR departments." Ouch. By the way, imagine what that sounds like when said with a strong French accent. That hurts even more.
His thing was all about collaboration and how collaboration comes at the expense of individual performance. He made his point by showing us a very cool Olympic relay race where the French surprisingly beat the Americans. How French.
Anyway, Yves was an engaging speaker, a joy to listen to and he made a very compelling case for collaboration.
My favorite quote: “Blame not for failing, but blame for failing to help or ask for help”
What I learned: Be even more focused on collaboration in designing HR strategy and processes.
Thomas Davies – Google
Admittedly, I am in awe of Google. And apparently, I am not the only one who wants to learn from this amazing company. The room was packed, with people needing to stand in the back due to lack of chairs. Here is a tip to event organizers; Put Google speakers in your biggest rooms; they’re very popular.
Thomas did not let me down. He had lots of energy and was great to look at. But, most importantly he had a real nice authentic way about him. He talked about their new product “Google for Work” which is all so cool. But, what intrigued me even more was his thing about “relevance.” He encouraged everyone to think about how you can be relevant in your role. Think about your purpose and innovation will flow.
My favorite quote: “Organic ideation is fueled by relevance”
What I learned: Think more often about how I can be more relevant
Robert Hohman - Glassdoor
Glassdoor is the for finding jobs. Robert's goal is to help people find jobs and companies they love. Glassdoor lets employees vent about their jobs and rate their companies. It is one of the most disruptive companies in the HR space. And I think Robert is on to something. His commitment to bring greater transparency and accountability to the workplace is the most compelling aspect of his company and the key to its success. But, I still wonder about his business model (companies pay for analytics and advice). Sounds a bit like a conflict of interest, no? But, then again, I may just not get it.
My favorite quote: “Barton's 3 laws of the web: #1 If it can be shared, it will be shared, #2 if it can be rated, it will be rated and #3 if it can be free, it will be free”
What I learned: we should not fear, but embrace transparency and recruitment as we know it, will be gone.
Day 2 -
Keynote Speaker R "Ray" Wang
Wow. What an energy. I loved it. He is one of those people you wish you could be around more. He elevates your thinking and inspires you to be better. His topic was "The Future of Work In A Digital Era- The Impact of Massive Transparency". It wasn't all new, but he was connecting the dots. I liked how his brain worked although Ray was going a million miles an hour. So, I'll just share some of the stuff he was talking about:
- The 5 generations in the workforce, not by age but by proficiency; digital natives, digital immigrants, digital voyeurs, digital holdouts, and digital disengaged
- Companies no longer need to sell products, but need to keep brand promises
- Sell experiences and outcomes, not products
- Employees also want to design and manage their own experiences
- Mobile is not a device, but a way of working
- Brand authenticity is in everything you do
- We need not just CDO, but all CXOs must be digitally savvy
- What is your company's DNA: market leaders (5%), fast followers (15%), cautious adopters (50%), or laggards (30%)
- In Digital HR and IT collaboration is key to success. HR needs simple, scalable and sexy, but IT requirements are safe, secure and sustainable
Pffff, and there was so much more.
My favorite quote: We need to find more digital artisans and put them in every aspect of our business
What I learned: I need to read his book. I need to get this, all of it.Kim Wylie and Yvonne Agyei - Google
In separate talks, Kim and Yvonne shared some of the insights in Google's culture and their experiences with transformation. They said that if you give people freedom they'll do amazing things and I believe them. What I particularly like about the Google people is that they seem so unassuming. They work for one of the most admired companies, yet do not seem arrogant. I have to admit that they do intimidate me; not the individual people, but the company. They have such a fundamentally different way of looking at the workplace. Can what works in Google be done elsewhere; where in the world do we start?
Favorite quote: “if you give people freedom, they will do amazing things”
What I learned: Think different is not just what they say, it is who they are. It is possible.
David Wilson - Elearnity
David is an independent analysist and reviews the European HR technology industry. David is straightforward and brutally honest. No sugarcoating the message here. He is quite critical of the HR IT vendors. All of them. They are not delivering on their promise because his stats show that the clients are not happy. He went on to say that HR and IT have a reputation problem as well. We are the most hated in the company. Ouch. But, the best part was that he highlighted the infuriating conclusion of a panel discussion with the big vendors: "vendors take credit for the success of technology, but blame the users for the problems". Yuck.
Favorite quote: “vendors take credit for the success of technology, but blame the users for the problems”
What I learned: Vendors, all of them, have a way to go when it comes to customer centric thinking.
All boys panel
This was the low point of the conference. When all of the “zone” moderators were on the main stage to talk about themes, it became blatantly apparent; “where are the women?” What a bummer. Old boys network yet again. Aaargh. And inexcusable. You guys gotta do better than this.
Favorite quote: Not sure what his exact words were, but Euan Semple seemed genuinely uneasy that there were no women.
What I learned: Keep pushing diversity.
Keynote speaker Gary Hamel
Luckily, the conference did not stop there. The best was kept for last; Gary Hamel. He is the #1 Business Thinker in the World according to the Wall Street Journal. And he did not disappoint. What a story.
His thing was that the real innovation needs to happen in management and leadership. It is easy to buy obedience, diligence and intellect, but what companies need is initiative, imagination and passion. Prof Hamel thinks that HR is suffering from ADD (Ambition Deficit Disorder). The problem HR should be solving needs to be meaningful, something bigger. Like how do we get the deeply human things as creativity and passion back in the workplace. For that to occur we need to humanize the workplace. True innovation happens only if we can find a way to rouse the human heart at work. How beautiful is that.
He substantiated his statements with real life examples, he turned fairytales into reality. Just imagine:
· Abolishing titles
· Crowd source strategy
· Employees chose their colleagues
· Employees elect their leaders
· Sharing all compensation data
· Setting salaries through peer review
· Managing with a 1:400 span of control
This is really happening in the most innovative companies.
Prof Hamel made the case that technology and a revolution in employee expectation will profoundly shift in how companies are led and managed and HR’s role is to engage the whole organization in an open conversation. And as to HR, Prof Hamel thinks we should call upon every employee to help “hack” HR.
And finally, he called upon us to take action. He cited a quote where Pope Francis, the “People’s Pope”, slammed Vatican leadership. Prof Hamel tweaked it to apply to the business world: “Past CEOs have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their staffers. Bureaucracy is the leprosy of our organization. A top down model ignores the world around it and I will do everything to change it.”His final comments were about what our purpose is, as HR leaders. Are we ambitious enough? Are we going to do everything to change what is not right? Are we committed to find that way to rouse the heart in the workplace? It is HR, it is us; we should be in front of the inevitable transition to humanize the workplace.
I do not know about anyone else in the crowd, but that call to action really hit home. That is exactly the reason why I am in HR. So, thank you HR Tech Europe for inviting Gary Hamel and thank you Gary Hamel for reconnecting me to my purpose…