Since attending UNLEASH America in May, I’ve been reflecting on the rapidly changing world of HR and the impact of those changes on HR leaders and their organizations. While HR professionals rush to keep up with the transformations taking hold in the world of work in general, they are also facing enormous changes to their roles and their places within organizations. As employee experience takes the forefront in response to the new realities of talent shortages and the realization that people are an organization’s greatest assets, HR leaders have stepped up from their positions as administrators to take on the roles of strategic partners and trusted advisors to top executives.

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In this role, HR has been challenged with integrating more technology into their work processes while maintaining a human-centric mindset for delivering candidate and employee experiences. It’s not always easy to keep that balance.

For these new leaders of the human experience at work, the challenge is to find technology solutions that can really improve the human resource management potential and the function itself. Leaders in HR are looking for ways to unlock the potential of their workforce by providing valuable experiences while showing ROI on the initiatives aimed at reaching those goals.

Five-star experiences are the goal

At UNLEASH, many providers were selling a better employee experience. It didn’t matter what the product was—whether it was a learning and development platform, a career development product, or an HR systems solution—everything was centered and shaped around the overall employee experience and what the future of work will be.

While everyone is talking about it, no one has yet dialed in a solution to the dilemmas facing HR departments nor discovered the secret sauce that will move us all forward. The beauty of it is that everyone is talking about the challenges and a solution is likely around the corner. For now, digital adoption is at the center of this important discussion.

True, there are skills that will always be critical to the success of an HR professionals, such as the highly-developed personal communication skills required to connect on a personal level with employees. But what’s required now—and in the future—begins with having the tools to integrate everything from talent management, recruiting, employee learning and development, compensation and rewards to benefits, and ends with knowing how to use those specialized tools to improve the overall employee experience.

A crowded space in HR tech

Clearly, there’s a big push to adopt technology and create those amazingly awesome experiences for customers and employees. That’s what I loved most about the conference. What I didn’t love so much was that every other company was talking about the same thing, but no one is really offering the magic formula. The result is a cobbled together, kludgy set of solutions and products that don’t necessarily work together.

For the average HR team, using anywhere from seven to nine HR systems is just not scalable or manageable in an effective way. Instead of finding a way to integrate all the functions and provide a technology solution that addresses the problem from that 360-degree view, I feel like we’re just being thrown more systems. As more and more technologies are developed to address each discrete challenge, it gets really hard to define the value and connect the dots of how it all comes together.

And the answer doesn’t lie in AP integrations. They’re not easy and not every platform can connect to every other platform. It’s more discrete than that. The challenge for HR over the next few years is going to be to determine how many tools and systems we really want to bring into the company, which of those solutions will deliver a meaningful experience to our employees, and how we can use these systems together to support the overall HR strategy.

AI and HR

Another theme that I saw at UNLEASH was on the future of work. There’s a lot of talk these days around the future of the HR function and what that might look like post-AI adoption.

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AI is one of those scary ideas when we talk about replacing man with machines. Whether it’s marketing or finance or whether it’s HR, AI is the future of all work. It’s good that we’re talking about it now, because we all need to be prepared for what’s ahead in terms of elevating HR as a strategic function. Instead of simply being transactional and tactical, HR is already evolving to be more of a strategic business partner and enabling growth both from a talent perspective and from a revenue perspective.

However, not all HR professionals are equipped with the tools and the skills required to be those strategic business partners. If you haven’t started learning what you need to know, now’s the time to get up to speed. As we look to upskill and reskill the other employees within the organization, HR professionals need to focus on how we will get from where we are to where we need to be to help lead our companies into the next evolution of the workforce.

Cyber security, data, and analytics in the digital age

As our keynote speaker at the end of the conference, Edward Snowden talked to HR about cyber security as it relates to employee privacy. No matter how you feel about the individual, HR leaders and organizations need to be wary of the dangers inherent in the adoption of an automated and technology-focused workplace. Keeping employee data secure will continue to be a challenge for companies as more and more personal information is moved into applications designed to improve the HR functions and efficiency.

There are already a lot of things happening in the industry around data security and privacy, including GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. Regardless, employee privacy and data protection are going to be yet another important theme for HR as we progress into the future. As HR leaders, we must approach sales pitches and tool reviews through the lens of data security to ensure we are safeguarding employee information. Asking the right questions and refusing to accept lesser solutions will drive providers in the industry to rethink their approaches to security.

In addition to data security, HR leaders are going to have to get comfortable with data and business analytics. Whether you’re collecting quantitative or qualitative data, expect HR to become answerable for meeting and reporting on KPIs and analyzing the effectiveness of initiatives. In fact, HR analytics were part of most of the solutions conversations at UNLEASH.

As HR professionals, when we ask employees and candidates about their experiences, we must measure changes in sentiment and effectiveness of programs and design solutions aimed at improving them. We need to know how quickly and efficiently we’re recruiting new employees, the rates of productivity, and how employee experience initiatives are impacting employee engagement and retention. As HR leaders, we can no longer talk about concepts such as employee experience and engagement without showing measurable results and impact on larger company goals and bottom line results.

The future of work

What is the future of work? How will workplaces change and evolve over the next few years? Will teams be structured as hierarchies or will they be more of a matrix design? When changes come through AI and automation, what does that mean in terms of the relationship between the employee and the employer? Whatever the future may hold, at least we’re talking about it now and HR professionals should be preparing for what may come. In some ways, we need to take our own advice and upskill and learn the new methods and technologies that will soon be a mainstay in our professional lives.

Here are my three main takeaways from UNLEASH:

  1. Technology is here to stay. As HR professionals, we’ve been trying to avoid the advent of the technology era for far too long. Now, we need to adapt our processes around technology and eliminate our reliance and focus on transactions and paperwork.
  2. The employee experience is not just a trend. HR leaders need to start connecting the dots between software platforms and improving the overall employee experience beginning on the first day individuals interact with your company. From recruiting through the entire employee lifecycle and beyond a person’s tenure at your company, HR needs to provide an exceptional, five-star experience or risk losing an important competitive advantage.
  3. Data security and employee confidentiality will take center stage. HR is just starting to have conversations around data security as we adopt more and more technology. Data security cannot take a backseat to technology adoption. It must be at the forefront of our conversations and our requirements before we adopt new technologies into our organizations.
20 June 2019

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