The 3rd and 4th May 2023 saw the HR and Learning Tech conference and exhibition come to London. With five halls being used to house the exhibition, we are finally getting back to sizeable events being attended by crowds following the pandemic. I had obtained a conference pass for the HR Tech conference and both exhibitions and went with an amount of curiosity to see the latest developments and thinking in the world of people technology. I decided to summarise my reflections and takeaways for those who might not have been able to make it.
There were some great speakers at the HR Tech conference. Christine Armstrong did a great job as host for the two days, giving context and keeping us on track. Jamil Qureshi, performance coach, kicked us off with the psychology around behaviour change, and how we should not be telling people how to act, but explaining the sustainable benefit of tapping into how people think and then feel to create positive, sustainable change.
David Wilson from the Fosway Group then took the audience through some great statistics and analysis on the latest trends in HR and organisations. The most significant challenge to businesses, when asked, is the lack of availability of crucial skills, knocking increasing performance and productivity off the top from last year. It’s a critical point to know for HR professionals that hiring the right skills is therefore the biggest worry keeping CEOs up at night. HR leaders are now reporting that the employee experience is now most important to them, as we try to attract and retain these scarce skills, pushing data quality and analytics into position two from its traditional number one slot. An interesting stat for me was that only one in four HR leaders think that their current HR technology is meeting their needs. Good job we have HR Tech conferences and exhibitions then!
Siobhan Sheriden, CHRO of the Financial Conduct Authority, then gave a great interview about her views on the CHRO total agenda, talking about how we should be bringing the technology and people together as the only experts in the organisation who can do this. Acknowledging that leaders and managers have an increasingly difficult job, the HR profession can support and enable this population with evidence-based HR technology initiatives. I also liked Siobhan’s analogy about the ongoing challenges of post-pandemic hybrid working for managers. She reminded us that “PTSD doesn’t happen on military ops, it happens on the way back from ops”. In other words, the stresses of the change of ways of working in the pandemic shows most in the aftermath and this is why we are still seeing ongoing engagement and mental health issues now.
At the end of day one, we had two fantastic insights. Firstly, Amanda Potter, a psychologist from BeTalent, gave a quality presentation on the research behind the connection of leadership decisiveness and psychological safety. As a HR and OD professional myself, I found the causal arguments fascinating on how a flexible but decisive leader can be up to 12 times higher potential than a non-decisive leader. And how decisiveness leads to better psychological safety through creating a climate of trust, creating greater cognitive diversity as people feel they can speak up with an opinion. A big takeaway for me was a statistic that the demographic of age was the biggest single impact on cognitive diversity through the different experiences of different generations, over all other demographics and personal characteristics.
The highlight of day two in the HR Tech conference was the annual start-up competition, with the final being on the main stage. This is where you get to see emerging tech start ups at the infancy of their development with a prize of a supported stand in the exhibition for next year. The four finalists were trying to solve very different issues. Here were the results:
- First place: Healthkey (https://www.healthkey.health/) – This tech blew the judges away. It takes on the traditional healthcare marketplace and puts choice in the hands of the employee, combining the offer of employer healthcare insurance, personal insurance and public healthcover. It allows the employee to reap the most benefit in one portal with only once uploading their personal details. It provides immediate card payment for any balance. The employer benefit is that you pay for healthcare through the portal with purchasing power combined together. If this works, this is a gamechanger for businesses’ biggest EE benefit cost!
- Joint second: Zinc (https://zincwork.com/) – Zinc has used AI to automate the background checks that many sectors have to do. It can take the average admin time per background check down from 90 minutes to 1 to 3 minutes. The employee experience is very slick and again uses AI to massively reduce human admin tasks for all parties. Taking a photo of your ID and a selfie is enough to get your background checked against most countries in the world – especially good to a transient and globalised workforce. I can see instant productivity increase and cost saving for many organisations here.
- Joint second: 50 Skills (https://www.50skills.com/) – 50 Skills has produced an automated employee journey technology. In essence, it is a technology that links to all your other people technologies so you can very easily create an automated workflow for onboarding, talent mobility and offboarding as well as any other process. There are a few things that make it outstanding. Firstly, it is as simple as a drag and drop builder so any reasonably computer literate person can create API connected automated workflows. Secondly, there is an open library of templates of workflows you can use and tweak, and even share your workflows with other organisations. Lastly though, as from this week, they have trained a form of ChatGPT to create your workflow for you. I can see this releasing the potential of HR and the People Function from admin once and for all.
- Fourth place: Start from Today (https://73.today/) – Start from today have created a neat skills marketplace for employees, employers and academic to come together to connect for roles and learning. It allows you to advertise your acquired skills and once you are, developing and monetising them. A great concept and an evolution from say using LinkedIn to source candidates. I struggled a bit to understand how you would create the will and behaviours for people to use it spontaneously. It needed maybe a bit of connection to a motivational need or gamification but the idea is solid.
As you can see from the above, AI is now really starting to appear in emerging HR tech to take some of the heavy lifting away. As Bill Boorman said on the stage on day two, we have been talking about AI coming to HR Tech on these stages for years and it has finally arrived.
This I suppose brings me to a couple of closing thoughts. Firstly, rippling under all the presentations and chatter at the conference was ChatGPT. Almost every Q&A session had questions about it. I sensed almost a nervous anxiety about how quickly it has arrived – from evolving technology to many organisations reporting that employees are regularly using ChatGPT to support their job roles. How do we deal with this? One CPO questioned how soon some employees may be taking on two full-time jobs as ChatGPT could accelerate them to do at least 50% of their work.
This brings me on to my second and final point. As HR leaders, we need to be all over this emerging technology. It isn’t coming soon, as even I have been blogging about for years. It… is… here… now… HR leaders should be considering transformation projects for the People Team and around all parts of the business now to isolate process, procedural and admin tasks as a matter of urgency, and to be ready to automate them ASAP. This also means that the HR personnel need urgent development into more strategic, critical thinking roles before some of their skills become obsolete. The opportunity for greater impact here is enormous!
There was so much more at the exhibition that I haven’t mentioned. But, please do reach out if you have a question or want to discuss anything.