Welcome to the Windy City! In addition to 2016 Olympic fever, Chicago is host to the 12th Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition (aka ‘HR Tech’)! Let me begin with a shocking and uncharacteristic statement:
“This has been a very impressive event.” ~ Mark Stelzner, Cynic
Given the state of the economy and the somewhat disappointing turnout from other industry events, I fully expected to walk into a very ho-hum, run-of-the-mill HR industry melee replete with disinterested buyers, bored suppliers and desperate consultants. Note the date and time readers…Â I was wrong! So why was this a good day? Let’s jump right in.
Following some general housekeeping from HR Tech ringmaster Bill Kutik, we began with a very impressive data driven presentation by “Grown Up Digital” author and nGenera Insight Chairman, Don Tapscott. Don used self-deprecation and real world examples to convey why the “Net Generation” (ages 12-30) is going to run circles around the rest of us. Over $4 million was spent studying thousands of Net Gen-ers around the world and the results were very interesting. My favorite bits from his session:
- 69% of the Net Generation would rather be smarter than better looking. (The exception?? England!)
- “Social networking is the 21st Century operating system.” (Quote of the conference so far.)
- Generation X is “demographically puny”. (Size doesn’t matter… apparently.)
- Net Gen-ers face real problems, including safety, balance, quality of schools, the digital divide, a generational “firewall” and significant privacy concerns.
- The “8 norms” of the Net Generation are freedom, customization, scrutiny, integrity, collaboration, entertainment, speed and innovation. These must be taken into consideration when employing, supporting and developing this group.
- They live in a unique cycle, defined as work=collaboration=learning=fun (rinse and repeat).
The audience was very engaged and I applaud Don for getting things off on the right foot. And if you want to get a sense of Don’s approach, check out his sarcastic bit entitled, “The Dumbest Generation“.
Today was a Knowledge Infusion lovefest. KI’s Jason Corsello and Jason Averbook tag-teamed a morning session focused on Twitter and other free technologies that HR pros need to be using now. Although they tried to get the audience fired up with an ambitious interactive presentation (complete with real-time tweets and surveys), many seemed to shy away. Keep in mind that cell service was pretty spotty so it’s quite possible that many were prevented from playing. However, I was impressed with what they were trying to convey. Namely, that social media isn’t going away, it’s important to your business and you need to have a strategy for participation. Some of the Q&A didn’t quell fears from the uninitiated, but all in all I felt this was a good discussion.
The afternoon session was much more compelling. Averbook led a group of senior HR technology and talent management executives through a discussion that went to the heart of real issues facing the Fortune 1000. The panel included Nike, KeyBank, Target and Dell. You know… really small companies without complex infrastructure. All of them are in the throes of significant transformational initiatives, ranging from moving off a homegrown HRMS (Dell), seeking a new talent management solution (KeyBank), streamlining a hugely fragmented HR tech environment (Nike), and rationalizing 100+ HR systems (Target).
This panel addressed a number of very important topics. For example, when asked about vendor selection processes and product demos, all agreed that transparency is key. How vendors handle this process is a reflection of their character, culture, integrity and collaborative stance with their clients. Thus, the good, the bad and the ugly are desired, and the panel stated that you wouldn’t be “dinged” for being honest. After years of disingenuous or aspirational demos, this was music to my ears.
Two other keys takeaways I’ll point out. One is a problem and the other makes me hopeful:
- The Problem: Executive level understanding of talent management issues runs across a broad continuum. Thus, HR is often “pushing” these issues up the corporate food chain versus “pulling” from a well supported C-level initiative. It’s getting better, but we’re not there.
- The Hope: All four panelists were extremely bullish about the strategic application of social media to their workforce and talent strategies. Beyond the obvious uses for recruiting, application examples included onboarding, skills inventories, mentoring and internal collaboration. We’re getting there folks.
The KI team prepped for their sessions quite well, have clearly engaged their clients and are helping to drive significant HR technology transformation among some of the largest organizations in the world. Again, very impressive stuff.
I was fortunate enough to be briefed by some pretty innovative HR service providers, but it’s getting late and they deserve their own post. So, let me summarize with a few other Day 1 observations:
- The Expo: There were quite a few booths with sales people standing around doing a whole lotta nothing. One thing that really irked me this year was the inclusion of “Exhibitor Raffles & Giveaways” in the program brochure. Quoting Jason Seiden, “If you are at a conference and hang around for freebies rather than sell, go ahead and charge yourself for a vacation day.” Amen. However, I wanted to do a shout out to Stephen Mazza and Andy Murray of DataDimensions. These two really knew how to draw people in with pure personality and a fun attitude. The coolest move? Sharing popcorn with a woman who crashed the expo floor. Nice work guys.
- The Layout: McCormick Place is a massive place, so having the general sessions/meals held about a mile away from the rest of the conference made for a bit of a logistical challenge. In fact, you had to walk through the “Motivational 2009 Conference” to get back and forth. However, if you wanted to get some high-fives and “woo hoos!” in between sessions, it wasn’t all that bad.
- Getting Business Done: What most impressed me about the HR practitioners at this show is that they are here for a very specific reason. These are motivated buyers and most had active and funded projects. That alone raised my perception of HR technology spend in late 2009 and early 2010.
That’s just about it for Day One. I skipped the parties to bring you this post, so please reward my “sacrifice” with a tweet or comment. I’d encourage you to please join us tomorrow evening (10/1) at 8pm ET for a live HR Tech edition of the HR Happy Hour radio program. In the interim, share your thoughts and let’s keep the conversation going!