Is it time for HR to stand up for itself and become a well-oiled machine?

What I learnt at HR Technology Europe

In what turned out to be the final HR Tech Europe to be held in Amsterdam (it heads to the Palais des Congrès in Paris next year), I spent two days last week listening to excited business leaders and technology vendors alike about the benefits of about, you guessed it, HR technology. So what did I learn?

Key themes that emerged included simplicity, optimizing human potential and using technology to do more than just automating or replacing processes. But by far the biggest was the ‘empowerment of HR’. There were countless references, throughout the presentations, to HR needing to be more assertive, with a stronger voice in the enterprise – and to work as a super-machine, rather than just different parts doing their own thing. It rather mimics Brian Sommer’s recent assessment of the US equivalent of the HR Technology Conference, where he stated that to reskill and make HR more relevant, HR will need help from the wider organization. It’ll need to grow and to do all of this; it needs the support of the executive committee. A better HR group is what businesses need today.

Looking Beyond the Skeleton of HR

The keynote speaker, Yves Morieux, Senior Partner & Managing Director of BCG, echoed some of this sentiment by questioning what HR had been doing for the last few years. His reason? Research indicates that one in four employees are actively disengaged or deliberately acting against the interests of the company. As a consequence, productivity is being affected by as much as 23 per cent; prompting David Green, of Cielo, to react, “Employee engagement is at an all-time low as employees are forced to take a time machine every day from their 21st century homes to their 20th century offices and employers.”

Morieux’s solution? We need to start looking beyond the skeleton of HR and more to its nervous system. When discussing what the greatest management quality was he referenced Sir Alex Ferguson’s once answer to this question – “observation”. Enable HR to observe through technology so that they can help managers manage and get the best out of their people. By understanding the business as a complex machine of people, competencies, processes, objectives and outcomes, managers can turn these parts into connected and positive experiences – and create a high performance engine in turn.


In the ‘Talking Heads’ session with Phil Wainwright and Josh Bersin, moderator Jason Averbrook’s opening question was: Why should you change the core HR system?

The overriding feeling was that of simplicity, whether it be the shift to true self service, the lack of on-going maintenance, or eliminating the common challenge of having a patchwork of different systems. However, Bersin encouraged the audience to think of outcomes first – don’t change your system if there isn’t a business objective he said, a point reiterated by Wainwright.

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Josh Bersin and Katherine Jones

Bersin also indicated that HR cannot survive with just one vendor and the concept that you can get one packaged solution may be reaching for the stars. Wainright added there will always be new products coming to market that can add value to organizations – collaboration tools are a good example. This makes integration even more important as companies must always consider software that can easily integrate into other tools. Wainright also stated, rather apologetically (but not in our case), that there’s no future for organizations with on premise software.

Another presentation that caught my attention was from Bersin analyst, Katherine Jones, who spoke on best practice implementation. Not too many surprises in the content but interestingly, the majority of the audience were in IT not HR roles.

And so my key takeaway: being united makes you stronger – something HR needs to do before it can make a play for power in the organisation. Referring back to Sommer one last time, “the company is the loser if HR doesn’t heal.”


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