“The North Star of HR is talent retention”

I spent last week in Dallas soaking up insights from top HR tech practitioners at the inaugural PeopleTech 2016 Conference and Expo. Now that I’m back and had a chance to reflect on what I learnt, the front-line experiences, visions of the future and a surprisingly consistent shared agenda only reinforced exactly how HR technology can impact the bottom line in the business world.

It was great to see Swinda Salazar, our President of Americas, asked onto the podium to present on the topic of the workforce experience, showing how employee engagement affects beliefs and performance, and exploring how technology can improve experiences across multinational companies.

The audience was with her all the way – I watched heads nodding vigorously as she discussed the challenges of meeting the expectations and needs of the modern workforce. The feedback was clear: this isn’t just nice-to-have, touchy feely stuff. It makes a difference to the bottom line or “dollars and cents” as Swinda often remarked. And that’s why forward-looking and commercially focused organizations invest in technology for their HR teams. Pretty simple stuff, when the business case is so clear to them.

We then both enjoyed the panel debates and discussion sessions – views and perspectives from different people and business backgrounds sparked off each other to produce some thought-provoking interactions. There was a lot of noise about how inadequate legacy HR systems are. They deal with admin, not the most crucial challenge today of retaining top talent – described as “the North Star of HR” by William Tincup. People wanted guidance on how to move on from these within the very real constraints of budget, culture and infrastructure.

Intense discussions about the psychology of the employee experience have stayed in my mind. A new term to me: “neural coupling”. It describes the phenomenon where the brain activity of story tellers mirrors the same brain activity of the story listener. It relies on engaging, inspiring story-telling techniques that audiences relate to on a deep level. As already mentioned, with talent retention identified as the holy grail for HR, making sure the employee experience is a satisfying and positive one is crucial. You’ll be hearing more from Sage People about the neuroscience of the employee experience – it’s a real HR hot topic.

Lastly, HR guru William delivered a high impact presentation, focusing on making HCM implementations work through true collaboration between client, IT and SI teams. He also scored a bullseye for me when he talked about “known knowns” and “unknown knowns” – exactly the points made in “Using data at 600mph: a fighter pilot’s story”. (Find it here if you missed it – it’s a pretty interesting analogy for HR data-led decision-making!)

He ended with a salutary point: “don’t buy a system just because it looks cool.” We’ve all done that at home with gadgets and later regretted it – and it’ll be the same result at work. Right back to where we started then: HR tech is a serious commercial business, with the right vision, systems and commitment giving the best businesses a true competitive advantage.

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