People power: what HR World Congress taught us about talent, transformation and tech

Hot on the heels of last week’s HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas, this week the Sage People team headed to France for the 5th annual HR World Congress in Paris. With celebrity speakers including Sir Richard Branson topping the bill, it was perhaps no surprise the congress attracted such huge numbers of HR professionals from around the world.

But were the long queues at registration worth the wait? The keynote speech revisited some of the core ideas from last year’s conference, focussing on the ongoing productivity crisis and the high levels of disengagement in the workforce. Yves Morieux of BCG repeated research that reveals a growing productivity crisis but a year down the line, we must ask why organizations are failing to address it. The reality is that technology cannot engage your employees and perhaps this is where we’re going wrong – we are talking about a technology conference after all. Aberdeen Group analyst Michael M. Moon reiterates this view in her round up of the event season season calling out the very term of engagement as “overused, misused and misunderstood”. Instead it’s time to address the root cause of workforce challenges by looking at the employee experience – and the good news is that technology can help here.

That’s why we were encouraged by what Accenture had to say. Speaking on the importance of digital leadership in managing the workforce, Accenture suggested that Chief Digital Officers and HR Digital Directors are now driving organizational transformation as the digitization of HR provides new channels to deliver better experiences. For the modern employee, social is how you’re discovered and connected; mobile technology is how workplace processes are consumed; analytics are how management get workforce insights; and cloud is how all these services are delivered. Simple.

Moving onto what we learned from the analyst contingent at the show, it was great to see some of our beliefs reflected in their advice to the 4000 strong audience. Focusing on the new ways we need to manage talent with so much technological transformation underway, Josh Bersin shone some light on feedback-centered HR technologies – feedback is, after all, a gift. More organizations need to be adopting it in a real-time way as according to Bersin’s research, 88% of organizations think the performance management process isn’t worth the effort, and that 61% of employee ratings are indicative of manager’s perception rather than employee performance. Clearly then, a shift is needed towards continuous, dynamic feedback – something Sage People provides – especially in a ratings-based economy where feedback is everywhere. Think Glassdoor, TripAdvisor, AirBnB; the list is endless.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly for Sage People, was that even with the sheer amount new research revealed – I’ve already mentioned two sets – how few represented the mid-market. With the exception of SierraCedar, most research ignored this high performing market, showing quite how under-served it still is in terms of both targeted technology and guidance. This is something we at Sage People are actively trying to change, and we hope to see it become more of a focus in the field for 2016. Sir Richard Branson’s talk failed to steal the show, but the second part of his session was a panel with three “unicorn” companies. If Hootsuite, Prezi and BlaBlaCar, all fantastic mid-market companies, are important enough to feature on a panel with one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurs, why is there so little attention elsewhere? At Sage People, we think that mid-market focus is the future – and our growing customer base is testament to exactly that.

Although I’ve been critical of HR World Congress 2015, ultimately we left with some amazing, actionable insight into talent, transformation and technology –  so with such a wealth of great thought leadership happening in the HR world, there’s no excuse for any HR horrors this Halloween season. Here’s to HR World Congress 2016!

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