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Seen and heard at HR Tech

AI, engaging workers, filling the onboarding gap and what's ahead in HR technologies.

6 min read


Seen and heard at HR Tech


HR leaders and professionals gathered last week at the 2018 HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas to network, learn and peruse the latest developments in workforce-related technologies. SmartBrief was there taking it all in. Here is a quick roundup of what we saw.

Survival tactics

Typhoon Jebi struck western Japan September 4, slamming it with wind, rain and chaos. Reports call it the most powerful storm to hit mainland Japan in 25 years.

Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, likened the HR technology market to Typhoon Jebi, calling it a “gigantic, whirling, swirling ecosystem.” Bersin presented interim findings from his 2019 HR technology report during a one-hour session on the opening day of the event. The goal of the report, according to Bersin, is to help understand the changes in the industry.

And there are many, he says. Premium pass holders can register to get a free copy of the report when it’s made available later this year. In the meantime, here are highlights from the data:

  • Members of Generation Z are entering the workforce with different expectations than their millennials peers. Interestingly, they look more like traditionalists, says Bersin. They want stability—in the form of earning and job security—and a sense of rationality in their lives.
  • Baby boomers don’t want to retire. The trend has many employers scratching their heads as they try to figure out the hiring model for this group.
  • Workers want more from their employers—a lot more, as it turns out. Yoga, wellness programs, free food top their list of demands. “People want employers to be like their parents,” says Bersin.
  • Employees are exhausted; they can’t keep up. If you’re buying technology to improve productivity, you better make sure it’s doing its job. If the tools you’re buying aren’t boosting performance, or not moving you in that direction, “you are not solving on the of the biggest problems you have,” says Bersin.

HR technology buyers are increasingly baffled by the choices they see on the menu. Bersin offered these suggestions for easing the process:

  1. Consider your culture as you shop for tools.
  2. Look for vendors who cater to your market and companies your size.
  3. Take careful stock of vendor personality. Sometimes great technologies go out of business because they’re from bad companies. Avoid vendors with rigid compliance cultures. Go with ones who listen to you.

Are we there yet?

With AI, that is. According to Arya by Leoforce’s Sarah Beth Maronpot, the answer is yes. “Six months ago, [HR managers] had to make the case for AI,” she said. “Now they’re coming to us with ‘We need it now.'”

Finding talent quickly was among the top issues attendees discussed with Arya team members. With unemployment at a low right, many HR managers say they are struggling to find candidates who have the right skill sets. They’re looking for tools that can help fill this gap, said Maronpot. “It’s about attracting applicants, making sure you are where people are looking for you—passive talent that you need to be reaching out to,” she said.

So how does AI fit into this picture? According to Maronpot, AI can help bring together systems and sources in a way that lets employers better engage with talent.

“AI learns,” she says. “Systems like ours learn about you from you. Real value comes from over time use.”

Engaging humanoids

HR leaders are wrestling with low engagement when training employees, says Falguni Bhuta, director of marketing at Kahoot.

“People don’t read stuff anymore,” Bhuta says. “They want something interactive, especially millennials.”

According to Bhuta, many HR managers say they are looking for ways to not just engage workers but also build a more human connection among staff. And they want to do it via mobile devices.

“Employees are always on their phones, even during training,” she says. Tools like Kahoot! let employers leverage mobile devices, but in a way that builds team spirit and camaraderie. “[They] have to be looking up to see questions; only when they are answering are they looking down at the device. The platform is designed to maintain human touches.”

Interactive games. Having fun. Team competitions. Is all this really necessary, just to engage employees? According to Bhuta, it is.

“Today’s workforce is looking at work as not a place to clock in and clock out, but also as a place to live and build relationship,” she says. “Workers are spending more time at work. [HR managers] want to make that experience more enjoyable.”

All aboard!

You’ve applied for the job, done the interview and are now waiting for word. Finally, the phone rings. It’s the HR manager calling to say you got the job. You do a happy dance and mentally plan your celebration dinner as she runs through the details of salary and benefits. You agree on a start date that is one month away. You thank her and hang up the phone.

And that’s the last you hear from them until you report for your first day of work. Just crickets.

Unfortunately, this experience is not uncommon, according to Patrick Rooney, director of marketing at Click Boarding. “Companies spend some much time attracting talent but then it stops,” he says. “It’s the Dilbert experience.”

That’s where companies like Click Boarding come in. Focused on improving the onboarding experience, these companies are creating tools aimed at filling in the gap between when a worker is hired and his or her first day of work.

“It’s about continuing the conversation,” says Rooney. “Going back to the reason the person joined in the first place. It clicked with them—they bought into the culture or the team or the boss. How do you maintain that enthusiasm when the start date is two months off?”

Click Boarding has launched a new webinar series called “Level Up: Smart Conversations + HR Technology.” The series, which debuted at HR Tech, features discussions with HR experts on various issues including talent acquisition and retention, bias and diversity and extending the employer brand, among other topics.

The webinar series aims to help change the conversation about onboarding, according to Rooney. “[It] has been about forms and compliance,” he says. “We all expect more; we’re savvy consumers. Our expectations about how we interact with an organization has changed. We want to reset expectations. Onboarding is the first step for the successful employee.”

Kanoe Namahoe is editorial director for SmartBrief Education and Workforce.


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