I finally had the opportunity to attend the HR Tech Conference, joining thousands of other HR practitioners and vendors in a four-day full immersion on all things tech.
The show was massive – 500 exhibitors, 100 start-ups, 100 sessions, four keynotes, and thousands of attendees covering several floors at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. The event hit record numbers of exhibitors and attendees due to heightened HR interest in investing in tech solutions to drive their business.
Here are some insights, observations, and predictions that I have coming out of the conference.
All of the tech tools are worthless if they do not improve the employee experience
One of the highlights for me was Josh Bersin's keynote.
He drove home the message that HR leaders have to evaluate all their software purchases from the employee-centric point of view. This means getting beyond the cool factor or the new tech tool and going deep to learn how the tool helps (or hurts) their employees every day.
Jason Averbook, another outstanding presenter, stressed that any tech tool has to simplify and enhance the life of every employee. Forcing them to manage multiple dashboards, or trying to navigate a sea of links to find an answer will not do anymore.
We are not yet at tech overload, but it is fast approaching us.
The sheer volume of exhibitors, all offering their version of a unique solution, was overwhelming. Here are some of the numbers of exhibitors by service category:
- AI – 83 exhibitors
- Engagement and Recognition – 84 exhibitors
- Talent Management – 108 exhibitors
- Recruitment – 96 exhibitors
Note: The previous dominant players in the HR Tech space (Payroll - 40 exhibitors), and (Applicant Tracking Systems – 42 exhibitors) are now secondary players on the exhibitor floor.
Also contributing to the impending tech overload is the massive amount of investment that is being poured into the space. The following chart from George LaRocque from HRWins shows how tech investment has accelerated in the past five quarters.
I was lucky to meet Lance Haun, a super-smart marketer from The Starr Conspiracy, at the show. He summed it up this way:
Seeing, by my count, at least a dozen AI-first startups taking down enormous booths was something else. Working for a marketing agency gives you a unique perspective on this. That’s at least a mid-six-figure investment, all in, for an event that isn’t known for crushing lead goals. So what’s driving these companies to go for outsized spending?
It’s a pretty simple playbook for their VC investors: Get acquired at the highest multiple possible. You do that through high brand awareness and gaining market share. Is that a good strategy for buyers? Are the products any good?
The tech solution focus is shifting to talent management, diversity & inclusion, and well-being.
Technology is evolving from a single platform solution (ADP, Workday, SAP, or Oracle) to a using the enterprise providers as a base and adding (and testing) and wide range of apps that can help build a unique and valuable employee experience.
The place to be at the HR Tech conference is the Startup Pavilion
I had the most fun meeting all of the HR startups. All of the startup vendors have a simple kiosk and two chairs. All of the people I talked to were Founders and were passionate about their product. The product range within the pavilion was terrific. Here are just a couple of examples of the companies that I met:
Pilot – an on-demand executive coaching software (congratulations to Ben Brooks, who won the $25,000 Best Startup prize during Pitchfest.
Curious Thing – an Australian AI interviewing software
Employi – a personalized job search tool to improve candidate outcomes
Swarm Vision – a SaaS platform to help drive innovation
Atlas – an AI-driven platform to improve credential verification
JobAdX – job ad software to drive more candidate solutions.
The Marcus Buckingham keynote was great
While I have read a lot of the material that Marcus Buckingham has written, I never have the opportunity to see him live. His Thursday keynote session was excellent. His presentation was built around his new book, “Nine Lies About Work.”
Some of my key takeaways were:
- Being on a team is one of the most significant positive factors driving employee engagement
- People cannot reliably rate other people – their ratings say more about them than the person being assessed.
- Work-life balance is a false concept since it is built on the assumption that work is “bad.”
- Focusing teams on only “well-rounded” people will lead to underperforming teams because each high performer is unique and distinct and excels because that person has understood his or her uniqueness and cultivated it intelligently.
Summing Everything Up
My HR Tech experience was exceptional. The days that I invested in attending the show gave me a much deeper understanding of how technology is helping and complicating the workplace simultaneously. Every HR leader that I spoke with commented how they are flooded with technology pitches, and how their most significant challenge is finding:
- Real solutions
- That are really simple
- That solve real problems.