Last week, more than 1,000 HR directors converged on Birmingham, UK, for the 2019 edition of HRD Summit UK. The event - which also has European and US editions running over the next few months - is one of the key dates in the calendar for senior human resources executives keen to learn from the 150 speakers, who included some of the industry's foremost thinkers such as Jill Christensen and Josh Bersin.
If you were unable to attend the event (and, even if you did, with eight content streams over two jam-packed days it was hard to keep up with all the content) we've pulled together the top HR trends that came up time and again throughout the summit and are likely to have a huge impact on the way you tackle the year ahead.
1. Employee engagement does lead to solid, measurable ROI. Done.
Employee engagement has been a HR trend for years now and 2019 was no different. However, in previous editions of HRD Summit UK, it's been a softer term - something that HR professionals have felt, been certain, known deep down inside is key for their organizations to succeed. But now, it's something that all executives at forward-looking companies accept as true.
Sarah Mason of Foxton's, Maarten Raemdonck of Spencer, best-selling author Jill Christensen, Misha Jessel-Kenyon of Peakon, Nalina Athyantha of Salesforce and Tom Dewaele of Unilever were just some of the speakers who cited the fact that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 147% per share.
"Brands that win, win because their employees are engaged. Employees who are engaged will apply a lot of discretionary effort," said employee engagement expert Jill Christensen. "Every single person who comes into contact with your business should come away delighted."
Jessel-Kenyon described employee engagement as "the next competitive differentiator" while Athyantia referred to Salesforce being named Fortune's best place to work, adding that they sought that culture not only to create a good atmosphere but because Salesforce sees "hard, measurable ROI impact from engaged employees."
"Now's the time to deliver a great employee experience. We don't have a choice. Future employees won't accept the way it's currently done." - Tom Dewaele, Unilever's VP Global HR Services
2. The increasing importance of technology
Salesforce's Nalina Athyantha and Unilever's Tom Dewaele co-hosted one of the first day's keynote sessions and both were as adamant about the use of technology as they were about achieving an engaged workforce.
"Employee engagement equals culture plus technology," explained Athyantha.
Dewaele offered up his own equation: "Technology plus human touch equals magic!"
"Technology isn't a solution but it does scale change. It allows you to do personality at scale like never before."
It was a perspective shared by author and consultant Rita Gunter McGrath who discussed technology and innovation as being a proficiency that enabled the "ability to scale within a rapidly changing world full of inflection points."
Talentsoft's Neelie Verlinden had a different take on the need to embrace technology within the enterprise: Generation Z. "They're the first generation to grow up literally watching their cartoons on an iPad in the pushchair. Mobile is a must. You have to be ready for video too."
3. The workplace is becoming increasingly consumerized
As technology is being embraced to help deliver and scale productivity, organizations are also discovering that the legacy software and tooling they've long used for performing HR and internal communications tasks are no longer fit for purpose. And the prevalence of cutting-edge technology in our everyday lives only serves to highlight the gap that exists between the personal and professional spaces.
Maarten Raemdonck, head of product at workplace assistant software firm Spencer, put it like this: "I can go on one website or app and book my flights, my hotels and rent a car. But to take time off, I need to request time off in the HR system, email my manager, wait for approval, contact my team and tell my stakeholders… Why is it easier to book a vacation than to get time off work to take it?"
"We need to deliver a consumer grade experience on the inside of the organization. That's a must for making employment much more fulfilling," said BUPA's chief people officer Nigel Sullivan.
This was a subject that Speakap's own Guy Chiswick expanded on during his session based around the findings of our latest research study into the technology gap between frontline employees and the head office.
"People have their own devices and are used to the intuitive experience they get from consumer messaging apps. They need and want a way to connect easily and that's why they're using consumer messaging apps - with all their privacy, security and non-compliance issues - as often as six times per day."
Nalina Athyantha, director of solutions marketing and brand awareness for Salesforce UK, highlighted that we're a workforce of DIYers; we need to match the instant satisfaction of being able to Google what we need outside of work by making all relevant documents and resources available and self-serve inside our organizations too.
"Plus, having searchable content reduces investment required in employee contact centers," added Unilever VP of global HR services, Tom Dewaele.
4. Adoption is the next great challenge
Technology is key to driving and scaling an engaged, winning culture: agreed! Corporate technology needs to match the look, feel and usability of consumer equivalents: settled.
But it's one thing to introduce a great, useful, consumer-standard technology; it's another to have it fully adopted within your organization. And adoption was one of the hottest HR trends at this year's HRD Summit.
"When things don't work out, so often the answer is to replace the system. But technology is neither the full answer or the problem; it's usually a problem of tech adoption or a lack of engagement in the process or ways of working," explained Aaron Alburey, CEO of technology transformation and adoption firm LACE Partners. "SAAS represents continuous change within an organisation; there are always new features rolling out, so how do you deal with that?"
Alburey suggested some questions that organizations should ask themselves before introducing new technologies:
- Usefulness to the company: How much do you really want to do something? How will you win the hearts and minds of users? How do you build it in two ways of working?
- Intent of end-users: How ready am I for this? What's in it for me? What's the use case for my persona? Is it fair?
Sarah Mason, chief people officer at real estate firm Foxton's picked up on the same theme. "Ask yourself: Is it easy? Is it useful? Is it worth the effort of learning to use it? Will I get help to adapt to it?" But, even if they satisfy all these criteria, it's rarely a case of more is better. "If you have too many platforms you'll probably confuse your workforce and you simply won't get the mass to be useful."
5. Data is coming
For business veterans, it's impossible not to recognize the similarities between what's happening in HR today and marketing a decade ago, with technology and data elevating the role of HR and giving it more decision-making power at a the senior leadership level.
"Senior leaders and frontline managers are key to moving the dial on employee engagement," explained keynote speaker Jill Christensen. And how do you appeal to senior leaders? "They love date - they succeed based on numbers. CEOs live, eat and breathe numbers..."
While data may raise the role of HR, it'll also be a new muscle for that department to flex, warned BUPA's Nigel Sullivan. "Technology brings data, which certainly helps with decision making, but it can also make some people uncomfortable and we need to educate and manage that change."
For Matt Buckland, VP of customer advocacy at Workable, HR is already in the data business and the challenge ahead is going to be in deciding which numbers are actually relevant and actionable.
"The annual report is just unconstructed data for one. A comparison ("Am I selling more than Tim?") is data of two. Data is ultimately just counting stuff that's already happened. Even if you have access to an enormous volume of data, you can't guarantee what's going to happen - it can just help you make a better guess. Remember: best practices are just other people's solutions to problems you may not have."
For Peakon's Mischa Jessel Kenyon, the ability to collect employee feedback data regularly rather than during an annual survey is the real game-changer: "Continuous listening is much more actionable that an annual survey. HR is still behind marketing in terms of data but we believe things are changing."
6. The end of purpose?
If one word summarized last year's HRD Summit it was "purpose" with the Simon Sinek's 'Start With Why' philosophy underpinning a high percentage of speaking sessions.
While brands with purpose is a lofty ambition, as well as making business sense (Unilever's brands with purpose grow two times faster than other brands, according to Tow Dewaele), it feels of little relevance and impact to the millions of workers who staff supermarkets, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and stores.
The trend at this year's HRD Summit was much more actionable and individual. "We need to stop asking why and start answering how," advised EMEA VP for Twitter and author of The Joy Of Work, Bruce Daisely.
"The average Brit has 16 hours of meetings per week and 140 emails per day. And people who email most outside of work record the highest levels of stress. Let's create environments where employees feel comfortable turning off notifications; where we understand that interruptions are not in service of better work."
Monica Peach, HR transformation director at Diageo also expressed the need to get the basics right first. "We need to create consistent foundational experiences for all employees" while Jill Christensen said that we were in danger of over-complicating the whole issue of employee engagement: "People are not different; what disengages me disengages you, what inspires me inspires you.”
So what inspires all employees?
"Give employees a voice," said Christensen. "Allow employees to have a say in big decisions. People care even more about having a voice than actually having their opinion acted on. It's about 'you spoke and we listened'..."