I have recently had many conversations with speakers, exhibitors and HR tech-industry experts to finalize sessions, schedules and plans for the HR Technology Conference in September. In one of these conversations, a representative from a major HR-technology provider asked me an interesting question that I don’t recall ever being asked before: “When you are thinking about HR technology, what do you think about the most?”
At the time, I tried to stammer out a reasonably coherent answer, as I was not expecting the question. I’ve been thinking about it ever since and decided it would be a good topic to explore here, because elements of HR tech I consider may also influence how you think your current and future tech.
With that said, here are the categories I most often come back to when I think about HR tech.
The War for Talent
Regular readers might recall that I think about, talk about and write about macro labor-market data and trends almost compulsively. The monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics “JOLTS” report is the highlight of most months for me, and I track data points like the labor-force-participation rate and the quits rate like I used to track the batting averages of the mid-1980s New York Mets.
You probably don’t have to be a labor-market wonk to know the U.S. market continues to tighten and become more challenging for employers. Unemployment is nearing low, “full-employment” levels and the number of posted, open jobs–as well as the rate of voluntary separations (or “quits”)–is at all-time high since the BLS began its measurements. Essentially, most, if not all, employers are facing difficulty for finding, attracting and retaining workers.
So back to the HR-technology angle. When I think about HR technology I tend to first think about how a specific technology can help an organization better compete in this extremely difficult environment. The most impactful HR technologies must help employers address current labor-market conditions–a recruitment-marketing tool that can help showcase an employer brand and nurture candidates and prospects, an assessment tool that can identify “top” prospects faster and more efficiently than traditional resume reviews, or an analytical tool that can help employers better understand the “micro” market for talent in a region and role in order to support more competitive employment offers. I usually look at any HR-technology solution with an eye toward the question “How will this solution help the organization compete for talent?”
HR Tech as an Enabler of Employee Happiness
In addition to attracting candidates, organizations must also develop and sustain the kind of workplace in which great talent wants to stay and grow their careers. This can be described by: employee satisfaction, engagement and the trendier employee experience, but it often comes down to a simpler idea: employee happiness. Are you happy with your job? Your colleagues? Your organization and its leaders? Your ability to find information you need to be productive? Your compensation, benefits and perks? Your prospects to reach whatever career goals you may have? Even things like the physical workspace and commute come into play here.
As you might already know, there are a slew of HR-technology solutions that address employee happiness. But since happiness is both a complex and hard-to-measure element, the kinds of HR-technology solutions that have emerged are equally complex and sometimes difficult to classify. Solutions in this category can include health and wellness platforms, peer recognition and rewards tools, career-development solutions, benefits-adjacent apps to help with things like caregiving, or ride-sharing, and enterprise knowledge and collaboration platforms that help smooth the occasional bumps in the road of getting work done.
The best, most interesting HR technologies usually find a way to help employees be happier, and it’s your job as an HR leader to understand what areas of satisfaction are most important to your workers today.
No serious HR-technology discussion would be complete without recognizing the critical importance and increasing capability of modern HR-technology solutions to enable faster and more accurate decision-making.
The “people-analytics” segment of HR technology has developed so significantly that almost all mature HR-technology solutions offer detailed reporting, analysis and even recommendation capabilities. Vendors have come to understand that simple process support and even automation are not enough for their tools to be considered truly impactful, because such offerings also have to help business and HR leaders make better decisions.
These capabilities show up in HR tech in many ways: in embedded analytics as part of a functional process, such as an employee promotion; highly detailed market and industry context and comparisons for candidate offer letters; or even more sophisticated modeling engines that allow for complex workforce-planning scenarios across a wide range of assumptions.
The key to all this is not, at least initially, the detailed breakdown of what any one HR-technology solution can provide. Instead, an HR leader should consider how the platform of the HR-technology solutions they will assemble will help them answers questions like “Who is the best candidate?” “Who is the most likely to succeed in a stretch role?” and “How can we best utilize rewards to incentivize better performance?” What I think about–and I hope you will too when assessing HR technology–is “How does this solution lead to better HR/talent/people decision making?”
While every HR-technology solution is unique and designed to help organizations solve their HR, talent and business challenges in their own way, at their core, solutions are mostly aimed at one of the three areas I described above. Good HR-tech solutions either help the organization win the war for talent, create an environment where people can do great work and help the organization succeed or enable HR and business leaders to make the best “people” decisions that they can.
In my estimation, the better solutions serve two of these purposes, while the very best–which are hard to find–manage to serve all three.