Averbook: Talent is the answer, not talent management

Human resource leaders must look beyond technology to keep employees engaged and satisfied. 
By: | September 30, 2021

Human resources is relying on technology to solve their employees’ problems and challenges—but often to the detriment of the same employees they are trying to serve.

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That was one of the main messages—and warnings—from Jason Averbook Thursday during the day’s closing keynote at the HR Tech Conference. In a wide-ranging address titled “After 18 Months of Disruption: Reinventing Organizational Purpose for the Future,” the co-founder and CEO of LeapGen and HRE columnist said HR needs to focus on the people and not the technology that they are pursuing. 

After dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 20 months, the subsequent hybrid workforce and employees leaving jobs in droves, Averbook asked attendees to text their current feelings for an online poll in which HRGreen meant “happy,” HRYellow meant “so so,” and HRRed was reserved for “feeling badly.” The audience results were roughly 40% HRGreen, 55% HRYellow and 5% HRRed.

 “We’re at the upper end of ‘eh,’” he said. “These are the most important questions we in HR can ask the workforce: how are you doing and going about your day?”

Averbook said asking employees how they are doesn’t have to involve a rating or an engagement score. “Why is this important? We are humans,” he said. “We have shifted from having a life outside of work, to one that is inside of work and into our lives.”

Averbook added, “We put way too much weight in the tech in a world where we have to understand how people are feeling.” 

Technology can only do so much. “We have spent $8 billion to make our lives in HR easier. How much have we done to make the lives of our employees easier?”

Averbook cited research that tech projects in 2019 often fell far short of the finish line and was rarely in the winner’s circle. Out of 700 HR tech projects completed in 2019, 15% met goals, 22% were on budget, 19% met deadlines and 11% improved employee experience, he said.

“We need to stop implementing tech as the answer to everything, and we have to start deploying human capabilities,” he said.

“We must ask ourselves questions, [like] “What do we want to be better at now?” Don’t use data from 2018 that says we hit a massive road bump. We are focusing on the work of now. What do you want to be great at and what [do you want] to be okay at?” he said. “What do I want to better at? Recruiting and retention and diversity.”

Averbook is a fierce doubter of the topic of people leaving work in large numbers for the reasons experts cite. 

“‘The Great Resignation’ is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. People have realized what matters to them, and you need to offer them an emotional employee experience where they can feel human,” he said. “If not, they are not going to work for you.”

“It is not just recruiting. If we are leaking people out … as fast as people are coming in, this is not good,” he said. “Talent is the answer—not talent management.” 

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Phil Albinus is HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children. He can be reached at palbinus@lrp.com and followed on Twitter @philalbinus.

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