Here are 3 Takeaways from HR Tech China

Recently, I attended and participated as a speaker in the HR Technology Conference & Exposition China, a joint production of LRP Media Group and Shanghai DLG Exhibitions & Events (Group) Co. Ltd. Held in what is quite possibly my favorite city in the world (Shanghai) over two full days, the event featured a stellar lineup of HR leaders, industry experts and well-known business and thought leaders from all over the globe, who shared their insights, expertise and latest research. Additionally, the HR Tech China Expo was full of innovative HR-technology providers, both global as well as many from the Chinese and greater Asia Pacific markets, who demonstrated a diverse, modern and highly advanced set of tools and technologies. In short, HR Tech China was not unlike similar events of its kind in the U.S. and other places in the world–and these pretty striking similarities are among the most interesting takeaways I left with, and what I would like to expand upon in this month’s column.

Talent Drives Organizations

I don’t think I have been anywhere else in the world where HR and business leaders talk more about talent than it feels like they do in China. To be more accurate, our Chinese colleagues in HR tend to use the plural (“talents”) when discussing the traits, skills, capabilities and contributions of the people who make up their organizations. Each time I have been to China, I come away with that same observation: the Chinese (and, for that matter, the larger Asia Pacific region) are extremely focused on talent–where to find talent, how to engage talented people and how to maximize the potential of talent in the organization. I am sure that decades of economic growth, fairly substantial market transitions and the emergence of what seems like innumerable large, high-tech companies from China all contribute to this dynamic. Said differently, just about every HR and business leader I talked to in China mentioned “talent” in the first few minutes of every discussion.

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One last observation on this point: The event itself, and the overall vibe of Shanghai, felt very youth-oriented, with an excitement and positivity about the future. Along those lines, HR leaders there understand the need to create the kinds of environments and opportunities these younger workers seek.

Innovation in HR Technology Spans the Globe

This focus on talent and the need for HR leaders to have better tools, technology platforms, and repeatable and efficient processes to provide their organizations have led to the creation of a pretty sophisticated group of HR-tech solution providers that supply the Chinese and Asia Pacific markets. Of course, many of the large, global HR-tech companies you know have a significant presence in China (SAP, ADP and Cornerstone, to name a few), but there are also dozens, if not hundreds, of emerging China-based HR-technology solution providers.

When I first visited China in 2015, it was a fairly common observation that HR tech (and perhaps HR in general) in China was five to 10 years behind the U.S., in terms of tech sophistication, capability and even modern, progressive thinking about HR. While I am not sure that was really true five years ago, I certainly don’t believe it is true today. Driven by the technology of the large global HR-tech companies, and spurred by the increased investments in and governmental support of many innovative local tech companies, the Chinese HR-tech scene seems just as vital and current as anywhere else I’ve been. A quick tour of the HR Tech China Expo revealed a similar conclusion: a collection of HR technologies that would not seem out of place at the HR Tech Conference Expo in Las Vegas. Longer term, it seems to me that any HR-tech company with serious global aspirations will have to compete in China–the market is just too large to be ignored for too long.

Employers Everywhere Face Similar Challenges

If talent drives organizations all over the world, and the HR-technology capability is simultaneously advancing and coalescing globally, then what does that suggest about the most pressing HR and HR-tech challenges facing HR leaders worldwide?

I think what drives the people strategies that HR leaders devise, as well as the HR-tech tools and technologies they deploy in their organizations, are the people themselves–their capabilities, goals, motivations and preferences about work. The ways that people want to collaborate, the preferred methods to discover and learn new skills, all the way to the specific tools and devices they prefer to use to interact with work and the workplace all influence HR-leadership decisions around strategy, process and technology. What was clear to me after this most recent HR Tech China, and with all the conversations I was able to have while there, was that what most employees really seek from their employers is pretty similar, no matter the country in which they live and work: meaningful work, the chance to grow and succeed, the ability to learn new things and a sense of belonging. Employees want to know they have made the right decision about what kind of work to do, are in a position to best fulfill their goals and that they are contributing to something greater than themselves. These are consistent aspirations all over the world.

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I always learn so much about global HR and HR technology in China and at events like HR Tech China. The most important lesson is that, despite the differences between our two countries and cultures, there always feels like we have much more in common and much that can bring us together. HR Tech China Conference Co-Chair Trish McFarlane echoed these sentiments: “In a time when the political climate is ever-changing, it is rewarding to be involved in an event that brings countries and cultures together,” she said. “At the core, we learn that people everywhere want many of the same considerations and technological advances in the workplace. HR Tech China provides the ability for business leaders, HR practitioners, vendors and government officials to come together to share and learn. It was an amazing experience.”

I believe that feeling stems mostly from the individual, one-on-one collaboration, conversations and efforts to find ways to connect as people. I have never felt more welcome anywhere in the world than in Shanghai. I can’t wait to go back for the next HR Tech China in 2020.



Steve Boese, HR Tech Conference chair
Steve Boese
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at [email protected]