One of my HR colleagues who ventured to the HR Technology Conference for the first time this year frankly declared, "this is different from SHRM conferences." When I asked in what way, he answered, "there's no little guy here." I reluctantly agreed and we both admitted there was a better way to declare the difference.
So as I thought about that comment over the course of the day, I understood it more. By design, HR Tech is smaller and not as broadly focused as SHRM. HR Tech isn't catering to the HR professional who is looking for instructions on how to fill out an I-9, or what interview questions to ask. Instead, HR Tech is hoping you can do all of this already. HR Tech wants you to not think about how to do everything in HR. HR Tech wants you to think about how to do it better.
Thinking about day two, my colleague’s comments kept resounding with me. Another comment from another colleague about how HR Tech is more likely to attract venture capitalists than SHRM, I thought this post title should be titled “Rich Man, Poor Man.” But as I watched the general session on “New Cool Technologies”, I realized it’s not a matter of rich as an opposite of poor. It’s rich in terms of density. It’s rich like a dark chocolate and peanut butter cake with vanilla cream cheese icing.
Better Is Better
Richness aside, it is about providing content to make you think about how to do HR better. It’s also important to know how and why technology is important to HR. In short, it comes down to the three things presented at Naomi Bloom’s panel discussion that morning: the cloud, social connectivity, and mobile usage. No matter how you feel about any of these things, you are certainly involved with one of these facets. Moreover, by 2025 the workforce will be using them instinctively and probably be onto the next technology.
As a result, HR faces the real-time problem of bringing all three into the workforce. Part of the problem is organizations aren't typically seeking HR’s advice in these matters. Sometimes it’s because all technological matters immediately default to IT. Sometimes it’s because all social media outlets are seen as a simple extension of Public Affairs. Sometimes it’s because HR doesn’t volunteer to get involved because they’re too busy with their day-to-day tactical duties.
Whatever the case, as evident from Marcia Connor’s closing keynote speech, HR is not involved enough. Since social connectivity is a human function, it’s absurd that HR is not part of social connectivity within an organization.
Put On Your Sales Hat
Hence, if HR is not part of this conversation, maybe it simply requires a salesman’s foot-in-the-door approach. Maybe HR just needs to behave like my friends in sales: do some research, know your marketplace and get a thicker skin.
Thus, to make the case for more HR involvement, HR should start with an area they are already considered experts. HR can choose anything: employee relations, compensation, recruitment, or health-care benefits.
Point in case, one of the best sessions at HR Tech was Mark Stelzner’s CHRO panel discussion on health-care benefits. As they weaved their way through the complex issues facing organizations in this country as well as globally, Stelzner turned the conversation toward technology’s role in the solutions. Not surprisingly, their ideas reflected the notions of social, the cloud, and mobile.
For HR and organizations, health care insurance has many issues. Primarily employees are economically dependent on employers for affordable care. Employees choose benefits from a very personal and emotional standpoint. Keeping employees engaged with their CDHP and hoping they take care of themselves amidst all of the other issues in their lives is an uphill battle.
During the conversation, social, the cloud, and mobile were mentioned as thoughtful tools to use. But these are just methods to communicate and can’t be thrown at the problem hoping it will just go away. The key for these methods and tools to work is if they are designed to go beyond simply communicating. They have to make connections.
In the benefit world, social, the cloud, and mobile have the ability to connect employees to their organizations. They provide workflow solutions. They can easily turn open enrollment from a once a year event to a twelve month engagement cycle. They can link employees to other employees who want to explore new approaches to healthy behavior. They can break the myths about what health care is, and what it’s not.
But it still requires connecting as its framework and organizations must be committed to connecting employees to other employees, management, and the organizations. This sounds like HR’s job description, doesn’t it?
All in all, this wasn’t just a lesson in technology, it’s a lesson in HR bringing technological issues to the forefront of their workplace for solutions on connecting better. It’s about HR recognizing the workforce of the future and preparing its organization for it today. It’s about HR doing its job.
Moreover, this is just another example why HR Tech Conference is so rich in content. Every year, I walk away charged from the topics, the discussion, the people and the ambiance. But more importantly, it makes me a better HR professional and that’s an HR conference doing its job.
The beauty is when HR and HR conferences are both doing their jobs. Everyone gets richer. Everyone gets dessert.