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What We Learned From HR Tech 2020

Cornerstone Editors

In a year that has completely redefined the HR function and HR technology at a rapid pace, it’s no surprise that change was a theme throughout this year’s HR Technology Conference and Expo. Hosted virtually across four days and 136 sessions, this year’s #HRTechConf had no shortage of valuable insight for attendees on how the pandemic and the social and economic disruption of 2020 have accelerated digital transformation, technology innovations and other changes around the people experience at work.

Keynote speakers, analysts and industry experts emphasized how organizations and their use of technology must adapt to support people in the now of work—and beyond.

Here’s what we learned at the event this year:

We’ve Seen a Shift to Adaptable HR and "Work Tech"

In the opening keynote, Josh Bersin acknowledged how 2020 has forced HR into a new operating model, one that is more responsive (efficient) and resilient (adaptive) to the changing needs of business.

"HR, itself, has turned into a much more innovative, adaptable part of a company," he said.

Josh noted that 40% of workers have changed jobs or roles, or have a new manager. A full 90% of companies have instated a work-at-home policy. The need for HR and HR technology to help people be more productive and focused while working remotely is critical. As a result, HR tech is shifting to "work tech" and Bersin likened it to a Swiss army knife ready to support the new world of work.

Making the Right HR Technology Investments are More Important than Ever

Despite the promise these shifts in HR technology trends are bringing, the latest Sierra-Cedar/Sapient Insights HR Systems Survey reveals a 27% decrease in expected expenditures for HR technology this year. Sapient Insights Group Chief Research Officer Stacey Harris cautioned attendees, "if your conversation is all about cost cutting or're NOT having the right conversation."

Instead, Stacey emphasized the value of a continuous change-management approach to HR technology investments because it’s linked to better talent and business outcomes.

Building Workforce Resilience is Critical When Disruption is Everywhere

From widespread remote work to increasing automation, disruption is driving cultural shifts and a need for leaders to act with empathy and care.

In their session, 10 Things Leaders Need to Know in the New Normal, Cornerstone’s own Chief Learning Officer Jeff Miller and Chief Talent Officer Kimberly Cassady shared key strategies leaders can use to help their people thrive. A key takeaway? Leaders don’t have to know everything. Instead, Kim and Jeff advised them to "create space. Space for you and your employees to think. Ask for feedback, and ask often."

In his keynote, How HR Can Boost Workforce Resilience, Marcus Buckingham echoed the need for feedback, because it builds trust between leaders and their people. And trust is critical to drive resiliency, which today is at an all time low.

For more tips from Buckingham on boosting workforce resilience, read a full summary of his keynote here.

Organizational Purpose is Here to Stay

In her Day Two keynote, Finding Your North Star: The Importance of Purpose (and Technology) During Disruption, Stacia Garr, Co-Founder and Principal Researcher at RedThread Research, shared how the integration of work and life has many people questioning what makes us human. In short, the pandemic and the social and economic unrest of 2020 is exposing the need for corporations to be citizens—to have an organizational purpose that goes beyond shareholders to encompass all stakeholders important to the business. Stacia shared that there are three reasons why we will see this rise in purpose-driven business persist:

A shift in employee sentiment,

Purpose is good for business, and

A stronger level of commitment from companies than we’ve ever seen before.

For more on why organizations need talent leaders to exert an active role in the conversation around purpose at work, check out this Cornerstone-sponsored research paper from RedThread Research: The Purpose-Driven Organization: HR’s Opportunity during Crisis and Beyond, 2020.

Create Safe Spaces to Drive Lasting Cultural Change

To encourage employee engagement and reduce burnout, leaders need to promote a team mindset. Mental and physical health and safety is the most important moving forward. So too is fostering a sense of belonging and inclusiveness.

In her keynote, Culture Matters: How to Interrupt Systemic Discrimination From the Top-Down and Bottom-Up, Dr. Tolonda Tolbert emphasized the diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) need to be intentionally embedded into organizational culture.

"By creating a safe place for employees to self-reflect, learn new behaviors and habits and put those skills into practice you are able to drive a lasting culture change," she said.

At the end of the day, employees who feel valued and included at work contribute more, and that supports all business goals. As we face these unprecedented challenges, innovative thinking is the only way to survive and thrive—and creating demographically diverse teams is the shortcut to innovation. Dr. Tolbert emphasized that technology can be a differentiator.

In his keynote, Why Ethics Should Be at the Heart of HR Tech Decisions, founder and principal analyst of John Sumser cautioned that the loss of proper boundaries between life and work because of COVID-19 is creating serious consequences. "Where we are now is neither new, nor normal, nor sustainable. In order to navigate the future of our workplaces, we’re going to have to learn how to talk about mental illness."

Sumser shared that ethics is the foundation of safety and health and that HR needs to lean on technology appropriately in order to truly understand and address issues related to employee well-being and safety.

We’re Experiencing the Rise of the Talent Marketplace

Talent mobility and the gig economy are now a reality, and the emergence of the "Talent Marketplace" is accelerating how organizations retain talent and support talent mobility. In the session The Role of Technology in the Talent Marketplace, attendees learned that "gig jobs" within organizations are the way forward to not only unlock unknown talent within the organization, but also enable a better understanding of the skills that already exist. Reskilling and strategic skilling along with the use of AI can surface new development and job opportunities.

Moreover, understanding the employee journey and using technology to support that journey, through this new work experience will be more critical than ever. As Jason Averbook shared in his keynote Digital HR for Business: PLANNING 2021, employees work in journeys. Software vendors create modules.

But organizations deploy journeys and measure the impact of journeys—not modules. Therefore it’s important for HR to partner with their tech vendors to ensure the selection, implementation, and value of the tech investment is driven by the journey they need to deliver. This is HR’s job.

While the Future of Work isn’t Clear, Organizations Must Continue to Transform

Digital transformation, employee experience, well-being, diversity, gigs, AI... the amount of transformation impacting organizations and their people is astounding. The importance of using technology to support people through the accelerated change to the experience of work matters. As Lisa Buckingham & Ken Solon emphasized during #HRTechConf's closing keynote session - "transformation is all about company culture."

Thank you to Steve Boese, Jeanne Achille and the entire team at LRP for putting together a fantastic virtual conference and giving us so much more to think about and practice at our own organizations! See you (hopefully in person) next year!

Are your people equipped with the right skills today to adapt to a new world of work? Learn how the Cornerstone Skills Graph can help you implement "strategic skilling"—the practice of matching skills to people, learning content and job roles—to predict, prepare for and quickly respond to dynamic business changes.

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