The HR tech market is almost as hot as Las Vegas in September. This year’s HR Tech conference was one of the biggest ever in regard to solution providers, corporate buyers, consultants, thought leaders and analysts—and even a fair amount of venture capitalists ready to place their bets. The venue, a large hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, was an appropriate place for anyone looking to wager their chips on a winning solution.
About one-third of all solution providers at this year’s conference were offering something to help organizations address their needs in the “war for talent”—finding and attracting the right skills and capabilities in a highly competitive market. There were a fair number of start-ups looking to find their niche, many best-of-breed or point solutions promising to integrate with anything and everything, and the normal big players offering massive references (and throwing massive parties). As I talked with many solution providers and buyers, visited the expo floor, and listened to different sessions, I observed three significant contrasts, just like the contrast between the (admittedly dry) heat of the Nevada desert and the chilled conference rooms.
- Women as Buyers of Tech vs. Tech CEOs. The first morning’s theme was around women in technology. The majority of conference participants—potential buyers of technology solutions—were female. Still, of the 20-plus solution provider CEOs or founders I met with at the conference, only two were women. Most solution providers still have heavily male-dominated leadership teams despite the proven benefits of gender diversity (both in a general sense and particularly that which mirrors their customer population). The tech industry has an opportunity to do more to cultivate a diverse leadership pipeline and attract more women to the industry. Many of these organizations even offer their customer solutions designed to reduce bias and smoothen and help create a more balanced leadership team. If they can demonstrate that they walk the talk, customers will likely take note and recognize the opportunities.
- Technical Solutions vs. Organizational Readiness. The solutions are out there, and some are literally way out there (productivity super-apps, anyone?). Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, voice assistants, and cognitive computing are ubiquitous—from chatbots promising to create exponential efficiencies in HR service delivery to behavioral nudges for performance improvement based on mood detection, and everything in between. Meanwhile, buyers often search for a solution merely to automate legacy paper processes or replace homegrown systems, and need a path to reach these advanced capabilities. For example, a panel on performance management showcased vendors that provide real-time, AI-based solutions that enable performance and development activities in the flow of work. Meanwhile, the vast majority of participants likely still operate with traditional annual reviews that are barely automated. Our upcoming High-Impact Performance Management study will examine this discrepancy and provide a guide to help increase organizational capability to take advantage of technical solutions. Buyers increasingly look to providers and other market leaders to help them bridge the gap from their current state to the point at which they can leverage advanced technology capabilities. Those solution providers, consultants, and thought leaders helping buyers make that transformation can position themselves to come out on the winning side. Conversely, those that focus purely on technical solutions, with no way to translate into a roadmap through services and consulting, will likely struggle. Solution providers who have strong consulting capabilities – or collaborations with others who do—are well-positioned in this environment.
- Technology Capabilities vs. Human Connections. I saw sleek user experiences and new capabilities that looked promising, and that was really exciting and cool to experience. Still, like most people I met at the conference, I was most energized by the in-person, face-to-face contact, establishing human connections as a foundation for future working relationships. For me, technology was the conversation starter, not the ultimate purpose of the conference—just like technology alone does not increase organizational capability, but can serve as an enabler. I found it invigorating to learn where HR technology is headed. Getting to know the leaders of HR tech companies in person, and gaining an understanding of their passion, progress, and purpose was even more powerful. In the end, the human element is what makes or breaks relationships. Organizations that put their chips on the winning bet for their unique cultural, organizational, and individual context will have increased odds to create value for their business. Solution providers and buyers alike can focus on fostering these personal connections, identifying those that fit their culture and mission.
HR technology is increasingly heating up (capabilities are so advanced they might have seemed like science fiction just a couple of years ago) and chilling down (even these capabilities become commodities quickly, as it is easy to copy them). Organizations’ quest for “best-in-class” technical features will change to a search for their “best fit” collaborator—one that connects with them personally, fits with their organizational culture, and aligns with their overall purpose. Winning relationships will use technology as a powerful enabler to make meaningful, sustainable, and mutually beneficial human relationships. The ultimate goal: to fuel a human-centered work environment where everyone can do their best work and reach their potential.
 The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance And Women’s Representation On Boards (2004–2008), Catalyst.org / Nancy M. Carter and Harvey M. Wagner, PhD, 2011, https://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/bottom-line-corporate-performance-and-womens-representation-boards-20042008.