Influencers like Jason Averbook discuss how the biggest HR problems lie in understanding our workforce.

Influence in HR technology comes from many places, takes many forms and continues to evolve over time. When the HRE/HR Tech Conference team met over the winter to work on this Influencers list, we knew it would be important to consider all aspects of influence. Some have more of a direct and immediate effect on products, while others have a more subtle yet longer-term impact. It’s safe to say all, however, are having an important and noticeable impact on where HR technology has been, where it is today and, perhaps most importantly, where it is heading. And that, above all else, informed the decision-making that went into compiling this list, which presents those being recognized in alphabetical order. Click here to see the Top 100 HR Tech Influencers.

Leighanne Levensaler
Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy, and Managing Director and Co-Head, Workday Ventures
Workday


What’s the single most dramatic shift you see happening in the HR tech space today?

As the new world of work evolves, I am seeing the next era of HR technology shifting away from managing workers to actually enabling employees. Individuals are requesting more career experiences, are eager to expand their skill sets, and want opportunities to learn and grow. With the competition for talent so high, it is essential that companies put people at the center of everything they do in order to retain their top performers. By meeting employees where they are—and enabling them to go where they want to go—organizations will be the enabling enterprises that are best positioned for success.

How is HR technology changing the way people work?

The answers to our biggest HR problems lie in understanding our workforce. Through the insights gained from HR technology, we know where the employee is at and how they feel about their experience.

This is game changing—now managers have people insights at their fingertips that enable them to offer the right opportunities at the right time to the right employees, and individuals can receive recommendations around career development, learning and workplace tasks that are more targeted to their needs.

HR leaders are no longer flying blind—with HR technology, they have the necessary insights to make key people decisions, keep their workforce engaged and ultimately retain top talent.

How can HR leaders best make the business case for HR technology investment?

I have found that if a company can’t evolve its technology to keep up with the way it is evolving its HR practices, it will fall behind. In today’s world, organizations need an HR platform in place that is agile and capable of adapting to changing workforce demands such as personalization, shifting skill requirements, hiring and retention in a tight talent market, and different generational needs in the workforce. Companies that can experiment, deploy new strategies quickly, and plan with agility—with the support of automation and machine learning—will differentiate themselves from the competition and stay ahead in the market.

Ron Hanscome
Vice President, Analyst
Gartner


What’s the single most dramatic shift you see happening in the HR tech space today?

After two years of marketing frenzy around AI, vendors, consultants, and thought leaders have focused on the employee experience as the theme for the rest of 2019 and 2020. Look forward to many providers positioning their solutions as an “employee experience platform.” While improving employee experience is a worthy objective, HCM applications leaders should be aware that it represents the sum of all touch points a person encounters during their journey through an organization, and involves interactions with many other applications beyond HR. No single HCM application will be able to serve as such a platform for the foreseeable future.

In acquiring and implementing new technologies, what’s the one or two most common mistakes HR organizations make?

The most common and biggest mistake I see is not getting a broad enough perspective from typical employees and managers – project teams tend to think that they can “put on their employee/manager hat” on and properly represent those roles. The issue is that HR and technical project team members tend to have too much intrinsic knowledge about how the solutions work, and are usually not connected enough to the day-to-day interactions of employees with HCM technology. To counter this, involve “typical” employees and managers (and contingent workers if applicable) from requirements gathering through the vendor demonstration and selection steps.

Are there certain strategies that are more effective than others when it comes to getting your workforce to use new HR technologies being put in place?

The most critical strategy needed is to ensure that the new solution satisfies at least one important “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) requirement for each affected role. This will drive workers to try the new functionality in the hopes of getting value. Along with this, project teams must view the deployment of new HCM tech as a formal sales/marketing campaign which requires investment (people and funding) over a period of time. This includes a rollout plan that involves multiple modes of communication, builds excitement for new capabilities, and highlights experiences of early adopter “champions” to deliver WIIFM examples.

Jonathan Sears
Principal, People Advisory Services
Ernst & Young LLP


What area of the HR function will be most impacted by emerging technologies, and why?

New technologies that leverage different flavors of artificial intelligence will continue to impact HR Operations and Shared Services teams—both in how those teams interact with and support your workforce, as well as how they process large volumes of data and information.  Natural Language Processing to passively collect and process workforce information, and conversational AI tools (e.g. chatbots) to replace legacy HR Portals, are two examples of this impact occurring today.  Longer-term, look for blockchain technology to disrupt the broader HCM market in a significant way—as individual employees take on the ownership and responsibility for their own data.

In acquiring and implementing new technologies, what’s the one or two most common mistakes HR organizations make?

A common mistake is to believe that buying new HR technology will magically solve whatever operational challenges you’re experiencing.  In many instances, it’s the poor design, implementation and configuration of your existing technology, or the complexity of your business processes, that is truly the root cause of your issues.  It’s easy to blame the technology—but when you don’t address the root cause, you end up over-spending on technology without achieving your desired outcomes.

Are there certain strategies that are more effective than others when it comes to getting your workforce to use new HR technologies being put in place?

The traditional, often tactical change management activities are all important: change networks, communication plans, stakeholder interviews and other prevalent methods are used for good reasons. But to truly create sustained adoption it takes: (1) a unified and effective leadership team, (2) an inherent readiness for change from the organization, and (3) an intentionally managed change experience for the employees/users of the technology. That managed experience must be centered on the ‘heart’ and the ‘mind’, and be powered not only by intuition but data and insight. Once all three of these factors are in place, employees will see that there is something in the change for them, connected with a larger purpose, making them much more likely to lean-forward and adopt the new technology.

Rebecca Wettemann
Vice President of Research
Nucleus Research


What area of the HR function will be most impacted by emerging technologies, and why?

All areas of the HR function are being impacted, but the most significant impact is coming for HR managers who must become partners with business leaders in finding the best ways to coach employees. The most effective HR managers will take advantage of process automation and artificial intelligence to improve hiring processes, reduce the amount of rote work, and focus on employee experience—providing employees with proactive advice on performance, how to align their aspirations with opportunities, and how to get actionable feedback from managers.

How can HR leaders best make the business case for HR technology investment?

There are three keys to building a strong business case:

The first is focus. The best business cases only have two or three benefits; few good ones have more than five. Honing in on the top benefits of your business plan can help you focus your efforts in building a strong case but also help you use the business case as a roadmap for the project itself, focusing on deployment and adoption milestones that ensure you achieve those areas of real benefit. If you’re not sure what the top benefits of your business case are, rating them on breadth and repeatability (how many people an application or process touches, and how often) are a good place to start.

The second is to remember a business case is as much to get budget for a project (proving your case up to management) as getting buy in from the users that will actually be using it (proving your case down to employees impacted). Employees need to understand, for example, what automation will enable them to do—spend more time on more interesting projects, reduce conflict—that will impact them personally.

The third is communication. Having a clear and crisp, non-HR justification for your project that can be communicated both up and down will help build political and business momentum. The thing I like to remind HR professionals of here is MOM. It’s not an acronym: if you can’t explain it to your mother, you need to sharpen up your message.

How is HR technology changing the way people work?

We are just beginning to see how emerging technologies like robotic process automation and artificial intelligence impact the workplace. In an ideal world, a more data-driven workplace helps recruiters hire employees who are a better fit, helps high achievers gain recognition and the coaching and training they need, and helps managers scale their skills and advice to personalize their mentoring for each team member. In reality, AI and automation also highlight the weaknesses of poor managers and processes. In implementing these technologies, HR professionals are most successful when they’re transparent about the changes and their impact and help employees understand how technology reduces human bias, makes managers more effective, and ultimately improves their employee experience.

Jason Averbook
Co-founder and CEO
Leapgen


What’s the single most dramatic shift you see happening in the HR tech space today?

The biggest shift happening in today’s HR technology space has little to do with technology, implementation, adoption, or even measurement. HR technology supports workforce experience, and that’s all about design.  Over the past five decades, we have been designing HR technology solutions and deploying these solutions to match the title of our industry. In other words, we’ve essentially been building “technology for HR.”  Times have changed; our audience has shifted where forever where a technology provider’s audience is the workforce and their experience. As part of this shift, we’re finally learning the importance of driving employee engagement, not enragement. And when the workforce uses the solutions we deploy to them—engagement as both cause AND effect—the people function gains the data we need to be true, strategic business partners.

Are there certain strategies that are more effective than others when it comes to getting your workforce to use new HR technologies being put in place?

We set short-sighted goals when we put HR technologies in place: we just want to get it live, then we want to drive adoption, then we put a governance model around them to keep them current. The strategy for getting the workforce to USE them should support a longer-term, more strategic goal: the technology should support a business outcome and make the people using it more effective at accomplishing that goal. Start by calling them something other than “HR tools and technologies” and try “business or people solutions.”

We must also realize that Phase 1 deployments need to both add value AND create an experience that will bring them back. It’s a lesson we’ve learned from the outside world—when we download an app from the app store, we decide within seconds if we like it. If we don’t, we delete it. If Phase 1 of a deployment doesn’t make an immediate and positive impact on the employees it was designed for, the worker will abandon the use of that tool and our rollout will be for naught. We won’t get the workforce back, and they will revert to talking to the HR business partner.

How can HR leaders best make the business case for HR technology investment?

The best way for an HR leader to make a business case for HR technology is by a) not calling it HR technology and b) understand how “WHY = I”—why are we doing something, how it equates, and how we will measure the impact of our investment.  Too many times our business cases are not business cases but HR cases; this doesn’t sell. We must consider broader organizational objectives and tie our initiatives to those efforts. If we’re trying to make the case for something we cannot tie to organizational objectives, then demonstrate the tangible impact of our actions, we shouldn’t be doing it.  We live in a world of people solutions, not HR technology. Tie your business case to a solution for the workforce that you can measure and which meets an organizational objective, and it will meet open ears.

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