07 October 2019

#HRTechConf 2019: What Stood Out Amongst all the Glitz

Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


2019 HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas was optimistic and enthusiastic, brimming with talk of humanizing work, improving the employee experience, and ever-increasing vendor growth rates.

This year’s HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas was optimistic and enthusiastic, brimming with talk of humanizing work, improving the employee experience, and ever-increasing vendor growth rates. If you want to see what folks thought in general, check out #hrtechconf on Twitter.

As we left the show, we captured a few of the things that struck us from the show (admittedly, we saw relatively little) and our 30+ vendor meetings:

  • D&I Tech: Given that we started the D&I tech conversation a year ago at this show, we are perhaps a bit biased on this one in thinking that it is important. However, the fact that a session on this topic in the Women in Technology part of the show had hundreds of people in it (see picture above) shows the incredible interest in the topic. That said, we were extremely disappointed that the conversation did not focus on the broader D&I tech landscape of solutions, and instead was largely focused on two types of technology that serve traditional D&I needs: pay equity and harassment reporting. We wish the conversation had focused more on the opportunity of D&I tech, which is to scale awareness of D&I-related issues and provide insight during critical decision-making moments (e.g., hiring, performance feedback, promotion).
  • Ecosystems and integrations: We’ve never heard as much talk about how vendors fit within the broader HR technology ecosystem as we did at this show. (Granted, Dani spent part of her session talking about learning technology ecosystems, so it was top of mind.) However, almost every vendor we spoke with talked to us about how they fit within the ecosystem of others in their space, the partnerships they are building, and the need for better and more scalable integrations. We also heard more about how vendors are being asked by customers to “figure it out” with vendors they may not have worked with in the past, putting a new pressure on partnerships and (quite frankly) flexibility among the vendors.
  • Skills: The subject of skilling (or re-skilling or up-skilling) the workforce is a huge one, and we heard about it from many different vendors. There are a range of perspectives on how to measure skills and what can be done with that information (e.g., workforce planning, learning approaches, career mapping resources, internal project or job marketplaces). We are still not confident that any vendors have cracked the question of how to skill the workforce for the future, but at least folks are thinking about it.

We were asked by many vendors for advice on what they should do moving forward. Here are a few of the themes we touched on:

  • Stop asking employees for information you can get somewhere else: Nearly every vendor in the expo hall is asking employees for data, many via surveys (and as we said, no matter how pretty it is, no one wants to take another survey). Yet, vendors are able to access more latent (existing) data from internal systems and external (public) sources than ever before and our technologies for analyzing that information have never been more powerful. Vendors need to break out of the habit of asking employees to give them information and instead ask: “How else can we get the information or insight we are seeking?” And then build that capability, whatever it is.
  • Push more insights down to employees: Building on the previous point, we are pulling together more data and insights on employees than ever before, but it seems that the primary purpose is to give it to management to manage the business better. While that is all well and good, it is not enough, as it limits insights, decision-making, and action to management, who often serve as a bottleneck to change. Instead, organizations need to provide more information to employees so that they can better understand what is happening and adjust their work and behavior accordingly.
  • Build for the future, not tomorrow: It may sound overly grandiose, but we believe we are at an inflection point in many ways with HR technology, where we are building truly revolutionary tools that will influence generations to come. To that end, we are encouraging vendors to think beyond the short-term when it comes to their product vision. For example, don’t focus just on skilling the workforce with a certain set of skills we think will be useful, but instead focus on helping organizations create environments where people are constantly encouraged to learn whatever skills are necessary. Or, as another example, identify ethical standards for people analytics – even if it may limit what can be done in the short term – so that we can set a solid foundation of trust so we can do more interesting and profound analyses in the future.

What do you think? We’d love your reactions or questions about what we’ve written and – for those of you who attended – we’d like your own reflections on your experience in the comments.

Finally, we want to thank those of you who were able to attend Dani or Stacia's sessions. Please feel free to reach out if you'd like a copy of our presentations ([email protected]).

About the author

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.


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