07 June 2022

Our Top 5 Insights from UNLEASH America 2022

Heather Gilmartin Adams
Research Lead
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is a reflection on the UNLEASH America conference, which was held in Las Vegas on May 24-25, 2022
  • Some of the main themes of the conference included people analytics and data; skills; and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)
  • We were struck by how many HR leaders are preparing for changes caused by inflation, talent shortages, and other global / macro trends
  • The next UNLEASH conference will take place in Paris in October 2022

We were recently in sunny Las Vegas for the UNLEASH America 2022 conference. It was amazing to see so many thinkers and practitioners together—to see old friends and meet new ones.

Many thanks to Kate Graham, Marc Coleman, and the entire UNLEASH America team for putting on a fabulous event.

5 key takeaways

Heading into this event, we were curious to see how much has changed since we were in person 2 years ago. We were thrilled to see that a lot of progress has been made on a number of fronts.

People Analytics is fully mature

Looking at the vendors in the expo hall and the session agenda, it struck us that People Analytics has come fully into its own. The analogy that popped into our minds was a debutante establishing herself in society. (Perhaps we've been watching too many British period TV shows.)

This maturity appeared in terms of both quantity and quality. There were lots of People Analytics vendors at UNLEASH—a sheer increase in volume compared to past years. And these vendors had a much higher level of sophistication in terms of the functionalities and types of analyses they offered.

This observation aligns with our recent research on the People Analytics tech market, which found that the market grew at an unprecedented rate of 53% year-over-year in 2021.

Organizations are listening to employees more, in more ways

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the growth of the People Analytics tech market, we also heard a lot about listening and employee experience. Organizations are increasingly aware that listening to employees—and responding to what's heard—is key to improving things like employee experience, retention, and productivity.

For example, in one session RJ Milnor, the Global Head of People Analytics at Uber, explained how Uber's employee listening program has informed key decisions for hybrid work. The company used a listen-adapt-respond approach to understand how to make hybrid work a success. Interestingly, Uber found that their listening program (with associated actions) improved employee experience and also built trust (Figure 1).

RJ Milnor from Uber explained how their employee listening program built trust.

Figure 1: Employee listening built trust at Uber | Source: UNLEASH America 2022 conference, photo credit to RedThread Research, 2022.

We expect to see a lot more employee listening in the future. This listening will likely be continuous, not just annual surveys. And it'll incorporate iterative responses that allow organizations to adjust to shifting environments and employee needs.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is becoming ingrained in most aspects of HR

We were pleased to see that DEIB was intentionally woven through much of the event agenda and planning. The speaker lineup was refreshingly diverse, and many vendors at least articulated how their solutions could support DEIB efforts.

Interestingly, only 5 sessions (of over 50) had titles that referenced diversity, equity, or inclusion. We noted, though, that DEIB was often mentioned in the sessions we attended even though it wasn't the main topic of discussion. We think that's a good thing. DEIB is becoming a foundational lens through which HR leaders are viewing their work, rather than an add-on or separate effort.

Organizations and vendors are still at the beginning of their skills journeys

Skills have been a hot topic in HR for the last few years, and UNLEASH was no exception. Skills were a prominent part of vendor messaging and session programming.

Most interesting to us was the fact that although skills continue to be a hot topic, most organizations and vendors are still early in their skills journeys. Many organizations are still struggling to figure out what skills they have and what skills they'll need in the future.

On the positive side, many organizations have made progress on mapping a skills taxonomy to their existing jobs, job families, and job architectures. This achievement helps many organizations use skills for talent acquisition, employee development, and workforce planning in new and practical ways.

HR functions are preparing for change

Day 2's keynote, "Navigating the Never Normal" by Peter Hissen set the tone for many of the discussions we had at UNLEASH America. There was a clear sense that change is on the horizon, and it's unlikely to stop anytime soon. HR functions are keenly aware that they—and their organizations—aren't immune to macro trends like inflation, faster cycles of disruption, ecological changes, and social changes. We had a number of conversations in which leaders mentioned that:

  • Venture capital funding has slowed in many sectors
  • Hiring has slowed and headcount reductions are becoming more frequent
  • Some form of remote / hybrid work is here to stay
  • Inflation is affecting everyone

Within all this change, HR leaders are thinking about how they can help their organizations be as agile and nimble as they’ll need to be in the months and years to come.

What's next?

We're already anticipating the next UNLEASH event, which will be held in Paris this October, as well as the next UNLEASH America in Vegas next April. We look forward to seeing what developments take place between now and then.

Heather Gilmartin Adams

Heather is a senior consultant at RedThread Research. Trained in conflict resolution and organizational development, Heather has spent the past ten years in various capacities at organizational culture and mindset change consultancies as well as the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelors degree in history from Princeton University. She has lived in Germany, China, Japan, and India and was, for one summer, a wrangler on a dude ranch in Colorado.

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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