My HR Technology European Vacation

In his keynote presentation at the 2012 HR Technology Europe Conference in Amsterdam, Across Technology CEO Peter Hinnson discussed the concept of “the new normal,” and the impact of the “consumerization of technology” on the constantly evolving world of work.

While the jury’s still out if “consumerization” is an actual word (although dictionaries can’t possibly keep pace with Moore’s Law, after all), it was a recurring theme throughout the conference – and the industry dialogue in general.

Of course, Hinnson, unlike so many industry circuit speakers, admitted that he doesn’t “know much about HR,” which is something that few “HR thought leaders” would openly admit – although most, in fact, have never actually worked as practitioners.

That’s probably one of the reasons that Hinnson’s presentation was so interesting – although the material he presented was effectively the same messaging that’s resonated throughout our industry for the past few years.

But it was his technologist’s perspective – and impeccably rehearsed, highly polished presentation – that made concepts like ‘consumerization’ and ‘big data’ seem, well, relevant beyond the narrow constructs of the HR silo.

There’s a maxim in film that content is only 20% of the product – the other 80% is in the presentation, and Hinnson definitely reinforced this concept.  But then again, so too did the entire HR Technology Europe conference.

While there was nothing particularly new about the material (at least to those of us who pay attention to the mundane, geeky world of HR Tech), the conference itself came as a breath of fresh air at the tail end of a whirlwind conference season – for me, at least.

I’m often really cynical about our industry (and the obtuse consultant speak that passes for “thought leadership”), I came away from HR Tech Europe feeling a little like I did after my first HR Evolution: actually excited about this whole talent thing, the direction of the industry, and most importantly, humbled by the brilliant minds who are doing nothing less than changing the world of work.

And it’s a very big world.

So, in constrast to the jaded, pessimistic wrap-up I wrote of the domestic conference season, here, for me, were the highlights/takeaways of a conference that left me, well, optimistic and a little geeked out.  Kind of like Clark Griswold.

1.    Social Media Can’t Replace Face to Face: This was my first time in Europe, like, ever, which means that unlike, say, Vegas or Atlanta, I met long standing contacts, colleagues and collaborators for the first time in real life.  The result was validation that social media can create real, impactful relationships (and a reminder that there are real people behind those Twitter avatars), but also, that there’s no replacement for in real life.

While the relationships might have been initiated over social media, the real engagement (and meaningful conversation) can really only happen offline – and that’s where they’re cemented.

Which is why I probably go to so many damn conferences in the first place – and have so many professional colleagues I consider close friends.  Although, if Steve Boese’s theory is correct, all of them secretly hate me and are out to get me.  It’s a solid theory, given most of them are in HR.

But to get to meet so many for the first time was awesome – because, well, for once, it didn’t feel like same stuff, different hashtag.  Even if the content was pretty much the same as it always was, it was the presentation (and perspectives), which made this event, for me, so dramatically different.

Plus, terms like “SaaS” and “social sourcing” sound so much sexier when uttered in a Continental accent – or so much smarter when said in a British one.  Even if it’s utter fluff.

2.    A Time Zone Ahead: Many of the conference’s speakers stressed the need for simplicity in technology, of choosing usability over specious features.

And while recurring themes involved such forward looking trends as predictive analytics (if we ever get past this “big data” problem we seem to be having) and augmented reality (with the Layar to prove it), everyone came back to the pretty much the same point: technology will make us more efficient at our jobs and effective as HR professionals, but it’s not the tools that really matter – it’s the mindset.

That mindset does, in Europe at least, seem to be changing.  Here, there weren’t conversations about whether or not to get involved in social media, but rather, about how to best optimize it.

There was little conversation about blocking employees’ access to social, but rather, how best to aggregate those efforts in building a social enterprise (which merited a separate track, unlike in the US, where it rarely scores even a separate session).  And best of all, no one was talking about getting a seat at the table, but rather, how to best align talent strategy and business strategy.

In short, while in the US we talk a lot about our problems, the conversation seemed largely focused on solutions, or at least, how to create success instead of basically building a business case.  Which was appreciated.

3.    Culture Does Matter: I’ve worked for a lot of multinational companies (Monster, Warner Bros., Disney, Amgen), and recruited for a lot of internationally based roles.  That said, it’s easy to forget that behind that EMEA acronym we in America like so much, there’s a huge amount of nuance behind the differing cultures, customs and customers in each country that conglomerate represents.

While the European Union may exist as a political entity, that’s not necessarily reflected in the world of work, or in the business of people.

Location, in recruiting, is everything – far easier (although more competitive) to find a software engineer in San Jose than, say, Sarasota.  Talent is compensated, and competed for, based on the forces of highly localized labor supply and demand.

While technology has somewhat eroded these borders, it also reinforces the fact that there are divides in expectations, norms and best practices that are unique to every nation, which profoundly impacts things like employer branding, recruitment marketing messaging, internal communications and, for multinationals, the very possibility of a truly unified “corporate culture.”

It’s a good reminder that while we may be on the brink of building a truly collaborative, and truly social, global enterprise, the real value in these tools and technologies is not only in that we’re able to work together, but also, to help us understand how to adapt, and celebrate, the differences that make each market completely unique, helping us to better understand, and serve, our the internal and external customers, existing and future employees, colleagues, managers and counterparts.

Because, you know, diversity is more than a good faith effort.  It’s crucial to driving both innovation – and a truly global business community.

Originally published on the Talent Technology Blog

2 Comments on “My HR Technology European Vacation”

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