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Two fascinating lessons from the HR Tech conference

HRM went to the first day of AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition, and sat in on the HR Tech conference. Here are two of the more interesting lessons from the day.

John Wilson FAHRI, the deputy chair of AHRI board, opened the tech conference on a summation of the future of work that might be familiar, but remains troubling. Nobody knows how comprehensively or quickly automation and AI will disrupt or replace our jobs, so how should HR prepare?

Here are two things we learnt:

1. HR is getting ready for a scary future

What Wilson sketched, opening speaker Patrick Sharry, director People And Decisions, painted in vivid colour. He referenced a huge number of advances, from robots that are better diagnosticians than doctors, to the wonders of neuromorphic and quantum computing. 

It’s easy to scare people about an alien technological future that could leave many of us behind, so how best to prepare for it? Sharry’s initial advice was practical: there’s no excuse for ignoring the analytics. “I’ve worked with a lot of companies where the opportunities come not from big data, but small data – the data you already have,” he said.

But he also reflected on larger problems. There’s a quote from Udo Gollub, CEO of 17 minute languages, that goes, “If you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90 per cent fewer lawyers in the future, only specialists will remain.” Sharry took that warning and turned it into a challenge for the people profession.

Because if we don’t have lower level, entry-level positions such as legal clerks, how will we train the experts (legal or otherwise) of the future? Or, as Sharry put the question, “A big job for HR is how do we build expertise in a world that is so automated?”

2. A case study in how to create HR tech

A wonderful feature of the national conference is the mixture of big sky thinking and pragmatic advice on HR responsibilities, born out of real experiences.

One great case study came from Melissa Dorey, GM global HR technology and innovation at Telstra, who told the audience how her team approaches the creation of HR technology. She joked that she wanted to make everybody in the room a designer.

She insisted that for any HR tech (apps, systems, etc.) employee experience (EX) is much more important than user interface (UI). Key to understanding that is knowing every employee experience is different and begins when they first think about work in the morning. Whether that’s opening an email at home, jotting down notes for what they have to do that day, the questions that need answering are: Where were they? How did they feel? What were they thinking?

Then she offered three nuggets of advice:

  • Employees are your customers. “You need to know all of your employees. I don’t just mean the folks in the office with the fancy equipment down the hall from you. I mean all of them,” she said.
  • HR tech is your product. The case for the technology that you’re creating should be that it fulfills an employee need, more than it fulfills an HR one.
  • Change management is marketing. You should aim to launch a must-have product that employees really want to use and are excited about. “Imagine you are Apple,” she said.

Dorey also emphasised the importance of effective preparation. “Research changed the problem we thought we were solving,” she said.

Over two weeks, five team members conducted 30 hour-long interviews in the field, in stores and in the office. Before they began they thought the problem with their HR tech was that employees couldn’t find what they needed online. Instead, they found people weren’t going online at all. Their HR contact centre mostly consisted of telling people where the information could be located.

So to help change that, the new home page for their HR system focuses on the three most important HR functions to employees. Leave, pay and time sheets. It’s dynamic and refreshes all the time, giving people a reason to come to the page. The system has gone from 60 hits per day (a lot of those coming from HR staff), to 6000 per week. By positioning it as something employees value, they become familiar with it, and learn about its other functions.

Dorey’s whole presentation is too long to go into here, but her final points had to do with continual improvement. Once the product is launched, and the IT developers have moved on, you have to keep looking for feedback. And you have to ask yourself, “Are you looking at the total employee experience, or just simplifying your area?”

There’s a Voltaire quote that Sharry referenced: “Don’t judge a person by their answers, but by their questions.” At AHRI’s National Conference and Exhibition’s tech conference, there were excellent examples of both.

The AHRI National Convention continues at the ICC Sydney, with the main convention program on Tuesday and Wednesday (22-23 August), and one-day workshops on Thursday (24 August). If you are in Sydney, drop by Australia’s largest and free HR exhibition (22-23 August) and check out the latest in HR products and services. 

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