I saw so many interesting things at UNLEASH World 2019 in Paris this year. UNLEASH does a better job than any other event at covering both the here and now of HR tech – the what’s working and what isn’t – and the future of work and emerging HR technology. There’s almost too much content crammed into two days to cover it all. But, we all tried! Even with a unique format where all of the content, tech, and festivities were all in one place and on one floor,  if you were at UNLEASH you “got your steps in” getting to everything you wanted to see. The new format made it easier at UNLEASH than at most other industry events.

Given the breadth of content and sessions at UNLEASH, and the diversity of tech vendors from around the world, there were plenty of trends to spot.

Some trends have become themes that really crossed all HR tech categories: The use of AI, automation, and conversational interfaces is something that vendors of all sizes and market positions are working diligently on. User experience, portability of data, and reaching global scale for customers would also be themes that crossed technologies.

Having covered the market for decades, I find that the trends in HR tech can be driven by either side of the marketplace – HR and talent leaders – the practitioners, customers, and buyers and/or the HR technologists – the vendors that see where the HR and talent leaders are going, and based on their vision for tech, start to push the envelope.

There was no shortage in both innovative thinking by HR and talent leaders or by HR technologists. I’ll share four of the more prevalent trends that I left Paris thinking about:

The first two are being driven more by the HR and talent leaders.

  • Employee Experience (EX) – Putting employees at the center of everything. That’s good. Here’s the thing – when I talk to HR and Talent Leaders, it’s about the overall experience – from candidate experience in recruiting through onboarding to every daily interaction an employee has with their work and with their workplace – as simple as pay and benefits, as complex as interacting with my work, my team, or my supervisor, manager, or leaders. Based on their unique environment, culture, situation, and/or demographics what are the current opportunities to impact EX? It’s not one size fits all. This is where I see a disconnect with tech vendors and a few of the “thought leaders” in the market. Most of the tech vendors have employee experience confused with one, or all of the following: They confuse it with tech user experience, employee engagement measurement, or an integration layer over HR tech apps. The fact is that it may be one, any combination, or all of those things. Vendor tip: start talking specifically about how and where you have an impact, and stop trying to make your narrow contribution the entirety of EX.
  • Analytics – I know we’ve heard that one before, but people analytics’ time has come. Finally. The HR and talent leaders I met with have a strategy and/or plan in place for people and workforce analytics – they are data driven and they are demanding access to the insights they need. They are looking for vendors that can support this. And Finally . . The tech has caught up with the vision. Whether we’re talking about in app analytics, in platform, or an analytics platform across the HR tech stack, we’re finally seeing vendors supporting the HR and talent leaders’ needs for data that doesn’t just reflect the process, but provides predictive insights and helps them correlate to business outcomes.

Now for the trends I heard more from vendors than leaders in HR or talent.

  • Skills and reskilling – There was skills-based everything. Taking inventory of a company’s existing skills, mapping that to the jobs internally, then matching based on an algorithm, sprinkling in some machine learning or AI… factoring in data from a workforce planning initiative – using the same data to then look at candidates externally… this was the vendor talk track du jour (hat tip to Paris). And the earlier stage the vendor was, the more I heard this. Some of the solutions took more of a top down – command and control approach. Some put the employee as the focal point for more of a career path planning initiative. Either way, no one is doing this incredibly well yet. The historic challenge of integrating data across HR technology systems is getting easier, but it isn’t easy. I find most startups waive their hands at this, and most platform vendors tend to focus on whichever domain they are strongest in. HR tech customer/buyer tip: While this is an area we should all be expecting to see more from, as you look at vendors take a pause and go to your networks (professional and social) to see what customers you can find to speak to directly – get feedback direct from customers without the vendor as the intermediary.
  • End to end – or “everyone’s a platform” – We’re seeing this in talent acquisition with recruitment marketing, CRM, and analytics – or from core process to onboarding to sourcing, CRM, etc. We’re seeing it in talent management with employee engagement, performance management, learning, and analytics. We’re seeing it in wellbeing with benefits, wellness, and other aspects of core HR and analytics. In order for vendors to scale and provide more value, they must branch out. You get better analytics with access to more data – customers like to integrate less, and manage fewer vendors… makes sense. Let me tell you when it doesn’t make sense – when you’re an app or only sole purpose best of breed and you call yourself a platform. Vendor tip: No one’s buying it – you only get so many words in front of a buyer, use them with more purpose. Buyer tip: At this point, I would almost discount the use of the word “platform” unless you’re talking to a large HCM player. Ask vendors to show you the distinct modules or capabilities that allow them to make the claim. It usually becomes obvious right away how much breadth exists, or doesn’t.

I was so excited about this event – I learned a lot. I had a great time. AND as Event Director for UNLEASH America – responsible for the experience across all of our constituencies – it gave me plenty of inspiration that I’m bringing into the event in Vegas in May of 2020. We’re working on some very cool new things that will excite both HR or talent leaders and any exhibitors or sponsors alike. More on that soon. Watch this space.