Disrupt with digital HR? I dare you (not to!)

Disruption is everywhere in business right now. We are led to believe that it’s the holy grail of business success. Certainly, it’s the holy grail of promoting a new brand and re-brand UNLEASH and fair enough.
Unleash your potential
HR Zone and I were at last week’s #UNLEASH18 Event in London. Disruption was everywhere there too, from keynote to close. ‘Brand HR’ threatens to be no exception to the rule that we must, within the function itself, create noise, deliberate damage to our markets and seismic change.
UNLEASH is the group and globally-leading event that has, until Amsterdam in 2017, been styled as HR Tech World. The re-vamp suggests that to ‘unleash your potential’ HR tech interests must form part of a wider HR and business agenda. (I suspect too that it aimed to achieve some disruptive headlines, which is perhaps fair enough.)
Here I’ll give you some of the highlights and a bit of a clue why the unleashing of your own talent and tech potential may not need to be quite so revolutionary. This I suspect many of you will be rather pleased to hear.
Read on for the headlines of #UNLEASH18 and how the thought-leaders suggest you use tech to get ahead with your organisational and people capabilities.
Jonas Kjellberg, now of BCG Digital Ventures, writer and investor, and previously co-creator of Skype, delivered an impressive keynote: ‘How do you disrupt and change the world of work?’
I would have attended for this alone. If you have the opportunity to hear this gentleman put business challenge out there then do. Describing the revolution that Skype became for telephony, Jonas set out the case for computers changing one thing above all – and that is frequency. Because of big data and processing power, digital disruption allows costs to fall and volumes to rise to a scale not known before. That is revolutionary.
To deliver disruption, ask how your organisation, or your idea, can take a perfectly good business model ‘and destroy it’.
3 how-to clues for HR disruption
UNLEASH gave HR some good clues about how to support digital disruption.
One is the distributed workforce and thinking beyond traditional employment models. Recently Taylor and the associated government response to give more than a passing nod to the need to create fluid employer relationships.
The second is to address our capabilities. Jonas called for looking out for the ‘game-changers’ not just the ‘out-performers’.
Nicky Holley of the Corporate Research Forum, chaired a Think Tank: ‘Disrupt or Die’. He showed us the 4 key capabilities for the creation of a culture ripe for disruptive wins: risk-taking, collaboration, agility, hyper-awareness. HR leaders can put this into practice by crafting roles that allow time to experiment, ensuring efficient systems for communications, ditching our old-fashioned stack rankings and working with other departments to create work structures and places that support networked collaboration. (This last is the stuff of Organisational Development, OD).
Thirdly we can concern ourselves internally for an agile method and mindset in our own HR team, particularly when it comes to talent. Agility too, was everywhere at UNLEASH.
How can we be agile?
I enjoyed John Kostoulas, from Gartner, on ‘Disruption in Talent’:
When it comes to talent, use technology for insight and continuous learning about the effectiveness of job descriptions or candidate sources and for the rolling performance management conversations that should replace our one-off annual tick-box talk. Apply AI to allow candidates to see their career trajectory. This I saw in the product demo from Workday, for example. Or to pinpoint to the business the precise implications of non-compliance with learning programmes and suggest better targeting of learning intervention.
Don’t be scared of AI and automation here! I stress that the digital behind digital disruption augments rather than replaces human decision-making. Talent practitioners can, as a result, move swiftly. That is agile, whether or not you go for the styled-up sprints and scrums sophistications.
So far revolution at UNLEASH. Deliberate industry danger, destruction and disruption. But here is a conundrum for the majority:
How can we all disrupt? How can an established business dare to damage itself to such a degree? Is that a degree of risk too far? Is it even possible for big business to change in culture and in model to such a degree?
There is an irony in a conference that is supported by platinum and diamond sponsors by the biggies and best of HR technologies, such as SAP and Cornerstone, that the implication of the disruptive UNLEASH theme is the potential for small start-up success.
A not insignificant space was offered to start-ups on the exhibition floor. Typically, these providers are offering niche newness for HR. I spotted gamified coaching, multi-country payroll, employee brand-builders, a ‘robot recruiter’ and of course our (‘heartbeat’) pulse of the employee voice toolkit.
Nicky Holley had shown us that it’s the start-ups, the Unicorns of the recent years of the workplace, that have delivered disruptive change.
I was lucky enough to get to talk to Jonas Kjellberg at a round table. I asked whether it was possible for big business to disrupt, or big HR technology firms for that matter. He cited Starbucks as a rare but viable contender. I noted he didn’t address the HR tech.
I looked around the conference exhibition for that viable contender in people technology. There I do see rapid change and advancement. AI and the rise of the chatbots wakes up the insights and interface respectively.
This is not revolution. It is an exciting evolution.
These are ideas that germinate in technology and grow. Yes, they grow extremely fast! James Proctor, our Phase 3 Head of Consultancy Services, and I have been arguing about whether AI is ‘new’ and I remind him of the date we saw the Turing test design. I’ve written about ‘old wine in new bottles’ and how HR can take some comfort in understanding that the buzz around apparent disruption could just be a tech-twist and a re-badging of something much more familiar.
Remember that to disrupt, the keynote advised we ask how we take a perfectly good business model and destroy it. Do we need to do this in HR technology? I am reminded of the 2017 then HR Tech World keynote by a different industry thought-leader, Josh Bersin of Deloitte. He has described for us ‘systems of productivity’ to evolve from HCM solutions.
Remember the difference between game-changers in talent and out-performers. A different way to do well is to lead not to disrupt. This is the excitement that the major HR technology players have to showcase for our profession in 2018.
It is important also to notice that the adoption of technology – by us, the end-users – is by evolution too. I turned to David Wilson and the Fosway Group for a reality check on this state of affairs. Recently, I wrote about a parallel universe currently existing in the field of people analytics. David reminded delegates that less than 25% of European HR departments as yet have standardised systems; less than 1% are even contemplating blockchain.
It is true that HR can unleash organisational and people potential through evolving methods and mindsets to capture capabilities that technology can now deliver. Staying one step ahead of that advancement by watching spaces like #UNLEASH18, or by hearing from the thought-leaders, will help you grab that opportunity.
But disrupt or die? If you are an HR technology provider, I almost dare you not to. Unless you are a start-up or Starbucks.
Proving that leading the field is different from disrupting, Caffe Nero make a far better coffee (and read here about how as a Client you should know how you like your coffee!)


Image Credit:   123rf.com
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