HRTech in its evolution to Unleash has gone from strength to strength. The event is now an established forum for top international keynote speakers, commenting candidly on the wider trends that impact organizations — and, of course, on HR. Combined with a wide range of active breakout sessions, a startup stage and a vibrant expo floor, the struggle is deciding what to miss.
So pulling out takeaways from the London event is hard work and very personal. The main challenge for me is bridging the gap between the wider cultural and political trends raised by keynote speakers and achievable objectives the average HR person can reasonably implement when they get back to their desk.
No One Likes Change
The overarching theme was driving strategic change, with a rider that businesses as well as individuals can be resistant and slow to change. Jack Welch’s quote that “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near” echoed widely during the two-day event. A key message was that it’s up to every individual to change their behavior and thinking, and to become the change they want to see.
But easier said than done perhaps? Change is uncomfortable and harder to manage for all concerned, as Euan Semple commented on the startup stage: “Organizations don’t want transformation; they just want tweaking.” He addressed managerial and cultural assumptions as part of “digital transformation,” and was asked what to do if management doesn’t change. His response was unequivocal: “Senior management has to take responsibility and move, or remove, people.”
A similar point was made by a number of commentators in a range of contexts, particularly in relation to the stalling of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Jonas Kjellberg, co-creator of Skype, urged participants to ‘innovate, don’t imitate.’
A Macro View
Alexander Betts, a professor of international affairs at the University of Oxford, touched on the macro elements of strategic change and said the failure to adapt and respond to three mainstream shifts — technology, migration and globalization — was at the core of the “Brexit” vote.
These three factors have left some parts of the U.K. — and other parts of the world as well — feeling alienated and left behind economically, and he says the vote is a clear signal to governments to invest in retraining and up-skilling initiatives for others who are feeling left behind. He also called on businesses and HR professionals to use this as an opportunity to create long-overdue innovative strategies to source, hire and retain new talent to fill the growing skill gap.
A Micro View
Kristen Pressner, global head of HR for Roche Diagnostics, focused on individual responses to change and how our own brains and unconscious biases interfere with our objective decision making. She says HR leadership should be more proactive as the “disruptors that drive strategic change” rather than slipping into a default role of offering safe, tested options.
Our biases frequently hold us back as individuals, and therefore hold back our organizations as well, she says. Overcoming bias and the way we have always done things is going to be key in finding innovative solutions to talent-management challenges, and to deal with skills shortages and the up-skilling of existing and future workforces.
Jason Averbook brought the event to a close, calling on organizations to create frictionless workforce experiences via a combination of the right products, the right people, the right moment and the right channel.
The words that stuck: “Nothing will change unless you change.”