Easy now, here comes the future… #HRTechEurope

A number of recent research papers have suggested that within the next 6 months the entire world will be run by a robot army, thereby leaving us as a species with little to do except sit around puzzling as to the role of humans in an economy that is run by robots. Of course, we don’t need to do that thinking either, as that could easily be done by robots. I imagine the last thing that people will relinquish to the robots will be the joyous act of putting funny cat pictures on the internet but, being a pessimist at heart, I fear that even that most sacred of activities is under threat. The only element of debate appears to be whether the robots will look like Arnie in Terminator or more like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit. Frank Sonder considers some of the potential impacts in this excellent and far less flippant piece.

I attended HRTech in Amsterdam last year and it is fair to say that one evening I became horrendously, horribly drunk. I assume someone must have cunningly spiked my 12th rum and coke, as it really hit me quite hard. As is the case with this new information age the results of that event were captured and instantly shared. This photo of HR professionals delicately balancing some traditional Dutch cuisine in their mouths was almost instantly available to anyone in the world with a connection to the internet (about 40% of the world’s population). Being drunk is, of course, a not unreasonable thing for an adult to experience occasionally – but it wasn’t previously the case that 40% of the world would have access to that information.


Alone (and drunk) in Amsterdam I should have done the sensible thing and called a taxi, instead I started tweeting that I was lost – and alone and drunk. David Goddin, it turns out, used to live in Amsterdam and guided me back to my hotel whilst I took photos. I considered those photos to be very arty at the time, but they were strangely quite blurry when I revisited them in the morning. Yes – social media is simply that responsive. It is a network like no other. Everything has changed.

Possibly the biggest differentiator between these times that we live in and any other period in history is the level of interconnectedness of people and the ability to have information on demand. The fundamental nature of ‘smart’ has changed from being knowledge orientated to being a function of the ability to acquire and process new information.  A new age – with new skills, new values, new capabilities and the same old problems for organisations. The very advances that allow us to share pictures of HR professionals eating also allow us to tackle far more challenging and entrenched organisational puzzles.

I, technically, started my career in old fashioned Personnel. I worked in Personnel for one year before the organisation I was in ‘rebranded’ the department as Human Resources. On the launch day of this brave new world I came in to find the door to the office had been labelled ‘Human Remains’. I later found out that this had been done by the HR Manager herself as an act of rebellion.

The key issues articulated to me as ones to solve for HR when I started my career were

  • management/leadership competence
  • problems caused by functional silos
  • proving commerciality to ‘the business’
  • an appreciation that communication cascade wasn’t effective enough to maximise productivity

I’d argue that the issues remain largely the same. The potential solutions are, however, far more accessible, affordable and likely to succeed. I believe we are at a tipping point in terms of technological capability and that is why I’m looking forward to HRTech in London. The possibilities for technology in HR are intriguing – not because they are ‘new and sexy’, but because they are starting to be able to address entrenched and deep problems that have existed for years.  The line up of speakers is excellent (I’m particularly looking forward to Costas Markides), but there will also be value to had from conversations and connections in the Exhibition.

If you are attending and fancy a coffee then tweet me – because that one act shows how technology doesn’t have to be impersonal. It isn’t technology or humanity; it is how we use technology to enhance our lives that matters – and I’m a firm believer that HR technology can help improve our connections and decisions in the workplace.

Come along and see some solutions. Come along and debate solutions. The future is coming and luckily it may solve the very problems that I faced in the first days of my career.

2 thoughts on “Easy now, here comes the future… #HRTechEurope

  1. The connections enabled by technology are amazing. It amuses me to no end that I know (met in person or skyped with) 3 of the 4 people in your photo from Amsterdam + the 5th person who guided you through the streets. I find it baffling and wondrous that it’s possible to run in the same professional circles with people spanning 8 time zones.

    I once proposed a presentation called “What’s New & Sexy in HR Isn’t” based on the same premise as what you mention: how we address the issues may change, but the issues are still largely the same. I recently came across an article from 1981 in HBR titled “Managing Human Resources”. [https://hbr.org/1981/09/managing-human-resources] It states: “Some will argue that we’ve been doing many of the right things and that it is societal factors such as the “declining work ethic,” the “new breed,” and the “new sociology” that are eroding managements’s efforts.” Sounds like today’s articles about Millennials, but this is talking about the Baby Boomers.

    It goes on to ask “Why do so few companies actually make use of the greatest competitive weapon of all – the powerful resources of motivated, energized, cooperative, trusting people?” Obviously the technology from the past 34 years has let us solve this question and now we’re on to bigger problems. Wait, what?


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