The Last Word: Why I Have a Love-Hate Thing Going With HR Tech

Oct 23, 2015

Editor’s Note: After five plus years, Weekly Wrap is changing to The Last Word because, well, it’s TLNT’s last word on what is happening in HR and talent management this week. 

OK, I confess: I have a love-hate relationship with the annual HR Technology conference.

I was reminded this week, while attending again in Las Vegas, that I love that it’s a huge, important HR event that I get to go to, but I hate that I always leave feeling that I hardly get to see any any of it.

HRExecutiveTechConference-1And here’s one more thing about HR Tech: The more I go — and the 2015 event this week at the Mandalay Bay was probably my ninth or tenth time — the less I get out of it.

I was stuck by what HR legend Kris Dunn (he’s CHRO at Kinetix, and a guy I knew back when he was just a budding blogger) wrote over on his HR Capitalist blog:

The HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas … (is) the HR industry’s best show. Led by Steve Boese (the co-chairman of the conference), the show is basically the intersection of talent problems and how technology can be used in the solutions for those problems.”

Big, and one of the best, HR shows

Kris is spot-on about that; HR Tech IS a great show, and although I would hesitate to call it the BEST HR industry show, it’s definitely up in the top handful of must-see HR events each year.

So, why the hate? It’s probably because I always leave HR Tech feeling cheated that I haven’t gotten to see very much of it.

No, I don’t get a lot of time to just wander the Exhibit Hall and immerse myself in cool, cutting-edge, and sometimes groundbreaking HR technology. And no, I don’t get to many sessions (although I did nod through Marcus Buckingham’s opening keynote this year), so I don’t really get to hear people talking about what’s going on in the HR tech arena either.

Instead, I get stuck in the press room doing back-to-back-to-back briefings with vendors who are ravenous to talk to the media — ANY media — about their products.

A tech vendor feeding frenzy

There’s nothing wrong with hearing what vendors have to say, and honestly, I got a lot out of the briefings this year (especially those with PeopleMatter, PageUp, Equifax, GuideSpark, Fairsail, WorkMarket, and Cornerstone). I always learn a great deal from sitting down with tech vendors to hear the fascinating hows and whys behind their products.

But for members of the HR media, to get a press pass to attend the show means you get put on a list that gets circulated to all the vendors (and there are hundreds and hundreds of them) exhibiting at HR Tech.

When that happens, it turns into Shark Week and the feeding frenzy begins.

People don’t believe me when I say this, but I get so many requests from vendors to meet that I could spend all four days of the conference (Sunday through Wednesday this year) meeting with them in half-hour increments from 6 am to midnight. Even this year, when I tried to limit the number of meetings, I still had in the neighborhood of 40 requests from vendors for a sit-down.

In other words, my ability to truly attend HR Tech and see what is going on has been hijacked by vendor meetings, and it means I head home from Las Vegas without any good sense of what happened at the big conference I just attended.

And, that’s why I HATE HR Tech.

What I’m doing differently next year at HR Tech

So, here’s how I am going to handle this if I decide to attend HR Tech again in Chicago next October. That’s a big IF, because it depends on me pulling a George Constanza, swallowing my outrage at the Windy City’s exorbitant taxes and prices, and doing the opposite of everything I’ve done in the past:

  • I will not take ANY (that means zero/nada) vendor meetings;
  • I will attend sessions and spend lots of time walking the Exhibit Hall and soaking up all the great technology;
  • I’ll attend as many vendor parties as I can pack in (although vendor parties aren’t as big when HR Tech ventures outside of Sin City);
  • I’ll find more time to catch up with people and friends who usually attend HR Tech but are smart enough to avoid the press room like it’s the Kalaupapa leper colony;
  • I’ll concentrate my focus on leaving the conference with a great sense of what is cool and newsworthy in the HR technology arena;
  • Most of all, I’ll speak well of Chicago (although though clenched teeth, I’m sure).

As I told Bill Kutik, the guy who really built HR Tech, when I saw him this week in Vegas, it’s a hugely important event that is a “must see” for everyone and anyone in the HR community. I just need to see more of what it has to offer — if I can bring myself to seeing it in Chicago. when HR Tech returns in October 2016.

Workplace stress is shortening the lives of workers

Of course, there’s more than my whining about HR Tech going on this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly wrap-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • The road to tech product success? Strong leaders who make their teams work all night. Google Chairman (and former CEO) Eric Schmidt had some interesting comments this week on about what it takes to have success in the technology arena. Here’s what he said, in part: ” The way you build great products is small teams with strong leaders who make tradeoffs and work all night to build a product that just barely works. Look at the iPod. Look at the iPhone. No apps. But now it’s 70 percent of the revenue of the world’s most valuable company.”
  • Do employers really want to hear what employees think? The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog was in Las Vegas this week at HR Tech and reported on how Hyphen, a startup that sells itself as an internal version of Glassdoor, is a site that crowd-sources workers’ reviews of companies. The mobile-only app gives employers a chance to listen in on anonymous conversations among employees to find out how they really feel. In exchange, employers must offer an open, nearly no-holds-barred network (the app bans 3,000 words and lets users flag and take down posts).” But they also notes that, “It’s unclear whether large employers really want to hear workers’ unvarnished opinions, though.
  • Stress in the workplace is shortening the lives of workers. The New York Times’ Taking Note blog this week reported on a Stanford study that found that “work stress can and does shorten lives. The risk goes up as education level goes down, because the lower someone’s level of education, the greater the exposure to work-related stress from unemployment, layoffs, job insecurity, shift work, lack of health insurance, work-family conflict, arbitrary management and low control over scheduling and work duties. … The unavoidable conclusion is that a healthier population requires healthier workplaces.”