I enjoyed reading Josh Bersin’s predictions for 2016. As he says, we are in a bold new world where everything in the area of talent and HR is changing or being fundamentally disrupted.

Josh’s research is always top notch and required reading by anyone looking to understand where our industry is heading. It also provided me with a reason to gather some thoughts that had been rattling around in my mind … not so much a set of predictions, more some observations and suggestions about this bold new world in which we work.

Embrace your inner geek

As you read Josh’s report it’s very clear that HR, learning, and talent leaders have no choice but to become technologists. Data science, engagement, analytics, predictive engines, design thinking, and deep learning have the power to fundamentally transform the impact of HR, Learning, and Talent but only if we understand and drive the technology agenda.

My statement is, of course, loaded with the implication that most HR and talent leaders are not strong technologists. Unfortunately, this has been my experience over the last twenty years; change is needed and it’s needed now.

The analogy I like to use is that of the Chief Marketing Officer. With the rise of marketing automation platforms, web experience management systems, social listening, and consumer engagement technologies the technical aspects of marketing have changed unrecognisably in the last ten years. The Chief Marketing Officer had to become a technologist, build teams of technologists, embrace design thinking, and disrupt their own businesses. As a result, they now often command one of the biggest (and fastest growing) technology budgets in most organizations and have become key movers and shakers. They have the seat at the table that HR has been yearning for.

I’ll say it again, HR, learning, and talent leaders have no choice but to become technologists.

What’s in it for me?

Most of the HR, learning and talent platforms we use today hail from the early 1990s and the original generation of internet technologies. And since that very moment we have been bemoaning the lack of end user engagement.

The fact is that we have always been able to coerce usage (think about some of those horrible expense management systems you have been forced to use!), however, one thing we know about coerced engagement is that the data it generates is poor quality and low quantity compared to volunteered data.

Just for one moment consider the amount of data that LinkedIn has about your employees compared with your own HR and Talent systems.  I can pretty much predict that there is no comparison – the LinkedIn data is inevitably more complete and more up to date. Why?

Your employees probably didn’t ask your permission to share this information with a third party and I am convinced that if they had very few organizations would have agreed. Your employees (along with 400 million others) did and continue to volunteer this data. Why?

People engage with systems for two reasons:

  1. They are forced to engage for a specific outcome. For example, if you don’t enter your expenses into this impossible to use expense entry system you will not get reimbursed; if you don’t enter your time into this impossible to use time entry system you will not be paid, if you don’t enter your deal into this impossible to use sales force automation system you will not get your commission, etc.
    This approach can get 100% adoption and can certainly get data into the system but this is not true engagement. You will get the absolute minimal about of data and it will be transactional by nature.
  1. They volunteer to engage because they get something in return. This may sound obvious but it is absolutely key to understanding engagement. In the HR, Learning, Talent context people will engage with systems provided that it is clear and obvious that this engagement will help them grow their career, establish social standing amongst their peers, find their next project, get promoted, etc.
    It amazes me how few HR and Talent leaders get this.

The message here is to always ask the “what’s in it for my employee” question when you plan any initiative. Let this guide your thinking and decision making and engagement will follow. With engagement comes better quality data and more of it and that is your pot of gold.

Follow the data

Very much related to the question of engagement is the question of data ownership.

Let me ask you a question. As an employee why would I volunteer data to my employer knowing that I would not be able to use that data to fulfill my own career aspirations?

How about this question. As an employee don’t I have a right to my record of skills and expertise? And shouldn’t I be able to take that record with me from role to role and job to job?

It’s amazing to me that this topic has not been tackled in any meaningful way. Until we do, we’ll continue to scratch our heads about the lack of engagement from our employees.

When we first sat down to envision TeamFit, the question of data ownership was one of the very first core principles we established.

Our belief is that the individual, at the very least, co-owns the record of the skills and expertise she has acquired at her employee and is entitled to take that record with her throughout her career. We also believe that the specific details of projects and work she performed to acquire a skill might be confidential or proprietary to the company she worked for and those details must be protected.

As an industry we’ve be talking about a portable universal resume for years and made pretty much zero progress – this is the gap that LinkedIn has exploited and all credit to them.

I would suggest to you that the question of employee data ownership is going to be one of the key topics that HR and Talent leaders and their organizations will have to address in the next few years. I suggest you get ahead of it right now and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the engagement impact.

As Josh says, a bold new world, where everything in the area of talent and HR is changing. I encourage you to take this opportunity to disrupt and question everything we have taken for granted. It’s going to be a blast.