Being a human resources leader can be a slog. I know this on an intimate level, but to be fair, I haven’t experienced it personally for nearly a decade. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with some of the best (and yes, worst) HR leaders in the world.
For all the scorn that HR gets from everyone, I end up speaking to a lot of leaders who give a shit about their people and their organizations. They relish their role, something I could never square up with my own ambitions. On the flip side, when you’ve seen a leader run an organization in the ground on the people front, you appreciate the good ones even more.
So, I had a little patience when a vendor confidentially told me that the people he talked to at the HR Technology Conference didn’t get what he was doing to change the future of work for good.
They Just Don’t Understand
This vendor rolled out trope I’ve heard thousands of times: That talent acquisition is too advanced for an HR conference, that even recruiting leaders outside of the most progressive have issues understanding their vision for the future, and that in a perfect world, recruiting would never have to exhibit at an HR conference ever again.
I paused. There were a few things to untangle there. And there’s a whole post on whether talent acquisition belongs in close alignment with the rest of the talent management function (they do, by the way).
Here’s was the crux of my concern about this whole line of thinking:
- They had to have HR on board with their solution: Even they told me this. They were imagining a future that didn’t exist, and probably won’t exist for at least a decade or more.
- They didn’t understand HR buyers: They assumed they were idiots, yet I knew of a number of CHRO’s that had accomplished much more complex projects in recruiting, workforce planning, alignment, and development than what they proposed. We’re talking multimillion dollar initiatives. Their teams were there in spades.
- If people don’t understand your solution, that’s your problem: Look, most of the people you’re talking to are college educated. They can understand words if you string them together the right way and we’re not talking about quantum string theory or the multiverse here.
But maybe the biggest aha moment I had was that he — along with many other folks I spoke to on the trade room floor—were actually too future-focused.
The Future of Work Doesn’t Address the Present
Forever — is composed of Nows ——Emily Dickinson
While I haven’t always beaten the drum of the future of work, I’ve been as guilty as the next guy of talking it up when I have, usually for the sake of eyeballs.
And look, it’s a lot of fun to talk about the future of work — the same way it’s fun to talk about destinations that you want to visit at some point in your life. It’s a lot less fun to research plane tickets, hotels, excursions, and the like to make one of those dreams happen. Travel shows are escapism for people who long for exotic vacations the same way listening to the future of work is for talent leaders longing for an easier way to get their job done.
No matter where you are in the workplace technology ecosystem, anybody with real budget has to get shit done today. There’s a lot to get done, too. It can be compliance or productivity. It can be development or planning. It can be inclusion and culture. It can be managerial. It can be strategic. It can be tactical.
If you’ve plotted yourself too far ahead, it’s easy for organizations to say not yet. In fact, it’s probably the responsible thing to do. There are a lot of problems for organizations to fix. Where does your solution fit and why should they care? Even if your message is about the future, how do you stop the escapism and get them thinking about how this actually happens in the workplace of today.
It’s More Than Buzzword Hate
Buzzwords are so easy to diss on. But it goes beyond that. These buzzwords are often thrown out there with no context for how they work, why it’s better, and why it matters.
In some cases, it’s not simply a language problem—it’s a function problem. When you dig into some of these “all too advanced” innovations, you find something more akin to vaporware. An AI solution only takes you as far as its creator’s ambition and talent.
Most buyers have done enough to see through that charade and it becomes problematic for anyone who latches on to the hot buzzword of the year. That’s not just bad marketing but it’s damaging to your organization if you do have a solution that actually has promise to impact organizations today.
Own the Present of Work
When I see an industry zig, I want a brave soul to zag. There are a lot of companies out there chasing the dragon that is the future of work. I saw companies talking about 2025 or 2030, just like they talked about 2010 and 2000 in years past. I don’t think I saw anyone talking about 2020, which is good since that’s a little over a year away.
I’d love to see a company that’s rooted in today with solutions for today. Some of those may not be sexy, but they may actually fix issues that exist right now. Ignore all the future proofing bullshit, after all, there is still a large contingent of buyers with software hosted on-premise.
And they are happy with it.
(That’s pretty weird)
Anyway, I’d love to get some organizations up to 2018. If I’m being realistic, I’ll take even 2015. There’s a market there that would be way more appealing than being just another buzzword has-been. Fixing problems of the present? That never goes out of style.