Intelligent evolution: Key learnings on tech, data, and engagement from Toronto's HR Tech Summit

This year’s HR Tech Summit held last month in Toronto, was nothing short of amazing. I had the opportunity to host the two-day event, during which I had the pleasure of meeting Human Resources professionals from a wide range of exciting organizations. These industry leaders shared their insights and expertise on a number of subject areas.


By Jamie Hoobanoff, Founder, The Leadership Agency


Even with my over 10 years of experience in the industry, I learned a great deal from these innovators, and I walked away from the conference feeling more invigorated and empowered than ever about this dynamic field. Human Resources really is the voice of people. It is the driving force for workplace culture, creating engaged workforces, and more – and technology is evolving the ways in which HR is having an impact on people and workplaces.


I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts and just a few of the key takeaways about the latest technologies and their impact on the future of work.


It is clear that companies, large and small, from enterprise organizations to start-ups have come to realize the importance of involving Human Resources in making major decisions. HR has a seat at the leadership table.


Our voice is being heard, and it has the power to implement important change. We are walking away from antiquated and less agnostic processes and embracing technology, thought leadership, and leveraging data in ways we have never before.


Some of the most common themes people discussed at the summit were the importance of employee engagement and how Human Resources is leveraging technology and data for enhancing it. This blending of HR and technology is creating more disruptive innovations than ever across the industry. And leading organizations are using them to great advantage.


For example, Jennifer Johnston Di Loreto, Senior Director of Global Employer Branding at Salesforce, shared her expertise on employee engagement. Her team has created a formula for engagement which is "culture + tech + data = engagement."


Jennifer explained that all three parts are essential for success. A company must create and maintain a great culture for an engaged workforce, but that alone is not enough to keep team members engaged in a social, mobile, and interconnected world. Companies need to leverage the latest smart technologies, as well as compile and analyse detailed information on usage, performance and results. Data allows you to improve and to evolve.


Although HR has seen an increase in technological integration, Jennifer also emphasized that judgement and decision making should always remain human. Tech makes interactivity and communications easier; data allows people to make more informed decisions, but those decisions must still be made by tech-savvy, well-informed humans.


Zack Pendleton from Instructure also provided some valuable insights into how HR leaders can improve employee engagement by leveraging data. Zack’s talk was called, "Learning to Listen: How to Harness People Data." He touched on scaling the conversation of employee engagement through quantitative and qualitative data. Analyzing trends is the best way to understand how employees are engaged and what they respond to when it comes to engagement initiatives.


Another important aspect of employee engagement is performance management, an issue that many companies struggle with. Heather Haslam and Shawna Gee from ADP provided their insightful perspective on performance management.


They noted that employees are 12x more engaged when they trust their employer and their leaders. This proves that relationship management and open communication with employees is crucial for ensuring a highly engaged and productive workforce.

The vast majority (95%) of employees say that they are dissatisfied with performance management, largely due to the type of questions usually used in annual assessments. Greater trust and engagement can be achieved by creating more unique assessments, and asking more challenging questions such as "how would you rate your behaviour and your boss’ behaviour?".


With the use of technology on the rise, there was no better person to discuss its growing role in Human Resources than Carolyn Byer, the Head of HR at Microsoft. Carolyn encouraged us all to leverage technology to achieve higher employee engagement. She pointed out that while 88% of senior leaders are trying to shift culture and engagement within their organizations, only 30% are reporting progress. There is a lag in the speed of adoption when it comes to tech in HR, and those who don't keep up with the times risk being left behind.


The key takeaways from the Toronto HR Tech Summit were that Human Resources has an increasingly important role in making business decisions, and technology is simplifying and amplifying the work of HR. Forward thinking leaders leverage the latest tools and trends available, but they also use quantifiable data to inform and improve their decision making. Technology, communications, and data combined lead to smarter processes, more engaged workforces, intelligent evolution.


Some quotes we loved from the HR Tech Summit:


“Values create value.”Jennifer Johnston Di Loreto, Senior Director, Global Employer Branding, Salesforce


“Work is what you do, not where you go”Lisa Sterling, Chief People & Culture Officer, Ceridian


“The war for talent is over - they won! Its now a joint venture” Amanda Ono, VP, People & Culture, Resolver Inc.


“You can’t BBQ your way to engagement” Matt Burns, Founder, Global HR Collective


“Culture trumps strategy, every time”Lisa Chang, Head of People & Culture, Ritual


“Incentives work until they don’t”Anna Petosa, VP, People & Culture, The Weather Network

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