Update from Masie Learning Conference and HR Tech Europe

I just finished a marathon travel-week which included a few days at Elliot Masie's Learning 2012 conference and several days at the HR Tech Europe show in Amsterdam... and some comments on "the power of personas."

(Slightly long blog post, but filled with information I hope.)

Masie Learning 2012 Conference: Energizing and Informative as Ever

Elliot Masie's conference is "the confab" for the L&D professional, and I found it as energizing and fun as ever.

I think the whiteboard below pretty much sums it up.



As you can see, L&D professionals around the world continue to deal with a lot of thorny issues: implementing the 70-20-10 model, designing content for iPads, deciding what to outsource, and figuring out how to design performance-driven learning interventions.

We had a small meeting with 20 or so clients and discussed our new High-Impact Learning Maturity Model and the group started a lively discussion about how to apply content management disciplines as the L&D organization matures.

As I discussed with Elliot at the conference, Learning & Development forms a vital backbone to all elements of talent management. No matter what business problem you face, the need to refresh and improve skills and performance plays a critical role.

Our research shows two major trends taking place:

First, a shift from training "programs" to a focus on a "continuous learning environment."

This means that today's L&D professionals must be very good at "audience analysis," which includes building what we call "personas" to define training users.

In Europe I met with the head L&D strategist for Shell, and he shared that the company has developed 8 Shell "personas" which are used throughout design and development to help the company figure out if a particular training or content process is going to apply to this type of user.

A "persona" is a powerful tool. A persona appears to be a real person, with a job, work environment, and a name. "Bob Jones" the sales rep may be a persona in your company, and you need to understand Bob's demographic history, his daily work practices, his background, and the problems he faces every day. By naming Bob a person, you can keep going back and asking yourself "Would Bob find this helpful?"

Personas are vital tools in audience analysis, and audience analysis is a critical path to building a continuous learning environment.

Second, a shift toward performance-driven learning, with less focus on skills per-se.

The second shift taking place is a jump away from "skills-based" design to "performance-based" design.

Why do we have skills and competency models anyway? They are an artifact designed to help us break down work into its component parts and help L&D teams built tools which develop those skills.

Ultimately, however, what we care about is "performance" - so rather than taking the time to drill into skills in great detail, more and more companies are focusing on "what drives performance."

We've done a lot of research on "the science of fit" and what you find is that a search for the elusive "skills" doesn't take you to the answer. High-performance is based on many factors, most of which are psychographic and many are personality-based. So while skills are a critical part of performance, they are not the only goal - so modern L&D programs look at the "Talent-related" issues just as importantly as the "skills" issues.

Here's an example. When Xerox looked across its organization for the highest performing business units, they analyzed skills, business strategies, product strategies, and a variety of other topics. They found that the highest-performing business units had a "different management model" - they asked more questions, they expected more planning, and they had a stronger "culture of learning." These attributes are not "learning objectives" or "skills" - but rather performance drivers, which go well beyond the category of skills.

All our research shows that culture and management are just as important as skills - and L&D professionals are understanding this more every day. Read our High-Impact Learning Culture research for more information, and watch for our upcoming HR and L&D capability model.

HR Tech Europe - The New Place to Be for HR Technology Leaders

The second conference I attended was the two year old HR Tech Europe Conference, which was one of the best-run conferences I have attended.  (Almost as good as the Bersin & Associates IMPACT conference).

The conference brought together a combination of thought leaders, HR leaders, and technologists to discuss a wide variety of issues facing businesses as they consider various forms of HR technology.

Unlike the United States show, this conference is small enough to meet everyone and has a whole "show within a show" focused on next-generation talent and social applications of HR. The result, the conference mixed technology with strategy in a highly effective way.

Technology Enabling Agile HR and Organizational Models

Many of the presentations, for example, deal with the broad issue of how organization structures are changing, and how HR technology facilitates agility and business decision-making. And today, as Thomas Otter discussed in his keynote, technology is changing everything: cloud, mobile, social, and consumerization all coming together at once.

I gave a presentation on this topic, and highlighted how modern HR practices are often based on early 1900s' organization structures, and gave examples of companies who have re-designed their HR practices to drive collaboration and speed. Several companies actually discussed these models in their presentations, showing how European organizations are often more flexible and forward-thinking than those in the United States.

The HR Technology Ecosystem

While the HR technology space is a "market," in a broader sense it is an "ecosystem." We analysts see this integrated ecosystem and its various directions every day. In Europe, where companies are very dispersed and do business in multiple countries, the technology ecosystem plays a major role.

While big companies like Oracle, SAP, ADP, and IBM now play in the market, small vendors like Lumesse, CornerstoneOnDemand, Workday, Meta4, Saba, etc. and others continue to be very important in Europe.

Big companies in Europe tend to have SAP or Oracle already, but they desperately other tools to help them complete their entire ecosystem - and most of the companies I talked with discussed their complex network of various products.

At one of the dinners I attended I met with the head of HR for a large Saudi-based chemical company. This company, with more than 40,000 employees, has four different global HR platforms and each has its own legacy and set of related tools. While I"m sure Oracle, SAP, or Workday would love to sell them an integrated platform, such a move would be enormously expensive and probably wouldn't add much value to the business (each business unit develops and sells very different products).

So while the idea of a global infrastructure makes good sense to every company, what you see in Europe is the simple fact that different countries and business units often operate independently. The HR Technology industry has to come to grips with the fact that "there may not be standard platforms" and all tools eventually become obsoleted by innovative entrepreneurs.  Speaking of which...

Rapid Investment in Social Recruiting:  Building the "Google of People"

As one activity in Amsterdam, I sat on a panel led by Jerome Ternyck called the European iHR Competition (read the blog for details). What it pointed out was how quickly new innovators disrupt this market, and also the incredible new role of social tools in recruiting.

The winning vendor was actually a company here in San Francisco called TalentBin, which has developed a toolset to assess talent through the use of social information. This is a huge new market, and as Jerome puts it this is the new market for "The Google of People."

Thinking it through, I realized that these new tools (TalentBin, Gild, Entelo) will become huge - and they threaten to disrupt the assessment industry. While we know that psychological and competency-based assessment is hugely powerful, can't we figure out your skills by looking at all your friends and activity online?  Well not precisely yet, but there is a lot of money and brainpower going in this direction. And once people start cracking this code, watch out.

A Thoughtful Approach to Technology

Final thought. One of the big things I see in Europe is a thoughtful and deliberate approach to technology. Companies here have the same issues as those in North America, but they tend to be more experienced and savvy about the complexities of technology implementation in highly diverse environments.

While the tech markets continue to be hot, let's all remember that HR organizations and their companies need sound, solid solutions which solve real business problems, not just deliver fun and fanciful tools. My discussions with many companies and Europe reminded me that the best HR technology decisions are pragmatic, long-term, and business-driven.

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