Top HR Takeaways from Think 2018

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Insights into the future of work at the heavy-hitting HR Exchange, intimate Think Tank sessions that challenged and provoked, hands-on access to new HR tech solutions, and fantastic live entertainment all made Think 2018 one for the books. More than 30,000 attendees, including some of the world’s top HR visionaries, gathered in Las Vegas this week to discuss the latest big ideas in talent management, AI, cloud, mobile, security, and more. Here are some of the top HR themes we saw emerge at #Think2018:

Employee experience rules

If there was one common thread throughout almost every HR presentation or discussion, it was that the employee experience is critical. In her keynote, Diane Gherson, IBM’s CHRO, stated: “We have employees that are learning how to operate in a world that is consumer grade.” As HR shifts from global standards to personalization at scale, she said, “one size does not fit all.” This theme was amplified throughout the week, with discussions about how employee experience drives customer experience, examples of how the candidate experience impacts revenue, and an emphasis on the importance of building an experience around career development to retain and grow talent. Jeanne Meister, author and partner at Future Workplace, brought it home with the statement: “Employee experience is not an HR initiative, it’s a business initiative.”

Gary Hill talking about Jeanne Meister presentation at IBM HR Exchange.Andi Britt talking about Tina Marron Partridge presentation at IBM HR Exchange.

Play offense by using AI to empower people

During her keynote address, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty advised companies to go on the offense to win, specifically by leveraging digital platforms, embedding learning in every process, and empowering people with all forms of digital intelligence. While advising attendees to put AI though every process they do at their companies, she called out some of the pervasive places where IBM clients are starting: customer service, risk and compliance, knowledge workers, and HR.

“HR, ironically, to me is one of the greatest processes in a business to start at this,” Ginni stated. “I look at my own HR team and what they’ve done to put cognition in everything. Starting with when a candidate… comes to the website. Because we’re using Watson… we get 3X the applications that any other site out there gets from when people visit it.”

“Predict attrition, predict salary increases, personalize learning,” she continued. “Just last year, just the Watson parts of the improvements in my HR process was over $100 million.”
Dion Hinchcliffe talking about IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty keynote at Think 2018.

In this new era of AI, data is the key to the castle

Richard Hughes, senior vice president and chief of strategy, Human Capital at UnitedHealth Group, shared how his organization brought big data and AI to the talent acquisition process. In a panel on AI and HR transformation, Rich stated, “The future is going to be centered around the employee experience and taking engagement down to the individual level. There is no way we can do that at any scale without applying the best that data science has to offer.” Citing her experience using IBM Watson Recruitment to transform recruiting at H&R Block, Katie Waldo, talent acquisition manager, reiterated the importance of data, emphasizing that “Watson needs data – the right kind of data.”

Quote from Rich Hughes, UnitedHealth Group, at IBM HR Exchange.

Skills, skills, skills

Conversations around skills were almost as prevalent as the importance of the employee experience (and in some ways, inextricably linked). Linda Ginac, CEO of TalentGuard, shared that “95% of CEOs say they don’t have the skills required to compete in their marketplace.” Many presenters highlighted skills shortages driven by the digital age, a need for new types of talent with new skills, and the need for skills and competencies to change as technology changes. Jeanne Meister went so far as to claim that “doing a better job of understanding skills and job roles that impact the business is the next big thing in HR” and asserted the importance of looking at “skills, not schools.”

Narrowing the focus into one specific industry, conversation sparked around the skills shortage in cybersecurity, with Julian Meyrick, VP of Security for IBM Europe, citing that 70% of cybersecurity professionals say that skills shortages negatively impacted their business. One solution is to proactively assess the soft skills required for success in cybersecurity.

Quote from Jim Alvilhiera about sourcing talent for cybersecurity.

AI won’t take our jobs, it will allow us to do our jobs

We’ve all heard the concerns about AI taking our jobs. However, at Think 2018, the message across the board was that AI will allow us to actually do our jobs. With analysts predicting that AI will recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity by 2021, John Sumser, principal at HRExaminer, summed it up well by stating, “The work used to be the software. Today, the work is moving away from your desk, doing things, and creating value.” Katie Waldo from H&R Block reiterated: “AI in talent acquisition is not going to replace the recruiter. It is creating a shift for the recruiter to focus on more value-add activities.” Organizations like EY and BuzzFeed showcased examples of AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants delivering returns for the business and enabling HR professionals to shift their focus from administrative to strategic activities.

Tweet from Nicholas McQuire about EY presentation at Think 2018.

In fact, AI may just make us more human(e)

Resoundingly, the message at Think 2018 was recognition of the immense responsibility we all have as stewards and custodians in this new era of AI. There was also excitement at the opportunity to put the human back in HR. Tina Marron-Partridge, VP, executive partner, and global leader of Talent & Engagement for IBM Global Business Services, summed it up with this simple statement: “AI should help humans flourish, not diminish human value.”

Quote from IBM CHRO Diane Gherson at IBM HR Exchange.IBM HR Exchange panel of John Ferguson, Linda Ginac, Kevin Grossman and Obed D Louissaint.

Editor-in-Chief, IBM Watson Talent

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