As our next show, UNLEASH World, approaches we go back to America in May as Kate Graham talks to ace HR tech researcher Holger Mueller.
The interview was filmed at UNLEASH America 2022, in fabulous Las Vegas.
Holger Mueller: The panel was amazing. We heard from three amazing companies, Tyson Foods, Barry Wehmiller, and Zappos, which all have very different challenges going in, and are coming out of a pandemic with very different perspectives. I think the biggest takeaway for me was that they all said, HR is more strategic than before going into the COVID-19 pandemic. And that’s something we’ve been lacking, and wondering saying ‘does HR have a table at the boardroom’, So that’s a very good welcome change, I think, for the whole industry, especially for employees that HR, their advocate for everything, is more strategic than ever before.
Kate Graham: Yeah. I feel like we’ve talked about these things a lot. We’ve both been in the game quite a long time. I feel like we’ve talked about the seat at the table. Are you really seeing that shift now?
HM: They confirmed the shift. I mean, for three large US companies to say HR is more strategic than was before the pandemic, I think we’ve seen the shift, then now it’s up to HR to keep the momentum and make those changes permanent, make that relevant.
The other thing which helps a lot with that is the ‘Great Resignation‘, right? It’s an employees market, there’s not enough people to be hired. You always have to think, how can we be more competitive? How can we listen better to employees? How can we be the favorite place to work?
Those ideas are popping up everywhere. I’m not sure how much they get out of it from differentiation anymore. But it’s great to see, and it all comes back to HR leaders now to keep the momentum as they have the attention of the boardroom, of everybody, of the CEOs in the enterprise.
KG: And in your research, what are some of the things that you’re particularly focusing on at the moment, because I feel like the economy, the great resignation, the impact of COVID-19 is just the ripple, and the ripple effect just keeps on rippling. So have you selected particular areas that you want to dig into further? Or are you more reactively seeing what’s coming and then thinking, oh we need to investigate that further?
HM: So my umbrella term for research is enterprise acceleration. Orgs have to be more agile, move faster, do things in a more efficient way and effective way. And that has changed with COVID-19 very dramatically. It goes almost like a step-by-step incremental improvement, a lot of efficiency thinking eg are we doing things right? I have a great story from Tyson Foods using an AI vendor to do translation for their multilingual workforce. They’re all in the US, but there are 52 languages spoken, so now you can interact in your natural language with HR. So that’s a way to advance with technology helping that perspective.
But the big thing now, with the Great Resignation as well as post-COVID-19 recoveries, is the effectiveness question which is, are we doing things right? How do we do these things, the ‘whole work-from-home-flexible office‘ part is a major area that we’re in. From the research side, we’re going to do a market overview of the large HCM suites, it’s going to be really interesting for me to see which new best practices which are coming now have been reflected in the software. Because ultimately that happens all the time, but the question is, how fast can it happen?
KG: Well, you’ve segued beautifully – we didn’t rehearse this – into my next question…
HM: You think it’s a joke? No, we don’t rehearse. I came straight from the main stage here.
KG: [laughter] But obviously, the focus of UNLEASH has always been on tech. You’ve just talked about natural language processing and things like that, but is there anything coming through that is particularly exciting you because it feels like there have been so many niche solution providers that have grown up during the pandemic…the funding rounds, the investment has been crazy, but that’s encouraged more innovation in the big suites. What’s exciting you in HR tech at the moment?
HM: Well the really exciting thing is that companies are under pressure to do more faster. And the questions of normal automation in this model, where you have to show up to do things, is not really working anymore, because people do not show up at work, or don’t show up at their computer, or don’t have that interface to work. So how can you make a more autonomous self-driving enterprise? It means of course you have to think about AI and machine learning, you have to think about the cloud with the cheap computers to run it.
There have been amazing breakthroughs in this; Google I/O just happened right? And now Google’s TPU v4 has broken through; one single TPU version four is more [powerful] than a Cray microcomputer right? So amazing things will be happening.
Microsoft Build is happening right now…they’re unleashing a super large language model, and understanding speech is something that makes everything more human. So coming into the more self-driving autonomous thing where I don’t have to do the same thing anymore, where the human doesn’t have to show up. That’s, I think, going to be one of the key parts, hopefully soon.
KG: Can we keep the human at the heart of it, though?
HM: We are at the beginning of the AI (artificial intelligence) part. So it’s not like AI will replace humans. Remember that whole scare? We had the scenario five, six years ago of people saying ‘5 million truck drivers will be unemployed in the US’. Now, Walmart is offering starting truck drivers $100,000. Because if you don’t get the merchandise or the products there, then there’s no sale.
Bill Gates said something great: ‘We overestimate what technology can do in one year, and we underestimate what it can do in 10 years.’ The self-driving truck is still not around. We don’t even have the capacity to manufacture the batteries for it yet. But that’s the exciting part, to see if the software can do more and then make our life more human.
I mean, I’m a manager, I’m approving expense reports and so on, but once you’ve done this 10 times, it’s like, oh, yeah, I do have to do this. It’s more a chore than a pleasure. So taking those things away, I think people will be more than welcome to see that…
Watch the whole conversation in the video above.
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