The 35,000-foot view

Tuesday night when the Expo Hall at HR Tech 2018 opened, I was trying to meet up with some people and ended up doing about five-six laps of the whole floor. On about the fourth lap, I decided to start counting different concepts in the marketing messaging you see as you approach given booths. I got it to three big buckets.

  1. AI
  2. We save recruiters time or otherwise make them less busy
  3. We help you find the needle in the haystack

I got about 72 on AI in terms of sheer booth references, and that might be low. AI seems like it’s a “must-have,” or at least a “must-have” in the eyes of the guys making the products. Maybe consumers and B2B buyers are interested. Seems like the market says they are.

Some people were getting annoyed, myself included:

Obviously (1) and (2) above are interconnected. If you implement AI and it’s even just a scheduling feature, that should save time for recruiters. Recruiters spend a lot of time on top-of-funnel and logistics. That all makes sense.

I’m not necessarily sure that (3) is connected, though — I would actually worry about AI increasing bias in hiring. While all the vendors have talking points around this (and some are good), most research seems to indicate AI will jack up bias, not fix it.

OK, so there’s your higher-order big buckets. That’s where the industry is headed on the tech vendor side at least. Until a shiny new buzzword comes along.

The humorous elephant in this room

If we do save all this time and the stuff recruiters don’t like doing goes to a machine, what will recruiters be able to bitch about? Work is at least 33 percent knowing what to bitch about. We need to find the next thing.

But seriously…

On Thursday morning, the keynote in the AM was Josh Bersin, Arianna Huffington, and Jennifer Morgan from SAP. They were mostly discussing work-life balance, wellness, all that.

Bersin brings up a few points near the end of the discussion on-stage, including:

  1. Making money is a huge badge of honor for people, especially men.
  2. So is being seen as busy.
  3. So is building stuff.
  4. All the things we’re discussing reside in HR.
  5. HR doesn’t directly make money.

This is where the problems begin. There have been trade shows for generations now. People were looking at payroll suites on conference floors in 1983. People were speaking about “the secret sauce” of motivating employees somewhere in Las Vegas and Orlando in 1986.

Most of the problems are still here.

And why is that?

A few reasons. First of all, recruiting largely resides in HR. It should be under business development, but at most places, it’s not.

Problem 1: HR does not make money. Decision-makers care about things that make money.

Problem 2: Work is about people. Some of these software suites you see are baller, for sure. But you don’t solve people issues — bad managers, poor communication between managers and recruiters, etc. — with tech. You can make some of the processes better. If Dan still can’t communicate, it doesn’t really matter how good the VC-backed suite is. Dan’s still the f’n problem.

Problem 3: We chase too much shiny stuff. See above.

Problem 4: Work is about self-worth and relevance for a lot of people. But engineers think in terms of “friction-less experiences,” which gradually move the people away from the work. That’s no bueno to the people. They will keep talking about how “slammed” they are to stay relevant. It’s a constant back-and-forth around “No, I do matter! I’m irreplaceable here!” and “Hey Tom, we just bought this tech that does your job and we don’t need to get a dental plan for that machine, soooo….”

Problem 5: Anything with people running it will have some flaws. That’s just how that particular cookie has always crumbled.

So are we doomed?

Naw. Not at all. Some of this tech is great — we’ll be doing some product reviews next week, in fact. Some of it does really help move processes and procedures forward. Awesome.

But look, we’re not solving work, hiring, recruiting, management, etc. from trade show floors. Half the cool stuff you learn at trade shows about how to manage, you forget by the Wednesday you’re back at HQ in Cincinnati grinding away. We all know this. It’s just a question of how willing we are to admit it.

We fix work and hiring in dealing with people. Better communication, better context, more clarity, more relationship-building, more empathy, all that. All the “soft skills” we claim to want to hire for but still hire off bullet point checklists or university names? That stuff. That’s how we fix the problems we’re seeing. Expo Halls are great — although I wouldn’t lap them six times, no — but the problems get fixed at the person-to-person level.

Ted Bauer

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]