HR Tech 2015 recap: Marcus Buckingham reveals three key shifts in HR


This year’s HR Tech offered nearly 60 sessions across 10 tracks, including talent and analytics, and an expo floor brimming with over 200 vendors. HR Tech has uniquely positioned itself over the years as the event for HR experts to attend—whether they be end users, vendors, or industry watchers. I say “uniquely” because while many independent organizations aspire to attain the same relative importance to their community, few have been as successful.

So, what were the highlights for me at this year’s event? When I think of what really got me excited at HR Tech, without question, it was the keynote session by Marcus Buckingham. Why is that? Marcus is a gifted and highly sought-after speaker. He offers insightful research in support of his multi-faceted view that managers need to break old rules to unlock the talent within their team members. And he combines this with a gift for story telling that hooks the audience instantly.

I encourage you to check out his book, Standout 2.0: Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win at Work, which is based on the thoughtful premise that managers need to focus on their team members’ strengths rather than on improving upon their weaknesses, as the standard is today. And they need better tools to do this.

Marcus Buckingham keynote: Three shifts that will change everything for HR

Marcus sees three shifts that might affect the tools that the HR software industry builds for “the world that you choose to create.”

Shift 1: From serving the organization to serving the Team Leader

The future of work is headed towards building and managing dynamic teams. The problem is, according to Marcus, that we haven’t built our tools to solve the problem of the team leader. Our tools have been built to serve the organization. What would these team leader tools look like?

What would be the characteristic of these team leader tools? Well, these tools must help deliver a dynamic team structure—because organizations aren’t built in a static box. Managers need to be able to build a team, add and subtract team members, and dissemble the team as a project ends.

Shift 2: From big data to real-time reliable data

A discipline’s reputation rests on the quality of its data. In the last 10 years, Marcus sees that marketing has been rehabilitated because the quality of its data has gotten so much more precise in predicting who is actually going to buy what and when.

We in HR really need to re-examine the quality of our data—for example, look at our performance rating system. It turns out, according to Marcus’ research, that human beings are horrible raters of other human beings. So what do we do to overcome this and get good data? A performance rating system that relies on a range of data on performance that allows us to reliably review a performance rating on each person through the lens of each team leader. Marcus has specific ideas on how to do this, one of which is to rate the rater. During my time in the U.S. Navy, we transformed our annual performance measurement process to include rating the rater, and found this to be very effective in neutralizing the rater’s rating bias.

Shift 3: From theoretical models to actual real world behaviors

Marcus points out that it’s fine to put the competencies of your best people on a wall and say these things are valuable. The problem occurs when we try to measure these competencies. You can measure talents, you can measure skills, but competencies are this weird mishmash—some of which you can measure, some you can’t. Some parts are trait, some parts are strength, and some parts are skill. The other problem is that no one leader exhibits all of these competencies. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are prime examples—you couldn’t find two people possessing dissimilar strengths to have such a similar impact on an industry.

Why are tools important? “Tools trump ideas”

Some time after leaving his first employer (Gallup) out of college to start his own firm training, coaching, and developing talent, Marcus came to an awakening: tools trump ideas. It doesn’t matter how clearly communicated the idea. If the tools don’t match the ideas, the tools win.

Why does this matter to you? Somewhere along the way, HR managers have realized that the systems they were using weren’t matching their vision for planning for their current and future workforce. Which leads us to where we are today: spreadsheets are everywhere. An Aberdeen 2014 survey revealed that 45 percent of workforce planning systems today are done in spreadsheets.

However, with Anaplan, there is a better way to run HR like a business—and truly connect business functions. As Marcus implored during his speech, “You don’t discover the future. The future is created out of decisions that we make today.” Anaplan’s workforce planning capabilities help you align your people plans with your business plans, shape and adapt your plans with unlimited “what-ifs,” and optimize your people performance for unstoppable success.

What were some of your highlights from this year’s HR Tech event? Feel free to share below in the comments. I can’t wait to come back to HR Tech next year.

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