48 Hours in Paris: A Roundup of Key Ideas From Unleash 2019

Guest Contributorby Andrea Miles | Posted | Industry Buzz

48 Hours in Paris: A Roundup of Key Ideas From Unleash 2019

#Unleash19 – The Epicenter of Workforce Revolution

Employee experience is the hot topic right now, and the Saba crew are certainly feeling the love after a whirlwind trip to Paris to talk all things HR, talent and recruitment, and learning and development at this year's Unleash World exhibition. As a company, we never stop talking about the evolving landscape for talent technology, so this was an exciting opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in all the great speaker sessions, keynotes and analyst views of the talent industry. So just a few short days after we all returned to our respective global offices and shared what we learned with our colleagues, we're spreading our newfound knowledge even further. Read on for some of our biggest "A-ha!" moments and deepest musings from Unleash 2019!

A fierce focus on new ways of thinking and speed of change

On Day 1 of Unleash, keynote speaker Peter Hinssen, author and co-founder of nexxworks, set the tone for the event during his session Industry 4.0: A New Vision of Globalisation, stating that, "We are on a fascinating journey that is shaping the world".

In his rapid-fire presentation (360 slides in 45 minutes!) he highlighted that consumerisation, urbanisation and globalisation are changing the world. We're pretty good at adapting to change but technology is changing society faster than humans can cope with the changes.

Peter Hinssens Unleash 2019 presentation on Industry 40 A New Vision of Globalisation

A packed room for Peter Hinssen's presentation, Industry 4.0: A New Vision of Globalisation.

In her own keynote, author and future of work strategist Heather McGowan talked about the adaptation advantage – that is, breaking down current static thinking about the world of work and forging a new way forward with all the tools and platforms for collaboration that are now available to us. She expressed that upcoming generations are likely to do 16 jobs in five industries throughout their career, and it's up to the current workforce to help them learn to adapt. Beyond this, she says we need to acknowledge the "velocity of change" that we're in and focus on learning as the new pension.

Hinssen elaborated that that "the disruption we're seeing today is nothing compared to what's coming". He also noted that the statement "digital is the new normal" doesn't hold much substance anymore, as nothing is standing still enough to become "normal". His advice to companies is to be both essential and relevant – and understand that these are not the same thing. Using education as an example, he summarised that although learning is crucial, the education system in most countries is behind the times and needs to speed up to authentically add value.

Prioritising the talent experience at every touchpoint

It comes as no surprise that talent experience was one of the key themes of the conference, as we also got some great global insight earlier this month at HR Tech in Las Vegas. Unleash provided a tonne more of this content and talked about what experience really means to the talent journey.

In their famous, no-nonsense style, recruitment industry analysts and podcasters Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman of Chad & Cheese held a lively panel discussion entitled Brand Matters. Experience Matters. to discuss how experience impacts the talent acquisition strategy. The key takeaway from the panel of talent acquisition heads was that recruiters need to be smarter with their employer brand and apply a marketing style of thinking to everything they do.

"Strip back the candidate experience and look at it from their point of view", was the key piece of advice from Chris Wray, Group Head of Recruitment Strategy at Sainsbury's. All the panelists focused on the importance of nurturing candidates and thinking beyond immediate vacancy filling.

We also heard how Red Bull runs several initiatives with their unsuccessful applicants, such as free psychological reports, and goodie bags of Red Bull swag. Why? To provide a positive experience no matter the outcome, thus improving the employer brand and keeping front of mind with those who may be an attractive prospect in the future. Red Bull's Global Head of Talent Management Adam Yearsley summarised the problem with talent acquisition: "We're working too much at this moment in time... and not focussing on filling the pipeline".

The lively discussion during the Chad and Cheese podcast panel at Unleash 2019

Brand Matters. Experience Matters. A lively panel discussion moderated by TA podcasters Chad & Cheese with guests Adam Yearsley, Global Head of Talent Management at Red Bull, Brandy Ellis, Head of Recruitment Marketing Strategy at Smashfly, and Chris Wray, Group Head of Recruitment Strategy at Sainsbury's.

Global Head of HR Strategy and Transformation at ING, Luigi Maria Fierro, dived deeper into talent experience and offered up wise words in his session A New Narrative: How to Build a Self-Driven Purpose Organisation. Fierro highlighted the seismic shift in the importance of purpose and how the people who make up the workforce are integral to this.

"People are not leaving your organisation. The company is losing productivity because they are losing engagement", he warned. Companies need to ensure that each and every one of their employees knows their own purpose, can make sense of what they do and more importantly, how it adds value.

An open talent spectrum: Engagement fills the talent pipeline

In his session, Attracting Your Future Workforce, Chris Long, Organisation Strategy Manager at Transport for NSW took the concept of pipeline filling further and talked about his organisation's disruptive approach to tackling the shortage of skilled talent. He encourages an "open talent spectrum" approach to hiring – suggesting that gig, micro, contract, partner, digital and labour workers all get treated as employees and not a sub-category of the workforce.

These fluid parameters, along with engaging schoolchildren by partnering with organisations like Minecraft on interactive technology apps, will – he believes – become the norm for successful organisations of the future.

Addressing the WHY when it comes to AI

Predictably, the topic of AI featured heavily throughout the session content and vendor showcases. What piqued our interest was that several sessions highlighted that although we're excited, scared and curious about how artificial intelligence (AI) is going to transform the talent landscape in the future, what we're seeing right now is pretty basic problem solving. In his keynote, Peter Hinssen alluded to the fact that AI is changing the way we do lots of things (for example, his own son uses the app PhotoMath to do his math homework!) but how it all applies to the workforce of the future is still to be seen.

That being said, in the Chad & Cheese panel session, Brand Matters. Experience Matters., Chris Wray of Sainsbury's spoke about how the supermarket is using chatbots to assist their huge volume of candidates with basic recruitment FAQs, removing the burden from the talent team.

Creating a "just for me" employee experience

"Think about what matters and what people want, then help people access what they need for future development", advised Saba's own David Lyons of our EMEA Solutions Architect Team, as he showcased how the right tech stack can help organisations bridge the experience gap for a seamless "just for me" employee experience – from recruiting and onboarding, to learning and performance coaching, to employee development into new roles, and beyond.

David broke down this approach to three points of focus:

  1. Find the right talent
  2. Align employees with the strategy
  3. Develop your people with learning and content personalised to them

"The key is engagement. Give them the opportunity to grow and identify their own goals", he said.

Sabas own David Lyonss session on Delivering the ultimate just for me talent experience at Unleash 2019

Saba's own David Lyons of our EMEA Solutions Architect Team explains the key strategies that drive Delivering the Ultimate, "Just for Me" Talent Experience for People at Work.

It's important to remember that the learning experience is a strategy, not a product. Learner engagement is an outcome of learning leaders who are thinking critically about what their learners need, the results they are aiming towards, and how to secure learner buy-in to the process. The evolution of self-directed learning is giving employees a "just for me" learning experience.

How strategic learning catalyses a "cultural transformation"

Unsurprisingly, the topic of learning dominated much of the session content, and the overarching focus was on creating environments for lifelong learning. In her keynote, future-of-work Heather McGowan likened skills to apps on our smartphones, in that they can be added and deleted all the time. This spotlight on agility when it comes to learning weaved through several other sessions as well.

Owen O'Neill, Global Head of Digital People Solutions at Saba client Bupa , talked in his session – Digital Learning: Shifting the Paradigm – about how the healthcare giant is reaping the rewards after increasing their learning investment to tackle huge targets. Moving away from a focus on bottom line, Owen demonstrated how Bupa carried out a "cultural transformation" rather than a "system implementation", by promoting lifelong learning and giving employees the tools to learn what, when and how they want. This doesn't stop at job-focused learning either.

"The expectation from our users is that they're getting lifelong learning, personal to them but perhaps not always relevant to their current jobs", he explained. Owen is pleased with the results to date and reported an increase of 110 percent in uptake of their learning tools over the last quarter.

Bupas session on Digital Learning Shifting the Paradigm at Unleash 2019

Owen O'Neill, Global Head of Digital People Solutions at Bupa, shares his organisation's learning culture transformation strategy in his presentation, Digital Learning: Shifting the Paradigm.

Another interesting piece of learning insight came from Kelly Palmer, Workplace Futurist and CLO at Degreed. She explained that "[Keeping] key skills up to date is essential for business survival, not just to stay ahead, but to stay around". The focus on learning and the impact on the business can't be underestimated. Efficiency can only happen up to a point, and then the task is replaced by a machine, Palmer added. We need to focus on where we can add value, not efficiency.

Diversity was also a recurring theme at Unleash 2019, and CEO of Red Brand Media Maren Hogan highlighted this in her session on Hiring for Attitude and Aptitude. Hogan talked about the dilemma of focusing on skills for today vs. cultural fit for the future, and the shocking statistic that 89 percent of new hire fails come down to attitudinal reasons and not lack of skills. She emphasised that "cultural fit breeds retention" but was keen to press that diversity is the key. Hiring the right person with the right attitude for the job and for the organisation is critical – developing any outlying skill gaps can be done strategically as the employee progresses in their career with the organisation.

Upskilling is still the Holy Grail in employee development

In his session, Don't Believe the Hype: The Reality of HR Technology Today, Fosway CEO David Wilson gave some sound advice for HR leaders considering how technology can help them achieve their talent goals.

He referenced Fosway's recent HR Realities 2019 research, which highlighted that 93 percent of organisations are finding it difficult to hire employees with the skills they need, and somewhat worryingly, 68 percent also think their current HR systems aren't ready for the modern workforce. But organisations shouldn't rush to replace their HR technology without first getting clear on what performance outcomes they want to achieve on employee, team and organisational levels.

Fosway Research at Unleash 2019 - Difficulty in hiring employees with needed skills

Fosway Research at Unleash 2019 - Lack of HR systems readiness for the modern workforce

Fosway Group. HR Realities Research 2019.

"Avoid the lure of one", Wilson advises, meaning single-suite HCM solutions may not be the answer. Instead, he suggests thinking "ecosystem – not system", focussing on intelligence, integrations, analytics and experience when considering your HR technology options.

Saba announced during Unleash that we were named a Strategic Challenger in the Fosway 9-Grid for Talent Management in how we deliver a connected, personalised talent experience designed to help organisations engage and inspire their people in all the moments that matter. And when it comes to skill development, cultivating a learning ecosystem that takes learner and organizational needs and goals into consideration allows both to stay agile in this age of digital disruption.

The workplace of the future: Uncover your people's potential

As we digested the huge amount of information about the many things HR practitioners need to consider as they continue to navigate this ever-evolving landscape, it was great to hear some predictions for the future and advice on how to tackle it from some of the most prominent thinkers in the industry.

Gary Bolles, Chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University likened the current work environment to a box, where there's a finite number of roles inside but an abundance of talent and skills outside.

"Modern work is a network – not a box", he said.

Bolles suggested that organisations break down this barrier and rather than focusing on building and reinforcing labour inside the box, instead connect to the wider network outside. This "unbundling" will allow them to identify problems, then provide the motivation to solve them. "Create platforms for collaboration", he suggests.

Bolles also advised moving away from role-based engagement and a move toward people-based engagement: "Forget upskilling and reskilling, think about uncovering potential instead. Beware of the Harry Potter effect. You don't need a new sorting hat!"

The theme of uncovering your people's potential is something that Janina Kugel, CHRO at Saba client Siemens similarly explored in her keynote, Digital Transformation of HR: Cutting Through the Hype to Deliver Real Business Value.

"No organisation in the world will ever achieve the goals of their agenda if they don't continuously invest in development", she explained. But the onus is on the individual as well.

"It's our responsibility to keep ourselves employable. Unless you're retiring next year then you need to keep learning. A culture of transformation starts with personal transformation, because organisations don't change – people do".

Disrupting the talent technology market

A name that everyone in the industry recognises is that of global HR industry analyst Josh Bersin, and he didn't disappoint when it came to his main stage session, The HR Technology Market Disrupted: What's Coming in 2020?, which offered several key takeaways.

His advice to HR leaders when it comes to the technology they use to manage their talent?

"We have to think about systems that deal with people, not processes written on a whiteboard in a boardroom". He talked about wellness and the implications of the overwhelmed workforce. "Employees simply can't take anymore", so work needs to become smarter – not faster, he said.

HR industry analyst Josh Bersin gives Saba a shout out during his presentation at Unleash 2019

Global HR industry analyst Josh Bersin gives Saba a shout out in his main stage session, The HR Technology Market Disrupted: What's coming in 2020?

When it comes to the current technology landscape, Bersin alluded to the fact that building a learning and performance ecosystem is going to be the key to success. Standing still simply isn't an option. With that as the context, it was great to hear him acknowledge that "Vendors like Saba are going through a reinvention".

The workforce revolution starts with personalising the talent experience

Thanks to the entire Unleash team for this inspirational event and for giving us some awesome content to take away with us. It's clear that we're truly at a pivotal moment in the HR technology and talent landscape, and we can't wait to hear about new trends and developments at Unleash next year!

There's no question that the future of work will heavily feature the employee experience. And with the workforce revolution already well underway, we're excited to help make every employee experience a personalised journey.

The Saba team at Unleash 2019

The Definitive Handbook for Creating Exceptional Experiences at Work

Arm yourself with 101 effective talent experience strategies from industry experts.


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Cover of the book
Cover of the book

The Definitive Handbook for Creating Exceptional Experiences at Work

Arm yourself with 101 effective talent experience strategies from industry experts.


Download Now


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