Well, I just heard that there were 100 more vendors at HR Tech Conference this year than last and I can tell you that I’m not surprised. Not only were there more vendors but the booths were bigger, the swag was cooler and seemingly the products are better. The shiny new HR tech buzzword? AI. Yep, several vendors were making their claims that they solved all of our recruiting problems with AI. What does that mean exactly? From what I could tell, lots of onboarding, lots of screening, predictive analytics, benefits, performance management and puppies, because, who doesn’t love puppies?
I love the creativity, the entrepreneurship and the energy in HR technology and specifically at the HR Tech Conference these days. There are no lack of new ideas, new technology and passionate founders. The startup pavilion at the conference was teeming with all of it. I love this space. HR is solving big challenges for their organizations – finding the best people, closing their skills gaps, improving productivity, managing performance, reducing turnover – you know just managing their largest asset and ensuring sustainable success of the entire company. It’s a lot. And there are tons of partners and solution providers trying to help. And that is clear at HR Tech. As a 12-year veteran in HR technology and in attending this show, I get revitalized. And then exhausted.
This year, more than most, I walked out feeling excited for my friends and peers around the tradeshow floor but frustrated with the engagement of our buyers – you know the people we are there to really engage with. The general sentiment at the conference was, “Where are all of the buyers?” Don’t get me wrong, I love catching up with all my vendor friends and partners like my CareerBuilder friends and alumni, my HR thought leader and analyst friends and meeting new friends. We brainstorm, share what’s working, and ideate. It’s great and extremely valuable. But as I attended a few sessions and walked the tradeshow floor I saw too few HR practitioners.
There were a ton of great solutions being showcased so where were the HR leaders and innovators checking them out? Have we as an HR tech community become too infatuated with ourselves? Have we intimidated our customer so much that they don’t want to engage with us or are they feeling like they just can’t absorb more? I was disheartened to see amazing sessions with new ways of thinking had 20 people in them and half of those were representatives of the presenters companies.
I can’t even imaging walking that expo hall without being completely overwhelmed and I’ve been doing this for many years. It reminded me of when I took my first son to Disney World and realized quickly that it was way too soon. He was 2 ½ and completely overwhelmed by the whole spectacle. His brain was not developed enough to absorb all of the stimuli. And, I wondered, is this how our customers feel? One HR leader for a Fortune 100 told me he turns his badge so he doesn’t get inundated.
So, to the HR tech community, I ask you, can we rethink this whole tradeshow thing? I mean who are we really there for? As of now, it feels like we may be peacocking for ourselves. Because our buyers don’t care and even worse, are overwhelmed and avoid us. How can reconnect with our industry and our customers in a more genuine way?
Yes, this is coming from a marketer with a 10×10 booth and maybe some sort of subconscious jealousy. And, don’t get me wrong, as a brand nut, I understand the impact of the impression one of those beautiful 40×40 booths can have longer term. But, if our HR practitioners aren’t even coming into the expo hall, then what is the value of keeping up with the Joneses?
Here’s an idea – can we have a hackathon to come up with a new model for these conferences we can use it as an opportunity to come up with a solution where 7,500 attendees actually want to be there, want to engage and want to solve problems together? I challenge each and every one of us to really think through how we can make this happen, because we are an industry of disruptors with something to say. We just need people who will listen.
Oh and just to be clear, I will see you next year, because I love our community and proud to be part of it.