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Digital Transformation

6 Key Insights On The Future Of Work From Unleash America 2022

Written by
Charlotte McIntyre

On May 25th – 26th 2022, Team Huler had the pleasure of attending Unleash America at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Hosted over two days, the event saw the brightest and best industry leaders come together to discuss all things human resources, technology and the future of work. And what an event it was!

From dazzling keynotes and panel discussions on the main stage to fascinating case studies from some of the biggest brands in the world including Credit Karma, Uber, PayPal, General Motors, PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company, over the course of Unleash we saw a number of key themes emerging in relation to HR, HR tech, digital transformation and the future of work.

So, strap in and get your notebooks ready for our key takeaways and insights of Unleash America 2022.

Key Takeaways From Unleash America 2022

We Can’t Go Back

In the opening keynote of day one at Unleash, Mark Blyth (Eastman Professor of Political Economy at Brown University) reflected on the fact that the technology revolution has already happened in supply chains and IT controls. What’s more, he also asserted that organizations risk losing their best people if they don’t offer flexible hybrid or remote opportunities. The only logical step forward, with this in mind, is to embrace change and adjust accordingly rather than trying to go back. This means leaning into new technology, and the ways it can support business operations, while enabling employee choice in regards to remote and hybrid working.

This sentiment was echoed in Peter Hinssen’s keynote on day two of the conference when he explored the ‘never normal’. As he hot-footed it through his perfectly crafted slide deck, a quote stood out to us, which read:

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic, or data, or tools.”

Businesses can’t use yesterday’s knowledge to make decisions. Instead, we have to collect the dots and then connect them. And this can be achieved by focusing on the future (or the day after tomorrow, as Peter refers to it), rather than what has gone before.

Put Your People First

Employee experience and people-first approaches were central themes at Unleash America this year. From all of the speakers and experts we heard from and spoke to, there seemed to be pretty much unilateral agreement that organisations now need to focus on creating better experiences for the human beings in their business.

Dimitra Manis, Chief Purpose Officer at S&P Global, made the following recommendations in her keynote and Q&A: ‘Want to Accelerate Impact? Put Your People First’:

  • Say yes to internal career coaches and/or mentoring opportunities
  • Change the verbiage: employees are people
  • Extend parental leave
  • Offer student loan debt assistance
  • Offer unlimited paid time off

Choose The Right Tech Stack

As we all know, technology is a great enabler for HR and organisations as a whole. But, like any other investment, it’s important to be intentional about new tech investments to ensure a good return on investment. In a panel talk on day one of Unleash, Raju Vijay (Vice President of Global People Services at Nissan), Michael Oldham (Senior Director of Global Business Services at McDonald’s), and Jason Averbook (CEO/Co-Founder of Leapgen) came together to discuss the most effective uses of HR technology, best practices for setting it up and how to identify a best-fit HR technology system for your business.

Organisations should understand where their business is and which direction they want to go before investing in the latest tool. Instead of getting caught out by ‘shiny objects syndrome’, they should examine the foundations and be proactive about delivering a great experience for employees. This means looking at the current experience and really understanding how new technology makes the lives of employee’s better or easier.

On top of all this, after implementation of new technology platforms shouldn’t just be left to their own devices. Instead they need to be integrated into workflows with an attitude of ‘go begin’ over ‘go live.’

Digital Transformation Requires Agility & Co-ordination

There were lots of fascinating takeaways from the discussion between Shakti Jauhar (co-founder and CEO at Mechanism Wellness) and Andrew Winnemore (general manager of HR Services and Transformation at Microsoft) on the subject of digital transformation. The pair agreed that organisations need to become as “fast as the wind and adaptable as water” in order to succeed in the brave new world we find ourselves in.

Communication, alignment and effective change management are all crucial for creating lasting change. Jauhar also asserted that return on investment is key in order to fund further transformation with the savings and output that’s already been created through previous change.

Happy Employees Are High Performers

This comes as no surprise, of course. At least it shouldn’t. But it is not uncommon for organisations to feel that high performing cultures and happy employees are mutually exclusive outcomes. Rhonda Spencer (Chief People Officer at Barry-Wehmiller) refuted this notion in her talk at Unleash. Instead she proposed a different way of looking at this, suggesting that when people care about their work and organisation, are fully engaged and have all the tools they need to do the job, that’s when they are at their most productive and effective.

Spencer presented the audience with a challenge, asking: “Can you fill the airwaves in your company with goodness, as opposed to all the negativity and anxiety that fills the world?”

Be Data Driven

Data is a game-changer when used correctly. In her talk at Unleash, Sue Lam (VP of People Insights, Strategy and Culture at Coca-Cola) shared invaluable insights into how data can be used to make better decisions around people.

At the heart of all of this? Leaders and their values. At Coca-Cola, leaders are role models. They act with a growth mindset, dream big and aren’t afraid to borrow good ideas. Sue shared with the audiences how data supports the following at Coca-Cola:

  • Prioritisation
  • Supporting work-life balance and wellbeing
  • Effective decision making processes#
  • Effective 1:1s
  • Effective meeting behaviours

Undoubtedly, the key takeaway from Sue’s talk was the marrying of leadership with data. Data is used to inform strategy related to culture, which is then followed up with a people-first approach that sees leaders following best practice and modelling the behaviours they want to see within their culture.

Team Huler at Unleash

As well as attending the fantastic keynotes and panels across the conference, Team Huler also had the opportunity to showcase HulerHub to attendees, which was by far the highlight of the event for all of us.

We also had an absolute blast seizing the opportunity to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and discuss all things HR, technology, digital transformation and employee experience!

Our CEO, Nicky Hoyland, who was also at the event commented: “After two long years away from in-person events, it was so refreshing to finally get the opportunity to meet people face to face. The team and I had a fantastic time showcasing how HulerHub can solve some of the key challenges discussed across the conference, and networking with all of the awesome attendees. All in all, it’s been fantastic and we can’t wait to do it again soon!

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