Cutting Edge Recruitment Insights from the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit

By Tony Restell

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This month has seen IBM's Smarter Workforce event come to London, a roadshow for HR, Recruiting and Learning & Development Leaders that takes place in North America, Europe and Asia. I was fortunate to join this year's event as an HR Influencer and so pick up on the insights being shared with ~800 executives from many of the world's leading employers.

IBM Smarter Workforce

There were some fun observations made in the opening remarks that served to set the tone for the rest of the day. But they should also act as a warning shot across all our bows, as they illustrate just how quickly digital advances can make approaches and business models obsolete.

My favourite was the observation that the Encyclopedia Britannica - a business that was around for 243 years - found itself wiped out by the emergence of Wikipedia in a period of little more than a decade.


Examples are of course commonplace, both within recruiting and beyond. In just a few short years newspapers' Appointments sections were pretty much eradicated by the emergence of job boards. In fact many print publications went to the wall having failed to adapt. And in the wider business world there are examples like Kodak being decimated by the emergence of digital cameras and Blockbuster by video streaming services.

These precedents are fascinating because they remind us that HR and Recruiting approaches that seem futuristic and avant-garde could easily be mainstream and business critical within just a few short years.

IBM's Jonathan Ferrar cemented this point with the revelation that being able to send a text by thinking is expected to be feasible within 5 years. Within HR and Recruiting, we all must be acutely aware of just how fast our landscape could change in just a matter of years.

So with that backdrop set, what were the main messages I took from the sessions?

Firstly there's an acknowledgement that Big Data is something that we're barely making use of as yet - particularly in Europe. But what if we could achieve a step-change in this area? What if you could determine that your best performers all live within a really small commute of the company offices for example? The implications for your recruiting strategy, the effectiveness of your onboarding, your retention strategy... all could be massively impacted. Indeed the repercussions could be felt across HR and the wider business:


Secondly there was a common theme from panelists and delegates that companies are struggling to adapt to the pace of change. Technological advances are happening at a rate that corporates are struggling to keep pace with - and various aspects of HR and Recruitment have been left behind. Linked to this, HR as a profession has historically been quite fearful of technology, not wanting to be left exposed - which in itself has hampered the speed of adoption. As a profession, we need to move from a "fear of the future" mindset to one oriented towards the "fear of missing out".

For me this was a fascinating take-away from the sessions. In an era when the availability of data and access to the latest tools is better than it's ever been, we might expect the effectiveness of recruiting and HR teams to converge. But actually the opposite seems - anecdotally at least - to be the case. With so many new technologies to experiment with and understand - and different skillsets required to fully leverage these technologies - modern companies are highly likely to have "dropped the ball" in certain key areas as their focus is diverted to exploiting a handful of the myriad of tools and data sets available to the modern HR executive.

Thirdly - and maybe something of a solution to the above - is the initiative by IBM to launch Open HR and make it easier for third party tools and applications to dovetail with its own suite of offerings and therefore make the HR Executive's life easier. Expect to see lots of announcements and developments in this space over the coming months.

The final message I took away is a heartening one. The combination of mobile and cloud solutions has propelled the importance of HR on the CEO agenda. So the potential for HR practitioners to secure the budgets they need and the resources they crave may now be a step closer.

Bring on #SWF2016 - it'll be interesting to see how much the conversation has moved on a year from now!


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