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bersinThe article below, authored by Josh Bersin, was originally published in “Who’s Who in HR” by HR Tech Europe 2014.  Josh Bersin is the Principal & Founder of Bersin by Deloitte. You will also find his Media Lounge interview with Ward Christman, a member of  the HR Tech Europe 2014 Blog Squad, and HR Tech Advisor.


Something dramatic has changed in the world of HR technology: we no longer care so much about “systems of record” and “functionality” any more. Now success is all about whether or not people (users) engage.

The word “engagement” has two meanings in HR.

The older meaning refers to our ongoing problem to build a highly engaged workforce, which is an enormous new challenge around the world. In this area there are actually dozens of new companies that deliver real-time feedback management, work-life balance tools, happiness and culture tools, recognition and agile goal management, and analytics to help us understand how “engaged” people are. This new industry, which I call the “employee engagement: reinvented” market, will likely grow in leaps and bounds as we struggle to figure out how to work and manage teams in today’s “always on” work environment.

The new meaning refers to our ability to get people to use the technology we develop. Many of the start-ups I talk with spend the bulk of their time on user interface, mobile mechanics, subtle gamification features, personas, and beautiful design. Why? Because we now buy software based on its ease of use, not its functionality.

It is not that functionality doesn’t matter – but it is becoming more of a commodity. Nearly every performance management tool lets you create and align goals, for example. But only one puts your goals onto a beautiful tree with leaves and lets you slowly watch the leaves grow as you complete your goals! That latter feature is what can help people revisit their goals every day, making the system increasingly useful. One of the companies with which I am working has a new mobile tool that lets you put data in “cards” and swipe them up and down whether you like them or want to discard them. This is a new mobile usage mechanic pioneered by sites like Secret, which encourage people to share anonymous information with their peers. Imagine a whole series of applications like this on your phone, all making it possible to check in, manage your time, find your peers, and align your team? This is where HR technology is going.

Another big area of focus now is easy analytics. Behind the scenes HR software stores a lot of important data, and it is useful for many purposes. New tools now recommend learning, predict turnover, and even highlight your tendency to “work overtime” or “check in late” for management. All this people-related data (we call this The Datafication of HR) is very interesting and valuable, but can be hard to use. Today’s HR technology doesn’t just “do analytics” it makes it very easy to understand. Again going back to the concept of engagement, if we can’t use the data it doesn’t matter that it’s sitting there waiting to be analysed.

Self Service (an old term) is also another growing area in HR. Yes, all the talent and HR systems on the market create user profiles, let you upload your picture, and make it easy to connect and collaborate with your peers. But do they make it easy to enter your expenses? Track your time? Find your benefits? Track your onboarding process? Today’s HR technology has to integrate everything so well that people just “find what they need” and do things. HR generalists are going away (read our High-Impact HR Research to understand why) so technology has to take over all that administrative work.

Finally, the time has come for HR software to migrate into what I call “work management” itself. The old fashioned (and mostly hated) performance review and performance management tools are being totally disrupted. Companies don’t like annual reviews and our research shows that only 8% of the companies we survey think they are worth the time. Today’s new tools help us “manage work” – create and share goals, track projects, find experts, post results and inspiring information, and keep track of our team. While this is not the world of HR per se, it is the natural evolution of HR software as it becomes more and more “engaging” in our daily work lives.

This is an exciting time in HR technology. Mobile interfaces, social systems, and the ubiquity and interconnectedness of technology give us many new ideas. Soon we will have “the quantified employee” and HR systems will track where we are at any time, giving us advice and council about how to be better managers, sales people, and even customer service agents.

Just remember engagement. If your technology is not being widely used every day, you have to refocus your efforts. Without engagement, the software just sits there.


  • Good information. And a great discussion / conversation (the video) between Josh and Ward about the current state of HR technology solutions. It’s 24 minutes but worth the time to listen. They touch upon a lot of topics and Josh shares some great insights – and advice for HR vendors.

  • Terrific interview. Nuggets inside for everyone. I particularly liked the last 2 minutes where Josh discussed the potential conflicts and distinct perspectives of software and services. Thanks Ward and Josh.