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CEO’s Letter: Innovation Stagnation

We just concluded the 2022 HRO Today Forum North America. I want to thank everyone who made it a great success. We had a stellar audience of CHROs and their teams, and the willingness to share challenges and best practices was refreshing. The CHRO of the Year Awards Gala was a positive and celebratory night for CHROs and the profession of HR. The feedback from the event overall was very, very positive, but I was struck by one attendee’s comments on the feedback form. They said they were disappointed that the content was not more “cutting edge.” And, you know what. They were right.  

When we programmed the event in the late fall and early winter, we were still in the grips of the pandemic. For most of the event, we were talking about the shared challenges of the past two years.  People were sharing creative approaches to dealing with hybrid workforces and some of the challenges of recruiting in the midst of a pressing labor shortage. In short, we talked about very current issues and how to deal with them. That has been the paradigm of HR for the past two years. Let’s face it: Most HR departments have been “firefighting.”  

In my opening remarks, I commented that good HR leaders deal with the current and great ones deal with what they expect to be challenges five years from now. All executives need to have vision beyond today to be exceptional. The issue with most of the HR community is that the very real crisis of the here has also trapped us in the now.   

Earlier this year we ran a cover story on with Mike Yonker, EVP and CHRO of Marriott Vacations Worldwide titled, “No Vacation from Innovation.” In truth, you can never take a vacation from improvement and it was a great story. However, I got to thinking after receiving the criticism that the HRO Today Forum content was not more “cutting edge.” I went back through hundreds of articles from the past two years in and other HR related business journals and found little really “new” and “innovative” content outside of pandemic-driven strategies. This was a remarkable contrast to the content before the pandemic that was rich with innovation laden stories. We have had some new software come out, but most of the platforms were just different versions of stuff already on the market. For example, do we really need one more CRM, ATS or VMS? No, but we have new ones springing up.  

The last two years were paralyzing. The stress, the workloads, and the immediacy of the crises impacted everyone. But I can’t think of a new product, service offering, or approach to HR that was entirely novel. In this decade—albeit early to say—there has been no Workday, no multi-process HRO service trend, no Ulrich model, no agility movement, or no fully deployable use of machine learning, for example. There has not been a completely novel approach that has captured the attention of HR leaders. In short, it is time for HR as a community to look beyond the current challenges and push internal teams and technology and service providers for the “next big idea.”   

The past two years have been hard and, yes, HR should take a bow. Now let’s turn our attention back to future models of success.

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