Key Takeaways From Gartner ReimagineHR 2019

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

audience of HR professionals at 2019 Gartner ReimagineHR

Since attending for the first time last year, the Gartner ReimagineHR Conference has quickly become one of our company's favorite events to attend and this year didn’t disappoint. As I shared recently, my personal expectations for the event were high. I was looking forward to hearing new research from the Gartner analysts as well as spending time with HR leaders who are as passionate about making work better for their people as we are at ITA Group.

As I reviewed my notes from two and a half jam-packed days, it was honestly a little tough to narrow down my list of my top takeaways. Some were confirmations of the good work I already see in-flight, some were a-ha! moments—but all will influence what we share on this blog in the months to come. Without further ado, here’s the nuggets I couldn’t wait to share with you…

We’re (Generally) Not Ready for the Future of Work

This year’s theme was “The Future of Work: How HR Can Reimagine Work to Drive Performance” and the event kicked off with a sobering statistic shared by Gartner’s Dr. Brian Kropp: Despite nearly universal understanding that work is going to change in significant ways, just 9% of CHROs believe their organizations are prepared for the future of work. The reason is surprising, though. It’s not necessarily that companies aren’t trying to prepare—it’s that they’re preparing the wrong way. They’re doing what we generally do when problem-solving: start with one issue, solve for that, then move on to the next.

But there’s something inherently flawed in this approach when you think about how large of an issue it is we’re tackling. Taking this siloed approach means we’re losing sight of the big picture by narrowly focusing in on one specific piece at a time. Gartner’s advice is to instead look at our preparation for the future of work more holistically so that we remain open to all of the other changes and, most importantly, how those changes are impacting each other. So that was the challenge each of us left the opening keynote with: Widen our lens to consider a broader perspective on this behemoth of an issue.

The Robots Are Coming—But They’re Not Necessarily Here for Your Job

There’s no way a conference around the future of work could avoid tackling the issue of technology in the workplace and for the workforce. Whether it was the ethical implications of predictive technologies, the automation of tasks (even entire roles) or progress updates on how we’re all increasing our digitalization, there was no shortage of tech talk. One of my favorite segments explored how companies are finding previously untapped sources of talent by making smart use of this technological advancement.

Whether it’s opening doors for us to create more neurodiversity, removing visual limitations or any number of other use cases, it was clear to me that an exciting—and aspirational—opportunity exists for us to increase access to jobs for those who may not have been able to participate in the past. To learn more about what this could mean, check out this amazing example of robot technology that is allowing a remarkable experience for individuals with ALS in Japan.

Additionally, I was especially inspired by a segment that focused on how the automation of administrative tasks is going to free up time for leaders in the coming years to focus on other things (like, most notably, being better leaders for their people). Whether that takes the form of acting as connectors, doubling-down on coaching or any number of other roles is up for debate—but I like where the world is moving.

Employees Are Consumers—And They Don’t Check Those Expectations at the Office

Hands down, my favorite session of the event was led by Gartner analyst Leah Johnson on “the modern employee experience” where she tackled the reality that employees expect “consumer-grade” experiences from their employers. In addition to simply investing in the programs and systems you offer to improve this (which works—but at a cost that is not sustainable long-term for most companies), she advocated for “experience shaping.” What this means is to consciously put effort toward influencing and improving how employees perceive the programs and support that they are offered versus just trying to offer more and more programs. And their data proves that it works—organizations using a shaping approach will have fully satisfied 32% more employees at a 32% lower cost relative to those just using an investment approach.

One of the most eye-opening (yet incredibly logical) ideas she shared is a well-accepted customer experience principle—the nature of memory. More specifically, recognizing how there are different types of memory and each need to be supported and acknowledged in different ways.

As much as we all try to avoid negative situations for our employees, her advice was to stop doing what we have been (i.e., trying to fix it as quickly as possible and hoping they forget). Instead, work toward reframing memories of negative experiences.

For example, you can help an employee reframe a negative experience by showing them you acknowledge the impact their individual experience has had, both on them as an individual but, more importantly, how their experience has taught your organization a lesson that has led to improved procedures that will positively impact their peers and the organization as a whole. That’s not to say we need to always fixate on the negative, though—there is plenty you can do to also remind employees of the positive experiences they’ve had to add impact to memories of those as well.

Employees Want to Be More Informed About Their Employers

I didn’t talk to a single person at this event who didn’t have employer branding and employment value propositions (EVP) top-of-mind. Whether they had just rolled out a new campaign, were working through the process currently or it was next on their to-do list, it was clearly a focus. And with good reason. Based on research shared by Gartner, 59% of candidates feel well-informed about an organization they apply to but only 40% of actual employees of the organization feel informed about their employer. Let that sink in.

People who don’t work for the company know it better than those who do.

It’s clear that a real opportunity for companies to tighten their brand messages, both externally and (especially) internally, exists. Companies who are leading the charge are not only clarifying these messages, but also introducing previously unheard of levels of internal transparency. This is taking form through things like complete salary transparency, internal publication of engagement survey data (including access to interactive dashboards) and forums for talking about and creating change. While these ideas likely feel uncomfortable for many of you, employees are embracing this trend and Gartner’s advice was clear: Start working now to develop a transparency strategy that goes a step farther than you think your culture would allow.

It’s clear that opportunity exists for companies to tighten their brand messages—both externally and, especially, internally. Companies who are leading the charge aren’t only clarifying these messages, but also introducing previously unheard of levels of internal transparency with their employees, including open book policies on things like salaries and engagement survey results. Gartner’s advice was clear: Start working now to develop a transparency strategy that goes a step farther than you think your culture would allow.

Related: Not sure where to start with your employer branding initiative? An intentional, strategic approach comes first. Click the link to learn how to build a successful employer brand strategy.

Organizations Are Focused on Identifying High Potential, High Performing Talent—And Keeping Them

The reasons why the war for talent is happening (and the reasons why it will get worse) were addressed in many different sessions throughout the conference and were consistent with what’s been shared previously. What felt a little different, though, was the enhanced focus on retaining talent—the tide has shifted in that organizations seem to realize that recruitment is important, but you also need to make sure you’re retaining that talent. I appreciated the insights shared by panelists addressing workforce planning and redeployment who summarized the value of current talent well: it is faster and easier to redeploy somebody who already knows how to navigate your organization, culture and processes. You will never find an external candidate who can bring that knowledge with them. The key, though, is ensuring you’re taking steps to plan for how you can identify those roles or team members who have the most valuable skills (or can quickly learn them) to create the talent pool you need.

As I shared in my pre-event post, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to hear first-hand from a group of HR leaders who are working on just this type of project. In the fastest 45 minutes of my life, my colleague, Tanya Fish, and I were able to participate in a lively discussion with HR leaders from varied industries and organization types around engaging high potential, high performing employees. My top tip that came out of this was the importance of proactively controlling the narrative. Too often, we don’t take the time to let high potential employees know that we see their potential—or that we’re willing to invest in them as a result. I loved the ideas that were shared by the group regarding how they’ve found success doing so, as well as the tactical steps they’ve taken to continue developing those identified individuals. If you’re also looking for ideas, here were my top three:

  1. Find out what personally motivates them—and let them do that. It might be taking a new course to develop a skillset. Or perhaps connecting them up with a mentor. It could even be giving them the autonomy to opt in to supporting a strategic priority for the company that they are passionate about but doesn’t have much to do with their current role. Regardless, personalized outreach goes a long way toward demonstrating your commitment to this valuable type of an employee, so take time to do so.
  2. Consider getting them out of the office. If you’re able to help them balance their day-to-day responsibilities to give them an opportunity to experience something new—either individually or as a group of identified high potentials—consider integrating that in to your strategy. It can unleash creativity and create a deeper sense of connection to your organization and each other.
  3. Connect them with senior-level leaders in the organization to increase their visibility and create stronger bonds in the process. Not only will you demonstrate to them that those higher-level leaders also recognize their potential, you’ll likely open their eyes to what a long-term future could look like in the organization.

I hope that my top takeaways have been insightful and inspirational for you. Our team continues to be impressed by the content shared at this event but more so, by the people we meet over the course of the conference who are working toward amazing things. The future of work tends to induce fear and anxiety for people, but I can confidently say that I’m more excited for it now than ever before. It represents a lot of change for sure, but so much opportunity as well.

Want more ways to effectively engage and retain employees for the long-term? Discover this, how psychology impacts employee engagement and more in our white paper, Why Good Employees Leave: The Unintended Consequence of Great Onboarding.

Why Good Employees Leave: The Unintended Consequence of Great Onboarding

Christina Zurek

Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.