Transform 2023 Recap

No offense to Nelly, but the theme song of this year’s Transform conference has to be Hamilton’sIn the Room Where it Happens.”

After we spent a decade talking about how to get HR a seat at the proverbial table, the discussion at this year’s event made it clear:  We’ve made it. 

But now that we’re in the room, HR Leaders are grappling with the role that they play – especially now that strategic conversations have shifted from scaling up to scaling back.

Here’s a CliffsNotes version of what got discussed:

Walking the Walk

Guild CPO @Dean Carter laid out an ambitious mandate for HR:  Leading the “V-Corp” – the values corporation.  

He posits that profitability isn’t the only yardstick to use when evaluating the success of companies; we should also measure companies by how tightly they upload the values they were founded upon.  For Dean, that means thinking about Guild’s “people P&L” and holding that at the same level of importance as their financial P&L.     

Electronic Arts Chief People Officer @Mala Singh and Chief Operating Officer @Kate Kellogg built on the theme of living your values as they teamed up to talk about inclusion.  They spoke about how people & product teams can come together to better serve customers.  One remark that stood out:  Beyond pay equity, how are we driving equity in career progression?

Teaming Up with the CTO / CIO

One of the spiciest conversations was the panel with @RJ Milnor provocatively titled:  "Should HR Own the Tech Stack?"

Somewhat surprisingly for the conference formerly known as HR Transform, the answer was a pretty resounding "no."

Over the course of the event, speakers and attendees regularly spoke about an increasingly tighter partnership with their CTO / CIO that was being driven by the shifting demands of hybrid & asynchronous work.

But while distributed teams are becoming more common, most agreed that HR's expertise is around navigating people + process for those changing work modalities while IT is best positioned to lead a conversation around which technologies best suit the company's needs.

Using Data to Persuade Others to Follow

One of my favorite sessions was a panel hosted by @Hallie Bregman that was chock full of actionable tips for how people leaders can use data to persuade executives.  Some examples:

  • Merck Head of WF Analytics @Jeremy Shapiro started by grounding us in the idea that to be effective, you need to be aligned.  He noted that influencing people doesn’t start with the presentation – it starts months, years before that when you’re building trust and psychological safety with your audience.  If no one trusts you, they won’t trust your data.
  • BNY Melon COO HR @Amit Chowdhary shared 2 principles to keep in mind when getting your message across to leaders:
  1. Focus your message on the action that the business needs to take rather than spending time describing how you did the data work itself -- no matter how sophisticated the analytical approach may have been.
  2. Be timely!  Don’t fall victim to analysis paralysis.  Leadership needs these insights to make decisions now.  
  • Klayvio Head of PA @Preeti Lokam echoed Amit’s point about starting with the action that you’re considering rather than the data that you’ve been gathering.  She added on that the magic happens when you connect qualitative and quantitative data;  leaders want to know what employees are thinking and what they’re doing – you need both.

AI Can Get You Scale, but Not Connection

Predictably, there was a lot of buzz around AI.  The general consensus in the room was that AI will give us more reach, but not more connection.

On the reach side, AI can give us access to data that we wouldn't have had before. It can also help our data reach far more people within the organization than we could have previously touched.

But while you'll get added scale, it's still up to HR as a function to build connection. AI can help us generate dozens of simple stories from the data, but it needs a human touch to bring emotion, nuance, and personal context to give those stories power.

Asynchronous Work Is Increasing

Continuing with our Hamilton tribute, we heard a lot about "how the sausage gets made" when it comes to defining a hybrid or return-to-office model. Some nuggets that stood out:

  • @Leah Sutton, the SVP HR of Elastic, spoke about the strain that distributed work has had on managers.  Elastic put a limit in place:  No manager is responsible for managing people in more than 4 time zones. Interesting nuance to consider as you think about defining manager span of control.

  • @Q Hamirani from AirBnB shared some lessons from their first year as a fully distributed company.  He spoke about the need for “planful gatherings” to facilitate connection building, which reminded me that I’ve got Priya Parker’s book on my TBR list.
  • I loved @Tim Betry’s reflections on how making a deliberate shift toward building an asynchronous environment helps support GoPro’s commitment to “all things awesome” – including employee flexibility. (If you want more details about how they put this into practice, check out this All Voices podcast with Tim where he describes the steps GoPro took to reduce workday rigidity.) 

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