A crisp, cold Monday afternoon in November saw me boarding a flight from Leeds to Paris for a few days. The first two of which I spent at the HR Technology World Congress just off the Champs Elysee… (and yes, this blog post has languished half written ever since!)

HRTechWorld is a large conference and expo, hosted at the Palais de Congres and jam packed with technology suppliers of all shapes and sizes showing their wares, some great speakers and workshop sessions and over 3500 delegates who were mainly HR professionals with recruiting, talent management and IT responsibilities. What follows are just a few of the things I picked up, general themes and some highlights of the speaker sessions I managed to catch.

Day 1 kicked off in typically French style, 15 minutes behind schedule and with a coffee and a croissant in hand. First up on stage was Yves Morieux from the Boston Consulting Group with a presentation style that was likened to a football manager giving a half time pep talk. He made some interesting points around productivity and engagement, and the importance of simplifying rather than just automating complexity.

Having seen several technology implementations in the past which took an already broken system and automated it, I could see his point! He also made a compelling case for the power of co-operation and teamwork, even though it’s often a little indefinable and hard to measure, its the secret sauce that pulls everything else together.

Next up, on the second stage was John Vlastelica, who was talking about the importance of engaged hiring managers and how much they can bring to the process when they’re treated as a partner rather than a client of the the HR team. He cited some really interesting examples from companies like Yahoo who’d made the hiring managers really visible in the process and found that the authentic conversations they could have with candidates about the role yielded far better results.

If that was the carrot, then the stick was making recruiting priorities part of hiring managers performance reviews, and rewarding managers based on their engagement with direct sourcing.

Later in the day I caught an interesting session from Booking.com talking about their rapid growth and how they’d structured their recruiting team along the same lines as a sales function, looking at recruitment as another sales channel. It was great to see that they were using a whole array of different tools together rather than pinning everything on one monolithic system, and constantly testing and improving what they do even down to the level of doing A/B testing of different job titles to see which yielded more (or better) applications, something we’ve tried with one of our clients too.

Looking at the general themes and trends of the conference, engagement with technology rather than just passively implementing seemed high on the agenda, with adoption and rollout being actively considered as important. Applying what we’d often term “landing the brand” in a technology context.

And talent analytics was being mentioned everywhere, although if I was being uncharitable then it might seem like one or two of the shall we say, “less cutting edge” applicant tracking systems, have dialled up the marketing of their analytics and reporting features to compensate for their other shortcomings.

In a lull between sessions, I caught the end of a presentation from a technology called WiPro who are working on a video assessment solution that watches the video stream of the candidate as they take a test and can detect their responses, if they leave the room and even if they have a friend looking over their shoulder helping them. It didn’t feel quite ready for widespread adoption, but it was an interesting advance!

One of the more interesting presentations I saw was from Anne Jaake, the HR director at dutch lingerie company Hunkemoller. It was clear from the off that they have a very strong picture of the kind of people they want to recruit, their customer base and their values. Which informs everything they do. They’ve also used video really strongly throughout their entire recruitment process from the careers site, right through to the regret email received by unsuccessful candidates. A simple touch, but really effective and it was clear that their approach was helping to create brand ambassadors at every stage of the process. When so many candidates are also customers, it makes perfect sense to keep them on side and turn them into fans.

The big keynote speaker of the conference was Richard Branson, and the excitement from a lot of the crowd at being in the same room as the man himself was palpable. Though it quickly turned I think to boredom, at the end of a long day with an audience of HR professionals the interviewer pitched him a succession of softball questions mostly based on his autobiography, which led to answers about his charitable initiatives and activities outside the core Virgin businesses. This was an audience hungry to learn how HR is done in a truly innovative business like Virgin, which unfortunately wasn’t really delivered.

Day 2 started with an interesting quote from Jason Averbrook, talking about implementation of HR technology, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us”, how many times have we seen businesses where the entire recruitment process is engineered around the shortcomings of legacy software!

This was followed up by a presentation by Ferrero on how they survived a 60% cut to their recruitment budget, largely by pitching in and creating their own ad-hoc social strategy in house using a range of tools. The old silicon valley maxim of “fail fast, fail often” was definitely in evidence with them trying lots of different approaches and then fine tuning and sticking with the ones that worked. Often we see clients taking risks when budget isn’t an issue, so it was nice to see that approach at the other end of the scale too.

The rest of the day went by in a blur of presentations, visits to various software companies around the expo (several of which we’ve already started to think about using at Chatter with our clients) and a presentation about candidate experience talked about how so many careers sites are all about driving volume applications whether they have any hope of being successful or not. Or as they put it, “Why do we invite so many people to the party and then slam the door in their face."

The day ended with a panel discussion and then as quickly as it had started the event was over, with attendees making their way home across Europe and beyond…except for me…i’d booked the rest of the week off as holiday! Salut!