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5 top takeaways from UNLEASH WORLD Paris 

19-10-2023

This week, over four thousand HR professionals converged on the Paris Convention Centre for two days of networking, insights and an exhibition of HR technology. There was a full schedule of sessions covering a wide range of people-related topics – with speakers including Josh Bersin, our very own Michael Tigwell, and senior executives from big name brands. If you were too busy networking to catch the sessions, here are our highlights from the conference.  

HR perspectives from UNLEASH 

1. Data and analytics top the HR agenda 

Data and analytics were the thread that ran through many of the conference sessions; although several speakers touched on the fact that the HR function is not leveraging data to its full potential yet, actionable insights are essential to support strategic decision-making and the evolution of HR.  

Benefex’s session titled “99 Problems – Global Benefits Data Challenges” also explored this theme; Benefex Chief Operating Officer, Michael Tigwell, spoke about the current challenges within benefits data and reporting, with some Reward Directors not yet able to round their benefits spend to the nearest million. In fact, 89% of reward and benefits professionals admitted they could improve their use of data. Michael uncovered the drivers behind OneHub Analytics (from the need to understand costs, forecast spend, benchmark their offering and more), and shared a demo of the latest release of Benefex’s Analytics tool..  

2. AI will transform the employee experience and HR must be ready 

Data and AI transformation go hand in hand because the more data we have, the more AI has to learn from. 

In his session, “HR Technology in the age of AI: Not everything is really different,” Josh Bersin explored how AI will transform – and is already transforming – the HR tech space. He argued that AI will improve productivity, driving high performance companies to operate in a different way. According to Bersin, AI will help solve the people issues that are impacting every business – from talent shortages, to skills gaps, employee burnout and beyond. Every part of the tech stack, and therefore the employee experience, will be impacted by AI as it transforms the market. To meet this new landscape, leaders and HR must adapt to a bottoms-up, dynamic management strategy focused on skills, mobility, and continuous transformation.  

Whilst most speakers at the conference emphasised that AI will not come at the expense of jobs, in her discussion of the greatest HR challenges today, Barbara Lavernos, Deputy CEO, L’Oreal, said that HR should take the development of AI seriously and should start preparing a strategy to upskill the workforce. 

3. Employee expectations are continuously evolving 

There’s consensus that candidate and employee expectations are changing at ever-increasing pace, especially post-covid. During the main panel discussion on day two, “Reinventing Workforce Management: CHRO Insights on Embracing Workforce Transformation,” senior HR executives from Sodexo, Airbus and Zuhlke highlighted that employees are increasingly looking to work for organisations that prioritise wellbeing and mental health, empathy and inclusivity, and skills development. All three pointed to the EVP as an increasingly important part of talent attraction, engagement and retention.  

In a discussion titled “The candidate Experience and Gen Z,” panellists highlighted how the latest generation to enter the workforce is more vocal about the high expectations they have of their organisations, starting with the candidate application process. Although Gen Z are known to be a more digital-first generation, all speakers agreed that it’s important not to lose the human touch throughout the candidate journey. To deliver on candidate expectations, it’s essential to treat prospective employee as if they are customers; indeed, Michael Kienle, VP Global Talent Acquisition at L’Oreal shared that 40% of candidates who had a bad candidate experience would stop buying their products.  

4. The EVP has never mattered more than it does now 

Amidst talent and skills shortages, the EVP has an essential role to play in attracting top talent – as well as organising employees around a central purpose. During a panel discussion, “CEO Insights on Mission, Skills, & Talent for a Reinvented Future,” Eric Olsen, CEO at Aliaxis, highlighted that the CEO is ultimately responsible for the EVP and it’s something that they’ve got to get right. According to Olsen, there are three things that form the basis of the EVP: purpose (employees want to work in a way that’s useful to society and inspiring); culture (what’s the atmosphere and the way of doing things within the organisation); and talent (A-level talent at the top of the organisation will attract the very best people into the business). 

And of course, the employer brand is an important part of communicating the EVP. We heard from Lidl how they set out on a mission to establish an authentic and consistent employer brand, driven by data analytics. By surveying candidates and employees, and delving into the data, they’ve been able to identify the gaps in their employer brand and evolve it.  

5. HR is the most strategic function for business success 

Multiple sessions explored the strategic importance of HR and People Strategy to business performance – and this viewpoint is shared by both HR and Chief Executives. Barbara Lavernos, Deputy CEO, L’Oreal, said “HR is the ultimate CEO companion” and this sentiment was echoed by all three CEOs that joined her for the panel discussion. According to Thierry Baril, Chief HR Officer at Airbus, “HR are more than a partner, they are a business player,” and have a key role in boosting the system and driving innovation.  

Eric Olsen, CEO at Aliaxis shared how his career path – which included many years in finance, before moving into HR and then becoming a CEO, has changed his perspective of what’s necessary to drive business success; he now believes talent is the number one priority. To close their panel discussion, Eric, Barbara and Jérémie all agreed that the board is increasingly becoming people-oriented to reflect this shift. 

Where to focus next?  

It’s clear that HR & Reward professionals have a lot on their plate – from upskilling to better leverage data and AI solutions, to staying competitive amidst talent shortages, uniting candidates and employees around a powerful EVP, implementing new technology solutions, supporting employees with wellbeing, recognition and benefits programmes, and much more… 

For me, what stood out was the need to put mission, values and purpose at the heart of the HR function, informing all elements of people strategy. This will not only engage employees and support a positive organisational culture, but it also has a direct impact on business success – and goes a long way to keeping up with employees’ evolving expectations. From an employee benefits perspective, we’re seeing organisations increasingly putting DEI and ESG at the forefront of their benefits strategies to support their EVP.  

Will Davidson

Will Davidson

Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Benefex
Will joined Benefex in July 2020 and has over a decade of experience in the SaaS industry, predominantly in the HR and employee experience fields, most notably at Oracle, Fairsail and Sage People where he led the EMEA Commercial team – working with and supporting hundreds of multinational businesses.

19-10-2023
Clare Dolan

Clare Dolan

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