Riding The HR Hype Train

Steve Boese Audacious Ideas, HR, Innovation, Steve Boese, Talent Strategy

Our pals over at research and advisory company, Gartner, just released their famous technology “Hype Cycle,” a graphical representation of many modern technologies and how they stack up on a continuum that can best be described as, You probably are just hearing about this” all the way through to This is everywhere, and no longer all that interesting to talk about.”

To give a couple of examples from the technology Hype Cycle, Gartner pegs “Smart Robots” as climbing the “Innovation Trigger” of the curve, meaning that the technology is gaining momentum that comes from increased awareness and improving capability. And “Augmented Reality” shows up just about hitting the bottom of the “Trough of Disillusionment,” suggesting that whatever lofty expectations that we had for Augmented Reality have pretty much come back down to earth, and further development and more widespread acceptance of the technology is unlikely.

Of course since the entire purpose of HR blogging is to try and spin everything through an HR lens, I thought it would be fun to try and classify a few HR/Talent concepts, trends, and ideas in the Gartner Hype Cycle stages and format. And since Gartner has much fancier terms for how they define the different stages of adoption, expectations, and hype, let’s go ahead and use them verbatim. (Please don’t sue us Gartner).

Examples of the HR Hype Cycle:

Innovation Trigger – This is essentially when something is in the “idea” stage, or perhaps one or two really forward-thinking organizations are experimenting with a new concept. But they are well-known enough for pretty significant publicity to have been generated, so mainstream folks have at least heard of it, even if they have no idea how/where/if the thing works.

HR Trend – Tough one, but I am going with “Holacracy.” Hate to drop a Zappos reference so early in an FOT post, but this management experiment/philosophy of employee governance from our wacky friends in Las Vegas certainly fits the bill. You have certainly heard something about this and have also, certainly, decided there is no way on Earth you would ever pitch this craziness to your CEO.

Peak of Inflated Expectations – This is the place on the hype curve where a technology or a concept does have a number of early and well-publicized success stories, and some failures as well. Some organizations look to dive into the trend, but many more do not.

HR Trend – Could be one of a number of “Silicon Valley”-type perks, so I will go with Unlimited and/or Extremely Generous (by USA standards) PTO policies. There are now enough stories of these kinds of policies around that you might have at least seriously considered them before you or your leadership has ruled them out. And you still have the advantage of having very few of your employees who have ever worked anywhere offering such benefits, so no one is knocking on your door (yet), asking why they only get 10 days of vacation and 4 hours of accrued personal time every month.

Trough of Disillusionment – Gartner defines this as the time when interest and adoption of the trend or tech begins to wane, as early experiments either fail or simply succeed to a lesser extent than the “Inflated Expectations” were promising. At this point, only the earnest early-adopters continued to stick it out.

HR Trend – While not exactly just an HR issue, I am going with the so-called set of technologies that were hyped as “Facebook for the Enterprise,” i.e., internal corporate social networking tools that the hype had us all believe would surge to popularity and primacy inside workplaces, much like Facebook dominates the web (and mobile) outside of work. As it turns out, most folks didn’t want a “Facebook for Work;” we liked Facebook because it was fun, we could more or less make up stories about our “perfect” lives, and we didn’t have to actually make productive use of the time spent there.

Slope of Enlightenment – Here is the time when the technology or trend begins to consolidate, homogenize, and when second-stage or derivative (and usually more conservative) tools hit the market.

HR Trend – I am going with the broad category of “Employee Engagement” here. From technologies to more sophisticated surveying tools to “pulse” check-in apps on your iPhone, and the 4,978,902 pieces of content created in the last decade on why employee engagement matters, it is pretty clear that the “convincing” stage on this trend is complete. We ALL know employee engagement is important. That could be all we agree on, but at least it is a start.

Plateau of Productivity – Finally the technology or trends mature; mainstream adoption is achieved; and the broad relevance, applicability, and value of the trend are pretty well understood. The phrase “table stakes” gets used a lot when talking about tools and trends in this stage.

HR Trend – This could be one of a dozen kinds of HR technology—things like systems for Payroll, HRIS, ATS, LMS, etc. Or it could be a more broad and vague type of platitude like “HR needs to understand the business” or my personal nemesis “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It kind of doesn’t matter too much which given or truism we identify here. The more important point is that if you are spending a lot of time in technologies or trends that have plateaued, you likely are not spending enough (or any) time on the more interesting and potentially game-changing things that are climbing on the hype-cycle elevator. No one comes to work for your company (or decides to stay) on the basis of your efficient payroll process. No one cares. Unless you mess it up. But they might decide to stay with more of a say in how the organization is run, not being ashamed to take an extra few weeks off if they are a new parent, or actually believe your leaders take employee engagement seriously.

Let’s hear your take—what HR/Talent/workplace trends are on the rise?

Which ones have bottomed out?

What will I be talking about when I write the 2016 version of this piece?