When human resources leaders talk about China there’s a fair chance they’re referring not to the Asian nation but to China Gorman, the one-time Great Place to Work CEO, former Society for Human Resource Management chief operating officer and longtime industry thought leader, adviser and speaker.
HRN, a European-based event organizer that’s behind a fledgling U.S. HR technology conference, is counting on Gorman’s strong personal brand and deep industry connections to boost its presence stateside.
The outfit tapped Gorman Oct. 23 to manage its North American operations, including helping it rebrand and run its second U.S. conference. The event, once known as HR Tech World and rebranded as Unleash as of Oct. 24, is set to take place next May in Las Vegas.
In building its American operations, HRN is going head to head with the existing HR Technology Conference. The LRP Publications-run event all but created the HR technology exposition phenomena when it kicked off its first gathering 20 years ago.
HRN’s focus on the future of work and unique programming separates it from existing conferences, Gorman said. “This isn’t our parents’ HR tech conference, that’s for sure,” she said.
An HR Technology Conference spokeswoman declined to comment.
The rival conferences hope to appeal to HR practitioners at a time when companies are using more cloud-based services for payroll, benefits, performance, learning and other aspects of people management. At the same time, venture funds are pouring an unprecedented amount of capital into HR technology startups.
The trends, along with a low barrier to entry for software-as-a-service providers, have led to an explosion of workplace apps, and to new platforms for helping HR technology departments navigate available options. Close to 500 vendors exhibited at the HR Technology Conference in mid-October, which also took place in Las Vegas.
The past few years also have seen a proliferation of HR tech blogs, review sites — including some with crowdsourced reviews — and other content devoted to assessing HR technology. HR executives need help understanding how HR systems can help them innovate instead of succumbing to thinking of them as a “silver bullet,” said HR tech consultant Nov Omana, chief executive and co-founder of Collective HR Solutions Inc.
Today, information on what’s available comes in many forms, including news sites, webinars and whitepapers. “Tech conferences are getting less attendance by buyers and more by vendors, especially startups looking for” partners, Omana said. “We need to change how we seek knowledge on technology and what it can do for us, and it won’t be through conferences.”
Economic and other trends make it critical for organizations to focus on their people, not just when they’re at work but in their personal lives, and HRN and its founder Marc Coleman get the repercussions that has for HR technology, said Jason Averbook, co-founder of workplace consulting firm LeapGen, and a speaker at previous HR Tech World and HR Technology Conference meetings. “We live in a world where the focus must be on the workforce, the changes required to service a new workforce and everything needed to unleash that workforce to reach its full potential,” Averbook said.
Technology is just part of what Unleash will cover, Gorman said. Of equal importance is helping organizations understand the changing nature of work and its impact on business growth, competition, budgets, innovation and people. “Unleash will focus moving forward with people at the heart of everything we do,” she said.
Gorman will work for Unleash part time from her home base in Las Vegas. “I see myself as a rocket booster for the Unleash team,” she said.
She remains a director at for-profit companies Motivis Learning and Swedish-based Universum Global, nonprofits Human Resource Certification Institute and Jobs for America’s Graduates, and continues as a member of Kronos’ advisory board. She’s also continuing as managing director of the Future Talent Council, a startup members-only group on talent and the economy.
From 2013 to 2015, Gorman was chief executive of Great Place to Work Institute, the San Francisco management consultant that teams with Fortune magazine to produce the annual “Best Companies to Work For” list series.
She was SHRM’s COO from 2007 to 2010 and before that held management positions at several outplacement and HR services firms.
Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor in Portland, Oregon. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.