3 Highlights from UNLEASH America 2024

By MBO Partners | May 23, 2024

Unleash America 2024

Key Points

UNLEASH America is an innovative event that spotlights forward-looking HR leaders and vendors as well as key trends in HR Tech.

Members of the MBO team attended the 2024 conference and gained new insights into the future of work.

These three highlights focus on practical application of AI, trends indicated in the data, and the emergence of HR as a strategic business partner.

UNLEASH America is one of the largest HR Tech conferences and tradeshows in the US. This innovative event spotlights forward-looking HR leaders and vendors as well as key trends in the HR Tech space.

Members of the MBO team recently attended the 2024 conference and gained new insights into HR technology and the future of work. Here are three key highlights.

1. AI: From Just Talk to More Action

AI, a topic that has dominated conversations in recent years, was not just talked about but demonstrated in practical ways. Ethan Mollick, Associate Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, delivered a keynote that showed how AI can be used to create a business case, a website, a detailed marketing campaign, a policy, a performance review, and even a virtual agent in a matter of seconds. He ended by reminding the audience that AI will become increasingly advanced in the years ahead, and HR leaders need to be on the front lines of this advancement.

In a conference session, Salim Ismail, futurist, best-selling author, and co-founder/chairman of OpenExO, focused on AI’s role in accelerating the rate of technology change. Salim’s take is that we cannot wait to figure out “how”—we must simply continue to evolve. Demonstrating that exponential tech growth has become normal today, he cited innovations like solar energy, drones, and neuroimaging, which have doubled in their capabilities in as little as nine months.

2. Messages in the Data

Any consideration of workforce trends relies on data, and UNLEASH America was no exception. Between analysts, economists, and folks from The Josh Bersin Company, data was shared in abundance. Four key themes for 2024 were noted:

  1. Labor shortages. Instead of hiring to grow, a renewed focus on productivity reigns supreme.
  2. Organization change. Connection and flexibility are key.
  3. AI will transform everything. Products, people, and jobs are all affected.
  4. Employees expect more. Instead of employee experience, shift focus to employee activation.

Perhaps the most intriguing data came from Indeed, who presented skills and roles that will likely be replaced by AI in the future. While truck drivers, beauty and wellness professionals, and nurses were the least affected, HR was #7 in the ranking of most affected (software development, mathematics, and IT operations/helpdesk were top of the list).

Sidenote: One of the MBO team’s favorite data points came from Professor Mollick’s opening keynote. He presented ChatGPT’s increasing ability to not just pass but excel on most exams.

3. HR as a Strategic Business Partner

Over the course of the conference, we had the opportunity to listen to leaders from different industries as well as small and large companies, including JLL, Glama, UPS, Baker Hughes, and Canva. Highlights from these companies include:

  • JLL discussed their push for internal mobility, which highlighted how it’s often easier to find a new job at a different company than within your current one.
  • Glamox shared how career paths have changed. This was echoed in other sessions, which discussed how employers are now part of an employee journey rather than a destination.
  • Baker Hughes noted their internal rate of change had greatly accelerated due to multiple, concurrent business transformations.
  • UPS shared their success story of hiring tens of thousands of workers during their busy seasons, and being able to extend offers in as little as five minutes.

HR leaders are moving from transactional to strategic roles in support of their organizations. Deanna Jones from Baker Hughes predicted that more CEOs will come from HR backgrounds in the future, considering their importance to the business.

Our team came away from UNLEASH America with valuable insights into HR technology. Interestingly, culture shifts were a recurring topic at the conference, reflecting a meaningful change in today’s conversations about technology. As the rate of tech change is likely to continue accelerating, it’s important that organizations foster cultures that can accommodate such speed. At MBO, we know how to successfully meet this challenge. As we help enterprises navigate change, we can all effectively prepare for the future of work.

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