Beginning with his days as internship coordinator for the Davis-in-DC program at the University of California-Davis in the 1980s, Al Adamsen has “accidentally” racked up an array of diverse experiences that enabled him to develop a unique perspective on the worlds of HR and HR tech. He served as a senior consultant at Ernst & Young; director of employee insights at Gap Inc.; vice president of North American consulting services at Infohrm; and HR Analytics practice leader at Kenexa, an IBM company.
For the last several years, Adamsen has brought those experiences to bear as a renowned advisor, educator and thought leader in the areas of talent strategy, workforce planning and analytics, talent measurement and organizational change. In 2008, he founded the Talent Strategy Institute to help leaders inside and outside HR understand the future of work and how talent strategies can be orchestrated to create culture, mitigate risk and drive desired business outcomes. Two years later, he founded the People Analytics & Future of Work Community and Event Series (PAFOW), which provides “enlightening and inspiring learning experiences” for those in the people analytics profession. Most recently, he co-founded Insight 222 in 2017 to “accelerate the maturation of the workforce/people analytics space, so it benefits the people doing the work, as well as executives and shareholders.”
Adamsen’s mantra is “People Data for Good,” which he describes as the “responsible, ethical and virtuous use of people data and analytics for the benefit of individuals, teams, groups, organizations and society at large.” Over the past 25-plus years, he’s witnessed HR technology evolve from largely transactional and process-driven to empowering the worker and providing a greater level of insight.
“When I first started in this field and even before, these were largely transactional systems that were created to either create or improve a process,” says Adamsen. “Now, there is more thought being given to what that technology might do to the worker experience … to the insight that that data is going to create not only for the HR professional or business leader, but for the individual him- or herself.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has “changed everything,” says Adamsen, and it will continue to guide HR’s priorities for the foreseeable future. “Everything from understanding workforce capacity, workforce capability, people’s thoughts, feelings and ideas is going to be within the realm of HR tech and analytics, specifically,” he explains.
HR leaders are central to the many task forces and committees that have been formed to deal with the crisis, says Adamsen, and those types of governance structures are likely to be sustained once the crisis has passed, hopefully with HR as facilitator. When it comes to HR tech specifically, Adamsen says, the need to aggregate and analyze data across not only the employee lifecycle, but also through employee experiences is going to become non-negotiable.
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“Historically, we in HR tech have focused on creating or improving HR processes,” says Adamsen. “Now, we are going to be charged with understanding worker experiences over time. That’s going to require us to capture and analyze behavioral data through email traffic and badge data. A lot of data that formerly was thought to be outside the realm of HR is now going to be part of how we understand the worker experience.”
It’s Adamsen’s hope that change perpetuates, leading to a “more agile worker-centric view of the world.” Right now, he says, HR has a unique opportunity to facilitate talent governance and the worker experience. He expects those who are more adept at understanding workforce capacity, capabilities and worker experiences are going to be increasingly valued, while those who are not able to provide insights that advance discussions about the future of work will fall by the wayside and someone else will step in and assume that role.
“That’s where I see us in HR as more of a process evolution in terms of facilitating executive governance as opposed to some technology innovation,” says Adamsen. “HR tech is going to be more about understanding human experiences within organizations, as opposed to just managing what was formerly known as HR processes.”
An avid beach volleyball player, Adamsen sees parallels between the sport he loves and the world of HR and HR tech. In both, he says, you are dealing with an immeasurable number of variables, including the skill level and mood of your team members and your ability to function together. The ability to learn and adapt is critical, and a commitment to being kind and compassionate, creative and courageous is non-negotiable. Mistakes happen, but you still need to celebrate your teammates. To that end, Adamsen adopts what he calls an “abundance mentality,” focusing on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.
“If we take that perspective and explore how things can be leveraged to get where we want to go, it creates a healthier and more engaging experience,” he says.