Economy Sour? You’d Never Know At HR Tech Show

Oct 16, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

There’s no sign of an economic crisis here at HR Tech. The annual technology show opened at McCormick Place in Chicago with some 2,000 attendees and 250 exhibitors, ranking it among the largest in the show’s 11-year history. The only nod to global financial conditions is an emphasis on performance management and succession planning over recruitment.

“We’re not seeing cutbacks,” Christopher Faust, executive vice president / global strategy for Softscape, told us this morning. “But we are hearing (from prospects) ‘How can I leverage what I’ve got?'” Softscape customers have always been heavily invested in succession planning. Now, says Faust, they are also asking about performance management so they can better manage their existing workforce.

Same story at StepStone, the European talent management company that is making a push into the U.S. market. Interest in the performance management and succession modules is especially keen, we were told. Less so for the recruitment. “The companies want to inventory their assets and better plan in case there has to be layoffs,” a StepStone staffer said.

Even so, some of the smaller recruitment-focused vendors seemed to be doing well. At the Bond StarSearcher booth, business for the ATS software was steady. Interest in the smaller market product is as good as it was last year, said Tim Schram, director of marketing and sales. Actual hiring may be slowing, he speculated, “But that doesn’t stop the resumes. People still want to make good hires when they hire.”

Fred Kurst, trade show manager for HR Executive, which hosts the show, said his sense from conversations with the exhibitors is that there is greater interest in the tools that will help a company better manage its existing staff. And the economy appears not to have slowed down anyone, least of all the major exhibitors all of whom, he added, have signed up for the same amount of space at next year’s show.

By that measure, Taleo will again have the largest exhibit. The company has three huge areas, one of them dedicated to a performing troupe of aerial artists who climb fabric “ropes” that dangle from the ceiling. Not even the Workscape car giveaway garners more interest.

The car may be the biggest prize, but up and down every aisle are iPod drawings, baskets full of stress balls, pens by the crateful and a variety of the usual — and unusual — trade show tsotchkes. Among the latter was a booth where you could take your picture with either a cardboard John McCain or Barack Obama.

Yet even with all the activity on the trade show floor, the workshops still played to mostly full houses, though here, too, the recruiting track seemed to have the lightest attendance. The morning sessions focused on case studies of specific companies including Aetna, Hewlett-Packard, and Whirlpool. The afternoon sessions took a broader view, with sessions on workforce analytics and trends in HR outsourcing.

While conference keynoter Michael Beschloss, historian, author, and NBC News historian, spoke about leadership and the presidency to rousing applause, luncheon speaker Richard Pimentel talked about inspiring greatness by believing in people.

The subject of the 2007 motion picture, “Music Within,” and a national expert on employment and disabilities, Pimentel told his life story in vignettes from his time in an orphanage to his years growing up with his grandmother (the first of many to believe in him when he was diagnosed as “retarded”) to teachers who believed he could succeed to his success as a spokesman for people with disabilities. He left the applauding audience with the challenge to “believe in someone for a year… Not as a matter of evidence, but of faith.”

Thursday’s conference highlight is the first talent management Shootout. A regular conference feature, four companies — Authoria, Cornerstone OnDemand,, and Softscape — will compete for to be declared the best of the talent management products.

Wednesday, the editors and staff of HR Executive, honored the previously announced winners of the magazine’s top HR and training products.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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