HR Happy Hour 498 – The HR Tech Conference 2021 Preview

Hosted by

George LaRocque
George LaRocque

Founder and Principal Analyst, WorkTech

Steve Boese

Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference

About this episode

HR Happy Hour Episode 498 – The HR Tech Conference 2021 Preview

Hosts: Steve Boese, George LaRocque

This episode of the HR Happy Hour is brought to you by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. 

 Paychex just released its 2021 Pulse of HR Report, which sheds light on what businesses need to do right now to meet the new expectations of a workforce no longer satisfied by the status quo. The fifth annual report provides an in-depth look at how HR professionals are contributing to the success of the companies they serve during this transformative time. To learn how your peers are navigating the start of a new workplace era, download the report at

This week I spoke with George LaRocque about the upcoming HR Technology Conference and what we are looking forward to.

– Safety precautions at the conference

– Amazing keynote speaker lineup, including Abby Wambach

– Expo hall experience, Startup Pavillion, and Pitchfest

– Exciting sessions with new research

– Networking!

Register for the HR Technology Conference here


Thank you George, for joining the show today!  Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour wherever you get your podcasts.

Transcript follows:

Steve 0:23
Welcome to the HR Happy Hour Show sponsored by Paychex. My name is Steve Boese. I am joined today by my friend, HR tech influencer, I dare say HR tech Insider, kind of like the Woj of HR tech perhaps, or the Adam Schefter; George LaRocque. George, how are you?

George LaRocque 0:40
Steve? Thanks. I’m great. Thanks for having me. I’m always happy to be here.

Steve 0:44
It’s been a while since you’ve been on the Happy Hour Show for our frequent guests, probably your third or fourth appearance if I had a guess. If you get to five, George, you, you win a set of steak knives, by the way.

George LaRocque 0:56

Steve 0:56
Don’t know if you knew that, but yeah, excellent. You’ll join the five episode club. There’s a few members of that club too. But soon you’ll be one. So George, for folks maybe who haven’t talked to you or read you in a while maybe just give us 30-60 seconds on what you’ve been up to lately?

George LaRocque 1:14
Oh, well, I cover the broad HR tech market at a site called WorkTech, And what I’m known for these days is tracking all of the investment that’s coming into the space. And I say these days, because these days are crazy with investment. It’s a breakneck pace that we’re on. So I’m looking at all of the emerging technology, looking at the startups and scale ups and looking at the roadmaps from the incumbent vendors, and making sense of it for for buyers and users of the technology. So that’s what I’m all about.

Steve 1:51
Yeah, awesome. George, you do a great job with keeping track of that investment activity. It’s got to be half a full time job maybe like, because it does seemingly every week, there’s something I feel like in the space, whether it’s a another seed round, or series, CDE, whatever, you know, equity diving into the space. It’s been a couple IPOs last couple years. So yeah, a lot going on.

George LaRocque 2:15
Yeah, it’s crazy. Luckily, I’ve got technology, and I’ve got my own little AI that I’ve been training to help. But it’s still you know, I’ve got to vet it. Because our space, you know, HR, recruiting talent benefits. It’s not something that most generalized info trackers focus on. So it takes a trained eye to figure out what fits in this category. Switching with the technology, it is a lot of work. Thanks for noticing, Steve.

Steve 2:48
All right, George. Well, I asked you to jump on today for a couple of reasons. One, just for us to chat, which is cool. But also, we want to talk a little bit the HR Tech Conference, which as we record this recording this on a Monday. The conference starts about a week from today. So we’re gonna turn this around really quick and get it out there, we want to do a little preview, the conference is back in person after a year of virtual events, much like while the entire events industry really in 2020 and even into 2021 has largely been virtual, but events are starting to come back. And HR Tech is coming back in person in Las Vegas next week. So I’ve been working on it more or less all year long. So I’m super excited about it. A couple of weeks ago that maybe closer to a month ago now the conference decided to issue a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for participation in the conference, which I think was the right move and it’s been reacted to very positively and favorably, at least to my knowledge.

George LaRocque 3:50
Mine, too. And I’ll jump right on that positive reinforcement on that, I was never real concerned about the conference. But that gave me an additional layer of assurance that somebody was looking out for me.

Steve 4:06
Yeah, thank you George for saying that. I think it’s the right thing to do. I was very much in favor of that decision. And even better, we’ve partnered with Clear who you may know from seeing Clear technology at airports or other venues. We’ve partnered with Clear and using the Clear app. That’s the process by which you’ll kind of prove your vaccination, if you will, when you come to the show. And it’s really easy to use. I know the conference has mailed out some steps to participants about how you do that. I figured it out George and I’m not super great at some of these things, I will admit but yeah, I did it. I’m cleared. I’ve got my digital badge now. It’s just pretty awesome, I think.

George LaRocque 4:44
Yeah, me too. I did it. I’m probably less great than you even at these things, and I felt it was a snap. It was a snap.

Steve 4:51
Yeah. So we wanted to mention that and make sure we get that in at the top? Yeah, let’s get to the conference itself. George, a couple things that I’m super excited about. I’d love to hear some things maybe you’re looking forward to as well. Because you’ve been to the conference many times, and you know, so many of the players and you know what’s going on. But for me, and one thing I’ll mention too, right away like our opening keynote is Abby Wambach, who most people would know from her career as an international soccer player for the United States, a great player. Probably, I’d argue, the greatest female player in US women’s national team history. Now, I think that the greatest player in US national team history, she’s better than all the men too, because they’re not any good, quite frankly. The men have accomplished basically nothing in international soccer compared to the women so I’m gonna throw that out there too. But she’s coming. She’s got a great message of kind of teamwork, empowerment, inclusion. We had a call with her last week, just a little prep call and she’s raring to go. She’s super excited about being at the event about being back in person too. I’m excited about her George. Do you know much about Abby? You soccer fan at all? Or just familiar with her?

George LaRocque 5:57
I’m not a huge soccer fan. But I have to say, you know, every World Cup and Olympics, I get caught up in what the women’s team is doing because it’s way more fun than what usually goes on with the men’s team. They win, which is nice. Right? Exactly. And lately, you know, they have a documentary out. It’s called LFG, and she’s highlighted. She’s a big part of it. I am probably more excited for her keynote than I have been for any keynote in the past. It’s just her, what she talks about around equity and inclusion, and women in the workforce. It’s so timely right now. And she’s a badass. I mean, she’s great!

Steve 6:40
Yeah, she’s great. I’m looking forward to it. I’m holding up for anybody who watched this on zoom, at some point, I’m holding up Abby’s book, which I’m going to bring with me. I did read it was, it’s great. I’m gonna bring it with me to the conference and try to get her to sign it backstage, if I can. So yeah, I’m excited about that. But then just the bigger broader picture of HR tech, George, is we’re really, you know, coming back to the HR tech. You remember, right? If you’ve been there in the past, so we’ll have hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors, lots of startups. You follow the startup, HR tech startup world pretty closely. Our startup pavilion space in the expo hall is sold out, there’s I think 50 maybe more startups exhibiting, 33 are competing in our pitchfest, George, which I know you’re gonna play a role. And you’ll be judging a lot of that pitchfest and I’ll be hosting the finals. Maybe want to share a couple thoughts about not so much the pitchfest specifically, but just kind of what’s going on more generally, in HR tech kind of innovation from the startup community?

George LaRocque 7:44
Well, right now, things are moving so quickly. You know, everything in tech is being impacted by COVID accelerating trends, it’s being impacted by societal issues, right. You know, I mentioned pay equity around the keep the keynote, but, you know, big, big issues around diversity, inclusion, that are driving a lot of innovation around employee experience, the hybrid workforce, there’s just so many things happening. And right now, I’m starting to see emerging technology that’s really laser focused and was built to address these issues now. You know, we’ll leave it to the competition to see if, you know, how much is there, how you know how much substance is there. But, but it’s been really interesting, because the investment and the pace of companies coming to market never slowed down, we’ve had record quarter after quarter surprisingly, through the pandemic. So I’m, I’m excited to meet these to meet these startups and see what they what they bring to the table in general. You know, I’m seeing a lot of conversational technology, you know, ai that’s embedded there machine learning, I’m seeing a lot of experience, whether it’s candidate or employee, but I’m now seeing a lot of experience on the user side, so that the managers or the hiring managers, the the folks that are that, well, we’ve been talking about the employees experience and the candidate experience, you know, the HR people and recruiters and so forth have been a little left out. They’ve got the sort of the same interface as they had before. And now we’re seeing the promise of becoming more strategic and helpful on the backend starting to show up in product roadmaps as well. So I’m, I’m excited to see how much of that is there. And of course, I mean, there’s just a litany of, you know, talent pipelines, and all of the buzzwords that you’re seeing and hearing in the market. We’re gonna find them across the floor, but definitely in that startup Pavilion.

Steve 9:50
Yeah, that’s for sure, George. And I’d even say too that the pace of innovation really continued into my view kind of unabated throughout 2020 and into 2021. Like the pandemic really didn’t, in my view, certainly not from some of the investment data, George that you compile, it didn’t really slow down that much in our space. And, in fact, we just released a HR Tech Conference and Human Resource Executive just released our top HR products of the year list for 2021. Which I have a hand in reviewing and I some input into how that goes. But there was 13 winners, I don’t have the list right in front of me, but I want to say 10, maybe even 11 of them were what you’d call mature companies, let’s say, you know, companies that have been around for quite some time. Yeah, you know, so you got your SAP in there and workday in there, right? And your ADP is in there, right and Paychex and Paycom, right? These are not brand new companies, but they’re still pushing the innovation engines right inside their companies for a couple of reasons. One, because there’s just demand for it. It’s a really super competitive market. Secondly, they you know, they react and they see innovation coming from, you know, frisky startups, right, and they want to prove that they’re still innovating as well.

George LaRocque 11:09
Oh, yeah, innovation doesn’t just happen in you know, garages and we-work facilities, right? It’s it happens everywhere. And those larger players either command a bigger market share and let’s say like the SMB small businesses or middle market or they’re really the only vendors that can scale for the large enterprise global enterprises so those businesses are looking to leverage new technology looking for more consumerized experiences and efficiencies to improve just like any other business so they acquire some of these startups so you know, it’s not an us or them kind of thing. It’s a lot of these startups that are on that floor hoping to attract some of those big vendors.

Steve 12:01
There’s no doubt. I could tell some stories maybe over a drink next week. I can tell some stories over like those kinds of meetings, and then ultimately culminating in acquisitions happening right at HR Tech since even just in the years since I’ve been involved in it.

Steve 12:16
So we’ll quick break I’m here talking to George LaRocque about the HR tech industry, the HR Tech Conference, which is next week. I do want to thank our friends at Paychex once again, Paychex just released their 2021 Pulse of HR Report, which sheds light on what businesses need to do right now to meet the new expectations of a workforce no longer satisfied by the status quo. The Fifth Annual Report provides an in depth look at how HR professionals are contributing to the success of their companies they serve during this transformative time. To learn how your peers are navigating the start of a new workplace era. You can download the report at Thanks to our friends as always at Paychex.

Steve 13:03
Alright, George, so we talked a little bit about Expo, some startup stuff, Abby, of course, you know, one thing I’m looking forward to at HR Tech next week, it’s a little self serving, I’ll say it. Recording live the 500th episode of this podcast towards the very podcast we are on right now. I think you’re I think you’re Episode 498, I don’t remember.

George LaRocque 13:27
I’m always right before the big event. Yeah, no, that’s awesome. Congratulations. That’s awesome.

Steve 13:34
Yeah, we’re excited to do that. Trish and I’ll be doing that. We’ll have some special guests. We’ll be doing it live on Wednesday. I think I should know this on Wednesday in in the same place where we do the pitchfest, George, that very theater, okay where the startups do the pitchfest. We’ll be recording the podcast from there. We’ll try to get some like beverages rolled and if we can, so I’m looking forward to that. But yeah, and then the a couple of other things. You know, it wouldn’t be HR Tech with having some of our kind of, you know, traditional slash legendary types, though coming and I thought that was important, honestly, for having the event back coming back in person to kind of tap into some of the folks that you just you come to expect, right that you’ll hear at HR Tech.

Steve 14:16
So I’m talking about you know, like Josh Bersin and Jason Averbook, Marcus Buckingham will be back presenting brand new research, Stacy Harris presenting.

George LaRocque 14:25
I’m looking forward to her session.

Steve 14:27
Yeah, Stacy’s research. Her annual HR systems survey is just kind of a, I don’t know, a must watch session every year at HR Tech. And she’ll be sharing that and I cite that research probably half a dozen times a year and various talks or conversations or webinars, right. You just have to write and I know I’ve talked a lot I’ve mentioned this specifically new George, tell me what you think about it. One of the stats from last year’s survey that I’ve used a number of times in the last year or so, is like something like the average organization is running 11 different HR technology systems across their their footprint, right? So that is payroll benefits, talent, recruiting, etc, etc? And on the one hand that seems really high, and on the other hand, it kind of doesn’t like, I kind of see it right? I don’t know, like is that something you run into a lot of people, maybe I do when you have conversations people about, hey, and we really need to simplify what we’re doing here because 11 or 12 systems, it’s just not going to work sustainably.

George LaRocque 15:30
Yeah. And that’s the average. And Stacy’s work covers the entire market, like all market segments. So when I, you know, I’ve done similar research in years past, and I’ve had similar numbers, even bigger numbers. And when you first see her number, or any of our numbers, you think that’s a lot. But to your point, you start thinking, well, if I’ve, if I’m doing business in even more than one state, or province or country, I might need a couple of payroll systems. And then I’ve got different recruiting systems and different learning systems. And all of a sudden, you get up into the into a dozen or even 20 or more, it’s pretty easy to do that if the larger the enterprise. So it’s, I think we’re moving in a direction. And I’ll be curious to see what she has to say about this, where, you know, we will be centered around some core platforms. But I don’t see the numbers going down, I see more. Integration being more core to having a performance performing HR tech stack. That’s Yeah, that’s the way I see it. But be curious to see.

Steve 16:40
It’s funny, like, despite decades of investment, and innovation, and just better solutions and better underlying core technologies that support these solutions to I do feel like the best of breed versus consolidated platform discussion, or debate, if you will, it’s been the same one for I’ve been doing this 20 plus years. Like, I feel like I was having that conversation 20 years ago, right?

George LaRocque 17:09
Yeah, you were and so was I and yeah, and it makes for good fodder and content, I guess. But it’s just irrelevant. It’s clearly irrelevant, because the other platforms, you know, the platforms that are prevalent today, aren’t the platforms that were leading the market 20 years ago, and new platforms will emerge, new point solutions will emerge market, what the market share shifts, and then shifts again, and there’s no shortage of innovation. So I think we’re in an integration driven world, for the foreseeable future,

Steve 17:50
I think so if I was back doing what I used to do a couple jobs where I was kind of trying to manage HR technology for, you know, maybe I call it midsize, maybe I thought the companies were kind of big. So let’s just say you had 5000 employees, which is kind of a big company. That’s not really midsize and my point of view, but I agree like trying to manage all that and trying to get these I spent probably, I felt like, I be exaggerating a little bit, I feel like I spent a third of my time on those integration points that because they were always, always needing to be maintained and being updated. And sometimes they wouldn’t work. And often I had to get vendors involved, like we couldn’t certain aspects of the integrations we weren’t allowed, quote, unquote, to handle ourselves and things like that. So this is a number of years ago, but still, like I felt like that’s all we did was we just wasted so much energy and so many cycles around integration points, when I think if we were just doing x process in the same platform, that was our core HR and payroll system, like I wouldn’t have to worry about this, you know, kind of thing. Right? And so yeah, it’s on and on and on. But you will find people who can argue both sides of that coin for sure and make a compelling case, either one. George, I’ve talked about a few things I’m looking forward to. Is there anything else you’re excited about HR Tech that’s coming up next week that maybe just it’s on your list, you say, Oh, I’m looking forward to this, this will be good.

George LaRocque 19:10
Well, I’ve got to give a shout out to Madeline Laurano, and she’s done some incredible research this year around talent acquisition. I know she’s got two sessions, one focused on maximizing the ETS and the other in filling the talent acquisition pipeline with with tech via technology. And I think I’m excited to hear her latest research. It’s been it’s been stellar this year. And the other thing, Steve, I mean, I could cherry pick a few sessions, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a live event. So I’m just I’m excited to see you in person.

Steve 20:01
Yeah, Madeline sessions, the HR Happy Hour Podcast Network host Madeline Laurano, good call on that. As well as you George, Trish of course, the co-host of this show will be doing a session with our friends at Equifax all about like fully remote onboarding like hiring and onboarding kind of the deal and they have like this really cool Amazing Race kind of angle that they’re putting on it because so many organizations still right are really doing traditional processes fully remotely and it’s not just now we’re so into this year and a half it’s not just the transition to a fully remote processes it’s how do we make them better? How do we optimize them? How do we have more success? How do we just you know meet the needs of our organizations and our employees in this digital environment? And what can we learn what have we learned right from the rapid shift of last year to CES you know, to grow and sustain you know, better processes moving forward so that that’ll be a cool session as well.

George LaRocque 21:00
Yeah. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that too. It’s gonna be as usual there’s so much content and there are spots on the agenda where you have to make Sophie’s Choice and decide which session you’re going to go to.

Steve 21:14
Yeah, that’s always your challenge I would say that’s over the years I’ve been doing this that’s probably the primary complaint I would say I get from people and I don’t get it all that often but I do get it which is a you know you’ve got you know, Trish is presenting at the same time as Madeline at the same time as George at the same time is you know, Tim and you know, all these people that you know, and you really want to see and it’s hard and it’s we we do the best we can with it we actually made some different scheduling decisions this year to try to give people more opportunities to see sessions that they that we think are going to be popular so hopefully that’ll work out but it’s gonna be fun. Yeah, the in person thing is weird so I’ve done I’ve talked about it on this show and I know I’ve talked about it on the WORK BREAK video show that we do, I’ve made one quote unquote business trip since the pandemic started. I made one, I went out and visited our friends at Paycom for two nights at their on site facility out in Oklahoma City. And this was probably like before the Delta variant really started kicking back in and kicking everybody in the tail so it was still you know distancing and mask wearing and you know, protocols that the building was not full of people it was a maybe 25% of employees were on site on any given day something like that I don’t remember exactly that and that was even weird you know, I just being in an office again So yeah, I think that whole we’re back in person in front of a crowd and kind of thing it will be fun but also just yeah, we used to do this a couple times a month right for a long time and now getting back out there is going to be kind of interesting. I hope I don’t screw up like when I walk out on the stage that first morning.

George LaRocque 22:57
Oh, you’ll be well prepared as usual and I’m looking forward to being there to see it.

Steve 23:05
Yeah though. It’s gonna be fun we’ve got a few there’ll be some and you know HR Tech is always but I think maybe it’ll be a little tone down this year. HR Tech was also known as a good social event. There’s always lots of dinners and happy hours and parties and cetera and I decline just about every invite I get these because I can’t be out all night. At HR Tech, I’m exhausted at the end of the day. I’ve got to get up really, really early like I’m not trying to play the tiny violin for me. I’m probably, 6:30am is probably my normal show up at the show time in the morning. So, to get ready for the day I usually avoid them, but I think since it’s Vegas and I think since there’ll be a lot of people sort of gathering will have not seen each other as I said, George we’ve not seen each other in person in a really long time and the HR tech community has that kind of family feel to it to some extent I think it’s particularly amongst folks like you and me and Trish and Madeline, kind of the people who’ve been the industry analysts and experts and influencers who’ve been around for a really long time. So, do you think there’ll be some element of people are just going to be really really excited to get back together even if it’s like an informal Oh, boom, it’s five o’clock. Let’s go meet over here and have a drink together kind of thing.

George LaRocque 24:22
Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of fun and yeah, I can tell I’ve seen you at the show many years. And you are not only there before everyone, but you’re on a mission the entire day. You’ve got that that focused look in your eye every minute.

Steve 24:39
Yeah, I know and I’m thinking about it like you know, since it’s been a year since we’ve done it right in person. I’m thinking it’s like less than a week away. I’m flying in like four or five days, I think, to head out there. And I’m not sure I’m mentally ready. I gotta like, get my act together a little bit. Like Hold on. I crazily scared. Some things for this week that I shouldn’t have done so a lot going on though this week but since there is a lot going on this weekend since we’re both prepping for HR Tech as well as some other things this week. I will let you go George. Two things I want to say: first the HR Tech Conference of course, HR tech for all the information, more details about everything. George and I’ve been talking about you can still register and attend still not too late come out and join us in Vegas. Go to HR for all that information. George, where can people find you and your work that we’ve been talking about as well.

George LaRocque 25:34
At you can use the number one or spell it out whichever you prefer.

Steve 25:40
You did the maneuver where you got them both. I like that we’ll link that in the show notes as well. You can find George on LinkedIn, Twitter, everywhere else probably.

George LaRocque 25:49
Oh, of course. Yep.

Steve 25:50
TikTok probably a big TikTok-or George, I imagine probably.

George LaRocque 25:53
No, my daughter is, so I’m familiar with it.

Steve 25:58
Trish told me that we were going to try to get the the chief security officer or information security officer I don’t remember his exact title of TikTok is a guy who used to work for ADP who was like the chief data officer. We had him on the show back when in his ADP days. We were talking about HR data and payroll data security is really good. Yes. So now he’s the guy running secure information security for TikTok. We are efforting to get him on the show. And I told Trish if we do get him to come back on the show that I would officially launch my TikTok account, so I’m waiting for that.

George LaRocque 26:33
Excellent. All right. I’ll see what I can do to help make that happen.

Steve 26:36
Yeah, we’ll have to get that done. All right, George. For George LaRocque, my name is Steve Boese, thank you so much for joining us today for a little quick HR Tech Conference preview. Thanks to our friends at Paychex, of course, for all their support to learn more about their Pulse of HR Report. And if you see me out in HR tech, or George, just come up and say hi. No handshaking or hugging though. I’m ruling that out. Little fist bump, maybe little high five, maybe I don’t know. Elbow tap. So awesome. Hope to see many out there. Thanks so much for listening to the Happy Hour Show. We will see you next time, and bye for now.

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