Conference season is upon us and HR folk are getting ready for the main event of the year – the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester, 5th-6th November.

It’s a great opportunity to catch up on leading-edge thinking, and get an insight into the products and services that are out there to support the HR function – particularly at a time when there’s so much discussion about the profession’s role, and how it needs to change to get fit for future challenges.

So if you’re conference-bound (or even if you’re not) – what are the key topics you should be paying attention to, and how can some of the latest offerings from suppliers help you up your game?

Are you handling people processes efficiently?

It’s astonishing how many HR people are still wedded to their spreadsheets when there are now so many quicker and easier ways to manage core people processes. The problem with spreadsheets is that they are often out-of-date, easily corrupted – and with numerous versions flying around between departments – there is no central source of ‘truth’. The latest HR software eradicates these problems and takes away most of the time-consuming admin that occupies valuable HR time. Technology has moved on apace, and sophisticated systems that can help companies manage everything from absence to performance are now within reach of even the smallest business. If you can’t get round the conference circuit, it’s easy to access demos online.

Are you communicating with people in the way they want?

We are in a digital age and employees (particularly digital natives from Generation Y) expect ‘always on’ communication. They want to be able to access the information they need at the click of a mouse, at the time they need it; they want just-in-time learning; and they expect to be able to collaborate and network easily with peers online. The latest HR systems come with a self-service element that means employees can simply log on from wherever they are and update their personal details, check on how much annual leave they have left, and access key company information. Everything is much quicker and more efficient – and employees are able to communicate in a way that is natural to them.

Are you behind the curve or ahead of it?

How up-to-date are you on the latest HR technology? And what it can do to support you in your role? Are people in your team IT-savvy and interested in HR analytics and its role in supporting key business decisions? The pages of the HR press have been hot with debate over recent months over the issue of Big Data and what it means for HR. Sadly, it’s still a bit of a foreign language for many HR people and there’s an urgent need for professionals not just to update their knowledge of what’s out there – but also build the skills they will need to exploit the data at their fingertips to its fullest extent.

Are you managing performance effectively?

Is your performance management process a ‘live’ tool that really helps managers get the best out of their team? Or is it a box ticking exercise where people go through the motions of the annual appraisal but nothing really changes? There are so many businesses where poor performance gets pushed under the carpet, with the resulting impact on team morale, or talented people leaving because their skills are not recognised and their potential is not being fulfilled. Technology can’t replace the honest and meaningful conversations that managers need to have with their teams, but it can provide a framework to make sure appraisals and informal check-ins happen when they’re meant to. HR systems centrally house information about employees’ skills and aspirations, making it easy to keep information up-to-date when changes occur, and to log and follow through with agreed developments.

Do you know how your people are thinking and feeling?

Numerous studies have shown that engaged employees are more productive, loyal and willing to go the extra mile. HR has a huge part to play in developing engagement in the business, and in equipping line managers to build motivated and enthusiastic teams. In the past, companies have typically ‘taken the temperature’ of the business through the annual employee survey. Thanks to technology, feedback from employees no longer has to be a one-off event. Some of the latest generation HR systems, like Cezanne HR, come with integral social portals, which allow the business to invite and respond to feedback from employees on an on-going basis. It supports innovation, by making it easier to act on new and exciting ideas, encourages collaboration between people who wouldn’t normally work together, and leads to a much more vibrant, fast-moving business environment.

You may be interested in reading: Top five HR challenges for 2015

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.