After going through several years of a pandemic, in person events are finally back which has many people asking, what does the talent space look like now? What are current trends we are seeing in the workforce? What are the differences between the European and American markets? On the 57th episode of the Talent Experience Podcast, we sit down with guest Marc Coleman, Founder and CEO of Unleash, and host Rhonda Taylor. Together, they discuss the current talent space and what we can expect to see with future trends.
Tune in to Marcs’s episode below, at tlntx.co/marc or wherever you like to podcast!
Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.
Rhonda Taylor: Hello, it’s Rhonda Taylor from the Talent Experience. Today we have a guest from across the pond and he’s a longtime friend. He’s the CEO of Unleash, we’re going to speak a bit about Unleash, but we are going to speak about the world and talent. So today I am welcoming to our podcast Mark Coleman. Hi, Mark!
Marc Coleman: Hi, Rhonda. Thanks for having me today.
Rhonda Taylor: Mark, I did a very superficial introduction, the CEO of Unleash, tell us a bit about yourself.
Marc Coleman: So, tell about myself or Unleash?
Rhonda Taylor: I think you are Unleash.
Marc Coleman: No, it’s not, it’s a team sport, I have an amazing team working for me so credit to them. So, my name is Marc Coleman. I’m founder and CEO of unleash, we were founded in 2011. We started as a very small HR conference in Amsterdam. We see ourselves now as the global market leader and the world of HR tech, learning, recruitment and wellbeing. So, it’s all about the future of work and technology. Imagine a show which is hybrid that you know, has some of the most amazing pioneers and thought leaders on the future of work and our main stages, breakouts where you have access to everything that will self-serve you around the roles of HR. So, everything from people analytics, through to recruitment, talent, acquisition, learning, and more. We do lots of fun, we have the longest running startup competition as well. So, startups are kind of like, once it’s the backbone, but it’s definitely in our DNA. And we have a lot of fun with, with startups and our modus operandi is we do two shows one on each side of the Atlantic, one in Viva Las Vegas, in April every year, and our flagship event is obviously our global events in Paris, in October, which we obviously saw you about two weeks ago.
Rhonda Taylor: Right, and in Paris my eyes were just opened up big time Marc, when it came to the talent world and globally what it’s like, we’re gonna talk about that. But I want to go back to like, 2011, you forgot to say, I love it, that you were a scientist. And you went into the HR show space, like talk about a big career deviation. How did that come about? And my second part to that question, is when you launched, what type of companies bought in? Because you were basically a no-name event. So how did in 2011 it all come into being from scientists to a CEO of an event?
Marc Coleman: I didn’t (inaudible) so we’re like, you know, on the Iron Curtain, so that was even like Dodge City. Didn’t make life easy for myself. I’ve been told that scientists and engineers are brilliant at events, and I can actually understand why it’s kind of like, when you do scientific experiments, there’s a kind of, you know, the procedure of everything that you do is like, you know, what’s the title of the experiment? What are you trying to achieve? What’s the apparatus? What’s the procedure? What’s the conclusion? That whole setup is in like, the DNA of all event managers. And so, there’s timelines and deadlines, that’s our world, we live by that. So, I think I’m quite suited to this world. Plus, I love the hospitality industry. I absolutely adore it. And it’s kind of in my DNA since a teenager back home in Ireland. And the idea of going to Netherlands was quite an easy one, because it’s got a strong HR tech, and it’s a recruitment capital in Europe. It’s got a really strong airport and shipping as well. That very first event, I think what you were asking wasn’t talent, it was actually payroll, core HR people, HR techies. And we were just on that cusp of moving into the cloud. So Workday was the belle of the ball. And there had been attempts to do maybe three or four HR tech events in Europe and I remember talking to Thomas Otter, he was at Gartner at the time. Obviously one of the industry’s leading investors now and we kind of looked at why all those other events had failed. That was the biggest thing to see why they had failed. They, they were successful in that they had plenty of sponsors and great speakers and stuff like that, but all of them had problems. And that was quite tough actually going to market with a no-name event or a name of the same event. Sorry, an event of the same name as kind of like, weren’t you here last year and the year before? Or it was kind of like three of these last year, and they weren’t very good. And then I guess the reality was, as well I tell the story quite a bit like, we had no clue how to do HR conference with 400 people it was myself, Vicky, and two other people that was it. We screwed up everything you could screw up as far as events goes, like the lanyards and the badges were all tied together for registration exactly at nine o’clock in the morning, when everyone was arriving. We did seat drops at 4am in the morning with Cornerstone. The prompter for the main screen didn’t work. So, he had to show to everyone at the back of the room, which wasn’t a good kind of idea for a technology event. But the crowd that were there were very high level. And they were all there, like for the right reasons to content, like all the content out Unleash was amazing. So that’s where the win was. And of course, the networking was brilliant. And then I remember like, Oracle did like a 10 grand investment and they won like 19 million euro deal with a bank in Switzerland called Control Risks. So, it was a small investment for a massive outcome.
Rhonda Taylor: No kidding! I guess that’s why they had such a big booth at your event!
Marc Coleman: There’s a reason for everything, it’s like, you know? The goal is that one deal will pay off.
Rhonda Taylor: Well, that’s exactly how we felt, you know? We had a great team there and traffic was there. But you know what, it’s all the work after you do it. As I said, now the work begins. So going back, you know, you have seen your show evolve, and you’ve seen all the players come into the talent space and within the past five months, there’s been, you know, I used to think that maybe Fuel50 was the only puppy at the at the dog bowl, but now, there’s all kinds of people, all kinds of other puppies there and some of them are a lot bigger than Fuel50. What are the trends that you’re seeing, you know, just sitting as an event organizer with the talent space?
Marc Coleman: Oh, the trends are huge. This mega trend, obviously AI is the wave that we’re going to enjoy for the next two decades. We’re coming off the cloud, which is kind of you know, spearheaded HR tech. Like that’s being the rocket ship. Like when you look at Workday coming in in 2011, they had no office in Europe back then. Aviva was their first big customer. If you look at the consolidation that happened in the marketplace back then, which was connected, got bought by IBM, Taleo got bought by Oracle. Who else did you have, Success Factors bought by SAP. If you look at our space right now, the number of unicorns, especially in the talent space, like that’s the biggest category. It’s significant. So, you have trends like reshoring, nearshoring, you probably saw the all the employers have records on sites like Atlas and globalization partners. I was talking about the talent game earlier, we’ve lost talent in Europe too big, like New York Times is where my editor headed off about a year ago. So, we would get in like big American players stealing talent from Europe now. So, the game I’d like the war for talent is a world war now. It’s on a different level, completely different level. And even with, you know, the trends that you’re seeing, like quiet quitting and the great resignation they’re there for reason. Employees are not happy in their jobs, they need more purpose and meaning, they need lifelong learning, they need fast track, they’re ambitious, you know, this, there’s so much going on in the marketplace. Now that wasn’t there before. There are people that were suffering in industries during the pandemic, and they’ve moved to other industries, they’re not coming back. So that layer of talent is completely missing in the middle and it’s not coming back. The only way you get it back is through upskilling so that talent mobility upskilling all that stuff’s on fire. Absolutely on fire at the moment even with recessionary winds and you know, tough economy I’m here in London like the British government haven’t been doing a good job of the economy in the last five or six weeks. You know not to be Game of Thrones, but winter is coming.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, and you know, you’re so right that we’re seeing the evolution of talent mobility becoming the number one need in all companies, not just the big, large corporations, like we’re seeing in the mid markets, companies with 100 people. You got to invest in your people. So, taking it one step further, and the talent is very different. And I did some global recruiting years and years ago, and I was just amazed that at some of the differences that I ran into, but I really witnessed a whole new level of differences between employees on site. And you being international, how’s that impact the workplace?
Marc Coleman: How do you mean?
Rhonda Taylor: Well for example, we think of North America nine to four, everybody starts off with two or three weeks holidays, and that’s it, and you booked your time off. But when I went to Europe, it was like, oh, my gosh, and we learned a little bit last year, Courtney, I’m sure you’ll agree, we had Nordics team, and Christmas they just disappeared. They were they were gone skiing.
Marc Coleman: Santa Claus lives there. What do you expect?
Rhonda Taylor: And then obviously there was a block in the summertime too, when they just were not available. The whole industry seems to close down. Do you see that in other countries?
Marc Coleman: Of course, I mean, I’ve seen our American clientele that have come over for Paris is like, the differences between Paris and Vegas. It’s like, night and day. It’s like you’re in France now, customer service is not the same as Vegas. I think you’ve got to realize like yeah, there’s definitely those things in America. You guys like the American Dream is different in different industries. You have great leadership organizations, great HR organizations, especially companies like PepsiCo. Over here it’s Unilever, Novo Nordisk like, every country in Europe is, I often think of America being very, very much the same. Every state in America is completely different to the next. Like, you compare New York to California, it’s a different breed of people. You have the complexities in Europe, which are entirely different, I always see the American marketplace being more homogenous. Like you do, you get up early, you go home, you go home at a decent hour, but a lot of people work late as well. I see the work trends in Europe being far more favorable, we look after ourselves more, our social benefits model is much, much better than in the United States. You have different management models and styles from Scandinavia down into German, Central European regions. And that from a tech standpoint, or a HR tech standpoint, is very different as well, because Americans often come to Europe forcing American software and American ways of life on European. It’s just not the same. We have different cultures, different languages, different systems, different compliance. So yeah, it’s a bit of a beast, it’s a bit of a monster. And it’s not like, you know, if I look back on the Workday story, for example, when they first came to Europe, the big win for them was Aviva Insurance Company. And the idea was, could they, you know, if their software worked in three countries, then it had a good chance of survival across the rest of Europe. It was a good market entry model. And they chose I think, if I remember correctly, it was like Aviva here in Hungary, or sorry, I’m not hungry right now. It was Aviva in Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania, or something like that. And the idea was, if Workday can work in each of those three countries, then it’s got a good chance of rolling out across Europe. And they did, they won the Aviva contract off Oracle. And that’s where the big fight started then with the big, the big three vendors.
Rhonda Taylor: The big three vendors, that’s right. Yeah, so and of course, you neglected to talk about Italy, you know, you go into Italy, lunch is not an hour long is it in Italy?
Marc Coleman: The way business is done in Paris, as you found out is very stylish. You have to dress up and you have to have a couple of glasses of wine before you really get to the heart of the matter. And then as you go down, so it gets worse like the Spanish and the Italians take their siestas, the Nordics take off at least the whole of August. Like don’t bother calling Denmark or Copenhagen, you’re just not gonna get an answer. Whereas I’m in Hungary next Croatia, those guys take Croatians take off two or three months. Take off the whole summer. And so yeah, you just look across the Europe, every country is different. They are they all have a different way of life.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting, because we think we’re the norm. But we’re really as they say, over in Europe, we’re still the new country.
Marc Coleman: You guys still work too hard, you work very hard. And some some people two or three jobs. So, we don’t have, that same work ethic is not in Europe, you know, most people are tied into one job.
Rhonda Taylor: Right. And how many jobs would you think the typical European would have in a lifetime?
Marc Coleman: I don’t know. That’s interesting. It’s an interesting question. I once studied Silicon Valley, I did that about seven or eight years ago, and I was looking at, you know, how networking was done, how the downloading of kind of what was called snackable content, kind of value like content, how you can access it accesses as quickly as possible. And I was also looking at how people were going into jobs for kind of, on average, about two years. And a different contract to kind of the way you see employment in Europe, like literally everyone putting everything into the job. And all of their contacts and everything and leaving almost always in the right way as well. You know, making sure that succession is in place, and then moving quickly to a bigger and better job. I just love that. It’s like a story that, you know, isn’t told very often. And, yeah, you start to see more and more people here in Europe now into the kind of shorter-term gigs. You look at certain employers, though, like, typically big pharmaceutical companies, and you’ll still find a lot of lifers. But you know, if I look at the Siemens delegation that were in Paris two weeks ago, and just looking at data on LinkedIn, those guys have been in Siemens for the last 17-20 years. And they won’t be leaving, it doesn’t look like they’re leaving anytime. And I love that. I love that those kind of found their home. And they’re very challenged and very inspired. They’re bought into the big mission of the business, into sustainability and giving back to communities, even though they’re working in HR. I love that. And they’re the stories we’d like to put on stage.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, and that leads into my next question, I went to your early shows pre COVID and you had like Richard Branson, and Arianna Huffington and the whistleblower, Snowden. And when we went to Paris, it was more peer to peer that there was a lot of CHRO’s up there. This is obviously a new strategy. And that obviously affects our space, because we love to hear what the CEO’s are saying, as vendors. But you obviously didn’t do it for us. So, tell us the story behind it.
Marc Coleman: Well, I think on that end, we did have CEOs on stage we had the CEO of A-Core and we had the CEO of (inaudible) which is an aeronautical company. We had three French unicorn CEOs on stage very, very important ones. Yes, you’re right, we had CHROs, but we have to celebrate that after the pandemic. Remember, this is our first time being back as a live event in three years. So, if I look at like the last decade, it was the chief people officer, then it was the chief pandemic officer, now it’s the chief purpose officers. So that was like one of the biggest messages, it had to come from the horse’s mouth. So that’s why, I think we had about seven or eight Fortune 500 CHROs on the first day alone. So, they were brilliant. They were really good. They were all very different. We had Beatrice, who’s the CHRO of Nestle on the biggest food and beverage companies in the world. And similarly, we had Roberto from Denone, so like a fantastic lineup, and across all industries and all walks of life. So that story had to be told, and we had to showcase HR, you know, especially at that level, more now than any other time. But, you know, I do think we always put in magic ingredients, so you had, we had a mathematician on stage who’s just apps Hannah Fry, she’s absolutely amazing. So, her ideas around AI, I call her the queen of AI. You can’t have a better mind on stage than her and she’s just a brilliant public speaker. And so, there was a long list of them, you know, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about inspiration. And I often think like, you just need one sentence from the mainstage that can change your life, it can change your career. You know, we’ve had people go home to their jobs and quit their jobs sometimes because they’re like, I’m not in the right job, I’m, you know, I need to be doing this, or I need to be working for this company. So, I love that as well. Now, I’m not saying everyone goes back and resigns. It’s that, it’s not what words that we’re always looking for. That’s our job, we’re looking to inspire people, but our real job is being able to send them back to the office so that they can take intelligent action around HR strategy or their HR tech stock, what that needs to look like or if they need to new ATS then they’ve met greenhouse or smart recruiters or, you know, they’ve met all the right people. And the important thing for us as well as that they’re meeting it at the executive layer. So, I don’t know if you notice, Rhonda, certainly came from Fuel50, we had your CEO on site Jo, great to meet her. But we also had the CEOs of Atlis, Vizier, HireVue, those fantastic footprints and just having those guys meeting with their customers on site. And customers don’t have access to that normal user events and stuff like that. So yeah, I think, you know, the CEOs weren’t on stage, the vendor CEOs certainly weren’t on stage. But there’s a reason for that as well, our audience don’t want to hear from the HR vendors, they really want to hear practitioner content. There are different ways in which they reach the content from the vendor CEOs. And I think we provide for that as well. Different models.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, you know, I just I was in a one stage, and it was a biotech company. And I love that the guy started his presentation saying, I’m here to tell you how I solved a problem. And the the stage, the crowd, the audience was just full, you know, the chairs were just full. And I think that that’s, after COVID, everybody is, is dealing with a magnitude of different problems.
Marc Coleman: That’s it. How do you solve for the pain?
Rhonda Taylor: Exactly. And, you know, if you have the problem, you can be sure that somebody else has had it. And I like the direction that that you went there because, you know, vendors, definitely, if you listened, you picked up a lot on understanding the companies that you may potentially be selling to. Because as you say, every country, every business in Europe, depending upon their location, has different offerings to their employees.
Marc Coleman: And your best salespeople are the customers on the floor. Because, you know, they all have the same problems, the same pain, the same countries and stuff like that. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s the knowledge information like that’s where it’s almost like serendipity. You don’t know where your next connection is, or, or your next best friend. We’ve had people get engaged that the show for God’s sake, it’s mental!
Rhonda Taylor: I missed that!
Marc Coleman: We had Jonathan (inaudible) got engaged that the show five, six years ago, but we had another one this month, I have just baffled by just blown away. Well, it’s Paris, city of romance.
Rhonda Taylor: That’s right? City of romance. You’re right, you’re right. Yeah, Mark, where do you see the talent space going? As, as an outsider, it’s really kind of neat. You know, you’re sitting there, and you know, most of the vendors, what do you see down the road in your crystal ball?
Marc Coleman: That’s a really tough question. I guess its employee experience is where it’s all at, and it’s been there for a long time. So that’s nothing new for looking for buzzwords. You know, most of the vendors have been rolling out like, I think it really started with phenom and guys like that the talent intelligence platforms. So, if you look at any user events that have happened in the last few weeks, you’ll see that that’s attached to that. So, knowing how you’re using your workforce, and like, that’s difficult for us because that level of business intelligence, most companies won’t get on stage and talk about it. They’ll talk to me in private under NDA and stuff like that. But, you know, the people analytics space has been going at a snail’s pace for a very, very long time since like we did the first big data for HR conference in London in 2012. And that spawned like hundreds of people analytics conference since then. But when I look at that, like it’s been 10 years, I’ve been talking to David Greene about it. It’s that evidence-based approach, you know, it’s almost like I often use a great example, it’s Finland, and their citizens and they use the citizens data to better serve the you know, if there’s parts of society that need learning or need better healthcare services and stuff like that. If we could use people’s data or employees, data and companies to serve them better around benefits recognition, mental health, all this kind of stuff. You know, hybrid, especially no one’s figured out hybrid. And what that looks like, you know, working from the office, when to go to the office, you know, how teams work, graduates, young people, students need, they can’t be sat at home with their parents or their friends, they need to go into an office to learn and be around teams and stuff like that. So yeah, there’s, I think the talent intelligence, employee experience, that’s where things are on fire at the moment.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah. And to take it one step further, Mark, you know, we’re even seeing companies using that employee data, skills data in predicting their needs the future. Which is really important.
Marc Coleman: Yeah. I think Gary Bowles talks about skills quite well. We were talking about that in Paris. I love what he’s talking about, you know, that’s something we need to invest in heavily for the next five years.
Rhonda Taylor: Or more.
Marc Coleman: Sorry, I can’t go further five!
Rhonda Taylor: Well Mark, I wish you and the Unleash team that the best of luck. You have an event coming up in Vegas right? When is that?
Marc Coleman: Oh, Vegas is, well, it’s not coming up, thank God. It’s in April on the 26th and 27th, we’ve got a new home. We’re in Caesars Forum. So, we’re, we’ve created the show we’re calling it the International Festival of HR, it’s a very different product to what we’re doing here in Europe and very different to anything we’ve ever done before in the US. I’m really, really, really, really excited for what we’re bringing to the market next year.
Rhonda Taylor: Great. This is Rhonda Taylor, thanking Marc Coleman for being my guest today. And thank you for listening to the Talent Experience.