A digital world demands people-centric HR

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 29, 2014
In a digital world, we need people-centric HR systems designed around humanity, not process. More thoughts from last week’s HRTech Europe

Employees want to design and manage their own experiences. They want to be responsible for doing something innovative ...
We're talking about a human scale as we enter a digital world.

Ray Wang by @holgermu
These words of analyst and author R 'Ray' Wang, speaking on the second day of the HRTech Europe conference in Amsterdam last week, highlighted a thread that ran through many of the main stage presentations at the event.

Digital technology has put information power in the hands of individuals, and they're not going to give it back. Enterprises can no longer dictate how they'll interact with people. Therefore HR must reorient its processes and systems to put people at the center.

Several speakers on the first day had illustrated why the recruitment process is one example that's ripe for this kind of overhaul. There are plenty of others too — we'll come back to some of those later on.

Insights from Glassdoor

Glassdoor CEO Robert Hohman spoke of the impact of connected digital technologies on how people research information about prospective employers. He co-founded Glassdoor seven years ago to provide a forum where people could post reviews of their workplace, just like travelers post reviews of hotels and resorts on TripAdvisor. Glassdoor now has 26 million members and has collected 6.5 million reviews and other data points. Glassdoor's success is unsurprising considering the importance of work in people's lives, said Hohman:

Where you work — where you are going to give that blood sweat and passion to — is one of the most important decisions you'll make in your life.

Therefore many people consult Glassdoor before applying for or interviewing at employers. Hohman recommended encouraging employees to post reviews to Glassdoor, pointing out that a spread of reviews enhances credibility (Glassdoor makes its money from employers that pay to put their own branding and content on the site).

If it can be known it will be known. Don't be afraid of letting your employees engage with social media. Allowing them to tell their story is incredibly powerful.

How applicants see us

Elaine Orler, president of talent acquisiton consultancy Talent Function, later that day presented findings from a survey that gave some texture to how candidates approach applications. It was based on 95,000 US respondents to the Candidate Experience Awards.

  • On average, candidates spend two hours researching an organization before applying for a job there.
  • Of course they research its values, products and services, but why people work there and stay there are also key information points.
  • The average applicant spends 30 minutes making each application.
  • They prefer to be told how long it will take before they start, and value the option to save a draft and return later.
  • They welcome getting an acknowledgement, especially if it sets realistic expectations for next steps.
  • When called for interview, they prefer to get an advance agenda and the names and background information of interviewers.
  • Feedback at the end of the day on how they've done is valued.

Jerome Ternynck, CEO of recruitment platform SmartRecruiters, spelt out the importance of showing respect for applicants' investment of time and emotion into the hiring process:

The expectation that the employer chooses is wrong. The reality is that both parties make a choice. The world has moved on ...

Talent acquisition should be a candidate-centric sales and marketing function that is adapted to attract, engage and close the right candidate.

But the reality in most organizations today is far from engaging. Abandon rates throughout the process are far higher than any e-commerce site would accept, Ternynck pointed out. The result is that the best candidates drop out long before any offers are sent out:

You are making sure you never hear about the awesome candidate who gave up because you're not engaging properly ...

Treat them as human beings rather than as applicants to be tracked.

We have been forced into a process that has taken the human, the social out, in favour of automation and compliance and so on.

Systems-centric failure

Other speakers drew attention to the failings of systems-centric thinking elsewhere in HR. In the first-day opening keynote, Yves Morieux from Boston Consulting said that matrix organizations had got so complex that managers were spending too much time in co-ordination meetings to spend time with their staff. Like several other speakers, he quoted the finding that almost a quarter of employees today are "actively disengaged", which means that not only have they stopped caring, they purposely seek out ways to be counter-productive. He blamed labyrinthine management processes:

I would be worried about their mental health if they remained engaged in the labyrinth. Disengaging is the rational behavior in the labyrinth.

He noted that focusing on individual performance metrics ignores the human contribution of teamwork:

The more people cooperate to produce a result in the front office, the more they sacrifice their individual performance in the back office. What makes the difference is the contribution of each one to the performance of the other. But this cannot be measured.

Ray Wang, whose book, Disrupting Digital Business, is published next spring, spoke of the need for organizations to recruit "digital artisans" — specialists in design thinking and behavior who can humanize the digital experience for employees. customers and others they engage with.

People-centric payslips

But perhaps the most striking illustration of what happens when you start to reorient HR around people came in a conversation with Ceridian's chief product and marketing officer David Woodward. As I always do when meeting with workforce management vendors, I asked how Ceridian will handle the workforce of the future, extending across permanent staff, contingent workers, subcontractors and crowdsourced resources.

Do you mean, he wondered, that if someone has three or four jobs with different employers, will Ceridian integrate all of that into a single interface and payslip to deliver to the individual?

That was not where I was going, but it's certainly an intriguing idea that neatly cuts across all the enterprise-centric thinking that besets HR today. It's also interesting in the light of Ceridian delivering a self-service experience to employees using its cloud-based Dayforce product. Why couldn't it deliver that directly as a service to the employee in the future, rather than it being a by-product of its service to the employer? That would be the ultimate in people-centric HR, and the antithesis of an enterprise-centric worldview.

My take

My opinion's implicit throughout all of the above — and in my previous post from HRTech Europe about the digital transformation of HR.

HR and HCM have evolved to serve the needs of an organizational model that is already crumbling as digital technology invades the modern enterprise. What's needed is a complete rethink of how the technology should serve the human needs of people at work — starting not from the needs of the enterprise, but from those of the people who make it what it is.

Disclosure: HRTech Europe funded my travel to attend the event as a speaker.

Image credit: - @holgermu

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