Main content

HR needs to rage with the machine not against it

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne September 15, 2014
Success depends upon HR thinking of technology as helping it do something different or new, rather than a way of doing same thing more efficiently.

It’s time for HR to break stale old habits and ditch using technology to drive internal efficiency and use it instead to help employees and wider organizational goals.

Jason Averbrook

That’s the top-level message from Jason Averbook, chief innovation officer at cloud service firm Appirio and author of HR from now to next: Reimagining the workplace of tomorrow

Technology plays a major role in the more switched on, business savvy HR department Averbook envisages for 2020. But future success depends upon HR thinking of technology as helping them do something different or new, rather than a way of doing same thing more efficiently. As Averbook points out:

We’ve had five generations of doing the same thing: mainframes, DOS, Windows, client-server, early internet applications.

While the underlying technology may have changed of the years, HR has remained stagnant, running the same processes on each platform. HR has concentrated too much on transactions - collecting the basic name, address and department information found in payroll automation.

Although HR collects details about employees, there is often no systematic way to handle where their workers were hired from, how they heard about the job, or additional skills that aren’t required in their current role. Yet this is exactly the kind of talent data that can drive business improvement.

What HR is missing, according to Averook, is simply making an explicit link between HR technology investment and adding value to the business. Automating an HR process does not add value, changing the process does:

HR’s role is to attract and keep talent. But HR is really good at transactions, not data. But the future is about how to get out of transactions and into interactions and breaking down the silos between employees and management.

This is not just a technology component. If you don’t change attitudes, then we’ll just create another generation of technology. The process has to be reimagined.

Don't push!

Interaction is the key word here. Historically, HR has used technology to ‘push’ information to people. But in this model, people aren’t necessarily sure what they need to do or whether it’s relevant to them at that time. Employees can also ‘pull’ information when they need it. The Holy Grail is interaction – combining both push and pull models and a little bit more besides.

As Averbook explains:

When I say interact, I’m talking about a form of collaboration: really interacting with the technology to become more productive in the workplace by collaborating with others, modelling, and planning.

So interaction refers not just to employees collaborating, but also to the HR department’s ability to use technology to interact with the data they’ve collected and use it as a decision-making tool. Using big data more effectively is a huge opportunity, as Averbook says:“

You can collaborate with data. Rage with the machine not against it to drive business results.

That’s why Averbook contends that the way HR thinks about talent management and HR technology should be turned on its head and repositioned as workplace technology. Here, employees are at the centre of technology decisions rather than department requirements.

Averbook explains:

Technology needs to be designed for the workforce not designed for the function. Currently, they are designed for the HR or finance department not for the workforce and yet that is the primary audience not the secondary.

He points out that in today’s organisations it’s 99% of the workforce that access HR technology and not just the 1% of people in the HR department. The danger is that in a solution designed to fit the needs of the HR department and not its audience, employees won’t see the value of putting in the information. So employees won’t bother to fill in their internal personal talent profile, yet their LinkedIn or Facebook entries will be bang up to date.

For that reason, applications designed to need to be mobile-friendly from the outset, because that’s what employees expect. If that’s an afterthought, then HR is not thinking of about its audience. Employees demand user-friendly ways of interacting because that’s what they are used to outside of work.

This technology readjustment requires a strategy rethink: away from automating processes to fix talent management requirements and instead thinking about what the business needs to win the war for talent. HR needs to start with corporate objectives and from there determine HR objectives and then finally the HR technology objective.

As Averbook concludes:

HR needs to stop being content with simply counting heads – making sure things run smoothly and everyone gets paid on time – and start making heads count.

diginomica supports: 

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.45.39
A grey colored placeholder image