HR people - don’t just 'do' digital, be digital in 2017

Profile picture for user jmilne By Janine Milne January 4, 2017
Be digital! That’s one of the key messages from HR thought leader Josh Bersin, who shared with diginomica some of his key predictions for HR in 2017

2017 is the year when HR departments need to be digital rather than just ‘do’ digital. As Josh Bersin, principal and founder of research and analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte, explains:

There’s a big difference [between the two], because there’s a traditional belief that, if you want to digitize your company, you hire a chief digital officer and that person drives a bunch of digital initiatives.

The reality of that is that doesn’t really work. What you have to do is infiltrate digital thinking everywhere and get people to do digital things in HR, digital things in products, digital things in services and in operations.

Over the last few years the emphasis has been on putting in a cloud-based digital infrastructure. But those companies have found that putting in core technology, while vital, doesn’t actually provide the transformation they anticipated. Digital technology is not an end in itself, but an enabler of new business models and working in a different ways, as Bersin says:

What companies have found is that putting in core technology is important but it doesn’t actually do that much. So, the coming year is all about enabling people to do their work better and segmenting the workforce into personas or groups and using design thinking to impact the employee experience in work not just in HR.

What that means is that rather than buying product X and rolling out to users, companies need to look at things from the other end of the telescope, from the employee perspective.

Following marketing’s lead, HR needs to segment employees into different groups, look at those groups experiences or ‘journeys’ as they are often called, and work out ways to automate or streamline those experiences. At a more practical level, this is the difference between designing for laptops and designing for mobiles. Bersin expands:

This is a bit of a wake-up call for vendors. The way software is being developed in the mobile world is completely different from the way they are developed in the cloud, so there’s a kind of an existential change going on from cloud-based, process-centric software to mobile apps which are user-, employee-, and people-centric and the vendors know this and are trying to figure out how to do this as fast as they can.

Becoming CRM?

Bersin by Deloitte’s report, Predictions for 2017: Everything is Becoming Digital, talks about HR as a platform, which Bersin explains is basically an acknowledgement that the core HR platform is becoming as sophisticated as a CRM system:

We think what’s happening in HR is the core HR platform – Oracle, SAP, Workday or whatever – is becoming an intelligent platform.

Adopting an integrated, cloud-based approach to HR systems gives HR far more accurate data to play with, where previously, simply trying to collate data across multiple machines to find out the number of employees across the organization was a tricky enterprise. With solid data in place, this opens up the possibility for new applications to be able to use that data in new and innovative ways.

The message about data analytics has hit home in HR, as more and more companies set up their own internal HR data initiatives and teams. While this is a vital first step, Bersin’s longer-term vision is a little different:

I think right now, most companies are still trying to figure out how to get it working correctly in HR, but very, very quickly people find out that if they do it well that it’s much broader than HR and that the HR data is part of a broader initiative of just using analytics to solve business problems.

HR data is a contributor to many business decisions being made and that’s why I don’t think it belongs in HR in the long run. But right now most companies are just trying to get cleaned up and integrated and useful for the HR department.

While data analytics has been on the HR radar for a few years now, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies are only just coming into HR’s purview. This interest, suggests Bersin is fuelled by the fact that the media is so dripping with stories about AI and the ramifications of robotics that CEOs are asking difficult questions of HR. That means HR has to have an answer.

While robotics does have an impact on jobs, it won’t necessarily see employee numbers reduced, it simply changes the job. In call centers, for example, the basic work is automated, leaving employees to handle higher level, more complex queries. According to Bersin:

HR needs to start thinking about that and the transition from more transactional roles to more high-value roles. HR cannot afford to ignore that and I think that conversation is going on in just about every company right now.

Bersin by Deloitte’s HR to do list for 2017

  • Organizational design will be challenged everywhere. To thrive in the digital age organizations should focus on breaking functional groups into smaller teams, customer-centric learning, experimentation and time-to-market. Organizations should examine the way work gets done and then provide support mechanisms to facilitate cross-functional success.
  • Culture and engagement will remain top priorities. In 2017, organizations should carefully define their organizational culture – defined as the reward systems and implicit behavior that happens when nobody is looking. They should also measure it, and find where and how it may be misaligned.
  • Real-time feedback and analytics will boom. Driven by the need to understand and improve engagement and the continuous need to measure and improve employee productivity, real-time feedback and analytics will explode.
  • A new generation of performance management tools will emerge. This development already is underway, as dozens of new companies respond to a huge gap in the market. Specifically, they are responding to a shift from a very top-down, process-driven approach to employee performance management – to a more agile, continuous, feedback-based approach.
  • A focus on “human performance” and wellbeing will become a critical part of HR, talent and leadership. Despite all of the new tools and technologies available at work, US productivity has slowed in recent years. One of HR’s emerging roles in 2017 will be to focus on how to help individuals and teams perform through initiatives including employee wellness, employee engagement, culture and work-life balance.
  • A focus on employee experience will overcome process design in HR. Using the idea of design thinking, HR teams in 2017 will stop designing “programs” for on-boarding, learning, collaboration or other purpose, and instead study and design integrated, high-value “experiences” that excite, engage and inspire employees.
  • Digital HR and learning will help us to reinvent learning and development and HR systems. Digital solutions in HR will mean new approaches, such as embracing hackathons; taking a minimal viable products approach to get new solutions out the door quickly; and increasing transparency by sharing information more freely at work and letting people comment on it or rate it.
  • The leadership market will start a process of reinvention. The “Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016” research shows that millennials do not aspire to mimic the styles of older senior leaders. At the same time, our new high-impact leadership research indicates that companies should shift away from traditional leadership training programs to focus to culture, learning through interactions and relationships, and continuous feedback and coaching.
  • Diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias will become a top priority. Our high-impact talent management research found that building a culture of inclusion is a top driver of financial performance. HR organizations should make sure they capture the right information, share it formally and develop a holistic inclusion and diversity program that touches all talent practices.
  • The learning and development function will continue to struggle. Learning and development organizations should embrace self-directed learning and build a learning experience that helps individuals at all levels learn all the time.
    The future of work is here and HR is in the hot seat. As the rapid commoditization of artificial intelligence (speech recognition, natural language processing, sensors and robotics) could impact almost every job, the real job of HR leaders will be to figure out what all of this means and to redesign jobs, work and organizations so the “people side” of work has more importance and focus than ever.

Source: Bersin by Deloitte’s Predictions for 2017: Everything is Becoming Digital.

Image credit - Milev

Disclosure - At time of writing, Oracle, Salesforce and Workday are premier partners of diginomica