While in Las Vegas for the HR Technology Conference show a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to also catch a bit of the UiPath user conference, FORWARD VI. As a result, I got to meet with Brigette McInnis-Day, Chief People Officer of UiPath. Brigette previously spent a number of years as an HR executive at SAP, SAP SuccessFactors , and Google Cloud.
McInnis-Day came to UiPath to drive HR automation initiatives and elevate the employee experience – a great objective that is massive in scale. That mandate could include a number of things including the creation of:
- A fair, fun, quick, legal, pleasant recruiting experience
- Great onboarding and day 1 experiences
- Accurate payrolls
But it also requires understanding who the great managers/executives are and which ones are creating retention, morale and other problems. Ultimately, the goal in creating a great employee experience should be to create an environment that causes employees to stay years longer than they otherwise would have.
Mcinnis-Day told me that her role was not just to bring end-to-end process automation to HR (which is the narrow view some competitors of UiPath or implementers of RPA solutions see of the world/opportunity). Her role is to enhance the employee experience (of all employees, not just HR staff) in addition to bringing end-to-end automation to HR. That perspective is spot-on.
And, of course, a great employee experience needs some unexpected, pleasant surprises. This could be praise from a customer, a manager sending an encouraging note, a colleague expressing gratitude to another employee, etc. While an occasional piece of company swag might be welcome from time to time, the best experience could just be having an empathetic boss that does little things that make a big difference (e.g., providing some schedule flexibility to someone with a sick child or elder parent).
UiPath and HR
UiPath has been a big player in the automation space. Like some of their competitors, their toolkit also contains robotic process automation, AI/ML capabilities, process mining and more. Unlike their competitors, UiPath has really staked out the HR area as a key area for process-oriented solutions.
Why focus on HR? HR teams often:
- Have a number of best of breed solutions (e.g., employment verification, recruiting, numerous payrolls, etc.) that are poorly, if at all, integrated
- Become inundated with phone calls and emails during peak demand moments (e.g., annual benefits enrolment, college recruiting season, annual performance reviews, etc.)
- Must prepare regulatory/compliance reports
- Straighten out Payroll-to-General Ledger journal entries even though accounting is rarely a core competency of HR professionals
- Deal with error-prone processes (e.g., fixing time-entry errors and then re-processing payroll)
- Handle one-off, unplanned personnel matters (e.g., sudden terminations, wildcat strikes, pandemics)
Dealing with exceptions, diverse systems, numerous/varied constituents, regulators, re-organizations, etc. is par for the course in HR. It’s hard for HR to be strategic when the HR organization is constantly moving from one firefight to another. Tools that close automation gaps, recommend solutions, support employee self-service, remove errors, etc. go a long way to improving HR productivity and giving HR back the time that it needs to deliver better strategic outcomes for the firm.
UiPath believes better HR processes can deliver substantial business results/outcomes. According to their website, businesses could experience a 10X faster onboarding process, 40% improvement in ‘HR employee capacity’ and no compliance errors with better HR processes. The onboarding point alone is worth some additional discussion.
Onboarding should be painless, frictionless and quick for new hires. The faster they can become productive/operational, the sooner the firm gets the benefit of hiring them. But, there are other benefits worth noting. For example, when companies take the friction, boredom and unpleasantness out of outboarding, they create a better employee experience (EX). Turning onboarding from a chore/task to a positive work moment actually helps stem future attrition. People that have an unpleasant or unsatisfactory Day One work experience are less likely to recommend the employer to other jobseekers and are more likely to leave this job days/months/years sooner than desired.
There are a number of opportunities to use advanced technologies in other parts of HR. Recruiting is currently a hotbed of innovation as firms want to win the war for talent and turn recruiting into a competitive advantage for their firm. In short, companies want to:
- Speed up the time to recruit dramatically. They want to shorten the time from application (or resume receipt) to job offer to be as short as possible/practical. It does no good to spend a lot of money trying to reach jobseekers only to ignore them for days/weeks/months while competitors are scooping up the best and brightest of these.
- Hire better quality candidates.
- Spend more time cultivating relationships with potential jobseekers.
- Have automated tools or sophisticated AI/RPA tools do much of the resume screening and interview scheduling so that recruiters can focus more time on the highest potential jobseekers.
There are other opportunities for HR to use advanced technologies to help employees have a better employment experience. Employers can deploy smart bots, digital assistants, etc. to help employees resolve problems faster, get answers on their own, route workload, automatically schedule follow-up activities, etc. People, as it turns out, don’t live for 'administrivia' – let an RPA or AI tool resolve that stuff.
Advanced technologies can also help identify which employees (not just jobseekers) are great candidates for filling open positions or could do so with modest up-skilling or re-skilling efforts.
And, of course, if these advanced technologies can do a better job of coalescing diverse internal HR data with macro-economic, weather, demographic, operational and other data, just think of how much more strategic HR’s inputs to the operating and executive committee could be. Real-time information that can inform more insightful forecasts, budgets, re-organizations, etc. would be fast and painless to generate.
Specifics With UiPath and HR
UiPath has created a marketplace for a variety of product extensions, partner solutions and more. The screenshot below identifies a number of HR related tools that aid in certain HR processes (e.g., onboarding), integrate with key HRMS solutions (e.g., Workday and BambooHR) or deliver other HR capabilities.
UiPath has apparently had some success with its HR offerings already. Customer case studies from Amazon, Kelly Services and other firms are on its website. UiPath’s offerings essentially enhance, amplify or turbo-charge the HR, HRMS and other technologies a customer already has. UiPath’s solution coverage ranges from talent acquisition to offboarding and most everything in between.
Given the broad, all-encompassing nature of UiPath’s HR solutions, I asked McInnis-Day where a customer should start? She identified four focus areas to begin with:
(1) Strategic HR
Because what UiPath is offering is something that can trigger a material step-change in HR capabilities and value-add to the company, it’s important that an HR leader understand what the strategic implications will be to HR and the company. Some of the potential changes may trigger:
- A need to re-evaluate the metrics, work responsibilities, needed skills, etc. of the HR team
- An opportunity to re-cast HR’s role in the Executive Committee/Board and the new kinds of insights it can bring to bear in areas like forecasting, re-organizations, M&A, succession management, etc.
- A rethink of the firm’s culture, management practices, feedback, etc.,
In fact, if a CHRO is looking at process automation solutions for HR and isn’t thinking about the strategic change opportunities that are also possible, they may be either negligent or missing out on the transformative capabilities their firm might also derive if they do this work well.
Brigette indicated that the consultancy firm EY helps with some HR automation clients to develop net-new dashboards and metrics (e.g., sentiment analysis). I’d note that before any firm embarks on this kind of transformation that they need to thoughtfully and thoroughly benchmark the as-is state so as to measure progress and monitor the changes to come.
(2) Talent Experiences
These new technologies will not only automate activities and processes but they’ll change how people interact with the systems (e.g., process-enabled workflows, self-service apps, etc. ) and the value they’ll derive from them. It’s important to test new or modified processes to ensure that the ways all employees are interacting with them are working well, delighting users and delivering value. These new experiences should be delivering moments of delight for employees and not adding additional frustration, anxiety, costs or friction.
(3) Employee Engagement
Old management methods will likely get replaced as new technologies recast HR processes and technologies. The new processes should facilitate the capture/recording of meaningful work activities and add this to the performance data about a specific person. While some of that can help direct corrective or training needs, it must also provide a more complete, human touch to performance management. The goal is to help managers be more empathetic and aware of the totality of an employee’s work experience. If people know their skills and actions are valued/appreciated on an on-going basis, it should drive an improvement in their engagement levels and productivity.
(4) Employee Empowerment
New, advanced technologies can help radically reimagine what a job should entail, where the work can/should be completed and how it is completed. Incremental thinking and incremental technologies will not permit material changes to the way work is done and the role of employees in getting these tasks successfully completed.
New, advanced technologies can move HR (and other) employees out of repetitive, transaction-processing roles and into new roles where they provide more analytical insights and act in a more consultative fashion. The routine will get automated and the exceptions will get more of the time and attention. It’s the judgement of employees that will be highly valued and not the numbers of transactions completed. And, with these new responsibilities, employees will need new training and skills.
So, what are McInnis-Day's OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)? She mentioned that her objectives include:
- Accelerating career growth within UiPath’s employee base
- Increasing diversity within the company
- Cultivating world-class leadership
- Seeing UiPath as a role model for HR automation (and the step change in the capabilities it can trigger)
It was a fast 30-minute meeting and, as such, couldn’t cover everything. For example, we didn’t get the time to discuss what UiPath’s HR team is doing to meet ESG reporting requirements. But, we did cover enough to see the scope and interest UiPath has in HR. It’s substantial.
I cover a number of UiPath’s competitors. Most of these are interested in pursuing vertical industry solutions (e.g., life insurance underwriting) instead of a cross-industry function like HR. There’s a huge market for back-office solutions like Finance and HR and it’s good to see UiPath here. Longer term, UiPath needs to expand and fortify its offerings in HR as old-school ERP vendors are starting to add AI/ML, process mining and other advanced capabilities to their offerings. That said, given the sheer numbers of diverse solutions a company has in their HR environment, I suspect the process automation opportunity in HR should remain robust for the foreseeable future.
My final thought is this: I heard that many HR professionals could not get travel budget to attend the HR Technology Conference. It’s hard for these HR pros to know or imagine what the art of the possible is for HR and advanced technologies if they can’t see it at shows like that. I’d encourage HR leaders to check out the usual HRMS suspects but also look at how far you could propel your HR group and your firm overall if you could see what other firms, like UiPath, can bring to the table. You’ll never have a strategic HR function if its technology is hopelessly stuck in a 20–30 year-old time warp.