Everyone in the organization has it. Finance has Fin Tech. Marketing has Mar Tech. Why can I not have my very own HR Tech? Every year I wait for Santa Claus to give me my gift. And every year I discover that the hype cycle was racing ahead of reality. Will 2017 will finally be the year when HR Tech emerges? Probably not! There is a lot of investment in HR Tech. $65m across 47 deals has funded several ideas. Globally, more than 700 deals have raised more than $4.3bn in funds. So why am I not ready to announce 2017 as the year of HR Tech?
After the $26bn that Microsoft paid for LinkedIn alone is bigger than all the money we have in HR Tech. Facebook@Work could be another game changer in reshaping how we collaborate. The partnership of Slack and Salesforce could be powerful in more ways than we could imagine. So there is hope. But to be realistic, we have to understand the 6 phases of development that all tech will go through. HR Tech is no exception.
Where is HR in the 6D model?
Peter Diamandis’s 6D model of exponential technology talks of the growth of technology from digitization to democratization in six steps. The first step is to Digitize any product or service. Turning the physical object into a language of 0 and 1 gives us the ability to use the power of computers to modify, build and distribute the product (or service) in a boundaryless fashion. For example, digital photography allows us to distribute photos to millions at zero cost. So, digitization is the first step in leveraging technology.
Step two is called the Deceptive phase. 3D printing has been around since 1981. The digital camera was created in December 1975 by Steve Sasson. The 8 pound camera recorded 0.01 megapixel black and white photos to a cassette tape. The first photograph took 23 seconds to create. MIT set up its Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1959. Between 1959 and becoming available as Siri in our phones in 2011, there were 50 years of development. This is when the media and consumers lost interest. This is precisely the reason why people are caught unaware when technology glides into phase 3.
The digital tsunami is really not about technology — it is about mindsets
The third phase is called the Disruptive phase. Technology starts to get adopted. Old jobs get eliminated. New jobs get created to leverage the still evolving tech. AI is being trained to do everything from recognizing human faces (they do it better than we can); predict outcomes of trials (AI is better than us); they are writing financial reports better than journalists and diagnosing cancer better than any doctor. That is disruptive. Driverless cars, synthetic biology, AI, Internet of Things are all in this phase.
After disruption, technology moves to the fourth phase when it Dematerializes what was once a physical object. Look at your mobile and you will see how many physical objects (compass, GPS, flashlight, camera…) are now apps. These have all moved to the Dematerialization phase of technology.
Once a product is dematerialized, it moves rapidly into the fifth phase – Demonetization. No this is not about legal tender in 500 and 1000 rupee denominations being made useless. Once a physical object is dematerialized, it is available for free. We do not pay more for a mobile because it has a flashlight or compass or GPS.
In its sixth stage technology gets Democratized. It is no longer the preserve of the rich or powerful. Technology becomes almost invisible. Electricity is in that phase. Mobiles are fast getting there.
HR-Tech is today in Phase 1
HR tech is shuttling between phase 1 and 2. Most organizations are sitting firmly in the first phase. Organizations are still trying to digitize their data. HR data is still lying around in silos. Everything is a secret. Compensation data is not accessible to those who run performance management. Hiring data is not known to the learning and development team. Financial data and sales data does not speak to the HR data.
The digital tsunami is really not about technology. It is about mindsets. HR professionals have for long spent time sulked about not having a seat at the table. Their time is now. They have to stop thinking about processes and design experiences.
“HR is about the human touch”
This is the veto card that HR leaders have played to stay away from learning about technology. As our number of connections increase on Facebook, we find it hard to manage them. Facebook prompts us about the upcoming birthdays of our friends. We don’t need to worry about forgetting birthdays and anniversaries because we have leveraged technology to augment our capabilities. No one stops us from remembering birthdays but technology is a help.
The human touch can be exercised by how we express our feelings. Do we send our friend a hand-made card even when it is not as slickly produced as the one we could buy? Or do we call them? Or do we copy paste a Gif and send it on WhatsApp? We can choose to express our feelings in various degrees. The human touch is a choice. Technology is not. It will keep advancing regardless of our opinion about how it is changing our world.
“HR is about the human touch” — This is the veto card that HR leaders have played to stay away from learning about technology
2017 – The year of the Digital Tsunami
Here are 3 ideas to redesign HR experiences in 2017:
Firstly, this year, let HR take a boundary-less view of data. Go beyond structured data to unstructured data sources. Throw in data from all sources till you cannot use Excel to do analysis any more. You have to invest in Artificial Intelligence.
Secondly, if you believe that you have cracked HR Analytics just because you have managed to predict attrition, then you are still in the cave drawing stage of analytics. Mona Lisa is still years away. Create a team of 5 people drawn across different functions (including 1 person from HR – the other 4 must be users) to redesign HR experiences. For example, let a candidate redesign your hiring process. Leverage AI, VR, Sensors, etc. while designing the processes. Once a month, invite a HR Tech company to explain to you how they have redesigned processes. You will soon discover who can be your partner. Give them real data to stress-test their products. They will love you.
Third, stop benchmarking other industry peers and best practices. Explore how you can use algorithms the way Netflix has to match employees to jobs where they excel. Leverage peer recommendations in whatever you design the way Amazon does.
Moving up the value chain in the digital world simply means putting the employee in the center and redesigning the processes around the employee. Make them data-based and boundary-less. Make feedback gathering and sharing a real-time process. Encourage employees to deepen their expertise. Go digital. It is about having the right mindset. Finding the right HR Tech is the easy part.