If you see HR practitioners walking around dazed and confused today, staring in disbelief at their smartphones, don’t blame them. After all, today “application” refers to a little icon on their smartphones, and not a candidate’s job application, “feedback” brings to mind the 4-star rating you gave your Uber driver and not the performance feedback you gave an employee and “avatar” is neither a divine incarnation nor an old Rajesh Khanna movie, but rather, that spooky face staring out at you from that interactive simulation used to hire store managers in your organization! Welcome to the world of Mobile HR – not just any old HR technology, but HR technology at its pinnacle: the cloud-based, automated, all-singing, all-dancing, seemingly indispensable marvel of mobile HR technology!
If mobile HR technology seems ubiquitous these days, it’s because it’s fast becoming so. In fact, advancements in mobile technology have surpassed those in HR and organizational sciences in many ways, so much so that practice is outpacing research. While we wait for researchers and thought leaders to catch up, here are some general considerations that might help you decide whether investing in mobile technology for your HR needs is worth the hype or not.
What exactly do you need?
Almost every HR process or activity that connoted ‘people’ or ‘paperwork’ is now automated. From applicant tracking systems for your hiring needs, to expense reports and absence tracking systems, up to instant coaching for your employee development requirements. Take a hard look at where your pain points are – what processes are taking up the most time, effort, paperwork and resources, needlessly, and can be replaced by a mobile system? Consider those processes that are already automated but not mobile-ready yet – the incremental value of moving those to mobile platforms is less compared to a paper-based system leapfrogging directly to the mobile world. It’s fun and easy to get caught up in gadgetry but take a hard look at what would give you the maximum mobile ‘bang’ for your buck.
While reduced costs and increased convenience are important selling points, the added security risks and service requirements might not make it worth moving everything all at once to mobile.
Are you looking to replace current processes/systems, or to introduce additional ones?
In some cases, technology gives us the opportunity to circumvent some hurdles easily. A good example lies in the world of performance management. With the recent clamour for simplifying performance appraisals, doing away with the dreaded bell curve and even performance ratings altogether, a crop of startups has emerged to fill this gap and provide simple performance management solutions via – you guessed it –mobile apps. The problems with abandoning performance ratings altogether aside, taking the step of going entirely mobile with your performance management system might throw up new issues. For instance, all the great thinking behind instant feedback from multiple sources notwithstanding, in this brave new world where anonymity is hard to guarantee, new rules and norms around decency, security and confidentiality need to be in place before multisource performance feedback delivered via mobile apps can be as effective as desired.
In other cases, where organizations are merely using mobile equivalents of enterprise software, offering users streamlined access to HR activities (whether performance ratings, approving expense reports or submitting leave requests), it is important to remember that mobile-accessible is not the same as mobile-friendly, much less, mobile-optimized. This becomes even more critical in the case of mobile assessments, as we will see next.
Is the tail wagging the dog?
For the past two decades, as hiring processes – including pre-employment tests – have moved online, researchers and practitioners alike have been concerned about cheating, faking and other issues around unproctored internet testing (UIT). Well, move over UIT, enter MIT – “mobile internet testing”. This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, where the technology came first and drove the HR practice and only now, are researchers catching up to see if this move to mobile really matters or not. And the answer is not simple. From emerging research, it appears that the device (desktop/laptop versus mobile versus tablet) matters for some kinds of tests more than others. Notably, interactive simulations and cognitive ability tests (timed, ‘intelligence’ tests) show greater declines in performance from non-mobile to mobile conditions, compared to personality, biodata and situational judgment type tests (non-cognitive, text-based tests).
The lesson here, as in the previous point is that retrofitting old processes or solutions into the medium of the smartphone is not sufficient – they need to be re-engineered. Thus, the term ‘mobile-optimized’, versus merely mobile-accessible becomes critical – and something to consider before you take your HR process (online assessments especially) mobile.
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Are you wielding your tools wisely?
Today, all kinds of fancy measurement is possible with mobile technology – every finger tap, every swipe, every search term – can be recorded and analysed. And every ‘like’ or ‘share’ on social media, every retweet and photo shared is potentially up for review by current and prospective employers and coworkers. Just because it’s possible, though, doesn’t make it right, fair, justified – or even, (leaving ethical considerations aside) useful or credible! A great example of this is the world of predictive analytics and Big Data. Data scientists are in great demand all around the world today, especially in organizations using or selling HR technology. With data access and analytics, comes the ability to predict all kinds of patterns – from when an employee might go off on maternity leave, to how likely a particular college grad is to quit within 2 years, even using employee movements to decide office layouts and ergonomics!
Apart from raising ethical questions around privacy, agency and determinism, the wanton application of predictive analytics from mobile data isn’t even always that useful. Just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean you should or need to.
Are you measuring the effectiveness of your mobile HR Tech solution?
From paper-based to computer-based to online, and now, from licensed software to cloud-based systems to mobile technologies, HR processes have seen a lot of changes in the last 20-30 years. The proof of effectiveness for mobile technology will simply lie in its acceptance and use. The number of employees engaging with these tools and apps on their mobiles, as well as the duration, frequency and easy of their use will be critical in measuring success of the switch over to mobile. And if this uptick is slow, or if the experience proves frustrating, the technology vendor needs to be held accountable to make the required changes seamlessly, efficiently and cost-effectively. Ultimately, the best proof of effectiveness is having employees say “We don’t miss the old days of enterprise software at all!”
As you consider these questions, do not lose sight of one important fact: while ‘mobile’ may be the buzz word, it still only represents the means, not the end. The medium cannot replace the content – and that, friends, is still in your capable HR hands!