People Matters asked Soumyasanto Sen, an Advisor and Leader in Workforce Transformation, Technologies, Strategy, and Analytics with more than 17 years of experience, about the state of HR technology in this pandemic-disrupted world. A well-known keynote speaker and one of the top global influencers in HR Technology, Transformation, and People Analytics, Soumya is the founder of the Frankfurt-based advisory firm People Conscience. He is the author of a highly popular book, Digital HR Strategy: Achieving Sustainable Transformation in Digital Age, and co-author of The Sustainable Organization - a paradigm for a fairer society.
Here are the excerpts.
How has the HR tech landscape changed over the last few months?
HR tech can help in areas like recruiting, as talent is still the major challenge. A lot of focus is now on workforce health and safety, engagement, and well-being. Keeping the workforce up-to-date with the right skills and competencies is critical today, to thrive in any transformation and this challenge is massive for the organizations. The demand for continuous learning drives gamification and microlearning trends. The distributed workforce is in focus again in this situation, along with flexible working, benefits, payments, etc. This would also help society with challenges related to migration and globalization.
Investment activity in the HR tech space continued at a consistent pace during 2020, despite concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic would act as a brake. According to HRWins’ Q2 2020 HR Tech Global VC Update, venture capital investment in HR tech increased more than 14 percent from the first quarter during the period.
There has been a lot of discussions even before the pandemic around emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain. Are organizations leveraging next-gen technologies such as blockchain for the HR function?
An emerging globally decentralized workforce extends well beyond traditional concepts of jobs and organizations. The impact is not just on the world of work, but also on our society. Rather than focusing on the details of the blockchain technology itself, HR functions should consider the benefits blockchain delivers, such as trustworthy verification of counterparties’ identity without the involvement of a third-party, and then use it to categorize difficulties and areas of inefficiency in their standing operations.
Verifying and assessing the education, skills, and performance of possible recruits, creating trustworthy blockchain-based records of HR data, managing cross-border payments and employee mobility, enhancing fraud prevention and cybersecurity in HR are some potential uses of blockchain. As there are continuous developments in blockchain technologies, the best solutions are still being devised. Many projects are developing several different aspects, and decentralized applications and platforms could have a considerable effect in the future.
Given the current turmoil triggered by the crisis, is this the right time for organizations to digitize HR?
COVID-19 has brought a sudden shift to virtual operations and interactions. Also, the pandemic provides an opportunity to accelerate the pace of learning, and the adoption of technologies with which your organization might have only started to experiment. With this pandemic, HR should be available for employees to prompt their concerns and address them immediately. Mitigation is key to dispelling employee fears while continuing to successfully and safely run a business.
In a recent PWC survey, only 27 percent of respondents rated HR tech as very effective for changing behaviors at work.
The survey also found that the major issues driving HR tech decisions are related to finding, attracting, and retaining right talent, development of people, improving employee experience, creating collaborative work environments, rethinking on workforce planning, and ensuring employee well-being, diversity, and inclusion. All these certainly demand a change in the HR operations, policies, and processes.
Organizations have been digitizing HR for many years, but the adoption of emerging technologies is just one part of a factual digital transformation. The bigger goal is developing a culture that improves the kinds of relationships, behaviors, and skills which enforce innovation.
How are large organizations leveraging HR technologies such as AI, people analytics, talent acquisition tech, or RPA?
AI and automation technologies are enabling organizations to solve persistent talent issues such as skills shortage, employee turnover, matching employees and external candidates with career opportunities, eliminating manual tasks in administration and payroll through robotic process automation, and creating a personalized platform for employees to learn. HR functions worldwide are adopting RPA technology, reclaiming up to 40 percent of their time, and making their workplace happier and more human-centric, according to UiPath, a major service provider for RPA.
Today, people analytics is not only necessary for the HR organization. Other business functions have also recognized that they need people data to analyze and plan, and to make evidence-based decisions on people functions like joining, leaving, performance, pay, retention, engagement, succession, learning, leadership, etc. Currently, companies are majorly leveraging people analytics practices in measuring employee performance, strategic workforce planning, identifying skills gaps, evaluating recruiting channels, assessing talent supply/demand, identifying flight risk to improve retention, and reducing bias in hiring/promotions.
People analytics is an evolving journey and it’s growing with the expansion of areas like organizational network analysis (ONA), cultural analytics, workplace analytics, etc. With these new applications and areas, organizations can gain insights from analyzing behaviors, values, relationships, workplace habits, and social sentiments of the workforce. This can help them in improving employee experience, future learning, and many other challenges.
Where do you see HR tech five years down the line?
We are living in a world that is changing at a lightning pace and overloaded with information, continual technological revolutions, and uncertainty. All these changes are transforming the way we live, how we communicate with each other, how we create and share knowledge, how we do our personal stuff, and even how we manage a relationship.
Every single organization is undergoing transformations in their business, irrespective of their industries, and many of them are struggling despite their efforts to become successful in the data-driven world. Data-driven transformation can make a huge positive impact on the business in terms of performance and growth, as they use data and analytics to reduce complexity, taking better decisions, performance improvements, or even new analytics offering to their customers.
But, in many cases, the initiatives of implanting capabilities of data insights and analytics into the business operations fail, although the organizations are investing millions in these data-driven transformations. Organizational change related to transformation is not easy as it requires an adaptive strategy that’s well supported by leaders who can foster a culture of embracing change. Capturing the right data is important in making better decisions for these changes.
Organizations need data to assess risks, progress, adoption, and usage related to the changes in leadership and culture when considering transformation. For an organizational change, it is important to identify changing behaviors, ways of working, and ongoing collaboration among the workforce. Instead of applying a checklist approach to change management, organizations should focus on listening to the voice of the employee and adopting this input to identify key drivers of change. We could definitely see more organizations moving towards the data-driven world in the coming future.