Will technology replace HR?
Back in 2020, I wrote about the challenges that HR faced, keeping pace with technology. I had restated my long-held belief that contemporary HR must have five skill sets not formerly associated with their function.
Understanding how each and every HR process impacts the organisation’s bottom-line (financial or social responsibility etc) so that they can prioritise strategic initiatives, including digitisation projects.
Understanding the power of contemporary technology so that they can lead digitisation initiatives and not have them driven by IT or Procurement.
HR technology is often referred to as though it is a single offering and many vendors want us to believe that, arguing that best-of-breed applications are inferior to their ERP applications. However, contemporary HR technology offers numerous forms of power that we can deploy and easily integrate, including but not limited to:
- Transaction or process management e.g., improving the efficiency and effectiveness of recruiting, payroll, on-boarding, filing and retrieval, etc.;
- Communications e.g., video conferencing, teamworking, collaborating, networking, ticketing;
- Behaviour engineering e.g., performance management, employee recognition, employee feedback, stress management;
- Productivity optimisation e.g., ToDo lists, project management, ticketing;
- Compliance and monitoring e.g., entry/exit security, remote-staff monitoring and activity tracking, whistle blowing;
- Analytics e.g., data validation, data management, data aggregation and integration, analytics, interpretation, prediction, and visualisation.
HR do not need to be experts in all of those but we do need to know enough, or to engage with those who do, to be able to make sound HR Technology decisions, many of which (especially AI applications) are progressively becoming fraught with data privacy, security, and legal issues.
Understanding how to ensure the collection and availability of quality HR data (comprehensive, valid, reliable, differentiating, useful, and defensible).
Demonstrating the courage to challenge the status quo, resist flawed requests, fight for what will work and what is right, call-out and stand-up to bias.
Demonstrating the ability to command airtime, influence key stakeholders, and build personal credibility.
The past 2 years have demonstrated, accelerated, and highlighted the critical need for HR to have Technology Acumen. We continue to see the dominance of a small number of software vendors/implementers embedding themselves in large corporates and pushing hard their single-platform solutions. At the other end of the scale, we see a proliferation of start-ups creating innovative solutions to very specific challenges, and then deploying the power of social proof to market them effectively. HR needs to be directly involved in assessing the effectiveness, efficiency, and long-term consequences of both types of technology deployment.
As a simple example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of virtual meeting platforms. Clearly, the use of these has saved many organisations by enabling their employees to work remotely. But, their use has come at a cost which we are only just experiencing but which was largely predictable. Numerous studies indicate that the number of meetings has doubled with around 75% of those failing to achieve their objectives if they had any! Face-to-face conversations have decreased and, with that, there has been a corresponding drop in the levels of empathy, trust and loyalty, and an increase in anxiety, loneliness, and cynicism. Conscious attention levels in virtual meetings have been measured at little over 33% leading to low quality decisions.
For many in HR, the focus of attention is still on how technology can be used to replace routine operations. We see this increasingly in administration, manufacturing, and logistics. But far more wide-reaching developments are now within reach of even medium-sized organisations. Let’s consider three areas of potential interest.
Robotics have advanced to the point where we can consider robots that operate, process data, and even look like and act like humans. They can be on-site, work almost 24x7, and need little if any supervision.
This opens up a huge potential wherever interpersonal interactions are required. What about interviewing candidates? What about interacting with customers – serving or even handling complaints? What about negotiating with vendors? What about providing training services … or even great presentations?
HR was always the function that lacked quality data. Over the past two decades, many organisations have addressed this – one of the benefits of ERP applications. But the potential uses to which that data can be put are vast and currently largely untapped. Frankly, even standard statistical tools such as SPSS and Statistica offer the ability to draw intelligence from such data. AI takes us a stage further.
For example, even as far back as the late ’90s, by combining data about each employee’s arrival time (from security swipe cards), login times (to network and applications), speed of response to notifications such as emails and application prompts, etc, it was possible to detect patterns that could predict attrition by individual and by department.
With the data that we now have, AI can compute personality profiles, predict functional and dysfunctional employee groupings, identify causal connections between demographic data and performance, detect in real-time potential lies in what others are saying, flag up a warning that how we are communicating is having an adverse effect on others, and probably identify early indicators of potential anxiety, stress, and imminent performance degradation. The opportunities are huge.
We have all become aware of the power of gamification as a behaviour engineering tool – the use of reminders, triggers, and responses to influence how individuals think, feel, and act. These are now widely deployed in effective performance management and project management tools. But, virtual reality tools take this to a new level.
We are now faced with the opportunity for employees to live and work in a truly realistic virtual world. This is already being widely deployed in training and pre-sales situations. But, imagine for a moment that, rather than being on a webcam, your employees worked with virtual reality headsets, interacting with each other as though all in the same physical space.
These are exciting times and we are only just scratching the surface of what can be done. What can you do to increase your technology acumen - to ensure that technology does not replace you?