In the last few years, the use of technology in business in general and HR, in particular, has increased. With the talk about designing meaningful employee experience taking center stage aided with new age technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, HR is facing multiple challenges and choices in today’s business context. HR professionals have to let go of the administrative tasks to technology while improving their emotional intelligence and its application at the workplace.
These forces are shaping a transformation in the way HR is organized and delivers its services much like the transformation from personnel to HR in the late 1980s to early 1990s. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge to HR leaders across industries and sectors to harness new tools and pioneer a fundamental shift back to the most important asset of the business, the people.
In our efforts to find more about what senior HR professionals in the industry are doing, we reached out to Milind Kaulgud, Chief Human Resource Officer and Vice President at T-Systems, a leading provider of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Milind has more than 30 years of Industry experience across Manufacturing, FMCG, IT and ITES. He has held several lead positions and played a significant role in transforming organizations, setting up new organizations besides handling mergers and acquisitions.
PM: What’s your view of current state of use of technology in HR?
MK: I strongly believe that human touch can never be replaced with any technology solution. We are an IT organization and we have lots of tools available. The tools are important to collect and analyze data for various purposes; however, they can never replace the human interaction and dialogue. We have an initiative called “100 days dialogue” in which HR sits down with an employee after every 100 days and has a face to face conversation with the person along with the reporting manager. The aim of this dialogue is to identify enablers and challenges the person is facing at that moment in the organization and offer solutions and suggestions. HR then analyzes the information collected from this semi-formal interaction to determine engagement level, happiness, and potential for attrition. I don’t think this process can be automated via a questionnaire and is likely to lose its impact if done using a lot of technology. This process has helped us in anticipating possible attrition and helped us in retaining talent. What you can achieve in a dialogue cannot be achieved by clicking buttons on a form. While technology can be used to analyze the data, human touch can never be replaced with technology.
I believe because we have taken this very human approach to our practices. Our attrition rate is much lower than industry norms.
PM: So your technology stack is taking care of transactional part and hence, you are able to invest time in such above mentioned “value added” HR activities.
MK: I am a firm believer in the human touch, that’s it. I can create apps and they can be very beautiful and simple to use. But the app or technology can never really communicate the emotional intent behind the decision. Technology does an excellent job of communicating without really being able to connect with the individual. In our efforts, we are building and maintaining that human connect at every possible interaction opportunity.
For example, I can simply put my variable pay policy on the intranet and let people read the same, but while we have a policy document, we make it a point to communicate our values behind the variable pay policy in which we paid 100% variable in first year even when we didn’t have profits. Because we believed we were making an investment and it’s unfair to expect 100% output in 1st year. We also give more importance to individual performance than company performance in variable pay as managing the overall company profitability is a leadership role and individual contributors should not be punished for the same.
No technology tool can help me communicate this intent and these ideas behind the policy document to my employees. It’s extremely important for us to be able to do this and maintain connections with our employees. My effort is transformation and not transaction, which is only possible if we do this face to face.
PM: In your 30 years of career how have you seen HR and HR tech change and its impact on HR practices?
MK: When I started my career we did not have computers. We used to have manual and electronic typewriters. But I believe the human connect was much more superior in those days. When employees joined, we would sit down and have a conversation with them and not hoard them in meeting rooms for an induction presentation. Today, we have mechanized the process and in most cases, even automated it by converting the corporate message into a video message.
In many cases, we are using technology to wash our hands off our responsibilities and losing out on important opportunities to build the human connection in the organizational context.
In these 30 years, I think technology has helped improve our efficiency by taking care of the C and D category activities but has not really improved the effectiveness of A and B category activities for HR.
In one of my previous organizations, we had 6000 employees and the practice was to print and hand over the increment letters to managers who would, in turn, give it to their employees. I changed it and made it electronic. At one click all 6000 employees received their increment letters across locations without any intervention of their direct managers. We achieved great efficiency in the process, but later many managers approached me and told me that by doing this we have taken away an important occasion for the manager to meet with the employee and shake their hand and explain the message that they wanted to pass on to their employees. Owing to this feedback we changed back to the original method next year.
PM: With so much technology around us, how do you see HR’s role changing?
MK: In my earlier days of Personnel management, the inter-personal relationship we had with employees and unions was phenomenal. In my opinion, with technology invasion, the personal connection has eroded and in some cases even vanished, which has led to erosion in respect for HR. If technology has to do everything then what HR has to do? HR professionals need to up their game as companies use more and more technology.
HR professionals have to realize that their primary task is to maintain and improve the human relations in the organization. Keep employees at the center of all HR activities, use technology where necessary to take care of the C and D level tasks and ensure that human relation is irreplaceable.
While there are talks of building employee experience, I believe HR should just focus on building human connect in all employee processes. For example, I can build an app and provide an SOS workflow in case of an medical emergency and ensure that all transactions are taken care of smoothly, but in such a scenario, I also have to allow for human connect which assures the employees that we are taking care of them and address their anxiety in these situations, that experience is going to build a lasting impression.
If an HR professional is looking beyond transactions and taking care of aspects beyond their defined duties, that’s when they are doing transformational work. Use the tools, because they are required for audit purpose, but don’t depend on them entirely.
PM: One of the key challenges in most technology implementation is adoption. With your focus on human connect how do you think this gets addressed?
MK: If you give people a tool which is meant for someone else’s benefit, they are likely to be reluctant to use the same. If you involve employees in the design of the HR technology solutions which are to be used by them, adoption becomes a non-issue. It’s easy to pick a tool from the market and then hope that people would use it, but I believe in building tools that are co-created with employees. Such tools when created ensure that they address their needs and desires and in that case, they are highly likely to use the tool. This has to be engineered by the HR teams.
While I agree that some tools are required to ease our work, I also believe that most tools have only replaced old ways of doing things and haven’t really added any new dimension to the same.
PM: In your opinion what’s the balance between data and emotional intelligence in this age of HR analytics?
MK: I think one needs to balance these 2 forces. I am personally more focused on the emotional intelligence aspect of the decision making just beyond the data and the story the data tells.
In one of my earlier employer, due to the financial situation of the company we were asked to cut down the benefits policy which had cost company INR 2.5 crore, the benefits policy were being replaced with a traditional group insurance programs which cost INR 1.5 crore, today the insurance premium is INR 11 Cr.
In this example, we were ignorant of the emotional cost of the decision, while later, the financial cost also turned not in our favor. Given this example, I firmly believe in making any business decisions considering and balancing these 2 aspects. HR has the responsibility to ensure that the emotional cost of the business decision is highlighted in the conversation.
I strongly recommend all HR professionals to stay focused on the employee connect and continue to ask if you are building or enhancing the same in your HR processes. Technology tools can help in improving your efficiency and you must focus on tools that help you do that. But then reinvest that improved efficiency in further improving your employee connect.