Article: Technology challenge for great HR leaders


Technology challenge for great HR leaders

HR Leaders need to challenge the status quo, step up to the plate and argue for a new paradigm and be knowledgeable about what technology can do for their organizations, and should be willing and capable to fight for it
Technology challenge for great HR leaders

Despite technology offering real-time connectivity, global reach, efficient transactions, asynchronous collaboration, decision support, etc., productivity in the developed world has still declined… and shows little indication of imminent improvement.  

Despite the explosion of HR technology now available, few organizations have achieved the potential benefits on offer. Many organizations still have no robust database defining their talent pipeline, no evidence-based progression/succession processes, no validation of their reward and incentive schemes; and few, if any, valid and reliable assessments of individual performance.

Most organizations are still largely in the HR technology TRIAL phase — focusing on implementation of behemoths of ERP HRIS’s, automating flawed manual processes, toying with internal social media, collaboration tools, and LMS’s, or picking the latest flavor-of-the month cloud applications.

Leading HR Digitization

HR has come a long way in its ‘digitization’ journey. But, the rate of change is such that for many HR professionals, what they see as “the new fad” is already out of date in the eyes of the early adopters. In the mid to late 90’s, change management expert, Everett M. Rogers, adapted an early change model that classified individuals into:


(the 2.5 percent who lead the change and are often now referred to as the ‘disrupters’)

Early adopters

(the 13.5 percent who actively look for, and want to be the first to use, new technology)

Early majority

(the 34 percent who get onboard … once they see others actively using the new technology)

Late majority

(the 34 percent who get onboard once they bbelieve the new technology has provedits value)


(the 16 percent who either very reluctantly get on board or who continue to resist)

Which group are you in?  It affects your decision-making. 

The early adopters are the key players in bringing any innovation to the point of being self-sustaining. However, the benefits of any innovation are only realized (a) if the new technology truly adds net value, and (b) when the two majorities are onboard. 

What makes a great HR Leader?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently published an article entitled, “ What makes a great HR Leader.” It stated that, “[Based on survey data] HR leaders are better educated, more networked and more mobile than ever before.” And, they need to be! HR is now one of, if not the, most complex functions and demands a wide range of in-depth HR-specific technical knowledge and skill.  But, those form the minimum standard.

HR has come a long way in its ‘digitization’ journey; but the rate of change is such that for many HR professionals, what they see as “the new fad” is already out of date in the eyes of the early adopters

How do you believe you can excel?

My own research has shown that great HR leaders have, in addition to their HR technical skills, five outstanding competencies:

1. Technology acumen.  Here we see the most significant differentiation between the good and the great. Great HR leaders:

(a) Look out for and spot new technologies and spot new technologies and approach them with an open but curious mind.

(b) Understand that the utilization of new technologies goes through three key phases — Trial, Adapt, and Exploit:

Trial: They hear about it, try it and, typically, attempt to do exactly what they used to do, but now with the new tool, they soon discover that the new technology rarely does very well what they used to do in other ways.  Automated performance appraisals are a classic example of failed technology trialing.

They then trial, using the new tool as the developers intended. This too usually falls below expectation e.g., many real-time feedback and recognition systems had exciting launches but short lives, not surprising as most creative developers are not HR professionals.  However, via this trialing process, they can learn and understand what the core technology may be capable of, and move to phase 

Core contemporary technology can, for example:

  • trigger individual behaviors through targeted alerts and emails

  • manage process compliance through workflow and blockchains

  • manage and enhance data quality through real-time validation and feedback, and via batched analysis

  • engineer behavior (guide and reinforce) through gamification

  • monitor individual behavior and well-being through sensors and system usage

  • detect stress through audio-trace analysis or through simple brain scans

  • enhance team performance via collaboration, modeling, visualization, and decision support tools.

Great HR leaders use analytics to predict and/or to test unproven hypotheses about how human performance and development can be enhanced

Adapt: In this phase, they select the core innovation that demonstrably has potential, and find a way to use it effectively. In HR, this is typically data management, process compliance management, and/or behavior engineering.  However, more recent and imminent innovations are in psychometric assessment, decision support, team augmentation, and biometric feedback.  In this phase, they take the core technology and develop new processes that seize on that technology, matched with technology that directly emulates or complements those processes – handshake development.  

Exploit: In this phase, they drive to achieve optimal utilization to ensure and maximize the return on the investment (ROI) in the new technology.

(c) Hold themselves accountable to determine the right tools to use (being informed by technical experts and early adopter users, but sufficiently technically skilled to make their own decisions).

Great HR leaders use analytics to predict and/or to test unproven hypotheses about how human performance and development can be enhanced

2. Analytical Skills. Great HR leaders create an environment in which quality data is generated, assembled, integrated, analyzed, interpreted, visualized; and then used to inform robust decisions — in a disciplined and timely manner! 

But great HR leaders don’t merely look backwards; nor do they merely extrapolate. Great HR leaders use analytics to predict and/or to test unproven hypotheses about how human performance and development can be enhanced.

Core analytical technology can, for example:

  • analyze and interpret behavior through statistical analysis of data such as content, system utilization, … e.g., produce psychometric profiles from narrative content

  • detect potential non-compliance through analysis of system usage, narrative content, and interactions

  • detect and calibrate potential bias and assessment capability in assessment datade-bias data using statistical modeling

  • study cause and effect relationships e.g, correlations between managerial behavior and staff engagement, productivity, absence, and attritione.g., correlations between staff engagement and customer experiences

3. Commercial acumen. They understand the very essence of their respective organizations, how they work and, in particular, how they generate and utilize the funds and resources to survive and grow. Great HR leaders understand that they have to be able to prove the impact of HR technology on the true measures of the business.

The above three competencies enable great HR leaders to make robust decisions about the technologies to deploy within HR, and to support HR processes within their organizations.  But, these skills alone do not get those technologies deployed.  Great HR Leaders utilize a further two differentiating competencies:

4. Courage. They truly believe that HR can be a leader in the development of organizational strategy, not merely subservient to it. They understand that we live in a VUCA world but work tirelessly to make effective HR practices easy. At the same time, they fight against demands to simplify them to the point of trivialization. “Simplifying” Performance Appraisal processes and forms … to the point where the data generated is not valid, not reliable, not differentiating, not useful, and not defensible is the classic and most common trivialization.

5. Personal effectiveness. They create powerful business cases and obtain appropriate air-time to present them. Through personal presence, strong relationships and credibility with their stakeholders, and excellent persuasion and negotiation skills, they achieve buy-in and commitment to their proposals.

What’s next for great HR Leaders? 

If HR’s remit is, as I believe, “To facilitate the maximization of performance and ensure development to realize true potential,” then dramatic change in how we use technology is imminent. And, those truly great HR Leaders are now rapidly building the five competencies listed above to achieve that.  They are challenging the status quo; they are willing to step up to the plate and argue for a new paradigm; they are knowledgeable about what technology can do for their organizations, and are willing and capable to fight for it.

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Topics: Technology, Strategic HR, #IntoTheFuture

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