Unpacking the transformative role of technology in HR
The challenges, learning, and transformations of the past year have led organizations to be more cognizant of employee well-being and expectations. As we envision a working model that might set the standard for the future, HR leaders must focus on newer strategies to improve the employee experience, find new alliances between tech and HR functions, and enable employees to make them more productive.
Leena Sahijwani (Vice President, Group Human Resources, Tata Group), Prakash Rao (Founding Member and Chief Operating Officer, PeopleStrong), and Sunil Joshi (Head HR at Bestseller India) discussed what role technology can play in making HR and workforce management more effective at TechHR 2021.
How has the delivery of employee experience changed over the past year?
Most organizations had embarked on their digital transformation journey before the pandemic and were working towards their vision of adopting HR-tech tools. This provided a stable foundation to innovate and create new experiences for employees over the past year. At Tata, for instance, stack HR tech solutions focusing on niche processes were in development, and the company saw the highest roll-out of new engagement solutions over the past year. What has changed is the acceleration of these changes and the priority among different functions.
The vision to create a comprehensive and inclusive experience has been the driving force for most HR leaders. There is a need to create solutions and tools that span across functions and serve as a one-stop solution. For example, if an employee is filing for travel expenses, they should not have to juggle different applications or tools for queries or submitting forms. This journey of creating an overarching employee experience and interface across business functions is what HR leaders have embarked upon as part of their long-term vision to integrate the way employees interact with processes.
How is HR tech evolving to keep pace with changing business priorities?
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the acceptability of online processes, even for business-critical functions, multi-fold times. What was primarily considered automation of HR processes, today uses AI, ML, and NPL technologies to help all stakeholders make informed decisions. The expectations from HR-tech solutions have changed; they are expected to offer proactive, predictive, and precise insights related to the workforce. In practice, what this means is smart bots taking over the preliminary step of scheduling interviews with candidates. Or, AI-powered tools running real-time analysis on people’s competencies and soft skills during the video interview.
The advantage is that the younger workforce is used to working on applications and using digital tools. HR tech tools have upped their user experience to ensure engagement because industry leaders realize that they are competing with social media in terms of design and experiences. Thus, there has been an increased focus on building uniform and seamless experiences, simplifying processes, gamifying everything from learning to productivity, and understanding the reasons behind lack of engagement. Despite these advances, HR tech service providers are ensuring that the human element in their solutions is at the core of all their features.
How is change management being undertaken by HR leaders to increase the adoption of HR tech?
One common aspect that permeates the HR industry is that HR leaders tend to latch themselves rather strongly to the solutions they build. They tend to forget why the solutions were created in the first place, and since most effective solutions are refined over years, they end up losing focus. Many leaders forget that the tools they create are a means to deliver a task and they end up making the process itself the end-point. Thus, as long as the process is simple and intuitive and there is flexibility to re-imagine the process, success and agility is achievable. But when there is rigidity towards change and solutions are used in a certain way because people are used to it, the stitches and band-aid approach is usually adopted, and the adoption falters.
The other aspect is that technology is evolving very quickly, and it is much easier to invest in solutions that are easy to use, deploy, and operationalize, as opposed to doing everything yourself. This requires resources and effort, but also time, something that is always in short supply. In other words, while we are competing with the best digital solutions in the market, we must focus on building superior experiences for employees to remain open and agile. So, HR leaders must look at their processes and tools from a customer-user perspective and rethink how they can be changed for higher efficiency. If we go back to the pre-Covid processes and frameworks, we will be missing a great opportunity to make significant changes in our way of work.
How can HR prepare for the future of work?
To keep pace with the evolution of technology and UX offered by market leaders, HR must look at their employees like customers, and apply the same level of effort in simplifying employee experiences. We must let go of our love for processes and focus on what is demonstrably showing us success. Our systems must become more agile, cloud-based, and responsive to the needs and expectations of the workforce. An integral part of this is to create open and transparent connections with employees. The present generation doesn’t hesitate to share their opinions and thoughts, and we need to listen to them. We must allow these authentic conversations to drive the election and adoption of technology, thereby ensuring that employees are getting adequate support, tools, and resources to succeed.
Is surveillance on devices the only way to measure productivity?
The question of keeping tabs on device activity poses an ethical dilemma for many HR leaders and organizations. But we must remember that trust is a two-way street; if organizations do not trust their employees, they will not be trusted either. The responsibility of a leader is to ensure that the outcome is delivered on time, and as long as that is happening, there is no justifiable reason for such policies. We must also acknowledge that the past year has been challenging for most of us, and we have all experienced sorrow, loss, anxiety, or physical stress. Thus, our processes need to be empathetic towards people and allow them the room and flexibility to have more control over their work.
It makes little sense to create stringent policies and systems targeting less than 5 percent of the people who might misuse the trust to make life tougher for 95 percent of those who are playing by the rules. There are cybersecurity solutions to prevent unethical usage of company devices, but beyond that, say, minute-by-minute tracking is unwarranted. Only when organizations trust their employees to do the right thing, will they be able to excel and put their best foot forward.
As many of us can attest, working from isn’t as breezy as it is portrayed or assumed. As the boundaries between work and life have blurred, the biggest impact has been on people’s personal time to unwind and dissociate from their work. When HR leaders design and implement digital solutions they must recognize the fact that our current way of working, the situation of the world, and the future is extremely unusual and uncertain.
While tech tools and solutions can help us build the right environment for employees to work remotely, we must be aware of not letting that support turn into control. Whether it is working from home, going back to the office, or adopting a hybrid model, the purpose of technology should be to enable employees to work better, smarter, and stay focused.
(This article is based on the session “WorkTech Power Panel: Unpacking the Transformative Role of Technology in HR'' with speakers Leena Sahijwani, Vice President, Group Human Resources, Tata Group, and Sunil Joshi, Head HR at Bestseller India. The session was moderated by Prakash Rao, Founding Member, and Chief Operating Officer, PeopleStrong, and held on 6-August-2021 at TechHR India.)