Everywhere tech is making things simpler, less cumbersome and cheaper. What could be the possibilities for HR?
Circa November 2019, I visited California, Michigan and Kansas.
In Detroit, I met several automotive executives and saw a pattern; majority were Caucasian, having worked for one or two companies all their lives. They talked about the next vehicle model that they were working upon, each of which had 2000 movable parts and almost 30000 total parts, if you include screws etc. They talked proudly of how the next generation gas guzzling truck would now have a better steering wheel or a better infotainment section etc.
Now cut to California. Anywhere I went in the Valley, you could see every colour except perhaps green, possibly because interplanetary work visas are hard to get. I did my dinners with some executives from the top companies there including a couple from that ‘fruit’ company Forrest Gump had bought shares of. Now these guys talked about revolutionary products. They talked about self driving electric cars which barely had 20 moving parts in their engines. Now what does that do? Well, for one, your maintenance costs are going to be less than a fraction of an internal combustion driven car which you would have bought from Detroit!
Now the interesting thing is that the executives from Detroit were talking about adding more parts. Why? It’s simple. More parts means more things going wrong and more money in their pocket for the maintenance and replacement costs that you shall incur. But the Silicon Valley tech guys were making a product which had lesser parts so that you pay less in maintenance costs! To me, that is real Tech! Tech, that makes your life simpler and most importantly, Cheaper!
When I wore a younger man’s clothes back in that lost decade when Bappi Lahiri was considered cool, making an STD call to Kolkata was like applying for a digital e-pass today. You called a line to a bored or rude (or sometimes both) lady and begged her to give you a trunk call slot to Kolkata. And then you waited, anxiously, by the phone, sometimes for hours for that call to come (if it came at all). Today my best friend from my University days in America thinks nothing of video calling me because he’d want me to see what he has cooked for lunch. It’s on VOIP; FaceTime or WhatsApp, good quality and it’s free too. The call, not the lunch. He’s still a bit of a cheapskate.
So that’s just a couple of examples of what Tech has done for us and I know you’re thinking that all this is an invariable part of life today. So let’s talk about the impact of Tech on HR. Today we talk a lot about AI and chatbots taking over HR jobs. Well, way back in 2005, IT services companies in India did that. They created an Avatar on the Intranet, loaded policies and all the possible FAQs that people could ask, and entered them and the answers on a ‘People Platform’. People thought that was great. Today you have a chatbot doing the same thing. Does that make life a bit easier for an employee? Yes, it does. But to me, that’s not really the Tech, I am looking at.
What Tech will do:
I’ll tell you what I call Tech; if you have to conduct a behavioural intervention program for about a 100 people and bring in observable competency changes, then conducting all of that on zoom may not be as impactful as it was intended to be. After all, we are in the midst of a pandemic.
So what if there was some Tech in which the trainer’s life sized Avatar could be beamed directly into a conference room in Bangalore while she conducts the session from her home in Mumbai? What if video cameras in that room could be remotely controlled by the DOP who’s in Delhi?
Think about it. This is as close to the real thing as possible.
And the good news is, that Tech is available today! It’s just that it is still not mass marketed yet. But then, that just a matter of time.
Now let’s look at other aspects of HR. You come into work, a scanner scans your retina, sends an input into your attendance system which in turn chats with your payroll app and gives the number of hours you have worked and automatically calculates your monthly salary including leaves if any that you may have taken/applied for. All this is done without human interface.
The tech for this already exists, except that human interface is still required at some touch points. But let’s talk about next generation Tech. So picture this, the trainer conducts the intervention program and that is linked towards developing some leadership competencies which are required by people manning your critical positions. Now what if there was an app on their phone, which could actually measure their intonation and the words they use after that, at meetings etc, to actually give feedback to them as to how much of those behaviours they are exhibiting during meetings etc? Wouldn’t that eliminate the need of conducting cumbersome 360 degree feedback mechanisms?
To me that is Tech! Just like we have apps that measure the number of steps you took in a day, this too shall become reality one day.
Human intervention in HR will rise above the everyday transactional work that is done today. Tech will enable us to make People Models on Skills, Competencies, Performance and link that directly to compensation, structure and rewards. HR people will become Masters of Tech and create a simple and easy workplace for those who choose to be employed by their companies. Of course Tech and Covid are also changing the very tenets of employment as we see it. But that is another conversation!