Blog: Going beyond the obvious, humanizing technology


Going beyond the obvious, humanizing technology

You can sense the pulse of an employee every day if you use simple means of gauging their state of mind through mood journals, diaries or a simple emoticons

Thirty to forty minutes into the movie The Social Network (2010) you see Jesse Eisenberg playing Marc Zuckerberg add the relationship status feature to Facebook (then called The Facebook). He explains this by claiming people are keen to know what others are up to; they want to know if they’re dating, who they are dating, are they married, single, happy? Basically, Eisenberg aka Zuckerberg identified a strong human need and turned it into an algorithm which satisfies that need.

The latest ad by Google shows two long-lost friends brought together by their respective grandkids. The ad portrays how Google’s search engine has become a first resort for everything you desire to know.

The most successful technological platforms today have one common denominator – they address basic human wants. They ascertain the underlying collective qualities which cut across cultures, economics and gender, such as curiosity, envy and pride, and deliver to serve these desires.

This realization can help Human Resource departments contemplating or struggling with technological platforms for their processes and failing to accomplish what they planned.

The Human Resources value chain has few critical touchpoints with an employee; talent acquisition, learning & development, talent management, performance management, rewards & recognition and employee engagement. Today, each of these touchpoints is evaluated by the need to quantify mechanisms, evaluate time and cost, churn data and consolidate the effort expended to answer questions of efficacy and effectiveness.

Technology is seen as an answer to reduce effort or manual work. For instance, all Talent Acquisition teams yearn for automated software or cloud-based systems which help them capture candidate data in a meaningful manner. Learning & Development professionals are jumping the LMS bandwagon and exploring social learning as their best alternative to ILTs. Employee engagement has been burdened with the connotation of Yammer groups or in-house networking websites which ask employees to participate in quizzes and polls.

It soon becomes apparent that we are knocking on the wrong door. The only aspect that should be considered, and needs to be made the common denominator like Facebook and Google did, is how does this platform help the employees? What need or desire of theirs get addressed or satiated?

If we claim that Human Resources has moved on from its era of personnel management and administrative duties, it is time we stop seeking technological solutions to just that!

Candidates undergoing an interview process have 2-3 pertinent questions on their mind – how did I do? Who did better? Am I getting the job?

While recruiters today swarm the candidate with the organization’s value proposition, share lengthy job descriptions and spend hours talking about the role, and then another few hours convincing them about the compensation, the candidates in the pipeline or the ones who aren’t taken forward wait in an imaginary queue anxious and frustrated to know their future. The best use of technology would be here – to explore options that help you reach candidates you’ve met and share your feedback in a polite but honest manner. There are some companies who already do this, but there is still scope to improve an impersonal auto-generated e-mail which towards the end asks you to not reply to the sender because it is a bot.

If you ask any HR professional what part of their job possess the most nuisance value they will have one answer – follow up. The act of chasing people to block time for a meeting, confirm their presence for that meeting, ensure completion of critical tasks, get documents duly and accurately filled by employees is a common practice across all segments of HR and which something they all reluctantly accept as inevitable. But is that really so?

Behavioral economists have studied patterns of behavior such as dishonesty, compliance and guilt. All of which is an inclusive package when it comes to employees adhering to timelines or commitments. So these attributes can be easily engineered into processes to limit the act of follow-ups. For instance, a study showed that if an individual is made to check the statement which verifies that their responses for the questions put forward are truthful, the chances of them lying becomes significantly less. These insights can be easily translated into notifications, pop-ups or any other variant for processes such as training programs, team meetings, goal-setting, etc. where an employee is required to devote their time or information.

So how can technology be humanized?

Emotive: Technology is cold and flat, humans are not. They like to be vivid and varied. A Performance Management System can incorporate visuals or graphic representations of current status, as opposed to a box which asks you for percentage completion. Engagement can mean more than surveys and focus-group discussions. You can sense the pulse of an employee every day if you use simple means of gauging their state of mind through mood journals, diaries or a simple emoticon-selection technique. Happy sheets are used after training programs, what stops us from using them to understand job satisfaction?

Graphic: There is a reason infographics is a hit or why sites like Prezi became the rage. They are appealing. Pictures, colors, vivacious objects or elements draw a person out and makes them want to respond. Contrast this with black and white boxes which today represent most of our technological tools and you’ll know why nobody is motivated to fill in those blanks.

Personalize: The purpose of the tool has to be relevant to each employee. Which means a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be adopted successfully. This simply means that there has to be an element of customization available to an employee. Development is something highly individualistic, yet the offerings today remain majorly norm-based. Alternatives of showcasing the various offerings and letting the employee make a choice, thereby also taking onus of self-development, will make things easy for both employee and learning professionals. Dependency today lies on calendars and open programs and e-mails stating options such as MDPs or eLearning modules. However, in an age where the employee is expected to be more resilient towards development and career, this nature of a service will not prove to be helpful.

Disintermediate: Get rid of the middlemen! Most companies today have an IT helpdesk. And most employee of these organizations know logging a query does not suffice and is almost always followed by a call to someone they know in the IT team. Why? Because help is needed. Then, is that technological platform really meeting the need? Can we have a base where an employee can directly reach the IT helpdesk team and have a dialogue? Our processes still have people in the queue who only act as post-masters and pass information from one to another. Technology has only replaced the medium of face-to-face interaction. However, technology can effectively enable faster solutions by just loosening the knots in the system and binding one end to the other in a linear fashion. 

If explored, there are a range of possibilities which exist for technology to serve as a tool to make things better for Human Resources as a function. However, that does not mean it makes their job easy. It means, it can make their job more meaningful. Technology cannot stand-in for a face-to-face conversation between an employee and the manager or replaces a team off-site where the members engage in different activities. But, it is the tasks which precede or follow these moments where technology can play a crucial role. It can tie the gaps which exist today and finally provide HR professionals make their presence known and valid.

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Topics: Technology, Employee Engagement, #BlogCompetition

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