In this guest column, HCM consultant Victor Lindsay looks at why HR technology isn’t the panacea some claim it is.
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report predicts that “by 2025, machines will perform more tasks than humans in the workplace.” Even today, artificial intelligence and machine learning are making jobs obsolete while creating new ones in the process. But as tech takes center stage, companies are also allocating more resources to the latest technology, usually at the expense of employee development.
It’s not that we can blame managers and HR professionals for raving about the latest HCM tech trends. Technology has become such a huge part of organizations that we’ve come to equate most innovations to a quick productivity boost. Fancy HCM tech such as adaptive office lighting, smart desks, online productivity portals and even RFID chip implants have entered offices around the world. And while some new HCM technologies may deliver real substance to a company, it’s easy to overestimate its actual impact beyond how humans use them.
The truth is that companies are quicker to adopt an innovation than to take the long route of talent development. With business gurus still going on about “game-changing innovations” and “disruptive technologies,” it’s difficult not to be swayed into thinking that a little gadgetry is enough to turn a company inside out or to give it the competitive advantage it chases after.
But what is wrong with a tech-centric HCM approach, and why does it fail to make a real impact? As expected, most will point to the “human factor.” Primary reasons include failure in appointing primary human drivers in implementation, lack of workforce openness for new processes, and others. In short, there is dissonance between the tech and the capabilities of employees in handling it.
Technology Needs Humans
When tech is introduced without considering human capital, what usually emerges are “Frankenstein” systems or systems where the technology is composed of disparate software from various sources. Aside from inefficiency and communication problems between different functional silos, this defeats the purpose of adopting the technology in the first place.
The tech should be integrated smoothly into the existing models in the most consistent and efficient manner. Employees should use these technologies not just because they were told to, but because they represent a logical improvement over existing systems. While system overhauls aren’t necessarily wrong, having to overhaul systems every time another innovation arrives will drain resources, waste time and burn out employees. Harmony between human capital and the tools of the trade will ensure that both work optimally.
A good example of HCM tech failing to cope with actual HR needs is in social media and analytics. As shown in Lottoland’s infographic about inventions that changed the world, the first social media site, Six Degrees, was launched in 1997. From its start as a digital slam book, social media blossomed into the data behemoth that it is today. This has led companies to adopt relevant tools such as Instagram’s SocialRank to analyze their respective social media audiences.
But while such tools are indeed useful in parsing social media data, there is more to social media analytics than views, likes and shares. Parsing is best done from all angles within and without the company, rather than just relying on AI or a dedicated analytics team. After all, what we are analyzing is human behavior, and as people who are also social media savvy, a workforce trained for these tools can become a more well-rounded team. Innovation should not just come from the outside but also happen inside, within the human capital.
Making tech and Human Resources go hand in hand means using one to maximize the other. HR should focus on using tech for better talent acquisition and development strategies, better reskilling and upskilling methods and, in general, developing a more tech-informed workforce.
To clear things up, we’re not undermining the importance of HCM tech. But at the end of the day, nothing can replace good old-fashioned, face-to-face human resource development. You can incorporate a new office system into your existing operational framework and hope for the best, but be sure that every single dollar you invest in your employees will not go to waste. May it be a bonus, raise, free lunch or a full-day workshop, all the time and effort we put into our employees’ interest will surely lead to good results. It’s a delicate balancing act, and we know the best performances happen when center stage and backstage are in perfect sync.
Victor Lindsay is a veteran HR executive turned freelance HCM consultant.
Editor’s note: Guest columns provide members of the HCM technology community with sponsored opportunities to share their expertise.