Arguably the biggest workplace disruptor in recent decades, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns impelled organisations to embrace several next-generation automation technologies. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, nearly half of all work could automated with the help of current and future technologies. As the HR assists organisations in refining and enhancing the employee experience, are there any automation-related best practices from its perspective?
This was the subject of the third session of Automation.Nxt Conference, a one-of-a-kind event that witnessed industry leaders including CTOs and CHROs share their experiences of steering the automation processes and policies at their organisations. Organised by HR Katha, the conference included four sessions – each highlighting a unique aspect of organisational automation and digitalisation.
The event was powered by Tata Steel Industrial Consulting. Other partners were UKG (workforce management partner), Onsurity (SME healthcare partner), NHRD (community partner) and Open Offers (Lanyard partner).
“I don’t think the HR touch will matter in times to come. It is AI that is going to engage with employees; so AI should be made more potent and prudent”
Sandeep Girotra, executive director & CHRO, DCM Shriram
The panel for the third session comprised Tuhin Biswas, CHRO, Emami; Sandeep Girotra, executive director & CHRO, DCM Shriram; Seema Bangia, vice president & CPO, Mahindra Agri, Defence & Aero Sectors (Mahindra & Mahindra); Dipankar Ghosh, group head – HR, Apollo Tyres; and Shailesh Singh, Sr director & CPO, Max Life Insurance. The session was moderated by senior HR leader, GP Rao.
The Best Practice
The penultimate session of the Conference was marked by brevity and humour. With his sparkling wit and keen observations, GP Rao regaled the audience even as he engaged with the speakers, eliciting several fascinating insights from them. His first question, based on the central theme of the session, urged the participating HR leaders to share one best practice in automation at their respective organisations.
Dipankar Ghosh mentioned coming across a locally-made, indigenous HR solution at his plant that helps digitally track the HR matrices and dashboard of the blue-collar and grey-collar workers through a Power BI system. “It made managing simpler, with workers’ absenteeism, turnover, salaries and leaves available at touch-point. Additionally, the LTS implementation tracker through a Power BI system is a laudable practice at Apollo Tyres” he replied.
“Automation is the concerted result of collective, continuous human effort”
GP Rao, founder & managing partner, GPHR Consulting
Tuhin Biswas underscored how most organisations had moved towards employee-engagement automation from process automation in post-pandemic times. “We have implemented an instant survey system with the help of a tool on which an employee can submit their opinions and suggestions in real time. Their questions are answered and queries addressed within 48 hours,” he explained, adding that it had worked well, particularly in deepening the employees’ engagement with and trust in the organisation.
“I foresee companies falling into three categories – those that would not have undergone automation, those that would have significantly invested in automation for activities and governance solutions; and those that would embrace digitalisation as a way of life, treating the employee as an end customer”
Shailesh Singh, Sr director & CPO, Max Life Insurance
Max Life Insurance, shared Shailesh Singh, deployed an employee app that catered to everyday employee requirements such as leave, attendance, payslips and so on. He also mentioned the use of Intranet – a repository of information about functions, policies and practices – for the reference of new employees. “But organisations must integrate various practices for the employee. There must be a superstructure to subsume the various digital assets and subelements – be it an app or Intranet – so the employee is only engaging with this unified, simplified tool, enjoying a seamless, integrated user experience,” he opined, stressing the ability to integrate as a best practice.
Describing Mahindra & Mahindra as a demographically diverse organisation, Seema Bangia said that technology touched the life cycle of every employee in some way or the other from ‘hire to retire’. “We have recently introduced a practice named ‘State of Mind’ under which an employee conveys their mood or how they are feeling – motivated, elated, discouraged, or energetic? Based on the inputs received, the HR team approaches the respective managers and even the employees themselves, effectively caring for them,” she elucidated, adding that this practice would help arrest the trend of attrition and resignations.
Challenges in implementing and sustaining automation
Discussing the challenges in introducing and sustaining digitalisation and automation, Sandeep Girotra spoke of adaption to technology. He added that it was important to have a clear sense of purpose about the HR initiative and its benefits to employees. “Benefits cannot always be quantified. Therefore, acceptance from the senior leadership with regard to automation and adaption are key challenges,” he opined.
“There are several organisations that have implemented technology in phases and bundles,” pointed out Ghosh. “But the challenge is – in an ever-evolving world, how does an organisation keep pace with the changing expectations of employees? There is also an RoI to be considered when it comes to investment in IT,” he noted.
“We have implemented an instant survey system with the help of a tool on which an employee can submit their opinions and suggestions in real time. Their questions are answered and queries addressed within 48 hours”
Tuhin Biswas, CHRO, Emami
“The biggest challenge for me is to develop an enterprise perspective,” said Singh. “Rather than a functional view and converting activities into digital solutions, there is a need for an enterprise view to solve business issues and create value for the end customer,” he suggested.
Biswas, on the other hand, named customisation of digital solutions as the biggest challenge. “Sometimes, what we have on offer does not help us to effectively customise,” he explained. “While there are plenty of SAS products, it is a challenge for an organisation to customise those for its specific use,” he said. Biswas described the cost of HR automation as the second biggest challenge.
Significantly, Bangia mentioned the difference in mind-set, due to heterogeneity of workforce and subsequent generational gap, as the biggest challenge in introducing and sustaining digitalisation.
Future of HR automation
Speaking of the immediate future of HR automation, Girotra said he visualised the use of AI for better decision-making and the larger benefit of employees. “I foresee data analytics being utilised for decision-making,” he reiterated.
Biswas underlined how organisations are increasingly becoming aware of what employees want, thanks to analytics and automation. “I think the employee satisfaction quotient will improve as a result of these practices,” he opined.
“The challenge is – in an ever-evolving world, how does an organisation keep pace with the changing expectations of employees? There is also an RoI to be considered when it comes to investment in IT”
Dipankar Ghosh, group head – HR, Apollo Tyres
“I think the next five years will witness a paradigm shift. That shift is already being witnessed in the HR world,” responded Ghosh, adding that corporate HR professionals would focus on business partnering instead of HR-related activities which would undergo automation.
Singh offered a more detailed answer. “I foresee companies falling into three categories – those that would not have undergone automation, those that would have significantly invested in automation for activities and governance solutions; and those that would embrace digitalisation as a way of life, treating the employee as an end customer,” he stated.
Bangia said she believed there were two shifts in the offing. “One, HR skill sets would change. Two, there will be greater job creation because routine activities would have undergone automation, triggering a need for more strategic skills related to thinking and designing”.
Responding to a pertinent question from the audience about balancing the personal touch with automation, Ghosh pointed out that most customer touch points were in areas considered transactional or where routine information was sought. “The point is to be able to figure out at what point of the digital interface human intervention is needed,” he said, adding that HR primarily existed for that human touch.
Girotra, however, differed from Ghosh’s observation, remarking that the definition of ‘touch’ itself was evolving. “The client base – in this case, the employees – is changing. I don’t think the HR touch will matter in times to come. It is AI that is going to engage with employees; so AI should be made more potent and prudent,” he proposed.
“Automation and human touch will go hand in hand, the former will not replace the latter”
Seema Bangia, vice president & CPO, Mahindra Agri, Defence & Aero Sectors, Mahindra & Mahindra
Answering a query on the use of automation for augmenting employee well-being, Bangia explained that the ‘State of Mind’ initiative being put to use in her organisation was a precise example of deploying automation to check and boost employee well-being. “But automation and human touch will go hand in hand, the former will not replace the latter,” she noted.
Narrating a story to sum up the session, GP Rao cogently drove home the point of automation being the concerted result of collective, continuous human effort.
The human touch in HR, in other words, is not going away anytime soon.
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