How will HR catch the bus?

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To remain relevant to business, HR needs to embrace change and leverage technologies for effective talent management.

The latest buzz words in HR centre around emerging technologies and their applications in HR—AI, chat bots, robotics and talent analytics. Discussions, forums and conferences now focus on how these technologies can be used to source talent, engage prospective and current employees, provide just-in-time training inputs, identify potential leavers, and so on. These are all great initiatives, and it is heartening to see HR professionals engaging with these technologies as they come off the labs.

As I hear conversations on these topics in various forums and conferences, I am struck with the thought that HR’s contribution in this fast-changing world can be significantly more than merely leveraging technology to enhance HR-delivery efficiencies, or reaching out to prospective employees, or creatively engaging employees more effectively. HR can actually help organisations truly understand the possible opportunities these technologies throw up, and their potential impact on the kind of organisational capabilities that will be required for businesses to succeed now, and in the future; the kind of organisation designs and structures that will enable companies to be nimble and agile; the kind of cultures that will support optimum performance from people and the way organisations can redesign the concept of employment; the way the gig economy can be leveraged for greater productivity and others. These are the critical inputs that HR should focus on, in addition to leveraging technology for efficiency and engagement, in my view. However, I have not heard enough of such discussions though I am sure there are pockets of HR professionals focussed on such matters.

Pradeep Mukerjee

Leveraging technologies to impact business results will emerge when HR not only knows and understands technology and how to use it, but understands business and the capabilities required to deliver business.

In the evolution of the function over many years, HR has focussed on processes and systems to help businesses manage people resources. There is a need for processes and they do serve a purpose. However, processes are necessary but never sufficient. It is imperative for all ‘support’ functions, if you will, to focus on how they are impacting business, in addition to managing their respective functions efficiently. The CHRO has to focus on the kind of capabilities required for business success and how to get or build them and obtain optimum performance from people; that is the true contribution expected of the function. In today’s context, where technologies are impacting the very core of how products and services are created and delivered in some industries (retail, banking— especially payment mechanisms— transportation, healthcare in some countries and many others) and more such disruptions expected, the key questions is, how is HR helping organisations prepare for such changes?

Statistics thrown up by Deloitt’s Global Human Capital Trends 2017 report are rather interesting: 88 per cent of the survey respondents believe that building organisations of the future is an important, or very important issue but only 11 per cent believe their organisations know how to do it. Is that not a great opportunity for the HR fraternity to rise to the challenge? And the good news is, 96 per cent of the respondents from India think it is important or very important to build organisations of the future!

An organisation used organisation network analysis (ONA) to reconfigure its sales organisation and enhance sales performance by 12 per cent. I personally know of a friend who has had a really tough time getting HR people in India to even try this tool for the last three years!

Here are a few examples of technology-backed strategic changes that have been implemented in organisations. A North American bank is planning to scale the successful pilot of forming cross-functional teams to compete with fin-techs and other players in delivering solutions faster for customers. Formation of teams as an operating model is not new in businesses, which deliver projects, such as in IT / construction companies, but forming and disbanding cross-functional teams in a non-project environment requires a different design in all aspects of people management—structure, culture, system of managing performance and rewards,and so on. Technology provides enough tools and mechanisms to support such agile structures without which these would not be possible to scale in any meaningful way.

Unilever is forming empowered teams across levels to deal with significant business challenges.

Google’s use of analytics for people management is well documented. Another analytics tool, organisation network analysis, can identify the experts and connectors in any organisation or group of people. This information can be used to channelise the informal network of organisations for various purposes: determine early leavers, identify opinion makers, experts and communicators. An organisation used organisation network analysis (ONA) to reconfigure its sales organisation and enhance sales performance by 12 per cent. I personally know of a friend who has had a really tough time getting HR people in India to even try this tool for the last three years!

Leveraging technologies to impact business results will emerge when HR not only knows and understands technology and how to use it, but understands business and the capabilities required to deliver business.

Effective HR has always been about driving the whole gamut of talent management (in an all-encompassing way) based on an understanding of business and people. The outcome is engaged people who perform at their optimum levels. That has not changed with all the changes that the corporate world is experiencing today – it has only become a greater imperative. And technology has evolved to enable a better understanding of people, providing tools and capabilities that allow for knowing your employees better, knowing what they are thinking, engaging more holistically with them, reaching out to a much wider audience than possible earlier, to source talent and others.

To ensure that the function is really relevant to business, HR leaders will need to focus on how to leverage these technologies to manage talent more effectively for business, as opposed to implementation of technology to make things easier and more efficient alone. And that does require understanding of business and looking at things from a business perspective, which, as per various CEOs and management gurus, the function has not been good at. We need to definitely change that and get on to that bus which we have missed for many years now.

(The author is former CEO, Mercer and now runs Confluence Coaching & Consulting) 

1 COMMENT

  1. A well written article with a ringside view. The problem that I see is many a professionals in HR getting caught in these emergent technologies but not having enough clarity of thought to understand the true positive impact of the tech accompanying the tool/system. Also, not many are able to navigate the organizational labyrinths to get buy-ins from the LoB counterparts to see a successful implementation.

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