HR in a Digital Frontier

Technology is advancing faster than ever, touching all parts of our lives. From the explosion in smart phone applications, the advent of artificial intelligence, to social media’s influence on a presidential election, it’s clear that human resource management in the digital age requires a whole new set of demands.

How significant are those demands? In an interview with McKinsey & Company (2016), Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers says the world has now entered a digital era that will be the "biggest technology transition ever." Customers demand more, faster. Products are more complex. Risk and compliance requirements have increased. Employees must know more and learn faster than ever before ― not only to keep up with technology, but to avoid being replaced by it.

Advancing technology and the growing need for workforce intelligence has created a wave of transformation for HR. Trends show that organizations are increasingly relying on new technologies to make data-driven decisions about talent acquisition, retention and employee engagement. Today’s HR managers must understand the impact of emerging technologies upon company culture, strategy, operating plans and future talent needs. This includes understanding how the effective use of technology can elevate HR’s role as a strategic business advisor.

People Analytics Gains Traction

Studies show that over 70 percent of executives now rate people analytics as a key priority. To that end, many companies are building people analytics teams, rapidly replacing legacy systems and combining separate analytics groups within HR into one strategic function.

One of the biggest new HR big data trends involves people analytics and the mining of external data ― such as data from social networking platforms, employment brand data, data on hiring patterns, and external turnover and demographic data ― to predict workforce trends and target top talent.  Footlocker has used predictive analytics to boost the company’s effectiveness in hiring and improve sales performance at more than 300 stores. Benefits included a streamlined hiring process, better prepared hiring managers, reduced turnover and improved customer feedback.

Technology Drives Strategic Priorities

The effective use of social learning and digital talent management tools has the potential to drive such strategic priorities as increased knowledge sharing, improved engagement and enhanced innovation and branding. For example:

  • The award-winning Hilton Worldwide University leveraged Twitter, Facebook and custom-built social portals as primary communication platforms when unveiling a new strategy for idea sharing and crowdsourcing within the organization.
  • Mindtree, a global technology firm with more than 200 clients in 14 countries, has 54 online communities of practice where employees learn, share and create free content.
  • Ericsson’s talent acquisition team built a foundation of brand communication using digital media platforms, a careers website, blogs, videos and other social networks to bolster its talent acquisition profile to a more competitive level. While the design and implementation of the strategy took years to establish, results include increased site traffic and improved social media engagement.

Before investing in the latest social networking platforms, however, it’s important to develop a strategy outlining the why and how of technology in your unique environment. The technology needs to support the strategy. The next step is developing the right business processes, infrastructures and capabilities.

Digital Skills and Mindsets Are Core Capabilities

It’s important to have the right tools and technology, but knowing what to do with the tools is another matter. Although some HR professionals may be quite comfortable and capable in analyzing and leveraging data, many HR functions struggle to explain to CEOs what existing data says about the organization’s ability to achieve its goals with the talent it has or can get.

A 2015 Harvard Business Review survey of 362 CEOs and chief HR officers found that 24 percent reported a lack of analytical skills as their biggest obstacle to making and participating in data-based strategy decisions. No more than 30 percent said they had taken any positive steps to get better at it. Underpinning the short supply of digital skills is the need is to develop a culture of continuous learning ― where periodic reskilling across all organizational levels is a core value and strategic priority.

Embracing Technology Takes Time

Companies with leading capabilities in HR and people analytics say it takes up to three years or more to absorb the technology, reskill teams and bring real-time data to every major people-related decision, according to research by Deloitte. When LinkedIn first began using talent analytics, the company generated a lot of data and analysis but still had limited influence in decision-making.

Over time, the team developed a data-driven HR framework to increase alignment with business partners and identify levers for successfully driving impact on business or talent metrics. By identifying the right levers for moving the needle, the diversity recruiting team increased its hiring of under-represented minorities in sales by 23 percent, which was a significant accomplishment considering that 40 percent of the company’s workforce is in sales. These kind of results have led to significant growth in the team’s influence and credibility. However, Lorenzo Canlas, Head of Talent Analytics, says there is still room to improve in terms of achieving the right balance between "providing informative insights" and "driving impact."

Effective Change Management is Critical

In the push to move analytics forward, many business leaders push their non-analytical business partners or employees too hard for quick adoption. A deliberate change management approach and mindset are essential when deploying, reinforcing, or evaluating new technologies.

According to a recent study by Prosci, an independent change management research company, organizations that implement complex analytics technologies into business strategy are six times more likely to deliver results when the technologies are coupled with effective change management processes. Some companies have invested heavily in technology but have not yet changed the organizations to make the most of these investments. For example, many organizations do not have the talent, supporting infrastructures, business processes and organizational muscle to realize the full potential of technology-based solutions.

The All-Important Important Human Element

Technology (digitalization, automation, cloud, etc.) will continue to drive efficiency and innovation in HR. Demand will continue to rise for technology-based, data-driven human capital decisions. But the human factor will remain vitally important.

Being tech savvy isn’t enough to successfully manage, coach and inspire multigenerational, globally dispersed teams. While technology increases the speed and access of enterprise-wide connections, it’s best viewed as a means to an end. To break down silos, foster engagement and build a truly connected environment, the use of technology must be balanced with a focus on organizational culture, identity and daily relationships.

To adapt to the changing roles brought about today’s digital age, HR leaders must hone their skills as both technology users and technology enablers. HR functions that can harness and deploy new forms of technology in their talent management strategies will be better prepared to help their business leaders grow the skills needed to drive innovation, high performance and operational excellence. Consider these two questions:
  • How effective are you at instilling technology into the fabric of your HR function?
  •  How effective is your function in leveraging technology to build needed capabilities within your organization?
Make a resolution to address these questions so that you and your team can prepare for the challenges, and unparalleled opportunities, presented by advancing technology. 

Holly Burkett, Ph.D., SPHR, is an accomplished talent builder, strategic change agent, HRD consultant, speaker, coach, trainer, and award-winning author of Learning for the Long Run. Her Twitter handle is @evalworks.