In preparation for HRD's annual summits this year, they consulted with over 3,000 HR professionals around the Asia-Pacific region through roundtables, surveys and one-on-one executive interviews about their most pressing challenges. The results of that consultation process resulted in a wealth of insight from respondents across 10 countries. Their findings will form the basis for the topics explored and speakers presenting at this year's HRD Summits. In this HR blog, we're going to explore one of those topics - the top 5 goals of HR tech in 2019.
In a recent conversation with HRD about the future of HR, Nicolette Barnard, head of HR, Siemens shared that sustainable growth in business is more important now than ever, particularly given the technological changes of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). “Cultivating a diverse, empowered, accountable and engaged workforce is key to achieving sustainable growth,” Barnard told HRD. The top 5 goals of HR Tech that were identified during HRD's consultation certainly reflect and support this type of sustainable growth mindset.
HR technology can only ever enhance what is already in place in the analogue operations of a business. Therefore the designers of technology create systems that aim to augment and amplify each of the following goals in alignment with the strategic and operational activities undertaken by HR (and the whole business). Organisations still need to do the work to bring themselves in line with these goals, and then take the next step to translate that across how technology is used to enable those goals.
Let's dive in and take a deeper look at each of these goals and how they can contribute to building workplaces and workforces that result in sustainable growth in both the operational and the HR technology context.
HR Tech Goal #1: Simplifying HR Processes
Josh Bersin believes that in all areas of HR and HR software, the goal is not to “deliver simple solutions” but rather to “simplify what is actually a complex problem.” In terms of HR (and business) processes therefore, HR needs to ensure that they have a deep understanding of the process framework across the entire organisation, and then to strip out the parts of those processes that are either redundant, duplicated or simply inefficient. This needs to be subsequently mirrored by, and applied to, any HR solution functionality being used to facilitate a more lean operating environment. Any extra steps or features in an HR solution may be interesting or provide some value, but if they create complexity, slow adoption, and make maintenance difficult, then they need to be questioned, audited, and simplified as much as is possible whilst maintaining efficiencies.
Bersin reminds us that “simplicity” does not mean “simplistic.” He makes it very clear that in order to make things simple, you must first understand how complex they really are, and from there boil that complexity down to its essence. If you're talking HR processes, or the HR software you need to automate those processes, Bersin states that the job of HR and HR software providers is to command a complete understanding of such complexities in the current business environment, but then implement simplified, easy to understand and use solutions. That is hard to do.
For example, software engineers go through months of testing to figure out which features and functionality to add to or remove from applications, or which wizards they can create to make them easy to use. They don’t create a “simplistic” system. They “simplify” through a user experience and perpetual feedback loop that enables them to iterate new versions of the software in an ongoing manner. And this is what HR has to do too.
When HR software first hit the market, HR teams may have felt that the systems deployed were too complex, too hard to maintain, and difficult to implement and integrate. The truth is that employees in most companies are busy, and becoming more so. HR software providers have recognised the need to create software that offers a multitude simplified processes like a 3-step digital self-service process to complete a form, take a course, or do a performance review. The processes of user feedback and iteration made it clear that a manual or digital process of 9 steps or 7 steps with multiple options across multiple solutions wasn't going to cut it.
Peter Drucker once lamented that employees often have to negotiate a mass of clutter—from bulging inboxes to endless meetings and long lists of objectives to box-tick before they can even think about focusing on their real work. For the past 50 years manufacturers have battled successfully to streamline their factory floors and make them “lean." Today, businesses of all types need to do the same in their offices, with their processes, and with the systems they use to implement those processes.
Similarly, Bersin calls for the declutter of HR, saying that whenever you're designing (or implementing in and HR solution) a process, you should add a step at the end to “remove half of what we just designed.”
HR Tech Goal #2: Improving Workforce Analytics
Today HR Professionals have at their fingertips an apparently infinite data set which they can now query in multiple ways courtesy of an ever expanding market of software solutions. The result is a menu of workforce analytics possibilities that has exploded in the last 5-10 years. HR now has the capacity to access, at the click of a mouse, an advanced set of data analysis tools and metrics for comprehensive workforce performance measurement and improvement. As a result, HR is being relied upon more and more to share such data business wide to enhance operational efficiency. This trend is set to continue, as analytics capabilities available through people analytics products apply ever more sophisticated data science and the most refined machine learning system for talent management. This helps the organisations using such technology to harness the power of real-time talent data to more effectively manage their people.
However, the availability of such sophisticated workforce analytics tools doesn't guarantee the efficiency promised in the ad. As with all operational issues, it is impossible to resolve the challenges identified through the data crunching facilitated by technology if the business hasn't built the human capacity to overcome those challenges. Ultimately the relationship between these two factors - the human and the technical - needs to be one in which technology serves the people and not the other way around.
How does that translate in the context of workforce analytics? Primarily, it relates to the fact that the analysis of data is only ever going to be as good as the integrity of the data itself. For organisations still running their operations based on a lot of manual paper forms, some of which have to be input into multiple systems that aren't integrated with each other and can't share data seamlessly, there remains a large margin for error in any data and analytics results, workforce or otherwise.
Implementing systems that automate and simplify processes, capture data accurately, eliminate the potential for manual handling issues (or duplicate input) is only going to continue to become a more acute critical success factor going forward. Once solutions to problems are identified however, the capacity of an individual, team (or organisation as a whole) to act on and implement such solutions is predicated on a broad spectrum of competencies. Notably, even with the emergence of cloud computing and artificial intelligence, nearly six in 10 business leaders today put more premium on soft skills than on hard skills. It might surprise you to see the most sought-after skills CEOs seek in 2019:
- Time management
- Cloud computing
- Artificial intelligence
- Analytical reasoning
- People management
- UX design
- Mobile application development
- Video production
- Sales leadership
- Audio production
- Natural language processing
- Scientific computing
- Game development
- Social media marketing
- Business analysis
- Digital marketing
- Industrial design
- Competitive strategies
- Customer service systems
- Software testing
- Data science
- Computer graphics
- Corporate communications
No amount of workforce analytics generated by the most sophisticated HR system is going to compensate for a lack of those skills in your employee cohort.
HR Tech Goal #3: Creating Large-Scale Efficiencies
A KPMG report about the 'Optimised organisation' illustrates that disruptive changes in the business landscape have triggered the need to create an 'optimised organisation' built on large-scale efficiencies simply in order to compete (let alone succeed). The report outlines three key triggers in this context:
- Utilisation: is the proportion of the available time (expressed as a percentage) for which the resources are deployed.
- Efficiency: is the ratio of the output to the input of the resources.
- Effectiveness: is the extent of the match between the actual outcome and the intended outcome of the resources.
Creating large-scale efficiencies for the purpose of this type of organisational optimisation is the result of interplay between utilisation, efficiency and effectiveness as outlined above. HR can develop an ideal state from the concurrent maximisation of these three factors. The right HR software platforms and Apps can facilitate this type of concurrent maximisation if the software can provide the right type of data and analytics coupled with integration and process functionality that facilitates large-scale efficiencies. Factors that exemplify this type of facilitation are things like the number of 'out-of-the-box' integrations any given HR software platform has with other business systems. Ease of integration, and the capacity to create a seamless flow of data across a digital ecosystem is also a necessity.
Ultimately, organisations create value for their stakeholders (both internal and external) through synergistic interactions across structure, workforce, processes and technology. Thus, alignment is imperative to enable large-scale efficiencies within and across each of these pillars. This should then be mirrored by the HR technology being used to manage such alignment. HR solutions, integrated with other business systems, can generate significant benefits when the alignment of these pillars are integrated appropriately. By creating a collaborative environment supported by integrated digital ecosystems then increasingly larger-scale efficiencies can be generated by (and for) the business.
HR Tech Goal #4: Reduce HR Costs
Once seen primarily as a cost centre, HR now has more opportunity that ever to become a strategic business partner, playing an active role in moving companies toward their goals. More so than in the first decade of the noughties, HR departments are now being empowered with new levels of support and trust to drive workplace transformation. That reality is motivating many businesses to support and encourage transformation by investing in HR technology. There has been a considerable upswing in investment in HR systems in the last couple of years and HR is being taken much more seriously as an integral part of providing an employee experience that sources and retains top talent in a tight market. There are now a plethora of ways in which HR technology can contribute to reducing costs, not just for businesses, but also in terms of savings that can be delivered to employees through employee benefits schemes.
Gartner recently outlined their top 10 ways to optimise HR costs, which are:
- Redesign global service delivery and account for local customisation needs.
- Build flexibility into HR structures to ensure targeted utilisation of capacities.
- Redesign processes to balance service delivery efficiency and effectiveness.
- Develop the “right” capabilities to optimise HR service delivery.
- Re-examine cost optimisation effects from HR shared service delivery.
- Review investments in HRIS technology to identify cost optimisation opportunities.
- Re-examine cost optimisation effects from outsourced services and external providers.
- Balance elements of the total rewards model for better cost optimisation.
- Structure the workforce to align short-term business needs with long-term value.
- Achieve cost optimisation effects through “smart” layoff planning and execution.
To that end, HR technology is an investment that facilitates this type of optimisation, not just an operational expense. It allows HR to run a much 'leaner', more high-functioning operation – which, after all, is something that’s on almost every HR professional’s agenda.
HR Tech Goal #5: Enhance Collaboration
Consultant and author Peter Cook believes that much innovation in the current business environment springs from the increasingly collaborative nature of work. No longer do the talents required to develop new products, services and processes reside within a single individual, discipline or department. HR tools that facilitate collaboration make it easier than ever to harness the collective power of sharing.
Sift believes that in some circumstances, companies need to collaborate with people they don't even "own" or control as innovation turns to the "crowd" for ideas, insights and imagination. This requires a completely different approach to the management and motivation of individual, groups and whole organisations. HR must respond with strategies and tactics that make horizontal co-operation as important as hierarchical management, and provide the tools to make this happen easily and seamlessly.
For HR Professionals who want to take advantage of the increased levels of support and trust to transform their organisations, consider the following opportunities that have the potential to unlock talent through collaboration suggested by Sift:
- Keep structures as simple as possible, especially if the work is complex. Organisation structure can be an enabler or an obstacle. Make sure it is an enabler.
- Actively encourage networking outside of functions and even outside the enterprise if you want your people to learn faster than competitors.
- Use external agents to stimulate your "corporate synapses" by adding difference to your own core competences.
- Don't let structures become rigid, to the point that they become "walled silos" - innovation comes out of flux and change. Tim Smit, CEO of The Eden Project makes this point well in his interview Structuring the Garden of Eden.
- Design rewards and recognition to encourage collaboration.
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