Award-winning HR & Talent Director | VC & PE People Consultant | HR Tech Advisor | Editor | Keynote speaker | Blogger
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HR technology in 2021 – if not now, then when?

How can we use HR tech to help transform our business in 2021? HR Tech Adviser Barry Flack offers five tips to get you started...

11th Jan 2021
Award-winning HR & Talent Director | VC & PE People Consultant | HR Tech Advisor | Editor | Keynote speaker | Blogger
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Businessman hand create artificial intelligence for technology transformation and internet of thing on tablet.
iStock/Dilok Klaisataporn

We can all agree that 2020 was one hell of a year. HR has overseen the case (consciously or not) for a distributed workforce delivering enhanced productivity. Empathy, quality interactions and employee wellbeing were key business imperatives – and it was finally realised that machismo management belongs in the museum!

With employee experience now king, there comes a need to master interventions and systems that encourage co-creation with users for both buy-in and ongoing adoption.

The context was extreme but complexity isn’t going away folks, so can we include in our new year sensemaking the question: how do we use HR technology to help transform our business in 2021?

We’re not going back to some ‘old normal’ and I’m not going to sugar-coat what is ahead. We have a testing period with the collective whammies of pandemic, Brexit and a recession, so boardroom scrutiny on any technology investment will be intense.

There is also a cognitive dissonance amongst HR professionals who want to both create good workplaces but still lead organisations with poor legacy thinking that does the opposite.

So, with 25 years of experience spanning that part of the Venn diagram between HR and technology, what do I think you should do? Well, I’m glad you asked because, with the year we’ve had, there’s never been a better time to grasp the HR technology opportunity. Here are my five tips...

1. Own it and sell it

It might have been ok as a first-generation approach to acquire (or be handed!) that human capital management (HCM) module as part of the wider enterprise resource planning (ERP), but I’d recommend you co-create the next solution with IT, rather than outsource.

As HCMs are stretched thin and budget appetite low, ensure you articulate your case in a way that is directly linked to an ROI. Learn the language from your friends in finance, build a proper business case and articulate returns accordingly. With opportunity knocking, this just might be the year to challenge the way YOU challenge your organisation.

2. With ownership comes great responsibility

If you want to drive true value creation, then you must also attain mastery of the HR tech field. That means being honest about personal, HR and business ‘digital basecamp’ capabilities and working from there. Rising maturity is well within the grasp of intelligent HR folk with a burning platform to learn and adaptHere are a few pointers to get you started:

Scan the horizon

Understand the market, its evolving capabilities and the developing product scene at the HCM and specialist category level. Follow the likes of Josh Bersin, John Sumners, the Fosway Group, Talent Tech Labs and many others.

See what’s out there

Experiment with simple productivity apps from the Apple store and introducing them into your ways of working with some modest gains – consider Calendly, Feebelly, Asana and Trello to get digital.

Developing the art of HR tech procurement

You need to be able to spot overblown vendor promises. You also need to be able to understand and communicate internally that tech is like icing on a cake. If your data is bad, you got a mouldy cake. You can add more icing to your cake, but it'll still be mouldy.

Technology is not the messiah, just clever pattern recognition, workflow enablement or digital fulfilment capabilities to free up you, the team and the wider business to focus on more human-centric problem-solving. If you are moving the dial on HR reorganisation, consider hiring a HR technology product manager or work with an external vendor to help you with a technology adoption strategy.

3. Be insight driven

Previous incarnations of HR technology products were for HR people focused on HR processes. Those days are gone. With employee experience now king, there comes a need to master interventions and systems that encourage co-creation with users for both buy-in and ongoing adoption.

HR must stop doing things to people and the technology angle is no different. Build skills and experiment in co-creating techniques as part of a product rollout where minimum viable products have replaced ‘fixed’ requirements.

4. Your insight should challenge some prevailing rituals

Embrace this true value-creating activity. Before embarking on your technology roadmap or act of automation, you really need to challenge the ageless HR rituals that are frankly painful, unproductive nonsense. We have overengineered HR and made people miserable. Let’s stop doing this and go back to basics.

Go and explore McGregor’s Theory X work from the 1950s. Think employee happiness and get cleansing.

Like many organisations I’ve worked with, you’ll enjoy ending the tyranny of performance appraisals. You’ll see recruitment as a fruitful engagement process that needs to work hard on its in-built bias. You’ll also understand your people are well-meaning individuals in need of principles not rules to govern their output at work. Enjoy this rite of passage and investigate the PepsiCo Process Shredder example for inspiration.

5. Get today’s technology to do what it’s good at

Have your talented team and business focus on real problems to solve and automate like it's 1999, only with much superior technology. Focus on HR service and excellence with that technology at the heart of your strategy. Consider driving employee self-service conversationally to the machine as a big bang for the buck investment-wise. Deliver reduced times to shortlist and use data to engage on an individual level to candidates and employees. All of this should be underpinned by a compelling ROI from that business case.

Tangibly, and in developing this HR technology muscle, you should be expecting to produce:

  • A simple HR tech strategy aligned with your business and people strategy.
  • A multiyear technology roadmap that focuses on stable, core HCM capability with employee experience at its heart, coupled with point solution excellence as you develop your operating ecosystem.
  • A new way of working with the business, based on involvement strategies that build true user engagement (think design workshops, employee journeys and other product-led interventions).

The prizes at the end of 2021 should be greater digital literacy, tech adoption and a more productive HR team.

Oh, and finally, beware that the greatest trick the brain could play on us this year is believing that command and control still remains relevant to any strategy.

So, HR. What are you waiting for? If not now, then when?     

Interested in this topic? Read How can HR learn to live with Covid-19 and plan for more uncertainty in 2021?

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