“HR has a responsibility and a right to be the soul and purpose of the business.”
In an interview with Brian Kropp, Group Vice President in the HR Practice of Gartner, we explore the ways in which technology is transforming the HR industry – from the decline of the engagement survey to the rise of listening tools – and uncover how the HR function must adapt to remain purposeful within business.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: The way people are working is rapidly changing. Where is this change coming from?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: There are a couple of major places where change is occurring. One is, of course, technology. A second change is in employees' expectations of what their companies' stand for. Businesses need to have a purpose and a reason to exist to make the world better.
Third, employers are also waking up to the fact that breakthrough ideas and performance are less likely to come from excellence in one particular area and more likely to come from the collaboration that occurs across multiple areas of the company. And that's forcing businesses to think differently about how they operate.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: How can HR adapt to these changes?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: These three changes – technology, purpose and collaboration – lay out an important mandate for what HR should be working on.
From a technology perspective it's not only about how we equip our employees with the latest tools and technologies to improve their productiveness. It’s about how we design their work in a way that takes full advantage of that.
People can often get enamoured with the tool, the sophistication, the technology, and think that if they buy it then good things will happen.
In terms of purpose, HR needs to take a step back and think through the culture and purpose of their organisations – what they want to accomplish and what lasting mark they want to leave on the world.
Finally HR needs to stop thinking about the companies that they work for in a way that's hierarchical and top-down driven, and start thinking about the organisation in a collaborative way, identifying opportunities to share ideas more effectively and rewarding teams rather than just individuals.
So I think those are the three biggest places where change is occurring and where HR needs to adapt the most.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: How can HR address its knowledge gap on workplace technologies?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: People can often get enamoured with the tool, the sophistication, the technology, and think that if they buy it then good things will happen. The reality is that they need to step back and ask themselves 'what are the business questions that are most important for me to answer'?
By thinking about the business question, and constantly focusing on what that business question is, you're much more likely to be able to apply the analytics and technology in a way that is helpful and actionable.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: Are there any trends in HR that you think are dying out?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: By the time we get to 2021, the number of companies that are going to be using a large-scale employee surveys to understand their employees is predicted to be around 50%. It's a business that's shrinking pretty significantly.
We'll see the evolution of tools that passively collect information, knowledge and sentiment from our employees.
There are a lot of reasons why: it's time consuming, it's bothersome to employers, it's slow. The large scale employee survey is a tool that we've been using within HR for an incredibly long period of time that's seeing it's last days.
With that said, the idea of understanding what our employees are thinking and feeling is more important than ever. But what we need to do is shift from this idea of constantly asking our employees for feedback to listening to our employees.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: Can you tell us a bit more about this shift to listening?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: I think we'll see the evolution of tools that passively collect information, knowledge and sentiment from our employees to understand how they're thinking and feeling.
This runs the gambit of running short, quick pulse surveys to looking at employee behavioural patterns, tracking their sentiment in the communications that they've got and, at the extreme, having listening devices that keep track of the frequency with which our employees talk, the tone of their voice and so on.
A lot of these listening tools might seem creepy right now, but as we look again at medium/large-sized companies, about 1 in 4 of those companies are experimenting with something like this right now. And I think the future will be a whole set of listening tools much like the ones we use from a customer experience perspective.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: Have you heard of any pushback from employees on these emerging listening tools?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: Where this will go horribly wrong is if employees feel like they're being covertly listened to and then being fired or not being promoted based upon the information provided.
You need to have people on your team that are trying to figure out how to make HR the department that delivers great results.
But what's going to be incredibly important is to make it clear that the information we are gathering or collecting about our employees is being used to create a better experience for those employees.
For example, to make sure that the benefits that we offer are better in line with the needs that they have, to provide the tools and resources that will enable them to become more productive and to make sure that their job becomes more engaging.
Becky Norman, Editor, HRZone: What advice would you give to HR departments to ensure they don't get left behind in this fast-paced digital era?
Brian Kropp, Gartner: First, look at the people in your HR function today. The reality is that the skill sets, mindsets, attitudes and approaches of HR professionals today and in the future need to be different to what they were in the past.
You need to have people on your team that are trying to figure out how to make HR the department that delivers great results for the company. That's going to require people with more digital skill sets, much better imagination and more innovation.
Second, build the analytic capability of the team and the organisation. If you don’t do this, the likelihood that you're going to be able to deliver on the mandate that HR has is going to be lower.
Our businesses need to reflect what the world looks like today.
Third, talk about everything you’re doing in terms of how it pushes the business forward. How does it improve whatever metrics the business cares about? What are the ways that HR is actually helping the organisation achieve its objectives and goals? We need to shift from how HR accomplishes HR goals, to how HR accomplishes business-related goals.
Fourth, HR has a responsibility and a right to be the soul and purpose of the business. And we can't let the pressures of the business prevent us from making sure that we're creating a diverse and inclusive organisation that reflects the customers, the communities, the systems, supply chains and environments that we operate in.
We have to do the first three things I mentioned above in a way that ensures we create a diverse and inclusive organisation. Our businesses need to reflect what the world looks like today and we need to ensure that we're a responsible partner in order to accomplish our business objectives.
Becky is Editor of HRZone and Trainingzone, global online communities of people working in the HR and L&D industries. Becky works closely with leading HR and L&D practitioners and decision makers to ensure the publications offer a rich source of real-world insight and fresh advice to their audience.
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