How should HR be using technology?

I took part in a seminar with Kingston University for HR professionals. The conversation with Lisa Henderson, Ryan Jensen and Liz Jewitt-Cross focussed on how HR should and could be using tech even better in 2021. Here’s are some thoughts that may help as you come to build your HR tech plans.


Context for HR in 2020


For years, other functions have used data to help make decisions, but HR has lacked the resources, tools and knowledge to problem-solve effectively. Even in 2020, it limits HR’s effectiveness and reputation. The consequence is that employees still get a raw deal and businesses still don’t perform as well as they could.


“It’s frustrating for HR leaders in many companies that HR is often at the bottom of the agenda for technology investment. It is our responsibility to change that, and there has never been a better time than now.”

— Liz Jewitt-Cross


We are trying to help change that, and our starting point was the well-known phrase “what gets measured gets done." Let's measure some stuff, and help HR functions get some stuff done. That quote, misattributed to Peter Drucker is actually: “What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”. If we can’t measure it, is it even worth managing? There has never been a standard measure for the human contribution to organisations. It bugged us for a number of reasons:

  • There has never been an industry-standard set of people metrics. If you do a search, you’ll get hundreds of options, but no two are the same.

  • Our team has a background in finance, operations, marketing, and sales. It would be inconceivable to try and do anything in finance, operations, marketing, or sales; go to any meeting, get anything signed off, evaluate individual or team performance without metrics.

  • When we asked people inside and outside the HR profession what is the most important metric they should be measuring with regards to their people, they couldn’t answer.

  • HR functions often lack the influence of other disciples and one of the reasons is the lack of evidence. It usually remains a tactical implementer of other people’s plans.

  • So many organisations say that “our most important asset is our people”, and when we ask them how they go about deciding what to do, measuring, or methodically understanding whether that is borne out in reality, we are met with blank faces.

HR technology provides a bottomless pit of opportunity, but deciding what to use requires you to be specific, tailored and focused. HR needs to be solution-led, not technology


The tech market


According to this report, the global HR tech market grew at a CAGR of 14% from 2014-2019. PWC calculates the overall market globally is now worth $148 billion. On average, firms spend $310 per employee on HR tech and three-quarters are planning to spend more over the coming year. HR tech is meant to improve all the aspects of employment, starting from before people even join an organisation through to after they have left. It helps the employer to manage payrolls, onboarding, talent sourcing, performance, workforce management, talent management, engagement, and wellbeing amongst other things. PWC's study tells us these are the reasons behind HR technology decisions:

  • 58% of companies are looking for tools to find, attract and retain talent.

  • 43% to help develop people to reach their full potential.

  • 42% to improve the employee experience.

  • 40% to create collaborative working environments.

  • 38% for workforce planning.

  • 34% to ensure wellbeing diversity and inclusion.

The growth of the market has been driven by 2 things:

  1. The ageing and replacement of traditional HR tools, such as payroll systems.

  2. New products in a growing HR software ecosystem. Rapid technological innovations have increased the demand for such solutions with lots of diverse applications.

The process

If you want to implement new HR technology, or even improve the status of your current tech, we suggest following this process to make it worthwhile.

  1. Start by answering the right questions. As with any investment, success is determined by two things: whether the solution will solve a real business problem, and whether people are willing to use it.

  2. Make it human. Part of the challenge with technology is not to dehumanise the process. That is especially important in HR. There's often talk of gamification as the answer, but it goes much deeper than that. If users don't see the benefit of doing it and it's not easy for them, they won't bother.

  3. Put the user experience at the heart of the tech. Involve end-users. Help people to understand what’s driving the need for change.

Ask the question

Work out what you need it for before you implement anything. What is your plan? What are you trying to solve? How can you solve it? What are your options? Then if tech is right, it is worth progressing, if not, then another solution will be better. We shared examples of implementing a new HR system, such as Workday. Delegates explained how painful the process is. 18-months on it is frustrating, time consuming, and seemingly not delivering meaningful benefits. HR teams, the leadership, and the wider business are struggling to remain engaged.

Being clear on why you are doing something, what the benefit is, and how you are going to measure it, is an essential starting point before considering any HR tech implementation, let alone anything as expensive and all consuming as an HRIS.

Make it human

Technology is just an enabler, it is not the solution in itself. There are many examples of the tech taking the ‘human’ out of HR. The process and implementation needs to be designed with people in mind. For example, HR systems often need companies to mould to them rather than the other way round. This can make it inflexible and difficult to work with.


“Don’t be afraid of data. There is nothing to be scared off; there will be gems hidden in there, and you might not even need to look all that hard. ”

— Ryan Jensen


Equally, you may need to use software to standardise and centralise data and insight. One delegate explained that she had multiple manual processes for Talent Management. It makes sense, saves time, and increases effectiveness to combine all of that into a single solution. It still requires being highly numerate and having the ability to build a compelling business case; being clear how to quantify the opportunity is vital.


User Experience


Part of the benefit will be a better human experience for the people managing the technology. All employees should feel the benefit too. Think of the creation of user experience a cultural transformation challenge. Process is an important part, but leading behavioural change is more important. Without it, you are unlikely to make much progress; you might have better looking graphs, but it won’t bring the change you aspire for.


Summary


As you build your HR tech strategy, here are four things to work out as you decide what you ‘should’ rather than what you ‘could’ do:

  1. What questions are you asking when deciding what to do?

  2. Does any of this improve the employee experience?

  3. Does it create more time and save money?

  4. What value does it add?

Whilst it might seem daunting, the opportunity is there for you to help transform both how your HR function operates and how your overall business works.

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