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Wag the dog

Stephen Pierce

Consider the maxim that technology is a great servant but a terrifying master, and HR is so tech-driven that it simply is not an option to fall behind, if we are to avoid the proverbial tail wagging the proverbial dog. Bringing the canine cliches to a crashing conclusion, HR needs to be bright eyed and bushy tailed when it comes to tech. Stephen Pierce, Chief Human Resources Officer – Hitachi Europe.

Recently I was travelling with one of our Directors who wanted to discuss some compensation issues in his team. As we were out of the office this would normally have required me to contact one of my team to get salary details for those concerned. However, we have recently implemented Workday at Hitachi, and I have the mobile App installed on my iPhone. So, I logged in – requiring me to answer questions on the colour of my first car and my favourite TV programme as a child – as part of the security process – and sure enough, I successfully accessed the data that allowed us to discuss my colleague’s questions and make decisions in the time we had available between meetings. Afterwards, I reflected that HR really does need to be using mobile technology more and HR directors need to be leading this change. However, those who do lead HR are often not as comfortable with technology as their younger colleagues – they are the digital natives, while many of us are merely digital immigrants – and this is a challenge for current HRDs and those who aspire to senior HR roles.

It is ironic that staff across all organisations use technology in their personal lives, all the time, but the workplace rarely keeps up with the pace of change. More than 30 million people in the UK use Facebook for example which is a similar number to those in the UK workforce. They are not all the same people of course, but it shows that technology is part of life outside work and challenges all of us in HR to reflect this in our organisations and our own development. Further evidence that better use of technology will improve our organisations has been shown in studies that link it with more engaged employees, improved job satisfaction and retention. We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this but what should senior HR practitioners be doing about it? In my view, the first and most important requirement is for HRDs to demonstrate leadership in the use of technology for the delivery of services such as benefits, time and attendance and recruitment. We need to look for ways to use technology to improve communications and administration as well, as a strategic tool, to develop staff at all levels, and we must embrace social media as a way of enhancing the employer brand. This means becoming confident users as well as advocates at an executive level and across the organisation. We may need to become better informed of what other organisations are doing and the opportunities for using new technologies for delivering HR solutions….and we can’t delegate all of this to others in our teams who may be seen as more ‘tech savvy’!

Linked to this, HRDs need to develop their familiarity and expertise in using analytics to support and improve business decision making. Knowing what data to collect and how to interpret it are increasingly important in the IoT world and HR needs to be part of this. As our capability increases we can evolve HR interventions from descriptive analytics to diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive approaches which give our function a real ‘edge’ and contribution to business debate. Of course, to do this effectively we need to be close to the business to know what problems need to be solved and then find the right data which must be interpreted in the right way. One way to equip HR leaders for these challenges is to consider reverse mentoring to help enhance our knowledge and capability. Fortune Magazine recently ran an article on reverse mentoring and explained that “students are more quickly becoming the teachers as companies going through the Millennial workplace revolution are getting their 18 to 35-year-old employees to teach Generation Xers and Baby Boomers a thing or two about integrating tools like social media and crowd sourcing into their modus operandi”. This may challenge some organisational cultures – and take HRDs out of their comfort zones – but we know the pace of change won’t reduce and it requires HR to think and act differently. This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for HR leaders and practitioners at all levels, and it is one we need to grasp if HR is to continue to develop and enhance its impact on our organisations, whatever our sector or size.

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