Many in the workplace today may find it hard to imagine the days when it was more common for people to just walk across the office to talk to someone rather than send a slack. Few remember their home phone being unavailable when you were "online". I recall first learning of this thing called “google” while sitting at my desk 20 years ago; it replaced my childhood encyclopedia set in an instant.
When I started in HR, employee self-service was the new emerging technology. Access to current data and the ability to submit change requests were available 24/7. The joke would be, ‘you can update your address but not your salary’. HR humor. Recruitment and performance management software was not common. Onboarding software was practically nonexistent. Newer companies started coming on the HRIS scene introducing SaaS models that were highly configurable and didn’t require you to have your own in-house DBA.
The speed at which we obtain and share information has steadily and dramatically increased over time, and with it, the expectations for the workplace, and HR, have evolved. Today it is most common to have various APIs to connect your data with other systems, such as the data visualization tool Tableau, which is like a PivotTable on steroids. Applicant tracking and performance management systems are an expectation, and onboarding systems are becoming more and more common. Those who can afford to are adding AI bots to support the employee and candidate experience with answers to common questions in real-time, 24/7.
While many may be scared at constantly needing to learn and adapt to new systems and technology, in many ways these systems have made it easier for people to use. The average user does not need to understand the inner and outer table joins within a relational database to access the data they need. Instead, the expectations are now on what to do with such information. Critical thinking and analytical skills have steadily grown in demand for HR professionals to better understand what story the data is telling us, and how that can better help and inform our decision-making. This may be understanding turnover trends, shifts in attendance or performance, conducting a pay equity audit, and measuring diversity at all levels of the organization. What used to be nice to have is now the norm. This requires careful attention to systems design to ensure strong data integrity. For the department that was supposed to be where you go to work if you ‘like people’ this has become a significant addition to the toolbox.
There is also a need for analysts and developers within the HR space to continue to transform our work. People today may be using R and Tableau to perform and display ANOVA, multiple regression, or list-tree analyses. Developers can leverage google app scripts for opening up an endless amount of possibilities for HR teams to streamline complex operations with a high degree of accuracy and care. The fusion of the people function with data and technology opens us up to a whole new level of potential. Consider the effects on organizational culture when personalized happy birthday and anniversary messages are sent to staff automatically, along with reminders to their manager. Or how much time is saved, and the number of errors avoided, by taking data from a spreadsheet and creating personalized letters from a series of templates that are individually emailed to each employee and their manager when certain conditions are met and is then imported into the HRIS for payroll processing. Using this for things like salary changes or leaves of absences can dramatically improve HR’s ability to deliver timely and accurate information to staff and in a personalized and thoughtful manner that supports and fosters the desired culture.
From another lens, our HR talent acquisition specialists are seeing the evolving workforce firsthand. Continuous learners who possess a combination of strong technical and digital fluency skills alongside soft skills like demonstrating empathy, are being sought after as the critical skillsets for the ‘future workforce’. Applying this to an organization’s strategic workforce planning, and in recognizing many people being hired do not possess all of these traits, has also created a focus on reskilling and upskilling of folks to better prepare them for the jobs that are needed for today and tomorrow. The better organizations can understand and identify the key competencies and traits needed in order to effectively deliver on their mission, and then chart a journey to help staff develop these skill sets, the more successful they will be. Blended learning opportunities such as through a combination of an LMS, internal and external professional development, coaching and mentorship, tuition support, and job rotation/apprenticeship experience better position leading organizations to be able to deliver on their goals. Each of these has an entire arena of data and technology to leverage from personality and behavioral assessments during the hiring process, to access to learning opportunities for staff, to measuring the impact of these people's investments on performance, engagement, and retention.
Growth in data, technology, and AI will continue, and HR will need to know how to identify and leverage a wide assortment of tools that can yield more efficient day-to-day operations, foster an improved employee and candidate experience, and develop a talented and engaged workforce that is ready and able to deliver on the organizational needs. The Japanese word Ikigai is a concept that loosely translates as a reason for being. Organizations that help employees to find a way to their why, a path for how to better understand, align, and leverage their strengths and interests to what the organization and world needs, and are able to earn a comfortable living doing so, is the sweet spot for engagement and unleashing human potential. The HR function has a real opportunity to step up and lead this work. Through cultivating authentic care for having a diverse workforce across levels and in recognizing what such diversity in perspectives and experiences can bring as a value add to your organization. Through ensuring that compensation, benefits, and access to resources and opportunities for advancement are made equitably and fairly. By ensuring that the cultural norms and practices in your organization promote a sense of belonging and foster an inclusive work environment. Each of these behaviors and actions has data points, and each can be enhanced through technology. We are no longer in the position where these kinds of things need to be heavily advocated for, and now need to rise to the task at hand for best-supporting organizations to bring this to life. To do this effectively, and at scale, it requires not just expert content knowledge in areas such as emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry, and change management, but taken in combination with systems thinking, business process automation, data, and analytics.
Are you ready HR?