It’s HR’s Time, but Are We Ready?

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After two days at UNLEASH London, the truth about digital transformation in HR became very apparent: There is a very real gulf between where organizations are now and where they’re trying to get to in order to support the future of work. But cleverly, the closing keynote from Jason Averbook addressed this head-on, and brought together multiple themes from across HR technology and the future of work.

He kicked off with some hard truths. The first: “It’s not IT’s job to create a digital strategy for HR.” This might seem obvious to many, but Averbook showed a video that brilliantly illustrates the overreliance some in HR still have on IT colleagues. The shift of HR technology to the cloud liberates us from IT — maybe not completely, but we no longer need them in order move forward, either.

If some technical challenges are eliminated thanks to the cloud, Averbook posits that success is then 45 percent people, 45 percent process — and only 10 percent technology. I’ll let that set in for a moment: only 10 percent technology. Because the reality is that there’s only so much that any solution can do within an organization’s unique context. “It’s not up to vendors to make solutions succeed on their own,” Averbook noted . “They can’t change an organization’s structure or process or mindset.” There is literally zero point in taking existing poor processes and digitizing them. That isn’t digital transformation. Real digital transformation requires a more creative re-think.

Good vs. Great

Stepping back, Averbook then challenged us to consider what we want to be great at and what we just need to be performing at. Payroll, for example, needs to perform, but experience-wise, very few people will wax lyrical about having a great payroll experience. They would certainly complain if it wasn’t good! But other areas in HR should probably get more attention for potentially being turned into great experiences for our people.

Too often, HR is centred around a bunch of transactions, not experiences. Averbook asked about empathy, echoing Belinda Parmer’s session the previous day. Belinda talked about small ways we can start to make organizations more empathic and people-oriented — like renaming the head office the “support hub,” or changing the setup of offices and rooms to be more collaborative. As far as HR technology goes, Averbook implored us to think about our people, and to use the data we have to build personas so we can create digital experiences that work for our workers.

All of this had me saying “amen” in the audience. Employee engagement is consistently ranked by HR leaders as a top measure of success, and last year was rated as six times more important than having HR presence at the board level. Creating great HR experiences has to be a core part of driving employee engagement. Certainly, delivering poor ones will not help that cause.

Meanwhile, user experience remains a major driver for organizations changing their HR technology: 80 percent cited it as a reason for switching. But experience is not a user interface, Averbook stressed. This is a really interesting distinction. Suppliers have invested considerable resources into overhauling their interfaces, and buyers now rate potential solutions on their UI in a bid to provide their people with a more consumer-level experience of their technology at work. Yet the irony is that, in a few years time, voice and AI will start to kill off the interface element of HR platforms for most people. “You’ll just ask your phone to book your holiday,” Averbook explained. The UI becomes redundant.

Organizations have to start thinking about digital first or they will be left by the wayside, that much is clear. But as more than one person said at the event, we can’t forget the “human” in HR, either. My hope is that thinking about HR experiences beyond the interface should help put people at the heart of digital transformation. And maybe this takes away some of that fear or reluctance that still exists around HR technology. Which might mean we are ready for the future of work, after all.

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