The future simply came too fast for HR. As new technology is increasingly introduced in the workplace, HR faces an existential moment—it’s time for HR departments to stand up and fight to keep the Human in HR. But that doesn't mean HR should resist technology adoption.
HR won’t win the race for talent fighting against the accelerating pace of technological disruption. On the contrary, HR needs to embrace technology. It needs to step up its game and assume its role as human advocate in this digital world, and stop hiding behind the masks of administrative and compliance cops. If HR doesn't respond and do it fast, Human Resources will quickly become the High-performance Robot department.
Before we can talk about how to keep the H in HR, we need to think about ways that technology impacts HR. Let's start with a few.
New Definition of Work
Technology is disrupting how work gets done. It changes workflows and redefines jobs. It automates some of what we used to do and opens up new opportunities. It affects how we find jobs and when we work. Technology enables us to be not only always-on, but also highly productive thanks to our increasingly powerful mobile devices.
In my book, I wrote about the rework of work: "We’re all novices when it comes to navigating the new labor markets and workplaces. We would have to go back to the invention of the wheel, the printing press, steam engine, and electricity to find comparable disruption in how work gets done."
New Organization of Work
Thanks to the rise of the gig economy and remote work, the freelance workforce is growing three times faster than the overall U.S. workforce, and the majority of workers will be working independently by 2027. Physical offices and headquarters are still the norm but a growing number of companies are going fully virtual.
No longer must work be organized by location because it can be completed anytime, by people located almost anywhere in the world. Workers are getting hired by skill sets, not job titles. Project teams are dynamic and fluid. Managing people and teams requires leaders who can master both face-to-face and remote communication using an ever-changing menu of apps and services.
Personalization and Microlearning
Amazon recently announced it was investing $700 million dollars to "reskill" one-third of its workforce.That's a drop in the bucket of the time and money that must be invested to ensure companies have employees skilled enough to work and workers have the right skills to get jobs. Even if machines don't replace humans, automation impacts almost all of us. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of all jobs will be one-third automated by 2030. That means humans who still need and want jobs will need different and better skills.
Unfortunately companies are still stuck using weapons of mass instruction. Employees are herded into a classroom or forced to sit in front of a computer screen for hours, days and even weeks to learn new skills.
Thankfully, microlearning technology is blowing up that approach. Employees need new skills and answers to how-to questions. Platforms like YouTube and TED are massively popular not because people are bored with nothing to do, but because they deliver answers and engaging learning experiences with a few clicks in short increments. Technology allows companies and schools to deliver what people need, when they need it, in a way that both engages and fits the way we learn. Technology helps make learning fun, more personal, and maybe most important of all, more effective.
A list like this couldn’t possibly ignore the impact of data on the future of HR. HR collects massive amounts of data beginning with the job application and screening, then continuing with onboarding, performance management and even termination. But as of now, HR just hasn’t used this data effectively to help the business predict more accurate outcomes, be more responsive, and engage both candidates and employees in a more meaningful and productive way.
People analytics is no longer taboo. It fact, it’s one of the most sought after webinar and conference educational programs. Of course, the collection, analysis and application raises all sorts of red flags regarding privacy and ethics. To date, legal and ethical concerns have become HR’s battle cry against the use of technology—and yet we continue to collect more and more of it with few safeguards.
H Is For Human
What do these technology-driven trends mean for HR moving forward? In my 2019 SHRM Annual Conference presentation, I recommended two fundamental principles for Keeping the Human in HR.
1. Act Responsibly
Yes, technology poses enormous risks to jobs, privacy and even humanity. But it also presents enormous opportunity to improve everything from productivity to better quality of life. Slow adaptation to accelerating change only means HR will act less responsibly more often. Likewise, purchasing and using HR technology requires intense scrutiny.
You may not understand people analytics. You might not even like math. You might not understand how data is collected, stored and shared. But if you’re in HR or the business of hiring and retaining people, you must understand that we are at a crossroads.
2. Consider These Unintended Consequences
What happens to all this data collected? Is anyone in your organization asking, "what data should we be collecting?" and "which data should be off limits?" While great debate is focused on advanced technology like wearables and surveillance technology, there has been less consideration given to something as basic as the job application. When should you be requesting personal information from a candidate that you might never engage with? Where is this data stored? How should it be used? What happens when unnecessary data unintentionally introduces unconscious bias into a screening algorithm?
It’s your responsibility to understand the issues (even if you don’t understand the technology) and get involved in the conversation. Make sure your voice is heard.
Today, it's not technology that humans should worry about. It's how HR responds to that technology in an effort to keep the human in HR.
Photo: Creative Commons