Trending towards Digital HR

| By TMA World

At the highest level of generalization, what is happening in HR is a transformation from an Industrial HR to a Digital HR.

At the highest level of generalization, what is happening in HR is a transformation from an Industrial HR to a Digital HR.

Everyone is familiar with the Industrial HR – it had its centralized place in the organizational structure as a function that took care of the personnel side of the business – hiring and firing, compensation, HR policies, training and development, and performance management.   With the drive for continued cost efficiencies in a highly competitive environment, some observers were predicting the death of HR as outsourcing took on many administrative and transactional activities associated with the management of personnel.

Freed of many of the bureaucratic tasks, there has been a drive to integrate HR at a more strategic level.  The goal has been to establish HR has a full business partner in achieving organizational success.  Great strides have been made to that end in a number of companies while it is still very much a work in progress in others.  Unfortunately, the world doesn’t wait for us to achieve our goals and say, “Job done!”  Relentless and disruptive changes require every business discipline, including HR, to continually recalibrate to add value.

Along with the increased complexity and turbulence of globalization, we have the radical changes triggered by digital technologies.  Enter Digital HR.  In what is written below, HR should be thought of as a discipline and set of workforce and organizational priorities that may or may not be centralized as a function.

Accenture is engaged in a Future of HR research initiative, and it is worth anyone engaged in HR to consider its current thinking and findings. (1)  Here are some insights from their work:

Technologies like social networking, the Cloud, mobile, gamification, big data, and consumer applications are revolutionizing how people do their work, and consequently how HR needs to support them.  Many HR activities are likely to become less centralized and more integrated into everyday work flows.  Digital technologies empower employees and managers to take a much more active role in talent management processes like recruiting, hiring, succession planning, and learning.

Knowledge workers are already utilizing social technologies to create solutions collaboratively, and this inevitably challenges traditional organizational structures with their self-contained silos, hierarchical layers, and strict job descriptions.  Networks are coming into the fore, and a HR relevant to networks and agile organizations is still emerging.

HR will have to adapt to a more global and digital world through new borderless skill sourcing.  Digital technologies will enable the faster matching of people to tasks without geographical barriers.  Growing skill gaps are, however, a reality and HR will be forced to think very creatively on how to close those gaps, e.g.  online/mobile learning available anywhere at any time on multiple devices. 

One consequence of skills gaps will be the growth of the extended workforce – “a global network of contractors, outsourcing partners, vendors, and other non-traditional employees.”   HR must ensure the strategic value of this workforce is maximized. 

Digitization, of course, leads to the rise of Big HR Data.  Google has already ascertained from its data that the ability to take initiative is a far better predictor of high performance than outstanding academic achievements from prestigious schools.  A major challenge will be for HR to shift from historical analysis of people data to predictive analysis which will enable much sought after organizational agility. New HR roles may be called for like talent data analyst or people insight unit to support both the workforce as a whole, but, perhaps, even more importantly specific workforce segments.

Talent analytics will enable customized people practices like performance management and leadership development.  Through mining all types of electronic communications, HR can segment employees into networking types (e.g. central connectors, boundary spanners, and peripheral players).  It can identify who is critical to collaboration and executing a strategy, or model the impact of losing specific people in a network.  HR can also tap into all things social and use technology to draw upon employee networks to target and recruit new hires or search for particular skill sets.  Privacy and confidentiality issues will become a fine balancing act for the HR of the future.

Perhaps, most importantly, in the world of Digital HR, each employee becomes a workforce of one.  The workforce no longer needs to be viewed as a single entity, but HR can treat each employee individually with customized solutions.

HR must be an agile shape-shifter as changes in ‘how work gets done’ continue at Internet speed. 

(1)    Trends Reshaping the Future of HR: Digital Radically Disrupts HR. Accenture, 2015

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