Why the CFO said HR was easy to learn

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Photo credit: Wei Xuan Seow – flickr

I recently co-facilitated a discussion forum between a group of CFO’s and CHRO’s on the importance of their relationship in building business value. During a question on what skills each other should build to understand the other role, an attending CFO said “It would be easy for a CFO to learn HR, but not the reverse”.

There was stunned silence from the room as the heat rose from the attending CHRO’s – they weren’t sure if they had just been told they were less capable, less intelligent or simply would never be considered an “equal” to the power and status of a CFO.

Was the CFO correct?

From the perspective of: CFO right or wrong?
Education and qualifications: Both roles are considered specialist functions which have underlying professional adherence. The CFO learns to comply, manage and manipulate a set of globally defined rules to legally reflect the financial value of their organization. The CHRO complies with medical ethical standards related to psychology and social science practices. Both qualifications are professionally recognized and offer advanced degrees to support this. WRONG
Complexity of the role. At the basic level, CFO’s take their guidance from GAAP and legislation in terms of how they execute the outcomes of their role. They are generally instrumental in guiding the organization in terms of maximising financial value, reducing and effectively managing cost, effective use of capital, maintaining investment community confidence through accurate reporting, analysing financial risk and proposing corrective actions. The CHRO has different complexities to deal with as “people” and society are well, people. Rules for people are less defined or prescriptive. CHRO’s who don’t operate as administrators can juggle 40+ different interrelated elements across people, process, organization, legislation, technology and governance to create business value through people. WRONG
Perception: The CFO is typically regarded as highly important, particularly for listed companies – mainly because their outputs reflect the success of the CEO and other executives, and the consequences of anything untoward in financial outputs could result in serious organizational and personal ramifications. In many organizations, HR is often perceived as an Administrative function with little clout at the C-Level. This is often true when HR has low levels of Maturity and spend most of their time executing operational transactions. In most cases this would be easy to learn. RIGHT

 

So the CFO was both right and wrong, but we should be cautious to blame the CFO for his views. We can assume that in this case, the HR leaders the CFO has interacted with have probably been of a lower maturity level, more administratively focused and had executive leadership who have yet to realize the importance and value of Human Capital  from a shareholder perspective.

For a CHRO or CFO to really learn each others jobs would not be easy. Yes, you could easily learn the stuff like administration and basic accounting, but the underlying knowledge is far more complex than meets the eye.

How does your CFO view HR?

 

CHATBOTS: the next frontier for HR software

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PHOTO CREDIT: brahim elmokaouim, FLICKR

You’ll be forgiven for thinking  Chatbots are new  technology, they’ve been around since the 1960’s in fact, but have been given a new lease of life with the recent developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The word itself gives some hints as to what it does. “Chat” implies a form of informal communication and “bot” indicates the presence of robotics. In reality they are small software applications that automate tasks on your behalf over the internet and interact with you in a human-like way. Many of these tasks tend to be basic, repetitive and gimmicky , however we are seeing the emergence of  sophisticated business chatbots that learn and adjust their behaviour and response.

The way you interact with these bots is casual and in natural language.

Most of the major tech houses like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple are actively developing these bots, and you’ve probably used some of them such as Siri (iPhone), or Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa (Amazon Echo) and a host of text based chatbots now found in tools like Skype and Slack. (On a side note let’s hope soon-to-be parents don’t start naming their babies with similar names – can you imagine the chaos in the home and future workplaces).

IMPACTS FOR HR TECHNOLOGY

The HR environment is a perfect breeding ground for chatbots. Many of the transactions and data requests performed by managers and employees are simple. A well-developed chatbot could remove the need to access the HR solution directly, replaced with a simple voice request or a text message or email to carry out the task on behalf of the employee. It could be quicker than logging into the ESS/MSS app and broaden the means of interacting with the HR system. Here are a few examples:

  • VOICE: “Hey Siri, what is my leave balance”
  • VOICE: “Hey Alexa, let my boss know I’m feeling unwell” 
  • VOICE: “Hey Bob, mail me a list of team members due to attend safety training”
  • TEXT: Send my Feb py advice
  • MAIL: Approve John’s training expenses for May

The above are examples of simple requests that would typically interrogate the HR system as if it were the real user. Things like security profiles and data access would be applied to the bot in the same fashion as the human user. In all likelihood these simple request would include logical follow-up questions based on the in-built artificial intelligence:

  • “You have 11.3 days of annual leave. You haven’t had any time off for 7 months, do you want to put in a request?”
  • “I’m sorry to hear you are not well…as it’s a Monday please ensure you obtain a doctors certificate”
  • “I’ve mailed you a list of team members attending safety training. Check in with Peter Smith, his record shows he doesn’t arrive 36% of the time”

RAMCO the Indian based Enterprise Software Vendor is providing their HR clients with e-mail communication to its HR system, citing speed as a primary motivator. They have a number of other tools in their other non-HR modules of similar ilk. Other vendors like ADP are building bots that automate HR tasks such as sending a job to a prospective hire and alerting employees to use up their annual leave.

The other likelihood is that Chatbots will be developed outside of the vendor products. There are a number of specialist platforms such as Kore who provide tools for bot self-development and others who provide existing libraries to commonly used systems.

Chatbots are unlikely to replace the need for slick end-user interfaces in the short term, but they are potential big cost savers from a vendor development perspective as well as for software licencing.

As chatbots become more proficient and operate like real assistants or concierge services, people will want to use them, creating a demand. Hopefully vendors and developers have their ears to the ground.

 

 

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Has Technology Weakened HR?

Picture: 周小逸 Ian : Flickr
12 May 2016

This seems somewhat of an odd statement to make in todays technology obsessed world – surely HR technology has allowed People practitioners to greatly improve efficiency by reducing manual and paper-based activities, improving data access & reporting, reducing errors, helping employees make better decisions and ensuring compliance to policy and procedure.

This is of course true at a transaction level, but herein lies the problem. The way vendors have generally designed HR technology is not an accurate reflection of how professional HR and Talent managers think, nor does it signal an understanding of the complexities in Professional HR Management. In fact the slicing-up of HR into different software modules along ‘logic’ and ‘transaction’ lines of thinking has created and perpetuates the view that HR is simply a set of somewhat loosely interrelated basic transactions.

And surely that can’t be too difficult to get right! ah, yeah!  But yet time and time again we see HR functions under attack for poor performance and low value contribution. With these perceptions abound, no wonder there is doubt among some C-levels that HR is needed.

If only HR Management was so simple and logical. But it isn’t. There are a significant amount of people dimensions used by HR professionals which are not logically inclined or lend themselves to be developed into a ‘transaction’, let alone a software module. Think about important people management facets such as ‘Ethics’ , ‘Style’, ‘Diversity’ and ‘Values’ – these are key HR influences in achieving particular strategic business outcomes, and they are fundamentally intertwined into such things as learning, performance, development, communication and knowledge sharing. But they are ‘non-existing pieces’ in the HR software puzzle.

This is not a jibe at HR Software vendors. In fact some vendors clearly understand the impact of these gaps and are working hard to address them. Particularly those vendors who are focused on superior technical integration between modules.

They realize that while they have in many cases reduced HR to modular transactions to make it easy for end users, they also understand that the all-important ‘HR complexity value factor’ is partly resolved when effective and seamless integration across these modules occurs. The combination of modular interaction offers some support in achieving strategic HR objectives. Keep going vendors, there is lots more to do in this space!

HR Technology has inadvertently contributed to a weakening of professional HR outputs, but the finger should however point directly at the HR leader who has allowed the function to be reduced to a set of modules and transactions.

It’s an easy way out for poor performing HR leaders, and provides an opportunity to shift the blame onto technology. Professional HR management is not an easy job, in fact it is highly complex, with over 40 major elements or activities being continuously juggled to produce desired business outputs. Those that are successful also understand how HR technology should be used and positioned to enable people to achieve great things.

Do you have an opinion on this?

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5 STEPS TO BOOSTING DIGITAL HR LITERACY & TRANSFORMATION

Upskilling and introducing new competencies into HR will help ensure digital transformation initiatives succeed, writes Rob Scott

Original article published by Inside HR Magazine (Feb 2016)

Given a digital workplace is undeniably the future we are rapidly heading towards, the skills any future employee will need to be effective and remain market-competitive is an important consideration for HR and talent managers. HR functions have had first-hand experience of resistance from executives to hand over strategic accountability, mainly because their business skills and acumen have been lacking.

The HR function is not immune to the disruption of modern technology; in fact, the advent of Cloud and SaaS technologies in the HR space is ahead of many other business functions. It’s an advantage that HR leaders should capitalise on to secure the relevance of the function in a digitally minded work environment.

Being digitally literate for HR is a prerequisite for the next wave of business transformation. So what are the competencies, knowledge areas and behaviours required to ensure HR professionals can deliver optimised future service? I have identified five focus areas, each of which houses a number of different subsets.
Digital HR literacy

1. Computer and platform literacy
This competency area is often mistaken as the equivalent of digital literacy. Rather, this skill set is a predecessor of digital and includes understanding how desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets work. This includes how these systems are best consumed and how they connect, and managing software applications. For many, these are skills associated with IT specialists. These skills are no longer an IT domain but have become general business skills which form a fundamental base to foster digital innovation and creativity.

2. Data design and ethics
These two components may seem like distant cousins, but how and what data we collect and derive is both a powerful business opportunity as well as one that borders on intrusion, invasion of privacy and manipulation. This skill set involves an understanding of other disciplines such as marketing and finance, as well as how things such as graphics, video, Internet of Things (IoT) feeds and other non-transactional data are integrated and designed to produce evidence-based outcomes.

3. Analytics
Analytic skills are closely aligned with data design and ethics. It’s far more than producing quality outputs, which is increasingly becoming a science in itself, and has a strong emphasis on ensuring the right information is being analysed and interpreted to inform business- and people-related decisions. Just as HR faced rebuke by becoming pseudo psychologists with off-the-shelf psychometric assessments, this skill set is embedded in formal data-science education.

4. Social intelligence
Social tools are ubiquitous and increasingly straddle our private and work lives. Understanding how search, content and social media work together requires technical understanding such as SEO as well as strategic alignment and tactical execution skills. Creating, observing and responding activities are reliant on a creative mindset, communication, writing and PR skills.

5. Innovative mindset
SaaS solutions as well as hardware are continuously being updated and improved, to the extent that new features are being “dropped” by the vendors every few months. Ignoring new features and capabilities for extended time periods is not a good strategy; rather, HR should embrace an agile and continuous improvement approach to its operating model. Skills relevant to support innovation include novel, critical & adaptive thinking, problem solving and design concepts.

Most seasoned HR professionals won’t fall into the “digital native” category, meaning that many of these concepts will be foreign and confronting. However, upskilling and introducing new competencies into the HR function will ensure digital transformation initiatives are executed with insight and purpose.

The scope of digital HR literacy

  • The next wave of business transformation will develop around the creation of a digital work ecosystem.
  • Being digitally literate is not the same as being computer literate. It’s about understanding the creation, consumption, management, manipulation and interpretation of information across multiple platforms to achieve business goals.
  • HR should capitalise on their lead in Cloud and SaaS technology deployments to further develop their digital skill sets and influence.
  • Some digital literacy skills – such as being computer literate – are general competencies; others such as data analysis are specialist skills supported by formal qualifications.
  • Digital skills should be spread across many HR roles, rather than thinking they are inherent in a single individual.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: ARE HR PROFESSIONALS AT RISK?

Latest article published in InsideHR

would HR professionals be as enthusiastic about HR technologies if they contained Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability

Are we ready to be pushed down the proverbial pecking order of importance by sophisticated AI technology? asks Rob Scott

Very few HR and talent professionals would refute the value that technology has brought to their operations. HR functions have leveraged these tools to become efficient, effective, collaborative, engaging and more accurate. But would HR professionals be as enthusiastic about HR technologies if they contained Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability that could predict more accurately and make better business decisions than the highly educated, people-focused HR practitioner?

At what point does software that is able to pick the best applicant, predict who is most likely to resign or identify the best mentor for a talented employee, become a legitimate replacement for a highly paid HR practitioner?

Most HR professionals I engage with don’t believe this will transpire, citing the complexities of human behaviour, personal choice and the absence of universal logic in managing people in the workplace. In the short term I agree with them, but not for the same reasons they mention. In fact, when I look at how most HR functions rely on standard processes to manage certain events, I have no doubt that near-future HR technology will do a better job than humans in executing these rule-based processes. Our flawed minds can never achieve the same level of efficiency.

“AI in HR is maturing; we are seeing interesting algorithm designs, predictive analytics and automation solutions coming to market”

This is not to say that our current HR technologies are anywhere close to being artificially intelligent. Right now there is a lot of hype-spinning by software vendors about the predictive prowess of their tools, but in reality these are immature tools. We should, however, be under no illusion that sophisticated AI for HR is heading our way. As it becomes more credible and capable, it will displace employees who are focused on maintaining standardised HR processes and mundane transactional work. There is, however, a far deeper and fundamental reason why I believe AI will, in the short term, find a home as a digital assistant rather than as a replacement for HR professionals. It goes to the heart of a human emotion – fear. Having artificially intelligent machines making sophisticated and important people-based decisions feels threatening and generates a level of anxiety about our status as human beings. We are not ready to lose our “superiority” to machines, no matter how intelligent they become.

As an example, Microsoft recently released a small tool which guessed one’s age based on a picture you uploaded. The results were mostly wrong, however, the tool went viral. Why? The reasons lie in the notion that while the technology is inaccurate, we feel less threatened by it and are able to maintain our dignity and humanness.

This is a powerful lesson and opportunity for HR software developers. Building AI software that is too accurate and human-like is likely to be rejected or underutilised, not because its outcomes are incorrect, but because it pushes human beings down the proverbial pecking order of importance and insinuates that the work they are doing is demeaning and unnecessary.

“Building AI software that is too accurate and human-like is likely to be rejected or underutilised”

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that technology enhancements have been at the heart of mankind’s industrial revolutions and progress. New machines with capabilities that outshine human ability have typically been met with resistance from those affected, at least until new work opportunities borne from the new technology become evident. AI in HR is maturing; we are seeing interesting algorithm designs, predictive analytics and automation solutions coming to market, but future job clarity in a digital and AI age is still blurry. Until then, AI tools for HR will develop into great digital assistants under control of HR professionals. At least for now the role of the HR professional remains in demand. 

5 key takeways for HR 

  • AI is a growing phenomenon in HR. We are increasingly seeing the inclusion of decision algorithms, predictive analytics and automation tools in HR software.
  • Basic AI tools will have the ability to manage standard HR processes with little to no human intervention, ultimately displacing employees from these mundane roles.
  • Complex AI tools which can make human-like decisions are likely to be rejected in HR because of the implied threat to our status.
  • Whilst it seems far-fetched, HR professionals should start thinking about how to “manage” and integrate artificially intelligent machines in the work environment.
  • Digital HR assistants are already with us managing workflows, finding information and managing large amounts of data. We don’t need to fear AI.

Image source: iStock

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