analytics

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

HOW INTELLIGENT IS YOUR HR SYSTEM?

There are three key elements in determining how intelligent your HR system is
Original article written for Inside HR Magazine April 2015

The analytic functionality of modern HR software is meaningless without the right interest, creativity and skill of HR leaders.

You wouldn’t be wrong if the first words that sprung to mind as you read the title were “analytics” or “big data”, as they represent two of the three main components that drive HR system intelligence. Big data is really just a term that represents the massive amounts of information we create and collect in a myriad of digital systems such as email, collaboration tools, HR transactional, talent and payroll systems as well as our online social media activity using tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others.

Nobody really knows exactly how much data we collectively create. Whatever the volume or source, it’s really irrelevant, save to say that every individual in the workplace is creating a significant amount of data on a daily basis that could be extremely useful and valuable in the delivery of business- and people-related goals.

The data, however, is largely meaningless unless we firstly recognise what it is, know what value it will offer our organisations, and are able to apply analytical robustness in a creative and strategic manner to the raw data. Many will be familiar with the movie Moneyball, which highlights the power of using data and analytics to make business decisions regarding sportsmen. It’s now pretty common for top sports teams to measure a specific series of data points for each of their team members. They do this to ensure they invest in the right players from a hiring perspective, through to performance optimisation, risk (injury) management and termination.

system intelligence

This brings me to the third component which drives HR system intelligence – the human factor. While modern HR systems can be set up to provide historic, trending and predictive answers in a quick and consistent way, it takes people to ask the right questions, apply rigorous and causal measurement standards and to interpret the results correctly. System intelligence is far more than a set of logical technology sequences with a sexy user interface; it is a reflection of how the human aspect is applied to data interrogation.

What Moneyball also underscores is the need for absolute focus, commitment and trust in the analysed data. The real-life success of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, which the movie is based around, would not have happened if the right person, who loved and understood the data, was not part of the equation. This is important for HR functional and technology leaders to understand – HR analytics is not an activity you can simply add into your HR generalist’s job description. It’s a contributing factor to why HR departments have not been overly successful with their foray into the world of data analytics.

It’s good to see many HR system vendors actively embracing analytics directly in their HR software. Some provide fairly basic historic and trend analysis through online graphical reporting. Others are providing instant or embedded analytics that display results in a dashboard or by simply hovering your mouse pointer over an icon. More recently, we’re seeing diverse data and complex analysis engines being integrated into HR systems. These offer statistically valid predictions related to employee risk such as likelihood of resignation, best career move and ways to improve engagement.

The provision of complex analytic functionality by HR vendors is important; however, the HR system will not appear intelligent without the right human interest, creativity and skill. As tough as this may sound, your HR system’s perceived intelligence is a reflection of your HR leaderships’ views of data and analytics rather than the system-specific functionality. As we edge towards a completely digital work environment, HR leaders must address their role in future decision making through data intelligence.

HR system intelligence & HR implications

  • HR system intelligence relates primarily to its capacity to collect, analyse and represent data in a predictive manner such that it contributes to business and people decision making.
  • Just as sports teams have realised the value of people analytics in winning, HR must accept that there is significant business value to be gained by properly analysing HR and related data.
  • HR vendors will provide standard analytics in their solutions. These are useful, but should not be confused with the analytics that are unique to your business and HR drivers.
  • Data analytics is a specialist role that requires specific skill, a passion for finding answers in complex data and the ability to convey strategic messages from the results.
  • There is a direct correlation between your HR system intelligence and the level of interest in data and analytics from your HR leadership.

Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.

Your (HR) data will find you

I’ve never been a fan of telling other people what to do, think or say. I find it arrogant and demeaning at both a personal and professional level, and aside from situations warranting it (e.g. your immediate safety), you quickly lose respect and credibility. In many ways HR reporting has committed this same offence. For some reason HR leaders continue to produce standard HR reports and dish these out at regular intervals to management and executives for examination and supposed insight into their business operations. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met too many leaders or managers who are excitedly waiting for the next HR report to land on their desk or email in-box.

Standard HR reporting has reached retirement age, and should be put out to pasture. It’s a reactive way of looking at your business and people management, and has its roots in a time when HR had to spend hours and days collecting, fixing and consolidating information into spreadsheets before distributing a report that added little value. Managers don’t need a report to tell them they have 3 vacancies unfilled, or that it took 47 days to fill a position or that 7 appraisals are still outstanding. They know all of that before they get the report. Sadly I still see many HR functions fixated on producing their “monthly report”.

Most modern HR systems have dashboard, trend analysis and mini analytics that replace the need for Standard HR reporting. This is much more effective and removes the constraints (and arrogant assumptions) of standard reporting by offering line managers a choice of information to support their decision making, and more importantly, they get it immediately. At a minimum you should be providing this approach to managers.

This approach doesn’t however go far enough. If line managers don’t know what questions to ask or what data or information is relevant, they won’t get the best outcome. This shouldn’t be seen as a loophole for HR to get back into a telling mode, but rather an opportunity to define how information finds the line manager based on their people related and enterprise social on-line activity.

Its good to see some of the leading HR vendors moving into this space together with strong predictive analytic tool-sets. The algorithms behind these tools are complex, but also configurable to suit your environment and solutions. It does however require a significant rethink about decision making in general, not just related to HR information, but including the interplay between other internal and external data sources.

Check out my previous blog “Is WFM  the new HR?

SaaS HR technology: the new face of HR?

Featured in Inside HR Magazine – October 2014

The next three years provide an opportunity for HR to evolve people practices into a modern digital environment

There is significant value to be derived from HR evolving people practices into a modern digital environment, writes Rob Scott

Compared to traditional on-premise or ERP HR technologies, true SaaS technology has fundamentally shifted the business discussion from one focused on getting HR technology to work effectively to an emphasis on how HR can generate business value through people. While not dismissing the value that many companies continue to derive from traditional on-premise HR solutions, there is no denying the comparatively long and often complex journey traditional HR systems demand in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

Time saving and agility: important ingredients
Executives are realising the long-term impact and financial advantage of effectively managing their people value chain. Together with emerging workplace trends such as remote working, ad hoc team creation, social collaboration, project orientation and hyper-specialisation, the luxury of having time to build solutions to support these new work environments is quickly diminishing.

The workforce itself is changing. It’s a more flexible workforce that is fast becoming a collection of diverse, specialised individuals who have different contractual relationships with a company. And there is an expectation that the tools they use to be productive are simple, yet effective – integrated in a way that supports collaboration and is accessible from anywhere on any device. In a recent survey conducted by Microsoft, 31 per cent of employees said they would be willing to spend their own money on an app if it made them more effective at work.

The last thing an organisation wants is to be held back by software that absorbs a great deal of time and takes even more effort to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace and workforce. The need for agility and swiftness are two critical elements for future business competitiveness, and for these reasons, SaaS HR software is being recognised as a supportive catalyst.

We are moving to a digital work environment rapidly, and mechanisms such as social tools, mobility and gamification are providing the platform for enabling HR to step up to a strategic analytic and evidence-based advisory role. While many ERP tools are bolting on some of this digital capability, the underlying technology and design of these products have not been built with a digital framework. True SaaS HR products have been completely rebuilt from the database objects to the user interface and fundamentally support and integrate with digital design thinking.

HR needs a new set of skills
HR professionals, particularly those from a social sciences background, have generally been reluctant to build personal skills and knowledge in technology. In many respects, this has limited their ability to be effective in driving traditional HR technology projects. New SaaS tools have largely solved this problem because of the simplicity in how these tools are set up and maintained. SaaS tools have fewer configuration and modification options than ERP solutions, which in my mind is a good thing for HR. Too often, ERP tools are redesigned at great cost but with little business benefit.

I believe there are other complementary areas where HR functions can build competency and expertise. First, social intelligence – understanding how social thinking is introduced into business and HR strategies and enabled through digital technology. Second, analytic intelligence – making sense of lots of new people-related data that will be created as the digital work environment evolves. This includes data from wearable technology and from everyday objects that are connecting to the internet (internet of things). Analytic intelligence will have a strong predictive focus rather than a reactive statistical slant.

The next three years open up a window of opportunity for HR to evolve people practices into a modern digital environment. There is significant value to be derived, and HR must now become self-sufficient in making this a reality.

Key SaaS trends for HR

  • True SaaS HR software is quite different from ERP products. When you pull back the covers, the underlying design is geared to support a digital HR environment.
  • Modern organisations no longer have the luxury of extended time to redesign their HR solutions – SaaS tools offer agility and simplicity.
  • Now is the time for HR professionals to take ownership of HR software projects with no need to be intimidated by a lack of IT knowledge.
  • News skills for HR in social and analytic intelligence are critical to understand how software will create people value.

Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.

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