HR

How complexity & simplicity come together in the art of future HR design

written for insideHR August 2019

Simplexity is an emerging theory that proposes a possible complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity, and it has important ramifications for HR professionals looking to improve both the mechanics and dynamics of the workplace, writes Rob Scott

Many organisations are moving towards a digitised work environment. And while there are many facets to this transformation agenda, the one overriding message from many human capital thought-leaders around the world is the need for increased simplicity. Reducing complexity in HR processes and activities is seen as an elixir for Josh Bersin’s overwhelmed employee who is suffering from low engagement and negative trending productivity levels.

But does the adoption of a simplicity mantra just mean problem-solving and innovating by making things more logical and easier? That would be nice, but it’s a little more complex than that, it’s what we call simplexity, a term which describes a complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity.

Firstly, why do we have complexity in our HR processes? Well, we don’t typically aim to build complex outcomes, but over time we make modifications, often in a reactionary way to ensure continuity, to align with new technology, include a process owner’s ‘great ideas’ or to rectify ‘minor’ problems.

In many respects we don’t notice the ‘complexity accumulation’, just as we don’t realise our own weight gain until we’re confronted with a Facebook ‘Memories’ notification of our slimmer-self three years earlier.

“Trying to resolve processes which have evolved into complex problems is likely to result in a confusing mess”

Over time organisations spend a lot of effort and money trying to patch and rectify problems we can’t really solve. But at least the problem temporarily disappears right? This may last for a while, but eventually we reach an infliction point, where we move beyond a point of ‘functional complexity’, in other words a level of complexity which is still acceptable, but not optimal. We all know what the ‘chaos zone’ feels like and we often react with statements like “How on earth did we land up like this?”.

Simplexity graph

When we attempt to resolve problems within the ‘chaos zone’, often using simple logic and keeping other inputs or outputs constant, we end up with a confusing mess. Ownership, involvement and role clarity in understanding the problem becomes blurred. Re-imagining is often the best way forward in these cases. Painful, but gets you back in the right zone.

What we really mean by simplicity is the end-user experience, not the back-end design. It’s a dichotomous situation, which is why we refer to it as “simplexity”.

It’s a reality that if we want our organisations and people to adapt, grow, be agile and leverage new technologies such as AI, automation and Blockchain, then complexity by definition will increase. However, if we want efficiency and improved people productivity, then complexity from an experience perspective must decrease.

2 steps to simplexity
So, what do you need to do to manage this contradiction?

“Organisations spend a lot of effort and money trying to patch and rectify problems we can’t really solve”

Firstly, accept that effective simplexity is a function of our understanding, not our personal desire to solve a problem or introduce something new. This means we should engage the right skills who recognise the subtleties and nature of the complexity and who can unpack the problem in ways which allow others to give appropriate input and direction. Including the right design-skills can ensure you build the bridge between complex creations and simple experiences.

Secondly, ensure you don’t land up in the ‘chaos zone’. Make sure you constantly evolve within the ‘functional complexity zone’ and purposelessly block any silent creep into the chaos zone. Actions such as process effectiveness alerts, engagement results and continuous improvement cultures can serve as ‘chaos zone’ mitigation solutions.

Bottom line – simplicity is an experience, not necessarily the design.

Simplexity in a nutshell

  • While we all want process simplicity, it’s a reflection of the output or experience rather than the back-end design.
  • Simplexity is a dichotomous term because it simultaneously requires the adoption of more complex tools such as AI in order to progress, but at the same time needs the end user experience to seem simple.
  • Trying to resolve processes which have evolved into complex problems is likely to result in a confusing mess.
  • Achieving simplexity is a function of our understanding. We need to step back from what we don’t know and introduce the appropriate skills.

9 Exciting Trends and Opportunities in HR for 2019

Grateful to  Orlando Imperatore : Flickr 2018

Toss away the crystal ball!  Of course there is no rational way to ‘predict’ what will be important for HR leaders and business execs in 2019. In almost every case, each organisation is on a unique journey of people transformation, technical empowerment, culture mind-shift or simple operational improvements.

So my list is a collection of stuff which I’ve happened to engaged HR and other leaders about in the last 12 months and which was being considered for future plans. Perhaps only 1 is of interest to you, maybe all 9 – It doesn’t really matter. 

Here we go! and in no particular order

  1. PA – Personal Analytics 
    • HR Analytics has become an important tool for supporting organisational decision making around people. But it tends to support the employer more than the employee. As we see Employee Engagement, Happiness and changes in the Workforce and Workplace take center stage, there is a gaping hole around providing individuals with Personal Analytics in order for them to make better personal and business related decision within a continually fast-paced and constantly changing work environment.
  2. Trust
    • As we see new technologies such as Chat-bots, Robotic Process Automation, Machine learning Algorithms, Personal data-sharing and Tracking cozying up next to  human workers, the trust relationship which underpins so many things in our organisations is being diluted. The need is not just about building trust in technologies which are performing ‘human-like’ tasks or gathering our data, but effectively managing the implications for functions such as HR who have custodianship over some of these new-age tools. 
  3. Non-Exec Talent Coach 
    • Executive coaching is a mature offering, but as the nature of work and the variety of relationships between an organisation and a worker develop  ( I don’t want to say employee, because many are not technically that), the need for Independent Development Coaches at  lower levels, and which is not funded by the employer is being sought. Some of this demand exists because younger talented individuals do not want to mirror the behavior of current leaders (Think about many current Bank Leaders…. not a good model to follow), but want to become the best version of themselves without company influence.
  4. Beyond Engagement
    •  I’ve never been a fan of culture or engagement surveys – statistically they are full of errors and often based on pop-psychology. However listening with ‘Data Ears’ is becoming more relevant. In other words understand the mood of the company, or Engagement levels (Customer or Employee) or Happiness levels by analyzing the data trail left by employees, customers, your supply chain seems far more reliable and less prone to typical survey inaccuracies. 
  5. Personal Data Repository
    • One of my favorites. I’ve been engaging on this topic for a number of years. But with the changing workforce landscape, the growing contingent and gig enthronements, workers want the ability to store their own work history (think mini HR system), including Learning records, Pay and Benefit data, Performance scores, basic biographics, Job and Position history. They want control over their own data, and the ability to share it and withdraw it easily with an employer. This is not your typical Linkedin profile BTW. Big opportunity for HR Software vendors.
  6. Communication
    • Not necessarily new, but becoming an area of focus again as organisations get lost if their digital and technology transformation activities. Humans are irrational, make mistakes and are not perfect. Technology, with all its benefits, has the ability to create sterile and perfect environments, which are not conducive to human productivity or happiness. Making sure we don’t capitulate our responsibility to communicate to machines/technology is important. 
  7. The Science of HR 
    •  HR is actually a lot more complex that most people realize. Often the individual HR activities are not complex (some can be though), but ensuring there is alignment across a multitude of interrelated HR activities is where the real complexity lies, and where things often go wrong. Underpinning all HR decisions is the level of HR Maturity. When HR activities are not executed based on the Maturity level, you typically get Executive despondency towards HR or frustrated HR leadership. 
  8. Instant answers to HR Tech
    • The fast-paced and continuously changing work environments are demanding HR and IT leaders make quick, but informed HR Technology buying decisions. Gone of the days that it takes 4-8 months to do a traditional RFP, only to discover the new SaaS tools you were considering have significantly changed. There are some great services, analysts and tools available to speed up these decisions.
  9. HR Operating Model Change 
    • Many organisations are realizing the traditional Dave Ulrich HR operating model needs some adaptation. Not a radical change (as it is mostly still working), but a focus change to ensure the operating model can support ‘speed and agility’ needs of modern organisations. Changes include the ‘Business Partner’ reaching into the customer and supply chain world, the ‘Centre of Excellence’ (CoE) becoming a Networking Management Function and the ‘Shared Service Centre’ transforming into a Digital Data Centre.

That’s it!. And why not 10 I hear you ask, no reason, I only had 9 to share. Whats the point of making stuff up 🙂  

In Search of Imperfection

written for InsideHR

People leaders need to get the balance between technology, environments and human irrationality right in an increasingly digital world, writes Rob Scott, who explains that there are a number of considerations in optimising employee performance in the process

I recently attended a presentation by Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer at Danish company Woohoo Inc. He makes the point that we very often, but incorrectly assume employees are happy at work when they have job satisfaction. According to Kjerulf, job satisfaction is what we “think” about our jobs, while happiness is what we “feel” about our jobs and work environment.

The employee performance conundrum
This was timely as I have been engaging with several leading-edge clients who are struggling to find appropriate ways of improving their employee performance and engagement levels. These companies have all the great benefits and perks such as free food, zone-out pods, wellness programs and gym membership which attract talent, they have tier-1 HR technology and collaboration tools, use and explore automation, robotics and AI to augment employee capability and remove humans from work which is done better by machines. Wow, everyone should be happy, satisfied and engaged. But they’re not.

Josh Bersin, a leading global HR technology analyst cites challenges with engagement, productivity and employee experience as one of four forces disrupting organisations today. In his presentation A Wild New World of HR Technology, he alludes to the lack of employee performance and productivity improvement, overwhelmed employees and marginal improvements in employee engagement despite all the great technology we continually introduce into our lives and workplaces.

“Wow, everyone should be happy, satisfied and engaged. But they’re not”

Why leaders need to empower people to improve employee performance
For several years, I’ve been driving the point that effective digital work environments are not about throwing more technology at people and problems. Unless you empower people to do more with the technology in a modified human behavioural way, you are likely to create the challenges Josh Bersin highlights.

Furthermore, as people leaders, it’s important that we figuratively step back to see the broader technical environments we are busy creating – not just from a software and apps perspective, but inclusive of the steel, concrete, glass, noise, space and technical gadgetry we combine to form our “happy” work environments.

Often these environments are created to serve rationality and optimisation but can unintentionally become “technology concentration camps” – an environment which is perfectly rational, but dreadfully unliveable.

In my view, we have become singularly focused on building environments and supporting processes using modern and emerging technical assets in order to attract, retain, engage and develop people. But we have overlooked the potential mismatch between these creations and the fact that people are not perfectly rational and don’t operate well in sterile, passionless environments.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a technology fan – it underpins our human desire to constantly progress and improve. However, we should realise as human beings, we are at our happiest when we can be irrational, make mistakes, share emotions, be spontaneous, indulge in passions, seek out the mysterious and have faith.

Allowing employees to be human
It was the French writer Ellul who said “The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made an enormous error in misunderstanding this aspect of human nature and presumed to exorcise all that was not rational.”

“As human beings, we are at our happiest when we can be irrational, make mistakes, share emotions, be spontaneous, indulge in passions, seek out the mysterious and have faith”

As we evolve our digital work environments, shifting tasks to robotics and AI away from human jobs which we are not good at, are less accurate at, or are slow to do in comparison to technology, we will be left with a ‘perfectly optimised’ human worker, but perhaps not a happy or engaged one. The ‘perfect’ technology environment may be producing the opposite effects of employee performance, happiness, engagement and productivity.

Our challenge as people leaders is to get the balance between technology, our environments and human irrationality right – building the perfect ‘imperfect’ environment is the goal. Those that succeed will be the attractive organisations of the future, sought out by talented people.

3 key insights: employee performance in the digital world

  • Our digital work environments are increasingly becoming optimised and rational, driven by technology. But when we put humans, who are not perfectly rational, into these environments, we are impacting engagement and happiness.
  • We have an abundance of technology in our personal and work lives, yet evidence suggests that employee performance, human productivity and engagement has only marginally improved.
  • Our desire to remain competitive organisations has necessitated leveraging modern technologies and shifting human tasks to machines and AI. Organisations who understand how to optimise, but at the same time not dehumanise will be the successful companies of the future.

Time to turn the Ulrich Model into a Digital Delivery Model

Written by Rob Scott for Inside HR

The Ulrich model of HR delivery has been the cornerstone framework of HR for the past 20 years, but in light of the newly emerging digital world, modern HR must adapt to become agile and remain effective, says Rob Scott

There is no denying that all of us are on a digital transformation journey. Our work environments and operating models are feeling the strain of being caught between more traditional business operating models and the newer, agile demands of techno-digital environments. Deciding whether to toss out the old approach or focus on a more evolutionary adaptation of your existing ways can be a daunting decision to make for HR leaders.

The Ulrich model of HR delivery, developed by Professor David Ulrich 20 years ago, has been a solid guiding framework in full or part for most HR functions globally. And even though the model has been contested over the years, the building blocks of the model; HR Shared Service Centres (SSC) for administration, Centres of Excellence (CoE’s) for content expertise and the HR Business Partner (HRBP) for business alignment, have worked – so why change something that ‘ain’t broke’?

The underlying design principle of the Ulrich model has been about effective and streamlined connectivity between the elements of HR and business operations and strategy. It was built on assumptions that were pre-digital age. But the digital work environment has introduced new technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, Cognitive computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), new thinking styles such as Design Thinking, Evidence-based decisions supported by deep-dive Data Analytics as well as a deluge of demographic, ethics and loyalty impacts. As HR professionals, the worse thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand and fall prey to the Normalcy Bias, believing things will always function the way things normally function. We need to consider how a digital environment is changing the way the workforce is empowered, interacts and connects.

“The Ulrich model as a framework is still a relevant HR operating model, but the transition from the old roles to the new ones is an important adjustment required to support digital work environments”

In a Digital world, HR must respond and adapt quickly to changes which impact your business, whether that be through external competitiveness or internal innovation. This will require the roles of the HRBP, SSC and CoE to transform into ‘early warning’ detectors and predictors which can seamlessly morph into problem-solving guru’s and inform the creation of relevant and unique HR solutions. How should these roles change?

HR Business Partner » Alignment Agent

Modern HR technology, digital and automation tools fully empower line managers to be effective in hiring, managing and developing their staff. It’s time to get beyond playing the quasi-admin role for line managers. The Alignment Agent is externally focussed around your organisation’s supply chain and customers, ensuring HR solutions are adding customer-focussed value in line with business strategies and advising line managers and executives on required changes. The new Alignment Agent is seeking out business issues from a people perspective and doing problem-solving with data analytics.

Shared Service Centre » Analytics Engine Room   

As Automation and Robotic Processing takes over administrative tasks and AI replaces more complex HR admin tasks, the admin centre becomes obsolete but is reborn as an Analytics Engine Room that supports business problem solving and provides predictive capability to business leaders. Their outcomes inform future HR solutions. The future SSC employee is a data scientist or analyst. The engine room is not HR centric only, but can be part of a broader analytics entity or could be an outsourced service.

Centre of Excellence » HR Solution Provider

The new CoE will still require deep-skilled and experienced HR practitioners who will remain the thought leaders for appropriate people practices. They will be responsible for developing and deploying solutions which are identified by the new Alignment Agent and use data-driven outcomes from the Analytics Engine Room to validate their solutions. Solutions are not always standardised and can be focussed on providing the best solution for a part of the business.

The Ulrich model as a framework is still a relevant HR operating model, but the transition from the old roles to the new ones is an important adjustment required to support digital work environments.  It requires forward thinking executives and HR leaders to recognize the different demands of a future workforce and workplace, and an acknowledgement that technology, applied in the right way, is empowering employees and workplaces to be super-agile, and achieve significantly more. HR must change.

Some takeaway messages

  • The classic Ulrich model of HR has been the cornerstone of HR delivery for most organisations. It’s a good model, but it needs to be aligned to the emerging digital work environment
  • Much of what HR Business Partners and HR Shared Services Centres do is administrative in nature. The available HR software, automation and AI tools now available will completely change how these mundane activities are done. The Ulrich-defined roles must adapt
  • The old HR Business Partner role needs to drop the line manager ‘hand-holding’ style of management – Modern HR tools make line managers completely self-sufficient
  • Shared Services as we know it will disappear as administrative tasks are automated or managed by AI. A major skill refocus is needed to change these entities into Analytic Engine Rooms

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?

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

Your future HR System will “Persuade” you

It isn’t a new idea that computers, mobile phones, websites and wearable technologies can be built in ways which influence your behaviour or causes you to think in a new way over time. While one could argue that this is akin to brainwashing, when used appropriately it can be very beneficial to end users as well as system owners. Just think how your smart-phone or Fitbit health band has altered your behaviour without you realizing it.

The idea of “persuasive computing” was first coined around 1990 by Standford University researcher Dr BJ Fogg. Much of his current work centres on teaching technology developers the psychology of behavioural change, and how to facilitate behaviour change via their technologies. Hello, isn’t this what HR people are supposed to be good at given that Psychology is the foundation of most HR professionals education? It begs the question as to why HR software vendors have not built their solutions with more “persuasive computing” thinking which could motivate end users to behave in a way that would benefit themself, HR and the organization.

Most HRIS vendors have developed visual dashboards, alerts and many use gamification techniques to encourage end users to do things, but in my view these are largely fear based design principles rather than motivational ones. These vendors are wedded to the “principle of standardization” ~ that a system process should be applied consistently to all users irrespective of their current habits, behaviours or motivation level. We need HR software that takes an individual’s current state as a base-line and uniquely “shapes” the HR software to suit that user. In the process of “shaping”, the end user is more likely to react in a particular way, do things suitable to their current state of behaviour & motivation level all while providing HR with a platform to influencing future behaviour of that individual.

BJ Fogg makes a great point that we cannot do complex things when our motivation level is low. Likewise we have windows of opportunity to do hard and complex things when our motivation level is high. SaaS HR tools in particular gather a lot of important Meta data that could quite easily be used to measure a users’ current state of motivation or other states of mind. When a users motivation is low for example, the HR system should “reshape” to encourage easy activities, while taking advantage of times when the end user has high motivation to get more difficult and perhaps more things done, while at the same time facilitating behaviour change so that these hard tasks become easy over time and can be done when motivation is at a lower level.

As HR people, our goal must be to think outside our rigid and standardisation boxes. To much of what HR achieves in our organizations are “feats of compliance” rather than value adding benefits. This is because we are standardisation-centric rather than employee centric. I would much rather a line manager do HR tasks that he or she is motivated to do, which add real business value and develop correct habits which facilitate personal growth in effective people management than forcing a person to comply to something because “HR says so!” – technology can help us achieve this.

There’s a greater role for HR software than simple process and transactional efficiency. For a tool that has so many components linked to people behaviour, we need vendors who understand persuasion and behaviour change though technology to come to the party.

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