HR role in the new digital era

HR role in the new digital era

Authored by: Prashant Rai, Head of Human Resources, Training, CSR & Admin, Arohan Financial Services Limited.

I have recently started keeping track of the number of mailers I receive on the new HR start-up technology companies that keep connecting with you over email, LinkedIn and even Facebook. With time, the numbers are increasing exponentially. Many of us tend to avoid these mails due to lack of time or delegate to the team for them to review, but the few that you do call for a discussion out of sheer curiosity, brings with it some interesting surprises. A recent example is worth noting where I had this young computer engineer presenting to me on some of the most revolutionary ideas and concepts on ‘doing HR better’!! Some even left me wondering ‘How did that skip my mind?’!! We all understand that times are changing and the level of disruption across the societal ecosystem is just going to increase with every passing day. But, are we prepared?

Today, the digital tsunami and the speed at which it is moving is compelling businesses to relook into their operative model, their strategic plan and also their framework. HR also proactively or reactively has to undergo this test of time and transformation and adapt to this new wave. This is easier said and done in the present context. In fact, according to a recent Gartner report ‘HR organisations spend as much as 70-80 percent of their time dealing with administrative activities and employee/manager questions and issues’. In such a scenario, are we prepared for the next leap forward? Will digitalizing certain HR processes, just for the sake of it, give us the desired outcomes or will buying expensive technologies solve our existing people problems in the organisation? How should we look at being a part of the digital revolution and navigate within the organisation and keep the relevance of ‘Human’ in HR where AI, machine learning and talking bots are taking centre stage?

In my view, there are three aspects an HR professional needs to evaluate before riding on the digital band wagon.

  • Evaluate your business realities
  • People-first approach
  • Test before you trust

Evaluating your business realities: Every organisation is at a certain stage of their journey. Their size and nature of business play a critical role in determining their ability to be agile. While organisations may have all the right intent but people, as well as, the organisation itself take years to fully embrace any change. Hence the leadership team must first align its thought to what going digital mean to the organisation and how it impacts their business model. HR, as a strategic partner, has a dual role to play, first highlighting the present scenario on people and organisation’s adaptability to change and second to integrate the right people into the organisation and helping the existing employees and leaders gain the desired competencies to be able to drive this transformation. Before looking into its own functional realities, HR need to evaluate the business realities, think innovatively to drive communication and sensitisation among the people to being future ready. It is only then that HR’s desire for a new technology will gain relevance.

People-first Approach: Maximum firms today are Organisation-centric, not employee-centric, which serves as a major bottleneck for executing HR digital transformation. Most conversation are on reducing cost and reducing people basis which approval are given on any technology investment. While those are one aspect of the outcome, the other aspect which is mostly overlooked is on building a system that provides a customized employee experience. Imagine a situation where employees can make their choices on the salary structure they would like to have, benefits they would like to avail, decide their place of work and their working hours, choose their career path and decide the training they would like to undertake. Many progressive organisation are already speeding up on many of these employee centric approach to HR, and digitalization would definitely help enhance this experience better. The next level of conversation for HR is to be able to influence the leadership team on having discussions pertaining to employees becoming increasingly digital in their personal life and the need for the organisation to adapt to this new workforce. Today, employees using Google, Bing and other search engines are only two clicks aware from finding the information they need, some even get it personalised, and they expect the same in their work environment as well. Aggregators like Uber, Ola, Air BnB, OYO etc are providing attractive offers and reward on frequent intervals and similar expectation on instant gratification is what the new generation seeks. Hence for HR, digitalization should be able to resolve some of these expectations by building on a people-first approach.

Test before you trust: Digital transformations spawn marvels and opportunities but there is also a significant ethical concern with regards to data privacy. Today, for any organisation data is power but in most cases there is a lack of initiative by the companies to create ethical and control policies, as well as, train people in handling data with care and responsibility. HR as the custodian of employee data in the organisation has to be sensitive on how this data is being used and how employee privacy is protected. In selecting your HR software, the vendor credibility becomes paramount when you have lakhs of personal information floating in the cloud. Hence, while idea on new HR digitalization may look appealing, who knows it could be a Trojan Horse implanted to extract valuable information from the organisation which has way better market value in comparison to the software cost.

In this digital era, our fascination is more on the ‘front-end’ and majority of us may not have the competence and the willingness to look beyond. However, Human Resources as the conscience keeper in the organisation has to venture into asking the difficult question on talent readiness, skill-set gaps, privacy issues and ethical codes which are critical for the organisation’s sustainability in this new digital era.