What digital really means to HR ? (Part #1)

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When we talk about HR and digital, I often see two kinds of reactions among observers. For some the game is already over and HR missed the train or gave up. Others, like me, think that’s digital transformation is a true opportunity that some HR are ready to catch – while being aware that this opportunity may be the last.

But there’s a point everybody agrees on  : this field is mainly in their territory and their absence is a total waste. Not digital as such but the transformation process that will lead a business to really become digital. If The role of HR is not to reinvent business operations – except theirs – but to create the conditions, the environment that will allow business managers to reinvent their operations.

Then, if an HR department decides to take the lead on this matter or suddenly realizes that downgrade is near and wonders how to jump in the train, some clarification may be needed.

Here’s a non exhaustive quick overview of the ways HR can – or must – contribute to digital transformation. You’ll find three kind of matters :

1°) those that are owned by HR and impacted by digital

2°) Those that owned by others and where HR are needed to create the conditions of success

3°) Those where HR have a normative role.

So let’s go !.

 

Well being at work

Digital helps to transform work to make it more flexible and comfortable for users. Maybe that’s not the best example because not really objective but when ATOS talks about their “Well Being” program it’s easy to see how much technology contributes to it. Same for their “zero-email initiative” that is a part of the Well Being program.

On the other side we must be careful and not be overoptimistic. Digital and mobile make work omnipresent, allow him to get rid of place and time related constraint, up to dangerous imbalance. We’re often told that the frontier between work and personal lives are blurring but that’s only partly true. For obvious reasons it will always be easier for work to take a seat at your home than for your personal life to take one in your office. What used to be fun and convenient ca become painful depending if whether it’s a chosen situation (flexibility to deal with anything unexpected) or a situation employees are forced to accept.

To be honest we need to recognize that those who promote these work practices in the extreme are more often on the side of those who have the choice than of those who don’t. That said the facts are here : in terms of work hardness and psychosocial risks there are limits to be set and HR can’t leave this field to others or wait to see for too long. It’s sure that laws have to adapt but, meanwhile, they are what they are and the risk is actual on the health side for employees and the legal one for businesses.

 

BYOD

Of course, BYOD is an IT matter. But thinking is nothing but that is a big mistake. For some it’s a part of well-being programs. It’s also a part of the employer brand and a HR marketing and employee experience lever. It comes with new liabilities and responsibilities on both the employer and employee side. Here again the right balance has to be found between risks and benefits : letting things go is a mistake, prohibiting everything is one too and can be counterproductive. This is a field HR must understand to make informed decisions rather than leaving the field to others or systematically prohibiting to avoid asking themselves the right questions. The failure of BYOD programs is often caused by poorly balanced policies which HR are partly responsible for.

Data, Big Data, analytics

That’s the cliché of the moment but what is sure is that no business will escape from it. Call it Big Data HR, HR analytics or whatever you want, HR will have to adopt a data culture for two reasons.

The first is obvious. If asked “do you want the decisions related to human capital management to be based on data or intuition”‘ what would you answer ? Most all all if you have to assume the decisions and the related costs. If asked “do you want to move forward blindfolded or rely on a predictive model that helps you to anticipate the consequences of your decisions ?” what would you answer ? If the benefits of HR Analytics are well known, it’s a real challenge for professionals who have always considered that the human matter, the noble one, is not compatible with numbers and equations.

The second is the consequence of the first. We’ll use more and more data to make decisions, drive operations, in any field. When it comes to human capital it’s easy to see how things become sensitive, to what extent the need for trust and transparency about of data are collected, processed and used is key. A data culture and, even more, data ethics can’t be mandated overnight and HR have the responsibility of working on this point. Preparing this is preparing the future, leaving the field is like leaving a time bomb right in the middle of the office.

Employer brand and social employee

I already mentioned employer branding in the “BYOD” part of this post but that’s only a side of the matter.As the talent war is raging, your employees are your first ambassadors and your first detractors, most of all when we take into account the “network effect” and how it weights in people’s decisions to join a company or another.

Here we’re face a major contradiction. Everybody wants ambassadors but no one trust employees to become voices and personify the company’s brand and know-how. And when employers are open, employees don’t feel they are and are afraid of making mistakes despite of their good will.

The social and digital enterprise won’t exist without leaders, managers, employees able to personify and carry this new reality. It’s a matter of acculturating employees that are not that late at digital that leaders think. It’s a matter of ambassadors.

That’s enough for a first post. More to come next week.