Why HR Technology Should Start Outside-in

Dave and his colleagues have shaped the HR profession and he has been called the “father of modern HR” and “HR thought leader of the decade”. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on the emergence of Digital HR and how to navigate in this increasingly complex field.

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I can only imagine the vast amount of HR tech trends and solutions that you have encountered during the recent years. What do you think should be the new technological advancement that HR should grasp next?

Technology has radically changed the way we do business and HR is not exempt from this. It is important to remember that HR is not about HR. First, HR is about delivering value to customers, investors, and communities outside the organization and secondly, the organization’s strategy inside. Technology enables access to digital information that helps make this happen. 

In relation to this, HR has been affected by digital progression in four phases:

1: Efficiency: The extent to which we use technology to streamline administrative HR work. 

2: Innovation: The extent to which we use technology to innovate our HR practices.

3: Information: The extent to which we use technology to access information.

4: Connection: The extent to which we use technology to create connections or experiences.

Technology has radically changed the way we do business and HR is not exempt from this.

This fourth phase of Digital HR is what I recommend as being the emerging agenda for Digital HR. HR technology must evolve from the three first phases into something that focuses on emotional attachment or connection in two ways

First, HR technology that helps employees attach to each other through personal relationships, such as collaboration networks across the world, social networks, or meaning networks that help people within the organization connect with others sharing the same values and interests.

Second, HR technology that helps employees connect to their individual sources of meaning and identity. Technology of this kind could help employees identify and connect to sources that give them purpose besides relationships and a sense of belonging to the organization. Technology of this kind should focus on how to develop the employees’ access to their respective sources of meaning within and outside of the organization. 

When you identified these four waves of Digital HR, what did you experience to be the main enabler and the main challenge in the progression of Digital HR?

The main enabler comes down to a simple logic regarding technology. Technology enables digital information which in turn enables decision making. HR should see this logic and use technology to drive value. 

When it comes to the main challenge, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the complexity of emerging technologies: Internet of things, artificial intelligence, robots (chatbots), blockchain, cloud computing, augmented (virtual) reality, machine learning, genetic editing, neural networks, etc. What does it mean for me, for organizations where I live and work, and for society?

Technology provides insights about personal choices, guides organizations to both broaden and tailor their services, and enables rapid societal change.

I savor simplicity in contrast to complexity. Simply put, technology is about accessing digital information to make decisions. An analogue watch tells time; a digital watch is a smart machine I use to access exponential information for everyday tasks. 

Any activity based on information can be advanced through technology. Technology provides insights about personal choices, guides organizations to both broaden and tailor their services, and enables rapid societal change. Technology made simple, asks the question: “What information will this new technology provide and how will that information be used to further my, or others’, purpose?”. This simple focus calms me and gives me more confidence in making use of future technology. 

What is your advice to HR professionals when navigating between a variety of solution providers and opportunities?

We asked a group of senior HR professionals, “what is the best or most important thing HR can give employees?” Their thoughtful answers were things like:  meaning, purpose, relationship, fair pay, good working conditions, and teamwork. All of these employee-related outcomes were focused inside the organization.  My alternative was that the best thing HR can give an employee is an organization that wins in the market place.  Unless and until the organization wins, the employee related activities don’t matter.  

Our research found that creating organization capabilities had 4 times the impact of individual competencies on business results. So, HR should help the organization win in the marketplace through the organization’s digital business agenda.  

The implication for HR when choosing HR technology should start outside-in by getting to know what the customers want and help the organization achieve this. The following steps can be followed to help this: 

1: Recognize that technology is about digital information that enables information. See the macro issues, not just the onslaught of ideas.

2: Become part of the business digital agenda in these five steps: Build a Business Case, Facilitate a Digital Business Team, Articulate Digital Business Outcomes, Audit Current Digital State, and Craft a Digital Business Plan. 

3: Focus less on the digital information and more on the outcomes you desire (delivering talent, leadership, and organization) to help the organization win in the marketplace.

4: Create an HR digital agenda that moves into information and connection through technology.

5: Find ways to start small and grow ra

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