A Three-Prong Lens
Here are three categories through which today's potentially most disruptive HR-technology solutions can be assessed.
By Steve Boese
One of the highlights of the recently concluded HR Technology Conference and Exposition was the record-breaking Expo Hall, which featured nearly 400 technology solution providers offering an almost dizzying array of tools, technologies and innovative approaches to help organizations with HR, talent-management, employee-engagement and other workplace challenges.
But such a plethora of modern and innovative technologies also presents quite a challenge for HR and business leaders in that the growth of the HR-technology market and landscape has made the identification, research, assessment and eventual selection of the "right" technology solution all the more challenging. Probably the most frequent type of question I get from HR leaders over the course of the year is: "There are so many HR-tech solutions out there; how can I figure out which ones I should give my time and attention?"
Note that this kind of question is different from "Which applicant-tracking (or learning-management system, or payroll solution) system is the best one?" I do get those questions too, of course, but probably less frequently than in the past, as most HR leaders today understand that there is never a universal "best" solution for anything, but rather a "best" solution for the individual organization, and its unique goals, requirements and circumstances. Lately the discussions and challenges I hear about from HR leaders seem more focused on trying to make sense of a complex and growing HR-tech market, and how to best take advantage of all this growth and innovation.
One way for HR leaders to approach these kinds of challenges and determine how to spend their time and resources is to consider innovative and potentially disruptive HR technologies across a set of three criteria or broad categories of impact. I'd like to take a look at these three broad-impact categories and offer examples of how new HR-technology solutions fit into each.
Category One: If the HR solutions reduce or eliminate organizational barriers for HR and employees
There are a slew of HR technologies that are necessary and essential for organizations to either own or license for regulatory and compliance reasons. In other words, every organization that has regular employees has to, at a minimum, have a way to pay them, and to complete all the required tax filings and payments. This category is not really about those kinds of technologies. (If your organization has a critical need to solve such compulsory challenges, then you probably should take care of those before entertaining the idea of adopting new or disruptive HR technology.)
This category is more about enabling organizational success via the elimination or reduction of the friction points that can hold people back from getting work done effectively and efficiently. You can get to the direct impact of implementing technologies in this category by asking questions such as, "Where does our employee's workflow get bogged down?" or "Where do we have data manually replicated in multiple systems?"; or simply by asking teams and leaders can simply be asked to talk about "What is it that makes my job more difficult than it needs to be?"
Some real HR-technology solutions that help to solve problems in this category include learning systems that can surface content and assets in real-time and in context when employees need them the most or even more technical solutions that better integrate, validate and keep clean key HR-data elements and values across multiple systems. Almost every new HR-technology solution you introduce into the organization should solve at least one important "barrier" problem and eliminate a pain point for your targeted audience once it is adopted.
Category Two: If the HR solutions help to elevate customer service -- for internal customers or external customers
At the HR Tech Conference, one of the more interesting technology developments I remember seeing was an example of a deeper integration between an employee self-service type of portal and the company's HR-shared-service-center knowledge base and help-desk functionality. The idea here is that if employees were viewing their payslips or benefits enrollments and needed more information or had a question about the information they were viewing, they could, with one click, launch a "help" ticket or process to indicate to HR they needed assistance. HR practitioners would not only see that the request was made, they would automatically have all the needed context from the page or subset of information the employee was viewing.
This kind of capability is an excellent example of HR-technology innovation designed to help HR elevate the customer service it provides to the employees, via making access to help and additional information more readily available, accessible, and without requiring the employees to learn some new system or workflow. They just needed to click "Help".
Another example could be in retail, with the adoption of modern and smarter employee-scheduling technology that can integrate with non-HR information such as anticipated store-traffic patterns, scheduled promotions, and even external signals such as weather, to better schedule, align and deploy staff to provide better and more optimized levels of customer service. This is also one of the best examples of how HR technologies can have a direct impact on the measurements that CEOs likely care about the most -- revenue, profits and customer satisfaction.
Category Three: If the HR solutions help to support and create a differentiated and personalized employee experience
I am going to jump ahead of myself and offer a sneak peek bit of my planned 2017 preview column, and predict that the word "personalization" will be one of most talked-about words and concepts in HR technology next year. If you think about all the personal technology tools and apps that you enjoy the most in your spare time, at least one of the primary reasons you engage with them is that they feel personalized to your needs and preferences. This happens through a combination of direct-preference setting (you decide which people you are friends with on Facebook, for example) and is augmented by the application's ability to "learn" about you in order to present you with information, assistance and options that it "thinks" you would like to see and engage with.
This combination has proven extremely powerful, popular and sticky, whether through social networks such as Facebook, e-commerce sites such as Amazon or even subscription services such as StitchFix. All of these have achieved this idea of individual and personalized experiences, but on a large scale.
For the HR-technology equivalents, you can think of solutions that will help enable and prepare personalized and customized employee-offer letters, tailored to the individual candidate; personalized benefits and perks plans that take into account each employee's preferences and needs; individualized career-development plans and career paths that are responsive to the individual's own unique goals and skills; or bespoke onboarding plans that vary based on a combination of individual preferences and positional requirements.
The ultimate trifecta, of course, would be an HR-technology solution that meets all three of the aforementioned criteria.
With so many exciting, new and potentially disruptive HR technologies that have emerged in recent years, it is important for HR and business leaders to have a guide or a framework with which to consider how to invest organizational resources. I think it's helpful to keep the categories listed above as part of the process when making these important decisions. This kind of an approach, thinking about new technologies in terms of the fundamental impact they will have on the organization, workforce and the ability to serve the organization's customers and mission, will help HR and business leaders avoid simply chasing the next, latest, and coolest tool, and remain concentrated on those technologies that fit the organization the best and ultimately matter most.
Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.