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Rise of the HR Apps

Experts say the vast potential of HR-focused mobile apps may lie beyond benefits communication and recruiting, with many now designed to speed up organizational processes and reinforce desired behaviors.

Thursday, March 13, 2014
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The use of mobile apps by employees for viewing pay and benefits information is growing, while recruiting vendors continue rolling out new mobile apps designed to lure smartphone and tablet users to use their devices to apply for jobs and learn more about companies.

However, the potential of HR-focused mobile apps may lie beyond benefits communication and recruiting. A number of firms are rolling out new apps designed to help organizations harness the so-called "hive mind" of their employee population to encourage collaboration, improve managerial performance and help HR get a better read on what's really on employees' minds.

"To me, mobile is the uber-trend of consumerism," says Jason Averbook, chief business officer at San Francisco-based technology firm Appirio and a frequent speaker at the HR Technology® Conference. "Everything we do in life has a mobile aspect to it now."

The use of mobile apps grew by 115 percent last year, according to San Francisco-based research firm Flurry Analytics. A recent survey from Roseland, N.J.-based Automatic Data Processing's ADP Research Institute, based on an http://www.hreonline.com/images/178788783riseHRappsM.jpganalysis of mobile data across 5,000 ADP clients, finds that 37 percent of registered mobile users are using mobile HR applications to access their pay information, compared to 23 percent who use desktops and laptops for that purpose.

The ADP study also found that employees in industries such as construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities have a 25-percent higher concentration of employees using mobile for HR functions than any other industry -- most likely because many workers in those industries don't have regular access to a PC during the workday, says Roberto Masiero, vice president and head of ADP's Innovation Lab.

"In terms of functionality, mobile will become the main channel for workforce management and engagement," he says. "It's right there, it's personal, it's the perfect place for a company to communicate with employees, and for employees to collaborate among themselves."

Apps are also good for "pushing" information to employees -- who opt-in to receive it -- thanks to mobile-device sensors that can detect when the user is home and more likely to want information on vacation balances and benefits, says Masiero.

Recruiting is still considered the hottest area for now. One of the newest entrants in the mobile-recruiting market is New York-based Take the Interview, which has just released an app designed to let companies conduct video interviews via mobile devices.

However, relatively few companies are being proactive in mobile recruiting, judging by the results of LinkedIn's 2013 Global Recruiting Trends Survey. Forty-nine percent of 3,300 talent-acquisition leaders in 19 countries surveyed by LinkedIn said mobile recruiting "is not a priority for our company" and only 13 percent said they'd invested in making their careers sites "mobile friendly."

"These factors have made it painstakingly difficult for candidates to search for, discover and apply for jobs via mobile," says Leela Sriniasan, LinkedIn's director of marketing for talent solutions. Forty-one percent of LinkedIn members access its site via mobile devices and more than 30 percent of job views on the site come from mobile users, she said. Half of LinkedIn members who've applied via mobile for jobs posted on LinkedIn have never used a desktop for this purpose, she adds.

Companies that lack a strategy for mobile recruiting will miss out on luring and retaining the younger generation, says New York-based business consultant Jody Ordioni, who describes herself as "addicted" to her smartphone.

"Young people are in love with their mobile devices, they do everything on them -- why wouldn't they bring that same expectation to the workplace?" she says. "Mobile offers you the ability to build this immersive community where everything is at your fingertips. People should be able to consume information in the way they wish."

Mobile apps are ideal for recruiting. But thanks to location services on smartphones that can do things like display job listings in a user's immediate geographic location, Averbook says that in the near future they will also be heavily used for things such as employment testing and "pulse checking."

"I think mobile's biggest potential lies in measurement of the workforce -- the pulse of how employees are actually doing," he says. "Engagement surveys are old, backward-looking and very static -- by the time the data is cleansed and scrubbed, six months have gone by and executives will say ‘Well, that was a bad point in time when that survey was done,' whereas I can go on Twitter and Facebook and immediately detect the sentiment of the workforce."

However, Towers Watson's Adam Zuckerman says apps can supplement, but not replace, traditional employee-engagement surveys.

"You can measure sentiment or mood on a daily basis, but it doesn't make sense to measure engagement that way," says Zuckerman, who oversees the employee survey practice at New York-based Towers Watson. "Engagement doesn't change on an hourly, weekly or even monthly basis. This ‘pulse' work is valuable, but it's best done in complement with a traditional approach to get a more robust and validated measure of engagement."

Companies such as the Hay Group are releasing new suites of apps designed to speed up organizational processes and reinforce desired behaviors.

Launched last fall, Hay Group's Activate is a suite of workforce-centered mobile apps that's intended to make it easier for organizations to change the day-to-day behaviors of their managers and measure their improvement as well as recruiting and developing direct reports more quickly and effectively, and making faster and more reliable compensation decisions.

"Our Price a Job app lets managers use their mobile device to compare the salary scales for a given position in different geographies so they can decide whether they should be hiring a person in China, Dubai or the United States," says Edwina Melville-Gray, global leader for productized services at Hay Group's talent division.

"Apps for leadership development are a perfect tool to accelerate development, because people are constantly on their mobile devices -- technology has blurred the distinction between work and personal life," says Rick Lash, Hay Group's director of leadership and talent practice.

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It's a culmination of the trend among organizations to put more decision-making power in the hands of their line managers, says Lash, noting the app encourages crowdsourcing by letting users rate the leadership tips.

"Crowdsourcing lets you access thousands of experts who may not know individually how to solve a given problem but, collectively, can figure out ways to make things better than you could have ever imagined before," he says. "It lets you tap into the expertise of thousands of people who can point to certain activities they believe make a difference when it comes to engaging the talent you want to keep."

Future apps released under the Activate banner may include ones designed to make it easier to create job descriptions rapidly and help millennials become effective on the job more quickly, says Melville-Gray.

Apps are also a good way to unlock the "hidden knowledge" within organizations, says Michael Papay. His new company, Sausalito, Calif.-based waggl, has created a tool -- also called waggl -- designed to help organizations get rapid feedback from their workforces. Although waggl can be used on desktops as well as mobile devices, Papay says it's ideal for the mobile platform.

"Right now, 25 percent of users are engaging on the tool via mobile; we believe those stats are going to flip quickly," he says. "What we've been hearing from organizations is, ‘Mobile mobile, faster faster, lighter lighter.' "

"We believe there's incredible knowledge inside organizations -- it's probably their most important asset," he says. "But it's really difficult to get at it."

With waggl, HR can create an open-ended question and "pulse" it out to anywhere from 15 to 1,000 or more employees, says Papay. Employees can answer anonymously and also vote on their favorite answers from other respondents.

One of the company's clients, Domino's Pizza, used waggl to solicit ideas from its 200 top-performing franchisees on how to improve "load time" -- that is, the time it takes getting pizzas from the oven and delivered to customers. Participants then voted on what they considered to be the best ideas.

"The fact that people are able to see how other people are responding in real time, rather than waiting around for corporate to do some analysis and synthesis, takes out the lag in the process," says Papay.

Apps can be a good replacement for more traditional means of communication, says Jeff Corbin, CEO of New York-based theCOMMSapp, which has created theEMPLOYEEapp, an app technology platform designed for internal communications.

"People get inundated with emails -- it's a chore to get through them," he says. "Sometimes an important email is inadvertently deleted. Email and intranets are difficult to use on mobile devices. With an app, I can opt-in to receive push notifications when new content is added to the app." 

One of the most compelling reasons for HR to make greater use of apps, says Averbook, is that they don't necessarily have to rely on IT departments or expensive outside vendors to build them.

"Building apps is cheap and easy -- it's nothing like building traditional enterprise software application," says Averbook. "It's something companies can easily do for themselves."

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