Paul McNamara, Partner within the Interim Management Human Resources Practice at Eton Bridge Partners, says HRDs could learn a lot by adopting a learning attitude to HR technology:
It’s often said that when it comes to knowing about technology, there are just two different types of HRD: those that know their stuff, and those that do not.
To my mind, this is a rather harsh evaluation. In my experience most HRDs accept that they (and their peers), are on a very important technology journey. They understand their business is changing; they know digital disruption means it’s data, analytics, and strategic talent planning [based on modeling skills] that are the skills they need to demonstrate to add boardroom value. But as much as the sector is changing, I know from experience that there is still a significant cohort of HRDs out there that aren’t even asking the right questions about what technology needs to do, and how it can take their business to greater heights.
While some of this might be down to having legitimate tech hang-ups (many I talk to still remember the pain of rolling-out huge enterprise systems that promised so much but seemed to deliver little), I think the reason is a lot simpler. It’s my view HR can be just too internally focused – they just don’t know about the mass of different technology options out there.
It’s why people like Devyani Vaishampayan – former global head of HRD at Rolls Royce, and regional HRD at G4S – really do stand out from the crowd. I recently had the pleasure of meeting her in her capacity as managing partner of her latest venture – angel investor, HR Tech Partnership. Vaishampayan doesn’t just want HRDs to know about HR tech, she wants them to put their money where their mouth is, by getting them to actually invest in start-ups servicing the HR sector.
It’s a novel idea – and it’s already attracted a few HRDs to open their wallets – but its raison d’être is far more important than simply funding new tech start-ups. In starting this venture, she’s also on a mission to implore more HRDs to understand the sorts of emerging HR technology that could have an impact on them and their businesses. Did you even know – for instance – that in the last year alone, some 350 start-ups launched in the HR sector? Probably not, but as she says: “If HR leaders want to be ahead of the curve, they need to realise digitisation is a topic that impacts the whole organisation.”
Vaishampayan adds: “HR technology has moved on so much in the last decade. No longer is it simply about reactive HRIS systems. Technology operates across the whole HR spectrum, from workforce planning to recruitment all the way through to talent, engagement and culture.”
Unsurprisingly Vaishampayan doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to saying what she thinks needs to change: “I’m seeing a lot of innovative stuff being done, yet when you come inside organisation everything’s still very clunky.” She adds: “While I might be generalising, I still feel HRDs are scared of it because they don’t quite have the understanding of what that means. Very few HR directors understand the data that they could have at their fingertips and then how they use it.” She concludes: “At the end of the day business respects the language of data. It respects some real insights and that’s what HR leaders need to start getting.”
They’re tough words – but if things are to truly change, perhaps we’ve reached a point where it’s no longer appropriate to feel offended by such protestations; that HRDs should actually listen and do something about it.
The fact is HR technology really has changed. It’s no longer about large, unwieldy systems that take years to implement. The sector is now much more about niche, nimble, specialist providers, selling cloud-based plug-and-play solutions that easily bolt on to what most organisations already have. If anything, I feel the message Vaishampayan really wants to press is that HRDs simply need to have more of an open mind – so they can be more aware of the technology landscape around them, rather than saying ‘it’s the IT department’s domain’, or ‘it’s something that I stand no chance of being able to catch up on.’
Sure, for those who have possibly let technology pass them by, the initial learning curve they need to scale might well be steep. But if HR is to really be commercial, and provide genuine ROI, they at least need to be able to take part in business conversations. Boning up on what the latest innovative and business-changing technology is out there is now essential. Yes, it can be hard to suddenly know everything all at once, but building knowledge only ever creates positive outcomes.
At the very least, it will equip HRDs to better quiz providers about what exactly it is they provide, and what difference it will give them. Maybe that will prevent them from making the same mistakes of the past, when they were ‘sold’ a system not right for them. If there’s ever been the time to take tech even more seriously, it’s now. Why don’t you make owning the technology conversation your New Year’s resolution for 2019?
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