A People-less HR Function?

For decades, Human Resources has driven transformation programmes that have aimed to build better working practices, processes and experiences for employees, managers and candidates. Early transformations involved large scale enterprise resource platforms (ERP) such as PeopleSoft or SAP. These systems drove standardisation and cost reduction, but the excessive customisation of these systems (presumably to meet “business requirements”) left many organisations with a more tangled mess than when they began.
More recently, Human Resources continues to be one of the most disrupted functions. The push towards self-service via improved HR systems and the development of lower-cost offshore expertise has led to structural operating model changes. Centralised help desks are now the norm. And on-site HR support has now migrated to higher value “business partnering”, enabled by investment in stronger manager and leader capability – which has allowed less abdication of ‘people stuff’ to HR, and retention of talent acquisition, management and progression activity in the business. All of this has aimed to drive increasingly lower ratios of HR staff to employees and managers, and lower HR cost per FTE (full time equivalent).
So, given the changes to date, will companies that have aggressively pursued these transformative strategies now enter a stage of stablisation? Or alternatively, will the digital world (the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution) that we are in lead to more step-changes … perhaps even trending to a “people-less” HR functionshock horror, the most people-oriented of all functions?
We think it is closer to the latter. Further maturing and convergence of technology – and more ‘use cases’ – will result in increased self-service and automation and result in improved productivity. More importantly, contemporary digital solutions are more adaptable and focussed on user-centricity than ever before which means improved performance effectiveness, engagement and retention of talent.
Here are three examples of how the future of HR talent capability is shaping up in the business-critical activity of identifying, attracting and recruiting talent:

Job Application and Candidate Screening

Faced with the common scenario of hundreds of job applications for a single vacancy, most recruiters take short cuts. CVs are scanned quickly, and given scarcity of time, typically only to the point where a long list is accumulated. Where technology is used, very rudimentary ‘key word searches’ are applied. Once a long list is accumulated, a detailed shortlisting review will then be done.
Such a technique is sub-optimal in a number of ways – including potentially not even examining the CV of ‘Candidate #499’ (which is at the bottom of the pile) – who may be the best candidate. This means that the organisation is barely cognisant of the wider pool of talent available, so it is a good starting point for digital solutions to improve access to talent.
impress.ai is a company that has developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered candidate screening software, where CVs are loaded into a “chatbot”, and analysed within seconds. The chatbot – which looks and feels like a text messaging or WhatsApp interaction – then conducts an immediate intelligent conversation with the applicant, beginning with simple validation questions e.g. “May I call you Maya?”. The questions then progress to more intelligent ones, based on the software analysing the CV, and interpreting previous responses against the Position Description (PD) and selection criteria. For example: “What technologies and scoring system did you use when you were a credit analyst at HSBC?” – or – “What were your two biggest ‘fails’ and what were your learnings?”
Several questions later, the AI-chatbot is concluded by thanking the candidate. And hundreds of candidates later (noting that the chatbots can be work 24/7 and simultaneously), the entire set of CVs are ranked for review by the recruiter.
The trials of the software have revealed numerous benefits, including:

  • Faster turnaround times, as ranking can be done instantaneously after the last applicant is ‘interviewed’
  • Better and more consistent outcomes – rankings are proving to be better than the best recruiters, the program never gets tired and the chatbot elicits information not in the CV for inclusion during ranking
  • Better candidate experience – they can apply at a time of their convenience, feel engaged and appreciate being notified almost immediately of the outcome given faster processing times
  • Better productivity, of course, from less recruiter time through the process

Candidate Interviewing

In most large organisations, first round face-to-face interviews are conducted by recruiters or less senior staff; with the ultimate decision-makers typically interviewing the final list of short-listed candidates. This typically delivers a standardised, fair and efficient approach. However, with the need to understand and identify more complex requirements for talent, this approach can sometimes fall short, and talented candidates can be inadvertently cut too early.
myInterview seeks to expedite the interviewing process by offering online video interviews where candidates are posed up to 10 questions and given 30 seconds to review each question before responding, thus mimicking live interviews where candidates must think on their feet. With all ‘interviews’ fully recorded, hiring managers and teams can then review all interviews, and select those for proceeding to the face-to-face interviews.
The benefits are significant – offering an efficient process but also better effectiveness (as teams can collectively participate in decision-making) and improved candidate experience , since more candidates can be interviewed (even if not face-to-face).

Reference, Qualification & Security Checking

Every day, thousands of qualifications and references of candidates are checked; by thousands of recruiters, prior to issuing job offers. Simultaneously, fresh requests are made for various background checks e.g. police records across multiple jurisdictions. This activity is not only inefficient but introduces unnecessary delay in the recruiting process.
What if a system were in place that offered pre-validated records, qualifications and references – to a level of stringency that would provide confidence to employers? It would save thousands of hours of effort for prospective employers, candidates, and for organisations or individuals providing the referrals.
Distributed ledger technology (DLT, such as Blockchain) is one technology that can enable this. Best known for being the enabler of Bitcoin, DLT use cases are being developed in a variety of other industries. In this case, each chain could represent an individual; with blocks representing each record (i.e. reference, qualification, etc.). What this would allow if for records to be changed, as circumstances change e.g. if a crime is committed, the record would automatically be amended.
Such a validated personal records platform does not exist today, but should not be too far away given the substantial benefits available.
These examples demonstrate activity that involves collaboration between technology and experienced HR practitioner know-how. The expert HR practitioner provides insight to craft the position descriptions (PDs), question and frame the systems ‘AI-logic’, for example. HR practitioners will also play an important role in coaching and building manager capability to interpret the findings and then overlay their own business context and intuition.
In all this digital disruption, it is easy to lose sight on the fact that the heart of the digital transformation of HR is the capability development of the people to learn, adapt and embrace a progressive way of working.
Training has already undergone much change, with online training replacing much physical delivery. Expect more digital delivery, using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) tools – which will allow for personalised simulations that better mimic real-life situations. Smartphone-delivered training via e.g. podcasts, will potentially also allow training to be received anywhere and anytime.
Expect AI and data-inspired training programs to be individually configured for staff. For example, if you’re taking twice as long to construct a PowerPoint presentation as your colleagues, expect this to be detected through your usage – with a recommended course delivered seamlessly to your iPhone. There will be no human intervention required, apart from the initial program design and development of analytics to detect the training need.
The challenge is no longer with the technology of delivering capability development programmes – it is the individual’s motivation to start, actively participate and complete the work. Business requires a culture shift from development being ‘extra’ to having capability development at the heart of any digital transformation.

So What? – the Impact on HR

What does all this mean for HR? It means several things:

  • Expect disruption in all areas of HR practices. We have focused on recruitment and capability, however there are plenty of advancements in employee engagement (e.g. automated analytics, reports and surveys), and in other HR processes.
  • Digitisation/technology will offer the trifecta opportunity of improving the efficacy and efficiency of the function, as well as the employee experience. New use cases and technologies should therefore be examined closely, with the view to introducing them as soon as possible.
  • Development of the new technologies will create a hump of work for HR experts e.g. to develop candidate prioritisation algorithms. However, once the initial investment of effort is over, only exception-based and validation work of this nature may be required e.g. when a unique role is being advertised.
  • Given that technology will replace the high volume of transactional support that most HR functions provide, graduate and post-graduate programmes require immediate redesign to facilitate viable career paths that emphasise the HR practitioner know-how required to work with the emerging technologies.
  • The capability of managers to drive their talent acquisition, career development and retention can’t be overlooked any longer. HR has a critical role to play in up-skilling the management community (from team leader to CEO).

Now What? – Actions for CEOs and HR Directors

The significant benefits of efficiency, effectiveness and superior employee/candidate experience through use of rapidly emerging and converging technologies offer – in aggregate – a competitive advantage for organisations that embrace the full potential.
Companies would therefore be remiss not to interrogate the options, and the recommended actions are reasonably straightforward, although far from trite:

  • ‘Stocktake’ all current HR activities – whether undertaken by HR, the business or outsourced, and ascertain the efficacy, efficiency and experience quality (quantifying in a benchmarkable manner as much as possible).
  • Similarly, stocktake all current manager capabilities and activities – to ascertain what is required to eliminate the un-productive reliance on HR through increasing manager capabilities to build and deliver a strong and talented workforce.
  • Understand the potential as afforded by current technology, trends and what’s being deployed by other companies and even similar functions. The potential lies not only in the technology and how it is used, but also the new business models that are emerging.
  • Develop a strategy – that may encompass ‘waves’ of change, including detail on how the corporate capability will need to evolve – and wrap with a program that has all the requisite ingredients for success e.g. leadership from the top, program structure and governance, etc.

Driving these transformational changes will require innovative and courageous HR Directors, but not on their own. CEOs must be the biggest champions for change, and the entire leadership team must drive the culture and behaviours to drive a contemporary approach to talent and HR for the business.
Image: Shutterstock

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on March 30th, 2017.

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