Before my days as a trainer, speaker and author came along, I served some time on the periphery of the telecommunications industry and in some Information technology projects. I was usually the non-technical guy who acted as translator for the customers / users / muggles. I’d facilitate meetings, co-draft specs, and draft user documentation and training. I learned a lot, not the least of which is that I did not wish to do that ever again.
I can be overly keen sometimes. I’m that guy. An executive recruitment firm once reported on me as being “infectiously enthusiastic”. I’m taking that with all the good graces and positivity of a description that includes the term “infectious”. But I get it. One of the things into which I launch myself with enthusiasm is tech. And, one of the learnings from my time in the tech trenches is that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors. To temper the odds of any future disproportionate or unwarranted enthusiasm on tech or any subject, I like to look back in time on the internet. In 2007, what was being touted as the next big thing, is it big now, or is it even an actual thing at all yet? What was the much-hyped HR tech of ten years ago? Is it here now and is it kicking digital butt?
I feel like I want to draw up a bingo grid and include terms such as ‘big data’, ‘UX’ and ‘disruptive’. Were they on the cards ten years ago or are they just around the horizon? If you’re ever lost in a desert, you’ll know that the only thing just around the horizon is another horizon. We’ve all been there. I only do it for the hallucinations. If you’re ever lost in a dessert, well done.
There is one prediction I found most often from back in 2007 that seems to have played out solidly today. I’ll quote it directly, “Fear automation not outsourcing”. It’s kind of tech-facing, although not specifically relating to HR tech. Unless you work in HR, which as readers of this publication, you almost certainly are.
There is a pill bottle today that has enough tech in its lid to verbally remind people to take their meds. Convergence is a thing. It happened with TVs and computers, with phones and everything else, and, according to some political spokespeople, with microwaves and spy cameras. With HR tech, the time is now or soonish for talent management to hybreed with ERP. I’d also like to copyright my word “hybreed”. Another key battleground for tech folk generally, including HR, is UX or User eXperience. Finally, users are no longer the doormats we were back in 2007. Now, the people poking screens matter. Now, poking screens actually does something. I’m not sure why anyone would’ve been poking their screens back in 2007?
Taps are replacing clicks as mobile devices are the means by which we all do our thing. When Bill gates first mooted “a computer on every desktop”, that was seen as a boon. Now, computers on desktops are a hassle unless you’re a power gamer. Most HR professionals shouldn’t be power gamers. Least not at work anyways. Especially don’t recreate your organisation’s people using Sims or some kind of role play gaming software. The last thing we need is HR folk getting all ‘Game Of Thrones’ with their talent management. I got my hair cut yesterday by someone talking about their kids at school and “achieved, merit and extinction”. I think she meant “distinction” and it probably should’ve been “excellence”. We don’t want HR tech driving extinction but we probably do want HR tech driving distinction. This is where big data analytics comes in.
Big data is definitely a reality but the next thing of note is the analytics to make finessing it and extracting value from it viable, practical, ethical and efficient.
My favourite HR tech is in the L&D space and it isn’t MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) although they are great. It’s micro-learning – what you need, where you need, when you need it. People forget things they don’t use much so having a ‘library’ of resources online available via mobile devices is an excellent adjunct to traditional training. I had an outside lightbulb that had shattered with no way to grip it to twist it out. Via YouTube, I found a ninety second video from Bosnia with the solution – stick a potato in the broken bulb and twist. I lived to tell the tale and that is useful L&D tech.
My main worry with tech is that they have developed software (and this is real, although still in the early stages) that can detect sarcasm in the written word. Wow, it looks like they were right in 2007, I do have to fear automation.
I MC’d several HR conferences recently, here and in Singapore. One of the reasons conferences occur is to pick up on trends and, certainly, technology features predominantly amongst trends. Phrases get thrown around like ‘big data’ and everyone goes “ooh” or “grr”. I’m a fan of irony and nothing tickles me more than a presenter on a technology topic who includes a link to an online video in their presentation and then expresses incredulous surprise when it either doesn’t connect at all, or streams erratically. They’re genuinely astonished that the conference venue doesn’t have broadband as good as their high tech headquarters where they tested everything. I so applaud their optimism but c’mon, download it, edit it and embed it. If you can’t get that right, what faith can we have in your product?
Many of these videos are from futurists and fans of the movie ‘Minority Report’. It’s like a drinking game at HR conferences – every time you see a scene in a presenter’s video where someone pinches or swipes the air in front of their face and a holographic ‘screen’ opens and floats there and they tap it or throw it to a wall, you have to skull your drink. Fortunately, at conferences it’s just water with way too much ice. This presents risks of its own but at least intoxication isn’t one of them.
Chickens and eggs, horses and carts – one of those represents the relationships between HR practices and HR technology. For example, one of the speakers quoted a prediction that, within a few years, professional firms will have on average a 50-50 blended workforce. So, half your people will not be employees but may be contractors or some variation on that theme. This floating, flexible, just-in-time talent pool may or may not be located on your premises. Is this trend occuring because mobile technology enables it or is mobile technology being developed to profit from the trend. I think it’s chickens and eggs.
Another process that’s not necessarily all about technology but technology is making it so much more do-able and everyone is increasingly familiar with it because of online activity is rating. The international speakers at the Singapore conference talked a lot about rating. One example was semi-formal ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) ‘pulse checks’ from employees using an app or an intranet link instead of, or in addition to, infrequent and more in-depth engagement surveys. Another example was online forums where people can rate their boss like they’d rate a book on Amazon or rate a restaurant on Yelp. Starting at a job might be more navigatable if you had as part of your orientation and induction an app called ‘Job Advisor’ akin to ‘Trip Advisor’. If you won’t stay at anything less than a four star hotel, why would you even contemplate working for anything less than a four star boss? (Five stars is the best. Unless it’s a planetarium, in which case five stars is terrible).
Needless to say, there were mixed feelings about such rating systems. That’s not to throw shade at the technology. The issues seemed to be more about how the ratings were conducted, privacy, and human nature.
Singapore was full of rating. The moment you legally entered the country through immigration, a tablet on a post was your first impression. Glowing pink and yellow, it offered a five point likert scale to assess the experience you just had with immigration. Five cartoon faces ranging from very smiley to very non smiley. Again, I admire the optimism but the person I was rating (and who had the authority to detain me for forty eight hours) was only one metre behind me! I gave them a pretty smiley but not very smile face and scurried on my way. The next such panel I encountered was on my way out of the toilet. The screen had the same likert scale of smiley faces but also had a photo of someone I assume was the person responsible for the state of the toilets. (Either that or employee of the month). It was actually a great toilet experience and I would have absolutely given them the highest rating but if there’s one touch screen I’m not touching, it’s there. Maybe if they had a foot operated survey? I feel the same way about the door handles and the taps.
The thing with technology is that it’s a tool. Someone makes it and hopes there’s a need or someone observes there is a need and creates a tool to solve a problem, meet a challenge or fill a gap. You want to avoid the former.
An obvious feature about conferences is the expo section where vendors pitch their wares and many are tech outfits promoting the latest shiny thing. By all means pop your business card in the bowl and win that champagne but know your needs before you go shopping.
Mentoring is a great idea and doesn’t need technology but can technology help? I saw an app where mentors and mentees can connect without any need for human mediation. It’s a lot like Tinder (but not too much like Tinder).