HR Roles for Technology, Digital, and Competitiveness [Session Summary]


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The following article is a short summary of a presentation at The CHRO Virtual Summit by Dave Ulrich, Professor of Business at Ross School of Business, and Partner at the RBL Group.

Throughout his career, Dave Ulrich has been focused on the question of how HR can create value by being a true partner to the business. In the current day, he argues that this question has to take into consideration the emerging digital aspect of the business partner model. To this end, the question HR professionals should really ask is: what is the value in digital for HR, in the process of creating value for the business? The concept of ‘digital’ itself is quite simple; technology better enables us to have access to digital information that will help us to win in the marketplace. Ulrich further breaks this down into two specific areas of focus for HR as a function; how can HR support the digital business agenda, and how can HR build a digital HR agenda? Both of these questions are essential, as without a response to either, HR’s role in the evolving digital business will be found lacking.
“Digital should leverage that traditional (HR) agenda, and that means we don’t just have an activity of an employee showing up, we help that employee manage the process – the employee experience – but we especially help through digital find meaning and purpose”
Ulrich suggests that before HR dives into digital and invests a significant amount of time and resources, it’s important to understand the current context of digital technologies. Without any doubt, AI, robotics, and other tools are far more advanced than they have ever been in the past. However, the processing power they possess is still nowhere near the capacity of the human brain. Ulrich suggests, to sideline fears about technology impacting jobs and careers, is that for the time being, even with the most advanced technological formulations of human and AI, that there would simply have to be a merger of tasks. AI may be able to filter out 7 out of 10 job applicants for you, but the final three interviews should always be done by a qualified professional and handled with a human touch. Furthermore, while so many industries are undergoing a digital transformation, the individual requirements and strategies for each will vary. This itself presents unique challenges for individual HR departments, as they must support the overall business transformation, along side their own individual HR transformation.

How will HR support a digital business strategy?

Ulrich suggests that HR leaders must take their seat at the table when it comes to developing a digital strategy for the business. He describes five key tasks that HR can undertake to support the wider business transformation.
  1. HR can help to build the business case, as it is positioned to articulate awareness upon wider trends to other business leaders
  2. HR can help facilitate the construction of a multi-functional digital business team, after all, HR knows a lot about creating and managing teams.
  3. HR can help articulate digital business outcomes. HR is very capable of setting goals and measuring outcomes.
  4. HR can help audit the current digital state of the organization with the help of key business stakeholders.
  5. HR can help draft a digital business plan.

How can HR build a digital HR agenda?

Ulrich suggests that in order to build a digital HR agenda, it’s important to understand the logical process for digital HR evolution. He warns against getting too far ahead of the situation and being carried away with zealously implementing the latest AI, chatbots, and tools. All of that technology gives HR digital insights to help performance improve, but they are only a part of the process in reaching a mature end state, which is arguably more adaptive than technical. Ulrich presents four key steps in this agenda.

  • HR Efficiency
    • In this phase, HR can use technology to make faster decisions in its existing job, as well as building core platforms to manage processes more effectively.
  • HR Innovation/Effectiveness
    • Here, HR can use technology to upgrade its practices in people management (especially within performance, recruitment, communication, and organization). In this phase, investing in digital innovations that improve upon existing systems and processes should become more of a priority. In order manage these innovations, Ulrich suggests 5 prioritization criteria that need to be satiated.
      • Is the innovation outside in?
      • Does it deliver value to customers and investors?
      • Does it build on previous research and practice? Does it offer an integrated solution?
      • Does it deliver on strategy and goals?
      • Does it fit with the values and culture HR is trying to set?
  • Information
    • At this stage, HR mostly has the tools and processes in place to greatly facilitate the flow of information throughout the business. As such, it becomes important to leverage both structured and unstructured information. This means that HR will be able to bring external information inside; making use of not just formal ‘spreadsheet’ data from the workforce, but data from external interactions (for instance, social media) that can provide further insight and drive effectiveness.
  • Connection/Experience
    • At this point, Ulrich suggests it’s possible to forget what matters most. In the midst of great technological advancement, social isolation and loneliness are huge threats to the business and wider social environment. Ulrich argues that HR now has a greater ability to combat social isolation by using technology to make social connections, and by creating ways to boost belonging. Despite this, meaning-making will always involve solid human relationship practices. Ulrich suggests that HR should therefore use technology to audit social perspectives, and then treat any issues in the workforce with what HR does best of all; the facilitation of meaningful human interactions that make connections and forge positive identities.

If you missed Dave’s presentation (or indeed any others), you can sign up on The CHRO Virtual Summit website for free and view it until June 30th!

The 3rd HR Congress Brussels, November 27-28 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore this topic and much more! Make sure you follow The HR Congress Blog and #HRCongress18 to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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