The Human in HR Automation

Why machines will never be good people managers. In today’s workplace, there is no excuse for manual work on operational activities like coordination and paper pushing.

We humans have always dreaded the day the machines will take over. Science Fiction writers have thrived by basing their stories on this banal fear of ours. We consider ourselves the most intelligent species on Earth — and yet, what we create could end up more powerful than us.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about HR in 2023. The COVID crisis has resulted in a burst of energy where companies are seeking to automate a lot of their operational and administrative processes in order to cut down on the need for face-to-face human interaction. And this has been happening in the HR realm as well.

However, I received a fair amount of feedback from people who were concerned that the human side of HR wasn’t highlighted enough with most people focussing primarily on the processes and “work” that could get automated. While the growing need for automation was the point of that article, in this one I want to talk about the Human side.

Automation is necessary. Let’s get that out of the way first. In today’s workplace, there is no excuse for manual work on operational activities like coordination and paper pushing. In most cases, it is archaic and a disservice to those whose job it is to do it. With technology you can free up more time for HR managers and executives so they can spend it on understanding and servicing the workforce. The true reason for their existence.

Before we go into what HR teams will and should start doing more of — let me elucidate on what I think HR teams should not be doing:

1. Managing paperwork for new hires and employees

2. Making phone calls to notify other people of tasks they need to complete

3. Finding and collating data from multiple systems and then creating reports

4. Answering Frequently Asked Questions about policies, processes, leave, attendance, payroll, etc.

5. Juggling and ricocheting between multiple HR platforms and tools to fulfill different aspects of their work

Here’s what the HR manager should and will be focussing on instead:

To be the Guide

Very often, we need a guide who can help us navigate the wild enterprise workplace. In my previous roles, I have always admired those HR executives who have been able to guide me and help me navigate uncharted waters. Being available, having real conversations and building a connection with your employees – these are the building blocks of company culture.

To be the Mentor and Coach

What do I need to do to improve my performance ratings, further my career, while also achieving work-life balance. While managers should help with this — I believe that HR executives are uniquely placed to play the role of mentor and coach. Helping employees figure out the direction in which their career is headed, providing insights and making recommendations that will help them meet their long-term professional goals while also taking a macro view of their overall quality of life is priceless. This is what builds resilience and promotes happiness. No amount of automation can replace this kind of valuable support.

To be the Arbitrator

Often, there are conflicts that need someone who is impartial and neutral to guide the conversation between parties. Senior HR managers need to provide an unbiased resolution which is essential for maintaining equilibrium and strengthening a healthy office culture.

To be the People Expert

With the right tools and analytics, HR managers can transform systems and people processes based on data-driven insights. Studying the findings and making the right recommendations based on their personal experience and understanding, while also ensuring companywide buy-in, is not something a computer can do.

To get a seat at the ‘Table’

Planning for the next 12–18 months from a business and sales perspective is important. Everyone knows that. Enterprises need to enable HR teams to understand where the business is today and plan for the workforce that will be required to enable business goals. However, this is not just about how many new hires are needed. This is perhaps the most important change of all, where HR gets a seat at the table. Where HR gets involved in customer acquisition and in the contract process. Having a real time pulse on the exact composition of skills and experience at the company becomes a key strategic tool during customer conversations.

HR should play a role to determine which terms are agreed upon from a service and SLA perspective. Traditionally, most companies sign contracts with customers and those terms are forced on the organization. HR has to work within those metrics — even if those terms go against the inherent culture or values of the organization. We have seen this happen over and over.

However, in the future, we will see HR teams coming to the table during negotiations and contract processes. Imagine a reality where HR can recommend processes that should be

implemented to deliver success in a project! Imagine having HR give guidance on how best we can manage delivery from a resources and timeline perspective — and then using that information to enter into a contractual obligation. It’s not as far fetched as you would assume. We are already seeing some of these changes happening in forward-thinking enterprises.

For example, a global consulting giant that we work with has HR executives involved in the sales process and in the contracting process. This is critical to get them an understanding of what that particular customer will need and what delta the organization needs to reach to successfully service the client. They are an enlightened organization and well ahead of their times.

Going forward, all organizations will need to start thinking in a similar manner and start giving HR its due. And I see this happening soon, perhaps in the next 3–4 years, where it will become the norm.

Source: BW People

Date: 14th September 2020

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