A brave new digital world for HR.

This article first appeared in DNA India on 20th October, 2016.

Anjali is a new joinee to a top IT organization. The day she joins, a suite of applications are installed on her phone. Her onboarding document are all digital and requires a single, digital signature to complete the process. An app connects her to her virtual team with members sitting in multiple remote locations. A companion video conferencing app, places her into a video conference where her boss, with a click of a button, flows down her weekly goals to her. She and her boss quickly agree on the deliverables for the weak and the signoff is a quick click of an “ACCEPT” button. As her work week progresses, the networking app connects her to folks who can help her come to grips with her responsibilities. She uses the same app to e-thank people who have helped her, boosting their ratings as well as garnering points for herself as she starts to mesh into the organization. She has also been given a wearable device that helps to track her daily health and wellbeing and is pleasantly surprised when two weeks into her stay, she receives some personalized advice on correlations between the time she has put in at work and her health and what she needs to do to achieve some balance in her life.

A month after she joined the company, she realizes that she is not really happy with some of the processes in place. It is then that she discovers the anonymous feedback groups where she can talk about her issues without the threat of retribution. She quickly gets feedback and help from other employees to solve her issues. It is then that she realizes that she hasn’t really seen any HR people helping with the onboarding. She knows that there IS a HR department, but where in other companies, they would have been running around with the little operational details, she sees them working on plans for what the company calls the total employee experience.

Seems futuristic? Well, yes and no. This scenario is one that could be coming to a company near you fairly soon. Organizations the world over are struggling to come to grips with the rapid digitization of every sphere of our lives. Some industry segments, especially the knowledge industry are better equipped to deal with this trend than more conventional industries. However, this difference is not limited to industry segments but also to functional areas within organizations. More data-centric functions like sales, marketing and finance have been able to adapt themselves much better to this rapidly unfolding digital change than less data-centric functions like HR. But things are starting to change.

A recent study done by Accenture and SAP identified three key trends that are going to enable this digital push for HR. The first is in the use of mobile tools, social media and digital services in helping to deliver HR services. Given the ubiquitous use of smartphones, HR can utilize this medium to reach out to employees on an individual basis and really automate processes thereby allowing HR professionals to focus on core employee needs rather than be bogged down in minute operational details.

The second trend is in what the study termed “the democratization of talent management”. In other words, instead of a top-down approach to managing employees where HR was seen as this evil, brooding presence overseeing every minute detail of the employee life cycle, talent management is now being seen in a federated fashion where agile, self-managed teams abound within organizations and managers are given greater autonomy in the way they manage their employees.

The third trend enables HR to act more like marketing in that they can utilize the techniques of individualized and targeted marketing towards managing their talent. Instead of a one size fits all approach, the new way is to utilize multiple lines of data to enable individualized, prescriptive solutions for employees.

A look around what’s happening in industry shows us that the scenario outlined at the beginning of this article is not that far off. If Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn was the opening gambit, the recent announcement of a global strategic partnership between Microsoft and Workday is the next move in this game. Integrating Microsoft’s Office365 platform with Workday’s finance and HR applications and then enabling LinkedIn’s networking piece on top of that will create a powerful platform that will, in their words, “enable customers to simplify day-to-day tasks, foster collaboration and increase productivity”. Welcome to the brave new world.