In 2016, my HR profession turned 21! OMG! Didn’t realise that the HR kid (aka management trainee then) within me had turned into a fully grown adult! It is but natural for me, at this juncture in my career, to stop and delve a bit into the past!
My first job as a management trainee was with a high-tensile fasteners company, which had heavy precision machines. Watching tiny to huge nuts ‘n bolts and hair-thin Allen keys coming out of those machines was thrilling as well as inspiring. While this was the status on the shop-floor, the scene in the ‘personnel department’, which was a shout away, was medieval. Time Office was still in existence with its ancient time card punching machines, payroll was calculated manually and payslips were printed after apple polishing the so called EDP head.
In short, while manufacturing of products was equipped with the latest machinery of that time, the department that was responsible for ‘serving’ the workforce operating those latest machinery was under invested in. This HR kid was all of three then!
Time spent in pre-primary and primary school was quite interesting! It was a tractor manufacturing company. Internet, websites, e-mails et al had just hit corporate India and individual desktops were part of everyone’s pride of possession.
Concurrently, new terminology / vocabulary and new work practices started slowly creeping into the routine life of the ‘manufacturing’ workforce, such as automation and business process re-engineering, total predictive maintenance and Toyota productivity. At the same time, the HR fraternity was still struggling to let go of the ‘manually-created employee lists, appraisal forms, training transparencies, and embrace excel-based lists and paperless appraisal processes.
However, the mandate and commitment of this company was very clear — to bring in HR systems and processes in line with the business. It painstakingly invested in ‘re-engineering of HR systems and processes’ over the next few years and till today that company is reckoned as a company with good HR practices and continues to be the #1 player in the tractor industry.
One fine day, this HR kid decided to foray outside of manufacturing and took a plunge into a CDMA-based mobile company. Since then, data, automation, analytics, decks, predictive index, reports, monthly business review, ERP, platform, etc. have been the key words in the HR vocabulary. In short, technology moved with lightning speed and killed the manual effort forever.
- Did that increase productivity?
- Did that improve efficacy?
- Did that connect quotient with business, teams and employees?
Umm…well… surely a difficult query to respond to with conviction!
Technology has certainly reduced efforts to build and mine out data that is often sought for a variety of reporting purposes routinely. However, I’ve also observed that validity and utilisation of the tons of heavy decks, seldom drives the user towards ‘informed decision making’. Reports are run and submitted habitually but seldom does any executive question the continuation of such reports.
At the same time, features such as automated hiring process (requisition creation to offer release), new employee on-boarding and employee self-service portals, have certainly killed the bureaucracy and dependency of an individual. It has totally empowered the user and saved a lot of administrative non-value adding activities that were part of HR’s routine.
In the upcoming five years, I anticipate that more and more HR subsystems will get a technological boost. While Learning Management Systems (LMS) have been around for the last two decades or so, in upcoming times, it will be deeply integrated with hiring, performance management, compensation and benefits too. Performance Management Systems will be a particularly strong trigger to the next in chain logical subsystem and so on and so forth till an institution attains the desired level of capability building.
I strongly feel that reaching out to geographically-spread teams with consistency and efficacy will be another area that will be riding on the back of innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) platforms.
- Gauging employee pulse, hygiene and engagement issues
- Staying on top of early warning signals
- Monitoring boss–subordinate relationship tensions as well as cross-functional interfaces
- Using ‘analytics’ derived from such indicators to predict potential attrition can be very useful in fact- based decision making
I feel that over the years a lot of ‘chasing’ work that HR team members had to do for recruitment, engagement, appraisal, training nominations and post-training evaluations, exit formalities and F&F etc. will be and can be automated through these AI-based virtual administrative assistants, leaving HR to invest more in ‘real’ meaningful work.
All said and done, no technology or level of artificial intelligence will be able to ever replace the need for ‘emotional intelligence’ and application of the same during every possible human interaction. Personal touch, spontaneity and liveliness makes every interaction ‘humane’!
As the Captain from the 2008 American computer-animated romantic science fiction film, Wall-E, says, “I don’t want to survive! I want to live! ”, I’d say, “I’m all for automation that’s enabled by artificial intelligence too but I pray, it doesn’t make my interactions and connect artificial!!!”
(The author is head-HR technology with Reliance Jio.)