A generation ago, people thought of Human Resources (HR), then known as the Personnel or Employee Records department, as the place you went if you needed to have a payroll issue straightened out, or if you were having an issue with a boss or co-worker. If they were looking for you, it was generally not a good sign. However, if you were looking for a job, you literally pounded the pavement calling on individuals from these departments to keep you in mind if they saw new job postings that you would be a good fit for.
You often continually showed up at the HR offices of those companies you really wanted to work at, and if your persistence paid off, you just might be lucky enough to land a job at one of them. From this historical perspective and at its worse, HR is viewed as a rage-inducing bureaucracy into which resumes get lost, employee files get misreported, and inhumane workplace policies disconnected from the reality of the workplace get developed.
A lot of these negative perceptions of HR that still linger into the present day are rooted not in a lack of empathy or concern on the part of those that worked there, but a lack of automation and efficient processes that kept HR professionals from focusing on their constituents.
But much has changed over the past 10 to 20 years in the HR profession. The profession has developed a deep body of academic literature, trade publications, and research, high levels of job specialization and training and development, and sophisticated Human Capital Management (HCM) systems to support it. Increasingly, companies with the leading HR departments are the employers of choice that the most highly skilled and credentialed want to work for, and those are the companies that are delivering shareholder value over the long-term. Those companies that have embraced their HR departments and invested in their HR technologies are winning in the marketplace of innovation, breakthrough ideas, people, and finance.
But here’s the thing. The digitization of the human experience that we’ve most recently experienced—of which HR technology is but a node in a larger human network—has flattened our world and brought us amazing breakthroughs and insights as our every thought and emotion can be literally shared with everyone everywhere in the world nearly at the speed of light. But if you take the empathy, love, passion, and joy out of that system, it becomes, at least for me, a system that is of very little value to my life. Organizations that have gotten the digital economy and their HCM technology right understand this.
I heard the professor and author Amy Cuddy quote a presidential biographer who was asked whether power corrupts and said, “Power does not corrupt, it reveals.” I think a similar thing can be said today about the HCM technology that the HR profession now has at its disposal. Our HCM technology does not dehumanize, it reveals the heart of the organization.
Do your HR colleagues use technology to automate the administrative, so that they can gain insights into your business and engage with leaders, managers, employees, customers, and prospective employees in authentic and meaningful ways? Is your HR organization using technology for learning and development so that your employees can grow and develop in their careers? Does your HR organization deliver content that is relevant, digestible, fresh, and exciting to today’s workforce?
Is your organization using digital technology to connect your organizational needs to the best and brightest in the global marketplace, wherever they may be in the world? And, technology aside, does your organization have HR policies in place that treat you and your colleagues like current and future leaders with rich and rewarding lives to lead and contributions to make not only to your organization, but to the world at large? Or does your HR organization still manage you and your colleagues like indistinguishable consumable widgets to be controlled, manipulated, and discarded?
I love working at SAP not because of the truly world-changing technology that we make, although we do make that stuff, but because it’s an amazing company filled with brilliant, hard-working, and talented people that want to make a difference in the world. Even though I was well aware of all the amazing technology that SAP has to offer before I was recruited into the organization via LinkedIn, did my research on the organization via Glassdoor, and Facebooked and texted with people I knew who worked here, it was the very real human interactions with recruiters and the face-to-face connections I formed with leaders in the organization when interviewing that told me this organization has gotten it right. No technology, even at one of the world’s greatest technology firms, can ever replace that!
When people are the heart of your organization, HR is Live – Run Live.