Can Digital HR Deliver Operational Excellence?

May 04, 2016

After lagging behind other business areas for far too long, human resources is finally embracing the digital landscape in which we all live and work. This so-called ‘Digital HR’ sounds sexy enough. New technologies will make it easier to manage people who make an organization what it is. Databases will empower everything from candidate sourcing to annual evaluations to exit interviews.

While Digital HR is certainly going to change how work is done in the HR (human resources) arena, it is not a cure-all for some of the problems that have continually plagued the industry. There is still a critical need for HR to take a long and hard look at operations used in day-to-day work. HR Managers need to address the highly labor-intensive, often inefficient mechanics behind so many core HR functions. Without doing so, HR departments are likely to continue to be buried in mounds of paper, antiquated filing systems and poor use of staff resources.

So how does HR not become blinded by the bright lights of shiny new technology? Let's look at a few steps HR organizations need to take to ensure that the focus remains on operational excellence first, not just on fancy bells and whistles.

Operational excellence involves a rigorous commitment to systems, principles and tools that look to continuously improve an organization. It is also about creating key performance metrics that drive business outcomes, the analysis of those metrics, and feeding the results back for continuous improvement. For HR organizations, operational excellence makes staff more efficient, allowing them to focus on core strategic work and not on less crucial, time-intensive errands.

The Importance of Technology Which Quantifies HR Data

In general, HR has largely lagged in technology adoption, limited to outdated systems which do not necessarily make life easy for HR in their operations. Also, many existing systems are not interoperable with new systems. For HR staff, this means double work. The biggest need thereby is to carefully construct need assessments and quantify existing HR data in the first place that all these systems use. How is all this being done now? What would an ideal state look like?

These questions need to be answered before adopting any technology. In addition, the conversion of data in existing systems must be factored into the equation. Are new systems a replacement or an addition? What implications would all this have on the staff and financial resources?

Data Collection and Data-driven Decisions

So many areas of corporate life today are focused on metrics, KPIs and other quantifiable measures. HR needs to evolve in a similar way to gain credibility and show the impact on bottom line. CHROs have to determine with the top management what will be measured and why those measures are meaningful. It is then up to the CHROs to implement the operational processes that make that quantification possible. Technology can certainly assist in this step, but not until there is clarity on what is to be measured and why.

Focus on People with Contextual Intelligence

Too often, HR has been very process-driven, with little focus on the human aspects in their relationships with employees. Take employee evaluations. Days are spent discussing the number of questions, the structure of those questions, the measuring system to be used and the trainings on ‘how to use the new form.’ The focus is on the mechanics, not on the people. It may be counterintuitive, but technologies such as Contextual Intelligence actually lets HR focus on people instead. Systems have to be centered around people, their managers and the experience of performance evaluations. Instead of elaborating the procedure, the focus should be to simplify the process and eliminate unnecessary steps.

Digital HR is certainly going to transform the workplace. To do so effectively, however, CHROs and CEOs will need to together figure out how all of their routine operational procedures could be simplified and eliminated if possible. They can surely expect cost savings, time saving and operational efficiency.