Technology is Changing Rapidly. Is Your HR Approach Keeping Pace?

Laurie Ledford, CHRO, Marsh & McLennan Companies

Laurie Ledford, CHRO, Marsh & McLennan Companies

In many ways, it’s the best of times for HR professionals as sophisticated technologies continue to replace some of the complicated and decidedly user-unfriendly tools that hamper the productivity of end users—and test the patience of HR colleagues.

"Agile isn’t just for app developers and tech startups—agile is a way of thinking, acting, and continually improving"

As technology accelerates, creating, even more, innovation as well as disruption, it raises a critical question about the mindset and role of HR professionals: Are we keeping pace with new technologies and our rapidly changing world? And are we taking advantage of these innovations to redefine our roles and focus on where we can deliver the greatest bottom-line impact for our organizations and value for the colleagues and businesses we support?

I’m seeing instances where difficulties around implementing technology-driven solutions tend to be more related to the human side of the equation. The technology is fit for purpose—but are we?

To help you manage your company’s HR technology and the change its effects, reboot the collective mindset of your HR teams and refocus your role to deliver even more value, here are four ideas for consideration:

1. New technology is not intended to do what you used to do.

Your new tool or system is not designed to simply replicate what you did before. The point of technology is that it’s supposed to improve key tasks—or eliminate them altogether. Too often, we expect technology to fix the things we haven’t been willing to fix ourselves—and we all know how that can turn out.

To set yourself and your organization up for success, do the heavy lifting first. Untangle some of the existing complications in your current bespoke or manual processes with an eye toward simple.

2. What may be intuitive to some isn’t to others, so get people involved early.

With any technology change, there’s a tendency to think that the new tool is a lot more intuitive than it really is. What’s easy to use for some can be hard for others. Even smartphones aren’t perfectly intuitive.

That’s why getting people involved early is critical. This is not a revolutionary concept by any means, yet it amazes me how often we’re surprised in HR when end users resist a change because they need more time to adjust. From clarifying communications to usability testing, there are many ways to engage and enroll end users early on in the planned technology transition. Let the actual teams that will use the technology get their hands on it before it goes live.

We all have early adopters and strong resistors in our organizations— some may even work for us! Include them and listen to all their feedback with a beginner’s mind. Take the time to let their concerns soak in and be open to the possibility that there will be some valid points you need to consider. Making small changes early is a lot easier than a total change in direction later.

Also, be sure to “try before you buy.” In other words, use it yourself. Does it address the change you’re trying to make? Does it fit with your culture? And watch others use it—this is an invaluable exercise. Usability testing is one of the most underleveraged approaches we have to adjust and enhance the final product and ensure its successful implementation.

3. HR has to get out of its own way.

We have expertise in change management, but for some reasons, we can have a tendency to resist change. It all comes from a good place—as HR strives to provide value to the organization, we have to act as a filtering agent. Our organizations can only absorb so much change, and let’s face it—we aren’t the only ones trying to address and support the strategy of our organizations. What’s more, there’s a lot of perfectionism embedded in our function. Good enough sometimes just doesn’t feel good enough for us.

My advice is to balance getting started with the perfectionist tendency. In today’s world, with the accelerating pace of everything, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the fast learner. Agile isn’t just for app developers and tech startups—agile is a way of thinking, acting, and continually improving.

4. Your new role: Connector in Chief!

News flash: HR professionals have a new role to play. First, your job is to be a champion, not a naysayer or traffic cop. If you don’t, who will? And think of yourself as the Connector in Chief. The organization that is faster, smarter, better and more connected enjoys a distinct advantage. Help your company create that advantage.

You are uniquely qualified and perfectly positioned to ensure the user experience comes first. One of the HR’s most critical functions is to understand the needs and expectations of the people in our organizations. Why else do we pore over the results of our engagement surveys and directly engage with colleagues face to face? We are entrusted to know the pulse of our people. Rather than spending your time thinking of all the reasons not to do something, challenge yourself and your team members by asking, “How can we make this possible?”

Rapid, disruptive change is here to stay in our world and in the workforce, where we’re seeing major trends relating to demographics, automation, the freelance economy and other factors play out. As the workforce shifts in response and the way people work to continue to evolve, we can expect even more technological innovation and change in our space. For those willing to let go of outmoded systems and approaches and replace them with continuous experimentation and learning, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in HR!