Hardly Required

Posted: June 22, 2013 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, Human Resources, Technology

Maybe the future voice of HR is a robot?

From ATM’s to manufacturing plant robots there is an endless stream of technology replacing tasks that at one time were performed by a human being. No doubt there are good economic reasons. Technology, robots, computers have become incredibly sophisticated and can perform tasks more efficiently and reliably than the human equivalent. This is obviously not limited to dispensing cash, or assembling a product; increasingly ‘technology’ is replacing the so called ‘knowledge work’; analysing medical scans, spotting profits in stock trades, analysing our phone and internet activities. Work that may have once been performed by a human, and increasingly work that could never have been performed by a human, we simply don’t have the capabilities, capacity or speed necessary to perform some of these tasks. So technology is not only replacing us at work, there is a whole new category of work for which humans are simply not able to perform.

I’ve been thinking about technological progress and the technology used by HR, the systems and technologies that we have deployed within our organizations. I have seen significant progress during my career. I remember the very first ‘personnel’ system that I supported – basically little more than a structured file with some basic functions to create and edit records and then able to print out various listings. Today’s HRMS’s are as different to this as a modern car is to a model-T Ford. However as with the car, are we still doing the same things (i.e. driving from A to B) just with better technology, or have we considered what else the technology could do for us, what could we be doing differently? Can we reimagine HR?

I think most HR people are comfortable, so long as the technology is supporting us with our administrative (those that used to be paper based) tasks, creating and maintain the records within our now electronic filing cabinets, either through our service centres, or then having employee’s and manages do it themselves. Would we be comfortable with technology selecting the next executive for a promotion, with technology spotting an employee performance dip, with technology giving an automatic pay increase, with technology doing team development, with technology initiating an employee termination, with technology restructuring an organization for better performance? I suspect a resounding NO!

But where are the limits of what we will accept as technology advances? Will we see and embrace the opportunities; can we imagine what will be possible in the future, do we actively look to benefit from today’s technological revolutions in the cloud, mobile, social and big data? Or are we stuck with what we know, what we understand, what doesn’t threaten us. I do wonder if we have become Luddites.

I don’t see the technological advances slowing down, if we are not continuously investing in and taking advantage of these technological advances we are falling behind. If we haven’t already done so we must automate the routine, the repeatable transactional elements of our work, and we must start to reimagine and then apply technology to support the ‘knowledge work’ that we once thought only humans could perform, with the aim of delivering new levels of organizational and business performance, else one day we will be hardly required


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