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Damian Oldham

Access Group

Divisional Director

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How can HR teams remain relevant when millennials rule the workplace?


Intuitive, user-friendly applications pervade almost every aspect of our lives, yet for high numbers of HR professionals, the tech they use in the office often bears little resemblance to what they’re familiar with at home. This means that businesses are not only missing out on engaging the workforce with HR processes, they are also lacking the people management data vital in decision making, explains Damian Oldham, HR industry expert at Access Group.

What do you do when you get home in the evening? Like many people, you probably browse social media channels to see your friends’ latest updates, buy a new outfit or stream music or a film.

As consumers, we know that our data – including demographic information such as age or location and browsing behaviour – is used to tailor and augment our user experience with the systems, apps and communications we interact with. Robust and rich data enables consumer service providers to better predict customer actions and drive adoption and engagement as a result.

Given that millennials now account for more than half the workforce in many countries – and their attitude to technology, convenience and ‘being social’ dominates almost every aspect of life – it’s more important than ever that workforces are not left feeling frustrated by time-consuming manual processes.

Eliminate the false-data bubble

Unlike the increasingly tech-led consumer market, many businesses still rely on an archaic system of spreadsheets and software with limited functions, which do little to promote collaboration between departments.

This leaves companies vulnerable to poor decision making because they are acting on incomplete or old data that can result in a ‘false data bubble’. Information from different departments might also be conflicting depending on how it has been processed.

Without a single version of the truth across the whole business, there is a risk that senior managers will miss warning signs of trouble ahead and not be able to take appropriate action to address it.

A report into financial performance, for example, could highlight the company’s recent successes – but if it fails to take people management data such as staff turnover or morale into account, it lacks context and comparison.

The board could be confident that the business is on a strong financial footing, unaware that employees are on the verge of leaving because they feel they are under too much pressure.

But it’s not just warning signs that companies are missing because of poor quality people management data – it’s opportunities too. Without a firm understanding of employees’ aspirations, it’s difficult to engage them in a meaningful way, whether by additional training, wellbeing initiatives and/or benefits and remuneration.

Build user adoption and engagement

Unsurprisingly, those at the frontline of HR are all too aware of the costs associated with ineffective cross-departmental collaboration. According to a poll we conducted this summer, over a third of industry professionals see ‘inefficiency, excess administration and poor collaboration between departments’ as their biggest challenge for the coming 12 months.

Our survey also revealed that only four per cent of HR professionals have complete faith in the accuracy of their people management data to inform decision-making. At the other end of the scale, just over five per cent have almost no confidence in the information they hold, although the majority see both its value and its limitations.

We also found that a little under half of those see collaboration tools, like Access Workspace, and workplace social media as the most important technology trend this year, although another half believe their current systems are inadequate.

The technologies consumers use today – frequently called ‘disrupters’ – have certainly derailed our ideas about traditional job roles.

The most effective business software creates a familiar environment, with a visually appealing user interface and apps that make the user experience as streamlined and intuitive as possible.

Workforces are unlikely to engage with HR processes if they feel like they have to jump through hoops just to get holiday approved or book a performance review. Furthermore, HR teams’ time would be better spent on strategic work, rather than on admin and dealing with problems, like unpicking unrecorded instances of sickness, as they arise.

Such platforms must also be responsive and include tools that allow teams to collaborate in a way that doesn’t involve sending endless emails that may go unanswered in order to break down traditional departmental silos.

Nobody wants to bother a busy colleague for an update on how a project is progressing, or where key data is stored, when they could log into a single system and see it displayed on the dashboard.

Leverage automation to be more strategic

The technologies consumers use today – frequently called ‘disrupters’ – have certainly derailed our ideas about traditional job roles. Even the local GP is not immune from these changes, given that it’s now possible to sign up to a subscription services for online consultations with a doctor, who can issue prescriptions.

Patients may soon be able to by-pass doctors’ appointments completely by using AI-powered chatbots to diagnose common complaints instead. Far from being something from a sci-fi novel, the NHS is already trialing the technology – which could go a long way to alleviating the pressures healthcare practitioners currently face.

Qualified doctors will, of course, always be needed to diagnose the more complex conditions, and provide much-needed empathy, and they will have more time to do this if they deal with fewer routine matters.

It’s a similar story in HR, where greater automation is freeing professionals up from tasks that employees would, by and large, be happy to complete themselves.

Businesses must be ready to make the most of the appetite for straightforward, personalised applications.

Like doctors with more time to diagnose illnesses, HR departments are able to set themselves apart as leading experts, who use joined-up data sets and detailed analytics to drive decision making at a C-Suite level. With their knowledge of people management, they offer real value that goes far beyond what a chatbot could do.

HR professionals clearly understand the importance of collaborative platforms in the workplace, yet some may understandably be concerned about the future security of their job.

I recently spoke to Dave Coplin, a business consultant who helps realise the power of technology, and has a strong interest in AI. He believes that HR professionals’ skills don’t lie in repetitive ‘robotic’ tasks, as he explains here:

“We’ve reached the point where HR professionals need to add value to a company in a way that goes beyond the mundane – you need to take the robot out of the human, stand on top of it, extend your reach and get stuck into strategic work.

“With access to real-time data, HR professionals no longer need to rely on the annual staff engagement survey to find out how people really feel, which normally involved a flurry of activity and lots of box ticking. They can now take pulse surveys and sense check engagement on a weekly basis. HR is often a stovepipe, locked away from the rest of the organisation; nevertheless, future success depends on getting the right people in place, and this requires collaboration across the business.”

So, far from replacing people, technology enables HR professionals to use their skills to drive change and deliver tangible results, measured in terms of talent attraction, and retention and engagement rates. These, as we all know, are invariably linked to strong financial performance and the long-term success of the business.

What’s next?

Self-service technologies (SST) are now so commonplace in retail, transport, banking and other sectors that consumers (and therefore employees) rarely give them a second thought.

Aside from the obvious cost and time-saving benefits, these tools also empower and engage people. You only have to look at the proliferation of online-only estate agents, for example, to see that many people want to be in the driving seat, although they still value expert advice where needed.

Businesses must be ready to make the most of this appetite for straightforward, personalised applications, making them available on any device and using them to enhance the employee experience.

As long as these platforms don’t make transactional tasks complicated, or get in the way of their day job, employees will almost always embrace them wholeheartedly – all HR needs is the support of each department, up to and including the board.

The key to success is proving how vital people management data is in making decisions that deliver positive, measurable results.

It’s time to make the business case to senior management teams, who want to drive efficiencies in the business but are yet to buy into the technology that promotes closer collaboration between departments.

If we’re in any doubt about how much poor collaboration costs, our survey respondents say they lose two working days every week – and what company can afford that?

To drive change, HR professionals should start by calculating the time wasted in their teams and show where they could add value, in recruitment, retention, training and absence levels.

Our research further revealed that HR is now seen as a vital strategic partner in around 42 per cent of businesses, with another third recognising its value, although there is still room for improvement. The key to success is proving how vital people management data is in making decisions that deliver positive, measurable results.

To find out how to improve connectivity in HR and across the workplace, download Access Group’s latest magazine, Collaborate.

Author Profile Picture
Damian Oldham

Divisional Director

Read more from Damian Oldham

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