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Andy Price

Sift Media

Technology Editor

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Interview: “HR technology is becoming more engaging,” says Futurestep’s Neil Griffiths

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In an interview with HRZone.com, Futurestep's global practice leader, talent communications & employer brand, Neil Griffiths discusses how HR technology solutions are becoming more engaging as they move on from heavy, inflexible solutions. This, coupled with a new social approach, allows HR leaders to become more forward thinking and make the link between social media strategy and finding top-tier talent. Read on for more on HR tech's innovative 2013 and what lies ahead in the next 12 months…

Q: The HR landscape has been heavily influenced by cloud technology and social approaches in recent years – how does Futurestep fit within this landscape?

HR technology solutions are becoming more engaging – a shift away from the monolithic systems that do little to engage the employee. For a long time, many businesses have simply challenged recruiting teams to ‘find me more people’, but more organisations are waking up to the possibilities offered by the many sourcing tools and tactics that are open to them – and starting to develop sophisticated approaches about when and how to deploy them. 

Social media plays a big part in this with forward-thinking HR leaders making the connection between having a solid social media strategy and finding top tier talent. Leading companies are already doing much more than simply focusing on active candidates. Targeting top-tier passive candidates is increasingly recognised as a priority for the modern talent function, a fact which drives home the need to develop strong employer branding and build engaging talent communities on social sites.

As the power and capability of many mobile devices increases along with a reliance on the cloud, organisations are taking advantage of the benefits which come with it in terms of recruiting and keeping employees happy. ‘Bring Your Own Device’ is becoming a more common demand for workers who want to have their own mobile devices to change the way they work and interact, and employers have moved to the cloud to give them flexibility in running their business.

Q: How innovative was HR technology in 2013 – what have been the key development areas?

2013 was a difficult year for many businesses, with the economy forcing many to reassess their spend in all divisions. In technology, it was mobile that emerged as a clear front-runner to take the industry into the future. And it is technology as a whole that is setting the agenda in 2014 too, particularly in the areas of data and social media.

Innovation within recruitment gained greater momentum over the past twelve months, widening its remit to drive change, improvement and forward thinking. An engaged workforce is essential to drive growth and innovation but with ongoing economic uncertainty it has made this a struggle for businesses and for the workforce too, who feel insecure in their jobs and that there is little to no commitment to them from their organisation. Over the past year, however, employers have made headway in becoming more egalitarian in their engagement approach, engaging employees to retain talent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, linked to this is the fact that over the past 12 months we have seen an increased emphasis on employee-driven development.

It remains true that the majority of employees globally do not have an actionable development plan – they may know where they are going career-wise but they are not at all clear on the steps they need to take to get there, and it’s the responsibility of management to guide them to achieve success.

How will technology help businesses tackle challenges in HR over the next five years?

Over the next five years technology will continue to be used to identify, attract and engage the right talent particularly when it comes to targeting passive candidates. More specifically, the focus will be on talent functions and HR as a whole having the systems in place that support organisations throughout the employer lifecycle – from attracting and sourcing talent, carrying out assessment of that talent and then onboarding them, right through to their development once they have joined the organisation. These systems will also support businesses to deliver data and metrics at the backend in a seamless and coherent manner, which can later be analysed and used for forecasting and making predictions. Learning from this data will also allow organisations to see what areas of the business, and what particular talent, is succeeding.

HR will also continue to strive to better understand the wants of potential and current employees. Take Generation Y, Millennials and now also Generation C for example. Young people want to work for innovative companies, want to be in charge of their own development and expect to have a clear idea of what they can achieve in a given firm.

CHROs will also need to look to enhance and expand their recruiting strategies in a bid to create highly effective and targeted approaches to talent acquisition, which with Millennials may involve adopting mobile and campus outreach programs to attract such talent.

This also links in with the importance of having a strong employer brand that attracts the best talent – something which will continue to be an important aspect for many companies. In this increasingly social world, where nothing goes unnoticed, bad news spreads faster than good. Single negative experiences can have significant consequences on an employer brand and HR departments will need to continue to work hard to ensure that no request remains unanswered.

Technology plays a pivotal role here – real-time engagement with candidates is of crucial importance and will be one of the things companies will need to master over the coming years.

To what extent do both consumer and business trends affect your growth and development?

In short, we are adapting to consumer trends, learning from business trends and working with analysts to facilitate it on a global scale.

We learn from our clients and the demand they drive, often by running seminars and events to engage clients and hear their opinions on what they require to drive that demand. We keep up to date through being members of forums and working extremely closely with analysts – monitoring what they are publishing about the industry and current trends in order to align the services we provide to our clients. We learn from their opinions and those of our clients to make sure we are clear on the direction of the industry.

It’s through this that we are able to develop systems and platforms such as Forte. Initially developed as an app for iPad and now available in browser, we reacted to the consumer trend of mobile platforms – combining a talent lifecycle tool with products people use in everyday life.

Clients and geographies change the demand we align our strategies to. For example, recently we have been reacting to the rising demand in Africa to attract local talent back into the country and replace positions held by ex-pats, by developing a product to facilitate this. Additionally in China we have been working with a number of our clients to develop and define their brands in order to make them stand out in an increasingly competitive and overcrowded marketplace.

How can the HR department use technology to tackle the challenges of a global workforce?

Globalisation is becoming increasingly important for businesses that recognise the benefits (and threats) that come from the connected world we inhabit. One of the key challenges for companies with a global workforce is the need for a global mindset. An understanding and openness to different employment systems, laws, work/life balance and working cultures is absolutely key in fostering strong relationships across borders and keeping engagement levels amongst employees high. It’s also important that organisations have a good idea of how to nurture the sense of belonging. In a global organisation the risk of losing one’s identity and not knowing how one fits into the massive organisational machine is quite high, but companies who understand their employees’ needs are the ones who will succeed.

With this, many HR departments are moving towards full service providers who can deliver a complete package that combines the benefits of both a global perspective with local market knowledge, allowing them to tailor processes to suit the diversity of each region they are present in. But organisations don’t even need to be present in a region to take advantage of this global knowledge. Many businesses nowadays are keen to learn from outside their immediate sphere and gather information about best practice on a global basis. From their learnings companies often adopt particular nuances or ways or working from other regions to improve their overall strategy.

Technology that can enable regular feedback, assessment and development of employees can be of great value as it helps employees understand how their role fits into the bigger picture and overall business goals and keeps engagement high. Through actionable, personalised development plans, employees can assess themselves against profiles of where they want to get to, identify their blind spots and hidden strengths and take action.

What activities or skills do HR professionals now possess as a result of advances in talent management software that they didn’t have five years ago?

HR professionals are now a bit like data analysts. In the same way that marketers use loyalty data for targeted marketing, recruiters are beginning to use it to find talent. Companies can figure out what type of data is relevant so they can gather the right information to make decisions; this will evolve the recruitment function from reactive to proactive, and ensure it is best aligned with the business strategy. The ability to relate all that valuable information back to the business so that it informs strategic decision-making at the board level has proved difficult but new services are becoming available which can analyse the mass of data held within the world’s biggest companies.

For 2014 and beyond, the focus, and challenge, will not be around collecting big data, but using it to inform strategic business decisions and demonstrate the ROI of recruitment activity.

Do you have any predictions for the key HR tech trends of 2014?

Mobile and big data are looking to be the big trends this year. In 2013 we witnessed the emergence of many companies serving the mobile space and in 2014 we will see the larger ERP players develop their own innovative solutions – and many of those smaller companies look set to be bought up. As mobile computing goes from strength to strength, this sector within recruitment will inevitably continue its growth, with more and more applications and functionality related to talent management becoming available on these devices.

Much like mobile, big data has been hotly tipped as a key trend for several years. Yet for all the talk, the real impact has yet to materialise. Now though, new services are emerging that can analyse and sort the mass of data held within the world’s biggest companies – meaning big data can start to play a grown-up role in the world of recruitment.

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Andy Price

Technology Editor

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