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Jane Sunley

Purple Cubed

Founder and chairman

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The digital black hole – why HR needs to urgently digitise and socialise talent management


Every three months, the editors at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) compile their list of new words and phrases which should be included in this age-old language resource.

It’s a considered process; thousands of researchers gather evidence from a wide range of independent sources in order to prove that these new phrases are widely used in the English language and therefore warrant being included in the OED.

In June this year, the update consisted of 1,000 additional terms. These new words provided us with an interesting perspective on modern life. Because, and according to Jonathan Dent, senior assistant editor on the OED, “a slew of initialisms associated with the social media, emails, texts and other electronic means of communication [have been] placed in their historical context for the first time.”

Dent suggests that this latest update represents “our increasing reliance on computers and digital communications.”

A digital, digital world…

This, of course, isn’t ground-breaking news – we live in a digital world. Grandparents are skyping and checking into Facebook. You can pay for a coffee through a mobile phone. Pokémon are being caught on trains, planes and buses. And in any given second in a day, 7,342 tweets are sent; 741 Instagram photos uploaded; 56,240 Google searches are carried out and 2.5 million emails sent (InternetLiveStats).

And in business, the immersification of technology is clear; saving time, simplifying process, improving performance and accuracy, providing a raft of useful data, boosting the customer experience – the impact is endless.

Yet, what’s surprising, in business there is one very clear department where the adoption of technology is slow. According to Cap Gemini, 75% of leaders in HR and talent management say their companies are behind the curve in the use of social technology, both internally and externally.

Lagging behind

While there is, without question, a high interest in workforce technology, many HR ‘laggards’ have been sluggish in moving beyond curiosity and into taking action. In our opinion, and supported by research from management consultancy Stravia, the reasons are three-fold:

  • HR is not viewed as strategic – in many businesses, HR is still seen as a support function. Transactional rather than transformational. Tissues and issues rather than data and analysis. As such, it isn’t viewed as an equal partner to its marketing, operations, finance and sales counterparts. It’s very much there to support the strategy rather than help formulate it; leaving the budget for exciting new technologies to the ‘big boys’.
  • HR is spread too thin – as a relatively new department, HR has yet to really carve out its role in business. For many years it was about employee relations and administration. Now it’s remit is further reaching; employee engagement, business transformation, organisational design to name but a few. Because of the increased workload, for many HR professionals the choice between strategic and tactical action results in opting for the latter; fire-fighting and quick wins rather than long-term strategic gain.
  • HR do not have the necessary skills – HR professionals are ‘people people’. And because of this, according to Brian Kelly, former practice leader at Mercer, it tends to attract individuals with a psychology, sociology and communications background, rather than those with maths or science at the root of their education. While most have a firm understanding of how basic technology and data can enhance their output, few possess real knowledge on how to use sophisticated workplace technology.

While it’s important not to stereotype, the sad reality is that far too few HR professionals have grasped the opportunity technology provides with both hands.

Yet in an ever-increasing technological world, where mobile devices now account for one billion job searches every year, it is fundamental that HR embraces and adapts for digitisation or it risks being left operating like a 20th Century organisation; missing vital recruitment and engagement opportunities and putting the employer brand at risk.

One byte at a time

Embracing digital and social technology doesn’t have to involve a high level of investment. In fact, it’s far better to breakdown your social strategy into smaller, manageable bites and tackle them a little at a time. Especially if this is new to your business.

The starting point is identifying the HR challenges which can be resolved by adopting some form of digital and / or social technology. It could be low-levels of job applications; poor leadership pipeline or poor internal communications. Whatever the challenge, think about the stakeholders – what would engage them? And your culture – what technology is the right fit?

For example, there are thousands of social media platforms available to HR professionals. You only need a few, however, to have a significant impact upon communication in your business. Understanding who uses what, and considering the platform within your culture, will help you identify the right tools for the job. A limited and targeted approach is what you’re looking for here.

Find the digital ‘natives’ in your teams and get them involved in the planning and delivery.

It helps if you have people with the skills to understand, embrace and deliver on technology. Find the digital ‘natives’ in your teams (or even from other functions such as Marketing to encourage cross-departmental collaborations) and get them involved in the planning and delivery. Offering this sort of project to a work experience student is ideal – fresh eyes from someone who fully understands the power of digital technology.

If convincing the board to get on-board is the sticking point, then you need to build a strong case for investing and using HR technology. Fortunately, there are many success stories available which demonstrate the impact of these tools on not just the workforce, but the financial performance of an organisation. For example, logistics company UPS saw hires from social recruitment go from 19 to more than 15,000 in just three years by adapting their social strategy to better attract passive candidates. And hotel group, De Vere Hotels and Village Urban Resorts invested in HR comms and performance technology and added £3m to their EBITDA.

UPS saw hires from social recruitment go from 19 to more than 15,000 in just three years by adapting their social strategy

Using social technology is a great starting point for any business new to digital HR. By adopting a phased approach, starting simply with clear milestones and metrics along the way, you’re able to gather evidence to prove a digital HR strategy works for your business.

From here it’s easier to compellingly lobby for a greater investment in technology; talent management systems, internal messaging platforms and gamified learning experiences all await you. So begin small and enjoy the immediate competitive advantages you gain from doing so.

Author Profile Picture
Jane Sunley

Founder and chairman

Read more from Jane Sunley

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