Cultural Transformation of HR in the Digital and Cognitive Era

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We live in a challenging business environment. New and disruptive technologies arise at an incredibly fast pace. Workforce generations have very different expectations. Leaders’ development cycles have been shortened to meet business needs, which seem to change almost every three months! And social media, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence are reshaping the way we interact with one another and the connected world.

HR professionals are in the middle of all these changes, with an important role as curators of an organization’s culture, and seeking answers to challenging questions, such as how to innovate and use these technologies without losing the human touch. How do we give leaders more autonomy without creating chaos? How do we mitigate the risks of talent leaving the company? How can the HR function be more relevant? The role of HR in this dynamic environment is changing rapidly, and these emerging technologies are our ally in this process. In this blog post, we’ll explore some trends that are culturally transforming HR itself.

A More Sensitive, Data-Powered HR

HR has long relied on its intuition and advanced knowledge of human behavior as the main competitive advantage over other positions in the organization. New technologies allow HR to be even more sensitive through use of data. Pulse-taking tools constantly measure employee engagement, performance, learning, and well-being, generating valuable causality information and insights for more assertive actions. People analytics is here to stay, and it is rapidly evolving from a trend to a core competence of the HR function. Instead of “Trust me,” HR is beginning to say, “I’ll show you the data that confirm our suspicions and reveal something else as well.” Through data, you can go beyond the obvious to see what is happening behind the curtains; numbers can reveal subtle changes before they occur on a large scale. Additionally, data are the business language of the C-level. This is not to say that the intuition of HR is being disregarded; on the contrary, HR now has the tools to confirm its intuition and find out even more about human relations in the organization using technology. The role of HR as a guardian of the culture has in technology a powerful ally.

HR as a Productivity Consultant

In many organizations, it is common for HR professionals to shoulder the huge operational burden of generating reports for managers and still be responsible for managing people. In practice, HR often becomes a babysitter of leaders, in charge of deadlines and operational tasks of low strategic relevance. If we think of HR as a productivity consultant, we will come up with new questions: What prevents the employee from being productive? What prevents the leader from being productive?

The first step to being more relevant is to examine the problem where it occurs—on the shop floor, on the customer site, in the field, wherever work actually takes place. The role of the leader is often underestimated by HR itself, who in a genuine attempt to help ends up creating more systems, logins, and passwords, competing with leaders’ extremely busy schedules. Being digital means solving the problems where they are, removing the barriers so that the leaders of your organization can play their role. We have to make better use of technology to put the data for decision making in the hands of the leaders, in real time and with autonomy, and not to create dependencies and therefore the need to generate infinite reports to support leaders.

The Agile and Experimental HR

The speed of business does not allow longer cycles of enterprise program creation. If it takes eight to 12 months to create, validate, and launch a corporate program, at the time of launch it could likely be outdated, though flawless. Instead, HR professionals are becoming more agile, taking more risks, and being more experimental. That requires a change of mindset in HR itself—to embrace error as part of the process and focus on high-impact results. Small experiments are part of the innovation process, and new technologies help, for example, decentralize the responsibility for generating new ideas and suggestions to the employees. It allows for collecting ideas and solutions in a few hours, and evaluating them for suitability and benefits. The best ideas become pilot projects of innovation, and the collaborators are invited to participate and experiment. If it is well evaluated by the majority, it will become a corporate program; if not, it will have generated great insights and learning for the next project. If HR is not experiencing anything new right now, it is probably lagging behind and not being competitive. It’s not about reinventing yourself all the time, but about maintaining what is working while continuously deploying small, new experiments.

Reflection

HR professionals around the world are undergoing a major change, redefining the meaning of their position in their organizations. So accustomed to dealing with issues of organizational culture, HR is now facing a cultural shift in its own role in this digital and cognitive age. Because every change brings risks, it is natural that you might be thinking about how to handle all this. Be bold: Try, fail, learn fast, and adjust the course. Use data to guide your decisions and confirm your intuition. Embrace technology, but stick to your beliefs in people. Be the guardian of organizational culture—and a living example of it.

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