interview by committee
A new rash of software accomplish the same tasks HR departments traditionally performed. Does this mean the role is obsolete? PHOTO: WOCinTech Chat

Human resource (HR) departments are often last thing start-ups pay attention to. 

In their race to become lean, hyper-growth machines, executives in the tech industry end up viewing HR as a nice to have, if not a symbol of the corporate culture they want to avoid. While launching a company without an HR department is becoming common, we're now seeing some companies reach past the 50 person mark without any formal HR in sight.

With the onslaught of HR tech tools some companies are opting instead to buy solutions that take care of everything from recruitment and onboarding to payroll and L&D. This trend not only affects start-ups, but larger companies are now beginning to use HR tools to decentralize many processes, instead choosing to place them into the hands of managers and the users themselves.

Unfortunately, HR has been relegated to the equivalent of the office hall monitor for far too long. Is this the end of the HR profession? Are we moving towards an age when tools can completely replace HR?

Do We Still Need HR?

People want choices. They want some control over the processes that affect them, without having to deal with paperwork or waiting. There is an app for everything today, including traditional HR functions. Self-service is becoming a trend, not only in our personal lives but also in the workplace.

This begs the question: is HR still necessary? The answer is, more than ever. 

The millennial workforce is much more demanding than previous generations. What’s more, they’re much less likely to stick around if their demands aren’t met. 

A recent Gallup article found millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace and the most likely to switch jobs, with six in 10 saying they would be open to new job opportunities. 

This means employers need to create a more hands-on unique experience to keep young talent engaged starting the day they come in the door. This includes curating and integrating tools into customized processes to make them more efficient, employee focused and reflect a company’s unique employer brand. 

4 Ways the HR Role Will Change

Ultimately, tech tools are facilitators, not solutions. It’s now HR’s job to design a new type of organization that caters to the needs of its employees. 

Here are four ways the role of HR will change due to the rise of HR tech:

1. Creating the Employee Experience

Year after year, Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report has recognized creating the ultimate employee experience as the key to attracting, retaining and engaging talent. No employee experience program should be the same. 

To not only attract talent but to attract the right talent, it’s essential to create a unique employer brand. With the rise of websites like Glassdoor, the more time HR spends creating a great experience for current employees, the more likely they’ll become brand ambassadors for the company.

Likewise, offering your employees options is great, but don't give them too many. One of the most important changes to the HR role Deloitte predicted in its 2016 report was the need for HR to become a curator for this overly connected generation. With so many options for e-learning tools, communication channels and perks available, sometimes what this generation needs is a guide to select and whittle down the vast array of distractions and choices presented on a daily basis.

While traditional HR functions may be moving more towards user oriented self-service, it’s HR’s job to choose tools that meet their people’s needs and work best within the organizational framework they’ve designed.

2. Organizational Architect

Another key aspect of creating the ultimate employee experience is to reinvent and rehabilitate decades-old processes that employees distrust or even hate. Performance appraisals are one such process that have often gotten a bad rap. In traditional stack ranking style, they were unabashedly used to decide who would stay and who would be shown the door.

Today many HR departments are starting the process of rehabilitating performance management by getting rid of or reinventing the process to make it more focused on employee growth and development. They’re replacing reviews with employee-driven feedback interactions, more frequent coaching conversations and even the opportunity to give upward feedback — a major departure from the so called ‘rank and yank’ system.

3. Culture

Each company has its own unique culture. Whether that culture reflects what executives envision is another question. 

It’s not necessarily the job of HR to create their company’s culture, but it is HR's job to take a company's values and mission and infuse them throughout all processes within the organization. A company’s core values are often described as its moral compass. As many recent cases show, this should not be taken lightly.

After SaaS HR tech provider Zenefits was charged with taking short cuts on online broker license certifications, the company came out with a statement announcing that, “Zenefits now is focused on developing business practices that will ensure compliance with all regulatory requirements, and making certain that Zenefits operates with integrity as its No. 1 value.”

However, words and reality can be two different things. Your top leadership can profess a company’s values but you need a constant reinforcement of those values at every level of the organization to ensure they’ll really be followed. As the architect behind all people processes, putting HR in charge of strengthening and infusing values (with full support from top leadership) is the best way to ensure they’re fully integrated into your culture.

4. Translating People Data

Employee experience is not something that you design once and are done with. 

Just as companies that don't constantly innovate their product, those that fail to constantly innovate their employee experience will lose out in the talent market. That’s why HR must create an always-on engagement culture by frequently measuring and analyzing. 

People data can tell you when engagement levels are low but it can’t tell you what the root of the problem is. This is where HR must learn to identify the triggers through processes like employee journey mapping and then effectively communicate to executives the changes which need to be made through storytelling.

A New Day for HR

The great thing about the rise of HR tech is that it takes away more of the administrative tasks HR had to deal with in the past and leaves professionals with more time to transform their organizations into great places to work. 

The challenge HR will face is adopting a new way of thinking about their profession and arming themselves with the tools they’ll need to bring their department and company forward in the future.