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How disruptive technology influences HR

Technology is changing the way businesses operate at every level. From the products companies are developing, to the way they communicate, to the business model and operational detail of running an organisation, the tech revolution and the disruptive effect it is having is fuelling innovation across every sector.

The pressure to ride the wave of this development, and indeed take advantage of the huge opportunities it offers, is as real for HR leaders as it is for any other decision maker in a business.

Alongside disruptive technologies, the HR function is facing increasing pressure to attract, retain and develop the best talent available. This race is intensified by a vastly competitive landscape, in which companies are constantly on the lookout for ways to find and embed the most highly skilled employees into their workforce, and develop these high potential people into the business leaders of the future. HR leaders should be encouraged to view ‘disruption’ from two perspectives.

Firstly, we need to consider disruption in its most regularly used sense nowadays. Disruptive technology is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen to describe “a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology”. One example within HR is the increasing replacement of the traditional job board with social media channels such as LinkedIn.

With emerging tools, platforms and businesses built around social, mobile and cloud, and the influx of ‘digital native’ Generation Y employees in the workplace, organisations are increasingly challenged to deliver seamless digital experiences to their employees, both before and after the recruitment process. 

To do this, new and innovative vendors are coming to HR’s rescue and enabling business leaders to harness and benefit from technological disruption. These include vendors such as CEB, whose Talent Simulation Suite helps HR to deliver a real-time, scenario based recruitment assessment. This enables the potential candidate to enjoy ‘playing’ the process, while gathering the information needed to inform the recruitment decision. Vendors are also delivering software that analyses candidates' activity across a range of social media outlets.

The second disruption to consider sits under a more traditional definition of the word – the disruption of the environment in which businesses are operating. In a 2012 Forbes list of 10 job roles that did not exist in the previous decade, many related to technology or people and talent, including app developer, social media manager, millennial generational expert and user experience design functions.

Redefining ‘disruption’ has led businesses to re-evaluate the tools they require to succeed, and HR plays a significant role in enabling this. Yet there remains another barrier standing in the way of companies – finding the right technology fit. Businesses need to integrate innovative new technologies with their existing talent acquisition systems. This means finding the right solutions that can be used with other core HR systems on an open technology platform that promotes agility, innovation and integration.

Adapting to the changing business landscape, which often involves embracing disruption in one sense or another, can make or break a business. Comparing the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 and 2011, Mark Perry, the professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at University of Michigan, found there are only 67 companies that appear in both lists. Failing to adapt and react to technological disruption will have played a part in this demise. Without the systems and culture in place to find, attract and nurture the right people to drive disruption and innovation from within, large organisations today could find themselves unable to compete, and even out of business, in the near future.  

Steve Hewitt is HR director at global talent management and talent acquisition solutions provider Lumesse