· 3 min read · Features

HR technology: Then and now


Katie Jacobs looks at how some common HR systems have evolved

Does the phrase ‘Moore’s Law’ mean anything to you? It’s the observation that computer processing speed is doubling every two years. It’s come to symbolise the unstoppable exponential change that is continually occurring in technology. HR technology is no different. Paper-based systems have, in many organisations at least, given way to tools that are becoming whizzier by the day…

Then: Employee surveys

Now: Collective intelligence

While perhaps not quite dead yet, the traditional annual employee survey is looking dated, especially given the most powerful insight usually lies in unstructured data. Crowdoscope harnesses the power of unstructured feedback and provides insights into the ‘collective intelligence’ of the workforce. Founder Michael Silverman says that while unstructured feedback is becoming more prevalent, discussions need to be presented as “interactive visualisations” to engage people in a transparent discussion. Penguin Random House is using the tool; head of OD Claire Thomas says it has allowed the publisher to “gather real-time data through organisation-wide conversations, which have led to deep insights and crowdsourced ideas and suggestions”.

Then: Suggestion boxes

Now: Real-time and video feedback

The good old suggestion box, gathering dust on a desk, has been dragged into the 21st century. Now, employees can leave instant feedback via an app or even record a video. For example, Questback’s HR Excellence Award-winning tool MySay is a continuous, always-on feedback tool that the company uses internally to help employees share ideas quickly and easily. “Everyone can see every comment and suggestion, building a dialogue that creates empowered, mobilised employees,” says CEO Frank Mollerop. And at housing association RHP, staff are urged to record video feedback, which is uploaded onto Yammer. “We encourage people to tell us what they think in real time,” says head of engagement Chloe Marsh. “It’s not just for the selfie generation, people of all ages have embraced it.”

Then: Exit interviews

Now: Glassdoor

“Employer and brand feedback is so prevalent these days: just think of the tweets about poor service or a bad interview experience, or Facebook comments about what it’s like to work somewhere,” says managing director of ISV Software Amanda Davies. Like Tripadvisor for employers, Glassdoor is growing in popularity, with many candidates checking it out before joining a company. “Exit interviews used to be one of the only times you would get honest feedback from people about their work experience,” says group head of people and culture at Hays, Sandra Henke. “Now people don’t wait until they leave to tell you exactly what they think.” Hays encourages staff to leave honest Glassdoor reviews, and Henke feels it improves the quality of applicants, as they are clear on whether it’s the right place for them. “Providing it isn’t your only way of obtaining feedback, sites like Glassdoor can make it easy to find out what your people think and to identify areas you need to address,” she adds.

Then: Paper-based admin systems

Now: Online platforms

Remember when requesting holiday meant filling in a paper form? OK, so it wasn’t too long ago (and some organisations remain wedded to paper), but online self-service platforms for everything from booking holiday to measuring time and attendance are now far more mainstream. According to the 2015 KPMG HR Transformation Survey, 66% of companies already provide an online HR portal, and 61% are planning to use mobile technology in the near future. At RHP, online benefits portal RHPerks can be accessed from anywhere, via mobile or desktop. “We know that people often make decisions about what benefits they’d like to take up at home with their family so we wanted a system which would allow them to do this,” Marsh says. “It also does all sorts of other cool things, including a calculator that breaks down pension contributions.”

Then: E-learning

Now: Social learning

“The lines are blurring between L&D and communications,” says Andrew Nunn, head of L&D at Vodafone UK. This means learning is becoming more social, with employees able to co-create and discuss content in real time. Vodafone UK is using learning management system Fuse to deliver learning to its frontline retail staff via mobile. Nunn says the platform gets about 30,000 hits a day, from about 4,500 employees. “It means if someone has sold a new iPhone, for example, they can immediately share how they did it with the community,” he explains. “It’s bringing people together and it works because there is a social element. People are contributing to content creation, rather than us pushing things out.”

Then: Spreadsheets

Now: Analytics (maybe)

HR analytics: so much hype, so little progress. While there are some examples of HR functions pushing the boundaries of analytics, most are falling at the first hurdle, believes technology consultant Jason Averbook. “Vendor tools, while leading edge, need data to do analytics, which is an area HR has not been proficient in for the most part,” he says. “As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, the need for good data in a single place will be even more important for HR.” That means HR needs to start with “analytics in mind as the output”. “We are at a crossroads when it comes to HR data: a few are ready to move ahead while many are waiting to be left behind,” he warns.