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The HRBP's pivotal role in HR technology

Be an advocate for technology or get left behind

HR technology is moving at an ever-rapid pace. Most HR teams have already evolved from personnel departments, with Excel spreadsheets containing masses of employee information and antiquated paper files, into functions that use a core HR and payroll system as a minimum.

But the possibilities that HR tech offers are becoming so much more than this. We now have technology that can support every aspect of the employee lifecycle and truly transform our practice.

However, our use of technology can be boiled down to one of three simple reasons:

1. To gather data to make better, informed people decisions;

2. To automate processes through AI and robotics; or

3. To enhance customer interaction with, and experience of, HR.

HRBPs have long been told to become more commercial, more data driven and more recently, more focused on employee brand.

Too often the temptation has been to make the role so generalist and all-encompassing that it is untenable. However, when looking at HR technology adoption, HRBPs play a pivotal role in each of these three areas.

If we take the first area of gathering data to make people decisions, this lies at the heart of what constitutes a relevant and impactful HRBP service.

And the possibilities are endless in this space.

For example, using predictive analytics is a gamechanger in supporting leaders to make better, more informed decisions instead of relying on generic, broad-sweeping initiatives to target engagement and retention.

Access to this data is only possible through technology: using technology solutions for resourcing, engagement, performance and learning, alongside traditional HR technology to capture length of service, age and gender can all lead to advanced developments in predicting flight risk and trajectory within an organisation.

Without this, predicting flight risks is nigh on impossible unless you have a perceptive manager, or an obviously disgruntled employee – neither of which is ideal.

Make the most of this opportunity and such technology could transform how HRBPs operate over the next ten years. While we shouldn’t expect HRBPs to be data experts, understanding the integrity of data and advocating for technology to support this agenda will be crucial here.

Secondly, while automation might appear to be most beneficial to the back-office processes within HR, it has the potential to enhance the quality of the HRBP service by allowing HRBPs to take a more strategic focus.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has laboriously pored over Excel spreadsheets at remuneration time, trying to make figures add up to a number. If we continue with remuneration as an example, the value-add role of the HRBP isn’t to make sure the maths is correct.

We should be looking at how performance should influence reward, and spotting any unconscious bias through analysis of gender or ethnicity pay gaps.

We should be using predictive analytics to tackle underlying flight risk issues through analysis against pay benchmarking, internally and externally.

This just isn’t possible with an Excel spreadsheet – even for a business partner with better and more sophisticated formulas than me. HRBPs should be advocating for technology that will allow them to add the strategic value the role demands instead of being the administrative driving force behind a process.

This leads directly onto the third area and the role of the HRBP as gatekeeper to accessing services that enhance customer interaction with, and experience of, HR.

The need for remuneration technology doesn’t add as much impact in an organisation where pay is dictated by pay scales and spine points. The technology we introduce needs to meet the business demand to justify the expense, either through better people outcomes, or reduced costs, which is why HRBPs are perfectly placed to advocate for this.

In this capacity, they need to be able to articulate business demand to help the experts translate that into technology and process. This means HRBPs must understand what technology will have the biggest impact on the rest of the business’ perception of HR, and on employee experience.

With the HRBP role then critical to the three types of HR technology adoption, how can they advocate for technology solutions without having a core understanding of the technology and its impact on their service?

The simple answer is, they can’t. We shouldn’t expect HRBPs to be technology specialists, but they must understand how their service, as well as their business areas, can embrace and develop technology. And given their critical position they must understand this perhaps more than most in HR.

Much like HR needed to evolve from ‘personnel’, the HRBP now needs to evolve into a digitally-enabled professional to remain relevant. After all, wouldn’t it be a sign of success if we were able to use data to really drive management decisions that saw tangible benefits in retention, turnover and impactful people decisions? If not, I better start learning some better Excel formulas.

Claire Spurdell is head of HR business partnering at Agilisys

This piece appeared in the October 2019 HR Technology Supplement