What does a futureproof HR strategy look like?

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When thinking about the next five to 10 years in your organisation, sustainability is a question that will not go away. For example: how can we keep our talent for longer? What makes people happy? Where can we stay ahead of the competition? 

As a vital tool for instilling values and aligning company purpose, technology can be an asset for HR, but it can be hard to get it right.

Here, HR professionals share their top tips for what to include in an HR technology strategy, and how to make sure it lasts.


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DO: Align it with your business strategy 

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of HR software options, says David Collings, professor of HRM at Dublin City University Business School. However, the best way of cutting through the noise, he says, is to bring it back to purpose.

“The more mature organisations I am working with are making decisions around where to invest in technology through the lens of the business strategy,” he says.

“There is a clear alignment between this and their HR technology strategy. One example that comes through strongly in our work is enabling the workforce for the future of work.”

 

DO: Streamline where you can 

There are often too many HR systems used at any one company. Where possible, Harvey Francis, executive vice president and chief HR officer at Skanska UK, advises consolidating the number of platforms and integrating into the wider IT strategy.

However, having come up against this challenge at Skanska, he says there is also a case to be made for using a mix of systems. “Equally important is consideration of single platform vs. integration of best of breed systems,” he says. 

 

DO: Include skills as part of the plan

For Terri Moloney, senior director of employee success at Salesforce, futureproofing ultimately comes down to skills. She says: “One fundamental truth that needs to be central to this strategy is that in a digital-first, work-anywhere world, jobs will become increasingly reliant on digital skills.”

Salesforce’s Global Digital Skills Index found that four in five (80%) UK workers do not feel equipped with the skills needed for the future. Moloney adds: “For HR leaders, this represents a huge opportunity for them to take a strategic role in addressing the growing digital skills gap with a focus on how technologies of today and the future are impacting roles within the workforce.

“Tactics for this include investing in younger generations and promoting training focused on upskilling employees with key digital skills.”

By making skills a priority in a technology strategy, business will align themselves with industry leaders according to Collings. He adds: “The more mature organisations have a ‘north star’ which gives them a strategic direction for the types of skills they need as the organisation's products or services evolve. 

“They are proactively engaging with skills and enabling that transformation through technology rather than chasing every new trend.”

 

DO: Reflect to get ahead

Smart use of data is essential. Jeremy Lief, HR transformation and technology leader at PwC UK, advises HR to work on its predictive analytics capabilities so they can get ahead of change.

“Technology is the foundation that enables this workforce transformation to be delivered safely, reliably and efficiently,” he says. “Having real-time, reliable insight into the workforce, coupled with an understanding of the ongoing capability needs, allows business leaders to make data-driven decisions on where and how to build or acquire those skills. 

“Leading HR technologies providers will constantly enhance their products to keep pace with the metrics and data that matter, enabling business leaders to stay one step ahead of the workforce challenges and opportunities.”

 

DO: Make it useful 

Just because you can use technology does not mean you should. Francis adds: “It should be all about the end-user.”

The rapid adoption of Amazon, eBay and online banking is testament to that, he says, but convenience and utility must be balanced. He adds: “It’s easy to use tech because it’s available, but it must be useful and relevant.”

 

 

DON’T: Leave management out

It would be short-sighted to only focus on the system itself when futureproofing technology argues Zofia Bajorek, senior research fellow at The Institute for Employment Studies. 

For employers that, for example, viewed digital communication as a stopgap during the pandemic, there may be some catching up to do. She says: “If organisations are going to operate successfully in a hybrid work environment it is important that individuals are sufficiently trained in using the technology so that communication within and between teams is not disadvantaged in any way.”

Inclusivity should also be at the forefront of any plans. She says: “Managers may have to learn how to lead hybrid meetings successfully, so all relevant stakeholders are included in discussions, and the same messages are distilled to all staff regardless of location.”

 

DON’T: Let your policies gather dust

As well as staying up to date with the right training, Bajorek reminds HR that policies will need to be able to flex to suit changing needs, especially when it comes to health.

“Just because digital technology allows staff to be connected at all times, it does not mean that employees have to be ‘always on,’ risking health and wellbeing and blurring their work/life balance,” she says.

“Futureproofing the management of such policies and practices is just as important, if not more important as futureproofing the technology itself.”

 

DON’T: Forget it’s a change project

Laura Whittle, people change manager at Yorkshire Building Society, is keen to stress the importance of considering technology strategy as a change project. Though consultation, communication and training are often considered, the involvement and engagement of impacted people is often overlooked.

She says: “Companies must consider how they will bring employees on the journey with them to land and embed change successfully.”

As such, people change activity will be needed at every stage of a technology strategy. “The most important initial activity is to carry out a people impact assessment to identify the changes the project will bring to roles,” adds Whittle.

“Once complete then plans and risk mitigations can be developed and shared with sponsors to highlight the impacts of the change and provide confidence in plans.  

“As many impacted employees as possible should be involved to input their views and be heard.” 

 

DON’T: Underestimate the cumulative impact 

As a change project, the implementation of a HR technology strategy will have a knock-on effect on other elements of the business too. Therefore, Whittle adds: “Understanding the cumulative impact of change to roles is paramount.

"One project may not change a role significantly, but if each project is looked at in isolation the impact of the add-up of changes to a role may be overlooked.”

 

DON’T: Automate everything

While it can be tempting to cut out the go-between to save time, money, and effort, Francis warns of overzealous automation. “Technology should always be used in a smart fashion, automating processes and providing insights into trends through analytics,” he says.

“It shouldn’t replace those areas of HR where human intervention is valued by the people involved.”

Overall, as Whittle stresses: “Technology and process changes alone do not transform a business – people do.”

 

This piece was first published in HR magazine's 2022 Technology Supplement. Check out more from Technology with purpose here.