HR Technology Q & A with Don Weinstein

Don Weinstein, chief strategy officer at ADP shares his thoughts on how technology is affecting the HR profession’s role in organizational strategy and performance, which HR functions tech will most affect in the next five years, and the future of HR technology.

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Q.  What is the single most important piece of technology an HR pro can have in 2016?

People now expect technology to work at the office like they’re used to it working in their personal lives. To meet these expectations, HR professionals should be looking to leverage technology that simplifies the lives of employees at work and personally. A key area for this will be mobile, which will allow HR teams to make data more available to employees in an easier and more connected way, for activities like viewing a paycheck or changing direct deposit accounts.

 

Q.  Technology is enabling HR to look at how their strategy affects organizational performance, in addition to HR-specific problems. To what extent are today’s HR professionals able to step outside the box that has traditionally defined their role?

It used to be that functions like talent, recruitment and payroll operated in their own siloes. Now integrated data is changing all of that. HR practitioners are starting to play with analytics and data modeling, which is allowing them to go beyond just managing these functions and actually getting proactive about it. So instead of telling employees what they need to do, the data and insights provided by these tools are empowering HR to help employees make better decisions themselves and even get ahead of any issues that may arise.

Similarly, data can help HR make better decisions. To stay competitive businesses should be looking to leverage reliable and accurate data on factors like diversity, turnover rate and compensation. When companies can see how they compare to the market, they can stand out to the right talent and better manage the talent they already have.

 

Q. Many organizations are now using cloud-based technology for talent management, recruiting, performance management, workforce planning and analytics. Will there be significant advancements in the future? What’s coming next for HR technology?

Much of the discussion around cloud to date has been about using SaaS applications to automate various functions within HR. SaaS is great because it affords HR more control over the technology, and simplifies the up-front implementation part that used to take lots of time. An extension of this is using the cloud to connect on one platform to make all of these applications automatically work together. And then when you work in the data side of things, you start seeing the value of cloud in HCM being realized beyond SaaS – it’s more like database as a service.

For what’s coming next, I believe we’re in a time of complete rewiring of how HR is run and how the HCM technology drives it. Historically, HCM has been so focused on efficiency for HR professionals, but now organizations are realizing it needs to be about actually making employees’ lives better, looking at technology like machine learning. Right now, most enterprise applications are “pull” systems, where people login and navigate around through menus. With machine learning, there’s a future in which the system can “push” the information to you at the right time and at the right level of detail. This is a fundamental change for how enterprise technology works, and you’re starting to see this with the concept of conversational interfaces, which came into popularity with the mass adoption of texting, and is now evolving with bot technology.

For an example, imagine a system that looks at a manager’s calendar and sees that they are traveling to the company’s San Francisco office. It then automatically notifies them that there are two high-performing associates who are flight risks at that location, asking, “Do you want to schedule a meeting with them?”

If the manager says yes, the system sets up the meeting with the employees. But, over time with the use of data, it can also learn the manager’s typical patterns and go one step further, automatically setting up meetings with the right people without even asking.

 

Q.  What area of Human Resources profession (recruiting, OD/Training, comp/benefits, employee relations, etc.) do you see technology affecting the most in the next five years?  

As workforce data becomes more centric to how companies operate, we will see technology causing a convergence of many of these areas. In other words, technology will enable access to a greater volume and depth of data across HR functions, which will in turn lead to these roles needing to work together more. And in reality, the convergence will likely happen across more than these functions – to do data right, organizational psychologists will likely get involved, as will the core IT team. This is the new world of people analytics.

Of all the functions, employee relations probably has the most opportunity here. Many executives are waking up to the fact that having an engaged employee base is good for business, and historically, this has been a very subjective task. However, with access to so much data now, like how a commute time could affect how happy an employee is, employee relations can be much more calculated. With both the access to the data and the ability to use it, HR can make a direct impact on the employees. So if people analytics takes shape across a company, employee relations will very much be at the center of that.

 

Q.  As technology evolves, what do you think the future of HR will look like?  

We’re already seeing that technology is enabling the HR function to pivot and more quickly address the ever-changing needs of employees and organizations. It is also allowing HR professionals to focus on actually empowering their people, instead of tasks like data entry. In the future, we will see more HR systems that work for people, not the other way around. In other words, we believe that technology actually can help humanize the workforce. Yes, it seems contradictory but just think about the employee performance review process. It’s oftentimes a once a year process with a great intent. But the goal – to help employees grow and learn – isn’t often achieved because it’s all up to the employees to input into rigid systems.

This is just one example, but it shows how technology can work more like automated assistances around HR teams. This is just the beginning of the evolution of HR to strategic business counselors.

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