For those who work in or regularly interact within the HR technology space, it may be tempting to assume that all HR practitioners are well-versed in and understand both the value and limits of workplace technology. That in the year 2018, when we all interact with all sorts of technology platforms in our daily lives outside of work, that we would all be fluent in technology inside the workplace, and that the importance of embracing how technology can transform the workplace as we move toward the future, balanced with a keen understanding of and respect for what it can and cannot do would be top of mind for all HR professionals.
Sadly, I’m not so sure this is the case.
I think the reality is that HR technology is still largely misunderstood by many practitioners. Maybe it’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to it. Maybe it’s because they’re so in love with their own processes that they can’t think beyond the current state. Maybe it simply just scares them. Whatever the case may be, although many HR professionals are making it their business to not only learn about and be comfortable with HR technology, but also truly embrace and promote the possibilities it offers, many others are still hopelessly adrift in this current tech focused world. And that misunderstanding and lack of knowledge often leads to a number of misconceptions that can limit our success as both HR and business professionals.
Technology Can’t Fix a Bad Process
It still surprises me (although maybe it shouldn’t) how some HR pros tend to blame technology for all of their ills. I suppose it’s easier to blame the product or the vendor when things aren’t happening the way we want them to, rather than admit that maybe it’s our own fault, a result of a process that could use some refinement or tweaking. Too often HR pros get so caught up in the way things have always been and want to force technology to fit outdated processes, resulting in the appearance that the technology “doesn’t work.” An HR technology implementation is a prime opportunity to reevaluate your current processes and practices and assess what could be streamlined and where steps could be eliminated, but if your environment isn’t ready for that hard look at everything you do, inevitably the technology will appear to “fail.”
Technology Can’t Fix a Bad Environment
Similar to trying to fix bad processes, throwing new technology at employees can’t fix an environment where either employees simply aren’t doing what’s required of them in their jobs, or one that doesn’t allow them the time and resources to do so. The right technology can certainly streamline processes and offer employees the opportunity to be more efficient and effective, but at the core you need people who are willing to embrace the technology, and organizational structures that give them the time to learn it and use it effectively. If your employees are stretched in a thousand directions already, chances are they aren’t going to make the time to use the tools provided. If there’s not a certain level of readiness within your organization, any attempt to implement a new technology will likely fall flat.
Technology Can Open Worlds & Capabilities If We’re Willing to “Let Go”
Although technology can’t fix bad processes or environments, once those elements are addressed and the right level of organizational readiness has been achieved, there’s much it can do. Similarly to how consumer technology has opened up possibilities we never anticipated, HR technology has the potential to do the same for our workforces and workplaces. But in some instances we’re going to need to be willing to give up some of our control. And if there’s one thing HR pros have traditionally grasped firmly onto, it’s the ability to maintain control. But a neat, tidy, controlled world is not the one we live in anymore. Just as media outlets can no longer completely control the flow of information to the public in a world where social outlets have blown up that model, HR practitioners and managers can no longer expect complete control over their employees. Nor should they necessarily seek it. This may be the hardest transformation of all for some practitioners as it requires a mindset change from one of compliance and control to advisement, enablement, and possibility; from a focus on why something can’t be done, to one of how it can be done.
Technology is powerful. It continues to transform our everyday lives in constantly evolving ways, and if we let it, it can do much of the same for our workplaces. But to get there we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, to gain an understanding of the capabilities and possibilities, to maintain open minds and let go of assumptions, and to transform the way we think about our roles as HR leaders.