Moderating Technology Within HR Related Functions

THE DILEMMA

The meeting room buzzed with sounds of feverish optimism. Recently purchased software to streamline the HR-related functions within the organization was yielding positive results. Everyone grew quiet as the CEO entered the room with the HR Director to address other members of the senior management. The solemn expression on his face foretold the impending arrival of unwelcome news.

Clearing his throat, he uttered ‘I have just received the results of the latest employee survey and it indicates that technology is being seen as a limiting factor in progressive employee relations’. The light dimmed on the brightly-lit faces of the meeting participants as one of them tried to introduce incredulity in the ensuing conversation by emphasizing, ‘but, we have been steadily improving our business performance and achieving operational objectives’. ‘True’, the CEO answered, ‘our short-term outlook is positive, however, the majority of our employees have expressed reservations on how the mechanistic imperatives are overriding the humanistic concerns, and its grave consequences for long-term sustainability in a competitive market swarming with poaching competitors.

They feel that we are losing our ability to stay integrated as a closely-knit organization bound by cohesive culture values. Their engagement levels are being severely tested as efficiency trumps empathy. So, here is a question for us, have we overplayed our hand with technology?

THE CHALLENGE

The aforementioned scenario is a reflection of the dilemma being faced by corporate entities across the world.

The perilous allure of embracing technology as a competitive advantage, without conducting the necessary due-diligence on its optimal use, has increasingly fuelled the infatuation of organizations with profits at the expense of its workforce.

Consequently, this has promulgated the need for talent management practices that are designed for ‘risk accommodation’ against ‘talent flight’ as compared to ‘risk mitigation’ that caters to ‘talent engagement’. The era of ‘employee loyalty’ has been over for quite a while now, however, the concept of ‘employee partnership’ that was built on the ashes of organizational allegiance is also under threat.

Increasingly, professional careers are being subjected to the whims of corporate profits and ‘activist’ shareholder concerns, with the ‘psychological contract’ being hastily eroded in the process.

The new arrangement taking shape seems to be one of ‘employee gratification’, where attractive pay packages are customized to serve as ‘golden handcuffs’ on the desired talent as long as the organization sees a healthy ROI in terms of retaining them as part of its workforce.

One of the exacerbating factors in promoting divergent employee relations has been the pervasive use of metrics in analyzing the efficiency and effectiveness of performance parameters. Executive decisions are increasingly being subservient to the dazzling displays of HR dashboards without heeding the ‘human story’ that results in unfulfilled expectations.

Another aspect is the undulating economic environment that has resulted in a large pool of qualified applicants for limited positions who are subjected to the indifferent categorization and filtration of Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software. The convenience of an online Performance Management System is resulting in the career progression of promising talent becoming precariously susceptible to stagnation and/or employee banishment to corporate wilderness based upon a tired, vengeful, pressured and/or hurried supervisor’s completion of the web-based performance appraisal form pertaining to an unsuspecting team member.

While reparations may be made later; the damage done to the morale and motivation has a lingering detrimental impact on Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB).

THE SOLUTION

There is ample evidence available that touts the benefits of technology in greatly facilitating the streamlining of HR-related processes and enabling timely decision-making. However, the ‘art’ of leadership has to be balanced with the ‘science’ that works behind most of the technological solutions. The decision-maker and the decision-affectee are both humans, therefore, while technology boosts the efficiency aspects (the inorganic side); care has to be taken in terms of alleviating humanistic concerns (the organic side), as the ‘soul’ of the organization should not perish in its attempts to become more nimble in overcoming business challenges.

The aforementioned pyramid on the previous page appreciates the fact that there are no clear boundaries between the Organic and Inorganic sides of an organization. It also discounts the interactions that occur between various elements of the pyramid, apart from the five pillars, that are not shown juxtaposed to each other.

The respective pyramid has been built with an emphasis on giving equal attention to the Organic and the Inorganic sides that co-exist within an organization to ensure robust sustainability, harmonized growth and unfettered prosperity on a long-term horizon.

The Organic and Inorganic sides of an organization are defined as follows:

The Organic Side refers to the collection of significant elements that infuse a vibrant spirit within an organization. It is how an organization assumes humanistic characteristics and becomes an embodiment of a soulful presence. Such aspects include:

• Ingrained core values

• Effervescent organizational culture

• Rousing vision and mission

• Propensity for introspection and change

• Discernible embrace of diversity and inclusion practices

• Competent, motivated and engaged workforce

The Inorganic Side refers to the collection of significant elements that reinforce the foundations of various functions within an organization. It is how an organization operates in a regimented manner.

Such aspects include:

• Robust management systems

• Streamlined business processes

• Rationalized procedures and policies

• Optimized technological interventions

• Responsiveness to competitive pressures

• Proliferation of organizational discipline

• Knowledge accumulation and preservation

The foundations of the depicted pyramid are defined by the following five pillars:

1. Systems

Focused on seamless integration of strategy and business processes.

2. Technology

Focused on efficient running of operations.

3. Environment

Focused on risk management of internal and external influences on strategy, business processes and operations.

4. Talent

Focused on key areas pertaining to talent management.

5. Values

Focused on inculcating a cohesive culture.

The aforementioned pillars subsequently give strength and support to synergistic elements that are depicted within the highlighted pyramid as they interact with each other and ultimately culminate into achieving Organizational Excellence for progressive organizations.

PARTING THOUGHTS

This feature article is not an indictment on the invasive use of technology; rather, it is affirmations of its efficacy in enabling progressive organizations achieve their operational objectives.

However, such initiatives should be carefully moderated in view of the ‘human factor’ that is the real driver of long-term success and critical for ensuring a steady stride towards the dynamic goal of attaining Organizational Excellence under the umbrella of a galvanizing Vision and a robust Mission.

Organizations that have the humility and astuteness to learn well from their missteps are the ones with the foresight for maximizing the probability of success. As W. Edwards Deming put it, ‘Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival’.

Authors