HR Insights, HR Technology

The Complete Automation of HR: It May Be Here Sooner Than You Think

© Jaros - Fotolia.com

I love my friends in human resources, but I am just back from a week in Vegas where a bunch of people told me that HR can be automated.

I think that’s probably right.

When you go to Burger King, it’s a pre-recorded voice that asks you if you’re satisfried. Did you know that voice recognition software can accurately detect your order better than a cranky, distracted employee who hates his job? And it’s not that difficult to whip up a batch of fries. Almost all of the cooking is done through machines and instruments.

Imagine what can happen in your personnel department if we apply that thinking to your job. You’re on borrowed time, yo. Anyone can fill out a payroll change request form.

What’s wrong with HR that caused this?

Now listen, I am not rooting for the elimination of human resources because I want the people I love to earn a paycheck; however, I think HR follows the 1 percent/99 percent division we have in society. That is 1 percent of human resources professionals do important, essential work. And there’s the 99 percent that does a mix of work — some interesting and some not — and will be subject to redundancies in the near future.

So what’s wrong with human resources that pushed us to this inflexion point? Here’s a short list.

  • Too many guys in leadership roles. Not enough women running the show.
  • Too many white people in positions of power. Lots of black women who are in charge of diversity because, you know, they are black.
  • For all the whining about compliance and bureaucracy, nobody in HR seems to have solved for compliance and bureaucracy conundrums.
  • Most HR departments aren’t likable.
  • Recruiting is a pain and they use LinkedIn.com and Facebook.com like it’s Monster.com in the ’90s.
  • HR mistakes proximity to power for power itself.

When I look at that list, I feel bad. I like white guys. I’m married to one. And it’s fair to say that my list actually mirrors much of our workforce. But the difference between human resources and IT is that most people feel like they need technology.

Nobody needs the BS that comes with human resources.

Understanding the technology

And a majority of entrepreneurs only think about investing in HR when they reach $5MM in revenue and/or 50 employees. If they can automate and streamline people-related processes, they will.

So if you work in human resources, I would like you to start thinking about how you can get closer to the 1 percent.

  1. I don’t think social media is the key differentiator.
  2. You won’t wow anyone with another set of HR-related credentials.

You might want to think about understand the technology that’s about to upset your apple cart. If you know your enemy, you can destroy it.

And you might just keep your job.

Find more from Laurie Ruettimann at her blog, The Cynical Girlwhere this first appeared.

Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader turned influential speaker, writer, and social media strategist. You may know her as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR, which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. Laurie is a contributing editor for The Conference Board Review; a contributor to the TalentSpace blog and Business Insider; an advisor to SmartBrief on Workforce; and her advice has been featured in a wide variety of publications. Laurie is also recognized as one of the Top 5 career advisors by CareerBuilder and CNN.
  • Tukold Scorpio

    Like females in IT, males in HR rise because they bring a fresh perspective. They also bring business intelligence back into the role. Why aren’t women leading HR more often? Because when they were in charge, HR planned picnics and Christmas parties. Why are black HR professionals in charge of diversity? Probably because they applied for that position.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      Oh man. This is so dumb.

  • Scott Spray

    I think the reverse is the problem in terms of race and gender. Too many HR departments think they aren’t diverse enough if they hire white males, so they think they HAVE to hire a woman and or minority because they are in HR.

    First of all, there are other types of diversity than race and gender. For instance, how about diversity of experience? How about age, part of the country you grew up in, majors in college, etc.? I know that the fact I “grew up” in operations, makes me much more valuable as a partner to the teams I support, because I’ve actually walked in their shoes. I’ve been told by many I support how much they appreciate me bringing that perspective to the table, and how valuable it makes me as a partner to them.

    Secondly, when you focus on hiring for race or gender, you don’t necessarily get the most qualified employee. Affirmitive Action is great if you want to increase the chances of hiring an underqualified candidate.

    • Sheila Venable

      You seem to think that white males are qualified until proven otherwise, and women and minorities are unqualified until proven otherwise. I hope you aren’t in recruiting.

      • Scott Spray

        Sheila,
        That is not at all what I’m saying, Ms. Ruettimann however, seems to feel that being not being a white male will make you better at HR, so maybe you should be a little more concerned about her biases. I’m just saying that when you focus on things other than education, skills, experience, and other factors that contribute to success in a postion, (or even other types of diversity besides gender and race), you are greatly reducing the likelihood that you will hire the most qualified individual.
        While recruiting is not a huge part of my current role, you should know that I just hired three new members on my team, all are female and one of the three a minority. But, I didn’t focus on their gender or ethnicity, I focused on their qualifications, pre-employment assessments, and other factors that are a more reliable predictor of success in the position.

        • Laurie Ruettimann

          I’m saying that 80% of leaders (director level and above) are male in a profession that is 80% female. Something is off.

    • Crystal Spraggins

      I’m sorry, but your theory isn’t borne by the facts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the “only black person in the room” of senior HR folks. Sure, there are lots of women and people of color in lower-level HR positions, but just like in the corporate environment in general, the higher you go the maler and paler it tends to get.

      And, we’ve had this conversation before about whether we can divorce diversity of thought or diversity of experience from ethnicity and gender. My question is–why the heck do we keep trying to?

      Finally, the premise of AA is ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL the employer should offer an opportunity to someone who is a member of a group that’s traditionally not had equal access to said opportunities. No one is obligated under an AA plan to offer a job to someone who is unqualified. In fact, the studies I’ve read make it clear that women and people of color have to be OVERQUALIFIED to receive the same opportunities of their paler brethren. So, please let’s not have any further talk about how unqualified people of color are taking jobs from whites through AA. It’s 2013 for God’s sake.

      (By the way, I like white men enough to be married to one, too. Although it’s true–I may not like them as much as Laurie does.)

      • Laurie Ruettimann

        Crystal, this is why I am a fan.

        As a side note: as the only black person in the room, I hope you represented YOUR ENTIRE CONSTITUENCY very well. No pressure but tell us how black people feel about stuff, okay?

      • Scott Spray

        Crystal,
        How are you so sure that my theory is not supported by the facts? Do you have a study you can share, because I can tell you my experience is that at any HR networking event I attend in the DFW area, women outnumber men at least 80% to 20%, more than once I’ve been the only white male in the room.
        And while the premise of AA is supposed to be all things being equal, I can tell you that in practice, it is very often the primary goal, especially when filling positions in HR.
        I would argue that women or people have to be overqualified, that is no longer the case, because in 2013, we’re living in a country that has elected and re-elected an African-American President. Actually, he’s half black and half-white, but rarely seems to discuss the white portion of his heritage. Any objective person has to acknowledge that he has the weakest resume of any President elected in modern history. You would think if the deck is still so stacked against people of color, that Barack Obama would emphasize the fact that he is actually mixed race now and then, especially since his mother is the parent that didn’t abandon him.
        Finally, try having a white child get into an elite university or earn a scholarship if their GPA, test scores, extracurricular and leadership experiences in high school aren’t FAR superior to minority candidates they are up against.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      Too many HR departments think they aren’t diverse enough if they hire
      white males, so they think they HAVE to hire a woman and or minority
      because they are in HR.

      Yes. White dudes suffer at the hands of HR.

      Secondly, when you focus on hiring for race or gender, you don’t necessarily get the most qualified employee.

      Spoken like a true white guy.

    • John Bushfield

      My my. I’ll bet some of your good friends are black, too.

      • Scott Spray

        Really, John?

  • John Bushfield

    Laurie – I think you are directionally correct with the notion that technology will invade the HR space, reducing the requirement for certain levels of headcount. The same applies to your assessment of the devils that have plagued the function, although I might take issue with the 1%/99% split. The fast food example you began with didn’t go far enough: robotics have advanced to the scary state of actually replacing the counter staff, and I can envision in the not so distant future completely automated establishments within that industry.

    But I think you are wrong with the notion that technology will replace the HR function altogether. In fact, technology will actually enhance HR’s ability to provide better support by collecting and automating the analytics, thereby allowing much better strategic decision making.

    What we are experiencing is another cycle where certain jobs/functions are being eliminated, while at the same time new and better opportunities are created, which will require new skill sets in order to compete.

    With regard to the men/women/black/white observations, I think you are exactly right. I do think we will see more women (white) in top roles in the near term, because we need them in those roles (female DNA seems to emphasize their capacity for compassion and social consciousness), and because there will be more of ‘em (women college graduates are outpacing male graduates by a significant number).

    The black/white thing is a more disturbing, at least to me, phenomenon. I don’t believe we’ve come as far as we (white folks) like to think we have in terms of racial equality. Numbers don’t lie: prison populations, unemployment, low income jobs, poverty; black folks comprise a majority of these categories. Sunglasses are required when looking at the other side of that equation. While we (americans) have made progress (albet grudgingly), racial bias is alive and well throughout corporate america. The only exception to this reality is professional sports, where individuals are evaluated purely on talent and performance. A close second might be some sections of the entertainment industry.

    Regardless of any of the above, HR better get it’s act together, because if they don’t they’ll be gone, independent of the application of technology. I’ve never seen more opportunity for HR professionals than I’m seeing now. The ability to provide real, meaningful and cutting edge value to organizations has never been better. But you have to see it, and know what to do with it.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      But I think you are wrong with the notion that technology will replace
      the HR function altogether. In fact, technology will actually enhance
      HR’s ability to provide better support by collecting and automating the
      analytics, thereby allowing much better strategic decision making.

      I hope so. I would like to save some jobs.

      • John Bushfield

        Me too! Unfortunately, until the commoditizing view of employees changes, everybody is at risk.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      The only exception to this reality is professional sports, where
      individuals are evaluated purely on talent and performance. A close
      second might be some sections of the entertainment industry.

      Maybe. I don’t know sports but some say that biases around geography, universities, personal networks, appearance, skin color, sexual preference, etc., are as prevalent in sports as they are in corporate America.

      • John Bushfield

        You may be right about that. But it doesn’t seem to manifest itself on the playing field, on who plays what position, or how athletes get paid.

  • John Ludike

    What amazing string of comments centring around gender, race etc. That’s why Technology could be both great enabler and leveller as no bias, stereotyping etc. which from my perspective is highly divisive as focus should be on automation and well my view in addition to automation would be greater offshoring and outsourcing of HR inclusive of delayering less VP’s, CHRO’s etc just to many people in HR, CHRO’s. CLO’s etc . etc