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Is Technology Taking the “Human” Out Of Human Resources?

Aug 30, 2016

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 the senior managers. The solemn expression on his face foretold unwelcome news. Clearing his throat, he said, “I have just received the results of the latest employee survey and it indicates that technology is being seen as a limiting factor to progressive employee relations.”

“But,” responded one member of the team, “We have been steadily improving our business performance and achieving operational objectives.”

“True,” the CEO answered, “Our short-term outlook is positive, however, a majority of our employees have reservations about how the mechanistic imperatives are overriding the humanistic concerns. They feel we are losing our ability to stay integrated as a closely-knit organization bound by cohesive cultural 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

This scenario is a reflection of the dilemma being faced by corporations across the world. Embracing technology as a competitive advantage, without conducting the necessary due-diligence of all its effects, has increasingly fueled the infatuation of organizations with profits at the expense of their workforce. Consequently, this has created a need for talent management practices that are designed for “risk accommodation” against talent flight as compared to “risk mitigation” that promotes 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 subjected to the whims of corporate profits and activist shareholder concerns with the consequence that the “psychological contract” is being eroded. The new arrangement seems to be one of employee gratification, where attractive pay packages are customized to serve as golden handcuffs on talent so long as the organization sees a healthy ROI in retaining them as part of its workforce.

One of the exacerbating factors in promoting good employee relations has been the pervasive use of metrics in analyzing the efficiency and effectiveness of performance.

Executive decisions are increasingly made on the data showing up in the dazzling displays of HR dashboards without considering the human story. Another aspect is the indifferent categorization and filtering performed by applicant tracking systems (ATS). An even more entrenched issue is the convenience of online performance management systems and its impact on training and development and associated succession planning initiatives. As a result, the career progression of promising talent is susceptible to stagnation based upon a tired or vengeful, pressured or hurried supervisor’s web-based performance appraisal form.

A synergistic pyramid

There is ample evidence showing the benefits of technology in streamlining of HR processes and enabling timely decision-making. However, the art of leadership has to be balanced with the science of the technology. While technology boosts management efficiency (the inorganic side of business operations), care has to be taken in addressing the humanistic concerns (the organic side). The soul of the organization should not perish in its effort to become more nimble in overcoming business challenges.

I propose that progressive organizations consider the following “Pyramid of Organizational Excellence”:organic and inorganiz pyramid

The pyramid recognizes there are no clear boundaries between the Organic and Inorganic sides of an organization. It also discounts the interactions that occur among the elements of the pyramid, apart from the five pillars, that are not juxtaposed to each other.

The pyramid has been built with an emphasis on giving equal attention to the Organic and the Inorganic sides that exist within an organization.

The Organic side

This 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
  • Unfettered dispensation of organizational justice
  • Competent, motivated and engaged workforce
  • Unflinching dedication to the Triple Bottom Line

The Inorganic side

This refers to the collection of significant elements that reinforce the foundation of the various functions within an organization. It is how an organization operates. 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 & 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.

These pillars give strength and support to the elements of the pyramid as they interact with each other, ultimately culminating in organizational excellence.

Conclusion

This article is not an indictment of the invasive use of technology; rather, it is an affirmation of its efficacy in enabling progressive organizations to achieve their operational objectives. However, technology initiatives should be considered in view of the human factor that is the real driver of long-term success. People, not technology, are responsible for ensuring a steady progress toward the goal of attaining organizational excellence under the umbrella of a galvanizing vision and a robust mission.

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