Sep 24, 2013

What came first? Human resources or human resources technology?

If you ask some of my friends, they will tell you that you can’t do human resources in 2013 without having an integrated technology platform that addresses workforce planning, talent acquisition, performance appraisals, performance management, goals management, career development, succession management, learning management, social monitoring, employer branding, compensation management, rewards, recognition and payroll.

My buddies also believe that a forward-thinking human resources department must be focused on Saas, the cloud, social technologies, mobile and collaborative work environments, general mobile technologies, project management, online learning, online video, big data, gamification, memory, storage capacity and MOOCs.

Can HR give us happy cows AND happy milk?

My dear friends also believe that if you invest in all of those technologies, you actually remove the administrative burden from human resources and allow your HR business partner to focus on more important business issues that are the underpinnings of capitalism: reducing the cost of labor, increasing productivity, generating more revenue, and improving profit margins.

Some of that is true, but I have to stick up for my colleagues who actually work in human resources.

They get a bum rap. Human resources is focused on capitalistic issues; however, they are often underfunded, undervalued, and tasked with the schizophrenic and non-strategic directives of a C-suite that hasn’t learned any lessons on how to operate in a new economy.

And while many human resources professionals are too focused on the humanistic nature of work — making people feel good about themselves in order to inspire greater work outcomes — they are often following the advice of thought leaders like Bob Sutton, Jim Collins, Daniel Ariely, Seth Godin and Dan Pink who tell us that happy cows make happy milk.

It is worth asking: Can human resources technology give us happy cows and happy milk?


The jury is still out

But I travel all over the world and the jury is still out. There are HR and talent management professionals who are compelled by federal governments and local municipalities to keep paper records even though there is a movement towards the web and digitization. Many of my colleagues are still forced to use a mix of Excel, enterprise email solutions and paper file folders to manage and document the entire employment lifecycle.

So unless there are thoughtful and integrated human resources technology solutions for small, medium and enterprise organizations that can balance the humanistic elements of HR with the capitalistic needs of the business — all while satisfying the compliance demands of governments and addressing the systems needs of IT, procurement and finance — we are stuck with mixed messages, unfulfilled promises and a hodgepodge of human resources technologies and strategies.

(Right now, some vendor is saying, “We can do that! We solve problems at a reasonable price! And we’re fast!”)

Yeah. OK.

Promise of a new generation

The cynic in me believes that confusion in/about human resources breeds a dysfunctional but profitable marketplace. The disconnect between the human resources vendor community and the modern HR department has been exploited for years because it has been beneficial to modern technology companies.

But there is a new generation of human capital and HR professionals who have graduated from top-tier labor programs, have a strong relationship with their colleagues in finance and procurement, and will start evaluating human resources technologies differently.

And there are new sales and marketing professionals who have stopped condescending to their clients and now assume that human resources professionals are “educated buyers” with a greater understanding of how technology works.

So I am sorta optimistic about both the future of human resources and human resources technology. As an old guard leaves its post and a new crop of business professionals emerge, the partnership between technology vendors and human resources practitioners is full of potential and promise.

  • It no longer matters what comes first — technology or the practice of HR.
  • What matters are outcomes — both humanistic and capitalistic.

A new dawn is emerging. I am looking forward to it. It is about time.

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

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