We Are All Tech Newbies, So Train For It

In Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable, he observes that we’ve hit an era where we are forever technology ‘newbies’ (i.e. an inexperienced user). You’d like to master your smartphone or PC, but apps and operating systems update so frequently that you never know when a feature will be added, removed, or changed.

You are constantly dealing with software you haven’t quite mastered yet, and Kelly’s point is that there is no ‘yet’; you will always be a newbie.

With HR technology we are used to getting a system (after a long buying process); implementing the system (again a long process); and then learning the intricacies of the system (never an easy step). After that long adoption cycle we’ll live with the technology we’ve finally mastered, more or less happily, for many years.

The question is whether that old model is changing and, just like in the consumer world, we’ll end up with software that evolves so rapidly that we’re always newbies.

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Certainly, now that we’ve moved to cloud-based / software-as-a-service we’ve lost control over the upgrade cycle — and hence we are into a constant struggle to keep our level of mastery up-to-date. Also, there are so many relatively small HR apps available now (e.g. data visualization tools) that we need to stay abreast of dozens of apps, not just one or two big ones. In HR tech we haven’t yet hit the same level of turmoil we see in our consumer apps; but that constant change seems to be on the way.

What is interesting?

  • We’ve shifted from a world of investing a lot in learning software, followed by a long period of coasting, to a world where we need to re-learn how to use software almost every day.

What is really important?

  • If we get frustrated by this unending turmoil then we will burn up all our energy being mad at the world. We have to embrace the fact that each time we open a piece of software there may be something new to learn.
  • We have to stop relying on batch learning. For example, you may have an immediate need to use random numbers, create a pivot table, or do multiple regression in Excel. You don’t learn that by waiting for the next Excel 201 workshop. There is extensive and excellent on-demand help (often as YouTube videos) for all these things. If you are giving training don’t train features, train people how to access this help, and how to play with the software to figure out how to do things. If people can’t learn new software on the fly, then they’re no longer fit for the work.

Note to my readers: I’m always interested in innovative firms that signal where HR is heading. I love these firms that are striving to make a difference, but many are startups and a mention does not necessarily mean they’ll be right for you

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. Based mainly in Toronto and partly in Kuala Lumpur, he’s best known for his research on the latest issues in human resources.

He works with think tanks such as Talent Tech Labs (New York), Works Institute (Tokyo), Workforce Institute (Boston) and CRF (London). He’s collaborated with leading academics such as Henry Mintzberg (leadership development), Ed Lawler (“Built to Change”) and John Boudreau (future of work).

His books include The CMO of People: Manage employees like customers with an immersive predictable experience that drives productivity and performance with GrandRound’s CHRO Peter Navin; and Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau (USC) and Ravin Jesuthasan (Willis Towers Watson).

You can connect to Mr. Creelman on LinkedIn