There is no “Digital Revolution”

Every day, I hear people in business talking about digital transformation, digital disruption, the digital revolution. I hear them talk about their organisations becoming digital businesses.

But the thing is, in most cases they aren’t becoming anything of the sort.

We can’t underestimate the impact that technology has on the way we interact as consumers, as employees, as enterprises and service providers. But we need to be careful to avoid the easy distraction of the simple half-truth.

Before “the digital revolution”, we didn’t refer to ourselves as physical businesses. And to that point, it is hard to put a finger on when physical became digital. The calculator? The mainframe? The mobile phone? The internet? When was the start of the end and the end of the beginning?

It really doesn’t matter what sector your organisation operates in, finance, retail, leisure, media or public services. The chances are that the principal purpose for which you employ people and go to work every day isn’t “digital”, but something else. To insure people against loss, to sell people the means to keep warm, to provide entertainment, content or security, health and wellbeing.

I’m not splitting hairs, my experience of working in various organisations over the years has taught me that in times of change, in times of disturbance or disruption, the survivors are the ones that understand what they do and what they exist for. They have a purpose that transcends the means of delivery.

They remain single-mindedly focussed on this core purpose and reason for being, but completely open minded to the way in which they can execute it in a changing world. This differentiation between intent and execution is critical for organisational alignment and strategic direction.

As HR leaders, we can really demonstrate our value when organisations undergo change and there is no doubt that new technologies provide opportunities that need to be optimised and embraced. To do that, we’ve got to understand what our businesses are really about, how they make money or fulfil their public service remit.

The nature of business, of organisations, has changed before and it will change again. There will be new entrants to our worlds and established names will fall by the way. In many cases, the biggest difference between those that win and those that lose, will not be the change itself, but the ability to understand what stays the same.

The 5 future trends that HR needs to embrace

Technology is getting smaller

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I know all about BIG technology. Seriously, guys these days don’t know they’re born. I had to wear a back pack for the batteries to support my first Walkman (yeah, I know…..what’s one of those?) and that’s before I talk about my first mobile phone…..which was great. As long as you were within three minutes of a charger.  Not forgetting that it used to take a small army to return the TV to Radio Rentals when you wanted to upgrade to push button technology.

But here is the thing. Whilst hardware has got smaller, so has software. Smaller and a hell of a lot more powerful. There is a platform or solution for almost every single thing you do within the HR department. Hell, thinking about it there is probably even an app that mopes about having a seat at the table too. We should be engaging with this new small technology, seeing where it fits into our business, deploying it effortlessly and through it creating a better employee experience.

Employees are getting pickier

Which brings me on to the next point. Things are picking up out there and people are starting to think about whether they really want to spend another five, ten years dealing with the same rubbish that they’ve had to put up with since 2008. Just being big is no longer going to cut it, just being the market leader is cute, but doesn’t get you a cigar. What is it that you have that makes it a different experience for employees?

You can’t guarantee a job for life, or a gold-plated pension scheme. You probably can’t even promise decent career progression because you’ve been so busy flattening your organisational structures to take out management layers and cost. So what do you have to offer? What is it that makes you REALLY different? Why on earth should anyone work for you?

Talent is getting broader

Fortunately for you, talent pools are getting bigger. You just haven’t worked it out yet. But that’s ok, that’s what I’m here for. You can thank me later. So here’s the thing, the “war for talent” has never really been about talent, that’s just the label they put on it to scare your CEO. It was a war for qualifications and in some way skills. But that’s all about to change, because qualifications are going to become more or less obsolete.

Why? Because the things that you learn at school, at college, at university are great, but they’re going to be irrelevant to the workplace almost as soon as you graduate. Instead what you need to be looking for are the adaptable, self-learning, flexible, curious people who won’t come in to your business expecting everything to be like it was at business school. Because they never went. And these people, are everywhere, you just need to open your eyes and look differently.

Culture is becoming realer

Which brings us on to culture, or, “how things happen around here”. Because you know what? It really makes a difference. I’m not talking about trying to be Zappos or Google. You’ve got more chance of waking up alongside your secret crush of choice. Which is exactly the point. We’re all different, we like different things, we have different looks and we want different outcomes. And so do our organisations.

Being real and open about who you are as a business, accepting your lumps, bumps and blemishes, but being proud of your good bits (no matter how soft a focus is needed) is going to deliver a better performance.  Identifying who you are, getting your senior team comfortable with that and dropping the pretence of being something you’re not. Enough of the authentic leadership babble, we need to start talking about authentic business.

Reward is getting harder

Well, there had to be something that was a bit of a suck in the top five. And this is it. Because the way in which we pay individuals has been pretty static for the last fifty years. The way in which we structure reward is archaic and no longer fit for purpose. I’m not just talking about the cash that you take home to pay the bills and buy the monthly takeaway, I’m talking about the entire reward and compensation framework.

When you look at new entrants to your market, they’re offering entirely different compensation terms. And if you want to compete with these guys for the best people, then you’re going to have to think about how you pay and reward. People aren’t interested in a job for life, the benefits that you offer were drawn up by a 50-year-old white guy, some time in the 80s because they frankly just don’t cut it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the “what we offer” of most corporate websites and then tell me how inspired you are. Then think about change.

Technology is HR’s biggest asset

Last week was a bit of a tech week. Starting in Sydney at the incredible HR Tech Fest and ending in Berlin at a digital “bootcamp” (including a visit to the games developer Wooga) looking at the latest consumer digital developments. Having finally got back to some semblance of normality, there are a number of things buzzing around my mind, causing me to reflect and think about the future of our profession.

1. Our employees are consumers, and as such are increasingly immersed in technology. If my expectation of the world is one where I can do pretty much anything at the tap of a screen, then why would my expectations be any different at work?

2. HR technology has changed and is changing. The future of technology is not the big, sole vendor, enterprise systems (although they are still dominant) that restrain you to one platform and one solution. The future is individual, integrated multiple vendor solutions that are best fit for your organisation.

3. We have the opportunity to excite and engage employees through the use of technology, rather than report on and process them. In the same way we willingly spend our time (and money) on consumer technology, the right solutions will lead the right behaviours and engagement within our organisations.

4. Cloud based and SaaS (software as a solution) technologies improve our ability to implement technology more quickly and at lower cost. Gone is the need for long project plans and implementation projects, we can trial, measure and develop a lot more easily. But successful implementation still comes down to good training and communication, nothing has changed there.

5. The opportunity to take our HR technology out of the work environment and in to the home, the commute, the coffee shop or the pub is going to become crucial. Being fully mobile, fully portable, whilst remaining secure is going to be a challenge, but our expectations as consumers is to access the content and services we need, when we need them, wherever we need them.

6. Good technology means good data. And intelligent use of data, as we know, is critical to understanding and leading our organisations to be better.

But the big tech-away (did you see what I did there?) for me, is that as an HR leader, you need to understand and embrace the opportunities offered by the new generation of technology solutions. It isn’t good enough to say, “I’m not a technology person” in the same way it isn’t acceptable to say, “I don’t do numbers”. The HR leader of the future is going to be immersed in technology and see it as their greatest asset.

If that isn’t you, then its time to brush up. Otherwise, you’d better start looking over your shoulder.

SoMe, So Far, So What?

Wednesday sees the hosting of the CIPD’s Social Media conference. Cue lot’s of posts about “what social means to me”, “what I’ve gained from social” and of course, “why social makes me a sparklier and better human being than you will ever be”. There is something about the dumb smugness of the Social HR community that sticks in the back of the throat. I’ve written about it before and whilst things got slightly out of hand, the arguments are pertinent and remain.

The fact is, that there are as many malingerers, as many sops and as many charlatans on social channels as there are in any other walk of life. If social was all shiny, then there wouldn’t be trolls. Social channels don’t have a selection process, they don’t discriminate. The democratisation of media places it in the hands of the dull, feckless and boring as often as the interesting and informed. You want evidence? Just look at your Facebook timeline.

In HR we need to be taking the debate beyond the, “I’ve met so many interesting people”, or “we’re a real community” nonsense and start talking about how social tools can be used to better engage with employees, better engage with job seekers and create value within the organisation. We need to be innovating, piloting, experimenting and seeing how we can best harness the technology that is freely being placed in our hands.

Social media policies are potentially limiting and dangerous. Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Yet 80% of HR professionals are still busily enforcing theirs within the organisation. Are we there yet? I think not.

If Social HR doesn’t want to eat itself, then it needs to step up and demonstrate value, not talk about social in such whimsical and, frankly eye wateringly nauseating terms. It is time to start to use the technology to transform your organisations, not just tweet cupcakes. It is time to engage internally, not blabber externally. It is time to come of age.

My question is, does Social HR really want to? Or is it just another pink and fluffy example of the profession slowly losing credibility. Only time will tell.