Over sensitive or Over Engineering? A case for keeping HR Operations simple

I frown.

Another request comes by to modify the process accommodating yet another special scenario.

Add a branch. Divert the workflow to Manager; or Admin; or Skip Manager. At this point, the process map in front of me looks like traffic on a busy Indian street with movements in all directions, everyone going where they want to go and somehow all of it fitting on the narrow roads and miraculously not crashing into each other. I have added so many branches to this process that I can't find the original path any more!

This is my story today as a vendor catering to maddening process variations of my customers.

This was my story yesterday as a HR practitioner; this was my story in a past life a system integrator.

Like Indian mythologies, where you would have Siva Purana, Bhagavata and Devi Purana narrating the same story from different view points, I have experienced this in different flavours from all sides of the fence.

The well meaning practitioner wants to satisfy the whim of the employees. "It is too sensitive to terminate an employee on performance grounds", she says, "I would instead have the employee raise a resignation and record the reason as performance".

The service minded System Integrator has nothing but customer satisfaction in mind. "Oh yes", he says "We can customize the product to have 37 emails and 20 different workflows for your process".

The vendor has two choices. The established vendors say they can support it; at a cost of course. The wannabes say, "Bring it on, we are flexible".

Finally comes the employee. She tries to navigate through the web of options -  created with her sensitivities in mind, of course! Ironically what the systems have contrived and put in place is effectively lost on the end user. All she wants is to get it done and over with. "Give me a two click process. I shouldn't have to think about this".

So, why, then, do we complicate HR operations and people processes?

Don't get me wrong. I think it is all well intended. HR teams care about their people. A Manager is too busy to approve his team's requests? Let us get someone else to do it. They care enough to tweak the processes to keep the ball rolling. 

The complexity is introduced when computer systems and automation and digitization enter the picture. And when you have Compliance in the far end. HR's carefully curated process variations don't exactly fit into a system process that executes smoothly and spits out a perfect report for compliance at the end of the road.

I am reminded of my shopping experiences. When I go to my local grocer, he tells me what is fresh and what is not. Since I am a regular customer, he sells me Toor dal at Rs.20 lesser than the market price. And when I am done, he gives me a handwritten bill with the costs scribbled on it and totaled up in the old traditional way of counting. He doesn't have a POS system; let alone a calculator.

When I go to a Super Market, in contrast, the staff cannot help me much with the quality of the products nor can they provide variable pricing depending on the customer. But I get my items neatly packed and I can complete my whole shopping experience without interacting with another human being. I can pay by credit card and walk about with a computer printed receipt. 

When HR processes move from manual/ excel sheets, the transition is similar to that, at a much more chaotic scale!

That brings me to two questions I have been asking myself -

1. Are HR processes not supposed to digitized? Are they not meant for a system? Do we leave them high touch and let HR be HR, caring about people and making the difficult relationship between organization and employees work better?

2. What do employees really want? Do they want a local grocer or a Super market experience?

I know the answer to the second question. I have heard this from our end users who have been giving feedback about our product. Employees love the automation. They like having all the information they need at the click of a button and being able to perform transactions without taking time off from work or go see another team. It works well for most operational processes; most of the time.

If I attempt to answer quesiton #1 with what I know about question #2,  then it would be: HR should be digitized, as that is what employees want. But the problem lies in how we do it. Here are some high level thoughts, which I am happy to go deeper into if interested:

1) Think digitization; not automation of your existing processes. There is a difference.

2) Follow the 80-20 rule. Build the process for 80%. 20% exceptions will always exist and you can find different ways to handle those. (When you build for exceptions, you create pathways for people to move like traffic on Indian roads)

3) Be ready for transparency. Transparency has its downside but Digital operations come with it and we just have to handle it. Again, employees love transparency. 

It is not that complex.

If you have any more thoughts, would love to hear it. 


Published: 8 months ago

India Inc. needs to focus on Employee Experience

"Your customer experience will be great, if your employee experience is greater" said Carel Wain.

Every company emphases on customer experience following “customer is the king” phenomena. But companies should realise that employees who serve these customers need attention. Today companies are getting conscious about how they should look at improving Employee Experience. So, what is Employee Experience – it’s when an organisation creates a workplace where employees feel like coming and working rather than feeling forced to come. Companies are beginning to realise this and are coming to believe that Employees are their biggest assets and that they need to invest in employees to enhance customer experience. Employees are the back bone for any organisation. Treating your employee’s right at work will not only boost the company’s profits but also create a happy work environment for them, both at workplace and back in their homes.

Considering this, today companies in India have started investing in new offices spaces, well-being programs, maternity and paternity leave, healthy foods, workplace flexibility, and so on. Best example for this is the new 11 floor Flipkart office which caught everyone’s attention. Google has always been innovative with their workplace.

So that’s about infrastructure, what about the technology that employees are using to deliver at work?

Today’s employees have far more informed exposure to Technology through their personal devices. They are able to take advantage of Apps and portals to increase productivity and enhance efficiency in their personal transactions. People in all walks of life are using mobile phones in all kinds of scenarios. Technology has been a huge catalyst in bringing about this disruption. However, enterprise technology is still far behind where companies are tied to legacy systems or applications built on top of legacy architecture.

Companies have to concentrate on improving the technology environment a workplace, not just the Business systems, but the tools employees use to get work done. This includes all Employee operations within the organisation from HR functions and Work management operations. Companies should look at providing a singular platform accessible from all devices for Employees to manage their operations efficiently and reduce the time spent on managing work. Technology is now becoming the central nervous system of any organisation and it is only imperative that HR , Employee and Work management leverages that effectively.

Additionally, as per a recent study, by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be the ones who are born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. These are digital natives who have grown up using Facebook, Google and online applications. When they start new jobs, their expectations with the technology at workplace would be to expect a similar platform. Providing them legacy applications will impact their engagement and employer brand.

So for companies to be future ready, they need to switch to SMAC enabled technology platform to manage their Talent Operations.

Published: 11 months ago

How did Dentsu handle the Talent challenge in Asia?

The younger generation in Asia doesn't want to have the same career path as their parents

They are comfortable with flat organisations and do not care for hierarchy

Interested in instant rewards

So Dentsu do used on Fixed, fluid, flexible communities that can bring speed to Operations

So they set up a social operating platform where employees can connect and create their own circles. This was made as their working environment, something that they will start their work with. Emails etc. were embedded into the platform.

25% of KPI was allocated to collaboration. Tracked via points thought the platform adding a bit of gamification element to it. 

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There was an editing team in the back end, running it like a channel, monitoring content, highlighting good content and watching out for inappropriate content

This also included an on boarding module - content that was not confidential was shared and buddies were set up to help them understand the company better.

This also in Luddite a transparent data driven performance review system.


Faster project delivery

Better Employee satisfaction scores

Pride in Dentsu brand

8.9% organic growth in APAC

Published: 2 years ago

Asia Talent - trends

  • Growth is not just upwards but talent pool is more open to lateral moves to gain varied experience

  • Repatriation is a big trend

  • Prevalent 4 screen world - Smart phones, Tablets, Computers and Street signages

  • No legacy systems - so better adoption to newer technologirs

  • Mobile is the centre of everything 

Published: 2 years ago

A look at ADP's Vitality report (2 of 2)

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Looking at the trend across income ranges, there is a higher growth among low income earners. This could point to increase is part time workers. The rise in part time could be related to Obamacare. Most employees stay with their employers to be able to have affordable healthcare. Obamacare could have possibly replaced the dependency on full time employment for affordable healthcare and hence encouraging people to take up more part time work. Having options like eLance and oDesk has also influence part time and freelance work.

Steven Rice says they are moving towards Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose framework for employees. Looking at the data below illustrates the cost of losing workforce because of missing purpose or autonomy.

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This data allows HR to identify which factors to focus on and what actions to accelerate to address those factors.

Also as HR starts working with concepts like engagement and happiness, these numbers will start telling stories that help inde tidy actions.

ADP's next trend is interesting. Wages of job switchers are have a higher growth rate than job holders.

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This data itself is not surprising. Decades if data show the same trend. The interesting thing to watch out for is if the gap is widening or shortening.

Steven Rice sees the trend of employees doing multiple tenures across different companies reflected here. But then one also wonders if companies are losing the wrong people.

Makes companies think, how can I be that next employer for talent?

John adds the perspective that money is only part of the equation. We currently don't have measures for purpose etc. 

So, which industries are under pressure to keep employees?

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Steven Cochrane adds that ADP data is immediately available as opposed to Govt data that could take years at times and hence helps measure the dynamics and understand economy more dynamically.

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The report shows that South is leading in job creation. However it also indicates that all regions are growing which is good news for the economy.

It also shows the changing industrial scene. Technology is impacting Energy industry resulting in growth in that sector. Increasing revenues lead to increased spending that in turn drives growth in leisure industry. 

Steven Rice from Juniper networks sees implications for people decisions using this report. How do the shifting labour patterns impact Juniper's access to Talent and it's ability to deliver.

When you start looking deeper, it shows that Transport/Retail sector is driving growth. These are low wage industries and the growth here is driven more by labour shortage rather than job creation.

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John Boudreau points to the fact that there now more overqualified people who probably don't want to be in Retail jobs. So this research could lead to a conversation and thinking around what to do with this extraneous talent in other industries that need talent.

This is just tip of the iceberg in terms of real time data providing meaningful insights.

Data privacy is probably the one concern in globalising such data and reports. But given the millenials' approach to privacy and comfort with sharing data, this may not remain a road block.

Published: 2 years ago

Real HR Technology Issues - Future HR Tech must haves

Narinder Singh - Developer Eco systems is going to be the differentiator. 

Michael Krupa - Taking HR to the enterprise. HR still plays a support role. But with all the data and tools out there, there is a real opportunity to take it to the enterprise

Holger Mueller - Analytics will be big in the next five years. Dashboards and business insights using people data will get more powerful.

Brian Sommer - There seems to be a skill gap in HR. There is a need to be more cosmopolitan and understand how external and non-traditional sources of data can come together to provide real HR insights

Michael Krupa - We need to start thinking about the type of workforce we will have in the future. It will be a mix of third party contractors, employees and robots. Are we ready for that?

Published: 2 years ago

Real HR Technology Issues - Integration between different cloud based systems

Michael Krupa - Most vendors provide integration suites that are simple to use.

Brian Sommer - The world of HR has gotten too complex. It is just not internal data and systems but HR looks to external sources like social reputation of candidates using third party tools. And this environment keeps changing everyday.

Narinder Singh - Enterprises also have to look at their internal processes and decide which ones to integrate

Holger Mueller - don't integrate for integration sake

Overall, integration will remain a painful topic and there is no easy answer.

Published: 2 years ago

What are the issues a HR leader would face while trying to implement a Cloud based HR product?

Issue 1 - Regulations around data causes discomfort in people's mind. Organisations are not comfortable with havering employee personal and job data in the cloud.

Issue 2 - TCO with on premise applications are not clearly understood. So a proper comparison with Cloud business model is incomplete and thus cost sometimes becomes a disadvantage.

Published: 2 years ago

Opening Key note by Andrew McAfee

As academics teaching in business schools and researching digital technologies, Andrew and Eric were actually confused in the last couple of years as a Technology seems to be doing things it is not supposed to be.
Then they discovered the book by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murname - The new division of labour, which seemed to unlock the puzzle around using technology and human labour efficiently.
What is the sustainable value of human labour's contribution?
We take information from our senses and do the best pattern matching. We are really good at complex communication.
So the sensible division of labour seemed to be to give routine jobs to computers and leave pattern matching and complex communication to humans. 

The book quoted as the example - driving cars in traffic.
A myth that since has been busted by Google car.
The authors took a drive in a Google car and the first thing they discussed was how this was not supposed to happen. Then they discovered more instances that did not follow the rule.
- Narrative Science, a company that can take a body of data and write articles the present the data with a desired tone.
- Watson, IBM's super computer beat two human Jeopardy champions in Jeopardy.
So if technology is getting this good, what are the implications of this?
1) Performance changes will be large as machines are deployed for more and more complex activities
          - IBM is deploying Watson for customer service
          - Computers are being used for complex activities like pathological diagnosis in a Medicine

2) Management and leadership will change to be more open and more data driven
         Traditionally geeks, who collect evidence and make deductions based in data have been overruled by HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person's opinion) who are typically the top leadership who take decisions based on guts. That is about to change.
3) There will be a great deal of disruption
4) Biggest change since industrial revolution
One final thought - Chess, a game where Kasparov lost to IBM's Deep Blue starting the long list of instances where machines have over performed against humans, is now seeing better success where players leverage computing and human strengths for better outcomes.
So we need to re-examine the machine-human relationship.

Published: 2 years ago

Preconference session

The Conf room is overflowing for the IBM sponsored session on HR analytics! Wonder if it is because of the topic is popular or the event is!!

Published: 2 years ago

Here we are......

Landed...checked in....registered....and all set to be part of HR Technology Conference. Excited.

Published: 2 years ago