HR Management, Strategic HR

To Enable Success, HR Technology Should Retain the Human Touch

How many remotes does it take to change a TV channel? That’s not a trick question. Instead of simplifying life, technology often makes things more complicated. Many fitness trackers come with instructions that can take weeks to decipher—and features that few people use. Security protocols demand new passwords and user questions every few months. WiFi networks can develop glitches or break down altogether, turning productivity into frustration.

Technology is at its best not only when it’s reliable, but also when it disappears. Mobile phones evolved in the mid-2000s from feature phones to smartphones primarily because of the touchscreen interface—no one had to think about how to use it. When such innovations occur, they delight the user at the same time they move the world forward.

That surprising and all-too-rare element—the human touch—has, in fact, been the hallmark of all effective technological innovations. Mobile fitness apps are successful because they can connect users to real-world coaches, as well as others who share in their experiences and achievements. In the same way, online learning can improve on classroom experiences when the user can ask a quick question or benefit from instant feedback.

Despite an appreciation of the human element, companies introducing new HR technologies don’t always incorporate it into their offerings. As a result, many learning solutions, introduced with great fanfare, have to be pushed onto employees over and over again.

HR technology, to be truly effective, must identify and support people as individuals. Fortunately, it’s beginning to do so. From virtual-reality (VR) technology that allows candidates to experience a day on the job, to AI-powered coaches that advise and inform employees in real-time, a host of new and human-centered HR tech solutions is cropping up—innovations that have the potential to move organizations forward like never before.

Before purchasing and implementing new technologies, HR professionals need to evaluate them not simply on their gee-whiz features or their ability to automate tasks, but on their power to discern, engage, and inspire. Here are a few of the most important ways HR can make strong, employee-centered technology decisions:

  • Decide how much technology is enough. In a society where technology is increasingly prevalent and even expected, it’s easy to think that there is a technological solution for everything. Or that people prefer technology over human contact. Not so.
    Even for the tech-friendly millennial generation, a good measure of humanity is preferable to an app or a screen. Just because VR is available, for example, doesn’t mean you should jump into it. To be sure, you should keep tabs on the latest developments in technology. But before you make a purchase, it’s important to look at your entire range of employee touchpoints and ask yourself if there is a good balance. The answer will help guide you toward wise investments that enhance HR effectiveness from both ends of the gadget vs. human spectrum.
  • Build human touch into solutions. For any tech investment you make, look for those devices and services that include human interaction. One AI-based coaching solution, for example, offers direct connection to mentors who can be called upon for counsel in real time. Alternately, look for ways to add human connections to all-digital environments to help improve engagement and provide real-world application.
  • Personalize and streamline the employee experience. It’s been known for some time that an intuitive UI, or user interface, is key to the success of any device or app. Software developers even have a term for it: “consumerization,” an outgrowth of the smartphone revolution.In the HR world, however, the need to personalize the employee experience goes way beyond a consumerized UI.
    Learning and Development (L&D) solutions, for example, must be more than repositories of training documents. Look for ways to make the material easy to consume and easy to navigate. People tend to learn better when content is broken into smaller chunks; i.e., “microcontent.” AI and machine learning technologies are ideal for tailoring content to the needs of the individual—and for providing solutions that encourage engagement not only with employees, but also among employees.
    In short, technology decisions should always be made in such a way that the humanity of your workforce is reinforced. No one likes a faceless “big brother” work environment. Your HR technology has the ability to either reinforce such barriers, or tear them down.
  • Enlist solution providers in the human touch challenge. This is important on several fronts. Certainly there are consultants and HR tech specialists who are experts in analyzing and recommending comprehensive solutions for specific challenges. But just as valuable is working with vendors that provide your existing applications and platforms. Help them iterate new versions that reward the individuality and humanness of your workforce. Oftentimes it’s better to improve a platform than to start over.

Modern life is a constant struggle to embrace the power of technology without losing the qualities that make us human. Nowhere is this challenge more evident than in HR, a profession focused on the inherent value of people. There’s no question technology is enticing—but as it extends further into HR practice, it’s critical to remember both its potential and its limitations. In the end, it’s always people that matter most.

Janet Clarey is a manager in Learning and Development Research at Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she conducts research in the area of learning culture, career development, high-impact learning organization maturity, and learning technology. Janet has more than 15 years in the learning and development profession. Janet holds a B.A. in Communications from the State University of New York at Oswego and a master’s degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University. She has also completed coursework toward a doctorate from Syracuse University in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation.