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‘HR, take the lead role -technology can do the administration’

by Marco van der Hoeven

This is the time for HR to step up and claim a more strategic role in the organization. Automation enables HR professionals to gain valuable time by freeing them from day to day routine tasks, making them a partner for the business. Adding technology like AI can even lead to HR better serving their internal customers. Rocking Robot discussed the opportunities for HR in automation with Hamish Taylor, who has an impressive track record in brand management.

“A challenge is that a lot of people get into technology because they’re excited about the technology,” Hamish Taylor says. “I’m not, I am excited about what I’m trying to do for my business. And if technology can give me a better way of getting there, fantastic. But it’s not the technology for technology’s sake. I think that’s a bit of a problem in a lot of organizations. This goes for some technology companies as well; they want to tell everybody how smart their technology is.”

But what does that mean for the business? “The best technology companies are the ones that do the translation for the customer. To do that, they’ve got to be really good at things like customer insight, understanding the customer’s business.”


He continues: “I’m actually quite jealous of the IT community. I grew up in brand management, and the brand manager was king. All the innovations came from brand management. But that territory has now been stolen by the technology guys. They now have the keys to the kingdom. But you’ve got to learn how to use them. Because if you don’t know how to use them, there’s no point in having the key.”

This is a challenge because it’s about selling a benefit to the customer. Taylor makes a comparison: “Your product is the engine room that enables that benefit. But what the customer is buying is not the engine room, they’re buying the benefit. Take the airline business as an example, it’s great that you’ve got fantastic Pratt & Whitney engines on your airplane, but I’m not buying the engines. I’m buying a trip from London to New York.”


HR is in a similar position. “There’s more technology in HR, because there’s more technology in the business as a whole. The key is for people to step back from technology, and step back into the brand proposition for HR for the rest of the business. If technology helps, great. But as I said, it’s the engine, the enabler, rather than the goal. And I think too often people, not just in HR, think that technology is the answer.”

“When I was chief exec at Sainsbury’s bank I used to have discussions with the big banks who talked about internet banks. And I used to say, ‘There’s no such thing as an Internet bank.’ There is banking and there are things that customers want. If the internet makes it easier for customers to get what they want fantastic, but it’s not a different industry. It’s the same thing, it’s just a great new way of engaging with customers.”


This is one of the subjects he discusses with HR executives during workshops and seminars. “Technology in HR at the moment is about removing a lot of the day to day administration type tasks. That is step one. Step two is the more sophisticated things like AI, and how that might help you in a different way. Because I think there’s a challenge for HR, because what are you going to do with the time that is now freed up because you don’t have to do these tasks anymore? This is actually a huge opportunity. The opportunity is to engage more with the business than they do at the moment.”

“Why aren’t more HR people at the top table in the C suite? Why aren’t they playing a more strategic role? This is your opportunity, stop being administrators, technology can do that. Now step up and start taking that lead role. But to do that, you’ve got to understand your role. What benefit does the organization want? Technology gives HR much more opportunity to really step up their game and actually be part of the business, because there’s nothing more important in your business then people.”


Another challenge  for HR is that businesses generally have more technology coming in now. This has implications for the HR role. “For example because the workforce is remote now, particularly after COVID, working from home. How do you maintain employee engagement when a lot of your workforce is not coming into the office every day?”

Behavior is another challenge, especially related to IT security, with trends like zero trust. “If you’re not careful with that you become a business prevention officer, because you are actually stopping the business from doing what it wants to do. So a big part of internet security in this new remote work environment is actually about managing behaviors of people. It’s true the most vulnerable part of your IT system is the people using it, not the system itself.”

People experts

Therefore, there’s a role for HR in this. “You can’t expect IT security people -who are technical experts- to be people and behavior experts. So HR needs to work hand in hand with the security people to really help keep the business secure.”

Another challenge for HR is monitoring and understanding what’s happening to employee productivity in this new world. Are the employees happy doing what they’re doing? They were happy working in the office. Are they happy working from home? If not, what are we doing about it, how do we look after that?”


“And then the last one, which I find really interesting: what are the implications of all of this technology growth for recruitment? On the one hand, the people coming into the workforce now are far more technically literate than the legacy workforce that has been there for a long time. They grasp things a bit quicker in the technology world, but it also means their expectations are higher. And if you haven’t got the latest thing they’re disappointed.”

“In recruitment you’ve got to be very careful that you don’t recruit just on technical skills. Recruit on factors like leadership, achievement, thinking and communication. Challenge a person on all those four areas. What we want is future leaders. And you’ve got to be careful that as you bring in these technically literate people, you’re not ignoring the importance of experience of your older workforce. Technology skills are no more important than the other skills.”

See also:

CxO Stories: ‘Use automation to battle the Great Resignation’

View the recording of CxO Stories on HR and automation here



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