Technology mastery; the next frontier for HR


The last couple of years have seen a constant buzz in HR circles on the impact of technology. Discussions center around ‘will technology take jobs away’, are there ways to reduce unconscious bias’, Is there a better way to get real-time feedback from employees’, can talent analytics bring business value’ and so on. There is a lot of interest in what technology can offer in the near future, so let’s crystal gaze and look at new technology innovations that are going to change the face of HR.

Talent Analytics: It has become a business imperative for C-Suite executives to make continuous efforts to understand the workforce in greater depth. It helps them to recruit, develop and retain the best talent more and more efficiently.

Leveraging talent analytics technologies will help Organizations do much more than tracking fundamental performance indicators. Talent analytics can be leveraged to identify high potential employees, predict employee turnover, support the succession planning, and eliminate unconscious bias while selecting talent.

Artificial Intelligence: A significant number of jobs will be replaced by AI technology.  Studies show that almost every other thing professionals do on an average workday can already be automated by AI. BBC has predicted that nearly half of the most commonly held careers are above a 50 percent risk of automation before 2035! Examples include helpdesks, Personal assistants (schedule appointments, reminders), Resume shortlisting and many more.

Blockchain: Many of you would have heard/read about Bitcoin, the digital currency developed in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s a complex design built on Blockchain. Essentially, Blockchain is a distributed database which facilities the creation and transfer of digital records without third party intervention.

A typical use case in HR is that of a comprehensive ‘employment transcript’. In a world where the average tenure of employees continues to shrink, there is no single source that consolidates information about an employee. Information of an employee’s work history, roles handled, performance, compensation and trajectory, etc. that can be accessed by multiple stakeholders in the employment chain can be very valuable in employee verification, role fitment and succession planning.

Chatbots: Chatbots can perform specific tasks for you based on voice or text-based interaction. The concept is not new, they’ve been around for many years, however, improvements in machine learning and natural language capability have transformed these tools, making interaction with a Chabot seem decisively human-like and capable of performing complex tasks on your behalf.

Chatbots in the HR space have already emerged in the market and some of the current ones perform simple tasks such as helping employees get their leave balance or payslip enquiries via an e-mail request. Employee feedback is another area where Chatbots are being deployed. Imagine a system that can randomly gather feedback from employees on a daily basis without affecting their work schedule and provide you with real-time analytics and insights!

Augmented Reality: The increased use of devices/ wearable will help provide information tailored to the context and space in which an employee works. The information can appear as visual or audio supplements that help an individual more efficiently undertake a task. PCs, mobile phones, and tablets all are active platforms for AR, but smartglasses, and their hands-free use, will drive the next wave for AR.

Examples include mobile phone apps that will track an employee’s training and direct him/her to materials tailored to their style of learning. Imagine a scenario where an employee points his/her phone at a poster (say a new employee policy) and it takes them to a video, an online training course, or a book that could offer more in-depth information on the topic.

Virtual reality: Virtual Reality in HR holds the potential to transform the future of work. Virtual reality is the computer-generated simulation of three-dimensional images, giving users a immersive and realistic experience that connects at a deep sensory and cognitive level.

VR can be a great tool for screening candidates on skills needed for a position because recruiters can use VR to remotely assess a candidate’s set of skills using work simulation tests. It can also be used in Onboarding of employees where candidates can understand the environment, and the types of people they’d be working with. They can see what a typical day would be like and virtually meet potential colleagues.

Why these developments are significant: Preliminary findings from a state-of-the-art study by Patrick Wright and Lee Dyer of Cornell University suggest that the effect of technology on human resources will, like so many other professions, be profound.  The key words to keep in mind are “faster, better, smarter.”  Tomorrow’s technology will require HR professionals to stop thinking in terms of months and years and start thinking in terms of weeks and days.  This will require a change in mindset from being a strategic partner within an organization to being a change agent.

“We can’t do HR the traditional way.  We have to blow it up and entirely reinvent the way we do HR” Scott Pitasky, director of strategic growth for


Technology mastery; the next frontier for HR

The business case for developing frontline managers

Manager challenges

People leave managers, not companies. Numerous studies also validate the premise that managers are critical to keeping employees happy and productive. In my view they are also the most overlooked group in an organization (when it comes to developing talents) – in particular, frontline managers.

Importance of frontline managers

It’s a no brainer that when it comes to translating a company’s strategy into results, there’s no denying the importance of the frontline manager. Studies indicate that close to 65% of an organization’s workforce is managed on a daily basis by frontline managers.

Managers on the front line are critical to sustaining quality, service, innovation, and financial performance” –  Harvard professor Linda Hill

 Bottom-line impact of frontline managers

  • They account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units (Gallup)
  • When companies increase their number of talented managers, they achieve, on average, 147% higher earnings per share than their competition.
  • A survey by DDI concluded that one in four organizations reported a dip in profit due to frontline manager failure.

Key Challenges faced by frontline managers

  • The transition from being an individual contributor where one is responsible for one’s own performance, to managing the performance of others is a huge challenge.
  • A frontline manager is often required to manage the work of his/her erstwhile peers – a shift that is difficult and without preparation, results in costly mistakes for the organization as well as the individual.
  • Most of the time, frontline managers operate as cogs in a system, with limited flexibility in decision making and little room for creativity.
  • In most companies, people who have excelled as individual contributors are straight away moved up and given managerial responsibilities for which they have very little or no training at all (according to a survey, 26% of first-time managers felt they were not ready to lead others to begin with, and almost 60% said they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role).
  • Once the manager settles into the role, the burden of the business-as-usual takes over and there is no time or inclination to focus on identifying and developing necessary managerial skills.

Way forward

The first step in the journey is the assessment of an individual’s capabilities and behavioural dispositions to understand strengths and gaps. This is to be followed by focussed training, development and mentoring. Since development is an iterative process, regular reviews and periodic re-calibration is also required to check for relevance to the current business context.

Good companies understand that assessment, training and development of frontline managers is a sound investment for the future and spend time, energy and resources in ensuring that frontline managers are well equipped to excel in their roles.

The business case for developing frontline managers

‘HR as Performance facilitators’ – Lessons from a Sports Performance Analyst

Human Resources

I was at the NHRD monthly meet last week in Chennai, India and we had a very interesting session. The session was titled ‘Managing High Performance & Leadership – Learnings from a sporting context’. The speaker was Dhananjai (known popularly as DJ) who was the Performance Analyst of the Indian cricket team till 2014 and now offers his expertise to Mumbai Indians in the IPL.   The session was very enjoyable, one   because it was full of anecdotes about our favourite cricketers and second (and more importantly), because of the similarities between facilitating the performance of Sportsmen and how we as HR professionals facilitate employee performance in organizations.

I am highlighting a few of the key takeaways and look forward to hearing all your views and perspectives:

  • Performance monitoring as an ongoing activity – Technology has become an integral part of sports today and one of the key aspects of its impact has been in monitoring performance and offering insights for improvement. It was fascinating to know that Analysts record things like Intensity of players in a practise session, sleep patterns, diet, technique and so on.
  • Personalising the inputs given – Players come from different walks of life, bring with them their own values/belief systems, skill sets, personality preferences and learning styles. Giving them feedback and inputs on their games requires ‘personalising’ it to a very large extent.
  • Offering simple yet valuable/actionable insights – With the amount of data that is being collected about every aspect of an individual’s game, opposition, weather, playing conditions, strengths/weaknesses, we can imagine the complexity and rigour of data analytics that is required to actually offer practical and meaningful insights and inputs to each individual player. What’s great to know is that, we have advanced to a level of analytics where players/teams do get inputs which have helped turn games and win from virtually impossible situations. A simple example to illustrate this is that advanced systems can predict when a bowler bowls a slower ball (say 3rd or 4th ball of very over) which helps the batsman prepare and play accordingly.
  • Focusing on Strengths – ‘You are what you are because of your strengths’, so analysts understand a player’s strengths and help them leverage it to their and the team’s advantage.
  • Positive reinforcement – How we give feedback can make or break a person’s confidence. A negative feedback (area of improvement) is always preceded by positive reinforcement of things that went well or a reminder of an individual’s potential.
  • Simulations play a key in role in identifying potential and in development of a player – Simulating the environment that a player is going to encounter is a key aspect of selection and preparation. We have read/heard of famous examples of how Sachin practices facing a leg spinner bowling out of the rough on the leg side to counter the genius of Shane Warne. Another Sachin example is how he believes in being in complete match gear while practicing since it would help with ‘muscle memory’.
  • Arresting ‘default’ behaviours – There was an interesting point about how we as Indians are better at reacting (example of how we have always fought wars where we react to a provocation and how that pushes us to give it our best). We hear of how champion teams have this incredible ability to win from improbable situations and our Indian team was famous for losing the advantage after being in winning situations. The point here is about knowing how we do things normally, and in being able to adapt to changing situations to be effective and successful.

I think the linkages between how performance of Sportsmen are managed/enhanced and how HR does this (or should do this) in a larger, organizational setting is clear. HR as a Performance Facilitator is about being in the background (like the Performance Analyst), but playing a very important role in helping an organization realize the true value of its human capital.

‘HR as Performance facilitators’ – Lessons from a Sports Performance Analyst

The Millennial Masterclass

millennial employees

‘Managing the millennials’ is a topic that is being discussed in every boardroom. There is certain hawkishness in the way we approach the topic. According to me, understanding them and how they think is the first step to creating the workplace of the future. Here’s my take on a millennial’s world view and preferred work style.

  1. Live and love technology – Technology is here to stay and you have to embrace it…just to stay relevant.
  2. Share & Collaborate – Use social networks to share what you know/learn quickly so that may others can benefit.
  3. Work is an activity, not a place – ‘Office atmosphere’ is over-rated and traveling to work is passé
  4. Follow your heart – Figure out what you want to do and do it.
  5. Enjoy a variety of experiences – Variety is the spice of life. Try different things, learn from those experiences.
  6. Get to the point! – Be clear, direct and bold
  7. Work and life are intertwined – Move seamlessly from work to play, mix the two and enjoy them both. Learn to multi-task
  8. Learn and adapt quickly– Conditions change too fast to learn one skill and spend years developing it in the workplace.
  9. Meritocracy is the new seniority – Experience is valuable if it adds value in today’s context
  10. Live for today– Future is too far and unpredictable, live the life you want…today
  11. Take risks – Taking the safe path is a sign of mediocrity
  12. Simplify…gamify – Shift from complicating simple things to simplifying and gamifying complicated things
  13. Here and now – Instant feedback, Instant recognition and Instant rewards
  14. Challenge/Question everything – Question all basic assumptions… Have data…will accept!
  15. Information is the new currency – Information should be fast, easily accessible, free and virtually limitless.
  16. Informality – Cool, casual and chillaxed learning and work atmosphere

As much as we cherish and value the ‘traditional way’ of doing things, we certainly need to acknowledge and learn from the generation that has made ‘disruption’ a way of life! So project ‘managing the millennials’ should also include a module on ‘what we can learn from the millennials ’.

The Millennial Masterclass

Components of an effective Employee Development Program

‘Employee Development’ is identified as a key focus area by all organizations alike. It is also the one aspect of management most discussed for its failure to live up to the expectations of both the key stakeholders – the Organization and the employee

It is accepted by one and all that as part of an overall HR strategy, employee development initiatives increase the odds that a workforce will be willing, ready, and able to move into the roles that the organization needs them to play when the marketplace demands change.  So why do these initiatives flatter to deceive?

In my 15 years of experience in facilitating employee development initiatives for various companies, I have found that the success or failure of these efforts depends a lot on the employee. I say this because no matter what an Organization does, if the individual does not feel the need to develop him/herself, no amount of push will help.

This happens largely because as individuals we get into what I call as a ‘comfort cloud’ where we settle into a daily rhythm and habit of doing things and do not want to let go of the comfort. On the contrary, when an individual is passionate about his/her growth and willingly participates in a well-structured development activity, over a period of time, there is definitely bound to be growth.

With that said, can organizations do more? Yes. In a lot of cases, such initiatives mostly fizzle out in the last leg for want of a structured process of operationalising the IDP (Individual Development Plan). I have seen that a simple, automated self-service system where employees can upload their IDPs and monitor progress goes a long way in ensuring that the planned activities are completed in full and on time.

In my view, the following are few key factors for the success of employee development initiatives:

  • Organizations to establish a structured process and provide a technology enabled platform to set, monitor and review Individual development plans.
  • Managers need to buy in to the organization’s career development point of view. They also must be competent and confident in facilitating employees’ career development.
  • Last but not the least, individual employees need to pop out of the comfort cloud, expand their horizons and participate in the development initiatives with their complete mindshare.

I truly believe that if executed well; the payoff from focussed employee development initiatives can be substantial in terms of long-term loyalty and job performance.


Components of an effective Employee Development Program