Automation in HR – Impact, Adoption and Future workforce

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In dealing with a workforce that is fast comprising of more millennials globally, it is imperative for an organization to understand ‘What Is It’ that the millennials want. Research from around the world suggests that this workforce is different. In that, they want to connect more, belong more, own more and in general, know much more than their predecessors, about their own performance feedback and the direction of the organization. They also have limited or no tolerance for system inefficiencies and consider getting a seamless experience, in work-related matters, a hygiene factor.

“This new composition of the workforce is also putting to test the long-standing philosophy of traditional methods of evaluation while considering that “evolve rather than evaluate” may be better suited to the times and its people. Large companies where the majority of the people have homogenous roles have long relied on methods such as complex competency mapping frameworks in areas of people growth & promotion.”

Documenting at a point in time the functional competencies of their people and charting skill development against these has been often used to promote people from one job level to the next. Now, with constantly evolving & increasingly heterogenous roles, more agility is required to keep up or even ahead of the industry. It requires putting people in new and challenging roles, a host of which didn’t even exist five or ten years ago. Accordingly, companies are increasingly hiring people based on broad-based skills and values which match with the companies’ culture, rather than hiring for specific roles.

This makes the model of competency frameworks more or less redundant because instead of evaluating people on a pre-decided list of skills and behaviours, the organizations now need to ask people “what do you bring to the table” and then have the ability to make the most of it. This also means that employees want to be on top of what skills they want to and should acquire, rather than being told to get a certain certification to climb the corporate ladder. The focus has shifted from input to output, as is necessitated by the fast-evolving corporate canvas.

Traditional HR is still run on the philosophy of x employees to one single window HR professional, more commonly known as the HRBP. Physical or even digital touchpoints are structured and are usually few and far in between. Typical centres of excellence in the HR space usually feed the business HR lines, who in turn become a conduit for passing of work-related info such as goals and mission, benefits, recognition as well as advice on career progression.

HR leaders are fast discovering that a plethora of HRBPs, elaborate R&R plans, e-sat surveys conducted annually or at best bi-annually or traditional methods of skill development such as TNI, classroom training, etc. have started to fall short of their employees’ expectations. It is also not surprising that, of late, the efforts of the HR teams coupled with internal communication teams do not bring adequate results in terms of driving awareness, motivation or change in behaviour. The work-force wants to discover and communicate rather than being told. They expect interfaces to be intuitive, rather than simple. They expect to know “how they’re doing” at all points, rather than at annual or quarterly intervals.

The ask is really coming from the typical lifestyle of a millennial. Breaking news is no longer a factor of waiting for the morning newspaper or even prime-time broadcast. Connecting, communicating or collaborating with others is easier and quicker than ever before, thanks to social networking. Recognition is instant and crowdsourced, & therefore considered more credible. Navigating through cross-functional or seemingly disconnected milieus is transparent and easy. And most importantly, information is only a click away.

The onus is on the HR leaders to provide an extension of this lifestyle and environment at the workplace. The asks of the workplace should seamlessly be able to integrate into the fabric of the employees’ habits & preferences. In this way, the mind-share to being productive can be much more as lesser time is devoted to comparing, complaining and complying.

Ultimately the organization stands to reap the benefits of bringing these changes to the workplace –  more efficient& administratively lighter processes, a more productive workforce, lesser paperwork or physical coordination, system rather than people dependent organizations and a lot of rich data to derive meaningful insights from. 

While the penetration of automation and AI is still nascent in the HR space, whether, in India or globally, there definitely are early adopters who have started reaping some of the benefits. Let’s take the example of a few touchpoints within the employee lifecycle and see how automation helps the employee and the employer respectively in each of those.

Talent Acquisition & Recruitment

Talent Acquisition is a common pain point for hiring teams across almost all organizations. From trying to negotiate the optimum budgets for TA to advertising to the right job boards, articulating role descriptions or employer value propositions, to sifting through multiple applications to identify the right skills set, to selecting talented candidates, and finally to rolling out the offer; the entire process can become very light, with much faster response time by implementing an application tracking system – easily integration capable with any HCM. It will immediately afford you higher visibility into the hiring funnel and leave you with a clear audit trail. By using a good ATS, one can not only bring down the time to hire, but also create the right source mix and manage job loss, which can then be optimized to better suit the organization. Tools like parsing save the recruiter a lot of time in non-value-add areas such as data entry and the need for trackers. Throw AI in the mix, & recruiters get more time evaluating the smaller but eligible talent pool. Candidates get a uniform experience, be it brand feel or recruiter connect, and are happy going through a friendly digital process.

Pre-Boarding & Joining Formalities

An employee will typically spend her first couple of days in completing joining formalities and on-boarding – submitting forms and getting access to various systems, platforms& reports in the company. Automated pre-boarding allows one to not only orient the new joiner to role expectations and culture at the new workplace, but also to get the mundane task of joining formalities completed before one actually joins the workplace. This allows for much faster onboarding and the new hire can now focus on areas that actually interest or impact her – business overview, vision & goals and role alignment. Since new employees need a lot of hand-holding, with a customized on-boarding process for each position which focuses role & KRA clarity, reporting lines and how they fit into the organogram, automation can help bring in clarity on the role as well as its purpose in the eco-system of the organization, very early on. This goes a long way in retaining employees, all while maintaining a great onboarding experience and reducing anxiety relating to joining a new workplace.

Performance Management

As long as the company is invested in defining KRAs and targets for all of its workforces well, you only need a layer of automation on top of, say, your base ERP to do continuous performance management. Employee scorecards, a term which used to be on the wish-list of many managers, is now a reality, driven completely by automation. With a system in place which tracks real-time peer performance, & an employees’ own target Vs KRA achievement, HR managers & business stakeholders alike are able to assess performance more objectively. It’s easy to spot detractors and suggest the right interventions or training programs for the employees lagging behind the average team performance. Employees get a far greater sense of transparency relating to their standing in the team, & their individual growth. More importantly, there are no surprises at the end of the year when the annual rating is shared back with the employee.

With all of these data points combined identifying hi-pot talent, rewarding hi-performance employees, doing succession planning& boosting engagement automatically becomes easier.

Workplace grievances and their resolution

HRBP’s put in an extraordinary amount of time & effort handling employee complaints & issues, be it salary, task, role or behaviour related. Add to the mix the task of giving progress updates to the relevant people, & follow up till resolution, this becomes extremely challenging. Despite this, the HR manager may never have visibility on the total quantum of open issues or concerns in the system as each HRBP will be dealing with these for his or her span.

With an automated system to document such tasks, say a simple ticketing system which allows re-assignment of tickets to the provide solutions on the fly, coupled with self-help documentation such as FAQs will go a long way in easing the burden on the HRBP and bringing a lot more visibility into issues faced by the work-force.On a need to know basis, visibility of relevant categories of issues may be given directly to the top of tree folks or even senior management. Automating appropriate escalations, or role-based assignment of tickets to the right managers can make the process faster, consistent & more accurate. A simple dashboard can tell you which areas are toughest for the employees to navigate through – by checking CTR on the FAQ page or the quantum of queries in any category or even the usual TAT consumed to resolve any category of complaints. Company policies and processes can be re-mapped to address such areas for the whole org which could be a pro-active approach to managing e-sat!

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