When I started in HR, everythingwas paper driven, from employment application, personnel action notices, benefits enrollment, etc.
I was fortunate to learn every competency in HR, including payroll, and my experience has revealed the myriad ways in which administrative functions evolved with technology.
I can honestly say that my HR expertise evolved alongside the supporting technology…from the birth of electronic forms, to HRIS, Applicant Tracking Systems, online benefits enrollment, and automated billing reports from insurance carriers. I am both a self-taught HR Pro and a self-taught HR techie. I learned HR systems hands-on in one organization after another. In some cases, I took part in the design and customization of those systems.
Many young HR Pros, especially those working with integrated systems won’t have the same experience. As a consequence, they may not have a chance to learn the technical underpinning of the applications upon which they depend. In addition, they may be saddled with products that were configured without tech-savvy HR input.
As we gear up for AI’s increasingly prevalent role, it becomes increasingly important for HR professionals to become technical conversant in the decisions that govern the way HR systems function. There is simply no other way of ensuring that they’ll work well enough to enable rather than hinder.
I am hopeful that AI will enhance our ability to deliver value as HR practitioners, but this is by no means assured. To see why this is the case, let’s think about the way the typical HR task load breaks down. About 80% of what it takes to excel in HR involves the inherently human aspects of our role, from recruiting to exit interviews. Most of AI’s value lies in that other 20%, the aspects of our jobs that are more dependent on organizing facts or crunching numbers, rather than composing strategy or judgement calls. The HR systems created in the 90s helped eliminate redundancy in data entry—a function clearly lying in that computational 20%. The next generation of products focused on eliminating paperwork and streamlining administrative processes. This left practitioners with more time and energy to provide work at a strategic level and provide face-to-face customer service.
In more recent years, the focus of HR software changed. Instead of a tight focus on the 20%, they began to include features that encouraged HR professionals to depend on them for the 80%, the aspects of the role requiring carefully considered judgement calls and nuanced interpersonal interactions. This includes functions like recruiting and onboarding—even exit interviews. This creates a new and fundamental challenge—we must avoid the temptation to depend on software for the activities most urgently in need of wisdom, humanity, and a personal touch. I fear that a lack tech-savviness on the part of those newer to the profession may make it difficult to meet this challenge. Mastering Snapchat requires a technical acumen much different from what is needed in an AI-driven enterprise. We must be prepared to deal with the impulses of automated systems that are prepared do our job for us, and not do it badly.
It is critical that we seek ways to change the equation. Training and education has to be provided that will prepare HR professionals to face these challenges. We as a profession need to protect organizations from purchasing systems that promise to “solve” the 80% of HR for which automation has little to offer. You don’t have to be a programmer to achieve this, but you do need to be able to look behind the curtain instead of buying into a slick sales rep’s unsubstantiated claims.
In additionto the challenges posed by the escalating role of AI, there are other critical technical issues that HR practitioners should understand. For instance:
- Understand the cost gap separating “off the shelf” and “build to suit” systems. All-in-One systems may not be the best fit for your organization.
- When you buy a-la-carte systems, make sure they can integrate with each other, and with existing systems of records in the organization. Failure to do so may lead to disastrous data integrity issues.
- Understand data security issues and assess risks of data breaches. Don’t collect certain data before you need them. HR collects so much valuable employment and personal data from pre-hire to exit.