Technology forces forward movement. It makes us figure out what could be more meaningful or useful for people to do. Rather than dig ditches and plow fields by hand, we have machinery that makes that work faster and safer and frees individuals up to do work that machines cannot. Rather than take work from people, technology creates new opportunities while taking on the boring, repetitive, and dangerous jobs.
Are you able to take advantage of technology to do the boring, repetitive parts of recruiting? Do you have tools that automatically schedule interviews, recommend people based on their resumes, create all the reports and documents you need? Are you able to recruit faster than before? Have you invested in systems, technology, and process improvements to lower costs and improve the speed to hire, develop, retain, or engage your employees? If not, you are clearly lagging behind those who have, and will have a tough time catching up.
HR will be (and already is) under full assault from the third-party world.
Increases in productivity significantly lag the investment in tools and process improvements. We normally first use new technologies to emulate what we already do in another way. It’s only after significant time that we begin to find new and innovative ways to use the tools and adjust our processes accordingly.
An example is the introduction of the typewriter. In the early days of the typewriter a manager would dictate to a stenographer, who would take shorthand and then use the typewriter to create a document. This took two people and three steps. It took decades before we got to the point of eliminating the stenographer by having the manager learn to type and enter the document directly. But when this occurred, the profession of stenographer disappeared (as did shorthand), efficiency went up, and the number of people an office needed went down.
There is a similar story about the applicant tracking system. Introduced in the late 1980s, it really just added a step to the standard recruiting process — and even slowed it down and added staff — by requiring resumes to be scanned and checked for accuracy. They were weak on search. They consumed hours of IT time to set up and maintain. It has taken 20 years to get where they are today, and there is long way to go yet before they are really productivity-enhancers.
These examples illustrate what I mean: It takes a lot of time from the introduction of a new technology for people to learn how to use it and to adjust processes and structures. It takes a long time for technology vendors to adapt and improve the outputs, interface, and capabilities.
From the 1970s through the mid-1990s organizations globally were investing heavily in computers and software, and everyone assumed that because of those tools, productivity would soar. For anyone old enough to remember, that did not happen. Lots of economists called this the productivity paradox. It seemed that no investment in technology, computers, or software caused any major change in productivity. Then, around 1995 everything changed. Suddenly productivity began to climb and averaged 2.6 percent until 2000. Then another amazing surge occurred when productivity jumped to 3.6 percent through 2003. It has now settled back into a comfortable 2.4 percent per year growth, which is still greater per year than those before 1970. The great lesson is that investments in technology and process improvements pay off — but it takes time for that to happen.
The challenge we face is to increase the speed it takes and adopt and adapt sooner.
In recruiting, it means investing in software that will increase your ability to interact with candidates. This includes all sorts of things from websites and highly targeted marketing systems to candidate relationship management tools and social media. These tools have to be focused on achieving a goal: The goal might be to refine how candidates are sourced and to reduce the number of people needed to do each step of the hiring cycle. Or, the goal might be for a single person to attract, source, screen, and present a candidate, while the administrative tools automatically track everything that is happening and generates the appropriate reports and paperwork. By introducing systems without goals or reasons, the tools become burdens.
In education, this means actively finding ways to turn the delivery of facts, data, and information over to the Internet and the sources it makes available. It means using games and simulations to teach math, science, history, and many other subjects. It means that eventually one teacher/mentor/coach could work with hundreds of people — some virtually and some perhaps face-to-face — with no loss of quality. But achieving this would require new processes, new ways of thinking about education, and the implementation of lots of new technology. Fortunately, the technology is relatively cheap compared to just a decade ago. By being located in the Cloud, distribution is simplified and IT gets out of the way. As Apple and Android are showing us, small apps downloaded to mobile phones and laptops extend our reach.
In career development, it means using the advice and testing tools that are freely available in the Internet. It might mean developing self-guided career dialogues and realistic video-based job previews. It could be linking to blogs and commentaries about careers and work that would inform and guide decisions.
In almost every field of HR there are more possibilities than I can imagine. Some outsourcing firms are already investing heavily in developing technology and new systems to raise productivity. IBM and many Indian companies fully understand the productivity paradox and realize that every dollar spent today will pay itself back many times over down the road.
Technology, combined with process improvements, will either revolutionize a stale and unproductive function or force its services to be outsourced to more efficient and effective third-parties. Opportunity calls!