Technology: The Enabling Force Awakening HR as a Strategic Partner in 2016

So if the 2014 word of the year was “Culture”, I am calling the HR word of the year for 2015 “Disruptive” (although technically it was just announced as “-ism”). With the full impact of the ACA set to take place in 2016, changes to OT rules, more companies making the decision to eliminate yearly performance reviews and the latest announcement from KPMG to ditch engagement surveys, I would say 2015 has been quite a “disruptive” year for HR.

According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) the #2 trend that will impact the workplace in 2016 is “Trends in Technology are Changing the Way Work is Done.” Members were asked which workplace trends were likely to emerge or grow in their organizations in 2016*. I wanted to take this time to write about three major disruptions I see happening in the workplace that I think will continue into 2016 that have actually been enabled or inspired by the innovative technology that is either already available to HR or is about to be available and that HR should stand up and take notice of.

1) Real-time insights – Employee feedback and analytics

Giving employees a voice

This first trend relates to real-time insights, but not just insights for the sake of insights, but insights that inspire change. These insights are delivered through an organization’s ability to continuously listen to its employees and give them a voice (employee voice). Enabling employees to provide input into decision-making is one of the top drivers of employee engagement. Employee feedback can continuously monitored and compiled and used to provide an orchestrated staff viewpoint on a range of policy areas within the organization. HR can consider the “employee voice,” giving the workforce a quasi-democratic input into the decision- making process. When employees have opportunities to openly communicate ideas and provide feedback across the organization and leaders solicit feedback from and involve employees making decisions employees feel more connected to their organizations.

HR technology vendors are offering organizations an opportunity to gather real-time feedback that managers and organizations can use to gauge the temperature of their employees before there is a problem. Officevibe, a simple to use tool, can be accessed via a mobile device, and be used to gather feedback, measure engagement in real-time and in their next release will actually recommend content to managers based on the three lowest engagement drivers of their team.

Hyphen, a mobile-only app whose tag-line is “Be heard at work”, offers employees an anonymous means to give feedback. While not quite in the same vein as some of these other vendors (there are no pre-defined questions or scores to tabulate), what Hyphen does offer is employees a chance to be heard, to have a voice, something all of us want and need as humans.

Analytics to drive real competitive advantage

As companies step up their efforts to align human capital resources and expenditures with core business objectives, talent analytics is rapidly becoming more prevalent. Additionally, the ability to collect, process and analyze “big data” is becoming a crucial factor in identifying and managing the challenges of the business. Companies that want to gain a competitive edge increasingly need to use analytics to gain data-driven insights into workforce trends and take action to refine HR programs and strategy. Greater use of technology has created a wonderful opportunity to collect and analyze data—an opportunity that can turn data into a powerful business and decision-making tool, but gathering data is only the starting point. The sheer volume of data that organizations can and do amass is overwhelming. However, it has no value to an organization unless it is transformed into meaningful insights.

This is where solutions like Visier and IBM® Kenexa® Talent Insights, are coming to HR’s rescue. Each solution enables insights that would not otherwise be possible without their innovative approach to delivering a cloud-based approach to analytics that is unique in its own ways. IBM utilizes the cognitive prowess of Watson and automatically surfaces patterns and relationships in the data for the user while Visier utilizes machine learning to continuously evolve its predictions and move HR beyond static dashboards and reporting it’s used to and provide it with analytics that are actionable and insightful.

Oh, and by the way, I predict we will see a lot more on “predictive analytics” in 2016 that goes beyond predicting who is most likely to leave. Which I am sure most of us are saying by now, “so what”!

Continuous feedback

The biggest disruption in HR in 2015 has definitely been to Performance. By now, we have all heard about the Accenture’s and the GE’s of the world and their decision to kill the annual performance review. But how many of us know about Sears or the countless others who did so silently and then replaced their system with something more nimble that allowed managers to begin to provide their employees with continuous, real-time feedback on their performance.

This shift away from a rigid, non-agile approach to performance management takes the surprise out of the performance discussion (emphasis on “discussion”) and creates room for an ongoing dialogue between the manager and the employee. The real challenge before now has been having technology to document and facilitate these discussions and shift the employee-manager relationship to more of an employee-coach relationship. I am even going to go out on a limb here and say that technology may have actually been the catalyst that has allowed so many organizations to jump ship and so “Annual Performance Reviews NO More.”

Three innovative HR technology vendors that are helping to solve this problem are BambooHR, TinyPulse and Zugata. In BambooHR’s solution managers are asked to rate employees on their perceived “value” rather than on a traditional meets, exceeds, far exceeds, etc., rating scale and employees and managers have quarterly light-weight assessments. Their approach to assessing performance seems to be closely aligned with research outlined in this HBR article. TinyPulse Perform (in Beta), is a real-time, mobile-first platform that collects weekly data about work performance that allows managers and employees to align on any size objective. The solution also allows managers to send coaching tips and quickly provides both manager and peer feedback to employees about their performance and for managers to assigned shared goals which promotes more team cohesion and accountability. Zugata is another mobile-first application. It utilizes anonymous feedback from peers. Once a week an employee is asked to answer a simple set of questions about an individual they work with. The anonymous feedback from peers helps the employee recognize how they are doing in the moment so they can make adjustments as necessary rather than wait at the end of the year to find out how they performed – no surprises!

The Whole Employee – Health and Wellness (or Well-Being)

I see organizations moving toward a trend of offering programs because they are the right thing to do AND because they are good for the bottom line and not necessarily being faced with an either-or decision. Technology is making this easier for organizations.

At this year’s HR Technology conference we really saw a broader emphasis on a more holistic view of “wellness.” Our understanding of wellness now extends beyond the traditional physical, mental and emotional to include financial well-being as well. With financial stress being listed as the #1 stressor for U.S. adults including programs in organizations that are uniquely tailored to help employees to take action and gain control of their finances is an essential component of overall employee wellness.

O.C. Tanner’s Welbe product measures an organization’s overall wellbeing, while Limeade, is trying to revolutionize the health and wellness industry by drawing attention to the relationship between health and wellness and employee performance. Virgin Pulse focuses on helping build healthy habits that not only include eating, exercise, and sleep but also relationships with family and co-workers and cognitive and financial wellness.

Lastly, managing the “whole person” means acknowledging that everyone is multi-dimensional and has numerous roles to balance in life—all of which affect job performance. So the “whole employee” concept is also about allowing the employee to bring their “whole” self to work it also means that wellness is not just about offering health screenings and assessments to your employees but also making real cultural changes in the workplace that allow employees to truly shut down when they clock out at the end of the day.

*I actually wrote this piece before seeing the survey from SIOP

Note:Any and all references to vendors in this article are unpaid endorsements.

Photo Credit: leshaleto via Compfight cc