HR needs to work on disrupting itself as a function – before it is disrupted externally – in order to realise and deliver better outcomes for businesses internally and customers externally, according to an expert in the area.

As HR is often a central point of communication within companies, it needs to capitalise on this role through experimenting with and trying new and different technology-based initiatives in order to deliver value, said Michael Sacco, IBM’s talent and engagement lead.

“I believe HR is faced with a wonderful opportunity right now – an opportunity, however; not a right,” he said.

“Talent is a top priority for CEOs the world over. HR has a critical role to play here.

“To do so it must clearly understand how it can positively impact the company’s strategy, and be able to measure it.”

Sacco observed that HR has the benefit of sitting on vast amounts of data thanks to improvements in technology around applicant tracking systems, HR information systems and social tools.

“There are some great analytical tools that dramatically improve the ‘administration’ of said data,” he said.

“HR’s expert involvement comes in the form of knowing the right questions to ask of the data and ultimately crafting the story with the empirical evidence into strategic value.”

HR can further exploit technology to enhance employee experience, according to Sacco, who observed that social listening and pulse surveys, for example, can offer real-time insight into employee sentiment.

“Predictive analytics can help identify flight risks, offering insight into making better decisions to combat this,” he said.

“Again technology can support user ‘listening’ and adoption through the different mediums available.”

“HR is faced with a wonderful opportunity right now – an opportunity however, not a right”

This also presents a challenge for HR, and Sacco said the function may face disruption if it cannot make the most of the opportunity.

“This leads into the changing ‘format’ of HR going forward,” he said.

“Knowledge functions in HR will increase as repeatable processes are automated.

“I expect to see an increase in operational people moving into HR functions,” said Sacco, who pointed out that this may ultimately see a further blending of some elements with the broader business.

“As faced by many industries – need I mention Uber or Airbnb – HR will likely need to work on disrupting itself, to add even more value to their customers, to avoid being disrupted,” he said.

“It is best to ask what HR currently has and what it can be.

“Focus on where the expertise of the function lies and translate it in such a way that it increases value to the organisation.”

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value report, Redefining Talent: Insights from the Global C-suite Study – The CHRO perspective, found that a small but increasing, number of CHROs are using predictive analytics to manage workforce issues.

However, building an effective analytics capability isn’t easy, and the report said this requires a cadre of new HR workers with different skills: data architects, statistical modellers and even storytellers.

“But, most of all, analytics requires a degree of trust between the HR function and the rest of the business,” the report said.

“The HR function must trust the business units to act on the answers it produces, while the business units must trust the methodology and assumptions the HR function uses to produce those answers.”

“Establishing a means of demonstrating the effect – which could be linked directly to revenue – is important”

Commenting on the report, Sacco said work models and people practices will be an important talent trend for HR executives to focus on in the future.

“To attract, retain and capitalise on the best talent, organisations need to pay close to attention to how work is being done, or how it can be done,” he said.

“This is happening through the unbundling of functions, and advancements in technology, for example.

“Bring your own devices, hot-desking, flexible work hours, and so on are ‘selling’ features of organisations.

“Key for HR is to demonstrate the value to the business of adopting new methods and approaches, that is, productivity improvement, employee engagement uplift, and so on.

Another key trend for HR is that “recruitment is marketing” and he said HR professionals should look at talent acquisition through a marketing lens.

Sourcing the right talent is vital to an organisation’s success, and the process of timely talent acquisition offers true competitive advantage.

“Employer brand is an increasingly important tool in projecting a positive message of what it’s like to work at your organisation, and to influence market perception,” said Sacco, who explained that a strong external employment brand supports proactive sourcing, while a strong internal employment brand supports positive retention.

Another important consideration for HR is to treat employees and candidates as a customer, according to Sacco.

“9 out of 10 applicants for your open roles will be unsuccessful,” he said.

“Half of these may be existing customers – you want to keep them, right?

“The other half are potential customers – you would like to attract them, wouldn’t you?

“Apply the same theory to your employees. Hopefully more than half are customers, or brand advocates.”

Ideally, 100 per cent of an organisation’s workforce are both customers and brand ambassadors, and Sacco said the experience of both employees and applicants for open roles matters.

“This may be a confronting reality, but it is also an opportunity,” he said.

“Establishing a means of demonstrating the effect – which could be linked directly to revenue – is important.”

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