HR: Five key tech areas for 2011

From gamification to talent management - where technology will boost human resources...
Written by Gareth Morgan, Contributor

From gamification to talent management - where technology will boost human resources...

Human resources technology has evolved far beyond mere electronic employment records. It is becoming the catalyst that allows HR leaders to contribute to their organisation's strategic success - from identifying and meeting skills requirements to keeping the organisation's star performers happy.

Here we explore some of the key HR technology trends for 2011.

1. Talent management
After several brow-creasing years, 2011 promises to offer a glimmer of respite, with the downsizing pressures easing and, in some quarters, economic optimism returning.

According to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, over a quarter of firms plan to boost staff numbers in 2011. But for many of those would-be employers, the recruitment landscape has undergone a tectonic shift since they last embarked on a serious recruitment campaign.

Naturally, the age-old fail-safe of hiring headhunters is one option for attracting serious talent in to the business. But the expense and reliance on third parties to locate and attract the very best candidates can be off-putting.

Hands at a business meeting

Talent-management systems use social-media type tools to allow firms to anticipate their needs for human capital
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

That's where social networks can help. Sites such as LinkedIn have become an essential part of the recruiters' toolset, where peer networks provide a mechanism for spotting and attracting talent.

But forward-thinking firms such as Dow Chemical are using peer networks to extend their talent-management initiatives beyond mere recruitment. By tracking existing and former employees, they've devised a skills-management system that is able to match the expertise required to individuals - even if they've moved on.

Such talent-management systems use social-media type tools overlaid with knowledge-management capabilities, enabling firms to anticipate and meet their needs for human capital.

However, few vendors in this field can yet offer products that cover both recruitment and skills management. Expect that to change over the coming year.

2. Employee engagement
One of the imperatives for the HR function is to find ways to get the most out of their staff. While soft management skills, such as the ability to motivate, are hugely important, there are always some humdrum tasks where even the most inspiring leaders can find it difficult to shift staff from their inertia. Perhaps technology can help.

While many firms actively discourage staff from playing games such as FarmVille on work time, there's a growing body of consultants and academics drawing inspiration from those titles to improve motivation, engagement, collaboration and even leadership skills. Welcome to the world of gamification.

Essentially, gamification aims to understand the psychological tricks deployed by video games that encourage players to complete in-game tasks. Those are then applied to work situations.

While some early examples of gamification such as Badgeville have focused on rewarding website visitors with badges, start-ups Rypple and Moxie Software have focused on...

...the enterprise. They aim to encourage certain behaviours by rewarding staff with virtual prizes.

Meanwhile, US-based consultancy Seriosity has devised a virtual currency system, based on similar systems in some online multiplayer games, that can be used to signal and reward desired behaviours at work and engage workers in otherwise mundane tasks.

So next time you see a colleague tending their virtual cows, who knows, they may not be skiving after all.

3. Teleworking
These days, the internet, social networks and smartphones help staff to be productive away from the office. Even so, teleworkers remain something of a rarity in many firms. It may be time for HR to take a lead on the issue.

Ensuring staff find satisfactory ways to balance their work and family lives has been a perennial issue for HR professionals. But the HR benefits of so doing - more loyal and productive staff - have been long understood. There are environmental benefits too, with potentially fewer commuters having to schlep to the office.

What's more, the momentum for teleworking is growing. In the US, the Obama administration recently passed a law forcing federal agencies to establish policies to enable employees to work remotely.

As cloud computing begins to show signs of maturing, and given the ubiquity of broadband connections, the practice of herding staff into office blocks is starting to look seriously outdated. Nevertheless, managing an itinerant workforce can demand a change in culture - and that has to come from HR.

4. HR analytics
In the post-recession economy, it's vital that organisations ensure valued staff are retained, high performers nurtured and underperformers reinvigorated. But it's all too common to find that companies have, at best, only a partial understanding of their current and future workforce needs, and lack any insight into what their data is telling them about staff behaviour and performance.

So-called human-capital management systems can take you so far. Such systems provide vast reams of data about various employee-related activities. But increasingly, firms are looking to delve deeper into what all that data means.

A report in mid-2010 from consultancy group Accenture highlighted how few firms had mechanisms for measuring the impact of existing HR activities. Typically, these may include analysing HR performance based on metrics: time to recruit, retention rates, promotion rates, training and development provision, and absence and productivity.

But others are already taking HR analytics further. At companies such as Enterprise Car Rentals, there has been an increasing focus on looking for HR metrics that directly affect the company's bottom line - such as achieving efficiencies or decreasing operating costs.

Eventually, the ultimate goal of HR analytics is to find mechanisms that can predict HR activity against current and future trends, enabling organisations to ensure they make the most of their staff.

5. Training over social networks
While training and development initiatives have evolved from classroom training to computer e-learning, the notion of undertaking HR-led courses still sends a shiver down the spine of most employees. But it needn't be that way. Engaging, participatory - even fun - courses can now be delivered using social networks, simulations and virtual environments.

This probably wouldn't come as news to those in academia, who've been at the vanguard of educating tech-savvy students. But it does represent a sea change for those used to delivering highly structured health and safety courses and the like, where discourse, discussion and debate were scarcely part of the curriculum.

But the shift to social learning isn't solely driven by the arrival of so-called 'millennials' in the workplace. Companies such as CSC, Manheim, Swiss Re and Toshiba are already converts.

The collaboration with colleagues - via conference calls, instant messaging or corporate social networks - forms a powerful system of on-the-job training, where individuals can set the agenda, tailoring their own training programmes to meet their needs.

Naturally, HR leaders will need to establish some controls, ensuring that mandatory training requirements are met and that participants can show they've understood the essentials. As the social learning tools improve their ability to capture that information, it should also mean organisations don't have to put staff through the rigmarole of passing exams.

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