Turning disruption on its head: The next step in HR’s evolution

by Iain Hopkins28 Feb 2017

HRD chats to one industry expert who says it’s time to stop thinking of disruption as being a negative force in business and start using it as an excuse to shine a light on how HR delivers its services to business

“When we talk about disruption it’s usually viewed as negative,” says Yazad Dalal, Oracle’s Head of HCM Cloud Applications, Asia Pacific. “My view is different. Disruption is anything that goes against the status quo in a positive way. We must also keep in mind that often disruption is not seen as a positive until it’s entrenched.”

To cite a specific example, Dalal notes that 10 years ago, if he was speaking at an event and half his audience was focused on their blackberry, he would be upset. Now, it’s almost expected that people will have their smartphones out, doing everything from taking notes to filming the talk. “That’s an example of micro-disruption,” he says. “Our behaviours have changed; what was once unacceptable is now acceptable.”

Redefining HR
The onus is on HR to keep abreast of these changes – but first a redefinition of the function is called for. “Talking about HR as a standalone function no longer works,” Dalal says. “When we talk about HR today we need to talk about both the employer and the employee. HR is a representative of the employer to the employee.”

With that context in place, Dalal suggests that for the first time in 40 years, employees are more advanced in their practices and in their use of technology than their employers are. “It’s not employees who are being disrupted; it’s employers,” he says. “Twenty years ago, if you wanted to download music, you might secretly do it in the office, which had faster internet access, more powerful computers and better infrastructure. Today, the opposite is true. In the morning when someone comes into work, they walk into their office, they sit at their desk, they put their phone down on their desk and they literally step back in time for the next 8-10 hours to use antiquated equipment with slower connections and old software.”

Data and HR
The disruption does not stop there; today, more than ever before, the expectations of HR have changed. Today, HR must use the data they have at their fingertips to make more informed decisions. 

A member of Dalal’s team, Mark Wadsley, Senior Director, HCM Transformation, Oracle APAC, cites an example of how data is changing not just how businesses operate but how HR delivers its services. It may seem like science fiction but is in fact reality. 

Picture an executive working in a bank. He gets a phone call. It’s HR. “We notice your heart rate is over 140,” says the HR manager. “We also see in your calendar that you have a major meeting at 2pm. Let me help you.”

The HR manager then introduces a nutritionist on the other phone line; through a sophisticated tracking system, the nutritionist can check the items stocked in the pantry on the employee’s floor of the office and suggest some items to calm the employee down. And then on the other line the HR manager has organised a visualisation coach to talk the employee through some visualisation exercises. 

“The only thing missing from that story today is the actual culture of doing things like that,” says Wadsley. “The capability exists, the technology exists. We have Fitbits and other tracking devices already integrated with HR management software platforms like Oracle. We can share calendars. What doesn’t exist is bringing it together and building a culture where that’s normal. That’s the disruptive piece that employers need to work on.”

Packaging it all up
‘Normalising’ this may come down to how it is packaged to employees – after all, health checks in certain industries are not new and are often required for blue collar roles, airline pilots and even executives. “The idea of having your health visible to an employer is not new, but extending this across the workforce is new and different,” Dalal says.

He cites the example of Singapore’s National Steps Challenge, whereby employer teams  compete and steps are tracked via wearable technology. “That’s not perceived as being intrusive because firstly it’s a contest between companies. People love to compete. Also, the government wants to drive health and wellness, and guess what – the physical wellbeing of thousands of employees and citizens improves if they take part. If it has a logical outcome that people are comfortable with, then it’s less like Big Brother and more like a cumulative benefit for all.”

HR’s next step
Dalal is firmly convinced that data analytics will form the backbone of HR’s next evolutionary step. In the example cited – employee wellbeing – there are several key benefits to the HR function:

  1. From a purely pragmatic ‘hard numbers’ perspective, many companies, especially in developed markets, have made significant investments in health, wellness and insurance. If the wellbeing of employees increases, insurance premiums drop – resulting in a real financial benefit to the employer.
  2. From a ‘soft benefit’ perspective, an employer may have an ageing workforce. It’s in the employer’s best interest to know if more medical-related leave is going to be required. Alternatively, for work environments that require long hours, productivity becomes an issue – employers will want to track who’s doing what, for how long.
  3. From a company culture perspective, people often work better when they see themselves as part of a team. When they engage in group activities, especially out of office hours, usually morale and engagement levels increase.


Is HR up to the task of utilising data in an effective manner? In his previous article, ‘2017: The Year of HR Data Ninjas’, Dalal indicated that the key is to take this flood of data and turn it into actionable outcomes “It’s looking at a swarm of data and saying, ‘I see a pattern here’,” he says. “That ability is not natural or inherent in most HR functions today. In some instances, they may need to look outside the function to find those skillsets.”

The right tools
Part of creating actionable outcomes is also about having the right tools and platforms. The functionality exists on Oracle’s platforms, for example, to bring all this disparate data together from multiple sources. Dalal likens it to the way a consumer app typically works on a smartphone by integrating with all the functions of the device. For example, it will use the camera, the music or emails functions. Oracle’s apps work in a similar manner and can take on board data from social platforms like LinkedIn, or from devices like a Fitbit, and then integrate with other data from other sources – for example, a health & wellbeing app.

The key to all of this, says Dalal, is the employee experience. “That’s been the most significant change in Oracle’s philosophy in the last five years. Since we moved to the cloud we now build our products with the end user – the employee – in mind. Of course there are benefits for the CHRO but our main driver is now the employee experience. Happier employees results in better customer service. And happier customers results in better financial results. It’s win-win.”

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