The 2016 IBM HR Summit in London delivered a top-quality conference experience. With Martina Navratilova as the headline speaker, IBM served aces with a full day of tech insights plus industry stories from Canon, Imperial Brands, DHL, Coats and Diageo.
Opening the conference, IBM’s David Kelly argued that the key HR aim would not change – as a people function, it would still focus on how to get the best from Talent. The tools, however, would evolve fast. In 5 years’ time, HR analytics would flaunt Cognitive Capabilities, from social sentiment analysis to fitbit-style tracking of workforce data, and Open HR – presenting data from multiple sources on one platform for managers, transforming the employee experience.
A new era for people management
Diane Gherson, IBM Senior VP HR, supported David’s message with rapid insights into the trends affecting the end-to-end employee experience. IBM sees multiple applications coming onstream that will soon revolutionise HR in three key areas:
1. Changing the Employee Experience
- Employee experience will be personalised. For example, learning can be self-directed and customised based on an employee’s role, business group, skillset and preferences e.g. does the employee prefer MOOCs, Ted talks, text books, or test-based courses?
- Employee services will be more automated. Some companies have already used Watson to respond to new employee questions during onboarding process. Soon this will be expanded to other areas of the employee lifecycle.
2. Supplying better tools for management:
HR advisory support will be more data-driven. HR will be able to pull together data from multiple sources to prompt managers to do a better job for their people. Think of it like a fitbit for managers. ‘Suzy who works for you hasn’t taken a holiday since November – why not have a chat’ or ‘Joe joined at the same time as a cohort of 10 others, but he is 6 months behind in career progression…’
Manager decision support such as to hire, to promote, to train, to relocate a person will be decentralised and more transparent
- Big data will be used to identify drivers of attrition, and for taking compensation decisions to invest in people. IBM claims that it has achieved $270m of benefits and a ROI of 200% from these insights.
- Screening with cognitive tests will accelerate recruitment, including helping applicants assess themselves for their match to the job requirements.
3. Supporting strategic insights:
- Social sentiment analysis
For example, IBM does full annual and quarterly pulse surveys. By tapping into what people are blogging about – they can pick up emotions – positive, negative,worries, etc. This gives accuracy within 1 point of the 3-question Pulse Survey results: are you proud to be an IBM-er, would you recommend IBM to a friend, do you see IBM as a great place to work? In the past, tracking social commentary had let IBM reverse an HR policy decision to ban use of Uber within just 8 hours to avoid upsetting employees.
- A more engaged and democratic work culture
By having a massive online dialogue about things that matter to people – e.g. reviewing and revising the performance management process, there is an opportunity to create a fairer and more effective workforce.
All these analytics advancement are all well and good. But the focus needs to move beyond optimising the existing organisation to also preparing what they need to be in the future. Watson, for example, works brilliantly as an analyser of the past – when looking into existing roles in the existing organisation: “Until now, people have left for the following reasons.” In stable industries it makes sense to forecast the future on that basis. But in organisations that are changing significantly, a reliable historical basis for predictions may not be available.
Likewise, optimising a workflow in an existing HR process may be the best use of your HR team’s time assuming the workflow is still needed in the first place. But – to take the example of recruitment – what if the entire process could be disrupted by an app that leverages staff LinkedIn networks to prompt (and reward) employees into making highly targeted referrals for vacant posts?
Analytical capability, which runs on past data, has to be backward-looking. But Diane Gherson’s final element the use of co-creation to change a process – is a sign of greater flexibility in IBM’s use of technology to prepare for the future. This is one elephant that may yet continue to show its dancing abilities.
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