HR Technology & Realistic Expectations


I am speaking at #hrtechconf in October. I have a love/hate relationship with that event.

  • I love my friends.
  • I love technology.
  • The conference is really fun.

But I bristle at the non-stop spin from schleppy tech providers who tell me, “We aren’t really a Human Resources tech company. We provide business solutions.”

Sure you do, baby. Can you go get me a drink? Thank you.

As a Human Resources chick who performed the most rote HR work for over a decade, I know exactly what technology can and can’t do for the everyday HR practitioner and organization. The best HR technology exists to reduce expenses, remove the burden of administration from both employees and HR professionals, and ensure compliance. Great HR technology indemnifies an organization against lawsuits. It protects employee privacy. It gets people paid, helps HR chicks feel a little less frazzled during major employee events, and makes the trains run on time.

HR technology cannot save the world.

In fact, no technology can save the world.

We hear that Google played a major role during the Arab Spring. That’s true — it played a major role as a tool for communication and information. But it was the protesters who camped out in Tahrir Square and demanded change. It was the citizens of Egypt who were arrested, tortured, and brutalized in the name of democracy. (And they’re still demanding change. That whole situation in Egypt isn’t over.)

It is the same thing with HR technology. The best tools get people out of their own way…

…but people still need to take the initiative, have a vision, and have the budget and the wherewithal to implement important behavioral and technological changes in the organization.

And none of this technology is cheap.

So when I hear a vendor tell me about an enhanced user interface or the gamification of work, I just smile and zone out. The best user interface only helps me when I can spend less time worrying about technology and more time with an employee who is a victim of domestic violence. More robust computing capabilities only matters when I can spend more of my day helping lead my company towards profitability so that we can continue to employee the very people who use your technology. For every minute spent discussing technology and implementation, I want ten minutes back so I can talk to a VP who needs assistance with a major internal transformation project. For every dollar I spend on technology, I want $2 back to invest in my labor budget.

Human Resources (i.e., recruiting, interviewing, sourcing, assessments, screening, hiring, onboarding, payroll, taxes, benefits, leadership, training, development, compliance, coaching, performance reviews, performance management, raises, compensation) isn’t about technology. At all. And the best vendors understand this and will staff their companies with former HR practitioners who know this. I love talking to those companies that understand the real world of Human Resources practitioners.

I’ll buy those people a drink.

Great conversations with smart people who don’t diss HR and don’t overstate the importance of their technological solutions? That is why I still show up to the HR Technology Conference every year.

That and the parties.

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