Dr Fermin Diez, Adjunct Professor, Singapore Management University (SMU), on how the HR function will be delivered very differently than it is today, given the impact of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and robotics.

A 2018 survey by David Green and Ian Bailie at myHRfuture identified key skills HR professionals need to develop in order of their future importance:
  • People analytics
  • Digital HR/HR technologies
  • Change management
  • Consulting and influencing
  • Agile working
  • Strategic workforce planning
  • Ethics & data privacy
  • Design thinking
  • Stakeholder management
  • Diversity & inclusion
  • AI, robotics & future of work
  • Employer branding
“People analytics” came in as most important, along with “digital HR/HR technologies”. And yet, the next two were “soft” skills such as change management and consulting/influencing. It is clear HR professionals need to become more analytical, but it is equally clear the profession needs to also stay grounded on its human aspects.

In line with these results, we believe all HR professionals must be conversant in HR analytics, if the function is to be effective at improving individual performance, enhancing employee experience, and helping to achieve business goals.

HR professionals traditionally have shied away from gaining basic data literacy skills, including data visualisation, finance and statistics. HR practitioners need to become more analytical if they wish to keep pace with the new demands on the profession and be an integral part of a more data-driven, yet human-grounded, future of the HR profession.

A glimpse of the HR future

There are analytics capabilities built into most new and upcoming software offerings, which have increased our ability to collect and analyse data. This data holds the promise to help HR analytics teams understand how they can improve the employee experience.

Real-time sentiment and emotion recognition analysis is a fast-growing field, which is increasingly being used to measure how employees are feeling. There is technology to analyse a person’s facial nano expressions and gauge their emotions such as happiness, anger or sadness. It can also predict if the person is truthful or surprised. Similar technology for voice analysis is already available.

Biosensors and wearables are widely available for personal health and fitness, providing data for physiological metrics (heart rate, sleep patterns, blood pressure, etc.), as well as various environmental metrics (distance, altitude, etc.).

Similar devices are used in the workplace to help improve health & safety – for example, devices can be worn by truck drivers to alert them if they are falling asleep while driving. Other devices are being used in high-volume work settings to help improve productivity by alerting employees when they are not focused or when their stress levels are too high.

The handling of sensitive information on an employee’s health or feelings must be handled with extreme care.
However, future applications do not need to be so individualised. Improving any HR process is a good opportunity to apply a design-thinking mindset; get feedback from users, supervisors, vendors and other stakeholders; use the feedback to redesign the process; pilot the new approach; and collect data to see if it is better than the old process. Is it cheaper/faster/better and does it help to increase productivity/revenues/profits? Does it make the employee experience better?

Many questions remain about this ability to track and use data. We need to overcome the lack of skills to analyse the data. Technology, and the resulting data, must be validated, especially when it comes to interpreting feelings and thoughts.

The new technologies have access to sensitive areas, raising concerns about data storage and usage, and there may be some who want to hoard or misuse this data, which will lead to regulation at some point on how it can be used and interpreted.

Personal data protection legislation is already in place in many jurisdictions and will likely continue to evolve rapidly as technologies become more powerful and available.

There will also be many HR professionals and employees who will resist change. The handling of sensitive information on an employee’s health or feelings must be handled with extreme care.

The HR function will need to continuously monitor and update its policies and communicate these to employees – about what type of data is being collected, for what purpose, for how long, where it is stored, and the data protection mechanisms in place.

Whatever the future holds, it is an exciting time to be an HR professional!

Photo / Provided

Excerpts from this article were first published in Human Resources’ August 2019 edition of the Singapore magazine. Read the full story here: “Is technology the dark knight for HR?”