The digital revolution, considered as the extension of the IT revolution of the 90s, is expected to completely transform the way we live, work, and relate to one another, according to a report by the World Economic Forum. When a Double Paralympic Athlete and World Rowing Champion Birgit Skarstein says that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will give disabled people “superpowers” – you hear the excitement of this era. When the CEO of Accenture, Pierre Nanterme says that “digital is the main reason that half of the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the run of the century” – you hear the significance of becoming digital.
Amidst all the excitement and the fear of losing ground in the race, it is important to be closer to the ground reality than the clouding expectations of digital. The current digital revolution, according to global research analyst Josh Bersin, has been found to be the least productive revolution (in terms of impact on output per hour work) in the US economic history when you compare it with the previous industrial revolutions (the invention of steam engine, electricity, and computers).
There are reasons to be excited about the speed and scale of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Organisations have embraced it. But are we within touching distance of reaching that stage? Probably no. The next step is to translate automation into productivity.
The organization of today
Organizations are now becoming a ‘network of teams’. Josh Bersin explaining his theory says that different functions (such as sales, manufacturing, service teams) operate as independent teams. The organization’s challenge is to get these teams to align and work together – and the organization is designed as a network of teams. This coordinated network can be demanding for the employees as they are required to not only spend time on their own individual projects but also work across teams and share knowledge and information. Companies have also looked at HR tools for collaboration – and the plethora of communication tools have been overwhelming for employees. The result – an overwhelming amount of work to collaborate smoothly and form a seamless network of teams. While getting used to the new organization design, employees can struggle with stress, burnout and a detrimental effect on their productivity. A shift from automation to productivity is the next challenge for organizations, as Josh Bersin explains in his HR Technology Trends report for 2018.
The shift from automation to productivity
The question which lurks then is – how to make that shift from automation to productivity. The HR has a critical role to play in identifying and selecting the technologies that augment employee performance. Bersin has identified three things HR needs to do in order to select the right productivity tools which boost employee performance:
Reframing HR’s technology strategy: The HR technology strategy needs to be fine-tuned to be able to deliver an “efficient, intuitive and digital employee experience.” For HR leaders, it is important to define a pre-requisite – ‘the technology needs to increase the productivity of the employees.’ The selected tool’s impact should be measurable and must augment employee performance. Bersin also argues that leaders will also have to consider how the HR function operates and “take an evolutionary leap to become tech-savvy.”
Rethinking service delivery: Given the fact that most organizations have already invested in multiple HR technologies over and above the ERP systems, to add any more productivity-enhancement technology brings forth an integration challenge. HR needs to work with IT to find a way to develop new “infrastructure strategies” and “implementation roadmaps”. After identifying the right technology which achieves the business objectives, the next step is to integrate it with the existing system to create a simple and satisfying employee experience. Integration is what has been one of the most challenging aspects of adopting and implementing HR technology. But if done right, it can be instrumental in taking the next step.
Reshaping the workforce: The host of technologies on offer also allow the HR to support the new organization design and allow external contributors, freelancers, gig workers to be a seamless part of the system. To give Bersin’s example, “it enables the use of virtual teams, bringing together workers when and where needed, with external contributors and new cognitive assistants to bolster the existing workforce.” HR leaders can provide the right tools needed to work together in the network of teams, and make it easier for their people.
There are two very important aspects to keep in mind while taking these steps to select and adopt HR technologies, according to Bersin. Digitalization initiatives must be aligned with and support business objectives and they must augment the performance of the workforce.
To know more about how digital is redefining the notion of productivity for individuals, corporations, and nations, tune in to the keynote session of TechHR Singapore on February 28, 2019 at 9:00 AM.