Article: HR professionals, will tech surpass you – or will you surpass it?

Strategic HR

HR professionals, will tech surpass you – or will you surpass it?

It's not quite adopt or die, but the times have already caught up with us, and HR professionals need to keep moving or be left behind. Alvin Goh, executive director of SHRI, explains why.
HR professionals, will tech surpass you – or will you surpass it?

There are three different schools of thought among HR professionals, says Alvin Goh, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI):

Those who are comfortable staying where they are and will wait for their organisations to adopt new technology before they react;

Those who are willing to adopt but feel they are not ready, and will wait to see what their peers are doing and how it goes;

Those who feel that it's important to adopt new technology and will proactively experiment and implement based on the organisation's current state and business strategy.

Only 15-20% of HR professionals are in the third group. The rest are spread evenly between passive responders and fence-sitters. And this is going to be a challenge for the profession, says Alvin, because today's technology has levelled the playing field to an extent where anyone around the world can compete – and out-compete the people in the first two groups.

“We have gone past the awareness stage as far as new technology is concerned,” he told People Matters in a conversation running up to the 19th World Human Resources Congress.

“Right now, we are in the adoption stage, and HR professionals must be able to pivot.”

It is this shift that prompted SHRI to bid for Singapore to host the congress, which is happening from 14-16 May. WHRC represents the opportunity to create a collaborative environment where HR professionals can confront today’s challenges collectively, and the agenda accordingly includes plenty of interactive and networking sessions to facilitate dialogue and knowledge exchange: giving HR professionals a platform on which to shape the future of work together, and to bring as many people as possible on board with the third school of thought.

Technology is not here to stay, it's here to grow

“Many people say that HR technology is here to stay, but to me, it is here to grow exponentially,” says Alvin. “If you compare the value of technology before COVID and today, it has grown from a staggering $100 million to $310 million as an industry over the last four years, and the CAGR is expected to be at 9-10% year on year.”

But he doesn't believe it is a zero-sum game, despite the World Economic Forum's prediction that 40% of all jobs will be replaced by technology within the next six years.

“My take is that perhaps 40% of the activities and tasks underlying a job function will be replaced. But the job itself will still have the same requirements, meaning that the form and substance of those tasks and activities still remains. Take compensation and benefits, for example. 40% of the tasks and activities a payroll administrator does could be replaced by blockchain. Instead of needing two to three separate people to make the payroll, check the payroll, and approve the payroll for proper governance, blockchain technology can easily replace that.”

What this means, he predicts, is that in the medium term, the most manual and basic of HR's functions are likely to disappear. And that leaves HR professionals in the position of either transforming their roles or seeking out alternative careers.

“HR professionals must understand that their skill sets and competencies do have a shelf life. We need to keep ourselves abreast of areas like digital technology. We might not be able to master it, so instead, we can develop that understanding of why and how technology can come in and enhance the workflows to make an organisation more effective and efficient.”

Start learning to work from an outside-in perspective

One reason why so many HR professionals aren't ready to adopt is a lack of contextual understanding, Alvin believes. “Many times, HR professionals look only at issues from an inside-out perspective,” he says. “We become very effective administrative experts. But that's not enough. We need to add a proactive outside-in perspective where we really understand where the business is going and what are the key challenges, so that we can then work backwards and understand how we can develop the workforce to meet these challenges. We need to solve problems for tomorrow, not just stop yesterday's problems.”

What this means is upskilling and reskilling – or unlearning and relearning. The need for this capacity, to unlearn and relearn, is comparable to the need for literacy fifty or sixty years, Alvin says; back then, companies looking at foreign direct investment would gauge a country's manpower capabilities by the literacy rate of its workforce. Today, they evaluate it by the willingness of the workforce to unlearn and relearn.

Is there a way to quantify unlearning and relearning capacity, though?

“How long does it take you to find a new job?” Alvin challenges. “Let's say you've been a payroll administrator for 15 years, and you've been using the same CV all along. Compare that to a talent acquisition person who's recently been retrenched by a tech company, and you've spent that period of time upskilling and reskilling, unlearning and relearning, and you've put all that into your CV. How long in either scenario would it take you to land your next job? That can be a measure of your success in improving yourself.”

There is no one single model

HR professionals hoping for a ready-made template that they can follow are out of luck. As many learned during the digital acceleration of the pandemic, technology must be adopted according to the actual, concrete needs of the organisation, not according to a generic formula.

“In any organisation, there are very significant differences in terms of maturity of the leadership, workforce, current processes and procedures,” says Alvin. “When organisations adopt modern HR technology – or AI for that matter – they must first take stock of where they currently are and where they want to go. The starting point for every single organisation is going to be very different, even if they are working in the same industry.”

In other words, HR professionals cannot just wait and see what others are doing – or not doing – because what works for one organisation may not suit the needs of another. Similarly, what fails in one setting may turn out to be a perfectly viable solution in another context.

“Don't just jump on the bandwagon and say, 'This big multinational corporation is doing this, therefore I should also follow suit.' And don't say 'This is more of an SME play and doesn't fit me.' That's the wrong mindset for adoption of technology,” Alvin advises.

“Just start testing how you can use the technology. Set up a sandbox, find out what works for you, and then go full blown implementation. You do not know what you don't know until you start dabbling with it.”


Experience the forefront of HR innovation at WHRC 2024 in Singapore from 14th to 16th May 2024! Join HR professionals from around the globe for an enriching three-day journey of learning, networking, and collaborative exploration, all aimed at shaping the future of work.

Organised and hosted by the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) in partnership with the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA). Click here to find out more.

People Matters is the exclusive HR media partner for WHRC 2024.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #HRTech, #FutureOfWork

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