Once relegated to the realms of administration, business leaders are starting to recognize that HR departments and the people they enable are the most valuable asset of businesses today.
This transition has been a long time coming, and by transitioning toward an HR function that is more scientific and data driven, firms are able to deliver superior performance and an overview of their workforce that has never been seen before.
Building this competitive advantage through human resource innovation is not easily replicated. Although Suzie Woodhams, HR director at Equinix has a wealth of experience around how the function has changed, and what can be done to seamlessly make the transition toward HR innovation.
How has HR evolved as a profession since you have been in the industry?
There has been a huge shift in HR over the years to move from just an administration department, to a key strategic player in the business.
This is supported by the rapid enhancements in technology, which is also shifting the pace of HR away from the usual administration tasks to providing value add to the organization.
Interactive platforms, such as yammer, can allow for organizations to internally communicate more effectively, allowing for employees to engage with the organization on topics related to them. Employee engagement is definitely a part of how HR has evolved as a profession.
Furthermore, with the rapid move towards the use of social media, the world is a lot smaller and opportunities vast, so HR has to be on top of the Talent Game to ensure the company attracts and retains the best talent in the market.
Social media has transformed the Talent Acquisition process at many companies. When utilized effectively, social media can accelerate the entire recruiting process from posting openings to sourcing candidates, reviewing CV’s and on boarding.
Social media tools are also revolutionizing the annual performance cycle as some companies are moving to more real-time feedback and coaching. For example, LinkedIn is now instrumental in recruiting new talent. From advertising open positions to scouting possible candidates, HR departments are now exposed to millions of potential employees from a centralized technology.
What skillsets are now required to reach the top of the HR function within a business?
To reach the top of HR you need to be a strategic thinker, strong influencer and a decisive decision maker. Those at the top of an HR function are collaborative and build strong relationships with senior management and employees across the business.
It’s also about flexibility, remaining agile and ensuring solutions are bespoke.
Organizations want custom-made approaches which take into consideration the commercial and business aspects rather than just a process defined response. In an ever-changing business environment, it has become more essential to be able to quickly adapt structurally with business needs in an agile environment. For example, business with high employee turnovers often struggle to hold on to top talent. This is of vital importance for companies and a flexible HR professional should continuously identify and retain new methods to support the emerging talent pool.
As we see data pervade nearly every function within business, how is that impacting HR and how are you utilizing data today?
Data is there to be utilized and to tell a company story. The use of data in the HR function has increased over the years and as a result, the HR function now utilizes this information to advise Board members and to provide business leaders with tangible management information.
For instance, a company may use data from exit interviews to develop a better understanding of why employees leave that particular organisation. This data can prove to be extremely useful to the company as it can be utilized to correct issues that influence attrition rates. As a result, companies can make significant savings on recruitment costs and as a result invest in employee learning and development.
What type of HR innovation are you seeing that is making it easier for data to become accessible and then utilized?
With the enhancements in HR system technology, system providers are working with their customers to ensure they develop the technology to meet business needs. HR is then using these advancements to add value to businesses.
For example, HR system technology, such as employee engagement surveys, enables employees to have their opinion fed back to the company anonymously. This feedback can then be utilized by business leaders to improve the working environment, engagement and motivation indicators.
All of which are extremely useful when driving the people agenda.
Businesses dedicate a lot of time, effort and money into trying to understand their customers. Why isn’t there a similar investment into understanding their own employees?
At Telecity the business leaders are extremely keen to understand their own employees, and the Engagement Survey is utilized and embedded within our culture and is measured on an on-going basis. With the implementation of employee focus groups specifically for the purposes of the survey, the business was able to really understand and action the changes employees wanted to see. Now as a part of Equinix we will be able to share our engagement practices in the combined organization with our new colleagues and work together to ensure we are meeting employee engagement needs.
How do you transition from a more traditional HR function to create one that is forward-looking, data driven and scientific?
This is not something that is easily achieved over night.
To enable change, the business needs to want HR to become a more strategic partner and work together to enable that transition.
It’s about understanding the end result of where the business wants HR to be, and forming a plan in order to get there. Key to the change is all about forming the business relationships with the key stakeholders. Understand impacts, concerns, challenges the key stakeholders have within their businesses, which may all differ from each other, and work with them to build the HR plan whilst taking into consideration their needs and constraints.
If we look at the edtech sector – there’s a trend around real-time data analytics to help teachers track student progress, highlighting individuals who are struggling and those who at the top of the class. There are talks of some employers giving their employees wearables so they can track different metrics around their working performance, do you think this is a step too far or is this something that will become increasingly common?
As the use of technology rapidly increases, businesses will move to jump on trends and catch the next technology wave. However, despite all the additional benefits of technology such as automated systems, we must remember that we are dealing with people and sometimes a more pragmatic personal approach goes a lot further. The current trends HR innovation shows that there is an increasing importance on HR data analytics, however, every individual has their individual specific needs, therefore, the ‘one size fits all’ approach with technology cannot replace the value of face-to-face interaction.
You’ve heard of a data scientists / business analysts. What do you think of the rise of the ‘people scientist’?
In Telecity I have an HR Analyst which I recruited to look at intelligent MI. In order for HR to add value to the business one area is around intelligent MI and understanding trends, cost impact and savings through the management of people. HR can help steer from a strategic stand point on tangible actions such as effective people budget planning using both quantitative and qualitative people metrics.
What is the biggest challenge when leading the HR function of a company that is experiencing global growth?
Ensuring you have the right talented people in the right jobs to enable the business to grow which matches the strategy. It’s key to ensure that you resource for the growth and scale up as the business moves forward to match its objectives. Another huge challenge is communicating effectively through the growth and ensuring the business takes the employees on the growth journey with an effective communications plan.
Compare hiring processes today with those of the past – what differences are there and how do you think hiring is becoming more scientific?
Recruitment has moved significantly with the rapid enhancements in technology. People are more enabled to manage their own careers by the use of online applications through the internet, and social media such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc. A lot of companies also use recruitment systems so the process is a lot less personal, however, on the plus side it has decreased administration time for the HR department.
Harvard Business professor Noam Wasserman found that around 9 in 10 venture backed business fail, and of these failed businesses around 75% were a result of poor team dynamics within these businesses – how can that be addressed?
Leadership is integral to team dynamics, however, natural leadership is not enough to build strong and effective teams. Managers throughout all functions require the relevant training to ensure that the culture of the organisation is aligned across regions, offices and departments. A consistent culture will ultimately benefit the recruiting process, as it will make it easier to identify people who are the right fit for the company. Leadership is expected to build a strong foundation which will influence the direction of a team’s behaviour and performance.