Prepare for Technology Disruptions

Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

HR tech guru Josh Bersin may not have quoted Bette Davis, but that was his message to a large crowd in Chicago on Tuesday for the opening of the 2016 HR Tech Conference and Expo. The conference brings vendors, HR executives, industry experts and others together once a year to josh_bersin_rassess the state of digital innovation for human resources.

Bersin, principal and founder of the Bersin by Deloitte consultancy, set the stage for the conference by describing a chaotic environment for employers and software vendors. Technology is allowing companies to do more things than ever before with data, but many have yet to reap the rewards in productivity, he said.

“We have more disruption and change … than ever before,” Bersin said. But “despite the best efforts of our technology providers, technology is not making our lives better.”

Bersin noted that the digital revolution has produced relatively modest gains in productivity, compared to other major technological advances of history. “All the research we do … seems to show we are not adapting to technology very well,” Bersin said. In some cases, “it’s actually making our work harder.”

One illustration he cited is the recent decline in vacation usage by U.S. workers. People are working more hours, but aren’t necessarily producing more.

Making companies more productive and workers happier will require a rethinking of the way organizations operate, Bersin said. Few any more are strict hierarchies. Rather, in practical terms, they are interlinked networks of teams. HR leaders must choose digital tools that help workers connect with each other, he said.

That means orchestrating digital tools in a way that serves and motivates employees. “We have to bring this together into a seamless employee experience,” he said.

Bersin described the evolution of HR technology as a series of leaps. Starting with a focus on benefits administration and compensation at the turn of the millennium, the industry has advanced through tools for hiring, e-learning, performance management, and newer tools in the last year such as corporate-culture assessment and real-time engagement monitoring.

He sees that progression continuing over the next decade into software that reinvents performance management, video-based learning, social recognition for employees, wellness and more expansive tools for managing work that perhaps are no longer truly HR applications.

Bersin urged HR executives to move thoughtfully in adopting new technology. “We have to be the curators of technology,” he said. “We can’t just get more stuff and bring it into our companies.”

Increasingly, HR technology will develop through a process called design thinking, Bersin said. Rather than labor for years to produce an application that then must be taught to employees, companies increasingly will roll out small tools that are refined in response to how employees use them.

“This is the future of how you have to deliver HR solutions,” he said.