More digital doesn’t mean more human: my thoughts after the HR tech conference & expo and the HR tech europe events

Everyone seems to agree that thanks to the new digital technologies, we are experiencing the biggest change ever since the Industrial Revolution. Digital is radically changing the way we live, and consequently the way organizations work. More and more technology is at our fingertips, but do we know how to make the most of it? What is the role of people in this new technological world?

The big challenge for the future in our companies is to integrate these realities, as right now “more digital doesn’t necessarily mean more human”. In this context, people management plays an undeniable role: as Accenture mentioned in their study, “The Future of HR”, HR are the ones who have to steer the organization.

After attending both the HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas and the HR Tech Europe conference in Amsterdam last October, I realized that indeed this was the key issue underpinning many of the talks. In the era of smart machines, the first questions that arise are: What is left to man after so much technology? What is the differential advantage we can offer?

Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute Technology made a point of reassuring the audience on this at the HR Tech Conference talk, “Making the Right Choices in the Second Machine Age”. The role of “humans” or people in organizations in this era is right at the digital frontier, i.e. affecting certain skill sets which are right now exclusively in the human domain (see more on the topic here).

At both conferences, Ray Wang did a detailed analysis of the binomial, organization–digitization, explaining what differentiates organizations open to change from others lagging behind. The expert highlighted factors such as: the integration of different generations pointing out that anyone can be “digitally native”, regardless of age; the need to create new business models;  the new digital leaders emerging; the importance of the user experience, or the alliance with IT required for change.

And now here’s the critical issue. Many organizations are making changes, nevertheless it seems we often forget the human aspect—indeed we are still overlooking it. Just as Yves Morieux said at HR Tech Europe in a brilliant wake-up call, we have more and more access to technology advances, but companies are much less productive now than a few years ago and employees seem increasingly disconnected.  Efforts must be made to strengthen links, the community, collaborative working, and then we will see how the problems of “disengagement” resolve significantly improving performance, and subsequently productivity within organizations. It is no coincidence that of the 5 steps to digital transformation mentioned by Wang, the 5th is the most important, “to co-create and co-innovate with new colleagues”. At the end of the day, the human being is social, as is the employee too. (I highly recommend you watching one of his presentations here).

In short, I would like to stress three essential points in this transformation that we are experiencing in organizations and among people:

  1. Digital is about people: it’s the people who have to know how to make the most of technology.
  2. Need to give a meaning to all this data: In Business Intelligence and Big Data, what is important is to make the “right questions”, not present a sea of data. As Bersin states, “Data analysis is now the solution, not the product”
  3. Enhance the connections: This will resolve many of the problems in disengagement, lack of productivity and more.
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