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Roundtable: HR transformation, there is no way back

Future of Work|Talent

June 22, 2018

HR departments are all talking non-stop about automation and digitalisation, but not enough is actually being done in practice.

About this roundtable session

The transformation must go beyond mere technology. What HR needs is to play a leading role.

Host: HR Magazine


  • Raymond Kaiser – HR Software Sales Lead Benelux & Nordics, Willis Towers Watson
  • Vincent Van Malderen – Managing Director, Poolstok
  • Chris Van den Berge – Head of SAP Succesfactors, SAP
  • Bart Cools – HR Digital Transformation Manager, Flexso for People
  • Koen Dewettinck – Professor HRM, Vlerick
  • Wim De Clercq – Business Unit Manager payroll outsourcing services, SD Worx

Q – To what extent are HR departments implementing automation and digitalisation projects today?

A – Vincent Van Malderen (Poolstok): "I have noticed that many HR departments are jumping on to the data, automation and digitalisation bandwagon, but that all too often nothing really happens. There is a lot of talk, but not enough action. I see very few applications in practice. HR as a discipline could definitely evolve in that respect. The quality of automation, digitalisation and data use can make a substantial contribution here. HR often has good data on candidates and employees, such as selection test scores, performance ratings and payroll data, but does very little with them. There is this huge unexplored territory before us. Poolstok has set aside a budget to use data to keep track of a kind of life cycle of candidates and employees at the various stages, preferably across various employers. We check whether applicants have contributed what was expected of them and whether the selection agency actually delivered the quality it promised. If we link all the data, there are endless possibilities." 

 Should HR be involved in the bigger picture?

 Chris Van den Berge (SAP): "I have noticed that a lot of companies have digital transformation on the agenda, but not many people know how to achieve it. I believe that in order to be successful, HR has to play a leading role. The company has to get and keep on board the necessary tools and the right people in order to achieve that transformation. We are convinced that companies can only continue to be successful if HR works in a different way. You need the right employees with the right talents in the right place and at the right time. You need data for this and you have to know which employees you need. HR can no longer function as a silo. It must integrate with the other business lines and be part of the company's leadership team." 

 How do you determine the right approach?

 Bart Cools (Flexso For People): "Technology does not solve problems, but it does contribute to solutions. In my opinion, HR transformation is the right approach. This goes beyond just the technology. Good organisation and efficient processes supported by the right technology are key. Automating a poor process will simply make you hit the same wall ten times faster. I see that HR people are often afraid of technology. There is no way back, though. Technology is increasingly part of employees’ expectations, but most organisations know very little about their employees. They know what their customers buy, where they buy it and how often, but understanding your employees is just as important as understanding your customers."

– Is the HR department mature enough?

 Koen Dewettinck (Vlerick): "The goal of automation and digitalisation is to increase efficiency, impact and added value. I see too little concrete action. The credibility of our field is at stake here. HR needs to know how it wants to position itself. HR needs to collect data to move the company forward. We must concentrate our efforts on organising ourselves to contribute as much as possible. We can’t focus on the fear that HR analytics is going to cost HR jobs."

– Vincent Van Malderen
 (Poolstok): "The maturity of the HR department affects so many things. In large companies, you can still see silos within HR itself: recruitment, career counselling and training are often separate entities that keep different data in different places."

– Wim De Clercq (SD Worx): "The approach is quite simple: the information can be collected from the shop floor. We use the Pulse app to measure an organisation’s heartbeat. People use this tool to provide regular information on how they feel. This kind of innovation makes employees a rich source of information the company can easily tap into. When HR attends committee meetings, it should come up with new, relevant data about competencies and challenges. This can be added value the data offers to HR. We can make predictions about the purpose of certain competencies and the need for certain competencies. Linking the data to absenteeism can also prove very valuable."

– Raymond Kaiser (Willis Towers Watson): "Companies need to engage continuously and take frequent snapshots to determine how things are going. Besides organising comprehensive surveys, you can gauge the atmosphere at the right moments. You can do this in departments that have undergone changes, for example. It is a quick and easy way to gain input. Then again, digitalisation has been going on for a long time. We need to ask ourselves what we want to achieve. I have noticed that HR is afraid of artificial intelligence. We must have the courage to ask ourselves how this will change our work and our jobs. Certain jobs are disappearing and some skill gaps are emerging, but there are new opportunities too. We can probably replace what has gone with more interesting work. That is what HR needs to concentrate on." 

– Could a competence gap be part of the problem?

– Bart Cools (Flexso For People): "Automationand digitalisation will lead to new profiles in HR and elsewhere. I see all too many administrative profiles rather than real HR business partners. Some HR people are not interested in fulfilling a business partner role because it is outside their comfort zone and requires different competencies. I see a lot of opportunities. HR must have the courage to look at them. The department must question its own operation and processes. For example, look at the process of leave requests. Less than one percent is ever refused. Why spend so much time on leave approval then? Why don’t we turn the process around and approve leave by default, unless it is rejected. If a company automates this process, everyone gains a great deal of time and there is less frustration. Technology allows for this type of time-saving quick wins and added value."

– Vincent Van Malderen (Poolstok): "I think this is a simple, but excellent example of how to achieve efficiency. However, it is important to always bear in mind the added value. A customer recently told me that the digitalisation of his complaints process did not improve the actual process workload. The citizens of today are articulate: they send emails and expect answers quickly. Complaints handlers get less time to offer a solution, so the quality of the answers they provide may go down. Technology must improve processes rather than make them more difficult. That also applies to HR."

– Should HR involve employees throughout the process?

– Chris Van den Berge (SAP): "Digitalisation should simplify matters and focus on people. All companies want to grow and make a profit. All employees want to do their jobs as well as possible to everyone's satisfaction. Globalisation and digitalisation have changed the workforce. More and more employees are working remotely. It is important for HR to involve these employees and it needs the right data to do this."

 Koen Dewettinck (Vlerick): "Automation will always offer many opportunities, also for HR. For example, an American company set up an IT training course for which a computer replaced an HR coach. At the end of the year, none of the students knew whether they were talking to the computer or not. It shows that the possibilities are endless. The efficiency and impact can be huge. Digital assistants are used to help employees and strengthen their productivity."

 How important are robotics?

– Wim De Clercq (SD Worx): "I have some experience with robotics. As hundreds of employees process the payroll administration of customers on a daily basis, we see more and more companies outsourcing their entire payroll department. We use robotics to give our payroll employees a digital assistant that helps them with repetitive work that is often error-prone. This gives them the opportunity to improve the quality and proactivity of their services to our customers even more. It does not just benefit our customers; it benefits our employees as well. They can focus on tasks that are often more interesting, add value and require expertise or human interaction. Companies are often not big enough to ensure sufficient automation. When they outsource, they gain efficiency and get to focus on strategic tasks rather than transactional tasks."

 Bart Cools (Flexso For People): "I noticed that digitalisation is progressing faster and faster. The evolution is irreversible and HR can’t afford to miss the boat. We hardly realise what we are facing. The possibilities and opportunities are huge. Individuals catch on to change and technology faster than organisations, which usually need to adjust their processes first." 

 Chris Van den Berge (SAP): "It is decided now whether HR will become a real strategic partner working with knowledge and change. HR departments must claim this key role." 

 Does technology offer an opportunity for HR to evolve towards a strategic position?

 Koen Dewettinck (Vlerick): "During this discussion, we have pointed out that HR is not always at the forefront of things. Nevertheless, we see many companies that have already outlined the HR transformation and are stronger than before." 

 Wim De Clercq (SD Worx): "HR will not be wiped off the map. Talent will always remain scarce. The set of necessary competencies is not static and is changing constantly. Transactional operations must be digitalised. The rest will always be HR’s task. Technology is a huge opportunity for HR to make the transition to a strategic position."

Source: HR Magazine – june 2018
All Rights Reserved, Reprinted With Permission

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