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Balancing technological advancement with aspirational thinking post COVID-19

Future of Work|Talent|Total Rewards
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Richard Hanson | April 8, 2021

The pandemic forced HR to throw out tech roadmaps and grand plans and instead focus on operations. Post-pandemic, HR must find a new balance.

It is undoubtedly important to understand the benefits the right technology can bring to an organization. This is true for management in general, but especially for the HR team. There is also great value in thought leadership, as it pushes us beyond current wisdom by providing new ways of thinking. However, one of the things that has struck many employers about the impact of the pandemic, is that aspirational thinking and technological advances can easily be overcome by the need to be “operational.”

Before heading into 2020, many HR teams had technology roadmaps outlined and various aspirations for where their HR strategies should lead their businesses and people in terms of outcomes and improvements. However, soon after the severity of the pandemic became clear, a key priority was how to keep businesses operational. Far from applying cutting-edge technology, it was Skype, Zoom and Teams that rocketed to the top of wish lists. Blue-sky thinking turned a little less blue, with HR focused on daily concerns of employee health and wellbeing, as well as the challenges of implementing remote working arrangements.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have been a unique scenario, but there are many lessons and fresh perspectives that HR can gain from the experience. In that way, we can maximize our capacity to emerge stronger from the pandemic in 2021, both individually and organizationally.

Many of us tend to gravitate from one comfort zone to the other — technological or aspirational. Moving forward, there is a great opportunity to ensure that technological advancement and aspirational thinking are balanced against operational considerations.

An image of a scale showing the balance between technological and aspirational
The balance between technological and aspirational

For example, when rolling out a new technology, it is vital that the new products and services be activated easily in order to reduce technical set-up burdens. In such a scenario, ease of setup attempts to balance technological and operational needs to achieve the aspirational thinking that led to the adoption of the new technology in the first place. Additionally, HR may need to evaluate internal skill sets before introducing new technologies to assess the need for upskilling and training to boost adoption of new technologies or HR risks failing to realize goals because of operational issues.

As far as being aspirational, whether when advising our clients, or chief HR officers (CHROs) and their teams that are formulating their own ambitious strategies, daring to dream is not a bad thing. However, for organizations to successfully achieve their aspirations, offering realistic execution/implementation frameworks alongside the future-gazing, could be an even more powerful combination.

We have previously discussed in detail the following six themes as the top priorities and trends for CHROs in 2021:

The six themes, priorities and trends for CHRO’s in 2021
The top priorities and trends for CHROs in 2021
  • Accelerating new ways of working: Provides opportunities to deploy technology for more operational value, such as placing artificial intelligence (AI) or robots alongside human workers to augment their work.
  • Keeping wellbeing and resilience (organization and employee) at the forefront: Captures an aspirational aim, but these initiatives require effective implementation at an operational level to have the greatest impact.
  • Developing a new lens for equitable/sustainable Total Rewards: Can help companies quickly analyze and resolve pay gaps by using software like Syndio.
  • Making diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts fundamental: Reduce biases by employing AI technology in the talent acquisition process.
  • Refining human capital measurement and governance: Strikes at better operational habits and behaviors. The bar for governance standards must be aspirational, while technology can help provide tracking metrics for measuring human capital more effectively.
  • Continuing a focus on program financing and cost flexibility: Involves awareness of the operational needs, which require new, creative financing and capital allocation strategies.

There will be many opportunities to explore gaps in our thinking and gain new perspectives as we focus on HR priorities for 2021. Wherever our comfort zone might be — technological, aspirational or operational — being open to explore all aspects, may even lead to more sustainable outcomes. Everyone has their own balance to find.

Author

Head of Data Science, Talent and Rewards

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