HR still struggling with technology – but situation's getting better (Roundtable)

Roundtable takes a look at what’s happening with social media, technology, metrics
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/01/2015

Social media no longer qualifies as “new” — LinkedIn has been around since 2003, Facebook went online in 2004 and Twitter will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next year.


Yet if you were to poll a room of HR executives, you’d struggle to find even a strong minority who feel they are cutting-edge at work.


One exception to this rule is recruitment, according to Ian Hendry, president of the Strategic Capability Network and vice-president of HR for Interac, speaking at a recent roundtable discussion with senior leaders about the impact of social media and technology on the workplace. 


Organizations generally have a handle on using social media to promote job postings. But what about its impact on culture and people?


“Is there resonance at the executive table around the need to adapt to social media and respond?” he asked.


Norm Sabapathy, executive vice-president of people at Cadillac Fairview, said it’s high on the agenda at his organization for 2015.


“One of our priorities is to clarify our organization and employment brand,” he said.


To help on that front, the company hired someone from Microsoft’s ranks to lead the marketing department.


“It was something totally different from a commercial real estate perspective as the organization thought about the brand that we bring to the office and retail sector, he said.


“On employment brand, we’ve got our presence on LinkedIn and we did all the basic stuff. But what should we turn this into and what kind of messaging do we need to get out there?”


The fact that HR and marketing are partnered on this front, and working together on the organizational brand, is exciting, he said.

At Indigo Books & Music, social media is one way the retailer talks to customers, said Laura Dunne, senior vice-president of human resources.


“That naturally bleeds into the consumer brand, the employment brand and raises questions of how do we keep making those connections,” she said.


“But it can be an unwieldy beast. If you go down that path, it takes new resources to manage those communities. It’s something to be mindful of as you venture into that.”


And Indigo is not only connecting with customers on social media — it is also increasingly using it to communicate with employees as well.


“I don’t know if you would call it social media but it’s a virtual communication forum internally,” said Dunne.


“It’s an ideas forum. Think of it a bit like TripAdvisor for the workplace, where 6,500 employees put forward ideas, thoughts and complaints. They vote them up, they vote them down.”


A panel of senior leaders responds to posts, which are directed to the appropriate departments and executives using built-in word recognition.


“It creates a pretty vibrant internal community,” she said. “There’s a lot of shared problem-solving and it gives a voice to employees that don’t necessarily have day-to-day access to leaders to share their ideas.”


However, she cautioned it can be a case of “Be careful what you wish for” — with thousands of active users, there can be a lot of activity. 


“But it is a very dynamic environment and we really like it.”


Mark Edgar, senior vice-president of HR at RSA Canada, said he’s dumbfounded people still debate whether social media is going to happen or not.


“It’s more a case of ‘What’s the pace, depending on the demands of employees and the demands of customers?’” he said, adding that too many senior leadership teams are still wrestling with the question of whether social media is an area to get involved in.


Helen Giffen, a Toronto-based HR executive, said company size can dictate how active an organization is when it comes to social media. For many small firms, the nature of the business is very transactional and while social media could have an impact, it’s not on the horizon right now.


But every HR department should be looking at social media and websites such as Glassdoor, which allows current and former employees to rate workplaces. 


A smaller organization might only have three reviews on Glassdoor, she said — let’s say two are nice and one is a reference to nepotism. 


“What do I do with this?’” said Giffen. 


“Reputations can be made or broken in the social media space, so you have to be mindful of how conversations take place.”

Even if an organization doesn’t have a social media policy, and isn’t active on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, it doesn’t mean it gets a pass on the genre — because people are using it to talk about your company, she said. 


HR technology

But social media isn’t the only hot issue in technology right now. There is still plenty happening on the HR technology front and one of the front-burner issues is improving ease of use for employees when it comes to self-service, said Heather Briant, senior vice-president of people at Cineplex Entertainment.


“Employees get approval for and book vacations on their smartphones, they can look at their pay slips, that kind of thing,” she said. “Ease of use seems to be more important to our employees than social media.”


Hendry pointed out many firms are handicapped by the lack of a good human resource information system (HRIS) and it can limit what HR is able to accomplish.


Buy-in can be a major issue, said Edgar — and he proposed an interesting way to have senior leadership invest in human resources technology: Stop calling it HR technology.


“It dawned on me the other day that I should start to talk about it as a people system because it’s the one system we’ll implement that everyone will touch, everyone gets value from,” he said. 


“Whereas, it feels to me as if many of the executives, unless you take them aside and beat them around the head a bit, they think about this as benefitting HR. They don’t realize it will benefit the entire organization.”


HR metrics ‘vogue’ topic

The conversation then turned to HR metrics, which Hendry called a “vogue” topic of conversation. But is it getting the attention it truly deserves?


“We — being HR — seem to have been slow on the uptick. Technology has been doing it for a long time, finance has done it forever,” he said. “Is it getting attention at the executive level, not just within the HR profession, that we should be doing it?”


The consensus seemed to be that there is tepid interest in the numbers. Briant said she has yet to have any executive, including the CEO, ask for anything more than a turnover or headcount report.


“There are 300 different HR metrics and I have yet to find very many — fewer than 10 — that will change anything in a meaningful way in the organization.”


Sabapathy said other executives know HR can generate lots of data and metrics but they often just don’t care.

“They don’t really believe it can bring — yet — the kind of data and insight that will make a big difference in the business,” he said. 


“We were doing a whole scorecard spreadsheet with all kind of metrics. I stopped it because I found no one really looked at it because it they didn’t know how it fit with a people strategy and didn’t understand what it meant relative to success in their function.


“I know we felt self-satisfied that we had this big stack of analytics, but they weren’t numbers business leaders believed drove value in the business.”


Instead, Sabapathy shifted the focus to the key things the business was trying to accomplish. For example, high on the list was a performance coaching system.


“OK, so if that’s important, we’re going to measure two things — frequency and quality, and we’ll report on that,” he said.

Also on the agenda was boosting employee engagement, said Sabapathy. 


“We went deeper and figured  out if we improved our score in two focus areas, it would have the biggest impact on our engagement. Leaders across the business pay attention to these measures as they’re part of our enterprise objectives ,” he said. 

Dunne said human resources is good at providing the core metrics, most of which generally drive payroll. 


“That data is generally high integrity — things like turnover, internal promotion rates and FTEs (full-time employees),” she said.


“Then there’s a whole capability around labour analytics. So if you’re looking at the 6,000 people who work in the stores (at Indigo), what is the right mix of full-time to part-time? Should we be a minimum wage employer? Should we have a different approach to compensation? 


“(It’s about) being able to support those kinds of analytics — but that’s true analytics as opposed to dashboard reporting.”


The qualitative data that can add the most value typically isn’t buried inside an HRIS, said Dunne — such as key drivers of engagement. 


There has also been a shift towards predictive analytics, said Edgar. 


“The big question is how you can use the data — with the world changing so quickly, how relevant is it? What sorts of things have been going on in the past that we should be thinking about? How can we use that to predict the future? I think that’s the shift,” he said.

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