“More than a mandate, change is an issue of survival. It’s time to ask new questions.” – John Sumser

The workplace is changing rapidly, right in front of us. Driven by Moore’s Law, the relationship between our people and their technology is reshaping the way that work gets done, the way we interact with the HR Tech System, how we communicate with each other, and the rate at which our companies adapt or die.

Hyper-adaptivity, which is the driving force behind the rapid spread of agile technology, is the way things work. The continual speeding up of technical change constantly undercuts the firm ground on which companies walk. More than a mandate, change is an issue of survival.

Here are some of the questions we think every HR Department should be asking.

  • What are the limits of AI in HR (and what does it really cost)?
  • If you listen ever so closely, you’ll hear the rumble of an ongoing argument. Are machines smarter than people? Can they ever be smarter than people? Will that happen soon? What about my job?

  • How will AI change HR and how will HR strategically advise the organization on AI issues?
  • Artificial intelligence is on the verge of turning all employee communications into data, and all communications patterns into automated processes. Bots will answer common questions, complete common forms, and free human resources from administrative drudgery. Freed from the yoke of insurance enrollments and annual review proctoring, how will HR strategically advise the organization?

  • What are the human aspects of deploying AI in the workplace?
  • Artificial intelligence is facing a PR problem today and there are a lot of misconceptions about both the technology and the human impact of deploying A.I. within companies.

  • Bots are Big: How can HR best use them?
  • Bots are now so pervasive that it’s hard to go through a day without having an interaction with one. But many people are still unclear on exactly what bots are, confusing them with robots, drones, and the like.

  • What is HR’s role in a world where employees increasing wear technology or have it embedded. How do you tell where human performance ends and machine performance begins?
    Most employees have a phone in their pocket and easy access to a headset. These communication devices increasingly track, monitor, coordinate and direct their owners. The memory they hold describes company secrets, chronicles love affairs, documents location, records helth care data and holds key contact lists. Tools that add personal biometrics (like theFitbitUp or Nike Fuel) deliver moment to moment performance feedback. And, the functionality is exploding.
    So, the question is whether we’re hiring people or the combination of a person and their tech suite. If it’s the latter (and it surely is), why isn’t HR rapidly becoming the arbiter of the people-technology intersection? As humans and technology become less distinct, will we continue to draw the same lines about credentials and experience?
  • Should the company own the technology that employees use/wear so it owns the data?Does HR test and recommend the tech?
    The data generated and collected by employees as they move through the workday is becoming an important asset of the company. (One can imagine a day in the near future when an all employees are profitable from day one because of the value of their data). Currently, because employees mostly purchase their own devices, the data about work and life in the organization is lost to the people who need it most. Since much of the data describes individual and collective performance, isn’t this exactly HR’s charter?
  • Technology is rapidly outpacing the law. How does HR navigate a world in which the law is 10 years behind working reality?
    By the time a law can be enacted and enforced, technology has moved on. Increasingly, regulation is an after the fact intrusion on established work practices. From now on, HR will be partnered with the legal department to figure out the smart thing to do while the government gets its stuff together. Both HR and Legal have made their money by being the providers of conservative advice in these areas. It’s a dysfunctional approach when technology is setting the pace. The role will continue to need to focus on risk mitigation but the playing field will have several other factors.
  • What is the impact of external factors on the performance, mood and agility of the workforce?
    This is where big data from the oputside starts to hit the organization. From the availability of parking spaces in the company lot to the impact of stock market performance on productivity, our understanding of the enterprise will include gobs of real-time data from external sources.
  • What is the gross carbon footprint of the workforce and how do you reduce it?
    If you haven’t seen Openpaths, take a look. This New York Times app gives employees a market for (and the opportunity to see in real time) the location data tracked by their phones. The data is incredibly valuable to market researchers (and to the company). The overall enterprise carbon footprint is driven largely by employee commutes and travel. The data in the phones of the workforce is a simple way to capture, quantify and think about reducing the organization’s eco impact. The keys to many secrets lie in the data that employees generate and consume.
  • What is HR’s role after all of the administrative stuff is automated?
    We are at the end of the first era of software. After a generation of automating administrative processes, there is almost nothing left to turn into software. Thank goodness. The idea that good management involves filling out forms and following rigid work-flows is extremely 19th Century. Meanwhile, new technologies that are more likely to resemble the actual flow of the work that people do are rapidly emerging. It looks like the first generation of software will obsolete itself at about the time it’s finally finished.
  • How does HR manage and monitor HR in the Supply Chain?
    Apple’s Labor and Human Rights page documents the details of working conditions and environmental impact for nearly 1 Million employees in the supply chain around the world. It’s a model of the evolving role of HR. The management of the enterprise as an ecosystem (pioneered by Cisco) is a component of the contemporary HR Operation. Little conversation on this topic is available in the blogosphere or from the usual professional associations. There are huge opportunities for the management of talent and the development of competencies that drive productivity. Apple’s process begins with audits. In the long haul, innovation will flow up and down the supply chain.

While the fancy analysts declare that there are not enough quant heads in HR, it looks more like a shortage of imagination and the ability to visualize stories. Each of the questions in the list below involve understanding and digesting the impact of data flows on the way we think about our people. Surprisingly, this list barely scratches the surface of what’s already possible. What’s coming in the next couple of years is mind blowing.
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  • How will HR help executives visualize the organization?
    Take a look at this dynamic org chart from Autodesk research (here’s the internal research project). Human capital moves in, around, through, over and under the company. Until now, there were few tools that made the facts of the labor market clear. Visualization of labor supplies and sources are virtually at our fingertips. Anticipate organizational visualizations that show resource utilization, revenue generation, process flow, and physical workflow as animations. What we will discover when we really get the data into the open will be mind blowing. LinkedIn already owns much of this information. Soon, companies are going to ask their employees to limit the data they disclose in their online profiles because it reveals so much to the competition.
  • What is HR’s role in work life balance questions for remote workers? Working all the time creates wage hour issues and increases stress related stuff?
    Most savvy managers encourage work from home because employees are so productive there. It’s harder to develop a sense of work – not work when both things occupy the same physical space. As a result, workers clock more hours when they work from home. The problem is multi-faceted. Wage-hour laws still apply wherever an employee works (so you can expect a raft of work from home wage-hour claims). People who work all the time tend to be less productive that people with saner boundaries. Expect to see HR step in to certify people before they’re allowed to work remotely. In this case, work-life balance has legal implications.
  • How does decentralized work impact organizational politics and culture?
    Organizational politics is nothing more than the way that the resource allocation process plays out. In the absence of the water cooler, politics goes underground. When everyone works in the same place, it’s easy to see who is getting what. Remote work reduces some of the physical transparency that is the life blood of company culture HR’s role as the monitor and facilitator of corporate values and behavior takes on new meaning when it’s happening remotely and online.
  • Is there a natural stopping place for automation? (When is enough enough, when does a workflow become a jail cell)
    Process and workflow automation (the essence of first generation enterprise software) is starting to wade into niches where individual judgment made a competitive difference. At some point, automation ceases to be a productivity enhancer and starts to become an innovation inhibitor. Are we there already?
  • Who owns all of the data that employees generate (not from doing the work but from being at work)? HR is the logical home for the data.
    From the travel plans of our stuff to the productivity implications of workspace temperature variations, the data generated as a waste product of work has increasing value to the organization. As tracking devices miniaturize to the size of grains of sand, they will be embedded in everything. For the most part, any changes will be caused by the integration of people and the thing being monitored. The internet of stuff (things) is widely followed in the EU. It’s all about customizing the universe to our individual needs. Our devices will be talking to each other and us online. Spreading the learning throughout the organization is whose job?
  • What are the limits of an employee file? What should they be? What do you learn when you aggregate all of your employees social graph?
    If you are not already aggregating the social graph for your employee base, it’s time to start. Your recruiting department is doing some form of social media profiling of candidates already.
    In the near future, there will be an incident of workplace violence that could have been forecast by reviewing social media. At that point, the lawyers will reverse their current primitive views and demand comprehensive files.
  • Workforce optimization (knowing who is doing what and where the workflow overlaps are) seems like a logical piece of the HR portfolio. Why don’t we apply these supply chain management principles to all aspects of the company?
    Companies like TOA Technologies ought to pulled into the HRTech umbrella. The difference between physical logistics and human performance optimization is a question of whether you care about the box or the box carrier. We’ve optimized the box side of the equation and need to move on to the human side. This would amount to teaching the OD people to be deeply involved in the actual work before shaping an operation.
  • Employee development happens more effectively when interest groups are formed. Should the cultivation of professional societies and internal Birds of a Feather groups be part of HR’s work?
    Building professional communities under the roof of the organization poses some interesting questions. Should they be open to people who aren’t a part of the organization? (probably). Who’s responsible for their ongoing success? (probably HR) Internal professional networks provide more interesting career paths and shift the locus of influence to the actual work. This obvious offshoot of collaborative tools can’t afford to left to organic growth. In house communities of interest will become the training backbone of the enterprise.

So, there you have it. What questions would you add?

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