HR Technologist Interview: The Future of Work

Shaara Roman spoke with HR Technologist editor Neha Pradhan about the way HR technology is changing the workplace, its impact on new generations (millennials and Gen Z), AI, and the gig economy.

In this candid HR Technologist #WednesdayWisdom chat, Shaara throws light on what it will take for people leaders of large, global enterprises to get future-ready.

  • Embracing HR tech ultimately makes HR more of a key strategic partner.
  • Leadership should be prepared to lead employees, consultants, gig workers, freelancers, and robots.
  • Empowering employees is key to building an employee-centric organization.

Neha: Shaara, tell us, what is the most interesting way HR technology is changing the way people work?

HR technology is fundamentally changing the way we work. Finally. In its simplest form, HR tech is offloading some of the more mundane, repetitive tasks and questions that HR typically fielded, like “How many vacation days do I have?” or “What does the career path look like here?”. Technology has also made it easier to parse through resumes, stay on top of HR compliance, and manage workflow.

What is exciting are the possibilities that come with leveraging AI and machine learning. Being able to have AI and ML help us source and recruit by casting a broader net is revolutionary.

While there are risks associated with AI, HR tech also gives us an incredible amount of data and analytics to use in a more strategic, sophisticated way. HR now gets to be a storyteller to use those analytics to drive performance management or pay equity.

Additionally, HR technology like diversity and inclusion measurement platforms, such as The Silverene Group’s partner OurOffice, are providing data on D&I programs that hold these programs accountable and help them improve. In doing so, the technology helps create more inclusive workplaces where employees are more engaged in their work and more productive. With HR tech, we can now actually see and measure the impact of this work.

Embracing HR tech ultimately makes HR less administrative and more of a key strategic partner in the workplace through proactively managing talent, communicating strategically, and fostering culture. HR tech truly changes the game because HR can now focus on maximizing the attributes that people uniquely possess and technology cannot replace, like emotional intelligence, creativity, and innovation, in order to foster positive workplace cultures that will thrive in the future.

In your opinion, which are the top 3 areas for people leaders of large, global enterprises to get future-ready?

I often talk about the “perfect storm” affecting organizations of every size, which is the combined elements of new generations (millennials and Gen Z) in the workforce, artificial intelligence, and the gig economy. Leadership needs to prepare for the inherent effects, which we are already seeing – “Ok, Boomer” “Ok, Millennial” – of having multiple generations in the workforce.

Because of the sheer force of their large numbers, millennials have been challenging the workplace and leaders. Now, another huge generation, Gen Z’s, are right behind them. These two generations fundamentally operate differently and have different needs than what we are currently offering in many large, global organizations. I often say that our management and operating frameworks have stood still from 1989. We must develop leading-edge people strategies.

As I mentioned before, technology is changing jobs, but it is not replacing people. The creativity factor is what separates humans from AI, and companies who empower their people to be creative and innovate will grow faster in the future.

Finally, the gig economy is growing and changing the way that workforces are made up. Leadership should be prepared to lead global, complex teams that are comprised of employees, consultants, gig workers, freelancers, and robots. If we thought leadership was hard before, it’s not going to be for the faint of heart going forward.

Tell us about the greatest career advice you’ve received so far.

I’ve been lucky to have some terrific mentors in my life. I’ve gotten lots of advice! But, if I were to bubble it up, these are the three insights that have guided me: Do what you do best, that is, follow your passion and strengths. Approach everything as a learning opportunity. That way you don’t worry about failing. And, most importantly, have fun. If you aren’t having fun, something is wrong.

What’s the most helpful book on people management you’ve read? 

It’s hard to pin down one favorite book. But if I had to pick one right now, I’d say its Jim Whitehurst’s (CEO Red Hat) The Open Organization. It’s about transparency, engagement, and community to foster innovation and growth. I love that he shares his story about his own growth and how he morphed his style to lead this open-source company. It captures the essence of how leaders need to show up and lead in this fast-paced, digital world. He makes the case very eloquently that if you don’t, you will be left behind.

How can HR Leaders help build an employee-centric culture in an organization?

There’s an opportunity here for HR leaders to learn from the discipline of design thinking. In design thinking, you are thinking about the customer experience and really challenging yourself to think of all the possibilities, rather than only catering to the “average” customer. If we shift our lens and put employees at the center, we can then truly begin to design an employee-centric culture that is inclusive in all sense of the word.  As HR leads recruitment, they can start by broadening the talent pool. Instead of hiring for cultural fit, they need to prioritize culture “add”. A new employee should provide out of the box, not same-minded, thinking and inspire new ideas in others. HR can do this creatively by looking for candidates in seemingly unrelated industries who may possess a way of thinking that the organization doesn’t know it needs.

HR leaders should also actively build an intentional culture that weeds out bad behaviors and fosters inclusion and safety. Having a diversity and inclusion program is a good place to start. Measuring it and providing data to executive leadership will ensure accountability and improvement.

We all look at leadership to see whether actions match words. HR can facilitate leadership discussions and prompt executives to be transparent in both successes and failures, so employees feel safe speaking up and taking risks themselves. Empowering employees is key to building an employee-centric organization that succeeds long term even if some programs fail.

Your words of wisdom to your peers for creating a culture that will drive the future of work.

Be willing to be uncomfortable while you test new strategies, take risks, and empower your people. Sticking to “the way we do things around here” is the best way to stay behind. If you reward creativity, provide frequent, positive feedback, and avoid only hearing the loudest voice in the room, you will drive an inclusive culture that will innovate and help grow your organization.

Neha: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about how people leaders and HR tech can contribute to the future of work, Shaara. We appreciate your #WednesdayWisdom!  

This interview was originally published on HR Technologist with their Wednesday Wisdom executive series.

The Silverene Group is proud to be a 100% minority, woman owned business.