With analytics and digitalization taking center stage, HR still needs to stay human

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A fitness mobile app uses artificial intelligence to offer content tailored to the user’s needs and syncs with an activity tracker, too. But the best part of the app is that it connects the user to an actual human coach and a community of people who share their experiences and achievements and who encourage others to meet their fitness goals in real time. It’s the personal touch in this app that engages users and compels them to keep using it.

Companies don’t always realize the power of human touch when it comes to HR technology solutions. As a result, for example, many of the learning solutions companies offer employees are fixed and mechanical—and must be pushed out to employees year in and year out.

The opportunity to address this problem is at hand. From virtual-reality (VR) technology that allows candidates to experience a day on the job to AI-powered coaching that advises and informs employees in real time, a host of new and potentially disruptive HR tech solutions is cropping up. In considering, purchasing, and implementing these solutions, HR can and should consider what potential these tools have to support and discern employees as individual people.

We offer the following considerations for driving the right path to engaging employees through these technologies, which we plan to cover in more detail in the coming months:

· Decide how much technology is the right amount. Exciting new solutions can be very seductive. VR is booming—but is it the best way to give job candidates a taste of what it’s like to work at your company? Would an actual day spent on the actual job with actual people be a more effective approach? Whatever the answers, these are the questions HR technology buyers need to ask before they start buying headsets.

In fact, HR leaders should always ask how much technology is right for the task at hand before they build or buy solutions. Many objectives can be better achieved by people than by technology, or by people supported by low-technology tools. For instance, we’ve seen some of our member companies do a great job of training managers to be better career coaches using little more than targeted email.

· Build the human touch into solutions. With a little imagination, it’s often possible to incorporate human touchpoints into HR solutions. An AI-based coaching solution achieved this: It includes connections to the user’s mentors and other people whose counsel might prove valuable. When faced with a problem, the user can contact these people and have short conversations with them without leaving the coaching platform.

· Personalize and streamline the employee experience. Hand in hand with individualizing solutions is creating a user interface that acknowledges the humanity of employees. L&D solutions, for example, are being touted as “experience platforms” these days. But if they are to be worthwhile investments, they will need to serve as more than filing cabinets for digitalized content. They will need to engage with employees and create engagement among employees.

To achieve this, technology solutions need to offer easy access and navigation. And the content needs to be personalized so that it directly addresses the individual needs of the employees. No one should be wading through fixed bundles of generic content for the information he or she needs in this era of machine learning. Content, too, must be formatted with the individual nature of employees in mind. There is an ongoing shift away from long-form content to microcontent. But if there is any rule of thumb, it’s that employee needs must dictate the content and the content must dictate the format.

· Enlist solution providers in the human touch challenge. Happily, HR technology solution providers can help HR meet this challenge. Technology buyers should consider partnering in solution development, rather than issuing requests for proposals. And in place of simply jettisoning solutions that don’t fully deliver, they should be willing to iterate—“failing forward” with vendors in the quest for compelling, engaging solutions that incorporate the personal touch.

It won’t come as news to anyone in HR that we are entering an era of disruptive technology. And no one knows for sure what kinds of solutions will emerge. But one thing we do know is that effective HR technology solutions will need to be center-focused on the individual for as long as companies employ people.

This column is part of a Bersin series on 10 predictions for 2018. The other articles can be round on Bersin’s blog.

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