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John Sumser: Focusing HR-tech development in the time of the virus

By: | April 2, 2020 • 4 min read
Emerging Intelligence columnist John Sumser is the principal analyst at HRExaminer. He researches the impact of data, analytics, AI and associated ethical issues on the workplace. John works with vendors and HR departments to identify problems, define solutions and clarify the narrative. He will speak at the at the 2020 HR Technology Conference scheduled for Oct. 13-16 in Las Vegas. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

It’s not easy being in HR or HR tech right now. We are required to get better at managing distributed teams, work through downsizing, make our recruiting procedures safer, soothe the organization’s anxieties and find new ways to sustain employee trust in our organizations. We are operating in rapidly changing business, legal and practical realities, and are struggling to prioritize. Because we are managing in a pandemic with exponential growth, our collective sense of reality is challenged day by day. We face a relentless wave of new realization and understanding.

Ultimately, the pandemic will plateau.

When? Some suggest that things may stabilize in a few weeks. Others estimate a year. I expect meaningful stabilization around August. By then, cause and effect will have returned to a more understandable relationship. Still, the world will be very different.

“Flattening the curve” does not change the virus. It makes the (hopefully reduced) number of cases happen over a longer period of time. Until there is a vaccine (at least a year from now), we will be dealing with health and safety as primary concerns. Social distancing will be a way of life.

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It isn’t yet possible to clearly see the next stage. It is possible to prepare for it, nonetheless. In the midst of coping with the disaster as it evolves, we have to continuously focus on where we are going to land. Survival is not enough. Surviving prepared to thrive is a minimal goal.

My colleagues Michael Kannisto, Heather Bussing and I are beginning to build a library of topics to follow to maintain your strategic edge while dealing with the overwhelming problems of today. It is important to solve today’s issues in a way that prepares us for a deeply uncertain future

Understanding and Inventorying Skills is Essential

For example, we see succession planning evolving from a “Who gets to join the club?” exercise to an ongoing capacity planning and protection system. With an ever-present danger that 15% to 20% of the workforce will be sick for a significant period, the definition of who is or isn’t essential will change.

While current succession-planning regimens pay close attention to the executive team, the future of our organizations depends on lower-level tactical expertise. Three questions to ask are, “Who, by name, are the people who understand the technologies we depend on? Are they the only people who understand that technology? And what do we do if they are gone?”

The questions are particularly relevant while considering organizational rearrangements and downsizing. It’s often the case that essential workers are often nearly invisible. Ask “Which systems do we depend on, and who runs them?” It’s likely you will discover that years of emphasis on efficiency have left us ill-prepared for disaster.

More than ever, we need a complete inventory of the skills and capabilities in the workforce. In most companies, only 20% to 25% of workers complete their HRIS employee profiles under normal circumstances. Right now, understanding this information is essential. Encourage and reward the participants.

Improving Search to Effectively Use Data

Once we have a thorough inventory, we need the ability to effectively search. HR-tech search is rarely as good as what we get from Google. So, we are going to need both a comprehensive inventory and the ability to use it effectively.

Fortunately, vendors of recruiting technology have been solving the search question. Companies like HiringSolved make it possible to search all of the data in your applicant-tracking, candidate-management and HR systems. You can see everyone in the ecosystem (as long as current employees complete their profiles).

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There are a number of intelligent tools that focus on career path, internal mobility and skills identification. Comprehensive succession planning will need to build on that capacity. The goal is a process that identifies and inventories the broadest range of skills possible. Vendors include HiringSolved, Fuel50, Workday, IBM and Phenom. While none have a specific offering, all of them have the capacity to execute.

Using Intelligent Tools to Provide Updated Information

The next months will also find HR teams fielding an exploding volume of questions from employees. Installing a tool like Socrates.ai helps reduce the overall workload while ensuring consistent and accurate answers to pressing questions. For example, Socrates.ai integrates data from all of your HR systems to provide single-thread answers to over 9,000 questions.

As our work and work environment continue to evolve, intelligent tools make it possible to navigate the crisis while ensuring a good landing in the aftermath. Right now is the right time to start outfitting your company for the near future.

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