Q&A with HR Tech Influencer John Boudreau


John Boudreau
Professor of Management and Organization
Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California


What area of the HR function will be most impacted by emerging technologies, and why? 

While there are dramatic impacts on the functional processes of HR, such as recruitment, selection, L&D, performance management, and really the entire talent lifecycle, the very nature of how we define work is a fundamental driver of the future, shifting from systems that define workers as employees and work as jobs to systems that atomize worker capabilities (e.g., skills) and work needs (e.g., tasks and projects).  Very few HR systems can truly support and teach leaders and workers to think beyond jobs and employees, to embrace a more fluid and optimal system at this more atomized or “deonstructed” level.

What’s the single most dramatic shift you see happening in the HR tech space today? 

The shift from traditional transactions, to decision support to “experience” is well-documented, but I think that the more dramatic and fundamental shift is toward systems that “nudge” employees, managers and leaders with suggestions and guidance in the flow of their work.  These systems learn from situational behaviors and then use evidence-based decision rules and algorithms to “nudge” where most effective.  This takes HR tech beyond “experience” and beyond the HR function, to become a more natural and constant source of learning, accountability and people optimization.

In acquiring and implementing new technologies, what’s the one or two most common mistakes HR organizations make?  

The most common mistakes are a failure to properly define the value proposition, thus creating confusion as to whether systems are aimed at enhancing cost-efficiency, compliance, service delivery, decision support, experience enhancement, etc.  All of these outcomes are legitimate but they are sometimes mutually exclusive.  Related, there is far too much attention to “return on investment,” and far to little attention to “enhancing decisions.”

How is HR technology changing the way people work? 

At its best, HR technology is teaching leaders, managers, workers, investors, policy-makers and other constituents how to optimize a more fluid work ecosystem, where work and workers can be found and matched based on more “deconstructed” work elements, where work engagements can range from traditional employment to a variety of alternatives that include human-automation collaboration, and where work is perpetually upgraded.