Talent and technologyIn a recent conversation with a VP of HR at a large manufacturing company, she said something that struck me.

“I don’t buy HR technology. I buy solutions to my talent problems.”

I am used to people typically thinking about the work they do as a series of tasks and processes, so, for me, this was a very different mindset that presents the opportunity to frame problems within the context of technology. While technology is a valuable asset to the business, it is just a means to an end, not the end goal. Yet, over the past two decades or longer, we’ve been conditioned to view technology as the solution to all of our problems.

Think about the common challenges businesses face: under-performing sales, low customer service ratings, high turnover. While technology may help us solve the problem, we first need to understand the problem and how our talent aligns with the challenge at hand. Or, more specifically, how can talent be leveraged to take advantage of the opportunities? For instance, can training help the sales team to improve revenues? Will recruiting and selecting people with a service-oriented mindset improve our customer satisfaction scores? Overcoming a business problem that is associated with talent is a powerful way to prove the value of HR.

Problems Technology Can’t Solve

To extend the conversation about the value that technology can bring, we need to clarify what types of issues can be addressed through technology implementation. For example, process and culture issues can’t be fixed by technology. In fact, technology may actually make them worse.

Companies that focus first on correcting issues with human capital processes can expect to see better results from their technology deployment. The same goes for culture. The ideas, beliefs, and mission of your organization need to be in line with the technological direction you choose to go. Trying to plug technology into a cultural environment that isn’t receptive can hamper adoption efforts and reduce business impact, two highly undesirable outcomes for HR executives.

Don’t Get Me Wrong, There Are Problems Technology Can Solve

While not all workplace challenges can be solved by technology, there are several areas in which HR technology can help to ensure long-term success. When I worked for a non-profit several years ago, we  were able to hire hundreds of people every year and we didn’t use a single piece of technology. And the truth is, it was a nightmare.

We were woefully non-compliant with federal regulations around tracking applicants, and we had to dedicate several people to the hiring activities, despite the existence of other critical needs across the organization. There is no question we could have benefited from the right technology. Again, not just for the sake of buying technology, but for the problems it could solve. In this example, the right technology solution would have allowed us to:

  • Track applicants
  • Post jobs
  • Screen resumes

Instead we had someone keeping up with paper applications in a written log (if we didn’t lose them before they got to her), posting jobs in a haphazard fashion with no central collection point, and looking through paper or emailed resumes to rate and review candidates. The efficiency gains in these areas alone would have justified the cost of a talent acquisition solution, and that’s not even taking into consideration the reduced risk of non-compliance or enhanced insight into the organization’s recruiting and hiring processes.

Technology is not a cure-all, but for processes requiring a significant amount of repetitive labor in a widely dispersed organization, it is essential. Technology can serve as a solution to a range of problems, and that makes it worthy of a purchasing decision.

Written by: Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst, Lighthouse Research & Advisory