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    Defending Technology

    For one reason or another, I have noticed a bit of a backlash lately against technology, specifically some bashing on the over emphasis on social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn for job seekers and recruiters, and of course some re-hashing of the old standard, 'It's not about the technology', when discussing business problems and the relative importance technology should play in forming strategy and making decisions.

    Just this week the the Clue Wagon blog ran a post that stated 'Getting a job on Twitter is 'complete crap', and it was pretty well received with many comments in agreement with the main idea of the post, that the technology is always secondary to the 'human' element.  In these arguments the technology is always positioned in a subservient, almost unimportant role. This ignores the clear fact that certain technologies (like Twitter) enable 'human' connections in powerful and new ways, and on a scale previously possible for only the traditional 'mainstream' media or the mega-celebrity. And at least one commenter clearly stated that indeed, he did 'get' a job on Twitter.

    But I don't really care to write a post defending Twitter. 

    Mainly, I want to defend technology, or more accurately the understanding of technology particularly for the HR professional. In the corporate HR function, technology is deeply woven into the very fabric of the day-to-day processes.  Think about what might happen in your organization if the HRIS was down for a day or two.  If the time and attendance package suddenly seized up, and employees could not clock in their time. If the online portal that employees access to look at their paystubs, paid time off balances, or benefits information was dark.

    Those are admittedly obvious examples of the critical nature of HR Technology in the organization.

    But there are less obvious examples where the lack of understanding of available technology solutions causes many HR departments to continue with inefficient processes, collaborate with each other and the rest of the organization primarily via e-mail, and get stuck waiting for corporate IT to come to their assistance time and time again.  And we all know where most HR project requests get prioritized on the IT project list.

    In my classes and in discussions with HR professionals from both large and small organizations I get questioned all the time about basic technology and tools that certainly would be of benefit to many, many HR departments. Basic solutions, like Twitter, Yammer, Wikis, Rypple, and SurveyMonkey.  I am absolutely convinced that if more HR professionals had at least a passing understanding of these tools, many problems could be solved, processes improved, and overall make many HR jobs both more fun and more valuable to the organization. Countless times, when I have explained tools like these, I am met with comments like' Wow, I did not know about that.  I can use a tool like that to do XYZ process'. The awareness of the technology really does drive the solution, not the other way around.

    I try, from my small platform in class, and in this blog to share as much as I can about Technology to the HR community, but it really will take the next generation of HR professionals to take their understanding of technology along with them as they assume their place in HR leadership.

    Sometimes, it really is about the technology.






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    Reader Comments (8)

    I think Twitter is fantastic (obviously) and think that technology will only continue to grow in our process. And I typically surprised at the number of people (in HR) who have no comprehension of social media and tools.

    You are absolutely right - this will take a couple of generations to truly integrate. Great post Steve.

    April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHR Maven

    Thanks Maven for the comments, I felt like I needed to 'defend my turf' a bit. When I hear people dismiss the impact of the technologies completely, I just think that is too narrow minded. I also think that when we spend too much time 'preaching to the choir' that we start to lose sight of the fact that the percentage of tech savvy HR departments is still very, very small, especially in smaller organizations. Thanks again for stopping by.

    April 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    A well-needed post, Steve...

    Because I tend to gravitate towards the more technically inclined (being the techie geek that I am), I have been one of those advocates for not forgetting the human element. Simply because I do believe some can hide behind the technology to avoid engaging.

    But you are correct, that should not mean that technology is in anyway subservient or less critical -- quite the opposite in fact. Technology takes everything to the next level - in our abilities to remove barriers, solve problems, collaborate, provide information, service, support, reach -- and the list goes on. I know my ability to have an impact or add value has been greatly enhanced by utilizing the technology and tools that are available -- and I too am continually surprised by the those who are unaware or otherwise resistant.

    Awesome post as always...

    April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHavrilla

    Chris - Thanks very much for your comments, I agree with you that over-reliance on the Technology can be a problem, just as I wrote that discounting the importance of the technology is also a problem. Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your thoughts.

    April 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    You probably already knew that I would follow every link and save to my favorites - didn't you?! Great post Steve.

    April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Rosendahl

    I really enjoyed this post. I think your points about the technology and the awareness definitely hold for some groups. You probably do a great job of building up those kinds of receptivity, positive attitudes and creative thinking about what to do with these tools. In fact, I've come across a lot of people that are willing and able, but they don't actively initiate; show them the tool and what to do and they'll gladly do it--but they wouldn't take that first step themselves. I think there is a generation or two that jumped in and self-taught because everything was new and there wasn't anybody to teach them. But we may put them to sleep if they have to wait it out until they are in charge and then when they are finally in charge they may wake up disoriented. I wrote about that in my blog today at learningjunkie.wordpress.com. I also worry that the generation after that--educated in a time when these technologies are all around so you'd expect it would be part of their education--will end up not self-teaching because of the perception that the people educating them "would have taught it to me if it were important." They see some people are involved with technology and others aren't--so it seems more optional than mandatory to keep up with the world.

    April 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkristinehoward

    Steve, it's always been about the technology, from charcoal and quill pens to the latest in smart phones. It's how everything has always gotten done, and not just in HR. There's an old cliche that if all you know how to use is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail, but this is absolutely true when it comes to the use of tools of all kinds to extend our reach. As a rank beginner water colourist, I work with a limited pallet and just a couple of brushes, but every master painter has mastered a much larger set of tools and can select what's right for the painting and painting environment. We need HR leaders who are as comfortable with technology as they expect CIOs to be comfortable with the needs of business. I wish I could say that we've made great progress on this over the four decades that I've been working hard to make this happen. But we haven't. And we won't until HR professionals are judged entirely by their contributions to the bottom line rather than by their level of activity. What matters are things like revenue and profitability per FTE. If we tied HR's compensation to those metrics, I think more HR professionals would be looking more closely at what power tools could best leverage their time and talents.

    April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi Bloom

    Lisa - Of course you know that I read everything you write, and am always in admiration of the great insight and quality of your posts.

    Kristine - Really interesting comments, I had not really considered the 'initiative' aspect of the issue, as you described in your comment. I do think you may be right about many HR folks having some expertise and acumen in new technology, but for one reason or another don't take positive action and strike out from the mainstream. Perhaps, as Naomi suggested, the relevant metrics and performance measures are not in place to support this risk-taking. Thanks very much for reading and commenting.

    Naomi - Thanks for the feedback, through the efforts of leaders like yourself, many organizations and HR leaders are indeed light years ahead of where they would be otherwise. But I agree, that there is a long way to go, and hopefully the new generation of HR leaders will embrace technology as a critical piece of their arsenal to help the organization reach its strategic goals. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

    April 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

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