Evolution of HR

BlackbookHR's Chris Powell: The Evolution of HR Practices

By George Dickson on September 14, 2015

Human resources must evolve to remain relevant and foster an engaged workforce.

Chris Powell, CEO of BlackbookHR shared some time with me to discuss the evolution of HR, and the importance of facilitating, rather than just measuring, engagement.

Why technology is important to Human Resources

I wanted to find out Powell's thoughts on why these tools are so such an important advancement for the field. When I asked him, he explained, "It's not only a tool for the organization to use and benefit from; it's also a tool for the manager and employees to benefit from."

He explained that HR tools and solutions are often one-dimensional, exclusively beneficial to the employer, and of little use to the employee.

Chris Powell

"Our design strategy is to create a unique value proposition for the organization, the managers inside the organization, and the employees," Powell said. "In terms of the design usefulness and valuable insights to help them retain talent, produce more, and perform better, all of it is designed for a higher outcome and not just exclusively around engagement as a means to an end. It's all about creating better outcomes."

Closing the information gap

Powell explained that during his time as a human resources practitioner he always felt like he was "a day late, and a dollar short" — that the information he had was dated and never addressed the problem at hand.

Meanwhile, his colleagues in sales had up-to-the-minute information, and operations always knew what was happening on a real-time basis. HR, he said, had to wait 30 to 40 days to get any relevant information. "And by that time, it was no longer of concern."

"Tools like ours are able to give insight in a much faster, more relevant way to shape business decisions about where to put resources, where to change, where to pivot," Powell said. "And where to stop what you're doing, because HR is notorious for adding stuff on instead of saying, 'What should we stop doing?'"

How employees benefit from HR's evolution

Employees stand to benefit greatly as HR evolves. I asked Powell what positive effects employees experience when HR embraces modern tools and processes.

"What we are seeing in our use cases with customers, is their engagement increases," he said. "When the organization brings in tools that are contemporary, the employees are using it more — they're more engaged. 

There's a higher sense that, for one, 'I'm at a place where I can share my voice and have impact and realize my purpose.' But also, the ability to co-create faster happens when you have tools that facilitate this data in the workplace. And so, clearly, we're measuring engagement, but we're also working to facilitate engagement."

Focusing on the here and now

Powell shared one of his pet peeves about HR practices: asking employees about issues that you have no plans or resources to do anything about.

Employees are concerned about what decisions are going to benefit them right now.

"They're not concerned about three years from now," he said. "I'm in this job, I need help now, not three years from now."

Powell explained that HR professionals need focus on strategic planning as well as day-to-day productivity and performance.

"Our focus should be on what are those things that have a much more immediate effect in driving retention, performance, productivity or culture. That doesn't discount strategic thinking, but as somebody described to me the other day: 'Great athletes don't focus on what's going to happen in the fourth quarter of the game. They're focusing on each play and what's happening in that moment.'

I think that's where HR has the greatest opportunity — and products and solutions like ours and yours have the greatest opportunity to really reshape the play at hand in the near term, versus always thinking about the strategic three and five-year plans."

The human element

A self-proclaimed humanist, Powell believes deeply in the power of humans:
there are endless possibilities of what humans can do.

"Anything that gives me the ability to understand, facilitate, manage, track, execute, organize  anything that helps me on that continuum  so I can leverage that human power, I want to know about it. Why wouldn't you want to know?"

He explained how modern technology can help HR become more agile with its workflow, processes, and problems.

"It allows HR to focus on the greatest asset that we have. Driving engagement is about focusing on equipping and enabling people managers to be better at managing people...to get high levels of engagement and performance and productivity and retention. So, if HR is able to optimize itself, then it can focus on higher value things like equipping others and enabling others to be successful."

Again, he stressed how technology doesn't just benefit the HR department. "The agency worker is becoming a higher percentage of the workforce. If I'm a contract worker, I'm going to need tools to help me manage me: a unit of one."

"If I'm a people manager, I'm going to need a tool that allows me much more flexibility in managing the workplace, which has not just full-time employees, but contractors as well. The world of work has changed, and I don't think that technology and organizations have kept up to really make sure that we're equipping people to be successful."

Crucial decision-making resources

Powell expanded on that concept he touched on earlier, about how his sales and operations colleagues all had current relevant data at their disposal.

"Measurement happens in the consumer marketplace everyday. Coca-Cola, Macy's, P&G, and all these companies are constantly sourcing data on consumers and can easily give you predictive insights and analyses on engagement and satisfaction. 

They can predict when are you going to buy that next roll of toilet paper. Why wouldn't we [HR] want to have that kind of insight as it relates to the workforce? For example, what's going to help this organization produce more, retain better talent, and achieve its business goals? These are the same principles."

An ultimately human endeavor

Technology provides crucial tools, but artificial intelligence has its limitations. "The one thing computers don't have is a conscience. Decisions are based on data and consciousness  not just data," Powell said. When asked to give one piece of advice to anyone working to modernize their management practices, Powell put it succinctly: 

"Use all of your data resources to make better decisions."

That advice could mean different things to different people, but it comes back to that crucial notion  the data and resources HR technology provide are priceless in the decision making process, but that decision is ultimately human-driven. And isn't that what people management is all about?

Written by George Dickson

George Dickson

George manages content and community at Bonusly. He's dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures through thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition.