When human capital management meets human nature

Almost every CEO says the same thing at some point, and employees’ eyes start rolling: “Our people are our greatest asset.” How can you be considered an asset if the company doesn’t invest in the tools that help ensure success?

When CIO Canada and its sister publications talk to senior IT executives about their priorities and strategic plans, human capital management (HCM) is never the first thing on their list. They are more likely to cite business intelligence software that will boost decision-making, or customer relationship management applications that help grow business within their established client base. More adventurous organizations are moving aggressively into cloud computing or virtualizing their data centres. A platform that will effectively measure and help improve the value of the people who are the lifeblood of any successful enterprise are too often treated as an afterthought, if they are thought of at all. 

If “human capital management” sounds like a cold way to describe the individual staff members who collectively drive company growth, try coming up with something that fully captures what HCM is supposed to do. Until recently, much of what was automated in HR was focused on transactional things like processing payroll, making changes to benefits plans and managing pension information. What sometimes gets lost in the discussion around HCM is the slow transition from purely transactional to developmental.

The best HCM products and services, many of which are outlined in a Technology Evaluation Centers’ Buyer’s Guide, are beginning to touch upon every step in an employee’s journey within an organization. This includes “onboarding” employees, orienting them with policies, rules and access to various systems. It also looks at managing performance, either through annual reviews or goal-setting tools that can be benchmarked against corporate objectives and plans. It’s about how employees are selected, trained, coached, nurtured, supported and moved from one assignment or role to another, ideally in a progressive fashion. All the transactional pieces are still there (and still critical), but they are one half of the coin. 

Over time, we’ll begin to see HCM more deeply integrated with other enterprise business applications to create a more holistic view of how an organization is performing. If you’re tracking revenue generation through a sales force automation tool, for example, wouldn’t it make sense to correlate a decline within a specific geography with the information about the people responsible for representing that area’s customers? If a company is using predictive analytics to understand how many customers will react to a new product, wouldn’t they also be interested in understanding how their employees – based on data contained within the HCM suite – will respond to new policies, procedures or incentives?

Sometimes the role of HR is described as “talent management,” and there are modules in some HCM suites that focus specifically on recruiting and retaining a company’s star players. The nature of talent management is changing, however. How does a company properly nurture employees who are trying to create a “personal brand?” This may mean we’ll see more features that pull data from social media into HCM to measure how visible staff members are within their communities of interest, how they are perceived and how they can deepen their connection with partners, customers and stakeholders. It could also mean much more self-service features within HCM that allow employees to demonstrate more initiative in developing themselves, rather than being the passive recipients of what their employers recommend. All this will mean radically rethinking how vendors approach HCM today. 

We often say that failures in enterprise IT come down to people problems: poor communication, lack of employee buy-in and so on. What if HCM became the No. 1 priority in most organizations – that they made developing and serving staff their primary activity? It’s possible that, empowered by a toolset that guides them through their day-to-day growth in their role, they would be more likely to see opportunities to support the growth of their company through the effective implementation of technology in other areas, rather than resist change. Idealistic as that may sound, it should be both a goal of HCM deployments and a measurement of project success. If your people are your greatest assets, try treating them as such. Watch what happens.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Shane Schick
Shane Schickhttp://shaneschick.com
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