Skills-sharing is a two-way street between HR and IT, with both units offering important expertise that can help enhance the other’s work. Three HR leaders share how they’re working strategically with their IT and technology colleagues.
In the evolving landscape of organisational strategy, HR professionals have traditionally been advised to familiarise themselves with the language and context of finance, enabling them to engage more strategically within their companies. In the past, this advice proved instrumental, propelling numerous HR leaders into executive and board-level positions.
Yet, as the business terrain continues to evolve, a new paradigm emerges: HR’s symbiotic relationship with IT and technology leaders. This evolution demands HR’s acumen in leveraging technology to craft enriched employee experiences and optimise or streamline cumbersome processes.
However, this shift isn’t unilateral. Many HR professionals are already adept in navigating the technological realm, while IT and tech teams stand to gain valuable insights from HR’s strategic approach to change management. Therefore, the conversation should pivot towards fostering a mutually enriching alliance between HR and IT, one characterised by strategic collaboration and shared learning objectives.
To delve deeper into this, HRM spoke with three HR leaders to learn how they are fostering this synergy within their respective organisations.
It’s time for HR’s portfolio to expand
Partnering with the Chief Technology Officer is no different to working alongside the CFO or COO, says Denise Hanlon MAHRI, Chief People Officer at Janison.
“The key is to realise that you each have a responsibility to create an amazing workplace for employees, you just do it from slightly different angles,” she says.
In a previous role at a non-for-profit organisation, where Hanlon worked as the Chief Operating Officer, she was responsible for HR, finance, technology and a variety of other support functions.
“I remember the Head of IT asking what his department had in common with HR and why we should all be ‘lumped’ together.
“I showed him the results of a recent employee engagement survey in which IT received [feedback] from employees about slow service, a superior attitude, and a general lack of appreciation that [IT] had a role to create a place where employees could work efficiently, be treated with respect and have access to the latest technology.”
By bringing the IT remit under Hanlon’s leadership, the data told a completely different story just 12 months later. It was a “vast improvement”, she says.
“HR can work with IT to ask, ‘How is this going to impact staff and what’s the best way to roll this out and make sure we’re considering workloads.” – Clare Murphy FCPHR, Executive Director of Organisational Enablement, EACH
Clare Murphy FCPHR, Executive Director of Organisational Enablement at EACH, a for purpose organisation in the healthcare space, also sees immense value in having a remit that extends beyond HR alone.
Murphy previously EACH’s HR Director, but over the past 12 months her role expanded to incorporate IT, finance, infrastructure, quality and risk, the national intake service, as well as HR.
“Bringing these functions together meant we have a far more holistic view of the things that the teams are doing, and better understand the efficiency gains from avoiding the issues created when there are silos” she says.
“A simple example is that recently, in order to enhance our cyber security, IT proposed a change that required passwords having to be changed every 30 days. They consulted with HR, who advised that would have a significant impact on staff who would see this requirement as onerous.
“IT came up with another solution that provided increased cyber security without the passwords being changed as frequently. After consultation with HR and Operations, this change was approved and they are working on a staggered implementation plan together to lessen impact to staff. If there hadn’t been that consultation and the password change was just done, we would have been dealing with complaints.
“[HR] can bring different perspectives when IT is looking to roll something out, even if it’s something simple like moving to a new system. HR can work with IT to ask, ‘How is this going to impact staff and what’s the best way to roll this out and make sure we’re considering workloads and offering different ways to implement something?”
That’s where projects like this often fall down: when functions are working in a siloed manner and don’t take the time to align their plans. An HR touchpoint saved the organisation precious time, says Murphy, and HR supported the IT team to consider the technology angle from a people perspective, demonstrating that consultation with staff is a critical element of a successful technology roll out.
Hanlon agrees, saying,”Often, HR comes up with an idea and just expects that the technology team will ‘find time’ to support it. The opposite is also true. Technology teams might plan a project that will require HR support, but fail to jointly plan the time and effort needed by both teams to make it a success.”
The impact of HR and IT working hand in hand
HR leaders and Chief Technology Officers often have complementary skills, says Hanlon.
“[Our CTO’s] strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa, and we have a mutual respect,” she says.
For example, Janison’s employee engagement surveys used to run manually, which Hanlon says were time-consuming and often lacking in useful analysis that the organisation could act upon. With the CTO’s support, she implemented a tool that could automate the process.
“It just seemed obvious to me to involve a member of the technology team before we’d even started investigating the right tool for us or planning any implementation. Doing this brought to the discussion all sorts of things that, as an HR function, we wouldn’t have thought were important – like integration with other technologies, data security, API’s, etc.
“I think the reason we received such good support from the CTO was that we flagged our plans for this project well ahead of implementation and formally captured it in our respective business plans.”
Desleigh White CPHR, an experienced HR leader who has worked across many sectors including multinational engineering, has previously worked closely with her IT team to onboard new talent.
“This seems like a simple example, but when you layer the complexities of a multinational organisation, the pandemic and major global organisational transformation, it becomes more complex,” she says.
“The company was in the middle of the creation of a joint venture, where systems, processes and suppliers were all about to change dramatically, so nothing had changed for some years. Our providers were also going to change, so there was little incentive for them to assist.”
It was taking anywhere from weeks to months to get new laptops for new starters due to global supply chain issues spurred by COVID.
“[IT and I] discussed the pain points, what was possible to change, what we needed and ways we could do that. We agreed on an interim process and a new supplier for peripherals, and developed a process to have managers order these.
“I remember the Head of IT asking what his department had in common with HR and why we should all be ‘lumped’ together.” – Denise Hanlon MAHRI, Chief People Officer, Janison
“When that didn’t work, we regrouped… and identified the issues in the process. We brought the supplier in as a partner… and, together, reimagined the process. We also quietly agreed that we needed to cut the third-party provider engagement back and develop an interim process for other equipment, outside the usual guidelines, but still compliantly.”
This collaborative problem-solving meant that new starters were able to have all the necessary tools on day one.
“People felt more included, engaged and supported. They were able to connect with colleagues quickly, which was critical during the pandemic. They were able to more quickly start doing their role because the basics were in place,” says White.
A tech-enabled workforce
While the pace of technological change means that any skills HR leaders develop around technology now will likely need refreshing in the near future, White believes that getting comfortable with AI is a skill that’s only going to become more important for HR.
“Using the various AI tools to run questions or problems through can be a great way to get started on whatever you’re working on. Right now, my preferred [AI] tool is co-pilot, [but] I had fun using ChatGPT many months ago to write a policy on the use of AI in the workplace. It was a good starting point, then I used my knowledge and skills to add value and sense check.”
White is excited about all the ways in which technology will change work in the future and thinks other HR professionals should be too.
“We will certainly be using virtual reality more in training, learning and in workplaces generally. Technology, used well, could facilitate connections between people who are not co-located.
“It will also be interesting to see where robotics is able to support people and organisations. I imagine we will have colleagues who are robots in the not-too-distant future, something to embrace rather than run from.”
See HRM’s case study into how the Defence Force is using robotic employees to streamline work. And learn how Accenture is training its employees in the metaverse.
She also sees it being a useful tool to enhance some of HR’s work in the diversity, equity and inclusion space.
“I recall a candidate who was living with a disability – one of the key responsibilities of the role they applied for was setting up training rooms, moving chairs and desks etc. What if a robot was able to do those components, enabling that person to take responsibility for other components of the role. Maybe robotics and AI will open opportunities and support diversity, equity and inclusion?”
But this doesn’t mean that you need to become a tech whizz. Murphy is the first to admit that she doesn’t have all the technical capabilities that her IT colleagues do, but she doesn’t need to.
“I bring the lens of, ‘How do we make sure what we’re doing is considering how it impacts operations?’ ‘How many change initiatives are we running at the same time?’ ‘What are people’s workloads looking like?’ ‘Is this the best time to implement a new system?'”
What’s most important is building a trusting relationship with your IT colleagues, she says. One in which psychological safety is at the fore.
“You need to feel comfortable to be upfront, honest and authentic when you don’t actually understand something. You can say, “I still don’t understand this, but I really want to. Can you spend some more time with me to explain this?’ Then you need to be comfortable saying, ‘No, I still don’t understand. Can you explain it differently?’ It’s a good lesson for IT people to learn how to talk to non-technical people outside of IT.”
The future of HR
Over Hanlon’s 35-years HR career, she’s witnessed many significant developments in technology, but says the heart of what it means to work in HR has always remained the same.
“I’m not sure that the role of the HR function is much different to what it has always been – to help create a place employees never want to leave and where prospective employees are banging on the door to get into.
“Technology has always enabled HR to reduce the boring, manual stuff and leave more time for the tasks that require deep thought, human interaction and more complex problem-solving. I don’t see that this will be any different in the next 10 years. But hey, I’m not even sure what I’ll be doing next week!”
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