Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

Tag: HR

Peak Jobs and HR Automation

During a recent recruitment discussion on #NZLEAD I brought up the concept that not only could most of the recruitment process be automated but there was a body of evidence that was proving this methodology was now successfully competing with traditional (human) practices.

What quickly became apparent was that the HR and recruitment crowd partaking in the conversation were very uncomfortable with the idea of any sort of replacement but especially by robots. A follow-up review of the #NZLEAD Recap Recruitment Processes ignored any discussion on automated process and concentrated on human inputs only.

It’s not just the recruitment process that is susceptible to an augmentation and automation overhaul. Many components of the Human Resources role could and can be downsized via augmentation or replaced by automation. It might even be argued that after automating most of the payroll function away in the 1980’s that HR itself has reached its next ‘peak job’ phase as its functions get outsourced or further automated.

So here is my ‘Good Read Guide’ on the subject of HR automation in recent times. Got one you think I have missed? Shoot me a comment with a link as I’d love to include more HR automation stories.

HR Automation – Good Read Guide

Laurie Ruettimann: Cold Reading: Sylvia Browne, Amanda Berry & Recruiters

I thought I would get kicked off with an article that sums up the topic without realms of detail and given that it’s written by the Cynical Girl it’s also a very punchy start to my reading guide. Laurie suggests that the methodology of recruitment is little better than an “unsophisticated psychic trick”: and “that technology can solve for bias and discrimination in the hiring process”.

Naomi Bloom: HRM Analytics – Dashboards, Cockpits And Mission Control

1 - NaomiBloom_1992

One item that keeps coming up in my ongoing conversation with HR is that I believe all things can be measured (but not all things should be as you should look for value against effort). There is always lots of discussion about this in the HR space. Naomi Bloom believes that all things HR should be measured. In an earlier 2009 piece she stated:

“If the real purpose, the only purpose, of HRM is to achieve organizational outcomes, then we’d better be able to measure the effects of specific investments in HRM on those organizational outcomes. Otherwise, why would anyone trust us with a budget?”

I reached out via Twitter to Naomi Bloom, given that she has spanned the entire modern HR journey between old and new (the picture is a copy of her 1992 opus on the subject which she kindly sent me). She suggested the above recent analytics article as a primer. It’s worth a read given that analytics is a key augmentation step and who does robots better than NASA!

The Ladders: Keeping an eye on recruiting behavior

Here is a resume service provider using eye tracking technology to highlight where recruiters spend their “four to five minutes per resume”. Don’t think resume writing or reviewing can be automated…. Think about it as a series of transactions and then ask yourself, can each of these transactions become automated?

Fiona Smith (via the Australian Financial Review): Driven by data: moneyball recruitment takes away all the guesswork

On the subject of recruitment Carol Howard suggested this piece by Fiona Smith on using data and analytics to take the guess work out of the hiring process. The case study utilised is Sears Holdings Corporation which put all of its applicant data against its employee data and found that their “best employees did not come from their previous talent pool”. If robots aren’t in the process of taking over the job of recruiters, big data is certainly going to assist in the downsizing of that role.

John Sumser: The perils of Automation

Before I leave you with links to a HR future that might not need (much less) humans in it I came across this thoughtful 2012 piece by John Sumser. Very wisely John suggests that “Automation strips the fuzzy stuff out of relationships to turn them into transactions. In that process, things get much more efficient. It’s less clear that we understand what we’re leaving behind.

David Creelman (via HRVoice.org): Unending Automation

Maybe the role of HR won’t be in looking after your current employee’s but assisting those who are technologically displaced prior to their own exit. David Creelman suggests:

“Many countries do not require organizations to protect workers from technological change. If self-driving vehicles can replace your truckers then perhaps you can just send them a note wishing them luck finding another job. However, ethically we have a responsibility to at least inform workers about their longer-term prospects and preferably find ways to help. Ways to help could include early retirement, job-sharing, or retraining. HR should explore all those options.”

Steve Boese: Virtual HR, or, ‘Did you ask the HR chatbot’

2 - Ivy

My final link (and my favourite) is from Steve Boese, not only a HR technology professional but also someone with a keen interest in how technology is transforming work. In this blog Steve looks at Intel’s incorporation of Ivy, the virtual HR agent who at the time of publishing could respond in 4,331 ways to staff interactions. On the subject of HR automation Steve states:

“Most of us, (admittedly me too), say of think things like ‘My job is just too complex and ever-changing for it to even be outsourced to a less-expensive human (much less a robot).’

The criticism of this potential HR future was summed up nicely by David Gordon, a recruiter, who replied to my original tweet/link with “@gmggranger it is a good read – still not fit for purpose for recruitment (yet?!), Ivy answers factual questions, recruitment is subjective”.

I’ll agree with you David (at the moment). Yet, a journey starts with a single step…

Final Thoughts

Human Resources are being asked to assist in the transition of human workforces to augmented or automated workplaces. From automated trucks in the mines, DIY checkouts at the supermarket or robotics augmenting people on the factory floor every industry is under increasing competitive pressure.

Yet HR itself seems totally against a conversation about HR automation.

I get it. You’re a knowledge worker and the things that you do for the organisation are just too complex to be replaced by SkyNet.

But maybe its time for HR to review this thinking. As Steve Boese states:

But it also seems likely that given enough time, access to ever-improving technologies, and the right economic incentives, there are enterprising people and organizations that even if they couldn’t completely automate or robot-icize everything you do, chances are a fair amount of even what we creative types do is already routine enough that the robots could do a passable, if not better (and cheaper and will less of a bad attitude), than we do.”

The kind of hollowing out of HR, last seen when payroll was automated from the 1980’s is already starting to impact on the HR function and recruitment seems to be the current automation focal point.

Better start getting involved in the conversation people!

It’s going to happen with or without you.


Acknowledgements: In an effort to shine some light on this subject I started tweeting HR automation stories from various writers. My twitter-sphere colleague Michael Carty of XpertHR suggested it might be good to compile these into a single resource. Great idea Michael and I hope you like the post!

Special Note: For those who have not read any of my previous articles on peak jobs and need a little background. ‘Peak Jobs’ is the idea that technology is replacing jobs faster than it’s creating them. For those more technically inclined it can also be attributed to the finalisation of the increased growth in average output (and income) per labour unit due to technological change since the 1820’s as put forward by Robert Solow (1956) or the commencement of technological unemployment as put forward by John Maynard Keynes (in the 1930’s) without the opportunity to transition into new roles as productivity increases but global employment declines.

Random Analytics: Modern Soldiering

When Fredrick Winslow-Taylor wrote his great treatise, published in 1911, on “The Principles of Scientific Management”, he spent a significant amount of time explaining how “soldiering” impacted on the management and efficiency of the trades. Although his explanation covers many pages I felt the more impactful quote(s) included the following:

The English and American peoples are the greatest sportsmen in the world. Whenever an American workman plays baseball, or an English workman plays cricket, it is safe to say that he strains every nerve to secure victory for his side. He does his very best to make the largest possible number of runs.

The universal sentiment is so strong that any man who fails to give out all there is in him in sport is branded as a “quitter” and treated with contempt by those who are around him.

When the same workman returns to work on the following day, instead of using every effort to turn out the largest possible amount of work, in a majority of cases this man deliberately plans to do as little as he safely to turn out far less work than he is well able to do in many instances to do not more than one-third to one-half of a proper day’s work…

Under working, that is, deliberately working slowly so as to avoid doing a full day’s work, “soldiering,” as it is called in this country, “hanging it out,” as it is called in England, “ca canae,” as it is called in Scotland, is almost universal in industrial establishments, and prevails also to a large extent in the building trades; and the writer asserts without fear of contradiction that this constitutes the greatest evil with which the working-people of both England and America are now afflicted.

Over a hundred years have passed since Fredrick wrote those passages and nine months after finalising a six month deployment to Canberra where I worked with a Commonwealth department it struck me recently how much the world has changed, and yet, remains the same.

A recent article by Fiona Smith articulated the issue utilising research from the RMIT’s Iain Campbell in which they found that many Australian’s were working up to an additional 10-weeks per annum.

Looking at the very high level data provided in the most recent Australian census shows that 45.3% of Australians worked more than 40-hours a week, even with the Fair Work Australia limitation of a 38-hour cap on working hours.

Table 1: Australian Employment Hours Worked. Data sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011 Census).

Modern “soldiering” is not about trying to find the slowest route to take a wheel-barrow up a hill, nor the pacing of a caddy so as to extract as much profit from his (or her) client. The ‘trades’ are no longer the greatest body afflicted by the disease of “soldiering”; it’s the modern office environment.

Modern “soldiering” is all about being seen to be busy. In my most recent Workforce Planning assignment (with a Commonwealth Agency) a not un-common opening discussion might go something like this…

“So how was work today?”

“Gosh, I got in this morning and I had 100-emails to answer, then two meetings, one of which was unscheduled then after lunch I was on the phones…”

Often, actual output is never mentioned. If we have a hard look at the modern office worker, output is actually hard to define and in some cases so amorphous as to be impossible to measure. So, the answer for many is to always seem busy, always a moving target to avoid closer inspection. It doesn’t matter that working long and inefficiently is detrimental to the business (and to the individual) because the point here is to create the illusion of work rather than completing defined outcomes. Often efficiency in highly bureaucratic organisations can be treated like a virus by other workers until the more efficient worker is driven out.

Modern “soldiering” is also defined by the ownership of 24/7 technology. Rather than create efficiencies these gadgets, from the humble mobile through to the most connected tablet are tools of control creating unnecessary levels of oversight and input rather than allowing delegated staff at level to make decisions without a double or even triple check. Who would have thought those odd guys in the 1980’s with those brick like phones would take over the world, zombie style!

It also isn’t enough to be busy at the office. Access to modern technology allows the modern office worker to be “soldiering” throughout the evening and into the weekend. Once again, efficiency is not crucial here, just the perception of being on the ball all of the time.

Modern “soldiering” is most often found in highly bureaucratised organisations, where inefficiencies can be resource levelled across many employee’s and is usually overlooked in the search for productivity gains. Concentrations of the affliction can occur in any part of the business but are more likely to happen in the middle management, administration or enabling functions.

One final note, for which Fredrick Winslow-Taylor (and the worker of 1911) might have found ironic and amusing.

The modern office worker today will be more likely to be completing a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) project or playing golf on the weekend when not answering that all important phone call or answering that ‘can’t wait’ email. They wouldn’t be looking for the slowest route for the wheel-barrow or playing their round of golf on a go-slow.

No, they’d be completing these tasks as efficiently as possible so they could go back to work and continue to ‘soldier’.

For the record: This is a revised and updated article which I authored and posted for HR.com on the 10th March 2012.