Technology: Transforming the HR Workforce

By David Ford, VP-North America Human Resources, Sanofi

David Ford, VP-North America Human Resources, Sanofi

Advances in technology have forever changed–and continue to change–the way we access information, communicate with one another and even spend our free time. Amazon, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tablets, the latest and best innovations in smart phones. If this short list doesn’t convince you, ask yourself when you last mailed a handwritten note or, while reading this post, how many text messages or emails you’ll receive.

“Unquestionably, technology plays a key role in the backbone functions of our HR Operations teams.” 

The rapid pace of technological and social innovation permeates virtually every aspect of the 21st century workplace. And because technology doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it also affects our people, their roles and the way they work.

I’ve witnessed the transformation technology has created within the HR workforce over the last 25 years, and without a doubt, that transformation impacts the way everyone works in HR, whether directly or indirectly. Employees now can directly access the vast majority of information they want on policies, programs, compensation and careers directly through our technology platforms, and the role of the people who work in HR has moved much more to an advisory and analytical role. It’s a change that as HR professionals we should welcome.

For example, the dramatic increase in technology-driven speed and availability of information flow about a company (both from within our walls and the outside world) translates to HR being expected to respond rapidly to employee queries about changes in our business and our industry and what they mean. We remain one of the most important sources of company information and often act as the de facto internal spokesperson for many employees. That’s why we need to understand the world in which we operate. As an example, a press release from Sanofi‘s Paris headquarters can arrive in the inboxes of U.S. employees in less than a minute, and we need to be ready to answer questions employees send our way. That makes it vital that our HR team understands the context of the company, the strategy and what is happening with our products. To help build this sense of context we begin our HR Town Halls at Sanofi with a business update and discussion of what is happening in the global company.  While HR may not directly own the company P&L, what is happening in the business sets the context for how we can invest in our people.

The intersection of HR and technology does not always come easily for all in the HR field. It might require a focused approach to learning about technology through personal research, practical experience and by conversations with technology experts.

Personally, I’m drawn to the social media side of technology. I was an early adopter of LinkedIn because of the platform it offers for connecting with people.  

I’ve also seen some major technology projects not go as well as we’d hope. These experiences really taught me that within HR, we don’t have to be experts in IS, but we do need to have the learning mindset and curiosity to ask the right questions. We don’t need to be able to build the system, but we do need to understand how the technology works and the effect its implementation might have on the people we serve.

Technology also affects the way we do our jobs. Take Learning & Development (L&D), for example. The days of live classroom training are dwindling, with electronic learning becoming the norm. Our L&D specialists now are becoming experts not only in the content of information available to employees, but how that information is delivered:  online learning, virtual classrooms and web-based training are just some of the tools available.

For our Recruitment specialists, technology has changed the role almost beyond recognition. It’s not enough in 2015 for a Talent Acquisition colleague to have the traditional skill sets of interviewing and talent assessment. She or he must also have the social media expertise to navigate such outlets as LinkedIn and leverage the possibilities offered via sites like Glassdoor.  Attracting top talent doesn’t rest in job descriptions alone, either; savvy search engine optimization has a vital role in recruiting today, and this will only become more important in the future.

Unquestionably, technology plays a key role in the backbone functions of our HR Operations teams. Sanofi has made several business acquisitions recently, with each company having its own HR systems. Getting all these systems updated, harmonized and talking to each other is a major part of what we do in HR now. A good example of this is the Taleo applicant tracking system. With this harmonized system for internal and external recruitment, we’ve been able to manage more than 200,000 applications and fill close to 4,000 positions a year. For Sanofi employees, our comprehensive MyHR portal hosts all the essential HR information they need, such as benefits information, work/life offerings, calendars and forms. This year, we’ve launched Workday, a people management tool designed to support both managers and employees in their efforts to drive talent management, career development and, ultimately, business performance. It’s an understatement to say bringing forth Taleo, MyHR and Workday required joined-at-the-hip collaboration with our Information Solutions (IS) team and tapping the best expertise of both departments. We have had to work in a true partnership with our Information Solutions colleagues, and I think both teams have enjoyed the collaboration and learned a lot from each other

So, it’s almost a given that the HR roles described above have been greatly affected by technology, but here’s an area perhaps not as obvious: Diversity & Inclusion. Social media has opened a very wide window for HR into how we are perceived as a company within different communities. In turn, we can often take this insight and use it to work on how we do things to make ourselves as inclusive an employer as possible.

The list of examples of how the HR workforce has been affected by technology could continue indefinitely, because the reality is that there is no part of HR that has not been touched by technology. Are we then developing a new role within HR for an HR IS specialist? Perhaps in a very narrowly defined way, such as for those involved in developing HR-related virtual learning. For the vast majority, however, the reality is wherever we sit in HR, we need to consider how technology can be best leveraged to deliver the best services or products for our people. 

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