By Rita Trehan
The HR community’s positively buzzing about the promise of Big Data and the influence of technology. To hear some of the conference panels so far this spring, the ability to use technology is going to establish a new credibility and power for the profession.
I’d hit pause on that.
What we don’t hear anybody talking about is the danger of Big Data HR. I’m talking about the instinct to use new information to keep HR in its comfort zone, when business needs the profession to reach beyond it.
We’re getting more powerful metrics across every aspect of the HR life cycle.
Suddenly we have more powerful metrics across every aspect of the conventional HR life cycle. It’s really easy to use the new suites of data to make doing the same old job just a little sexier – bringing a richer dashboard to skills, competencies and productivity profiles. So perennial people administration feels smarter and more meaningful.
That’s a missed opportunity for HR to think beyond our comfort zone. People administration is a silo from which HR cannot make a meaningful impact on the direction of the modern business, and it’s a deterrent to the enterprising careerists the profession needs to attract.
Business needs HR to play a bigger role – capacity and business strategies, not people administration. The CEO needs an independent view of the entire operation and a cohesive plan for matching challenge with capacity on every level. To deliver that, HR needs to think from a business, not functional, perspective. We need to understand how Big Data analytics can improve the business overall. So we need to re-examine how technology really makes a difference to the business.
It’s what we try to do with technology and Big Data that counts.
Big Data can speed that transition for the right practitioners. In the world’s largest, most complex organizations, HR leaders are beginning to use technology to improve the corporation in fundamental ways. They’re planning for and weighing in on the entire business. They understand that the job is more than people.
The real possibility we should be excited about is the opportunity to engage in the real business of HR in the 21st Century – raising the capacity level of the business. The right data provides a wider, deeper view into the business itself and (2) the means to create a greater overarching value for the business. HR’s goal needs to be making the business more agile, lowering the cost base, and improving knowledge transfer. HR needs to understand precisely how technology can enable the company’s competitive differentiation.
To do that, HR needs to focus a CEO lens that disarms the parade of software providers pounding on the door. HR needs to challenge the entire business model that is in place today. The lens is adjusted by business questions, not prototypical HR questions.
HR seeks to use technology and Big Data to improve people processes and analytics. How can we pull more data? What new metrics can we track? How can we create new people dashboards? How can we use social media to expand the employee brand? These function-centric questions yield benefits in the HR function but little in the way of business impact.
By contrast, the CEO needs HR to provide perspective on how technology and the Big Data it produces can increase the company’s agility and knowledge transfer while lowering its cost base. How will technology change reshape our business? How can Big Data change the ways we interact with customers? How are suppliers partnering with us to rethink our approach around every aspect of the business? Is now the time to pause and rethink our technology roadmap and our approach to managing legacy systems? What insights and opportunities around costs can we identify through Big Data analytics? These are questions with over-arching business impact.
HR can do this. As always, though, it’s not about the tool, it’s about the design and execution. A small, strategic shift in orientation will move the business and the profession forward. Then HR will have earned enhanced credibility.
Because it interacts with every area of a corporation, HR holds a privileged vantage point for business opportunity. The key question with the influence of technology and Big Data is: How are we helping the business to see? And how are we helping it to respond?
Rita Trehan is a recognized expert in Human Resources, Organizational Design and Change Management. She has over 20 years of global private sector experience, working across both developed and emerging markets. Most recently as Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, she was responsible for Human Resources, Organizational Redesign, Communications, Performance Improvement and Safety for AES Corporation (NYSE: AES), a global $8 billion energy company.
Bringing a distinctive understanding of how to manage transformation and large-scale change agendas, in a multitude of countries, she has been highly successfully in transforming operations globally. Her global, functional and sector experience combines a deep understanding of how to build organizational capacity within organizations to get results.’
With the proven experience and track record to match, Rita’s ability to “get things done” is demonstrated in her success in building functions from a grass-roots level, while managing integrations and restructuring organizations to align with changing market conditions. Often achieved with limited access to both resources and people, her leadership philosophy is as follows: Keep it simple, keep it business focused and always seeks to combine innovation with practicality.
Consistently respected and cited for her leadership, she has the ability to inspire, engage, and challenge people to reach their highest levels of performance. Her leadership legacy is in being instrumental in the growth and development of talented leaders and inspiring HR people to manage the business of HR.
Rita is personable, candid, and her positive style coupled with her global perspective and insight means she has been able to establish and forge exceptional collaborative alliances with diverse sets of external stakeholders, ranging from C-Suite executives, governments, external partners and individual contributors. She has also held senior level board positions, having been responsible for the Executive Compensation Committee and served on the board of a private/government partnership during her time at AES Corporation.
A recognized Thought Leader, she was ranked in the Top 100 HR leaders across the US in 2012, held the position of Co-Chair of the DC HR Leadership Summit and has been asked to share her insights and perspective on HR at numerous HR conferences. She is the author of a forthcoming book on HR, where she shares perspectives on the ‘real work of HR”