I often draw inspiration for posts from articles in Time Magazine. It’s fun at times to examine a trend or phenomenon in the world or popular culture and try to relate it back to human resources, business, or the workplace. In the past I’ve opined about women as breadwinners and mindfulness in the workplace to name a few. So when a recent issue of the magazine called “The Answers Issue” discussed the idea and ramifications of Big Data, I couldn’t resist.
Anyone who has spent even half a second following HR trends knows that Big Data is a hot topic. Big Data, for anyone who may not be aware, is essentially the multitude of information available through our digital activities and habits that can be harnessed to make predictions about what we might do next….on the consumer side which products we might be interested in buying, movies we might like to watch, songs we may want to download. Or in the case of human resources and recruiting, when we may be ready to make a job change based on social profile activities…even if we haven’t even realized it yet ourselves or taken any proactive job search steps.
The feature article in the Answers Issue, called “The Second Age of Reason” discussed information overload and how it is currently and will continue to make our lives better. How we’ve become so much more efficient based on the proliferation of information right at our fingertips…that answers to so many questions and the collective wisdom of millions are all within our reach, as long as our smartphone is within reach. Just as all of this data is available to companies to assist them in operating more efficiently, the answers at our fingertips can make more efficient and help us to make better, more informed decisions in a fraction of the time it used to. More data equals better answers, in theory.
But then the author warned of the downside of this kind of data efficiency. In discussing the marvel of modern dating apps and how they can make the whole process of dating more efficient…no awkward small talk with strangers at parties or bars, and algorithms that send seemingly great matches right to your phone…he also recognized that there was probably no algorithm in the world that would have matched him with his wife. Perhaps a little randomness and chance from time to time isn’t a bad thing?
So what does this have to do with HR?
We are working in an industry that, like much of the rest of the world, now has incredible technologies available to help us do our jobs better, faster, and with more precision than ever before. Predictive analytics solutions can help us better target potential candidates for our job openings, social recruiting technologies can help us source more (and better candidates), and all sorts of core HR and talent management technologies can help us track payroll, employee performance data, career development plans, or facilitate better employee collaboration and information sharing. And for the most part, this is a great thing. I love the possibilities that technology provides, and in fact I’m looking forward to once again attending the HR Technology Conference in a few weeks to hear about how other companies are utilizing the solutions available, the latest trends, and the exciting new developments in the space.
But, like the author of the Time article, I also offer this caution: in our haste to leverage the latest and greatest technologies to make us better HR professionals, let not forget that at the core we are human resource professionals. Let’s not become slaves to the technology to the point that we forget that we are dealing with people. And those people are complex, and don’t always fit nicely into an algorithm. Maybe the best candidate for a job isn’t the one that your ATS delivers to you, maybe it’s a friend of a coworker – someone who on the surface has relatively little direct experience, but upon further investigation, has some of the skills, is trainable, and is an amazing cultural fit. And the answers or advice to give to an employee whose performance is suffering due to a complicated personal situation….that’s probably not found in a tech solution either.
I think the key to remember is to use technology to help us make better decisions, but not rely solely on it.
Maybe that’s why Tinder as a dating app is so popular. It doesn’t rely on a complicated algorithm. It doesn’t use twenty five factors of compatibility yet at the same time ignore human chemistry. It simply matches people by a few limited criteria and simple proximity….and then lets the humans do the rest. The technology facilitates the process of meeting…but relies on the complex human personality and spirit to determine success.
Let’s not forget that HR pros.
See you at HR Tech!
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.