Dispatch from HR Tech: From Buyers to Investors

Last week’s blog was about optimism ahead of the fall conference season. Halfway through my run, the optimism grows. The generational opportunity HR has right now is a little clearer after scanning the ecosystem of people and work solutions at HR Tech last week. Yes, our challenges are growing and more complex than ever. At the same time, the technologies are available, here and now, to boldly face an uncertain future to make work better and more rewarding for everyone.

As with all socio-technical systems like a business, however, technology is the easy part. Anyone who has been through an implementation can tell you why it’s important to prioritize the people side of change and get it right. One way to help people create change is to reframe complex issues in order to make sense out of them. This doesn’t require anyone to be different. We’re simply asking them to look differently at the world to create their path forward. 

Three shifts in perspective can help anyone responsible for the leadership and care of people in complex organizations reframe how they view their workforce, their technology and their data. Doing so will help them move ahead with confidence. 


From Selection to Attraction


This one is easy and it’s already underway. A decades-long skills shortage, illustrated recently by Elizabeth Crofoot and the team at Lightcast, has transformed a fundamental HR dynamic from selection to attraction. In a period when work is more plentiful than the workers with the skills to accomplish it, questions like, “how do I bring more people into my organization?” and “how do I get them to stay?” drive analyses and decisions. While productivity and risk remain important priorities, continuous attraction of skilled people will make or break HR strategies and careers. 

The technology ecosystem has made a clear pivot in recognition of this shift, as evidenced by the sheer number of solutions focused on sourcing, skills and analytics. A number of new solutions are also emerging to tackle some of the most intractable people and work issues, like financial well-being and worker mobility. I’m looking forward to exploring innovations and possibilities with solutions like Branch (daily pay/earned wage access), Credly (digital credentialing), ID.me (identity management) and more. Deployed correctly in combination with ecosystem partners, these providers offer fit-for-purpose solutions to make their customers’ workplaces even more healthy and attractive. 


From Process to Workflows


The days of “our solution fits all” and “adopting best practices” are over. Developing programs that address the needs of your organization while supporting your people requires experimenting with new ways of doing things — and the new technologies that enable them. Adopting these solutions through APIs and workflows unleashes their power to automate tasks and generate the data used in evaluating solutions, designing programs and refining their deployment. It’s also used to decommission a solution that no longer serves its purpose. 

It’s important to recognize how workflows differ from processes: 

“A workflow consists of repeatable activities necessary to complete a task. A process refers to all of the elements necessary to accomplish a larger organizational goal. The general consensus is that workflows account for granular details up to small-scale objectives while processes refer to more comprehensive outcomes.”

While APIs and low-code/no-code workflows dramatically reduce the amount of IT time and resources required to integrate and deploy a solution, it’s not necessary to be a technologist to recognize their value. Breaking down outcomes into more granular details and automating the steps to achieve them helps streamline complexity and enables the agility that has been elusive to HR. Workflow thinking also creates opportunities to deploy solutions within workforce segments to maintain compliance while addressing segment-specific issues. 


From Buyer to Investor


The notion of experimenting with solutions may seem foreign to some on the people side of business, especially given the compliance and risk-management mandates historically assigned to HR. At the same time, markets for labor and technology are evolving so quickly that there is no other way to design sustainable, fit-for-purpose workforce programs or products for your organization. Working with workplace technology solutions in this environment has started driving a shift in HR leadership from buyer to investor. 

At the most basic level, an investment is “the outlay of money usually for income or profit.” The idea of deploying workforce solutions to help generate value and well-being among the workforce shifts the focus from “what will this solution do for us?” to “what can we do with this solution?” This shift also creates a broader perspective when looking at measures and returns on software spend. Cost of ownership or reductions in cycle time are still important when purchasing a solution, but investors include impact on both granular and broad business outcomes in their disciplined analysis of returns. 


It’s Still About People


Of course, the most important application of the investor mindset goes beyond technology. Ultimately, those of us responsible for the attraction, care and deployment of people in the workplace must see them as an investment rather than a cost. This idea has been around in HR for decades, and we now have the technology and data to finally make this shift core to our purpose. 

This week, I am at the CWS Summit in Dallas and looking for ways to bring non-employee workforces into this strategic shift. I will soon share more on the innovations and developments hitting this increasingly important pillar of talent strategy. 


[1] “Workers Wanted Worldwide

[2] Fluix.io

[3] Merriam-Webster

Jeff Mike

Jeff Mike

Head of Research, Flextrack

Jeff Mike works closely with HR, Procurement and IT leaders to design extended workforce ecosystems that fuel and future-proof enterprise talent strategies. Jeff brings over 15 years of experience leading HR functions, along with five years leading global HR- and workforce-related research, to combine the best thought leadership, business practices, and platform technology into purpose-built solutions.

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Jeff Mike