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Within the last five years, an upsurge of technology has exploded onto the HR field, exponentially transforming the function from a traditionally operational role. Spanning the gamut from AI to analytics to cloud-based SAAS solutions and integrated communications tools, these solutions have transformed the industry playing field. Technology is undoubtedly the way the HR industry will differentiate itself in the future, particularly with a growing digitally native workforce. As an HR executive, it is virtually impossible not to embrace the excitement of the new world of possibilities.
However, I fear that in our excitement, we may have strayed away from that which gives the field’s key asset, our people its competitive advantage: the inefficient, unscalable, yet essential activity of human connection.
Where technology drives efficiency, analytics, and scalability, it simultaneously runs the risk of stifling creativity, imagination, and insight. This presents a dichotomy: human activity is replaced by technology in order to drive efficiency and scale; resulting accelerated growth forces companies to keep innovating if they are to survive; innovation needs human creativity and connection, an intrinsically non-technological activity. At its essence, you can’t automate the alchemy of creativity and insight, an elementally human activity.
This presents a dichotomy: human activity is replaced by technology in order to drive efficiency and scale; resulting accelerated growth forces companies to keep innovating if they are to survive; innovation needs human creativity and connection, an intrinsically non-technological activity. At its essence, you can’t automate the alchemy of creativity and insight, an elementally human activity.
Through millennia, humans have evolved to be intrinsically social creatures, craving connection. At the core of this is the notion of “tribe,” the intimate unit of community through which humans address their needs for belonging, security, emotional engagement, and purpose. Today’s hyper-connected world has opened windows of opportunity by making collaboration borderless and timeless. And yet, even while expanding networks exponentially, we have eroded some of the primal bonds of human connection that are frequently the secret sauce in engagement and spontaneous creativity. Creativity and insight demand intimacy, trust, spontaneity, conflict. They demand the essence of our humanness.
This is not to say that we should eschew technological advancements sweeping the industry. On the contrary, these changes are necessary to position the HR field squarely as a strategic driver in business success. Rather, if we are to ensure the competitive viability of this industry, it’s critical that HR executives also vigorously safeguard the spontaneity and magic of human connection. In this activity, so deliberately messy, unpredictable, and prone to error, lies the inception of insight. Let’s embrace communication tools, but complement them with intimate team environments; let’s bring on the chatbots, but become more human in our customer service; let’s automate the reporting and analytics, but humanize the insights; essentially, as we continue to embrace the technologies that allow us to grow and scale, let’s also continue to build a world that recognizes and makes space for the flawed and enchanting moments of normal human connection – moments that cannot be captured in a world of 1s and 0s.
As the field of HR strives to augment its strategic value through increased focus on analytics, productivity, and the bottom line, it would behoove us not to forget our competitive advantage and key differentiator – our key asset is human.