Who says A, must also implement B. This is more or less the present state of things in the transition to modern personnel management. What additional functions will HR have in the digitalization process, and, moreover, which tasks will no longer exist? Will HR still be able to implement and guide business practices? What will happen at the interface between HR and IT? An interview with the hkp /// group expert Stephan Schmid.
 
Dr. Schmid, the topic of HR processes has been on everyone's lips for years. What will be left for HR once digitalization is complete?
Schmid: Processes will no longer be as much of a HR focus as they have been in the past. Digitization is forcing companies on a path of transformation, away from highly standardized processes, towards individualized services. In the future, it will be more about people; about employees, executives and external customers.
 
So, are you saying that processes will not play a role in the future, or at best a subordinate role?
Schmid: Even if the focus is on people, processes will continue to play a role, for example in the context of legal and regulatory requirements. Or where high process reliability is required and administrative tasks have a high efficiency focus, for example in payroll accounting, where there is only right or wrong.
 
Performance management is an example of this more people-centric approach...
Schmid: ... which has been heavily process oriented in its development until now. From an expert's point of view, it is generally only the isolated process that is considered. In the future, the employee's perspective will be given a higher priority. They will have a greater autonomy at work and be able to control their own HR calendar, for example, by the way of intra-year performance snapshots. And these will be much more development-orientated than an annual form-filling ritual with the goal of dutifully putting a check mark somewhere.
 
But does this not also require more from employees?
Schmid: Without question, but this is also gladly taken on board. Example: Learning. User generated content will gain in importance, such as the uploading of simply created videos etc., which are then available for everyone to learn from. Here, too, HR can provide a platform that empowers employees to act with greater autonomy, to exchange ideas and to learn from each other. In this regard, there is also a transformation towards a new level of quality in self-service taking place.
 
Of course, this has significant benefits for employees. Most of them know of and value similar solutions in their personal environment.
Schmid: That's it. Reviews, suggestions, playlists etc. - Spotify, YouTube and so on set standards that are also expected in the working environment. And if you can find day care spaces like you order on Amazon – with the same transparency and speed throughout the entire process – then “Self Service 4.0” not only becomes fun but also relieves HR's workload. Therefore, digitalization enables HR to be more people focused and more strategic in their actions at the same time and to drive transformation forwards.
 
What will it take for HR to be able to successfully manage this transformation?
Schmid: First of all, a change of approach is required. This means seeing things from the perspective of employees, executives and external customers and designing HR products and services accordingly. However, it is also a question of whether you want to be driven or be the one doing the driving.
 
And it is precisely in this context of digitalization that HR has a great opportunity to play an active role!
Schmid: Let me illustrate my point by using the recruitment process as an example: Where as human resources departments used to have a quality based, gate-keeping function, in the sense of appropriate selection procedures with good aptitude diagnostics, etc., today sourcers need a business and sales mindset whose main motivation is the candidate’s signature on the contract. In a figurative sense, they are hunters, who are passionate in offering candidates a high quality experience to the point of employment and beyond.
 
In discussions regarding agile management, the question is often asked whether and to what extent HR will continue to exist in its current form as part of this changed framework.
Schmid: Companies that want to take on a speedboat business model will only become truly agile when they manage to quickly mobilize interdisciplinary, temporarily assembled teams to, for example, develop a new product or to successfully integrate another company. HR, and especially HR, is needed here.
 
...because HR can look beyond the defined areas of a business and also break down silo mentality?
Schmid: That's one important aspect: As a driver, HR can accelerate the organization’s development as a whole in this agile direction. But also at the mentioned product development level, HR expertise is required to actively contribute personnel-related aspects: How will we find the needed resources or skills, do we need new working models, etc. to bring the product to market successfully? And if personnel, like other disciplines, are integrated into the respective teams right from the beginning - we are talking about "embedded HR" - then it becomes easy to act in a more forward-looking, targeted and ultimately more efficient manner.
 
Let's talk about employees as HR's clients. What will change for them when the role of HR changes?
Schmid: Employees - and here I include executives - will act more independently and more dynamically because they "love" and specifically make use of the digital solutions tailored to their needs.
 
This brings us to the technology necessary in a modern HR environment. Will this be designed differently than before in terms of user experience?
Schmid: In HR, the basic principle of not necessarily having to conceive the perfect solution and implement it in one go also applies. Because, as a rule, changes may still occur in the development process and, not infrequently, there is a realization that development has not met the given brief. The "minimum viable product" approach is much more promising. Market entry then takes place with a lean but already functional basic solution, whose functionalities can be expanded or adapted in a targeted manner.
 
The already established, major HR-IT solutions cannot meet the demands of this higher-level dynamic. Will they have to be redesigned?
Schmid: Probably not. But the major providers are now opening up their HR suites to create third-party provider ecosystems. Start-ups often offer features via apps that excite users and quickly become popular, but have never been on the agenda of major providers. These can be added to the docks of major systems as and when needed.
 
Which core competencies will major HR software providers still have to provide themselves in the future?
Schmid: The harmonious integration of the entire HR product and process landscape is a must. The user experience and intuitive usability continue to be of paramount importance. And finally, the ability to innovate and the ability to provide an active ecosystem through innovative third-party providers.
 
Does everything that is technically possible have to be implemented?
Schmid: No. Not everything that artificial intelligence makes possible has to be offered. An example of this is when answering questions requiring empathy or that aren’t dependent on purely logical criteria. Then communicating with a machine isn’t the best option. But in the end, it is certainly also a question of personality and habit, whether and in what context we accept a machine as a conversation partner.
 
Thank you for taking part in this interview!
* Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash