The Digital Override

By Anthony Abbatiello

May. 4, 2014

The digital revolution has brought about dramatic changes at home and work. Today, we think nothing of creating videos to post on Vine and YouTube, writing our own news stories as “citizen journalists” on sites like Reddit or taking on the role of hotelier by renting out a spare bedroom for a night through sites like Consumers have taken control of the narrative and are exercising their power as never before.

Leading organizations also are fundamentally rethinking HR in light of an emerging class of social and market-based tools that will let employees manage almost every aspect of their professional lives digitally. The digital revolution is enabling companies to democratize talent management for the first time and allowing employees to participate in defining their own talent management practices, thereby making it part of everyone’s job description.

With new digital technologies such as social, mobile, gaming, the cloud and analytics, organizations can shift the focus of information and decision-making away from a central HR group and toward employees and managers. In the past few years, these technologies have enabled employees to define people practices organically, making them more accurate, relevant, customized and ultimately more valuable. And they now enable talent management to be seamlessly interwoven with everyday work — where research has long shown the most significant performance improvements are to be had.

Take performance reviews. Companies including Facebook Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are transforming their one-way review processes that are largely defined and controlled by HR by applying social technologies to turn them into dynamic, collaborative systems where collective feedback and recognition is continuously gathered from people across the company using crowdsourcing techniques. The result? Accurate, actionable, personalized results. A major advantage of many of these new tools is that they can be woven into everyday work.

Hilton Worldwide has taken democratized talent management to heart. The hotel chain is aiming for ubiquitous access to talent data and is working to place it directly in the hands of managers so they can weave it together with business data to drive strategic decisions about talent and higher levels of performance. According to Matt Schuyler, the company’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, critical talent processes like workforce planning are more likely to be performed by managers themselves in the near future — using data to determine gaps between workforce projections and available supply of staff or forecasted attrition, for example, and modeling different scenarios that could be used to close any gaps.

“We’re seeing a big shift right now for HR,”  Schuyler said. “By giving the business easily digestible data that is at their disposal when and where they need it, and by implementing new cloud-based and mobile applications with more intuitive, consumerlike user interfaces across all talent management practices, we’re looking at a future where employees will do more and more themselves at the point of need. This will be a fundamental transformation for the HR function; we imagine HR will become much more focused on enabling analytics and become much more of a coach, counselor and strategic adviser to the business than ever before.”

Hilton Worldwide is already starting to plan for a large-scale swap-out of HR resources, which will ultimately redefine the function. For every dollar saved by better automating HR activities or placing them more in the hands of employees, the company plans to spend that dollar on HR professionals who can lend strategic advice and counsel.

The Digital Technologies Driving Democratization

What are the advances in digital technology that are transforming human resources and enabling talent management to become more embedded in the fabric of everyday work? Here are some new digital advances and how they are fundamentally changing the nature of the game:

• Social: Social media extends the Internet concept of removing intermediaries to the masses, enabling unlimited, easy reach to large numbers of people. Its significant reach enables people to connect to create a unified, powerful voice. And it enables people to actively “co-create” practices, processes or content so they are ever-evolving and timely rather than fixed and static.

• Mobile: As mobility applications designed for tablets and smartphones become more available, digital talent processesare becoming easier to perform anywhere, anytime and on any device, making them more easily woven into the fabric of everyday work where and when it occurs. Consider TouchBase from Ultimate Software Group Inc., for example, a wall-dockable tablet that takes a digital photo of each worker to verify the worker’s identity instead of requiring workers to punch in.

• Gaming: The infusion of principles derived from gaming make performing talent management practices far more fun and easier to do — thereby motivating employees to take on more talent management activities. Sites like Gild,, Mixtent and True Office help companies transform everything from recruiting to performance appraisals to learning into a game.

• The cloud and more intuitive user interfaces: The latest generation of cloud applications puts individuals in charge of their own destiny more than ever before, providing tools, for example, for goal alignment, frequent feedback, teamwork and collaboration, and career self-management (with or without the involvement of an employer). Cloud applications also have improved, more intuitive user interfaces that make them easier to use by all, whether the user is an HR professional or not.

• Analytics/big data: Companies that integrate traditional business and talent data with big data obtained from social and local data sources — tweets, blog posts, RSS feeds, customer service feedback, GPS coordinates and more — can get a far more complete picture of their workforce’s abilities, wants and needs. The emergence of analytics and more sophisticated modeling and decision support tools also means that decision-making can be more easily performed on the front lines by employees themselves with digital assistance.

—Anthony Abbatiello

This isn’t just about the traditional notion of self-service, or the ability for employees to perform mundane administrative HR activities themselves online, like updating their address or viewing a paycheck without HR’s intervention. Rather, it means involving employees and managers in high-impact talent processes including recruiting, succession planning, learning and shaping career paths.

Long the domain of recruiting experts in HR, new digital platforms now enable hiring managers to find potential employees directly, potentially eliminating much of the role of traditional marketing and candidate sourcing. Digital talent markets and social networks now enable the power of all employees — and their respective networks of friends and colleagues — to find and attract the best job candidates. Instead of placing one-way, impersonal ads oriented toward the masses, current or potential employees are now helping to define the recruiting experience — and making it an information-rich, two-way, highly collaborative and personal process. Our research at Accenture estimates in the near future that social media connections with employees could yield up to 80 percent of new recruits. We also have implemented new digital recruiting channels for employee referrals and a new candidate interview app. Both put the recruiting experience in the palm of the candidate’s hand.

Another new trend in recruiting may place more power in the hands of the individual, with employers competing for talent in auction-type formats., formerly DeveloperAuction, has emerged to help top coders see what they’re worth by broadcasting their résumés to hundreds of tech companies registered with the site in competitive, 14-day cycles. After companies make their offers, candidates can accept interviews or pass.

But recruiting isn’t the only talent management practice where employees take on a much more powerful, participatory role. Perhaps nowhere has this notion taken hold so strongly to date as in learning, where peer-to-peer learning through social media platforms has been embraced by corporate learning leaders.

In benefits, choices can be determined by consensus through corporate social media sites revealing which benefits are important to which employee populations. And in career development, new software as a service applications offered by leading vendors now enable companies to analyze employee transfer and promotion histories captured in the system to determine common (or uncommon) career paths taken. Other employees can then view the career paths taken by others who have similar skills, preferences and roles, and then network with these people to learn more through social networking technologies.

Digital technologies also enable other, less obvious talent management practices to become much more democratic. Employees can now use social media — like posting videos explaining their jobs and the company culture to others — to onboard new colleagues. And employees can use social media to advise career counselors how best to counsel them instead of having HR provide this advice.

But this fundamental shift won’t be easy. One HR executive at a global pharmaceutical company explained that HR is challenged by integrating talent management decisions into the business. It is a fundamental mindset change. HR has to evolve, and its role is to be an enabler and enhancer for decisions to be made in the business by employees themselves.

A world of more democratized talent management leads many to question whether HR is needed at all. Our two-year research program into the future of HR suggests, however, that HR will never likely be abolished, or even significantly diminished, in a world where employees participate in talent management more than ever before.

Still, HR will need to radically redefine itself or risk obsolescence altogether. Certainly the administrative burden that HR departments have carried for so long will lighten up considerably, shrinking the portion of HR focused on administration to a small fraction of what it is today.

Instead of centrally defining, controlling and administering talent management practices, HR will have to redefine its mission and mandate to concentrate on building a culture where people can use talent management tools to enhance their own job performance. The time has come for HR to start taking its own medicine and investing in talent development for HR to become the talent architects of the future.

In this new role, HR will provide the coaching, tools and strategy for the business to make talent management truly a responsibility of all.

Anthony Abbatiello is a managing director and the global HR consulting lead within Accenture’s Strategy practice, based out of the New York office. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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