Survey: Some Predict HR Will Be Automated, Data-Driven and Strategic by 2022

As companies invest in talent and data, HR will focus on strategy and improving employees’ soft skills

By Aliah D. Wright Nov 22, 2017
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​Nearly half of HR and business leaders who were surveyed believe many core HR functions will be automated by 2022—and while they're optimistic about their businesses in 2018, 45 percent are concerned about recruiting and retention, according to a new Harris Poll.

The survey findings also reveal that small and midsize businesses will focus more on using "small data"—information that can be interpreted quickly and used for practical insights that will drive business decisions and help solve big challenges without extensive vetting from leadership.

Initially, HR technology was built to do one thing: ensure compliance, experts said. Those HR technologies were legal reporting tools built with the government, not the HR user, in mind. All of that is changing rapidly.

"Most people embark on a career in HR to make a difference, but many get stuck in the administration," said Karen Crone, chief HR officer of Cincinnati-based Paycor, a payroll company that commissioned the study. She added that in the past, "HR technology wasn't built to make HR's job easier or to give HR time back to focus on people.

"Over the next five years, look for the most successful teams to embrace technology and focus more on performance," she said. "Armed with the tools to add more strategic value, HR leaders will be able to evangelize a holistic approach to the entire employee life cycle—from hiring and onboarding through career development, learning and training—so they can spend less time on the administrative work that has kept HR in a box and more time enhancing their company's people power."

That includes improving employees' soft skills. According to the HR Trendcast survey, 82 percent of respondents say soft skills will become more important as HR becomes less administrative. More than 500 HR professionals and C-suite executives and directors with small and midsize organizations were surveyed nationwide in August. The results were released Nov. 16.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to HR Technology]

Shifting Priorities

By 2022, HR professionals predict that their teams will be focused on three top priorities: training and development, employee morale, and employee retention.

Five years from now, HR's diverse blend of skills and unique perspectives on business operations will be positioned to add strategic value to the C-suite, according to the survey. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they expect their roles to become more data-driven and strategic.

"With most respondents reporting that their department will increasingly become more strategic, more data-driven and critically focused on people development, the HR Trendcast survey indicates that HR leaders are gearing up for the challenge," the survey report said.

"As technology continues to disrupt the HR status quo in ways big and small, it's critical that [small to midsize business] HR professionals are able to minimize their focus on administrative tasks and achieve a more strategic position in their organizations," said Stacey Browning, president of Paycor.

Data Will Improve Recruitment

In order to address their two biggest challenges—finding the right people and keeping them motivated—respondents said their companies will, over the next five years, invest heavily in people and data, including recruitment (40 percent), performance management (36 percent) and data analytics (31 percent).

But how can HR leaders invest in the tools necessary to assess data if they're stymied by costs—especially if they're unable to leverage new technologies and can't afford new systems?

"In many cases, small to medium-sized businesses are already spending the money, just in different places," Crone said. "It could be in recruiting costs because hiring is a challenge, or on the opportunity cost of an unfilled role. It could be on turnover and retraining costs. Or it could be on retention costs through rising compensation rates. It's important to look at the problem holistically. These technologies typically pay for themselves with a tangible lift on the business."  

HR leaders should also start small, Crone said. They "do not necessarily need a system to look at data in new ways. Take attrition data, for example. We often look at the monthly rate or voluntary versus involuntary, but what about other factors? … Just by stringing together data that is seemingly unrelated, you might find a meaningful pattern for your business."

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