The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

5 Ways HR Can Take the Lead on Digital Technology in Higher Ed

This blog post was contributed by Alison Brady, national consulting manager with PageUp. 

On average, we check our mobile phones 85 times a day. We’ve become a generation of digital junkies with technology transforming most aspects of our lives. But how far has this reached into higher education? And what has it achieved?

According to the McKinsey Industry Digitization Index, education ranks 14th of 22 industry sectors when it comes to digitization. Within this category, there is an increasing divide between early adopters, mainstream adopters and late adopters of technology. The impact of digitization in higher education is multi-faceted and varies from transforming the student experience to addressing the growing societal need for continuous learning and reskilling.

In human resources, digital technology can create efficiencies and provide tools to source top talent from around the world and increase productivity and engagement. Nonetheless, many organizations struggle to achieve widespread adoption of HR systems, let alone the level of engagement — or addiction —  associated with popular consumer technology. As Susan Grajek describes in her article “The Digitization of Higher Education: Charting the Cause” in a recent issue of EDUCAUSE Review, this is exacerbated in higher education, where distributed leadership models can make it challenging to successfully implement institution-wide systems. But there is a silver lining. Digital solutions have enormous potential to reshape the industry, and HR has the opportunity to pioneer innovation in this space.

Here are five ways HR can role model digital technology usage and innovation in higher ed:

1) Replace automation with design. Historically, the primary role of HR technology was automation and streamlining. We led with the mantra that technology should support us, not determine the best solution. However, this approach limits our potential. Embracing digitization means stepping away from process automation to re-imagine HR. Technology provides us with new ways of working, solving problems and engaging people that we didn’t have access to in the pre-digital age. Design thinking helps us introduce new technologies effectively and shape the best solutions for our workforce. This methodology puts people at the center of solution design to create more intuitive and engaging ways of working. It shifts our focus to user experience and answers questions like “What does a great employee experience look like?” and “How can we take advantage of different technologies to deliver greater value to our stakeholders?”

2) Work with consumer technology. As freelance and contract work arrangements become more prevalent, there is a case to be made for shared talent management systems that live on the web. LinkedIn is an example of this today. Individuals are motivated to keep their profile up to date to increase employability, and institutions can benefit from this rich talent database. Accenture researchers predict that using external sites for internal purposes will continue to accelerate, particularly if these sites have mechanisms to maintain accurate data.

For HR leaders, this presents an opportunity to rethink the purpose of internal systems. What role do they play and what motivates individuals to engage with them? Perhaps your talent management system becomes the primary tool that people use to stay on track and manage everyday performance. Ideally, your internal systems will integrate and align with external applications, rather than duplicate them.

3) Deliver an amazing user experience. Consumer technologies have set the benchmark for user experience. To achieve widespread adoption, HR solutions need to meet (or exceed) this benchmark and provide people with a quick and easy experience on their device of choice. Mobile, social and analytical capabilities are a prerequisite, and you can expect to find them in most mainstream HR systems today. To truly add value, we need to use these capabilities to support real-time access, actions and decision-making. Apps that provide recommendations, feedback and opportunities to collaborate throughout the day are an example of this, and we are starting to see them come to market in new, continuous evolutions of performance management.

Consumer technologies also remind us that we love playing games, and when it comes to user engagement, gamification has enormous potential. Combine gaming principles with learnings from neuroscience and psychology, and we could have a winning formula to keep people coming back for more.

4) Make it personal. Thanks to digital technology, we can deliver tailored solutions en masse. Personalization is possible on different levels. It means we can implement fit-for-purpose solutions for different faculties and departments. Performance management is an example of where this might be applied. For example, project-based staff may benefit from a fluid performance management structure that allows them to set and measure goals to align with project timeframes. Other roles may have fixed objectives that are best measured at regular intervals throughout the year (e.g. student outcomes, funding).

From an individual perspective, digital technology enables us to deliver a personal experience for each employee based on their needs, interests and skills (think unique content feeds, recommendations, notifications and universal options that users can choose to turn on or off).

5) Become an innovator and technology pioneer. Imagine you lead the way in technology innovation with solutions that exceed expectations and surprise and delight people. What could this look like? And how are new and transformative technologies changing the world of work? Early adopters in higher ed are introducing agile practices, investing in emerging technologies and deploying new technology solutions rapidly relative to their peers. Across industries, virtual reality has arrived in HR, artificial intelligence is augmenting how we work, and chatbots promise to automate transactional HR services. Stay abreast of technology innovations, network in diverse circles, and look to market leaders both within and outside the higher ed sector for inspiration.

Digital technology provides HR with a rich set of tools to engage people and deliver higher levels of performance. Are you ready to embrace digitization and pioneer innovation in higher education?


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