3 Ways to Drive Competitive Advantage Through HR Technology

By: | October 30, 2018 • 4 min read
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and is a co-chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at [email protected]

Since the latest HR Technology Conference ended a little over a month ago, I have spent some time attending a few industry events and recording new episodes of the HR Happy Hour Podcast. I’ve also had a chance to meet and listen to several HR and talent-acquisition leaders share their stories of how HR technologies are helping their organizations succeed in an extremely challenging labor market.

Just how tight is the labor market? Well, two days prior to drafting this article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary report, which showed that there were just over 7.1 million open jobs in the U.S.—a record high since the BLS began tracking and reporting this figure in about 2000. Given what we know about the size of the labor market prior to 2000, we can confidently assume that the 7.1 million job openings represents the highwater mark in U.S. labor-market history.

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That reality creates challenges and opportunities for HR and talent-acquisition leaders. Finding, attracting, engaging and hiring for those jobs is one set of challenges. Even those organizations that are rapidly expanding are successfully filling the vast majority of their open positions. But these folks are increasingly being approached by other companies for new opportunities, and most are at least open to having career-change conversations with competitors—even if they are currently happy in their roles. So even if your organization is allocating time and resources—including investing in new technologies to try and fill your open roles, you can’t take your focus away for too long from your existing employee base, lest you’ll end up with even more open roles to fill.

Here then are three great examples of the kind of “success with HR tech” that I have recently heard about and what we continually try to showcase at the HR Tech Conference.

1. Investing in Employees Leads to Better Talent and Business Outcomes.

In this tight labor market, perhaps no sector is impacted as much as in retail. Traditionally, retail jobs have been the kind of high-turnover roles that stress HR and talent-acquisition leaders since having open roles in the retail environment usually translates to poor business outcomes, including missed revenue opportunities and poor customer service. But one retailer, operating in more than 250 U.S. locations, decided to focus more on retention and development of its retail associates with the goals of reducing unwanted turnover, increasing job satisfaction and driving better customer service that can be provided by more experienced employees. This company implemented a modern learning and development platform that empowers employees to take control of their individual career planning and connects them to tailored learning and development opportunities. It helped foster a culture that enables and supports continuous learning and collaboration. The company also has created opportunities for employees to expand their skills. Instead of seeing retail, hourly employees as interchangeable and easily replaceable, this company found that investing in learning and development was both beneficial and preferable to investing more resources in recruiting. It seems really simple, but most organizations still have not made the connection among people, development and business results in the way that this retailer has done.

2. Creating a Culture of Performance and Feedback

What is another way to better engage employees so they don’t look for an opportunity elsewhere? Try showing them that their contributions matter and that the organization is invested in their growth and success. Classic, traditional, annual performance-management programs, which tend to be backward-looking and often punitive, never seemed to achieve what most organizations hope they would. Recently, I spoke with an HR leader at a 2,000-employee manufacturing and related services organization which has evolved their entire approach to performance-management practices. It has moved from the annual, universally despised walk through “all the things you did wrong” discussion to a set of regular, lightly structured, forward-looking and feedback-centric interactions, which have served to strengthen the relationship between the manager and the employee.

Using a modern HR technology that has evolved the way it helps organizations structure performance-management processes, this company was able to establish a framework and structure for managers to lead impactful and engaging two-way conversations with their employees. The technology has helped set up just the right level of repeatable processes, balanced by the flexibility to allow managers to tailor the performance feedback and conversations in the way that best fit the team’s goals. The result has been a new, feedback-driven process that over 90 percent of the employees report beneficial and effective—and dare I say, even enjoyable? (No one ever says that about traditional performance management.) 

3. Recruiting Can Be a Long Game.

While the example above may be more common, many organizations also face significant challenges in hiring for highly specialized, highly technical positions—jobs for which there may only be a very small pool of potential and qualified candidates. What does an HR or talent-acquisition leader do when the process of identifying, attracting and recruiting these candidates can sometimes take months or even years? One organization, a well-known national research hospital, has turned to a classic playbook borrowed from the marketing department, a content-driven “drip” campaign to keep potential candidates interested and engaged with the organization.

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Using modern candidate-relationship-management technology, the organization was able to carefully segment its candidate pools and distribute content and information over time. It monitored the kinds of content that prospects were engaging with and connect these prospects to company experts and thought leaders in the highly technical and specialized fields of study for which they were recruiting.

These new technologies deliver a professional, personalized and quantifiable candidate-engagement process that has led to success in reaching the “right” people and filling these extremely hard-to-fill roles in a more timely manner. Sure, this is a “long game,” but the modern tools, coupled with borrowing ideas from our friends in marketing, has allowed this organization’s HR and talent leaders to get a leg up on their competition for scarce talent.

These are the kinds of stories that serve to reinforce how important and strategic the right combination of people, processes and technology can be in helping organizations succeed in their talent programs.