Must-haves for a human-centered, tech-enabled transformation


Given the demands of the last few years, HR leaders today have to wear a number of hats. But looking ahead, said HR Tech Conference Virtual keynoter Larry McAlister, one of the most important roles HR will need to take on is tech expert.

Because, he said Thursday in his closing keynote at the conference—which is available here until May 1 for registrants—true transformation that will enable employers to realize business success in the future will only happen when talent strategy is married with tech strategy. And HR sits right at that nexus.

By weaving a “golden thread” among all elements of the talent and tech strategies, HR is best-positioned to create a bigger vision of transformation—and to communicate that to the rest of the C-suite, said McAlister, founder of the Corporate Humanist Consultancy and author of the forthcoming The Power to Transform.

The most sustainable transformations, McAlister said, are “human-centered and tech-enabled.” While the former descriptor may “seem soft,” taking a human-centered approach involves the belief that a transformation can be designed to help each individual within the company get better and grow, he said. On the tech side, any forward-thinking project needs to have ease-of-use at its core, as the digital natives coming into the workforce today have an expectation that technology exists to make their lives easier.

So, how can HR rethink transformation with this lens?

Larry McAlister
Larry McAlister

First, McAlister said, it’s critical to understand the possible technologies that could be involved in your transformation. During his time as CHRO of NetApp, he hosted many “HR tech parades,” as he calls them—an assembly of six, seven or even more tech solutions that are on the table; bring them in and learn about what each of the platforms could do for your strategy before going ahead.

At NetApp, McAlister spearheaded the addition of eight different pieces of technology in three years; apart from taking a deep dive into the HR tech market, he said, he also had to ensure each solution the company adopted was tied to a broader strategic ecosystem.

Technology, he noted, is limited to the ecosystem it’s empowering—and that’s where some projects fail.

Take leadership training, for instance. If a handful of leaders attend a one-day, stand-alone training session, the lessons learned will have faded within days. When they bring an entire team with them, there may be some temporary progress—but it won’t last. And that’s because it’s not tied to a “bigger story,” McAlister said. To be successful, the training would need to be reinforced—a “bell constantly being rung”—and targeted at “long-term behavior change to solve a particular problem.”

See also: 6 ways to put people at the heart of your next transformation

Likewise, simply “turning on” a new piece of tech won’t suffice. It has to be “strategy first, tech right behind it. That is the future,” McAlister said.

He recommends a four-part strategic ecosystem:

  • Activate yourself: Either as an individual or manager, focus on your alignment to the business—your goals, your purpose, your future—with an eye toward your career path and mental fitness. Have a growth mindset and engage in career conversations to keep your focus on the future.
  • Activate your team: Share goals and a commitment to teamwork, McAlister said, with a mindset that you can democratize data from your HR technology to support your team’s efforts.
  • Activate the enterprise: Here, an owner’s mindset is essential: Make decisions like you own the whole business, McAlister said. Career conversations aren’t just limited to your own goals, but rather take a broader look at how you can fill gaps or lend skills to what the organization needs.
  • Activate the future: This is the hardest part of the strategy, McAlister acknowledged. It requires the ability to analyze the strategy for the long term and to pay attention to what your data is telling you. TA platforms, for instance, can tell you the skills that exist in the market, and mobility platforms may point to where current employees are wanting to go—those two need to be tied together to drive the strategy forward.

Ultimately, he said, every organization is undergoing transformation today. And the ones that are ready to respond with a human-centered, tech-enabled strategy will come out on top.

“No matter where you are, you are inside some sort of transformation,” he said, pointing to rapid growth, layoffs, the introduction of a new market or the adoption of a new piece of technology. “If we treat those simply as another change, we miss the opportunity to drive engagement, growth and to change the way people operate inside a company.”


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