Can New Technology Bolster HR Strategy?


The traditional blocking and tackling responsibilities of corporate human resource departments have evolved even further over the past decade with the advent of new technologies. The focus on employee training, mentoring and development has been aided by high definition video, mobile networks, social networking sites and ultra sophisticated Human Resource Information System (HRIS) tools that tie the litany of human resource responsibilities together. Aside from improving efficiencies within the HR department alone, these tools warm the hearts of CEOs and CFOs as they can directly and dramatically affect both top and bottom line. More than ever technology is enabling HR to become a strategic partner.

So what does a CEO expect strategically from the HR department? In two words: organizational readiness. The C-suite will typically respond to ideas that are innovative and cool, which are the cornerstones of cutting edge technology. Picture skiers zipping around mountains bringing tablet computers directly to employees so they can participate in engagement surveys. That’s exactly what is happening at now at mountain resort company Vail Resorts. A large percentage of the Vail Resorts employee base does not work within the finite space of a hotel. Without mobile technology employee engagement surveys would be either cumbersome or simply impossible. Mark Gasta, Sr. Vice President Human Resources for Vail shares, “We load up a skier with iPads and take the survey directly to our talent where the mobile application allows the information to be gathered instantly.” This flexibility is especially critical for hospitality companies where employees are spread over remote areas. Mobile technology is conquering location-based challenges as never before.

Employee engagement surveys are just one HR tool that has become internet-based. The current trend is to tie as much software together as possible on one platform. Marian Barbieri, Vice President Human Resources of privately owned New Castle Hotels combines online applications with behavioral assessments. This streamlined process provides a more robust review of the candidates and empowers managers to post and pull applicants off the site without needing to go through the human resources department.

Another tenet of technology is that it helps save time, a precious commodity for senior executives. An example of time savings can be readily seen from the promulgation of electronic pay as both company and employee benefit. The days of the paper check are long gone; but this goes well beyond direct deposit. Pay cards (debit cards) are becoming the compensation vehicle of choice, especially within the hospitality industry with its abundance of hourly workers. Once issued companies save on the administrative and shipping costs of paper checks, and can also make payroll adjustments easily by executing them online. These debit cards offer great flexibility as they are highly scalable. Employers can also promote other services and benefits through the cards.

Platforms are not just employer focused but employee facing as well. Just like online portals such as Yahoo and MSN look to capture consumers, companies are looking towards having dashboards that capture their employees’ attention and are visited on a daily basis if not more frequently. This integration is a “one stop shop” for employees to view their compensation, benefits, IDPs (individual development programs) but also enables companies to advertise internal positions and company news. This helps to foster employee engagement, retention and promotion. Dave Sibley, White Lodging’s President and CEO Hotel Management Services is passionate about developing A-players internally, attracting A-players externally, and always being prepared for growth. He says, “We own nothing as a management company, the only thing that makes us better or worse than our competitors is our people.

With these new technologies also come some risks. While these innovations offer operational efficiencies, they also drastically affect employees as their normal way of doing business changes. Routines they were once comfortable with are replaced with new ones. This adds stress as employees now need to learn new skills. Another risk is allowing technology to substitute human interaction, which would be exponentially damaging to a service industry. Mike Speck, Vice President Human Resources for Qdoba feels there needs to be a balance, especially with respect to training, “Not to be completely dependent on an online training source as the sole source of information. In our business people train people and the tools and systems are guides to success.” There is no question that companies need to implement technology, but in order to mitigate these undesirable side effects, they should do so carefully and with a heavy dose of education.