HR may one day just be an Avatar named Jane (or John if you prefer).
The confluence of technology that makes smart interaction between machine and human more effective, coupled with the increasingly “dummied down” model of HR that some companies think is all they need, could lead to a future where there are no humans who do HR, just machines. (Who will also be very good at telling you which form you have to use for this year’s “up to” 2.2% merit raises, but will probably dress nicer than your current HR rep does.)
About five years ago I had an extremely effective interaction with an Avatar that helped me rent some furniture while I was on temporary assignment in Atlanta. I don’t remember her name, but she will long be with me. I asked what furniture she would recommend for my 1 bedroom apartment that would fit within my budget and not look too much like faux early American press-board. She had a hard time with that last part – but quickly gave me a design that suited my needs. We talked some, adjusted the design a bit and three days later it arrived. I was in love.
Huge parts of HR can (and in many cases [almost] already do) work like this. Benefits, HR policy, payroll and a host of other frequent interactions with HR can all be done better by a well designed self help system. This You Tube video by Guile 3D shows a fascinating example of how interactive this stuff can be. The problem is, some companies act like that is all there is to HR and, unfortunately, some HR departments are too complacent in this view.
There are glimmers of sunshine in HR thinking, but too much of HR has been marginalized by the drive to cut spending and increase automation for pure efficiency sake without much thought going into how to improve performance and not just cost ratios. How many companies have the HR department report to the CFO! Way too many.
Really good HR people in really forward looking companies realize HR is like the line coach on a championship football team – they don’t just relay the coach’s messages, they make sure that everyone is ready, motivated and able to play to the best of their potential. (Sorry for the sports analogy – but you get the point).
HR should not be about efficiency – it should be about effectiveness. If we don’t get the dialog back on track, Jane (or John) will be the only love of our HR lives.