I love HR.

I know that’s pretty contentious, after all there seems to be a proliferation of HR bashing happening on a constant basis (at least in my twitter newsfeed!). But the truth is that the HR I know is made up of people who care deeply about people, often working with outdated systems and processes to deal with complex and tricky situations that span a huge range of topics.

So why so much bashing?

The name doesn’t help – we need a rebrand. After all, we went from personnel (yuck) to HR (double yuck). Maybe we need a whole new name that encompasses the reality of people predicting, caring and coaching.

The backward systems and processes don’t help either. It’s hard for firms to keep up with the latest technology in any field, even helped by the cloud, and HR is no exception. This in turn means many HR professionals are knee deep in paperwork (yes, really) and spreadsheets, gazing wistfully at the promise of Watson on the other side of the Atlantic.

Finally, I think there’s bashing because the media don’t give the same precedence to the revolution and innovation happening in HR as they do other topics. When there is coverage, it’s mostly US examples – has anyone not heard about unlimited vacation time for Netflix employees? Is that really the best we can do?

Where is HR innovation then?

For me, the true HR revolution will come when reporting is predictive, not backward looking. Look at tools like Knack, which we have been working with at Capco. We’ve been able to assist our decision-making process for graduate recruiting and, like any algorithm, it’s as good as the data you put in. This means it gets better and better with each use. We also developed an attrition predictor tool at the India practice of our parent company, FIS, which moved us from a manual manager checkbox exercise to a fully automated predictive tool. It uses algorithms to pinpoint when folks are most at risk of leaving. Swooping in at that stage is far more effective for retention than after people are halfway out the door with offer in hand and we are already seeing drops in attrition as a result.

An area that’s, as yet, highly underleveraged is using neuroscience to drive more effective programmes and target behavioural change. We have a simple neuroscience pilot we have started in India – where we are trialling changes to the way we train people, based on the way the brain works. We believe we are contributing directly to knowledge retention during the courses we run. This is just the very tip of what could be a hugely exciting iceberg though. After all if we can capture dreams (yes, really) then imagine what we could do for employee engagement. The mind boggles!

Talking of engagement…


It’s clear that the whole area of engagement really does need help. For too long, firms have driven a one size fits all programmatic approach, when by its very nature engagement is something that is highly personal and different to each person, and should therefore be highly customised. Can firms use technology to help them make this a reality? And the confusion around what engagement really means is tremendous. At a recent conference, someone suggested we rename it employee experience – which is far more encompassing and intuitively everyone understands we would aspire to make it a positive one. It may also help to cut through firms where there are engagement programmes (tick in the box) but not everyone is focused on making it a positive experience, hence a say-do mismatch which we all know can be lethal for both engagement and performance.

Do we even need HR?

With all the talk of the future workplace (and by the way the future workplace is a terrible phrase as most of the things touted as futuristic are very much here and now) it’s been suggested that HR is not even needed. And even though I love HR, I agree! We don’t need it, at least not in its current guise. We will always need people who care about people. And we will always need to leverage technology to help us better attract, develop and retain our people. We definitely don’t need or want outdated systems, processes and paperwork. If in five years’ time we still have shared services centres driving repeatable processes, we really have failed. Surely anything transactional and repeatable can be driven through robotics?

Tell the stories!

So here’s hoping we can hear more stories from firms out there who are leveraging technology, using words and comms to reposition outdated and at times confusing terms. Let’s share the stories around what is happening in other countries as well as the US.

Isabel Naidoo, Human Capital Lead, Capco