Technology is No Match
ATD Blog

Technology is No Match for the Human Element

Thursday, May 11, 2017

If you thought the technological evolution of the HR industry was already moving at breakneck speed, fasten your seatbelts. The emergence of cloud computing, digitization, and test and learn strategies has transformed human resources and talent management, a trillion-dollar industry, into a series of data centers and SaaS platforms. It seems that the most important aspect of human resources, the human element, may start to become digitized and commoditized through artificial intelligence. AI has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of human input needed by automating most of the workload. For now, technology is seeping into HR departments in several fascinating ways, although it cannot replace the human element just yet.

Using Technology to Improve Retention

Until artificial intelligence can completely replace the need for human interaction, the human element is the most important part of any HR department. The latest innovations in HR have taken a swing toward setting a high standard for the human element. The rise of polling and employee feedback has helped to chip away at the communication gap between employees and management. Employee turnover is a multibillion dollar segment of the HR industry, and it’s no surprise to see hundreds of startups innovating in this space.

According to Glassdoor, 87 percent of Iceland Foods employees approve of their CEO, and 65 percent would recommend working there to a friend. As an example of successful high retention, Iceland Foods Group has provided a very positive environment for their employees—even with a retail-level pay grade, employees are happier with their compensation than those at companies with much higher pay rates. Managers are respected and reflect the corporate culture of respect. As found in the study Human Resource Management Practices: Architects’ Perception and Job Satisfaction, the relationship between employee and manager regularly translates into how an employee views the entire company. It is an important mandate for HR to create an environment where employees feel respected, and managers and supervisors have the capacity to contribute positively to an employee’s company image.

Regardless of the field, employees want to experience respect and good communication from their fellow employees at all levels. According to a new study that proves a stronger correlation to organizational outcomes than affective commitment, The Identification and Measurement of Loving One’s Workplace on Employee Outcomes, when an employee loves her workplace, attrition is lower and workplace outcomes like engagement and productivity are higher. With a higher retention and workplace outcomes, investments in employee education don’t go to waste. With lower turnover, businesses don’t hemorrhage thousands of dollars in replacement and training costs.

One way for businesses to keep in touch with their employees is by enacting a regular polling or employee feedback system. Checking in regularly (using a digital polling or survey service) with employees helps them feel that their voices are valued and can improve retention. Here is an opportunity for HR professionals to use digital tools to collect data, and then analyzing and putting that data to use most effectively using their real-world, human experiences.

Digitization Is Facilitating Employee Connection

Advances in technology are enabling companies to increase employees’ connection with their workplace with far less input than previously required. This allows for input and collaboration across organizational levels and leads to happier employees, who feel involved and respected within their workplaces.


As Millennials take more positions within corporations, the influence of technology will increase, and provide a culture that values connection across the organization. Workplace platforms like Trello and Asana have made employee connection possible for companies with branches across the globe.

As reported by HRM New Zealand, Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) has created a new, expansive role in their HR department: general manager of people and technology. This combination of internal departments can be interpreted as the company’s acknowledgement of a direct relationship between technology and HR. CCA’s managing director also promotes respect for employees, believing this is crucial to keeping them engaged in their work. It’s notable that this company is both embracing technology as part of HR, and promoting respect in the workplace. Other companies can learn from this innovative move – HR and technology are moving closer and must therefore find ways to work together.

Combining Technology and the Human Element Effectively

Walmart has created an entire test and learn team that takes their research and analytics and applies them to in-store situations. The result is enabling them to identify effective strategies that can then be established company-wide. Using the same rapid test and learn methodology in workplaces allows employers to forge a more immediate connection with employees and eliminate any barriers to communication. Every organization is different, and those differences are magnified by the myriad personalities and skills of the employees.


One United Kingdom-based company, Best Companies, offers an intricate five-step “engagement journey” for organizations of all kinds to measure their workplace engagement. This company uses their custom-built set of software tools to determine how each organization can use survey data from their employees most effectively going forward. They start with technology to attain useful insights from employees, but then they return to the human element through workshops and interventions to build an engagement plan.

Developing a perfect custom-fit application for your workplace takes time, and with so many amazing digital tools and platforms, a company can land on one without months (or years) of experimentation. The tools are helpful, but people are nuanced and complex, so HR professionals have the opportunity to combine these platforms with their actual human experience in order to develop an application most efficiently.

About the Author

Louis Carter, founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, has led BPI to become one of the world’s top associations for leadership and human resource development, with more than 42,000 subscribers. Carter is creator of, the cloud-based anytime feedback tool on a social collaboration platform, and the BPI Online Learning Portal at Carter has written 11 books on best practices and organizational leadership, including the Best Practice series and the Change Champion’s Field Guide;

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