The role of technology in HR departments has never been more hotly debated. There are vendors and experts galore offering advanced solutions to every HR need. But how do you balance the desire to automate and mechanise tasks with the need to retain a human touch inside organisations? Ahead of his forthcoming speaking slot at the HR Tech MENA Summit in Dubai, Tauseef Qadri – a former HR practitioner turned founder and partner at consultancy People Intellytics – told People Management how he would approach technology at work.

While it may be easy to hand over simple tasks to automated technology, isn’t it risky to reduce face-to-face interaction with employees who want information on more complex topics such as benefits, reward or performance feedback?

The quintessential quality of leadership is unequivocally emotional intelligence (EI) – as popularised by researchers and authors like Daniel Goleman. We know that 90 per cent of top performers are also high in EI. If anything, in an age of technological emancipation, it becomes even more pertinent to have face-to-face dialogues with employees, be it for performance orientation, interviewing or even a simple ‘pep talk’.

I agree automating all tasks is risky and fraught with many complexities that we might not have considered. The humanness of any organisation needs to be nurtured, be it in the context of an individual’s sense of belonging, interpersonal relationships or ensuring they perform to meet a business plan. The risks must be navigated and HR must adapt and learn new skills. Interestingly though, isn’t it also risky to make decisions without data, science or technology that allows us to leverage it?

To what extent should the candidate assessment phase of recruitment be automated, given the amount of time and money it’s claimed this can save?

This depends on which part of the assessment and what industry and role you are assessing for. I don’t believe all assessment should be automated entirely. However, process-oriented tasks and people insights can be automated.

Companies make the costly mistake of hiring the wrong person because that person knows how to say the right things and knows how to talk. Gamification, AI and accessible insight are a few important pieces that can help candidates and employers find their best fits.

Can machines realistically assess cultural fit, or ask probing, off-the-cuff questions?

Organisations in general are quite bad at assessing people based on potential. Even training tends to be done based on answers to the questions, ‘What did you do at your last company, and can you do that here?’ They don't really focus on what this person is capable of. So, there's a gap that needs to be filled. If machines can help here, that would be very interesting.

If AI, linguistic analysis and machine learning can help with decision making and ultimately drive better results, their uptake seems inevitable. The fantastic work that companies are doing in the space of network analysis or pulse engagement surveys that enhance the employee experience contributes towards a better outcome for the organisation and its people. However, with the recent scandal regarding data protection and privacy, it has come to light that there are plenty of issues that modern technology and organisations will have to grapple with, even if consent is explicitly given by employees. These are exciting times for the future of work and people transformation.

Are effective HR systems becoming affordable for smaller or mid-sized companies?

Small- or medium-sized companies are already using Yammer or Facebook to enable their teams. If these technologies aren’t affordable right now, it is only a matter of time before they are. However, it also depends on the demand from SMEs. I assume, if they want to develop a competitive advantage and attract and retain great talent, then there is a market waiting to be served.

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