We’ve been hearing about technology replacing humans in HR for more than five years. Algorithms, Talent Analytics, and Predictive Behavior Technology are certainly having a significant impact on HR, and making it much more of a science. Yet there’s an issue because technology is fallible too. What about the other side of the argument, that HR is an art because, at its heart, it’s about people?
Which is it? Art? Or science?
I say both. Today’s human resources professional resides somewhere between the warmth of personal relationships and the cold truth of data. For years, we’ve watched HR change before our very eyes: technology has seeped into our interactions in the workplace, from recruiting and training to performance management, leaving many wondering how—and if—HR still has a place in modern organizations.
My answer? It still does. And here’s why.
From analytics to algorithms, technology’s new tools help us use data to be more efficient, effective, and scalable. Data can drive business decisions, provide insights into the workforce, predict future requirements, quickly match talent to needs, and measure traits and results that are critical to an organization’s success.
“Experts predict the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ — less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives for good and ill,” according to the Pew Research Center’s Digital Life in 2025. Yet, technology is not yet ready to replace the HR department. Dealing with people is, not surprisingly, inherently human: Adaptable, always changing, and full of possibility. HR is more than data-driven science, it’s an art—and despite the many benefits, it isn’t ready for a hands-off approach.
Embrace What Technology Has to Offer
The reality is that organizations don’t have the capacity or the budget to keep technology out of HR—nor should they try.
Recruiters spend an average 6.25 seconds reviewing a resume. That sounds speedy until you realize there were 292,000 jobs created in December 2015 alone. That’s where machines can help: The non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research found computer algorithms do a better job of evaluating skills, personality, and overall job fit than humans. Machine-assessed candidates even stayed in their positions longer than those selected by recruiters.
Talent analytics can bring clarity to information that can seem overwhelming. These analytics can identify factors that predict employee success, calculate the risk for turnover, measure engagement to improve retention, and forecast talent needs. Using this information can be the difference between thinking—and knowing—you’re making the right decision.
Other emerging platforms are streamlining critical HR functions. New platforms for benefits and payroll make staying compliant much simpler. Online training options make on-boarding and professional development cost-effective, individualized, and accessible from anywhere in the world.
HR professionals should lean on these tools. But at the end of the day, it still takes a human being to understand how to interpret and act on insights they have identified. What technology enables us to do is shift focus from shuffling data between piles, to the areas that truly need a human touch.
Can Talent Analytics Do HR’s Job?
No. But they can help.
Talent analytics can do a lot of the heavy lifting for recruiters. Organizations don’t have the budget or capacity to manage the deluge of resumes that can come in. And who makes their decisions based solely on a CV these days anyway? Even interviews and portfolios have had to make room for the value of a candidate’s social footprint.
Talent analytics can lend a hand in the screening process, measuring a person’s innate talents and checking any number of criteria. They can provide a forecast of a person’s potential—not based on traditional indicators, like education or GPA, but on personal attributes and motivations that are inherent to who they are. Imagine trying to measure someone’s emotional intelligence or attitude. You can’t do that based on work experience, an interview, or gut instinct.
Companies like Google use analytics to manage existing employees and maximize the potential of new recruits, fine-tuning everything from how they review applicants to their on-boarding process and organizational structure.
But these systems don’t work on their own. The data they collect is impressive, but analysts are still needed to interpret it; there are too many idiosyncrasies and variables to be able to quantify personality traits with 100 percent accuracy. Even with machines, there is always room for error.
You Can’t Automate Culture
Algorithms screen; they don’t build relationships. Millennials value transparency and company culture in the workplace—in fact, it’s one of their primary concerns. Analytics platforms can scan for traits that identify the candidates who are the best fit, but the culture that will keep them engaged is shaped by unique human factors. Recruiting good employees isn’t just about analyzing their personality—it’s also about communicating your own.
Technology Is a Tool
Technology can make an employee’s job better by analyzing what works and what doesn’t. It can be used to free up time in HR to focus on strategy and developing new policies. In fact, it can even give recruiters tools to make the process more human. But effective HR still requires a human touch. This is part of the balance between science and art. Think of the data as a paint-by-numbers project: Analytics give you the colors and numbers—but you’re still the one who has to paint the picture.
This article was first published on Switch and Shift on 2/17/16.