On January 24, the day of Brandon Hall Group’s Human Capital Management Academy workshop on HCM Measurement and Analytics, I ended the seven-hour session with a quick speech on the importance of taking full advantage of skills that are unique to humans (as opposed to machines/software). Empathy, critical thinking, and relationship building may have seemed out of place in a discussion about analytics, but it points to a larger trend toward where organizations see their needs: in the employee experience. shutterstock_261995279

The workshop was part of Excellence Conference 17. There were several other sessions that dealt with how technology could assist employees with extremely complex problems – a PeopleTicker-led session on tracking real-time wages and availability, and another on how technology can assist with rapidly shifting global HR laws, for example. But just as prevalent and relevant were the sessions on how HCM professionals could use their experience and social skills to provide maximum value to their clients.

The timing of these sessions wasn’t a coincidence. A number of very recent articles in publications such as Quartz Media and The Economist are repeating what Brandon Hall Group has been saying for the last year: automation is necessary in the modern economy, but it is not going to take you all the way to where you need to be.

Going back to analytics as an example of this movement, within the last five years nearly all the major HCM providers have created (or acquired) an analytics engine for their software. Either as a module or built into the core platform, the ability to perform complex analyses with human capital data is “easier” than ever. I use easier in quotes because although it is simple now to grab two disparate data sources and overlay them to see where there might be similarities, none of these analytics programs can tell you which two data sets, from the thousands available, should be the two to compare. And even if the day comes when they can, there will never be a point where they can then tell you the best course of action for creating change within your employee population.

This is what makes HR such an exciting field to be in right now. As machines, software, and algorithms become more robust and powerful, this paradoxically creates an even greater need for those who can translate that data into business results through the employees at their organization. The conversations and connections that I heard in the hallways at Excellence Conference 17 confirmed anecdotally what I was already seeing from the research and broader global trends: the soft skills in HR, once derided as being obstacles to business savvy, have now become the single most valuable set of skills at our disposal.

Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group