In Miami Beach last week, I attended the Wisdom 2016 conference, presented by PeopleFluent. As is common at these types of conferences, there were breakout sessions, product updates, news releases, demos, and keynotes speeches. Usually, I find the keynote speeches to be the least useful because I am interested in very specific points of interest, not the broad trends that keynote speeches tend to focus on. shutterstock_83855317

Interestingly enough, that was more or less one of the topics brought up by John Sculley (former CEO of Apple) during his keynote speech. Specifically, he was talking about “zooming”, which is a pattern of thought he learned and observed from Steve Jobs.  In Sculley’s book Moonshot, zooming is explained as taking a very broad view across industries, products, and disciplines, which can allow you to borrow concepts and ideas.

It occurred to me then that this is what HR has been doing for greater part of two decades, and this concept of zooming is really an intrinsic part of HR in 2016 and beyond. However, it isn’t as simple as just “seeing the big picture.” It is also the way in which we actually borrow concepts from disciplines that are disparate from our own, and apply them to the microcosms in which we work.

For instance, the concepts of data governance used to only reside in the world of information technology, but now we find ourselves needing to apply similar concepts to human resources data. Standardized definitions, controlled data sources, privacy, and security are all larger issues that mostly take place in a world far larger than HR.

Dedicated Measurement and Analytics Resources in Organizations

Level of Resources Percentage
Dedicated measurement and analytics experts and/or technology whose primary responsibility is to collect and analyze HR and talent data 29%
No designated experts/technology, but beginning to re-structure the HR/Talent function to accommodate data analytics 41%
No dedicated experts/technology and no plans to add 30%

Source: 2016 HCM Measurement and Analytics Study

And as we saw from Brandon Hall Group’s HCM Measurement and Analytics Study, most organizations (71%) do not have dedicated analytics experts currently on staff, which means it is up to HR to learn how to take existing statistical techniques and figure out how they can be applied to give us insights into our workforce, or even to predict the behaviors of the same.

But it isn’t just HR that sees the need for both a broad and narrow perspective. The rest of the world is changing too; the line between what is human capital and what is everything else is becoming blurred. Already we see greater appetites and abilities for quantifying the human effect on corporate finances, and companies are working around the clock to find better ways to account (in the sense of corporate accounting) for intangible assets such as training and leadership.

So, zooming back in to the tactical, immediate issues we face as HR practitioners, what is the impact right now for all of these broad worldwide movements? One, the regulations in which we operate are changing to reflect a world in which our employees are gradually thought of in terms of data, numbers, and dollar signs. And two, the software that we use has become more capable (beyond what 99% of us even task it to do), while at the same time the interfaces are becoming simpler and more intuitive (both driven by the increasingly mobile workforce, and in response to the aesthetics and values of this new generation). This means we must understand the ways in which our employees use and interact with technology to make sure we are maximizing their engagement and productivity.

All of which leads me to believe that possibly this Steve Jobs guy might have been on to something. Regardless of how centralized or decentralized your HR function might be, work is becoming more interdisciplinary as a natural consequence of systems integration and a more project-based workforce. The HR professionals who are “able to meaningfully zoom out and connect the dots” (Moonshot, p. 148)) will be the ones who will lead the way for everyone else.

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