Soapbox: Riding the Technology Wave

How to align the force of technology with the right people strategy to thrive in The Human Age.

By Marty Nowlin,Vice President, Human Resources – North America, ManpowerGroup

We are living in a time when the world of work is changing, when the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty. These changes have affected the workplace and have led to the evolution of what we today call The Human Age.

The Human Age has evolved quickly on the heels of historical, technological, demographic, and geopolitical shifts, all marked by the rise of talentism. Talentism puts unprecedented value on talent as the key driver of business success. And as those responsible for unlocking talent, this is an exciting time for HR professionals to further shape the success of every organization.

However, just when we should be relishing this moment for our industry, we face an array of challenges from one of the very forces affecting The Human Age—the technology evolution. It’s easy to be intimidated by something new, but technology offers a wealth of opportunities for business success. It changes the way business is done but also helps us identify, engage, motivate, and train talent within our organizations. We need to recognize this advance as the opportunity it is, and employ the right strategies that enable us to maximize it instead of being afraid of it.

Here are some practical steps you can take to maximize the opportunity technology presents:

1. Harness technology to unleash previously untapped potential. Our job as HR leaders positions us to develop and maximize the talent available in our organizations, and technology can help us do this even more effectively. Before the rapid advance of technology, people with mobility challenges and disabilities were limited in the jobs they could fulfill. But thanks to technology, we can make workplace accommodations that make it possible for people to reach their full potential. Technology can help us reach and work with people all over the world. Our job as HR leaders is to attract and engage the best, but the best might not always be on our doorstep. Thanks to technology, we can reach people with the skills we need, wherever they are based, and help them connect remotely to the office without the need of a physical presence.

2. Use technology to make training more effective.Advances in technology can help us make training more compelling, interesting, and natural. Gone are the days when training sessions were held at a fixed time in a remote meeting room. Computers can be used to train employees through engaging online programs right at their workstations. It also allows us to create training that addresses different learning styles with innovative approaches such as gaming and business simulations. Trainees benefit from the flexibility and time savings, and because it doesn’t involve physically moving away from the work environment, it feels emotionally closer to their day-to-day job. This can increase the likelihood that the training messages will resonate and be applied.

3. Use technology to take a “one-size-fits-one” approach to your workforce. A key benefit of technology is that it can be personalized—from creating a menu of online training programs from which employees can select the most relevant, to creating personalized apps to monitor an employee’s progress and development. When employees own their development, they generally are empowered to deliver better results.

4. Make the most of specific technologies to optimize productivity.

  • Teleconferencing: As the number of virtual workers rises steadily, companies are taking advantage of teleconferencing to train their workforce and keep their staff engaged. Organizations enjoy a more satisfied and productive workforce and also benefit from the cost savings in travel and office space.
  • Mobile personal platforms and applications: The rise of personalized mobile technologies facilitates easy access to information. We can capitalize on this as a tool for recruitment, employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity.
  • Big Data: In addition to helping companies develop better management strategies by helping improve understanding of markets, Big Data products and services can help HR professionals understand the key drivers of success in selection, promotion, and rewards. As a result, we can fine-tune our practices, enabling us to identify talent gaps quickly and pinpoint the candidates who will perform well in our organizations. Harnessing Big Data effectively will enable you to spot skills shortages and survey huge pools of candidates who can fill the gap, or identify retention strategies and tools.
  • Social networking: LinkedIn and other social networking channels allow us to stay in touch with potential job candidates, find out more about their backgrounds, and engage people within and outside the company to solve specific problems. As technologies evolve, HR needs to keep abreast and be aware of new ways to engage with prospective employees in the most appropriate way.

5. Retain employees by using technology as the facilitator of flexible working. Many companies and HR professionals use workplace flexibility as a recruiting and retention tool. Thanks to technology, much of the work people do today can be done from the office, home, or the coffee shop down the street. While technology enabled flexible working, the talent shortage accelerated the practice with in-demand employees able to negotiate their ideal scenarios. When it’s right for the company, too, HR leaders need to employ flexible working strategies to give employees the choices they feel they deserve.

6. Take advantage of easy access to information but carefully balance how to use it. Previously inaccessible information is now in the public domain. Information about how organizations and their existing and potential workers operate is readily available through social media, for example. This blurs the lines between personal and public space. We need to carefully balance how we use personal data to identify and unlock talent without breaching the privacy of individuals, and be aware of how our organization is portrayed by employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

Marty Nowlin is vice president of Human Resources – North America, ManpowerGroup, a workforce solutions company specializing in temporary and permanent recruitment, career management, outsourcing, and HR consulting. For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.