How Crowdsourcing Can Make HR More Strategic

October 7, 2014 Ray Rivera


Since the early 1990’s HR has pursued the worthwhile goal of becoming more strategic. During most of this time, “becoming more strategic” has meant specifically that HR should alleviate itself of administrative burdens and manual processes, thereby freeing up resources to address the greater challenge of connecting human capital to business results. HR technology has been the go-to solution, automating manual processes and maximizing HR service delivery.

Yet by addressing one problem successfully, HR technology has inadvertently created another. The HR function has become much more complex. Technology has replaced lower level administrative tasks with an increasingly sophisticated bureaucracy, which in turn gets called upon to handle more opaque HR processes.

As a result, HR has become closed-sourced, putting a layer of technology solutions between itself and the workers it serves. The compelling worker experience that HR strives so hard to create becomes diluted rather than enriched.

Crowdsourcing offers a way to reopen HR to the consumers of HR services, by putting more of it in the hands of employees, who tend to know what they need better than HR. By shifting some HR processes to the internal crowd, HR consumes fewer resources while delivering services more effectively.

In his recently published Workforce Solutions Review article (“Human Resources and the Wisdom of the Crowd”), Appirio’s Wes Wu describes how such a combination of efficiency and effectiveness creates the magic that drives great HR departments, and is a key mechanism in making HR more strategic.

The people shall judge

In the past few decades, HR has gained a reputation for being the organization police, heavy-handedly enforcing culture norms and punishing infractions. Yet few HR professionals would say these are pleasant tasks, and would much prefer developing talent rather than clipping its wings.

In his article, Wu describes a much different world, where crowdsourcing provides a means for HR to enable peers and coworkers to check behaviors, and correct errant practices rather than punishing them. A strong motivator for many employees is earning recognition and respect from their professional peers. Disappointing one’s professional community is a powerful deterrent to transgressive behavior.

The internal crowd understands organizational norms better than HR, and is therefore better suited to reinforce those norms. Desired behaviors are achieved through peer and coworker guidance rather than by threats of punishment. As HR unburdens itself of such a dubious policing duty, it becomes seen as less as interdictor and more as a partner in building a thriving organizational culture.

You wear it well

Wearables technology has been criticized for its invasiveness, allowing HR potentially to identify employees who pose excessive risk to the organization by virtue of their fitness habits. Indeed, wearable technology does collect large amounts of data from which workplace behaviors can be inferred, and which in the hands of an unprincipled business analyst can be used to cast individual employees in an unfavorable light.

Yet the flipside of wearables is the data collected can be used to promote what is often called social HR, which sets out an environment where both HR and managers must trust employees. The key mechanism, as Wu points out, is real-time feedback. In this kind of crowdsourced environment, data from wearbales is aggregated, and is used as real-time feedback to shape organizational culture rather than rooting out “C-players.” Instead of HR or managers monitoring employees, employees are supplied the tools self-monitor using data displayed on wearables, curated through HR, and normed by their peers, all in real-time.

Research in workplace behavior has demonstrated that when employees are monitored overweeningly, or even feel they are being watched too closely, productivity falls along with morale. But the opposite can happen when workers feel that data about their workplace behaviors contributes to the greater cause of creating a fertile worker experience in which they can thrive. In such a case, workers feel a sense of ownership rather than being owned.

Respect me for my data

Ultimately HR may have to get used the idea that it does not own the data but rather employees do, and that the internal crowd is better at handling sensitive information than anyone in the HR department. HR can create a great worker experience, but they probably ought to leave it to the internal crowd to define boundaries. Yet by doing so HR can allocate fewer resources to monitoring employees while getting the result it really desires, which is optimal employee performance.


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