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04 Oct 2016

Embracing Digital Technology in HR – 5 Ways to Innovate and Engage

On average we check our mobile phone 85 times a day.1 We’ve become a generation of digital junkies with technology transforming most aspects of our lives. But how far has this reached into the workplace? And what has it achieved? Many companies still struggle to achieve widespread adoption of HR systems, let alone the level of engagement – or addiction – associated with popular consumer apps. We haven’t worked out how to use digital technology to our advantage. But there is a silver lining. Digital solutions have enormous potential to reshape our experience of work and HR has the opportunity to pioneer innovation in this space. I’m fortunate to work for a company that stands by this belief and is committed to creating technology that people love to use.

Here are 5 ways HR can embrace digitalisation to foster a more engaged and productive workforce:

1. Replace automation with design

Historically, the primary role of HR technology was automation and streamlining. We led with the mantra that technology should support us, not determine the best solution. Today this approach limits our potential. Embracing digitalisation means stepping away from process automation to re-imagine HR.

Technology provides us with new ways of working, solving problems and engaging people that we didn’t have access to in the pre-digital age. Design thinking2 helps us introduce new technologies effectively and shape the best solutions for our workforce. This methodology puts people at the centre of solution design to create more intuitive and engaging ways of working. It shifts our focus to user experience and answers questions like “what does a great employee experience look like?” and “how can we take advantage of different technologies to deliver greater value?”.

2. Work with consumer technology, not against it

As freelance and contract work arrangements become more prevalent there is a case to be made for shared talent management systems that live on the web.3 LinkedIn is an example of this today. Individuals are motivated to keep their profile up-to-date to increase employability and businesses benefit from this rich talent database. Accenture researchers predict that using external sites for internal purposes will continue to accelerate, particularly if these sites have mechanisms to maintain accurate data.3 For HR leaders, this presents an opportunity to rethink the purpose of internal systems. What role do they play and what motivates individuals to engage with them? Perhaps your talent management system becomes the primary tool that people use to stay on track and manage everyday performance. Ideally your internal systems will integrate and align with external applications, rather than duplicate them.

3. Deliver an amazing user experience

Consumer technologies have set the benchmark for user experience. To achieve widespread adoption, HR solutions need to meet (or exceed) this benchmark and provide people with a quick and easy experience on their device of choice. Mobile, social, and analytical capabilities are a prerequisite and you can expect to find them in most mainstream HR systems today. To truly add value, we need to use these capabilities to support real time access, actions and decision making.4 Apps that provide recommendations, feedback and opportunities to collaborate throughout the day are an example of this and we are starting to see them come to market in new, continuous evolutions of performance management.

Consumer technologies also remind us that we love playing games and when it comes to user engagement, gamification has enormous potential. Combine gaming principles with learnings from neuroscience and psychology, and we could have a winning formula to keep people coming back for more.

4. Make it personal

Thanks to digital technology, we can deliver tailored solutions en masse. Personalisation is possible on different levels. First, it means we can implement fit-for-purpose solutions for different lines of business. Performance management is an example of where this might be applied. Corporate sales professionals are likely to have annual sales targets, and to be measured on revenue generation and activity each week, quarter and financial year. For customer service officers, it is probably more appropriate for the supervisor-on-duty to evaluate behaviours that they observe each shift. Useful manager and employee tools will be different in each of these scenarios. At a group level, we could also segment employees based on different needs and serve up targeted solutions. There is much to learn from our marketing counterparts here.

From an individual perspective, digital technology enables us to deliver a personal experience for each employee based on their needs, interests and skills.3 Have you ever seen someone else’s Facebook or Instagram feed? This probably looks and feels quite different to your own. Consider a similar level of personalisation in a corporate setting, with unique content feeds, recommendations, notifications and universal options that users can choose to turn on or off.

5. Become an innovator and technology pioneer

Imagine you lead the way in technology innovation with solutions that exceed expectations, and surprise and delight employees. What could this look like? And how are new and transformative technologies changing the world of work? Virtual reality (VR) has arrived in HR, robotics is reshaping and replacing jobs, and commentators speculate that blockchain will be the next game changer.  Stay abreast of technology innovations, network in diverse circles and look to market leaders for inspiration. For example, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has been recognised as a HR innovation leader for creating a Virtual Reality Workspace and app that candidates can try out at home. Other examples of the use of VR in employee onboarding have recently made the press. Google is frequently cited as a leader in people analytics. What ideas can you explore, extend, and adapt?

Digital technology provides HR with a rich set of tools to engage people and deliver higher levels of performance. Are you ready to embrace digitalisation and pioneer innovation in this space?

About the Author


Alison Brady leads PageUp Talent Lab and is responsible for research in the field of strategic human capital management. She has more than 15 years of experience delivering organisational development solutions, consulting and advisory services to a diverse range of companies. Alison is a Registered Psychologist with a Masters Degree in Organisational Psychology.


  • Source:  Sally Andrews, David Ellis, Heather Shaw, and Lukasz Piwek. Beyond Self-Report: Tools to Compare Estimated and Real-World Smartphone Use. Plos One, 2015.
  • Definition: “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president and CEO, IDEO.
  • Source: Tim Good, Catherine Farley, Himanshu Tambe, and Susan Cantrell. Trends reshaping the future of HR. Accenture, 2015.
  • Source: Michael Stephan, Shinichiro Uzawa, Erica Volini, Brett Walsh, Roberta Yoshida. Global Human Capital Trends 2016 – Digital HR. Deloitte University Press, 2016. This post originally appeared on PageUp’s Blog.
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