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HR Blog


20 Apr 2021


Tech Fest speaker shares her vision for the future of work and calls on the HR community for help.

Two of Melissa Crawford’s great passions are technology and people – and not necessarily in that order.

At a time when not many women were forging techie careers, she completed an IT degree, but not long after, became disillusioned with the industry. After observing a disheartening lack of regard for how humans could be impacted by technology, she pivoted her career to focus on people and organisational behaviours and psychology. Conversely disappointed with the lack of tech innovation in HR, Melissa embarked on a Masters of Technological Futures with a focus on artificial intelligence.

Now, as an enthusiastic proponent of strategic and thoughtful interplay between future tech and people, and GM of Future Work at energy distributor, Vector, Melissa is on a quest to inspire organisations to create optimal environments for both people and technology to thrive.


“My dream is bringing those two together. I have conversations in the technology department where I'm really advocating for the human side of things and the opportunities for technology to make some positive progress for people. Likewise on the people front, I ask how I can advocate for future tech and how do I help support the upskilling of people in my network on these incredible technology advancements. I want to reduce fear levels by lifting levels of understanding so that they can be true advocates at the table, and to be able to speak from some depth of knowledge about each of those technologies and both the positive and negative impacts that they could have on their people.” Melissa Crawford

What are you going to be talking about at Tech Fest?

I'm really keen for HR to modernise and be more future focused. In the past we've been quite transactional and operational, and I feel like this is the time for our industry to thrive and show how they can work alongside this technology disruption. There are so many cool things coming that are really going to help people, and I just want to share them with the HR community.  I would love to get more HR teams involved so that as a field we can better optimise innovative technology for our people.

What would be the opposite of ‘transactional’ HR?

I would like us to be more human centered. We’re the People division and we should be the one department that's advocating and championing for people, but I think that we can get caught up in restrictions of legislation, ER, payroll - that side of things. Instead, I would like to see us focusing on what is possible, how could we do things differently and what will be great for our people.

I’d also like to see us being more strategic – say looking at this digital disruption coming and asking what will be the impact on our people? How can we prepare the business for that? What role does our department have to play in preparing our people for that future?

In your idea of utopia, how would the Department of People use technology?

I have a lot of utopian scenarios in my head!

In the short-term regarding people metrics, for example, I would love all Chief People Officers to have a digital dashboard showing on a tv screen in their department that updates itself just as often as the customer department does.  You see them in call centres and even in tech departments, but I've never seen one of those in a People division. You could use them to keep your finger on the pulse so that if something happens within the business, you could see what impact that had on people and it would enable you to respond accordingly. Not just operational stats but experiential stats – how are your people feeling, behaving and growing.

I would also like to see the People division having a much stronger involvement in technology implementations – asking what are the unintended consequences of using this technology? How can we combine the best of people with the best of this technology? At the moment, we're not really in those discussions which are traditionally run by systems thinkers. I would love much more of a cross-collaboration on those projects.

I would love to see us using artificial intelligence to understand underlying patterns of behaviours just as the customer department understands the buying patterns and they understand the trends for customers. For example, my mum walks into Myers in Australia and her phone beeps and alerts her to products she regularly purchases that are currently on sale. Why can't we get that level of personalisation for our people? As employees, we all leave little breadcrumbs of information, just as we do as customers. Wouldn’t it be great if we could pick those up to understand wellbeing? To understand stress and burnout?  How can we pick those up to understand somebody's development wish list and take steps to support their progress with them? How can we step in at the moments that matter and make a difference?

Wouldn’t that raise more concerns about data privacy?

Well, we could scaremonger ourselves into not using data innovatively, but we already use employee data for negative purposes. If there is a disciplinary issue, the company can look at email content or what’s been posted on internal sites or on their own Facebook. Why can’t we get data curious for positive reasons? Like ‘Hey, we see you're buying a house next week. We’d like to give you a voucher for Mitre 10 or Bunnings for all those odd jobs you will no doubt have. Also, we know it's pretty stressful that you’ll have meetings with lawyers and real estate agents and more, so we'd like to give you a day's leave’.

If we are transparent about the data collection and its usage and people are seeing the personal benefits, I think this worry would take care of itself. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use data and personalisation to care as much about our people as we care about our customers?

You can hear more of Melissa’s ideas and call to action for the HR and L&D community at the New Zealand HR + L&D Innovation & Tech Fest – 8-9 June 2021, Auckland.



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