HR, you don’t need an app for that

For Christmas I asked/begged for a gps running watch and I absolutely love it. It looks good, is super easy to use, it tracks and records my runs, the display is customizable to show the info most important to me, it syncs to a website that syncs to my phone, and I’d highly recommend it to other runners.

BUT it’s an indulgence. It’s unnecessary. It’s a tool of convenience, but far from a requirement. It, and the entire infrastructure build around it (website, apps, etc.), can be replaced with a $6 stopwatch and a $1 notebook. Most importantly, IT DOESN’T RUN FOR ME. It enhances the habit I already have; it doesn’t instill new habits. (Anyone ever buy a time management app, PDA, software, or scheduler thinking it would make you effective with your time and discover that it, um, didn’t?)

Yesterday, I saw a  post on called 2014: The Year Social HR Matters. This piece has some good thoughts, but really got me thinking because there is a section that describes social data as enabling companies to rethink the performance review. To quote in small part:

“…some companies are going one-step further to create a new process focusing on having a “Check-In”. The software company Adobe now relies on managers controlling how often and in what form they provide feedback. The Check-In is an informal system of real-time feedback, which has no forms to fill out or submit to HR.

Instead, managers are trained in how to conduct a check-in and how to focus the conversation on key goals, objectives, development and strategies for improvement…”

I am 100% for this. Only… Only, it’s exactly what I thought managers were already supposed to be doing. Why do we need an app, software, or electronic gizmo to practice fundamentals of good management? Are companies really waiting for the technology to be in place before having actually conversations with their people? Could they not manage without big data? Like my watch, there may really cool ways of using social data to help us do what we’re already doing even better, but IT WON’T MANAGE FOR US.

The world seems rife with HR vendors trying to sell this dream, trying to convince us that the tools do the work instead of helping us do the work better. And that is a very key distinction. The hammer in my toolbox won’t build the house for me, but it will help me build the house faster and easier than without it. The performance management system won’t have the tough conversation with employees – at best it will make it easier for managers to have more conversations and provide more and better feedback. Applicant tracking software makes it easier for us to stay on top of things and provide a better candidate experience, but it doesn’t do it for us. We can gamify and automate employee recognition, but the most impactful employee recognition event I’ve seen cost a total of $20 and used nothing more sophisticated than a word processor and strapping tape.

My point is simply that the apps, software, etc. are (can be) great enhancements to what we are doing. But there is no point in waiting to purchase them to get started with providing better training to managers, better experience to candidates, better recognition, better HR, etc. etc.  There is a real danger to thinking that technology and data offers one size fits all silver bullet panacea that will magically and effortlessly solve all the problems.

With the right intention and approach these things can be done very low tech and still have meaningful impact and results. With the wrong intention and approach it’ll still suck despite all the technology and money we throw at it.

The watch is cool, but worthless if I don’t actually do the running.