Alraune Chowdhury; "We need more people in between Tech and HR"
As a director of HR systems Alraune Chowdhury has learned to be very realistic in the expectations of HR Tech software. The key to a successful solution is not so much in the technology as it is more in the organization; the people and processes. In an interview before being a panelist at UNLEASH Amsterdam she explains why.
Last year Chowdhury was presenting in the Amsterdam RAI at the last HR Tech World ever, as it rebranded to UNLEASH at the end of the show. Here you can see a picture where she showed the 4-tier operating model of HR at Booking.com. This year she will lead a roundtable discussion around the digital workplace of tomorrow and the tools and strategies being adopted by global companies.
With a background in technology Chowdhury came into the HR world around 20 years ago. Starting off at Wells Fargo Bank in the US she also worked in Asia and now for two years in Europe. She has worked for global companies like Amazon.com, Nike, T-Mobile and Booking.com. Currently she has an interim role at TUI and will be moving into a new position in yet another global company later this year.
Where do you start as an HR systems director in a new company?
“From my experience, regardless of where the business is, whether a startup, the world largest company, compliance driven bank; whether hierarchical, flat structured or matrixed the most important thing is to develop an employee centered HR Transformation strategy. This means getting to know the employee as an individual and as a group. Having a good insight into the data is key. You do this before you start implementing a software solution or else you’re not sure to what problem it should be the solution for.”
“These global companies were all in a different state of mind and context from being a 150 years and hierarchical vs matrix organizations, having to go through reorganization to keep up with digital transformation, and some with a startup and strong growth mindset. The key concept in all situations is just to look at the data, the raw data from the various HR systems, and find out what the real needs and problems from the business are.
Isn’t that because of more political dependencies at board level of the buyers and the vendors
“I agree, and it’s almost, I would say, about 80% of what’s going on in HR Tech in the businesses today is that. The vendors connect up with the boards of the business. They say they have a great product, they do a great demo and it feels like the world is saved. So, then they go like, why don’t we just implement it such that we can leap forward. And then when you try to implement it you get into these 1, 2, 3-year projects, where in these years the business changes, the needs changes and you deliver something that people didn’t really want.”
How do you turn this around in the companies you work for?
“The first step is look at the data and see what it is telling us and where is the biggest pain point. At one company, we has started to implement a global HCM, when we started to hear from the business that we had not really understood the way the business works or the way the teams are organized, managers started to complain that they needed to do this ‘HR driven stuff on top’ of their regular performance management process . It was obvious we had not really understood our employee needs before embarking on this program. In the end we set up a product team, got employee research data and started to build our own performance management product to support the real needs of the business. We learnt not to put the horse before the cart, and instead the need to be driven by the business rather than the other way around. ‘
So, does it work better for global companies to team up with start-ups?
“That depends on the phase that they are in. As a large customer you are able to influence the product and it’s almost like you’re building your own product. But if somebody else is influencing them as well you may get stuck or they may not want to customize it to our needs. What you also see as that many of the startups are setup by IT people and not by HR people. This leads to the same situation as with the big vendors where IT wants to drive the business. Especially in performance management which is a pretty deep topic. There is the cool part of giving your colleague feedback on your phone app, but then what.”
Have you seen any real good new products in the market lately?
“Around recruitment I know of some real good new products, especially around the testing/assessment area. Especially when the tests are based on scientific evidence these can prove a major difference in the process. Also, the candidate management part of the Greenhouse ATS I like, although the product has limitations in other areas. In the area of performance, it is a lot more difficult to find tools that have in depth knowledge of how team performance works and that links to proper reward structure. There is now even a Dutch company that does actual DNA analysis to find people’s talents. However, when you dare to go beyond the controversial research itself you have a talent profile, and then what. I’ve not seen a product really being able to improve people’s talents.”
So, are you an advocate to use an all-in-one suite solution in general?
“I’m really more of an advocate to have a larger vision and understand the needs. A suite is good to have a single platform to manage and for having all the data in one place. I’m also a big advocate of experimentation, where you first look at the specific needs, implement an MVP (red. Minimum Viable Product), look at the results and build on top of that. The tools are exactly that, tools. And in order to use the right tools you need to know what you to want to accomplish. To make the tools speak to each other you need to be able to create a common language between the different tools.
Should the Contingent Workforce be part of the scope of HR and HR technology?
“The interest that the business has is to be able to utilize the skills and the talent that the contingent workforce also has. Besides some of the Core HR processes that don’t concern to this group, in the area of recruitment and talent all of the same principles apply. You want them to be as productive and as engaged as employees. Good examples of this can be found in customer service, for example at Booking.com, which has a very dynamic workforce with a large factor of contingent workforce.
Finally, can you elaborate on a quote from last year’s UNLEASH “Providing a frictionless employee experience means; easy and automated where possible, human where the employee needs it most”?
“To me this is the basis of any roadmap, because especially in the field of HR there is a need for human interaction. And to have a good interaction you need the data from the HR process you discuss. Another element here is the balance between working in teams, in a collaborative space, versus the unique needs for each individual. The secret to make this work, again, is the data. The data allows to use individual recommendations to work better in the team you are part of. That should be the goal of the HR technology.”