Three Ways HR Must Get Technical to Survive

Recently, I met an HR consultant who told me their business was built around the frustration CEOs and other executives experience when dealing with HR managers who lack technical or analytical skills.

Frankly, I was offended. Even though most HR managers can’t write SQL queries, most database administrators won’t hold the hand of a colleague who has just been diagnosed with cancer while explaining their insurance options.

Different skills are essential to different roles, and empathy should be the HR manager’s core strength just as analysis should be a primary strength of the DBA.

Three Ways HR Must Get Technical to Survive

Meeting others half way

The secret to a cohesive and efficient team is to focus on the strength of its members along with ways they can all backstop each other’s weaknesses. But, it’s also up to the individual to remain curious and learn about skills and issues that are important to their colleagues.

As an HR manager, you probably spend a lot of time working with technical people, but not as much time learning about the things that are valuable to them. A lot of those things are valuable to you as well, and to remain relevant to your organization you must remain aware of current transformations in technology, data and analytics.

Learning more about the following subjects will help you do your job better while developing your professional relationships. People admire people who are willing to learn new skills. Especially when those skills are important to them.

Data and Analytics

You probably hear a lot of jargon about big data and analytics and think it’s enough for you to stay on top of the metrics you normally track, and leave the rest of it to the data scientists. As long as you’re tracking recruiting fees, turnover ratios and a few other things, you’ve got it covered, right?

Executives and their consultants assume that you think like this, as do your analytical and technical co-workers. When they leverage analytics to make decisions and you don’t have an opinion or provide significant data from your area, you risk being irrelevant to future plans.

First, learn and use the analytics features of your HR software. It’s right in front of you and it’s the portal into the data that matters most. Then, sign up for a conference on HR Analytics and go learn how to use the data that’s all around you to do your job better.

Knowing the latest industry developments and best practices and providing relevant and actionable data will go a long way toward ensuring you continue to be a relevant member of the decision team.

Data and Spreadsheets

You must master the tool that manages your data, so if you’re not comfortable with spreadsheets resolve to get comfortable today. Google ‘Excel’ to find tips and tricks like these. Find a tutor like this guy, bookmark his site and dedicate an hour a day going through his tutorials. Or, if you think you’re ready, enroll in a certified Microsoft online course. You pick where you start, but it’s important to get started today.

When you’re in meetings with accounting or data pros that you trust, stop them and ask how they did something when you don’t understand it. Otherwise, be sure to take notes and look it up when you’re back at your desk.

The important thing is to make an effort. Learning how to build and use spreadsheets is a basic, high-leverage investment in your career. Spreadsheet proficiency is cheap insurance for your employability.

The slow death of email

My teenage son and all of his friends will be in the work world in less than 48 months, and although they text, Skype and chat on Twitch and Instagram, none of them use email. That’s because email is broken and has been for years. But, unlike the rest of us, younger people aren’t putting up with it.

From what I’m reading, more and more innovative companies like Mattermark and 1000watt are migrating from email to platforms like Slack. So, get ahead of the curve and go set up a Slack account today. Find someone who will use it with you to message and exchange documents and discover what you like and dislike about it.

It doesn’t even matter if your organization ever uses Slack. They’ll eventually replace email with some new messaging platform and when you’re asked your opinion you’ll be able to speak intelligently about how you think things should work from an HR perspective.

Wearable tech

Wearable tech is absolutely blowing up and pretty soon, rather than counting steps and tracking calories, devices similar to your Fitbit or Jawbone will be counting hours worked and tracking the physical location of your employees. This innovation will require a significant empathetic effort from organizations because it will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

You’ll need to lead instead of follow on this particular technology subject. To reassure employees and maintain the respect of your peers and supervisors, bone up on the subject now. Study the issues associated with implementation, the pros and cons of various devices, as well as how your organization might explain these changes to your employees. You don’t want the IT department running the show on this one.

It’s a brave new world for HR managers and to succeed you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone and continue to learn new skills. But, you were born for this kind of work and you’re up for the challenge. Plus, you’re blessed to live in a time when everything you need to learn is right at your fingertips.

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Scott Kinnaird

Scott Kinnaird is Director of Sales for Mercury Network. He has been a technical recruiter, staffing company founder, and recruiting division president for a publicly traded IT consulting firm. He loves to write and talk about applying uncommon corporate empathy to key segments of the talent lifecycle to increase employee engagement and corporate profits. Connect with Scott.

Reader Interactions


  1. Brian Krueger says

    Good article, Scott. I would also add that getting technical with candidate interaction is important as well. Not just the applicant tracking system (ATS), but also with how candidates interact with your company. More candidates are checking out employers via mobile. If you haven’t yet looked at how your company looks on mobile to an outside candidate, do it today. You will likely be surprised. You might even be shocked. Then try applying for a job on your mobile. If you can’t do it, a candidate almost certainly cannot. Just listing your experienced and entry level jobs is not enough, you need to connect in a way for candidates to apply to the jobs.

    • Scott Kinnaird says

      Thanks, Brian. You are so right about mobile. The stats as well as common sense point to the obvious – people are glued to their phones and that includes people looking at your company for a job. If they use their phone to visit your site and can’t connect, they move on. Although, implementing that level of tech is beyond the scope of most HR pros, becoming familiar with the issues and leveraging influence to fix the problem is squarely in the HR manager’s wheelhouse. Thanks again for adding something so important.

  2. Noma Bruton says

    Thanks, Scott, for an accurate and relevant post. The only thing I would add is that it is also critical for HR professionals to stay abreast of technology trends in their industry and how those trends are likely to impact employment. Mobile banking is a good example. This technological advance results in the elimination of certain banking jobs and demand for different skill sets. To be credible, HR professionals must be in front of these trends – not behind and running to catch up.

    • Scott Kinnaird says

      Sorry for my tardy reply, Noma. You’ve picked a tech trend example I’m very interested in, which is mobile money. I’ve read that more people in Africa use mobile phones for banking than in America and that there are people without easy access to water who do bank transactions on their cell phone. Whereas, here at home I replaced an iPhone the other day at an AT&T store and after setting up my ApplePay system I offered to pay the sales rep using it and he sheepishly explained AT&T doesn’t accept ApplePay! LOL So, it’s a fascinating and fast moving business sector which will experience massive shifts and displacements in the near term. It is one of the top five big stories in HR and you are correct in saying that most HR pros aren’t aware enough about the big picture. I appreciate your kind comments and hope to visit again with you, soon.


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