Soumyasanto Sen

Why has HR tech been so bad for humans?

22 Feb 2021   |   Culture Technology

Soumyasanto Sen

Why has HR tech been so bad for humans?

22 Feb 2021   |   Culture Technology

Technology has given us access to an abundance of data. But how are advancements influencing the way we view workplace cultures? And how are we using data to make better decisions and craft better employee experiences?

Soumyasanto Sen is the founder of People Conscience and a digital transformation leader in the HR space.


HR and digital transformation

Soumya says HR has evolved over the years—it has gone from being transactional to taking on a more strategic role and being focused on the (internal) customer. And while many companies function at a higher maturity, Soumya says there are still many organizations that operate the old way. They are entirely focused on implementing policies and solving daily problems rather than providing a better employee experience.

The experience, Soumya says, encapsulates the entirety of their tenure in the organization—it includes crucial touch points such as recruitment, onboarding, performance, compensation, offboarding etc,.

Digital transformation has helped HR become more accessible and integrated. But there is still a long way to go. Soumya says that while most systems are designed based on processes, there are still challenges in adoption.


People analytics as a core HR function

People analytics, Soumya says, is at the core of every business function. With companies evolving digitally, the data collected from processes and tools can be leveraged to craft better employee experiences and enable better decision making.

Data points can also generate greater context by referencing it with information from other functions like finance, sales, and marketing. Insights, Soumy reiterates, is not driven by data but by business problems. Most organizations have critical challenges that circle around people, performance, and results. And identifying problems leads us to related data points.

As a digital transformation leader in HR, Soumya uses people analytics to assess workplace cultures. He calls this ‘culture analytics’. “I use people data analytics to understand change in behaviors—how leaders and people change their behaviors with respect to all these changes happening. And it can help to make better decisions.”


Best case scenario

Soumya says the ideal workplace is built on trust—a workplace where anybody can raise their voice, conflict is managed with empathy, and where technology enables efficiency.

Soumya says workplaces of the future will also need to focus on health. “When we are overusing technology, we see challenges with health.” These are pressing pain points that he has observed through his work. And he thinks addressing these pain points will make for a stronger future of work.



Soumyasanto Sen on LinkedIn

Soumyasanto Sen on Twitter

People Conscience

Soumya’s book: Digital HR Strategy



9:55 – “One of the biggest parts is change. HR can be a huge change agent in terms of changing the culture of the company and all other aspects. Because every single organization is transformed to some extent, and especially when we see things like the pandemic, organizations need resilience to have more sustainability to survive this crisis and how they can deal with challenges, with employee health and safety and other norms, definitely HR plays a big role.

12:50 – “Insight is not something driven by data, rather, it’s driven by business problems. Because most organizations have challenges, problems related to people, related to performance, related to results. And if we know the problem, if we dig down to the root cause and the challenges, where we can make a huge difference, I think we can actually lead down to the right data points.”

Welcome back to The Digital Workplace podcast. Today our guest is Soumyasanto Sen. He is the founder of People Conscience. He is a digital transformation leader in the HR space, an author and just a wonderful person to get to know. Soumya, hi. Thanks for being on the show.

Thank you, Neil. Really glad to be on the show and really looking forward.


Yeah, it’s going to be a great conversation. You helped us out with our Tweetathon back in October. And it just has a lot of great, great ideas that came about there. So, I’m excited to dive into topics you are familiar with. But before we do that, we need to check to make sure you are a live human. So, here’s your capture question. If you were suddenly stuck in an airport, a long layover and all the Wi Fi went out, you had no data on your phone or anything like that and you got six hours to spend, how are you going to spend that?

This is easy for me because I love reading and you can find my books there. So, I love reading and I can actually do it quite fast. So, I can read a book in a couple of hours. So, that’s my advantage. So, I would go through them.


Is speed reading something that just came natural to you or is it something that you worked on or how did you get about it?

It’s coming from my past, like in my background. It started with my education, at work. That’s all like work for me.


Well tell us about your background and what you do and just your experience.

Yes. I’m into the technology and advisory consulting for several years, and especially for the last one decade, I’m working on the transformation piece as the digital transformation is coming into the picture for the last one decade almost now. And when I say it’s not only about the technology piece, technology is always there, but also what are the biggest pain point of the transformation, what are the other changes, adaptation, digital enablement. I’m working mainly with the HR people. So, one of the biggest focus is definitely the HR solutions. And when I say HR solution is not for HR, rather for the employees or the people, right? So that’s more focused on people. And that’s how I linked somehow to the workplace collaboration tools and the workplace solution as well. And I think this is much before pandemic. And I think the pandemic has created a wave to use it all over the world, which is actually great because I can definitely see where it’s coming from like why we need that. That’s my experience about it like I’m focusing on these areas. We are consulting and working with large firms. I’m basically based in Germany, but I work in the global team most of the time.


Fantastic. So, I think HR is the perfect area to talk about when it comes to digital transformation and how things are changing. Because we have all these new capabilities, new tools that are coming in, where we’re suddenly able to track basically any metric that you want, you can get a lot of data about. But a lot of the core systems, the core operating system of HR is a little bit ancient and a little bit outdated in a lot of ways. So, I want to just get your perspective to see that kind of mismatch of the capabilities and actual systems behind it. So, if we could rebuild an HR system and basically a company from the ground up, what would you like to see?

You’re right, Neil. If you see, before coming to the technology HR system piece, I want to also ask you something. HR is also transforming from the last many, many years, being into a transactional role, coming to a more strategic role, focusing more on business, customer. This is also changing continuously. Some of the organizations have already changed or innovated to higher maturity in that respect. But still, there are many organizations around the world who are still in their old mode. So, they’re focusing more on the policies, rules, normal transactions, solving employees’ daily problems, mostly deals with employee relations and compliance and all those parts, rather than really focusing on how we can provide a better experience to employees. And that’s the key for today’s world. Especially when you talk about digital, it’s all about experience. When you talk about experience, it actually started with customers like in new organizations, I think the customer experience is coming around for many years now. Like how we can provide a better customer experience in terms of their providing values and working in a feedback culture and providing innovations with the technologies field, and that’s coming to the employee as well, along with the digital experience. So, if you think from the HR system point of view, if I compare to 15-20 years back, I think the HR system has moved from huge, big difference, in terms of value propositions to employees. Because in terms of the user experience, in terms of the simplicity, I think it’s much, much better than what we were used to having previously.


So, can you take a second to compare what is it that’s so different? Not only from the technology side but just the mindset of HR in terms of what you feel like is maybe an evolved or a higher-level approach to HR versus where it was in the past? Can you make a clear line first, between the two?

Yes. The difference is definitely, on one side, I’m talking about the technology piece, but I think the difference also is with the mindset coming from the HR like coming from the older mindset of transactional or providing help to the employees rather than providing experience to the employees. When I say experience, it’s actually covering a lot like starting actually from the candidate, like we started hiring candidates and then his turning to employee, the whole lifecycle of their performance, their increment, their compensation, like the whole life cycle there. Even when an employee really wants to get out of the company. So, offboarding, onboarding is a common one. Recruitment. The whole learning piece, the personal development piece when the employees stay in the organization is there, the experience with employees, with the managers, with the peers, how they can collaborate. So, there is a lot. There are many things in terms of the experience.

And most of this experience is what actually is covered today by the solutions which are provided in the HR. If you see when HR moved to cloud today, we have PMO cloud solutions, which are much simpler and then it’s provided us a better experience in terms of access and user, better integration scope with others. So, I think it’s much easier now. But still there is a vast way to go, I can still see. Because when I see from the core framework, I think most of the systems are actually designed based on the process, right? So, the process of HR is not based on the experience or moments that matter for employees. And that’s how the difference coming still is there. Like still there are challenges with adoption, there are still challenges with the actual enablement of those systems or a real help to the employees. So, I think that’s also transitioning quite a few in the last few years and we can definitely see more improvement in coming years.


Yeah, I like that distinction a lot, that for a long time, tech was making HR’s job easier. It provided more tools for the people inside HR to do all their work easier. But it wasn’t really focused on how’s this really impacting the employee and their experience with everything. And so, I think, coming to a new understanding that HR is there to serve employees and tech should be there to serve the entire organization, not just to make that one HR person’s job easier. Yeah, that’s great. Well, let’s talk more about that then. When it comes to what HR teams should look like in the future, you interact with a lot of very large enterprises and a lot of companies that are out there which typically have a lot of people working in the HR department that are supporting all the other people. Do you think that’s a sustainable way or that’s going to continue on in the future or do you think HR teams, because they’re going to be able to partner with technology more, are going to be a little bit more lean?

I think HR is already becoming lean in most of the organizations. Many organizations are following the lean approach or a gentle approach to building HR team. And we can see that one of the major focus is on the role like HRBPs, which is coming around, providing help to the business as a business partner, HR business partner, which is helping the business in terms of strategies and how it can help them. And again, it’s all related to people. The employee, the team, the challenges, making the team efficient, how the team can be more productive, and all these aspects.

Another biggest aspect of HR is definitely providing, which is still coming from the past, is helping around the employee relationships, and providing support, which is why we call it still as HR operations. We call HR operations actually, people operation team. We have seen exchange for most of ‘the HR’ to ‘the people’ because it’s actually for the people, not for HR, and how we can provide efficiency in terms of the operations and in terms of providing with the help of new technologies.

Automation is coming into picture. And the one big change here is that earlier it was done manually by HR. Now most of the things are done by technology. So, we can see this operation team is becoming more and more lean and small where we can use more technology and enable more technology to help and those HR can help in other areas.

One of the biggest parts is the change part. HR can be a huge change agent in terms of changing the culture of the company, in changing all other aspects. Because every single organization is transformed to some extent, and especially when it sees things like pandemic and when we need it, organizations need a big resilience to have more sustainability to survive this biggest crisis and how they can deal with that, challenges with employee health and safety and other norms, definitely HR plays a big role.

And then there is a connection also between the compliance, the legal and all those parts, where HR can take part because the policies matter at that point to a certain level as well. So, I think that HR plays another role there helping in changing the whole organization because they are very close to people, they know the people, right.

Another really new aspect, which is coming, I wouldn’t say new really, it’s the analytics. People analytics has become a very core function of HR today. And actually, it’s not for HR again. It’s for the business. We have a lot of people data, like in all respects, and with that data we can really build a better experience, better decision making for the business leaders, for the organizations, for the talent management for various things. And that’s coming into picture as well. So, we have seen a lot of organizations are focusing on how they can build those people data science team and they can have leverage in there. And definitely one of the other pieces of digital HR, which is also coming around the picture, how we can better digitize a solution for the, let’s say, learning solutions, equipment solution, onboarding solutions, talent solutions, directly it’s linked somehow to our HR system as well.


Let’s talk about specifically people analytics. A lot of people listening to this show are in a size of a company that they have an HR director or somebody who’s looking at other people ops, or somebody that’s looking over that, but maybe they haven’t experimented with some of these new technologies. So, just with people analytics what are some of the insights that people can expect to get from that? And how can they use those?

When you say people analytics, some people call us HR analytics or whatever you may call it. But actually, when you see from the data points, it has all the data points related to people. And when you say it’s related to all the aspects, again, on the employee lifecycle, you know, starting from the equipment, their absence, their compensations data, their performance data, everything. And also, it’s related to somehow the business. I think we can also integrate those people data onto the business data, like from the cost and finance perspective, sales perspective, marketing, and other functions perspective. When we can really integrate those data things together, we can really generate better insight. Again, this insight is not something driven by data, rather, it’s driven by business problems. Because most of the organizations have challenges, problems related to people, related to performance, related to results. And if we know the problem, if we dig down like what could be the root cause and what were the challenges, where we can make a huge difference, I think we can actually lead down to the right data points. And if we get the right data points on the right data source as well, we can really, definitely generate and generate huge insight, which is much meaningful to take better decision by the business leaders today.

And that’s what people analytics play a big role in. It’s not for HR, again. It’s actually helping the business to really try in more efficiency and effectiveness into the organizations in making a better team, better experience, better customer service as well. Because when the people are feeling better, they are more connected, I think it helps to also increase the engagement to the level of the customer improvement, right? So, all those things are related. And these are like some of the aspects. People analytics for the last few years are actually using many other aspects as well. So, I personally use people analytics in some of the organizations to understand the culture of the organization. I call it culture analytics. I use people data analytics as well to understand the change and behaviors, how the leaders and the people are changing their behaviors with respect to all these changes happening. And it can help to make better decisions in some point of time. So, there are many aspects there.


How would you blend in things like employee engagement, analytics, like these tests that go out maybe on a daily or weekly basis or just this one question type feedback type thing? Is that part of people analytics or is that a totally separate domain?

They are various names. We cannot say ‘one platform one solution providing all’. There are, but there are gaps there. Solutions from different angles, right? If we talk about engagement part like employee engagement, there are a lot of good solutions available and what it can keep, right. It’s a good approach because when we don’t have data points, right, like especially when you talk about experience of the people and we talk about engagement, there are a lot of questions for which we cannot have the data points available. So, there are no systems or nowhere we can actually get the data. So, we can define surveys. We can ask questions on a regular basis and employees and people can answer that. Based on that we can see how’s the progress going, and we can really monitor the engagement journey for the employees and the whole organization. So that’s one aspect apart from what data sources we have. But we have also seen that’s interesting actually because there is, in the people analytics phase, there is one tool we call Organization Network Analysis. So, what it does is, it actually gets data not only from your survey and its existence, but also from your work like workplace system or collaboration tools, like Microsoft Office, your collaboration tool from Slack, or any collaboration tool.

So, what it can generate is that it has a huge number of collect data points from how people collaborate and interact with each other and how often, even the data from your mail. And what it can resemble is that which people in the organizations are more connected to the others and who are the major connecting points, connecting dots to the whole organization, or maybe a bottleneck to some organization where multiple teams cannot collaborate, because cross collaboration is one of the big components today for any successful organizations. And this data is really helpful. So, it’s called the Organization Network Analysis. It sets a huge dimension actually if you see it from the growth perspective. But this is already used by many organizations today and it is a huge benefit to them. So, it’s growing, as I mentioned, that space is growing, people analytic space. And there are a lot of opportunities if you can take that. And that’s actually very linked to the workplace solution when we talk about it.


Sure. Well, Soumya to close it out, give us a picture of what you feel like the best-case scenario in the future looks like. Let’s imagine 10 years or even just five years in the future, a company that really embraces technology, but also upgrades its understanding and idea of what is people operations, what HR should be like, and just totally reimagines everything and build something brand new, what does that look like to you?

So, I think before looking into like, the best case is always, as I mentioned, like, give some example how it’s evolving. And the best case is actually how we can make it more effective right, in the future. So, one of the things when you think about the best case, I think it’s very important the organizations think also, the basic challenges which we have within the team, within the employees, within the HR, even within the management teams sometimes. If they can solve, and there are a lot to unlearn and learn here. For example, I can give you some example like there is a huge changing going around for the leadership skills. So, we have seen that more purpose driven, and inspiration driven leadership is more coming into picture rather than command and controls. And then we have seen, as I already mentioned, like siloed working is replacing with more collaborative working. Those things are coming into picture more like that. Human driven decision to more evidence-based decisions. Telling people what to do to more like, how we can influence them with storytelling. So, they are very small things which are there, small skill set for leaders, for employees, for everyone.

And actually, the target, I think the ideal should be a workplace or environment where we can, it builds with trust, so that everybody trusts each other, everybody can raise their voices, where we can manage conflict with more empathy, and definitely use technology to make it more efficiently working. And then, also focusing on the health. That’s very important today, because when we are overusing technology, we have also seen like you have challenges with health. A lot of organizations are facing this challenge. So, I think these are very basic things, nothing related to our normal daily job. But these are some pain points we have seen from many organizations. So, I think if we can work around with those pain points, and if we can make a better environment along with this, that would be the ideal perfect place where the workplace can be there. And this workplace can be anything like physical, remote, and anywhere.


Oh, great. Well, Soumya, it’s been great to connect with you and to learn from your perspective on things. If people want to learn more about your work and what you do, where should they go?

So, I think the better way to connect with me is through LinkedIn. I think that’s where I’m my mostly engaged with. Also, Twitter, but LinkedIn is more easy. So, LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn as more like a connecting database as well as contact database. I’m very much engaged on LinkedIn. So that’s the easiest way. And I have written a book as I mentioned, ‘Digital HR Strategy’. So, though it’s written as a digital HR, but it brings a lot of aspects which I have talked now so far. So how we can connect all those dots together and make the organization transform in a better sustainable way. And that’s why I have written that book. So, if somebody’s interested, yeah, you can definitely go through that book. It will be helpful for sure.


Fantastic. Well, we will put the link to your LinkedIn profile and to your book in the show notes. It’s been great to talk with you. We look forward to chatting more in the future.

Same here, Neil. Thank you so much.

Soumya is a Digital HR, Transformation & People Analytics leader with over 18 years of experience in advisory and management in technology and transformation across various large firms worldwide in America, EMEA, and Asia-Pacific.

Soumya is also the Founder of People Conscience, providing advisory, research, mentorship, and coaching to start-ups, entrepreneurs, leaders, and organizations for creating a better and sustainable future by leading and adopting Innovation, Transformation (Digital & Business) with the right mindsets, strategy, leadership, and cultural change.

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