Janine Truitt: Technology Does Not Replace the Human Factor, It Enhances It


April 24, 2018

Janine Truitt is the Owner/Chief Innovations Officer for Talent Think Innovations, a business strategy and management consulting firm. Her career spans thirteen years in HR and Talent Acquisition and has taken her into the world of pharmaceuticals, healthcare, staffing, and R&D. In this interview, we talk about how companies can take advantage of technology to enhance human relations.

 Let’s talk about healthy online work environments. How do you think that technology can help in promoting better relationships? Especially when work is done remotely.

When you work in an office, you see your co-workers every day, you have interactions, but that’s very different from when you have co-workers all over the country, even all over the globe. I believe that sometimes, even the people that are used to working remotely don’t like it. Occasionally, it’s good to have a video conference where people can see each other face to face.

Due to the fact that we are dealing with a workforce that is becoming increasingly remote, video technology lets the team remain connected. Now technology is enabling better face-to-face interactions, and you have communication tools that allow for the flow of a “stream of consciousness” during the day.

I also think that relationships are still a human factor. Ultimately, if you want to have a healthy working environment you still have to think about traditional things such as team building, ongoing communication between teams, understanding of what the main pain points are their issues, etc., especially in situations when people do not see each other. Otherwise, we leave people to their own perceptions, assumptions, which can lead to morale and engagement issues.

Technology doesn’t replace the human factor; it serves as a complement or reinforcement of human relations.

This changing work scenario has also changed the role of leaders. How can companies foster a culture of leadership, especially now that workforces are more diverse than ever?

With the composition of the workforce being ever-changing, it is not as hierarchical as it used to be in the 80s and 90s, even in early 2000, you have more organizations that are opting to run more flat.

We have a separate issue now, where the question has become something like this: if we don’t have a hierarchy, then who is the leader?  Like, who is running the company? Who is the boss? I think this is a big question organizations have across the spectrum, but maybe people do not think is serious.

This model does provide a lot more room to have many leaders, in different ways. So it leaves people room to show their expertise and do what it is best for the team and to lead from where they are. This variety of leadership is not about leading from a place of power, like “I’m the VP and I direct your work”. Instead, it’s more like, “Janine has expertise in this field, so when it comes to that we look for her leadership”. Or, “John has this domain of expertise and we look to him for guidance in that area”.

Now we have more leaders than we’ve ever had in a hierarchical workforce, but it also raises doubts about how we train leaders. Now we have to think how many leadership positions there are while allowing for other nontraditional leadership styles to emerge.  Companies will have to train people to become the leaders they not only need, but the leaders their employees are capable of becoming.

It’s a little bit complex, but companies can make it as long as they keep the individual in mind and not the power dynamics.

Companies are starting to leave the traditional annual appraisal and changing it for ongoing feedback methods. Many employers continue to struggle when giving constructive feedback, no matter the tool. Do you have any tips or best practices to share with companies that are going through the process?

It’s important to know that most people do not like the appraisal process not because it is not useful, but because it was not being used correctly for years.

Technically, good management has always been about providing good feedback on an ongoing basis, so that employees would know if they are performing according to the organization’s expectations. I think that HR – as a department – is too busy with many other functions to execute this process in a meaningful way. Performance management being a once a year thing was never ideal. Over the years, it has become easier to say “Hey, I’m going to have this discussion once a year with everybody on my team”.

When it is time to do the appraisal, it is likely you do not have all the information you need; you probably don’t have knowledge of all the projects, the contributions, or their pain points. Therefore, you are about to give a rating on somebody without having a current and holistic view of their performance throughout the year.

It may be that the person who is receiving the feedback is now feeling like “Wow, I’ve done all this work all year long and all you can remember is the negative parts.” This is not necessarily the supervisor ’s fault – it’s human nature, we remember things that are not that great, things that are really great and everything else in between falls through the cracks.

So it does not make sense to do this once a year, but it does make sense to have a tradition of ongoing feedback because you will remember more. If you evaluate your team weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, you are going to remember more, you don’t have to wait to compile a whole year’s worth of data.

It is my opinion that moving away from traditional appraisal is good; it is also great to maintain an open line of constant communication with the employee. This allows employee and employer to stay abreast of any issues and opportunities for improvement prior to giving someone a poor rating due to lack of information.  It’s kind of a win-win for everybody.

In a way feedback has to do with employee engagement, you are looking for feedback on what you are doing, and if the feedback you receive is not what you hoped for, you will feel bad maybe inadequate. Therefore, I’d like to ask you about the relationship between employee engagement and retention. How does the first one affect the other?

Personally, I do believe, there is certainly a relationship between employee engagement and retention, but they are definitely not equal.

You have a better chance retaining people if they are engaged in the workforce, versus if they are not engaged. But still, there are so many different variables that go into engagement that it is hard to say for sure that if you have an engaged employee you’ll be able to retain them.

Recognition is one aspect of employee engagement, but so is compensation, benefits, a healthy work environment, as we mentioned earlier. Do you have quality leaders? Are the team dynamics such that the person can have some sort of recognition of what they do? Is there purpose or meaning to the work they do?

Even with those variables that organizations can actually control, we are not even talking about personal things that happen to people. Personal development, changes in goals, major life events, and changes in feelings towards the organization, etc.

Those are things that are very much outside the employer’s control. We can’t really say that engagement equals retention, because there are a lot of things in your control and many others outside of your jurisdiction and influence. I think the best thing you can do is to try to control what you can and be really strong in those aspects.

We have to do a better job as HR professionals with keeping the pulse of our employee’s lifecycle. It is not just about hiring people and directing them to their departments, their desks and forgetting about them. Engaging in conversation, circling back with them after a few weeks of being hired and devising a plan for future interaction is key to the success and retention of the employee. Essentially, you are trying to keep people employed as long as you can and hopefully as happy as they can be while doing it.

This is a question we always like to ask, it’s about the future of organizations. Or the organizations of the future! What do you think are the biggest challenges that People departments will have to face in the coming years?

Organizations of the future are a big topic! The one thing that comes to mind is how HR is going to continue to provide value to the organization while working with the technology.

As discussed earlier in terms of how technologies facilitate communications. It’s certainly facilitating much more than that. We have HR technology now that facilitates scheduling interviews, offer letter creation, video interviews, and then you have the proliferation, the beginning of artificial intelligence coming into the foreplay, virtual reality, augmented reality.

I think a lot of professionals are concerned about technology because they see this as…you know, another job going to the waste side. The reality is we have always been progressing in this manner, right? I mean, throughout the decades, each progression has meant a loss and drop off in jobs. That’s never been different. But it also has presented an opportunity for new jobs, for new ways of doing things.

I think HR is tasked with figuring out what’s next. What does the next level workforce look like? What are the roles, the people we need to have? From an education standpoint, how should they be educated in ways they are able to thrive? As HR practitioners we need to be the bridge back to universities, high schools, even the elementary or primary schools that are training future generations.

There has to be a better connection that way. I also think, going back to the technology, because there is so much robust technology on the horizon not all of it is going to be great right away. Is it going to influence us in the day-to-day routine administrative tasks that we’ve been so happy to do? Absolutely. Will it solve for all of our challenges in HR? No.

I tend to see the organizations of the future having HR positioned as business partners or internal consultants to CEOs, and having more to say in the planning of the workforce, how expansions are going to be managed and staffed, especially in organizations where businesses are expanding – the Amazons and the Facebooks of the world. They are expanding rapidly.

If you don’t have a key HR partner sitting at that table with you, understanding your availability of talent in the market, answering questions for you like: “how does that workforce look if we are expanding to Asia, South America…what does that workforce look like? You are going to be at a deficit in your talent management efforts. Overall, I think HR will have to have a much more global focus and be a lot more strategic in order to keep up with the transformational nature of the business.

Would you like to add anything else?

Just that the whole thing about diversity and inclusion becomes important. I can’t stress enough how important it is that organizations focus on that, there hasn’t been enough done in that area.

The other important piece that I encourage people to focus on is equity. So it’s one thing to talk about “we are bringing X amount of Latinas, African Americans, Asians”, etc. Fine, cool, but once they are hired, how are you going to assimilate them into the work environment, into the culture?  How are you going to make them feel like they are part of the organization and that they are valued? It’s your job to ascertain whether it is an easy assimilation for them, or is it exponentially difficult for them to adapt to the environment that you are asking them to join? If it is the former, you have now identified an area where you will need to identify the barriers to assimilation and a solid plan to remove them.

Again, from a retention perspective, that’s where you run the risk of losing people. You get them in, the benefits are great, it’s a great opportunity, their background matches, but if they can’t relate to their team members, they can’t relate to people within the organization, you are going to have problems.

What if they are coming to your organization -and let’s just say that they go through a successful onboarding/assimilation process, but in the meantime, everybody is moving ahead of them, and they are stuck in just one position. They are not being promoted at the same rate as others.  Although, this may be an unintentional situation you may open the organization up to equity issues and that causes a lot of problems.

Great that you have them there! You can count the numbers and say “I have X amount of Asians, X amount of Latinas”, but if they aren’t being promoted, if they are not offered opportunities, if they are not offered a rate of pay equal to their efforts and/or in direct proportion to those similarly-situated in the workforce, then it’s still an issue.

I think that as people are starting to dive deep into the diversity issue, they really need to add equity to the “diversity and inclusion” equation.

Undoubtedly technology provides value within organizations. The challenge is how to leverage it in order to empower people. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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