Eyes on the Prize: HR’s Opportunity to Deliver Greater Value

Marty Benison, Accenture

In earlier posts, Heather Sherlock looked beyond bots to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the HR function, while Troy Wintersteen made a case for greater HR agility through migration to cloud. Building on that foundation, I’d like to explore CHROs’ business challenges and how technology advancements can help HR deliver greater value.

During my long tenure with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including serving as Comptroller and State Budget Director, I worked closely with HR, procurement and budget—the trio that comprises the government back office. I experienced firsthand the demands for the back office to deliver more value-added services even as resources remained flat or declined.

For CHROs, the pressure keeps increasing. In the face of these challenges, where should HR focus? What could it do differently? And, how would an HR transformation benefit the government back office, the agencies it supports and the citizens those agencies serve? Based on my long career in state government and experience collaborating with Accenture clients, I believe the answer lies in three core strategies.

Strategy 1: Assess your effort-to-value ratio

For HR, there’s no shortage of tasks and transactions that can consume your time. Yet leaders are wise to pause and reflect on the value those activities are delivering. The mental model I use starts with the mission and ends with specific tasks.

First, define the strategic goals that support your mission. From there, identify the interim tactical objectives toward those goals—along with the specific tasks by which progress can be measured. Using this framework may make it clear where day-to-day activities aren’t sufficiently aligned with your overall mission and strategic goals.

As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we can’t ignore our responsibility to ensure compliance with laws, regulations and policy. This does not preclude HR leaders from taking a close evaluation of the effort-to-value ratio involved in transaction processing and compliance. Be candid in assessing: Are there tasks that amount to pushing paper and aren’t increasing accountability or supporting the mission? Can some of the day-to-day activities be automated or delegated to those closer to the transaction—or perhaps even eliminated?

Strategy 2: Maximize technology to minimize effort

Technology is one of the best ways to delegate lower-value tasks and transactions. Heather touched on this in her blog—noting how AI can help HR departments achieve better insights and, ultimately, deliver greater value. Troy spoke to the specific opportunity around chatbots. When combined with machine learning, chatbots can handle simple calls and achieve satisfaction rates that exceed human intervention.

We’ve seen this firsthand. Accenture has helped a government agency in Italy implement an AI virtual assistant to handle tier-one helpdesk calls. The agency rolled out the capability in just four months. From Day One, the virtual assistant was able to successfully resolve 35 percent of the tickets. Through continuous improvement, within 12 months the tool was resolving 95 percent of tickets, with 85 percent user satisfaction.

Those results are staggering—and point to tremendous opportunity to use AI to eliminate the drudgery of routine paperwork and transactions. When the HR workforce is freed of those burdens, they can focus on what truly matters.

Strategy 3: Mind the mission – talent!

What truly matters, of course, is HR’s mission: Finding and recruiting top talent. Helping nurture and develop the talent already within government. And, in doing so, serving as a strategic enabler of new and better approaches to delivering public services.

While the battle for talent is fierce, Accenture research suggests that government has some distinct advantages. In our 2018 Global Citizen Survey, 42 percent expressed an interest in working for the public sector, and among those 18 to 34, positive response was even higher (49 percent).

We also know that the Millennial workforce values exciting, innovative and collaborative work environments more than lifelong employment and secure pensions. HR plays a critical role in ideas like using rotational programs not just as a training method but also as a career path—enabling an employee to move from one role to another across agencies rather than simply moving up the ranks of a single agency. Another Accenture study suggested that one of the richest sources of talent is government’s existing workforce. What’s often lacking: the ability to identify top performers across agencies and understand their skills, capabilities and competencies.

Winning opportunities

For HR, the “prize” is making a big impact on talent recruitment, retention and development. Get there by eliminating non-value-added work, automating much of the routine transaction processing and compliance work and empowering HR professionals to spend more time driving value.

From there, HR can focus on high-value, mission-driven efforts, such as:

  • Defining compelling career paths that illuminate opportunities for current and prospective talent,
  • Removing organizational barriers and promoting out-of-the-box thinking, so talent can flow across agencies as well as between government and the private sector, and
  • Building and continually improving skill development opportunities—so the government workforce has the competencies necessary to meet rising citizen expectations.

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