Millennials will not play ‘Emperor’s clothes’ with archaic talent management systems

It is both appalling and intriguing. On one hand we are talking about the fourth industrial revolution where man and machine will work side by side. Yet, we have managed to stay in the Flintstone age when it comes to talent management systems, used by organizations. Worse, we are resisting doing something about it.

Sometime in February 2017, I was talking to our friend (now also investor and client), Aditya Berlia. I was moving out of my last entrepreneurial venture, looking to solve a problem in my core domain. I still remember what he said.

If you want to solve any problem Samarth, solve the problem of these horrifyingly expensive, inflexible, bulky talent management systems with such poor user experience.

That statement pretty much started Dockabl.

The problem exists at multiple levels.

Firstly, it is the question of, who do these archaic talent management tools serve – the ‘talent’ or the ‘management’? Most employees will recall (painfully) the experience of filling year-end appraisals on these difficult-to-use, boring tools. The experience is like typing an SMS on those single-line display push-phones of early 2000s. I am not even talking about the difficulty, a field staff faces while accessing these systems remotely. Even, HR folks themselves have a night-marish experience, often resorting to manual excel-based follow-ups, to complete the process.

Secondly, the problem is at the level of the very talent philosophy these tools support. We are still appraising employees once a year – despite all the talk about continuous dialogues. The entire process of performance rating is a black box for most parts. Even recognition waits for the occasional townhall and most people are not sure of the criteria applied to select those who are awarded. There is no transparency or consistency in the process.

Few key questions here are:

  • Is this the kind of talent philosophy organizations believe in?
  • If not, why is there a gap between the philosophy we propagate, and the one we practice?
  • Whether a tool does or doesn’t enable the talent philosophy; should this not be a key decision-making criterion for CHROs to sign-off on tools?

In many of our discussion, we still find CHROs stuck in the past of end-to-end type of tools – which may provide convenience to the decision-maker and some cost savings, but seriously compromise on the impact they create on employees. HR is finding it difficult to shake-off its identity of a ‘cost saver’ and think like a ‘value-creator’. As a member of the HR fraternity, this worries me!

Thirdly, the generation of millennials is not one that conforms. They are not those who will do something, just because they are told – unless they see sense in it. They need to know how they are performing, here and now. They are not okay with waiting for a full year to hear a year-end prophesy about their future in the organization. They are not afraid to ask questions and express their disagreement.

We are watching this story unfold in every organization. Take two of our clients. One of them is among India’s largest e-commerce platform. They are an organization who are as millennial as it gets. The other client is a Big 4 audit firm at the cutting edge of talent practices. Yet, both found themselves struggling with tools that are status quo in the market, which neither support their talent philosophy nor are well accepted by employees.

I really like this story of the Emperor’s clothes. How all of the King’s subject saw everything, but said nothing. For far too long, we have been like those subjects. We have struggled with these tools and never challenged the status quo. But the millennials are like that child at the end of story, who gave the Emperor a reality check.

Times have changed. The technology has changed. The users have changed.

If organizations fail to change their act, they will be much like the Emperor, parading in the past, to be called out in the open, by their very own employees.