Technology firms and innovators are waking up to the realisation that technology advances should not be made at the expense of people and values.
The resignation this week of Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick under shareholder and public pressure drew a line in the sand for Silicon Valley: on this side of the line, human values still matter, so cross over to the dark side of staff abuse and law-breaking at your peril.
Clearly, it is not only about how much friction you reduce in the lives of customers – the heart of disruptive technology – but also of your own employees.
It was fitting, then, that one of the key messages from last week’s SuccessConnect 2017 conference in London, hosted by SAP SuccessFactors, spoke directly to the chaos at Uber.
“Any CEO that doesn’t put people first is leading a failed cause,” said SAP CEO Bill McDermott in a closing keynote address.
“In the next five years, you’ll see more chief human resources officers become CEOs than in the prior 50 years, because today you have to have people skills to succeed in business.
“If you don’t have people in your veins, in your DNA, you can’t succeed.”
SuccessFactors is the HR-software division of enterprise-systems company SAP and is treading a fine line between its clients’ need to collect and make sense of employee data, and the growing demand for injecting humanity into the data.
So, while its software is now geared to the digital transformation of companies and the use of data analytics to help them make objective hiring and firing decisions, it is also acutely aware of the personal touch.
“It’s not replacing the humans; it’s providing an ingredient to be less biased and have more transparency,” said Helen Arnold, president of the SAP data network division, in an interview with Business Times.
“The question applies to every industry: how are you going to serve your own staff better?
“How can [I] make sure my learning curve is most effective and individualised for me?” She believes this concept will prove as disruptive as consumer technologies, particularly in the health and education of employees.
“Everything is going into personalised healthcare, tailored to your health situation. You can apply that particular idea to every area that is relevant to the human being.
“For example, learning will be disrupted.”
The new approach is also resulting in a different approach to part-time or freelance workers, referred to as the contingent workforce.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you are contingent or permanent, we have to make sure the right talent is attached to the company, and make sure you have early indicators.
“The new systems give you the most comprehensive indicators you can get in understanding what makes them happy, detached, or ready to leave.”
A further consequence, and one that will resonate with many South Africans, is that companies cannot afford to treat part-time workers like product pieces to be ordered and then discarded after a job is done.
They will need to be developed and even “performance-managed” for rehiring.
“The war for talent means a complete redefinition of what success means in human resources,” Arnold said.
• Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter @art2gee