For 2022, 3Sixty Insights is exploring four main themes in human capital management (3Sixty Insights 3SIAG2214 – The 3Sixty Insights Human Capital Management Themes for 2022, January 2022). The following preview delves into the first of these, the title of this report.
The idea that HCM is equal parts concrete and abstract resonates with stakeholders across the profession of HR and among creators and advocates of HCM technology for conventional applications and at the very edge and frontiers of the management of the employment of people (3Sixty Insights BWSRN2142 – Concrete vs. Abstract HCM: The Power of “And,” April 2021). In referring to these concepts of concrete and abstract HCM, some say hard and soft HCM. Others say tactical and strategic HCM. Whatever the semantics, all roads lead to the idea that all of HCM has an impact, and all effects of HCM are quantifiable. Effects of activity in HCM that are easily quantifiable, especially from a financial perspective, are concrete (i.e., or hard, or tactical, etc.). Other effects may or may not be as readily quantifiable. Certainly, these other effects are difficult to quantify financially. That everything about HCM has an impact and is quantifiable has huge implications vis-à-vis where and how HCM most influences the employee experience, however. So, let’s further clarify concrete and abstract HCM.
Putting Concrete and Abstract HCM into Perspective
When it comes to abstract HCM, the impacts are difficult or impossible to trace to a financially quantifiable benefit. Nevertheless, it is more difficult to argue against, than for, abstract HCM’s intrinsic value to the organization. Its effects mostly involve employee sentiment, a measurable expression of the quality of the employee experience. Employee sentiment is abstract. Put differently, abstract HCM’s effects are akin to soft benefits in that their measurement eludes the accountant’s calculus. And, yet, the impact is strategic insomuch as the workforce is essential to an organization’s ability to achieve goals.
It is debatable even so whether only abstract HCM has a strategic impact on the organization, and it is here that the aforementioned 1:1 semantic analogy with tactical and strategic HCM falls apart. This is a tangent for another day, however. The bigger story is that concrete HCM, too, can produce abstract benefits for the organization.
Take data security and compliance, for example. At first blush, the most compelling rationale to protect employees’ personal identifying information (PII) may seem concrete: avoiding costly penalties and fines. But the employer brand benefits too. In both these ways, the perceived cost savings in lackadaisical security practices or inadequate protocols translate to costs, or lost opportunities, when and if a data breach occurs. A more straightforward example, organizations may seek to make scheduling, payroll, benefits administration, or other elements of HCM that are traditionally the domain of HR, more efficient. Today, the technology that brings about this efficiency tends to improve employees’ work lives too — or anyway, depending on your perspective. That it does so, is becoming less of an unintended offshoot, and more of an intention, at least in the voice of vendors’ marketing messaging. In this instance, the marketing is not exactly hype, and employee sentiment benefits.
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