Speakfully Insider: Denis Barnard

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Welcome to Speakfully Insider, a weekly series featuring thought leaders on important topics surrounding workplace mistreatment, company culture, workplace safety, social justice, and more.

Please introduce yourself.

I am an HR professional who migrated from accounting. I have specialised in the intersection between HR and tech solutions for a number of years and become a familiar figure in the industry.

In 2000 I co-founded the boutique HRmeansbusiness consultancy and in 2009, established the HRcomparison (now GPAcomparison) HR Tech comparison website. In 2017, I published a definitive guide for selecting and implementing HR and payroll software, and my writings are published internationally in various media. I also have instructional videos available globally on a number of platforms.

My mission is to demystify HR Tech for the busy HR professional, and to look for innovations; to this end, I collaborate with ideas for vendors from time to time.

In your opinion, how have HR Tech platforms helped both financially and in regard to opportunity and healthy culture within the workplace?

There is no doubt that HR Tech has proved of financial benefit to workplaces where the business case was clear and execution followed that plan. Elimination of unnecessary administration and manual activity have given payback over a reasonable time span.

With respect to opportunity and culture, we have yet to realise a string of potential benefits, which I believe more automation and the gradual introduction of AI will enable.

What it means in real terms will be the dawn of a new era of work, where applications will do the heavy lifting, and humans will be able to make better decision-making. I envisage a complete re-engineering of Work as we have known it, and a welcome by-product of this will be the extinction of long working hours.

Why do you believe there often is resistance implementing new HR software within an organization?

The primary reasons that I have encountered are:

  • Fear due to past failures with HR software
  • Insufficient understanding of what’s available and what it can do
  • Reluctance to commit resources, largely due to a failure to make a coherent business case
In a recent Personnel Today piece you discuss how HR can use tech to support employees, rather than watch them. How important is that principle within today’s workplace?

The landscape is changing, and the expectation among employees is for a higher degree of trust. Monitoring to see if they are working – either remotely or even in the office will disappear (especially in places like Europe where laws exist to protect the privacy of employees). The focus will move towards monitoring for good effect, checking in a proactive way that the employee is in good shape physically, mentally and in orientation to the task in hand.

Technology - particularly AI - can enable conversations on topics that could be potentially difficult if directly with the employer or manager. Let’s say that there’s a situation where the employee is at risk, regardless of the location. An AI-enabled exchange could raise red or amber flags to, for example, an external counsellor, without jeopardising confidentiality. People have been found to interchange candidly in this context (Source: Humaxa).

How may general workplace mistreatment effect the cultural dynamic of a corporate environment and community?

Mistreatment of any type is corrosive to any organisation, be it harassment, discrimination favouritism or malicious gossip.

I’m extremely clear on one thing: Culture is defined at the top, and can’t be fabricated by HR or anyone else. If it’s rotten in the top layers, this will percolate down through the rest of the organisation.

This may work in the short term, but it’s not sustainable; talent ebbs away and is replaced by those who ‘fit in’. Cultures that demand presenteeism and unnecessarily long hours are being exposed by new work flexibility practices. This form of mistreatment is finally on the retreat.

What steps involving HR Tech, do you believe will help to implement trust in the workplace, remote or in-person?

Above all there has to be transparency of motive for whatever Tech is used. If the reasoning behind deployment of HR Technology is clear, then trust is established, leading to acceptance. Talk to users and get their reactions. Rule by decree has no place in the modern workplace.

If you could sit down with a historical figure to discuss creating a healthier workplace environment for every worker, who would it be, what would you discuss, and why?

I would choose a true leader; leaders always see that their followers are looked after as a priority, whether in a commercial, sporting, military or social setting. Nowadays, we use the term ‘Servant Leader’ which is my preferred style, and so it’s appropriate I choose Robert K Greenleaf, the first advocate of Servant Leadership, who set up his own company to promote this concept. I would love to explore further those themes that led him to that, and how he could have developed this style in a 21st century setting.

How may Speakfully readers be in touch with you directly, if they would like more information on your services?

By Email: denis.barnard@hrmeansbusiness.com

Connect on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisbarnard/

Website: hrmeansbusiness.com