No one doubts that technology has changed our lives. Global online sales have doubled in five years to over $1.5 trillion. The big six social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest) exceed a total membership of 2.4 billion people. If it constituted a country, Facebook—the most popular social media platform—would be the second most populous country on the planet, after China. Technology pervades our daily lives in how we use computers, communicate, access entertainment, drive, shop, form relationships, and so forth. Unprecedented and fast innovation in technology provides digital information that increases and enables customization, underpins predictive analytics, and redefines boundaries.

So, what are the implications for HR?

Human resources is not exempt from being affected by this digital progression. The digital world of HR is a major theme for dozens of HR conferences and new applications and tools with great promise. Let me suggest four phases in the evolution of digital HR, recommending phase 4 (connection) as the new agenda.

Phase 1: Efficiency: To what extent do we use technology to streamline administrative HR work?

Large global firms like Oracle (with PeopleSoft), SAP (with Success Factors and Qualtrics), and Workday (with Workday Human Capital Management) offer technology platform services, engineered systems, and software applications for business and HR solutions. These firms often build the technological backbone for automated shared services where administrative work is done faster, cheaper, and easier. In addition, emerging robots extend this efficiency agenda by doing HR administrative work 

Phase 2: Innovation: To what extent do we use technology to innovate our HR practices?

Innovative HR apps upgrade every HR practice area (see some examples below). I have proposed five criteria for evaluating the viability of these apps as they continue to proliferate. The following are some example of how HR can improve HR practices with technology applications.

HR Practice Area People

Example of Technology Innovation

•Recruiting: interview by video, source talent using social media (e.g., LinkedIn), broaden the candidate pool to include robotics

• Employment contract: allow employees to work remotely, employ contingent workers

• Training/development: Use online education; implement pull training (vs. push); utilize follow up, succession, and career planning apps


• Share everyone’s goals and performance to create peer pressure for results

• Manage performance and appraisal through automated evaluations

• Report interactions through online communication


• Share information with employees • Run online town hall meetings

• Bring customer expectations into the organization


• Apply decision-making processes that involve more people

• Create policy manuals and applications through online information

• Share best practices and create learning communities

Phase 3: Information: To what extent do we use technology to access information?

We found in our research that information management (asymmetry) is the most critical capability to deliver business results. Traditionally, access to information gave leaders power because they had more information than their employees. Today, with open access to information through technology, information is less about power and more about the ability to make better business decisions. The Organization Guidance System (OGS) we have created offers unique insights about which human capital investments in talent, leadership, organization, and HR will deliver key outcomes. This on line assessment and free report demonstrate the value of technology based information (go to www.rbl. ai to access OGS)

Phase 4: Connection: To what extent do we use technology to create connections?

Even as digital HR enables efficiency (phase 1), innovation (phase 2), and information (phase 3), the emerging impact of digital HR will enhance connection. Being connected overcomes loneliness (social isolation) and underlies employee experience. The need for connection is high as the global pandemic has create social distancing and as recent research has found that social isolation increases mortality rates more than smoking, obesity, or substance abuse. Connection defines employee experience by drawing on attachment theory. Attachment theory essentially states that when someone has strong emotional attachment, personal well-being increases, which in turn increases personal productivity and overall organizational performance. The HR digital agenda needs to evolve to focus on emotional attachment or connection in two ways.

 First, HR technology helps employees attach to each other in order to feel a sense of belonging through personal relationships. As such, technology is about connections not contacts. These personal connections may be problem-solving networks where people work on common business problems with others from around the world, social networks where people share their daily lives, or meaning networks where people connect with others who share their values.

Second, emotional attachment or connection is not just from belonging and relationships but also meaning and identity. A good friend recently sold her business and fell into a melancholy back hole. While she still had friends, she felt the loss of her connection from the meaning and identity her organization gave her. Another friend learned that being alone is not the same as being lonely; the social distancing required by the pandemic does not mean social isolation. Even being alone, he could connect with his immediate physical setting (in his case, finding joy from seeing the ocean), with his work (working with a purpose), and with his personal goals (feeling accomplishment). So in addition to connecting through belonging, HR could use technology to encourage employee connection through entertainment (accessing hobbies virtually), nature (virtual visits to favorite places), ideas (sharing ideas with others), and relationships (sharing personal experiences).

As HR professionals work with IT professionals, they use technology to create employee connections and experiences with both people and sources of meaning, they advance the next digital HR agenda by moving beyond delivering administrative efficiency (phase 1), upgraded and innovative HR practices (phase 2), and information (phase 3). HR digital connection (phase 4) increases personal productivity and overall organizational performance. 

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a partner at the RBL Group ( ) a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. He edited Human Resource Management 1990-1999, served on editorial board of 4 Journal and on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller (16 years), has spoken to large audiences in 90 countries; performed workshops for over half of the Fortune 200; coached successful business leaders, and is a Distinguished Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources. He is known for continually learning, turning complex ideas into simple solutions, and creating real value to those he works with in three fields.

He and his colleagues have shaped the HR profession and he has been called the “father of modern HR” and “HR thought leader of the decade” by focusing on HR outcomes, governance, competencies, and practices (HR Champions; HR Value Added; HR Transformation; HR Competencies; HR Outside In). He spearheaded a “gift” book on the future of HR (The Rise of HR) distributed to over 1,500,000 HR professionals), in which 70 thought leaders freely shared their insights.