Walking the Talk with Evolving Tech
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Ros Manawis, this chapter is titled, “Walking the Talk with Evolving Tech” In it, Nicole Dagondon, the Human Resources Director of CIIT Philippines, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in adapting to digital spaces.
Having worked at a game development studio before, she’s seen first hand how modern technology has constantly evolved and continues to do so today. She grew adaptable to the rate of change technology went through, shifting most of her work onto digital spaces.
Arriving at CIIT, she was surprised at how traditional things were compared to what she was used to. “People were generally averse to technology then,” she said. When she first came in, schools were still relatively traditionalists, relying mostly on paper and human work. The lack of automation made things slower than they should be, thus affecting their operations and their communications with each other.
“We were a tech school focused on multimedia arts and information technology, and supposedly our vision for the students was industry readiness,” Dagondon said. “Then I realized, you know, we have to walk our talk.” She realized that if they wanted their school’s students to be really ready for the future of technology, the administration must be ready as well. From then on, she began to introduce more tech-related changes.
Before bringing in any tech-related changes, however, she had to start with working with the people first.
Being the new HR director, she wanted to help people work better; for her, that started with changing their operations. She said, “I think one of the things that was a challenge for me was making things more efficient, and somehow introducing a more corporate approach to how things are done.”
First, she introduced the concept of a flat organizational structure. “Everyone’s afraid to step on each other’s shoes, and so there’s a lot of hurdles you have to go through just to get a simple message across,” she said. Schools, as Dagondon explained, usually have a very hierarchical structure; sometimes, people can be too wary of each others’ status in the hierarchy, which can negatively affect their communication with one another.
Dagondon’s reason for advocating the flat structure was to address that issue. “I want us to be more straightforward in the way we communicate concerns and issues to those who can directly address them,” she explained. “We should respectfully be transparent to each other and to the whole organization as well on what is happening in each department.”
After working with the organizational structure, Dagondon then focused on improving personal interactions among employees. She promoted the idea that team managers should regularly converse with their members, and in HR, they should all try to talk to the employees one on one as well.
Once their communication and organizational structures were stable, Dagondon began introducing new technology. “I told them we should automate so that we can spend more time on things that really matter,” she said. “I always push for how we can automate our tasks, especially repetitive and clerical ones, so we can make everything more efficient.”
From having multiple systems for each major task they had to do, Dagondon introduced a new HR Information System (IS), BambooHR, to unify them all. Through the new IS, Dagondon and her team have learned to work more efficiently; they learned to better manage their payrolls, their documents, and even their hiring process.
The biggest contribution the new HR IS has given CIIT is how to use cloud storage. They moved most of their files to the cloud on the IS, therefore eliminating the need for hard copies of their files and also ensuring that everyone has copies to important files. Now, they only create hard copies if absolutely necessary.
Learning how to effectively use cloud storage also encouraged people to better document events and other important things for the school. “We want to avoid people having specializations where only one person can do a task,” she said, “So usually within a team, we want everyone to be able to do what everyone else is doing.” This way, even if one person is missing from a team, the rest can still function as they have everything they need within reach.
When it comes to hiring and onboarding, Dagondon also relies on tech to make things easier. For hiring, interested applicants are to strictly apply through their website only. “Applying online is actually part of our screening in a way,” she said. “It’s like, if you can’t understand this kind of tech, then you might not be a good fit with us, because we’ll be using a lot of apps.”
If an applicant is hired, automation is also involved; their onboarding happens online as they receive and send all the important files online, and everyone else in CIIT will also be notified of the new hire through their IS. Once the new employee information is set up, CIIT’s IT will then go on to set up all the necessary accounts and stations for them.
Gradually, their administrative tasks within CIIT became more efficient. They started having more time for more important things as everything that could be automated for efficiency was saving up time.
Setting up all these advancements in tech within CIIT was not an easy feat, Dagondon admits. “Before, the mantra here was ‘if it works, why fix it,’ which was a big hurdle to go through,” she said. “It was hard to get people to buy into the idea that we have to embrace tech. It was hard to get people to buy into using a new system.”
However, once people saw how useful tech can be and how much easier collaboration has become, it didn’t take long before people fully made the switch. From HR systems to setting up spaces online for students, things began to flow a lot smoother overall. The next issue then was having people get used to the new systems, and teaching them how to use these things.
Luckily, when the pandemic hit, people of CIIT were already familiar and comfortable with the technological advancements in place. For teachers, conducting fully-online classes took some time to adjust to, but having been one of the schools to have a Learning Management System (LMS) in place before the pandemic worked to their advantage. For Dagondon and CIIT’s other employees, working from home has not been too difficult as they still had access to their files online.
Dagondon shares that the pandemic was really the time when people realized the importance of tech in their line of work. “It’s why it was easier for us to hit the ground running when the announcements were out. We didn’t stop our operations even then,” she said.
“One of my first frustrations back then was that you can’t get anything done by yourself, because it's either the file is with this person and it's a hardcopy or someone when someone was absent, things will stop,” she explained. “So trying to change that was one of the selling points I used to push for tech and for cloud based collaborative tools, and looking back at, it paid off well.”
To get more insights from other HR leaders like Nicole Dagondon, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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