Digitized HR: How paranoid should you be?

Computer: "Sorry, you have been terminated."

You: "What? Says who?"

Computer: "Says HR."

You: "Wait a minute. We don't even have any HR people working for us anymore."

Computer: "Your assumption is incorrect. I'm HR now. And you have been terminated. Your productivity is below acceptable levels, your worker network is insignificant, and, by the way, you're a really lousy typist."

Okay, maybe there's a little exaggeration here, but not as much as you might think. These days, it's becoming increasingly apparent that conventional performance appraisals and HR metrics are going the way of the vacuum tube. The bleeding edge of performance management is all about analytics.

"You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people," Rupert Bader, director of workforce planning at Microsoft, told BusinessWeek.

That's probably a tough pill to swallow for those folks who went into management or HR because they're a "people person." But get used to it. It looks like statistical analysis of worker performance is the wave of the future.

Sure, this is still the frontier of workforce management technology, with only about 1% to 2% of large organizations using analytics to size up the performance of their workers. But there are some heavy hitters blazing the trail - firms like Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Those companies might have a vested interest in going in this direction and are potentially developing analytics tools to sell to others. Still, I think there's also a tendency to embrace these tools if you're part of an engineer-heavy work environment. Innovation-culture companies are usually on the vanguard of new technology adoption, and this trend towards analytics might turn out to be no exception.

So, if you're in HR or workforce management, you might want to get over your math anxiety. A brave, new, number-crunching world is coming - a time when employees' performance is largely gauged by the digital trail they're leaving. And, if you're an employee trying to make good or just hanging on, do more than make nice around the water cooler. Your digital image will need to impress those data-mining softwares as well. Or, someday in the not-too-distant future, your computer might just present you with a virtual pink slip.