The Employee Experience Is The Future Of Work

The next journey for HR leaders will be to apply a consumer and a digital lens to the HR function creating an employee experience that mirrors their best customer experience.

The Future Workplace: Building A Consumer And Digital HR Organization    

Today, almost every company is undergoing a digital transformation. Cloud and mobile computing, artificial intelligence, and increasing automation have created the potential to transform nearly every aspect of a business. A survey of CEOs conducted by Fortune asked whether they thought their company was a “technology company” and 67% of CEOs said yes.

The same can be said for forward looking HR departments like those at IBM and General Electric. HR leaders such as Diane Gherson at IBM, and Susan Peters at General Electric, are transforming HR to deliver an employee experience that is human centered, uses the latest digital technologies, and is personalized, compelling, and memorable.

According to Forrester, 47% percent of executives surveyed believe that by 2020, digital will have an impact on more than half their sales. We see how digital has transformed media, retail, transportation and education. Now it’s HR’s turn. Digital and consumer marketing are permeating new ways of recruiting, working, learning, and engaging employees.

Applying a consumer and digital lens is much more than just incorporating new solutions in HR. Being employee-centered and digital is about having a new mindset, plus a set of consumer-focused and technological skills  to creating new HR solutions. Above all, it requires a belief in the power of leveraging the latest consumer technologies inside HR. This starts with how a company engages prospective new hires. Consider how Zulily, an e-commerce company selling clothing, toys, and home products, invites candidates applying for a job on its social media team to submit an Instagram post that best represents themselves and what they would bring to the team. Or consider how MasterCard, BMO Financial Group, Cisco, and Silicon Valley Bank develop new HR solutions by conducting hackathons to co-create new ways forward with employees.

2017 is the year to prepare for transforming HR to be agile, consumer-focused, and digital. The 10 trends below will matter most this year.

#1: Focus On Creating A Compelling Employee Experience

As Susan Peters, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at General Electric says, “We define employee experience simply as seeing the world through the eyes of our employees, staying connected, and being aware of their major milestones. In the last year we have appointed a Head of Employee Experience and we are developing a strategy to create an employee experience which takes into account the physical environment our employees work in, the tools and technologies that enable their productivity, and learning to achieve their best at work. All of this is part of continuously evolving our HR capabilities.”

HR leaders are leading this effort by reaching outside of the HR function to partner with heads of Real Estate, IT, Marketing, Internal Communications, and Global Citizenship to create one seamless employee and customer experience. The Future Workplace and study entitled "The Active Job Seeker Dilemma" found that 83% of HR leaders said "employee experience" is either important or very important to their organization’s success, and they are investing more in training (56%), improving their work spaces (51%), and giving more rewards (47%). Companies are also driven to focus on creating a compelling employee experience as the war for talent heats up. Mercer predicts that 90% of employers anticipate more competition for talent, especially in India, North America, and Asia. So making the workplace an experience allows companies to embed their culture and values in the workplace and use this to recruit and retain top talent.

#2: Use An Agile Approach To Recruit And Develop Employees

An agile approach is typically used in software development to operate with speed and manage unpredictability. This approach is now being used to recruit and develop employees. When Amber Grewal was the global head of talent acquisition at GE Digital (Amber is now the VP of Talent Acquisition at IBM) she led a transformation of talent acquisition by applying an agile approach used to develop software. In the process Grewal created a new role, “Agile Recruiting Scrum Master.” The result: recruiters were able to deliver top talent to clients within 2 to 6 weeks versus an average of 10-15 weeks. Agile is not only being applied to recruiting but also to learning and development. I've interviewed many heads of learning and identified a number who considered themselves intrapreneurs of the learning function rather than  learning and development subject matter experts. What they did differently was apply an agile approach to corporate learning by making it easy for employees to find, rate, tag, and consume learning. They saw their job as learning curators rather than content creators. Companies like IBM, Visa, MasterCard, Adidas, and General Electric, to name just a few, are adopting new intelligent digital platforms to create a Netflix-like experience for corporate learners.

#3: Partner With Real Estate To Create Spaces That Promote Culture

In a TED talk, Susan Cain made the case that most workplaces are, “designed mostly for extroverts and their need for lots of stimulation.” She highlighted how introverts are highly talented individuals with a very different set of characteristics. So companies should ask, “How can we accommodate both our introverts and our extroverts in our work spaces?” Try asking yourself four simple questions regarding the work space you have in your organization:

  • Where do you go to do your best work?
  • Where do you go to get the job done?
  • Where do you avoid meeting or working?
  • Where do you go to recharge?

Although a majority of American workers go to offices with open floor plans (70% of us, according to the International Facilities Management Association), companies are beginning to acknowledge that this isn’t always the best for getting work done. In fact, research from Steelcase conducted with a global sample of 12,480 employees across 17 countries documents that workers who have control over where and how they work, and are free to choose a work space to fit their task at hand—either focused work or collaborative work—are 88% more engaged at work. The decision is not whether or not to design an open space, but rather how to give employees choice in where to work based upon the activity they are working on.

The HR takeaway: work space is not just a building, but part of the HR agenda to extend the company’s culture and engage employees.

#4: Apply a Consumer Marketing Lens to HR

With job candidates and employees empowered to provide instant feedback on employers, we are seeing the “yelpification” of the workplace, where, employees can rate a company’s culture and management just as they rate a hotel, restaurant, or movie. HR departments are applying a range of consumer marketing tools, such as design thinking, hackathons, and sentiment analysis to create a compelling employee experience. Paul Papas, global leader of IBM Interactive Experiences, says, “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experiences they want everywhere.” This is leading companies such as IBM and Cisco to translate their relentless focus on customers to their employees. IBM uses design thinking and their own sentiment analysis tool, called Social Pulse, to reveal insights in re-imagining performance management. Cisco borrows the concept of hackathons, from the IT world, to create new HR products such as the YouBelong@Cisco app to aid new hires and their managers in navigating the first weeks at Cisco, and Ask Alex: Your Personal Intelligent Compass, a voice command app offering fast and personalized information on a range of HR questions such as vacation policy, expense reports, and health related questions.

#5: Pilot Chatbots In HR

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a huge market, predicted to surge from $8 billion this year to $47 billion by 2020, according to IDC. Some say it resembles the Internet in the mid 1990’s, and will be built into all kinds of products and services. Marketers are already using bots—or artificial intelligence computer program designed to simulate a conversation through written or spoken text—to deliver personalized conversational experiences online. During 2016, we saw a surge of interest in chatbots with the creation of digital co-workers, meaning  a piece of software that works alongside you at your job and participates in the day to day activities of your company as an active and engaged member of the team. Using chatbots to create conversational experiences is becoming the new digital interface.

Enter Amy Ingram, the AI powered personal virtual assistant launched by who schedules meetings and is so “human-like” she has been asked out for dates, says Dennis Mortensen, CEO of Or Talla, a chat bot who handles recruiting tasks such as suggesting interview questions or finding similar candidates on LinkedIn, or Howdy, a workplace automation tool for your team.

The latest prediction from Gideon Mann, head of data science at Bloomberg LP, is that "Over the next five years, automation will seep into more and more aspects of our work and personal lives. Increasingly, it will be hard to distinguish what is being done by a person and what is done by a machine. As a result, the fundamental nature of how humans work will be transformed and we'll have to work smarter." We are already seeing predictions that bots are poised to take over from apps in the workplace.

Will automation lead to fewer jobs? The more interesting question is how will our current jobs evolve and what type of training is needed to up skill employees who hold jobs where automation will be hardest hit. According to World Economic Forum the jobs most at risk are in  routine white collar jobs, manufacturing and truck drivers as self driving takes hold.

I see an opportunity here for a forward looking HR team to understand the context of how automation will impact the future of work. Start by being a pioneer and pilot one of the chatbots in HR to see how these digital co-workers can advise and improve HR.

#6: Plan For A Blended Workforce

The workforce of the future won’t be all full time employees. Rather, it will be blended, or composed of full time employees as well as consultants, contractors, freelancers, part time employees, and other contingent workers, collectively known as Gig Economy Workers. Multiple studies, conducted by Intuit, The Freelancers Union, and, most recently, Katz Krueger, professors respectively from Harvard and Princeton, predict the percentage of the workforce who are Gig Economy Workers range from 15.8% to 34%.

This percentage of workers who are contingent is growing, but not just due to online platforms like Uber, Field Nation, or Work Market. It’s offline alternative work options that are actually growing the fastest. Recent estimates by Indeed document that job searches showing the most growth are for specialized and technical roles such as Data Scientists, Digital Marketers, Network Engineers, and Talent Acquisition Leads. Glassdoor Economist Dr. Andrew Chamberlain confirms that the job growth he sees is also in specialized and technical roles requiring creative judgment, flexibility and long-term relationship building. Chamberlain believes these specialized jobs may be the least likely to function well on a gig economy platform.

This does not mean that the blended workforce (comprised of full time workers and Gig Economy Workers)  is disappearing. They are and will be a permanent part of the changing composition of the workforce. But the composition of gig workers will morph over time. Forward-looking HR leaders should take action now to plan for a blended workforce and address issues such as; how do you on-board and integrate gig workers or what types of training can gig workers have access to?

#7: Develop Career Mobility Options

In 2015, millennials (aged 18-34) surpassed generation X as the largest generational cohort in the labor force and in 2016, millennials became the largest living generation, numbering 75.4 million, overtaking 74.9 million baby boomers (aged 51-69).

These digital natives want digital experiences both in their personal and professional lives. The Future Workplace Forecast has uncovered an innovative way for companies to provide digital career development: career mobility platforms allowing employees to test drive new roles and broaden their skills while they keep their current jobs at the company. The Future Workplace Forecast was conducted among 2,147 global heads of HR and Hiring Managers and shows how companies are creating new ways for employees to try out new roles.  HR leaders believe this can lead to increases employee engagement (49%), improved employee productivity (39%), and improved employee teamwork (39%). As the war for talent heats up, with the U.S. unemployment rate falling to 4.6 in November 2016, the lowest jobless rate since August 2007, retaining employees will be crucial and career mobility platforms are one way to potentially increase employee engagement while stemming job hopping.

#8: Invest In Employee Wellness

Companies are making deliberate attempts to create a holistic view of wellness from financial wellness to health and well-being. SunTrust Bank offers a unique financial wellness benefit to help employees increase their financial confidence. A recent survey conducted by SunTrust Bank found that 70% of working adults felt a moderate or high level of financial stress in their lives. The solution: an online financial fitness program to help their employees save $2,000 for an emergency and take one paid day off for to improve their financial health through setting up a will, doing a family budget, or going through the online Financial Fitness program offered free to all SunTrust employees.

Companies are also integrating the latest technologies into wellness programs. Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse, says wellness programs are leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) and embedding artificial intelligence into well-being solutions. AI tools like Amazon’s Alexa, and beacons, which use Bluetooth, enable users to know how they are meeting their health and fitness goals without using a mobile phone or a web browser. Well-being in the workplace is becoming an expectation for how we will work and live our lives.

#9: Focus On Team Development, Not Just Individual Development

While HR departments have traditionally focused on individual employees—recruiting them, developing them and assessing their performance—we are seeing the advent of a new capability, one of developing team intelligence, or the practice of understanding what makes great teams deliver exceptional results. Ashley Goodall, Senior Vice President of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco, says, “One of the big misses in HR has been our nearly exclusive focus on individual development and performance. At Cisco, we noted great accomplishments are delivered through teams, not just through individuals working alone. This led to our insight that an individual employee’s experience is really their team experience and this is different for everyone.” So the goal is to put the lens of team dynamics on the entire HR process. Already we are seeing innovations in this area, as noted by Eric Mosley CEO of Globoforce. Mosley predicts more companies will provide only 98% of an employee’s total compensation. The rest will be crowd-sourced by the team in the form of a series of micro-bonuses. Look for more crowd-based pay as a vehicle to reward top performers.

#10: Prepare For New Roles In HR

What will the “new normal” look like for the HR function? McKinsey coined the phrase the “new normal,” referring to the fundamental changes in the business landscape following the 2008 recession. For HR, I see the “new normal,” as the convergence of consumer marketing with digitization of HR creating a more personalized employee experience powered by artificial intelligence. This means a growing number of HR roles will become more specialized and technical. Consider Dave Putterman, a computer software engineer who brings his skills in technology, and an agile approach to software development, to the talent acquisition department of GE Digital, where his title is Agile Recruiting Scrum Master & Technology Leader.

Jeanne C Meister is Partner, Future Workplace, and co-author of The Future Workplace Experience. Future Workplace has created the first online course to train HR leaders in how to use artificial intelligence for HR, called Using AI 4 HR To Enhance The Employee Experience. To read her future posts sign up here.

September 21, 2020

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