Blog Post

Digital HR: The Employee Experience, Beyond the Cloud

Mike Bollinger

VP, Strategic Initiatives, Cornerstone

"Digital technologies are transforming every aspect of HR, this requires HR to engage employees using the same techniques that their company has used to engages their customers. With this shift a fundamentally different HR strategy is required. It stands to reason that no element of work is immune to digital disruption."

Does this sound familiar? Driven by the success that companies have experienced in the last decade reaching their target audience through marketing and other digital techniques, we have by default established a new expectation in our employee experience as well. HR now must know their employees as well as marketers know their customers. This is combined with new calls for expertise from the HR function which extend far beyond the classic "system of record".

Without in-depth knowledge, HR people can’t fully engage or hire the talent required to ensure their organizations execute. This coupled with the coming demographic tsunami of skill gaps makes the ability to differentiate in a noisy world a critical part of the HR job function. Leadership development, culture, employee retention and engagement are at the top of the list of every CEO. A recent PWC survey shows that 50% of CEOs plan changes to how they develop their leadership pipeline[1]. This shift is driven by the change in the abilities of the target audience from the digital experience they are comfortable with. A vastly different set of expectations will be placed on this new leader to navigate a world of diverse laws and attitudes, to be analytical in their decision making, while ensuring their ability to distil a strategy to business outcomes and stay on message. HR is expected to be a driving partner in these changes.

A widely accepted metric in the consumer market is that it costs 5 times as much to acquire a customer as it does to keep one.[2] By extrapolation, one can assume that these same investments in digital tools and customer satisfaction processes will pay big dividends to the organization when it comes to the employee experience. The thinking is if we segment our target audience well through analytics, ensure the content is crisp and consumable, develop an agile HR mindset and adopt leading edge technology we can achieve our goals to reinvent HR.

Big Investment in Technology (But To What End?)

Investment in this technology has accelerated to an estimated $40 billion in 2015 alone.[3] This reflects the deep interest and pressure on the CHRO and team to perform differently with the new expectations that are in front of them. From full suites to purpose-built applications and a myriad of other options, there is no shortage of solutions and providers to help you transition from a "system of record" to a "system of engagement".[4] The promise and potential are tremendous and many are making the digitization leap in ways that truly add to the bottom line.

But, not so fast. What if it’s the wrong technology? What if it doesn’t work? Does it really meet an immediate need? What is real and what is vaporware? Is digital HR really a "thing" or is it just the latest technical term dreamed up by technology providers trying to sell their own brand of transformation?

What Is Right for Your Business?

Source: Gartner, Inc.

The Gartner group has a useful way of looking at the technology landscape for a variety of emerging trends called the hype cycle. The idea here is to sift through the maturity and scope of technologies and capture the benefits of a particular choice at the right time for your business plans.

Where to start? I suggest you examine your own business initiatives and strategies. How can you enable what your CEO and board are driving toward? Where should that technology investment go?

If you are in hyper growth mode, then talent visibility (across BU, Region, Manager, etc.) and talent acquisition are a critical part of your strategy. This would be exclusionary to many of your other initiatives because you have to be able to manage and monitor this to execute. If you find yourself in an M&A environment, then the ability to organize, segment, identify and quickly onboard are the critical components of what drives your HR life the next few years. If you find yourself in the classic "hunker down" scenario then you are looking for the foundational HRMS functions of payroll, compliance, travel and expense as cost takeout measures.

Your Employee Is Your Customer

Regardless of emphasis, be aware that attracting and retaining employees will be at the top of your list for years to come. You will be required to differentiate yourself just as we differentiate to our customers. Global fertility replacement rates in most developed countries continue to fall placing pressure on the talent pipeline you have to manage.[5] Your employee has rapidly transformed to becoming your customer as we change from a buyer’s talent market to a sellers’ market. You will need to begin to look for a broad range of Digital HR tools which include:

1) Using Analytics and Data

  • To provide analysis and some level of prediction for risk of loss and best-fit selection techniques
  • To perform strategic workforce planning for projecting need both internally and externally
  • To listen to the "voice of the employee/customer" through social monitoring tools and brand awareness

2) Using Development

  • To demonstrate to your employee/customer the sense of community and investment you have in their satisfaction
  • To enable your employee/customer to get what they demand at the 5 critical moments of learning need[6]
  • To create visibility for your employee/customer of what the potential paths to growth are

3) Using New Multi-Mode Delivery Techniques

  • For short, specific moments of communication that are timely, relevant and useful
  • To ensure that the brand and organizational value statements are embedded in every interaction as a potential or current employee/customer
  • To create the collaborative environment that the modern employee/customer demands

The customer experience drives the expectation of the employee experience, regardless of the classic GenY / GenX arguments. This means choice of employer and clear articulation of values. Your strategy for Digital HR will be driven by those expectations. They truly are overwhelmed as employees.[7] The average attention span of your employee/customer has shrunk to less than 9 seconds in some cases. How do we garner some of that "attention share"?[8]

We need to think like digital marketers. Choosing which digital techniques we employ are varied but we know we need to serve our employee/customer who in return will generate value to our business. This means that we need to know who they are; highly autonomous, highly connected and highly efficient. We need to serve them in the way that they have come to expect, in any channel, at any time. As a result, if they stay longer, refer others more and are engaged in what they do – we all win.

[1] PWC Global CEO Global Survey, 2016

[2] Shankman / HONIG 2014, Diginomica 2015

[3] Bersin by Deloitte’s HCM Market Trends, 2015

[4] Josh Bersin, Forbes, 2014 - Top Ten Disruptions In HR

[5] CIA Global Factbook, 2015

[6] Learning Solutions Magazine - Bob Mosher & Conrad Gottfredson, 2012

[7] Forbes, Josh Bersin, Why Companies Fail To Engage Today's Workforce: The Overwhelmed Employee, 2014

[8] Microsoft, How Does Digital Affect Canadian Attention Spans?, 2015

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