Outside the workplace, your employees are increasingly accustomed to seamless experiences as consumers in a digital environment. In their “five-to-nine,” they are shopping, watching movies, ordering meals, and hailing rideshares, all with a few taps on their smartphones. This rapid evolution in the consumer experience stands in stark contrast to their typical experience at work, where most employees remain mired in tedious digital processes and often find themselves expending a lot of effort on low-value tasks. From their consumer lives, they know there must be an easier way to schedule shifts, fill out expense reports, or enter data into spreadsheets.
Organizations that find ways to replicate the seamless digital consumer experience for their employees at work stand to gain in employee engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity. At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando on Tuesday, Leah Johnson, VP, Advisory at Gartner led a discussion with Alexis Corbett, Managing Director and CHRO at Bank of Canada; Archana Singh, CHRO at Wiley; Stevens Sainte-Rose, Chief HR & Transformation Officer at Dawn Foods; and Melanie Kennedy, SVP Human Resources at American Water, where attendees learned about how these HR leaders have been addressing this challenge at their organizations. The discussion surfaced a number of key themes:
The employee experience is about meeting business needs. A seamless digital experience for employee isn’t just a nice-to-have feature for its own sake; like every other aspect of digitalization, it must be designed to address critical pain points arising from today’s rapidly evolving business environment. At the Bank of Canada, the digital transformation came about as the bank faced an unprecedented capacity challenge, Corbett said, which necessitated an improvement in their people’s digital capabilities as technology took on new roles in their everyday work. Similarly, Kennedy noted, one of her core objectives at American Water has been to get employees excited about technology coming into a very labor-intensive industry and making them more effective.
People-focused digitalization also generates value by enhancing employee engagement; Singh, for instance said her goal was to create a “wow” experience for Wiley employees in every interaction. In an age of transparency, Sainte-Rose added, customer experience needs to match the team member experience. As companies endeavor to improve value for customers, they must apply the same thought process on the inside. Creating a better employee experience in the digital enterprise is ultimately about getting the best out of your people and creating more value for all stakeholders.
Focus on moments that matter. At the start of this journey, Sainte-Rose advised, leaders should look at all the various employee ecosystems within the organization and identify the three to five experiences within the employee’s workday that make the most difference in their engagement and effectiveness. Starting with these meaningful moments helps ensure that an employee experience initiative has immediate, tangible impact. Corbett also highlighted the importance of these key moments, along with the need to keep it simple, work in bite-sized pieces, iterate, and scale up. The four guiding principles her company has followed in this journey are: keep things simple, meet real business needs, communicate meaningfully, and design for flexibility.
Get employees involved from the get-go. The most obvious way to identify those meaningful moments and design an employee experience program based on employees’ real day-to-day concerns is to involve them continuously in the design, planning, and implementation of that program, rather than making top-down decisions based on what HR thinks they want and need. Corbett shared how her team at the Bank of Canada invited employees to identify problems in the organization and open up about areas where they were dissatisfied, got them involved in designing fixes, and continued to solicit employee feedback while implementing those fixes. They also used empathy mapping to better understand employees as users of technological platforms and processes.
Kennedy also emphasized the importance of involving employees from the ground up, which she said was a key step in securing employee confidence and commitment to the purpose of the digital transformation. As American Water redesigned how technology worked in the company, they broke down hierarchies and created agile teams called “pods,” where they could pilot new initiatives and experiment. Another benefit of co-creation and inclusive design, Corbett added, is that it enables the organization to make these big changes with as little training as possible.
Partner with other business functions. Digitalization is happening throughout the organization, not just in HR, although people are of course a critical component of this transformation. There is huge value, therefore, in HR forming partnerships with other parts of the business in designing a better digital experience for employees. The most important of these partners, of course, is the IT function. Kennedy and Corbett both referenced the importance of their partnership with their CIO or CTIO. Corbett agreed with her CIO’s proposal that they co-lead the initiative in a two-in-a-box model. Although she had reservations about this model at the start, it ended up being a highly effective solution. HR benefited greatly from having IT at the table in the design process, as the tech function was able to provide much better solutions as a result of being actively involved.
IT isn’t the only place to look for partners in this effort, however. At Wiley, Singh said they created sponsors throughout the organization for various agenda topics. The CFO, for example, was encouraged to lead and champion the overhaul of learning, focusing on the value of reskilling the workforce. At the end of the day, she stressed, responsibility for the employee experience and creating business value is not limited to any one function. For his part, Sainte-Rose said he brought the right-hand person of each functional leader HR partnered with onto his leadership team, to bring perspective from their function and become champions there.
Be prepared for resistance. Cross-functional sponsors and champions for digitalization efforts also serve a tactical purpose, Kennedy added, enabling HR to get ahead of fear and resistance to technological change within the organization. Not all employees or executives will see the value of these changes, especially in industries with an older workforce that will tend to resist using new technologies. Involving employees in the process was also the key to overcoming this obstacle, she said. Employees shared what they did, the challenges they faced, and what they wished they had access to; the tech team then worked on meeting those needs, collected feedback from employees, and rebuilt solutions as needed based on that feedback. By getting employees to own the change, they were able to create a “pull” for new technology from the front line rather than a push from IT, while avoiding one-size-fits-all solutions.
Another characteristic of digitalization HR leaders should anticipate is how hard it will be on their team. Going into their digital change initiative at the Bank of Canada, Corbett said, they thought the biggest roadblock would be standardizing everything, but in fact it turned out to be the energy level on the HR team. A lot of work goes into redesigning all these people processes, and it can be challenging to maintain the passion for change against a fatiguing workload. The HR team may not be able to accomplish everything they want to do, so it’s important to involve the team in managing the necessary tradeoffs. Singh also pointed to the need for resilience in the HR function, because not everything will go smoothly and not everything will work, so it’s important to get out of the mindset of success and failure and instead think about digitalization as a journey: “not a project, but a product.”
Finally, there’s also the challenge of resistance from the leadership. Sainte-Rose said one of his biggest challenges was getting finance on board and securing the funds to introduce new technologies. To convince the organization to invest in these changes, he advised, you need to show the leadership how HR touches every part of the business. He also recommended letting business leaders test out and play around with the technology, in order to get them excited about it.