ReimagineHR: Creating a Seamless Digital Employee Experience

ReimagineHR: Creating a Seamless Digital Employee Experience

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.

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ReimagineHR: In the Digital Age, What Does Great Leadership Look Like?

ReimagineHR: In the Digital Age, What Does Great Leadership Look Like?

Digitalization means much more for organizations than the adoption of digital technologies. It is a holistic change event that affects many fundamental pillars of how our businesses operate, including our people processes. One of these implications touches on how we select, develop, and deploy leaders, which has inspired a lot of concerned chatter about new “digital leadership” competencies that will make the most effective leaders of today and tomorrow dramatically different from those of the pre-digital era.

At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando on Monday, George Penn, VP and Team Manager at Gartner, facilitated a panel discussion with three experts in talent acquisition and development, drawing out their insights on how leadership really is changing in this new age, and which of these supposed changes are overhyped. Our panelists included Julie Loubaton, VP, Talent Acquisition at Keurig-Dr. Pepper; Christopher Lubrano, VP, Leadership and Organization Development at International Flavors and Fragrances; and Hari Abburi, VP, Global Talent at Dawn Food Products. Here are some key takeaways from Monday’s conversation:

Leadership fundamentals aren’t going anywhere

Foundational leadership qualities are still essential, Loubaton said. Businesses are, as always, looking for great strategic thinkers. Creativity, communication skills, and vision are as important as ever, the panelists noted, but these are not new. Lubrano also stressed the importance of fundamentals: Leaders today need a strong ethical foundation and an ability to connect with people and establish a sense of community among their team members. Again, these competencies have always been valuable elements of a managerial skill set. Strategic vision, creative thinking, and interpersonal skills remain table stakes for business leaders and most likely, always will.

So what is new?

Agility, adaptability, and the ability to lead fast-paced change are the key skills that are becoming more important for leaders in digital enterprise, the panelists said. Loubaton said her organization was looking for industry disruptors, who understand how to leverage new technology to upend traditional ways of doing business in their field and are not afraid to take that leap. Agile thinkers who are comfortable operating in a fast-paced, high-tech environment are becoming more valuable. Lubrano emphasized the importance of change management skills: creating urgency, maintaining focus, and clearing the path to new ways of working. The accelerating pace of change, Abburi added, means that while strategic planning skills are still fundamental, leaders now have to be able to formulate and execute strategies on a shorter cycle.

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How HR Can Make the Shift to an Agile Mindset

How HR Can Make the Shift to an Agile Mindset

As the digital age pressures organizations to rethink the way they design talent solutions, HR teams have begun adopting new, leaner practices already in common use in other business functions. The “agile” methodology, pioneered by software developers, is a highly iterative approach to design that relies heavily on end-user feedback. This approach can be successful in HR as well, but applying it requires functions to change not only their processes, but also their mindsets.

Most HR functions have traditionally designed HR solutions using the “waterfall” method, which includes an extensive requirement-gathering phase, after which a design team creates and implements the solution. A small group of users typically tests the solution only at the very end, shortly before wide-scale deployment.

The waterfall method (and the mindset that accompanies it) has historically served HR well because it’s ideal for an HR function aiming to solve as many employees’ problems as possible, for as long as possible. However, many HR functions are finding that their solutions aren’t as adaptable as they need to be to keep up with the rapidly-evolving demands of their end-users: i.e., employees. Employees want assurance that HR systems and processes will be personalized to fit their needs and will evolve as those needs change, but they’re also willing to supply detailed feedback to get there.

Enter the agile approach, which has gained traction thanks to its efficiency in responding to change. The workflow in an agile project draws a stark contrast from the waterfall method in that end-user feedback drives every aspect of the process. Whether an agile HR specialist is addressing issues in a payroll process, designing a new training series, or implementing a new HR information system, they collect employee feedback at every step along the way to guide their continued iteration, then continue refining products between design cycles until end-users are satisfied.

Of course, making the transition to an agile HR function and an agile mindset can be challenging. Here are six changes HR leaders can make to help embed the agile mindset in their teams:

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ReimagineHR: What Does a People-Centered Future of Work Look Like?

ReimagineHR: What Does a People-Centered Future of Work Look Like?

At the start of his keynote session at Gartner’s ReimagineHR summit in London last week, British organizational theorist, educator, and author Dr. Eddie Obeng offered a glimpse of the fast-arriving virtual workplace. A wearable mouse attached to his wrist, Obeng gave the audience a tour of a 3-D classroom projected on the screen, walking to different chalkboards and interacting with his colleagues present in the virtual room while actually participating from a remote office. In this way, Obeng illustrated the potential of flashy new technologies in shaping the future of work.

In our HR research practice at Gartner, however, we know from hundreds of calls with HR leaders and professionals that when many of them see this flashy technology, they say: “We’re not Google, we’re not Amazon; we simply can’t afford this level of digital enhancement.” They want to know what the future of work means for them: What can they actually do with the resources they have? When Obeng asked the audience to share some of their fears about the digitally-enabled presentation he was showing them, they said it would be “impractical,” “too techy,” and “too expensive” for them to implement.

But Obeng very quickly challenged the audience by telling them to forget about technology, that we’re using it all wrong. New technology, he asserted, is of limited value if we don’t rethink the processes by which people work. Technology may be changing around us, but our habits and behaviors have not. Our habits and practices are deeply ingrained, and as a result it is difficult to imagine what the future should look like; instead, as he put it, we “imagine the present, but shinier.”

Relating his topic back to HR, Obeng noted that everything about our organizational structure and talent processes, from compensation and benefits to learning and development to the hierarchical org chart, is designed for the world as it used to be, when organizations were able to see what was coming. Today, that’s impossible: Change happens faster than we and our processes can adapt. A senior leadership team making all decisions for an organization, Obeng said, can process about the same amount of data in an hour as our mobile phones can in a minute. Rather than trying to simply move faster, we need to reimagine the way we move.

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How Do You Know if You Need a Chief Digital Officer?

How Do You Know if You Need a Chief Digital Officer?

At a recent meeting, a select few heads of HR at global companies were having a high-level discussion on digital business models when one participant from a big consumer products firm brought the conversation back down to earth: “On a practical level,” he asked, “what is the value of having a chief digital officer?” He went on to explain that he was the only executive in his C-suite who had experience in a digital company and was trying to figure out how to drive digital business transformation at his organization.

This is a question that many experts and pundits have weighed in on over the past several years, with some predicting the demise of the role, while others believe it can have tremendous value. Our own data at CEB, now Gartner, suggests that about 1 in 5 companies has a dedicated leadership position for digital business transformation. Just slightly more (1 in 4) have an overarching digital strategy for their entire enterprise. (CEB CIO Leadership Council members can read more about what we expect the digital enterprise to look like by 2020 and how organizations are getting there.)

Many organizations are asking this question: Do we need a chief data officer? The broader question, however, is what governance structure best enhances the focus, speed, and scale of your digital transformation initiative—and there’s no one right answer. This was an important takeaway from the discussion at our meeting: All participants seemed to agree that organizations need some sort of dedicated digital governance structure, but having a single leader (other than the CEO) in charge of it isn’t necessarily the right solution for all organizations.

The HR leaders whose organizations had decided against appointing chief digital officers said they had done so because they tended to be more centralized in both structure and leadership philosophy. They were more confident in being able to set a consistent tone throughout the organization that digital business transformation was every leader’s responsibility. That said, these chief HR officers were careful to note that they did have some governance structure in place to ensure that the right people were making the right digital strategy decisions at the right time. These structures ranged from having leaders who were digital champions across the organization, to a small committee reporting to the CEO on digital matters, to standalone digital business operations where there was a team incubating new digital business ideas.

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Integrating Disparate Cultures Can Be a Major Obstacle in Mergers and Acquisitions

Integrating Disparate Cultures Can Be a Major Obstacle in Mergers and Acquisitions

Whole Foods Under Amazon is a fascinating recent case study (conducted by Harvard Business School professors Dennis Campbell and Tatiana Sandino and co-written with James Barnett and Christine Snively) which considers the cultural challenges inherent in the acquisition the e-commerce giant agreed with the high-end supermarket chain last year. Historically, the two companies had very different approaches to business, the authors tell Michael Blanding at HBS Working Knowledge, with Amazon focused on driving costs down through data-driven supply chain efficiency and Whole Foods’ decentralized model, in contrast, allowing for a distinctive personal touch from store to store, which in turn justified a higher price point. In the case study, based on secondhand reports in the media of how the acquisition is working out, Campbell and Sandino speculate on how culture clash could be making the integration of these companies more challenging:

The question that Campbell and Sandino ask in their case is: Given the pressures Amazon was facing to turn around Whole Foods’ slide, should they have approached the acquisition differently? While there are no easy answers, Campbell says that part of the issue is realizing the limits of standardization, even for a company that has perfected data-driven management.

“It’s not totally clear that data will be a perfect substitute for human judgment,” he says. “That might work in a digital platform, where you have tons of data on customer history you can use to drive a recommendation engine, but in a store environment, there is a lot of learning that takes place from employees interacting with customers that can be very localized and specific.”

Whole Foods is still in its early days as an Amazon property, so it’s too soon to say with any certainty how prepared Amazon was for this culture conflict and how well they are handling it, especially without having an inside view of the acquisition. However, we do know from our research at CEB, now Gartner, that culture fit is a huge concern for CEOs when thinking about mergers and acquisitions and discussing the topic with investors. Our research shows that 20 percent of the time, when CEOs bring up culture on earnings calls, they are doing so in the context of M&A. CEOs leading through M&A are increasingly under pressure to provide details on how they are integrating two distinct cultures to satisfy investors’ concerns. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council Members can learn more in our Inside View on Discussing Corporate Culture with the Street.)

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Digital Transformations Fail Differently

Digital Transformations Fail Differently

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Thomas H. Davenport and George Westerman, researchers with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, consider several recent cases in which high-profile companies like GE, Ford, and Procter & Gamble made massive investments in digital transformations that ultimately failed to achieve their goals. “What can we learn from these examples of digital dreams deferred?” they ask. “How did these smart, experienced leaders make decisions that don’t look so smart in hindsight?”

The issue, the authors posit, is fundamental to the adoption of transformative business technologies. Very similar high-profile change failures happened with the rise of e-commerce and big data, they note. There’s something about digitalization that leads businesses to slip up in specific ways:

Several key lessons emerge when heavy commitments to digital capability development meet basic financial performance problems. A clear one is that there are many factors, such as the economy or the desirability of your products, that can affect a company’s success as much or more than its digital capabilities. Therefore, no managers should view digital — or any other major technological innovation — as their sure salvation.

Second, digital is not just a thing that you can you can buy and plug into the organization. It is multi-faceted and diffuse, and doesn’t just involve technology. Digital transformation is an ongoing process of changing the way you do business. It requires foundational investments in skills, projects, infrastructure, and, often, in cleaning up IT systems. It requires mixing people, machines, and business processes, with all of the messiness that entails. It also requires continuous monitoring and intervention, from the top, to ensure that both digital leaders and non-digital leaders are making good decisions about their transformation efforts.

From our research at CEB, now Gartner, we know that enterprise change is hard. Most change efforts fail either partly or completely, and in today’s business environment, change is happening faster than ever before. The CEB Corporate Leadership Council’s ongoing research on Creating a Talent Strategy for the Digital Age also points to the unique challenges Davenport and Westerman identify with digital transformations.

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