Dr. Eddie Obeng delivering a keynote at ReimagineHR in London (Gartner)
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.
As employee monitoring technologies move out of the realm of experimentation and into the mainstream, concerns over their impact on employee privacy, data security, and trust have become even more pressing. In a breakout session at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London on Wednesday, Principal Executive Advisor Clare Moncrieff elucidated the difference between the kind of employee monitoring we trust and that which we don’t. She began by asking the attendees if they agreed with the following statements:
- “Recording the location, actions and communications of employees is a necessary and important part of business operations.”
- “Recording the location, actions and communications of commercial airline pilots is a necessary and important part of business operations.”
Responses to the first statement were mixed, with about half the audience saying they agreed or strongly agreed and the other half saying they disagreed or felt neutral on the subject. On the other hand, every single attendee agreed with the second statement. What’s the difference?
One reason why the recording of commercial airline pilots was uncontroversial is that it has been a standard practice in the industry for nearly 60 years. Flight recorders (commonly referred to “black boxes”) are understood to be a normal and necessary component of air safety procedures. Their value in diagnosing and correcting problems that can lead to catastrophic accidents is unquestioned, and everyone—passengers, crew, airline administrators, regulators, and the public—understands and appreciates why they are needed.
Pilots don’t see these devices as intruding on their privacy, even though they record every conversation they have in the cockpit, because their benefits are clear and because airlines only use the information for a specific and clearly defined purpose. Data from the recorders is only accessed after an incident and is never shared or published. Black box data has never been used for purposes other than intended and there has never been a known breach of flight data security in six decades of using these recorders. Also, data from flight recorders is only one of many inputs into an inquiry, which also incorporates first-hand accounts from the flight crew.
Flight data recorders meet all the key criteria of an effective employee monitoring system, according to our research at Gartner: The purpose and beneficiary of the technology is clear and consistent, access to the collected data is strictly controlled, and employees’ voices are taken into consideration when interpreting the data. When monitoring follows these guidelines, employees are much more likely to trust and accept it.
At the Harvard Business Review, brand consultant Denise Lee Yohn argues that companies need to design employee experience the same way they do customer experience:
Applying customer experience strategy to employee experience begins with needs-based segmentation, grouping employees into clusters based on their wants and needs. Most companies organize employees in standard groupings like job title, rank, department, business unit, or geography. But just as customer experience design requires a more nuanced understanding of customers than simple demographics or economic value, employee experience design should be based on employees’ drivers and desires. …
Companies can also use a segmentation strategy in times of change. For example, it might be helpful to create groupings of skeptics, observers, participants, and champions. who have distinct needs and can be reached with tailored tactics. Another tool HR can borrow from customer experience is the journey map, which outlines the steps customers go through in engaging with a company. This approach can be applied to employees through the employment life cycle as well.
A very recent and growing trend among the progressive chief human resources officers we talk to is the use of “human-centered” design or design thinking. One company had their HR benefits team go out on one of several “start-up safaris” the company launched to tackle different organizational challenges. They spent a day talking to ordinary people at a subway station about the benefits they want and need from an employer, and used their findings to better think through changes to their benefits from an employee perspective. A related trend is the movement to develop talent solutions using IT’s agile methodology: “beta testing” performance management and launching versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and so on, or in other words, baking iteration and learning into the process from the beginning.
A Millennial Caricature (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com)
Studies proclaiming that millennials change jobs frequently seem to be coming out more frequently than millennials actually change jobs. Here’s CNN Money‘s Heather Long on the latest one:
A new study by networking site LinkedIn found that young people really do change jobs a lot more than their parents did. The new normal is for Millennials to jump jobs four times in their first decade out of college. That’s nearly double the bouncing around the generation before them did. The so-called Gen Xers who graduated college from 1986 to 1990 averaged about two job changes in their first 10 years out of college, LinkedIn found. Today’s college grads don’t just change jobs, they often switch into entirely different industries.
The issue with all of these findings is that they offer an enormous amount of hand-wringing about the world coming to an end thanks to unsettled millennials, without any suggestion or insight about what to do about it. When you take a step back and ask the question, “Why do millennials change jobs more frequently?” (rather than just fretting about the fact that they do), you can actually get to a solution.
Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s new book, An Everyone Culture, struck a chord with the Chicago Tribune’s workplace advice columnist Rex Huppke, who admits that when he started writing his column, he “had no background in business reporting and knew next to nothing about the workplace.” Choosing to fill a role with an employee who doesn’t already have the necessary skills reflects an organizational mindset that puts employees’ individual professional development first, Huppke writes in a praiseful review of Kegan and Lahey’s book:
My company took a risk — dropping me into a job that didn’t specifically match my qualifications. And it made me a better person. …
In the book, companies that embrace this approach are called Deliberately Developmental Organizations, or DDOs: “Their big bet on a deliberately developmental culture is rooted in the unshakable belief that business can be an ideal context for people’s growth, evolution, and flourishing — and that such personal development may be the secret weapon for business success in the future.”
In an interview, Kegan, a professor of adult learning and professional development in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, explained DDO thinking like this:
In a post at HRE Online debriefing from a meeting with IBM’s head of HR Diane Gherson last month, Peter Cappelli thinks through the implications of what IBM is doing to shift its HR practices toward a more personalized model that focuses on the experience of individual employees:
What does individualized mean in IBM’s context? It means setting up programs to forecast the flight risk of employees and respond especially to needed changes in wages in advance. It also means getting better at hiring by looking at what predicts good hires with their own data to weed out candidates before the expensive interview process begins. As with other companies now, IBM dumped the traditional performance-appraisal process and moved to a much simpler check-in approach that is driven by a phone-based app. The list goes on. …
One interpretation of this phenomenon is that companies are now going in quite different directions with respect to business models. Among big, global companies such as IBM, cost minimization is giving way to innovation; in others, CFO-driven cost minimization is still the guiding model. If this interpretation is correct, we will see one group of companies with increasingly sophisticated HR practices that innovate and borrow the latest discoveries from academic research, and a second that focuses on executing traditional practices cheaper. In terms of wellness, for instance, one set of companies will use biometric data to recommend a tailored diet and exercise program for employees, and the other will tell everyone to eat their carrots.
There is already an ocean of differences between what these two types of groups are doing. One implication, which may already be here, is that it becomes difficult to talk about “the HR function” anymore, and the notion that HR is a profession — with standard approaches that are common everywhere, rather than an executive function that crafts solutions unique to each company — becomes untenable.
Cappelli raises some very big questions here about the future of HR, and makes some interesting speculations. Here, two of our experts share their reactions to the distinction he’s positing between progressive and traditional HR practices: