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.
Gartner Reimagine HR 2018, Orlando.
The digital transformation of learning and development offers HR leaders new opportunities to embed learning within their talent strategies and make the business case for L&D investments crystal clear. Part of the promise of digital learning comes with the application of data and analytics, enabling organizations to measure and communicate the impact of these programs more precisely than ever before. Unfortunately, as with all new technologies, the rapid emergence of new options can be overwhelming, not every solution is right for every business, and adopting a technology without a clear understanding of how it will generate value can be a very expensive mistake.
To survey this new landscape of learning analytics, Justin Taylor, Director, Talent Solutions at Gartner, moderated a panel discussion at our ReimagineHR conference in Orlando on Monday, bringing together Patti Phillips, Ph.D, President and CEO of the ROI Institute; Dave Vance, Ph.D, Executive Director of the Center for Talent Reporting; and Kimo Kippen, a former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton. The conversation covered the range of new technologies emerging in this space, the opportunities they provide, and the challenge of figuring out how to take advantage of those opportunities.
When considering an investment in learning analytics, the L&D function should keep a few strategic considerations in mind. Based on Monday’s discussion, here are a few of the key questions leaders should ask themselves:
What is your objective?
There are a number of technologies currently on the market that apply analytics to L&D in different ways and to different ends. There’s adaptive testing, in which training modules and skill assessments automatically adapt to each individual’s level of ability. Learning record stores and xAPI record and track learning experience data, allowing organizations to track the progress of learning employee more closely and draw more insights from that data. Learning experience platforms offer new ways of delivering learning to employees on an individualized, self-directed basis. Natural language processing, machine learning, and augmented and virtual reality are also finding applications in learning.
With all these options out there, the panelists agreed, it’s important for an organization to identify just what they hope to get out of learning analytics before buying a new piece of enterprise technology. Don’t chase a shiny toy, Kippen advised, but ask what the business objective is and whether the investment is worth it. You might find that the extra dollar is better spent on fundamentals, Vance added, as new technology won’t fix more fundamental problems in your L&D program. “Without algebra,” he analogized, “you’re not ready for the calculus.”
In his keynote address at the opening of Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Gartner Group Vice President Brian Kropp shared a very salient figure with the hundreds of HR executives gathered in the room: 67 percent of CEOs tell us that if their organization does not make significant upgrades to its digital capabilities by 2020, it will no longer be competitive. “And if you work for one of the 33 percent,” Kropp told the attendees, “start polishing your résumés,” because those two-thirds of CEOs are probably right.
Digitalization is one of the most pressing challenges facing businesses today, and it’s not hard to see why. When CEOs talk about digitalization—in meetings, in employee communications, and increasingly on calls with investors—they frame it as a means of driving increased efficiency, productivity, and growth, the better to compete in a fast-paced and constantly changing business environment. However, Gartner research has shown that over the past five years, employees are exhibiting dwindling rates of discretionary effort: Just at the moment when organizations need to get the best out of their people, fewer of them are going above and beyond the call of duty. Meanwhile, labor markets in the US, Europe, and around the world are historically tight, so organizations have to work harder to find the right people and hold on to the valuable talent they already have.
As a result of these trends, HR leaders today find themselves in a situation where the CEO is demanding improved performance from employees, while employees are demanding an easier and more seamless experience at work that matches the app-driven, on-demand experience they are increasingly used to in their personal lives. Digital solutions are needed to meet these demands, but those solutions involve much more than merely adopting new technology; fundamental aspects of the way the organization works need to be rethought and redesigned for a digital world. HR has an enormously valuable role to play in ensuring a successful transition into the digital enterprise, but it’s not always obvious how to achieve that goal, and many organizations have been going about it the wrong way.
“What does digitalization mean to you?” Prompted with this question in a poll, Sunday’s audience responded with words like “efficiency,” “easy,” “seamless,” “simplicity,” and “experience.” These answers reflect HR’s unique mission today of driving business outcomes while (or better yet, by) improving the employee experience. Here are five of the key challenges posed by this new environment, and what—in brief—HR can do to tackle them:
Building cutting-edge technological capabilities within their existing workforce is among the most pressing business challenges organizations face today. The accountancy firm PwC is taking a notably aggressive approach to this upskilling project, giving employees as much as 18-24 months to devote to immersive learning of new skills, with half their time spent training in these skills and the other half working with clients to put them to use. Ron Miller recently profiled the PwC’s Digital Accelerator program at TechCrunch:
[Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC] estimates if a majority of the company’s employees eventually opt in to this retraining regimen, it could cost some serious cash, around $100 million. That’s not an insignificant sum, even for a large company like PwC, but McEneaney believes it should pay for itself fairly quickly. As she put it, customers will respect the fact that the company is modernizing and looking at more efficient ways to do the work they are doing today. …
Members of the program are given a 3-day orientation. After that they follow a self-directed course work. They are encouraged to work together with other people in the program, and this is especially important since people will bring a range of skills to the subject matter from absolute beginners to those with more advanced understanding. People can meet in an office if they are in the same area or a coffee shop or in an online meeting as they prefer. Each member of the program participates in a Udacity nano-degree program, learning a new set of skills related to whatever technology speciality they have chosen.
The program focuses on a critical set of digital skills that are increasingly in-demand and where expertise is in short supply: data and analytics, automation and robotics, and AI and machine learning. McEneany and PwC’s Chief People Officer Mike Fenlon expanded on their philosophy in a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, detailing the process through which the program was designed and touting its success at fostering innovation and a growth mindset throughout the organization:
Amazon canceled a multi-year project to develop an experimental automated recruiting engine after the e-commerce giant’s machine learning team discovered that the system was exhibiting explicit bias against women, Reuters reports. The engine, which the team began building in 2014, used artificial intelligence to filter résumés and score candidates on a scale from one to five stars. Within a year of starting the project, however, it became clear that the algorithm was discriminating against female candidates when reviewing them for technical roles.
Because the AI was taught to evaluate candidates based on patterns it found in ten years of résumés submitted to Amazon, most of which came from men, the system “taught itself that male candidates were preferable,” according to Reuters:
It penalized resumes that included the word “women’s,” as in “women’s chess club captain.” And it downgraded graduates of two all-women’s colleges, according to people familiar with the matter. They did not specify the names of the schools. Amazon edited the programs to make them neutral to these particular terms. But that was no guarantee that the machines would not devise other ways of sorting candidates that could prove discriminatory, the people said.
The company scuttled the project by the start of 2017 after executives lost faith in it. By that time, however, it may have already helped perpetuate gender bias in Amazon’s own hiring practices. The company told Reuters its recruiters never used the engine to evaluate candidates, but did not dispute claims from people familiar with the project that they had had looked at the recommendations it generated.
Microsoft has added a series of new AI and mixed reality services to its enterprise software product line Dynamics 365, VentureBeat reported last week, including tools based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset:
Mixed reality services from Microsoft for the workplace were first made available in preview in May and will become generally available in the coming weeks, a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. Remote Assist allows technicians and experts within companies to see what frontline workers can see, then help them solve problems using HoloLens while they work with their hands. It’s a scenario as old as the corporate VR/AR craze itself.
Layout, another mixed reality tool, helps people visualize the placing of items in commercial or industrial settings, working with 3D models to resize, move, and quickly edit layouts with real-world scale. Companies like Chevron currently use Remote Assist today for facility inspections.
The new AI services include a program to help sales managers analyze and improve their associates’ performance, as well as new customer service and market research tools. Microsoft first began presenting the HoloLens as an enterprise tool last year, when it unveiled a second-generation design incorporating a powerful AI coprocessor. That announcement came within a week of Google unveiling the enterprise version of its own AR headset, Google Glass.
The applications for these mixed-reality devices are wide-ranging, with some companies already using them in manufacturing, shipping, and health care. One of the clearest use cases for VR and AR in the workplace is in learning, where it offers a way to immerse new employees in real-life work scenarios with drastically lower risk and expense than real-life immersion training. Walmart has been among the vanguard of large employers experimenting in this area; last year, the retailer announced plans to expand VR training to all 200 of its training centers after a successful pilot project. Now, it’s taking its commitment to VR training one step further and planning to deploy Oculus Go headsets at each of its 5,000 stores to allow for more frequent training, TechCrunch reported last week:
Google has developed a new feature for its G Suite of enterprise software that will enable managers to track whether and how employees are using various G Suite apps such as Gmail and Google Docs, the tech giant revealed this week. The tool, called “Work Insights,” is now in beta after being previewed with a small set of business customers, and will allow administrators to “gain visibility into which teams are working together and how they’re collaborating” and “review trends around file-sharing, document co-editing, and meetings to help foster connections, strengthen collaboration and reduce silos.”
To protect employee privacy, Google added, Work Insights only produces aggregated data analytics for teams of ten people or more, so admins will not be able to monitor individual employees’ use of G Suite apps, but will be able to see, for example, how many employees in a given business unit are using Google Hangouts.
The move looks like part of Google’s efforts to make G Suite more competitive against Microsoft’s enterprise technology collection, Office 365, CNBC’s Jillian D’Onfro noted in reporting the news. G Suite had 4 million paying customers as of this past February, whereas Microsoft counts 135 million active monthly commercial users of Office 365, which made its own Workplace Analytics feature generally available in 2017. Workplace Analytics also only uses aggregated and de-identified data to provide insights on a team, not individual, level.