Preparing HR for change

Martin Colyer

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view”

(Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird)

The changes which organisations face over the coming years will be unprecedented, primarily due to how the world is transforming digitally.

As an HR leader, the weight of expectation from the boardroom to take advantage of technology and streamline now comes in equal part from your employees to help them simplify their working lives.

But how well do you know your employees?

I have been to a fair few conferences and events over the past year, and it’s true, there are a lot of interesting advances out there in the world of HR technology.

But this is nothing new! 

Every year there is innovation. With the rise of cloud HR solutions, the consistent trend over the past decade has been for technology to be better, faster, cheaper, and easier to manage. I am in no doubt that this will continue. (At a recent event I spoke to an HR director who was questioning the need to pay for their tech in the light of freeware apps...a topic for another time).   

What’s certain is that AI and machine learning, augmented reality, and collaboration tools really will offer a massive opportunity for change, and for HR to digitise.  But the really interesting area is what we are seeing at the other end of this transaction with technology; i.e. the end user, or your employees!

Organisations spend millions on considering the customer, so why do we not consider our ‘internal customers’ as carefully as we should, and why do we assume that the technology will deliver on it’s own?

Without a real understanding of your people’s needs and the environment they are operating in, the potential of these technologies will just be a wasted opportunity….and a costly one at that.

The successful use of technology is when it is a silent partner to an employee's working life. Supporting their needs, personal preferences and motivations for ‘how’ they want to work and interact with the organisation.

Many businesses are now beginning to look at the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of this equation, helping employees use technology to stay productive in their work life ‘blend’.  This will be especially critical if our working lives are going to extend well past 65. 

Not an easy feat to achieve I hear you say, and you’d be right.

But all too often, it is a lack of understanding of these drivers which cause the adoption of technology to fail. The key is to not only focus on the internal impacts for an HR team but to also look to your employees and think about the architecture of their experience, the choices they might make, the journeys they take and what makes sense to support them.

Human centred design has been spoken about in HR but still needs to take hold in the delivery of technology for employees. It’s about putting the focus on designing the experience first and then applying this to how your people work.

When executed successfully, it can increase adoption, engagement and productivity. Companies are now refocusing their HR function to tap into this focus on experience. Airbnb has used this to great effect. Their Global Head of Experience Officer, Mark Levy, has put “workplace as an experience” at the heart of designing how they engage with employees at all levels. The result of this being that 90% of employees would recommend Airbnb as a great place to work.

Deloitte’s Josh Bersin in his fabled yearly insights report for HR has also predicted that in 2017 “design thinking, experience design, and digital app design will start to go mainstream within HR”.

So will 2017 be the year we see real change?

There is also some really interesting exploration of behavioural economics, which is providing insight into how we can ‘nudge’ employees towards beneficial decisions and behaviour without telling them. This is particularly interesting given we are reaching new levels of digital distraction or digital overload where employees live in an almost always ‘on’ world and they need help in simplifying an increasingly complex environment.

With so much emerging innovation and pressure for HR to go digital, having the right technology merely gets you to the start line. There will be more technology coming our way than most organisations can keep pace with and more pertinently than employees can handle. Instead, consider the ‘journeys’ employees take, the environment they navigate, who they are and the mindset they have. It will give organisations far more insight as to how employees are likely to adopt new digital approaches and ways of working.

And remember, always put yourself in your employees' shoes.

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