The Technological Transformation of Work

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Q&A with Michael Gretczko originally published in HR Technologist | August 30, 2018

In what significant ways have you seen the enterprise workplace and workforce evolve over the last few years?
Things are changing, and the pace of change is increasing faster every day. We’re seeing massive external pressures forcing organizations to change the way they do business. Individuals have more influence and impact as consumers and as employees, and organizations are increasingly moving from the business enterprise to what we call the social enterprise. This rise of the social enterprise means that its more important than ever for organizations to understand what is happening around them in broader society, in their workplace, and with a rapidly changing workforce of employees, gig workers, and other business partners.

A key attribute of this transformation from business to social enterprise means that organizational issues can no longer be understood or solved by a single function. It requires strong collaboration and action from each CXO – a symphonic C-suite – working together with a clear and strong direction to optimize organizational performance.

We also see technology continuing to transform how work gets done, not only in terms of cognitive and social technologies, but also in terms of how organizations and work need to be structured differently to unlock the potential of these new advances. The organization of the future has to be “always on” and constantly adapting to the latest opportunities.

What are the biggest human capital challenges for business leaders today?
In this world of disruption, business leaders must constantly focus on remaining competitive in the face of new competitors, disruptive technologies, and an increasingly interconnected and borderless world. As organizations navigate an increasingly challenging environment, one constant is the importance of an organization’s workforce in contributing to competitive advantage. The workforce is the backbone of any organization, so their engagement and loyalty are paramount to the success of the bottom line. By focusing on challenges that affect your people, business leaders can fuel sustained performance. We believe that there are five distinct and pervasive human capital issues that every organization needs to stay focused on to help not only HR but the business, get the most value out of their people and navigate the world of tomorrow. The five crucial issues are transitioning to the future of work, creating the simply irresistible experience, optimizing the human capital balance sheet, activating the digital organization, and sustaining organizational performance.

However, just focusing on these five issues isn’t enough. The disruptions businesses are facing today mean that working in silos will no longer be effective (if it ever was) and even closer collaboration is critical.

How can HR and business/functional leaders work more constructively together to address these challenges and turn human capital into a sustained competitive advantage?
HR and business leaders have always needed to team together to unlock the value of the workforce. What has changed in today’s environment is that human capital IS the disruption. Our workforce and workplace are transforming, and many of the innovations in the marketplace are fundamentally changing how work is getting done. HR and business leaders need to reimagine work leveraging these disruptions. HR leaders have a responsibility to help business leaders sense and understand external market trends and forces, understand the current workforce composition and the right future composition, and then build a partnership to develop the best, most appropriate employment brand to attract and retain the workforce capabilities needed in the future. All of these steps require HR and the business to be working together so human capital is an integrated part of the business strategy for the future.

Who owns employee engagement in an enterprise? What skillset and mindset changes do business/functional leaders and HR leaders need to develop, to keep the ‘nextgen’ workforce meaningfully engaged?
Today’s workplace trends show that people are working more in teams and that culture is a complex topic that’s a function of your teammates, your manager, your office, and many other components of the workplace. Despite all this, culture still fundamentally gets set at the leadership level. The C-suite should be in sync to deliver a consistent, supported, and valued culture of employee engagement. Employee engagement is not a check the box exercise. It is a custom, unique experience across each organization, which requires a holistic approach for success. A symphonic C-suite is much better equipped to understand their employee needs and expectations than siloed departments.

Onboarding is suddenly a huge talking point. It can improve retention and improve performance outcomes. Who owns onboarding – HR or business/functional heads? What typical missteps do you see enterprise-level employers making with their onboarding strategy today?
Onboarding needs to be an enterprise-owned process. We believe HR needs to drive it, but there should be full accountability and engagement of the business in the process. The business plays an important role in driving connectivity to peers and leaders, setting clear priorities around focus and accountability, and ensuring the new employee gets the support they need to properly onboard. Onboarding should also start from the moment the offer is accepted and continue throughout the first year.

Talent recruitment, especially of experienced hires, is crucial to organizational success in today’s competitive world. But the process can be slow, manual, and time-consuming, and often begins on a new hire’s first day of work. In today’s digital world of constant communication, recruits and new hires need to feel like part of the company from the moment the offer letter is signed. This means outreach, information, touch points, etc. An employee should be able to easily complete their onboarding work like benefits enrollment, laptop selection, and training before their start date, and from the comfort of their home, so that on day one on the job, they can immediately start adding value. The quality of what can seem like administrative processes can often be a strong indication to prospective employees about how digital and effective the organization is, and getting this right from the beginning will set the right tone. The process should be simple, automated, and welcoming so the new hire has an immediate positive experience with the organization.

31 percent of new hires left their jobs within the first six months, according to a BambooHR study. Of those that left, 15 percent attributed it to lack of an effective onboarding process. Don’t let getting stuck in the past make you lose your top talent. A digital onboarding process is the expectation – not the exception.

In what practical ways should the approach differ for onboarding new hires versus current employees switching job roles? Also, how should it differ for senior levels versus junior levels?
We believe that onboarding should have the same attributes regardless of internal or external mobility and regardless of seniority. Onboarding is a critical business process and the fundamentals are the same in creating a world-class, engaging experience for all new talent from recruit to retiree. By making onboarding to a new position easier, the employee will be able to hit the ground running when they start their new role on day one, ultimately saving the company time while improving productivity. We also believe that there are some lessons learned from how executive and internal onboarding typically happen, which can help improve the “new joiner” onboarding. Activities like structured relationship building programs (e.g. “meet the executive team”) for CXOs and warm handoffs of talent from sending and receiving manager have attributes that can be highly impactful to a positive experience for new joiners.

HR technology is an area of huge investments by HR leaders today. What are your top practical tips to HR leaders seeking to invest in HR technology stacks to enable their teams?
The HR technology market is experiencing some of the biggest disruption across the technology market. We see a few attributes of the leading HR platforms as:

  • A compelling and intuitive user experience: Employees bring their consumer technology experiences to the workplace today and fully expect the HR technologies they utilize to be as modern and intuitive, with the ability to adapt to the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.
  • Actionable insights: Many organizations have struggled with effectively leveraging people analytics because their HR technology platform has not provided turn-key actionable insights that can be leveraged to drive business process optimization.
  • A robust ecosystem: HR technology platforms are rapidly evolving and taking advantage of emerging technologies such as machine learning, chatbots, and natural language processing. The most sustainable HR technology platforms have developed an ecosystem approach that does not constrain organizations to innovation from a single solution provider.

Any process to select technology should consider these outcomes, among others, to ensure that technology will actually enable and accelerate the transformation of the organization’s internal capabilities.

While technologies can surely enable scale and transformation in the HR function – what should an HR leader prioritize when it comes to participating effectively in an enterprise-wide business transformation exercise?
Major technology-enabled transformation programs often fail or succeed based on whether the people in the organization change their behavior to adopt the new ways of working. Any change to an organization has repercussions for the people within that organization, and leaders should work to ensure that their employees are comfortable, informed, trained, and expecting the change. By prioritizing people, a transformation is much more likely to be successful because change does not happen in a vacuum. We believe that enabling the workforce should be a key focus of any technology-enabled change and should be a focus leading up to the start of the transformation, during it, and, most importantly, after “go live,” which is when the real performance improvements can be lost without a sustained focus on the people.

What new technologies will have the most impact on employee experience as we head into the next decade? What trends and developments in the space will you be tracking?
Employee experience is a huge driver of some of the most exciting changes in the workforce technology market. Organizations are increasingly acknowledging how important workforce engagement is, and creating a world-class employee experience is core to this. The technologies we think will be most important are:

  1. Digital workplace: New technologies are transforming how the workforce engages with each other, how teams communicate and manage their work, and how leaders communicate and engage their team members. The technology that supports these processes is evolving quickly from their roots in consumer technology and rapidly changing what employees interact with all day at work.
  2. Cognitive and AI: These technologies are increasingly changing how work gets done by automating tasks and using data to optimize processes. Machines are starting to be able to learn more quickly than humans and to develop capabilities based on patterns. These technologies are changing what skill-sets are required;  we believe that carefully integrating Cognitive and AI to provide a “robotics assist” to employees will actually improve employees’ jobs by focusing them on the uniquely human part of their jobs and removing routine administrative work.
  3. Sensing and insights: Developing knowledge from data has been a focus for as long as technology has been in the workplace, but this is just starting to come into its own around employee experience. Organizations are using the data they have on employees and how they interact with each other, with their leaders, and with enterprise technology, to craft personalized experiences that reflect the employee’s job, unique preferences, and needs. This too takes a page from consumer technology to transform what often felt like a “one to many” standardized experience and making it a people-centered, tailored one.