Creating a progressive technology roadmap

Central to creating a great digital experience for your people is how you use your technology to deliver a progressive agenda of improvements.   The advent of new Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offers HR teams with an unprecedented opportunity to improve the technology their people use and transform historical issues like the adoption of self-service.   At the heart of this is embracing a shift that an HR system is simply a singular system of record to become a platform of engagement.   This new platform consists of a collection of different apps and solutions operating in an ecosystem that creates a progressive digital employee experience to transform the way people work.

Four things to consider when developing your roadmap:

  1. Focus on the employee life-cycle – against your journeys map all the different system interactions that your employees use and look at opportunities to simplify and transform certain areas
  2. Embrace apps – against high priority areas (eg onboarding, engagement, collaboration) look at opportunities to deploy new functionality through apps either with existing or new suppliers
  3. Data strategy – define where master data sits, where it flows, how it is collected and analysed. This is key for you to create an effective analytics capability
  4. Integrations – look at where you will need manual and automated integrations between systems, decide based on usability, data and cost
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Shifting from process to experience

Creating a great digital experience for your people starts with the way you design your solutions.     Often, changes are focused around policy and processes and this can lead to a lack of engagement with the people who are going to have to interact with it in the real world.    You often compromise adoption for expediency.

The way we design the employee experience needs to change.  At the heart of this is design thinking.   It challenges us to be more inclusive and experimental in how we design solutions.    Design thinking is about engaging your users and exploring several different approaches that are tested over short time frames.    At the heart is a belief that you need to understand factors like their emotions.  Answering questions like what works? What frustrates them?  What would delight them?

Here is a list of practical ideas you can do to improve the way you design solutions:

  • One size doesn’t fit all – divide your employees into segments to create a more targeted proposition for them. For example, the proposition for people in the field and support centres is likely to need to be different.   Use technology to create a base proposition that can then be adapted to target different employee groups
  • Design around journeys and not processes – instead of looking at your processes as a series of isolated transaction focus on understanding what the end to end journey looks like through the eyes of different employees
  • Embrace crowdsourcing – engage your teams and the wider business to identify potential solutions and get feedback on designs
  • Deliver in shorter cycles – instead of implementing large programmes of change look to break improvements into short sprints to accelerate the benefits
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Digitising the employee experience

 

We are living in a period of profound change and disruption.   Organisations are having to manage the accelerating pace of innovation and globalisation with a workforce that will soon span five generations.   Employees are having to adapt to work in a constantly connected world where on average they will be looking for a job 11.7 times during their career. [1] Yet worryingly 70% of them currently feel disengaged[2].   In a world where by the end of 2017 45% of the global workforce will be contingent workers[3] how can organisations attract, engage and retain talent?

The recent advances in technology with the deployment of innovative Software As A Service (SaaS) solutions are providing an opportunity for organisations to answer some of these questions and offer their people a digital experience in the workplace that makes their lives easier, increases their engagement and are more productive.

However, successfully implementing these solutions and creating high levels of adoption can be challenging.   Over the next five posts I will go through a number of areas I believe organisations should focus on when they are looking to improve the digital experience for their people.   These are:

  1. Shifting from process to experience – looking at ways to change the way we design solutions to focus on how different employees will experience work rather than transact with a task
  2. Creating a progressive technology roadmap – creating a technology ecosystem that constantly changes and adapts to delight and engage your employees and collects data that provides meaningful insight
  3. Designing a digital HR function – advice on how to upskill your team and improve your ways of working to drive the digital agenda
  4. Increasing adoption and usability – providing practical tips on how to keep your employees constantly engaged and embrace using your digital solutions
  5. Remembering the ‘Human’ in HR – amidst all the talk of technology remembering to focus on the personal side of HR to help create a great experience

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/news.release/nlsoy.nr0.htm

[2] Gallup Poll for World Economic Forum https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/70-of-employees-say-they-are-disengaged-at-work-heres-how-to-motivate-them/

[3] Ardent Partners in its 2015-2016 State of Contingent Workforce Management

 

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Outside in

A challenge aimed at most HR functions is how can we be more innovative in improving the way people experience work.    You see it regularly in the work place as new initiatives and changes are made and then there is a feeling of disappointment and frustration when they fail to live to deliver the anticipated outcomes.   We need as an industry to challenge the way we do design.   Often these processes and policies are designed from a technical perspective that lacks any engagement with how people that will actually consume it.   As HR practitioners we need to think more about how our processes and systems look like from the outside than from the inside.

Design thinking is the way forward

HR could learn a lot from the approach of Design Thinking to create a great user experience.   The approach focuses on how people feel when they experience a system or process.   The essence is to collaborate with your people and develop new ideas that can be quickly bought to life.  It brings an end to the development of new processes in dark rooms that are a million miles away from the people on the ground – who will have to consume them.

How does it work?

Design thinking is about iterating solutions and ideas quickly with a diverse set of stakeholders.    The themes I think represent some of the greatest value are these:

  • Empathy – you first look at what is the problem from a user’s perspective and through the use of personas connect with their emotions to help frame the challenge and objectives
  • Ideation – again through engaging with a diverse set of stakeholders you can crowd source potential solutions, the essence is one of exploring the art of the possible, not just getting locked into the first idea that comes to mind and going head down with that
  • Prototype – iteratively building potential solutions quickly to understand what works and what doesn’t, key here is adopting a ‘fail fast’ approach where you learn quickly from failure and refine it.

Starting points

Implementing Design Thinking doesn’t necessarily need to require wholesale changes.   You can start straight away with simple steps.    In reality I think it is more about a philosophical intent to engage with your users than to follow strict methodology when you’re making improvements.    There are a number of great tools to use (the ideas from IDEO are great).    But in essence it is about engaging stakeholders throughout the design process and implementation.    So often due to time constraints we fail to engage people in the process.  We prioritise time without considering quality or usability.     This can lead to a failure in addressing the real systemic issues.  Design thinking challenges this and if you are looking to make long-term sustainable solutions.    It’s worth spending the time to get it right, and it is more fun than being locked in a dark room on your own.

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Your people are your greatest advocates

Organisations have always been quick to position themselves as ‘great places to work’ who treat their ‘people as their greatest assets.’   The straplines are endless.

However, the practical experience on the ground often fails to live up to the grand rhetoric.     There is a fundamental disconnect where the high-level statements get lost in the day to day reality of what it is really like to work in the business.

Organisations are missing a fundamental trick to the bottom line by not addressing this.  They need to start treating employees as consumers and less like cogs operating in a machine.

The public are more likely to trust employees

Results from Edelman’s recent Trust Barometer highlighted employees are seen as the most credible source to communicate information about an organisation, rather than the media, senior executives or consumer activist groups.    The public trust people on the ground.   When you think about it, it’s hardly surprising.

From a marketing perspective, the case for advocacy is overwhelming.   For example, look at it from the perspective of social media.    Even if you assume each employee has only 500 connections on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc.) then in an organisation of 1,000 employees you are able to directly connect to a network of over 500,000 people.    This provides a market that is bigger and likely to be more credible than any feed an organisation can broadcast from.

Businesses are missing a fundamental trick when they’re not engaging their employees to help advocate their brand.     They need to start to communicate more to their people to get them to authentically advocate the brand to their networks.  There is now a host of platforms enabling organisations to do this.   However, much of this lies in mindset and organisations need to embrace and engage their employees to help them promote their brand to their trusted networks.

Referring where everyone wins 

Recruitment is another area that employees hold the key to answering the problem of how do organisations acquire talent.     Research shows that referrals can transform your recruitment process.    It’s not surprising that increasingly referrals are seen as the most successful channel to attract high quality candidates.  You can get better candidates in a shorter space of time.

It is therefore frustrating when a number of employee referral schemes fail to move with the times and provide a meaningful incentive to employees to refer prospective talent.   Referral schemes are often archaic processes with ‘one size fits all’ schemes that fail to engage employees and are poorly internally marketed.     Against the current cost of recruitment it makes commercial sense to engage your people in innovative and exciting ways to help them attract the talent that resides in their network.

I was proud that at Travelex we completely revamped the referral process and provided a graded set of incentives depending on roles communicated in an imaginative interactive way.    For certain roles we significantly increased the incentive (still significantly under what agency costs were) filling critical vacancies.    Direct marketing of roles enabled us in a year to attract 32% of new hires directly into the business, reduce cycle time by 20% and save 40% on our overall recruitment costs.  At the heart of the approach was going direct to our people and engaging them with the process.

We need to up our game

When you start thinking about your people as advocates and not as assets it starts to change the rules of the game in how organisations manage and support their people.   We need to hold the lens up on our approach and treat our people as consumers and brand advocates, which they are.   As a result a lot of what we do needs to change.    We need to be unrelenting in the service we offer our people and be more innovative in how we do this.   It’s time to treat our people as consumers not simply registered assets allocated somewhere in a machine.

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Rebuilding a wall of trust

As we collectively face up to some of the challenges around the future of work, digitisation and globalisation the question and availability of trust becomes ever more important.  For society to collectively realise the opportunities on offer we have to be able to operate in an environment that is built around one of the most basic human values – trust.   It is the only way to navigate the unchartered territories that the world is moving into.

With that in mind the recent publication of the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer provides an alarming insight into the recent erosion of trust in society and is a call to action.  The analysis acts as a lens to understand why events like Brexit and the election of Trump happened and importantly what we can all do about it.

Trust is breaking down

The survey, collecting data from 28 countries with over 33,000 respondents, concludes that we are approaching a period where there is a ‘crisis in trust.’  There is a lack of trust across all major institutions in government, media and corporate organisations.   Leaders are singled out as having lost trust (with only 37% CEOs and 29% government officials viewed as very/extremely credible).    Worryingly there is an increasing gap in the breakdown of trust between the informed and mass public.

This is contributing to a predominant feeling that the system is failing and is being replaced with a culture where fear wins out.    Interestingly the findings report on the creation of an ‘echo chamber effect’.   This is caused by people seeking to only follow information sources that reinforce their own personal beliefs at the expense of shutting out the views of others (53% respondents do not regularly listen to opposing views).

Without trust where do we go?

Trust is one of the fundamental pillars of any relationship.  If you can’t trust someone where do you go from there?   The psychologist Amy Cuddy in her recent book Presence highlights the necessity of trust.    Her research indicates that there are two questions people answer when they meet someone new – can they trust you and can they respect you.    Trust is fundamental to any human relationship and without it we’re in trouble.

The findings highlight the need for us all collectively to work on building and establishing trust at all levels of society.  It’s easy to say this is down to a small elite group of ‘leaders’ to fix.   Ultimately the barometer shows that across the entire spectrum people are trusting people less whether this is at work, home or in local communities.   We all need to do something about it.

Rebuilding trust

This is a wake-up call and all institutions need to reflect on what they can do to re-establish trust with their customers and their people.   The question of trust needs to be at the forefront of their agendas

Paul Zak’s recent research provides some practical insight into what organisations can do to increase trust.   His research has shown when people trust others there is an increase of the chemical oxytocin in the brain.    Importantly this chemical can be stimulated in organisations through the reinforcement eight specific behaviours.   The behaviours cover areas like recognising excellence, providing autonomy, focusing on personal relationships, showing vulnerability, sharing information and facilitating personal growth.

But you could just simply summarise it to be “treat people the way you want to be treated.”   Reach out, collaborate and work with others and make this a priority.

The other area organisations and institutions need to face into is the learning and education agenda.   60% of the respondents in the Trust Barometer report a fear of losing their job through lack of skills and training.   Against the backdrop of automation, digitisation and globalisation this is hardly surprising.

Our educational and learning systems need to step up to the challenge.    There needs to be a fundamental rethink in how we promote life-long learning for all to help reduce fear and inequality.    We can’t simply keep putting people through schooling at the start of their careers and wait for retirement   It won’t work in a world where we are likely to have over 10 career changes.

The recent learning survey in the Economist provides some excellent insight into how to do this.   Ultimately we need to support people with both the personal and technical skills to be able to create new careers throughout their life-time.

But ultimately we all have a part to play

It would be easy to conclude that the whole issue or rebuilding trust is down to leaders to address.   This is simply passing the buck and we all have a part to play in rebuilding and establishing trust.

The echo chamber is a case in point.  We think that with technology we collaborate and learn more.    But in reality it can just become a vocal reinforcement of our own beliefs.   We build our own digital walls to help reinforce our own positions whilst failing to empathise or listen to other people’s views or opinions.     We all need to get out more, embrace diversity and individual differences and seek to see things from another perspective.

Looking ahead

Whilst the barometer makes for some pretty bleak findings there is hope provided we take the right action.   Ultimately we all have a part to play in rebuilding trust and that is a wall worth building.

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The power of “not yet”

I was recently heartened to see that my daughter’s school has started to apply some of the principles of a growth mindset in its daily practices.    Against the backdrop of globalisation and digitisation (to name but a few) our educational systems need to change to help our children face the future and I think the ideas behind a growth mindset holds a number of the solutions.

I appreciated the impact it’s had on my daughter when she recently said that she wasn’t very good “yet” at something.    The small addition of a very powerful three letter word – yet – highlighted the effect it is having on her.  Unusually, she wasn’t particularly bothered about the fact she couldn’t do the task now because she felt if she kept practicing over time she will.   The power of “not yet.”

In her excellent overview of the growth mindset Carol Dweck explains the power of “not yet” as well as a succinct explanation of both a growth and a fixed mindset.     You have two choices either you have a fixed view of the world where talents are set and are finite.    Or alternatively adopt a view where with a healthy dose of persistence, effort and resilience you can learn something over time – the essence of a growth mindset.

Traditionally, schools and organisations have a tendency to create and reinforce a rather binary view of success and failure.  You see it through countless symbols like the use of grades or appraisal scores.   The systems simply reinforce that you either have ‘it’ or you don’t.

But there is another way.   Instead organisations and schools should be looking to follow the same approach to create an environment and culture that supports life-long learning and thereby helping their people adapt to the challenges we face in the future.    It doesn’t have to be that complicated either, just by applying a small three letter word is at least a start in the right direction.

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Performance is for life and not just for January

We’re in January and as everyone returns to work it is the season to start setting goals and talking about performance.   It feels that the whole performance space is in a state of flux, with the approach being challenged from all sides from how goals are set to the use of ratings.    With this in mind here are some reflections on how to manage performance.

One size doesn’t necessarily fit all

The debate on performance across the industry I think is in danger of over generalisation. What you need to do is look at the context of what your organisation (and even different sections of the workforce) needs and then apply a pragmatic approach on how performance is managed.    Whilst convenient there is a danger in lifting and shifting an approach in one organisation and apply it somewhere else.   Context is king.    This is neatly outlined in this month’s HBR article “the stretch paradox.”  This highlights the importance of understanding the organisation’s capability and level of resources before you decide the nature of the goals you set.   For sure there are always principles around performance that stand the test of time (goal-setting, evaluation of performance etc.) but how you do this needs to be adapted to the needs of your workforce.  Adapt and develop your policy to suit different parts of your workforce.   Be flexible and pragmatic.

Be agile and adapt

Whilst there is a logic to cascading goals from top to bottom, organisations need to be far more agile and flexible in how this is done.   Within your goal-setting framework you need to allow for regular reviews and flexibility in how goals are set and monitored.   Given the products and services that generate your revenue don’t necessarily follow an annual cycle it doesn’t follow your goal-setting process should.   You need to allow for your organisation to adapt and create flexible goals.  Performance management needs to adopt the lessons learnt from how the agile software development methodology has challenged traditional waterfall development.   Your goal-setting framework needs to enable your people to break things down into simple goals and tasks with regular reviews with customers and stakeholders.   A feedback culture needs to be fostered that embraces what’s worked and what hasn’t (so often overlooked).     Keep the conversation current and the dialogue regular.   Additionally, regular communication and a review of goals will help ensure alignment to wider organisational priorities.

The obsession with ratings misses the point

When you mention performance management everyone seems to obsess about whether you should use or stop performance ratings.  We get obsessed over this question at the detriment to the entire process.   Again, what works for one organisation may not work for another.    As Josh Bersin neatly articulates in one of his predictions for 2017, the argument about ratings is a red herring.    We need to focus on how we keep the conversation on performance alive as a regular process, rather than an arduous process that resembles your annual tax return.

The experience needs to be simple

Whatever you choose to do make it really easy for your people to use it.   Well intentioned principles and ideas get lost when workflows are cumbersome and participants fight the process rather than are able to participate in it.  Applying some of the principles from design thinking can help you create something that your employees will use rather than abuse.    There is still some way to go with HR Tech solutions to make performance simpler to use but there are signs this is starting to happen.    Hopefully 2017 will see further development in this space.  In the interim keep things as simple as possible.

It’s all about your manager

Policies and processes are great but ultimately the impact performance has on an employee will reside enormously on the interaction they have with their manager.   The old adage that people leave organisations because of their manager and not because of the organisation is often reality.   Performance is one of the arenas that tests this principle to the max.  Managers who have the ability to coach, grow and inspire their people through regular objective dialogue on performance are key for your business.   The lesson is whatever you choose to do in performance make sure your managers are fully supported and trained to have the right conversations with their people.

Conclusion 

So in my view there is no magical special sauce that will solve all the issues with performance management.  The key is to diagnose what is important to your organisation and then using best practice pragmatically change and fine tune the process.  The temptation of applying standard solutions from other organisations may seem attractive on the outside.    But like the declining levels of gym membership after the spike in January, they don’t always survive the test of time.    The key is to keep the debate and interest alive throughout the year.

 

 

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Lessons from stand-up

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I’ve always had a great respect for stand-up comedians.  It’s the ability to go out and make an audience laugh in a challenging environment where all you have is yourself and the microphone.   It’s that admiration that has always made me want to try it out but never had the courage to do until now.

So after recently leaving my job I had run out of excuses and it was time to confront my demons.   For the last six weeks I’ve been going to the Comedy School in Camden and this culminated on Sunday night when I did my first routine with 11 other comedians.   It was an incredible experience and something I never thought I could or would do.   I learnt so much in the process.   Here are some thoughts.

Keeping it real 

When you look at comedians it’s their ability to laugh at themselves and be themselves that makes people laugh.   Ultimately you have to be able to look at all your quirks and traits and have a good laugh at it.  I learnt it was humbling, empowering and amusing to laugh at yourself.   We all need to do more of it.  On stage, as in life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being someone else.   Ultimately you have to be authentic and comfortable being yourself.   That was the true test.

The beauty of diversity

The twelve comedians who did the course were from a range of different backgrounds ranging from students through to grandparents all with a variety of life experiences that came together.   I realised that recently in the past few years it is easy to live your life in a bubble with closed circles of experiences and friends, reinforced in the echo chamber of social media.  The beauty of comedy was it has helped broaden my horizons and learn from others with a variety of experiences and new ideas.   I’ve met some of the most incredible people and friends doing this.   It’s been a privilege.    We need more diversity and inclusion in the world.

The art of conversation

One of the areas I struggled most was how to have a ‘conversation’ with the audience.   I simply found standing up in front of people and remembering my content hard enough – let alone trying to interact with them and make them laugh.   But there is an art (which I am still learning) in how you engage and interact with your audience.  You have to manage what I think are two diametrically opposites: a highly structured script and be present with your audience to be able to improvise and connect with them in an incredibly short space of time (we were doing five minute routines).    It requires thorough preparation and then you have to be present to improvise in the moment with the audience.

Content is everywhere and limitless

I found the process of building my own routine challenging but in a masochistic way extremely therapeutic and rewarding.   It was about pausing and looking at the obvious things in life and seeing the humour in it.  The support I got from my fellow comedians in developing my content was so important and I think makes it stand out as a profession.    Unlike many other industries I experienced real collaboration with a prevailing belief that there is no limit on content.  The funnies are limitless you just have to find them.  It’s about testing it with different people and continuously refining it.   Often each week I’d be frustrated that a script I’d spent hours on hadn’t worked but amused that it was an off the cuff remark, in the moment, that had worked.    It’s a process that requires constant testing and iterating.  You have to listen and adapt.

The world needs more laughter

2016 has been a pretty crazy year in so many ways.   It’s in that context that I think you have to find humour in everything we do.   Often it’s easy to take life too seriously – I do it all the time.    The beauty of the course was to get a different perspective on life and laugh at it.   Against the backdrop of some of the political, economic and social challenges we are all fronting up to it is so important to find laughter and fun in what we do.    The world needs more laughter and perspective.

Now is the time

Shamefully it was 14 years ago when I first thought that I would like to try stand-up.   For a variety of reasons (mostly driven by internal limiting beliefs and not prioritising it amongst the everyday noise) it’s taken this long for me to bite the bullet and just do it.   Life is too short.  You have to do things now.    It’s been an important wake up call.  The fear thing was a funny one (no pun intended).   Often in life you come up with a thousand reasons not to do something and never do it.   You have to shut out that voice in your head and do it.    I remember vividly waiting to go out on the stage.   My heart racing, palms sweating, I started to think of all the things that could go wrong and why was I doing it.   Then I remembered this is what living is all about – taking on the hardest challenges and shutting out that inner voice.    I remember when I came out on stage in front of the bright lights it just felt normal and with that my fears were kicked into touch.     You have to shut out your doubts and simply do it.

As I said to someone when I started the course I am not sure where this will take me.   But what I’ve learnt up to know has been incredible.   It’s been worth it just for that.    I still have so much to learn in the world of stand-up so I don’t want to hang up the mic just yet.    Not bad for six Thursday evenings in Camden.   I have to say a huge thank you to the great work Keith and the team at the Comedy School does and all the other people that helped me along the way.   Without them I would not have got this far.

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The greatest risk is doing nothing

A couple of weeks ago I caught up with an old colleague and I was reminded about the cost of indecision.   When faced with difficult decisions often the riskiest (and costliest) course of action is simply doing nothing.

During uncertain times, indecision seems to permeate across organisations like a heavy dark cloud.    Under stress it is not necessary about whether there is a ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mentality but one where a mood of procrastination is the prevailing wind.    When evaluating which options to pursue there can be a tendency to ask for endless detail and diligence.   This is often the cue for furious action to evaluate costs and benefits of what to do and yet more delays.   Decisions get deferred, investment delayed and resources left frantically spinning in circles.

When experiencing delays like this you should always bear in mind the cost and impact of simply doing nothing.   Complex issues and problems tend to create an environment of analysis paralysis.    Failure to decide and take action is often more corrosive than not doing anything at all.

As we navigate through uncertain terms both politically, economically and socially we could all do well to remind us of the importance of being bold.    One of the key leadership capabilities needs to be the ability of taking bold, courageous decisions.  Richard Branson sums it up nicely with this quote: “It is only by being bold that you get anywhere.”    To build on Branson’s point, failure to take the bold decision can leave you paralysed and in the end lose out more than taking a perceived ‘riskier’ change.  Being bold, making decisions, moving forward keeps organisations and people on the move.

Whilst advocating making decisions for the sake of it is wrong.   You always need to think and act methodically, rationally and applying sound evaluation.   Being ‘bold’ should not get in the way of doing sound due diligence and analysis.    But when faced with a decision to make it is always worth remembering the cost of doing nothing and that often an make the fear of the unknown more palatable.

 

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