The Digital Workforce Experience: The Shift From HR Tools To Employee Tools

Mike Theaker

Changing workforce expectations are driving organizations to develop user-centric HR models to meet the needs and requirements of a workforce that is becoming ever more “consumerized”; that is, behaving like consumers with the ability to instantly share employer brand perceptions and to “shop around” between employers to satisfy their wants and needs: how they want to be employed, when they want to work, how they want to be managed, how they want to learn, how they want to manage their careers, and how they expect to network and collaborate with their co-workers.

Workforce expectations for employers have evolved faster than organizations have evolved. A significant element of this is that the workforce expects digitalization in the workplace to reflect the consumer digital experience they are so familiar with outside work. We perform daily essential functions from our smartphones, such as banking, socializing, sharing photos, shopping, etc.

This consumer digital experience is what we’ve become accustomed to in our daily lives and has led to a harmonization of user expectations for technology. Quite reasonably, the workforce now expects a similar experience with the tools they use at work to manage their data, careers, performance, benefits, and collaboration with the speed, personalization, and interactivity they experience outside work.

To meet these expectations, HR needs to provide the workforce with tools that are Google fast, Apple cool, and Amazon simple. Imagine how this would change the world of work and the level of engagement, performance, and contribution. Imagine if employees were engaged to work like consumers are engaged to buy.

Critical to achieving this is a shift from deploying “HR tools” to “employee tools”; that is, from technology designed to support HR users to technology designed to also support, empower, and enable the workforce.

In the past, HR technology has focused primarily on improving back-office activities for HR users. Designed to support transactions, rather than interactions, this approach results in fragmented, siloed technology that conflicts with how people actually work. Now, the focus is on empowering business leaders, managers, and workers with mobile, intuitive, consumer-grade tools enabling them to connect and network, anytime, anywhere, from any device, and own their careers and development. This people-centric approach is based on workforce experiences, not transactional efficiency.

To achieve this shift to people-centric “employee tools” involves understanding the needs, preferences, and behaviors of the workforce (the consumers of HR services) and building these into HR technology requirements specifications.

Why, then, do so few organizations involve employees and managers when they are defining requirements for new HR technology? Why are employees and managers almost never involved in system selection activities and, once a solution has been selected, rarely seen in solution design workshops? Too often, HR defines technology requirements based on HR needs and what HR believes managers and the wider workforce need. This approach delivers solutions that meet HR requirements, not employee and manager requirements, and consequently fail to be fully adopted by the workforce, managers, and business leaders and fail to deliver the desired business outcomes and benefits. This is a huge missed opportunity to deploy tools that deliver value to the business, empower and engage the workforce, and improve workforce and business performance.

HR can gain this understanding of employee and manager priorities, drivers, and behaviors through interviews, workshops, and design thinking sessions, but to yield optimum benefits, the focus should include key “moments that matter” for employees, such as the first day at work, the onboarding experience, life-changing events like having a child, development events, and all other interactions. Through this approach, an understanding of the desired employee experience, rather than purely a transactional perspective, can be built up, and this will provide a deeper and richer picture of the solutions that will best engage and support the workforce, support performance improvement, and deliver value to the business.

Successful approaches typically involve the building of personas that represent the consumers of HR services. These could include a new hire, full-time employee, manager, HR business partner, etc. Once satisfied that the personas are representative of the organization’s population, they can be used to create solutions requirements that can be tested across the business to determine their validity and allow further refinement to both the personas and the solution requirements.

Ideally, an element of the system selection process would then involve employee and manager evaluation of potential solutions. This approach will lead to the selection of solutions that support the business and deliver business outcomes rather than solutions that primarily support the HR user.

Workforce expectations are changing, and it’s imperative that organizations progress from leveraging “HR tools” and invest in “employee tools” that empower, engage, and enable the workforce to work digitally and improve business performance. To do this requires a mindset change in HR and a laser focus on human experience management (HXM).

Read the IDC InfoBrief “A Fresh Vision for Human Capital Management” to explore how organizations do better with people at the heart of the business, covering areas such as evolving the employee ecosystem, personalized growth and talent strategy, and work experience management.

This article originally appeared on HR Grapevine.


Mike Theaker

About Mike Theaker

Mike Theaker is Vice President of HR Advisory and Digital Transformation at SAP. Prior to joining SAP, he was a partner at Mercer Consulting’s Human Capital business unit and Global Leader of its HR Effectiveness Consulting Practice. Mike was also an associate partner in IBM’s Global Business Services HR Transformation Consulting business unit and has consulted companies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South America, and the United States. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Human Resources Management.