It was a year when people started making their way back to the office after a long interval of working from home. Or maybe not, depending on a) how much they had gotten used to the convenience of not having that long commute and b) how frantic their bosses were becoming about not being able to manage people where they can see them. In the midst of this tug-of-war, employee engagement became a new obsession for HR teams, while we all tried to figure out how to navigate the emerging reality of work in the Vaccine Economy — or simply how to quietly quit instead of getting fired.
Some 93% of all respondents say they face challenges when trying to attract or retain talent. In order to mitigate this, 40% say they need to implement an effective flexible/hybrid working policy, the second most popular strategy after the inevitable ‘more competitive terms’ on 47%.
Why? The need to draw up policies for hybrid working has been giving HR teams a lot of headaches, but as Alex Lee points out in this well argued article, much of the problem is that management doesn't take ownership of the required change in culture. She dug out a crucial finding buried in the survey report, that a third of employees don't believe their leadership teams when they say workplace culture is a priority. A similar point came out of a survey reported by Stuart Lauchlan earlier in the year in The Future of Work - remote or in the office? It's complicated as COVID consensus cracks in the Vaccine Economy. But Alex adds the extra dimension of being able to draw on her all-too-authentic experience of working at "an organization where the HR department was lovingly referred to as ‘Human Remains’, and changes in policy were seen as something done to staff from a distance."
Quiet quitting - it’s probably not a real thing, but can we really blame young people for liking the idea?
[A]t this point, someone in their mid thirties has now lived through how many global crises — three? Four? Each time they seem to make things harder to secure a stable future, which in the past was made possible by ‘hard graft’ and ‘going above and beyond’ at work.
Why? A thoughtful piece in which Derek Du Preez deconstructs the Internet meme of 'quiet quitting', where instead of putting in extra time and effort at work, young workers were said to be strictly sticking to the hours and duties set out in their job descriptions. That this was ever a debate points to a growing lack of trust in many organizations, with owners and managers fretting that their employees are taking them for a ride, while employees worry that any effort they put in will be taken for granted. No wonder employee engagement has become a theme.
In the past, HR leaders could fall back on this: you can't "listen" to employees at meaningful scale - particularly in a remote work world. But a new wave of "employee experience" tools are proving that false. Now, there are no more excuses. If you don't have a "continuous listening" framework inside your organization, that's on you.
Why? One of the legacy practices HR still grapples with is the stale/annual performance review - reviews which tend to happen far too late for managers to make meaningful course corrections. I exhort the virtues of "continuous everything" in enterprise software — one HR equivalent is "continuous listening." Now, at last, we're starting to see employee engagement tools that are up for the task, even at enterprise scale. One of this year's highlights? Trying to stump Workday Rising's Peakon's leadership at Workday Rising - and coming away with solid answers to the difficult aspects of a continuous listening framework. Employee engagement was a hot topic on diginomica all year — also see Phil's The intranet comes full circle with Guru's take on employee engagement. I reviewed Oracle's take on these issues in Can employee experience move from buzzword to organizational reality? Oracle's Steve Miranda on why Oracle ME, and why now.
Don't be an Andrew! Lessons Salesforce UKI CEO Zahra Bahrololoumi has learned as a person of color in tech
I remember my boss sitting me down and saying, ‘Zahra, look around you, you've got to be more Andrew’. And I'm like, ‘How do I be more Andrew?’. He said, ‘I think you should be a little less colorful’.
How do you cope with that kind of feedback? I'm never going to be a 57-year-old white male with gray hair called Andrew.
Why? A perfect quote that sums up why inclusion is fundamental to the success of any diversity initiative. Unfortunately, DEI is still too often just a box-ticking exercise with no real strategy for change. Of Madeline Bennett's many interviews with women throughout the year, the other one that stands out is IWD 2022 – in conversation with Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley, a women-in-tech pioneer. When Dame Shirley entered the workforce, there was no legal protection for equal employment, and yet the proportion of women in tech was 35% when she retired in the 1990s and has since fallen to 20%. The barriers today are all cultural.
Employing tech in this way does carry a number of legal risks. The first well-documented one relates to the potential for discrimination based on possible unconscious bias programmed into systems by developers and data scientists. A classic example of this situation was the AI-based internal recruitment tool built by Amazon, which irredeemably discriminated against female candidates and was subsequently canned.
Why? AI systems are now operating at scale in many enterprises, for better and sometimes for worse. Beleaguered HR managers are no doubt tempted by the efficiencies such systems might provide, but as Cath Everett documents, the application of AI to employment (or, in this case, employment termination) is fraught with legal and ethical peril. These issues extend into recruitment, as Chris Middleton documents in AI use in recruitment is growing – but users are ignoring big risks. A few years ago, Brian Sommer cautioned on this emerging problem in his diginomica classic, “You’re not our kind of people” - why analytics and HR fail many good people. AI in HR isn't going away, but given the need for adult supervision and ethical guardrails are these new processes really that "intelligent"?
While others dither about hybrid working, [Zoho] has forged ahead with a strategy that it started developing before the pandemic called transnational localism, in which it is devolving its operations to a network of hub-and-spoke local offices embedded in their local communities. In the past few years, it moved its US headquarters from a Pleasanton office block on the outskirts of Silicon Valley to a farm on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
Why? So how do you maintain culture when your staff are dispersed across time zones and geographies and connect mostly over video calls, chat apps and email? As I wrote recently, the habit of 'line-of-sight' management when people are just down the corridor is hard to shake, but digital tools are starting to evolve that can provide alternative channels of oversight. But the culture needs to be tangible, well communicated and built on trust. Zoho has a unique approach to this that seems to work. I particularly liked the explanation from Sridhar Vembu, Zoho's CEO, of why the company encourages its employees to take time out to learn about farming: "It's not like it's going to move the needle this quarter on some big deal. But it promotes wellness among our employees and resilience."
What’s often the most broken part of these processes is that employees don’t have a strong enough and trusting relationship with their superior or HR. No one is going to share meaningful job or career issues with a superior if that executive is not well known and/or doesn’t possess a trustworthy background. For example, I had one employee in my career who only saw me as a “person who can fire me” and wasn’t ever going to share anything personal with me... Thankfully, once she realized that I could be trusted, those barriers fell away.
Why? Brian Sommer hit the tarmac for HR tech this fall, and he hit it hard. But his middle seat misadventures were worth it, as he surfaced a slew of HR insights and vendor analysis (see: The state of HR transformations today...and what's to come). But with all the HR bells and whistles Brian kicked tires on, we came back to this piece. Because in the end, you can't fix flawed processes without trust.
The engine behind the matching uses advanced technology and a skills ontology that does so much more than merely match some words to a person’s resume. In theory, this tool can help firms create winning teams and manage their results. And, the word ‘team’ may actually be overly-restrictive as companies could use this to help with mentoring relationships, customer pursuit teams and other assignments.
Why? No self-respecting HR vendor these days can progress without a skills ontology — a mapping of the various experiences, qualifications, know-how and aptitudes that its roles demand and that its staff possess. At SuccessConnect, Brian Sommer saw the impact on rapid formation of dynamic teams. At Workday Rising, I watched a session with Merck and Royal Bank of Canada discussing their skills journey. What I'm still waiting to see is a case study of how a skills ontology helps employees take ownership of managing their own talent, rather than having it managed for them.
A fluid workplace is held back by "temp" and "perm" work silos - and old school HR software hasn't helped. But is that finally shifting?
Why? One of my biggest HR beefs? How talent management software lags behind how talent actually works. To be fair, it's no easy task to break down the walls between HR-based hiring, procurement-based contracting, and other sourcing practices. But this is another area where we're seeing notable changes. I'm seeing it with SuccessFactors and Fieldglass integration; at Workday Rising, I got a firsthand view into how Workday is taking this forward, via their VNDLY acquisition. These integrations are pretty mature now. In 2023, it's time for us to start documenting how — and if — customers are managing talent more "fluidly" as a result.
To avoid pointless meetings, however, each [digital nomad] is required to have an owner, an agenda and clear outcomes. Every team member is also required to document what they did that day, why they did it and anything else colleagues working across different time zones may need to know to be able to get on with their own tasks without having to wait around.
Why? As I selected the final piece for our review, I kept coming back to the future of hybrid work - and the cultural changes this invokes (not to mention, the administrative burden placed on HR). I chose this post by Cath Everett because engaging digital nomads expands talent pools. It also brings the obstacles to flexible HR to a head. There is a flawed notion that you cannot build culture remotely; I disagree. On the contrary, I think you need that sense of remote belonging for talent retention. Still, as Everett's pull quote indicates, our practices — and meeting addictions — have to change. I keep coming back to my 2021 piece, The return-to-office debate gets a reprieve, but will flexible work plans prevail? A failure of imagination still pervades hybrid work arrangements. Perhaps in 2023, that will change.