Can employee experience move from buzzword to organizational reality? Oracle's Steve Miranda on why Oracle ME, and why now

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed April 15, 2022
"Employee experience" is high on the enterprise buzzword list. But can HR teams change the employee experience - while adapting to the unprecedented? Oracle's Steve Miranda took me inside the Oracle ME platform announcements, and we hashed out an EX debate.

Oracle - Steve Miranda
(Steve Miranda talking employee experience)

Sparring with Oracle's Steve Miranda is always fun. Miranda doesn't mind being pressed on issues, and he is always ready.

But yesterday, I finally found an enterprise question Miranda didn't have a ready answer for. How do we make the next phase in return-to-office effective?

How do we retain the flexibility of remote, while addressing the potentially divisive range of employee preferences on office-versus-home? As Miranda acknowledged:

If you know somebody who solved that, I'm happy to steal from them.

Err, I don't. Not at enterprise scale. Believe me, I'm looking. I'm drawn to companies pushing flexible work boundaries. But Miranda's frank admission doesn't mean Oracle isn't productizing fresh answers. That was a big reason for our video chat - to dig into Oracle's April 13 launch of Oracle ME, which Oracle bills as "a complete employee experience platform."

Why Oracle ME?

Oracle's ME platform, integrated into Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM, is comprised of both newer and mature components. But let's start with why, as in: why Oracle ME, and why now? The press release cites the type of employee retention stats most of us are familiar with:

According to the most recent Oracle [email protected] study, 85 percent of the global workforce are not satisfied with their employer's support for their careers, and 87 percent believe their organization should be doing more to listen to the needs of its workforce. This has put increasing pressure on organizations to prioritize the employee experience.

No arguments here, but why Oracle ME? Oracle quotes Yvette Cameron, senior vice president of global product strategy, Oracle Cloud HCM:

Part of designing better experiences involves seeing employees as unique individuals with their own needs, goals, and ways of getting things done. Oracle ME is all about converging workers' information, critical insights, workflows, and preferences with a technology-enabled solution to give each individual something they can call 'my experience.'

That's a lot to unravel. During our chat, Miranda, who is Oracle's EVP, Applications Development, explained that he isn't wild about the "Great Resignation" as a term. But the underlying trend is real:

Basically all of our customers, be it large or small - across industries - are certainly struggling with 'How do I attract and retain employees.' We're going through quite a dramatic shift.

Getting back to that return-to-office question, the future of work is in uncharted territory. Miranda continued:

I happen to be back in the office, quote/unquote, but I'm doing this with my door open, because there's not that many people on the floor, frankly. So we're partially back.

From onboarding to career progression, HR has changed

This puts new pressure on HR - and HCM software vendors. We need fluid and remote-enabled processes. That's where Oracle ME Touchpoints, the newest product in the platform, comes into play. Miranda:

[Oracle ME] is adding a set of new areas like Touchpoints, which enables a manager to track and document interactions they have with their employees, in a much more modern fashion than a traditional appraisal period, or performance review. For a while, HR has preached about consistent and constant feedback, etc. So we've put the application much closer to that experience.

Keeping Oracle ME in step with today's HR needs requires loads of new features:

You add that on top of areas that we expanded, like Oracle Connections, which is our directory services on top of HR. We made it a much more modern directory service with the ability to upload directly from LinkedIn. So you have skills and profiles, and add employee comments. Your internal directory starts to look a lot more like the external directory on LinkedIn.

When it comes to rethinking HR processes, surely onboarding is near the top of that list, given the challenges of onboarding employees remotely? Miranda says that's where Oracle Journeys comes in:

One of the most popular Journeys we have customers working on is onboarding. Again, not only is there a lot of change happening in terms of resignation, but it's put stress on onboarding. We're bringing in a lot of new employees, and it's very different than before. At Oracle, we used to institute a program where we met the new employees every Monday morning, and they'd have a parking spot dedicated to them.

They'd come in, they'd have an orientation in person, and there'd be a help desk to get their laptop set up. Now, we FedEx their computer out to them... It's extraordinarily different, just to get productive - and so constructing a step-by-step Journey across different jobs and letting end users and managers set that up, is very valuable.

And what's the other most popular journey?

Another use of Journeys is really in terms of career growth. Whether that takes the form of training and learning or mentorship programs, again, that's all facilitated by Oracle HCM... Letting the employee or employer or managers, or HR as a whole, construct Journeys. So that it shows the employees they were invested in, or the companies have invested in them. This also lets the employees take more control over their career-pathing, and it's flexible. So whether you want to do a traditional path or more of a gig economy path, you're establishing and setting up those Journeys.

Miranda responds to my EX beefs

I have a visceral reaction to this kind of "employee experience" talk - half optimistic, half cynical. The optimistic part? One trend I absolutely buy into is the push towards what I call "continuous everything" - which people sometimes lump into "agile." Using modern tech to improve signal flow can change numerous business processes for the better - from the push to "continuous close" in finance, to transforming a legacy HR process like a performance review.

No, employees wouldn't want an official performance appraisal everyday, but isn't it in everyone's best interests to improve the so-called "touchpoints" between workers and managers, and use tech like AI to help us act on those things in the moment? By the time an annual performance review rolls around, it's often too late to address fundamental problems. So yes, I buy into Oracle ME's Touchpoints approach.

But on the other hand, too much talk about "employee experience" raises flags for me, when I see how many businesses still seem to treat employees as a disposal asset. I've written about one obvious example, the retail dystopias we shop in, where putting better technology in employees' hands seems limited - without offering those employees better wages and opportunities.

Same goes for the gig economy, where advanced technologies that run, say, delivery and rideshare logistics, seem to amp up the exploitation, not improve the "experience," even if many of those folks aren't technically employees. And: would great "employee experience" software make high-stress customer-facing jobs like those found in the airline industry, that much better? Or will stressed out employees and customers continue to clash, regardless of how great our "employee experience" software is?

Miranda's response was a fair one: there is, indeed, a limit to the problems software can solve. Miranda makes a distinction between "high turnover" jobs like we see in big box retail, versus the (hopefully) lower turnover jobs of the office/information economy:

If the reasons for the employee issues are living wage, base salary, or the quality of the work, or automation is taking over more and more, giving more Touchpoint feedback isn't going to resolve that... Eventually you have to pay your bills and eat.

Agreed - so can a platform like Oracle ME impact traditionally high turnover job settings? Miranda says yes:

By definition, you're going to be bringing on more people fast. The best you can do is make them as productive as possible, as soon as possible. And that's where the Oracle ME experience comes in on easing the recruiting process, using AI and machine learning to select candidates better and faster, and how to get them more productive sooner, which I think benefits everybody. Now, maybe it doesn't solve the underlying problem, but we know our software can't solve the world... So you at least ease some of that - that attrition, or that employee angst.

On the so-called "lower attrition" jobs, that's where Miranda sees my optimism kicking in, improving job satisfaction signals over a longer period of time:

How you manage, how you give employees a career path, how you keep them up to date on the interesting parts of the job, there we see significant difference between good organizations and bad organizations. That's where I think Touchpoints and Connections and the digital assistant and how to deal with it, making everybody happier to be an employee really plays in.

My take

I also asked Miranda a snarky-but-relevant question: can Oracle ME tech like Touchpoints help organizations figure out who the bad managers are? He wouldn't frame the question that way, and I can't do justice to the problem of bad managers and bias/inclusion in this blog post. I will say this: I think platforms like Oracle ME give us a better opportunity to address these issues.

While AI can definitely bring biases of its own, I also see hope in AI's ability to identify patterns we might miss. Then we can make course corrections, and yes, helping a manager improve/transition might be one of those interventions.

Oracle is good about getting customers in front of us; I look forward to doing so with Oracle ME. However, Oracle ME's newest product, Touchpoints, is still in beta, so use case validation will take some time. Miranda told me Oracle plans to use Touchpoints internally. I hope they do - I'd love to learn how Touchpoints changes how Oracle operates.

These are not easy times for HR. Return-to-office has not been figured out. Employees themselves are divided. Some want to be back in the office full time; some don't want to set foot in the office again.

Younger employees thrive on in-person mentoring, but how do you work that into this mix? That's a discussion for another day. I welcome vendors like Oracle forcing the conversation, via software that opens up possibilities that frankly weren't possible in the "HR modules" of old. This gives HR professionals a whole new opportunity to have impact - and, if they can pull it off, maybe they can finally move from administrators to indispensable talent managers.

End note: Miranda also called attention to Oracle's use cases in the area of large enterprise cloud ERP, something I wrote about in Has large enterprise cloud ERP adoption finally turned a corner? Inside the Oracle Cloud ERP Virtual Summit, which includes a reference to a major Bank of America project. The latest example is a use case published by Macquarie Bank, and their high-scale, cloud-based General Ledger conversion project on Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications. That's a topic to dig into another time.

Updated May 16, 6am UK time, with additional resource links and a few tweaks for reading clarity.

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