Chasing the puck as HCM evolves - what Workday is seeing

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 25, 2018
Are HCM practitioners keeping up with where the technology is headed? I asked Workday's HCM product chief Cristina Goldt for a real-world perspective

Ice hockey players chase puck © Thaut Images -
The reality of how organizations operate today is often a long way behind the state-of-the-art future to which technology vendors encourage them to aspire — and as the technology continues to evolve, that gap grows wider. Take the field of human capital management (HCM) as a case in point. Last month I heard Workday's talent chief Greg Pryor describe how the cloud HCM vendor uses its own technology to help its people develop their skills and careers. This week at the vendor's Elevate customer event in London I sat down with Cristina Goldt, Vice President of HCM Product Management at Workday, to ask how relevant are such innovations to what customers really want.

My thinking was that it's hard enough as it is to modernize, without also having to think ahead to all of the new capabilities that technology innovation is bringing down the line. It's not just a case of skating to where the puck's going to be. As various writers have observed of the oft-quoted advice from ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky, that's only successful if you're also skilled at reading where the game is going.

So of all the various innovations, I wanted to know which were the ones that customers are most keen to take on board, from improved user experience and artificial intelligence to collaborative working and more fluid employment patterns. I heard some interesting answers with a few pointers to future directions too.

Employee experience comes out on top

A year or two ago, simply bringing in self-service and globally consistent processes was the main goal of a cloud HCM implementation. While that's still important, it's been superseded as the biggest concern by a desire to deliver the best possible employee experience, says Goldt:

Experience raises to the top plate. It's interesting how I would say, in the last really six months, it has become the top thing that people are looking to create in their environment.

There's still a huge return on the investment to consolidate, to have a consistent approach. But they're looking for more than that.

It's even led to a new job title becoming common, she adds:

So many of our either customers or prospects that I'm talking to, they now have a new role in their organization — the employee experience leader.

What they're looking at is, how do they really empower their people, how do they give them tools, data insight, so that they can get through what they're doing quickly, but also help to understand how they continue to grow and thrive in the organization.

All that information, presenting that up in a really dynamic manner, depending on where you are and when you're there. They're all looking to provide that experience for their people — that's easy, that's seamless, that gets them productive.

Making the Workday experience more seamless

That seamless experience can be achieved either by bringing actions and information from external applications into Workday, using the card metaphor that's a part of the latest Workday user interface, or by surfacing elements of Workday in other applications, such as in its recent partnership with Slack. Workday is calling these links to and from other applications 'micro interactions.' For frequent users, it means they can spend more of their time in Workday without having to drop out to work with other applications. On the other hand, more occasional users may almost never have to visit the Workday application because they'll be able to do everything they need to do from an intermediary application such as Slack. As Goldt explains:

We don't want to totally disintermediate the Workday experience [but] they'll be able to connect to Workday from their other tools ... We become more 'headless', if you will, where they just do what they need to do. They interact with Workday, just like they would anything else, but they will be able to do it [in Slack].

Similar partnerships with other collaboration tools are on the roadmap. Goldt hinted that Google Hangouts may be next:

We have not announced that but that's a potential one, because what we're looking at is, where are our customers today, what are they using?

From hierarchical management to people enablement

A core theme of Pryor's talk last month was the notion of a shift in HCM practices from a hierarchical approach in managing people to a new ethos of people enablement. How prevalent was such thinking out in the field, I wondered? Goldt says it's catching on:

I have the benefit of talking to many of our customers and prospects, and really their people practices have changed or are in the process of changing. Most are at that point where they realize that the way they used to think about their workforce and development of their workforce and performance in general, it's not the same. That to meet the requirements of this workforce and to get the most success, the best outcomes, it's really about enablement versus management of their people.

The Workday product aims to support this change in HCM mindsets, she says:

At the end of the day, we are a tool, but how do we make it so that you can use that tool to provide that enablement?

It does require a change in thinking, it requires a change in tooling. They can't use the tools that they've had before. But it is about having something that is always on, [giving] the employee that direct access, where they're able to access it on their own terms because there's that self-responsibility.

She reminded me that Pryor's example of the Workday opportunity graph, which employees can use to see what career paths others in similar roles have followed and what skills they would need to do so, had originally been co-developed with a customer:

What they really wanted was to be able to show the vitality of their organization to their people so that they would know there's potential here. That's the other piece — how do you share that information as part of making sure you're continuing to build the culture in organizations? That's very important.

Preparing for the gig economy

Another trend Pryor had highlighted in his talk was the move towards more fluid employment patterns along with the rise of the 'gig' economy and the continuing reliance on contingent workers in many fields. Goldt says this is an area Workday is watching closely.

We are definitely seeing that move from, you work for a company as a full time employee, to a bigger move to contingents and that freelance marketplace. While we're able to handle a lot of that today, we continue to look to expand that even further. So more to come on that one.

Traditionally, sourcing of contingent workers has been handled in specialized vendor management systems, but I wondered whether that's an area Workday might expand into. It sits directly between Workday's two existing functional specialisms — HCM on one side and financials and spend management on the other.

Goldt says it's something Workday is thinking about, especially since the 'gig' approach to assigning people to projects can be applied to internal planning as much as to external sourcing:

We don't have the full vendor management capabilities today, but we are looking to expand.

We are looking to how we make that simpler and easier for our customers, because what we're hearing from them is, yes, they will use more contingent labor, but they're also looking at these gigs if you will, internally. How do I make sure that I can staff these projects with what I have today? And then do I look externally? So it's that internal and then looking externally, to make sure they can handle that.

I definitely see that, in terms of trends, with our customers and the future of work, that's what's going to happen. We need to be able to handle that more easily and seamlessly.

Bringing external data into people analytics

Something that Workday is pushing very strongly with its recently introduced Prism Analytics offering is the ability to bring in data from other systems, but I wondered how often that's useful to people managers, as opposed to finance managers. Goldt explains that the take-up in HCM is industry-specific — examples include professional services, retail, healthcare and banking — with the common thread that these are industries where organizations want to use operational data to help them plan for, develop and reward their people.

They want their people data tied to their company operational information to get that full context as to, are we developing our people the way we should? Do we have the right skillsets to do the things that we want? What does our performance look like, how does that tie in to the individual person or organizational unit? And then does it affect how I'm determining not just my talent practices but my reward practices?

Across the board, customers want to do more with data, she says, even if it's only their existing HCM data, or benchmarking it against what others are doing:

Just harnessing the power of their data that they have today. And not just harnessing their data, but looking at how they're doing compared to others, whether it's geography, industry, by a huge number of dimensions. I think that that's become very important.

Still searching for the benefit of AI

The one technology that's having less impact on what customers are doing right now is the field of artificial intelligence. There's interest, but Goldt says that it's up to vendors like Workday to figure out how to apply the technology within their applications.

For so many of our customers, they're still trying to understand how it will provide them benefit ...

It's not just a something that sits on the outside. There's so many different vendors out there doing one little thing — how is that actually going to scale? It really needs to be part of the foundation.

My take

Some down-to-earth answers that give some direction in terms of what really matters to HCM leaders today. Bear in mind that Workday's customer base leans towards those organizations that are leading the charge in these emerging trends, rather than the laggards. But if you want to know where the puck is heading in modern HCM, I'd say this gives a good indication of the direction of travel.

A grey colored placeholder image