From cost centre to ROI driver - how HR is getting its groove back

Sally Sourbron Profile picture for user Sally Sourbron March 31, 2021
Sally Sourbron, VP Global Talent at EMEA ServiceNow, explains how HR has played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic and outlines what’s needed for the future.

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HR is a business function that has too-long been underestimated.

Some business leaders have traditionally seen HR purely as a cost centre that is focused on people administration and little else. With the right investment HR can be the pivotal function that differentiates any organisation's people strategy.

The Covid-19 global pandemic has been a wake-up call like no other we have ever seen. With the world of work transforming overnight, and most of us forced to work from home with little warning, employee experience and engagement have been crucial to ongoing business success and played a vital role in boosting productivity.

A year on, HR is finally recognised as the essential business function it is: acting as a critical tie between company and employee, driving demonstrable ROI, and offering employees the best possible work experience.

But as we move towards a phased return to work, it's important to reflect on the steps that will keep HR at the top of its game - and front of mind for the C-Suite - long into the future.

The next steps for HR

1. Consumerize the employee experience

We live in an age where experience is the key differentiator, whether you're looking for products, services, or even jobs.

For employers, that means there's no point investing time and effort into hiring great people if you can't create a work environment that is good enough to keep them. After all, in a labour market beset by skills gaps, employees are spoilt for choice - and they'll vote with their feet if they can get a better deal.

The answer is to consumerize the employee experience.

HR in the future will still need to carry out the functions it's always done, through the employee lifecycle. But it needs to deliver those functions in a way that maximises employee experience, keeping simple things simple and special moments special.

One example of how we at ServiceNow are doing just that is the onboarding process we launched just before the pandemic hit.

Starting a new job is stressful, but the new-job admin shouldn't be. Our employees now use one single online portal, delivered via mobile, to sign the necessary forms, choose the Tech they want, complete the necessary learning journeys, get their logins sorted, and much more. Thanks to our technology this is all accomplished before Day 1 and with all the back-end stuff handled, it's much easier for employees to focus on settling in and getting down to the job they're hired to do.

This effort paid off in spades, especially with the arrival of the pandemic. Our HR team was able to digitise this streamlined, employee-centric process online overnight, giving us invaluable resources to focus elsewhere - including creating new events and initiatives to help remote joiners feel welcome. The result? 25% of our employees in EMEA have now been hired virtually, and 95% would recommend the experience.

The success of this initiative has encouraged us to look to make changes elsewhere - including our maternity and paternity leave journeys to help ensure, once again, that special times can remain special, rather than an admin nightmare.

2. Continue to prioritise wellbeing

We can't mention HR in the context of a global pandemic without discussing wellbeing.

There's no denying it: happy, engaged employees do better jobs. But long-term remote working, improvised home office set-ups, and a host of other roadblocks has made maintaining wellbeing a challenge, to say the least.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is that, with home and work spaces now one and the same, employees are finding it far harder to create a decent work-life balance.

The answer should take the form of a clear social contract. HR teams need to work with managers to balance fair expectations with necessary support: managers should agree with employees what they need to do, how they need to do it, and the outcomes they should drive. At the same time, they have to provide employees with the tools, support, and space they need to achieve those goals.

Exactly what the ‘contract' is will differ with every employee - but it's important we all set our own boundaries, and respect those of others, whether it's turning off email notifications after 6pm, muting instant messenger services on your phone, or adjusting work hours to account for commitments at home. This new way of working requires us to pivot to work life integration and a social contract with your manager is a great start.

3. Pre-empt backsliding - enablement and reskilling opportunities

The past year has been challenging, but it's also been an opportunity. We've seen ten years' progress in ways of working in the space of one.

At the same time, it's important to realise that all these changes have taken place in the context of local, national, and international lockdowns. Employees may have grown used to these changes under the current restrictions, but working remotely on a regular basis in a world full of distractions is a different challenge altogether.

The answer is for us to look at future ways of working in a methodical, rational way. A lot of good has come out of the past year, and we need to maintain that. But there are downsides and bad habits, too. We need to take the time to make a proper assessment of our business processes, and course-correct where necessary to support sustainable working in this new era.

The right technology will play a key role in this, offering the in-depth data and analytics that give a truly holistic picture of business operations, boost productivity, and assist rapid decision-making. Resulting in new enablement and reskilling to support this change management.  Through this, we can move forwards in a way that benefits both our businesses and our employees.

Future-ready HR needs an approach to match

2020 was a year like no other. But amidst the change and disruption, there's a world of opportunity for business to seize upon - and HR teams have a key role to play.

With the right approach, and the right technology, HR can continue to improve employee experience and drive ROI long into the future.

To find out more about how ServiceNow can make your work, work better, contact us here.

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