If HR leaders truly want to create a positive employee experience, they would be advised to learn a trick or two from the marketing function on the effective use of data to help them understand their customer base more deeply.
This is the view of Lucy Adams, CEO of consultancy Disruptive HR, who spoke at an online roundtable this week hosted by cloud-based HR software vendor, Applaud. The event was held to mark the release of a new study the supplier had commissioned Forrester Consulting to put together entitled “The future of HR: Employee experience fuelled by consumer-grade technology”(registration required). Adams said:
To genuinely provide a valued service to the business, we need to be thinking more about data and insight like marketing does, where we look at our employees like they look at our customers, because currently we’ve only got a basic assets register that in some instances doesn’t even add up, and we have an annual engagement survey. This annual engagement survey tells us once a year what it basically tells every other company: that we want better career development, better leadership, better communications, and probably a pay rise. Whereas actually if you think about what every other consumer organisation out there is doing, they want to know ‘how are you feeling?’, ‘do you like it?’, ‘would you recommend us?’
The idea of developing more of a “marketing mind set”, which includes undertaking sampling, pulse surveys and hybrid forms of research, is vital, Adams believes:
Because actually our marketing teams know more about our customers who are remote than we do about our employees for the large part. We can’t tell you the clusters of motivations for working at our organisation, or which clusters would value which type of recognition framework, or which people learn in these particular ways. If we genuinely want to provide added value, HR has to provide those kinds of insights rather than just the basic data. We can do worse than just ask our people ‘what gets in the way of you doing your best work?’ If we start with that as a question, some of it will be tech, some of it will be leadership behaviours, some of it will be just annoying, frustrating things that we can move out of their way.
Tackling the causes of inefficiency
But actually asking the question would appear to be important because, as the Forrester study reveals, employees and managers are currently wasting between two and four hours per week on just undertaking HR admin tasks alone due to the complexity of the processes involved.
Contributing to the problem is the fact that HR systems are not used much, according to nine out of 10 of the 175 HR leaders questioned - a situation undoubtedly not helped by the fact that 84% had between six and 15 such systems in place, many of which were not integrated.
On the one hand, such systems are often outdated and clunky due to underinvestment, but on the other, even if organisations are prepared to put their hands in their pockets, their approach to investment can be “a bit scattered”, says Federica Santini, HR director at Lacoste. This means that they:
either tend to go with a big, massive ERP system or, on the other side, with a small system that tends to address just one of the issues around, for example, employee experience, which is about getting the right onboarding or the right engagement if they’re already in the company. So you end up having a lot of different systems that don’t talk with each other. This means you then have the HR department, the employees and line managers all spending a lot of time making sure the data is correctly inserted into the systems. And then you have quality of data issues – who is going to ensure the data is exactly the same in each of the systems we’ve put in place?
This situation inevitably has a knock-on impact on the efficiency of the HR department. For example, a vast 91% of survey respondents said they received on average between four and nine helpdesk requests per employee per year. If such activity were automated though, 58% said they believed they could ‘repurpose’ up to 50% of the time each member of the HR service desk team currently spends on higher value activities.
Fixing broken processes
As a result of all these difficulties, just under three quarters of those questioned (74%) said they had faced challenges when trying to support remote workers during lockdown. Moreover, despite introducing yet more new systems to help ease the situation, 89% indicated there were still significant inconsistencies between the employee experience of remote versus in-office staff.
A key problem in this scenario is that, despite widespread expectations among employees that workplace systems should be as easy to use as the technology they employ at home, all too often it is simply not the case. But while Adams acknowledges the importance of giving employees a “consumer-grade” HR software experience that enables them to perform transactional tasks without the need for extensive training, she also says:
If managers are having an allergic reaction to being given self-service, or employees are saying ‘HR used to do that for and now I’m having to do it myself’, I don’t think we should be celebrating that we are giving them consumer-grade technology to do it with. We have to question whether there’s real value in doing it in the first place.
For example, all too often managers are provided with performance management systems that require them to input staff objectives and assign them a rating at the end of the year - despite the fact that such an approach “doesn’t actually enhance performance”, Adams says. Instead what would make more sense, she believes, was if HR questioned:
whether we want to take our broken processes, chuck them over the fence into self-service and say ‘but it’s great – it’s really easy to use’? The fact is that managers are questioning and saying ‘I’d do it before because you’d do it for me. I would participate begrudgingly, but now I have to do it all myself, I’m questioning whether it really does help me manage my team? If I’m asked to fill in a nine-box grid, the fact that you enable me to do it online doesn’t actually help me if I don’t think it’s adding value in managing the talent’. So there’s a couple of things: there’s absolutely a need for ‘consumer-grade’ technology to meet increasing expectations of what good technology and good experience is about, but we’ve also got to question what we’re putting online. You can’t just make the irrelevant more efficient. We have to really question its relevancy.
It appears that HR is now starting to learn the difficult lesson that simply automating inefficient processes does not work and that a re-evaluation of what is effective or not will be required in many instances. But to get it right, it will also be important to take a leaf out of marketing’s book by asking employees the right questions and using the resultant data to inform decision-making. Just sticking in more technology without doing such important groundwork simply won’t cut it.