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Organizational architecture and agility - the Workday perspective

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy August 1, 2018
HR organizations are going through a sea change. No longer focusing solely on administrative tasks, some are looking at how they can empower individuals inside organizational networks as the world of work shifts.

greg pryor
Greg Pryor, SVP Workday

Earlier in the year, Phil Wainewright listened on on Greg Pryor's analyst session where he talked about a 'third age' of HR. Today, Workday is repackaging parts of its HCM capability to address what it sees as the changing world of work, one that requires a reframing of the organizational architecture for an agile workforce.

Workday recognizes that the latest generation of employees assume they will make significantly more career changes than the generation of my day (Boomers) and that those same people want more control over their career paths. To that extent, Workday has developed what it terms Performance Enablement under which it groups the following broad functions:

  • More Meaningful Check-ins
  • DIY Development and Growth Opportunities
  • Focused Feedback and Measurement

In a conversation with Greg Pryor, SVP people and performance, Workday I wanted to understand why this is different, why it matters and tease out some potential outcomes.

First up, this is not new product per se but a deepening of existing that endeavors to make it easier for employees to manage their development at a time when, according to Workday, HR needs to build an organizational architecture that has agility at its core. Citing conversations with the Gates Foundation and General Motors, Pryor said that:

We think of business as changing rapidly but it's apparent that internal organizations also need to be agiler as a response not just to business but the changing demographics. So we need to do things like making training content easy to consume and help individuals use their networks to enable individual growth. We've been applying this way of thinking to our own organization and I can tell you that as one measure, our attrition rate is a fraction of that you find in the technology sector and we're more productive.

Pryor would not be drawn on the specifics of that fraction but also pointed to the fact that:

When I joined about four and a half years ago, Workday was about 2,000 employees. Today we're at about 8,500 and continuing to grow while at the same time successfully serving our customers. And we continue to be ranked as one of the best places to work

You'd expect Workday to understand and implement policies and practices of this nature but I wondered the extent to which culture factors into an organization's ability to switch gears.

Sure, culture does matter but everyone I speak with - and I'll acknowledge there is a bias in the people I meet - they all see how HR needs to change so that the people are enabled. Now - do they need blueprints for how this works? Sure. And that's why we're bringing them in and showing them the kinds of work we've done as proofs of concept if you will but that which can become part of the work fabric.

That makes a lot of sense because as I've discovered among Workday customers, the basics of administration may be the same, but each customer comes to the table with slightly different priorities and agendas. That, in turn, is reflected in the manner by which they establish their organizations.

Continuing on this theme:

In collaboration with Great Place to Work, Workday launched the Best Workday Survey to pulse employees each week and allow them to confidentially provide feedback about the workplace culture. Based on these insights, people managers are measured on how effectively they enable their teams and the level of employee experience they are creating for them. They are, in turn, held accountable for their results and provided with targeted coaching content, tools, and training that helps them improve their people management skills.

I understand how this might be beneficial but I also know how this can expose difficult to solve issues inside the workplace. There is, after all, a reason that we all recognize the characters in a Dilbert cartoon.

According to Pryor, he is seeing that as employees are encouraged to undertake additional training (for example), they're learning how to use and deepen their networks within the business in an envirnoment that is mutually beneficial:

The other day I got an email reminding me in a friendly way that there's some training I should have completed in the last few months so even though we all know everyone's busy, I can put the time aside to get it done But here's the important part - we encourage everyone to provide a 10 minute video as feedback. They can then tell us how they benefited and what could be improved. We give them the tools to do that so it's super easy. We like to think of these as career sprints in the same way that we use agile methodology and code sprints for software development.

My take

There's a lot of talk about digital transformation around the customer experience but as Pryor points out, there hasn't been much said about digital for employees. This is interesting because I have long felt that employees are the mirror of customers. If our goal is to delight the customer then the same should be true for our people. Workday's performance enablement is a step in the right direction but it requires a lot more than a great message and great software. Hence the need for blueprint discussions.

As I've been thinking about this topic more broadly, it occurs to me that we need to do much more that encourages people to be OK with failing while at the same time recognizing success. This is a tough nut to crack, but as I discovered in this 2-hour podcast with former poker star Annie Duke, when failure is framed as a series of 'agreeable' questions, then it is much easier to understand what needs to happen next as a way of improving. Making that mental and emotional space available is another matter altogether, as is the discipline required to make it a reality.

As Pryor pointed out to both myself and Wainewright, we are very much at the beginning of this set of changes. By Pryor's estimate, we're about eight years into a decades long change. That jibes with my finger in the air estimate of maybe 20% of organizations at least recognizing the need for change.

Finally - check out this video which includes the Gates Foundation and General Motors along with Pryor discussing this topic in more detail.

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