Welcome the Chief Employee Experience Officer as HR gets app-happy

Profile picture for user jmilne By Janine Milne January 24, 2016
Digital tech is creating a new role for HR, predicts talent and HR analyst, Josh Bersin. Step forward the Chief Employee Experience Officer.

Josh Bersin
Josh Bersin

Digital HR has arrived, helping consign to the dustbin of history HR’s reputation as merely compliance and policy pushers. In its place, HR professionals will be reborn as Chief Employee Experience Officers.

While “Employee Experience Officer” sounds a bit like a poncy name for some kind of Entertainments Officer, what it really means is that HR’s focus should now be centered on improving employees’ work lives. It’s HR’s job to provide employees with the right environment and tools to improve their experience at work and make them more productive members of the organization.

This is one of the key predictions in Bersin by Deloitte’s annual report Predictions for 2016: A Bold New World of Talent, Learning, Leadership and HR Technology. Josh Bersin, founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte and a veteran commentator on HR, talent management and leadership, expands:

In some ways, a chief employee experience officer’s job is to make sure that HR is thinking about what is making employees productive at work and making sure that the tools that they are receiving at work from IT are helping them get their jobs done. That’s a very new role for HR.

And it’s a very necessary one. A stronger economy, coupled with demographic changes such as falling birthrates, retiring baby boomers and an influx of millennials, have shifted the relationship between employer and employee. Organizations must fight to recruit and retain top talent, and a key way to do this is through creating an enticing work environment.

According to Bersin, digital technologies are key to making this happen:

I don’t like to overplay the role of technology but right now it’s driving a lot of things that are happening both in HR and the things HR has to do on the employee side.

Bersin believes that organizations and employees have become overwhelmed with the raft of technologies meant to help them at work – and so often don’t – so that productivity has lagged behind the tools.

This hasn’t always made it easy for HR to introduce new technology to staff, notes Bersin:

So when the HR department comes along and says: ‘hey, we’ve a new blah blah blah’… whatever it is – training program, on-boarding program, performance management program – it doesn’t get adopted or adapted the way it used to do, because everyone is already overwhelmed.

HR needs to think differently about delivering technology and to practise what Bersin calls “design thinking”:

The way a lot of HR programs are designed is that HR professionals sit around in a room with a whiteboard and they design a process that’s semi-compliance based and somewhat user-centric and then train people how to use it.

The effect on employees is to prompt them to emit a loud collective groan, as the latest application from HR becomes just one more task they have to try and fit into an already overloaded work day. The Bersin report, for example, notes that 88% of managers believe that performance management process was not worth the time.

Instead, the focus needs to be more on building something that employees will like and use, rather than creating an end-to-end process. HR needs to try and figure out how to give employees something that not only accommodates HR’s transactional and compliance requirements, but also makes employees’ own work lives easier. Increasingly, that comes down to delivering an app.

One of the best examples of the power of the app, notes Bersin, can be found at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The bank rolled out a phone-based app that contained all employees’ HR, collaboration, administration and support. Within just two weeks, an impressive 20,000 employees had adopted it.

On top of the basics, HR needs to think more widely about the company culture, mentoring, enabling staff with digital learning or other devices – all things that improve the experience of people at work. Bersin explains:

This is the year where HR people really need to spend a lot time building a great work experience for their employees they need to think about the whole experience: the digital experience, the culture the way people are rewarded, the way people communicate with each other, the connections they have with each other.

They need to think of their jobs as almost an experience designer and of course they obviously have to do all the basics of HR too, but that’s not enough.

Clearly then, while digital technology plays a massive role in supporting these changes, it is not a complete solution. The technology needs to operate in a culture that understands and supports this way of worker.

And who is going to see all this through? It has to be HR, says Bersin:

If HR doesn’t do this no one else will. The IT department won’t do it, the line mangers don’t have the time or the expertise – there’s no one else. So I think this is the new role of HR in the coming couple of years.

My take

Josh Bersin always has an interesting take on what’s going on in the HR and this report certainly does not disappoint. It really is a bold new world for HR if Bersin’s predictions prove correct.

Digital technology is clearly having a huge impact on the workplace and HR cannot ignore it. By embracing digital technologies, HR can really start to change the work environment.

And let’s face it, if they don’t embrace digital technologies, employees will go right ahead without them.

I’ll be drilling down on some of the other key points of the report later in the week.