Digital disruption is reshaping the HR landscape, creating new opportunities for those organisations that are ready to transform. The most exciting are new digital HR tools that extend the influence of HR people beyond the traditional sphere of employee services. The new tools have given HR people new influence as they implement new digital management practices that drive greater productivity. These new tools provide the foundation of a new kind of competitive advantage based on the way people interact within an organisation.
The scale of the digital and technological transformation is enormous. Last year, Deloitte’s annual Global Human Capital Trends report surveyed 10,400 businesses in 140 countries including New Zealand. Fifty-six percent said they are redesigning their HR programs to leverage digital and mobile tools.
Similarly, for years the stock and trade of HR departments, employee engagement surveys have also become widely regarded as inadequate in the modern digital era. In the past HR function used to conduct annual employee surveys to gather results for the company executives, who then sat down and decided how they should fix their employee engagement issues for next year.
Global HR guru Josh Bersin has this to say about them: "One of the issues we must address is the aging idea of the engagement survey... they aren’t providing modern actionable solutions. They don’t tell executives how to build cultures of involvement. They don’t tell anyone how to make work meaningful.”
KPMG have now ditched the traditional engagement survey. Robert Bolton, Partner at their Global HR Centre of Excellence says HR should move beyond its obsession with engagement
“In reality, engagement is an ill-defined term. And measuring it once or twice a year with some static survey is not very scientific no matter how much it’s dressed up to appear so”, he says.
New breed of tools
Engagement surveys are like a thermometer taking a temperature. An engagement survey can tell you if everything’s OK or if something’s wrong. But it doesn’t help with telling you why it’s wrong.
What the new breed of digital HR tools provide is more like an MRI scan that gives a constant read on the HR health of the organisation, and identifies what the organisation is doing well, and any root causes of issues.
The US has provided a plethora of next generation systems that provide a better read on the changing pulse of an organisation’s culture. All of these are easy to use systems that rapidly survey employees with short, easy to take surveys. Essentially, these tools do the same job as a traditional engagement survey, but offer the ability to get the results immediately, and to survey the pulse of small groups or the whole organisation as often as required.
But the standout system among this new breed is made by a Kiwi company, AskYourTeam. It takes the employee survey into territory that offers unrivalled diagnostic depth to an HR practitioner.
AskYourTeam has extended the workplace survey beyond issues of organisational culture into operational areas. The system gathers the data from every member of an organisation about where and why the organisation is performing well and poorly.
HR practitioners are able to use this data like a doctor uses an MRI scan - identifying precisely which areas of an organisation require work to improve the organisation’s performance.
Smart HR operators are using this data to develop performance plans with managers and many are seeing immediate improvements in their organisation’s performance measures. Productivity improves, and employees who provide the raw data are empowered by the Continuous Involvement process. They are more motivated, more engaged and less likely to leave the organisation.
The companies that are using the new digital HR tools like AskYourTeam are positioning themselves best for the next era of competition. They’re implanting mechanisms that empower employees and encourage teamwork and innovation - factors that will be critical in deciding which companies and organisations will still be around in ten years’ time. As the world changes fast around us, it’s the organisations that can flex with unexpected changes that will survive and prosper. That organisation will be made up of empowered individuals who work together to innovate and overcome challenges.
The building blocks of tomorrow’s winning workplace cultures are digital tools that smart HR practitioners are implementing today.
The rapid increase in the number of technology solutions available mean the possibility that HR may need to alter policies and existing programmes in order to meet the needs of a workforce that continually changes shape. HR leaders will need to provide the tools to facilitate employees working together as well as the systems for those managing staff to enable and assess productivity, whilst investing in their key people. Technology that enables continuous feedback and communication with all staff, irrespective of location, will be crucial.
With agility being key, virtual teams coming together when and where needed, not to mention external contributors and cognitive assistants, HR leaders who embrace this opportunity and successfully harness digital technologies will be instrumental in raising workforce productivity, creativity and delivering a valuable competitive advantage to their companies.
HR’s focus on heightened productivity through digitisation will require a refocus from automating business processes to utilising technology designed to augment the performance of the workforce. It’s quite probable that any HR technology initiative will need to meet the requirement of enabling employees to achieve business objectives above all else.
An employer of choice for a large and diverse workforce
Smith&Smith is New Zealand’s leading vehicle glass repairer, with a sizeable fleet of mobile technicians, and over 60 branches and dealerships the length of the country. With a large and diverse workforce of technicians, customer service and support staff, building a cohesive and engaged workplace has long been a priority for the business. Over the last six years, the leadership team had implemented a number of people and culture initiatives, including a traditional engagement survey, that together contributed to high employee engagement levels.
Looking beyond engagement surveys to drive business success
Although their people and culture initiatives led to Smith&Smith being recognised as an employer of choice, their high engagement scores weren't clearly translating into improved business performance. As People and Leadership Director Pati Bloor puts it, “Historically we’d been focussing on engagement - that’s really about how people feel in the workplace. We wanted to move to something much more tangible. We’re very outcome-driven, and we needed something that fell in line with that.”
Pati and her team began the search for a system that would deliver actionable solutions to business challenges, and that would enable everyone in the organisation to contribute to Smith&Smith’s success. “We didn’t want to have to be the gatekeeper, which HR can typically be with these things. It needed to be easy for our leaders to use and it had to speak their language. AskYourTeam delivered all of those things.”
Opening communication channels led to powerful new insights
Kent Krammer, Smith&Smith’s Regional Operations Manager, says using a confidential survey system has allowed his team members to give frank and honest feedback. “I’ll never forget reading a comment from someone in my team that began, ‘I’ve always wanted to tell you that you should…’ It was a great idea and one that we could implement really easily, but he didn’t feel comfortable raising it in a public forum. Without AskYourTeam Continuous Involvement System we never would have had those kinds of insights.”
Building stronger leaders by focusing on what matters
Pati says one of the things she values most about the AskYourTeam system is how it's helped their leaders become even more effective. “It’s supported our whole philosophy, which is about leaders just getting on and being leaders. The system enables our people to ask the right questions, focus on the things that really matter to them and make progress towards those goals.
“As a leader I don’t guess anymore. I know exactly what to focus on to get the biggest improvements out of my team”, says Pati.
Crowd-sourced solutions from the whole team
“We had one branch manager who was quite new to the business and he had an inherited team. By using AskYourTeam, we realised we had quite a cultural issue that was larger than we had previously perceived”, said Kent. When the team was allowed to speak up, people felt genuinely listened to. And as a result, the actions that Smith&Smith have taken have been taken by the entire team, not just the leader, and that’s got much better input and engagement.
After the team collectively developed and implemented an action plan, they were able to quickly measure its success. “We retested three weeks later. We were able to organise that test within a day and see the results immediately, and the teams got to see that they’d made a huge difference to their working environment.”
Pati says, “As long as you’ve got an environment which continuously changes, you need to be consciously thinking about how we can be better, and what role do I play in that. Our people know exactly what we’re aiming for and how they line up to that, and they can work personally towards a successful business.”
Kent adds that the impact on performance has been marked: “Success seems to be breeding success. People feel more invested in what they’re trying to achieve, they feel like they’re contributing to the results, and they want to help those next to them succeed. We’re seeing better productivity, and better results."