Digitalizing the Employee Experience is Critical, But More is Needed in the #MeToo/#TimesUp Talent Economy

March 31, 2018 Emily Payne

While investing in digitalizing the employee experience remains critical, it’s not the only thing that needs to change. Last week, Forbes published an article titled, HR Is Not Your Friend. Here’s Why. Citing various gender-discrimination lawsuits, the author wrote that “…the  human resources department plays a consistent supporting role in the accounts of the plaintiffs – that of a seemingly disinterested observer.” The question becomes: What can be done about it?

While many blame HR for antiquated systems, highly biased treatment, and even neglect, they should be looking at the people to whom the CHRO is ultimately accountable. The C-suite holds the keys to changing the relationship between HR and every member of the company’s workforce.

CEOs need a new rally cry for and approach to HR

The rally cry of every business leader seems to be, “People are our most important asset.” While the intention behind these words is well-meaning, there is a major issue. In business, an asset is something positive that the company owns and is accounted for on the balance sheet. The rephrasing of this quote may be: “the most important stuff we own on our balance sheet are people.” Except, people are not owned, they are employed. People have the free will to use the justice system when their voices are not heard and changes are not made. Until very recently, companies’ actions about sexual discrimination and harassment were dismissive and transactional: Protect the company, blame the accuser, and discredit the accusation. In the post-#MeToo-#TimesUp-era, these tactics no longer work.

The oft-negative perception of HR by the workforce and leaders is a symptom of an antiquated view of employees where leaders are the only holders of power. The problem with that way of thinking is that we now live in a world of contractors and traditional employees who know a lot more, are far more diverse, and understand that they also hold the power. In the 4th Industrial Revolution, people know that leaders are not leaders unless followers enable them to be. The C-suite needs a new rally cry that results in a truly transformative system and culture that reflects evolving power dynamic between HR and the workforce.

Digital transformation alone will not change perceptions of HR

Over the last few years, industry influencers and HR leaders have talked about the importance of redefining the employee experience by providing digital ‘consumer-grade’ tools and smart technology that creates greater efficiencies for the business and better HR tools and services experiences for the workforce. There’s no arguing the criticality of investing in this new wave of digitalization. The urgency of digital transformation across all business functions, including HR, is due to the reality that more than 50 percent of the workforce will be filled with digital natives in just two years. HR, like many functions outside of IT, are quickly becoming experts in the power of emerging technology in the services each function provides to the business.

In the case of HR, digitalization is merely a part of HR transformation. Changing the role of HR is a tricky one because the workforces’ perception of what it should be is not the reality of what it is. While all employees and leaders are stakeholders of HR, they are not reflective of HR’s main job: Serve the corporation’s best interests. They work, like every other employee, to maximize shareholder value by maintaining the interest of the leaders in charge of daily business. This holds true for both public and private companies. In short, HR works for the business, not for individual workers. The negligent behavior alleged in so many cases is merely a symptom of HR which really serves.

Yet, industry analysts have been ruthless in their criticism of HR’s ability to deliver meaningful value to the business it serves. While some called for HR to go out of business; others sight the need for a full transformation, anointed by the C-suite, in which the CHRO becomes a strategic adviser to top levels of the business, technology expert in future-proofing the business, and advocate for employees. And while large enterprise technology providers are creating smart HR technology to carry out this kind of transformation, the latter cannot be achieved by cool tools and technology alone. After all, technology is merely a critical enabler of strategy. Cool tools are out of place in antiquated systems where certain people and populations are favored over others and where illegal activity is hidden and protected. In the new world order, people have options in how they can make a living and they know it.

Investing in digitalization to enforce a new people experience, not just a cool one

The culture of a business is reflective of the tone at the top. HR alone cannot change culture and neither can technology. One of the measurements by which the c-suite is now judging HR’s effectiveness is in creating an employee experience that acts as a lever to achieving employer-of-choice brand status. In order to HR to be a trusted strategic adviser as well as a loyal employee advocate, the tone at the top when it comes to HR has to change. HR has to be enabled and empowered to truly serve all the people they work for; from the very bottom of the organization to the top.

This kind of transformation cannot be achieved with better HR tools and programs alone. It requires that HR’s role undergoes fundamental change, as well. Just like enabling equitable practices with emerging technologies embedded in HR technology and tools, HR’s role must transform from exclusively protecting and advocating ‘the company’ to one that serves and protects the company and all its staff. Then and only then, HR can begin down the path of elevating their brand.

Join Dr. Patti Fletcher at WorkHuman on April 4, 2018, in Austin, Texas, for her session titled “Stop Trying to Fix Women: Setting the Stage for Career Equity” as part of the “Thriving Through Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging” track.

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