The Magic Mix in the Digital Transformation of the HR function

Everything is going digital, including the HR function but, like any other organisational operation, the question of how far we should go when embracing that transformation is unskippable. How much is enough and what role should humans play?

Before addressing the question, let’s set the basis.

Human Experience Management, or HXM, addresses the critical role that employee experience plays in creating agile and high-performing companies. This approach, coming in support of the digital transformation of the HR function, aims at reducing the time that employees spend on administrative tasks in favour of investing more of it in value-added activities.

A fair balancing act is always a good idea when it comes to digitalising the HR function. Cost reduction and process optimisations are goals, of course, but the ultimate one should be to add value for the end users, namely all employees, which will result in more satisfaction.

Reflection on the role employees will play in the HR function of the future and acting consequently isn’t only an important part of the transformation, but an enhancer.

The result of the balancing act is what we like to call the magic mix of HR and technology (Or the marriage, if you prefer.) And that’s what this article is all about. To put it together, we use well-written notes of Tessy Thill and Emeline Barbenchon, colleagues from our People, Experience and Change Unit.

Read on and tell us what you think.

Hybrid work and telework are changing HR practices

Here we go with the (already) same old song, but it’s worth repeating: due to the pandemic, the past two years have brought immense changes in terms of digitalising the workforce and promoting hybrid work and telework.

And the resulting change, unless something extraordinary happens, may last for a long time and even take us further in our understanding of work flexibility, employee engagement, team management and the HR function overall.

In this context, COVID’s aftermath, at the end of the day, seems positive. In pandemic times, virtual meetings, document sharing, authentication, security, and all the technology supporting these processes had no choice but to be quickly advanced.

However, several new challenges to effectively managing the workforce and guaranteeing a healthy human interaction arose.

See, managing people remotely or in a hybrid way (when one doesn’t see team members working all the time) requires, first of all, a relationship built on trust. But it also requires processes, powered by technology, to track availability and working hours.

Then, there is a need for a different approach to absenteeism management (which has been increasing more than ever due to new COVID-19 variants) and understanding and implementing regulatory changes impacting telework.

There is also the sensitive matter that arises with flexible ways of working – the right to disconnect.

In a world where we basically don’t disconnect, advocating for the right to disconnect is unskippable and this involves employees on all levels; the taskforce, managers and the leadership too.

But here is the thing: if organisations want this to become a reality, they want to make sure that leaders role model the expected behavior. However, Emeline and Tessy see that the governance and internal change practices are still not aligned to allow this to function optimally.

We still have a way to go.

People and technology, what is out of order?

Based on our experience with clients, what seems to be a common challenge in the people-and-technology binomial is a sort of dichotomy. Businesses express a need for reducing the number of tools they are using and for simplifying their technology ecosystems but, at the same time, they want to implement new tools to answer needs that evolve quicker than in the past.

What we have called the magic mix seems to fail, then.

There are four factors we consider to influence this reality.

  • Accumulation, i.e. technologies brought in different times answering certain needs which, at the present, don’t necessarily work well together or augment each other. Because they weren’t thought of systematically, it’s very difficult to get rid of some of the core tech.
  • Obsolescence. This is a very conspicuous challenge. We normally start using tools to address a problem or need at a certain point in time but after years of use the business reality has likely changed. In more critical cases, this realisation comes even earlier, during the deployment of the technology.
  • Customisation, i.e the technology doesn’t answer anymore, or not entirely, the needs of a growing, more diverse and more demanding workforce. We’ll come back to customisation further on.
  • Trust. When a team member doesn’t know what the other one is doing, they start being more vigilant and that is exhausting. Systems not communicating properly with each other and not answering HR needs can cause trust issues.Here is an example. If the payroll system isn’t trusted, one starts recalculating and corroborating most of the information. On top of that, when technologies are multiple, it’s more difficult to track what employees involved in a project are doing.Large data sets make the challenge even more complex as the lack of experience in using, analysing and interpreting them results in a more challenging informed decision making.


Clock-in, clock out, a concrete example of HR digital transformation

This simple yet illustrative case shows how, when the HR transformation is driven by employees, adoption and overall satisfaction are positively impacted. On the one hand, it is much easier to get employees to adopt a new tool when they participate in the design; on the other, there is much less resistance when a tool is user-friendly and actually answers employees’ needs.

Usually, there is a positive business case behind the automation of HR tasks, especially the ones with low added value.

We have a real case story to illustrate how HR transformation happens. Answering employees’ growing discontent and frustration when clocking-in and out, one of our clients decided to build a mobile app to offer more flexibility and trust to its employees. Before, employees were only able to do their clock-in from computers. When employees were working in client premises, for instance, they were not only unable to start their clock but they didn’t have the possibility to start the clock retroactively either.

The app made it easier for employees to do their clock-in. And because it was built with their participation, our client has seen a great adoption and use of the tool.

Time saved represents an average of 10 min per week saved per employee. That, multiplied by the total number of employees represented a sizable amount of hours saved.

The digitalisation of the HR function has a lot to do with personalisation

Personalisation is another great example on how HR and technology can mix in a magic way.

Whereas for admin tasks you might want standardisation as much as possible, technology becomes a great ally to create tailor-made experiences with reduced efforts for tasks with much added value,

A tangible example of this personalisation is virtual reality-powered training that businesses from different industries are already using.

To cite a couple of examples, hospitals are using it to facilitate the training on some repetitive practiceshow to do injections, how to evacuate patients, for instance. It’s also used in factories to deliver health and safety training, giving students the possibility to identify all the elements that are wrongly placed in the warehouse.

But this example is likely the most striking one, according to Tessy: a VR module helping people to develop their capabilities to speak publicly. The employee is immersed in a virtual environment where they see a crowded auditorium that reacts to their speech and how the speaker is moving and addressing the audience in the room.

This means one can exercise in a safe environment, with real time feedback, without needing the constant presence of a coach or a trainer, whose role will most likely be the one of a trusted advisor.

Maximising the use of digital technology for the HR function

Tessy and Emeline agree on these two pillars to maximise the impact of the Magic Mix

1. Place employees and all users at the heart of the project.

This enhances user adoption and makes businesses’ change management efforts when deploying a new technology worthier and results more impactful.

Although change management journeys should always be tailored to your situation, there are some common considerations we share below:

  • Make sure that your people are aware of your expectations, namely, why, what for and when they will have to use the new tool and why.
  • Avoid surprises: nobody is happy when their interface suddenly changes without warning. It creates discomfort and frustration
  • Identify if there are any business processes that need to be adapted for the new tool so they function flawlessly. This can help to avoid double work and, again, frustration.
  • For more complex changes, make sure that everybody is trained, has access to user guides and people to ease into the new way of working
2. Define governance and document and share good practices for using tools and applications.

As we mentioned earlier, there is a clear need for better meeting governance, for guidelines on the right to disconnect, rules and governance on flexible working while teleworking, etc., and having business leaders push down, and demonstrate themselves as examples of putting people first when looking at any business or technological initiative.

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Here is what we want you to remember: you can achieve the right balance in the magic mix between HR and Technology by putting your end users and your employees at the heart of the process.

What we think
Emeline Barbenchon Senior Manager, HR Technology and Transformation at PwC Luxembourg
Emeline BarbenchonSenior Manager, HR Technology and Transformation at PwC Luxembourg

While “the great resignation” phenomenon is trending and becoming a reality in many organisations, technology is a great enabler for HR departments to show employees that they are a priority. With a Human Experience Management approach, employees become pivotal when designing solutions tailored to them. Ultimately, it improves motivation, engagement and retention.

Tessy Thill, Senior Manager, Organisational change at PwC Luxembourg
Tessy Thill, Senior Manager, Organisational change at PwC Luxembourg

In today’s world, employees have high expectations towards their working environment and they hold their employers to high standards. HR systems are an important aspect of this work environment because they reflect on the professionalism and employee centricity of the HR department and the company as a whole. Designing these systems with and for the end users, the employees, and using a structured change management approach to implement them, will thus directly impact the satisfaction and motivation of the workforce.

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