Relevant or obsolete? The role of HR in the 21st century

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

The workplace is changing rapidly. Digital is transforming both how employees work and the way in which they expect to engage with their employers’ HR services. At Sopra Steria, we’ve recently partnered with Management Today on a survey that looked at the extent to which companies are using digital (data analytics, artificial intelligence, automation) to deliver a more consumer-like employee experience. And the findings don’t bode particularly well for the future of the HR function.

That’s because HR appears to be way off the curve when it comes to all things digital. For example, two thirds of CEOs and directors responding to our survey acknowledged that they had not yet fully implemented HR task automation and self-service technology in their organisations. Yet today’s employees – and not just Millennials – increasingly expect employers to make it easy for them to engage with HR how and when they want to (booking leave from home, whilst on the move, hot desking, etc.) and this can only be enabled with greater automation and digitalisation.

In search of flexibility

In fact, our survey found that greater flexibility and career development were the most likely to enhance employee experience. And the better the employee experience, the more productive and loyal an organisation’s workforce will be. Yet half of all managers and non-managerial staff told us in our survey that they had zero access to HR processes on their mobile devices. And only 4 in 10 non-managers – largely Millennials – said they believed that employees would be fully connected and operationally mobile in the next three years.

Taking this a step further, I find myself asking why so few business leaders have still not correlated a positive employee experience with greater automation? Is greater automation perhaps viewed as a threat, rather than an enabler, with concerns that robots will take people’s jobs outweighing the fact that robotic process automation can free up HR professionals from mundane, repetitive process activities? What I do know is that, with far more traction for improving employee/user experience and engagement, the tide is turning.

Connecting the modern workforce

I explore this in a new opinion paper digging deeper into the survey findings. In it I write, “by not embracing the technology that will connect and enable the modern workforce and free up HR for more strategic activity, the role of HR as a business partner could be obsolete, sooner rather than later. Indeed, being slow in the uptake of new, enabling technologies could well be the demise of the HR function as we know it”.

So, my question to all HR leaders is ‘do you want to remain relevant or become obsolete’?

For more on this, read my opinion paper ‘How can HR stay relevant in the 21st century?’

Using digital technologies to address complex problems – what can we learn from other governments?

It goes without saying that governments face incredibly complex challenges. Sustaining cohesive communities in the face of demographic, economic, security and other challenges will test the ingenuity of politicians and civil servants.

In recent blogs I’ve questioned the industrial-age organization of government and highlighted how the private sector is improving services through digital technologies. Now I would like to shift the emphasis and highlight how governments around the world employ digital technology to drive problem solving.

And I will start by looking at the one of the most significant problems facing individuals, families and communities – mental health.

Nearly one fifth of the UK population have a mental health condition

Mental health conditions cover a wide range of disorders and vary from mild to severe problems. The most common types are anxiety and depressive disorders (9% of all adults). More severe and psychotic disorders are much less common.

Recent research has found that a third of fit notes (they used to be called sick notes) issued by GPs are for psychiatric problems. The employment rate for people with mental health conditions is 21% compared with 49% for all disabled people and over 80% for non-disabled people.

Almost half of benefits claimants of Employment and Support Allowance in England are receiving payments as the result of mental and behavioural disorders. Recent independent studies estimate that cash benefits paid to those with mental health conditions are around £9.5 billion a year and administrative costs are £240 million.

This illustrates the financial costs of mental health conditions. But it fails to address the personal impact on individuals, their families and the wider community. That is why the NHS is putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.

Using technology to create community solutions

Although overall spending on mental health will rise by over 4% in 2017/18, many areas of the country are under pressure to provide enough high quality services.

We also know that mental health is a very complex problem that goes beyond the capacity of any one organisation to understand and respond to. There is disagreement about the causes of the problems and the best way to tackle them.

Which is why Creating Community Solutions is such an exciting project.

In the US, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Obama administration launched a national dialogue on mental health. It soon became clear that, while mental illness affects nearly every family, there is a continued struggle to have an open and honest conversation around the issue. Misperceptions, discrimination, fears of social consequences, and the discomfort associated with talking about such illnesses all tend to keep people silent

The challenge facing the administration was how to convene a national participation process that would help Americans to learn more about mental health issues, assess how mental health problems affect their communities and younger populations, and decide what actions to take to improve mental health in their families, schools, and communities.

Officials from across the administration collaborated under the umbrella of Creating Community Solutions. They designed an online platform and process that integrated online / offline and national / local levels of collaboration. The platform has promoted a nationwide discussion on mental health. It has given Americans a chance to learn more about mental health issues – from each other and from research. For example, in December last year, and all over the country, hundreds of thousands of people used their mobile phones to get together in small groups for one-hour discussions on mental health.

What can we learn from the US?

Creating Community Solutions is an amazing example of how technology can be used overcome barriers, give access to relevant information and promote participation and mutual support. As a platform, rather than a conventionally structured project, it straddles traditional administrative boundaries and provides support in a distributed way.

I’d like to see our government adopting a similar approach, using technology to break down hierarchical barriers and using platforms to promote collaboration across public services and with communities.

I’ll be writing about other innovative ideas in future blogs. In the meantime, do you know of other innovative solutions to complex public problems? What are the exciting ideas informing your own work —particularly if you are working in the public sector – and how are you implementing them?

Let me know in the comments below or contact me by email.

Are we truly working together?

Government wants to work smarter with citizens and deliver high quality end-user services that provide transparency to the end user through omni-channel and cross-organisational working.

A key word to aid this, is ‘collaboration’:

  • Collaboration between service providers and users (through user research, user testing, product increments, etc)
  • Collaboration between organisations (sharing of data, joint decisions on process development, sharing human and technical resources)

Or at least that’s what we think it means. Considering the two main definitions perhaps we can understand why there is confusion on what collaboration actually means:

1. work jointly on an activity or project
2. cooperate traitorously with an enemy

Working on cross organisation projects to improve the sharing of information I’ve seen issues with this in practice. Collaboration should be 1, but sometimes appears more as 2. Why is this?

In my experience people are willing to ‘work jointly’ as long as their own organisation’s agenda isn’t put at risk. Consider from my previous blog post ‘Lead by listening’  when I suggested that it’s “important not to be too protective of your domain. If a decision elsewhere could greatly affect your area of the business, but is better for the positive growth of the organisation, then perhaps embracing the change is the better option?”

Surely this must be true for effective cross-organisation collaboration. What I see in reality is programmes of work that stall with the realisation that one organisation’s vision or current way of working may suffer distruption even if it’s for the common, overall good. Often we arrive at this junction where one organisation must invest for another to save.

perhaps we need to re-define what collaboration means.

Perhaps we need to include empathy in how we collaborate. By stepping into the shoes of our partner organisations and seeing how proposed changes affect them directly could help us understand how to genuinely work together to make the positive change we seek. If we can’t manage this then we’ll find we need to re-invent the definition of collaborate:

Collaberate : verb. (collaborate merged with berate) – being happy to work together, right up until the point you feel your domain is threatened by those you were collaborating with, and then turning on them.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

How many French Horn players does it take to change a light bulb?

I’m getting used to this kind of orchestral humour…!

It’s been ten years since I started working with the British Police Symphony Orchestra (BPSO) and twice that time that Sopra Steria has been sponsoring their annual Proms Night Spectacular concert. On Saturday 2 December, we’ll be at Symphony Hall, Birmingham again supporting this incredible amateur orchestra and enjoying a fantastic evening.

BPSO are passionate about helping others and sharing their love of music. The annual Proms Night Spectacular concert is all about raising money to help support their extensive annual programme in 2018. The rest of their concerts raise money for charity and over the years they’ve raised in excess of £150,000 for other charities and good causes.

BPSO also have an extensive outreach programme, “PlayOut!”, working with schools and children’s groups, to introduce young people into playing music and the joy it can bring. Have a read about BPSO’s 2016 project at Ingestre Hall. 

Don’t miss the fun!

This year’s Proms Night Spectacular, with its exciting programme, includes music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Magnificent Seven, Prokoviev – Romeo & Juliet, Out of Africa and Daphnis & Chloe.

Everyone gets involved with the traditional ‘Proms Night’ ending whether it’s letting off party poppers, throwing streamers, jingling bells, waving Union Jack flags or singing along. You’ll be sure enjoy a wonderful finale with Jerusalem, Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope & Glory – and BPSO’s flagship fireworks finish!

I’m always so impressed with the spectacular atmosphere that the orchestra brings to Symphony Hall and I’ve enjoyed some fabulous playing over the years, so I’m not going to apologise for this final sales plug! Join us…

Tickets are on sale and what’s better than a Special Offer? – BPSO are offering a   ‘4 for the price of 3’ special offer on their tickets priced at £23, £18 or £12 each (subject to availability). To take advantage of this fabulous offer, contact claire@bpso.net quoting ‘BPSO5’

And the answer to the joke?

Just one, but they’ll spend two hours checking the bulb for alignment and leaks!

Digital Inclusion: You hold the keys to IT literacy

by Andy Robinson, Change Manager

During Sopra Steria’s Community Matters Week, held every October, my colleagues and I used our company volunteering time to provide an IT Gadget Surgery at Pinner Library in the London Borough of Harrow. The objective was to share basic IT skills with members of the local community. When we arrived at the library we were greeted with open arms by the library staff – some of whom had already brought in their own laptops so we could help them – as well as regular library users!

The lost generation and Radio Harrow

A journalist from the local radio station interviewed my colleagues Darren Kampta and Jutta Fischer. The interview was part of a report explaining how older people are having difficulty keeping up with changing technology and how companies like Sopra Steria can help. It’s a well-known fact that a lot of people, particularly the elderly, are losing touch with modern life and modern ways of socialising due to technology. The digital divide and digital exclusion are names given to the gap in terms of usage of information and communication technology (ICT)[1].

 The government’s Digital Inclusion Task Force has estimated that 6 million people in the UK (13%) are both socially and digitally excluded[2]. This has been proven to cause economic and social inequality, as 90% of jobs in the UK now require basic IT literacy[3]. From this research it is clear that having a basic understanding of IT and current technology is becoming more and more necessary in order to be a functioning member of today’s society.

It’s a small world

The most memorable person I helped was an older gentleman who had come prepared with a long list of issues he had with his laptop. One by one we crossed off the items and he noted down how to resolve the issue for future use. During the time I spent with him, I discovered we had a common interest in badminton. He had coached badminton up to England international level and it turned out one of the people he had coached, a former international player, was my badminton coach (and friend) from university. It was a great feeling knowing that I was now helping some who had indirectly influenced my life.

The Surgery

 The tasks brought to our team of five IT surgeons differed in complexity. These ranged from attaching a photo from a digital camera to an email and sending it, to fixing Microsoft Licencing issues. We were very happy with the uptake and there was barely a moment we weren’t busy! By the end of the day we’d helped tens of people with their technology queries. Although the tasks may have appeared simple to us, they could make a real difference to their lives by enabling them to share memories with their families, stay connected with their friends, or even to stay safe online. The day taught me to be patient when it comes to teaching people these new skills that perhaps aren’t as obvious to them as they are to us. I became much better at breaking down my explanations into logical steps and realised that in order for learning to take place, I had to get them doing the task themselves. The Pinner Library staff asked us if we would do something like this again in the future. We unanimously agreed that we would like to be involved in a project such as this again.

Community Matters Week 2017 at Harrow Council

Our time at the library was but one of dozens of charitable events undertaken by Sopra Steria staff as part of the company-wide Community Matters Week – one week every year focused on making a positive impact for our communities and charities around the UK. Other activities included The Marathon Challenge – a charity race against Harrow staff, The Barber Shop – two charity head shaves, Wear It Pink (People In Need of Kindness) day and the highly successful Harrow Bake Off/Bake Sale. Our team raised £2,340 for charity – one half of this went to The Mayors Special Appeal – this year it’s Harrow Women’s Centre and Harrow Law Centre, with the other half going to MacMillan Cancer Research.

Lessons learned

 I found that the volunteering at Pinner Library was highly rewarding. I felt as though I had really made a difference to the confidence of several people who had been struggling with technology. All five of us predicted prior to the day that we would mostly be helping older people, and the reasons are obvious: schools and workplaces now teach a basic level of IT literacy which their generation missed out on. Most of us take these skills for granted but we are surrounded by technical devices in everyday life and it is now essential for our social circles. The government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy has an aim to get everyone who can be digitally able, online by 2020[2]. After volunteering myself, this is a topic I now feel much more strongly about, and I will play my part to make sure digital inclusion is possible within the UK.

See more information about Sopra Steria’s work with communities.

References:

[1] 21st Century Challenges, 2013. What is digital divide.

[2] Gov.uk, 2014. Government digital inclusion strategy.

[3] Hilbert, M., 2013. Technological information inequality as an incessantly moving target: The redistribution of information and communication capacities between 1986 and 2010. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology., I(65), p. 821–835.

The #DigiInventorsChallenge finalists face the Dragons: rather than breathing fire, we were blown away!

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” Jimmy Johnson – American Football Coach

In a Scottish competition, The #DigiInventorsChallenge in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI), sponsored by Sopra Steria , six teams involving more than 30 teenagers across Scotland were shortlisted to compete in the final of the #DigiInventorsChallenge 2017.

I was honoured to be part of the #DigiInventorsBootcamp and judging panel to evaluate the six talented finalist team’s ideas that will transform health, fitness and wellbeing amongst Scotland’s young people. The teams all oozed confidence, passion and flair for their inventions and we really wished we could take all six from idea to invention!

I harnessed my inner ‘Dragon’ and took my seat in the judges den with my fellow judges from DHI, Vodafone, Microsoft, Toshiba and Aberlour Children’s Trust.  I was not prepared to be as blown away as I was by the innovation, insight, planning and forward thinking these young Scots had put into their pitches. It was very clear to me that finalists had learned loads from the masterclasses that included from ‘Idea to Invention’, ‘Developing your idea with users in mind’, ‘Marketing you and your product’, and meet the expert salons. I couldn’t help thinking how impressive this whole experience will be on all their CVs and personal statements and how much older I was than them before I gave my first pitch which was nowhere near as glossy or polished!

The 77 Group presented, which included a video message from Andy. In this he asked the teens to take on board all they’d heard and learned over the two days. It was great to hear one of them quote Sopra Steria’s keynote speaker, Head of Regional Government Alison McLaughlin, by repeating her mantra

“Work Hard – Have fun – Make a Difference”

We all recognised it was powerful to deliver strong messages to the  teens, giving them the drive and passion needed to make the most of their experience.

What’s next?

There can only be one winner and the winning team will be announced at Andy Murray Live  on 7 November 2017 where they will also get the chance to meet Andy himself. The winning team will receive iPads, a cheque for £2,000 and the opportunity to see their design developed into a prototype by DHI and Sopra Steria. I can’t wait to blog after the 7 November to share the winning idea and photos from the event.

Find out more about the inaugral #DigiInventorsChallenge and the six shortlisted teams.

Game, set, match!

Off we go… 3 workshops, 31 teenagers, 100 post-its, 60 Sharpies, bundles of energy, and ideas and innovation to bounce off the wall.

Wow, it was a great day at #DigiInventorsBootcamp at CitizenM in Glasgow, the final stage in the #DigiInventorsChallenge, in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute, to create a new digital health innovation.

When you ask a teenager to join a bootcamp to help them develop a pitch that could sell their idea to Mark Zuckerberg, that’s quite a workshop to organise for 45 mins. My task was to get our young Digi-Inventors to think about design thinking, or whatever you want to call it, service design, UX, prototyping, role playing.

Partnered with the Glasgow School of Art, I got the pleasure of working with Sneha Raman, a Research Associate at the art school. When we first discussed the idea of the workshop we both agreed that the first thing to do was look at how we can help a group of teenagers learn innovative ways of working that will change their view on IT and on how digital experiences are created (putting people and context first). We wanted to give them the creative confidence to look at creating a digital solution a little differently. It wasn’t about a PowerPoint presentation telling them what to do – we needed a hands-on approach giving the team a meaningful experience using design thinking.

In case you haven’t heard what design thinking is, it’s about taking a human centred approach to accelerate innovation. In fact, IDEO (leading the way) sum it up rather nicely…

“Taking a human-centered approach to translating ideas into tangible strategies and offerings. Design thinking accelerates innovation, helping create better solutions for the challenges facing business and society.”

Design Thinking is something Sopra Steria has been focusing on for the last four years and I wanted to translate the experience and the knowledge we have across our business into an energising and practical workshop. Sharing how IT can create an incredible impact on citizens, employees and organisations using design thinking techniques with the Digi-Inventors was a great privilege.

So what did we do in the workshop?

We created a scenario to work from around promoting healthy ways to commute to and from university. Thinking about who and what people do at university and their everyday lives, the students had to:

  • create profiles of different people
  • map out stories in context of their lives
  • put in context the positive and negative experiences they have throughout a day

 Using this knowledge and insight, the students then looked at different ways to travel and what could enhance their experience, using the data that they had gathered on people. Very quickly, we prototyped and mapped out the experience using props. We made it real, fast. This was the best way to learn what works, and what doesn’t.

As the 45 minutes drew to a close, the teams had to think about their pitch, how would they communicate their idea? They didn’t pitch the technical idea using a cool piece of tech, they pitched an entire experience, a service, and the impact it has on changing someone’s life for the better. They shared outcomes and they shared WHY they are creating a better experience.

Hearing their great storytelling at the end of the workshop gave me that fuzzy feeling inside that we achieved creative confidence in the Digi-Inventors.

Good Luck Digi-Inventors!

Find out more about Sopra Steria’s experience in design thinking and service design, and about the inaugral #DigiInventorsChallenge and the six shortlisted teams.