In pursuit of frictionless digital engagement with HR

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

What do I mean by frictionless engagement? And why is it relevant to today’s HR function? People like to book their holidays, make doctors’ appointments, shop and bank online. There’s no real need to talk with a travel agent, a GP’s receptionist, a shop assistant or a busy bank cashier – unless you want to, that is. This is the sort of ‘frictionless’ world that a large proportion of the modern workforce is used to – where everything is automated, clever and personalised.

And they expect a similar frictionless experience in the workplace. Only it seems they’re not getting it. A new survey report from Sopra Steria in partnership with Management Today reveals that employers have been slow to understand and implement the automation, analytics and other technologies that can facilitate a better workplace experience. And less than half (45%) of chief executives and directors were prepared to say their organisations had a clear, specific strategy for improving the employee experience.

Investing in robotics and artificial intelligence

I believe they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to transform the way in which employees engage with the business, especially with the HR services that help to define a good employee experience. In a new paper[1] discussing the survey findings, I take a look at how some companies are achieving frictionless engagement. Sopra Steria, for example, has developed a clever chatbot – we’ve named it Sam – that uses robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence to facilitate a range of HR services, such as booking holidays – all with no human intervention.

I question why more companies aren’t investing in greater automation and why the HR analytics that would drive a more personalised employee experience continues to be lacking in so many organisations. Failing to adopt the type of digital enablers employees are familiar with outside work is giving the wrong impression. It suggests a business unable or unwilling to invest in its people and to give them the tools and processes that will enhance their experience at work. That’s a dangerous impression to create, especially in today’s business climate where it can be difficult to attract talented people, and even harder to retain them.

Adding value at board level

I understand that changing entrenched processes and moving to new technology platforms, such as a cloud HR solution, can be met with resistance. Will automated process take away my job? I’ve done it this way for years, why should I change? How will I be able to monitor progress and quality when there’s no human intervention for key HR processes? There will always be fears and uncertainties like these. But what I am certain of is that only with investment in automation, analytics and AI, along with changes to IT infrastructure that equip employees to self-serve from anywhere, at any time, can today’s HR leaders remain a trusted and valued presence on the company board.

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

Are your HR processes truly fit for purpose?

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

As digital transformation programmes begin to make an impact, new IT service delivery models, such as cloud, will increasingly be the norm. Yet while employees themselves enjoy a highly connected life outside work, too often their expectations for a connected digital experience in the workplace are not being met.

This word ‘experience’ is key. It’s how employers can gain competitive advantage with a more engaged, energised and productive workforce. But in a recent research project conducted for Sopra Steria and Management Today, 51% of respondents said their organisations cared less about employee experience than the quality of service they gave to their customers.

This is so wrong. As the white paper discussing the survey findings (‘Engaging Generation Me: creating competitive advantage through excellent employee experience’) points out, “With the economic uncertainty of Brexit and possible talent crunches and skill shortages ahead, employers ignore at their peril Generation Me: employees who demand the same quality of experience as customers.”

20th century thinking for a 21st century business

I believe that part of the problem lies in the failure of HR processes to keep up with the demands of the modern workplace. In a recently published opinion paper*, I describe the missed opportunity for HR to review and update its processes some 30 years ago. At that time – and driven by the CIO – there was a shift of legacy IT estates to on-premise ERP and other big corporate IT systems. And while HR’s IT was migrated across, its entrenched processes didn’t follow suit. There was simply a ‘lift and shift’ of existing, largely paper-based practices onto the new system.

Fast forward three decades and HR faces a big problem. While there has been a growth in HR operations, this failure to update processes and ways of engaging with employees has become a barrier to HR becoming a true business partner. But I believe digital has now put us (as HR professionals) in a position to transform this situation altogether. How? By using all the latest workplace tools, systems and approaches needed to give employees a truly differentiating workplace experience.

From chatbots to RPA

Of course, there must be an understanding of what processes might be enabled by new technology. In my paper I describe some of these enablers, such as digital engagement tools like chatbots that help to speed and facilitate employee interaction with HR services, for example booking holidays. Or the use of artificial intelligence to monitor employee behaviour and better predict their career or wellbeing needs. Then there is robotic process automation (RPA) that takes over repetitive tasks requiring minimal human intervention. This frees up HR professionals for more strategic value-added activity, such as succession planning, which can be further enhanced with the very latest data and analytics tools.

All of this makes today an exciting time to be an HR professional. With processes and technologies that are fit for purpose in a modern digital enterprise, HR can play a crucial role in attracting, nurturing and retaining the very best talent around.

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

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?’