Why HR needs to go digital to stay relevant

by External01 Oct 2015
Anand Shankar, senior partner for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Aon Hewitt, shares his thoughts on the digital revolution and what HR can do to take full advantage of the latest developments.

Talent is a serious concern for CXOs in the Asia-Pacific. According to Aon’s 2015 Global Risk Management Survey, failure to attract and retain the right talent is among the top three risks faced by organisations in APAC. Like in many parts of businesses, technology is playing a dual role of an enabler and a disruptor in HR. Never before has HR been faced with such a challenge that is also possibly a great opportunity in disguise.
 
Digitisation is bringing about sweeping changes in the lives of individuals and businesses. The entire approach to social interaction and communication is now driven by the mobile and social platforms. Digital technologies are radically impacting the manner in which employees and clients connect and communicate with organisations.
 
With over six connected devices per individual by 2020 and people spending more than 2.5 hrs on mobile devices daily, there is a radical shift in the way the world works. Today, everything from seeking employment to expressing opinions about the employment experience is digital and democratic, eg today’s employees don’t shy away from saying on Glassdoor.com that they don’t approve of their CEO.
 
Digital now has a strong impact not just on employee preferences but also the entire lifecycle of an employee in an organisation spanning recruitment, selection, onboarding, performance management, development and retirement. It is here that, barring a few exceptions, the HR function in most organisations still continues to be stuck in the legacy of traditional modes of engagement, completely oblivious to the quality of the employee experience and the delivery of the employment promise.
 
The real shift of mind-set is twofold: the employee as a customer and the fact that digital is not just about heavy investments in technology.
 
The employee as a customer
 
In the consumer products world, a brand is the cluster of beliefs, experiences and impressions that consumers attach to a product or service. Similarly, some companies have come to realise that constructing a strong employee value proposition, and supporting it with a compelling employer brand, is a worthwhile effort. Organisations have to begin by understanding the employee as a customer, develop the offering, deliver the offering successfully, define the brand promise, and then start amplifying it.
 
This brand promise includes a higher purpose, meaningful work, the opportunity for actualisation of personal aspirations and learning, an appealing organisational culture, a sense of purpose, and a pride-inducing set of workplace values.
 
It is in this context that the HR function should introspect on why they exist! If the aim is to get to the head and hearts of their employees, HR needs to treat them as customers. The brand promise to the employees hence needs to be real, relevant and refreshed from time to time
 
The digital imperative
 
The employee as a customer is spoilt for choice and expects the same from HR. A more aware and connected generation is a majority in today’s workforce. This workforce is used to a high quality digital experience while engaging with friends and family. They demand the same consumer grade experience while working in and engaging with their organisations.
 
Digitisation provides a seamless interface that brings the employer brand and promise alive across the employee lifecycle. Digital through the Social, Mobility, Analytics & Cloud (SMAC) approach is critical for the HR function today.
 
The effective use of digital platforms can also dramatically improve learning outcomes. Research shows that the use of gamification techniques enable employees to learn more about new management subject areas and the roles they aspire for. It allows them to collaborate online with their peers, get instant feedback and be recognised for their achievements – all the while increasing their visibility as potential leaders.
 
It’s not just investing in technology
 
Most organisations look at digital as a mere adoption of expensive technology and platforms. Aon Hewitt research suggests that in relation to overall HR costs, Best Employers spend about 60% of what the average organisation does but achieve significantly higher people results. This balance of effectiveness and efficiency is achieved by rigorously planning for talent outcomes and driving agile linkages between programs, technology, platforms and analytics.
 
Successful HR organisations today harness a digital mind-set on delivering talent outcomes that look at three key anchors:
  1. Providing a consumer-grade experience across the employee lifecycle facilitating on-demand access to information, greater collaboration, social learning and a direct linkage to one’s aspirations.
  2. A move from integrated to unified talent management platforms based on one technology, one user experience and one data model with a focus on tracking progress of employees, rewarding them appropriately and giving them the tools they need to become successful.
  3. Adopting an analytics lifestyle which goes beyond just measuring things and benchmarking them against past data, to having more predictive capabilities to not only deliver on business results but rather help co-create them.
In a nutshell, HR should be able to develop a clear vision for digitisation that takes a long-term holistic view of shifting capability needs, linkages across the talent value chain and the experience it promises. The vision should not only be clearly aligned with the overall business goals but should also be backed by a strong business case for technology investments. Failure to adopt ‘digital HR’ urgently puts organisations at risk of being left out of the race to attract, retain and engage their employees for sustainable competitive advantage.
 
To enable digitisation of HR, Aon Hewitt (www.aon.com/apac) has partnered with Cornerstone (www.cornerstoneondemand.com), the leader in cloud based applications for Talent Management. This will help companies in Asia-Pacific transform every aspect of their employee experience spanning hiring, on-boarding, performing, rewarding and retiring.