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HR leaders alone will fail at employee experience

Posted by  Mike Ettling

We’re in an age where man and machine are meant to work together. But while businesses have embraced technology to speed up processes and transactions, there is one vital area where many are still learning: people.

The employee experience is critical to retaining talented staff and helping them to build successful careers. Yet, not enough companies are giving their workforce intuitive and simple to use tools to support their progression.

It is time that companies stopped looking at software as a functional HR or Finance tool to optimize processes, and started giving individuals the platform to curate, control and add value to their professional experiences across the spectrum of business operations.

Workplace satisfaction means more than salary

As a society, we are nurturing a culture that values instant digital experiences, but this is yet to fully filter into the working environment. Many companies lack the modern systems to support and nurture their employees, to create a day to day work experience that ensures their highest levels of productivity and commitment.

But enabling staff to nurture their own careers is more important than ever. Workplace success is no longer defined by salary; in a recent Glassdoor survey, professionals rated company culture, values, strong leadership and career opportunities above the size of their wages.

This desire for greater empowerment isn’t just coming from the workforce, either. In a 2019 Mercer study, 43% of CEOs said that declining and low engagement is a threat to their business – and therefore they need the tools to motivate staff and structure their development.

Some companies believe they have taken steps to increasing engagement by onboarding HR technology tools that streamline employee processes. Over the last decade we have seen:

- the rise of the Talent suites, 

- the shift of monolithic on-premises core HR to “cloudolithic” core HR suites,

- and the more recent rise of engagement tools and suites.

However, these fall way short of the mark when it comes to truly transforming the employee experience. The HR tech industry is hot, with 300 startups per quarter. HR tech industry influencers are advocating that HR leaders prepare for more technology and solutions, almost a reversal of the trend to “cloudolithic” HR suites over the last five years.  

Yet this logic is fundamentally flawed. On average employees spend a maximum of 20% of their time in the HR solutions. And normally only venture into the HR solution when they are “obliged to”, i.e. payslip printing, annual performance reviews, goal setting. By definition, all the hype in HR tech around employee experience at best can have a 20% impact on true employee experience. 

The real “elephant in the room” (or should I say dinosaur) waiting to really drive employee experience is ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning systems). Most employees spend a good 80% of their time undertaking day to day activity in these systems. This is where they review their results, approve supplier invoices, set up a new client, background check a new supplier, post their time, track their utilization and almost everything an employee has to do to execute on their role has to take place in these systems.

The approach of deploying every bit of latest and greatest “West Coast” HR technology combined with “your grandfather’s” ERP is a recipe for “inhuman experience”.  

From HR thinking to daily work functions

ERP is now the prime enabler of “employee experience” and not just a transactional process automation tool. Businesses need to equip their staff with the same modern tools they are used to in their private lives, including:

-  digital assistants, which cover all elements of the back office in a single place.

- A central platform where individuals have a holistic view of operational demands, alongside their own productivity, that they can use easily and independently.

- AI enabled processes that enable them to make smarter and faster decisions.

When I read modern leadership theories we constantly talk about authenticity, decision speed, quality of information, empowering and trusting teams to lead. YET the world builds ERP systems to do the exact opposite. It often feels like ERP system designers have been in hibernation for the last 40 years and have not followed modern leadership approaches.

The People Experience platform – it must be core!

In today’s experience-driven economy, greater emphasis needs to be placed on using technology to enhance professional satisfaction, rather than focusing on transactional systems. For too long, companies have viewed looking after their workforce as HR’s job, but the CIO and other senior personnel have a critical role to play in employee productivity and retention.

Out of this challenge we have seen the emergence of the Robotic Process Software Industry and the new novelty … the Experience Software industry … based on the novel idea of asking customers and employees what they think!! These solutions are akin to treating Cancer with Aspirin. RPA and Experience Software fundamentally exist because of bad ERP software!

Leaving the people experience purely to HR will most likely result in its failure. Companies must give employees the technology to feel empowered, motivated and valued in their careers, with the structure and resources in place to fulfil their potential, while striking a healthy work/life balance.

Modern ERP software built to orchestrate cloud services, with people experience at its core, provides the central system of experience at an operational level to truly empower the workforce. The knock-on effect of a happier, focused work force will be huge for those that invest in their people experience. But HR leaders alone will fail at employee experience unless the CIO wakes up and realizes that 80% of solving this rests on their shoulders.

Mike Ettling

I’m a CEO, Investor, builder of world class teams, champion of diversity and continuous learner, and I’m passionate about people. From my first leadership role in the Boy Scouts, to exec positions in the tech industry, my career has revolved around elevating, engaging and enabling people. I joined Unit4 to get the market as excited in our unique approach to enterprise tech as I am. We’re building systems that change how people experience work, and the impact will be huge. 

Outside of work I’m a family man, a Liverpool supporter, and a proud South African. 

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