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UNLEASH World 2019 – A People Powered Future

Posted by  Patricia Anderson

Déjà Vu

Transformational leader Richard Branson is a status quo disrupter. Businesses in the early nineties, at the cusp of unleashing the power of technology, were justifiably hyper-focused on external customer service. Branson surmised then that an organization’s employees, not their customers came first.   He reasoned that employees were drivers of customer success and helping employees to help customers made business sense.  Today’s world of unleashed technological prowess appear to be positively correlated with increased attrition, knowledge leak/transfer, under-skilled and over-worked employees, and escalating onboarding time and costs, all threatening to undermine the gains companies made by putting customers first. The 2019 Employee Engagement Report has described “the end of employee loyalty.” Is it time to revisit Branson’s rationale?”

The October 22nd and 23rd UNLEASH World 2019 conference was the platform where questions met capabilities.  The platform’s objective targeted transformational Human Resource leaders who were intentional in pursuing an internal customer service strategy. Exhibitors positioned smarter tools as the conduit by which talent recruitment, retention, and management would transpire.   Presenters described the value propositions of engaged employees, speed to value talent development, strategic collaboration, and unleashed creativity and innovation.

The word unleash implies an awakening, a release of something that has been withheld, suppressed, or underutilized. Further, what emerges is agile, focused, and needed. It may not be a coincidence that the City of Light hosted this event; illuminating and illuminated thought leaders shared their views of what they believe will unleash the restrained potential of a business workforce that leverages the power of human capital in ways that add value to the business’s internal and external environments.  

Organizational Storytelling in Stages

Transformational leaders are innovative storytellers. They know that leadership tools emerge from organizational history.  The prospective for a successful organizational future requires positioning employee satisfaction alongside the company’s key focus - their customers. This is what Unit4’s by line “In business for people” means.  Unit4’s enterprise software systems help people do business through carefully engineered intuitive tools that untether them from tasks that are less purposeful to focus on solving key business issues.  Deepened client engagement means better organizational stories.  Adopting the dual objectives of optimizing customer and employee experience is not only tenable it is critical to KPI driven organizational growth.  Transformational leaders took to the Main, Influencer, and Ideas Stages at the UNLEASH conference to convey their expertise in their respective disciplines.

Transformational leaders are learning leaders who identify a need for change, craft the mechanisms to effect said change, and motivate and galvanize their workforce to simultaneously not only change processes and systems but also themselves. Failing systems require that HR’s traditional role with employees expand to occupy a psychological space in the organization. From the Main Stage, Bob Geldoff attributed this role expansion to transpiring events outside of the organization that affect employees; individuals are requiring psychological safety from HR leaders to attend to the whole person - not only “who we are” but “what we are.” Geldoff encourages leaders to focus not only on the profit drivers of their organizations but also to their workers, suppliers, and the community. Repurposing and refreshing commitment to these individuals will in turn restore their commitment to the organization. Transformational leaders exercise their emotional quotient when they provide individualized consideration to their talent; this in turn affects how they relate to the organization’s internal and external environments.

Transformational leaders are collaborative. Thought leaders expressed their preference for focusing on their core competencies and collaborating with organizations who also focus on their core competencies, effectively driving technological changes. This future is about not only about change, a one-off binary process, it is also a transformation - a continuous evolution that is people powered.  Prevero’s performance management system effortlessly mines and filters data via digital dashboards.  Decision making non-technical users can quickly master insightful diagnostic driven analytical capabilities.  Preconfigured dashboards displaying key metrics from deep analytics foster agile management practices. This type of predictive analytics can shorten the time to market for not only goods and services, but also employee onboarding and development.

Transformational leaders are compelling visionaries whose masterful storytelling breed collaboration.  Employees, customers and competitors engage in digital storytelling, which when analyzed by digital listening dashboards, informs the organization of the “word on the streets.” The propagation of data to knowledge to real-time actionable initiatives helps organizations to become more responsive. On the Influencer Stage Mike Ettling moved the needle five years into the future to give us a glimpse of optimal HR transformation.  His vision comprised a “constellation of suites” where talent recruitment, onboarding, and regulated learning is realized.  Employee wellness (health, financial, assistance) and talent engagement coexist in an integrated software platform.  Unleashing the People Experience, according to Mike, necessitates forgoing the traditional monolithic on-premise HR solutions in favor of a cloud-based ubiquitous platform. Achieving suite success requires ongoing strategic collaboration and incremental adoption with a focus on critical roadmap anchors of the vendors in the constellation.  

Transformational leaders are innovative. HCM tools like Intuo, empowers companies to attract, retain, and develop talent.  It provides the transparent framework from which performance fueled conversations, engagement and learning evolve.  From the Ideas Stage, leaders touted machine language and artificial intelligence as spearheading the future of HCM software.  Self-learning bots can integrate with the system’s communications network to deliver real-time solutions to employees.   These microservices allow users to connect with their organization, customers, and teams, ensure policy conformance, transform arcane processes, reduce churn, and increase the time to decision making. 

Transformational leaders engage in cooperative critical thinking that yields collective knowledge.  Leaders from PepsiCo, Orange Business Services, and Havas Media Group debated employee experience versus employee engagement during an interactive panel discussion. Panelists agreed that the relationship between HR and ERP will be the driving force that defines the employee experience. Samantha Woods equated employee experience to customer experience stating, “The employee experience is the new customer experience.” Focusing on employee experience today, she believes, will secure the future for successful customer experiences. “Measuring moments” is what constitutes employee engagement, Samantha added. Companies who want a truly diverse workplace benefited from Thomas Otter’s research on accessibility which mandates an inclusive recruitment system that supports all applicants. Accessibility in the workplace begins with inclusive spaces in the recruitment process.  Thomas also pointed out that GDPR compliance assisted with the “trust aspect of the employee experience.”    Other panelists pointed out that HR technology alone does not drive People Experience; culture plays a role, as does the environment. 

Transformational leaders are culturally astute. Cultural relativity explains fluctuations in employees’ perception of the organization according to Erin Mayer, author of The Culture Map. Erin promotes the use of cultural scales that depict dimensions such as communications, conflict, and feedback. A culture map identifies areas of similarities where communication is more effective.  Areas of opportunities occur where messages between diverse cultures are lost in translation.  The complexities of a global workplace necessitates a deep dive into understanding the contextual interaction of various countries.  Streamlined communications bolster work effort and results. Culture mapping positions global leaders to exploit proximity-based synergies while strengthening cross-cultural collaboration and removing geographically imposed boundaries.

Transformational leaders possess an environmentally responsible worldview. From the Main Stage, Céline Cousteau advised leaders to disrupt the digital disruption by providing opportunities for employees to connect with a world that may not be digitally accessible. Environmental stewardship starts with education. Understanding the supply chain of common goods and services, enable employee consumers to make sustainable choices.  The message is clear; organizational leaders hold the responsibility of providing opportunities for their employees to engage with the external environment in meaningful ways.

The Future is Cloudy

UNLEASH World is a space that exhibits the groundwork for the innovative and collaborative future that transformational HR leaders envision.   According to Forbes.com, we are only beginning to capitalize on the full capabilities of cloud infrastructure. The future is cloudy for transformational leaders seeking to unleash the capabilities of their employees. By harnessing the scalability and flexibility of cloud and other emergent technologies, organizations can participate in the larger context of cloud revolution.  The future is also sustainably focused and collaborative.  Solidifying the organization’s story requires a critical assessment that begins by identifying past contributors to the story, assessing the current perception - usually pain points. The resultant areas of focus may require a business model adjustment.  Telling the organization’s whole story involves every stakeholder, especially talent. Human capital investment calls for a unified strategy between technology and transformational leaders. The call to action for a people powered future entails a transformation of organizational culture, communications, and processes, and is what Richard Branson envisioned in the nineties. Moving at the speed of business needs more than technology; it demands authentic transformational leaders.

Patricia Anderson

Patricia Anderson works as a Senior Consultant at Unit4 and is completing a doctoral degree in Transformational Leadership (conferred December 2019). Her research focuses on transformational leaders’ impact on workforce perception and subsequent behavior.