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If human resources (HR) professionals do just one thing this year, it should be focused on fostering a learning culture that makes employees more productive and happy. This was one of the primary messages from a panel of experts who gathered at the 11th annual SAPInsider Human Resource (HR) 2014 Conference held this week in Orlando, Florida. These industry analysts shared insights with a sizeable crowd of human resources (HR) professionals from around the world during a roundtable that was hosted by Bill Kutik, HR Tech columnist for Human Resource Executive, and entitled, “What you need to do immediately back at the office and next year.”

According to these experts, companies are increasingly interested in using cloud-based HR software to accomplish what they could never do before, particularly around giving employees the experience that they expect in a digitalized world.

Industry analyst, Lisa Rowan, Research Vice President of HR, Talent and Learning Strategies at IDC, Rowan said that going to the cloud can free HR to do things in a more streamlined way for a better employee experience. “If your employees are customer-facing and not happy, your customers won’t be happy. It comes down to knowing your workforce, making sure their touch points with company systems are happy ones. All of this is enabled by new technologies with easy user interfaces, giving them access to collaboration with newer ways of knowledge sharing.”

Industry analyst Christa Degnan Manning, Senior Vice President of Research at HfS Research, advised companies to rethink how they support knowledge workers for daily productivity. “I get excited when I hear about the customer service portal for HR. The more that companies like SAP focus on integration in a simplified user interface across core HR and talent management, that’s what employees want because that will focus on activities that will drive business outcomes.”

With the advent of YouTube, Google, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the panelists discussed the employee learning revolution from push to pull. According to Josh Bersin, Partner and Founder at Bersin by Deloitte, the USD $2.5 billion learning technology industry is one of today’s most exciting and dynamic areas of software. “Most corporate HR and training departments have not set up an infrastructure that can create the consumer online experience, but this is what young people want when they come on board. If your learning technology isn’t compelling, your employees will go out on their own outside the firewall to find courses that they like.”

Rowan agreed, noting that for the first time in 10 years, recruiting is no longer the number one buying priority, having been replaced by learning systems. “We’re moving from a buy to a build culture around talent because it’s difficult to get budget to hire people, and you might not necessarily find the skills you need any way.”

As companies move away from cost control that dis-incentivized employee engagement, Manning said that they need to make sure workers have the tools to contribute in a meaningful way. She sees the new emphasis on learning revolving around collaboration and peer-to-peer social knowledge sharing. “Our research of 5,000 employees worldwide reveals that they want more experiential learning and career development assignments. This makes a development tool like SAP Jam compelling for the workforce. Employees will stay with your company with these kinds of tools.”

It’s no secret that younger employees, having grown up with social media, expect simplicity. As a result, Bersin said, “The bigger learning management system (LMS) vendors like SuccessFactors are in the middle of reinvesting to rebuild their technology to enable this. It’s very smart of SAP to double down investment in this area, and I know what they’re working on is going to be very powerful.”

The path to workforce satisfaction may be a new one in the cloud era but organizations with the shortest learning curve to understand and deliver the right technologies are certain to get there faster.

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