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Changing expectations are driving HR to become more consumer-centric, that is, placing consumers of HR services (employees, managers, contingent workers, etc.) at the centre of Talent Management models and processes. This requires a shift from deploying “HR tools” to “Employee tools” that are Google fast, Apple cool and Amazon simple. However, too few HR functions truly take into account workforce requirements and expectations when selecting technology, rather HR is still selecting tools for HR. Consequently, a huge opportunity to empower, engage and enable the workforce to work digitally and improve business performance is being missed.

Changing workforce expectations are driving organizations to develop user-centric HR models to meet the needs and requirements of a workforce that is becoming ever more “consumerised”, that is, behaving like consumers with the ability to instantly share employer brand perceptions and to “shop around” between employers to satisfy their wants and needs: how they want to be employed (full-time, contingent, etc.), when they want to work, how they want to be managed, how they want to learn, how they want to manage their careers, how they want to be rewarded and how they expect to network and collaborate with their co-workers.

Workforce expectations of employers have evolved faster than organizations have evolved. A significant element of this is that the workforce expects digitalization in the workplace to reflect the consumer digital experience they are so familiar with outside of work. We perform daily essential functions from our smartphones, such as banking, socializing, sharing photos, shopping, navigating, checking into flights and the list goes on. This consumer digital experience is what we’ve become accustomed to in our daily lives and has led to a harmonisation of user expectations of technology. Quite reasonably the workforce now expects a similar experience with the tools they use at work to manage their data, careers, performance, benefits and collaboration with the speed, personalization and interactivity they experience outside of work.

To meet these expectations HR needs to provide the workforce with tools that are Google fast, Apple cool and Amazon simple. Imagine how this would change the world of work and the level of engagement, performance and contribution. Imagine if employees were engaged to work like consumers are engaged to buy.

Critical to achieving this is a shift from deploying “HR tools” to “Employee tools”, that is, from technology designed to support HR users to technology designed to also support, empower and enable the workforce.

In the past HR technology has focused primarily on improving back-office activities for HR users. Designed to support transactions, rather than interactions, this approach results in fragmented, siloed technology that conflicts with how people actually work. Now the focus is on empowering business leaders, managers and workers with mobile, intuitive, consumer-grade tools enabling them to connect and network, work anytime, anywhere, from any device, and own their careers and development. This people-centric approach is based on workforce experiences not transactional efficiency. It’s easy to imagine that very soon “HRIS” will disappear as a term for HR technology as these workforce-centric capabilities become ubiquitous, woven into all areas of workforce operations, moving beyond being a tool to a digital workforce assistant.

To achieve this shift to people-centric “Employee tools” involves understanding the needs, preferences and behaviours of the workforce (the consumers of HR services) and building these into HR technology requirements specifications.

Why then do so few organizations involve employees and managers when they are defining requirements for new HR technology? Why are employees and managers almost never involved in system selection activities and, once a solution has been selected, rarely seen in solution design workshops? Too often HR define technology requirements based on HR needs and what HR believes managers and the wider workforce need. This approach delivers solutions that meet HR requirements, not employee and manager requirements, and consequently fail to be fully adopted by the workforce, managers and business leaders, and fail to deliver the desired business outcomes and benefits. This is a huge missed opportunity to deploy tools that deliver value to the business, empower and engage the workforce and improve workforce and business performance.

HR can gain this understanding of employee and manager priorities, drivers and behaviours through interviews, workshops and design thinking sessions, but to yield optimum benefits the focus should include key milestones or “moments that matter” for employees, such as the first day at work, the onboarding experience, life-changing events like having a child, development events, alumni experiences and all other interactions. Through this approach an understanding of the desired employee experience, rather than purely a transactional perspective, can be built up and this will provide a deeper and richer picture of the solutions that will best engage and support the workforce, support performance improvement and deliver value to the business.

Successful approaches typically involve the building of personas that represent the consumers of HR services. These could include a new hire, full-time employee, contingent worker, manager, business leader, HR Business Partner, etc. Once satisfied that the personas are representative of the organization’s population they can be used to create solutions requirements which can be tested across the business to determine validity and to allow further refinement to both the personas and the solution requirements.

Ideally an element of the system selection process would then involve employee and manager evaluation of potential solutions. This approach will lead to the selection of solutions that support the business and deliver business outcomes rather than solutions that primarily support the HR user.

Workforce expectations are changing and it’s imperative that organizations progress from leveraging “HR tools”, that reinforce outdated talent management approaches and models, and invest in “Employee tools” that will empower, engage and enable the workforce to work digitally and improve business performance. To do this requires a mindset change in HR and a laser focus on the requirements of the optimum workforce experience.

Mike Theaker is VP, HR Strategy & Digital Transformation at SAP SuccessFactors