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May 24, 2016

It’s a modern business reality that if you’re not the disruptor, you’re at risk to be disrupted. The last thing any company wants is to replicate the demise of the once-venerable Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix’s subscription entertainment business model. The good news is that HR (or employee experience) departments have a role to play in the age of disruption. While there’s a lot of talk about the evolving workplace and how it can impact competitive advantage, this evolution needs to be carefully managed (and not just as a technology transformation, but a human-centric one as well).

Whether or not your company is on top of every trend, these accelerating changes will require HR professionals to make a choice – you can either ignore the disruption and work in an enterprise that’s filled with friction and unmanaged change, or you can embrace and leverage it to cultivate inspiration and empowerment for employees.

The lightning-pace of change can sometimes be distressing, which is why business leaders — including many CHROs — are throwing ever-more technology at the problem and hoping it sticks. While technology enables disruption, there’s something far more human going on. HR leaders who recognize this will be able to act upon the opportunity and use technology to create a culture where people don’t just show up to work; they thrive.

Embracing people-centric digital workplaces

A modern multi-generational workforce expects technology that’s accessible, convenient and purposeful. Organizations are locked in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their workers against social networking sites, instant messaging apps and one-click shopping experiences.

In the past, people went to work for a paycheck. Now they want more. They want meaningful work that they can excel at. But if the technology they use in their personal life is more powerful than what their workplace offers, they may become frustrated and disengaged. Over the past decade, consumer technologies have left companies scrambling to build solutions that are not only secure and scalable, but that employees actually want to use.

We’re all IT now

That means that digital, once solely the purview of IT, is on the mind of every department across the enterprise. Technological advancements that took an entire year to realize at the turn of the 21st century will take just five seconds in 2020. And it’s precisely because of this near-constant technological reinvention that putting people first is more important than ever. So, perhaps it’s unsurprising that HR departments have found themselves at the center of the turmoil. After all, it’s employees’ desire for the latest and greatest tools that is perpetuating the cycle of disruption. In the mad dash to adopt the newest platforms, solutions and tools, IT is no longer the primary arbiter of a company’s technology—especially when workforce engagement is the goal.

There are three important ways technology is helping to guide HR departments through the disruption storm:

1. Engagement

Over the past two decades, technology has mastered the ‘resources’ side of HR—duties such as paperwork, payroll and benefits. In fact, it can automate nearly all of the tasks that support a person’s job. But while Learning Management Systems (LMS) were a step in the right direction, technology has historically offered only very limited support for the living, breathing person. Until now. Imagine if onboarding wasn’t just a transactional process but, instead, there was a place where people could congregate before, during and after training to share their experiences and ask questions. This is what the concept of “employee experience” is all about, and why there’s rebranding of HR afoot. Approaches like this help ensure that employees’ future actions embody the goals of the company.

Today, there are platforms, solutions and tools that can replicate and advance the ‘human’ side of HR. Digital workhubs create experiences that contribute to employee engagement by personalizing onboarding, streamlining training and even reproducing social, water cooler-style interactions for a new age of remote workers.

Within months of launching its interactive intranet in 2015, web hosting giant GoDaddy’s employee engagement shot up—increasing 81% in its customer care division alone. That’s because the company recognized that it’s not enough to offer employees a bunch of cool bells and whistles — the systems must enable a personal touch, and be flexible enough to adapt to any workstyle. This means supporting a person’s individual work habits and preferences, including the ability to use whichever applications, systems and devices they prefer.

2. Retention

New interactive platforms also bring out the best in employees by allowing them to engage in a more natural way with content, colleagues and experts. Executives and managers can use these systems to recognize employees for their accomplishments right in the place where the work is getting done. By bringing all of the assets and answers together, and giving workers organic encouragement, direction and feedback in ways that were never possible before, employees can have the best of both worlds. They can find the collaboration and communication tools they need to succeed at their jobs with the consumer-like experiences they desire all in one place—whether they’re working in the office, at home or in an airport on the other side of the world.

When people’s everyday experiences are optimized in context, at each point of interaction (regardless of the system they use, their needs, or their personal workstyle), they feel recognized and supported. This is key to retention because engaged employees are far less likely to seek work elsewhere: as much as 65% less likely!

3. Culture

Digital and mobile technologies are rapidly innovating other “people” functions of HR as well, such as recruiting the right talent, and creating and maintaining a vibrant organizational culture. Today, the best workplaces are using next generation digital solutions to provide employees the authentic connections and interactions, tools and information they need to align around a common mission, succeed in their jobs, and advance in their careers. So, it’s not surprising that tech companies like Google and GoDaddy make Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. But even as onboarding, continuing education and performance evaluations are reinvented, human beings must remain at the heart of any new system.

The lifeblood of your organization

The companies that succeed will be those that employ HR to connect people, information and systems in ways that create productive and rewarding experiences. Allowing employees to connect with colleagues, showcase their contributions, and get the feedback and recognition they deserve is key to this effort.

Unfortunately, today more than two-thirds of information regarding company recognition programs is communicated through email and nearly 90% of managers lack formal training regarding their company’s recognition program. Wouldn’t it be nice if recognizing and appreciating employees for their hard work was so easy it became second nature?

With so much focus on technology, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people are still the lifeblood of your organization. That’s why HR professionals are so instrumental. After all, putting people front and center is what they do every single day. So, instead of getting caught up in the “whys” of workplace disruption, the real question should be how. How do HR leaders provide employees the tools they need to do today’s jobs? How do those solutions meet their ever-evolving expectations?

If you don’t give your employees solutions that fit into the context of their lives and workstyles, your competitors will. Disruptor or disrupted? It’s up to you to decide.

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