How HR can unlock the treasure trove of workforce data

Gut instinct may be one way of making decisions in a crisis, but for organizations to thrive once this period of uncertainty has passed, HR leaders need to make use of workforce data to efficiently plan for the future.

The uncertainty created by the ongoing pandemic, combined with Brexit, is causing undeniable economic upheaval. In a moment where transformation is happening at an accelerated rate, having a clear oversight of the skills, knowledge, and experience of your workforce has never been more important.

Tapping into invaluable workforce data and using it to model for the future will guide the way to a future of work that the whole organisation can get behind.
Data will be instrumental in informing how HR leaders successfully design change across the business, and most importantly, deliver against the business objectives of tomorrow.

Gut instinct over data
As part of a wider research study we conducted with Vanson Bourne into decision making among business leaders across the UK (and the US), we found that most HR executives (84% in the UK or 87% in the US) in the past year have been making decisions based on gut instinct rather than data.

Although there are understandable reasons for this, including the unprecedented nature of Covid-19 and how this impacted the workforce, people data is extremely valuable to the business. Especially now that remote working is so prevalent.

So, why might HR leaders be overwhelmingly using gut instinct when making decisions and how can data be better utilized in these moments?

The need for speed
Despite HR leaders reporting there are more decisions to make, especially related to workforce planning, development, and costs, over half (55%) said that new technology makes people expect more immediate answers.

Making decisions is one thing, but making them quickly and confidently is another. In our research, the majority (89%) of organizations that felt they were taking too long to make decisions also said they were at risk of being left behind. Furthermore, 35% said their hesitation negatively impacts overall productivity.

To stay on the front foot, then, it would seem faster decision making is the answer. According to our research, organizations that have access to the right information are more likely to make decisions faster.

For many HR leaders, however, getting immediate access to the right data and research to inform urgent and imminent decision-making has not been possible during the Covid-19 crisis. It is in the moments where data is not accessible where gut instinct may be necessary. Instead, where HR can be utilising data more strategically is in planning what happens next.

Data unlocks the ‘what if’
The average HR department is sitting on a trove of data – information about employees, their skills, their opinions, their location, how they are interacting, and what competencies they see themselves needing in the future. HR leaders can, and should, utilize this data to ask themselves a simple yet crucial question – ‘what if?’

What if we moved to fully remote working longer term? What would productivity and culture look like then? Would this lead to a more dispersed workforce? Or what if we return to the office in eight months? What if we move into a new market segment? Do we have adequate capabilities and resources to support that venture?

Scenario planning against these types of questions by using workforce data will provide leaders with an unrivaled view of what they need to deliver long-term growth and transformation while also understanding where gaps exist right now. It will also help to provide a more considered approach to decision making that may have otherwise been made from the gut, or worse, as a knee-jerk reaction in a moment of crisis.

Tying back to business outcomes
Alongside the treasure trove of workforce data and using it to illuminate new ways of working by modeling different scenarios, perhaps the most important question to consider is how can this help deliver business outcomes and add real value’?

In a previous role, I led a project working with data scientists for an organization that relies heavily on its customer service centers. Data modeling allowed us to predict the employee factors that were linked to higher TNPS (touchpoint net promoter score), which we knew had a direct link to our bottom line EBITDA.

Honing in on a selection of characteristics such as the level of formal education and testing different hypotheses, our findings allowed us to predict, for example, that in certain markets customer service agents without university degrees drove higher TNPS scores. The findings required further research before a full conclusion could be made, however, it allowed us to question our existing hiring strategy from universities to customer services roles and help inform more targeted and strategic recruitment plans.

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The key to engaging new hires: Psychological safety at work

For those of us who are students of engagement and team-building, we know how key trust, communication and leadership are. But when Google ran two-year study into what makes teams successful, it unlocked a surprising key to high performance and fertile collaboration. Dubbed Project Aristotle, the presented five key factors of great teams: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. Of all of them, the most fundamental turned out to be psychological safety.

Much has been made of each of the five factors — and certainly it’s no surprise that they all go into team success: they connect to all the values we associate with a high-functioning workplace, whether we use different terms or not. But psychological safety carries even more weight. Even among the cream-of-the-crop kind of hires that make it into Google, it mattered more than anything else.

The professor who invented the term psychological safety is Amy Edmondson of the Harvard Business School — and even she was surprised by the results. “If you had asked me would psychological safety have been the big predictor of team performance at Google, I would’ve said, I don’t think so,” she noted in a recent podcast with HBR. “All those folks are going to be pretty able to take care of themselves, right? They’ve been told their whole life that they’re really smart,” she noted.

The need for psychological safety at work

But in the workplace, we need to feel safe about taking risks. We need to know that if we raise questions or concerns, speak up, offer our own ideas, or make mistakes, we won’t be punished or shamed for it: we’re safe. And you won’t be able to spark any kind of innovation or out-of-the-box thinking if your people don’t feel safe. That goes double for new hires — who are going to pick up on the workplace culture around them and follow the lead of their new colleagues.

There’s no technology that results in psychological safety in this case, though there are plenty of apps and digital tools that can help support it. But this one comes down to how you shape and maintain your workplace culture. It’s not simply a matter of step by step on this one either: there’s a hearts and minds aspect to maintain as an emotional thru-line. But there are some key bases to cover as you create psychological safety in your own workplace:

Start With Day One
New hires usually walk in raring to go, and may be brimming with ideas and filled with questions. It’s incumbent on your managers to make sure those ideas and those questions are neither rebuffed nor ignored. Keep lines of communication open, whether remote or on-site, and establish a policy of frequent check-ins and welcoming input from Day One. First impressions count.

Get Leadership Aligned
The fact that Google’s own high-input, high-energy teams stressed the need for psychological safety points to leadership’s influence: in a place filled with ambitious employees, team and project leaders play a pivotal role in harnessing that ambition or inhibiting it. Leaders need to work to make sure teams are thriving individual by individual, or engagement – and performance — are going to suffer. But they also need to transmit balance and composure: during inevitable times of stress, it’s how leaders react that sets the tone for everyone — and new hires in particular are a sponge. Stay calm, stay positive, and stay clear — if at all possible. Your teams will pick up on that.

Make Conversation
Managers bear much of the responsibility for the level of conversation among their teams — and discussion is vital to solid team-building. Here’s too, there are lines that should not be crossed: a new hire’s attempt to articulate a concern needs to be carefully listened to and respectfully responded to A meeting in which no one talks but the facilitator is deadly — meetings should be seized as an opportunity for energized discussion and exchange of ideas. Nothing does more for a team than being able to collaborate to solve problems or provide support for each other. Build time and space into the day to day for simply getting the chance to talk.

Follow Through and Follow Up
Relationships are forged on a continuous cycle of exchanges and communications. As in the recruiting sphere, not responding to someone’s question, text, email or ping can have risks that go far beyond just a day of being out of touch. Newer hires, particularly younger millennials and Gen Z, are used to the immediacy of texts and social media; a delayed response from a supervisor, for instance, may be interpreted as ghosting, which may in turn be loaded with emotional implications. Psychological safety is defined as “a climate in which people are comfortable being (and expressing) themselves.” No one is going to stay comfortable if ideas are shared with no response. Managers and leaders need to make follow-through and follow-up a priority. Tools like Slack and other digital chat channels can help.

Encourage Controlled Risk-Taking
It’s not always possible to let your newest hires go out on a limb, but if you can provide that experience in a controlled setting, do so. Adrenaline and innovation can go hand in hand — and not just in the tech sector. The “Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast” approach (credit to Tom Peters for that chestnut) is something everyone in your organization should understand. The more opportunity for controlled risks that result in encouragement, not rejection, the better. The courage to take risks should be part of your workplace culture and viewed as part of a continuing commitment to develop your talent.

Google’s research upended the oft-shared assumption that it’s hard skills and a charismatic leader that push the envelope when it comes to performance. It’s also a reminder that there’s a business case to be made for psychological safety. Toxic workplace cultures have driven 20% of U.S. employees out of their jobs in the past five years. Further, when employees feel psychologically safe at work, there’s a 154% increase in the incidence of great work, and a full 33% decrease in the incidence of moderate to severe burnout. But the key to fully integrating psychological safety into your workplace culture is to make it normal — no one should be surprised that they trust leadership and each other, feel valued, and can safely express themselves. That should be the given.

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Are Your Irrational Fears Holding Back Your Customer And Employee Experience Efforts?

Please take a moment and cast your mind back to how many people and businesses used to talk about ideas and practices before becoming commonplace.

Can you remember a time when money-back guarantees were not that common? Before their widespread adoption, many brands and leaders resisted their introduction, fearing that if they put them in place, then that would lead to a torrent of their customers knocking on their front door asking for their money back.

Now, the idea that a large number of customers would come rushing to the front door looking for their money back on the introduction of a “money-back guarantee” is patently ridiculous. It assumes that customers are stupid and routinely make silly spending decisions. And, we know that this is simply not true.


This is just one historical example of how an irrational fear, or as some would describe them False Expectations Appearing Real, held back the betterment of the customer’s experience.

The problem is that this is not an isolated incident.


Again this is patently ridiculous and has not proved to be true. Asking for feedback from customers and employees has become one of the foundational elements in both customer and employee experience.

But, these fears do not just exist in the past. Some are very present in the here and now.

Here are a few examples of how irrational fears could be undermining both the customer and employee experience.

Making it easy for customers to complain
Things go wrong and sometimes badly. So, why do some companies make it hard for customers to complain? Is it because they fear that if they make the process easier and more visible, it will invite a massive increase in complaints, forcing them to confront some ugly truths and take part in some difficult conversations?

Making it easy for customers to call
Why do some companies make it hard for customers to call them or even find their phone numbers when they need help? Is it because they fear there will be a massive surge in phone calls from customers seeking help?

Allowing customers to easily cancel their subscriptions
Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot’s co-founder, has a great saying which goes: “We want to make it emotionally difficult for our customers to leave, but procedurally easy”. I think that is a great sentiment and one that every subscription-based business should aspire to. But, that’s not always the case. Why is that? Is it because they fear that if they made it easy to cancel, they would see a massive spike in cancellations that would undermine their economics, business plan, and bonuses?

Trusting employees to do a good job, particularly when they are working remotely
Many organizations use employee performance monitoring and analytics software to help them manage workloads and improve performance. And, that’s great. However, many others go much further and take a much more draconian approach whereby they track and monitor their employees to within an inch of their lives. With many workers working remotely, we have seen a spike in this behavior since the start of the pandemic. Is this because many organizations don’t trust their employees and fear that if they don’t keep a constant eye on them, they’ll mess about and won’t get their work done?

These are only four instances, and I am sure there are others. However, none of them stand up under scrutiny.

But, what they do is have an adverse effect on the customer and employee experience that organizations want to deliver.

These irrational fears exist. They impact our decision-making and undermine efforts to improve the customer and the employee experience.

It’s our job to become aware of them and root them out because they do not help us, our employees, or our customers.


How Tech Companies Can Adopt A More Holistic Approach To Employee Wellbeing

As companies navigate the modern working world and strive to attract the top talent in their fields, it’s become increasingly important for them to support employee wellbeing in addition to fostering their professional development. However, for the companies with wellbeing initiatives underway, the focus is too often primarily on physical health, with executives’ support expressed through sponsored gym classes or healthy meals in the office kitchen.

That’s now changing. Catalyzed by Covid-19, there’s been a fundamental shift in the ways professionals view corporate wellbeing, with a newfound emphasis on mental and emotional health. As people continue working from home (potentially for the long term), the pressures of work can feel inescapable, consequently hindering productivity and depressing moods. It’s challenging to draw a line between the professional and personal time when a kitchen table doubles as a desk, and consequently employees may be feeling overburdened even if their workloads haven’t changed dramatically.

At tech companies, in particular, where work hard, play hard mentalities have ranked supreme for some time, and companies are set on achieving hypergrowth—it’s more important than ever for employers to offer programs that encompass mental and emotional wellbeing in addition to physical. Here’s how companies can take a holistic approach to wellbeing in 2021 and beyond.
1. Create an Open, Reassuring Atmosphere
Discussing mental and emotional wellbeing can often be regarded as taboo, especially in a professional environment, which means that the first step in supporting employees’ wellbeing is simply acknowledging that it deserves attention. By vocalizing their commitment to mental and emotional wellbeing, executives create a work environment in which employees feel comfortable speaking up about challenges they may be facing so that the company can work with them on how to remedy the situation. Solutions could include time off, adjustments to workloads, more regular check-ins with mentors, or even a referral to the company’s Employee Assistance Program.

Because not every executive or even HR professional is going to be a master in promoting wellbeing, companies can offer tools that empower employees to tend to their health on their own terms.

Another benefit of speaking openly about wellbeing initiatives is that employees are encouraged to share their feedback on what’s working and what they still need, so that companies can ensure the programs they’re investing in the matter to employees and that resources aren’t being spent when a different solution may be more appreciated.
2. Offer Educational Opportunities
When it comes to employee wellbeing, simply advising individuals to take care of their health isn’t enough. Like other skills, taking care of one’s own wellbeing needs to be learned. Companies can offer regular programs like Lunch and Learn on how to approach common stressors (e.g., working from home as a parent). These programs should cover a variety of topics since some employees will prefer physical wellbeing programs like stretching sessions or guided meditation, while others may want more introspective or skills-based lessons (e.g., how to better manage their schedules). Additionally, because some employees may be struggling to divide their days between professional and personal needs, explicitly carving out time for the purpose of wellbeing ensures employees are in fact taking that time away from work activities.

For global organizations, educating employees on different business cultures and social norms from around the world can alleviate the stress individuals sometimes feel in interpersonal engagements. These insights inspire greater empathy and collaboration between staff, which results in a more understanding and cooperative place of work.
3. Use Tech to Support Employee Workloads
While companies can adopt initiatives that help their employees tackle stress already present in their lives, there are also ways they can further unburden staff by updating the way work gets done. With automation programs integrated into their workflows to execute the more tedious and manual aspects of their jobs (e.g., software testing), employees will have more time in their day to focus on strategic work that drives the business forward. Especially as many employees work-from-home, outside of the traditional office structure, having automation to, say, source relevant data so employees don’t have to search through numerous files when building a new application can significantly reduce instances of burnout.

Beyond its global toll, the coronavirus outbreak has created an unprecedented slew of professional stressors that, when compounded with traditionally intense work environments, can quickly become overwhelming. If companies hope to retain employees during this time—while also promoting productivity and satisfaction within their roles—it’s imperative business leaders invest in holistic wellbeing initiatives that demonstrate to staff that their multitude of needs is cared for.


Data Drop: How Employees and Businesses are Handling the Pandemic

Despite all of the optimism of the last few months around vaccines and the eventual easing of the Coronavirus pandemic, the reality of the situation is that there is still a long, long way to go before much of anything returns to normal, assuming that it ever does.

As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers, and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how companies are handling the pandemic according to executives as well as workers and what kinds of shifts should be expected in the labor market.

Evolution of Roles
SilkRoad Technology, a Chicago-based HR tech company, released results from a survey it conducted regarding office workers’ transition to remote work, pandemic-era onboarding, and corporate pandemic responses. Nearly 1,500 office workers and 500 C-level executives based in North America were surveyed.

Compared to before the pandemic, 64% of C-level executives felt that their connection to their company and coworkers was much better or somewhat better, compared to only 34% of office workers.

Around 40% of office workers plan to resign and get a new job based on how their company handled the pandemic. Part of that may be related to frustration with the changing nature of their role. Around 63% said they had taken on new responsibilities during the pandemic, but only 27% said they had received adequate training or support to cope with those changes.


Of workers who started a new job during the pandemic, 52% felt like they didn’t receive enough training, and 56% still have unanswered questions about their role.

Employee Wellness
Wellbeing is a growing concern in the age of the COVID era workplace. Burnout is rampant, isolation is wreaking havoc with mental health and the employee experience has shifted to a place where employers have to think beyond productivity now more than ever.

Research from the Limeade Institute shows that employer efforts to focus on employee wellness have not gone unnoticed as wellbeing has become a greater concern.

While the manager and employee wellbeing has dropped, respondents still felt their wellbeing is supported by employers, with 66% saying they at least “somewhat agree” that their employer cares about their overall health and wellness.

Among managers and employees, 72% also said their employers have engaged in initiatives or offered services to support employee wellbeing since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, 77% of respondents said they feel at least “somewhat comfortable” asking their employer for a day off to benefit their own wellbeing.

While these were encouraging statistics, the news wasn’t all good, particularly for females in managerial roles.

According to the study, one-third of female managers said they have feared losing their job during the pandemic while 26% of male managers felt the same. Additionally, 73% of women feel equipped to support the emotional needs of their team compared with 94% of men. These feelings from female managers are then only exacerbated by the pressing effects of remote work.

The Job Market
Job search platform iHire released a report which details the top hiring industries, popular career titles, most desired candidate skills, and the top hiring geographic areas, top industries for remote jobs, and more trends in the wake of COVID-19.

Findings worth noting include that more than 61% of workers are considering making major changes in their career in 2021, many in industries severely impacted by the pandemic such as hospitality and tourism.

The report also detailed the growth of remote jobs. At a time when 82% of companies say they are going to continue allowing employees to work remotely even after the crisis, remote hiring increased significantly. In 2020, the iHire platform saw more than 776,000 postings for remote work opportunities.

The Future of Work is here. Things like remote work, flexible work hours, learning is integrated into the work experience and upskilling are all happening before our eyes. Now, the Future of Work discussion must shift once again to figure out how to evolve the employee experience further and help humans integrate with technology in ways that will drive efficiency and the growth of new skills. Roles are changing, demands on the workforce are shifting and HR will be at the forefront of what the future of work looks like. Registering and attending this FREE ONLINE event will provide you real strategies for preparing your company and your employees now for the challenges that lay ahead. Challenges such as predicting the skills of the future, strengthening and sustaining the workforce through new digital technologies, and fostering a cohesive corporate structure. Attendees will also be able to put their real questions to the speakers and get valuable, actionable feedback that can be used to plan your organization’s plan for the next 5, 10, and 20 years.

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Could bots help to solve employee mental health problems?

Many businesses are turning to bots to encourage workers to be more communicative about issues and to help identify mental health problems, says Jo Gallacher

It’s a challenging world out there. Uncertainty, quarantines, lockdown, loneliness – chances are you’ll have experienced one, if not all, of the above throughout the last year due to the global pandemic.

One of the largest concerns for HR during the pandemic has been the well-being of its employees. Of course, this has always been a high priority, but having to deal with new ways of working, family pressures, and reduced freedoms has boosted this well up the agenda.

The scale of change has inevitably taken its toll on even the most resilient of brains, and mental health issues are likely to remain long after the pandemic has been brought under control.

HR is often working hard to reduce stigma around mental health and create an open and honest culture away from judgment. But it’s no straightforward task and the switch to remote working has meant it is not always easy to spot those who may be struggling.

Businesses are therefore looking for alternatives to the ‘how are you really’ question and introducing AI bots to encourage workers to open up about their issues in a safe space away from judgment and any threat of career jeopardy. No, this isn’t in the next 10 years. It’s right now.

In a study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence of 12,000 employees, managers, HR leaders, and C-level executives from across the globe, 82% said robots could support their mental health better than humans. This is despite the common argument that only humans can examine, interpret and understand emotions.

No judgment zone

Though machines cannot replicate complex emotions yet, workers may not want to speak to someone who can only relate to their issues within their own personal context, or worse, misunderstand completely.

Sometimes it’s easier to speak to someone totally detached from the situation. It, therefore, may not be surprising that 68% of those surveyed said they would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work.

Do the findings mean HR and managers have failed in their pastoral role? Or does it offer an opportunity to adjust the job description of HR to focus on other issues?

“AI is an opportunity to keep HR relevant,” says HR director of restaurant chain Honest Burgers Chantal Wilson. “Our capability to use technology is outstanding, so I see AI as an awesome opportunity and not a threat to the HR function.”

Honest Burgers has embraced technology and bots in its people strategy by using Workplace From Facebook, which is not only intended to encourage workers to engage with their colleagues and feel part of a community, but also to improve their job.

Wilson says: “I don’t believe in an engagement tool to get free perks. I want to engage in stuff that will make the job easier. So we introduced this big strategic platform where we removed email and instead all conversation went through Workplace, as well as access to payslips, rotas, etc.”

The tech has allowed the people team to create automated bots to answer business requirements and more complex people needs. It’s certainly ‘big picture’ stuff, but Wilson says it needn’t scare HR.

She adds: “You don’t need specialist skills to build a bot, about 40 people in my business know-how to make them and we use them for everything.

“We have well over 100, from personal assistants where you ask what your password is and paygrade, to the more complex bots where if you’re in a tiered COVID location you would receive specific training for those new regulations or talk about a concern you have relating to mental health.

“Because it’s built in-house, it allows me to focus on what the business needs in real-time. We have no limitations.”

And the engagement levels with the system speak volumes. In an organization of 500 people, 98% of the workforce engaged with the platform pre-COVID, with a drop of just two percentage points since the outbreak.

This is all the more impressive when considering most of the workers at Honest Burgers are in front of the house and therefore not sat behind a computer or in an office where this type of platform is typically accessed.

Instead, employees are choosing to download the app onto their phones and interacting with bots so they can keep up with the workplace community and have any questions they have answered right away.

This engagement rate taps into the potential for AI bots to offer something HR and managers don’t have in their arsenal: a 24-hour response rate. Angela O’Connor is an HR consultant and founder of the HR Lounge.

She argues there’s huge potential for bots to pick up on mental health issues that managers may accidentally overlook, no matter what time of day.

She says: “AI can look at social media posts and pick up features of someone who is depressed or experiencing anxiety, which is interesting for HR if it means we can identify issues.

“There’s a massive shortage of mental health practitioners and horrible queues for services, so if people can have access to AI, which flags them up to helpful resources, it could be a brilliant first step.”

O’Connor believes bots can help foster trust and offer solace to employees who may have a hard time opening up to their line managers or HR leaders. She adds: “When people are expressing vulnerabilities and fears, sometimes it’s hard to do that with a person as you may feel you will be judged by them so it might be easier to interact through a different mechanism.”

As well as acting as a guiding point for workers, AI could help HR find the best talent and better promote and celebrate workers who are doing a good job, creating a more democratic and fairer workplace.

Julien Codorniou, VP of Workplace From Facebook, says: “It’s not just software for the 1%, it’s software for everyone in the company for the first time – which includes first-line employees. When you turn your company into a community, great things happen.

“People have a voice, understand who they work for and the values of the company. By being able to voice concerns to a bot, you are able to reduce the distance between people at HQ and at a store. Everyone needs that right now, so it’s a real competitive advantage.

“[By using bots] HR teams can find the best talent wherever they work and whatever role they fulfill in the company, rather than at just the HQ itself.”

All workers could have access to a bot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they all will want to use them. O’Connor says the concept may suit certain generations more than others.

She adds: “Younger workers are so used to interacting with tech all the time, much more than older workers are, so there’s maybe more of a feeling of comfort there and feeling they can better express themselves to bots who can point them in the right direction.”

Trusting the unknown

When it comes to sharing an experience around poor mental health, what do workers trust more: their bosses or a machine? Michael Moran, CEO, and founder of 10Eighty, says workers turning to bots is an indictment of the manager they work under.

He says: “A lot of people don’t trust their managers; they are unsure whether their manager will give them an honest answer or tell them what they want to hear.

“Employees want managers who care for them, listen to them and develop and stretch them. But if you have a technical leader, it’s not something they can do.”

Moran therefore believes HR is not at risk of becoming irrelevant due to bots, but instead the popularity of tech-based solutions demonstrates a failing in how some leaders manage their teams. He says: “If you can’t see people and it’s going well, it’s a danger you’ll assume you need to spend less time with people.

“HR needs to make sure it’s creating time to have conversations and is alert when things go wrong. Ask employees ‘what’s gone well for you?’ and make sure you’re not taking employees for granted.”

Managers are often under a lot of pressure, particularly in the uncertain times we currently live in, and is it, therefore, unfair to place all responsibility with them? O’Connor says managers shouldn’t be seen as the answer for everything and that, where technology can offer help, HR should trust in it.

She says: “Managers are supposed to be able to be leaders, technologists, coaches, but they are just humans like the rest of us. It’s down to the individual and what the context is and what the relationship is like with employee and boss.

“Managers are not experts – some are intuitively brilliant and skilled in that area, others not so much. Tech could certainly be part of a wider solution to offer options for people to choose where they want to discuss sensitive issues.”

Rather than solely relying on managers to explore and uncover any issues an employee may have, Honest Burgers has created an Honest Guardian bot where workers can report issues anonymously.

Wilson says: “The idea came up from a conversation we were having as a business during a live chat on Black Lives Matter. We had a lot of different opinions as to what we should be saying as a business. We had 400 people on a call telling us how they feel, and this soon developed into a conversation around race and discrimination.

“We decided that through all these conversation and hearing hesitations people had that we had to build a bot that was AI in the sense of a tech-based system with key resources and links to your rights and policies.”

Workers can communicate a concern either anonymously or openly which then goes straight to the people team where it will be dealt with. Wilson adds: “In two weeks, we had 300 interactions with the bot. Given we have a workforce of 500, that’s a lot of people. We had a lot of meaningful engagement.

“The bot asks initially ‘do you have a problem?’. And this is not to weed out problems, but to make sure that people aren’t downplaying their problems. They may say ‘everyone is white and I’m black and sometimes that feels uncomfortable.’

“It’s not a grievance as such, it doesn’t need to be blown up to meetings where it will get overprocessed. But if they do nothing, they will leave or feed badly. So the bot helps them triage it and tells them that it is a problem.”

Bots also have the potential for blue-collar workers, such as those working front of house at Honest Burger, to feel connected to the wider workplace and begin to feel part of a community, Codorniou adds.

“People who used to be considered as blue-collar now have the same communication tool as the people who work at HQ. The bots can help them do inventory, expenses or shift management and are very democratic and easy to use.

“All HR needs to do is make sure they are mobile and user-friendly, and they will have a more empowered and productive workforce.”

Prepare for imperfection

There is clearly plenty of potential for bots both now and in the future, but HR must also be aware of its limitations, says Brendan Street, the professional head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health.

“Although AI-enabled virtual and robot therapy has long been used across a number of medical fields, the integration of embodied or ‘robot’ AI is still at an early stage in mental health care, and arguably the most recent addition to the practice of psychotherapy.

Thus far there has been very little research on patient acceptance and treatment outcomes of fully embodied AI applications in mental health fields.”

Street, therefore, believes the current bots lack the sophistication needed to provide support beyond limited applications. He also questions the multiple ethical considerations associated with their use.

For example, if they were to give out the wrong advice to a potentially vulnerable person. Yet he still firmly believes tech will be part of the equation for employee wellbeing moving forward.

He says: “Other technologies are however much closer on the horizon in terms of augmenting mental health care, including wearable tech, bio-markers and virtual reality, for example.

“Nuffield Health is currently partnering with Manchester Metropolitan University to research how virtual reality technology can be used to enhance the psychotherapy experience and improve patient outcomes.”

It is impossible to imagine the future of work without seeing a closer alignment with technology. This poses a great challenge and opportunity for HR provided it can develop and facilitate the correct systems.

In order for HR to be effective and develop employee buy-in and trust, it needs to wholly understand its IT processes, Codorniou says.

“In a COVID workforce, IT, HR, and internal comms are the three new leaders which have the biggest impact in the company right now. COVID has brought IT and HR together and this is the job of tech – to help people realize their potential, be more productive and stay longer, which ultimately translates into good business sense.

“Look at Honest Burger. They serve fries and burgers, but the way they operate is like a super software powerhouse, people have access to technology which is almost science fiction. The job the workers do is traditional but the way they operate is close to the best technology companies around.”

Wilson says the introduction of bots and user-friendly employee engagement systems has meant Honest Burgers has been more resilient in a time of great uncertainty for the hospitality sector.

She adds: “We were not offering the employment experience that I think was appropriate, so we’ve taken this as an opportunity to change the stuff we don’t like about ourselves and every great business should do the same.

“There was a whole lot of asking people to do old school tasks and making their job longer.

“HR directors need to be embracing tech to be relevant – it has not eliminated jobs in my team but rather enhanced them. Bots are a way of spending more time on the solution to the problems you have.

“I feel lucky I’m in this position now – it takes a strategic shift in your people plan, but I know we’ve now built the blocks we need to make tech our best friend.”

And what about if HR doesn’t have the capacity to introduce these new elements of tech? “If you’re still asking yourself whether HR is at the main table then the answer is no,” she says.


HR: An engine for organizational transformation

Indeed, there is a growing recognition of the potential opportunity this crisis presents. As Heather McGowan put it for Forbes, coronavirus “might be the great catalyst for business transformation.”

Any organizational transformation demands a thoughtfully planned and executed change management strategy, and HR is well positioned to serve as an integral link across the organization, mapping employee sentiment and working side-by-side with departments to achieve necessary change.

Moreover, it is clear that organizational transformations in the post-coronavirus era cannot be approached as one-and-done events. To maximize impact, a transformation should fundamentally equip organizations for ongoing evolution in response to accelerating rates of change.

Again, HR is the logical function through which to make this vision a reality: as working models become more agile and fluid, and digital disruptions necessitate further capability growth, HR is the department with the in-depth knowledge required to manage shifting talent needs and identify the dynamic skill sets that will power the future organization and ensure its adaptability.

Here we would like to propose a vision of how HR would operate if it embraced its full potential as a transformation agent. We envision three dynamics, with HR leading “big-bang” transformation programs; enabling continuous day-to-day change; and iterating on new ideas through innovation hubs.

Prediction #1: HR will lead “big-bang” transformations
Evidence suggests that the human resources function is currently underused in its capacity as a transformation leader, despite senior executives’ oft-repeated eagerness to see their HR teams take on this role. Only 15 percent of chief human resources officers (CHROs) say they advise their CEOs on change management issues. However, given its connectivity throughout the business, HR is uniquely suited to both identify broader strategic opportunities for transformation and to lead the way in execution.

Take a scenario in which two large companies merge, and the newly combined organization is forced to rethink its operating model from top to bottom. A fully strategic HR organization can apply its cross-functional insights to guide leaders to smart strategic choices on everything from organizational design to resource allocation.

In addition, HR’s relationships across the enterprise can facilitate the implementation of change, as well as the communication of that change across the workforce. Finally, it can help an organization develop the skill sets necessary to monitor and respond to change over time. In the post-coronavirus world, the need for such agile responses to changing organizational needs will be more crucial than ever.

Prediction #2: HR will enable continuous day-to-day change
The term “transformation” need not only refer to a single large event; it can also capture smaller, more gradual changes to organizational processes and ways of working. Future workforce trends suggest this type of organizational change will only grow in importance.

Technology is shrinking the lifespan of the average skill set, and the skills an employee learns today may be obsolete within just four years. In order to keep up, organizations will have to build continuous reinvention and employee upskilling into their DNA.

In its role as a culture and productivity driver, HR is positioned to enable this continuous change by identifying and implementing new tools and ways of working that encourage collaboration. HR also has the expertise to adapt training methods to the needs of an agile organization.

One example is the emergence of bite-sized “microlearning” modules to help employees swiftly build and assess new skills. Such lessons are by no means limited to technical training; when administered correctly, they may even apply to the instruction of high-value “soft skills” such as personnel management.

The HR team at one leading beauty company has pursued precisely this type of continuous change, setting up a series of programs designed to expand employee capabilities beyond their current roles.

These include reverse mentoring (in which senior leaders learn from more junior employees), cross-functional rotation programs for recent graduates, and HR “pods” that drive incremental change throughout the organization. The goal is to break down barriers that keep employees boxed into a certain role or mindset, and to embed ongoing improvement into the culture of the company.

Prediction #3: HR will foster innovation hubs
As HR looks to encourage and drive proactive improvement, innovation hubs will play a key role in fostering change and experimentation. HR innovation hubs will bring together data science, psychology, and broader cross-functional expertise.

Employee hiring and turnover is an area where data-driven analytics can benefit the organization. Hiring and training employees is costly, so minimizing turnover is crucial. If HR teams are not continuously innovating and proactively adapting, they miss opportunities to identify and act upon the potential departure of an employee.

Data-driven analytics can range from something as simple as surveys of employee sentiment to highly complex predictive analytics that identify not only which employees are most likely to depart, but the specific factors that may be pushing them out the door.

Google’s People Innovation Lab (PiLab) is a leader in using data analytics to improve HR outcomes. It surveys Google employees and combines the results with other HR data to develop a playbook on what managerial behaviors drive better team performance and retention. In addition, Google correlates candidate-hiring profiles and job descriptions with eventual employee performance, providing the HR team with data-driven predictive insights to assess candidates, guide the formation of employee teams, and minimize turnover.

What HR organizations can do now
An HR department serving in the capacity described above, as a connector and an engine for transformative growth, would cement its status as a valuable strategic partner to the C-suite. As personnel executives look to capitalize on this potential, they should bear in mind some basic questions and considerations.

First, is there a clear overall strategy for the organization, and for HR specifically? Such a vision is essential to the development of performance standards and benchmarks. Additionally, a well-defined strategy is necessary for guiding investments in resource deployment, technology upgrades, and staffing.

Once an HR team has the right strategy, and understands the initial changes needed to enable broader transformation, it must also consider potential roadblocks within the corporation’s broader leadership team, including the offices of the CEO, COO, and other top managers.

These influential leaders must be engaged early to gather support and enable HR to move beyond traditional transactional efforts. Kearney can help you to objectively ask—and answer—the right questions, assess your team’s readiness to transform, and build the road map needed to reach the appropriate future state for your organization.


The ‘Hybrid Model’ Of Working Remotely And In The Office Could Create Big Expenses For Companies And Give Rise To Two Classes Of Employees

We are getting closer to the end of the pandemic and companies are focusing on future work arrangements for their employees. A number of big tech companies, including Salesforce, Facebook, Google, and Amazon, have coalesced around a “hybrid” model, in which there will be a combination of both workings inside an office and at home. Some places, like Spotify, are still offering the opportunity for people to work from anywhere they’d like or out of the office if they so desire.

The flexible hybrid model is attractive to both the company and its workers, as the corporations will save a fortune in real estate costs and employees gain more control over their lives. It’s not perfect and there are some serious issues to contend with. Once companies bring back workers, there will be additional expenses incurred, potential legal liabilities concerning risks to the health of their employees, and the possible evolution of an emerging dual-class system.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, employs more than 135,000 people, along with a comparable amount of contractors. CNBC reported, “As Google prepares to return workers to offices in 2021, it is warning it may take a productivity and financial hit in the process, according to the company’s annual 10-K report.”

Every Child Deserves To Be Seen, Safe, And Successful
Bringing back a large percentage of these folks will be a large and costly endeavor. Google said in its financial statements, “As we prepare to return our workforce in more locations back to the office in 2021, we may experience increased costs as we prepare our facilities for a safe return to the work environment and experiment with hybrid work models, in addition to potential effects on our ability to compete effectively and maintain our corporate culture.”

The company is in the process of developing a large corporate campus to provide a comfortable work environment, including buildings where Googlers could reside. There will be restaurants, bicycle paths, parks, and other amenities in the complex. Existing office space will have to be redesigned to ensure social distancing, while also enabling people to collaborate together. Similar to other companies that are planning to bring back staff, they’ll have to be careful about health considerations. There could be the potential for expensive litigation if their workers catch Covid-19 and spread it to others.

Companies also have to plan around navigating the capricious, haphazard way state and local officials handled business and school openings and closings. For working parents who have young children, school closures forced one party to leave their job to render child care or they both needed to juggle demanding careers and serve as de facto teachers. This interrupts the flow of ordinary daily business activities.

There’s another potential problem. Company management may shift their view toward remote workers as time progresses. The necessity of working from home during the pandemic could start being considered a choice—rather than something that has to be done this way. Bosses may then think that it’s an inconvenience to have a segment of their workforce not being in the office and within eyesight. Wired reported that the hybrid model could create “two fundamentally different employee experiences.”

After a year of isolation for many, they’ll be excited to interact with co-workers. The people who return to the office will rekindle old relationships, forge new connections, hold in-person meetings and go out together for lunch and dinner. They’ll be able to drop in to speak with their manager and have a casual conversation with a senior executive that they encounter in the hallways.

It would be reasonable to see an extra close bond form between the people who spend more time in the office. Meanwhile, those at home may feel left out. “If an office is the ‘glue,’ and processes and systems don’t adapt for a remote workforce, remote team members will not feel included and will face constant communication barriers. This will make it harder for them to perform at the same level as their in-office peers,” wrote Wired. Those who choose to go back to the office could be viewed by management as more dedicated compared to the people working remotely at home. It’s out of sight, out of mind.

There may be a “hidden downside for employees,” said Zillow CEO Rich Barton. Barton said on a conference call with investors, “While Zillow has been successfully operating as a ‘cloud-headquartered company,’ the company does plan to have some employees return to its offices, and that can present challenges.” He raised concerns about a two-tier system arising amongst workers, stating, “We must ensure a level playing field for all team members, regardless of their physical location.” Barton added, “There cannot be a two-class system—those in the room being first-class and those on the phone being second-class.”

Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of code-collaboration company GitLab, doesn’t believe in the hybrid model. He called it “the worst of both worlds.” Sijbrandij predicts that “remote employees won’t feel included and will have a more challenging time communicating than their peers who report to the office.”

The concern is that “employees will quickly discover that the company didn’t make the shift from the old ways of rewarding attendance (equating ‘being seen’ in an office with being a great worker) to a new way of rewarding output (equating achieved results with being a great worker). Eventually, remote workers will find that they are not getting promoted at an equal rate, because they are less visible, and the productive remote employees will leave for all-remote companies that invest in their remote team members.”

It seems that like almost everything else related to the pandemic, there aren’t easy solutions. In this instance, we’re in better shape. Figuring out how to accommodate and take care of employees is challenging, but it’s much better than dealing with the dreaded Covid-19.


Social Media Can Be Toxic—Here’s The First Step Toward Change

Though it might be hard to remember sometimes, social media is about much more than news, ads, and branded content. Its original purpose, back when it began 14 or 15 years ago, was to connect people and bring them together—and throughout the past year of quarantining and social distancing, we’ve witnessed that more than ever. At its best, social media is a space where people can share stories, listen to the experiences of others, and build communities.

But, as we all know too well, social media has also shown a much darker side. In just the past 12 months, we’ve seen advertising boycotts, a presidential election, and the politicization of a global pandemic all contribute to social media’s toxicity and divisiveness. Combine that with the fact that the “compare and despair” effect of social media has been proven to cause mental health issues, and it’s no surprise that 41 percent of Gen Z social media users say that social media makes them feel sad, anxious, or depressed. As a parent of teenagers, I’ve witnessed things like cyberbullying, online threats of violence, and social media obsession firsthand.

Social media has made it easier than ever to spread hate. But it’s just as easy to spread joy.

My company, Likeable, has a mission to create a more likeable world. And, as a social media agency, we’ve been doing that for over a decade by helping brands create smart, fast, and likeable social content. But we knew that there was a lot more we could do, both as an organization and as individuals—because social media is about much more than algorithms and ad spend.

So, in 2019, we launched #BeLikeableDay: a global movement dedicated to making social media a more positive environment through collective acts of kindness online. So far, #BeLikeableDay has reached almost 90 million people across traditional and social media, with participation from 45 countries around the world. And we’re thrilled to be doing it again this year for the third year in a row!

Every year, on February 26th, we ask everyone around the world to take a few minutes out of their day to post at least one nice thing on social media. If you’re interested in joining the movement, click here to sign the pledge—and spread the word by sharing this post with people you care about. Oh, and if you need some ideas for what you can do to spread kindness online on #BeLikeableDay, here you go:

1. Pay a friend a compliment. It’s so easy to feel self-conscious and insecure on social media, where everyone is perfect (or at least tries to be). Give someone a confidence boost with a simple compliment or message of encouragement.

2. Promote someone else’s work. All of those posts sharing “some personal news” are well and good, but what if we took a break from the self-promotion to sing someone else’s praises instead? Whose work has spoken to you recently? Post about it.

3. Give an unsolicited recommendation. Who are the top three people you’ve loved working with the most during your career? Make their day and publish a recommendation on LinkedIn that explains why anyone else would be lucky to work with them as well.

4. Spread the word about your favorite charity organization. Everyone has a cause they feel strongly about. Take a few minutes to share the story of why you support that cause and shout out your favorite charity organization that supports it too.

5. Share gratitude for people in your life. In a sea of memes and political commentary, a breakthrough with a message of positivity by expressing gratitude for five people in your life. Not only will you make them feel great, but you’ll feel better too.


How Can The Organization Guidance System Inform Your HR Transformation?

The recent (and on-going) crises of our day (global coronavirus pandemic, racial and civil unrest, global immigration, economic decline, political squabbles, and personal and emotional malaise) have accentuated the importance of human resource issues to help an organization succeed in the marketplace.

Numerous HR innovations in programs, processes, practices, and digital apps have occurred under the rubric of HR transformation. For HR to create, deliver, and capture value in the future, it is time to offer guidance on the extent to which human capital initiatives in talent, capability, and leadership deliver results to all stakeholders (employees, strategies, customers, investors, and communities). We have developed and offered a free Organization Guidance System (OGS) to guide the portfolio of these efforts.

HR transformation underlies organization effectiveness. Looking back, we have written 13 books and 100’s of articles, collected data from over 100,000 respondents, offered hundreds of workshops, and consulted on how to deliver HR transformation. Building on this work and looking to the future, we have evolved the study of HR transformation into four stages of maturity and nine domains of action.

Figure 1 provides a comprehensive template for assessing overall HR Transformation along 9 domains for each of the 4 levels of maturity (36 cells overall).

Our point of view on HR Transformation is NOT limited to describing what is done in these 36 cells, but by demonstrating the extent to which the work in these 36 cells delivers results to key stakeholders. By focusing on results, we want to prescribe where HR should focus to deliver results. This moves beyond benchmarking and best practices to guidance on the right practices. Let us share some of the preliminary findings of this work.
Report Guidance on Human Resource Transformation
After 18 months of creating an OGS, we can now report how well companies perform on the four stages of maturity and nine domains of HR and the impact on results. Figure 2 reports pilot results (with a sample of 148 respondents) about the performance and impact of the four stages of HR maturity on four key results. This figure reports the overall mean (column A) of the four stages of maturity (with outside in being the lowest score) and the relative impact of each of the four stages (rows) on four outcomes we measured in the pilot (columns B, C, D, and E). We used proprietary analytics (variance decomposition) to understand how different levels of HR maturity (rows) will deliver different results (note: in the pilot, we focused on 4 results; we have since added fifth, social citizenship).

These results are startling! First, we had assumed that foundational/essential HR work was not as critical for results as the strategic and outside HR work. Our results show that doing HR foundational/essential work is critical to all results (green cells in columns B, C, D, E have high impact; yellow moderate; and red lower). Further Figure 2 shows that the functional (best practice) and even strategy HR work has less value than either essential/foundational or outside in work.


Second, we worked to understand these results and discovered in Figure 3 a very different view of the stage of HR maturity and results depending on who answered the survey. HR professionals saw an improved financial performance from doing essential/foundational work; while non-HR respondents (business leaders) see HR outside as much more critical for financial performance. This dramatic difference in the perceived impact of the HR stage and financial results may suggest that HR professionals and line managers see the impact of HR work differently.

Third, in Figures 2 and 3, we found that functional excellence (best practice) and strategic HR are highly correlated (r=.82) and neither focus delivers results that matter. It may be time to do less “best practice” or even “strategic” HR work and more focus on aligning HR to external stakeholders.


In Figure 4, we report the findings by the nine domains of HR activity. The results in Figure 4 are also striking as they inform the effectiveness of HR transformation. First, the attention on “HR organization” (#4) does not show much impact on any of the results. We still find that most “HR transformation” work obsesses on the HR design. This research shows that HR practices (#7) have the most impact on the results. Second, it is interesting that each result (column B, C, D, E) is shaped by different HR domains. We need to explore more why these results require different domains of HR transformation.

Looking forward, these findings dramatically shift the discussion of HR transformation from what is done to what should be done. While these findings are with a small pilot sample, the implications of this human resource guidance are profound. Rather than randomly create innovative HR initiatives, business and HR leaders can receive rigorous guidance on where to focus for results.