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This past June, HRMAC members gathered for the last CHRO Roundtable session of 2019, “HR Disrupted: How HR Practices are Changing.” Guided by Tom Friedrich, partner at Kincentric, A Spencer Stuart Company, the event was an opportunity for HR leaders to gain actionable insight into the ever-evolving human resources profession. Our team caught up with Friedrich to bring that insight to readers, too.

HR Leader: The report “Driving a Customer-Centric Employee Experience through HR Shared Services” details that employees, increasingly, expect HR to deliver a consumer-grade experience. What trends have you noticed that point to this?

Tom Friedrich (TF): We’ve long known that the tools and resources provided to employees can be a significant driver of engagement. Likewise, the idea that employees know what good technology or great customer service interactions look like, based on their market interactions, is certainly not a new one. Over the last 5-10 years, however, the consumer experience and the employee experience have become much more divergent. In the past, employees may have been frustrated with the tools and resources their employers provided. Today, they are demanding more. They expect their interactions with HR (whether digital, by phone or in-person) to be simple, intuitive and relevant.

This divergence was to be expected. Many companies have been investing heavily in their customer-facing platforms to fend off disruptive, web-first entrants into their markets. The prioritization of these investments sometimes made it slow for HR to adopt new technology. Fortunately, in more recent years, I’ve seen clients make significant investments into the digitalization of HR service delivery. The 2017 report, “Driving a Customer-Centric Employee Experience through HR Shared Services,” found that this investment in HR technology is part of a broader shift in expectations and mindset around employee experience. For instance, delivering a better customer experience – rather than cost reduction – is now the main driver for organizations implementing an HR shared service model.

HR Leader: In your June 18 CHRO Roundtable, you offered real-world examples of key disruptors changing HR practices, including globalization, digitization, AI and robotics. Can you expand on these for readers?

TF: The list of disruptors seemingly has no end. HR leaders are constantly bombarded with the new, shiny objects. As consultants, we often don’t help in that regard. My message at the Roundtable was one of staying focused. Are AI and RPA (robotic process automation) having an impact on HR service delivery? Definitely! Does that mean you should implement these tools right now? Not necessarily. CHROs should be asking themselves how this fits into a broader HR strategy.

HR Leader: What are some other innovations disrupting HR practice, whether technology or otherwise? Why?

TF: We recently completed our Global Employee Experience Research Study for 2019. While our report is forthcoming, I can share that only one-third of organizations believe they have a good definition of what they mean by employee experience. Even those that do have a perspective on employee experience often view it through their own area of expertise. Employee experience should be focused on how employees perceive all aspects of their employment throughout the lifecycle. Adopting a design-thinking approach to HR delivery is one innovation that we see running throughout process and technology design. Leading organizations are taking the time to design processes from the end user’s point of view and provide engaging, omnichannel approaches to interactions. Our latest study, “Driving a Digital Employee Experience Through HR Shared Services,” found that employee experience platforms are seeing increased adoption. These platforms combine knowledge content, case management and transaction tools into a single user interface, thereby creating a more seamless interaction for employees. Newer releases, which include AI-enhanced digital assistants and chatbots to deliver a consumer-grade experience, are likely to drive even more adoption.

HR Leader: When it comes to the dimensions of HR organization design, operations and enablement, what do you see as key elements organizations need to implement in order to succeed in today’s environment?

TF: Many transformational efforts fail because of an implicit belief that simply creating capacity for HR leaders will allow them to become more strategic. As a result, organizations invest heavily in new technology to take routine transactional and customer service work off the plate of HR. The reality is that technology, no matter how transformative, is not synonymous with transformation. New enabling technologies are almost always required, but they must be accompanied by an entirely new approach to delivering HR services – one that designs solutions from the perspective of HR’s customers, deploys resources in innovative ways and provides tailored solutions that help propel the business forward.

Clearly, having a well-designed HR operating model with clearly defined roles and flexible resource deployment to meet emerging business needs is critical for all organizations. That alone, however, is not enough. HR must also focus on building the critical capabilities necessary to successfully drive the business forward. In our work with clients, we’ve identified five roles that HR plays in the leading organizations.

  1. Talent Accelerator – Instill the capabilities and performance mindset in leaders, managers and employees to achieve their fullest potential.
  2. Digital Enabler – Enable digital transformation by aligning people, processes, technology and culture to drive innovation and function effectively in the digital workplace.
  3. Connector – Build and optimize relationships among employees, their work and the organization by connecting employee purpose to organizational mission and values.
  4. Culture Shaper – Foster a high-performance organizational culture by reinforcing values and developing processes and infrastructure that shape how people make decisions and execute their work.
  5. Story Teller – Leverage data-driven insights to craft coherent and compelling stories that drive action and positive change for the business.

HR Leader: In your opinion, how can HR leaders work to get ahead of impending changes/disruptors?

TF: As I mentioned earlier, the challenge lies in seeing through all the noise the market creates. Ultimately, having an HR strategy that is aligned to your business strategy should drive all that you do. Nevertheless, we all have blind spots. Conducting a regular and honest assessment of your HR function and how effectively you are executing your strategy is, in our experience, critical for staying ahead of disruptions.

HR Leader: What is one resource you would like recommend to HR Leader readers?

TF: It’s hard to provide just one [podcast], we are in the new golden age of radio after all. I find podcasts extremely valuable for keeping up to speed while I am on-the-go. I think it is important to stay current with general business or market commentary, so I listen to Barron’s (The Readback) or NPR (The Indicator). I also find that the Future of Work podcast has a good mix of topics, all of which either have direct impact on the future of human resources or teach us something about how other organizations have transformed the business and HR models.

About Kincentric
Kincentric approaches human capital differently – we help you identify what drives your people so they can drive your business. While the name is new, we have a storied history as part of Hewitt Associates and Aon Consulting. We’re taking our decades of expertise in employee engagement, people strategy, organizational culture, leadership assessment & development, and HR advisory services to start a new chapter as Kincentric. We’re helping organizations change from the inside, delivering new ways to unlock the power of people and teams – fostering change and accelerating success. We are Kincentric: A Spencer Stuart Company.