How employee experience can help drive transformation (in 4 steps)

As technology drives the continual evolution of the working world, the pivotal role played by Human Resources in business transformation, managing change and fostering agility has taken centre-stage.

The business transformation jigsaw depends on many pieces – whether policy, process or people-driven – and for many it’s employee experience that is undoubtedly the most significant piece on the board, with the opportunity to unleash the full potential of people now recognised as crucial in driving long-term value.

To embrace the opportunity for growth that transformation offers, Kim Billeter, Americas People Advisory Services Leader, EY explains to The Hive how smart leaders need to assess and address business needs at four transformation-critical junctures in order to empower HR functions to create a new and lasting relationship between an organisation and its employees.

Step 1: Diagnose your disruptors

All businesses have their own set of challenges and opportunities that need to be factored into their business transformation programmes. Rather than trying to leverage a prescriptive, fixed set of ideas and solutions, HR should approach this initial stage more holistically, identifying unique opportunities and being guided accordingly.

“Whether it’s digital transformation, HR transformation or changes to the supply chain, organisations need to mine for and then decide what their unique disruptors are – and all companies have them – before they can make progress on the other stages,” says Ms Billeter.

While all transformation projects can take time to fully realise and implement, a preliminary investigation of the current level of workforce engagement is crucial, along with understanding the existing leadership capabilities and taking on board the key culture drivers.

“With technological transformation, for example, there are lots of opportunities around change management and, for many organisations nowadays, a whole array of complex work issues tends to involve leadership and behaviour change,” says Ms Billeter.

“But it is for HR to ensure that key business issues and desired outcomes are the starting point for any transformation, rather than using stakeholders’ own, pre-determined ideas.”

“It is for HR to ensure that key business issues and desired outcomes are the starting point for any transformation”

Step 2: Align goals with capabilities

Insights alone aren’t enough to enhance employee experience, but they are a powerful data-driven ally for HR when aligning the transformational goals of the business with the current capability of the workforce to deliver them. In fact, re-framing the relationship between a business and its employees requires a fundamental understanding of why they do or don’t make discretionary effort and how this can impact on the delivery of business goals.

“Motivating individuals to go above and beyond for customers, colleagues, managers and the organisation as a whole, starts” – says Ms. Billeter – “with the selection and development of the right leaders for the coming transformation.”

“Our clients want to talk about leadership and how it’s changing in the current period of disruption. And just like any other business, EY’s own enabling factors include the need for transformational leaders and high-performance teams.”

This makes it critical that as strict, top-down hierarchies and command and control management continue to fade, the current generation of leaders must have the capacity to role model more collaborative and flexible behaviours on both a personal and corporate level.

By making a persuasive case for change, a truly gifted business leader can, says Ms. Billeter, actively encourage their employees to willingly adopt new practices, however initially disruptive. Not surprisingly though, the demand for such soft skills is high.

In order to enhance or redefine established cultures, organisations need leaders to act as inspirational storytellers, able to demonstrate the agility of thinking to be able to prosper in the digital world. In this respect, HR must factor such highly prized skills – and an individual’s potential to hone them – into the equation when selecting and developing the leaders of tomorrow.

Step 3: Co-create the future

In the four-stage plan, it is the matching of current or future talent to core capabilities, as well as ensuring key people are on the right teams and in the right places that will lay the foundations for future success at a time of rapid technological change.

While specific soft skills are critical, it is only by cultivating the right behaviours and mindsets that a business can remain buoyant. Rather than changing who your people are, a holistic HR transformation plan across people, policy, technology and data should instead be seen as an opportunity to refine and enhance the way your people work.

Ms. Billeter notes that ever-more sophisticated technology provides unprecedented scope for organisations to transform and grow, aided by a workforce that increasingly uses such technology outside of work and so is more open to the exciting possibilities it affords – a factor especially relevant to new generations.

So, if technology has the capacity to automate time-consuming, manual tasks and free-up employees to pursue more value-adding and strategic opportunities, can it also help clients to empower transformative employee experiences? 

Yes it can, believes Ms Billeter, who argues that by “making a persuasive and powerful case for changing how the organisation thinks and acts,” leaders can excite and empower people to find new meaning in their work beyond the need to pay the bills.

This puts the emphasis on transformation leaders, and HR professionals in particular, to show their workforces how technological change can enhance both working and personal lives as well as deliver goals for the wider business. Change can and should be something to be welcomed rather than something to be wary of.

Step 4: Deliver the impacts

Embedding more resilient and adaptive mindsets to support new ways of working requires equipping HR and employees with the tools, technology, information and training they need both today and going forward.

To sustain alignment with the overarching business purpose, the workforce must also be given appropriate incentives to accelerate their individual performance and thereby drive corporate ambitions.

In Ms. Billeter’s view, by working through each of the preceding three key steps systematically, it is possible for businesses to implement a transformation programme and to take their workforces willingly along with them, rather than imposing change, which paves the way to the fourth and most crucial step: delivering the impacts of transformation.

“The technology that our clients experience can help boost long-term loyalty and transform an organisation’s vision and purpose for the long term,” says Ms. Billeter.

“Changing the hearts and minds of the workforce as we proceed is a vital part of that process.”