Moving from Employee Enablement to Engagement

As social, mobile, cloud and analytics technology continue to redefine collaboration, organisational structures and the way business is done, HR is coming under increasing pressure to take a central role in engaging and empowering employees, not just enabling and evaluating them.These technologies are redefining what it is to be an employee, as millennials expect to bring the technology they were brought up with into the workplace, redefining how organisations function, as aspirations to build a startup culture and work with an ecosystem blur the boundaries of the workforce, and redefining the business models around which current management structures were designed. Agility, empowerment and engagement are what a modern business wants from its employees – and it is looking to HR to help to deliver what IBM calls a Smarter Workforce.

In practice, this transformation occurs at two levels: the macro or strategic level where leadership is provided, permission to change is granted and the rate of adoption is managed; and the micro level of individual teams, processes, departments or business units that pioneer new practices to address the challenges they face – whilst continuing to coexist with legacy operations around them, which were built in the old world. This freedom to drive change at the micro level is key to maintaining traditional revenues and reducing the risk that comes from massive disruptive change.

IBM BusinessConnect 2015 in the London this November I was heavily involved in the HR Day, where instead of giving HR leaders a day of presentations we ran a series of workshops designed to get them to share experiences with each other, under the guidance of IBM thought leaders. A recurring theme of the day was giving the employee a voice, with discussion on areas like continuous listening to better understand the workforce, using analytics on employee generated data to gain new insight, engaging with employees to create a culture that enables change, leveraging diversity to avoid groupthink, and using customer facing staff to better understand the changing market.

Talking to delegates, there was a high degree of variability in terms of digital platforms used to give the employee a voice and how they were being deployed (even the terminology varied from Engagement Platform to Talent Suite to Social Intranet to Collaboration to Enterprise Social Network). In some cases, HR teams were taking the lead by leveraging specialist jam platforms, wrapping social collaboration around employee survey platforms or deploying talent management platforms – often as stand alone services using a Cloud platform. In other cases, they leveraged external, cloud based services already being used in business units to improve the way they work. Finally, there were organsations with an enterprise social strategy, where IT offered a platform that could be used for HR purposes – offering significant benefits of reach and integration with where employees were already doing their jobs.

Earlier this year I participated in the Munich and London events in another IBM seminar series Continuous Listening РThe Future of Employee Voice where I talked about how the IBM Connections social business platform (in the Cloud or on premises) could be used to increase the effectiveness of employee surveys by engaging with employees around the process. I demonstrated four specific ways in which such engagement could add value to an employee survey.

Taking just a couple of examples: when asking employees about their level of satisfaction with some aspect of the business, what if you could provide a link to a collaboration space where they could make concrete suggestions about ways it could be improved, comment on ideas from other employees and then vote on the ideas offered? Or how about engaging employees in discussions around the actions being taken to address concerns identified in the survey, crowdsourcing the answers to questions management might have about the concern and letting your employees know that their voice was being heard – and so encouraging them to engage seriously in future surveys.
This is a great example of using an employee engagement platform for a specific purpose. But it also illustrates the extra value that comes from having an enterprise wide platform where employees genuinely engage every day, with their team, with other employees and with management, because if it is where they do much of their work it avoids the need to “go somewhere else” to take part in this process. The engagement platform becomes, in effect, part of their desktop (or, increasingly, something they always have in their pocket). That is why IBM offers its Connections technology platform in different forms – on premises or in the Cloud, enterprise wide or packaged for a specific business purpose, in a browser or on a mobile device – enabling customers to move from niche deployment to enterprise use as their needs evolve.

Cloud, Mobile, Social and Analytics aren’t just impacting HR, these technologies are also challenging the IT department to transform. Just providing a tool, like a laptop or email, is no longer enough. In today’s world organisations need well designed employee experiences that address specific business needs – use cases like the employee survey above. IT can’t create those. It can provide a rich engagement platform, with capabilities like collaboration, social networking, team places, communities, audio/video, knowledge management, jamming, etc., but in today’s world of consumer grade IT and technologically empowered employees the business needs to take ownership for using the platform to deliver results.

As well as HR doing that for itself (using an engagement platform for Onboarding, Surveys, Talent Management, Appraisals, etc.), HR needs to partner with IT to help the rest of the organisation to use its most powerful resource – an engaged workforce – to deliver more satisfied customers and better business results by not just enabling and evaluating employees but empowering and engaging them.

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Social Business Trends for 2014

Traditionally I use the journey back from IBM Connect to put together a blog post based on buzz at the event to forecast key trends for the year(s) ahead (take a look at my 2012 and 2013 predictions and see if you think they worked out – most of them continue to be major areas of focus).

So, following on from the review of 2013 that I wrote on the way out to Orlando, here are the new themes that I expect to dominate in 2014:

Social Business Design

Social Mail: The most exciting new announcement at Connect 2013 was IBM Mail Next. Until now, the infusion of social collaboration into the mail client has built out from the mail box. It has taken the form of sidebars, business cards, links and embedded experiences that seamlessly take the user from their mail to adjacent social content. IBM Mail Next reimagines the inbox in terms of the conversations you have having with other people and the actions and projects they are part of. By thinking about the context of the conversations, rather than the mechanism of the email messages, and by applying analytics and task management capabilities to help you keep track of your different activities, IBM Mail Next offers a user-centric tool for managing collaboration.

Social Intranet: IBM Mail Next is browser or mobile app based, and is part of a broader trend to move all forms of collaboration, from collaborative document editing to real-time multimedia meetings, into pure browser applications that are also surfaced as mobile apps. It has become clear that users prefer to do their collaborating from mobile devices, so this aiding the transition to a post PC era whilst significantly reducing desktop support costs (one of the biggest parts of the IT Budget). Indeed, bring your own device is rapidly showing that users would like to choose their own tools, and where organisations embrace this they can improve the user experience at the same time as reducing costs. All of which makes the Social Intranet increasingly the core of enterprise IT: a single integration layer that provides role based, personalised access to applications, content and processes to each individual user via a browser or their mobile device.

Social Ecosystems: But in today’s world, an intranet isn’t enough. Modern enterprises can’t deliver what they need to through internal collaboration alone. Companies need their ecosystem of suppliers, partners and channel to deliver their brand value, and close collaboration with those organisations is critical to success. So just as the mobile trend is challenging the traditional concept of the corporate firewall, since most of the devices that need access to it spend most of their time outside of the firewall, so the need to provide access to applications, content and processes by external parties is forcing organisations to question their approach to the enterprise perimeter – and in the process giving them the opportunity to position Software as a Service (SaaS) as a natural extension to their intranet environment as part of a hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Social Projects: But this trend towards external collaboration with your ecosystem cannot be addressed by simply throwing open the gates to your network. What organisations need to do is define specific projects to deliver identified business value and then design a solution to address them. This is very different from the way IT traditionally create enterprise-wide infrastructures – but again, Hybrid SaaS comes to the rescue, avoiding the need to spin up new server infrastructures but instead reusing integration that has been done with SaaS services to create a model that accelerates return on investment by deferring costs until business value is realised.

We are also seeing a revolution in the way we design these projects – no longer thinking about the data and applications you have available and how can they be delivered to the users, but thinking about the user journey required by the multiple actors within and outside the organisation to execute a required process to deliver maximum business value. Implementation is then about putting together those user journey (by integrating content, applications and processes from the intranet, leveraging the service oriented architectures of the last decade and cloud services of this decade) and delivering them through compelling browser and mobile app experiences using open, standards based integration.

Users will access many of the processes delivered via these social projects from their new social mail environments, the social intranet will integrate them with the resources needed and the participants will not just be internal but spread across the whole social ecosystem – as a result driving new levels of personal and organisational productivity by making business processes easier, faster, cheaper and more satisfying to use.