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Engaging the Digital Workforce

In a digital world, where switching jobs is easier than ever and top performers are increasingly in demand, it’s no surprise that employees have become more mobile. This change might represent a positive dynamic in the broader economy. But many companies face increased rates of attrition, which is not only expensive but also destabilizing-particularly when strategic capabilities, institutional knowledge, and leadership skills walk out the door. Workplace platforms offer new ways to restabilize attrition rates by helping employees become more engaged with their work and flagging early warning signs, so that managers can intervene before high performers leave as a result of low morale or boredom.

By allowing even the largest organizations to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to human resources and talent management, digital workforce platforms can help create the conditions in which employees feel energized by their work, valued by their organization, and happy in their environment. Such platforms can, for example, create a more personalized onboarding process that incorporates what companies know about new hires and their skills when they arrive. Appical, a Dutch start-up that uses digital games to transform the onboarding process, is among the companies creating tools to streamline orientation and training for new employees.

Digital training services like those provided by City & Guilds Kineo and LEO Learning enable companies to cut back on live training sessions and create more comprehensive, personalized, and effective online learning programs.

Digital technology has helped companies take a new view of interactions with customers by mapping and shaping their “journeys” from their first awareness of a product to its purchase and beyond. This new, technology-enabled approach helps companies answer an age-old question: Why should customers buy from us?

There’s a similarly long-standing question for employers: Why should top performers choose to work for us? In response, some companies have begun examining the design of their employee journeys with the same intensity they bring to designing the customer experience. Why does the employee experience matter? For one thing, because studies show that intrinsic factors - the meaningfulness and purpose of work, for example - can motivate employees more effectively than just traditional extrinsic ones (think: money) tend to do. Furthermore, inroads by automation will doubtless leave many employees feeling vulnerable, though it is more likely to redefine jobs than to eliminate them. Improving the employee experience can help balance that feeling of vulnerability.

Just as digital technologies help companies design the customer decision journey, workforce platforms help them design the experience of employees as they move through their career paths, from their initial consideration of a company until they become alumni. At each stage along the way, the platform provides greater visibility into what works and what doesn’t, by tracking the behavior of employees and enabling real-time, personalized responses to it.

Workforce platforms could, for example, roll up and provide access to the data gathered through the “sociometric badges” invented by MIT computer scientist Alex Pentland, who cofounded the social-technology firm Humanyze. These badges look closely at the interactions and social behavior of employees, even while raising new questions about confidentiality, ethics, and the use and sharing of information, among other things. The data they generate can help reveal, measure, and analyze organizational dynamics-and give companies a better understanding of how employees work and of how to make them more satisfied with their jobs

Bringing science to talent management

Whom shall we hire? What should we pay them? How can we retain these employees and help them grow and develop as their careers progress? Such people decisions are at the crux of organizational health not only for executives but also for entry-level workers, administrative staff, sales teams, and customer-service representatives. In the absence of sufficient data, companies often fall back on time-consuming and bureaucratic review processes that attempt to look at a year’s performance and decide how to grade it for compensation purposes. These time sinks will probably become all the more difficult as companies break jobs into their component tasks, rendering previous role definitions and job descriptions less relevant for evaluating performance.

Ericsson, Google, 3M, Wells Fargo, Xerox, and other early adopters of digital workforce platforms are finding that they help ground people decisions in hard data rather than gut instinct. The software provider Symantec, for example, used a crowdsourced performance-evaluation process to gain a 16 percent increase in employee satisfaction and engagement.8Xerox reduced new-hire attrition and made call-center agents 3 to 4 percent more productive by implementing Evolv’s HR analytics software, which sets up a 30-minute online-screening test for applicants and compares the results with a profile of top performers. An aging workforce gave 3M a reason to build an integrated workforce-technology platform to plan for succession management, thus increasing its employees’ internal mobility and boosting their annual productivity by 4 percent. Wells Fargo used Big Data analysis by Kiran Analytics to identify its most engaged and high-performing frontline employees; the company then designed its hiring processes to screen for candidates with similar traits, raising teller retention by 15 percent. Ericsson globalized its HR processes around an integrated platform designed to regather the tools and processes scattered by decentralization.

Hard data can support more robust yet streamlined discussions that help companies to reach better-informed decisions. By making it possible to evaluate the performance of employees through multiple sources, digital platforms release managers from lengthy appraisal processes, freeing them to focus on coaching and professional development. They also bring to bear more data, such as the information generated when project teams bid for a particular employee with a specific set of skills, pushing up that person’s per diem, which in turn gets reflected in the evaluation cycle. Rather than further destabilizing the organization, digital platforms, the markets they enable, and the hard data those markets provide can help to solidify and stabilize it.

 

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