propay IBM session

Digital disruption

Re-engineering HR for the future

The pace of innovation and disruption in HR in the 21st century is both mind-boggling and beautiful. Companies are investing in their employees like never before through social, mobile, cloud and data-driven processes, just as they would with potential consumers. The payoff –  a compelling employee experience that is not just smart, digital and real-time but also, memorable, enriching and satisfying.

Today, the role of HR is a far cry from the traditional hum-and-nod department to become an advisor on change. Its biggest contribution to the boardroom lies in unifying the company’s vision with its employees.

A 2017 survey by Deloitte revealed a startling $5.5 billion VC investment in HR startups since the year 2014. This reveals the extent of unlimited possibilities that investors detect in disruption and how fast the Digital is defining the millennial workplace. For one, companies have come to realise the need for agile, personalised and employee-friendly environments and for automation to do the rest.

Today, the role of HR is a far cry from the traditional hum-and-nod department to become an advisor on change. Its biggest contribution to the boardroom lies in unifying the company’s vision with its employees. Applying disruptive practices in HR to meet business development goals helps companies and employees exploit mutual synergies for bigger possibilities.

In an HR Panel Discussion titled ‘HR Leaders as Drivers of Business Transformation’ which my company, Propay Partners hosted with IBM Malaysia on 11 April 2018, panelists discussed the latest trends and techniques in digital disruption adopted by various companies around the world. The panelists who came from different business disciplines touched upon some of the visible drifts the HR industry stands to experience at the behest of disruption.

Digital Disruption in HR – The Faster, the Better

In my keynote on Disruptions in HR, I drew reference to how companies are fast transforming businesses to create experiential value for their employees.  I believe that disruption is now altering the structure and roles in several organisations.

HRBP functions are becoming more strategic, focusing more on organisational development and talent management. These factors are enabling HR into the boardroom and helping companies focus on their core business.

For example, Unilever, one of our earliest clients since inception, took on a digital revamp earlier than that of its competitors. They set their eyes on disruption five years ago. Today they have achieved 180 percent transformation in their business model, organisational structure, e-commerce and digitisation. Strikingly, Unilever’s Finance and HR departments were the first to embrace change. And interestingly, both these departments were powered by high touch technology.

Propay Partners maintains an E-HR system which is cloud-based and enables employees to stay connected round the clock via all digital platforms. Mobile employees can check in to their HR services to access information, download payslips and verify tax compliance anywhere in ASEAN.

Changing Expectations – Living in Real Time

Employees are basically different behavioural sets within a given talent pool. While some are socialisers and leaders in their respective capacities, others are thinkers and innovators. If HR is entrusted to build seamless digital employee experiences for different kinds of employees, then it cannot by any means stick to the traditional yardstick.

Panelist Tony Tenicela, who is the Global Leader of Marketplace Diversity & Workforce Engagement Services at IBM said, “Though there is an abundance of disruptive technologies, it’s the way they are orchestrated that defines the customised experience.”

Tenicela also added that changing expectations were the main reason organisations like IBM were altering their approach to employees. In a recent survey conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, 300 professionals were interviewed on ‘What they really wanted from the company’.

Tenicela noted five practices that organisations were using to create more effective employee experiences:

  • personalisation;
  • responsiveness;
  • simplicity;
  • authenticity; and
  • transparency.

“Around 70 percent of the workforce is made up of millennials, who drive this personalisation approach in our respective enterprises. They are constantly looking for responsiveness in real time and rely on chatbots to answer their questions quickly,” he added.

Leveraging technology is crucial to staying ahead in a transformative turf.

Watson, the company’s signature AI business platform that engages with employees through natural language, is an admirable feature that offers real-time interaction. Apart from that, IBM also employs pulse surveys to spot what’s trending in the workforce to formulate data-based decisions. Their social dashboards (another digital feature) present an overview of employees’ engagement with managers, other employees, community forums and provide a peek into every employee’s online presence.

Riding the Digital Wave – Rejigging HR Norms

Leveraging technology is crucial to staying ahead in a transformative turf. Market research firm Forrester predicts that 46 percent of executives (surveyed by it) believe that before year 2021, digital will have an impact on more than half of their sales. Similarly, 99 percent of organisations surveyed by MIT & Deloitte anticipate their industries will be totally disrupted by digital trends, thus eliminating routine HR physical interaction to a bare minimum.

Ridhima Khanduja, Principal – Talent, Rewards & Performance at AON Malaysia, also a key speaker at the event, asserted how traditional ways and means should be shown the door. “If you believe that meeting, interviewing and spending time with your people will bring you power, it won’t be scalable. Instead, leveraging data will give you a more predictive future,” she added.

AON, a global professional services firm, predicts that by the year 2019, 100 percent of all HR processes will be mobile, while 80 percent of all people decisions will be analytics-based.

Analyses at AON go on to reiterate that speed, individual tailoring and continuous innovation will be the mainstay as disruption will continue to come quicker than ever.

Gen Y and Z are looking at companies to co-create their digital experiences similar to their social and online lives. While that is a given, they also look out for empowerment, mobility and learning opportunities within their workspace. “They are assertive, responsive, bold and drawn to companies that value them, not ones set on brutal profitmaking,” pointed out Khanduja.

Furthermore, it is important to sync HR transformation to digital disruptions that have a wider impact on the market. “Nike’s digital foray three years ago brought mixed responses from its development team. The company was soon forced to discontinue operations due to lack of synergy. This is a classic case of people transformation not matching product transformation,” added Khanduja.

Nurturing Innovation- Disruption Hubs & Spaces

Companies are employing a series of systems to inculcate a culture of innovation within their organisation where employees can brainstorm, experiment and transform their ideas into innovative solutions. Unlike resource-starved startups where taking the giant leap of faith would be a drastic step forward, multinationals are readily providing incubation hubs where teams are allowed to innovate and create without having to worry over seed funding.

“At Fonterra Brands, driving the culture of innovation is what we call disruption,” noted panelist and HR Director of Fonterra Brands, Andrew Ng said. “We assess capabilities we have today and those we need for tomorrow. As a futuristic organisation, we believe in HR leading from the C-suite and driving innovation from that standpoint,” added Ng.

Employees at the New-Zealand based dairy products giant are encouraged to go off work for a period of three months to come up with innovative ideas that can be pitched to a senior leadership panel. This 10 day-challenge includes testing the business model, supply chain and procurement. Fonterra’s last incubation hub saw seven teams from the APAC region competing against each other.

Shell Malaysia, offers a similar innovation space within their ramparts in their sprawling campus in Kuala Lumpur. P. Raj Kumar, Managing Partner, IRC Global Executive Search Partners/CnetG Asia and panel moderator noted that Shell’s division, called New Ventures, principally focuses on inviting startups to occupy their space at no cost whatsoever. “Innovation can never happen if you allow your team to operate in the normal way. Shell’s mantra of ‘you develop, we will invest’ is a key factor that encourages disruption,” he said.

No matter the size of the company, highly integrated practices can ensure systemic innovation if it is backed by a supportive leadership. Encouraging employees to think like innovators can transform products or services into profitable breakthroughs.

Plug Into Disruption

Despite opening our eyes to solutions and experiences from the industry, the panel threw light on several talking points that the leaders of today need to pay attention to:

  • allow disruption to alter your organisational structure;
  • focus on developing real-time strategies for your employees;
  • embrace data analytics for smarter assessments;
  • enhance and personalise technology for employees to match consumer-level experience;
  • transform HR as your business is built by people, not profits; and
  • innovation, risk and growth are contributors to your future.

The world of HR technology today is transforming as fast as the technology embedded in our smartphones. Companies around the globe are striving to bring in compelling experiences into the HR domain by reining in transformative experiences, workspaces, digital employee platforms, innovation hubs, hackathons, social networking and promoting a culture that aligns with the workforce of tomorrow.


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Headline image courtesy Propay Partners

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