Jason Averbook on how HR can reinvent itself through digital transformation

Many companies are struggling with the implementation of digital transformation which drives sustainable, competitive business advantage

There is a significant amount of confusion within organisations around digital HR transformation, according to HR thought leader Jason Averbook, who explained that many companies are struggling with the implementation of real and meaningful digital transformation which drives sustainable, competitive business advantage.

There are two kinds of digital transformation for HR and Averbook said there is a “still a boatload of confusion” as to what it actually means in practice.

“When it comes to digital HR transformation, there is a ‘big T’ and a ‘little T’,” said Averbook, who serves as CEO of consulting firm LeapGen.

“The ‘big T’ is about how we reorganise ourselves as an HR function to work in a digital world, while the ‘little T’ is about how we actually take a digital-first mentality to deliver capabilities to the workforce.”

Averbook, who was speaking as part of a recent series of ServiceNow events on digital transformation and the future of work, said that organisations are generally more successful when it comes to the “little T” of digital transformation for HR, but less successful when it comes to reinventing HR to successfully work in a digital world.

“People are spending millions and millions and millions of dollars reorganising themselves into different kinds of centres of excellence and different kinds of service centres – only to realise that by the time they’ve reorganised themselves, this is already dated from where they’re trying to get to,” said Averbook.

“Overall, I would say that we’re in the early adopter phase of a digital-first mindset, and I’m not even going to call it digital HR transformation.

“When it comes to people services, this ‘digital-first mindset’ space is only going to explode in the next one to five years.”

“Overall, I would say that we’re in the early adopter phase of a digital-first mindset”

Averbook said the pace of change in digital transformation for HR is only going to pick up and predicted that everything known about the world of HR technology for the past 20 to 30 years is going to change significantly in the next five years.

He gave the example of employee and manager self-service systems and explained that rather than logging into systems via desktop computers to work, this would shift to SMS chat, Skype, Chatter or other platforms and apps employees can use regardless of where they are located.

“When we think about the employee service experience, the world of HR technology is going to change from one that’s just focused on transactions to one that has to focus on experience and HR being an intravenous (IV) feed to deliver any capability into the organisation.

“So, if I want to deliver some content to an employee which is designed to increase engagement, then it’s going to go through that IV,” he said.

“In the past, we have done a poor job in building that line of communication from the organisation to the employee.

“Moving forward, in order to deliver any digital capability, we’re going to have to pave that road in a way that’s very, very smooth, that meets employees where they are and in a way that is very natural to them.”

Averbook explained that there is also a significant gap between strategy and execution when it comes to the employee experience.

“People come up with this idea that they’re going to create this employee experience but they have no idea how to get there,” he said.

“So, there is not just a gap between strategy and execution, but more of a ‘chasm’ and a challenge for HR in this is focusing inwards on employees and managers, rather than focusing outside of the organisation.

“If they can get employees and managers to buy into the fact that HR is delivering capabilities to make the workplace and workforce better, the data HR will get out of that is going to be 10 times better than the data they get today,” he said.

“So when HR starts talking to me about the employee experience, what they’re really talking about is how are people getting the support or service or answers from HR”

Mark Souter, HR product sales lead for ServiceNow, explained that both employees and managers are looking to HR to get the right answer in a way that is both quick and predictable.

“HR is looking to apply learnings from the customer service experience to the internal employee service experience, but they’re doing it in ways using systems which haven’t been built for this,” he said.

“Core HCMs in the marketplace do a great job with HR data, records of reference and key HR fundamentals.”

However, most employee service needs are not met by such systems, and Souter said this is driving a need in the market for both a system of engagement as well as a system of record produced by an HCM.

Managers and employees are looking for the right support, person, device or system to get the answer to their query in a quick and predictable way, he explained.

“When people talk about the employee experience, it is often defined either fairly obtusely or poorly, or in a multifaceted way,” said Souter.

“So when HR starts talking to me about the employee experience, what they’re really talking about is how are people getting the support or service or answers from HR.”

Souter added that this process has historically been approached in a very unstructured way, with multiple systems including intranets with limited contextual relevance for a specific person’s role as well as other HR and HCM systems, resulting in a disjointed and sometimes frustrating experience for employees and managers.

HR teams have also been focusing heavily on higher-value activities such as talent management, learning and development, as well as workforce analysis and planning, according to Souter, who observed that while these are very important – HR has “probably missed a step” around the orientation of how people get answers to questions in a way that is meaningful to them.

“Why isn’t their experience outside the organisation as a consumer reflected inside?” he asked.

“The reason for this is that we’ve that, is that we’ve been talking to them about HCM systems and records of reference, versus ways to engage them and build that experience around that record of reference.”