Five Principles For Using Technology To Build Successful Organisations

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The pandemic has forced us to change how we work.

Organisations have seen years’ worth of technology projects implemented in weeks.

Amazing feats have been carried out in the workplace by teams in every care home, supermarket, and delivery depot. HR leaders have done a great job in the last year keeping our organisations going.

The focus in the next economic phase for leaders of organisations will be to respond to the economic consequences of the pandemic. It will take some time for a vision to evolve for most geographies, industries, and companies. It is likely there will be mergers, acquisitions and re-organisations as companies work out how they will be successful in the Digital-Covid age. When new corporate strategies are developed, they will all involve our people.

In many walks of life, the capability of technology has long surpassed our ability to harness it. We now have face recognition software that can spot a fugitive in a crowd, we have social media networks that can disseminate news to millions in seconds, we can pay freelancers in cryptocurrencies.

HR leaders are bombarded with media and marketing messages about using new technology in the workforce, so how do we make the best decisions?

Here are five principles to think about when using technology to rebuild organisations.

Empower Workers, Don’t Spy On Them

With 40-50% of workers around the world able to work from home, it is now possible to measure a wide realm of data on employees. From location to keystrokes, eye movements to happiness apps and sensors in cushions indicating who is sitting down.

Employers can now spy on their employees, but should they?

A few years ago, The Daily Telegraph placed motion sensors under its’ journalist’s desks, without permission. There was an understandable and very public outcry. For those responsible for workforce productivity, it is important to measure employee sentiment and productivity.

Research conducted by Organization View (based in Switzerland) analysed text from employee feedback. From over 100,000 comments, from multiple sectors and geographies, they found that employees strongly valued working from home, but didn’t want to do it every day.

We need to measure employee data in a way that is legal, which is easier said than done in some jurisdictions. It also needs to be both ethical and effective. In this age of advanced technology, successful organisations will be those that can build an older and fundamental human characteristic – Trust.

Workforce Trust is a must for the type of organisational changes needed in the coming years. 

It is essential that workers are asked permission before using their data (especially if they are journalists) and provide technology that empowers workers to be more productive and healthier; but not to spy on them.

Support Great Teams

We know from experience that the magic in our organisations happens in teams. Our current situation would have been a lot worse without the teamwork from those developing vaccines, caring for the sick or planning logistics for food and medical equipment. Yet many of the management, and HR, processes we have inherited from the 20th Century are focussed on individuals. From hiring to performance reviews, reward and recognition to employee engagement, and training.

Over the next few years, the role of HR will change from a central organisational silo to a function that enables more self-sufficient decentralised teams. Workforce technology will play a key role in this transition.

What makes a successful team? A mix of many factors including the individual team members, the context, the communication tools, the culture, the history and psychological safety. We are now seeing organisations using data to look at how teams operate, taking on board personality, team roles, and survey results. 

Apps like CoachBot can work out where team challenges are by using responses to questions and other data. The tool is used by the NHS and Unilever, and Saberr report team performance increases by 22%.

Another method used by HR Teams includes Organisational Network Analysis, a discipline that looks at actual team behaviour to solve business challenges around inclusion, attrition and productivity. For example, a Fortune 500 biotech company used ONA techniques from Cognitive Talent Solutions to identify informal leaders and also risk of employee burnout.

Working out how to source and support teams will be a key skill for organisations in the future.

Cast The Net Widely

It is well documented that the pandemic has negatively impacted some groups in society more than others, impacting younger, BAME, female and frontline workers the hardest. The type of work we do has been a crucial factor, from being able to work from home, amount of contact with the public and income levels.

Working with an employment contract and associated boss is not for everyone. Not everyone can work from home or work regular hours every day. In the UK there are about 5.5 million self-employed, which surprised some government agencies trying to work out furlough schemes last year.

In 2021, we shouldn’t have to make the case for workforce inclusion for a fair and equitable society, but we still need to. Cognitive diversity will be a differentiator in competitive industries – getting the best brains and talents together working well in a team.

Textio improves candidate responses to job adverts by statistically analysing the words used in the job advert, for example the term ‘work hard play hard’ attracted more male applicants, and words such as ‘adaptable and creative’ attracted more women.

Increasingly our workforce teams are made up of freelancers, suppliers, automated solutions and employees. In sourcing work, HR needs to enable teams to make good decisions and this involves nurturing the best available talent pools; ensuring the procurement is efficient, and the outputs are measurable. 

Make Better Decisions About Technology

CHROs need to play a key role in digital transformation. One reason is that 70% of these programmes fail, according to the IDC. We know that one of the key factors for successful transformation of organisations is the people, so HR is in pole position to drive this change in our organisations with knowledge about people and change management, learning solutions, and employment regulations.

Busy HR and Talent executives are bombarded with industry marketing messages form Big Data to Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Remote Work Tools; so how do you make a decision on which technology and tools actually work? 

Critically assessing a broad set of evidence before embarking on expensive technology programmes is essential. This doesn’t have to be particularly time-consuming, but seek views from experts, stakeholders, and scientific literature where appropriate. In the real-world, executive decisions need to get agreement in short-time frames. This approach can help gain approval and confidence from colleagues.

Useful resources for using an evidence-based management approach include Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa) and Science for Work.

On digital transformation programmes, one way to cast the net more widely is to seek improvement suggestions from those closest to the products and services - your employees. Then critically assessing the best ideas and implementing – start small, evaluate and then scale rapidly.

Rethink Work

With new technology it is tempting to use it to make our existing processes slightly better. This misses an opportunity, as some of the technology requires a fundamentally different mindset. 

Consider a hiring example from when we had paper job application forms. As the internet arrived, we took all 30 data fields from the paper application form and made an online version. Bingo! But the user experience wasn’t great and not all the data requested was actually processed.

Then mobile arrived, and we took our online application form with its 30 data fields and tried to add it to a mobile map. Bingo! But, again, this didn’t lend itself to the new technology. In each case we adapted from experience and made better services.

Some say the future of work is remote working – but what does that mean? The location of where we work is just one element in work design. This also needs to include the why, what, how, when and who.  Future solutions for hybrid working will need to take into consideration all these factors and include a more decentralised workforce.

Building Resilient and Healthy Organisations

So, when planning new change initiatives, these principles can help guide the decision-making and planning process.

Supporting and enabling diverse teams will be key to most work situations. Ethical considerations around technology have come to the fore for modern CHROs, and also sharp critical thinking skills to cut through the marketing noise out there.

The upside is enormous for those leaders who embrace new technology, empower their workers and creating a trust relationship. Workers will benefit by being more autonomous, more productive and healthy and so will customers.

I am optimistic that after a steep learning curve, we will come through and build much more resilient and healthy organisations in the coming decade.

Thanks to Alex Evans

This article was originally published in the Spring Edition of TALiNT International Magazine

Andrew Spence is an independent workforce strategist and writes the Workforce Futurist Newsletter.