The setting –A group of workers are working in the assembly line in a factory. Nothing unusual! Hold on, they are wearing light headgear which does not quite fit into the overall normal factory uniform. Suddenly a supervisor approaches one worker and has a conversation with him and leads him away to the medical Centre. The physician has a conversation with him and advises him to rest for a few hours in the adjacent dormitory.
What’s going on? The odd headgear that we saw is a machine that constantly images the brain of the workman looking for patterns. It detected a certain degree of “fatigue” in the worker’s brain which could lead to the worker losing concentration and thereby injuring himself and affecting production. Hence, he is taken off the production line and given rest.
Sounds like science fiction. It isn’t… it is a factory in the Guangdong Province of China, manufacturing chemicals.
Closer home, a staff is working on a typical day in a factory in Goa. An electronic “nudge” pops of in her screen. Time for the monthly “Performance development” check-in. Next day at a pre-appointed time she meets the supervisor and they start discussing her progress in the development plan they had formulated 6 months back. A performance review starting with a discussion on progress on development plan? Yes, in a performance “development” system designed applying design thinking, the employee clearly articulates, beforehand, what she would like to discuss. So, this discussion is led by the employee, and not the classical way as is led by the manager.
This is a scene of the Goa factory of a renowned organization.
These are just two examples of the myriad nos. of ways the “digital” thinking is redefining how we deal with people – be it our consumer or our employees.
Digital HR, to most people, is deployment of technology to enhance employee experience. They are right, albeit to a limited extent. It is equivalent to saying that digital transformation of business is improving business results using technology.
That is where we draw the boundary on possibilities.
Digital HR, like digital transformation of business, is an entirely new way of thinking about employees – the thinking that turns many classically held beliefs and views on people management on its head. Significant numbers of advancement in various branches of technology and science have provided us unprecedented insights into the human mind and behavior and deal with it and influence it.
Advancement in Neuroscience and Behavioral Economics have started unravelling the human mind like never before and understanding employees’ behavior and preferences. This has put to sword many traditional beliefs and assumptions as to what motivates employees, how employees learn and change behaviors. A completely different set up frameworks have emerged to understand employee behavior. Organizations have started to model their rewards, learning and engagement frameworks, among other, based on these emerging trends. Organizations have increasingly started to deploy concepts and practices such as gamification, nudge, learning-on-the go, etc. to drive employee engagement and development. The emerging field of BMI, or Brain-Machine-Interface, where Neural networks of the mind automatically translate to physical actions by machines, hold exciting possibilities.
The use of Robotics and AI, so prevalent in all aspects of modern life, has extensive deployment possibilities and that has enabled to deliver “traditional administrative” services to employees on-demand and in a flawless manner. The rise of Bots (chat or voice) is just a case in point. The increasing use of sensors also have made capture of real-time data easy.
At the same time, advancement in data science and analytics has made us to track and understand and predict behaviors of individual employees. Through big data analytics, we now have the potential to understand the behavior patterns of individual employees. This has enabled organizations to deliver customized experiences based on individual preferences. It also enables us to take far superior people decisions based on real time data – something which has big potential for performance and talent management practices in organizations. Organizations have started deploying concepts like Organization Network Analysis (ONA) to drive culture and change.
Another significant development in this aspect is the rise of Design Thinking. It allows the shift of employee related processes from process efficiency parameters to parameters that address “employee emotions” – a much more powerful indicator of employee engagement – through empathy maps. This also encourages us to apply the powerful concepts in “analogous space (e.g. areas which apparently have no relevance to employee related processes) as sources of inspiration to breakthrough results.
The list goes on and on…
So, for somebody keen to embark on the digital transformation of employee experience, what would be the guiding principles? The answers are very complex and offer limitless possibilities. However, there may be a few things which will help:
- Start with constantly looking for activities that can be automated. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) offers exciting possibilities whereby service delivery for employees can be much more efficient and preferential.
- Build an “instrumentation” approach – that is collecting real time data on every employee technology interface. For example, when you use your google map, Google collects data on you and uses it to better guide you. Similar approaches will help us understand individual employee behaviors and preferences better.
- Adopt Design Thinking - Continuously look for inspirations which are in very diverse fields to create breakthrough employee experiences. It also allows us to experiment quickly and innovate fast.