The role of an HR has so many parallels with that of a standup comedian. Like a standup comedian delivers a new joke, HR comes up with programs without knowing how the audience will react to it. However, the challenge for HR is at a higher degree because they have to keep working with the same audience.
For many years the clan of HR has been on a relevant pursuit to keep up the engagement, and it's a tough thing to do. But what technology has done is it has opened possibilities that nobody thought was possible a decade ago. For example, it is challenging to get into hyper-personalization without using the right technology. People used to be scared of asking open-ended questions because then it would be challenging to go through thousands of responses and come up with a single chart. Today with text analytics, natural processing, etc. you can analyze millions of answers at the click of a button.
Today two problems persist in the employee engagement space. Firstly, we're now in an employee-driven economy so as your employees are serving you; you need to serve your employees as well. The employee experience has to be charted from their perspective and not the employer's. Secondly, employees are treated as data points. Everyone gets the same questions, and every year, it's the same process because benchmarking becomes critical. However, we need to humanize this process of surveys, feedbacks, etc. It's crucial to make sure the question that a bot or system is asking should be relevant to each individual. For example, someone who has just entered the company won't be able to provide valuable feedback because he is still figuring out his role.
All the data that can be extracted today irrespective of the business domain is around the customer or employee, at a much more close intimate level. This brings people right at the center of things. Thus it is essential to make sure to treat employees as you treat your customers.
Using AI for the blue-collar workforce
Vipin Gupta, Head - Digital, Yum Brands says, "When it comes to engagement with the blue-collar workforce, the two most important thing is hearing the employee voice and establishing personal touch." Someone who is working in a small village should be able to reach the top management when it comes to sharing their ideas. Having a personal touch using chatbots is a good option when you have a workforce spread across geographies. Another aspect is leveraging AI by making sure their grievances are heard that will help you gain the trust of these employees. AI is a great way to build the gap between in-office and on-ground employees.
Establishing trust in employees
Today with technology, we can generate a lot of data; sometimes even the employees aren't aware of the data their organizations hold. However, irrespective of the technology or data, the one critical piece is trust. So today, in the digital economy, HR needs to reimagine the proposition of trust. The responsibility of HR is to create a framework where any custodian in an organization can keep the ethics and ethos of what HR maintains around that data. These are the soft skills needed because technology alone cannot live up to the outcomes an organization demands. It has to come with sufficient design thinking and application.
As Tanmaya Jain, Founder and CEO, infeedo, explains, both the biggest risk and opportunity is trust when it comes to employee engagement. For example, most organizations believe anonymity itself drives trust, but it reduces engagement. Because if you're making anonymity your default factor of communication, you are establishing a ground of not trusting your employees. The default factor should always be confrontation.
Effective tips for reimagining engagement:
Don't constraint and limit yourselves when you're thinking of applying AI processes. For example, don't think about how a blue-collared workforce will be able to operate chatbots or other management systems. People tend to mold themselves as and when needed.
Keeping the core human touch is extremely important, and today, even more with technology taking over all aspects of our lives. Letting employees work from home is an excellent option from time to time, but working in groups is essential too.
Quality talent is going to be short in the coming years. It is imperative to use this data to see how you can make the workforce more productive.
Employee engagement shouldn't be the organization's job entirely but rather should be self-service. The role that organizations need to play is to enable employees and make sure their efforts are rewarded.
People need to take proactive steps rather than waiting until it's too late. If you're hiring aggressively or you already have people working across geographies etc. you should start the engagement processes right away. It is crucial to stop treating employees like data points and start treating AI as humans. Give performance reviews, feedback, etc. to AI systems so they can be improved and made more efficient. Whereas when it comes to employees, make sure to be a part of their achievements and failures, so they don't feel locked up in a virtual world.
(This article is based on the panel discussion, Engagement reimagined with predictive analytics and personalization conducted during TechHR 19 by People Matters.)