A decade ago, employees began noticing an interesting shift. Historically, the software, tools and technology available at work was far superior than what was available at home. Then came the wave of personal computers and mobile phones and things began to shift. The ease of use and effectiveness of the software, tools and technology one was using at home was fast becoming superior to what was being used at work. It was also a gap that was becoming increasingly hard to explain. Why was it possible for everyone to access almost everything except work emails via their hand-held device? Why was the user interface on Facebook so much better than anything they’d seen at work? Suddenly a term began to spark a revolution and as most revolutions do, it forced organisations to change.
Prior to ‘consumerisation of the enterprise’ becoming a fait accompli, everything built for the consumer prioritised product simplicity, mobile functionality and wider accessibility, while enterprise technologies were built to focus on maximising product value - throwing out the focus on simplicity, accessibility and any appeal whatsoever. Consumers had a choice but employees had to use whatever the organisation offered. It wasn’t long before employees began expecting technology they were provided with at work to be equal to, if not better than what they used at home. While any deep organisational change is not an easy thing to do, organisations began navigating that path and even though the enterprise isn’t totally consumerised, they have made significant progress in bridging the gap.
However, there was a space, equally important, that was left unaddressed.
It wasn’t just the technology available at home that had vastly improved. Service levels had too and thus, the same trend that sparked a revolution in enterprise software should have made its way to organisational people practices. But the gap in this space continues to be glaring. Let’s take for example pay transparency. With the advent of the internet and information sharing, one can now easily find a ballpark of how much a principal software engineer gets paid in the top five technology giants and yet, these giants continue to guard pay ranges like the coveted KFC recipe. Take learning styles as another example. We know that almost everything the new generation is learning is via Instagram reels or TikTok, yet organisational learning continues to protect its archaic modes.
Sometimes when I step into work, I feel like I’ve been pulled into a time capsule and plugged into the early 2000s or even 1900s. Almost every single people process that we have in our workplace today has been built for an entirely different generation and we’re struggling to transition it into something Gen Z would embrace.
Thus, it’s time to bring back consumerisation of the enterprise but this time for HR and not just software.
What’s fueling this trend?
The same trends that fueled consumerisation of the enterprise 1.0 are the ones fueling the reemergence of the term.
Increased Transparency & Access to Information
Now that we have our feet firmly planted in the age of information and misinformation, one can no longer continue to preserve the archaic view of what we should and should not tell our people managers and employees. I am continued to be surprised by how little people managers know about how benefits, pay ranges and employee compensation is determined. And I shouldn’t be surprised. I know very few organisations that believe managers can understand pay range determination or should have a say in it.
We still believe that our employees and managers are irrational and it’s easier to not explain anything in the fear that it may open a bucket of worms. Yet, they seem to often know more than we give them credit for.
It’s the same with our people processes – be it the performance management system, succession planning or organisational design. Our processes are clunky, time consuming, frustrating and often lack success measures. We invest little to no time in analszing how much of a people manager’s time is consumed via these processes. Nor do we relentlessly work to reduce this managerial tax. We assume that all these actions are necessary and hence our leaders will have to deal with it. After all, it is part of their job as a people manager. But people talk and as they talk, they realise that things can be done differently.
In October 2014, Tikue Anazodo wrote this for software, but it applies to our processes just as seamlessly: “Employees have realised that software doesn’t have to suck. They have realised that software doesn’t have to be unnecessarily clunky and slow. They have realized that real-time social components that help streamline P2P communication can be built into any application. They have realized that software doesn’t have to be confined to a desktop computer, and that in fact software can move around with them on any device they own. They are aware of all this because the consumer applications that they spend most of their free time on are clean, intuitive, collaborative and portable.”
Rising expectations: The baseline has shifted
With access to information, came a rise in expectations. David Skok wrote at the end of 2014 that the enterprise is in Phase 2 of consumerisation. “Consumers used to say, ‘I’ll deal with whatever system you give me,’ then they said, ‘I’ll bring a better system, just support it,’ now they’re saying ‘I expect a system that enables a better way of working, deliver it.’ The baseline expectation has shifted, and this has been led by an increasing number of experiences in their personal lives becoming easier and better.”
It began with technology but is now expanding to processes. In one’s personal life, service levels have upgraded to make every process and transaction seamless. Yet at work, finding the answer to a simple policy query or applying for a sabbatical feels like a circus. Employees don’t want a daily dose of painful, frustrating rules and policies now that they know there’s a better way. Yes, in the current environment job security is not a given yet there is no better time than now to acknowledge the rising expectations and notice that the baseline has shifted.
Falling attention spans
Attention spans are dropping at a rate exponentially proportional to rising expectations. While historically one would have the patience to sit down and read a book, these days audio book summaries are all the rage. Instagram videos (reels) are getting shorter and videos are being played at 1.5x because no one has the time to watch at the original speed anymore. When was the last time you sat down to read a 100-page instruction manual?
Courses on focus, productivity and achieving a state of flow are rising in popularity because the world has taken note of the drop in attention span. But have organisations? Our training programmes continue to use archaic modes of delivery, manuals still extensively long and I am yet to see a 2-minute video summary of meetings. Imagine a world where training and policy information was delivered by internal company ‘social media influencers’. Meeting minutes were no longer emails but a reel and any task we did gave us instant feedback similar to video games. Wouldn’t that be a workplace that’s beginning to resemble life outside work?
There is of course a perfect storm of other factors which is redefining how we work. The rising popularity of freelance, part-time, gig and remote work is quickly exposing how brittle our tools and processes are for various non-traditional work scenarios. There’s also an increasing clamor for a bottom up approach to how we define our total benefits, company policies and practices. With a rise in works councils and unions, there’s also a push to democratise decision making.
Now more than ever businesses are realising that talent is their greatest competitive differentiator and if we are to hire and retain the best, we must bridge the gap between the work and the world outside work.
This is the perfect time for consumerisation of the enterprise 2.0.
Before I go – If you had a magic wand, how would you bridge the gap for your organisation? Tag me on social media and let me know the one place you’d start. I’d personally start by embracing reel-like eye-catching videos for workplace communication.