Article: Big interview: Josh Bersin on evolving HR trends

Strategic HR

Big interview: Josh Bersin on evolving HR trends

Josh Bersin, Founder and Principal at Bersin by Deloitte on the evolving HR trends, the importance of experience designing and on being an inspiring leader
Big interview: Josh Bersin on evolving HR trends

HR has to think of itself as a consulting function and proactively push innovation and change


Two-thirds of the millennials want to be creative they dont want to be just given a job that says do this and use this ERP system to get it done


Josh Bersin is the Founder and Principal at Bersin by Deloitte which is the leading provider of research-based information and advisory services focused on corporate learning. He has been responsible for Bersin by Deloitte’s long term strategy and market eminence. Josh has spent 25 years in product development, product management, marketing and sales of enterprise technologies.

What are some of the new dramatically changing HR trends that you have come across in your research?

Millennials have created a dynamic in the workforce that is actually good for all of us. And I will tell you what research we have done on that. Firstly, today there is an incredible amount of transparency and information gets out easily. So people looking for jobs or opportunities or even just evaluating work find out things about you like never before and all of that has remarkably altered the industry scenario. Research has revealed that the number one challenge that companies have today (and this is 3300 companies that were evaluated) is culture. Secondly, the issue of engagement has been in the industry for long now and is much harder to deal with as the workforce and work environment has transformed rapidly over the years. The third most important issue that was found was related to ‘Learning’. Learning is seen to be not just for performance anymore but more for engagement. So if the organization does not invest in a continuous learning environment, it may actually lead to attrition because one of the reasons why people look for a job is to develop themselves. 

The research also revealed that if data on millennials is to be considered, the characteristics of young people in workforce are observed to be very different. And this is true for all sectors. 80 percent of millennials want to give a performance appraisal to their boss. So how do we deal with that? Today, a whole new market of feedback applications and feedback solutions has been trying to work it. Two thirds of the millennials want to be creative – they don’t want to be just given a job that says “do this and use this ERP system to get it done”.  They relate to their team almost as much as they relate to the company. So another interesting trend that is seen is a reinvented focus towards teams as the center for work, which in turn demands solutions that aim at training and engagement of teams and how they need to work together. Finally, millennials want regular feedback. They don’t want to wait till the end of the year for a performance appraisal. Once-a-year performance appraisal is not giving people what they want out of work. 

There has been a paradigm shift in the way learning is perceived and provided by organizations. How do you think learning can be provided to enhance an employee’s sense of belonging to the organization?

If you’re really looking at the value of learning in companies, it is in creation of an engaging experience, which in turn translates into many other things. So, when a company provides a professional learning experience or job rotation, or a coach to its employees, it motivates them to be more productive and become better at their job. Such things happen when learning is done well, and these are more than just performance improvements. 

In a rapidly changing world, learning has also changed and is now imparted through social means, connections, online experiences, videos and subject matter experts. The shift that we’re seeing is from pure instructional design to what would be best called learning ‘experience design’. For example – Deloitte has a very famous university in Dallas called Deloitte University. It was designed as an experience and not just a facility. When one signed up for a class in Deloitte – every email one got, about getting on the plane, what would happen when one got off the plane, when one entered the door, or when one walked into the class – all of it is designed so that one can have a great experience. People love going for this! That’s an example of what L&D professionals have to do. So now, the L&D professionals need to shift from instructional designing to experience designing.

The HR industry, particularly in India, has taken longer to adjust to the use of HR technology. What is your advice for companies who are just beginning to change their traditional way of doing things in HR?

If companies are fortunate enough to get to start from scratch, they are probably in a good state because there is some incredibly integrated new technology available now. First thing is that you can’t run HR without good technology because you end up spending time, money and wasted effort on administration, which should instead be spent on high value functions like developing people and coaching leaders. If a company is new to HR technology, it should look at one of the major ERP providers. They are all cloud-based. Next thing is to work on data first or at least simultaneously. It is absolutely important to define data standards and ensure you have good data from the beginning as it aids in correlating and predicting. 

Moreover, the other thing is the user experience. These days with the core HR technology, there is a fair amount of parity in functionality, but the different systems look and behave very differently. Therefore, the system needs to be engaging. It becomes imperative that companies spend a good amount of time with their users in testing the system with the help of IT team to improve the user experience and in building mobile apps. I think every HR department has to have a mobile app development team, either insourced or outsourced, to build something in the new digital world of mobile because mobile is taking over. Most of the core ERP have mobile versions but they don’t have everything on mobile. But that’s coming fast. Familiarity with mobile technology is the next big thing.

According to you, how important is it for HR to reinvent its approaches? How can the HR function adopt a more strategic role in business?

If a company is not developing its HR function, it is not doing its job. Just as IT teams can’t do their job without skills, sales people can’t do their job without skills, the HR can’t either. Firstly, HR has to hold itself accountable for driving the business. If sales productivity is a problem, it’s HR’s problem too and it should work on it. Similarly, if retention is a problem, it needs HR as well. Secondly, really great HR organizations take time to do job rotations in a very deterministic way. They move people within HR and even move people out of HR into the business and then back. Similarly, people who have been in the business should take a developmental experience in HR, to bring the business into HR. Thirdly, the HR should be able to benchmark itself. Attending conferences, visiting other companies and reading research is important. The HR needs to keep track of new technologies and great ideas that are going on the outside world and bring them in. The HR has to think of itself as a consulting function and proactively push innovation and change into the organization. Consulting firms are always developing their people constantly, because it’s the only way they can stay ahead.

You’ve been an entrepreneur and have also worked in organizations – both big and small. What has really worked for you as a leader to create engagement, motivation and a culture of innovation?

Well, I am an engineer. So I like to build and create things and I like to innovate. I spent 10 years at IBM in various roles including management and 8 years in a database company, couple of years at a couple of start-ups. I have also run marketing and business development for a couple of companies. Most people find me to be an inspiring leader because I do have a lot of passion, inspiration and vision. I am detail-oriented and believe in being very client-focused. When we were building Bersin, what differentiated us was the practicality of our research, and the reason it was practical was because we always talked to the clients, listened to their problems, diagnosed them and used research as a tool to solve them. And then we would call them again to ask them how they were using it. If you’re not talking to the customer, you may not be coming up with the right answer. So I really believe that my role is to be with customers and reflect that back to the organization. I also think that I am a relatively humble person and I really appreciate what everybody did and does. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, Leadership, Learning & Development, #Trends, #TechHR2016

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