Jason Averbook: Creating a digital mindset for a new decade of work

Do you ever look back on your New Year’s resolution (if you make them)? Do you even remember what it was? Maybe you resolve the same thing every year–either because it’s a persistent goal or because you never actually meet it. Maybe your resolution never even makes it to February.

We begin every year with similarly big and lofty goals for our organizations and for HR. If we’re going to draw a parallel, New Year’s resolutions feel kind of like performance reviews of old: We look in the rearview mirror at past performance, decide what we don’t like and throw an ambitious stake in the ground for future performance. Wouldn’t it be great if we remembered and revisited our resolutions all year … if we treated them like True North on our compass … if those resolutions functioned like a lightning rod for the curveballs, pace of change and shifting sands we know will come our way? The purpose of lightning rods is often misunderstood. They don’t actually “attract” lightning. Rather, lightning rods offer a path to the ground, helping to conduct enormous electrical currents when lightning strikes do occur.

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That’s where trends and insights play a key role. They help us find True North, take aim and place lightning rods for the rapid pace of change and other factors that affect how we live and work.  If we understand the needs of our modern organizations, the evolving expectations of the workforce upon whom we rely to deliver to the market and our customers, and the availability of solutions and techniques to power experiences and drive outcomes, we can better shape an organizational digital strategy that spans our workforce experience goals. In other words, these themes shape our people priorities. More importantly, they help us close the gap between the world we live in and the world of work.

Stop Thinking Technology–Start Thinking Digital

That’s why every year I aim to forecast and explain the major shifts we’ll see in human resources and digital transformation. How true that mindset, people and process would emerge as the most important parts of digital transformation in 2019. “Digital transformation is going to be on the headline of every magazine,” I asserted at this time last year, and it’s not the technology alone. If we think about technology alone, we’re missing the biggest opportunity of true transformation, which is improved workforce experience.

Related:  2020 trends for HR to consider

This pivotal digital theme permeated everything else we saw come about in 2019. What else happened this year? We finally embraced workforce experience as the most important HR/people priority. The value of AI redefined as augmented intelligence helped us acknowledge the value of improved transactions for a
better experience. Finally, the value curve changed for HR technology where our experience layer–what the workforce interacts with–drives a continued focus on integrations and a return to best-in-breed buying strategy.

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The shift from technology to digital becomes more important every day, as our center of gravity shifts from completing transactions to a new mindset where technology can be leveraged to promote better experience, engagement and improved performance of the organization. This requires that we design for the internal customer–your employees, your business, your line managers and your team leaders–and not for the simple sake of HR getting the data they need. All of this demands experience COEs, or centralized delivery of one seamless, frictionless experience for the workforce. When you do all of this, your HRBPs can be proactive, focus on predictive people intelligence versus data and are tied to the business rather than tied to the HR department.

Finally, design–the single ingredient that drastically increases the likelihood of success in everything else. Design with intentionality is the difference between building a three-bedroom house and designing a home for the way you actually live.

The shift to workforce experience as the preeminent priority of HR reinforces several additional paradigm shifts:

  • HR doesn’t drive engagement of the workforce. The business drives engagement. HR can offer tools, implement processes and shepherd programs in support but needs to be aligned with the entire organization to deliver effectively.
  • HR technology is not a function; it’s an intravenous, a conduit to deliver messaging to the workforce. Treat it as such.
  • We judge everything in the world–as a candidate, as an employee, as a consumer–by our experience. Workforce technology can only move from adoption to addiction by creating an experience. HR-technology product managers and buyers have been focused on interfaces for far too long. The interface is a small part of the overall experience. Move the focus from transaction to interaction and you change experience.
  • Ninety-nine percent of people who use “HR tools” are not HR but rather are our current workforce, applicants or alumni. We need to shift the focus of our design, the core of our strategy and our empathy to the recipients of the experience we deliver.

This experience should span every moment that matters in the employee journey, by the way. Do this: Pull up your career site. Beautiful, right? Bright, colorful pictures of smiling faces playing ping pong. Happy. Fun to interact with, easy to find what you’re looking for, makes you feel good (we hope). Now, pull up your employee intranet, your “portal.” Does it scream bright and happy, easy breezy? Ugh. It’s usually an ugly link farm we’d rather not get lost in. Let’s take this one step further. If your employee intranet was your consumer website, would visitors ever come back? Would they be able to find the product they want to buy? What’s the look we’d see on their faces, the feeling it creates? Would your business survive another day?

See also: More columns from Jason Averbook

Create a frictionless workforce experience that offers the right product to the right people at the right moment through the right channel. Understand what people need and when, meet them where they are and make it easy for them to do their best work. If that’s a beautiful experience that leaves a happy smile on the faces of those in our workforce, we have suddenly started treating our internal employees like internal customers. We’ve achieved a personalized, relevant, on-demand, real-time and always-on approach when it comes to engaging, nurturing and servicing our external consumer customers. We’re even achieving that with external candidates, bringing the candidate experience closer to a consumer-like experience. It’s time to bridge the gap between the outside world and the world inside work and to bring that experience to our workforce. That’s how we win for the war for talent. We wage it for the people inside our own business.

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All of these shifts require a new mindset and new skills for HR: skills like value creation and marketing, storytelling, persona design to capture the mindset of people in the workforce, enhancing process design as an experience path and design capabilities. An experience economy demands development of these skills as core capabilities within our organizations. And all of this requires empathy. Shifting our focus to the workforce. Thinking differently. Designing an experience for the empty chair rather than for the HR user. Workforce 2020 will be about the workforce, and it’s about time.

It’s the job of the business to evolve its workforce, and we can drive that from the helm of HR. For more help grappling with the new skills and the growth mindset HR needs to evolve its own function and play this critical role, please tune into my webinar on Dec. 11: “Workforce 2020: Predictions for the World of Work.” I’m offering insights, trends, and actionable steps and strategies for the new decade of work. We all make or break this industry together; let’s do our part to help people work better by making work about people. I really hope to see you there! CLICK HERE to register.

Jason Averbook, Mercer
Jason Averbook
Jason is a renowned Senior Partner and the Global Leader of Digital HR Strategy at Mercer | Leapgen, with a career that spans over two decades in the HR and technology sectors. He is a leading figure in Mercer's global Generative AI strategy and services, spearheading innovative solutions in the HR technology landscape. Jason is also an accomplished author, having penned two books that delve into the future of HR and HR technology, further solidifying his position as a thought leader in the field. From 2018 to 2023, Jason co-founded and served as CEO of Leapgen, a company committed to shaping the future workplace. Now, under the expanded partnership of Mercer | Leapgen, Jason continues to challenge executive mindsets, advocating for a shift from executing technology projects to embodying a digital function. This new alliance amplifies his influence, extending his reach to a global market. In addition to his corporate roles, Jason serves as an adjunct professor at universities worldwide, imparting his knowledge and insights on HR technology and digitization. His leadership portfolio also includes senior roles at industry giants such as PeopleSoft and Ceridian Corporation. Jason's expertise lies in transforming HR organizations into strategic partners, having collaborated with industry-leading companies to achieve this. Jason's insights into the future of HR and work have earned him global recognition, and he is frequently quoted by top-tier media outlets such as BusinessWeek, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He is consistently ranked among the top three thought leaders in his field.