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Better Employee Experience Through the HR-IT Marriage

How can technology offer something that’s going to speak to your company’s culture and speak to your employees?




UNLEASH Your Employee Experience Telenor and ActionAid Brazil discuss the marriage of HR and IT and the need to listen to employees in this EXCLUSIVE interview.

  • ActionAid Brazil believes a killer employee experience sees productivity increase.
  • Telenor, who was also interviewed, spoke to over 3000 staff to map employee pains, calculate how severe they were, and prioritize initiatives accordingly.
  • HR leaders at ActionAid Brazil spent a year developing a new system in-house for all employee functions in one place

Our ground-breaking upcoming report, ‘Why HR Projects Fail’, surveyed 700 top business leaders globally to find out what the most common problems they faced were when implementing a new HR technology project. Their responses formed Eight Golden Rules for Success.   

Number six of these Eight Golden Rules calls out that ‘the Employee Experience is the Killer App’: The specific technology or platform is much less important than the experience employees have interacting with it; organisational focus on user experience and offering tools that smooth their experience are critical to adoption. 

We interviewed Sayed Hossain Rubel, a global expert in employee experience who works at Telenor, and Janaina Tavares, head of organizational development at ActionAid Brazil. They discussed the ‘marriage’ of HR and IT, the need to listen to your employees and give them a voice, and why technology is always less important than the employee experience. 

criene via Twenty20

UNLEASH: How do you feel the world of HR has changed in light of the pandemic? 

Janaina: Well, with all the HR executives that I’ve spoken to, 95% of them are talking about well-being, which has become the number one priority for everyone. We need to advocate well-being and for it to have a permanent place at the table. We are also doing more with less because we’re budget-constrained right now (like the majority of the companies today). So how can we do more with less? That’s something that we really, really need to know in order to invest in digital transformation. We need to understand that digital transformation is a culture, and it is part of our day-to-day duties. So how can we do this?  

UNLEASH: What does the term wellbeing really mean for you now in your organization? 

Janaina: We’re having weekly chats with our teams, where we have regular check-ins. This includes about 65 staff members that are here at ActionAid Brazil. As the Head of HR, it is my responsibility to pay attention to each employees’ sentences and keywords and if there’s something that they dislike, I’ll contact this employee. I’ll often put them in touch with a psychologist, which is available 24/7 through our health lens system. We’re also having mindfulness sessions. We’re having weekly webinars, where we talk about a variety of things that are not related to work but include hobbies and things that our employees are doing outside of work life. We also offer daily exercise sessions with a trainer and there’s a yoga session also. We’ve been really emphasizing the mental health issue. It’s a big thing down there in Brazil, and for us to have psychologists available in HR mean there is always someone to guide you. I think it’s extremely important. 

titovailona via Twenty20

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UNLEASH: What trends are emerging for the world of HR following the crisis? 

Sayed: What has become clear to me is that we have been working so much on being efficient, so much on simplification, so much on knowing how we can invest and how we can get the most value out of the businesses or the people functionalities. However, this situation has opened our eyes, in terms of designing much more for resilience. Organizations need to be more able to react to any incident or to make our processes so that they can react to encounter any incident or any event that we cannot expect. Whilst we were busy focusing on efficiency or efficient system, we have created fragility and we need to be more resilient. We need to be ready for the next unfortunate event. So that people can work, and businesses can continue.  

UNLEASH: What’s been your actual HR experience so far in the Coronavirus pandemic?  

Sayed: My experience of this pandemic is exceptional. It is something we could not have imagined nor predicted and has caused things that we thought would not be possible. For example, we have been working from home for the last three months; we’ve not been seeing colleagues; we’ve not seen any of the team in person. These have been exceptional experiences, which we could not imagine experiencing before. The world has a new ‘normal’ and a new direction with a huge shift in the way things are run.  

We had to invest in digital transformation, something that we had planned for two years, we had to do in two weeks. We have to have this new digital interaction within our team and a new way of communicating with everyone. 

Janaina: It’s been a very interesting experience, because we had to reinvent ourselves, literally. We had to invest in digital transformation, something that we had planned for two years, we had to do in two weeks. We have to have this new digital interaction within our team and a new way of communicating with everyone. We’re talking about something that it’s literally taking over the world and it’s coming so close to all of us. All of us have a friend or relative that has COVID or has passed away because of it. So how can we keep our teams mentally stable and interact with them on a daily basis? We’ve been working a lot around that as well as the digital transformation. How do you bring those two together? And what’s this new normal? Do we know what the normal is? I don’t think anyone does right now… 

UNLEASH: I want to dive a bit into our new report and our sixth golden rule was ‘employee experience is that the killer app’. From your perspectives, how have you seen this impact your work? 

Janaina: Well, I believe that in order to have a killer employee experience companies need to listen and understand the real needs and ideas of their employees. Developing and offering a program that communicates to your staff is crucial. We’ll need to find that the productivity and the interactions with the programs will increase. When you offer programs that are speaking to your staff, and also the work atmosphere, it’s much more pleasant as the majority of your staff feel that they have contributed to the development of the program which brings value and appreciation to their role and builds a sense of belonging to the organization.

I can tell you by our experience, we developed two in house apps, our HR platform, and our monitoring and evaluation. We spoke to about 12 vendors here in Brazil and because none of them offered to us exactly what we needed we did surveys and polls within the company. This enabled us to develop these two programs, so they can exactly offer what our staff members want and need, making it a great success. Everyone’s been interacting with the platform, especially now they’re all working from home. You really need to listen to your staff and their needs. It doesn’t matter if you’re a local organization or a global organization. If you are a global organization, speak to your local heads of HR, understand what the needs are for each region, and develop something that’s actually going to speak to your staff and give them what they need. 

Members of Janaina’s Organizational Developement team at ActionAid Brazil

UNLEASH: What length of time did the project take and what key steps helped make it a success? 

Janaina: I’m privileged to be the head of IT also. I believe that HR and IT need to work together. It’s like a marriage, we need to be together. When first spoke to vendors, we had a questionnaire and some of them didn’t work out very well. We then had an internal survey with key questions about what our staff needed and wanted within the program. We spent a year developing it and did it in-house with the help of local start-ups. The program covers everything within HR; we have all our training from chatbots, webinars, onboarding, everything is within this platform. I spoke to all local HR offices of ActionAid to understand what each of them needed so I could tweak the program to suit each of them. It was a long process but it came out brilliantly and everyone’s interacting with it. It is something that really covers what ActionAid is really all about.  

we did not see it as a HR transformation project or technology project but as an employee experience project instead

UNLEASH: Sayeed, just to pick up from your perspective around ‘Employee Experience is the Killer App’. What do you make of that? 

Sayed: Employee experience is a holistic way of seeing things. It is not only about HR but the employee and the people themselves. We need to see employees the way we see customers of the business. Customers want two things from the product: the best value and convenience. When HR thinks of its employees as consumers, they need to use this perspective. At Telenor, we underwent one HR transformation project, which I led, and we did not see it as an HR project or technology project but as an employee experience project. The reason for this is from the very initial phase of the project we were very attached to our employees and to our people. The project started with a very simple survey of 3000 employees to understand one specific problem that they would like to solve in order to make life more convenient and we asked them to rate these. We used this data and insights to decide on our initiatives. We were able to map employee pains and calculate how severe they were, which enabled us to prioritize initiatives accordingly. This is why we called it an employee experience project.  When we ultimately focus on the employee experience as we focus on the customer experience, we create a solution they will love and return to.  

Ashley Byrd via Unsplash

UNLEASH: So it looks like you both followed quite similar processes in that sense you both deeply investigated what the users require and used an evaluating process that in a structured way to help you understand what to prioritize and how do you know how to tackle the project and address their needs.  With all the end-users and the partners who need to be involved, are there any other aspects that need to be added, to help define that experience and to make it a bit more real for people? 

Janaina: Oh absolutely, I believe that when you, when you listen to your team and to your employees and give them a voice, everything just falls into place. People feel appreciated and people feel that they’re part of the project and this is extremely important. If you’re in a local organization or in a global organization. Listen to your employees, give them a voice. We need to listen more to our teams. Some of us are in offices, and we still have no contact with our teams. As HR executives, we need to pass this on to our HR teams and they need to speak to who’s on the ground. I work in the non-profit sector, so I need to understand who’s in the community, who’s doing our projects, what do they need, and what’s their reality?  

Talles Alves via Unsplash

UNLEASH: Sayeed is there anything additional that helps the experience from your perspective? 

Sayed: I think is very important also to get the employee feedback, or to get insights and inputs after you deliver the content because practicalities are always changed, and situations and employees’ expectations are also changing. What employees are satisfied with at this moment, they will not be satisfied in one year or six months because new realities are constantly coming up. So, it is important to design your product, by taking their inputs and it is important to continue this journey so it is not a one-time exercise. 

UNLEASH: Interestingly, we found was only 11% of the 700 people we surveyed actually believe their HR tech programs improved the employee experience. Why do you think this is and what could they potentially be doing to improve that? 

Janaina: I think that we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions: Firstly, are we offering types of programs that are actually speaking to our teams? Secondly, do these programs have the tools and insights that meet the needs of our teams? It is very important to understand the employee journey and to offer a program that’s actually going to speak to the employee. We need to ask these questions when we’re developing tech programs. We need to do this by conducting polls surveys focus groups, etc. And this is something that, as heads of HR, we need to advocate within our companies and organizations. 

Your employees must have a seamless digital experience and you need to understand what they need, what is giving them pain, and what is bothering them.

UNLEASH: Do you have anything to add to that Sayeed? 

Sayed: I agree with Janaina. We need to understand the real needs of the employees and why they are in need of the project. As HR leaders, we used to focus mainly on a broad perspective, for example, cost. We would bring in technology that would reduce cost and then we would bring in new technology that would replace the old technology. If you focus on costs and bringing in new systems, then you are leaving behind experiences. You don’t always need to bring in a new solution. After all, sometimes new systems just throw us off and confuse employees. Your employees must have a seamless digital experience and you need to understand what they need, what is giving them pain, and what is bothering them. Then you can bring your projects, tools, and systems that will give you the best value out of you.  

UNLEASH: Picking up on the other side of that, the other area that was quite low for a lot of people was the projects keeping to the timeline. I know you’ve just talked about that being cost-based and that obviously misses out on the experience, but in terms of timings why do you think so many projects experienced this challenge? 

Sayed: I have seen a lot of technology projects not being finished within the timeline. It is very important to understand and know what the needs are, what are the impacts, and what the ultimate objective is. Often HR brings in new solutions without analyzing the impact or predicting possible scenarios before jumping straight into implementing the solution and involving the vendors. If you don’t understand what the impact be or what the outcomes could be, then of course you will meet roadblocks. You need to challenge yourself at the beginning of the project so that you can predict and prepare for these roadblocks and you can then plan a more accurate timeline 

Janaina: Before we set the project timeline, we really do need to analyze why we are doing it. Why is this happening right now and why is it important to our organization? Who are the people that are going to engage in this project? If heads of teams that are not engaging properly with our teams, we placed people in the wrong position. We need to know who the key players in projects are in order to deliver it within the timeline. This is very important because sometimes we misplace people. We need to know exactly who we’re placing within the projects, and we need to have built the entire analysis of the program. What’s the timeline? What are we going to get from this? What are the costs? Everything needs to be very mapped out so that a project will flow smoothly into the timeline. But if we don’t do our homework ahead of time, we will fall behind. And we will not deliver it within our timeline. When I started within HR, I learned the hard way and I didn’t do my homework and a project that I was supposed to deliver in three months took me eight months to deliver because I didn’t have the right players in the right place. I had to regroup, learn my lessons, learn my do’s and don’ts, and just redo the entire project. When I did this, everything just fell into place. So I’m speaking from experience! 

UNLEASH: Ultimately as a professional, the successes that you later have come from the experiences of past failures. Sayeed, can you add an experience where you’ve gone through where you’ve learned the lessons of how to successfully complete a project as a project? 

Sayed: Yes, when I was a project manager of this large function project. We had started with 23 HR systems where employees would be encountering two employee services, finance services, HR services, or any kind of services. First of all, we tried to understand why they were being exposed to those 23 systems. The reason was that every project was done in silos. For example, we need to automate and digitalize this process so let’s bring in one system no one actually understood. We failed to see the holistic picture. What will be the life or what will be the experience of that single employee who will be exposed to all these systems?

It is very important to understand why you are doing it and it is very important to challenge this because not only are you bringing in new systems, but you are bringing in new experiences. This way we saw that we could not only decommission a lot of systems, but we could also decommission a lot of processes as well because the impact of some of the processes is being tethered by other processes. Therefore, we didn’t need to actually bother our employees. The process is also very important. Ultimately systems are being built on a process. If you challenge the process and simplify the journey, then you are bringing in a simplified system based on employee insights and input. Then you have much higher user levels and adoption rates.  

UNLEASH: Do you have any additional advice or guidance for HR professionals, looking at kind of employee experience driven projects? 

Janaina: I think that the advice that I can give right now is to understand what makes your culture unique. Each company, in each organization, has its own culture. So you must understand it, understand what makes you unique and what makes your company unique. This is very important when we’re talking about HR projects and HR type projects. So how can you offer something that’s going to speak to your company’s culture and speak to the employees? That’s something very important and I think that sometimes we get so involved with the hustle and the bustle of everything we just offer a system that is in the market but doesn’t speak to our company’s culture. This something that we need to look at. 

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