8 key takeaways from Willis Towers Watson’s HR Software and Solutions Conference

Three colleagues at a desk looking at a book near an open laptop

The world of work and talent is changing rapidly, driven by generational shifts, skills shortages, digital transformation and a host of other market forces. And it’s because of these changes that HR professionals are in a key position to help their organizations re-imagine the work experience — from how work is defined to how it gets done — and develop strategies to help their organizations workforce adapt and thrive in this continuously evolving technological landscape.

Now, more than ever, HR professionals need to be digital leaders, talent drivers and strategic partners to the business. The days of HR fighting for a seat at the table of C-suite business decisions are over. The organizations that are most successful today are the ones that see talent and people issues for what they are: a key factor in determining ability to lead the market.

So what can HR leaders do to lead their workforce through digital transformation? At this year’s Willis Towers Watson HR Software and Solutions Conference we heard from several top HR leaders who shared insights and best practices on how to do just that.

Here are eight key takeaways from the conference, along with recommended action items for HR leaders.

1. Enhancing the employee experience is at the top of nearly all HR professionals’ agendas.

In fact, 96% of employers who responded to our Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey say it’s a priority to enhance their employees’ experience with their health and wellbeing programs over the next three years — and that’s just health and wellbeing programs. One of the most powerful quotes from the conference came from an audience member who said, “Employees stay because what they do matters.”

There’s incredible potential in the employee experience if we can wake up to the power of meaning. Helping people feel more worthwhile at work, regardless of their role, is possible. But, it requires the organization to put more control into the hands of leaders who understand the importance of emotional design — the idea that we can create the principles, values and most importantly, the conditions for meaning to thrive.

Recommended action: Take a page from marketing’s playbook in analyzing and enhancing the customer experience, outlining the employee journey from pre-hire to alumni. Focus on the moments that matter to drive the best employee experience.

2. Personalization improves outcomes.

Communicating the right message to the right employee at the right time directly influences employee engagement, retention and productivity. Today’s customer experience, as shaped by sales and marketing, influences employees’ expectations about the employee/employer relationship. Segmenting employee groups, e.g. new hires, managers, pre-retirees, etc., enables you to adapt the design and delivery of your programs and processes to meet the needs of these vastly different groups.

Recommended action: Look for opportunities to improve the personalization of your employee communications, via a Total Rewards or HR portal, through engagement surveys or other technology.

3. Employees’ demand for transparency is increasing, and HR needs to have a clear point of view and communication plan.

Employee attitudes toward what is taboo in the workplace are changing, including how openly they talk about their compensation and benefits. Today’s younger generations of workers count pay transparency as a mark of progressive thinking, yet many employers still find this concept baffling. From the employee pay ratio to pay equity, HR needs to be able to support decisions with reliable data and be clear and up front when communicating pay decisions.

Recommended action: Get back to basics when it comes to questions around pay equity and benefits. Build a strong pay strategy based on internal and external benchmarks, stick to that plan and make sure you’re clear and up front with employees when communicating your organization’s pay philosophy.

4. Strong leadership is critical to the success of every change effort.

People make organizations complex. A leader’s role is in navigating that complexity — understanding what makes people tick and using that knowledge to inspire and motivate change. It’s the hallmark of a great change leader. Storytelling can be an incredibly effective tool to drive the right change. Telling a story opens the storyteller’s experiences to the opinions of the listeners, opening a dialog between leaders and employees.

Recommended action: When promoting a major change initiative, have the tough conversations with your senior leadership early in the process to ensure they’re on board with the change effort. Enlist their support in communicating with employees through storytelling as part of your communication plan.

5. HR is harnessing data for powerful insights and getting more strategic about it.

As the world continues to go digital, it becomes easier to capture more data — which can provide great value, but can also be a double-edged sword. It’s important for HR leaders to think strategically about what insights they need to drive change.

Companies are harnessing data and analytics in a variety of ways — from monitoring employee sentiment in real time to understanding trade-offs in benefits programs to optimize Total Rewards offerings and looking at usage metrics for key programs and communication channels. There’s tremendous power in marrying data and expertise to address the analytics needs of organizations. Whether HR initiates that evolution or someone else does, we should be prepared to tell our story of how we’re going to take advantage of all the data at our fingertips — at a minimum within our own domain of understanding — to better support the business through evidence.

Recommended action: Identify the key talent challenges you’re trying to solve first and then focus on how advanced analytics can solve them as opposed to focusing on analytics for analytics’ sake.

6. Technology plays a pivotal role in transforming the work experience.

As flexible work arrangements become the norm, our work experience is our technology experience. And with the rise of digital natives in the workforce, a consumer-grade employee experience is now a non-negotiable in HR. When technology works well, it powers employees’ efficiency, effectiveness and performance. When it doesn’t, employee engagement takes a significant hit.

Recommended action: Dive deep into employees’ technology needs when measuring the employee experience. Partner closely with your HR technology IT teams to prioritize investments that have the biggest impact on employee experience.

7. The definition of employee is changing.

The concept of employment is moving away from the established employee/employer relationship. It’s become a more fluid state, where companies can buy sets of skills a person possesses to complete a set of tasks rather than fill a specific job description. There are a number of new considerations employers are wrestling with as they define employee in their organization and how they should reward and compensate employees in the changing world of work.

Recommended action: Start with basic questions about the work: How do we get it done? Where do you want to get it done? And to what extent do you want to use contingent labor? Then move to answering questions such as what should they be paid? How does the talent value proposition need to change for contingent workers versus other workforce segments? In all cases, make sure you’re informing those decisions with data.

8. Without the right culture, no tool or technology matters.

Employee engagement and culture are part of an interconnected system, and HR can play the change agent role when it comes to pushing the needle on innovation. Many times we see “continuous improvement” discussed in mission or vision statements, but later find it at the bottom of the to-do list. HR needs to lead in driving and supporting the cultural aspects required to support innovation by enabling employees to bring new ideas, products and services to their customers, and also when it comes to their own HR tech. Technology alone isn’t valuable unless employees and customers use it. You have to have the right culture to support new technology. Even if you build it, they may not come.

Recommended action: Promote the concept of innovation often, expect innovation at all levels of the organization and recognize successes.

Final thoughts:

The insights we heard from clients at the conference are reinforced by the feedback we hear from clients in our work every day. The world of talent is changing fast and leading organizations don’t just see their people as their most important asset. They see them as the differentiator that will determine whether they succeed in a current climate of constant disruption.

Would you like to receive information about our 2019 HR Software and Solutions Conference? Email us at hr.software@willistowerswatson.com.


 

Chris PincChris Pinc is the Global Director of Product Management at Willis Towers Watson, responsible for the vision and development of Willis Towers Watson HR software. He has worked with many organizations undergoing organizational and strategic transformations, and has helped them to use employee engagement initiatives to drive improvements in business performance. He has been a speaker at numerous events and conferences, including the HR Leadership Summit and World at Work, and was a guest lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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