Creating People Advantage Study Reveals New Focus

Digitization, organizational charts and employee surveys emerge as post-pandemic HR trends.

By Paul Bergeron July 14, 2021

CHROs facing a constant—and growing—challenge, are coming out of the pandemic with new focus and ways to address both old and emerging issues.

Digitization, employee feedback, hiring and organizational charts are among the issues receiving greater emphasis and resources as their executive team and workforce look to hit their strides.

In 2021, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partnered with the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA) and SHRM on a comprehensive study of people management—the latest in a series of Creating People Advantage studies that began in 2008. 

This year’s analysis is the largest to date, with responses from more than 6,600 participants in 113 countries. Respondents rated 32 people management topics according to their organization’s current level of capability and each topic’s future importance. Combining those two dimensions shows the people management areas requiring the most urgent action.

Digitization Brings Familiar, Everyday Interfaces

Most companies are struggling to digitize their HR departments, according to the survey. HR departments, however, recognize the importance of providing a contemporary environment for such tasks as basic as requesting vacation time off, or to address training and promotions.

By taking deliberate and proactive steps to build up digital capabilities and skills, HR can fulfill its mandate of becoming a true partner to business units.

The so-called employee experience technology platforms popularized within HR in the past year create an “experience layer” or interface on top of existing HR technology infrastructure, tying together disparate systems and applications with the promise of giving employees a more cohesive, simple and frictionless experience with technology in their organizations.

Many are also designed to bring frequently used HR apps and systems directly into employees’ daily workflows rather than keeping those tools orbiting beyond popular communication networks such as Microsoft Teams or Slack.

Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer at isolved, said HR is one of the final stops in the digital transformation era that has shaped the experiences employees have in their everyday lives. She said one area organizations are looking to invest in to modernize their HR tech stack is employee self-service. 

“We wouldn’t be OK having to call or email a company to place an order—only to wait for an email response—and employees aren’t OK with that either,” Mosher said. “Employee self-service is the single most effective way to modernize the employee experience while reducing the time it takes to manually onboard employees, provide PTO balances, answer FAQs, update personal information, enter in goals and similar HR-related tasks.”

These omnichannel capabilities, she said, are now prominent in the workplace. “The pandemic forced many companies to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives because they needed their employees to have the same experience with HR, their managers and each other as if they were sitting four feet away. This trend will continue as more companies embrace hybrid workplace models and more employees demand more from the technology they use at work.”

Shane Metcalf, Chief Culture Officer at 15Five, said, “The consumerization of enterprise software hasn’t stopped. Millennials and younger workers expect their companies’ tools to look like what they use in their everyday lives on a regular basis. If these systems aren’t, there will be a bigger disconnect between them and the company, and they will feel that their company is not contemporary in its technology.”

HR tech for the longest time had been built for the HR teams, not the employees, Metcalf said. 

“That is changing,” he said. “It has to be designed so that individual contributors find value. It must help them to get better at their jobs, let them use their strengths and help with talent assessments, benchmarking and to see if an employee is eligible for promotion.”

As organizations continue to add disparate systems and applications to their technology ecosystems—a problem known as “technology creep”—employees increasingly are struggling to navigate and use them. For example, a study from Aptitude Research, a consulting firm specializing in human capital management (HCM) technologies, found that, on average, organizations are now using more than 10 different recruiting technology systems.

Dendreon is taking steps to combine their functions, integrating ADP, iCIMS, active directory, etc., as well as automated onboarding, offer letters and more, Philip Dana, Head of Human Resources at San Diego-based Dendreon, said. He’s also implemented rewards and recognition platforms as well as a learning management system.

Gig, Hybrid, Temp Workforce Evolves

The ever-intensifying competition for talent—especially digital talent—requires a state-of-the art approach to finding, managing and cultivating high-potential employees. The emergence of the gig economy now requires that organizations manage a hybrid workforce of contractors, gig workers, temp workers and traditional employees. 

At the macro level, companies need to create personalized experiences in the form of more customized career paths for employees.

At the micro level, they need to move beyond rigid, one-size-fits-all processes and interactions to enable personalized solutions on a day-to-day basis. 

Stacey Berk, Founder and Managing Consultant at ExpandHR Consulting, Rockville, Md., said HR most likely had “alternative staffing” plans pre-pandemic to address temporary gaps.

“But the U.S. workforce has changed,” she said. “It may be impacted for longer than originally anticipated (for a two- to five-year minimum), due to the pandemic’s perfect labor storm—the impact on women in the workplace, baby boomers retiring and employee turnover.”

To reflect these changes, HR is bringing the once “alternative” plans into their immediate workforce staffing strategy that needs to include a mix of full time, part time, outsourcing, contract and gig workers.

“Remote and hybrid work policies will shift away from the public health crisis and adapt to offer flexibility for workers,” Berk said. “CHROs are viewing this now as one combined approach to the workplace, ensuring added emphasis and resources are placed on the compliance and administration needed to effectively manage this philosophy to fill the gaps.

“HR is also addressing how to wholistically retain this combined workforce, no longer treating the ‘alternative’ portion of the workforce as merely expendable, just more flexible than a traditional employee. HR understands that these people, no matter their status, are valuable and make up the total workplace.”

Metcalf’s workforce includes 230 staff covering 10 countries and 24 states. He said there are a greater variety of positions to choose from today. And although his company does not hire gig workers, it does use contractors.

“Our goal is to treat contractors like you would a full-time staff member by including them in the office culture as much as possible and not like an outsider,” he said.

A Deeper Result from Employee Surveys

Once staff is onboard, HR teams are directing more attention at measuring their workplace satisfaction. Employee surveys are being conducted more frequently, about a wider variety of topics, with unprecedented priority on health and wellness, an offshoot of the pandemic environment of the past 18 months.

Companies are truly putting employees at the center by continuously listening to discover what their staff needs for their careers.

“As the pandemic upended business priorities, HR leadership shifted for the rapidly changing employee environment,” Berk said. “Some of the changes were very beneficial and needed, like investing in sophisticated survey tools and designing focused questions for different types of surveys.”

After the dust settled, as the work environment went remote, CHROs’ attention was turned to leveraging and emphasizing employee engagement surveys more frequently.

“CHROs and HR learned how to focus on the right survey tools to keep the pulse on the employee culture,” Berk said.

Leaders went from conducting surveys annually to monthly or in some cases, more frequently, depending on the topic. They measured everything from the remote work environment; mental and physical health resources; social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion topics; vaccine topics; and hybrid models to resuming traditional office model, Berk said.

Metcalf said, “since COVID-19, companies have really focused on their employees’ well-being. By measuring the psychological drivers in their employees, they are seeing higher engagement.”

He said that psychological safety is another thing that is critical to measure. He said these kinds of questions are being included more and more in the surveys:

  • Are you getting enough rest?
  • Are we giving you enough time off?
  • Are you taking vacations that become stressful because there’s too much work going on?
  • Are you able to take an entire week off?

Gartner’s 2020 Reimagine HR Employee Survey found that when employers support employees’ life experiences, including their emotional and financial health, the organizations see not only a 23 percent increase in employees reporting improved mental health but also a 21 percent increase in the number of high-performers compared to companies that don’t provide the same level of support to employees.

“It used to be that anonymous surveys were taken two or three times a year with shorter non-anonymous ‘pulse’ surveys conducted every so often, too,” Metcalf said. “Not having every survey conducted in an anonymous fashion is important because companies and their employees are seeking transparency about a lot of things.

“These survey results once were all kept in the HR department’s domain—in a little black box—and employees had to wonder: What happens next? Now, HR is working with department managers in partnership about the employee feedback they are receiving.”

The survey strategy of multifamily real estate development and operating company LMC, a Lennar company, incorporates regularly scheduled surveys focused on new-hire experience, associate engagement topics and exit interviews. The company also surveys on an as-needed basis when a topic arises that benefits from a survey, such as associate input on its future of work/return to office approach with the pandemic.

There are two critical questions that it answers prior to considering deploying a survey:

  • What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • Are we prepared to take action based on the insights shared?

“Before working on a survey, we feel it is important to have clear objectives and commitment from leadership that we will take action based on the insights from our associates,” Nicole Brown, SHRM-SCP, Human Resources Director at LMC, said. “After the survey, we share the results of our surveys in full transparency with all associates that had the opportunity to participate, along with a summary of our wins and opportunities to improve. We also share the leadership team’s plan for how we will work on our opportunities.”

Depending on the topic and action plan, LMC may conduct focus groups or plan additional follow up communications on the progress of its action plan. Most of survey and action plan related communications are via email, although it has leveraged team meetings and town hall calls for certain topics as well.

Surveys are powerful and HR executives learned that this is a refreshed way of connecting directly with the CEO and peer leaders, Berk said.

“With the investment in survey technology, HR became better trained in analysis and presenting shorter and focused high-level executive reports,” she said. “The reports forced better conversations between leadership. CEOs and other leaders began to really value the data and these reports, and make meaningful changes with HR as its partner, in ways it had not before. I think this will be a long-term positive change that helps communicate the pulse for the CHRO.”

Berk said that now that the recovery is active, “CHROs will capitalize on this technology and frequent employee engagement to help inform them on the immediate challenges relating to the labor shortage and pay trends as well as measuring attraction, retention and compensation.

For the next six to 18 months, the short-term strategy will be to keep the frequency at a higher pace to reflect the times, Berk said. “As business priorities become more normalized the strategy will move to be less frequent, most likely quarterly or six times per year, replacing the old annual sentiment,” she said. 

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer.

For more detail, download the WFPMA-BCG-SHRM research report.

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