Data Leads CHROs to Proper Decision-Making

Qualtrics CEO says head of HR is one of the top two positions in executive leadership

By Paul Bergeron June 11, 2023

​Zig Serafin, CEO of Qualtrics, speaks June 11 at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

​The role HR plays in companies' executive teams continues to grow by leaps and bounds. So much so that Zig Serafin, CEO of Qualtrics, said the head of HR is now one of the top two positions at the leadership table.

Helping HR leaders tackle their companies' most crucial issues is data. It is driving discussions and decisions more than ever. Data can be discovered in real time, analyzed and implemented at the operational level to improve performance.

HR's role really took off at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the HR department was where leaders turned to first, Serafin said during his address on June 11 to the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 in Las Vegas as the opening Main Stage speaker.

"HR is in the middle of all the big topics now," Serafin said, citing artificial intelligence, adjusting to the digital world and retention as other key issues.

His session, "Leading the Way: How CHROs Are Shaping the Future of Work," also addressed work/life balance and the importance of connecting with employees on a regular, emotional level.

"We see today's leading companies striving to get closer to their customers, learning more about them and what drives their behavior," Serafin said. "The same can be said for companies about their employees.

"You can't just go around and take an annual survey. You must do it regularly and try to get 'under the surface.' And it's not just the CEO doing this. It has to occur at the manager and teammate levels, too."

‘Always On’ Technology

Companies are facing one of their greatest inflection points today when it comes to AI's ability to empower workers to improve their workflows by leaving many mundane tasks to technology.

This "always on" technology also can be delivered in real time and combined with existing unstructured information and even social media to improve processes on a constant feedback loop.

These uses can also contribute to improved employee retention. Workplaces that prioritize the employee experience by listening and acting on data have nearly two and a half times greater retention, according to Serafin.

However, data alone is not enough, he said. With more talent and career opportunities available than ever, role fit, flexibility and workload are the most important factors driving attraction and retention for high-performing employees.

One example, Serafin noted, is telecom company Lumen Technologies, which found that technicians who felt a strong connection to their companies were nine times more likely to stay to make sure the customer was 100 percent satisfied.

While listening is important, Serafin said leaders sometimes can learn a good deal without having to ask questions. "If a worker is sending e-mails at 10 p.m., what does that tell you about the company culture?" he said.

"Look at call-center volume. If calls are taking longer than normal and you have to answer the same question repeatedly, there's probably something that needs to be fixed. Data can help to relieve operational friction."

Leading with Humility

As for the new work boundaries that employees are setting post-pandemic, Serafin said they are all about well-being. "As HR leaders, you need to pay attention to the 'whole person' with regard to your employees."

He said that when leaders set policies—such as for a return to office—they need to be "vulnerable" in their actions, test things and realize they aren't always going to get it right the first time.

Lauren Weiss, SHRM-CP, HR manager at the Union League of Philadelphia, said Serafin's points about the importance of in-person versus remote working situations stood out.

Additionally, "as leaders, listening to your employees as well as other leaders when it comes to setting office policies is really important," Weiss said.

Linda Cunningham, associate director of HR at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said she was impressed with Serafin's advice to lead with humility.

"Leaders are often programmed to think they know all of the answers," Cunningham said. "But they need to look to others and to use data to figure out the 'why' something is happening."

The Employee Experience

William Nestor III, chief administrative officer at health care company CareAbout in New York City, said Serafin's comments on the financial value of the employee experience (EEX) were impactful.

"While the intrinsic value of EEX drives many of us—especially those in the HR field—the extrinsic value is critical to C-suites, investors and markets," Nestor said. "Companies with better EEX significantly outperform the overall stock market.

"I can attest to not only the accuracy of Zig's point, but the profound impact it has had on my ability to help dedicate our time, attention and resources to the employee experience. We have already begun to see our return on those investments, and the future looks even better."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.



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