personalized plate
So many of the tools used to deliver great customer experiences should be refocused to do the same for employees PHOTO: Tony Alter

Most companies are not investing — although they should — in personalized digital experiences for their employees. 

And with that, I don’t just mean having an intranet or a set of technologies to communicate and share knowledge. What I mean is real personalization for the collaborators, something that amazes them, and gives them an extra reason not to leave an organization. 

Companies that depend on imagination and knowledge are striving to keep their employees. Giving them the right experience will play a key role in doing so.

Treat Your Employees Like Loyal Customers

The new workforce, made of educated millennials who know their options, need to get more out of work than just work: they are hungry for experience, in the same way customers are. In fact, they are just another kind of customer, and as it turns out, a very difficult customer to satisfy.  

A Gallup study found just 29 percent of millennials are engaged in their jobs. This is not a surprise, especially when the same study notes six in 10 millennials are open to different job opportunities right now, and only 50 percent plan to be in the same company one year from now. 

Given that millennials account for 38 percent of the US workforce — and will be 75 percent of it by 2025 — understanding their needs and expectations should be a key effort for employers who will need to create astonishing experiences for their collaborators if they want them to stay ... or at least stay longer.

As retention has decreased, the cost of managing talent has gone up: Attracting and retaining employees has become more expensive. An important reason for low retention has been the inability of enterprises to keep their employees engaged and interested, especially millennials. 

Companies looking to maintain their employees longer should strive to provide them with a holistic company experience, and the cornerstone of that experience is the digital one.

A Joint Effort from HR, IT and Marketing

Today, a whole new industry revolves around the customer experience: Powerful analytics platforms help predict user behaviors, A/B testing tools help understand better what the customer wants, solid Digital Management Systems organize any type of asset, flexible Content Management Systems facilitate the lifecycle of content, multi-channel campaign platforms optimize how and when to connect with clients. 

Combined, all of these tools enable a level of personalization that was unrealistic in the pre-Facebook era. We want to hear our names, we want our preferences to be understood, we want our tastes to be remembered. More than that, we demand personalized treatment. 

We naturally think this way when it comes to customers, but we need to view our employees in the same light.  

It amazes me how few companies have really invested into the personalized digital experiences of their employees. Most HR professionals think having a good Human Capital Management solution and a good intranet is enough, but it won’t be close to enough in the near future. 

Employees want experiences, personalized experiences. HR departments have a big advantage that their marketing peers would envy: information. They know their clients — the employees — very well, but they don’t know how to use that information.

The same great technologies marketing uses to improve customer experiences should be retargeted on employees — the most important client for knowledge or information based companies — both current and future. 

Some effort has been made to use digital marketing tools for recruiting, and soon that will become a standard. But employees — and especially millennials — will demand more. For these technologies to work well in the HR world, they will need to be well conceived. This is where HR should learn from the marketing department experience: IT has a fundamental role, and HR personnel need to understand and embrace that.

HR Executives Need to Adapt

What happened in the marketing departments of many companies is happening again in the HR world: HR executives usually don’t understand digital technologies very well, and CIOs and CTOs are starting to jump in.

Unfortunately CTOs and CIOs don’t understand HR well, so their success depends on how they work together.

Not long ago, the IT and marketing departments were on opposite parts of an office building. Nowadays, in many companies, they have become intimate departments. This will happen with HR too, especially in companies where innovation and knowledge play an important role. For those organizations approaching HR with the marketing and technology views, this will provide a great advantage.

HR analytics have taken some relevance, but this is just the beginning. Personalization should be the goal. Companies will need to put real effort into the employee’s digital experience within the company, and stop seeing it as an afterthought.

This transformation will be from the bottom up, not only with the usage of different tools but on how to create the right culture. The days where USB slots were blocked, email attachments prohibited and so on is over. Is not uncommon to see employees using Slack, although the official tool in the company is Skype, or using Asana (or any other platform) instead of the company project management tool, or using Dropbox instead of Google Drive. 

Yes, some things will remain top-down, but employees eventually will make most of the choices.

HR professionals will do their best, as marketing professionals did, but the future in the knowledge offices is digital, and most of the HR professionals are not ready for that. They will have to trust their IT departments to implement these technologies, but they will have to start understanding them as well.  

Market Opportunity for Software Vendors

Most HR platforms have tried to replicate the traditional approach in a digital fashion, but this won't cut it for modern knowledge workers. Not long from now, they will demand that all the HR transactions be doable through an app or online. 

HR offices will have to develop apps and sites for their employees, using the same tools as marketing do. The first area that already is going through that transformation is recruiting, but the rest of HR is to come.

The employee digital profile will change dramatically. The amount of information HR analytics will be able to gather (e.g. entry times, working times, preferred tools, preferred managers, etc.) will bring new ways of doing things. How we communicate with our bosses, request permissions, file complaints, interact with “the company” and with colleagues will go through a profound transformation.

How efficient and innovative a company is in providing rich and personalized experiences to employees will play an important role in turnover rates, and turnover itself will remain the largest pain point for HR departments. Soon it will be imperative for most companies to invest in an employee-personalized digital strategy ... and the sooner this happens, the better.