To Juanita Olguin, the human resources department had always seemed like a function that worked in the background of the organization. “In my work experience, you only saw HR when you got hired, and then they kind of disappeared,” she said.
As Lead Product Marketing Manager for Culture Amp, Olguin is working to change this perception and elevate the visibility and role of the HR function.
“HR needs to become more embedded into the business, enabling other teams to be successful, and facilitating and educating the organization on the people aspects of the business, like emotional intelligence,” she said. “After all, the primary decision for employees to join a company is based on that human connection — how well they get along with their team members and managers.”
Culture Amp is a Melbourne, Australia-based employee experience platform provider and a sponsor of Simpler Media Group’s Digital Workplace Experience (DWX) Conference. On May 4, Olguin presented the session, "An HR Tech Stack That Works for You." We spoke with her about the changing role of HR and how leaders can adapt their systems, processes and technology to better support today’s workforce.
Transforming the Role of HR
Simpler Media Group: The pandemic has had a profound effect on employees and the organizations they work with. With this in mind, how have you seen the role of HR change over the past two years?
Juanita Olguin: Pre-pandemic, HR was involved in the employee experience, but they always took a bit of a backseat, especially on the technology and analytics side. While they participated in cross-functional discussions about employee experience, they focused on more traditional aspects of the role — like recruiting, talent succession or performance management — and used legacy tools to support those efforts. Less emphasis was placed on using technology and insights to drive the employee experience. I think many HR leaders were unaware about how they could use technology to help them scale and impact their efforts, as well as prove value across the company. I see this changing today, with more HR teams investing in the employee experience, connecting with other functions in the organization, and using technology and data to support their decisions.
SMG: With the recent shifts that have occurred in the workforce and workplace, what are some of the biggest issues HR leaders are facing?
Olguin: Since the start of the pandemic, the biggest issue HR leaders have been facing is employee engagement — including how to keep employees interested and excited about their work, as well as how to measure that engagement. That’s why we see a lot of interest in our employee engagement solution. Another big challenge is trying to manage a remote workforce. As people are working in different places at different times, HR organizations need to respond to employee wants and needs while facilitating what works best for their teams. That means listening to what employees have to say.
Companies that were more traditional before the pandemic didn’t have a way to gather the voice of the employee with a distributed workforce or make sense of what their people needed, so they spent a lot of time trying to understand that aspect. But we’ve seen that engagement isn’t enough. Now that the world has changed, employees want different things, such as flexible working policies. HR teams need to ask employees what they need, really listen to the answers, take action, and back up any changes they make with solid data.
SMG: During your presentation, you discussed some of the important ways HR can impact the employee experience. Where do you think HR can have the biggest impact?
Olguin: To really impact the employee experience, HR leaders need to look at two key levers. One is engagement, which a lot of companies are already looking at with engagement scores and surveys. The other lever, which I think most organizations are missing, is enablement or action. This is where I think HR can drive the biggest impact. Enablement means providing the right systems, methodologies, and people science behind why you’re running a particular initiative. HR should enable the business to use tools that fit employee workflows and understand the value of these tools. They also need to enable managers and business teams by upskilling and giving them the right learning resources to perform effectively.
Rather than stop at engagement surveys, HR leaders should define how they’re enabling employees and what actions they’re taking to help their people advance. If you don’t educate and enable, you’re never going to move the needle on employee experience.
Listen to Employees and Let Them Lead
SMG: In large, global organizations, do you believe every employee voice can be heard and addressed? Why or why not?
Olguin: Yes, I think every voice can be heard and addressed. It’s imperative that companies try to figure out how to make this happen because it provides a sense of belonging. As an employee, if you ask my opinion and allow me to share my perspective, I feel like I’m being heard and valued. For larger enterprises spread over multiple geographies, this can get complicated. But with the power of technology, you can scale by breaking down voice of the employee data and grouping into relevant insights. The question is whether HR is being empowered or is championing hard enough to ensure there’s an employee listening strategy in place. It’s really a mindset shift for HR leaders today. They need to drive bottom-up and employee-led programs and initiatives rather than top-down directives.
SMG: How can HR teams gather the insights they need to really understand what employees want them to know?
Olguin: Even though HR is a shared service, they operate through other people, like managers of different business teams. In this way, they view themselves as an extension of those teams. We see this with roles like HR VPs or HR business partners who act as a business liaison. These kinds of interactions can bring a lot more meaning and purpose to HR leaders. If they're seeing and hearing directly from the business leaders they support, they can gather more business-based insights.
Not only can this provide more direction, but it also generates the data and insights needed to back up requests for funding specific programs. By thinking about themselves as employee-led, HR teams can also become partners to the business teams they’re enabling to succeed.
SMG: When it comes to measuring results, what kinds of metrics should HR leaders be tracking and reporting on, and how can today’s technologies help?
Olguin: Every company has a different definition of success metrics. It’s been hard for HR to show revenue impact, as it’s traditionally been viewed as a cost center versus a revenue-generating center. That said, the metrics we look at include turnover, intent to leave or stay, and productivity. Employee productivity is sometimes hard to measure, but it’s more important than ever to really understand it and break it down. One example of this is employees working on initiatives that don’t align to company objectives. When this happens, not only is the company’s time wasted, but the employee’s time is wasted as well because people want to work on valuable projects.
Another key metric we monitor is DEIB — diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. This measures employee sentiment like whether or not they’re feeling valued, which not only impacts intent to stay, but productivity as well. Our customers also look at even more program- or process-specific success factors such as a new-hire satisfaction score, and external signs of success like winning workplace awards.
Adapt Your Tech to Fit Today’s Workforce
SMG: In your presentation, you also talked about how to rethink your HR tech stack. Why should organizations re-evaluate their HR technology and how should they go about doing so?
Olguin: HR needs to re-evaluate their tech stack because many are working with legacy systems that are back-end focused, reporting and tracking only on operational processes. However, those systems are typically clunky, it’s impossible to get data or run analyses that aren’t fit for purpose, and they don’t fit the need for today’s way of working. Employee engagement, the hybrid workforce, and issues like diversity, equity and inclusion mean that technology must change with the times.
HR leaders need agile, customizable technology that covers the entire employee life cycle, from the moment someone starts working to the moment they leave a company. More importantly, they should be able to see the insights and analytics needed to justify the investment in their employee experience initiatives.
SMG: What’s your ideal vision of an HR team that can best understand and address employee needs while proving value to company executives?
Olguin: HR has a lot of roles to play, including operational, compliance and acquisition. What’s missing is a transformation person within the HR team who is always in the know, assessing the organization’s practices and ensuring that the company is thinking futuristically. The pace of business change is increasing and there’s a lot of opportunity and tool sets out there to help companies build the right systems infrastructures to help their teams succeed. But if HR is so bogged down on ops, reporting and tracking or compliance, then they’re not thinking about the future and how the company needs to adapt in order to succeed. And if they don’t champion for change, the business will stay stagnant.
Take a Front Seat and Move Your Business Forward
SMG: What does the HR function look like in the future?
Olguin: I see HR becoming more embedded into business, whereas before they were in the background. Right now, there isn’t anyone addressing the human aspects of the business and helping to upskill teams on the importance of emotional intelligence, especially for managers. This might mean introducing into the company more people science — which draws on organizational psychology to bring behavioral change to companies — or adding organizational development resources. There’s a big opportunity to cultivate the right relationships and use data and people science to build highly productive teams. That’s my hope and my hypothesis. HR can no longer be a back-end function. They need to take a front seat.
Watch Culture Amp's Demo Derby session on-demand here.