Companies often focus extensively on the customer experience — both in terms of processes and service level. With today’s competitive market for top talent, organizations must increasingly focus on delivering a positive employee experience to attract, hire and retain skilled workers. In 2016, an oil and gas company saw the progress the organization had made in terms of building new digital customer-facing applications and realized it needed to turn to the employee space next.

“More people are making their career decisions — which company to work for and how long to stay — based not just on the immediate work opportunity, but the purpose of the business, career experiences and skills development they can gain while working at the company,” says Paul Baxter, partner at IBM Global Business Services (GBS). “The talent agenda has risen to the top of CHRO priorities as industry boundaries blur and demand for the hottest skills intensifies.  Employees want to feel confident they will acquire new skills, have opportunities to keep their skills up to date and engage in great workplace experiences that apply and develop those skills practically.”

The company began its journey to Modernize HR four years ago, they moved away from on-premise HR systems. The company aspired to make more use of Cloud based HR systems and also began the process of transforming how employees consumed HR services. Leadership set the goal of standardizing the delivery of HR services to improve the employee experience and reduce operating costs.

The IBM team began working with the oil and gas company in 2017 to create modern HR processes by asking “What is it like to work as an employee at this company?” and “What does the day-to-day employee experience feel like?” Over the next two years, IBM supported the client as it implemented the cloud-based Workday HCM solution and deployed a globally standardized HR service delivery model based on a network of multi-tower service delivery centers.

The Workday program was just the start on the HR modernization journey.  As the company accelerates the digitalization of its business and looks towards a lower carbon future, the next HR focus is on building a workforce skilled in modern ways of working – for example Design Thinking and Agile to drive differentiated outcomes both safely and at pace.

Here are four lessons learned about the modernization of HR and the employee experience.

1 – Focus on the role of leadership

Significant workplace change always starts at the top. Baxter says it’s impossible to overstate the importance of strong, visionary leadership (especially in today’s disruptive times) both in terms of improving the employee experience and beginning transformative initiatives. Whether trying to modernize experiences through the application of AI, or by signaling to the organization that employees must personally commit to continuous learning, leaders have a key role to play.  As the company embarked on modernizing HR and on developing agile capability, leaders asked key questions such as “What role can I play in bringing this program to the organization?”, “How do we encourage individual colleagues on the journey and inspire participation?” and “As leaders, how do we support employees to begin their own personal transformation journey in terms of acquiring new skills?”

At the oil and gas company today, a new ‘Reinvent’ vision focused on making the transition to low carbon, and the importance of an engaged, adaptable and agile workforce is being championed by both the CEO and EVP People and Culture.

2 – Look for opportunities to use ‘exponential technologies’ to transform process and exploit data

With offices located across the globe, the company’s human resource processes often varied based on region, location and even specific managers. The deployment of the Workday program created the opportunity to drive greater standardization of HR processes across the employee lifecycle.

But in today’s era of digital HR, AI and robotics create opportunities beyond standardization; these new ‘exponential technologies’ enable new possibilities both to transform process and exploit data to the benefit of employees, managers and the organization as a whole Baxter explains. “This is such an exciting time to be a professional in the HR domain. As clients like the oil and gas company continue to use new technologies to unlock the value in their HR data,  managers can focus on growing and developing employees, by using  that  data to have more insightful conversations with employees about skills, performance and even remuneration and, as a result, build stronger employee relationships,” says Baxter.

3 – Invest in agile, digital skills and recognize the importance of ‘soft’ skills to future success

The ability to unlock new value streams by doing the right work and in the right way calls for new skills, in agile and digital.  Baxter and the IBM GBS team see firsthand how clients moving to a digital enterprise need to focus on learning new ways to get work done, with employee adaptability and ‘soft skills’ such as the ability to team and collaborate are becoming more important than ever. He says that for the oil and gas company and many other clients, the pandemic and the remote work model accelerated both the need for, and acquisition of, these new skills.

Beginning in 2018, IBM partnered with the company to support its transformation to a more agile business; several thousand employees were trained in Agile and many professionally certified. Additionally, Agile coaches were embedded in its programs. Impressively, despite the challenges of the pandemic, the company continued to invest in growing agile capability.

4 – Help bring colleagues on the journey with ‘Digital Change’

The scale and pace of both workforce and workplace change at organizations like the oil and gas company is unprecedented. Whilst exciting for many, for some it can also be daunting.

For this reason, when the company embarked on modernizing HR it also invested in ‘Digital Change’ to support colleagues. On the Workday program, for example, IBM consultants took a persona led view to understand how different groups would be impacted by the change, and then co-created appropriate change interventions with the client.

By signposting change and putting in place digital and other resources which support both business units and individuals, acceptance of the ‘new’ and employee recognition of the role that they need to play can be accelerated and cemented.

Learn more about how to modernize your employee experience

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