Cecile Alper-Leroux – Ultimate Software's Blog https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com Thoughts on Putting People First in the Workplace Wed, 10 Jan 2018 18:43:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 2018 HR & HCM Technology Trends: Three Forces Reshaping the Future of Work https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/2018-hcm-trends/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/2018-hcm-trends/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 14:58:31 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1219 Rapid advances in technology—from the distributed computing reality of the  Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI) to increasing workforce fluidity (as described in our 2017 Trends Blog)—are combining to reshape today’s workplaces. In addition, there are some broad cultural trends that are impacting HR technology, pushing us well beyond the automation of traditional […]

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2018 hcm trendsRapid advances in technology—from the distributed computing reality of the  Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI) to increasing workforce fluidity (as described in our 2017 Trends Blog)—are combining to reshape today’s workplaces.

In addition, there are some broad cultural trends that are impacting HR technology, pushing us well beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks and redesigning performance management processes, to rethinking the way we manage employees.

First, AI is everywhere, but not without its challenges (for example, machines learning from biased data)—so its newest incarnation will have to be focused on not just mastering the science of AI, but also on the art of collecting better, more accurate data. Cloud-based AI, machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition, and virtual reality experiences have already been changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication—and we’re going to see more application of these technologies in the workplace in 2018 and beyond.

Second, hyper-personalization—from designing your unique, one-of-a-kind Nikes, to M&Ms with personalized messages, to online shoppers for clothes and groceries that remember your preferences and customize recommendations for you—is coming to employee management in 2018, and HR must help its managers lead with a higher degree of personalization and understanding of each of its direct reports.

And, finally, with technological advancement comes the risk of becoming removed from the “messy” human work of fostering belonging and shared purpose for our teams. Creating and maintaining an inclusive culture requires knowing a lot about people, empathizing with them, and sustaining that commitment long term. Current diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts need to be redefined and updated to bring ongoing positive change for people organizations.

With this in mind, I believe there are three pivotal trends that must be of interest to HR and senior business leaders in 2018, each interconnecting with the others to transform the near-term future of work.

Megatrend #1: People-First Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning and Human Intuition Combine Forces

In 2018, businesses will migrate from AI focused on automating tasks formerly performed by people to more complex AI technology that augments and amplifies human intelligence and capability. This next evolution of AI underlines the assistive role of the technology to enhance human performance, by allowing people to scale and undertake more rather than replacing human skills and experiences. The application of AI in the world of HCM reinforces the role of human intelligence in solving problems individually and collectively.

People-first AI means organizations and managers using machine learning to better understand what motivates employees, how to more effectively recruit and retain talent, and how to improve on the employee experience at work by using both their own skills and knowledge combined with the near-instantaneous analytical power of AI. This type of AI supplements the work that HR and managers already do, rather than replacing replacing them—for example, by alerting managers to increasingly negative sentiment in employee feedback from one particular office that may have a morale issue, or by suggesting ways to reword a job posting to be more inclusive.

Megatrend #2: Hyper-personalization: Individualized Leadership Replaces “One-Size-Fits-All” Management

An astonishing 95% of people want to feel whole at work—free to be their authentically unique selves. Prior corporate leadership models frequently embraced a rigid, hierarchical “command and control” structure based on an employee’s perceived skills and capabilities, or encouraged managers to manage everyone on their team in the same way in order to be perceived as fair and equitable. Today’s workers prefer a culture in which leaders seek to develop the whole person, with a deep understanding that one-size-fits-all management is not an effective approach—and that different people need different styles of management to best motivate them. Some employees prefer public recognition and others prefer a private thank you or a handwritten note. Some employees thrive in complete autonomy while other employees work best when they receive confirmation from a manager or co-worker on each step of a project.

This obligation to lead and develop the whole person at work requires that leaders understand the needs, motivations, concerns, challenges, and goals of people in many dimensions. Leaders must nurture the cognitive and emotional development of people, beyond the typical physical-wellness offerings of many organizations, to help their people achieve meaningful, purposeful, and productive work and careers. The most effective managers will be able to flex and adapt their personal management styles to the individuals they manage in order to help their employees put forth their best effort and succeed at work.

Megatrend #3: Humanizing Work: Breakthrough Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Modern Age

A workforce culture in which all people can feel they belong and be themselves—and one that taps into the most powerful combinations of talent and experience—requires a broader consideration of the tapestry of human diversity, and a mind shift from compliance-driven D&I models. Many organizations recognize that human diversity generates unique perspectives that foster greater innovation, sustainability, and cultural competence. But today’s D&I must go farther than categorizing and measuring to more broadly recruit for differences in opinion, experience, lifestyle, and background, and to also ensure concrete actions and follow-through to drive progress.

Rather than consider D&I merely as a must-do initiative or a socially responsible action to become an employer of choice, modern diversity, equity, and inclusion will apply advances in virtual technologies and neuroscience that allow organizations to move beyond the talk and numbers, to evaluate and overcome unconscious bias in the entire work experience—from recruiting to performance management to pay equity—to help companies create workplaces that are truly inclusive beyond traditional categories of diversity. Impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion effort requires attention on individual, team, and company levels—not just looking at an organization as a collective whole, but analyzing and assisting the company at all levels and providing concrete guidance beyond just static reporting—to result in better business performance.

These three Megatrends—people-first AI; individualized leadership; and  diversity, equity, and inclusion—intersect in powerful ways. For instance, people-first AI is an enabler to leadership that is tailored to every person individually, allowing leaders to break out of the one-size-fits-all approach to development, and ensuring employees remain engaged in their work, feel good about their place in the organization, are physically and emotionally healthy, and are able to collaborate freely, openly, and confidently.

People-first AI also empowers leaders and organizations to gain an entirely new understanding of people and how their diverse perspectives come together to solve business problems. This new technology is poised to help organizations create more innovative and effective teams, as well as understand and respond to the needs of their diverse customers.

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Previewing the Top-Three HR and HCM Megatrends for 2018 – #12DaysofHCM https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/previewing-top-three-hr-hcm-megatrends-2018/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/previewing-top-three-hr-hcm-megatrends-2018/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 11:00:47 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1209 As we wrap up an innovative 2017, HR technology is well on its way to expanding beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks. Cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition, and virtual reality experiences have already been changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication. Looking ahead, there are three pivotal […]

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artificial intelligenceAs we wrap up an innovative 2017, HR technology is well on its way to expanding beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks. Cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition, and virtual reality experiences have already been changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication.

Looking ahead, there are three pivotal trends I see impacting HR professionals, business leaders, and the workforce as a whole in 2018, each interconnecting with the others to transform the near-term future of work:

  • Artificial Intelligence: From AI to A2I (Augmented and Amplified Intelligence)
  • Hyper-personalization: Personalized Leadership
  • Humanizing Work: Breakthrough Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

Stay tuned for an in-depth analysis of all three, and insight into how organizations can remain ahead of these HCM trends, coming soon to Ultimate Software’s blog.

Ultimate Software’s #12DaysofHCM is back by popular demand! For the rest of the week, we’ll continue recapping some of the most talked about topics from 2017, and previewing what’s ahead for 2018.

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The Reengineering of the Workforce https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/reengineering-workforce-fluidity/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/reengineering-workforce-fluidity/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:03:44 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1156 The transformation of the workplace—relinquishing many of the entrenched work and leadership structures that many companies and HR leaders hold dear, such as org charts and hierarchical management roles, in favor of promoting more fluid ways of people working—is a sea change that, unfortunately, has not gained widespread momentum. Many companies understand the value of […]

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workforce fluidityThe transformation of the workplace—relinquishing many of the entrenched work and leadership structures that many companies and HR leaders hold dear, such as org charts and hierarchical management roles, in favor of promoting more fluid ways of people working—is a sea change that, unfortunately, has not gained widespread momentum. Many companies understand the value of workforce fluidity, but they struggle in their resolve to make it happen.

Workforce fluidity is an all-encompassing term I coined to describe job fluidity, organizational fluidity, and identity fluidity. Job fluidity describes a workforce where people are not tied to or identified by a specific job description; rather, they flow among initiatives and supervisors to maximize their contributions. Organizational fluidity accepts the reality of how work gets done these days, generally through collaborative efforts with diverse minds and skills coming together. And identity fluidity encourages new levels of self-definition and expression, with the knowledge that feeling safe in our authentic uniqueness will foster innovative ideas.

These tenets of workplace transformation stand in sharp contrast to yesteryear’s rigid organizational structures, regimented ways of working, and uniform definitions of what constitutes a leader. Certainly, those ways made perfect sense in the post-Industrial Age, when small shops gave way to large, unwieldy business organizations with a need to control the labor force. The use of divisions, departments, and jobs based on a person’s specific expertise ensured that work was appropriately doled out, supervised, and completed.

The problem with this static structure today is that it clashes with the dynamism of the global business environment and the current needs of people in the workforce. Thanks to distributed technology advancements, today’s business is conducted in real time. Layers of management and delegation authority slow down the required speed and flexibility of work.

At the same time, employees are increasingly being asked to participate in different projects and other initiatives under different supervisors. Titles and job roles seem almost superfluous in this multi-skilled, multi-task setting. Yet, most companies are still stuck with org charts, trying to shoehorn these modern workforce realities into an inflexible hierarchy.

Why is this the case, and how can HR become more nimble and lead the necessary change? According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders from 140 countries, 88% of respondents say building the organization of the future is an important or very important issue; yet, only 11% understand how to do it. To get a better sense of why this is the case, I reached out to Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Josh began by recounting his own workforce trajectory. “When I joined the workforce out of college in the late 1970s, I was given a job description and title and told how much I would earn,” he recalled. “My boss told me what to do and wrote up my performance appraisal at the end of the year. The goal was to stick around and get a promotion to buy a house, have kids, and retire in comfort. This workforce concept was based on the old industrial-scale model, which is now a disadvantage for companies, as it slows them down from reacting quickly.”

Josh’s view is affirmed by Deloitte’s survey. Only 14% of respondents believe the traditional hierarchical model involving jobs based on a person’s expertise in a specific area is effective. “It’s pretty clear to me that just about everything in organizational management needs to be reengineered,” Josh said. “The ways that work gets done are fundamentally changing, with leading companies moving to a more agile, collaborative, and flexible way of working. Instead of a hierarchy, there is more of a network organizational structure.”

When asked for an example of this work type in action, Josh pointed to the now-common practice of forming a team of people from across the organization to take on a specific project. “People are collaborating with others who are not from their business area, lending their unique expertise and experiences to the task at hand,” he said. “They jump on and off such projects on a routine basis. Yet, in the background, there still is the hierarchical work structure that has little to do with reality.” I wholeheartedly agree and would add that, as a result, people’s work is often evaluated by someone who isn’t seeing the whole picture, also removed from reality.

Today’s new ways of working are good for companies, increasing employees’ sense of purpose, engagement with their work responsibilities, overall productivity, and personal happiness. People feel more in control of their lives. Hopping from one initiative to another also puts them in close proximity to others who have different talents, increasing everyone’s range of skills.

Best of all, people are able to coalesce around what is most important in business—serving the customer. “Instead of focusing on efficiently executing the same task over and over, employees are empowered to make the customer happier,” Josh said.

What will it take for more companies to let the sea change happen? The first step is to realize that workforce fluidity is already underway. The digital transformation of business is a powerful undercurrent tugging the organization toward more fluid ways of working.

Once this reality is accepted, business leaders can make the most of it, and HR agility can truly take hold, ushering in a more fluid, inspiring, and modern workplace. Some of Josh’s suggestions for navigating this shift include creating mission-oriented project teams composed of individuals from marketing, sales, customer experience, and other functions, and empowering them to make decisions that benefit customers. To that, I would add the need for empathy—the capacity to sense how people around you in the workplace feel about their work.

True leadership entails the ability to unite people in a shared purpose. Work that is personally fulfilling will always be a motivational force that creates organizational health and success.

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What is the Best Way to Lead? https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/great-leadership/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/great-leadership/#comments Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:48:40 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1126 What are the traits of great leadership for the future of work? It’s a question I am often asked by audience members during my varied speaking engagements. It’s a great question, since leadership—like everything else in today’s blistering pace of change—must be dynamic. Leaders must evolve as employees do, to direct organizations that operate and […]

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leadershipWhat are the traits of great leadership for the future of work? It’s a question I am often asked by audience members during my varied speaking engagements. It’s a great question, since leadership—like everything else in today’s blistering pace of change—must be dynamic.

Leaders must evolve as employees do, to direct organizations that operate and are managed differently. I’m referring to the movement in many companies toward project-based teamwork involving both full-time and non-permanent employees, tasks performed on a mobile “anywhere” basis, and the positive trend toward employee inclusiveness, in which each person’s self-defined uniqueness is seen as the asset it is. (See my related post, Are You Ready for True Workforce Fluidity?) Certainly, this is not your grandfather’s business to lead.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, companies were often run with military precision. During World War II, 10 high-ranking management theorists were recruited by the U.S. Air Force to enhance operations. When the war ended, Ford Motor Company snapped them up. They inserted the military’s “org charts” into Ford’s structure, creating divisions, departments, and jobs based on a person’s specific expertise. This ensured work was appropriately doled out, supervised, and completed. Other companies soon incorporated similar structures across the industrialized world.

As one might imagine, leaders of these businesses were akin to military generals. They commanded the organization from the boardroom, rather than the war room. This structure was right (for the times) and proved its merit. American companies quickly became the best in the world. And then the Internet, smartphones, the cloud, cognitive computing, and the Internet of Things burgeoned to seriously change things—democratizing decision-making and communications.

So what is today’s definition of “great leadership”? To draw a clearer picture, I turned to the source of the last century’s business leadership model—the military. I asked Lieutenant General George Flynn, now retired, for his perspective on the subject.

Lt. Gen. Flynn enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration and the Commanding General of the Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia. He is an advisor to Ultimate Software and many other corporations, and is a brilliant resource on leadership strategy.

You may know Lt. Gen. Flynn as the inspiration for a book by the best-selling author Simon Sinek. Sinek had interviewed him to learn more about the Marine Corps’ style of leadership. He boiled it down to these three words—“Officers eat last.” Sinek was so taken with the response he named his book after it (Leaders Eat Last). I recently sat down with George to ask what he meant by his comment.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he said. “If you treat your team as the most important resource in your organization, they become committed to you and the purpose of the organization. It shows your respect and the fact that you care so much about them that they deserve only the best. And that includes eating first, beginning with the most junior officer and ending with the most senior officer.”

He added, “That’s the ‘cost of leadership,’ as I explained it to Simon.”

This leadership philosophy seems at odds with today’s corporate guidance. Few CEOs know the names of employees other than their direct reports. Many of them eat with other senior executives in a separate part of the company cafeteria and have large offices away from the rest of their employees. Certainly, this is not an “officers eat last” approach. Rather, it suggests rank—people separated based on their perceived value and contributions to the success of the organization. There is a shift happening in some companies where CEOs are forgoing offices for shared office space, and the impact is significant for employees. As George put it, “Whoever is leading must form trusted relationships with those being led.”

Our discussion moved on to today’s millennial workers. George commented that this generation of employees tends to demand more from its leaders. “They want to know the ‘why’ before they buy into the project,” he explained. “When they believe in the value of what needs to be done, they’re very giving of their time and effort. They’ll go the extra mile if they understand the purpose behind the tasks and believe in that purpose.”

Without this understanding, millennials (really all employees) are more likely to search for new employment. To keep them, leaders must ensure they have meaningful work that leads to the development of new skills. “Millennials need to be trained and empowered to take risks on behalf of the organization, to progress in their careers,” George said. How can today’s business leaders, particularly those at the helm of large, far-flung organizations, ensure full buy-in from the “troops”? George responded that there are specific times on any given day when a leader can demonstrate valued leadership. “We call them ‘defining moments,’” he said. “The moments differ, but examples include how the person makes a difficult decision or handles a mistake. Word of mouth quickly spreads to form an opinion about the leader.”

These opinions are the basis for following the leader. “In my experience, I’ve come across three levels of leadership,” said George. “The first is when people follow you because you’ve been given the authority to control them. The second is they follow you because they trust you and will, therefore, take risks for you. The third level is they follow you because they believe in you and your mission. At that level, they’ll make personal sacrifices for you. Down deep, all people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

I couldn’t agree more. When we feel we are part of something important led by a leader we believe in, work becomes much more than just work. It becomes part of our purpose and identity.

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We’re All Biased, But We Can Get Better https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/implicit-biases/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/implicit-biases/#respond Thu, 06 Jul 2017 12:09:52 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1043 Like many people, I do all I can every day to value people for their character and contributions, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, age, gender, national origin, cultural heritage, sexual orientation, disability, and size or shape. But, probably like many of you, I still have work to do to truly know and be aware of […]

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Like many people, I do all I can every day to value people for their character and contributions, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, age, gender, national origin, cultural heritage, sexual orientation, disability, and size or shape.

implicit biasesBut, probably like many of you, I still have work to do to truly know and be aware of my implicit biases—the stereotypes that affect my assumptions and actions in an unconscious way. As a longstanding champion of diversity and inclusion, I realize we are probably better at the diversity part than inclusion, which is much harder—after all, eradicating implicit biases to make all employees feel they belong and are valued equally is incredibly tricky and important.

With diversity, companies can tally up their triumphs, citing the percentages of different types of people they employ. Inclusion, on the other hand, is less tangible, but even more important in creating a great workplace culture. If people sense that others are judging them because they are “different,” this adversely affects their freedom of expression, ability to collaborate, and overall work engagement and productivity. In short, people begin to second-guess themselves.

Implicit bias is not full-out racism, sexism, or any of the other bad –isms. We all are susceptible to rash judgments that have no basis in truth. They’re hardwired into our DNA. We do our best to ignore them, but they’re frustratingly resilient, coloring our decisions in ways we may not even realize.

This point came home to me in a recent discussion with a colleague, Jarik Conrad. Jarik is a deep thinker and eloquent speaker, who is African-American. He’s got firsthand experience being on the other end of implicit bias and far worse prejudices. He also has the wisdom and a great sense of humor to recognize his own implicit biases. Growing up in East St. Louis in a largely African-American community, Jarik was a basketball standout. “If two kids came up to us on the court wanting to join us in a game and one was black and the other white, we’d always choose the black kid since white boys can’t jump,” he told me laughing. “Then, I played basketball in college and realized white boys really can jump.”

Jarik tells this story on the speaking circuit and it always gets its share of laughs. Then he explains what it has been like to be a talented, articulate, smart person in a black body. “It’s the first thing anybody ever recognizes about me,” he said. “The same thing happens to other people, based on their gender, sexual orientation, religion, and so on. Our intelligence, skill sets, humor, work ethic, and other productive personal aspects take a back seat.”

Deborah Dagit knows the feeling. A former chief diversity officer, Deb is a little person. In 2013, she opened her own diversity-consulting business because she was “plain fed up,” she said, with people not seeing her as she truly is. “When I interacted with an employee who’d never met a little person before, they couldn’t get through the shock and awe of the experience,” she said. “It just made the day exhausting to have to educate others about what it is like to be a little person.”

Why are we all so bewildered by others’ differences? Jarik has studied the phenomenon. “The brain has a default mechanism that recognizes someone different as a potential predator or adversary, which sets in motion our `flight or fight’ response,” he explained. “When our brains are not aware of others’ differences, we experience an implicit expectation that they are just like us.”

This makes great sense, but it does not let us off the hook when it comes to doing what is necessary to train our brains accordingly. “The only way to teach our brains not to experience implicit biases is to spend significant time with others who are different from ourselves,” Jarik said.

Deb agreed. “Spending time in conversation and engaged in projects and tasks with groups of people who are different helps many people become more comfortable with each other’s differences,” she said. “But you need a regular diet of such diversity-immersion experiences. It’s not a `one and done’ thing to authentically appreciate and cherish each other’s differences.”

These are excellent strategies. Another is to continually gauge how your diverse workforce actually feels about their work experiences, with special attention paid to their supervision by managers and team leaders. We turned this idea into an opportunity to help organizations via Ultimate Software’s UltiPro Perception™ solution, leveraging advanced natural language processing and machine learning technology to really listen to and understand employees.

Most organizations rely on the annual (and massive) employee engagement survey to take the pulse of employees, but by the time the findings are produced, the results are dated. At Ultimate, we’ve developed a timelier and smarter way to understand people’s emotions—soliciting employees’ open-ended feedback on their work interactions via regular and easy-to-complete feedback. Powered by Xander™, our underlying “People First” artificial technology platform, UltiPro can tease out specific cultural themes, as well as deterrents and recommendations, for immediate action. Even good managers can lack communications skills. The problem is they don’t always know it.

As Deb and Jarik would agree, self-knowledge is crucial to creating a work environment that is authentically inclusive. Now that I better understand my own implicit biases and their origins, I plan to spend more time with people who appear different, training my brain to appreciate others’ extraordinariness as extraordinary, because at the end of the day, that’s what has always driven me… people, amazing people.

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Navigating the Complexities of Listening to the VoE https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/listening-voe/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/listening-voe/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 10:00:20 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1000 The reality of having five generations in the workforce is upon us, as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce. At over 74 million strong and growing, these post-millennials “digital natives” are poised to become the largest working generation yet. They share many similarities with the millennials, but also have their own unique set of […]

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The reality of having five generations in the workforce is upon us, as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce. At over 74 million strong and growing, these post-millennials “digital natives” are poised to become the largest working generation yet. They share many similarities with the millennials, but also have their own unique set of expectations and assumptions they bring to work (see my LinkedIn blog post about truly communicating).

I travel quite a bit, and I always come away from my many conversations with HR and business leaders with incredible, and often poignant, examples of the new reality of working with the changing workforce. I am continually made aware of how a simple slight can have lasting implications for many people in the workplace, and how significant it can be to simply hear a person’s concerns and respond to them.

When discussing this at a recent presentation to HR leaders, an audience member affirmed the importance of listening to your employees, recounting a recent exit interview they conducted with a valued employee. The employee said, “I asked a question and never got a response. I just wanted a response. I could have handled the answer either way, but I never (even) got a response.” Sounds simple enough; we all get busy with the flow of work life and may assume that not responding will be taken as a sign that we don’t yet have an answer or are busy. But it could just as easily be seen as a sign that the person and question don’t merit a response—and clearly our assumptions can be dangerous, as this HR leader found out.

Another instance is related to feeling whole and safe at work. In Ultimate Software’s 2016 study about satisfaction at work, 95% of respondents said “the ability to truly be themselves” is directly tied to their satisfaction on the job. Six out of 10 people said that feeling emotionally unsafe at work would cause them to quit—on the spot. I heard a story of how one long-time employee had made all the difference for a transgender colleague by being vocal, and even protective, in his acceptance of the employee’s change in gender.

That same week, I was asked by a customer about how to handle fluid gender identity when current U.S. EEO compliance reporting requires either male or female identification (learn more in my post about workforce fluidity). I was glad to let him know that, at Ultimate, we provide our employees and our customers voice and choice with configurable technology, to provide them with local flexibility while ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Listening, rather than dismissing the request as an edge case, not only made our customer able to support his employees better, but also demonstrated that if HR supports one person in an unusual situation, they will support everyone in more commonly occurring scenarios. The key is to listen and act.

This is the kind of stuff that led many of us to get into the work of HR and people leadership, and is why it is so critically important and meaningful for organizations to be prepared for the conversations they will be having with their employees in the coming months and years. It’s why, at Ultimate, we have an initiative to truly listen to the “Voice of the Employee” (VoE) and follow through with action, and it’s why we are repeatedly ranked as a Best Company to Work For.

Leaders are often told their people are their priority, though in the bustle of the day to day, that can be lost. But be assured that, for the employees, a conversation that may seem less than critical to a leader can mean everything…even a reason to leave.

 

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Predictions for 2017: Serving People with Emerging HR Technologies https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/hr-technologies-serving-people/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/hr-technologies-serving-people/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:00:49 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=893 Thriving in our rapidly changing and increasingly disrupted modern business environment will require organizations to both recognize major cultural shifts (see my blog post about Workforce Fluidity) while taking advantage of incredible new technologies. In this post, I explore a few of the potentially most impactful emerging and maturing technologies that are gaining traction in […]

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Thriving in our rapidly changing and increasingly disrupted modern business environment will require organizations to both recognize major cultural shifts (see my blog post about Workforce Fluidity) while taking advantage of incredible new technologies.

In this post, I explore a few of the potentially most impactful emerging and maturing technologies that are gaining traction in the realm of HR and will transform how HR and business leaders serve employees in 2017 and the coming years. Note that, regardless of the technology, putting people first is a must in 2017, as your people grow increasingly comfortable explicitly telling you, their employers, about their expectations of working within your organizations.

Augmented Intelligence, Human-Machine Interfaces, and Ambient HR Enter the Scene

People-first, people-centered, inter-connected technology that augments us. 

I’m not a huge fan of the newest buzzword, AI (Artificial Intelligence). It has negative connotations, evoking the deadly HAL or marginally useful benevolent robots, as well as the idea that insights from AI are somehow “artificial” or less than true. I prefer the more apt “augmented intelligence,” which is simply technology that mimics (not replaces) human cognitive processes, augmenting and extending human thought processing capabilities in terms of speed and volume data crunching, even avoiding putting humans in harm’s way.

“Ambient HR” refers to a future in which the ability of HR professionals to listen to the voice of employees (VoE) is increased by using distributed data collection touch points (think Google or Amazon Dots). These future technologies will help us advance beyond today’s latest “text-to-meaning” advanced natural language processing and machine-learning algorithms to uncover not only what employees are saying, but also how they feel about topics such as people practices, work environment, and leadership. In essence, allowing HR and managers to be in more than one place at a time, learning about the sentiment and “health of the organization” through distributed data-collection interfaces that capture human interactions with each other and with their surroundings.

The aggregation of cognitive-capable distributed technology will transform HR from traditional, mechanical systems of management that rely on people to selectively provide feedback in the industrial economy to an even smarter, augmented, context-aware human ecosystem.

The true benefits of these technologies will become most apparent in its ability to extend what a human could realistically do, hear, and process. We will literally be able to be in more than one place at a time, gathering input about how people feel and measuring the emotional health of your team—something a single leader could not possibly physically accomplish! This actual (albeit virtual) contact, and the ensuing insight, is invaluable for workers who crave more frequent and open communication.

Today’s workers want their leaders and organizations to hear their concerns, be open to more communication in the context of their work, and provide greater purpose and meaning in their work. (Refer to our 2016 research for more on this topic.) Such smart technologies as augmented intelligence and distributed technology that extends beyond mobile in the cloud have unleashed extraordinary possibilities for people at work.

The Configurability Imperative Serves All People

Nimble, flexible solutions that support the way people really work.

People are increasingly rejecting the traditional binary constructs of self-identification and a new vernacular is taking hold in the popular culture that is making its way into the workplace. This makes system configurability an absolute must for modern organizations, who must accommodate new definitions of how employees identify themselves so people can be true to themselves at work, as they are in their lives outside of work.

Also, as teamwork replaces “command and control” workforce structures, new work paradigms are emerging that center on more fluid notions of work, jobs, and the people who perform them. Being able to come together as a working group, having the organization acknowledge that grouping, and even being able to reassemble the same combination of successful colleagues, becomes a work imperative beyond simply tagging an individual’s work-group affiliations for identification.

Finally, gig economy employees will make up more than 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. These workers will have more flexible and virtual work schedules—a necessity in a global workspace with 24/7 connectivity—and fill short-term assignments. Preparing organizations will require new, more extensible systems of helping manage people and work, bringing together knowledge of people and work systems—long silos of information in different technology solutions.

The Rise of Virtual and Augmented Reality Experiences

A “day in the life” gets real.

Wouldn’t we all love a crystal ball that we could look into to see what we are getting ourselves into? That is quickly becoming a reality—actually, a virtual reality.

Less than five years ago, virtual reality experiences were prohibitively expensive for organizations, other than gaming companies that could commercialize the experiences on a big scale. Today, creating a virtual reality experience is not only affordable for organizations (school districts are beginning to use virtual reality experiences to help elementary school children explore different careers), but it is an excellent way to connect with more tech-savvy candidates who want to be certain they are joining an organization that values technology (a recent study we conducted with  The Center for Generational Kinetics showed a third of U.S. workers would quit a job if their company used legacy technology).

If virtual reality changes how we see the entire world around us, augmented reality can change how we interact with it, blending reality and virtual reality seamlessly. Job candidates could be encouraged to see themselves in “their new office” while exchanging texts with future co-workers they are connected with on LinkedIn…all before they have accepted the job, helping to cement the deal.

So, why not share a virtually real “day in the life” of the work experience you offer your employees?! It could make all the difference in getting that key person to join your team.

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Workforce Trends: What to Expect in 2017 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/workforce-hr-trends-expect-2017/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/workforce-hr-trends-expect-2017/#respond Fri, 02 Dec 2016 11:09:08 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=735 As we approach the end of 2016, we are compelled to look ahead to what we can expect in the new year! With that in mind, here are my predictions for the world of people-first HR and business. The Voice of the Employee (VoE) Takes Center Stage Customer satisfaction surveys have long been seen as […]

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As we approach the end of 2016, we are compelled to look ahead to what we can expect in the new year! With that in mind, here are my predictions for the world of people-first HR and business.

The Voice of the Employee (VoE) Takes Center Stage

Customer satisfaction surveys have long been seen as the best way to understand how well organizations are meeting the needs of their customers. More recently, the Voice of the Customer (VoC) has become more nuanced with Customer Journey Maps and Net Promoter Scores. As organizations recognize that to truly serve their customers they must invest in creating a great experience for their employees at work, the traditional employee engagement survey – often viewed as the way to assess how employees feel at work – is no longer an adequate tool to capture the true Voice of the Employee (VoE).

Thanks to advances in natural language processing technologies, in 2017, organizations can look to Ultimate Software’s new UltiPro PerceptionTM solution to continually scan their environments and get a deep understanding of the true sentiment of their people.

Organizations focused on retaining their best people will have to begin adopting these tools or risk losing the hearts and minds of their people – ultimately affecting their bottom line.

Your Workforce is Becoming More Fluid

The traditional workforce is changing faster than our organizations can keep up and it is becoming increasingly obvious to many business leaders. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Ultimate Software, October 2016, found that nearly 90% of HR and line of business professionals who influence their companies’ HR policies agree that the way employees work is becoming more fluid, flexible, and dynamic.

The notion of defining oneself as one thing at work vs. “at home” is not new, but the blurring of lines and new ways to identify oneself is new and it is having a significant impact in the workplace, creating the need for a new kind of HR and for organizations to offer ever more fluid people policies and philosophies in 2017 and beyond.

Workers want more choice and flexibility in how they approach tasks (more collaboratively), jobs (more frequent changes and exploration), opportunities to advance in their careers (more quickly, and in a less linear fashion), and define themselves at work (in a more personalized, holistic way) – a trend I call “Workforce Fluidity.”

The Primacy of the Employee Manager Relationship

“People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” This statement has been floating around HR circles for decades… for good reason. Employees experience work and the culture of the organization primarily through interactions with their direct manager.

People today don’t want to be “managed.” They want leaders who inspire them to greatness, challenge them, and communicate openly with them, coaching them to be their best selves at work.

Looking ahead to 2017, I expect more and more companies to invest heavily in developing managers to become better leaders, and we also will begin to see the fruits of these efforts. New diagnostic and prescriptive analytics tools will support manager development on a day-to-day basis – ushering in a new era of humanized people “management.”

HR Agility Will Become the New Mode of Supporting Organizations

2017 will continue to see our workplaces evolve into more human, people-centered spaces. Rather than reacting to pressure from business leaders and employees, HR leaders will rethink traditional policies to meet the needs of a more open and expressive workforce, taking a front seat in driving successful business outcomes.

This will do two things for Human Resource Professionals: we will become more innovative, nimble, and observant, and we will be forced to adapt existing HR processes and practices to create more agile, human-natured organizations.

This shift began a few years ago with the transformation of performance into a more dynamic, coaching-focused process; in 2017 however, HR leaders will have to rethink paid time off and compensation processes, two areas that are woefully out of synch with the workforce of today.

Culture Shapes the Employee Experience 

We all know that there can be a significant difference between an organization’s mission statement and what employees experience, or, what really goes on within an organization. People entering the workforce in 2017 and beyond tend to be less trusting of authority, making it more important for organizations to gain the trust of their employees by demonstrating that they “walk the walk and talk the talk.” This requires a culture of listening and taking action on employee concerns.

Supported by smarter more perceptive technologies in 2017, organizations will finally be able to “see” their culture at work and detect gaps in alignment between employees and the stated mission and values of the organization, supporting organizations in being deliberate and focused on defining philosophies and policies that address how people experience their work lives, and how the organization treats and interacts with their people and customers.

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Going With the Flow https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/a-job-by-any-other-name-workforce-fluidity-job-flexibility-hcm-hr/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/a-job-by-any-other-name-workforce-fluidity-job-flexibility-hcm-hr/#respond Tue, 13 Sep 2016 08:47:16 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=689 In my last two blogs, I addressed two emerging workforce phenomena—identity fluidity and organizational fluidity. Another paradigm shift on the horizon is what I call “job fluidity,” in which people prefer not to be tied to, or identified by, a specific job description. Rather, they “go with the flow,” coursing between initiatives and supervisors to […]

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In my last two blogs, I addressed two emerging workforce phenomena—identity fluidity and organizational fluidity. Another paradigm shift on the horizon is what I call “job fluidity,” in which people prefer not to be tied to, or identified by, a specific job description. Rather, they “go with the flow,” coursing between initiatives and supervisors to maximize the breadth of their many talents.

With job fluidity, each employee becomes much more than the person’s profession, title, or job description. Giving a worker the fluidity to move between multiple projects, tasks, or even job roles without the restrictions imposed by formal transfers presents an individual with extraordinary opportunities and challenges. These enriching experiences can benefit the organization as well, resulting in a more engaged, broadly talented, and productive employees. The rapidly growing gig economy is one testament to people’s comfort with more fluid notions of the job and one’s work.

Major sociocultural shifts are blurring the lines that define what we do, how we work, and who we are. See how these changes will impact workforce fluidity.Job fluidity is comparable to identity fluidity—how employees self-identify, jettisoning binary descriptions like “he” or “she,” and “introvert” or “extrovert.” It is also analogous to organizational fluidity, where the reality of how work actually gets done has little to do with formal organization structures that confine a person’s breadth of talents, and more with their ability to effectively collaborate with others in teams.

In combination, these movements in fluidity describe a new type of organization, in which management is dynamically distributed across teams of people, rather than restricted to a hierarchal “command and control” structure. Categorizing an employee’s job with a specific description and title is perceived as reductive, as it overlooks the many other talents the person may possess, in addition to their curiosity to learn new skills.

I looked up the origin of the word “company,” and was surprised to learn that it derives from the Latin word for “companion.” Certainly, a command-and-control structure has very little to do with people companionably working together on a project or other initiative. A companion is someone to whom you can freely express (and comfortably receive) an opinion. In a work setting, one would not want these colleagues to be limited in the range of their ideas because of restrictive job descriptions.

If an employee’s capabilities are not recognized and stretched, it increases their feelings of estrangement and disengagement from their work, culminating in retention problems for employers. Millennials, in particular, are especially prone to leaving an organization that limits the fullest expression of their ideas, or fails to fulfill their personal and career aspirations.

Such individuals (don’t we all?) want to be recruited by companies with a mission that is clear, purposeful, and meaningful, and then be given the autonomy to fulfill this mission the best they can. What they don’t want are tightly defined job descriptions that limit their capacity to learn and grow, or worse, that provide an “out,” enabling people to avoid challenging themselves and being challenged by others “because it isn’t part of the job.” Give them a specific job title and a restricted set of responsibilities and they will learn all they can, then fly off to another company to acquire their next set of skills.

Employers cannot empower this new workforce without advocating fluid job assignments. Job assignments need to be defined according to the work that needs to be accomplished, as opposed to an individual’s perceived role in the organization. Jenny may be a terrific writer in the marketing department, who, by the way, also happens to be an excellent public speaker. What a waste of talent to keep her at a keyboard all day.

Job fluidity is already having an effect on job titles. Zappos is among several companies that have eliminated job titles, flattening the organization to achieve a system of self-governance. The online shoe store has liberated its employees from its former organizational hierarchy, encouraging them to work together autonomously. In this workspace, authority is distributed to team members to make their own agile decisions, as opposed to being delegated by managers.

The Zappos example may not be practical for all industries and people, but providing some level of fluid experimentation in job duties and assignment rotation, going beyond low-risk internship programs, is much more likely to encourage unexpected collaborations and innovation to the benefit of all.

We live and work in a fast-changing world, where business moves at a blistering pace. Static job descriptions bound by hierarchical org charts and office politics will only slow the corporate engine. They also risk disengaging talented employees and can result in half-baked decisions. The alternative is a dynamic, democratic, and fluid work environment. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments!

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“Charting” a New Course for the Organization https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/charting-new-course-organization-workforce-fluidity/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/charting-new-course-organization-workforce-fluidity/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 11:20:18 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=645 In the booming postwar Mad Men era, the predominant work structure in American companies was hierarchical. For returning soldiers, this “command-and-control structure” was something they were used to in their military service. Since the workforce was almost exclusively male, particularly in management roles, this structure conformed closely to their notions of social groupings, which also […]

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In the booming postwar Mad Men era, the predominant work structure in American companies was hierarchical. For returning soldiers, this “command-and-control structure” was something they were used to in their military service.

Since the workforce was almost exclusively male, particularly in management roles, this structure conformed closely to their notions of social groupings, which also tend to be hierarchical. Everyone had a specific place in the hierarchy, and implicit rules existed to guide communications and collaborations with others.

In time, this hierarchical structure engendered the development of the “traditional org chart,” in which the relationship between roles and positions in an organization were formulated, based on a company’s financial-accounts structure and its employees’ cost centers. A typical org chart directs how authority and information flows between people. In today’s vastly interconnected global business environment, hierarchical work structures and their unbending progeny, org charts, have very little to do with how how work actually is conducted.

At Ultimate, we believe org charts can serve a larger purpose—helping people connect with others whose skills and interests they share, using visualization to help employees discover and form relationships across the organization, much like a social network, with the individual as the initial point of reference rather than the highest point in the formal hierarchy.

Workforce FluidityTechnologies like social media, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, 24-7 mobility, and the cloud have unleashed extraordinary possibilities for people to work better as a group, rather than in rigidly assigned job roles as per the org chart. People can now move fluidly from one assignment to another, organizing around the work that needs to be done, in concert with others engaged with them in the particular task.

This freedom of thought and action is what I refer to as “organizational fluidity,” one of the three components of “Workforce Fluidity.” It recognizes the reality of how work actually gets done, which has little to do with formal organization structures that confine a person’s breadth of talents. Rather, the assignment, creation, and even choice of work is increasingly determined by a person’s competence, curiosity, and ability to effectively collaborate with others in self-organized teams, when the organization is forward-looking enough to recognize the benefits of such a dynamic way of working.

Today’s far-flung global workforce comprises more than just full-time employees, including such non-permanent workers as independent contractors, temps, freelancers, and other contingent workers. These individuals enrich an organization by bringing in specific expertise and new ideas from outside the organization. They help fill skill-set gaps and the temporary void caused by an employee leaving the organization. The irony is that these non-salaried workers have more organizational fluidity, thanks to their flexible and virtual work schedules. In a global workspace with constant connectivity, everyone should have the same.

Imagine when this is indeed the case, as it will soon be. People with wide-ranging skills participate in teams, flowing between initiatives and supervisors to maximize their contributions. No longer is someone with multiple talents restricted to employing a single skill, simply because that’s how the person is defined and subsequently tasked by supervisors. Without a hierarchical work structure, the value of everyone’s big brains and breadth of experience comes together in a brainstorming whirlwind of ideas, concepts, discussions, and debates to grow the business.

Already this is occurring in a growing number of companies, many of them startup enterprises where workers have the opportunity to fluidly move from one project to another, one task to another, even one job role to another, and then back again. Each time they make these journeys, they enliven parts of their multifold talents that otherwise would have remained dormant, while learning new skills from others in the collaborative work environment. In such organizations, employee engagement is not a problem.

Small wonder that many younger employees are demanding a fluid organizational structure and culture as a condition of employment. If you don’t hire them, the competition will. Timing is everything in life and business.

In my next blog, I’ll dive into a related form of fluidity bubbling to the top in many companies—job fluidity, embracing how work actually is accomplished today. In a business world where job titles are less important than teamwork, people will have more control of the assignments they take on—to the betterment of their lives and the business success of the organization.

Once again, my goal with these blogs is to inspire deeper thinking and the startup of conversations. Please respond—affirmatively or negatively or somewhere in between.

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