Innovation

Digital Transformation Trends: 7 Emerging Innovations to Watch

9 August, 2019
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"Digital transformation is well under way with over a third of businesses already implementing digitalization programs, representing a 30% increase over last year. "

Digital transformation is here and it is disrupting HR functions in various ways. Learn about the latest digital transformation trends emerging in 2019.

The digital transformation is well under way with over a third (34%) of businesses already implementing digitalization programs, representing a 30% increase over last year. Meanwhile, two-thirds of global CEOs report they will embrace a digital-first focus by the end of 2019.

In recent years, digitalization has profoundly enhanced the customer experience to drive more value for brands. But digital transformation is transcending the customer experience to impact the employer experience as well. Employees, who have become accustomed to the digital experience in their personal lives, are increasingly expecting to have a digital relationship with their employers as well. This shift has implications across the human resources function, including recruitment, onboarding, training, L&D, and more. 

The following digital transformation trends and new technologies are disrupting the business model for companies of all sizes, across various industries. But these innovations also represent unprecedented opportunities for HR leaders to improve the employee experience and better adapt for the future of work. 

1.  Blockchain adoption is increasing.

While just 0.5% of the global population is currently using blockchain technology, its popularity is rising and it is projected that 80% of the population will be engaged with blockchain technology in some capacity within 10 years. 

Blockchain technology is perhaps best known for its role in safeguarding the cryptocurrency infrastructure (e.g. Bitcoin)—but ledger technology is leaving the cryptocurrency nest to explore more business opportunities. As the technology matures, companies across various industries are reporting compelling use cases for blockchain. For example, banks can now reduce infrastructure cost by 30% through blockchain solutions. This is achieved by encrypting millions of storage points, none of which contain a full name or an account number.

Because the HR department is the guardian of so much data that is critical to employees’ lives and how a company operates, the human resources space is welcoming blockchain for cybersecurity reasons. Ledger technology will likely be integrated directly into the HR function through a multitude of use cases—lending transparency and trust to an organization’s operations.  

Despite current challenges in cost and scalability, the case for blockchain HR is strong. To prepare for the coming blockchain revolution, HR departments should focus on identifying pain points and inefficient processes that could be improved by the transparency, accuracy and speed that blockchain facilitates 

The processes most suitable for blockchain disruption are those that are burdensome and expensive with substantial data collection and third-party verification. For this reason, healthcare and benefits could be the ideal starting point for an HR department looking to adopt blockchain technology. The healthcare industry has been identified as one of the top industries likely to be disrupted by blockchain and, according to Bitfortune, 55% of healthcare applications will adopt blockchain platforms for commercial deployment by 2025. HR departments will therefore need to keep a strong pulse on how blockchain is impacting the healthcare landscape so they can continue delivering healthcare plans and wellness programs to employees.

As blockchain technology becomes more mainstream and accessible, it is possible that many processes of daily workflow will transform: recruitment, tapping talent pools, running background checks, verifying employment history, engaging contract workers with smart contracts, onboarding, maintaining employee data, maintaining employees’ personal data, handling financial transactions and managing payroll systems. 

2.  Businesses are investing in cloud platforms.

Cloud computing and its various functions have been a hot topic for the human resources industry. It is not a relatively new technology but still the forecast is calling for more clouds. By 2020, a staggering 83% of global enterprise workloads will be stored on the cloud. 

For the HR space, cloud’s success is owed to its acclaimed ability to organize data, centralize processes, scout high-quality talent and boost performance. But most importantly, cloud computing lends transparency to an organization’s processes and can subsequently enhance the employee experience, from the recruitment process all the way through to L&D and exit interviewing. 

The traditional recruitment process can be rather tedious, requiring the company to advertise the position, shortlist candidates and conduct interviews. Cloud computing streamlines at least some of the process, offering everyone in the department immediate access to the data about a candidate. Feedback can be shared and decisions can be made using cloud software, all with the click of a button. 

The implementation of a multicloud ecosystem can also automate several HR processes for employees that include large amounts of data such as timesheet submission, performance reviews and vacation requests. Employees can take ownership of their employee data forms through the cloud, including tax information and emergency contacts. Many companies are also using public clouds to automate employee signatures on various documents, such as employee handbooks, sexual harassment training, L&D, webinars, etc. Performance reviews are also being managed on the cloud, offering employees better access and insight. 

Automatic software updates are another benefit of the cloud and these can simplify compliance. The HR department is often required to generate several comprehensive reports at specific intervals of time. Paperwork, time and hassle can be reduced by having the cloud software’s process automation generate these reports instead. 

Cloud computing technology is inherently developed with security woven into its DNA. By replacing physical filing cabinets, data can be protected from theft or natural disasters. For example, if a company’s office were to become inaccessible due to flooding, employees would still have remote access to the programs they work with on a daily basis. Furthermore, data would be protected. 

3.  Conversational User Interface (UI) & chatbot experiences are improving.

According to Gartner, by 2021 more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development. And, as other conversational UIs improve on voice recognition and reasoning frameworks, their understanding of the user’s needs and wants will also grow.  

HR departments are engaging chatbots and other conversational UIs to streamline processes and eliminate redundancies. These technologies can provide employees with immediate and consistent answers to commonly asked questions related to holiday leave, compensation, benefits, company policies and legal rights. Even some aspects of recruitment, employee reviews, onboarding, benefits and L&D can be assisted by chatbots and other conversational UI.  

Nudge-based technology is being implemented in tandem with conversational UI to suggest behaviors for employees and subsequently improve workflow. For example, a software program can monitor employee activity at a computer workstation and, after a certain amount of time, send a message to the employee that it might be time to take a break. Nudge-based technologies can also be used in lieu of repetitive communication from the HR department. Automatic reminders can even be sent to managers to fill out performance evaluations, with conversational UI then stepping in to assist with that process. 

As self-service platforms, the conversational UIs free up time for both employees and employers while still delivering the right information at the right time. This HR technology also allows the team to focus on more urgent questions and complex issues that require special attention.

4.  Data & people analytics continue to be important.

Information as a critical business asset is still in the infancy phase, making it a competitive differentiator for companies as they transition to the digital age. For leading companies, big data and analytics are becoming strategic priorities and key drivers for digital transformation initiatives.

While fewer than 50% of documented corporate strategies currently cite data and analytics as fundamental elements for enterprise growth, Gartner predicts that this number will jump to 90% in 2022. 

The importance of a  . data-driven culture is being especially emphasized in the world of work. For years, people analytics was mired in complexity. But today it is being leveraged as a critical people management instrument that can be applied at every level of the HR function, ranging from the recruiting process all the way to talent development and exit interviewing. 

For recruitment, people analytics can increase the chances of finding the right people for the right jobs. It can also be useful for building employee engagement and satisfaction, as it cultivates data about employees’ attitudes and moods. People analytics can also facilitate collaboration within an organization, providing insights about how well certain people and groups work together. 

When it comes to performance management, people analytics helps eliminate the human bias that often comes with manual evaluations. It also allows for an evaluation of both the process and outcome, which can help HR teams distinguish variables (such as luck or coincidence) from real, applicable skills that an employee has. 

It’s important to note that people analytics is more than just data—it can be translated to guiding insight. With new analytics capabilities, HR teams are unearthing deep insights into the company’s organizational health. In turn, this insight can be used as a basis for proactive programming and support. Overall, people analytics helps cultivate a digital culture where decisions are informed by data. 

5.  Internet of Things (IoT) adoption is accelerating.

As digital transformation progresses, we are connecting more devices to the internet at home, at work and on our person. Thus, the market for the Internet of Things (IoT) is flourishing. 

For HR, the starting line for IoT integration is usually with mobile smartphones and tablets—central hubs in IoT. In our personal lives, these devices offer centralized, easy access to our personal data and allow us to carry about a lot of our business. For example, we can share our thoughts on social media, communicate with friends via SMS and even buy products on our mobile devices. 

Employees are increasingly expecting to migrate their work onto mobile devices, demanding access to data, analytics and communication. This helps employees and employers alike by enabling continuous performance management and a flexible workplace where employees can be productive no matter where they are. 

Employers have leveraged IoT to drive health and wellness initiatives. As companies recognize that healthy people perform better and are more engaged, they are taking measures to help encourage wellness and offering employees devices like smart watches, heart rhythm trackers and similar devices. These fitness trackers are not intended to track where employees are but how they are. 

IoT can be being leveraged by companies to enhance employee engagement and improve productivity. But as IoT in HR advances, companies are also delving into the data provided by user devices. If gathered collectively, the cumulative data becomes a great source of information for the company.

6.  Artificial intelligence & machine learning applications continue to increase.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and HR may seem incompatible at first—it is ‘human’ resources after all—but the HR department is increasingly steered by non-human capabilities. A slight majority (51%) of companies have already deployed AI and machine learning and there are a variety of trending use cases for HR.  

With AI, employers are in a position to greatly improve the assessment of candidates. For starters, a notable feature of AI is its potential to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias in the hiring process. With AI, candidates are sourced, screened and filtered through large quantities of data. The programs combine data points and use algorithms to identify who will likely be the best candidate. These data points are looked at objectively, completely removing the biases, assumptions and oversight that humans are susceptible to.

Virtual reality (VR), by placing candidates directly into in virtual situations, can potentially provide more insight about a candidate than what is written on their resume or what they say in an interview. This can reveal candidates’ capabilities as decision makers and lead to assessment based on behavior and action rather than words. 

Meanwhile, machine learning tools can help with recruitment by tracking a candidate’s journey throughout the interview process. HR tools can calculate a holistic score for new talent, drawing data derived from digital screening and online interview results. This score system can help hiring managers objectively arrive at decisions based on data. 

On the opposite end of the interview table, machine learning tools can also help deliver streamlined feedback to applicants much faster and objectively than manual methods can. 

Augmented reality (AR) could be implemented to transform the employee onboarding experience into something fun and interactive. Employees might start the job with an AR tour of the office where information about key locations, company history and colleagues pops into view as they move around. 

Machine learning also has implications for employee retention. HR is charged with courting top talent so they stay with the company and this often involves identifying risk attrition. Through advanced pattern recognition, machine learning draws from an array of variables to recognize attrition risks and patterns in a company’s workforce. These pertinent variables can include years at company, satisfaction rates from surveys, education, department, time at company, training times, time since last promotion, attendance, etc. Once an employee is identified for possible attrition, the HR department can act accordingly. 

When it comes to assessment and development, L&D programs can be boosted by machine learning to identify high-potential employees with the skills and qualifications the company needs. Notably, it has been found that the employees ranked highest by the machine learning software aren’t usually those on the promotion track. Instead these high potential employees may be overlooked by traditional methods of assessment. 

7.  The rise of headless architecture.

In today’s competitive, customer-centric business environment, the race is on for organizations to deliver innovative, personalized customer experiences across various platform. This omnichannel movement is impacting digital content publication and giving rise to “headless architecture” in website design.  

In traditional approaches to digital publishing, the front-end and back-end are tightly bound to each other. But in the headless model, they are decoupled and instead communicate through an application programming interface (API). With just one back-end in place, multiple front-end delivery systems can be developed to seamlessly publish the content on various channels such as desktop, mobile and IoT devices.

Headless offers more flexibility and choice, allowing companies to choose the front-end framework that makes sense for them. Furthermore, because the headless architecture model keeps the back-end and front-end separated, companies can easily upgrade and customize digital assets without compromising the website’s performance. Digital assets can accumulate as the company grows. 

By offering the freedom to innovate, headless architecture can help companies reinvent user experiences as needed. This also helps to future proof their websites because they can revamp the design without replacing the entire content management system. It allows them to migrate existing content already on the platform and integrate it with new tools and frameworks as they emerge. 

As the voice for human capital, amid a rapidly evolving workforce, HR plays a critical role in guiding a company’s digital transformation journey. After all, effectively integrating new digital technology requires the right people in the right positions. Despite disruptions from AI and automation, the world of work remains people-centric at its core. 

As employees continue to demand a more experiential and omnichannel approach to work, HR teams must be deeply involved in a company’s digital transformation strategy. Keeping pace with  digital trends will help HR do what it does best: merge the best in human skills with state-of-the-art digitalization to create a vibrant, enriching workplace.

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Martha Cano | 26 Mar 2020

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Jackson Kam | 30 Jan 2020

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An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

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Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

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Stefani Guerrero | 27 Mar 2020

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Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report explains, "In an environment where knowledge is widely and freely accessible, the corporate learning function must shift its focus to continue adding value. Curated learning is not new; what's changing is how it is being used to shape content relevant to a particular ambition, close a known skills gap, or build connections among peers who can share expertise." Employers can leverage digital experiences to address the uniqueness of each employee's goals, talents and learning styles. Online web portals, smartphone apps and other digital training materials can be customized according to the user's preferences, skill sets, learning ability and career goals. These digital experiences offer employees the chance to learn at their desired pace and develop skills that will lead to greater responsibilities and opportunities to advance their careers and income. The same Mercer reports explains that, "When curated learning works well, people stay and progress through the organization because their learning helps them accelerate their career." The Digital Transformation of Human Resources   Robust benefits portals, personalized training and educational digital experiences are only a few hallmarks of how digital transformation is revolutionizing human resources in Brazil. By creating digital tools that map and guide an employee's developmental journey, businesses can also better understand the overall health and value of their workforces. Cloud-based systems that use Software as a Service (SaaS) models are creating unprecedented transparency within the employer-employee relationship. However, for large multinational companies in Brazil, implementing these resources can be exceedingly difficult. Legacy systems, aging applications, technical incompatibilities and unintuitive interfaces pose serious challenges to effective implementation. Finding ways to navigate these technical obstacles is critical to future success. Digital transformation is redefining the roles and capabilities of HR departments and revolutionizing workplace cultures. Skilled, upwardly mobile workforces are not only more productive and add value to the bottom line, but also provide businesses with effective ways of differentiating their brand, services or products from competitors — a key advantage in competitive marketplaces. Employees who feel engaged, listened to and valued make their employers more competitive. Mercer's HR 2025: Talent, Technology, and Transformation Magazine elaborates, "Organizations typically pore over compensation and benefits numbers. Yet it is often the actions beyond salary — such as promotions, transfers and healthcare spend — that have a greater impact on business outcomes. Understanding which elements make a company competitive, and which are differentiators, can go a long way in delivering an employee value proposition that resonates." By investing in the futures of employees and their careers, employers in Brazil are also investing in their own long-term success.

Kate Bravery | 26 Mar 2020

As with all unforeseen threats, COVID-19 is prompting individuals, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and large corporations to reevaluate habits that have long gone unchallenged. The outbreak is stress-testing our resolve and our resilience. Those that will emerge fighting fit will balance tough economic decisions with empathy. For, while the pandemic remains foremost a human tragedy that requires constant vigilance and swift action, thoughts about the way we work are also coming to the fore. Who can work remotely? Do we really need that conference? How can we make virtual meetings more engaging, inclusive and productive? How ready are we to embrace digital working? Even before the crisis, one in three employees said they were anxious about job security, data from Mercer’s forthcoming 2020 Global Talent Trends Study reveal. The novel coronavirus will do little to calm those fears. And so, while organizations prepare to ensure business continuity in response to different scenarios, we find ourselves needing to experiment with new work patterns. Companies ahead of the curve will be those that place empathy at the heart of their mandate. It is the balance of empathy and economics that will win in an evolving and unpredictable world — in other words, companies that care enough to put people and productivity metrics side by side, both while confronting COVID-19 and its economic fallout, and further ahead as they build better, brighter futures. This year’s forthcoming Talent Trends Study points to how companies can respond to the pandemic and focus on what matters by applying the new decade’s empathetic imperative. Commit to stakeholders   With the vast majority of business leaders (85%) agreeing that an organization’s purpose goes beyond shareholder primacy, now is the time to match actions with words and make decisions with empathy and equity for all stakeholders. This includes supporting supply chains and the economies that rely on the company. For example, Microsoft has committed to paying normal hourly wages to non-employees (such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers) whose pay might be interrupted by the many Microsoft employees working from home. Another imperative is to provide a sense of security and trust. Indeed, trust is a significant factor in employees’ sense of thriving. The 2020 study found that thriving employees are seven times more likely to work for a company they trust to prepare them for the future of work and twice as likely to work for an organization that is transparent about which jobs will change. Building a strong community around a common purpose and sharing the vision is vital to communicating that the company cares and has a plan for different scenarios. How employers respond to well-being issues like stress, burnout, and uncertainty will be a hallmark of their attitude towards responsibility and sustainability And as people worry about their health, this is the time to confirm the organization’s commitment to well-being. Calm messaging, employee assistance, and mental health apps all have their place day-to-day. It also may be prudent to reexamine the relevance of company benefits: virtual yoga sessions or discounts for online shopping might become highly valued. The good news is that 68% of employers are likely to invest in digital health in the next five years. And if the pandemic lasts for a long time, fundamental issues of well-being will be at stake. Epidemics are historically associated with a rise in depression and anxiety. And this year a clear majority of employees said they feel at risk of burnout before 2020 even got started. Are employees’ partners covered by income protection? Do benefits extend to family members? What financial advice is on offer? For instance, outdoor retailer REI has modified its paid leave policy to guarantee the income and benefits of employees who miss work or have to care for family members. All these need to be communicated clearly. How employers respond to well-being issues like stress, burnout, and uncertainty will be a hallmark of their attitude towards responsibility and sustainability — a critical attitude given that 61% of employees trust their employer to look after their health and well-being. Kick start skills   Executives are swiftly adopting future of work strategies to compete in response to a possible economic downturn. If macroeconomic conditions continue to be unfavorable, companies see this as an opportunity to double down on new ways of working such as strategic partnerships (40%), using more variable talent pools (39%) and investing in automation (34%). Front of mind is modelling supply and demand under various scenarios and interventions, such as how to manage variable and fixed costs.  With the quickened pace of automation, it’s no surprise that executives and employees are reflecting on how this will impact careers. The Mercer study reveals that business leaders rank reskilling as the top talent activity capable of delivering ROI this year, while employees say the #1 factor in thriving is the opportunity to learn new skills and technologies. Yet, for employees the biggest hindrance to learning is lack of time, according to our study. In this respect, the current crisis may offer the opportunity to kick start reskilling. Providers such as General Assembly and edX offer on-point courses and, with potentially more time to spare, employees can take advantage of online learning to explore new directions. But to realize learning’s full benefit, organizations will have to be transparent with employees about the new roles reskilling could lead to. Take the time to have clear career conversations with employees about the skills required to move along a pay range and/or qualify for other jobs within or across departments. People who feel well-informed about their future career path are more likely than others to take up reskilling opportunities (83% versus 76%) and are more likely to stay with the company (54% versus 46%). Share what you know   In the last five years, HR has moved data up the value chain and seen a significant jump in its use of predictive analytics. This is a major development in the growth and value of workforce analytics. Finally armed with insights, organizations are shifting their focus toward gaining measurable value from analytics and honing their market-sensing and analytics capabilities to enhance talent management practices. But as companies weigh the impact of the disease, are organizations measuring the right things? This year, the study shows 53% of companies are tracking the drivers of engagement, yet insights on training (down 6%) and burnout risk (down 25%) declined in prevalence. Digital ways of working bring more data sets we can mine, but also challenge our models of workplace success. Exploring what metrics are most relevant and sharing them with employees provides insight into productivity inputs in a new remote working and distracted climate. Many employees would be happy to receive meaningful findings and advice on how they are working or on their well-being indicators. Finally, as the workforce science discipline gathers force, it can supply vital forecasting insights to build future business resilience. Key to workforce forecasting is an enterprise-wide culture of experimentation. HR can work closely with executives, finance leaders and data scientists to explore how to mitigate the productivity and well-being fallout of such scenarios. Promote the remote   For many organizations, the novel coronavirus has been a wakeup call to the possibilities of remote working and its impact on the employee experience. JPMorgan Chase, Twitter and Sony’s European offices are just some of the many companies asking employees to work from home. The challenge has been that only 44% of companies assess every job for its ability to be done flexibly. So what helps? Thriving employees say the most important factors for successful flexible working are: colleagues that are supportive of people with flexible work arrangements, a company culture that encourages flexibility, and managing performance on results not hours worked. Design thinking with pilot teams working remotely are critical to seeing what needs to change to better suit these times. Still, if not done well, remote working can exacerbate challenges with inclusion, accessibility and emotional support. Some simple tips for staying connected in times of social distancing can help: Inclusive teaming when working remotely requires effort. To make sure every team member’s voice is heard, communicate expectations and agendas in advance, encourage people to be visible on the call, ask people to come with comments/questions, and set up discussions by hangouts and chats in between calls. Pre-brief senior people in your team to be vocal and embracing. Create an informal climate up front with small talk. Remote calls require a redesign of the meeting. As a rule of thumb, halve the time you would allocate for a face-to-face meeting for a call where people are dialing in. Leverage pre-reading to ensure those who are more introverted or reflective feel ready to contribute. Small group preparation and post group actions are vital to building team spirit. Establish new rituals.   Take time to address the emotional, not just the practical. Take a few minutes at the start and end of a call to find out how everyone is feeling. Pulse-checking questions people can type responses to in a chat function (e.g. “Use one word on how you feel about what we’ve just shared”) can be a great way to take a temperature check. Communicate that managers are still accessible by phone, even if not in person. Use old and new technology (phones as well as video conferencing services) to stay personal, especially with workers not used to working remotely. Don’t let email (and even chat) be the only way you communicate. The volume can become deafening if not managed. Leverage community sites and project boards to train people in how best to stay connected. In our study, 22% of employees believe that some necessary human interactions have been lost, so finding ways to inject warmth and a bit fun into exchanges is a good idea.   The social distancing required in response to COVID-19 has, rightly, got many companies reexamining their digital work experience. Forty-seven percent of executives are concerned about employees’ digital experience — or the energy-sapping nature of not having it. Nearly half of employees believe there is room to improve on digital transformation: 20% of employees today say HR processes are complex, and a further 29% say they have been simplified but still have a long way to go. In the longer term, it will be valuable to revisit the company’s EVP and interrogate how technology-enabled HR processes are today and how capable working tools are with coping with mass remote services. Intermediaries such as ServiceNow, Mercer’s Mobility Management Platform and digital outplacement solutions can help. How we care is how we win   Employees are understandably concerned about the health of their families and communities and organizations are quite rightly putting the health of their people first (their #1 workforce concern this year). But financial market volatility, and the impact on individuals’ jobs is a mounting concern that is weighing on people’s minds. Meanwhile, businesses are examining whether their practices are agile enough to withstand unpredictable events such as COVID-19, if they are resilient enough to sustain themselves through this period of hardship, and innovative enough to stimulate demand afterwards. We’re being challenged to do things differently — in companies big and small, on new platforms and with new technology, and we see emerging new ways of caring for one another. And in their wake we will not go back to how we operated before. Necessity breeds innovation. We are on the cusp of new ways of working and living that, if executed well, will build a bright future.

Dr. Sebastian Fuchs | 26 Mar 2020

Everyone’s job has, in some form or another, a job title. Be it a Brick-layer, Accountant or CEO. The common understanding is that the job title depicts the respective job and its roles and responsibilities. Our work with different clients of different sizes, with different structures, maturity levels, and in different economic and cultural environments, however, suggests that there is much more heterogeneity in job titles than one would suspect. In one organization, for example, an Accountant is called ‘Financial Advisor’ whereas in another organization, s/he is called ‘Finance Officer’. In Mercer’s 2019 Global Total Remuneration Survey, on a sample of 182 organizations based in the United Arab Emirates, as an example, the Mercer Job Library position ‘Accountant–Experienced Professional’ is tagged against more than 180 different job titles. This suggest that more than 99% of organizations included in the data set label this type of job in a unique, idiosyncratic manner. In a similar vein, Mercer’s 2019 data from Australia shows more than 360 different job titles across 313 organizations. A similar report for India from 2019 shows over 520 different job titles across 360 organizations for this type of job. In Brazil, Russia and the UK, the same analyses produced very similar results. This means, to be specific, that similar jobs even in the same organization are often labeled in a heterogeneous, unconcerted way. Problems associated with purposeless job titling   While the Accountant example provides some insight into the actual responsibilities of the role, we often see organizations labelling jobs in less meaningful, purposeless ways. For instance, we find job titles such as ‘Senior Supervisor Financial Accountant’, ‘Business Analyst’, ‘Finance Executive’ or, more recently, creative titles such as ‘Accounting Guru’, ‘Accounting Ninja’ or ‘Accounting Rockstar’ in this area of organizational life. In our view, this creates five key issues: 1.   In markets that are suffering from employee disengagement, the rise of passive job seekers and a growing appeal of self-employment and entrepreneurship[1], a job opening with an inaccurate job title faces two key problems. Firstly, the job applicants may be over or under qualified for the position at hand and, secondly, potentially suitable applicants may not apply as they believe the job is not a good match. 2.   Breaches of the psychological contract between employees and their employer may occur. To be precise, “the psychological contract encompasses the actions employees believe are 1.      expected of them and what response they expect in return from the employer”[1]. To this end, a purposeless job title may provide an inaccurate view on the actual roles and responsibilities to be performed by the new joiner. For instance, a ‘Financial Advisor’ may execute on the classical accounting tasks, such as processing accounts receivable and payable, but the job title, however, indicates that the job holder would spend some time interacting with stakeholders and provide advice on financial matters. The lack of defined possibilities to engage in such activities may constitute a psychological contract breach, leading to cynicism towards the organization, turnover, job dissatisfaction, reduced commitment and an overall decrease in performance. 3.   Another important issue to consider is an employees’ propensity to boost their current job title. This is linked to two mechanisms. Firstly, boosting one’s job title ultimately serves to enhance one’s status and self-identity[1]. Secondly, an enhanced job title is likely to attract attention on the external job market. 4.   Perceptions of fairness may decrease due to inconsistently labelled jobs. For instance, a job may be called ‘Finance Lead’ that is, in terms of roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications required, very similar to a ‘Head of Finance’. For most people, a ‘Head of Finance’ is classified as a higher ranked job despite both jobs being very similar in nature and potentially having the same job grade. This can create perceptions of injustice leading to employee turnover, lower levels of extra-role behavior and greater levels of withdrawal, deviant and retaliatory behaviors[2]. 5.   Purposeless job titles may also be detrimental for internal and external communications. Internally, there might be a certain degree of ambiguity to what the hierarchy level of a an incumbent is and consequently how messages should be phrased. Externally, purposeless job titles may further lead to misunderstandings in terms of authority levels and responsibilities an employee holds. Reasons for purposeless job titling   The reasons for these five issues are manifold. First and foremost, only few organizations seem to have adhered to a coherent, up-to-date and intuitive job titling framework. In fact, in many organizations job titling is either left to the line manager or, in some cases, left to the job incumbent. This, by definition, is likely to create a certain degree of heterogeneity among job titles. In addition to that, even in leading organization, there is often no clear, well-defined organizational process in place to govern this element of organizational life. We advocate, and outline in greater detail below, that there should be a process in place including clear roles and responsibilities in terms of who sets and ultimately approves the titles of jobs. We also see that organizations often seek to develop job titles that adhere to the specific cultural contexts in which they operate. This, as a consequence, also adds to a certain degree of incoherence in job titling. Lastly, the high degree of change to which many organizations across the globe are exposed to, also contributes to incoherent job titles. To be specific, when organizations adopt new structures and amend roles and responsibilities of their jobs, job titling should also be considered. However, for many organizations this is an issue of limited importance of the time of restructuring so this tends to get neglected. As a consequence, especially with numerous rounds of re-structuring, a heterogeneous, incoherent landscape of job titles is likely to emerge. Conducting purposeful job titling   The above-mentioned observations raise the question of how organizations can move forward to actually create purposeful job titles. Meaningful or purposeful job titles usually consists of two key elements. Firstly, purposeful job titling should indicate the actual function and with this associated roles and responsibilities the job incumbent is tasked with. If an employee in Finance is responsible for maintaining the Finance IT systems, then the job title should indicate that this employee looks after IT for Finance, as opposed to more generic IT activities. Secondly, a purposeful job title also indicates the hierarchical level, or, to be more specific, should hold reference to the actual job grade the job has been mapped onto. In our work across the globe, we see a certain degree of inconsistency and incoherence in this respect. Frequently, strict hierarchical levels are used to create job titles, even though the job evaluation may not indicate such job titling. For instance, the responsible job incumbent for managing financials in a country managing set-up of a small to medium sized enterprise owned by a multinational corporation may be called ‘Chief Finance Officer’. This job title indicates a fairly senior position. In reality, however, such a job more closely resembles the activities of a ‘Financial Accountant’ or a ‘Finance Manager’. Such discrepancies between the actual roles and responsibilities of a job and its titling typically become clear when job evaluations are performed. As such, we advocate a certain adherence to job grades when it comes to job titling in order to derive purposeful job titles. In Figure 1, we outline how an approach to purposeful job titling could look like. It indicates the main components of a job title, i.e. (a) what the job’s hierarchical level in the organization is, (b) its function or area of expertise, (c) to what organizational unit the job belongs, and (d) what the actual scope of responsibility of the job is. For instance, a ‘Senior Vice President Finance EMEIA’ uses the elements A, B and D of the framework. Element C, the organizational unit, in this case is not required. For professional jobs, as another example, an ‘Advisor Finance Downstream Abu Dhabi’ would have all elements in her or his job title. This way, the same protocol and nomenclature for different job titles is applied universally across the organization, and thereby meets the requirements of purposeful job titling set out above.                           Figure 1: Mercer’s Purposeful Job Titling Framework In addition to adopting such a framework, organizations should consider who owns and governs job titling. The governing department should make sure that there are employees who have ownership of this process, and that no job requisition and its related activities as well as any internal re-structuring fails to comply with the framework. This way, purposeful job titling gets embedded and institutionalized in the organization. Sources: 1. 2017, ‘The talent delusion: why data, not intuition, is the key to unlocking human potential’, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Piatkus. 2. 1994, ‘Human resource practices: administrative contract makers’, Denise M. Rousseau and Martin M. Greller, Human Resource Management, 33-3, page 386. 3. 2005, ‘Understanding psychological contracts at work: a critical evaluation of theory and research, Neil Conway and Rob B. Briner, Oxford University Press. 4. Ibid. 5. For an interesting review see: 2019, ‘The five pillars of self-enhancement and self-protection’, in the Oxford handbook of human motivation, Constantine Sedikides and Mark D. Alicke. 6. For a good overview please refer to: 2001, ‘The role of justice in organizations: a meta-analysis’, Yochi Cohen-Charash and Paul E. Spector, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86-2.

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