I had the excellent opportunity to sit with corporate human resource advisor, Susan Lovegren, former Chief People Officer for Juniper Networks, Medallia, and AppDynamics. Passionate about all things HR technology and culture benefits, check out this Q+A of my insightful conversation with Susan.
Watch the quick video and check out the full transcript below.
What is the single greatest challenge facing HR today?
I think there are many challenges facing HR leaders today. And in my conversations with chief people officers, one of the things that are top of mind for every single person that I speak with, is creating a fantastic employee experience at scale, that drives the right business outcomes. And that is such a big goal, and it requires much support from technology.
I know you asked me for one challenge. Creating an amazing experience is one of them, but underneath that, you need to have great technology and platforms that support those touchpoints. From my perspective, I think about the employee experience as the employee life cycle. From the time somebody is looking at your website to see if they want to join your company, to the time they leave from your company, they are looking at what kind of experience they are going to have.
Is this going to be good for my career? Is this going to be a place where I feel like I can belong and be successful? The employee experience and how you design and engineer that becomes incredibly important. It’s complicated and full of challenges and decision points that you must make in terms of your investments in technology.
As an HR leader, how has attracting and retaining talent changed over the last decade?
To be very clear, the world of work has changed significantly – especially over the last five years. It used to be a very different social contract between an employee and employer. Now the tables have turned.
Today, employees are the consumer, and the employee expects that they’re going to have the same type of customer experience working inside of an organization. That’s everything from how they engage with your platforms, the tools they’re using to get their job done, the food that’s going to be served in your cafe, how flexible your policies are and the kind of work environment they are exposed to – and you know, frankly, the values of the company and where the company stands on important issues. The demand from a leadership perspective has increased tenfold over the last five years.
And that’s why I think from a chief people officer perspective, and those are very different issues that raise many different questions around how you’re going to even approach the job. Technology becomes your friend because you can’t scale without it. You can’t create all of these touchpoints. You can’t customize, to the degree that you’re going to need to reach all your employees.
Whether you’ve got a thousand people in your company or 100,000, people are seeking a simple user experience, not unlike that of ordering something on Amazon Prime. Now, imagine that for culture benefits.
Employees want things that are customized for them. And in terms of their experience, that’s really the secret sauce for whether a person stays or leaves. This idea around, do you want employee retention? Of course. You want people to stay and grow in your company. Employees don’t necessarily have the same point of view and they will stay if they’re having a great experience and there are opportunities.
They won’t have any problem leaving you. If you look at the average length of service in software companies, that’s anywhere from 18 months to two years, which isn’t a very long period. So, you want those moments to matter that you have somebody engaged in the company.
There’s a significant turnover in HR. They’re budget and time-constrained. How are we going to transform the world of HR, specifically for HR people, so they’re as happy as the employees and culture they serve?
Every single profession, every single employee is going through some type of skills transformation. People in HR are not exempt from that. Some of the things that are shifting and becoming increasingly important is becoming comfortable with data and analytics because these are the tools that are going to allow us to make more strategic people decisions based on the culture of our workforce and how the data tells HR is contributing to positive business outcomes.
It’s about learning how to fly the plane a little bit differently with a different set of instruments. It’s getting comfortable with transparency, getting comfortable with analytics, hiring people who have different strengths, and honestly being able to understand much like developers, the full stack of HR-related issues and topics, and specializations.
So, it’s incumbent upon anybody going into HR to be broad. In addition to having domain expertise, they must understand the business, understand how the company makes money, how the company goes to market. It’s not a back-office function. It’s a front and center function that is requiring a whole different set of skills. Many may come from consulting backgrounds because they have strong assessment skills and can get more insight as to what people are thinking and customizing those solutions. They are also influential business people, psychologists, experience designers, and have strong communications backgrounds.
How is technology helping to transform diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Technology is transforming every aspect of the workforce. So, from a D&I, diversity, and inclusion perspective, many platforms support taking the bias out of things like interviews. There is software now that can help you better understand what your pay issues and your promotion rates are between women and men, as an example. Technology has made it easier for companies to respond, identify what concerns they may be facing, and respond by having the correct data. For example, if you have some employee relations issues, typically, it would take weeks to discover what went wrong. Let’s say there’s a harassment complaint. It may take multiple interviews to get to the bottom of what’s going on. And the ability to report on incidents is much, much slower.
There are now platforms that can be used in your handheld device that allow you to report on any issues, a compliance issue or reporting issue, right then and there. For example, let’s say you’re at a meeting, or you’re in a sales kickoff, or you’re with customers. You find yourself in a vulnerable position. You can report on that immediately and get to a resolution much more quickly. And you can become part of that solution as well by participating in a much better outcome.
And then again on the pay parity. I think the platforms that I’ve seen are amazing in being able to understand your data, which typically was very complicated, and it would take months to go through all your compensation data. Now you can look at it visually. You can see all the information and pinpoint precisely where you need to adjust.
How is the digital experience transforming employee engagement in the workplace?
The world of work has changed significantly. As I mentioned, the expectations people have in terms of how they’re going to interface with technology has shifted dramatically. When they have digital experiences, whether it’s to sign up for benefits or make a transaction related to their pay, or to take care of any personal business, they’re expecting to be able to do that in a very seamless way. And they’re not looking to have a cumbersome process or have to wait weeks to be able to take care of any type of business. People expect that things are going to be on their phone, it’s going to be mobile, they’re going to be able to have access to information when they need and want it, 24/7. So again, this shift changes what type of technology you utilize ultimately in your company, what kinds of point solutions you put into place.
One of the most significant challenges from an HR technology perspective is that there are so many new point solutions that are awesome in many, many ways.
However, they are not all stitched together.
So, your ability to manage all these different moments that matter becomes more and more challenging. Thus, the goal is to figure out how to make all the technology work together. Historically, these HR platforms would leave teams stuck with a legacy system for years. Now with new technology, you can alter things based on your workforce. If you want to do more from an employee resource group perspective, if you want to appeal to an older workforce or an earlier career stage workforce, you can look for platforms and technology to support those needs.
And to me, that’s one of the coolest things about what we’re all facing.
On the one hand, it’s a challenge to have so many choices and options. On the other hand, what’s incredibly exciting and powerful for me is that for the first time, I think ever, the world of human resources is getting its due attention from the technology and platform perspective.
There’s a focus now on total wellbeing. And the digital disruption around wellbeing is so exciting. If people want to have issues addressed around mental health, they can certainly do that in real-time. They don’t have to wait to see somebody through an outdated employee assistance program. They can get access and the help they need right away.
How does technology positively reinforce culture when you have a global workforce with thousands of employees and ones who are distributed or working remotely?
Technology, from my perspective, is the great unifier when it comes to bringing people together and creating this collective experience and reinforcing the culture.
So, if you’re a company that says you care about people and that people are your most valuable asset, you need to own that and deliver.
The reality is that culture is only shaped by employee experience. And if somebody is not having a great experience, it doesn’t matter what you say your culture is. They want to understand if you say you care about me and things like wellness, but I’m sitting out in the middle of the United States, and I have no gym membership or no access to a gym, how does that shape the employee experience?
How does that make me feel like I’m having the same experience and understanding the culture the same way as all of those employees who are sitting at our corporate offices? So, technology allows you to be able to create other solutions for other needs in your corporation—consequently, things like gym memberships, ability to work in a community setting. Maybe you want to make sure that your folks out in the field that they have access to opportunities to collaborate with other people. Not just be sitting close by their customers but being able to connect with other employees, so they feel a part of the company. So, experience shapes, culture. I cannot emphasize that enough. And so those touchpoints become the proof points from an employee perspective as to what you’re serious about, what you’re investing in and how your, how you want them to experience the work environment.
Employee resource groups are a great way to connect people who might be dispersed all over the world. From a chief people officer perspective, it can be challenging to scale. But if you have technology that can connect people, you can provide guidance, and those groups can self-start and create their leadership groups. It’s a fantastic thing for people to feel genuinely connected, and it is a proof point that I can have a sense of belonging in this company.
Espresa does a great job of removing the heavy lift from the CPO by being able to come in and quickly set up meaningful programs that create a great culture, create happy employees. It’s just awesome from my perspective to be able to have that all pulled together seamlessly and quickly
And it really does drive culture because, as I mentioned, the experiences we have are the only things we can base culture on, and whether your culture is meaningful or not. You have an incredible opportunity with Espresa to work with a very flexible platform because it’s modular. You can just choose rewards and recognition, for example, employee resource groups, reimbursements, wellbeing, challenges, meetups, and events – any one of those, or combination, or even all of them for a full-feature all-in-one culture benefits platform.
One of the main things to think about in considering a platform to help unify culture is having a single common platform and set of experiences for people that you can also deliver at scale.
How are HR leaders creating cohesive cultures with a diverse, multi-generational, and global workforce?
This is the first time in our history that we have five generations coming together in the workplace. And it is a super exciting time because it’s making us all better. Everybody brings something different to the party. And one of the things I absolutely love about people entering the workforce right now is that they’re very clear-minded about their expectations. They’re demanding transparency, and they want to make sure that their needs are heard, and they’re very comfortable giving feedback. And feedback is simply a tool that helps us all become better.
Everybody aspires for pretty much the same things. We all want to be treated with respect and dignity and have opportunities, and we want to have experiences that make sense for our life stage. And we can create those by setting up different platforms by asking different questions, taking the opportunity to get more feedback more often from people experiencing your work environment, and ultimately towards getting smarter. And I think all of those things drive the culture and everybody should thrive. Everybody should feel good in their environment and have opportunity. It shouldn’t just be for one group or one generation, but really looking for those ways to make it meaningful for every single person who becomes part of the culture, part of the organization.
Creating a cohesive employee experience is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that are front and center for all the chief people officers out there. One of the things I do appreciate about what Espresa is doing is that they have managed to stitch together some of the critical components of creating that amazing employee experience and focusing on creating these opportunities to bring people together, to help them collaborate more, to reward and recognize them, to care for them from a total wellbeing perspective. I think to help them to get a sense of belonging through employee resource groups. All of these things are big-ticket items from an employee experience perspective.
And from the CPO perspective, they can be challenging to administer, difficult to manage, can create much administrative work for individuals. And I think if you have a partnership with an organization like Espresa, it makes it so much easier to collaborate, come up with solutions that are, you know, essentially creating a better experience but also not creating a burden within your HR function. So, to me, it gives me more time to focus on the strategic issues of the day, which is driving the business forward. Looking at how you can make your talent as productive and satisfied and retained as possible. And if you don’t have those distractions, putting in place programs, which are very typically short-lived and difficult to maintain and manage and you can do it through technology, and you can do it at scale. That’s the real win-win.