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Hack Your Way to Engaged Employees

December 19, 2016 by Jeanne C. Meister, Kevin Mulcahy

Forward-thinking human resources leaders aren’t satisfied with just managing HR processes and monitoring employee effectiveness: they understand the power of creating compelling experiences to engage employees and develop talent.

That’s why some chief human resource officers and chief talent officers apply a range of product design tools to uncover employee needs with the same rigor as companies use to uncover customer needs.

Among those tools is the hackathon, borrowed from IT and a fixture of the product development process in digital businesses. Hackathons bring computer programmers, software designers, and graphic artists together to create new products, such as the Facebook Like button and Facebook Chat, which were both first demoed at an internal Facebook hackathon.

Inside HR, hackathons create opportunities to reimagine the employee experience, from recruiting and onboarding to developing new skills, using design thinking to better understand employee needs and expectations. Cisco and DBS Bank demonstrate the power of this tool to enable participants to move beyond traditional thinking to employee-focused thinking. Their stories are featured in our new book, The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees.

Cisco’s HR Breakathon: Reinventing the Employee Experience

Cisco set out to reimagine HR by enlisting the support of the entire HR community and its key business stakeholders. The company closed the department for 24 hours for a “breakathon”: HR employees around the world would use the day to identify new solutions that would deliver a more memorable experience for Cisco employees.

The breakathon employed three elements to successfully reimagine the Cisco employee experience. First, the company applied design-thinking principles to engage its HR team and business leaders in a 24-hour hackathon to rethink the Cisco employee life cycle from the point of view of Cisco employees.

Next, the HR team used a range of Cisco collaboration technologies, including WebEx, TelePresence, and a dedicated Spark room, along with the social media hashtag #WeAreCisco to provide a visual pulse of the Cisco HR breakathon across all the countries that participated. Finally, the breakathon to reimagine HR included not only Cisco’s global HR staff but also key business unit personnel.

The result? Over 100 new HR prototypes, many of which were apps to reimagine new-hire onboarding. Two currently under consideration are YouBelong@Cisco, an app to help new hires and their managers navigate the first day and first weeks at Cisco; and Ask Alex: Your Personal Intelligent Compass, a voice command app that provides Cisco employees with fast, accurate, and personalized information about a range of HR topics.

DBS Bank: Developing New Skills for Bankers

In 2015, Singapore-based DBS Bank, one of the largest banks in Asia, watched the emergence of fintech—technology-driven financial services companies—with growing wariness. Broadly, fintech offers users an array of financial services on mobile apps that were once the exclusive domain of banks.

In fact, the changes in financial services are happening so fast that in March 2016, Citigroup forecast that retail banking automation could spur a 30% decline in banking jobs across the United States, Asia, and Europe over the next decade, which would imply eliminating nearly two million jobs. While banking is currently at a tipping point with only 1% of consumer banking revenues generated from consumer channels, consumer banking is about to have its Uber moment.

With this in mind, the DBS Bank chief talent officer and chief innovation officer launched a three-day hackathon to help the organization learn how to think and act with a digital mindset. Over 500 DBS bankers and 50 startup ventures across Southeast Asia participated, charged with creating working apps to address customer needs.

During the three days, the bankers learned from the startups how to rapidly ideate and prototype new solutions. While several new banking apps emerged from this process, the most important shift was the change in bankers’ mindset. They started thinking and acting like digital startups; instead of asking, “Can this get done?”, they started to say, “Let’s create a way to get this done.”

HR was able to move from being a process developer to an architect of employee experiences.

While the first DBS Bank hackathon was facilitated by a partnership with HR and a business leader, hackathons have now become part of the DBS Bank culture, with a queue of business leaders wishing to sponsor them to generate ideas and solve problems. To date, DBS Bank hackathons have produced more than 50 prototypes of new banking products. Twelve have been launched for customers. One of the products is part of DBS Bank’s digital banking strategy in India.

The use of hackathons by Cisco and DBS Bank illustrates the power of letting go of traditional processes and breaking down silos to become more employee focused. In both examples, HR was able to move from being a process developer and manager to an architect of employee experiences. And regardless of whether the end product is for onboarding or for bill payment, the goal is the same: to create a compelling experience for employees from beginning to end.

Jeanne C. Meister and Kevin Mulcahy are partners of Future Workplace, an HR executive network and research firm dedicated to providing business intelligence on the future of learning and working. They are co-authors of the new book The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees.

This story originally appeared on Digitalist Magazine.

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