Digital transformation has been top-of-mind for CEOs and their management teams for some time now. However, we are in the midst of the next key disruptive shift that will influence the next generation of corporate winners and losers. Unlike the recent experience of the past few decades, this transformation is not about technology. It is about people.

People, and the HR function, are quickly moving from the periphery of strategic thinking, to front-and-centre of the new business agenda. Let’s look at what is happening to make this so:

  • A change in thinking – Where my parents’ generation worked to survive, and my generation worked to succeed, today’s workers are developing a social consciousness which influences their decision making. Some call it the “woke mindset.”
  • The social revolution – This consciousness has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic with issues of mental health, and equality across the social, economic, political, gender and racial dimensions, all coming to the fore in a way not seen for generations
  • Inclusion and diversity – In the workplace, never before have people been so willing to talk about fairness, respect, and the need for recognition of the benefits attainable from the differences between individuals. Companies that get it right will only enhance their reputations as employers of choice.
  • Productivity and engagement – In my 25 year career, I’ve never seen such passion for purpose in what people do professionally. People want the companies who employ them to have a real purpose beyond profit alone, and to authentically share similar values on issues such as sustainability and ethics.
  • Work-life balance – Perhaps better termed as “work-life integration” these days, the traditional concepts of one job and commuting to an office 5-days per week 9-to-5 have been turned on their heads. Firstly by the explosion of the gig economy and secondly by the forced shift to WFH due to the pandemic. People want the flexibility to work multiple jobs, where they choose and when they choose.

With so much going on in the minds of people that will fundamentally affect their employers, the conversation is moving beyond the CHRO and into the Executive Board room. Where people were once an asset to be allocated to the productivity goals of a company, that productivity is now reliant on the engagement of employees with the company’s purpose, culture and behaviour. Here are a few ideas I’ve seen used effectively in HR businesses, and that CEOs and their management teams could apply at a strategic level as they navigate these changing times.

  • Experiential listening – This lies beyond audible listening. It is learning to understand the feelings and sentiments of employees in their workplace experiences, and identifying the moments that matter to them. People are wired very differently. Two people in the same role will experience workplace events differently, will have different moments that matter and will view rewards differently. Fortunately, experiential measurement technology exists today to permit businesses to capture the moments that matter to their employees in real time, and by identifying cohort trends in that data, they can develop consistency in the positive experiences of their people.
  •  Understanding the factors that contribute to mental wellbeing – Loyalty in the traditional sense of employee retention versus attrition as a metric for success is less important than the concept of engaging people with meaningful work and offering them opportunities for growth, both professionally and personally. The guard rails for work have moved. A company’s purpose and culture is more important to today’s employees than its compensation and benefits. So too, being open to changing employee expectations for flexibility, such as permitting them to work in multiple roles, could well make the difference between them staying or quitting on the spot.
  • Implementing personalisation to the people dimension – An example could work well here. Two people with the same role will traditionally be compensated identically. However, their mindsets will most likely be different, so one may want a bonus, while the other would prefer extra vacation time. Managing these needs at scale has always been a complex task, but now experiential HR platforms allow a business to capture employee sentiments at scale and in detail, thus permitting the type of personalisation in people management which, until now, has been virtually impossible.

People transformation is possibly a misnomer. Employee mindsets have already changed and they base their employer decisions on different paradigms to those in even the recent past. Purpose, culture and employee engagement are becoming as fundamental to corporate strategic thinking as are productivity and profit. If not more so. In these changing times, without the former, the latter is likely to suffer.