How to Maximize Workforce Performance: What’s Changing in the World Today?

0317_IBMWe live in a time of tremendous change in the way work is done. Constant change – and constant reinvention to keep up with it – has become a way of life, both in the workplace and in the way we work. Three major shifts are driving this: employees expect more from their employers, employers need more from their employees, and new technologies offer greater possibilities for all – from cloud to social, mobile and analytics, and now, the move to digital transformation and cognitive computing.

While technological advances have undeniably played a huge role in this transformation, the human aspects are equally significant. Social technologies and access to data have driven a revolution in the way individuals acquire knowledge, communicate, make decisions and view work and the workplace. More than ever before, enterprises are able to gather data and glean insights that help optimize the employee life cycle and maximize their employees’ skills to drive the business.

For employees today, it’s all about the experience – it needs to be personal, engaging and authentic. They expect the same kind of personalized experience at work that they have elsewhere, with systems tailored to their individual needs, and seamlessness between work and life outside work. This expectation has transformed the way we approach marketing, the way we approach recruitment, and the way we think about the employee experience.

Just like consumers expect personalization of service, product, and experience and the ability to tap into all this using a (usually mobile) device of their choice, job candidates today are unwilling to engage with dated recruitment strategies. They prefer companies that are able to conduct a dialog with them and offer a hiring and employee experience that looks at their needs and aspirations in addition to their skills. And employees expect their voices to be heard and their needs addressed with the same frequency, depth and speed as they receive as customers outside of work.

For companies, employees will make or break success. To drive performance and productivity, organizations need to hire for best fit and enhance the employee experience at work, creating an environment in which employees grow and their contributions are recognized. An engaged employee is more productive, effective and invested in the organization’s success, driving innovation and profitability.

Knowing what employees want and building an engaged workforce is made easier by social platforms that capture, analyze and reveal potential workforce issues and hidden opportunities. While employees are likely to be fairly vocal about topics that matter to them, organizations cannot be passive participants. Active solicitation, engagement and analysis of ongoing conversations with past, present and even future employees can help leaders achieve more. Listening and acting upon the collective “employee voice” help to identify innovations, prevent discord and improve productivity, as well as build a better connection to the organization and its mission.

Linked closely to the changing employee/employer relationship is the third shift – huge advances in technology – which has created some macro trends:

  1. Everything needs to be mobile friendly, delivered via mobile. Increasingly, people look for mobile-friendly content they can access on the go. But the ramifications of this trend go beyond communications, even affecting how companies recruit. As an example, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute research has shown that mobile job search is much more popular among high-potential employees. Organizations offering mobile recruiting are seen as more attractive particularly among high potentials, and high potentials are more likely to use mobile devices for job search in the future.
  2. Social technology expansion continues to enable workers to share knowledge; build expertise, their personal eminence and networks; and collaborate, while also expressing opinions and expecting positive action on issues they feel strongly about. Water cooler conversations and intense collaboration are no longer dependent on chance or face-to-face meetings – social technologies create those opportunities entirely virtually.
  3. Cloud has reinvented the way businesses work, accelerating change and delivering agility and flexibility. Access to big data and analytics has transformed decision making for business leaders and the HR function is now fully embracing this opportunity. In fact, combining analytics with HR’s expertise in human behavioral science is now generating insights that inform decision-making and give HR more strategic value than ever before.

Even more fundamental than cloud, social and mobile developments is the profound impact technology is having more broadly on businesses and industries. We are seeing huge disruptions in the marketplace with the emergence of new business models and companies like Uber and Airbnb, which have become the poster children to the next generation. You see it in the lifespan of Fortune 500 companies; purported to be just 15 years if they don’t reinvent themselves, keep pace with change, and transform what they’re doing.

Given the scale and pace of technological developments to date, it’s natural to wonder what’s next. The answer is cognitive computing. The unique capabilities of cognitive systems can help meet the challenges of today’s workforce, benefiting both the organization and its employees by enhancing the employee experience, expanding expertise, helping reduce operational costs and enabling the discovery of new workforce insights that will improve decision making. And it is cognitive systems that will enable us to keep up with the change we are experiencing in this increasingly complex world.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Workflow.

A technology veteran with more than 30 years of experience creating, building, and running businesses for leading Silicon Valley companies, Robert Schultz is general manager of IBM Talent Management Solutions. Schultz is responsible for the strategy, product development, consulting, cloud delivery, and customer service for all of IBM Talent Management solutions.