Platforms, and the future of HR: 3 principles to consider

Platforms, and the future of HR: 3 principles to consider

Posted by Michael Gretczko on June 6, 2017.

Fifteen years ago, when employees just felt lucky to have jobs, HR could operate on a “take it or leave it” basis. Now, with the U.S.’s transitory, demanding workforce, the balance of power has shifted. Attracting talent is difficult, and retaining top people is even harder. Workers have become “employee consumers” able to pick their workplaces like clothing off a department store rack. To effectively attract and retain employees, HR needs to adapt to their consumerist tendencies.

Toward that end, HR departments should create platforms that resemble those of the most successful technology companies. Indeed, the HR department of the future will likely have more in common with a ridesharing service or social networking company than, say, a drycleaner with a rigid service list.

Here, I’ll unpack the term “platform,” explain how it consumerizes a workplace, and discuss how you might go about designing your own.

Defining a Platform
Until recently, a “platform” was something people stood on. Now, every tech startup under the sun claims to offer a “platform,” so the meaning has become muddled. For our purposes, a platform is a system that creates value by facilitating relationships between consumers and producers. Whereas a marketplace allows anyone to sell anything, as long as participants follow the rules, platforms take responsibility for the quality and type of products or services exchanged.

Consider ridesharing apps: passengers are consumers and drivers are producers. Producers choose where to work, what car to use, and what hours to drive. However, they must offer rides from point A to B. Drivers cannot market scenic tourism drives through the app. The ridesharing companies collect and analyze a plethora of data from drivers and consumers in an effort to create greater value (profits, time-savings, speed of service, etc.) for each party.

Swap consumers and producers with workers and managers, and you can see how HR might approach a platform. Like a ridesharing service, an HR platform has to serve people with different needs and goals. For example, a VP of Engineering might need different performance management tools than a VP of Finance. The old HR way was to say, “Here’s what we have. Make do.” The new way is to think, “How can we facilitate better relationships between our managers and their teams? What programs and solutions could we provide?”

Coercion Versus Choice
Imagine that an e-commerce site started forcing you to buy paper towels every time you visited. Why would you continue shopping there? Today, forcing employees to take one health plan or pigeonholing managers into one performance management app is analogous. Coercion tends to scare away talent. Choice, on the other hand, attracts the employee consumer.

To illustrate, let’s return to our Engineering and Finance VPs. The old service model of HR says to find one performance management app for every department to use. The platform model recognizes that the VPs in each department manage their teams differently. The VP of Engineering has team members who write and deploy code multiple times weekly. She needs to give prompt, continuous feedback. Otherwise, development projects will derail quickly. The Finance VP manages toward longer-term objectives. Constant feedback would distract his team, so the traditional quarterly review cycle is a better fit for him.

Why shouldn’t each VP pick the performance management tools suited to the goals and habits of each team? Why would talented managers stay with a company that coerces them into using the wrong management strategy? How likely are employees to enjoy working at a company where a bitter manager runs a performance management approach he or she fundamentally dislikes? Choice gives a transitory workforce good reasons to stick around.

Your Platform Strategy
Creating an HR platform for a global business is no small feat. You need principles for imagining, planning, and executing an effective platform. Consider these three principles as a starting point:

  1. Design thinking. Great designers strive to hide complexity behind simplicity and ease. A search engine, for instance, relies on a sophisticated algorithm, but the experience of entering words and scrolling through results is simple. Hold your HR platform to the same standards of design thinking you’d expect from a hot tech company.
  2. Customer Personas. Marketers segment potential buyers into personas, and HR should do the same. The VP of Engineering and VP of Finance from our earlier example each fit in different personas. Employees at headquarters versus workers at retail shops also belong to separate groups. Job role, rank, age, location, culture, and work habits all shape personas. Different regulations and compliance requirements in each country call for different approaches as well. The act of creating personas deepens your understanding of the workforce and leads to individualized HR offerings.
  3. Journey Maps. Identity changes with time, and journey maps recognize when. Specifically, the journey map diagrams all the steps individuals will take during their time with your organization. It could include recruiting, placement, onboarding, performance reviews, promotions, separation, alumni status, and much more. The journey map shows what moments matter so that HR can design and deliver programs that produce a quality experience at each stage.

The point of consumerizing HR is to attract, develop, and retain the best talent available. To be able to do that, HR leaders should adopt a platform model that minimizes coercion and maximizes choices. Design thinking, customer personas, and journey maps can guide you towards a platform that is on par with the best consumer apps.

The balance of power in U.S. organizations will favor employees for the foreseeable future. Consumerism will help give your company a competitive edge in a brutal talent market.

This article originally appeared on HR.com, HR Strategy and Planning Excellence, April 25, 2017.

Michael Gretczko is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the practice leader for Digital HR & Innovation. He collaborates with large, complex, global clients to identify and bring to market innovative products and solutions that deliver on their business needs.

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