Businesses know their employees. Really ?


Let’s start from the beginning. Digital transformation is a matter of customer experience and this latter requires, among others, a deep customer understanding. We also know that there is no customer experience without employee experience and that, logically, this latter requires a deep employee understanding (along with the consumerization of work that means that business will apply internally approaches, practices and tools they’re already using with/for the customer).

Hence the question : were do we stand regarding to employee understanding ?

Employee understanding : a bureaucratic science so far

Yes, businesses know their employees. This is the answer you will get from them and it’s partly right.

They know their name, address and social security number.

They have some HR data, at least compensation and benefits. In large businesses skills are codified and listed, as well as the undergone trainings.

Line managers are also supposed to know their staff. But to what extent is it true and what do they leverage this knowledge for ? Some consider annual reviews as a burden, others leverage it as an employee experience and personal development means. Some check boxes because they have to, others understand how they can benefit from understanding why and how an employee made it until now and how to help him figure out his future and accompany him.

Business know their employees but from a bureaucratic standpoint. They collect information because they have to, without wondering what they could leverage it for. Knowledge is often the goal, not a means.

Of course some go further. Either because they have strong convictions and dedicated programs or because, locally, some managers get the power of employee understanding even if, in this last case, businesses can’t leverage it at scale.

We need a dynamic employee understanding

This state of the art inherited from the old times where HR were Personnel Department is obsolete in a modern HR department in the age of employee experience.

Let’s consider what’s happening on the customer side. We know (if we want to) what they did, how they did dit, what is his personality (and infer preferences and expectations) but, most of all, businesses are trying du understand why. With the why business decides actions to undertake today and tomorrow to stay in touch, accompany him and don’t leave the relationship in a state of status quoi.

One approach relates to development, the other to short term management of the current moment.

One focuses on the person as an individual, the other on the person as a bureaucratic object, as a number.

One mixes the person and its rôle (know the person to address the customer), the other separates the two sides (the person and the employee).

One is about a life-cycle, the other not (except sometimes for high potentials).

What’s funny is that when it comes to the customer, businesses are fighting to capture data they don’t natively own while on the employee side they’re sitting on a gold mine they’re not leveraging. I dont even mention that the touchpoints where data can be collected are much more numerous in the organization than outside : there a so many ways to learn about and from employees.

Knowing is not understanding

A lot is said about knowledge but that’s not the point. Marketing is close to understand it, HR is further. Knowing means having the information and using it to have a report of the current situation at a given moment. Understanding means knowing why and use it to act proactively through personalized programs.

We do business do with the data they already have about employees, not even mentioning those they can easily capture ?

• Do they proactively identify training needs ?

• Do they detect risks of attrition (and measure the related cost ?)

• Do they detect risks of burnout ?

• Do they anticipate career paths based on skills, expectations, interests (even if it makes many the certainties blow up)

• Do they form the best teams not by putting the best people together (which actually does not always means success) but by identifying people who complement one another in terms of skills and personality regarding to a given need ?

• Etc.

It’s not a matter of intuition, guts. It should be a rational process based on patterns and correlations drawn from facts and data.

The employee is a market of one

Businesses have understood for years that static segmentations and fixed journeys do not make sense anymore on the customer side. Customers are markets of one and want to be treated not based on what makes them similar to others but to what makes them unique.

It’s the same with employees.

Then it will be time to wonder about the future of HRIS and ask why no one ever had the idea of Employee Relationship Management.

Photo Credit: people understanding par sezer66 via Shutterstock

  • Benify_SE

    Very insightful report! My company, Benify, is a fast-growing HR tech leader helping companies around the world build a strong employer brand. Through its cloud based total compensation and benefits portal, Benify makes it Great at Work for 900,000+ employees worldwide, helping them see and appreciate the true value of their total reward. The result: increased engagement, higher satisfaction, easier recruitment. I invite you to visit our blog at or even better, come by our booth #310 at HR Tech in Paris. We are always looking to engage with thought leaders like yourself. Hope to see you there!