Digital and the consumerization of the workplace

If I had to explain digital transformation in two words so anyone could get it without twisting oneself in knots I would say : simplification and consumérization.

I have already written a lot about the first so, today, I’ll focus on the second.

Consumerization has been a very popular word between 2005 and 2010 but is less used today. It was used to explain that employees wanted to be able to use at work tools that are as powerful and easy to use that the ones they had at home. The message was understood and even if there’s still a long way to go we must admit that enterprise software is heading in the right direction.

Thinking that consumerization was about technology only was a mistake

So we stopped talking about consumerization, thinking that what had to done was done. And it was a mistake. The consumerization of the workplace goes far beyond technology and in the age of digital transformation that’s all the non-technological part that has be taken into account.

When I say consumerization, I mean :

1°) Technology

I already mentioned it but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re far from the goal.

First because the digital workplace itself and, most of all, what relates to intranet/collaboration/communication is still far from being customer-grade in terms of experience, that it’s rarely designed for mobile and that many employees are still left aside while having real needs.

Being mission critical does not mean being experience breaking

Second because it’s even worse when it comes to business applications. ERP, HRIS… the experience is often a nightmare for the business user (HR, Finance etc) and even worse for their clients (the employees). It’s time to kill the belief that the most an application is business critical and “serious” the more it has to have a crappy interface, provide a terrible experience and made employee’s life complicated. Look at all the online platforms providing similar services for customers : none reaches the same level of complicatedness and non-experience as enterprise applications.

Still not convinced ? That’s two years that IBM and Apple started a partnership to bring this customer-grade experience to enterprise applications. In may, Apple and SAP announced a similar deal. Don’t you see something coming ?

If ecommerce websites were deigned like enterprise applications I’m not sure people would buy anything online.

2°) The physical workplace

The work environment is not digital only. It’s also – and mainly – physical.

Don’t be surprised by high rates of absenteism, to see employees reluctantly coming to work and leave exactly when the bell rings when their workplace is neither pleasant nor functional.

Let’s ask yourself just one question : if they had to pay to rent the workplace would they pay or look for another place ?

The work space is a tool supposed to serve employees, not a constraint they have to deal with. Once again a matter of engagement and productivity.

If some shops where designed like offices I think that some businesses would not have a lot of customers.

4°) Business and administrative processes

I mentioned business applications earlier but before dealing with applications, let’s have a look at the processes they support. All internal, administrative, HR, Financial processes have been designed in the denial of their end customer.

Processes are designed for the wrong people

Whether it be about applying for internal mobility, submit an expense, sign up for vacation days, ask for an approval etc…there is the people running the service (support function) and the client of the service (the employee). Everything has been done to make things easy for those running the service but not for the client who want it to work fast and well. That does not mean that processes and control should be removed (even if…) but that they must be designed for simplicity, visibility, speed.

Internal services and processes are not design to serve their clients

The goal must be to better serve the internal client, make the work of support functions easier and protect the organization at the same time. Today most systems only meet one of the threes at best when they’re not totally counterproductive.

Ask yourself the question : is this service was provided to a customer would they be ok to pay for it ? If not, then you know there is a problem.

The price to pay : slowness, frustration, disengagement.

4°) Employee relationship and its lifecycle

I recently wrote that recruitment was about candidate experience and marketing. In this case consumerization translates into the use of the same practices and tools towards employees than those having been used for years towards customers. It’s about candidate understanding and experience. A candidate is a market of one who wants to be recognized for what makes him unique and wants an end-to-end seamless experience all along the process.

But things do not stop there. Either the candidate is hired or he joins a “nurturing cycle” to maintain the relationship. The hired ones joins an “employee cycle” that should should be consistent with the candidate experience and mean no rupture. Ideally there should also be an alumni cycle, which is underestimated by most businesses.

The Employee : A Market of One

During the employee cycle, the individual is still a market of one, expecting an personalized and individualized relationship. Many things can be done provided one has the right data and makes a good use of it : career management, engagement measurement, attrition prediction etc. The goal for the company is to offer an individualized service-based relationship to the employee.

The consumerization of employee relationship means also to let employees have their word to say regarding to their career path and co-manage it with HR. Internal mobility must become an internal marketplace for talents.

The relationship with employees must not be a constraint for the latter but a service that puts him in the best environment to do is job, progress and develop over time. Some people think negatively about employees behaving as customers but I rather see that as mutually beneficial engagement. Performance, people development and employability benefit to both the employee and the company.

5°) Collaboration

Digital = customer experience = seamless journey between touchpoints = collaboration across silos. Collaboration has never been so important, what does not mean it’s more likely to happen.

I’ll also add that a good employee experience, being able to rely on others’ competences rather than being left to one’s own devices matters a lot.

It relates to two things. The first is to be able to mobilize internally as easily as we mobilize externally. The second is the idea that each employee is the client of others and that client/supplier roles switch depending on the need. Very close to the service oriented organization I talked about a few years ago.

6°) Management

I won’t elaborate much since it’s been a recurring theme on this blog from the beginning but if we want collaboration to work there must be a shift in management. More empowerment, facilitation and focus on personal improvement. In short : servant leadership.

7°) Internal communication

Businesses have a lot to learn from their experience with their clients. The days of “interruption communication” which had value for the issuer (I reach as many people as possible and I speak loud) and not for the receiver are over. Employees don’t have time so their time should be used wisely. In other words, if internal communication is about stealing their available brain time managers are angry and employees in trouble.

Stop stealing employee’s available brain time

I won’t reuse the current buzzwords such as the need for communication to become experiential but it should become at least a service. A message without any value for the employee should not be issued or should be rewritten in a different way.

Formats matter too. A good message for the customer is engaging and easy to consume while messages to employees are designed to be boring. Internal communications is the occasion for employees to buy a little bit more of the company, what they do with a currency called engagent. And if they don’t…

8°) Learning and development

Who says personalized career path says personalized L&D. Plus, the context is constantly evolving : at the pace matters emerge and die, people lack time and only remind what is immediately useful.

In the same way that internauts/clients get informed and learn as they need, looking for the right person at the right moment, a large part of enterprise learning will happen out of classrooms and scheduled collective sessions. L&D must adapt to the need of speed and granularity, accept that the best knowledgeable trainer is not always a professional one.

Even if purists may dislike it, a lot can be learned from what marketing does with data to personalize journeys and experiences. Some are more responsive to text, others to videos, to quizz, A/B testing helps to improve formats and journeys, the adaptive funnel must become the new normal in the learning journey

“On demand”, more engaging, granular, gamified, collaborative, personalized… learning has already started its transformation, at least in words. But the road is still very long and there’s a lot to do for L&D to become customer-grade.

9°) Employer branding

In a consumerized organization, employer branding follows the rules of the customer world too. Businesses need to adapt to a new world where employer brand is not a matter of communication but of shared experiences. As on the customer side, a brand is not what it says it is but what those who tried it say it is, the difference between the promise and the execution.

So it’s all about employee experience.

10°) Change management

No business can say that change is not a matter. It’s sad to see what is done to make customers buy a product or a service, a vision, and the way they sell change internally. In some ways employees must now be seen as customers.

An internal project has a value proposition and is bought with engagement

Customers buy with money, employees buy with engagement. I can’t remind how many conversations I had about major change projects that were going nowhere and where no one can answer this question : “what’s the value proposition for your employee ?”.

But sometimes I saw, with surprise, businesses starting with employee understanding, working on a true value proposition and marketing their project in a smart way, making it an experience and even forget the rules of change management “as it’s been done for decades”. Guess what ? It works. An internal project must start with employee understanding, aligns value for the enterprise and for the employee, has a brand, a value proposition and is sold to employees in and engagement and experience based approach.

I have certainly forgotten a couple of things but one things is sure : as the boundary between the inside and the outside is blurring, employee’s expectations are evolving. So businesses will have to bring inside what people love to have outside.

As a matter of fact, people never had so many tools and services to improve their experience while what they found in the workplace is the strict opposite. The time when we can find at work what we could not have at home is over and this growing gap has consequences :

• For employees that are not in the best context to get their job done, develop, get engaged

• for the customer who is served by people who are not provided with all they need to deliver the promise

• for the company who sees customers and employees slowly moving away.

Image Credit: consumer by T. L. Furrer via shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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