Last updated: To put employees first, practice what you preach

To put employees first, practice what you preach


“Practice what you preach.”

Advice often heard, but much more difficult sometimes to follow – and advice very relevant to HR professionals today.

My first HR job was in a candy factory, supporting operations for a heavily unionized workforce staffed by immigrants from Bosnia. I was new to the role and terribly optimistic, with so many ideas about what HR could be and how it could help employees thrive.

For many years I thought I may have been naïve – but as it turns out, I was just ahead of my time.

After years of focus on HCM and maximizing the workforce, the pendulum is finally shifting back to where the focus should be: the employees.

By focusing on human experience management (HXM), businesses are putting people at the center of the employee experience – and they’re beginning to practice what they preach.

Practice what you preach: HR must evolve

“Companies realize that it’s time to transition to the next evolution of work,” says Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group and author of HR Bartender.

“Businesses talk about it all the time, how talent is a key differentiator.

But now we’re being forced to put it into practice.

Even in a pandemic, people are still competing for the best talent – the employees that will help the business meet its goals.”

Executives are more cognizant of the “2020-ness” of everything we’re going through, using the events of this year to make meaningful changes.

“Some companies are stepping up to meet the moments we’re facing right now,” agrees Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify and cofounder of HR Open Source.

“Whether that’s flexible hours to accommodate work from home, employee resource groups to bring people together to discuss what’s working and what’s not, or making Election Day a paid day off during a turbulent political year.

These are adaptations to the times that we’re in now.”

Conversations about racial equality are becoming increasingly common, with a growing recognition that people of color may not have the same employee experience as their colleagues. “I’m seeing more dialog around the full employee experience,” says Minda Harts, Founder and CEO of The Memo, LLC, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU.

“As a woman of color, I know that the workplace is not equal for all.

More companies are leaning into their empathy and having hard conversations that we haven’t had before.”

I was honored to speak with these experts as part of our LinkedIn Live series, The Rise of HXM, in collaboration with SAP.

Practice what you preach:

30 minutes. Countless insights and ideas on how to evolve your HR. Watch it HERE.

To evolve, HR leaders must: 

  1. Rethink how they approach the employee experience and HR
  2. Remember that even within the same organizations, perspectives and realities can be very different
  3. Discover technologies to make employee feedback, onboarding, and recruiting more in line with modern times

Empathy is the 2020 buzzword, action is what’s needed: Enter HXM

In the trenches of HR, I’ve talked to many C-level execs who’ve found the last six months of working from home an eye-opening experience. They’re realizing the everyday challenges many employees face when trying to juggle work, family, and the stresses of both.

“We don’t spend enough time as HR professionals helping our employees understand the best conditions and tools they need to be productive,” says Lauby. “And we need to understand that this isn’t just a wish list – it’s what they need to be successful.”

The old rigid HR playbook is no more.

“HR has been good at constructing the rules of employment,” explains Schmidt. “But things are upside down now.

By leading with empathy, we can see that all employees are going through things at their own pace, based on individual circumstances. Using an HXM approach, we can create HR constructs that are adaptive and framework-based. It’s a mindset shift for certain practitioners.”

Companies must build employee trust in HR

For me, empathy and humility are two sides of the same coin. You can’t be empathetic without admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know. We have to be willing to go to the workforce and be willing to ask, “What do you need?”

Harts points out that employee trust of HR is essential to receiving useful input. “A lot of people don’t trust HR to have empathy,” she says.

“If people don’t feel like they’re in a psychologically safe place to tell you what they need, they’ll never do it. They may not feel comfortable or have the words to articulate what a good workplace situation looks like. We have to humanize each other’s experience to build trust and loyalty.”

Viewers of our LinkedIn Live series confirm that examples of empathy can help us move forward.

“To see live examples of the value of empathy in the workplace, I tell people to look no further than the series ‘Undercover Boss,” offers Elena Valentine, CEO of Skill Scout. “The series follows the trials, tribulations, and funny foibles of high-profile executives who disguise themselves as regular employees. The journey is obviously made for TV. But, the valuable lesson of empathy in the workplace is real.”

Nudge-based technology can help you practice what you preach

Technology can help businesses put people first –  to drive effective recruitment, faster onboarding, personalized learning and development, and more.

What’s unique about putting technology to work for HXM is that the sole focus is on designing for the end user.

In other words, creating experiences that allow candidates, new hires, recruiters, employees, managers, and HR leaders to do things more quickly and easily so they can be more productive.

This includes helping employees and managers take advantage of artificial intelligence-based chatbots and machine learning-based recommendations to provide suggestions, insights, and nudges that guide decisions and actions – helping ensure personalized experiences.

Put yourself in employees’ shoes

I’m a big believer in self-leadership as a way for HR practitioners to really practice what they preach. Harts agrees that each of us can be a leader in the organization, regardless of title.

“It’s up to everyone to make the workplace better,” she says. “Especially now, when all of the old rules are changing. If you have thoughts on creating a workplace that works for everyone, chime in.”

Another viewer of our LinkedIn Live series reminds us that change can be driven from the top.

“What is important is how boards and C-level leaders are defining the purpose of an organization,” says Nestor Marquez, executive partner and founder of FU2RX.

“If the purpose or the organization is still perceived as just making profits – like Milton Friedman said in the 1970s – we are in trouble.
If leaders embrace the concept of a triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet, then we will truly have a more creative and valuable approach to HXM.”

Perhaps the most basic take on putting people at the center of the employee experience involves seeing things from the employee perspective.

Re-think what’s possible.
It’s all a click away.

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