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Enough About Employee 'Engagement'! Focus on the Digital Employee 'Experience' Instead. The good news is the big assist you can get from the increasing digitization of H.R.

By Steffen Maier Edited by Frances Dodds

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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While employee engagement has long been a buzz phrase for companies, recently employee experience has become the new, trending focus. Think: a holistic approach that covers engagement, culture, performance management and career ownership, all rolled into one.

Related: How can HR Facilitate Fun at Work?

So, forget "employee engagement" for the moment: As we move toward a people-first approach, we need to realize that such an approach is more and more crucial for companies striving to make the employee "experience" their focal point.

At the same time, the growing digitization of HR can apply to this contemporary concept of employee experience. Think about the increasing number of people on mobile phones (68 percent worldwide, according to We Are Social), and the growth of tools like Slack (the company claims 8 million daily active users). With these elements redefining the way people work, HR can become more agile, to provide a seamless experience.

As Mark van Assema, the Netherlands-based founder of the HRTech Review, asserted, "Consumer-facing tech has also reached HR. This finally gives HR the opportunity to facilitate employee development and really add value to the employee, not only to managers or HR itself."

The digital employee experience

"Digital employee experience" refers to the sum total of digital interactions between a staff member and his or her organization. The goal is, or should be, to create a physical and digital environment that inspires connection and collaboration, using a thoughtfully designed approach to make people feel supported throughout their day.

Related: How Amazon Aligns Employee Experience and Business Results

HR plays a big role here. It's evolved into a primary resource for improving the digital employee experience through the ways in which it's rethinking moments in the employee journey that might discourage engagement,

This thinking is becoming widespread. "Using HR technology is becoming as simple as using consumer apps on your smartphone," Van Assema wrote. "[A] focus on the employee himself, not HR or the company, [is] an experience that doesn't require manuals," he advised. The goal, he said, should be a look and feel to HR "that makes [theemployee] feel appreciated."

Of course, not all companies are doing this, as yet: According to the latest Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, only 31 percent of HR managers polled said they felt that their organizations were prepared to develop a strategy to implement new technologies.

And, while HR is certainly capable of designing a well-considered journey and delivering digital-first experiences, research by Personnel Today found that only 20 percent of HR managers it surveyed thought their current people systems were ready for the current workforce.

Still, if transformation is necessary and the time is ripe, what's holding us back? One reason may be that identifying and implementing the right technologies is easier said than done; it's difficult to know where to start and what to look for.

One starting point might be the following three steps in the employee journey, and examples of how those experiences could be enhanced through digital technology. (One important benefit here: Improving the experience for the end user can make life a lot easier for HR managers.)

1. Recruitment

Anyone who has searched for a job knows the hunt can be a long, painful process, often drawing few if any responses. Even for a manager "engaged" in the process, communication might be spotty. And that's not good because for candidates, spotty communication results in a poor impression of a company, not to mention the lower likelihood of their accepting an offer.

Where digital tech comes in: Recruitee has helped to simplify the recruitment experience for employers, making it more user friendly for candidates. In a few simple steps, companies can customize their employer-branding, work with templates, gain insights on analytics and overall have more time to spend creating meaningful interactions with candidates.

2. Onboarding

Where digital tech comes in: IBM has found a clever way to harness technology for its new hires' optimal experience. Future employees are directed to learning portals and to virtual chat rooms to get to know one other beforehand. They also have the ability to interact with someone who already works for the company. IBM, meanwhile, is working to improve the content it can deliver to new hires by studying candidates' interactions through the process.

Such data analysis constitutes a simple and effective way to enhance the value HR is providing, while ensuring a seamless employee experience.

3. Career progression

Bynder uses my company's, Impraise's, software, to support career growth and development following the onboarding phase. These new hires are then encouraged to set quarterly goals they share with their managers that can be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

The platform also facilitates leadership reviews and real-time feedback. Overall, Bynder is encouraging and developing a culture of learning within its organization, supported by technology. And its use of technology is just one part of the overall experience. Bynder has to carefully consider the questions it asks and how it uses the resulting data to improve its employee experience and support career development.

Where digital tech comes in: Career progression assistance requires a mindset that goes beyond purchasing human resources management system software just for the sake of being "digital"; the goal should be to transform HR thinking to focus on people first.

4. Implementing HR tech to encourage high adoption and minimal disruption

Knowing which stage of the employee journey you want to digitize is the first step, but adopting a new platform or changing systems can be daunting. These require buy-in from the top levels of an organization, plus onboarding and widespread adoption, to be successful. This can be nerve-wracking!

Here Van Assema has advised: "Just as in consumer tech, like social media, it works best to focus on early adopters -- the tech-savvy employees -- and make sure [your] HR tech really works for the process it is intended to support. Once it works for that select group, you can put them on the stage to lead by example."

At our company, we have witnessed the same thing with our own customers. We recommend starting out with a small test group to make the transition easier because:

  • Early adopters will be keen and can help spread the word to their colleagues.
  • When the time comes to roll out digitization of a process on a larger scale, early adopters become its champions, teaching colleagues and advocating for the technology.
  • A company implementing HR tech can learn valuable lessons on how people interact with the technology, enabling it to determine the most logical next steps

Still not sure? As Lara Plaxton, head of HR at FDM Group in the U.K., has said: "Don't panic or rush into something. Take the time to change your own mindset first, and then other people's."

Related: Why We Replaced (In)Human Resources with 'Employee Experience'

Van Assema has echoed this thought: "A mind shift within HR is a first requirement to be able to focus on job satisfaction," he's written. "The role of HR should shift from management support to employee engagement. Attractive HR tech may support this shift, but without that mind shift, even the best HR tech will not be accepted."

The numbers are there to support this move: 83 percent percent of leaders surveyed by Accenture agreed that HR can improve employee performance, by enabling and coaching employees to take on HR capabilities. In short, the responsibility cannot be incumbent only on HR.

So, are you ready to be a pioneer within your company?

Steffen Maier

Co-founder of Impraise

Steffen Maier is the co-founder of Impraise: The People Enablement Platform.

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