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Employee Experience and Corporate Purpose at SHRM 2019

By July 30, 2019

After four days at SHRM, it became clear that HR leaders have a lot on their plates. In addition to traditional day-to-day functions such as payroll, benefits, hiring and talent retention, HR professionals have to manage up to five generations within one workplace, adopt new and ever-changing technology, and keep their employees motivated. They also need to train tomorrow’s leaders and design performance management systems that drive tangible outcomes for the business — all while creating and maintaining healthy corporate cultures. Where do you even start?

At the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference in Las Vegas in June, we got a first-hand look at the difficult task HR leaders have of reconciling intrinsically human-oriented functions with the need for hard metrics, clear dashboards, and objective business results. They must translate emotions into culture, and culture into revenue. Add to this the fact that 10% of SHRM attendees were the sole members of their one-person HR departments, and it’s clear to see how difficult this job is.

Let’s start by discussing how vulnerability and courage could very well make the difference between organizations that will be successful and those that will have failed. Courageous leaders are needed more than ever.

A mentoring session hosted at Salesforce

A mentoring session hosted at Salesforce

HR’s Job Is to Grow Courageous Leaders

According to Brené Brown, researcher, author, and speaker whose viral video on vulnerability is among the five most-watched TED talks in the world, fewer than 10% of organizations translate their values into observable and measurable behaviors. She continues by saying that it’s better not to have values than to have values that are not operationalized into behaviors. Dr. Brown explained at SHRM: “The main difference between organizations that will thrive within the next five years and those that will fail is their ability to grow courageous leaders.”

The good news is that courage is teachable, observable, and measurable: “Leadership is about having all the right questions, not all the right answers,” Dr. Brown said. If a company can have strong values and translate them into behaviors, it will allow leaders to be strong during tough conversations. It will remind them of why they’re there. HR has a critical role to play to ensure organizations have the right soil to grow courageous leaders.

A presentation at Salesforce

A presentation at Salesforce

Objective and Simple Reporting Changes Everything

“Are we winning or are we losing?”

In many cases, HR leaders are not able to bring a clear, holistic, and objective answer to that question, because some functions within HR are not easily quantifiable or measurable. Some employees are engaged and others are not, which can lead to engaged employees questioning their level of commitment. That’s why managers must absolutely keep each of their team members accountable – an ongoing effort that requires courage and diligence. Managers worry about hurting their team members’ feelings – particularly the feelings of those who under-perform. However, what they should really worry about is burning out their top performers who carry an unfair percentage of the workload. “An engaged culture begins when we stop worrying about what people feel and worry about what people do,” explains Shane T. Yount, Principal and Author at Competitive Solutions.

Accountability is achieved by setting clear metrics set at the outset of a working relationship and staying on top of those metrics. This is one way to solve for both unfair workloads and inconsistent engagement. Some companies go so far as to share the metrics that matter to the business on Day 1 as part of their onboarding process. A Canadian fertilizer company, for example, uses the list of its 15 most important metrics as its Monday meeting agenda. There are no orange metrics, only red or green. The red items become the agenda. This is a way to calibrate the system to prioritize action. Metrics have to be iterative and lead to action.

HR Processes are Evolving with AI

Will AI create or displace jobs? As Jeanne Meister, Partner at Future Workplace, explained, that’s not necessarily the right question.

Studies and results on the topic vary greatly. The World Economic Forum used to estimate that 800 million jobs would be displaced by AI. Gartner assessed that 1.8M jobs would be displaced and 2.3M jobs would be created as a result of AI. McKinsey stated that 30% of tasks in over 60% of jobs will be impacted by AI.

So the question is not so much how many jobs AI will displace, but rather what tasks will be delegated to AI. Any HR leader would be delighted to outsource their expense reports, meeting scheduling, candidate pre-screenings, routine emails, and onboarding to an AI-powered assistant. However, many HR leaders fear that AI will be “less human,” diminish trust in their department, and lead to disagreement among leadership due to a lack of buy-in.

A presentation slide about Hilton’s use of AI at SHRM 2019

A presentation slide about Hilton’s use of AI at SHRM 2019

Some of the most innovative companies in HR are already leveraging AI at scale. Hilton, for example, relies on Ally, a hiring bot, to speed up the hiring process by 85% and improve the candidate experience (and the brand). Ninety-four percent of candidates engaged with Ally Bot, and Hilton received an 80% Net Promoter Score for the recruiting process. Candidates felt that the bot was more objective than a human recruiter and had less bias. In fact, Ally led to an increase in the diversity of the talent pool. What is there not to love about AI when it enables more objectivity, diversity, and inclusion?

A one-on-one coaching session with Salesforce volunteers

A one-on-one coaching session with Salesforce volunteers

Purpose Is Good for Business

On the last day of the conference, Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS shoes, explained how he went from an idea during a trip to Argentina to giving away 90 million pairs of shoes to communities in need.

The biggest lesson he learned was that giving is really good for business. “When you put purpose at the center of your business, you turn your customers into evangelists,” he said. Because of TOMS’ purpose, the company was able to attract top talent, even when it was not able to pay them competitive salaries (e.g. TOMS’ CFO who came from Deloitte and had chosen to put purpose over paycheck).

While not every company can have a “buy one, give one” model, almost every company can live up to its values, and support its employees. What is your company doing?

Get more employee experience inspiration in this Volunteering Solution Brief.

What’s Next for HR

HR leaders have full plates. In the midst of social, cultural, generational, and technological changes, companies turn to HR to find, retain, and engage the best talent. To do so, HR leaders need to tie their initiatives to business outcomes, and think beyond profits by embedding purpose within employees’ day-to-day work. While culture might seem like an elusive thing, consistent actions, clear KPIs, and the commitment to translate values into behaviors are all tangible actions that HR leaders can take today.



About the Author
Cécile Poyet
Cécile Poyet
Cécile Poyet is dedicated to product marketing for Philanthropy Cloud. Prior to joining, she built and led the co-marketing machine for top ISV partners and resellers at She has 12 years of experience marketing innovative technology for large and small IT companies, including IBM and Hortonworks.