We recently met in Paris with a great group of Regional and Global HR leaders for our latest Paris HR Leadership roundtables, hosted firstly by SAP to discuss Embedding a Digital Culture and Enhancing the Employee Experience and the following day at Sanofi to talk about Innovations around Competency and Capability Development. Although the sessions covered different topics, many organisations admitted to facing similar challenges around transformations in HR digitalisation, even if the companies present varied in both size and industry. Many were in various stages of introducing new, or integrating existing, HR software platforms, and employee perception was a high priority for the HR leaders present.

Building a high-performance culture is a constant challenge and everyone agreed that creating regular dialogue was critical. At our SAP session, we talked about the challenge of how to improve the user (employee) experience whilst also being able to leverage data to build out a more intuitive HR roadmap for the future. The role of technology is no longer used just to streamline processes, but also to develop and support a positive employee experience, and HR needs to be able to leverage this to maintain a strong link to talent within the organisation. Several companies are focusing on the importance of career development and preparing talent for the future, not just rating performance, and this was raised again during our session at Sanofi the following day. In the wake of many organisations changing or eliminating performance rating systems, the key is to also change the culture and perceptions on what these changes mean—without clear internal messaging, employees may not understand how they will be affected, and managers are nervous on how to motivate and manage expectations within their teams.

One Global HR Integration Leader of a large manufacturing multinational said that given they had invested heavily in the digital experience for their business customers, it only made sense to do the same for their employees. Leaning on Richard Branson’s philosophy of putting employees first and focusing on the company culture, those employees will then take care of the clients and ensure growth as a result.

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Another EMEA HR leader from the medical industry questioned whether “digital” is really more of an internal marketing ploy, packaging digital as “better” but really meaning “cheaper.” He raised an interesting point and suggested that cost is often brought to the table as an argument around the ROI for any HR technology. He challenged that instead of being pushed by the organisation to find ways to do the same for less, perhaps companies should focus on how to do more with the same.

Another key point raised was that new technology is all well and good, but are organisations optimising it as much as possible or is it still very heavy on the admin side? Employees are only likely to embrace new HR technology if it is seen as useful and time-saving. It was also highlighted that employees don’t have huge amounts of time to invest in learning new systems, so if we are constantly changing the technology, this can bring frustrations from all sides in having to train people to be able to use it. Some companies are finding that if you can show a link between these services and career development or an automation of the admin, the uptake of new HR tech will be greater, and this will ultimately impact retention.

At Sanofi, the discussions were focused on developing Competency and Capability of talent, and interestingly, how to prepare people and ensure they are employable in the future was also explored. One forward-thinking FMCG multinational has begun a trial program of coaching and personal development in order to foster an environment of well-being, engagement and growth from both sides. Our hosts spoke about their “Employability” program that looks at having 2-way conversations with employees on how to develop their capabilities and move from a traditional approach of developing expertise only to developing broader business acumen, to one that also looked at encouraging employees to develop their own personal passions, and the discussion turned to the Learning & training technology that accompanied this development. We have covered some of these innovations in previous articles and podcasts, but certainly gamification, mobile accessible and even virtual reality learning programs are becoming more mainstream.

We all talk about technology and innovation; however, it’s clear we need to remember the basics—there is little value to be gained from implementing costly new technology systems to support a new strategic HR direction if organisations don’t ensure that day-to-day operational elements also work to enhance the employee experience. The question that came up repeatedly was around whether organisations are conveying the right message on these new innovations and the increased value-add for employees in using them. HR should support and improve rather than slow or block various processes. Whatever the innovation, whether technology or strategy shifts, one message was clear: these transformations can only be truly successful if the leadership teams are equally involved and engaged in the changes, and the most effective way for this to happen is with HR as a true business partner with a seat at the leadership table.