Clear the path: How to reduce friction and create a better employee experience

Learn how to remove friction by reducing obstacles and streamlining the HR process with the help of AI technologies.

Clear the path: How to reduce friction and create a better employee experience

Picture this: an HR department where each function works together like sections in an orchestra, each team playing their parts in perfect tempo, not missing a beat. Friction is a forgotten concept, and employees glide seamlessly through tasks. Employees savor the employee experience like the audience of a world-class philharmonic orchestra. 

It may seem like an idealistic goal, but what if I told you that kind of HR experience is closer and more realistic than you think?

While working in HR earlier in my career, I remember reading a Harvard Business Review article from 2012 that discussed the idea that HR was historically in place to do one of two things: create friction or create flow. These days, friction is becoming less of a strategy, and the world of HR has been evolving based primarily on trying to create flow — in both policies and processes. HR is now increasingly tasked with becoming a forward-thinking function that works to proactively remove the friction employees encounter while engaging with HR processes. 

Digital transformation has been helping HR leaders think through processes and experiences differently. In our personal lives, we have numerous apps with customized content, curated recommendations, virtual assistants, and guided experiences. That often isn’t the case when we go to work, and in some organizations it can create the feeling of stepping back in time when people start their workday. When I was with Gartner, we discussed this transformation occurring with employee experience, as trying to make people’s “9 to 5” feel more like their “5 to 9.”    

I recently discussed this shifting talent landscape with thought leaders Drew McLaughlin, VP Human Resources at Mattson Technology, Ahmad Noordin Senior Director, People Operations at HelloFresh, and Ekta Vyas, CHRO from Keck Medicine of USC. We focused on understanding how HR technology can empower HR practitioners to be catalysts for change to overcome silos, simplify processes, and ultimately, empower employees. From reassessing HR processes and implementing automation, to using feedback from employees and harnessing the power of AI and machine learning, we dove deep into the potential of HR technology to transform the employee experience. Here are several highlights from our discussion.

Related content: Watch our Cultivate session on “Gaining business buy in: Harnessing skills to future-proof the business and your people,” now on demand.

A unified employee experience

One thing became increasingly clear to me throughout our discussion — the urgent need for HR to create an employee experience that matches the convenience of our everyday lives. This forms the core of my philosophy around HR transformation.

Too often, HR has piecemeal automation. We automate fragments of HR processes due to historical limitations and budget constraints. Or we automate things in pilots or by division or location. This leads to what I call “islands of excellence and deserts of despair.” 

The current trend, and rightly so, is to overcome these gaps by converging automation efforts across different processes to create a more blended, unified employee experience. As talent professionals, we need to focus on the problem we’re trying to solve rather than getting attached to a particular tool or solution. Tools are the means to create a more intuitive, inclusive, and human-centric HR experience. By starting with the end in mind, we ensure we’re taking strategic steps to deliver a great employee experience. 

Using employee feedback

Now it’s more important than ever to consider employee feedback when evaluating new technology solutions. We must involve our employees from the beginning — not just during the testing phase, but also when identifying pain points and suggesting solutions. 

“It’s also about where we’re adding value to the employee experience or [where] employees are spending a tremendous amount of time wrestling with our technology,” McLaughlin said. “So, as they are experiencing our technology and giving us feedback, we’re moving beyond the complaints. They’re serving as a forcing function to drive us to the next phase.” 

HR leaders must establish dynamic and iterative feedback channels that reflect their employees’ evolving needs and challenges. This constant feedback loop is essential for meeting real needs in effective ways.

Clear the path: How to reduce friction and create a better employee experience

Harnessing AI and machine learning

As Vyas said, before the pandemic, the fear of many employees used to be “AI is going to take over our jobs.” However, the pandemic made us reevaluate these technologies. AI and machine learning have become “part and parcel of our lives and organization.” The trick now is educating ourselves on the right technologies to deploy AI in a safe, responsible, and effective way

Echoing those points, this discussion further reinforced my belief in the power of AI and ML as powerful tools for HR processes. AI-driven technology can automate repetitive tasks, spot anomalies in data, and signal significant trends, skills gaps, or other changes that we, as HR professionals, need to address.

However, HR tools should focus on more than just HR. Noordin said that HR has finally become part of organizational and financial planning now that there’s such a focus on workforce planning. “We’re no longer in our HR bubble, trying to fix HR stuff like performance reviews and calibrations,” he said, adding that his team is now a part of the overarching organizational strategy.

As HR professionals, we need digital adoption tools that can evolve and change in real time, providing training and pinpointing where employees are getting stuck or giving up. When it comes to choosing the right technologies, Noordin said, “Make sure they’re tied to business processes, and they’re actually making the business impact that they have the opportunity to make.” 

Balancing technology with a human touch

Despite the inherent power of AI and ML, one aspect that we, as a panel, were particularly cautious about was over-automation. It’s a delicate balance between tasks that can be automated and those that inherently require human interaction, emotion, and strategic thinking. 

While evaluating HR systems, we need to always have our end-user in mind and aim to solve specific problems rather than focusing solely on having the latest technology. 

The future of HR

I imagine a future HR function that extends beyond traditional boundaries. This involves seeing the “value stream” from end to end, both in terms of data and experience. As HR professionals, we need to consider the entire journey rather than just individual stages or processes. By creating a unified employee experience, prioritizing employee feedback, intelligently implementing AI and ML, and maintaining a human-centric approach, we can truly transform the HR landscape.

My call to action for my HR practitioners is simple: Let’s embrace change, be the catalyst for transformation, and lead the way in creating a more intuitive, inclusive, and human-centric HR experience. Together, we can redefine how HR operates and make a significant difference in our employees’ lives and our organizations’ success.

How Eightfold can help

As we collectively navigate the future of work, the right technology partners are essential. That’s where Eightfold comes in. Our platform uses deep-learning AI to provide the insights, automation, and experiences employees crave, helping HR departments become more strategic, effective, and appreciated. We help to improve the candidate experience of looking for and being matched with opportunities, and we provide personalized recommendations and guidance for employees looking to navigate organizations and develop skills that help them grow their careers.

If you’re ready to explore the power of HR technology, request a demo today and see firsthand how our solutions can bring you closer to delivering a frictionless employee experience. Let’s unlock the potential of your organization and employees together.

Watch the full panel discussion, “Clear a path! Using HR technology to remove friction from HR processes,” to learn more about how HR can transform workforces with the help of AI technologies.

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