Digital Tools Enable Human Potential: Why Tech & Human-First Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

August 17, 2021
7 Minute Read

Technology and being human-first are increasingly becoming intertwined. In this Q&A, RGP VP and Business Technology Leader Kathy Pazely provides insights into how digital transformations are incorporating employee experience, preserving culture and embracing change management.

The ongoing pandemic put many companywide tech implementations on hold, but they’re back in full swing now. As organizations adjust to the new realities, they’re realizing that it’s not just about workplace efficiency—it’s also about workforce satisfaction. Kathy Pazely shares how to leverage digital transformations for a better employee experience.

A lot of digital transformations these days are about improving efficiency, often with very impressive results. But what about the human side of the equation? What about improving the employee’s overall experience and improving the workplace for the workforce?

That’s happening as well. The first thing that comes to my mind are the collaboration tools everybody has become an expert in—out of necessity—like Zoom and Teams and other applications. But that’s table stakes. There are a lot of other collaboration tools out there helping keep employees connected because people naturally work in teams anyhow.

Before the pandemic when we were all sitting in an office, you could call or walk down the hall and meet with somebody with relative ease. You had casual conversations that could turn out to be very insightful or very helpful for something you were trying to get accomplished.

That spontaneity is harder today. Now, everything is more structured and scheduled. We’re more disciplined about how we gather information and how we solve our problems at work.

We’ve found tech solutions to get done what we need to get done, and also help employee engagement.

Tools like Mosaic are helping bridge that gap. You’ve got 10 people on a call, for example, using collaboration tools to brainstorm, share ideas, ideate and collect information. Think of it as a virtual whiteboard. No, you don’t have the intimacy of people around a table in a conference room collaborating face-to-face, but it’s the next best thing. Other solutions like SharePoint and Teams let you post documents and edit live in real-time.

The bottom line is that we’ve found tech solutions to get done what we need to get done and also help employee engagement. Sure, it’s a little bit more challenging, but you can accomplish the same goals— even including social goals like celebrating birthdays, milestones, doing happy hours, and so on by leveraging these tools.

What about preserving the authenticity of a company’s culture in this new digital environment?

That’s a great topic. Take our company, for example. RGP has a pretty distinct culture that’s grounded in us being human-first—compassionate about our colleagues, clients, consultants and our applicants. But here’s the key: I think the fact that you are authentic and genuine to begin with is the biggest advantage from the start. You’re automatically going to shine through whatever technology you choose.

I think the key to the whole question is: do you have an authentic culture to begin with? If yes, then the technology is only going to reflect what’s already there.

The same goes for clients. We spend time with our clients to understand and appreciate their culture. We’re also trying to adapt to that process in the digital world and provide resources that will help us be successful within their culture.

Even though it’s not in-person as much as before, that authenticity can still shine through. You have to discover it, appreciate it, and protect it as you did before, in the analog world, but now use a different medium. If there’s an authentic culture there to begin with, it will find a way.

Where are biggest tech advancements currently being made to improve the employee experience?

I think the advancements currently being made in artificial intelligence (AI) are especially worth mentioning. We were already well along this journey of employee, vendor and customer self-service, long before the pandemic. So, a lot of those baseline tools and technologies and functionality already exist.

What can we expect in the future? For example, I think AI will increasingly help us create customized reports, where you can personalize what you need, selecting and building on the fly, instead of starting from scratch and building something in Excel.

Work satisfaction will go up because emphasis is on creativity, not rote process. Budgeting and forecasting models have also gotten easier do with better AI tools freeing up CFO and financial personnel to focus on more value-add activities that impact the business, not bog them down in minutiae.

There have also been significant strides around master data. If you think about large systems, everybody’s concerned about master data quality and governance. This is especially true when considering the lineage connection points, as data moves from one system to the next.

Here again, AI is helping eliminate that rote work. It’s already helping significantly restructure and manage master data, helping clients through large system migrations that once were extremely time consuming and now free up time so employees can focus on more intuitive work that truly engages their skills.

The bottom line with AI is we’re getting increasingly better able to leverage tools, technologies and automation that can help create a more personalized work experience, regardless of what functional role they’re in. And AI’s positive impact on employees is only just getting started. As they say, “Watch this space.”

What about the predictive analytics capabilities of AI? Not just working with data that’s already in the rearview mirror, but better predictions for what’s down the road?

That’s happening as well, but I’d say that’s also where the human element comes in. You still have to understand your business, your team, your employees, role expectations, and so on. It’s great that you have these zillion gigabytes of data available. But how are you going to do something productive with it all?

Part of it is figuring out which applications are going to have an impact that actually helps your employees feel more satisfied in their jobs. Or feel like someone truly understands their stress and their anxiety as well as when they’re feeling overwhelmed and how you can help eliminate that.

I think it depends on the role and the team and the environment but some of it could be very job specific while some of it could be general in terms of overall health and protecting your culture.

Again, I think the tools are there. But in that case you’ve described, it’s going to take the human insights to figure out how best to leverage that data and apply them for maximum employee benefit.

For many companies, part of what we’re talking about here will involve enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations. Since about two-thirds of organizations today have yet to start their ERP journey, what questions should they be asking now? What pitfalls should they avoid?

Early in the pandemic, company tech implementations were pure defense: preserve cash and capital. Only projects deemed absolutely critical got senior management’s attention. Now, pretty much everybody’s back to enterprise-wide implementations. The attitude is: Ok, we’re past that now. We’ve got to get stuff done.

If you’re working with a system integration partner, you need to ask how they’ve already adjusted. What are they going to use and bring to a project to allow the team to still be collaborative, to still manage and track communication to build the team culture for success and support that environment?

In some cases, those ERP implementation timelines will change. You’re not going to be able to have that traditional war room with 40 people working in a conference room or cafeteria. Instead, you’ll need to work collaboratively and may need to add a couple of months to your timeline. Logistics will also change. Sometimes for the better. You won’t be paying travel expenses to fly consultants in every week which can be a cost-savings positive

Instead of the defense early on, companies are increasingly playing offense. But they need to understand how the rules have changed in the meantime.

Can you give an example of a company that’s gotten the formula right—planning for these enterprise changes, but also considering the human element?

Sure. We’ve got a new client opportunity where they made an executive decision to pull between 50 and 60 people out of their day jobs and backfill their roles, all while educating that team ahead of time on what to expect and how to implement a new ERP system—before they even kick off the project.

They’re making a commitment four months in advance, understanding that it’s critical to have that internal experience, expertise and understanding of not only their business, but their culture by having those people directly involved in the project. It’s a longer lead time then to just schedule a kickoff meeting for two weeks from now and just expect everybody to know what they’re doing.

It’s a different mindset, great approach, and I love that this client is doing it this way. They’re clearly identifying where they’re going to backfill so that those people can be successful and fully dedicated. At the same time, they also understand what additional skill sets they need to bring into the mix, to work alongside their functional experts to be successful.

It’s textbook “tech meets human-first” approach. I hope other companies follow their example.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, the importance of change management. I can’t emphasize that enough. It impacts virtually everything we’ve just discussed.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As late as 2019 before the pandemic hit, many clients either pushed back, said they didn’t need it, or had plans that gathered dust somewhere. Not anymore. The new realities of adjusting to business under COVID changed all that.

Across the board, we’re today seeing absolutely no pushback or question about the need for change management. That includes identifying the right tools and technologies and training so that people can be successful in their jobs going forward.

Why? Because after a year-and-a-half of COVID, there’s a more heightened awareness of the impact of change—small, medium or large—to employees, customers, vendors and other constituents and others. You see it in the new talent wars, supply change and vendor management, and so on.

That’s why getting tech implementations right early on—especially major implementations—is more important than ever. Companies are investing a lot in these tools. They want to ensure that these investments pay off. And they’re doing it in an age where change isn’t linear anymore—it’s exponential. All the more reason to mitigate the risk.

Finally, it’s not just about the tools. It’s also about how employees use those tools not just to achieve business ends, but also to keep the company’s unique culture thriving. Change management is the best way to achieve both ends.

I’m encouraged that businesses are embracing this thinking. Companies that embrace change management in concert with their digital transformation early on will likely emerge strongest in the post-pandemic world. Those ignoring it? Well, as the saying goes: “To stand still is to fall behind.”

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Kathy Pazely

VP, Business Technology Leader
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Willkommen bei RGP.

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