Employee engagement is a hot topic in many C-suites today. There's a growing body of research that says engaged employees are productive employees, contributing positively to the bottom line. Forrester's own workforce research shows those who feel supported by managers, respected for their efforts, and encouraged to be creative are more inclined to recommend the company as a workplace or a vendor. So, we see a debate within the upper echelons of organizations on how best to create engaging workforce experiences which give an employee's contributions meaning, provide the flexibility they require to be successful, and continuously develop the skills they need to serve customers. It's critical that the CIO is at the table during these conversations. Why? Regardless of the talent retention and management strategy, technology will be necessary to help unlock the potential within the workforce.
The CIO at a large software vendor with a reputation for great employee engagement said it best: "Technology is expected, but [business leaders] do not think about how it enables people." Technology is an ambient part of the workspace. Businesses outfit their workforces with a range of gadgets and give them access to numerous systems which facilitate interactions, manage orders, track projects, store data, and more. Of course, deficiencies in these corporate toolkits lead employees to find and embrace things like iPhones, Galaxy Tabs, Dropbox, and Evernote on their own. But has anyone given serious consideration to how these disparate tools come together to help engage employees so they can properly support the customer?
Here is where the CIO can make a difference. Business leaders and employees cannot independently string together these diverse tools into a reliable, holistic, seamless, and secure experience that helps engage the workforce. The problem is the workforce does not believe the IT department can do this either. IT leaders will never be able to expand the conversation about how technology can enable employees or redefine the relationship between IT and employees if the focus is on provisioning and managing technology. The conversations CIOs should be driving is how to design technology experiences which align technology with specific work tasks to drive actions that help employees achieve the outcomes they, and the business, desire. Making this shift means IT leaders must:
- Create employee-obsessed IT organizations. A CIO at a healthcare services firm told us he had to change his department's perception of itself from a "technology company" within their organization to a customer-service organization focused on creating great experiences for employees. Making this transition isn't easy. The CIO told us he had to invest heavily in change management and hire new IT staffers who were animated by the concept of service. The CIO also had to deal with attrition.
- Work with business leaders to align technology with the workforce vision. Every company highlighted on "great places to work" lists, like the one Forbes publishes, has a strong vision for the relationship between the employee and the business. The IT department must seize upon this vision to direct their actions. For example, the IT department at Forbes entrant SAS worked with the internal communications group to create a communication platform, The Hub, to facilitate transparent communications between executives and employees.
- Partner with the HR department to measure success. These efforts are all for naught if the IT department cannot draw a link between what they do and positive business outcomes. My colleague Simon Yates recently put forward a measurement framework for assessing IT's contributions to the workforce experience. However, most IT departments don't have expertise in measuring employee engagement. This is where a fruitful relationship between IT and HR leaders can be built. The CIO can use HR's assessments of employee satisfaction to guide her technology roadmap.
We don't pretend that this transition is going to be easy. There is a history of poor interactions between employees and IT which has resulted in workers giving their IT departments low satisfaction scores. However, businesses need technology to support their emerging global, mobile, cosmopolitan workforces. Simon Yates and I are working on a strain of research, which we refer to as Workforce Experience, focused on helping IT leaders tackle the issues raised above. I will be moderating a panel at our CIO Forum in May in which I discuss this transformation with State Street's Ed Flahive, Razorfish's Ray Velez, and CHG Healthcare's Mike Peterson.
As we delve deeper into this research, we're interested in hearing from you. How is your IT department supporting employee engagement? How has it changed the organization? How has it changed your relationship to the business? This is an important conversation and we hope that you're interested in engaging in it.