Making Human Capital Decisions: Oh, those digital age expectations

“I know there are forces out there that can completely disrupt our business.

“I know we have to do something.”

“I’m not sure what to do in this new world.”

These common sentiments certainly describe the current mindset for many leaders. However, as appropriate as these statements are for today, I first heard these unfiltered bits of honesty from business and IT leaders in the late 1990's.  Remember that time?  The ‘e-business’ revolution was ramping up which produced serious discussion about whether to go ‘click and mortar’ or ‘just click’ or how to operate in the ‘new economy’.   Well, it is not the Internet reshaping the business landscape today but there are some equivalent technology disruptive forces that produce similar sentiments for business leaders.    

One key learning from the e-business revolution is that while fundamentals of business success do not change, organizations who thrive will have the right people stewarding and delivering the right goals.   In today’s parlance, the fundamental challenge is not a debate about going digital or not digital.  The key questions are: how to improve productivity, performance and growth by enabling new business models, partnerships and delivery channels with digital technologies. 

And the lynchpin to success requires having the right people with the right information, behaviors and capabilities to operate in the digital age. 

The following 4 mega-trends are inspiring, intimidating – and commonly known. So, instead of a broad review of these trends, look at them through a human capital lens (i.e. how will these trends impact the way organizations develop and deliver their human capital strategy)

How will the mega-trends impact people programs?

The rise of the digital enterprise introduces new tools such as the omnipresent (or is it omniscient) smart phone, natural language processors, and virtual reality headsets, that open up a myriad of new service delivery options for employees.  Artificial intelligence with rapidly evolving machine learning and deep learning capabilities provides new insights to enable more confident, predictive and prescriptive decision.  All of these digital solutions however may not have the impact of blockchain on when, not if, it finally goes mainstream.   

With so many emerging technologies, how will organizations leverage them to enable employees to make better decisions, improve performance and enhance productivity?

The proliferation of information (ok, big data) has fundamentally reshaped how much we know about each other and dramatically raises the stakes for security and privacy improvements.   With 90% of data on the Internet having been created since 2016 (IBM Marketing Cloud Study), data explosion is expected may continue at this insane pace.   However, despite all this data, most of it is static.  Currently, less than 0.5% of all data is ever analyzed and used and 80% of all data sits within organization systems (IBM Study). 

With all this data, what information is critical (the signal) for employees to have to make decisions on their critical business and people goals?

The rise of the gig and sharing economies (and their multi-purpose platforms) are altering the relationships we have with each other and challenging ‘conventional’ employer-employee relationships.  With 20-30% of people working independently (McKinsely Global Institute) and the expectation for this trend to continue, it will create more threats to traditional work environments and industries.   

With this new competitor (i.e. self employment), how will organizations shift the employee value proposition to attract, engage and retain employees?

The always on and connected world (Internet of Things) is a factor all organizations consider (or need to better understand) to effectively add value to their customers, employees and suppliers.  With over 21 billion connected devices and cloud data increasing to 35% of all data by 2020, the concepts of the work-day, work-place and work-life relationships will dramatically evolve.   

With this fundamental shift of the employer-employee relationship, how will companies re-conceptualize their structures, roles and programs to create more meaningful work experiences?

Actually, the mega-trends are already impacting you

Organizations already feel the impact of these factors through the changing expectations of employees.  As much as organizations want to manage the employee expectations, they don’t have much chance to control expectations.  Employees live in the real world; a world where they can now have a private driver whenever they want, always know their driver’s location, and seamlessly make payments without even touching a button (thanks Uber and Lyft). This driver can then take them to a private home that they’ve rented after investigating the owner’s history on their mobile phones (thanks Airbnb).  Employees don’t change these expectations when they log-on through the company VPN from a trendy coffee shop. 

Employees now expect employers to:

  • Provide tailored information and services when and how they want it
  • Continuously meet their new work motivations such as:  Purpose, Accountability, Mastery
  • Present information and services through world class and multi-channel interfaces equivalent to their favorite website – and don’t forget those chatbots and apps
  • Provide a compelling employee experience featuring autonomy, customized learning, career options and personalized rewards
  • Transparently share information and decisions – particularly how decisions are made

Employers are also not immune from the changes in the world and have raised expectations for employees to:

  • Continuously innovate products, processes and services as a core part of the job
  • Improve speed and productivity, constantly
  • Make more effective decisions based on predictive and prescriptive analytics
  • Develop new workplace skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, cognitive flexibility and logical reasoning by having a continuous learning mindset
  • Work in an agile organization and quickly and seamlessly shift roles to deliver critical outcomes

It is easy to get caught up in external forces and react to these new expectations.  However, if the Internet’s rise in the late 1990s, and especially the reality of the early 2000s taught us anything, it is that business fundamentals don’t change.  These new disruptive forces, like the Internet, are enablers for key processes or catalysts for new business models.  Fundamentally, organizations still need to understand how to exceed these new employee and employer expectations to achieve their human capital goals. 

To learn more about how to meet these expectations and build your digital human capital capabilities, check out the follow up article:   Making People Decisions:   5 essential actions

For more information on how Third Idea can help you position your human capital programs in this digital world, please contact us at