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Apr 19
People First: The Way Forward

Author: Georgina Barrick

In 2018, HR's newest buzz phrase is 'People First'.

This means that how we see, manage and communicate with our employees is evolving.

We're moving from a more traditional HR view, where process drives efficiency, effectiveness and value (think Jack Welch's infamous annual 'rank and cull') towards a world where people come first.

Today, we regard our employees more as 'whole human beings and understand the complexities, opportunities and abilities that come to work with them every day'¹, leading us towards an understanding that their well-being, success and growth are top priority.

As leaders, we're realising that it's people, and not only process, that create value and efficiency.

This may seem almost counter-intuitive in a world were robots are replacing humans in so many jobs, but one of the key drivers of this evolution is technology.

In one of my recent articles, I talked about the impact of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Together with social media, HR analytics (aka People or Talent analytics) and human management tools, technology is driving instant access to information not available through traditional channels. This data allows HR to track employee sentiment, satisfaction and success – which, in turn, makes it possible to strategically innovate, make decisions, personalise the employee experience and create brand ambassadors out of our current and former employees.

Or, put 'People First'.

Another key driver of this evolution is rising awareness.

The greater social conscience of our younger generations, together with social media, is driving transparency – think #MeToo, #equalpayday and Wikileaks.

As leaders, we understand that our actions and culture are no longer contained within the walls of our companies, but instead are visible for all – satisfied or disgruntled – to see.

The knowledge that our treatment of people can easily become public (remember Vicki Momberg) and can impact our bottom line, is a contributing factor in this greater awareness.

As I've alluded to already, the third drive is generational.

In 2008, we had 2 to 3 generations in the workplace. Today, we have 5 working together (a first!) presenting HR with both unique challenges and opportunities.

Technology can help HR to uncover generational differences and focus on inclusivity for all, through communication.

'People First' is impacting how we do business in interesting ways…

Employee engagement is making way for employee experience or journey.

For some time, we've been concerned with measuring engagement – or how emotionally committed our employees are to us, our companies and goals.

We've also been outwardly focussed on strategies that drive 'customer experience' – but have finally evolved sufficiently to include employee experience in our arsenal.

Technology now helps us to show commitment to our employees, by driving the delivery of more personalised 'consumer-like' experiences. This extends to supporting employees on their career journeys, either internally or externally.

Tailored, flexible work solutions are gaining traction.

In the US, remote work increased 16% between 2008 and 2012, facilitated by technologies like Skype and Google Apps for Work. The resulting cost savings on office space and perks have been bolstered by the fact the flex has become a sought-after perk itself. And, one of the biggest benefactors of this shift are companies themselves who would otherwise lose workers – particularly women who may leave the workforce to take care of children.

Office perks are becoming more individualised and relevant.

From personalised wellness programmes to tailored concierge services, companies are using people analytics to personalise perks.

Good examples include Bitco's 'token system', where employees receive tokens for demonstrating knowledge sharing, communication and integrity and MultiChoice's MLife concierge service and rewards programme, aimed at supporting employee's like a 24/7 personal assistant.

Coaching is on the rise – at all levels.

Once prevalent only at executive levels, coaches now help staff across the business to understand what they really want from careers and how to unlock value.

Technology now allows coaching to be delivered on virtual platforms, which together with the increasing specialisation of coaches, makes the concept more accessible to all.

'People First' seems to be ushering in a kinder, more effective and productive way of managing human resources. As David Sikhosana, author of 'Time Value of Money', said 'Always put people first, for without them, there is no organisation'.

Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co, Insource.ICT/ IT Edge and The Working Earth, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 20 years of recruitment and executive search experience.


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