Sharon Looney: Four big steps to raising the strategic role of HR

Everyone knows that retention matters – a 2018 Hibob survey showed retention as being one of the top three concerns keeping CEOs awake at night. I also won’t surprise anyone by saying that employee engagement matters – one of the biggest narratives in HR right now.

However,it is vital that we start asking what ‘engagement’ actually means and what is the connection between engagement and retention.

This is exactly what we’re pioneering at Hibob – how to boost engagement (and help companies understand exactly what it means to engage) and how that can have a significant impact on retention.

All this is coming from a company that is in essence an HCM platform. We’re trying to get the HR industry to transform its view of HCM technology and put it at the heart of their engagement and retention efforts.

By building Hibob from the ground up, with people at the centre, we’re moving the industry from task based legacy systems, to one that is built on engagement. Low tech legacy HR systems are simply not fit for purpose – after all, many of them were designed before a lot of the current workforce were born.

Today’s employees have a completely different experience with technology than I did when I started my career. They’ve been conditioned by the likes of Facebook, Spotify, Netflix and Deliveroo. They shop online and organise their lives via apps. Travel directions are available at a tap and you can transfer money in a few clicks. The doctor is now on a smartphone and lights turn on and off with a voice command.

The modern world is low effort and high reward. Things are easy and they are enabled by fabulous technology that is enjoyable to use, as well as being simple and efficient. By being engaging, they drive engagement!

What’s more, it isn’t just millennials living the tech based lifestyle. I’m not a millennial (by some distance!) but I use all of the tech platforms I mentioned above. My expectations have changed too. Across your multigenerational workforce, HCM needs to catch up.

Why would a workforce expect any less than this standard from their HCM platforms? Or, to put it another way, why should they do anything other than ignore their HCM platform if it doesn’t meet this standard?

Legacy systems were built for a top-down world, evolving around process. You’ll be hired, then developed and then you’ll leave. Today the challenges are different: employees want to see what an employer can do for them, not the other way around. Workplaces have to fight to keep people. And an unengaged employee simply will not stay.

What does this mean in practice. Let’s look at the basics. Do half of your workforce like yoga? Or do they like football? Or cinema trips? Do you know? Hibob will tell you – and you can deliver a benefit (almost inevitably at low cost) appropriately.

If one of your teams achieved something worthy of recognition, do you send an email (it would just get lost in inboxes already overflowing) or simply use a Facebook or LinkedIn style ‘shout out’ that all employees will see on their timelines.

Key to Hibob is users keeping it open alongside Slack and other workplace tools. They can check the cafe opening times, whose birthday it is, the social events that night, their benefits and even their pension.

They build a system of relationships with their colleagues – like minded people coalesce around shared themes and interests whether it’s healthy eating or a book club. The workplace becomes a family – a place where someone is less likely to leave than if it weren’t.

Leaders get granular information that no other HR technology (that I know of) can provide. Just one example – you can look at your top performers and see their average commute times. In seconds, you could see if a difficult commute (a high driver of churn) is an issue for some of your best people. And if it is, you can address it.

HCM platforms have to deliver good data – and I don’t mean an Excel chart full of impenetrable figures. I mean clear, actionable, reliable data – from your employee demographics or gender balance to employee satisfaction. And where the native platform doesn’t give you what you need, you have to be able to push out a survey to drill down into the info that you want. In one day you could ask a critical question like how many people think the business strategy is clear as well as if they’re happy with the food in the cafe. Who could say which of these is more important for retention?!

Hibob is bringing HR tech into the modern world in these three key areas – a technological experience that workers recognise as modern consumers, an ability to relate to the company and colleagues like never before, and a clarity of data at all levels – driving deeper and better understanding. This is engagement in action but, as you can see, it’s also tangibly connected to retention.

The bridge we have to build is between these concepts – consumerism, relationship building and data democratisation – within the world of HCM, and its connection to engagement and retention. But this is the future of work. It’s changing – right in front of our eyes. The HR future is happening now.





Joel Farrow is the Managing Director for the UK & EMEA for HiBob - the next generation of HCM technology - to find out more visit