The Consumerization of HR

Here are five key consumer trends that will shape the future of human resources.

Thursday, September 8, 2016
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[Editor's Note: Jeanne Meister, a well-recognized expert in HR technology and the future of work and learning, will lead a panel discussion, titled "The Consumerization of HR," on Oct. 5 at 1:15 p.m. at the HR Tech Conference in Chicago. She and HR leaders from IBM, Cisco and Kronos will discuss the ways in which companies are using the principles of consumerization and consumer behavior to reinvent and expand HR's role. Her piece below delves into what this approach is and the business results that can be achieved by using consumerization principles in HR.]

The future is happening now and it's not waiting for you or your HR organization! In times of constant change, organizations that do not anticipate the future and take action are in danger of irrelevancy or, worse yet, extinction!

As we scan today's workplace, everything about work -- what we expect from our work, where we work, how we work, the types of technologies we use every day and with whom we work -- is changing at an accelerated pace! This has profound implications for both the HR team and the organization as a whole.

"The consumerization of HR" refers to how companies are creating a social, mobile and consumer-type experiences for employees inside the company. When I coined this phrase a year ago, the focus was on how HR professionals were leveraging consumer technologies inside the organization: videos for conducting an interview, apps for applying for a job, and tools for giving and receiving feedback on performance.

Recruitment has been the first area within HR to leverage consumer technologies, with mobile becoming the dominant mode for sourcing talent. Here's why: According to research conducted by Census Wide, on behalf of, 65 percent of people use their mobile devices to search for jobs. Moreover, this trend isn't isolated to younger job seekers. While 77 percent of people ages 16 to 34 use a mobile device in their job search, 72 percent of people ages 35 to 44 also turn to mobile to find a new position, as well as 54 percent of people ages 44 to 54, and 35 percent of people ages 55 and over. All that said, however, the focus for HR has now evolved from just using consumer technologies at work to creating a personalized employee experiences in the workplace.

This consumerization of HR has led forward-looking HR departments to rethink their mission and purpose, and leverage five key consumer trends such as: creating a personalized employee experience, being agile, focusing on employee advocacy, infusing design thinking to create new HR solutions, and incorporating people analytics. These five trends point to the creation of a new HR, one that works across the organization to be more employee-centric, sees the workplace as an experience rather than a place to go each day and is committed to being an activist for change in the organization.

These five trends will reshape HR. Is your organization ready?

1. Personalized workplace experiences will be created for employees.

The employee experience will be as personalized as the "best" consumer experience. What do the best customer experiences have in common? They are obsessively personalized to each customer. Consider the power of the Disney Magic Band, which creates a personalized experience at a Disney theme park, starting with when Disney guests book a ticket to the theme park online and select their rides. Then, Disney creates the itinerary so each guest has the best experience possible in the park.

Now, what if this type of personalization is applied to how an employee selects where to work in the office, what type of learning to engage in to meet his or her development goals, and how to give and receive personalized immediate feedback on the job. These types of personalized experiences will inspire employees and increase engagement. Creating this type of workplace requires HR to move out of its silo and work in partnership with real estate, internal communications and IT to develop such an experience.

2. Agile methods will be used to solve people problems.

In rugby, scrum is short for scrummage and refers to a method of restarting a play, where players pack closely together with their heads down and attempt to gain possession of the ball. Similarly, scrum methods are at the heart of implementing an agile recruiting model. This model incorporates the scrum methods used in software development, and infuses speed and manages unpredictability in the recruiting process.

This ability to execute fast is critical for a hyper-growth business. As Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said in a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Blitzscaling," "mortality puts priorities into sharp focus." While this comment was directed at scaling start-up businesses in the networked age, the same comment can apply to HR departments. Change is here and adopting agile methods for a number of HR processes -- such as recruiting new hires, new-employee onboarding, and learning and development -- is critical, whether your company is a start-up or an established business.

This focus on being agile has led to the redesign of new-hire recruiting at San Ramon, Calif.-based GE Digital, a company that has grown from 100 employees in 2012 to more than 20,000 in 2016. An agile recruiting framework has been created along with a new role: that of a recruiting scrum master. This new role applies many of the scrum techniques used in software development to recruiting by breaking down the massive hiring needs into incremental and interactive steps, where the highest-value hiring challenges are addressed first. GE Digital reports that, by using daily scrum meetings, recruiters were able to deliver talent needs and business objectives within two to six weeks versus the average 10 to 15 weeks.

3. Employee advocacy programs will surge.

Companies are finding their own employees are the best advocates for their brands. Employee-advocacy programs are essentially the promotion of a company's brand on social media by its employees. Employees are perceived as more credible in talking about their employer, and they often have a wider social reach than the company brand does. Employees have, on average, 10 times more social connections than a brand does. And 58 percent of socially engaged employees are more likely to attract new talent to the company than recruiters. There are also significant business reasons for pursuing employee-advocacy programs. According to David Almeda, senior vice president and chief people officer at Chelmsford, Mass.-based Kronos Inc., encouraging employees to share relevant content on social-media channels will both contribute to the company's success and develop their personal brand.

To build employee advocates, some companies are using agile methods to understand how to motivate employees to become social-brand advocates. Companies are using more nimble approaches to solving problems and engaging employees. In June, Montreal, Canada-based BMO Financial Group ran an agile scrum for a group of employees to identify how to engage BMO's entire workforce to become brand advocates in social media. In only three weeks, the team tapped key experts across the company, brainstormed ideas and developed recommendations and a roadmap for implementation.

"We're using agile in various parts of our company, primarily to accelerate technology and product initiatives," says Gina Jeneroux, head of learning and experience design at BMO. "This was a twist, to use a scrum to focus on a culture change. The recommendations the team came up with would have taken months if we'd used a traditional approach."

4. Design thinking will be used to reimagine HR.

Design thinking puts you in the shoes of the people you are designing for, to better understand their situation. At its core, design thinking focuses on creating an employee experience that is intuitive and engaging, and mirrors a consumer experience. Gianpaolo Barozzi, senior director of HR at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco, points to design thinking as a key to the success of the Cisco HR Breakathon, a global hackathon among Cisco HR team members charged with identifying new HR solutions in recruiting, developing and engaging Cisco employees. Cisco leveraged the Cisco technologies of Webex, Spark Rooms and TelePresence to engage Cisco's global HR community (across 39 countries) over a period of 24 hours to generate new HR solutions.

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The results of the Cisco HR Breakathon gave birth to 105 new HR solutions covering talent acquisition, new-hire onboarding, and learning and development. Not surprisingly, given how we all use apps in our personal lives, many of the HR solutions recommended creating a mobile app, such as YouBelong@Cisco, which helps new hires and their managers navigate the first days and weeks at Cisco, and Ask Alex: Your Personal Intelligent Compass, which offers new hires personalized answers to HR questions they have early in their career at the company.

5. People analytics will drive HR strategy.

The techniques to mine customer data are now also being used to tackle HR retention and dissatisfaction. The implications will be dramatic, as HR decision-making has traditionally revolved around experiences and personal relationships rather than deep analysis of data sets.

Diane Gherson, CHRO of Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, is leading the way to build a team responsible for mining huge amounts of data and recommending granular, customized solutions to the business. One of the more interesting solutions is an IBM patent to predict the retention risk for employees in key roles. Each year, IBM examines risk factors such as location, compensation, employee engagement, sentiment, and even manager engagement at the aggregate level for both a country and job role. Then, People Analytics Director Anshul Sheopuri and his team use analytics and machine learning to calculate the relative importance of these and other factors, all while maintaining employee privacy.

The end result is the identification of employee groups in key job roles at risk of finding opportunities outside of IBM and the creation of manager playbooks, which recommend possible next steps such as mentoring sessions or education to build up skills for advancement among the at-risk employees. The result: IBM estimates a savings of roughly $130 million, as measured by avoiding costs of hiring and training replacements.

Your Game Plan

So how do you as an HR leader prepare for the consumerization of HR? Here's what you need to do:

* Build new roles within HR such as recruiting scrum master, people analytics director or even a new role dedicated to employee experience.

* Train your HR team in new skills such as design thinking to put employees in the center of how you think about all your HR solutions.

* Reach out to build partnerships with new stakeholders such as the heads of real estate, IT and internal communications to create an employee experience as compelling as your best customer experience.

Jeanne C Meister is a founding partner of New York-based Future Workplace, an HR executive network and research firm dedicated to working with organizations to anticipate and plan for disruptive changes in the future of learning and working. Her latest book, The Future Workplace Experience:10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees, will be published in November 2016.


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