Workday performance evangelist stimulates thought-provoking discussion among top CHROs

Greg Pryor advised HR leaders to hone in on the IDEA principles of Inclusion, Digitalisation, Enabling employee experiences, and Agility, during a CHRO Community Conversation. 

Workday has been a long-standing sponsor of the CHRO Community Conversations and, this week, the company’s senior vice president for people and performance evangelist Greg Pryor took ‘centre stage’. He talked about what it takes to lead the people's agenda in such volatile times when nobody has a manual for dealing with the challenges that they're facing.

Having worked with some of the world’s top CHROs and people-focused academics, Greg provided an overview of how the HR profession has evolved, explaining that this is currently the third age in the evolution of the field where technology would be at the forefront of advancement. 

“From the 1930s to the 1970s, human capital management was about personnel management and technology in that space would be limited to filing cabinets and paper-based record keeping. From the 1970s to about 2010 was the age of HR where the organisation was at the point of primacy in terms of the tone and tenor. Around 2010, we entered into the third age of human capital management. I like to think about it as the age of people and performance enablement,” said Greg.

He continued: “Technology is allowing for the democratisation of work and, over time, we will continue to see technology enable people as individuals rather than exist for the benefit of roles or jobs which have been the point of primacy in the past. There will be applications of machine learning and other types of cognitive computing that will elevate the human parts of work – that is, creativity, collaboration and social agility.”

What’s the big IDEA?

In the context of Covid-19, Greg pointed out that the key to getting the best out of people was to stick to the ‘IDEA’ principle, which stands for Inclusion, Digitalisation, Enabling employee experiences and Agility. 

Greg said diversity and ‘Inclusion’ could no longer be prioritised separately from the need to achieve operational excellence and drive business performance. He said this particularly rang true in the current climate in the US where he’s based and where all corners of society are currently engaging in the discourse around racial discrimination and injustice. HR, in this regard, has to play a pivotal role in promoting a sense of purpose and belonging in the workforce, and equality and prosperity for the communities and regions in which they operate. 

On ‘Digitalisation’, Greg explained that HR must partner with business leaders to make sure technology and people work together for the benefit of everyone. He said innovation was at risk in the current climate but that it was up to leaders to drive technology adoption, foster innovation, enable new work models and, ultimately, attract, retain, and develop the workforce of the future. 

“People might be happy at home and very well might be a lot more productive because they no longer have to commute. But I can tell you right now, the level of innovation has taken a huge knock due to the inability to collaborate with one another,” said Greg. “Necessity is the mother of invention. In this time, I have seen organisations pivot to enable remote workforces much faster than they otherwise would have done.”

‘Enabling the employee experience’, Greg said, was about connecting colleagues and ensuring the employees’ experience of the organisation continues to be a positive one despite the fact that most people are physically detached from the traditional place of work. In this context, a traditional manager-employee dynamic that focuses on rewards and basic support is no longer fit for purpose.

“We need to ensure that, even though we are not with one other, things like birthdays and big life events like the welcoming of a new-born baby should not pass by without the organisation creating an opportunity to connect employees.”

Lastly, on ‘Agility’, Greg said it was absolutely critical that organisations had the capability to adapt to the new world of work and ensure that their people would be enabled to execute their roles regardless of whether they were able to come into the office or not. This would have to be done without sacrificing the aforementioned pillars of the IDEA principle.

The pillars are interlinked 

After Greg’s introduction, HR leaders went into breakout ‘rooms’ to discuss which pillars of the IDEAS principles they were currently prioritising. 

“Our focus has been about enabling the employee experience. We have a great culture – and that doesn’t happen by accident – so we’re focusing on maintaining and building our relationships and engagement when our practices are not the same,” said Laura James, who is the HR manager at Globeleq South Africa Management Services

For cement company Lafarge South Africa, the focus on engagement continued well into the national lockdown.

HR and communications director Tshidi Dabula said that "Before Covid-19, we started an initiative on how to bring the company closer to the people. We used to have exco roadshows, where we went around the country, sharing different themes around business performance, and culture. With Covid-19, we’ve kept the momentum going – we didn’t want it to slow us down. We’ve found a way to continue with that platform using the digital space. We’re still having the exco roadshows, digitally. We planned how to reach everyone at the same time, whether they are at work or working from home."

HR leaders found it difficult to pick one priority as all the IDEA principles were interlinked. Tsebo Solutions Group chief people officer Elanie Kruger, for instance, said that digitalisation was an enabler to be more inclusive and engage more with their employees. 

“When you are in a situation like ours, all four components are important. During this crisis what we have done to date has enabled us to engage with our employees more. As a business you have to continuously adapt to the current reality, make difficult decisions that affect employees, you have to look at the sustainability of the business and the impact on employees,” said Elanie. 

Bridgestone South Africa HR director Julia Modise said that, as they continued to work and engage remotely, they didn’t want to not let virtual work life erode their culture and create disengagements, adding that creating psychological safety of employees had been a key area of focus for them.

Said Julia: “With more people testing positive, the ever-present concern of health and wellness of themselves and their families but also the impact of the way we are working on their earnings has raised the psychological safety area. As more employees test positive, recover, and return to work, we need to focus on creating inclusion and integration back into the workplace and that requires psychological safety and elimination of stigma and discrimination. But Greg’s talk has raised more questions for me.”

The overall consensus was that Covid-19 required organisations to look at people as individuals and HR leaders agreed that it was up to them to ensure the company made employees feel that they are still connected to the organisation by making sure they don't feel isolated.